Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery
I’m about 15 years late coming around to this one. Although it was impossible for me to ignore it’s ubiquitous presence for the better part of a decade, I never bothered to actually sit down and watch the damn thing. Now that I finally have, I can say that it certainly has its moments, but it’s also very uneven. Like just about every other movie starring a Saturday Night Live member, there’s enough genuinely funny material here to occupy a 10-minute skit, but not nearly enough for a 100-minute feature. Moments of brilliance, such as Michael York’s awesomely-named Basil Exposition and Seth Green’s disbelief at his father’s misguided attempts to kill the heroes, are sandwiched in between two many moments of obvious lowbrow gags. Still, despite its unevenness, the film has a goofy energy that I prefer over the more abrasive approach of modern comedies.
In the mood for some gratuitous violence? This film does the trick nicely. I’m not familiar at all with Judge Dredd, so I can’t say whether or not this new film is an accurate representation of the comic book character. What I can say is that the film, much like The Raid: Redemption, gives the action genre a much-needed shot in the arm. Like that smaller-profile film, Dredd is set mainly in a tower block, with the main character having to fight his way through the different levels to get to the top and confront the evil crime boss (here played by Lena Headey). While The Raid: Redemption offers a little more adrenaline and impressive fight choreography, Dredd offers a compelling sci-fi world (with definite shades of Robocop) and some more well-rounded characterizations (although nothing too complex, not like it’s needed). It also offers what may be the most impressive 3d presentation since Hugo. This is a film that deserved a better reception at the box office. It’s not a great film, but if you’re looking for a solid 95 minutes of gritty action, I’d recommend giving Dredd a look.
Time After Time
Here’s an interesting little film. Malcolm McDowell, here cast against type, plays H.G. Wells, who has just invented a time machine in 1893. Unfortunately, he unknowingly is friends with Jack The Ripper (the brilliant David Warner), who steals the time machine and travels to 1979. For reasons that I’m struggling to remember, the time machine comes back to Wells, and he travels to 1979 to track the Ripper down. What follows is a bizarre and kind-of-lovable mash-up of science-fiction, thriller, and fish-out-of-water comedy. McDowell spends some time adapting to life in the 1970s, and even falls in love with 20th century woman Mary Steenburgen. While this is going on, the Ripper continues his killing spree in his new environment, and eventually the two 19th century men have to confront each other. I went into this one not really expecting all that much, but I ended up finding the whole thing very charming. McDowell completely makes you forget that this is the same guy who played Alex from A Clockwork Orange, while Warner is at his sinister best as the Ripper. It’s fairly lightweight stuff overall, although there is a little bit of substance in the talks between Wells and the Ripper; the former believes the future will be a utopia, while the latter insists that human nature prevents society from ever becoming peaceful. Anyway, even if you’re just enjoying it on the surface level, it’s the kind of film that’s very easy to enjoy without having to provide much effort.
Dead Of Night
This 1945 horror classic presents an anthology of sorts of various chilling vignettes, connected loosely by a frame story with a group of strangers reminiscing about their past supernatural experiences. The stories range from dark to comic, surreal to straightforward (one of these segments features the two traveling companions from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, who apparently appeared together in a number of films during that time period). The film is serviceable for most of its running length, but it saves the best for last. Once Michael Redgrave enters the picture with his ventriloquist dummy, the film actually achieves a legitimate level of creepiness. The finale, in particular, features a quick moment of surreal terror that I will admit to giving me goosebumps. While the film overall doesn’t kick into high gear until the final 30 minutes, it’s not hard to see why it has a strong reputation within the horror genre.
The Queen Of Spades
This came packaged with the Dead Of Night DVD. I’d never heard of it before, but when I read the synopsis and saw that it starred Anton Walbrook, who’s terrific in the Powell & Pressburger films, I figured I’d give it a try. And it’s a serviceable psychological thriller, with a devious and highly theatrical performance from Walbrook, and a decent enough atmosphere. It lacks a lot of standout elements, however, and while there’s a satisfying moment of poetic justice in the conclusion, the whole thing is a little too leisurely and ordinary to stick in my memory for very long.
Another anthology film, this time consisting of three animated shorts from acclaimed Japanese directors, including Akira and Steamboy director Katsuhiro Otomo. Surprisingly, this anthology manages to stand out from the other collections I’ve seen (New York Stories, Eros, etc.), where a strong short is usually packaged with a couple average-to-rubbish ones. Memories manages to sustain a consistent level of quality the whole way through. The first, Koji Morimoto’s Magnetic Rose, is the best, which isn’t too surprising since it was scripted by the late, great Satoshi Kon. It follows a group of astronauts as they investigate a mysterious distress signal in space. Obviously with that setup, there are clear references to Alien, but the film quickly starts to incorporate elements from The Shining and other supernatural chillers, with effective and surprisingly emotional results. The second segment, Tensai Okamura’s Stink Bomb, is not quite on the same level as the first segment, although it has its strong points. Following a young lab worker who unknowingly becomes a biological weapon, the segment ends up resembling the apocalyptic desolation of 28 Days Later, although with more comedic and satirical elements. The final segment, Otomo’s own Cannon Fodder, is the most ambiguous and unconventional entry, looking at a day of life in a town during wartime, where the population has an unhealthy obsession with firing cannons at an unseen enemy. All in all, this is an anthology worth seeking out, especially for fans of thought-provoking and more adult-themed animation.
First segment: 9/10
Second segment: 7/10
Third segment: 8/10
The Devil’s Advocate
For most of its running length, Taylor Hackford’s 1997 film is an effective, if slightly goofy, mix of horror and heavy-handed morality play. Al Pacino plays Satan, and for once he’s actually in a role that makes perfect sense for his trademark brand of overacting. The direction, especially early on, has a lot of fun with his character. There’s a quality drinking game just waiting to happen here: every time Pacino walks down subway steps or stands in front of a fireplace, take a shot. Anyway, despite an overly-long run-time, the film manages to be engaging and at times suitably disturbing. And then it all implodes in a pretty terrible final half hour. Pacino finally goes way too far overboard, and it concludes with one of those cheap “oh, it was just a dream” endings that looks like it was added in later after poor test screenings. There’s enough interesting material in the first two hours, but that only makes it an even greater disappointment when the film can’t bring it all home on a satisfying note.
Any Given Sunday
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this film was supposed to be about. It starts off as a reasonably-entertaining inside look into professional sports (think Moneyball on steroids and without any statistics). Then, somewhere along the line it turns into a typical inspirational sports film, building up to the classic genre climax of “everything depends on the outcome of this final game.” The big problem, however, is in the details. Going into an Oliver Stone film, you know you’re going to get a certain degree of visual showboating. But not even a history of viewing Stone films can prepare you for the nonsensical visual onslaught that occurs during most of Any Given Sunday‘s waaaaaaay too long 157 minute run-time. Still, I suppose all the visual mayhem is in line with the film’s flashy and empty-headed subject matter. But that leads to another problem, because the film never feels like it’s giving an accurate depiction of the inside world of professional football. Because Stone apparently couldn’t get the rights from the NFL, the film creates a phantom league called the AFFA, and the result is a narrative that feels like it’s populated by alternates instead of the main players. I could go on to mention the cliched themes, or, apart from Dennis Quaid, the generally ineffective performances, including Al Pacino back in full-on “HOOAH” mode, but I’ll just wrap it up and say that its mostly a waste of time and brainpower.