Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pass the Popcorn, Please

It’s been a while since I commented on movies I’ve seen recently; binge-watching The Shield has taken up most of our TV viewing time. But, we have seen a handful, and I’m stuck for a blog post today, so here goes.

Pain & Gain. Didn’t know what to expect, adding this to the Netflix queue on a recommendation, and was pleasantly surprised. Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson play a pair of muscleheads who lust after The American Dream™ (no, not Dusty Rhodes) and decide to get it by kidnapping millionaire Tony Shalhoub. Loosely based on a true story, this is a comic noir of half-baked ideas and half-assed execution. The kidnappers lack discipline, experience, and a clue, and things go as badly as one might expect. Director Michael Bay plays it for laughs and gets the tone just right. (Yes, that Michael Bay. Thus might be my favorite movie of his.) Lots of fun. Wahlberg and Johnson are well cast; Shalhoub is as good as always. Ed Harris makes a cameo appearance, and, as usual, is as good as it gets. Not a timeless classic, but a couple of hours of off-kilter fun.

Ride the High Country. George Pelecanos got to program an evening of Turner Classic movies; this was one of his picks. (I hope to get to them all.) Randolph Scott and Joel McCrae play a pair of over-the-hill lawmen who team up to guard a gold shipment from the wildcat miners to the bank. Unknown to straight-arrow McCrae, Scott and his young sidekick plan to steal the gold. The kid falls for a farmer’s daughter (Mariette Hartley in her first role), and things go bad at the camp, leading to a hazardous trip down the mountain where you don’t know who to trust. The two old pros play it out to the end in a movie that could have been cliché-ridden but instead gives a new look that presages the new wave of Westerns Clint Eastwood was about to start. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, and hints of where he’ll go with The Wild Bunch are evident. Far better than I expected from a 1962-vintage Western.

American Hustle. Meh. Lots of good bits that didn’t add up to as much as they could have. Too long, and I have an impression the original cut was even longer. (The voice-over near the beginning jammed exposition down your throat like a freshman composition major summarizing Genesis.) The director seemed to want to make a Scorsese picture, and only Scorsese should try that. (Not even him, sometimes.) Christian Bale was good, though he often seemed to be doing an Al Pacino impression, which made me think of how much better Pacino would have been when he was the appropriate age. The women carry the movie; Jennifer Lawrence steals all her scenes, in a good way. Louis CK was perfectly cast. Not a waste of time, but not something that deserved bumping to the top of the queue. (As we did.)

The Seven-Ups. Another of Pelecanos’s picks. In the style of the French Connection (directed by French Connection’s producer, Philip D’Antoni), Roy Scheider leads a team of cops that investigates only crimes with a penalty of at least seven years. His snitch (Tony LoBianco) is playing both ends against the middle. Lots to like, but it never grips you like The French Connection. Not only does the whole not exceed the sum of its parts, it doesn’t quite equal it. Best car chase ever though, covering more ground, units coming and going, and all doing stuff cars can actually do. No jumping or flying or rolling and continuing to run or shit like that. Just serious driving, well photographed. (For those who wish to cut to the chase, here it is. The cop in the trunk is Ken Kercheval, who would go on to play Cliff Barnes in Dallas.)


John McFetridge said...

Odd coincidence, I just watched The French Connection again last week. I'd actually forgotten how bleak the ending was - oh the 70s...

I agree, I spent most of American Hustle wondering what it would have looked like with Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman.

Have to check out Ride the High Country, I've never seen it.

Dana King said...

I've watched The French Connection six or seven times in the past six months, in two separate binges. I know it well enough now to spt some gaping holes, but that has not dimmed my appreciation for what an overall great film it is. As you said, John, the ending is bleak, but that's how it has to end.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by Ride the High Country. I definitely was.

Mike Dennis said...

Dana--I'm on board with all of your critiques, except PAIN & GAIN, which I've never seen. RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY was exceptional, Scott's final film, and McCrea's last except for one or two he made many years later, just before his death. AMERICAN HUSTLE was all flash and 80s hair and NO substance, which of course distinguishes it from Scorsese films. It seemed like every time the director reached a fork in the road (tell the story or show period detail), he went for the period detail. He had a true story, compelling, and begging to be filmed. How he screwed it up is beyond me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Glad someone else didn't get the glory of American Hustle. I even went a second time to see if I'd been wrong.

Dana King said...

I think what hurt AMERICAN HUSTLE most--at least with me--was I couldn't shake the idea there was a GREAT movie to be made there, and they didn't make it. Mike's points above are well taken. The levels of psychological and moral introspection available in the material, combined with my growing appreciation of the films of 30 - 50 years ago made the whole thing seem flat. I'm not sorry I watched it, but I have no desire to see it again.