Feb 282017

I was worried this movie would be melodramatic and sentimental, but it’s not.

Not counting credits the film is only a bit over an hour and a half long, which means it’s all the time busy getting things done. There’re no wasted moments, no detours into side plots. The clock is ticking down to disaster, and the story marches clearly forward at a steady pace.

Because events not people are the focus here, the characters don’t really need to be more than believably sympathetic outlines. Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg both play to type to great effect giving performances that suggest imperfect but admirably reliable men. Dylan O’Brien, inexperienced and eager, is well cast as the boy among men. You’re rooting for these guys once everything goes up in flames and genuinely nervous when fear plays across their faces.

On the other end of the spectrum, John Malkovich looks like he grew a new set of teeth to play his loathsome BP exec and his Louisiana accent is near perfect. I expected him and his pudgy colleagues to throw people out of the lifeboat at the end but they didn’t.

So I’m pleasantly surprised. The movie’s a real jaw-clencher and I think it will stand up to repeat viewings. So I’m adding it to my informal list of great disaster movies.

Sep 072013

Two action movies that I saw quickly, one after the other.

2 Guns was better and smarter than I expected it to be. I especially liked two moments. The first was the cubical scene from The Matrix transposed to a non-sci-fi genre: Mark Wahlberg directs Denzel Washington through a firefight from a neighbouring roof over a cellphone. It was overt, clever and well done. The second was the representation of Washington’s insight through his memory of a ring. It looks like the film is using a familiar convention–a cutaway to a character’s memory of an earlier image planted by the film–but it isn’t. Washington’s cutaway memory is of a ring, and the ring has nothing to do with anything. What matters is that he was in a motel room when he saw the ring. So the represented memory which typically brings us up to speed only shows us the first step of the main character’s mental work and leaves us in the dark until he has found the money. A very nice bit of storytelling.

Point Break surprised me. I hadn’t seen it since the late nineties, but since that time I had read quite a few references to it in film studies publications. It was eye-opening to realize how many of the interpretations I knew of were simply wishful thinking. They remain interesting and fun, but they cannot claim any validity as accounts of what the film is on its own terms.

On those terms, Bigelow’s film presents an invisible-because-normal masculinity pushed toward extremes. The film’s criticism of that masculinity is subtle and arises from the ways the ideal masculinity nurtured in sports and on the playground becomes unsustainable within established social norms of the adult male workplace. Patriarchy cannot accommodate the masculinity it cultivates and idealizes. This makes the movie a fascinating–and ultimately unsettling–look at why men break down.

On a different note, it was refreshing to see action progress in real environments in relation to ordinary obstacles. The long chase scene through suburban homes and yards near Point Break‘s midpoint is quite simply one of the best action sequences I know of, bar none.