204-208: Movies on an airplane

Watching movies on an airplane is never the most beneficial way. The screen is way too small and the movie itself is cropped, if not downright censored by the airline. But it does give you the opportunity to watch those movies that you never were intending to watch anyway. Recently I found myself on a round trip to Europe (a ten-hour flight), so I had some catching up to do. I ended up watching five movies all the way through and one, Madagascar 3, which I will finish at a later opportunity, because that movie was just bat shit crazy. The five movies I watched were:

204: Rock of Ages

rock-of-agesHoly smokes, this was a mixed bag of good and bad feelings. I love ‘80s music, I love a good musical now and then and I generally like it when Tom Cruise goes balls to the wall. But Rock of Ages was just too much for me. Some of the songs I could get through, because to be honest some of the originals just deserve to be butchered, youth sentiment or not. Other songs were just too horrendous for words. For example, Malin Akerman and Cruise trying to create some sort of horrible version of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is (one of my favorite songs ever) made me jump to the screen to find the fast forward button. It was that horrendous. Besides the mostly not-so-good renditions of the songs the screenplay in itself had nothing new to bring to the table and started to irritate me after a while. In the end Rock of Ages just felt like an experiment gone wrong.

205: The Sweeney

the-sweeneyThe British are a rough bunch and The Sweeney proves that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law over there. Ray Winstone plays Regan, a hard-nosed cop who leads a team of officers who have their own particular brand of law enforcement. They don’t shy away from methods that are by many deemed less than desirable, but they get the job done and for some that is the only thing that counts. Regan comes under fire from Internal Affairs exactly because of his methods and to complicate his situation even further he is having an affair with the investigator from IA and an old adversary suddenly decides to return to the scene. With a pulse-pounding soundtrack, moody photography and excellent acting The Sweeney proves it is a force to be reckoned with. The Sweeney combines the style of Michael Mann, the bombast of Christopher Nolan and the mindless action of Michael Bay to create a whole that is thoroughly entertaining.

206: Men in Black 3

men-in-black-3I was never a big fan of Men in Black. I found it to be really on the nose and most of the time not that funny. I was, however, impressed by the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. In Men in Black 2 some of that chemistry was there, but it was overshadowed by an extremely bad screenplay that wasn’t able to reproduce any of the good stuff from the first movie. Now, several years later, we get a third installment, and I must say that the the people behind the scenes have redeemed themselves. This is a very funny and even in some way emotional return to the characters we liked so much in part one. Especially Josh Brolin as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones is a home run. The movie has enough momentum to move along at a brisk pace with an ending that took me completely by surprise. I did not see that twist coming, but maybe that was a stuffy atmosphere in the airplane playing tricks on me.

207: The Bourne Legacy

the-bourne-legacyI like the original Bourne Trilogy very much. Matt Damon managed to create a character that was on one hand a terminator and on the other a human being searching for his identity. All the machinations around him made these movies even more compelling, but it was really Damon who sold them. With The Bourne Ultimatum Paul Greengrass finished the trilogy in a very satisfying manner, so why would we need a fourth Bourne movie? Beats me, and The Bourne Legacy didn’t make me a believer either. We are led to believe that there are more people like Bourne out there, which is not really a stretch, and that they are controlled by a Jurassic Park-like scheme revolving around mysterious chems without which the agents can’t really perform. Legacy starts out decent with Jeremy Renner proving he is certainly up to the task to perform the physical part of the role, but director Tony Gilroy (writer of the original trilogy) can’t keep up the pace and he gets bogged down in a run-of-the-mill story that in no way can hold a candle to the Damon-Bourne movies. For the most part I was pretty much bored to tears by The Bourne Legacy.

208: The Watch

the-watchWhen The Watch was released in theaters I had the feeling I had already seen the best parts of the movie by seeing the trailer several times. And I wasn’t far off, because that was almost entirely true. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and relative newcomer Richard Ayoade are all members of the neighborhood watch, while they don’t really share the same intentions for this extracurricular activity. As it so happens an alien invasion is about to go down in their neighborhood and they seem to be the last line of defense for the human race. The one thing that is great about The Watch is director Akiva Schaffer’s willingness to let his cast go off the rails most of the time. I got the feeling that a lot of what is shown in The Watch was actually improvised by the comedians during shooting. The most hilarious moments come when Vaughn and Hill are let loose, these guys are improve masters and it shows. If only the rest of the movie was as good as those moments. The Watch is long, largely not very funny and ultimately unsatisfying. Given the cast and crew involved this could have been a slam dunk, now… not so much.

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097: American Gangster


This is the seventeenth movie in my Ridley Scott retrospective.

I think I have it figured out by now. I tend to watch long movies, many of them by Ridley Scott, in stints. I’ll watch thirty minutes or an hour and then I to take a break or watch something else. This is not because the movies aren’t interesting. No, absolutely not. It is because they have the tendency to be so dense and detailed that they more resemble a book than a movie. I don’t read a book in one sitting, so why should I have to do that with a movie? This may be sacrilegious to some, but that doesn’t really concern me.

American Gangster is a movie that fits the above described category perfectly. It is an incredibly dense crime drama about self-made man Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the man who desperately wants to put him behind bars. It is the ’70s and Lucas inherits the keys to his mentor’s criminal empire. Instead of just taking over he decides to do things differently. He handles his business for what it is: business. That means providing a better product for a better price. He even travels to the deep jungles of Thailand to secure his drug deliveries in person, an action that earns him a lot of respect. Back home he takes care of business and he takes care of his family. He employs a lot of his family and moves his mother into a huge mansion. There is something charming about Frank that makes him irresistible and that something also covers up a ruthless side to him. A comparison can be made between Lucas and Nicolas Cage’s Roy in Matchstick Men, both are charismatic criminals with a decent heart. Scott likes his bad guys with a few additional layers.

On the other side we find Richie Roberts, a pit bull detective who is resourceful and brutally honest. When he finds an enormous amount of untraceable money he decides to turn it in instead of splitting it among his fellow detectives. This doesn’t sit well with the others. Does Richie care about this? No, not in the least. He wants results, but doesn’t want them at the cost of his soul. He stumbles onto a case around mysteriously pure heroin that is flooding the streets of Harlem. Everybody is dumbfounded by the manner in which Frank Lucas conducts his business and it takes a lot of time for them to even consider Frank as the culprit. Essentially American Gangster is a perfectly executed game of cat and mouse.

Scott isn’t interested in passing judgement on his characters. He leaves that up to the viewers of his movies, to make up their mind whether or not Lucas is a total bad guy or not. He shows Lucas as a ruthless killer who doesn’t hesitate to execute someone in broad daylight at a crowded market, but he also takes care of his family and friends and, ruthless as he is, he is always courteous to his victims. When he sets someone on fire he fires a bullet into the head to put his victim out of his misery. How is that for being merciful. Washington is excellent as the ever charming and quiet Lucas. He internalizes a lot of the emotions to make them explode onto the screen with incredible force. It is one of his finest performances.

As brilliant as Scott portrays Lucas, he has a little more trouble with Crowe’s character. The character itself is fine. He is an upstanding guy who will do everything to get the job done. The way in which Scott and Steven Zaillian approach this is by making him the unwilling half in a divorce from his wife (Carla Gugino). It is the standard plot about the husband who has more pressing things to do at his job than at home, but unlike Lorraine Bracco in Someone to Watch Over Me, Gugino isn’t strong to make us think that this would be a problem for Crowe, leaving him without the drama to offset his tenacity at his job. This hurts the otherwise intense drama a little bit.

One of the most annoying things about Scott (at least to other film makers) directing his movie is that he makes it look so incredibly effortless. American Gangster is a movie that takes place over the course of several years and in several countries. He switches back and forth between the two major storylines as if it is the easiest thing to do as a director. As always, the movie looks impeccable. Scott may truly be one of the best directors we have alive today. His movies may not always be the best storywise, and often a bit overlong, but nothing can be said negatively about the way his movies look. From The Duellists to American Gangster (and now Prometheus), nobody comes close to his mastery of the medium.

American Gangster is an excellent movie that deserves to be devoured again and again. It displays great acting, great cinematography and great storytelling. Certainly one of Scott’s best works.

> IMDb