Archive for February, 2006

comic page

I haven’t done any pen and ink drawing for six months. It’s good to let the field lie fallow for a time. Anyway, having started to doodle and sketch again lately, I drew this page as a warm-up exercise.

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movie reviews

Warning: Major plot spoilers for both.


FIREWALL (2006)

Directed by Richard Loncraine. Starring Harrison Ford, Virginia Madsen, and that blond guy from A Beautiful Mind.

I mainly went to see this movie because of the relaxed way Harrison Ford promoted it on The Daily Show. “It's a pretty good movie,” he said with a half-shrug. “And I hope a few people go to see it.”

Well, I dunno. There's ways in which it's pretty good, and there's ways in which it feels like reheated bits from other movies. It's uneven, it's cliched, it's confusing, you can feel the screenwriter straining to pack everything in, you have characters that don't act anything like normal people, and it kind of takes a long time before getting to the obvious conclusion. The old mano-a-mano fistfight between the good guy and the bad guy, and then the daddy hero saves his wife, daughter, son, and the little dog, too.

One thing is that Harrison Ford is a treat to watch every frame he's onscreen. Whatever it is that movie stars have, he still has. Everything is pretty hokey around him, but he delivers this shit like he means it, and somehow an illusion is sustained only so long as he's around. As soon as we cut to somebody else, questions like “wtf” start floating through our minds, and with good reason.

At some point during the final third of the movie, I started to wonder whether I was judging it too harshly because I was reading it wrong. I formed the theory that if I were around 12 years old, I'd find it very exciting, and none of the stuff that is preposterous or thinly drawn would bother me at all. It's more of a cartoon than a thriller, come to think of it. Maybe the filmmakers were aiming at kids, I think, rather generously. Then Harrison Ford beats a guy to death with a blender, leaving his face a frothy, bloody pulp. Hmm.

The picture has been compacted by the standard Hollywood compression algorithm. It is at times confusing, because they had to keep all of the set-pieces while jettisoning the connective tissue to minimize the length and pump up the pace. “Wait, why did they do that? What? Huh?” I said, more than once. Everyone acts very strange. House full of kidnappers with guns, and Mom is cooking eggs and bacon and Junior is playing with paints while acting very relaxed and friendly with these guys who just last night shoved him to the floor, handcuffed him, and taped his mouth shut. I'd expect a normal kid to retreat into kind of a fetal state of shock, but no, not this kid. Anyway, so there's this calm domestic scene going on, and then the phone rings, and the kid puts down his paints and goes over to the phone and picks it up to say hello. Then suddenly one of the guys tackles him to the floor and beats his head, and another good pulls out his machine gun and points it at the mother, and backhands her across the room, and another gun is pointed at the daughter's head, and it's suddenly bedlam, and I'm thinking there has to be a scene we missed where they warned the family “If anybody answers the phone we will go ape shit”. This is not the most confusing part of the movie, but it's the one that sticks in my mind right now. I was more confused later on when they seemed to be suggesting that the Best Friend character was an inside man on the job, betraying our hero. Not that cliche again! Except it wasn't. What was it? There's some exposition later that tries to explain all of it, but it — I dunno. As long as you're cutting bits out of the movie, maybe you should cut the ones that don't make any sense, instead of cutting ones that help the movie make more sense.

The movie had quite a lot of blatant product placement. “Here are our secure servers for our multimillion-dollar bank,” he says, standing in front of a big slick looking movie computer with a silver DELL logo carefully framed behind him. At one point, Ford announces that he needs “my daughter's mp3 player to use as a hard drive” as part of the bank heist plot. (The bad guys are making him do the dirty work for them.) Earlier in the movie, one of the bad guys was seen listening to a portable music player with suspiciously white earphones, but he was holding the player sideways to the camera so that you couldn't actually tell what brand of player it was. Uh huh. So I thought they were going to lengths to suggest that there were iPods in the world of the movie without actually showing one. Except then he wakes his daughter up and says, “Honey, I need your iPod.” Yes, and the bank heist itself, the crux of the plot, is pulled off with the aid of a pink iPod Mini. Hmmm.

The musical score sounds like the producers said, “We can't afford Danny Elfman. Can we get a cheap knockoff guy instead?” That's really the only comment I have about it. I kept thinking I was hearing loops from the score for HULK.

The computers the characters use in the movies actually sport slightly more realistic computer interfaces than the average computer does in a Hollywood thriller. The dialogue about computers is not much better. You can tell A) The filmmakers are hoping the audience is largely computer illiterate and doesn't know the difference if it sounds plausibly jargony and B) They don't know any better, either.

The scheme the bad guys employ is pretty ridiculous. The scheme the screenwriter employs to allow the hero to save the day is even more ridiculous. The bad guy, who has been tailing Ford everywhere and watching him like a hawk and planting bugs on him and never letting him out of his sight decides to stand outside at the crucial moment when Ford is transferring funds, allowing our hero to pull a fast one that will later give him the advantage. It relies on the brutal sociopathic kidnappers taking the family dog along with them to their secure hideout. You know, the dog that pops up in the first scene so they can say “Hey, remember to fit that new GPS collar on Fido” about. HINT HINT. This is the same scene where Junior says “Hey dad, look, my radio controlled car makes every television and computer monitor in the house go fuzzy.” Actually, Dad explains that to Junior, but not before asking his wife what she, a prominent architect and career mom, is going to do that day while he, a prominent bank security expert, goes to the big meeting about the merger that is crucial to the plot. Junior has one of those allergies to peanuts that is life-threatening. The bad guys threaten his life with it. Creeeeak. Rattttchet. Clannkkkk. Creeaakkk.

The movie is stocked with some nice character actors who are pleasant to see. There's Virginia Madsen and Robert Forster, both of whom are now working again in A-List pictures after having their careers revived by attention-getting turns in independent pictures. There's Robert Patrick, whom I'm starting to realize I always enjoy seeing. He's a workhorse, but he does good work. And Alan Arkin! It's always nice to see Alan Arkin. I wish he had more to do, but there's no room. There's also a young actress, Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays Harrison Ford's secretary. She starts out as a midly comic side character, but grows into a role of more importance as the movie goes on. I was rooting for her as much as for Ford. They have a lot of good scenes together.

She has a slight subplot that kind of gets lost, about a coworker that has a big crush on her. This would-be-suitor's cellphone becomes important to the main plot, and Harrison Ford makes her go get it from him. She bursts in on him while he's playing bass in a Christian rock band, which I found hilarious. Since it's completely incidental where they find this guy, and it's only a 20 second scene, it could have been anything. But no, he's rocking out on his Rickenbacker while a robed chorus shouts Yay Jesus Wheooo! I guess you had to be there. Except if you were there, then you'd be seeing the rest of this movie, which you can tell I'm not necessarily recommending.

GRADE: C+



MATCH POINT (2005)

Written and Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, and Brian Cox.

Roger Ebert says in his review that this is Woody Allen's best film since Crimes and Misdemeanors (1987), which is arguably true; it's also true that it's quite nearly the same movie, which might explain it. Or, half the movie. Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of my favorite Allen films; when Turner Classic Movies was promoting their showing of it a year ago, they said “We consider it his masterpiece”, and I'm inclined to agree. This new film, Match Point, which I've been hearing about for a full eight months, is a re-exploration of the Martin Landau half of the earlier movie, without the leavening of the humorous second half. It recasts the story in a different setting with younger characters, and it spends more time on the build-up to the monstrous act and less time on the consequent guilt, but it's the same story. What to do with the Other Woman when you're tired of the affair but she becomes problematic?

I wasn't aware that this was how the film was going to go for most of it, then when I realized it was, I wondered whether it was going to do anything different. It didn't, really. In both films, the character waits for punishment from God, for some retribution by fate, something that will give morality to a cold and unethical universe, but no strike comes. Once the character learns to suppress the guilt, he can get on with his seemingly blessed life. In Match Point, this comes down to a sense of “luck”, repeated in metaphorical and literal terms throughout the movie.

I started thinking about all of the Woody Allen movies that have a plot about getting rid of a partner you're tired of. Sometimes you just ditch them by hopping on a plane and leaving them stranded, as in Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Or maybe you actually kill them. There's also Bullets Over Broadway (1994), although that was about killing someone who stood in the way of one's art, but it was about how the artist may or may not have a moral responsibility to protect his art at all costs. There was Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), but that was more about trying to determine if the neighbor next door had a very dark secret. There was the “getting rid of the troublesome, harping mother” in his segment of New York Stories (1989). I guess Allen's movies are mainly about two things, summed up by one of his own titles: LOVE AND DEATH.

If I'd never seen Crimes and Misdemeanors, this film would have been far more intriguing; instead, I started studying it more than getting carried along by it. Here's an artist taking another go at a theme that obviously intrigues him a great deal. Certainly Allen has told stories of interweaving relationships, people trading partners, and people being adulterous many times before; no doubt this reflects something of his own experiences in life. This motif that appears in his movies of deep sixing the troublesome element in one's life haunted my sleep last night. I now like to think that Woody Allen has actually killed somebody and gotten away with it; it's the romantic in me.

GRADE: A-

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