About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

other holiday movies

Also playing for Thanksgiving, three films inspired at some or another level by real life...

127 Hours is a specialty release that's been slowly broadening and will be in a screen or two in most major cities for the holidays. It's another book-to-film, this one based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. Ralston is a hiker who was forced to cut off his own arm to escape when a boulder trapped him inside a Utah canyon, and this real life story has been adapted by Danny Boyle, the director of Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire and many other movies including Trainspotting, Sunshine, 28 Days Later, The Beach, etc. And Boyle throws his all into making an energetic lively adaptation of the story. The movie starts out with a rush of energy, from the photography and editing and lighting and the music by A. R. Rahman, who also did the fantastic score and songs for Slumdog. There's just one problem. Once Ralston is stuck in the canyon unable to move, there's not much you can do to move the movie along, either. Flashbacks, visions, dream sequences, fancy editing, nifty dissolves. Boyle does all he can. But he can't overcome the fact that this just isn't a good thing to try and turn into a movie, and I got very sleepy-eyed as it progressed. Lots of good reviews for this one, but I can't recommend it.

Unstoppable, I can recommend wholeheartedly. That's gotten surprisingly good reviews, and it's because the movie is surprisingly good. With director Tony Scott, you never know what you're getting. I'd like to see True Romance again very very very much. Top Gun is a delightful guilty pleasure. Taking of Pelham remake was awful, Man on Fire was a wonderfully reprehensible movie. Here he's showing his A game, and as several times before has the inevitably wonderful Denzel Washington at his service, side-by-side with Chris Pine who put himself on my radar quite nicely playing Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. I didn't like Pine as much here, he seemed a little too dialed back and his face too hidden behind stubble, but Denzel was good as pretty much always, and nice supporting work especially by Rosario Dawson. She plays a chief dispatcher for the railroad that employs Denzel and Chris. The movie's about this big giant huge train that leaves the yard without an engineer and promises to go over on a big curve in a heavily populated city with tens of thousands of lives at risk. I can find fault with the cliches that the script trots out, which grow kind of tiresome. But as train rides go, this one can't be topped. When the serious fun begins with Denzel and Chris trying to back up to the speeding train, hook on, and slow it down with the clock ticking big-time, it's just one big non-stop sit-back don't-breath, enjoy-the-ride thrillfest in every best and good sense of what that means. Tony Scott's flair for the dramatic and the lively here fits his story quite well. It's hard to imagine a train set being as much macho fun as moving all those jet planes in Top Gun, but guess what it is. Just a lot of fun, once it gets going. There was an actual rogue train several years ago, but the movie doesn't resemble in anything other than a vague way.

Then there's Fair Game, which I was thrilled to see at the wonderful single screen AMC Loews Uptown on my last trip to DC. This is a cerebral version of Unstoppable. It's a movie about the case of Valerie Plame, whose cover as a CIA agent was blown by the Bush administration in a fit of pique when her husband cast doubt on claims being made by the administration about Saddam's WMD in Iraq. Doug Liman (first Bourne movie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) directs, with Naomi Watts playing Plame and Sean Penn her husband. The experience of watching this is a lot like that of Unstoppable, with an OK first half followed by a much better second half. But it also means that the movie is better as a domestic drama depicting the aftermath of Plame's outing on the couple's marriage, than as political drama. I saw some of myself in Joe Wilson, as he stubbornly or heroically or tragically holds to his belief that he was right to speak truth to power even as it causes his marriage to crumble because the biggest collateral damage is to his own wife. Penn and Watts are both fantastic in their roles. But taken on their own terms, I would say Unstoppable is the better movie. The biggest problem I had with Fair Game was that iti isn't content to be about the Plames and diverts to show us the aftermath in Iraq of having her network rolled up when her cover is. Better to have kept the focus on him and her, because I didn't care about the Iraqi scientists in the context of this story. A movie that wants to be about politics ends up succeeding as something else. Unstoppable wants tomb what it succeeds at being. Fair Gane is worthier of being seen; I can recommend. But I can recommend Unstoppable more, um, unstoppably.

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