movies: July 2004 Archives

At least, it would have been, had I gotten a hold of Coyote Ugly and Serendipity and watched them. As it stands, I did happen across The Recruit a couple of nights ago, and more to the point, I caught a matinee of I, Robot this afternoon.

I must admit that I didn't expect the movie to be as good as it was. Not great or anything, certainly, but better than I thought it'd be. And I'll happily admit that I expected it to be either a horrible abuse of Asimov or yet another Hollywood installment of "are we in charge of our machines or...[dramatic pause]...are they in charge of us?!" There's a little of the latter going on here, certainly, and I'm sure I'll see some Asimov purists slapping at the movie, but by and large, I don't think I'll regret seeing it. Reminds me of the pleasant surprise I had from Enemy of the State--both movies slide in a little bit of scifilosophy in the guise of an action movie. There'll be some who wanted more action and others who wanted more scifi, but for a movie that tries to do some of both, this was pretty good.

Anyhow, I found out afterwards why I was pleasantly surprised--I went in without knowing that Alex Proyas directed this. He's the guy who did Dark City and The Crow, both of which are a little underrated as scifi films, I think. There were some nice touches that brought the movie above average for me, and it was less surprising when I saw his name. Proyas doesn't pass on opportunities to tell story through setting and scene, and scifi films are some of the best examples of this--think Blade Runner and more recently Minority Report. There's a little of that going on here, specifically in the tension b/w old and new that comes across on a number of the street scenes. Some of that tension is ham-handed--Spooner's obsession with a "vintage" pair of Chuck Taylors drove me up a wall, but thankfully, that was minimal. An especially nice touch comes when Moynihan, who's Smith's technophile mirror, is bewildered by Smith's CD player, which isn't voice-activated.

And the play between Smith and Moynihan isn't bad. There's one point where we get beaten over the head with the fact that the two of them are mirror images (him as unthinkingly technophobic, her as unthinkingly technophilic), but the two of them together also end up serving as foils for Sonny, the robot who triggers the whole plot. It's not as subtle as it could have been--Moynihan's character is a little too intentionally stiff (i.e., robotic) in the beginning--but it's also not as heavily played as it could have been. The plot works like a much more nuanced version of Paycheck in that there's a trail to be followed, but it unfolds more naturally than did the trail in that movie. The only complaint I had in that regard is that we don't need to see a copy of Hansel and Gretel in the lab (!!!) to realize that there's a trail to be followed.

I got a vibe off of Moynihan that reminded me a little of watching Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man, and I wonder if Moynihan won't break through in the same way. This is really her first genuine co-star role--each of the movies mentioned above positioned her as furniture more or less, and here, she actually has a chance to be a person who changes over the course of the movie.

The acting's not bad, the plot is better than average, and the CG is actually pretty stellar. I could see the conflict that Proyas may have felt between telling the story and "making the blockbuster," and I'd say that he did a pretty good job sneaking enough of the former in there to make the movie worth seeing. I doubt it'll be top-5 for the summer, but it's not a bad movie if you've got an afternoon...I'd make it a solid matinee.

Okay, so not really.

Nevertheless, I did manage to catch Clive in perhaps his three best-known movies this weekend. First, I went to a morning (which was for me about midnight) showing of King Arthur, and had the entire theatre to myself. Second, I was buzzing around the dial that evening, and found that they're hyping the Bourne Supremacy by showing Bourne Identity nearly every hour on the hour. Finally, I found a copy of Croupier in the bargain DVD bin, and snatched it up.

Croupier is a decent movie--not stellar or anything, but I remember seeing it on the big screen way back when. One of the things that makes Croupier is Owen's emotional distance as an actor. It's almost certainly a Brit thing, but his character in Croupier is a writer who ends up getting back into the casino life and writing about it. He's in it, but he's also watching himself in it, and the struggle between those two selves (Jack and "Jake") propels the movie. Owen's understated performance makes that work pretty well.

Unfortunately, his acting ability hasn't really changed that much in the 5 or so years since, which makes him an odd cast in the role of Arthur. His charisma in the movie is almost intellectual or philosophical--he's an idealist half-Roman, half-Briton who follows a particular philosopher and commands a band of Salmatian knights. He and the rest of the knights are gritty enough, I suppose, but there's not a great deal of drama in the movie. Stellan Skarsgard plays the Saxon chief who's Arthur's primary nemesis (other than the decadent Roman bishop), and his acting is understated as well. He's the chief of this huge Saxon horde, but he comes off more cynical than dangerous.

Hmm. It's no accident, I suspect, that if you check the poster for the movie, the "main" character is Keira Knightley as a leather bikini-clad warrior princess. They don't do much more than hint at the love triangle, and they kill Lancelot before there's a chance for it to develop, but then development isn't really a strength of this movie. Even the climactic scene, the wedding of Arthur and Guinevere, doesn't really feel like it's been earned. And that's true of most of the movie, which gestures towards historical accuracy by opening with some mention of archaeological finds, downplaying all of the magic, grounding it in a specific time period, etc. But what happens is that the story loses a tremendous amount of its juice as a result. I didn't have to sit there like I did with Troy and bracket off all of the obvious Americanisms in the treatment of the story. But that's not to say that there weren't any. Arthur is clearly drawn as proto-American, with decidedly unhistorical beliefs about the fallacy of the Church, the equality of all humanity, etc.

Ugh. I'm talking myself into a lower opinion of the movie than I originally thought I held. I paid matinee price for it, but I'm not sure it was worth that. This is probably one to wait for, maybe a rental...



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This page is a archive of entries in the movies category from July 2004.

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