Day By Day

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Too Much, Too Much!

A couple of months ago I wrote up a few movie reviews, but never got around to posting them. Now I see that some of the films are out on DVD, so here goes.

In a recent film review I noted that “The Bourne Ultimatum” was, like many action films, little more than a cartoon, and a primitive one at that. This was hardly a new idea. Action heroes like “the Governator” have built their careers out of playing what are essentially cartoon characters. The idea has been frequently satirized, most brilliantly in “Run Lola Run”, and Asian studios have turned out what seems to be an endless series of cartoonish action spoofs, some of them quite entertaining. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for “Shoot em Up”, a Clive Owen actioner that tanked at the box office.

At the end of his performances Lenny Bruce used to famously ask, “Is there anyone here I haven’t insulted?” Michael Davis, writer and director of "Shoot em Up" might ask the same. What he has cooked up is neither a satire nor a parody, it is a travesty. The narrative involves Clive Owen as a reluctant but supernaturally skilled gunman who fights off hordes of other killers to protect a baby which is being nursed by Monica Bellucci, who plays a whore with huge functional mammaries and a heart of gold. In the end the film plays bait and switch with the audience, trying to portray this over the top shooter as an idiotic anti-gun screed. Along the way it parodies Asian action cinema (especially the films of John Woo) Warner Brothers cartoons (especially Bugs and Yosemite Sam), classic gangster flicks, conspiracy theories, the NRA, motherhood and the nuclear family, and a host of other cultural and political points of reference. A couple of these might have been effective, but taken together they are too much, too much! The whole thing is a mess. Avoid it; everybody else has.

3:10 to Yuma is a better, and ultimately a more disappointing, picture. It is an above average oater that could have been great. In its original 1957 incarnation, starring Glen Ford and Van Heflin, the film was an elegant morality drama, a starkly drawn confrontation between cinematic embodiments of charismatic evil and stolid rectitude. In the process of their hours together both men discover resources hidden within themselves that make the unexpected climax both satisfactory and thrilling.

In the remake the basic story line is still there, but it has been gussied up with all sorts of post-modern affectations that ultimately render the whole thing incoherent and idiotic. Instead of the stark, modernist, morality play portraying the clash of opposites, we have a host of subplots, themes, and diversionary images, many of them just plain disgusting. There are exploding vehicles, a torture scene, a man burned to death in a blazing stagecoach, several sadistic killings, a homosexual subtext, a father/son drama, a man struggling with self-esteem issues, several pathological killers, an interminable shoot-out, and an incomprehensible and incredibly stupid resolution that saps all the moral content from what went before. Too much, too much!

The film is a mess, but it is at least partially redeemed by superb acting. Russell Crowe is our best living male actor and he is back on form here. Christian Bale, in a restrained but tension-filled role presents a marvelous counterpart to Crowe’s seductive evil. And Ben Foster is simply wonderful as the sadistic, homosexual primary villain. Ultimately the story doesn’t matter much. What we have is a showcase for actors, and they deliver. This alone makes “3:10 to Yuma” worth the price of admission.

“Too much, too much!” could be said about another Clive Owen vehicle “She” dragged me to see. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is a chick flick, a Harlequin Romance version of history, dealing with one of the most fascinating figures of all time – Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen.” Once again we have top-flight actors at the top of their game in an emotionally extravagant melodrama and they respond appropriately. Cate Blanchett chews the scenery as Liz, Clive Owen smolders sexily as Raleigh, and Geoffrey Rush is a dark, stabilizing presence as Walsingham, keeping the other principals in check. Once again we have a ridiculously over-loaded script that requires the principal actors to behave absurdly, and once again I left the theater mumbling, "Too much, too much".