Movie Reviews   Leave a comment

I’ve been laid up due to various ailments, the likes of which affect us all from time to time. As a result, I’ve been doing less reading and more lounging, which has brought me to watching movies while I play games of online Dominion, the newish Colonization, or an occasional foray upon the Oregon Trail.

My movie ratings system (essentially the same as the book system):

1 star = non-redeemable schlock
2 star = only worth it if you’ve got nothing better
3 star = acceptable, worth checking out
4 star = go out of your way to see this, it’s exceptional
5 star = a masterpiece of film

So, without further ado…

The A-Team 

I have to admit, this movie surprised me. I was expecting something thrown together in ten minutes to inspire yet another Hollywood cash-out based on an existing name. Instead, I found myself treated to an entertaining action movie.

The movie starts with Liam Neeson being beaten by some underlings for a drug lord. He’s about to be executed when the gun inexplicably misfires, and the mooks decide to let their dogs eat him while they go to meet up with their boss. As they shut their door on their prisoner, we find out that Liam held the gun’s firing pin in his mouth, which he uses to pick the lock on his handcuffs before the dogs can get to him. They don’t stand a chance, and we get our introduction to Hannibal. 

We next see a man in a mohawk racing through the streets in a tricked-out sports car. He does some gratuitous drifting and leads some cops on a chase they can’t hope to keep up with. After a narrow escape, he brings his car to a chop-shop, where he’s looking to get back his original ride. He finds the car, and the chop-shop crew try to take him out to keep their prize, but the guy kicks so much ass that they’re all left crying for momma. After a lot of ass-kicking, he rides his black SUV off into the sunset. 

Meanwhile, Hannibal is wandering through the wilderness hoping for find a vehicle to catch up with the thugs who left him for dead. He manages to cross paths with a black SUV, who stops find out what’s going on. After shooting the driver in the shoulder to complete his car-jacking, he discovers the man-with-the-mohawk to be an Army Ranger. Insisting his mission is one of life or death for a fellow ranger, the driver agrees to help Hannibal, and we get our intro to B.A. Baracus.

Next, we see a head poking through a totem of stacked tires. The corrupt chief of police is ranting about how he’s above it all and that no foolish American’s are ever going to shut him down. He’s about to order his men to shoot the prisoner when all hell breaks loose, with a black SUV now screeching around their encampment with guns ablazin’. The prisoner gets knocked over, which allows him to quickly roll out of danger while a small bloodbath rages around him.

After a successful pickup, we’re introduced to the A-Team, and learn that was the mission that brought them all together. They’ve since gone on over 100 missions together, and are one of the most effective units in all Special-Op services throughout the military. The ensuing plot has them searching for missing Mint plates, which allow its seedy possessors to make genuine U.S. currency.

Without giving anymore away (the intro took maybe ten minutes or so), I was pleased with the movie. The action was entertaining, and it had enough of a story to keep you interested while they went about their mission. A pleasantly surprising movie worthy of 3 stars. 

Adaptation 

It’s more or less impossible to summarize Charlie Kaufman movies without them sounding ridiculous. “Oh, it’s a movie about a portal that lets people who enter co-exist in the head of the actor John Malcovich!” This movie is no different. All I’ll say by means of fleshing out its edges are that it’s a movie about writing a screenplay for The Orchid Thief Charlie Kaufman writes about his attempt to write a screenplay about a book he likes but can’t figure out how to make acceptable to a broad audience. So the movie ends up following him while he’s fighting to overcome writer’s block and his own colossal inadequacies, as he strives to meet the deadline for turning in the script.

If it sounds ridiculous, it is, but as his movies often do, it works. There’s some fine acting involved (which isn’t ruined by Nicolas Cage playing two parts, a miracle in and of itself), as well as some genuinely funny moments… one of my all-time favorite scenes in all cinema is in this movie. Nicolas Cage (playing Charlie Kaufman), is dropping off a friend of his after something very much resembling a date. She’s doing some very playful flirting, and he’s completely oblivious, saying that he hasn’t been sleeping well, so he should probably go right home as soon as he’s done seeing her. She leaves the car disappointed, and Nicolas Cage says to himself how easy it would be to just walk right back to her door and kiss her as soon as she opens it. “It would be romantic, it would be something we could tell our kids about… That’s it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do…” And then he drives away.

While scenes like that do wonders to warm the soul, the movie has enough “humiliation porn” that I was uncomfortable at different points. It’s a tough thing to explain, but the older I get the less I like watching scenes where a character is exposed to ridicule. The easiest examples would probably be in The Office where Michael Scott constantly puts himself or someone else in a position where they have no graceful out, and are left like a fish on line to dangle before everyone’s eyes. Or course, having written this I can’t think of any specific one, but I’m sure you can recall instances where you almost can’t bear to see a scene because of it. 

So, before further digression claims my attention, I’ll say that I found this to be on a whole an entertaining movie. There are some scenes which cause a dangerous backslide which make things tough to watch, but the ending does a nice job to justify it all being worthwhile. Still, I have to hold my rating to 3 stars.

The Picture of Dorian Gray 

I caught this on TCM a few days ago, and was glad I decided to record it to the DVR.

Dorian Gray is a relatively innocent and easy-going man who decides to have his portrait painted by one of the finest painters in England. By coincidence, while he goes to pick up the painting he’s introduced to one Henry Wotten, a hugely smug and self-indulgent man who numerous flaws can’t help but make him imminently charming. Young Dorian is rather entranced by Wotten’s easy morality and vice, and is somewhat swept away by his desire to try things Wotten’s way instead of his own. 

Dorian finds a young woman on the cheap side of town whom he becomes immediately entranced with (a young Angela Lansbury). Having spent some time together, he decides to marry her. He introduces her to both the painter and Wotten, and the painter couldn’t be more pleased for Dorian. Wotten, on the other hand, is sad and bored with Dorian. Out of curiosity, Dorian asks what Wotten would do, and Wotten explains how he’d seduce her and be done with her. Dorian laughs the advice away, but finds himself following it to the hilt when he’s with her later in the evening. After following Wotten’s advice, Dorian unceremoniously dumps her, and writes her out of his life forever. 

He later learns that she’s killed herself, and he can’t believe the news. Wotten, of course, is envious of Dorian, because he’s never had anyone go to the trouble of killing themselves over him, but goes on to tell Dorian that there’s nothing he should be ashamed of… life goes on. He insist Dorian go to the opera with him that night to forget about her, which he does.

As the movie continues, we see Dorian becoming more and more of a pariah in the community. No one has anything definitive on him, but there exist all sorts of rumors about his deceits and betrayals. However, we discover that, as the years go by, Dorian isn’t aging. Instead, he is a picture of perfect youth, decade after decade. However, his portrait changes constantly. First, it had some worry-lines around the eyes, and some tension wrinkles in the face, but as time goes on his portrait becomes increasingly hideous, magically revealing the depths of his horrid soul…

This movie was pretty damn good. While I want to stress that Wotten is a horrible, horrible person, you can’t help but love every time he’s on screen. He has such a nonchalant detachment from the morals and morays of society that he completely steals every scene he’s in. His easy demeanor while casually dismissing any objection to his methods or his perspective is intoxicating, and his entire character is probably best summed up in his quote:

“I love persons better than principles, and persons with no principles better than anything at all.” 

Otherwise, the rest of the cast does their job admirably. I was surprised that Angela Lansbury got herself an Oscar nomination for her role, which I thought was excessively brief. The movie has some slow points, such as the song-and-dance numbers, but I wager that’s more a flaw of contemporary convention than a fuck-up on the director’s part. Also, the movie does have one major special effect, where the otherwise black and white movie segues into color while viewing the portrait of Dorian Gray. It’s not much by today’s standards, but I bet at the time it was jaw-dropping.

So while Dorian Gray isn’t the most amazing movie ever, I still have to give it high marks because of its great characters and story. I’ll give it four stars and call it a night!

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Posted February 14, 2012 by fatmoron in Uncategorized

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