Mission: Impossible III

Mission Impossible III movie poster

 

A series of disconnected thoughts:

I rue the day Terminator 2 (aka “T2”) came out and was a big hit; now every pre-ordained blockbuster comes abbreviated: ID4, LXG, AVP, X3, and now of course M:I:III.

Like most summer action blockbusters, M:I:III is at first enjoyably preposterous but quickly becomes exhausting. Although the plot is incredibly complex, it has no throughline to thread it all together; it’s a series of sequences.

M:I:III is capped off with a truly terrible song by Kanye West. Of course it’s hard to top the version by U2’s rhythm section, but the producers could have covered themselves by picking somebody with a little more edge.

Like Michael Jackson, it’s now almost impossible to watch Tom Cruise perform without his public persona coloring everything. On the other hand, he’s nothing if not intense, so perhaps that works in his favor here.

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta movie poster

 

For all the negative buzz regarding Alan Moore’s total disavowal of the adaptation, I was surprised to find the film kept far closer to the book than I expected. Closer, in fact, than the two other travesties of Moore’s comics, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s better than both, if by itself still not very good.

It’s impossible for me to imagine how I would have reacted had I not read the book several times, but I suspect I would have had very mixed feelings either way. When if comes to movies based on comics, it’s the prerogative of every fanboy to obsess over “what they changed.” So let me point out a few changes I feel illustrate how the filmmakers either misunderstood or deliberately warped some key themes that make the book what it is.

First, Evey’s life (and the future Great Britain, for that matter) as seen in the film is in a far less desperate state than in the book. The book opens with her at the absolute end of hope, her parents dead and herself alone, blacklisted and unable to survive. She makes a misguided and pathetic attempt to prostitute herself, runs afoul of the corrupt police, and is “saved” (in more ways than one) by V. Her susceptibility to V’s seduction is much more plausible if she herself is already a victim of the state. In the film, she’s a rather happy person with a regular job, and her encounter with V is motivated by a redundant invented character called Deitrich. Every theme Deitrich represents is already covered by the character Valerie (which is, incidentally, lifted almost unaltered from the book).

But perhaps the biggest deviation is the very nature of the fascist state Great Britain has become. In the book, it’s something that just happens; a form of order that arises out of the chaos following a nuclear world war. In the film, the great societal disruption is a conspiracy machinated by a cabal of shadowy old white men, who then step in and profit from the reconstruction. Of course, the filmmakers are obviously reaching for an analogy to the Bush Administration, Carlyle Group, Halliburton, etc. While that may make the story of the film relevant to today, it obscures a more powerful point of the book: it’s far more scary when fascism arises out of the common consent of the people, as it did with Nazi Germany.

Bubble

Bubble movie poster

 

As a look into the lives of factory workers in an economically depressed town turns into a noir (as Steven Soderbergh himself notes on the commentary track), I caught a whiff of class anthropology. That said, I understand Soderbergh’s point that critics’ charges of exploitation are condescending; the non-actors are intelligent human beings who wholly knew what they were getting into.

With this project, Soderbergh is tackling several unknowns at once: high-definition video, the feasibility of simultaneous release, and the storytelling device of drawing on the real-life experiences of non-actors. How does one tell if an experiment is a success when there are so many variables?

The Girl in the Café

The Girl in the Cafe movie poster

 

David Yate’s The Girl in the Café, a made-for-HBO movie, was incredibly cute, and my heartstrings were indeed pulled, but I couldn’t shake the sense the love story was wrapped around the real purpose of the film: explicating the issue of extreme poverty to help warm the public up for Live 8. Of course, I feel like a bastard for criticizing this aspect of it. Plus, the age difference between Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald was so icky that, forget about disagreeing over whether to battle or defer to stubborn politicians, it’s an issue unto itself.

Actually, it’s a perfectly charming and lovely movie, I’m sorry.

Reykjavik should hereby pass an ordinance decreeing its name shall heretoforth be spoken only in a Scottish accent.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead movie poster

 

For most of it, I thought for sure Shaun of the Dead was a four-starrer, but it lost its way at some point. I’m not sure exactly of the transition point, but I felt that the tone had changed too drastically by the time the characters were trapped in the pub (in other words, I had stopped laughing). Until that point, I was totally loving it, particularly a newscaster’s description of the zombies as “shambolic.” It became a bit nasty and grim (sons blowing their undead mum’s brains out), and then veered back to whimsy at the end. But all that said, it’s remarkable that despite all the humor, satire, and melodrama, it’s still an honest-to-goodness zombie movie.

Did you spot the virtually wordless cameo by Arthur De- I mean, Martin Freeman?

Tarnation

Tarnation movie poster

 

God, I want to jump out a window. I sandwiched a movie as innocuous as Willy Wonka inbetween this recent run of major movie bummers: Tarnation, Kurt & Courtney, Sid & Nancy, 11’09″01, Downfall… but it didn’t amount to much more than a breather. Let’s see… are there any Care Bear DVDs on Netflix I can use to balance out the movies I’ve been watching recently that feature grief, despair, holocaust, addiction, abuse, and terrorism?

Sid & Nancy

Sid and Nancy movie poster

 

And now to raise the gander of another friend. Sorry, Kevin, but I’m still not much of an Alex Cox fan and found this one a little hard to digest.

But no doubt, Gary Oldman is superb (the degree to which he disappears into roles is actually a bit scary – did anybody besides me not even recognize him in Hannibal and The Contender until the end credits rolled?). And some of the dialogue is choice: “What’s happened to Jonny?” “Johnny got beat up by fascists.”

Maybe like Kurt & Courtney, my Punk Appreciation Deficiency Syndrome colored my response the film.

11’09″01 – September 11

11'09

 

A series of short films inspired by or in reaction to 9/11 made by directors from nearly every continent.

At first, I thought for sure I would be giving this one more than three stars, but the quality of the short films takes a steep dive after the first two. The first in particular, by Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf, is excellent. It opens on an entire Afghanistan village emptying their well in order to manufacture bricks to build shelters for when the US will bomb them. A female schoolteacher rounds up all the children and attempts to explain to them what happened in New York, and why the Americans are about to kill them. Step one: try to illustrate the concept of a skyscraper.

The short from Egypt is quite bad, and almost laughable (dig the ghost of a buff American Marine killed in Beruit, walking out of the ocean, soaking wet and topless). And unfortunately, Sean Penn’s contribution was over-edited into oblivion. But a late high point is Ken Loach’s documentary about the US-instigated overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected government on… wait for it… September 11, 1973!

And a bit of trivia: Mira Nair’s short was written by an old roommate I had back in film school.