Category Archives: Movies

We were so naive then

From Sneakers:

Dick Gordon: National Security Agency.
Martin Bishop: Ah. You’re the guys I hear breathing on the other end of my phone.
Dick Gordon: No, that’s the FBI. We’re not chartered for domestic surveillance.
Martin Bishop: Oh, I see. You just overthrow governments. Set up friendly dictators.
Dick Gordon: No, that’s the CIA. We protect our government’s communications, we try to break the other fella’s codes. We’re the good guys, Marty.
Martin Bishop: Gee, I can’t tell you what a relief that is… Dick.

Sneakers, for being a two.five-star moderately entertaining flick at the time, surprisingly aged pretty well over the last 16 years, and it makes me feel really old to write that. The clunky stuff is funnier, Mother still isn’t funny to me, but it’s gotten dated-funny, and not dated-boring.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

I noticed today that one of my favorite movies is available on Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” (which is a DRM-ridden horror show, but anyway), and I wanted to recommend it if you’re on Netflix (and have Internet Explorer and can use Watch Instantly) or are willing to go out and rent it.

It’s a 1974 crime flick about hijacking a subway car, based on a book. It’s really sweet: it’s tightly plotted, it’s funny, it’s got tension and plot twists (which are not dumb or overly cute), and it has Walter Matthau as a worn police lieutenant and includes what I’d argue is one of the single best lines in any crime drama.

The interesting thing the movie reminds me of is something Pauline Kael used to write about: the value of workmanship. She repeatedly wrote in favor of movies being made simply, without needless directorial embellishment, and Pelham One Two Three is a great example of how it can work. Joseph Sargent’s work up to that point was undistinguished: if you look him up on IMDB, he’s got a ton of credits but there’s nothing that hints his next film will be a four-star masterpiece.

But here, it works: he lets the script and the actors do the lifting, and the story plays out simply. Sometimes, it pays to tell a story with a maximum of economy, which is what I try to remind myself of when I’m writing fiction.

Of course, the movie is being remade by Tony Scott with a cast of stars, due out in 2009. I wonder, though — if you released both versions at the same time, putting out the 1974 version as a period piece, or an “homage to 70s cop movies” or something, I wonder if the older one could compete.

Anyway, Derek says “check it out” if you haven’t already.

Best dialogue from a bad movie this week

The nerdy computer guy, to the girl he likes defeats ~24 opponents:

“Woah, okay, well, I’m never going to mess with you.”
“Well, maybe in a controlled environment.”
— from DOA

I have a blind spot for horrible, horrible movies like this. I loved, just for one example, the American Ninja movies. Anyway, DOA… um, pretty much stupid throughout, but it’s surprisingly well-shot and frequently funny, a lot of gratuitous shots of the four “high-powered female martial artists” and the fight scenes are sometimes good. It’s a two star movie I liked far beyond its value.

The problem with the fight scenes generally is there’s a lot of fakery and wire work and the leads aren’t convincing. One of the things about watching, say, Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that’s so awesome is that she moves so beautifully normally, and if you’ve seen her fight (say, in Supercop), you might suspect she can almost fly anyway. There’s really only a few people in the movie who look like they could be actual fighters, much less carry an actual fight scene, and that makes it pretty boring.