Free time provides me the ability to take chances on movies that I would not have otherwise watched, and thus confirm that I should follow my instincts and not take chances on movies I would not have otherwise watched. I have watched a few movies this week between my hours of doing really productive stuff. And here’s a summary of what I thought about said movies.
Really great movie that thankfully plays down it’s comic-bookiness with the wry humor and earnestness of Robert Downy Jr. (Great in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Although Gwenyth Paltrow and Terrence Howard are both capable, Downy steals the show and plays a very believable millionaire playboy. I am not a big comic book person, but am a sucker for stories that chronicle the making of the comic book hero, or that put a spin on the superhero archetype. I think the movie works for Marvel-philes and those who don’t know the difference between Stan Lee and Stan Laurel.
Really poor movie that is way too comic-booky. It doesn’t sufficiently develop any character arcs because there are just too many characters doing too much, too fast. The acting is fine, but the movie feels like the only way they could get this cast together was for the studio to promise each one of them an indie film or whatever their pet-project-of-the-moment happened to be. One plot element, the venom suit, gives Toby McGuire’s nerd, boy scout Peter Parker a chance to explore his “dark side” and the result puts Parker a caked mascara lash away from a full-on Pete Wentz . . . I hate emo (Although I love Rob Dobi and his Fullbleed.org T-Shirts). I wasn’t a huge fan of the first two, and really disliked this installment.
Two brother’s rob their parents’ jewelry store and complications ensue. Another movie that fell short. Ethan Hawk puts in a solid performance as a deadbeat dad and idiot brother who seems to live always at the end of his rope. Although, truthfully, when Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in a scene, the rest of the players get the volume turned down. Ever since Happiness (which I won’t link because I don’t want to be the guy who is in any way responsible for your viewing of that particular film) I will, as a rule, see anything that P.S.H. is in. While Hawk and Hoffman put out solid performances (predictably Hoffman is spot on as the successful brother that is helpless as he watches everything go sideways), I think the editing kills this film. The climax of the film is put right in the first 5 minutes.
In my estimation, the only time such a gimmick is effective is when what the viewer is watching will be illuminated by the rest of the film so that to watch the scene a second time is to watch an entirely different scene. For instance, Fight Club, admittedly my favorite film, begins with an end scene in which Tyler Durden holds the barrel of a gun inside Jack’s mouth. The viewer thinks they understand what is happening in this scene until they have seen the movie through and realize that to watch the scene a second time is to watch it with new eyes. The Usual Suspects or Memento uses the same narrative frame.
This technique sets up a final irony that will be delivered by the movie’s end. They problem with Before the Devil . . . is that what you see in the first scene is what you get in the end. There is no reason to put a climax at the beginning of a film. This is a small editing problem, but it creates a very large viewing problem, namely: you are waiting around the whole film, knowing what’s going to happen, getting bored and losing interest in the plight of the characters. The writing is sparse, and written to produce tension in the viewer, but this is completely frustrated by knowing what’s coming from the beginning.
If you like Phillip Seymour Hoffman as much as I do, then DEFINITELY rent Charlie Wilson’s War. Hoffman plays Gust Avratakos, a CIA company man that thinks his company has far too many idiots. Tom Hanks plays a congressman from East Texas (where his constituents demand only guns and to be left alone (which leaves him a good amount of room to do “favors”). These two get the best of Aaron Sorkin’s (Sports Night, West Wing) sardonic scripting:
Charlie Wilson: You mean to tell me that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to have the Afghans keep walking into machine gun fire ’til the Russians run out of bullets?
Gust Avrakotos: That’s Harold Holt’s strategy, not U.S. strategy.
Charlie Wilson: What is U.S. strategy?
Gust Avrakotos: Most strictly speaking, we don’t have one. But we’re working on it.
Charlie Wilson: Who’s ‘we’?
Gust Avrakotos: Well, me and three other guys. . . .
Charlie Wilson: I stood in Harold Holt’s office in Islamabad, and I offered him the keys to the safe. I said to him, “What do you need?” And I was apparently annoying him.
Gust Avrakotos: Well, that’s because Harold Holt is a tool. He’s a cake-eater, he’s a clown, he’s a bad station chief, and I don’t like to cast aspersions on a guy, but he’s going to get us all killed.
The critics who didn’t like this movie panned it because it wasn’t historically accurate, or if it was, then it was too big of a story condensed too far down. However, if the film’s treatment of the Afghan-Soviet war is cursory, then it seeks to reinforce one of the main points of the film: No one cared about that particular war except as it pertained to our defeat of the Soviet Empire. One of the running “gags” of the film is that no one can remember which country Afghanistan is.
Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times concluded that the film is “anachronistic,” a film about a time in history already written-over by history. I don’t know what he means. I do remember, that on the morning of September 11th, even in the relatively insulated halls of my dorm in Northern Colorado, two kids frothing at the mouth shouted about death to all Muslims, adding “let’s bomb the shit out of Pakistan!” . . . The film felt pretty relevant to me.