It took me a few extra days to get around to writing the next installment of one of my favorite regular features of the blog. But here it is.
The first half of September gave me several opportunities to watch long-recorded movies. A man can only take so much football, in the end. So, I got around to watching a couple of recent hits that were on my “must-see” list, Live Free or Die Hard and Ocean’s Thirteen, two movies that I missed in the past but always wanted to see, Burnt by the Sun and The Incredibles, one “oldie” that I heard referred to many times as a “classic”, The Dirty Dozen, and a couple of flicks that we chosen on the basis of “the shortest-duration movie currently recorded on the PVR”, Shoot’ em Up and Rush Hour 3. There was also a children-oriented flick, The Thief Lord, that we watched as a family.
The brief impressions and reviews are below for those who are interested.
Let’s start with the movie that made the greatest impression of the lot. I am ashamed to admit that I have not managed to see Burnt by the Sun (the Russian title literally means Tired by the Sun, but the allegory and the link with a well-known romance constantly played in the background are lost in translation, so “burnt” is probably more evocative) until now. And when I finally did, it blew me away.
The movie portrays one day in life of a Soviet revolutionary hero. He is taking a single day off his military command to spend time with his wife, daughter and their family circle at a cheerful countryside retreat. The year is 1936. The village is nothing short of idyllic, the atmosphere relaxed and peaceful. Nearby military exercises and “public defense” activities punctuate the notion of life not being what it seems here, but you get lulled into believing with the people in the movie that they live in the happiest of the worlds. Nothing points to the outcome of this being the very last day of their delirium.
That’s what I find the most powerful about the movie. It is about Stalin’s repressions and how they wrecked the nation. But we only glimpse the violence involved in that in the very last shots of the movie. The contra-position of the pastoral peace that our characters enjoy throughout the proceedings versus the greater evil that lurks all around them makes the understated outcome all the more horrifying. If any movie deserves its Oscar, this is it.
The Dirty Dozen was an Oscar winner in its time, over 40 years ago. Strong acting from a number of cast members makes it watchable even now, notwithstanding the fact that it’s hard to root for a bunch of criminals and hard to accept that their mission involves indiscriminately killing a large number of women along with Nazi officers at a French retreat. As is common to war movies of that era, the injuries and deaths are played out as virtually bloodless, which somehow looks farcical when compared with the habitual gore of recent times. Nonetheless, I enjoy a well-told heroic story.
Bruce Willis, I realize, is quite possibly my most favorite actor. At least, if I use the stick of trying to remember a role of his that I did not like – I can’t think of any off the top of my head. And the original Die Hard is arguably the best disaster/action-hero movie of all times. It is no surprise that Live Free or Die Hard – or Die Hard 4.0, as it was called in satellite TV runs here in UK, – became a rare movie to be watched almost immediately after having had been recorded. Laws of physics, limits on what human body can withstand, occasionally even common sense – it all gets defied in this latest episode of John McClane single-handedly disposing of a band of sinister terrorists (ok, he gets a bit of help from Justin Long’s hacker-with-a-heart-of-gold). I loved it none the less for that. Great stunts and a smirking Bruce is just the recipe for my cinematic enjoyment.
The other recipe is a cerebral heist. Ocean’s Thirteen undeniably improves on its predecessor in the series, although probably remaining a notch below the Eleven movie. It may be a tad bit too fast-paced, with the cuts replacing one another in such a quick succession as to make following the intricacies of the heist a challenge for the viewer. I’m pretty sure I missed on a couple of important details (which will hopefully be rectified on the repeat viewings). But the Clooney-Pitt chemistry is priceless, the proceedings are full of suspense and surprising turns, and the hilarity of mayhem is a constant undertone. My kind of movie!
Conversely, Rush Hour 3 was a predictable waste of time. I used to like Jackie Chan’s befuddled-action-hero formula, but it’s getting too repetitive. And his interplay with Chris Tucker went straight downhill after the first movie in the series. There were not that many great stunts or fight scenes either.
Shoot’ em Up was a curious viewing. The main character unwittingly finds himself at the center of a heinous conspiracy (at first, incomprehensible, and later, ridiculous). He is, incidentally, a highly-trained former black-ops operative. He proceeds to kill several dozen people who shoot at him with their highly automatic weaponry from all angles, saving the day – and becoming a father to the newborn baby at the center of it all – along the way. The movie is an utter inanity, but there is a number of fantastically over-the-top stunts, and I thought the performances of Clive Owen, as the protagonist, and Paul Giamatti, as his main adversary, were both excellent. And let’s not forget the creative use of carrots as a lethal weapon.
And then, The Incredibles. An excellent movie, with great voice-overs and brilliant dialogues. There is even a believable character development. One of the best animated movies ever, if not the best.
One other movie mentioned at the top of this post, The Thief Lord is largely a kiddie-fare that is a bit short on substance. It’s a fantasy about orphan kids making life for themselves in Venice, and it ambles around illogically and leaves some storylines loose. The Venetian scenes by themselves make this movie an attractive viewing, though. My children liked it – yours might too.