Friday, May 07, 2004

Website Update: Theory

I’ve finally gotten around to posting a few of my theories. See me struggle to explain it all here.

Movie: Man on Fire (2004)

A.J. Quinnell’s 1980 novel has been filmed twice, putting it well ahead of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST. Its popularity is easy to fathom. The stripped-down tale is ready-made for Hollywood. Burned out military man becomes bodyguard. He bonds with his young charge. She gets kidnapped, he raises hell. Cue music.

The story has a primal kick, but name a revenge movie that doesn’t. The genre’s rules are so rigorously defined that the only means of personal expression comes in the choice of weaponry. In KILL BILL, we got Hattori Hanzo swords; here it’s exploding suppositories. It’s enough to make you long for the days when a simple handgun was enough for Charles Bronson. The filmmakers have cagily updated the novel’s setting to Mexico City, where kidnappings are a daily occurrence and the police are often implicated. In a system so corrupt, the movie insists, vigilante justice may be the only recourse.

Denzel Washington’s tendency to hold himself in reserve works against the movie here. He’s not enjoying himself, so neither can we. I suppose we should thank him for that. We can enjoy his performance, though, which is a model of economy and precision. He conveys his character’s alcoholism in the way he clutches his glass. Brian Helgeland’s screenplay has been salted with obvious dialogue that reeks of studio input. At one point, Denzel cites the best temperature at which to serve revenge, and he goes out of his way to give the line a flat reading. The man knows crap when he's delivering it.

The physical contrast between Washington and Dakota Fanning as the young girl he’s protecting is used to almost comic effect. Fanning holds her own against Washington’s brooding strength better than Ethan Hawke does in TRAINING DAY. Christopher Walken has a high time as an American pasha with a food fetish who would lick his fingers after eating a saltine. His scene with Giancarlo Giannini as a sympathetic police inspector is a gleeful hambone duet. Mickey Rourke does a small turn as a shady lawyer. Age and plastic surgery have turned this once-sleek actor into a dead ringer for Cameron Mitchell.

Tony Scott directs in a hypersaturated style that cries out, “I’ve seen AMORES PERROS!” In only three years, the dense cinematography employed on that film by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has become a cliché, to the extent that it seemed like Innaritu himself was ripping it off in 21 GRAMS. I did like Scott’s use of subtitles, rolling them across the screen, changing their size and position when someone shouted. But then again, I’m a sucker for fonts.

TV: Friends

Ten years and I didn’t see a single episode. What do I win?

TV Commercial: Van Helsing

Judging from Kate Beckinsale’s monster-whupping ensemble, SHREK 2 is not the only movie this year to feature Puss-in-Boots. I know her character has a name, but to me she’ll always be Saucy Kate.

Miscellaneous: Links

Major League Baseball does what Willem Dafoe could not and escapes from the clutches of Spiderman. Maybe the steroids helped. The Chronicle of Higher Education advises commencement speakers to update their pop culture references. Courtesy of Lee Goldberg, here’s his brother Tod at the L.A. Times Festival of Books living out every writer’s dream: being interviewed by Byron Allen. And BBC radio listeners say that Warren Zevon’s ‘Werewolves of London’ has the best opening lines ever. Paul Herzberg agrees with the artist but not the song and offers a few worthy alternatives.