Film Evening. Here are the usual excuses for why this list is short (or at least I think looks short). Saturday night I watched the BBC's Museums at Night stream which wasn't bad for a first try even if in the Martha Kearney presented chunks there was no sense of this being a live event beyond technical hitches, nothing to evoke the atmosphere of the Imperial War Museum North opening late, plus given the event it was only when it focused on the workings of the museum that it really seemed to make sense. What's becoming my regular Monday night burst of culture was as I mentioned previously Amanda Vickery's immensely enjoyable corrective on the history of women in art, The Story of Woman and Art grinning right through the section about one of my top ten favourite painters Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun (even if the programme insisted on missing out her second name) (I also think I'm a little bit in love with Amanda Vickery now too and her expressive vowels). Then I spent the whole day on Thursday night in a church hall with two complete strangers working as a poll clerk at the local and European elections and that brings us back to here.
The Lucky Ones
Rock of Ages
The Last Samurai
Not a bad week overall, certainly nothing so horrendously bad that I'm having to Brillo my braincells, no What To Expect When You're Expecting. Rock of Ages is a bit of a patience tester but even then, the songs are pretty well turned out and as an adaptation of a jukebox stage musical it can and will only ever be as good as that jukebox stage musical. It's also not a film you can say very much about. Debbie Gibson appears as an extra, interestingly credited as Debbie Gibson rather than Deborah which is what she shifted to in her "sexy" phase post the Anything is Possible album, released the utterly horrendous Shock Your Momma and I discovered Amy Grant instead (!). There are discussions to be had presumably about the objectification and codification of women and most of the men come across as complete assholes too even the one's we're ostensibly supposed to be rooting for. Perhaps the most interesting performance is from Tom Cruise who offers just the right level of menace as the "rock god" figure, dialing down all of his natural charisma so that when he does show a glimmer of humanity it really shines.
Despite his public image, I'm happy to admit to still being a fan of Cruise as a screen presence because of that natural charisma As with all of those 90s megastars (see also Hanks, Costner, Smith and Reeves), there's a lack of interchangeability, of not really being able to imagine anyone else in a given part. That's especially true of The Last Samurai in which he's able to engender our sympathy despite having been part of the extermination of the Native Americans. Granted that's a function of the historically bullshit Dances with Samurai storyline, but there are few other actors who can switch from convincing action to acting quite this successfully. Anyone else would seem miscast. A young Harrison Ford possibly, not that Cruise himself is getting any younger. I've been trying to remember why I haven't seen Samuvtar before. Perhaps I was on a Kurasawa curve and decided I didn't want to see this distorted Hollywoodisation of it. Now it's just made me want to watch more Samurai films.
Plugging my Cruise gaps also led me to Jack Reacher which is far better than any of the reviews suggested. A good old fashioned, 90s style thriller with Alan J Pakula style trimmings (All The President's Men score on the temp track much?), again it's another tour-de-force for the actor as he's called up on to be an entirely blank man with no name figure and compelling enough for us to care about. Not having read the Lee Child book (obviously), I hadn't realised the extent to which it's essentially another iteration of the Doctor Who myth, of the stranger who "just wants to be left alone" but feels compelled to help either because someone's asked for him or simply because he's there. But it's exciting, screamingly funny in places and has Robert Duvall being Robert Duvall a lot and Rosamund Pike essentially playing the same role as Demi Moore in A Few Good Men. It's also thoroughly a Chris McQuarrie film; the rhythms of his monologues and the structure of the flashbacks are straight out The Usual Suspects, with sections like the "victims" montage creating a sense of trying to produce something more than a simple action adventure piece.
Over the summer I'm going to attempt to watch as much of the Toronto International Film Festival and BFI's Century of Chinese Cinema selections as I can, but after trying to stream something from Netflix and Amazon Instant Video and finding some utterly unwatchable cropped and poorly dubbed prints ended up with Naked Weapon which is not on their list but stars Maggie Q in what amounts to a Chinese version of Sexpionage (sometimes called Secret Weapons) crossed with Nikita (which is of course interesting because Q would go on to actually star in a television version of Nikita). It's mainly an exploitation piece (apparently a sequel come remake of something called Naked Killer), cue further discussions about the objectification and codification of women, but the script goes out of its way to make the protagonists sympathetic dimensional figures and there are some pretty neat action and fight sequences even if there's an astonishingly high body count (apparently the director Wong Jing's a bit notorious). If nothing else it's wetted my appetite for the rest of the summer and seeing some of the classics of the form instead.
The Lucky Ones didn't receive a theatrical release in the UK and like Married Life from a few weeks ago I wouldn't have known about its existence if it hadn't starred Rachel McAdams. It's a treat. McAdams and Michael Peña play soldiers on leave who, joined by army retiree Tim Robbins, find themselves stranded at an airport and decide to drive across country to their various homes and fates and realise there's a big difference between expectations and actuality. Unlike most road movies, there's no ticking clock, the three characters shift from A to B to C and across the alphabet searching for happiness and bonding and we simply enjoy being in their company. Of the three it's McAdams who's acting her pants off in the period when she was still dabbling with character roles, as a Southern baptist who despite the death of her boyfriend has a solid belief that life will work out. It's mostly light comedy with some drama with little indication that director Neil Burger's next two films would be Limitless and Divergent.
And so to Ocean's Twelve, which is still one of my favourite films, the one you're all still wrong about just as I'm entirely correct. Watched in the context of Full Frontal, the Julia Roberts affair makes better sense since it's a "mainstream" version of the film within a film material there. On the audio commentary, Soderbergh explains that the original script, presumably the "Honour Amongst Thieves" draft, Roberts's character was supposed to imitate an old Romanov princess but that they decided that the concept of having Roberts's character play Julia Roberts was too delicious not to attempt. I agree. It's also extremely brave of them to put most of the main cast in a prison cell for the finale of the story. Robert McKee would presumably hate that. But all three films are essentially about a single protagonist with numerous facets anyway so it's quiet successfully having it all ways. The imdb trivia page for the film is massive. Linus's Dad was originally played by Peter Fonda but he was edited out. George Clooney was only two years old then me when this was shot. But he looks so much older...