Saturday, 21 January 2017

300 Words on "Speed" (1994)

Die Hard set the gold standard for action films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Its fusion of action, suspense, and wit would inspire a myriad of followers and gave birth to the phrase “Die Hard on a ___.” Speed, described as “Die Hard on a bus” is surely one of those followers, but it is so much more than that.

Speed subverts the usual pitfalls of the standard action film by placing importance not on the set-pieces, but the suspense. Sure, the action is there (and I love watching Keanu Reeves jump from a moving car onto a bus as much as the next guy), but it’s all about the central idea behind it all: a bomb wired to blow up a bus if it goes under 50 mph. Speed plays out more like a thriller, and it’s tension is nail-bitingly palpable at times.

Speed challenges the genre expectations of other Die Hard imitators by wrong-footing the audience time and time again. A scene involving the out-of-control bus and a baby carriage is a prime example. Just when you think that Speed is falling back on action movie clichés, it pulls the rug out from underneath of you and forces you to be drawn right back into the action.

In this way, Speed feels like an action film with a bit more substance than the usual genre fare. Some of the film’s finest moments are the times when it slows down and showcases the morality struggle going on within the doomed bus and a fine cast supported by Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, and Jeff Daniels go some way towards elevating the film even.

Yes, there are moments of undeniable ‘90s cheese, but to those willing to look at the big picture, Speed is more than just Die Hard on a bus. It’s a classic in its own.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

300 Words on "The Living Daylights" (1987)

The simplest reason that I love The Living Daylights is Timothy Dalton’s James Bond. Lending a darker and more serious edge to the secret agent, Dalton’s Bond feels like the rough-around-the-edges Ian Fleming original. But, the excellent script never lets Bond become too unlikable. In short, he’s the perfect medium between the suave, debonair super spy, and the hardened contract killer.

Yet another reason is Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy who is more intelligent and independent than the typical James Bond movie heroine.

There is the action. From its stunning pre-title sequence on the Rock of Gibraltar, to a beautiful car chase which finds Bond and Kara escaping in the Bond franchise’s most unique mode of transportation, to a foot chase on the rooftops of Tangier, to an aerial battle aboard a plane, The Living Daylights boasts some of the series’ best set-pieces.

There is the intrigue. The Living Daylights is surely one of the most complex Bond films ever made and puts the viewer in the same position as Bond as he accumulates clues to put together the pieces of a very intricate puzzle.

There’s the music. The title song by a-Ha is incredibly catchy and John Barry’s score is stunning.

There’s the car – the Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

Above all, however, The Living Daylights feels like a return to form. After, perhaps, one too many (admittedly fun) world domination plots, The Living Daylights feels like an intelligent Cold War thriller. While it may be heresy to say so, the earliest Sean Connery Bond films do feel a bit dated today. The Living Daylights feels like the closest thing to those originals, combining their suspenseful sensibility with the modern aesthetic. Though it’s clearly a piece from the ‘80s, The Living Daylights may be one of the most timeless Bond films of them all.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

300 Words on "The Accountant" (2016)

I love movies with great casts. The Accountant, by all standards, looked to be one of those films featuring performances from some of the best – and surely most popular – actors of the twenty-first century. Ben Affleck. Anna Kendrick. J.K. Simmons. Jeffrey Tambor. John Lithgow. But, movies with great casts always run the risk of under-utilizing their talented performers and, sadly, The Accountant turns out to be one of those movies. While Affleck turns in an excellent performance in the central role, and J.K. Simmons positively captivates in every scene – especially elevating one sequence which is essentially one long exposition dump dramatically – Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow are given far too little to do. And Anna Kendrick isn’t very believable as an accountant either.

But, even if reduced to marginalized roles, the cast turn in good performances complimenting a fine, original script. For much of the plot’s runtime, The Accountant is able to not only keep the audience’s full attention, but at times subvert their expectations. But, just when one is thinking that he or she has found an original, intelligent crime thriller, The Accountant falls back on age-old, worn-out clichés, sadly making a lot of what has just transpired seem quite anticlimactic. And then, when one applies a little more thought to what they have seen, they realize that the film’s non-linear story-telling actually presented a fairly simple story in a needlessly complicated manner.

That is not to say that The Accountant fails, however. It’s a good movie, to be sure, and, even in its underwhelming final act, is able to introduce a twist or two which is able to show that the smarter edge which persisted so long in the film is not entirely gone. The Accountant certainly aimed to thrill, but seems to have just missed its mark.  

Thursday, 5 January 2017

300 Words on "The Lodger" (1944)

A few words about film antagonists. They say that a movie is only as good as its villain. Oftentimes, villains can be easily categorized into different types: the cold, calculating force of evil like Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lector; an unstoppable killing machine with a blank countenance like Michael Myers in Halloween; or a force of nature like the shark in Jaws. And then, there is Jack the Ripper as played by Laird Cregar who very well might be an amalgamation of all three.

The 1944 remake of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ novel holds an interesting distinction in the history of film: it is a remake of an Alfred Hitchcock original which actually surpasses the work of The Master. Skillfully directed with emphasis on a film noir aesthetic by John Braham, The Lodger is one of the most sumptuous-looking horror films of the 1940s. But, what truly makes The Lodger so unforgettable is the central performance by Cregar. His performance as the killer is one of the most haunting in the history of horror films. Cregar’s performance as the Ripper predates Psycho by sixteen years, but the parallels to the knife-wielding Norman Bates are obvious. And, at once, Cregar manages to create a character that is eerily like the unholy combination of both the soft-spoken intellectual Hannibal Lector and the crazed, maniac Buffalo Bill.

Afforded the budget of an A-level picture, The Lodger is in a class all of its own. Its supporting players from Merle Oberon’s music hall dancer to George Sanders’s stiff-upper-lipped police inspector to Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s dottery old man make The Lodger an absolute treat.

But, The Lodger is a study in evil; a showcase for one of the most original and devilish performances to ever emerge from 1940s Hollywood. It’s a movie still liable to give goosebumps.