Rewind Review: RED

What is it one can really say about the film Red? It does happen to get off to a good ambling start but somewhere along the way the novelty wears off. One of the highlights of the film is the siege upon Frank Moses’ (Bruce Willis) house. That is very early on.

While the film never takes a narrative jump too big it does progressively grow its web of conspiracy to a very high level. It was much more enjoyable and relatable when it was on a more personally based. The more entanglements of politics and the military-industrial complex that get mixed into it the less effective it becomes.

This is also a film with a rather interesting albeit not always overly-successful tonality to it. It’s part comedy, part action and part drama. The comedic never takes things too far out of the realm of believability and is always well-placed. It’s the action sequences that make you think a bit too much about what the real ramifications of these events would be.

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Where it does succeed, however, is that almost all the drama flows out of the characters as opposed to the situation which is why we remain involved in this particular tale.

The cast of this film is another thing that keeps a rather thin premise barely above water. Deserving first mention is a most welcome turn from Academy-Award winner Ernest Borgnine. It’s always good to see screen legends of a previous age getting legitimate work in today’s Hollywood. Bruce Willis is his usual action-star self in this vehicle and unlike some members of The Expendables doesn’t look out of place still playing an action lead.

Perhaps what’s best about these performances is that they did serve the story and weren’t merely used as adornment. John Malkovich’s character is a prime example. He brings forth most of the comedy in this title and it is due in large part to his paranoia. We find out through the course of the story that his paranoia is, in fact, perfect and he ends up being a great asset to the team and not a detriment.

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Another way in which this film falls a little short is being too cute when you don’t have to. Without giving too much away there is a twist regarding the whereabouts of Morgan Freeman’s character. It is so blatantly obvious that they later waste a cut to reveal the “trick.” I highly doubt a high percentage of the audience was that fooled such that it was necessary and it really wasn’t needed to better convey the tale.

Red is a funny and entertaining film but ultimately the promise it shows early on is never followed through and it ends up being a rather forgettable experience when the opposite was promised.

6/10

BAM Best Picture Profile: Mulholland Falls (1996)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

This may prove, by the end of this retrospective, to be the one and only film I had to go back and watch over again. As I dusted off my ancient VHS I first realized that I’ve never seen this film in its proper aspect ratio, but rather have only in pan & scan. It’s sort of a testament to how old this film is by now, relatively speaking, and how young I was when I saw it. Now, I’m not about double back on this film. Granted it may not retain the luster that some of the Best Pictures I’ve revisited. In fact, some of the “retroactive” BAM Winners that I created (and no longer acknowledge because they weren’t truly picked at year’s end) are much stronger films.

However, this was what started it all. In 1996, I sat there and perhaps for the first time I paid close attention to Awards Season as the nominations were coming out. I was quite young (15) and I was very unaware to the process, critical buzz and the like. Regardless, I needed an outlet to express my opinions. Therefore, with the aid of ticket stubs, and I would suppose the IMDB (as this film was a rental that I had viewed during the year), or maybe even just memory; I started assembling my first nominations. Even back then I refused to bow to release dates and did pick a 1995 title as my favorite film of the year because of my lack of a reasonable chance to see it.

I’ve since gotten a bit more strict about that rule, but the spirit of it remains the same. So being my first Best Picture, from my first award slate (one if I recall correctly had about 25% or less the total eligible titles this year will likely have), sure, there was reticence to revisit it. However, I long since stopped engaging in revisionist history. It’s a snapshot. I still like the film, moreover, I still know exactly what it was that had me respond in so enamored a way then even though the surprise, and to an extent, some of the thrill is gone.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

Back then I was far more actor-oriented and there are many in it I tracked closely at the time (Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palmentieri, John Malkovich) some I’ve since come to know better (Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Connolly, Treat Williams, Chris Penn, Stephen Baldwin, Ed Lauter). Perhaps more noticeably I realize now that many behind the scenes names are know more well known to me Sally Menke (Editor most known from Tarantino’s works; May she rest in peace), Haskell Wexler (Legendary DP perhaps best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Lee Tamahori (Director who broke out with Once Were Warriors)

While the film may not be technically a noir tale, its got many of the elements that I was just recently introduced to and starting to become enraptured by so that most definitely captured my imagination. Aside from the titillating aspects, it’s also the multi-pronged plot wherein Hoover (Nolte) was squared off against the the military and FBI in the interests of solving a case that has personal significance for him. He goes rogue, for lack of a better word; and it’s not like he’s a by-the-book kind of guy as the film takes its name from how he and his team deal with the organized crime element in LA.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

I enjoyed, and still do, many of the performances. And upon revisiting it not only remembered many of the lines I connected with but the line readings (“They brought me a film” as Malkovich says as he’s sick and “You broke my heart” as Melanie Griffith says to close it out; to name a few).

Aside from using film itself as a storytelling element, the narrative also starts with a simple case and opens up into a more complicated, entangled mystery much bigger than the players involved. The professional and personal co-mingle and the characters take justice into their own hands. All these things and more are what I connected to.

In conclusion, it’s not that I regret this choice, as I’ve stated it was most definitely true and correct at the time (and that’s the least you can ask) but it’s one, perhaps the only one, that I feel really dates me. It is still a solid, entertaining mystery that I believe can pack a punch on first-viewing.

Review- Secretariat

Diane Lane in Secretariat (Disney)

Secretariat is now available to stream from Netflix

Perhaps what impresses most about Secretariat isn’t necessarily that it might be Disney’s strongest sports-themed effort since 1992 and The Mighty Ducks but the fact that it’s a overdog story in the guise of an underdog story. Meaning that if the film was really only dealing with the horse itself it would’ve been chronicling one of the most dominant performers and biggest champions in all of sports. That’s great when you’re watching horse racing on Saturday afternoon but it’s hardly the stuff of great drama.

The underdog element comes in the the form of the horse’s owner Penny Tweedy played by Diane Lane. She was new to the sport and not as knowledgeable as some but she knew her horse and trusted her gut. In the film we see her try to balance her family in Colorado and the farm and her horse in Virginia- in making it about her the dramatic element is added in skillfully.

When if you think about it makes this ludicrously good filmmaking at times because it makes a foregone conclusion riveting. A blowout no less. It’s quite something and furthermore last year (2009 as of this writing) in the Triple Crown races there were a rash of injuries which put the sport under some fire, being a less-than-casual fan found that reasonable, yet this film shows the beauty of the sport itself as few could. In essence it does something that The Black Stallion failed to do in that regard.

Much of the talk surrounding this film is centered around Diane Lane. She does do a wonderful job in this film and is convincing every step of the way and having heard the buzz as I was watching it I spotted what I think is her Oscar clip. While I think it might be superficially too similar a part for her to win, her nomination if it comes and is the only one may overshadow what is a much better film than The Blind Side.

A fact I was reminded of almost immediately as both films start with their protagonist speaking in voice over about the sport it is that obsesses them. I complained of the Bullock dialogue’s didacticism, there are no complaints about how Secretariat opens. It is a poetic opening which doesn’t teach the uninitiated about the Sport of Kings, that comes in due time when necessary.

It’s treatment of all the races is different in each case and appropriate. What is most crucial in sports films is the handling of in-game scenes because while there aren’t usually that many they are some of the most lasting ones there are. The Kentucky Derby gets it seems the longest and most complete uninterrupted start to finish coverage which eases the audience into it, and the stakes are very high as it is the first triple crown race that her investors need her to win. The Preakness meanwhile gets played all in one shot on a TV in the Colorado home while her family watches, it forms a wonderful completely visual bridge in the family. The kids are finally realizing what it is mom’s doing and its an unspoken apology between husband and wife.

The film’s supporting cast also buoys it tremendously. Most notably the horses team: John Malkovich as Lucien Loren the horses trainer, Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat and Margo Martindale as Miss Ham and Penny’s family: Dylan Walsh, Amanda Michalka, Carissa Capobianco, Sean Michael Cunningham and Jacob Rhodes.

Secretariat is a great sports film that the whole family can enjoy and is usually the case with the really good ones it is more about the people involved rather than the sport itself.

10/10