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Early February movie roundup

I am of two minds about continuing with this regular series.

On the one hand, I no longer like it: I realize that I lack the wit and imagery necessary to make such reviews captivating and I also recognize the fact that commenting on movies that are all yesterday’s news is hardly of any interest to the majority of you out there. (Unless I happen to accidentally hit on someone’s favorite flick…)

On the other hand, I have this unexplained urge to make some sort of a written statement about every “first-seen” movie.

I’ll allow the “other hand” win, for now. Which means that you are stuck with another one of these.

An Officer and a Gentleman 1982
Desperado 1995
National Treasure: Book of Secrets 2007
The Untouchables 1987
War 2007

I’ve been in a violently foul mood for most of the last few weeks (I’ll let you go through the business news section of your favorite media outlet and connect the dots), so a violent mob revenge story was just the ticket. Two of those – even better!

Desperado, I suppose, was one of the trail-blazers in the grotesque gun violence genre, both balletic and implausible. In one scene the hero manages to avoid being hit even once with several people shooting at him from automatic weapons from close range; in another, he is graphically and grievously wounded, but recovers his strength within a short time in order to engage in the next fight. Almost everyone who has any role in the proceedings is killed along the way, some unexpectedly, some less so… I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I love this sort of inanity. Antonio Banderas is quite good and Salma Hayek is… well, her acting here is not bad either, but who the hell cares about her acting, anyway, the way she looks and walks?

The more recent entry in this genre, War, is much grittier, darker, and devoid of levity. What it does have is a very unexpected twist, which is accompanied by an incredibly inexplicable revelation of a past betrayal. I re-watched the brief scene in which that act is discussed several times and I still found no explanation of why… There is a number of great action sequences, but too little of the martial arts, for which both Jet Li and Jason Statham are known. Not exactly a wasted viewing, in my book, but a slight disappointment, overall.

I also picked a couple of classics from my PVR queue these past few days.

The Untouchables failed to impress me much, although I will allow that it is, on balance, a not badly-made movie. The story-telling, nonetheless, felt way too fitful, jumping from one “event” to another, without really developing the characters. There were too many moments of “how exactly this makes sense?” for my liking. A few of the key scenes were unnecessarily drawn out. Sean Connery probably deserved accolades he received for his role as Jimmy Malone, and Robert De Niro was his usual great. Their performances pushed the movie up into the 3-star bucket.

An Officer and a Gentleman was the best of the bunch I’ve seen in this period. Practically every scene, to my view, worked on developing the key characters. Strong acting performances all around. It is also the only military-themed movie that I can think of that showed a drill instructor to be not a blustering near-caricature1 but a multi-dimensional human being2, with a great performance by Louis Gossett Jr. Richard Gere, whom I always considered to be rather limited emotionally, showed more range as a young guy than in his later movies. All in all, a worthy, if overdue, viewing.

Finally, I watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets with the family. Nicholas Cage is up there on my list of the worst actors in the world, but this movie, however far-fetched and believability-stretching, is nevertheless quite entertaining. The locales are great, be it Paris, London or Mt Rushmore. The combined chemistry of Helen Mirren, Jon Voight and Ed Harris helps overcome Cage’s over-emoting; Justin Bartha’s sidekick act brings a welcome level of levity. I could do without the lengthy underground struggles, but the balancing platform sequence was actually pretty cool. I tend to think that if I come across this movie again with nothing to do, I might be tempted to watch it again. Go figure.

And that catches you up on my recently seen movies.

If anyone would like to let me know whether they think I should continue or discontinue these impressions, I would appreciate that. Feel free to express your encouragement in the comments, for all to see, and your disparagement in a personal email to me, to spare my feelings.


1 Say, Lee Ermey’s Sgt Hartman in Full Metal Jacket is, more or less, the only thing that I like about that movie, but he was portrayed as awfully one-dimensional. Kind of symbolic that Gossett’s Sgt Foley is thanked by everyone at the end of the camp, while Hartman ends up being killed by a recruit that he rode too hard.

2 English language movie that I can think of, at least (and I allow that I may not have seen enough to profess any expertize on the subject). In Kursanty, for instance, I thought that Sgt Panasyuk was portrayed rather in-depth. Of course, the M.O.’s of a drill sergeant in WWII Russia and Vietnam/Cold War America were rather different…


  1. Brian Greenberg

    I, for one, think you should continue to write them. If I’m looking to rent a movie these days, I’d probably Google around about it, and your drive-by reviews help make that repository richer…

    Then again, if you don’t like it anymore, you should stop. I mean, given what we’re all paying you to do this… πŸ˜‰

  2. jason

    Here’s another vote for continuing to write about movies. You know me, I’m always up to see what other people are thinking about cinema. πŸ™‚

    But as Brian says, the bottom line is really whether YOU, Ilya, derive any value from these entries. I write about movie-related stuff because it’s what I enjoy thinking and talking about. I like to think people enjoy reading that stuff, but if they don’t, I still like making my statements for myself, for my own satisfaction.

    Now, as for the specifics of this entry, I’m glad you enjoyed An Officer and an Gentleman. It’s one of my favorites; I recall it being huge back in the day but curiously doesn’t seem to be much remembered now, which is really too bad. I think the entire cast is just fabulous in this, and I never fail to choke up a little when “Sugar-britches” thanks Sgt. Foley for pushing her to succeed.

    The Untouchables is one of my favorites, too, largely for Sean Connery, although I enjoy the other cast members as well (it’s always nice to see one of my favorite character actors, Charles Martin Smith, who plays the bespectacled accountant recruited by Ness to do more than crunch the numbers). I concede your point about the jumpy plot and thin characterization, however. These seem to be frequent problems in movies directed by Brian de Palma, who appears to be far more interested in style than storytelling. Sometimes that bothers me — I thought Femme Fatale was ridiculous and tiresome, for instance — and sometimes, as in the case of The Untouchables, it doesn’t.

  3. Ilya

    The problem with these entries, as I see it, Jason, is that my “entertainment first” approach to cinema makes most of my so-called “reviews” terribly superficial and I don’t feel that I have any industry to make them deeper. I think I may derive some value from them in the future if I ever decide to see the same movie again and compare how my “second” impressions might differ from the recorded earlier ones. But I am not convinced that that alone makes the exercise worthwhile.

    So, knowing that you and Brian derive some value from it as well, however minuscule, is a boost to me. Thank you, guys!

  4. John the Scientist

    You gave “Book of Secrets” three stars!?!?!?! Maybe you don’t have US History as internalized as those of us who grew up here do, but I watched about 15 minutes of it for free on an airplane and then changed the channel in disgust. It can only be described as the “g” word in Russian, pure and simple. That’s my review. πŸ˜€

  5. Ilya

    You missed all of the fun parts, John. It was entertaining enough. Take the same plot, hack off specific references to US history, and you get a silly, but fun, adventure. Fun adventure always earns multiple stars from me πŸ˜‰

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