Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

Category: Movie Notices

Detention (2011)

Genre Horror
People Joseph Kahn d.w.; Josh Hutcherson a.p.; Spencer Locke; Dane Cook; Shanley Caswell
/10 6

A group of high school students (whose teenage solipsism is represented by shooting their respective scenes as if they were different movie genres) team up to stop a serial killer who’s murdering them one by one.

When this movie came out I was excited by the premise but due to its limited release I wasn’t able to see it. An entertaining and somewhat meaningful movie could be made off of that premise, and the script would basically write itself. This is not that movie; this is something infinitely stranger that doesn’t lend itself easily to description.

It’s cut together in a very abstract way and it moves fast. The dialogue is so mind-numbingly saturated with pop-cultural references that it’s difficult to tell what they’re talking about. Plot points are raised and discarded at a whim. I’m still trying to process this movie some time after having seen it. It’s not bad, exactly, just inexplicable.

By the way (and believe it or not), Dane Cook is actually one of the most easily acceptable things about this movie. That makes two bearable film roles for him (the other being that movie where he gets killed with a shovel).

1h35m; 2011; Colour


A Simple Plan

Genre Crime
People Sam Raimi d.; Scott Smith w.; Danny Elfman m.; Bill Paxton; Bridget Fonda; Billy Bob Thornton; Brent Briscoe; Chelcie Ross; Becky Ann Baker; Gary Cole
/10 7

Three small-town men (Paxton, Thornton, Briscoe) discover a wrecked airplane in the woods with a dead body and $4.4 million in a duffel bag inside. Based on the novel by Scott Smith.

A comparison with No Country For Old Men is illuminating. It’s essentially the same story (though this movie was released several years before McCarthy’s novel was written) and fills much the same purpose. The money, the moral compromises and ensuing deaths, the apocalyptic tone and ultimate pointlessness are all the same. But No Country the book and film are both superior.

It’s not bad, exactly, although it’s agonizing to watch for the same reason an episode of Seinfeld is. There are some pretty good performances and it’s fairly well-written. It’s just superfluous and not very exciting.

2h1m; 1998; Colour; Oscar nods for Supporting Actor (Thornton) and Adapted Screenplay (Smith)

Night Watch (2004)

Genre Fantasy; Horror
People Sergei Lukyanenko w.; Timur Bekmambetov d.; Konstantin Khabensky; Vladimir Menshov; Valeri Zolotukhin; Maria Poroshina; Galina Tyunina; Ilya Lagutenko; Viktor Verzhbitsky
/10 7

Two supernatural factions struggle to gain control of a “Great One” who will decide which one wins.

I have read the second Night Watch novel by Sergei Lukyanenko. It was all I could get my hands on. If I say that it took some effort to understand how the world of the books was supposed to work, it is only because it is so refreshingly different from everything else that is happening in the genre. His supernatural creatures exist in a post-Soviet bureaucracy of light versus dark. Each “Other” must choose a side and uphold the truce, and all activities (magic, vampire feedings, etc) require licenses and permits. This movie is adapted by Lukyanenko himself.

There are some weird special effects going on. It is interesting to me as a Westerner who never sees this sort of thing in movies, but if it were an American film I probably would have been annoyed at some of it. The acting, even with the language barrier, struck me as very good, and the grungy Moscow made for some nice visuals. The movie is a nice diversion, though, while (what I’ve read of) the books are something much more. I would recommend reading one before watching this.

1h55m; 2004; Colour; Russian language spoken.

Crimson Tide

Genre War
People Denzel Washington; Gene Hackman; Tony Scott d.; George Dzundza; James Gandolfini; Matt Craven; Viggo Mortenson; Rocky Carroll; Danny Nucci; Rick Schroder; Hans Zimmer m.; Jerry Bruckheimer p.; Richard P. Henrick w.; Quentin Tarantino w.
/10 9

A US nuclear submarine is ordered to launch at Russia. A second emergency order, possibly intended to cancel the launch, is cut off in transmission when the ship is attacked by a Russian sub. The captain (Hackman) intends to go ahead with the launch, but the executive (Washington) refuses to concur with the order.

As I write this, Tony Scott has just committed suicide a few days ago. I had not seen any of his movies before (aside from a few moments of Top Gun), but I gave this one a try in his honour. It is exactly what everyone says about it. Washington, an actor I haven’t seen very much of (I watch the wrong kind of movies), is a stoic executive officer with a refined mind, the exact opposite of Hackman, an old guard Navy captain with just a hint of threat to him at first. Their chemistry is powerful; their shouting match on the bridge before Washington takes control of the ship is a tour de force.

With a pair of powerful leads and some very good supporting players (I can forgive George Dzundza for No Way Out), not to mention some of the most tense and claustrophobic action I’ve ever seen, this is my new favourite nuclear submarine movie, even better than The Hunt for Red October. I was told that Scott directed smart action movies, but I hadn’t quite expected this. Crimson Tide is a movie about human agency: you cannot treat a sub captain as a machine that infallibly translates the president’s fire order into a launched missile. The captain must decide to go ahead with the order, and all his underlings who play a part in it must do the same: if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. The movie ultimately comes down on the side of a Wolffian philosophical anarchism. It plays with some heavy stuff, and it doesn’t do a bad job of it at all.

1h56m; 1995; Colour; Oscar nods for Best Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound; Zimmer won a Grammy for the main theme.

Mazes and Monsters

Genre Fantasy
People Tom Hanks; Wendy Crewson; Rona Jaffe w.p.; Steven Hilliard Stern d.; David Wallace; Chris Makepeace; Anne Francis; Murray Hamilton
/10 6

Four kids decide to upgrade their D&D experience by LARPing their campaign. One of them (Hanks) loses track of what is and is not real and runs away to New York on a quest. Based on the novel by Rona Jaffe.

This is a very silly movie that came out of the Satanic mania of the late 70s and early 80s. The book is based on garbled press accounts of an actual incident, to lend it even more historical flavour. It is hilarious that purportedly serious people could misunderstand something as simple as role-playing games so drastically, but it did happen. Now that the moral panic (which actually caused a lot of harm to a lot of people) is lost in the sands of time, we can enjoy this movie guilt-free. Unfortunately, there’s not much to enjoy. The silliness of the premise is worth a couple of laughs, but it takes itself so seriously that stops being funny and becomes pathetic.

The movie features Tom Hanks in his first lead role. Despite everything, the acting is not that bad (of course the dialogue is stilted when they’re talking in-character; how could it not be?). It’s a shame that everything else wasn’t better. This movie is made with the same ingredients as many very entertaining fantasy B-movies. There’s just no love, no fun, no humour, because it was made by people on a mission.

1h40m; 1982; Colour

Flash Gordon (1980)

Genre Science Fiction
People Sam J. Jones; Melody Anderson; Topol; Max von Sydow; Timothy Dalton; Brian Blessed; Lorenzo Semple, Jr. w.; Dino de Laurentiis p.; Mike Hodges d.; Freddie Mercury m.; Brian May m.; Roger Taylor m.; John Deacon m.; Howard Blake m.; Gilbert Taylor c.; Ornella Muti; Robbie Coltrane
/10 8

Flash Gordon (Jones), a football star, and Dale Arden (Anderson), a travel agent, are shanghaied into a mission to save Earth by the somewhat mad Dr. Zarkov (Topol). On the planet Mongo, they fight against the evil emperor Ming the Merciless (von Sydow). Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton are the leaders of two alien races subjugated by Ming. Based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond.

This is a weird movie. You might be expecting straight-ahead cheesy soap opera like Star Wars, but that’s not what you’d get. Flash Gordon is not easy to describe, but you could approximate it by saying that it takes all the weirdnesses of pre-1960 science fiction and stretches them almost to the breaking point. Thus we get distorted and bizarre sexuality, alien guards defeated by Flash in a mock football game, and BRIAN BLESSED, all set to a soundtrack by Queen. The whole thing is so absurd it’s hard to find a place to ground yourself, and your response to the movie largely depends on whether that makes you angry or not.

1h51m; 1980; Colour

The Cat’s Meow

Genre Comedy; History
People Edward Herrmann; Kirsten Dunst; Eddie Izzard; Cary Elwes; Joanna Lumley; Jennifer Tilly; Peter Bogdanovich d.; Ian Whitcomb m.
/10 9

A clique of Hollywood elites gather for a birthday party aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. The lecherous Charlie Chaplin (Izzard) tries to seduce Hearst’s mistress, the stunning Marion Davies (Dunst), while film mogul Thomas H. Ince (Elwes) looks for an angle to manipulate his way into a partnership with Hearst (Herrmann).

This is a period drama based on a play—prime Oscar material, but surprisingly not nominated for anything. As one would expect, the sets and costumes are lavish, the music is good, and the whole thing moves along with admirable economy. Surprisingly, though, there’s more to it than that. The film is a remarkable little parable of the moral confusion that arises in a sleazy money-pit like Hollywood. It’s little more than a filmed play on an apparently continuous Firefly-style set, but the script has some good lines in it and says its piece without getting too big for its britches.

Edward Herrmann, amazingly, gets us to sympathize with William Randolph Hearst. As a big jolly John Goodman-type character, he seems harmless and loveable even in his darker moments. Also worth noting is Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin like you’ve never seen him before. Izzard is surely one of the greatest stand-ups who ever lived, but his skill as an actor is woefully under-appreciated. I can scarcely believe that the man sincerely trying to convince us that while, yes, he does have a history of impregnating 16-year-old girls, he’d still be an ideal romantic partner is the same person as the man who did this stuff.

The movie gets only a tad preachy right at the end, when it reiterates its point in case you missed it the first time round. That’s quite possibly the only bad thing you can say about it.

1h52m; 2001; Colour

The Parallax View

Genre Conspiracy; Action
People Warren Beatty; Paula Prentiss; Hume Cronyn; William Daniels; David Giler w.; Lorenzo Semple, Jr. w.; Robert Towne w.; Alan J. Pakula d.p.; Michael Small m.; Gordon Willis c.
/10 9

After witnessing an assassination, a reporter (Prentiss) is murdered under suspicious circumstances. Her conspiracy-obsessed ex-boyfriend (Beatty, also a reporter) looks into the mysterious deaths of other witnesses, which leads him to a corporation that trains mentally disturbed people to be hired killers.

The 70s was a great time for conspiracy thrillers. This movie came out of that grand tradition. It invites comparison with 1975’s Three Days of the Condor, with which it shared a screenwriter. They pull many of the same tricks, but The Parallax View has more concessions to the viewing public in the form of gratuitous action scenes involving cars going over jumps. It starts off as a fairly dumb, if very well-shot, movie, but gradually becomes better and better until it culminates in the chilling training montage. The music in that scene was especially effective.

While the aesthetic is somewhat dated—the future looked very different in 1974—it’s very visually appealing. The acting is up to snuff but not astounding. Conspiracy movies just don’t do character. In all, it’s a very enjoyable little movie, though more sensitive viewers may prefer to watch with the lights on.

1h42m; 1974; Colour

No Way Out (1987)

Genre Political; Thriller
People Kevin Costner; Sean Young; Gene Hackman; Will Patton; George Dzundza; Maurice Jarre m.; Roger Donaldson; Kenneth Fearing w.; Howard Duff; Jason Bernard; Fred Dalton Thompson; Iman; Brad Pitt
/10 5

The US Secretary of Defense (Hackman) accidentally kills his mistress (Young) and, on the advice of his chief advisor (Patton), orders a search for a Soviet mole to simultaneously cover up his involvement and pin the death on the only witness. This is complicated by the fact that the Navy commander in charge of the search (Costner) is that witness. Based on the novel The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing.

The most striking thing through the first half-hour of this movie is how dated and directionless it is. It’s nothing more than a collage of loosely related scenes with interludes of Kevin Costner and Sean Young getting naked to porno music by Maurice Jarre. Is this what sexy looked like in the 1980s? Then the film actually gets going and it just becomes stupid. And it continues to be stupid right till the end, when there’s a gratuitous twist that should in theory be as effective as the Keyser Soze reveal, but in practice isn’t. Because it’s stupid, you see.

Costner is wooden and slightly funny-looking. Young has very little to do until she dies. Patton is meant to be a creepy gay guy obsessing over his boss, which may slightly freak out anyone born on this side of 1987. Hackman comes out on top: even playing a sleazy, irresponsible, abusive bastard, he’s still more likeable than Kevin Costner.

1h54m; 1987; Colour


Genre Crime
People Alan J. Pakula d.; Jane Fonda; Donald Sutherland; Charles Cioffi; Roy Scheider; Michael Small m.; Gordon Willis c.
/10 6

A semi-retired call girl (Fonda) is being stalked by an unknown voyeur, while a private detective working a missing persons case (Sutherland) traces his subject back to her.

This is the first of Pakula’s “paranoia” films, and to my mind the weakest. The shots are structured the same way, the music is the same style, but the atmosphere lacks a certain something. Fonda does a very good job, but I think Sutherland is misused. He’s a very good actor, but the sad fact is that he’s kind of funny-looking, and as a result he’s only believable in certain kinds of roles. As they say, “Sorry, you’re the best actor but this part calls for a guy-next-door type. You don’t look as if you’ve ever lived next door to anyone.” Six Degrees? Ordinary People? Sure. But I don’t buy him in this.

1h54m; 1971; Colour; Oscars for Best Actress (Fonda); Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay