Friday, January 12, 2018

Waiting To Exhale (1995)

This is a Fox selection, doubtless for its female, African-American cast  (you can tick two PC boxes with this one). But it was also a pretty eagerly awaited Christmas release in ’95, and it made money, not to mention giving us the smash Whitney Houston single “Shoop, Shoop.” But is it artistically meritorious? In a word… meh.

The film Waiting To Exhale was based on the bestselling book by Terry McMillian, and it was one of those books that so connected with a demographic – African-America females – that it pretty much became their bible for a good ten-year stretch. It was so thunderingly resonative because it depicted, in great, emotional detail, the conundrum of the modern black relationship: how can you find a good man when they’re either deadbeats or married? And why do affairs with the married ones always lead to heartbreak in the end? Ultimately, you turn to each other, and it’s this sisterhood, this unique social bond that you’re apt to find in beauty salons or sleepover parties, that dulls the pain, ant least for awhile. Exhale gave the rest of America a taste of this culture – in essence affirming, “We are here, and we got man problems like the rest of you!”

And now, the movie – Fox made damned sure it got the special treatment, hiring actor Forrest Whitaker to direct, and pop sensation Whitney Houston to play one of four lead heroines. Her role is Savannah, a TV producer who has man troubles – she’s falling head over heels with a married man who’s promised to leave his wife soon, very soon. Savannah’s mom thinks the guy is just peachy, but daughter dear just isn’t so sure. And the there’s Robin (Lela Rochon) who has.. man troubles. She’s just left one married man and now finds herself attracted to another. But will he leave his significant other? And is she – gasp! – pregnant too! And then there’s Gloria (Loretta Devine), who has… man troubles after finding out that her ex-husband is gay, thereby negating any chance of reconciliation, and finds hersef head over heels in love – apparently true love – with a new neighbor (Gregory Hines). And finally we have Bernadine (Angela Bassett), who has (oh, never kind). She’s pissed – I mean really pissed – that her husband has just announced he’s leaving her for a white woman and plans to keep everything in the divorce. But now, at rock bottom, she’s just found a sweet man (Wesley Snipes) whose wife is dying of cancer, and together they forge a platonic relationship (so far) of mutual love and respect.

First the good news. Whitaker does a fine, fluid job of shuttling throughout these four stories, allowing nearly equal time for each and having enough scenes of them together to foster a nice “touching base” sort of effect. And he sets a pitch-perfect tone too - we begin on New Year’s Eve as a radio DJ sets a smooth, slowjam type of vibe that imbues the film with at least one theme – slow down and relax, and your troubles will often take care of themselves. It undercuts a lot of more intense moments in Exhale, and makes it, well… entertaining for the most part. We damned well need a soulful Aretha song after Angela Bassett burns every living reminder of her slimeball husband in the backseat of his sports car.

Several of the performances are noteworthy too. Bassett has the showiest part – her Bernadette gets to storm and sneer and sniffle, often within the same scene. But she also excels at the quiet stuff too – notably during her scenes with Snipes where she often just stares at him, letting her reacting do the acting. And newcomer Rochon isn’t bad as a sexy single who starts out blithely content wiih her lifestyle, before it dawns on her that all those beddings fail to provide the peace in her life that she so desperately requires. Her funniest scene – a not-so-erotic tryst with a Ton-Loc wannabe, which starts out comic and then turns to a quiet, revealing moment. She becomes instantly likeable after this.

But despite its general success as entertainment there seems to be something missing from this work, particularly when you consider it as feminist tract. We’re just not getting the significance here, or, for that matter, a purpose. Individually, these women have stories to tell, and they each offer a tale about their woes in dealing with the opposite sex, but together they drift off into the ether, and it doesn’t help that none really has any sort of conclusion. (The last scene is a shot of all four gazing at New Years fireworks, just after commenting about a Roberta Flack song in the car.) Two of the stories are nearly identical in plot – Savannah and Robin’s respective not-leaving-my-wife love interests – and so neither comes off as strikingly important. Only the Bassett/Snipes story seems like it has something to say, but it lacks a third act – we don’t really know where they’re going, nor do they tell us.

This most likely wasn’t the case with the book, as literature is a medium in which the author, as a direct storyteller, is better able to impart a message. But with movies it’s the characters, and their speech and actions, which must do that. And despite a lot of soul-searching talks between the women and some fiery arguments between the men and women, the film version just simply fails to rise much above an ensemble chick-flick. Oh, it’s a well-done chick-flick, but a chick flick nonetheless.

And I’m sure that was not their intention. But if you go in with moderate expectations you’re likely not to be disappointed. And you’ll get to see at least a couple of fine performances. Oh, and don’t forget that soundtrack.

Rating:  ***

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

Another one of my choices, if for no other reason than that it was the very first Fox Searchlight Film – even though the official intro wouldn’t come along until later.

I first saw The Brothers McMullen back in the summer of ’95, after getting newly hired at a local TV station. With a windfall of brand-new, disposable income, I went to the movies and saw everything…. everything.

Fortunately, there was a lot of good stuff hitting the screens back then, because ’95 was smack-dab in the middle of the indie film boom of the 90s – a sort of cinematic renaissance ushered in by maestros like Tarantino and Soderbergh. And McMullen was a part of that indie subgenre of quality films made on the cheap, films that also included El Mariachi ($7,000) and Clerks (17,000). McMullen, with its comparatively lavish budget of $24,000, came with a success story typical of so many labors of love: writer/director, with a PA at Entertainment Tonight, made the film after-hours, using company equipment, and solicited his product to ET guest Robert Redford, the creator and organizer of the Sundance Film Festival. And the rest is history.

But back to me. I caught the flick at the Towne 16 in Egg Harbor Township. And, as usual for me back then, a recent NYU film school graduate, I admired the craftsmanship of the film and its low-budget earnestness while at the same time being bored by all its relationship talk. Yeah, I was single, and in my early-twenties – not that far removed from the late-twentysomethings that inhabit the McMullen world – but I literally had no clue about women, nor could I possess a real understanding of the interpersonal drama that fuels the film. Just a lot of blah-blah about pregnancy, affairs, marriage, dating, etc… Now where was Die Hard 3 playing?

Of course now, for better or worse, I’ve fought in the trenches of love, battle scars and all, and I have a far greater appreciation for the film. I get now what the brothers are going through, and observe with a knowing smile all the peaks and pitfalls that they find themselves in. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I am truly amazed at how much better The Brothers McMullen has become after 27 years!

It is, as the title implies, all about the Irish-American experience, specifically a trio of second-generation brothers, all in different relationship stages, whose pappy has recently died and whose mom has decided to return to the Emerald Isle for no apparent reason. The eldest bro, Jack, is married to a fine woman named Molly, but is tempted to cheat by a vixen named Ann. He’s got more troubles: his younger siblings want to move back in. Ne’er-do-well Barry needs a place because he’s just broken up, and his ex rented out their apt to a woman named Audrey (whom he’s interested in). And other bro Patrick, the staunchest Catholic among them, is engaged to a woman named Susan, but her plans to cohabitate don’t sit well with his morals, and he’s certainly not ready to marry. But is he just using his religion to cover up his fear of commitment?

Things go from bad to worse for the McMullen family. Jacks goes ahead with he affair, only to have his indiscretion discovered by Molly (the ol’ telltale condom). Pat goes crawling back to Susan, but the breaks up again at the prospect of cruising cross-country with an old “friend,” the local female auto mechanic. And Barry keeps after Audrey until they start something up, but his prospects out West as a screenwriter may mean their breakup. Ah, but never fear: Barry won’t repeat his father’s  sins (whom we discover to be a real louse), and makes a sacrifice for love. And Jack ends his tryst once and for all, with his wife willing to forgive and forget (yeah, right). All’s well that ends well, and so long as the Guinesses keep coming.

My salient reaction to the film this time around has to be that I enjoyed the film, and that enjoyment is mostly due to the fact that I liked these characters. And that’s really saying something for a film about people in their twenties talking about relationships. Mist films of this ilk – usually Hollywood productions – are excruciating to get through because their characters are so self-absorbed, and so self-consciously hip. Every time they open their mouths I just want to tune them out. But McMullen’s cast is comprised of real people, people who mostly say what they mean, and don’t have to make a zillion pop-cultural references to sound clever. And director Burns is smart enough to shuttle back and forth among the three stories with just enough frequency that each doesn’t get too labored. The common thread, of course, are the brothers with each other, ad their beers, which acts as sort of Greek Chorus several times throughout.

Of course, the “twist” here is that we’re talking about young Irish-Catholics, and how their religion often collides with the mores of post-sexual revolution America. Patrick probably epitomizes this the most: his guilt and confusion over how to deal with his marriage-ready Jewish fiancĂ© is played mostly comical but with a troubling undercurrent. And if ther breaking up, getting back together, breaking up pattern feels a bit unstructured, well, isn’t that how relationships are? They don’t always have the tidy rhythms of plot, and in a film like McMullen, they probably shouldn’t.

Ironically, it’s Burns own story that comes off as the weakest of the three. His Barry, who won’t ever settle down with one woman feels like old hat, and his neurotic ponderings and schticky voice-overs are entirely reminiscent of Woody Allen, a similarity none to accidental I’m sure. But all that could be forgiven were it mot for one neary fatal flaw – his casting of model and real-life girlfriend Maxine Brahns as his on-screen love interest (Audrey). She’s a poor actress – let me just say it outright – so poor in fact that it calls to mind Sofia Coppola’s amateur work in The Godfather III. Her scenes were the only ones that really called attention to its low-budgetry, something I hated being reminded of. Fortunately most of this occurs toward the end, after the dramatic heavy-lifting had already occurred by the rest of the far more accomplished cast.

Am I being too hard on her? Perhaps, but that’s only because I hold the rest of the film in such high regard. Everything about McMullen just feels pitch perfect – its style, its theme, its tone (adding just the right amount of Irish music to key scenes to tie it to the motherland). And there’s an earnestness, too, that imbues its indie cred with a sense of purpose. I was reminded of the early films of John Cassavettes as I enjoyed McMullen – here, as in those films, the stripping down of human life, and the laying bare of all its frailties and complexities, is what makes it such a necessary film. And  that’s one of the reasons we all go to the movies, isn’t it?

Burns would go on to direct more polished, mainstream flicks, but none would top the potency of his debut effort. Such seems to be the case with most directors. So skip She’s the One and No Looking Back and go with where it all began.

Rating:  ****

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Nell (1994)

(My choice again, as this was a modest critical fave and got a few Oscar nods.)

In the 70s, Jodie Foster was a pre-teen wonderkund, making a name for herself with a couple of Scorcese classics and a Disney fan-fave. But the 80s were not he her decade; Hollywood din’t quite know what to do with her puckish charm and razor-sharp intellect. All that changed with The Accused and her subsequent Oscar win for Best Actress, and all that really changed with her-follow up, a little-known thriller named The Silence of the Lambs, and yet another Oscar win for it. By the mid-90s she was in the driver’s seat, and could pretty much pick whatever she wanted to peruse.

And so one project she opted for was an adaption of the play Idioglossia, producing it with her newly founded company, Egg Pictures. She placed herself in the lead role of Nell (also the film’s title), an illiterate backwoods woman who can communicate with a language known only to herself. Clearly Foster had an affinity with this character and this topic matter – it’s evident in her devotion to the role – and she was rewarded with another Oscar nomination, although no win. And the movie itself has much going for it; it entertains some pretty heady ideas about basic human rights and the “what’s best for…” argument, particularly where it pertains to those with special needs and uncivilized. But while Nell is hard not to like, it’s also hard to too get too excited about it. The material here feels just a bit thin to sustain a feature-length release.

Liam Neeson plays Jerry Lovell, a country doctor who discovers Nell, left alone after the sudden death of her elderly mother, in a remote North Carolina shack. Kicking and screaming at the first sight of a stranger, she appears to speak a language of gibberish, but Lovell is determined to “tame” her enough to be able to help her. He enlists the help of Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson), an autism specialist, but when she arrives with a court order to institutionalize her, he responds with a court order of his own to prevent it. The judge withholds a verdict for three months, long enough for both doctors to study Nell and learn her language so he can render a more informed decision.
Lovell and Olsen move out to the woods (she in a nice boat on the river) to study the “wild child,” and, through the use of monitoring devices, observation and sheer patience, begin to realize that Nell’s language isn’t that far removed from English – it actually turns out to be a very distorted dialect learned from her mother, who had suffered a severe speech-affecting stroke. Lovell, in particular, develops a rapport with Nell – after he realizes that Nell’s fear of men stems from her witnessing her other’s rape, he resolves to use her gender as a way of neutralizing that phobia. All goes well with the study (with both doctors seeming to develop romantic feelings for one another), until the outside world steps in; local boys learn about Nell and taunt and sexually harass her, followed by inevitable media coverage. Nell is brought to a psychiatric hospital with disastrous results, and her court appearance doesn’t look so good either. But Nell rises to the occasion with an unexpected attempt to speak – enough, evidently, for a judge to allow her independence, and in an epilogue five years later, she enjoys a reunion with the doctors, now married to each other, along with an extended family of locals. And she appears to speak better English too.

Nell has a lot of nice tings going. Planted in the luscious mountains of North Carolina (and filmed there too), the story makes use of its misty vistas – you can almost feel like you’re there too. The “bad guys” in the film – the psychologists who want to study Nell (we all know how that goes) – are depicted without too much caricature. Clearly the Olsen character, who becomes Lovell’s love interest, must be somewhere in the middle, and I admired her underplayed ambivalence. Only at the end does she truly demonstrate feelings toward her colleague, and even then it’s more a matter of professional course. Not every movie has to have a sun-drenched love scene halfway through.

And I liked the Lovell character a great deal – he, after all, affords the film its main theme about how civility keeps us from feeling free and truly alive, cognizant of what really matters. (A recurring picture of Nell standing on a river log, arms outstretched toward the heavens, is its representative image.) Neeson ably makes the character work, along with its dynamicism. His change is not quite as obvious as Olsen’s, but it’s there. And he even manages to rescue some scenes that could easily have been completely laughable, such as the moment when he needs to show Nell his penis so she’ll be less fearful of the “weapon” used against he mother. Or the scene where he and Olsen sweet-talk each other using Nell’s gobbledygook, the premise being that her tongue is more emotionally connective.

But Nell has some flaws too, director Michael Apted takes a leisurely pace in telling his tale, even when parts of the film require a stronger momentum (like the buildup to the court case and the threat by outside interlopers). As a matter of fact, the whole thing could benefit from being more tightly wound, and even featuring a bit more backstory for Lovel and Olson – why does he yearn for that freedom of spirit that he see’s in Nell; why does she stick so rigidly to her pedantry?

There’s also a few loose ends. The local sheriff’s wife has some psychiatric issues of her own that are never made clear, and we’re led to believe that perhaps she’s Nell’s long-lost sister, but that’s never ascertained. And then there’s the ending, which pushes the disbelief that we’ve been heretofore willing to suspend. Just before the judge will likely remand her to a hospital, Nell suddenly rises to the occasion with an impassioned quasi-coherent speech about love and interconnectivity. And suddenly we dissolve to the five-years-later epilogue, in which we must assume she’s legally won her independence and can live back where she belongs. Apted robs us of that payoff, that doesn’t have to be overdramatic but it does have to be there.

By and large, Nell just feels too TV-movie, despite some occasional cinematic elements. I will remember these characters, but only as flattened representations of characteristics, not as fully fleshed-out people in their own right. And for a play adaption that is all about character, that is important. Still, it’s worthwhile for some of the ideas it entertains.

 Rating:  ***


Saturday, November 11, 2017

True Lies (1994)

(Another one of ,my choices – Fox’s other big action film in the summer of ’94)

Director James Cameron turned to Fox for the third time to back his 1994 project, True Lies. Made perfect sense, after all: the studio stuck with his megalomaniacal excesses throughout the strum und drang known as The Abyss, and probably figured a more conventional action flick would be a safer bet. They were right – Lies turned in a tidy budget despite a then-insane budget of 120 million – a ratio that would pretty much define the director’s profit margin thereafter.

But after lensing flicks about extraterrestrial and undersea aliens, and unstoppable cyborgs, where would the director go next? Well… Bond, it turns out. James Bond.

Well, somewhat. The opening sequence in True Lies, at least, is a Bond pre-credit sequence to a T. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, a spy for a top secret US agency who infiltrates a party in Switzerland where the head of an Arab terrorist group is in attendance. His mission is to grab some top secret info on his group – which he does – before promptly making a grand exit by blowing the place up real good and then meeting up with his co-operative, Albert (Tom Arnold) to leave town completely, Roll the Bond titles.

But there’s a problem here, and it’s an issue that has dogged the film ever since its release 23 years ago. Cameron’s conceit here is that Tasker leads a double life – he is secretly a happily (or so we think) married man to a woman named Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), leading her to believe his jetsetting is just a requirement for his salesman job. So far the ruse has worked for a good 20 years; despite a typically bratty teenage daughter, they lead the idyllic suburban life… until Harry discovers a shattering truth: his wife is having a affair. The other man? A skuzzy used car dealer (Bill Paxton) who ironically delights in pretending to a be an international spy. His fantasies intrigue Helen, who indulges his trysts passionately yet (still) chastely. Tasker gets the skinny on this guy and is enraged – to the point of using his federal resources to conduct a search and seizure mission on Helen and her beau – the former he locks in a room and interrogates while his and Albert’s identity is concealed behind a one-way mirror and voice distortion, the latter he dangles over a cliff and tells to get lost.

And it’s about at this point that the movie commits an unpardonable sin – it turns its heroes into assholes. And when they’re the only protagonists in the film, that’s deadly. They keep Curtis in the dark for a good half hour or so, culminating in her embarrassing striptease in a scene that was likely intended to be funny but winds up just cringingly awkward. I remember that the critics were cringing as well when Lies first came out, rebuking its dislocation between the terrorist-fighting plot which bookends the film and its ill-conceived midsection, which seems fatally out of sync in both storyline and tone. I was pretty much in agreement: Harry’s setup, I felt, was both cruel and digressive, and since I even liked the Bill Paxton character, I felt that his penalty was even crueler. Yeah, sure, he comes back in the end in a token scene of repentance, but big deal.

But now, seeing it 23 years later, I have to say that I wasn’t crazy about the terrorist stuff either. Harry’s primary enemy throughout the flick is some Middle Eastern honcho who spouts threats in Arabic and looks wide-eyed most of the time. And I just felt that his violence, and the violence Harry uses against him, was extremely off-putting. Perhaps it’s because we’re living in a post 9/11 world and scenes of a harrier jet firing rounds into a skyscraper just aren’t divertingly entertaining anymore. Or maybe we’re had too many incidents of mass shooters using semi or fully automatic weapons on civilians to really find similar actions depicted in the movies to be a barrel of fun.

There’s an extended chase scene – Tue Lies’ first act finale – that sums up my distaste. It begins in a men’s bathroom, where Harry confronts his nemesis for the first time. What begins with a simple would-be shooting quickly escalates into a hail of gunfire – dozens of rounds fired at lights, stalls, tiles, the floor, you name it – and then turns into a bloody fistfight. Now Cameron is no stranger to graphic violence -  look at his Terminator movies – but here his violence is unsettling and unrelenting. What should be fun, James Bondian antics winds up being joyless and brutal. But it doesn’t end there – it turns into a prolonged chase with Harry on horseback chasing the Arab on motorcycle – throughout just about every unlikely Washington venue you can name, and I kept thinking about what the horse was going through, and was all that really worth what they’re putting up on the screen?

By the time we get to the film’s finale – in which the terrorists detonate a nuclear warhead on a Florida keys island and threaten to do the same atop a Miami skyscraper, using Harry’s daughter as a hostage – we’re worn out, but not in a good way. We’ve been stung along, forced to follow a guy of questionable principle, on a mission of glorified, comic book antic of serious undercurrent. The helicopter rescue of a limousine-bound Helen, and the harrier jet rescue of Harry’s daughter on the Miami skyline, just isn’t exhilarating in the way it should be. There’s too much baggage, both in the way Cameron depicts his central character, and in the way the world has changed about terrorism since the mid-90s. And even though the latter isn’t necessarily the director’s fault, it still affects the way we perceive his movie.

Cameron would, of course, rebound – his Titanic just three years later remains one of my all-time favorite epics, and I’ve definitely gotten flack for that opinion. But it does just prove that the man knows how to get the adrenaline pumping. As he previously showed us in The Abyss, he can manipulate the movie viewer in such a way as I’ve never seen anything else like it. He’s got the old-school storyboarder’s mentality; like Spielberg, he knows the nuts and bolts of the craft, and he’s best when he works with just his camera and his editing machine. It was the Cameron of the original Terminator that I missed while watching True Lies.

But I’d be quite happy if I never had to see this movie again. James, just leave Bond to the Brits, and give us something from your heart.

Rating:  **

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Speed (1994)

Another Fox selection. Hmm, could this be a trend?

Regular readers of this blog know I’m no stranger to carping about the blockbuster mentality that consumed most Hollywood product starting the 80s . Gone was the indie spirit that characterized so many fine films made during the Golden Age of the late-60s and early 70’s, and I still believe that. Yet, this “Bigger is Better” shift did produce at least one noteworthy by-product: the action movie. It was a genre of which Tinsletown excelled, and they led the world in its production.

From The Terminator to Lethal Weapon to Rambo to Die Hard, producers like Joel Silver and Simpson/Bruckheimer packaged expertly-made, heavy-duty rollercoaster rides loaded with action, action and more action. No these weren’t shlocky little exploitation numbers like the Dearth Wish movies. Nor wee they cerebral character studies like The French Connection. They had one purpose and one purpose only: to keep you on the edge of your seat for a couple of hours, wanting more.

Die Hard adjusted he paradigm just a bit by enclosing the setting or situation, and ratcheting up the intelligence and immorality of the bad guys – a must in a new world now of better technology and more media-savvy audiences. Several imitators followed, and afte awhile it became shotrthand to sell a script with the shorthand “Die Hard on a ___________.”

By 1994, the subgenre seemed to be headed for life support, until a movie named Speed took the premise and shook it up a bit. Rather than have a bus taken over by terrorist, why not have it carrying a bomb, programmed to detonate if the bus slows down to under 50 MPH? Longtime DP Jan DeBont thought this would be a groovy idea for his first film as director; others weren’t so sure. So Fox ponied up a B-list star, Keanu Reeves; a completely unknown co-star, Sandra Bullock; and a paltry budget of 30 million dollars to give this guy a chance. The studio was fully expecting its True Lies (the next movie) to be the only action hit of the summer. But while that movie made money, it cost 100 million to make, far less profitable than Speed’s take of over 300 million. And it didn’t get nearly the critical acclaim.

That’s because Speed is phenomenally good. At just under 2 hours, it whizzes by in an instant – that’s because you’re on the edge of your seat throughout the whole damned thing. He sets up the characters fast, fast because…. there’s no time! A mad bomber in the form of Dennis Hopper has cut an elevator’s cables and now controls its emergency brake; the passengers will die unless he gets 3.7 mil. Quickly we meet LAPD officers Jack Traven (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels, who just barely manage to secure it to another cable so they can get everyone out. They get awarded, but don’t sit back because…. now Hopper’s mad and still wants the money and wants to get back at Jack! So he sets up the aforementioned bus bomb and sits back to see what his nemesis will do. Well, with the help of Annie Porter (Bullock) as the driver, he manages to keep rolling along, overcoming an unfinished highway, a ruptured fuel tank, a video surveillance camera prohibiting anyone from getting off, twists and turns and curves in the road and a myriad of assorted physical obstacles. When all that is said and done… wait!... there’s more: Hopper is still on the loose, and Jack may just have to go mano-a-mano on a runaway subway train, with hostage Annie tied up to enough packed explosives to blow her away to the next planet.

I’ve always had a short fuse with writers and directors who try to pile on too many crises. It comes off as contrived and desperate. But DeBont simply doesn’t give you the time to quibble. Once one sticky situation is averted, he’s got another one lined up to throw at you. He mastery with both story and film editing is beyond reproach – he has an uncanny ability to know just how long you’ll pay attention to something before you wander. Some critics critiqued Speed’s three-act structure, but I think it’s brilliant: DeBont knows the bus plot won’t carry the full two hours – it’s perfect at just over one. And the bookend vignettes are perfect at their respective lengths as well.

DeBont was a DP on Die Hard, not surprisingly, and he clearly put that experience to good use on Speed. But while Speed lacks the human interest and character development of Die Hard, it’s serviceable enough. There’s still plenty of hip, flip, police-buddy dialogue and semi-authentic banter amongst the troops for us no to blanche too much. And somehow, during those few moments where we actually are listening to what they’re saying, we’ve come to like them so much, particularly Reeves and Bulock, that we’ll let them read the phone book. Because by he end we feel like we’ve survived a war with them.

And he learned from Die Hard that suspension of credibility is easy if – you gusssed it – you don’t give them time to think. In the wonderful world of home video, when you can go back and watch again all those questionable moments, you can reassess just how far we’re suspending some of those moments. Answer: very far, as in:

1.     The gap in the freeway. Reeves claims it has a slight incline, so they can jump it. They showed it. I didn’t see it. All I saw was the big moment, when somhow, the bust did jump up – VERY high – easily landing on the other side. Bo and Luke Duke, eat your heart out.
2.     Jumping the subway track at he end. Of course, the line comes to a end, so what to do? Keanu flors the train so it jumps the track, and proceeds to destroy the station wall and wind up on a outside road, Wait, weren’t they below ground?
3.     Re-editing the TV signal. When Reeves discovers Hopper’s watching them on the bus-cam, he has the media intercept the signal who then lay it to tape, edit it so a running loop, rebroadcast the signal to its intended recipient and overriding the original signal. While this procedure is theoretically possible, there’s no way it could be done in the time allotted of a just few minutes.

And there’s more, but why bother going on? I wasn’t thinking about them the first time I saw it back in ’94. I liked it back then, and my opinion hasn’t changed much in the ensuing 23 years. (Jesus, has it been that long?) But there is one thing I appreciated more this time: Dennis Hopper. That dude can play a friggin’ villain! I think it mostly has to do with his combination of intelligence (all good baddies must have it) and chilling psycopathy, which he demonstrates with a sort of poetic philosophy. I was both intrigued and disturbed by his rants about bombing as an art, and how every unexploded bomb is a tragedy, never realizing fulfillment or self-actualization. For just a moment I even felt sorry for him. Just a brief moment, that is; then I went back to hating his living guts.

And one more thing. Made in 1994, Speed came out well before digital effects subsumed everything in entertainment, and I look back fondly on films that worked their magic purely on models, editing, stunt work, extensive second-unit and painstaking set labor – all things that have since become easier in the CGI era, and more obviously so. Seeing a film like Speed again gave me the same reaction I had after revisiting Die Hard – How in god’s name did they make this picture?

I’m not going to ask any more – I’m only going to watch and enjoy. That too, after all, is the magic of the movies.

Rating:  ****

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