Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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More old movie reviews

You asked for them (no really!) so here they are. My impressions of the 3 films I saw over the weekend while sick.

In ascending order of quality

#1) Young Adam

This movie is a puzzle. All the elements are in play for an interesting and worthwhile drama. It's got a really solid cast headlined by Ewan McGreggor and Tilda Swinton. It has a definite place and time, the Scottish canals of the late 1950's. The dialog is decent, if a bit sparse and plain, the direction is fine, and there's a very consistent tone. Too consistent, really, and that's what ends up bringing the whole thing down. Young Adam starts off with some desperate and lonely people on a barge and ends with...some desperate and lonely people on a barge. During the course of the film different people get on and off the barge, and at the end the main character leaves it, but nothing really changes. There's a death that's central to the main subplot of the film, but it never really goes anywhere surprising or overly interesting. The film is all atmosphere and setup and...that's it. You don't get to know the characters much beyond what you know after the first 10 minutes, interesting as they may be, and it ends up not really going anywhere. By the time the credits role you're anxious for the coming of the climax, but there isn't one, not really.

It's a well made movie and people who like slow slice of life pieces might enjoy, but ultimately it feels hollow and not in a good way. It's not a story that had to be told, at least not in this way. One could argue that the dissatisfaction it induces in its audience is fundamental to the point of the film, but I don't think it even does that particularly well. It just meanders and stops. What a waste.

At least there's a good deal of nudity, even if none of it is particularly erotic.

#2) I, Robot

This is a peculiar sci-fi action film. Lurking beneath the surface of this movie is a really interesting story. It's based loosely on the Isaac Asimov 3 laws tales, which I adored growing up, and it could've been great. Unfortunately someone decided that instead of being a great sci-fi movie it should be an exciting one, so numerous gunfights and action set-pieces subvert, and then sabotage, the plot. How would it have worked? A dark science fiction detective piece with a few small scale gunfights and daring escapes would have been satisfying. 10 more minutes of philosophy and discussion and 15 less of pointless CG hi jinx. It had a lot of potential.

Instead you get plot holes and big boring action stuff and lots of PG-13 shooting. It plays to its own weaknesses, the villains are poorly designed and non-threatening, the CG doesn't look particularly real, and the outcome is so obviously pre-determined as to make it pointless. The film really has a lot in common with Terminator 1 and 2, but fails to recognize what those films did, which is that while one or two unstoppable robots are awesome a whole horde of them aren't really that interesting. This film has Hollywood's lowbrow fingerprints all over it, and it makes me sad.

#3) Hellboy

This was by far the best of the bunch, and was a really enjoyable film. Why? Because it stayed true to what it wanted to be, which was an exciting fun supernatural action romp. By not getting too bogged down in subplots or side stories the film moves at a decent clip through its fun campy story and balances cheesy action scenes with a decent sense of humor during the 'dramatic' sections. It knows that its special effects aren't entirely convincing and that its action sequences aren't overly memorable, but it doesn't care because it's just trying to keep you entertained. It's a little smart, a little self-aware, and a lot of fun.

There's not much more to say than that, except that the essence of what makes this movie good can be found in its casting of Jeffrey Tambor as the FBI director. Here is a character who could have just been a typical hardass bureaucrat, but Tambor gives him a humanity and complexity that makes him actually interesting as a character. He's harried by budget overruns, a little scared by all this paranormal mumbo jumbo, on a bit of a power trip, but also concerned with doing his job right and willing to change his judgments if the situation warrants it. This means that scenes with the chief are more interesting and less formulaic than they would otherwise have been, and that's the attitude of the whole film. Apply a coat of fresh paint to a bunch of tried and true formulas, skew it a little off center, and above all entertain. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's entertaining and re watchable and that's all it aims to be and that's all it has to be.
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