Iro's Film Diary

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#56 - Flirting with Disaster
David O. Russell, 1996



A family man goes on a cross-country trip in search of his biological parents.

Flirting with Disaster is another David O. Russell film that involves a dysfunctional family clashing with one another. The plot is significantly influenced by Russell's trademark approach to family dynamics as it concerns an adopted neurotic (Ben Stiller) who is obsessing over the search for his biological parents. When his case worker (Tťa Leoni) says that she's found a lead regarding his true parentage, he plans to follow the lead to another part of the country, dragging his wife (Patricia Arquette) and infant son along in the process (and upsetting his equally neurotic adoptive parents in the process). What follows is a comedy of errors that sees Stiller, Arquette, and Leoni travel all over the country following up lead after lead to apparently amusing results. Though a good chunk of the humour arises from the encounters that Stiller and co. have with the various weirdos that they meet in their travel, there's just as much that's likely to arise due to the different types of tension between the lead trio.

Unfortunately, Flirting with Disaster feels like far more of a chore than any ninety-minute comedy ever should. Having seen six Russell films by now, I am definitely burned out on how most of them involve scene after scene of the cast (who usually make up a family unit or at least a surrogate family) bickering with one another. Though Flirting with Disaster is one of his earliest films, it shows off all the flaws that plague every film of his (except possibly Three Kings) and that's before they all got refined into his current brand of bloodless Oscar bait. In fairness, he does demonstrate his usual capacity for assembling decent casts, but the members of this particular cast barely get anything of worth to do. Stiller's quixotic search for meaning constantly results in disaster after disaster while Arquette is stuck playing a spouse who frequently alternates between supportive and dismissive of her husband's journey. Leoni makes up a clumsy third part of a trite love triangle, while the various supporting players tend to get on my nerves regardless of how much I've liked them in other things. This even applies to Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin playing a pair of elderly hippies that the main group encounters - they easily end up being the best thing about this film, and even then they're not that good. Flirting with Disaster ends up being a dire excuse for a quirky comedy about finding one's self that may feel like it's all been done better before, but that's mostly by default.

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Welcome to the human race...
#57 - Angel Heart
Alan Parker, 1987



In 1955, a New York detective is hired to locate a missing singer in New Orleans.

Great films can be made or broken by repeat viewings, and Angel Heart may show signs of cracking but it has more than enough greatness to keep itself together. The grimy noir tale of a downbeat private eye (Mickey Rourke) being hired by a mysterious benefactor (Robert De Niro) to learn the whereabouts of a singer starts off fairly normally, though a certain unavoidable piece of foreshadowing will make even the most inattentive viewer realise that something's not quite right. This certain sense of wrongness is definitely borne out by the rest of the film, as Rourke's seemingly straightforward investigation quickly leads to an escalating body count as he delves further and further into the occult mystery surrounding the singer's disappearance, eventually traveling to New Orleans in order to follow up some leads. Given the incredibly twisted nature of not only the central mystery but also the various scenes of horror and violence that abound, it's easy to wonder whether or not Angel Heart would hold up a second time (especially since the extremely similar Jacob's Ladder didn't do as well as I'd hoped when I revisited it last year).

Fortunately, Angel Heart holds up very well. Rourke delivers one of his best performances underneath his familiar brand of nasal rasping, communicating everything from slick charm to abject terror in his search for not just the truth but also for a way out of his increasingly dangerous predicament. De Niro only appears in a handful of scenes but he still has a commanding screen presence despite playing a softly-spoken gentleman who stands in stark contrast to Rourke's uncouth investigator. That also tends to apply to various performers whose scenes definitely involve quality over quantity, whether it's Charlotte Rampling as an affluent mystic or Lisa Bonet as a voodoo priestess. Parker's film-making has always given me a weird vibe that doesn't quite make him an auteur but does leave a distinct impression on some outwardly journeyman-like films; while this lent extra personality to straightforward works like Mississippi Burning or The Commitments, in a film like Angel Heart it makes an already-disturbing plot feel all the more frantic even in the quietest scenes. As a result, Angel Heart makes for a great take on a familiar genre that may be prone to the odd moment of '80s excess but is still surprisingly solid in the face of a plot that seems to threaten repeat viewings but never actually does.




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I don't remember Flirting with Disaster well; I only remember how disappointed I was in it. Is Three Kings your favorite from Russell? It's my favorite.

I need to see Angel Heart again, that's a good flick.



Welcome to the human race...
Yeah, I'd say Three Kings gets the spot because it cuts out a lot of the annoying stuff from his other movies, though I don't think it's especially great. Might do a re-watch at some point (and I also have The Fighter in my re-watch pile, though I don't hold out much hope for it).



I have to return some videotapes...
The Fighter is great and even though all of his new stuff is blatant oscar bait, I still love it all, except Joy.
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I've not seen Angel Heart since it came out on video over here. I really liked it, though, and though it was a great film.
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Welcome to the human race...
Well, if we're doing (current) ratings...

Three Kings

The Fighter

American Hustle

Silver Linings Playbook

Joy

Flirting with Disaster



Welcome to the human race...
#58 - Kick-Ass
Matthew Vaughn, 2010



An ordinary high-schooler decides to become a costumed crime-fighter and is soon caught between a crime boss and two vengeful father-and-daughter superheroes.

Original review found here.

I haven't seen Kick-Ass since it first came out and it's easy to feel like it should have stayed that way. It starts out as something of a deconstructive parody where a gawky high-schooler (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and comic-book fan openly questions why nobody's ever tried to be a superhero before; such a line of thought combines with his dissatisfaction over rampant crime and eventually leads to him ordering a wetsuit and fashioning himself into the eponymous hero. Of course, he soon realises how out of his depth he is not just because of how badly he gets attacked at first but also when he encounters a couple of existing superheroes (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz) who severely outclass him in terms of ability and dedication. It turns out that "Big Daddy" (Cage) and "Hit Girl" (Moretz) have their own agenda against a local crime boss (Mark Strong) whose awkward son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) wants to do right by his father no matter what. Unfortunately, despite the more outwardly provocative elements such as extreme scenes of violence or one of the film's heroes being a murderous preteen, Kick-Ass just comes across as excruciatingly boring.

Though there's something to be said for Cage's turn as a caped crusader who does a staggered Adam West impression to disguise his true identity, that's pretty much the only performance here that comes close to standing out in a good way as a number of characters embody fairly standard roles that range from socially inept comic-book geeks to thickly-accented mob goons. Even the myriad humourous jabs at superhero tropes and geek culture feel limp and pointless. It'd be nice if the action side of things held up, but it really doesn't as scenes don't offer much in the way of invention or engagement. There is one exception in a scene where Big Daddy fights a warehouse full of goons that does stand out in a good way, but otherwise action tends to grow extremely repetitive and uninteresting despite the attempts to work in supposedly surprising or shocking elements. While my original review may have been significantly more conciliatory towards the film, six years and a serious shift in perspective has led me to think that Kick-Ass no longer deserves any such concessions. Its oh-so-clever attempt at deconstructing superhero comics is only one of many reasons why it's so difficult to feel invested in the proceedings; even when considering Vaughn's tendency towards sharp dialogue and memorable action set-pieces soundtracked with non-original songs, this film comes up frustratingly short.




Welcome to the human race...
#59 - Breakdown
Jonathan Mostow, 1997



A husband and wife find themselves in a dangerous situation after their car breaks down on a desert highway.

A film like Breakdown lives and dies by a double-edged sword - there is a strength to its simplicity, but also a weakness. It's a rather rudimentary premise - an urban couple (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan) are moving across the country when their car has a (you guessed it) breakdown on a lonesome road. After Quinlan hitches a ride with a trucker (J.T. Walsh) to get some help, Russell eventually gets the car working again - however, when he reaches the prearranged meeting place, Quinlan is nowhere to be seen. Russell's search becomes more and more frantic and he soon realises that she's been kidnapped - and that's not the last of their troubles. As you can see, the plot is as straightforward as they come, but it's got just enough twists to not get totally boring over the course of its short running time and Russell makes for a decent lead as a yuppie who gets pushed to the edge by some trying circumstances. It may drag a bit too much for a relatively short film, but it keeps you watching and is worth some consideration because of that.




Welcome to the human race...
#60 - O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2000



During the Great Depression, a trio of convicts escape from a chain gang and traverse the Deep South in search of the treasure that one of their number buried.

Considering the Coen brothers' reputation for making off-beat films that can easily alienate critics and audiences alike through their strange sensibilities, I'd argue that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of their more accessible films. It's got a recognisable plot structure thanks to its loose adaptation of Homer's Odyssey and the Depression-era setting certainly lends the proceedings some personality. There's also a lot to be said for the casting that not only involves Coen regulars like John Goodman and John Turturro bringing their A-game to their respective roles but also the introduction of some new blood in the form of both George Clooney and Tim Blake Nelson, who do well at playing two very different types of lovable buffoon (especially Clooney as the loquacious but foolish protagonist). The brothers pepper their tale with all sorts of colourfully verbose dialogue and clever period-appropriate details, milking the lead trio for all their comedic worth and also throwing in some effective use of symbolism along the way. All of this is captured with skill by cinematographer Roger Deakins, who brings his usual level of craftsmanship to this tale of a bygone era by marinating everything in sepia tones and emphasising his trademark use of strong contrasts. It's also a surprisingly idealistic work by some filmmakers that have earned something of a reputation for indulging in obstinate nihilism. I don't automatically consider it one of their best, but it is definitely solid in many of the ways that count - even the musical numbers are more likely to win viewers over rather than distance them.




Welcome to the human race...
#61 - Commando
Mark L. Lester, 1985



A retired Army colonel must track down the corrupt dictator who kidnapped his daughter.

Commando is not the best movie that Schwarzenegger ever made, but I still regard it as a pure example of movie magic. The fairly straightforward plot concerns a retired Army colonel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being forced back into action when a ruthless dictator (Dan Hedaya) threatens to kill Schwarzenegger's daughter if he does not carry out a political assassination. Of course, Schwarzenegger then decides to elude his captors and only has a limited amount of time to find his daughter and kill the men responsible. Extremely standard stuff, sure, but it's the backbone to one gloriously over-the-top slice of action cinema that strikes the right balance in terms of tone. The performances are hammy without being horrible and only aid a script that seems to be built out of nothing but one-liners, the action scenes are ridiculous in nature but never dull to watch, and the film's aggressively dated '80s aesthetic grants it a thoroughly amusing sense of personality. It's all too easy to write this off as a "guilty pleasure" that can only be enjoyed for its cheesier aspects and little more, but even in this regard Commando stands out above many of its peers. It may be silly action fun, but it's the best kind of silly action fun and is worth watching because of that.




Originally Posted by Iroquois
Kick-Ass

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
I would switch those ratings around. Kick-Ass was far from great, but O Brother, Where Art Thou? really rubbed me the wrong way.

Originally Posted by Iroquois
Commando is not the best movie that Schwarzenegger ever made, but I still regard it as a pure example of movie magic.
I... don't know if I've seen this. But I want to.
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28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
#61 - Commando
Mark L. Lester, 1985



A retired Army colonel must track down the corrupt dictator who kidnapped his daughter.

Commando is not the best movie that Schwarzenegger ever made, but I still regard it as a pure example of movie magic. The fairly straightforward plot concerns a retired Army colonel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being forced back into action when a ruthless dictator (Dan Hedaya) threatens to kill Schwarzenegger's daughter if he does not carry out a political assassination. Of course, Schwarzenegger then decides to elude his captors and only has a limited amount of time to find his daughter and kill the men responsible. Extremely standard stuff, sure, but it's the backbone to one gloriously over-the-top slice of action cinema that strikes the right balance in terms of tone. The performances are hammy without being horrible and only aid a script that seems to be built out of nothing but one-liners, the action scenes are ridiculous in nature but never dull to watch, and the film's aggressively dated '80s aesthetic grants it a thoroughly amusing sense of personality. It's all too easy to write this off as a "guilty pleasure" that can only be enjoyed for its cheesier aspects and little more, but even in this regard Commando stands out above many of its peers. It may be silly action fun, but it's the best kind of silly action fun and is worth watching because of that.

Really Iro????? REALLY?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!

You give this movie a
????????




*checks own rating*









Carry on then....
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Suspect's Reviews



Welcome to the human race...
#62 - Battlefield Earth
Roger Christian, 2000



In a post-apocalyptic future where humanity is under the subjugation of an alien race, one human becomes the leader of the human resistance.

It's always interesting to watch a non-comedy film that has earned a reputation for being one of the worst films of all-time, especially when it's one as out-and-out reviled as Battlefield Earth. Taking place in the year 3000, it shows an Earth where humanity is an endangered species whose few remaining members live in primitive tribes that live in fear of gods who come from the sky. When one tribal (Barry Pepper) opts to disregard superstition and go exploring, his actions attract the attention of the alien race that has overtaken the planet, especially the power-hungry alien (John Travolta) in charge of Earth. When Travolta is passed over for promotion and reassignment, he decides to step up his operation in a way that involves Pepper, whose exceptional abilities challenge the aliens' existing perceptions of humans as mindless animals and leads Travolta to think that he can use this new knowledge to his advantage. Of course, Travolta's evil plan might just have a weakness that Pepper and his human comrades can exploit...

While Battlefield Earth may disregard virtually every tenet of quality film-making and storytelling, it at least does so in a way that is sporadically interesting or entertaining. The film does have a unique visual style thanks to the constant use of Dutch angles and curtain-like scene transitions, but that's easily undone by the decidedly horrible effects work on display throughout the film (most prominently in one scene where Travolta drops a dissenting human off a cliff, which looked so utterly amateurish that I had to rewind it to be certain of what I had seen). The same goes for the make-up and costuming used to create the villainous aliens, resulting in some shoddy-looking Klingon knock-offs where any tweaks such as dreadlocks or bigger legs are for the worst. The plot is nonsensical in many incredibly baffling ways and it's carried out by performers who are divided into wooden humans and hammy aliens. Travolta's scenery-chewing is almost transcendent in how excessive it ends up being, though Forest Whitaker does his best to keep up in his role as Travolta's long-suffering subordinate. The absurdity only goes so far in a film as long as this one and by the time the film approaches a bombastic free-for-all climax it's pretty much exhausted any amusement one might get at humans making monkey noises or aliens cackling evilly. As a result, Battlefield Earth earns its place as one of the worst movies ever made but at least it's a bizarre semi-watchable fiasco instead of a hatred-inducing insult to the medium of cinema. That alone earns it half a popcorn box and therefore gives it leverage over a film like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.