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September movie roundup

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.

9 Comments

  1. Jeri

    I enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard but I have to say that I found it to be unintentially comedic in ways the filmmaker did not intend – I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief about all gee-whiz hacker stunts. Please – a rollup keyboard and a cell phone are NOT an open door to anything computer based in the world.

    I loved The Incredibles. If you haven’t read The Watchmen it’s interesting to do so (very dark and grim future vision) because the animated movie draws on it quite a bit.

    Thanks for sharing your movie thoughts!

  2. Brian Greenberg

    Heck – if Jeff Goldblum can hack into an alien spaceship with his Mac in Independence Day, then Bruce Willis can hack into the FBI!

    It’s funny – I had assumed I had seen all the Die Hard movies until I read your quick review, looked up the movie on IMDB, and realized I never got around to the last one. Another item on my To Do list.

    Thanks, Ilya… 😉

  3. Ilya

    Always happy to help, Brian! Good point about ID4, but you’ll admit after watching it that DH4.0 takes the cake when it comes to imagining what a hacker can do.

  4. jason

    Ah, after a couple of opinion misfires on Blade Runner and Risky Business, we’re in total agreement on Live Free or Die Hard and Ocean’s Thirteen, both of which I found highly entertaining if far inferior to their respective originals (I did like how Brad Pitt finally gave that poor slob a break at the end of O13 — I love con artists with a heart!), and I think The Incredibles is one of the best superhero movies ever, animated or otherwise (although the live-action ones have so much CGI in them nowadays, what’s the difference, really?). Not to mention just being a damn good movie in general… action, character development, and genuine pathos. I just love that one.

    I’ve not seen Rush Hour 3 (nor do I intend to), but I’m not surprised by your comments. Jackie Chan has not been well-served by Hollywood. I think American directors frankly don’t know what to do with him, and they certainly don’t know how to film him. (Here’s a hint, guys: pull the camera back and let us see his full body and how it’s relating to the space around it. Martial arts is like a dance, you need to step back to really appreciate what’s happening.) If you haven’t seen any of his Hong Kong stuff, I’d recommend Armour of God and its sequel, Armor of God 2: Operation Condor (confusingly, the sequel was released first in the US and is known as Operation Condor, so when the original came out here a year or two later, it was called Operation Condor 2), or any of the Police Story flicks. (Police Story 3 was released in the US as Supercop, if that rings a bell.) I also really enjoyed Rumble in the Bronx (which was actually filmed in Vancouver) and is considered his North American breakthrough. His Hong Kong movies are silly, and some of the older ones especially are pretty sexist by American standards, but they’re much, much more entertaining than any of his mainstream Hollywood pictures.

  5. Ilya

    I’ve watched several of Chan’s HK movies, Jason, and I agree that they are much more fun than anything he’s done in the US (although the original Rush Hour wasn’t half bad).

    On a different note, I just watched the second Fantastic Four and was sufficiently bored, a couple of special effects aside. Just goes to support your point about Incredibles being a great superhero movie, animated or not.

  6. jason

    Yep. It’s story, first and foremost. No less a personage than George Lucas once (ironically, given some of his later work) said, “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”

  7. Sharon

    My favourite lines from 3 of your picks:

    1) Mayor: “Well, I guess you know what you’re doing, Sheriff.”

    Sheriff: “I don’t know what I could have said to make you think that.”

    2) “That’s ok, Ryan. My morse is so rusty, I may be giving him the dimensions of last month’s Playboy, Bunny.”

    3) “No cape!!!”

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