Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Movies Since Last Time

The Verdict (1982) I know it’s got kudos out the wazoo but this film wasn’t
nearly as good as I remembered it being. Maybe I know more about how courts and lawyers work now than I did then, or maybe I’ve gotten better at spotting plot holes. Either way, I’d been looking forward to this one working its way to the top of the Netflix queue and felt quite let down. Criticism aside, the casting and acting were superb, including Paul Newman, Jack Warden (one of my favorite character actors ever), James Mason, and Charlotte Rampling.

52 Pick-Up (1986) I saw Get Shorty not long ago, so watching 52 Pick-Up was a good lesson in what was wrong with Elmore Leonard adaptations prior to Get Shorty/Jackie Brown/Out of Sight even
when Leonard helped write the screenplay. John Frankenheimer’s reputation as a director of thrillers is well-earned (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train, Ronin, among many others) but his “everyone on the edge of a meltdown” style was inappropriate to Leonard’s material. I love Roy Scheider, but his intensity was too much for the piece; Ann Margret was badly miscast. Even when the film did use Leonard’s set pieces, the dialog doesn’t flow as it should. It didn’t help that the book took place in Detroit and the film in LA, as the whole vibe is off right from the start. (Yes, I know Tarantino moved Jackie Brown from Florida to California, but he still captured the essential feel of the story.)

Killshot (2008) Mickey Rourke plays Armand “Blackbird” Degas, a First Nation hitman for the Toronto mob who messed up a job and finds his
star descending. He messes up another job by being too efficient (these Mob guys are never satisfied) and falls into a partnership with complete whack job Richie Nix (Joseph Gordon-Leavett) that leads to more complications. Diane Lane and Thomas Janes are the straight couple who cross paths with this duo. Based on one of my favorite Elmore Leonard novels, Killshot isn’t great but it still deserved a much better fate than it got from the studio and critics on its release.

First Man (2018) Another film, like The Post, that manages to combine two potentially fascinating stories and diminish both. Ryan Gosling plays
first man on the moon Neil Armstrong as if Gosling thought he was still in Blade Runner 2049; Claire Foy matches him scene for scene. Each gets one chance to show emotion, but everything else is so tightly wound Terminators seem like laugh riots. Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, LaLa Land) manages to wring all spirit of adventure and camaraderie from the astronauts and the NASA ground personnel to the point where it seems like actuaries put the moon program together. The special effects have their moments (and I admit this might have been a much more entertaining film if seen in a theater, especially IMAX), but the end result makes NASA and the astronauts come off as exactly the kinds of people who would fake the landing.

Apollo 13 (1995) Damn near a perfect movie. Ron Howard takes grief because his movies never seem to rise above the source material; I don’t
study film enough to argue with that. In fairness it needs to be pointed out that he consistently makes excellent films when given the raw materials to work with, which makes him the equivalent of a baseball player who may not make the highlight reels but also doesn’t make any errors. Apollo 13 is an outstanding example of taking wonderful source material and letting it be. Do it justice and don’t try to gild the lily. I’ll never get tired of watching this movie.

1 comment:

Scott D. Parker said...

I just finished Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger and started American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley today. All in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 this summer. And the Apollo 13 movie is on the list. Love that film. One of my favorite parts is when that engineer throws all the various items on the table and says "This is what they have. We need to make an air filter."