Friday, December 31, 2010

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Happy New Year's Eve to everyone who reads this blog!

The King's Speech is the one new film of interest that opens in my area this weekend.  Not sure if I'll get a chance to see it this weekend but I will definitely check it out.

Still have A Prophet from Netflix.

All Good Things just hit HD On Demand...I'd like to check that out too.

I can't stop watching The American...it's lush and gorgeous and hypnotic and engrossing and totally perfect.

Can't believe that The Social Network hits Blu Ray in 2 weeks...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TODAY'S BLU

LOVE this film.

Monday, December 27, 2010

AGONIZINGLY AWESOME

The documentary on the making of Alien 3 (David Fincher's feature debut), which is a special feature on the recently released Alien Anthology Blu Ray, is spectacular on multiple levels.  The much-discussed, behind-the-scenes shennanigans during the making of Alien 3 are the stuff of movie-making legend, and during the course of this incredible and amazingly honest documentary, you get a chance to hear from all of the major parties (except, of course, for Fincher) who describe all of the problems that the cast and crew encountered.  Running close to an hour, it's utterly fascinating and a real treat for fans of this franchise.

ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF ALL TIME

Just got the Ghostbusters Blu Ray for X-mas.  It's such an amazing film...so funny...so clever...so consistent...they don't make 'em like this any more...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

COMING UP

At first glance, these are the the titles that I'm most excited to see in 2011:

The Tree of Life
Drive
Margaret
Immortals
Battle Los Angeles
Meek’s Cutoff
Your Highness
Hugo Cabaret
Super 8
Contagion
Haywire
The Adjustment Bureau
Transformers 3
Cowboys & Aliens
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Source Code
The Ides of March
The Descendants
The War Horse
The Beaver
Rampart
Take This Waltz
Pirates 4
Captain America
Thor
The Hangover 2
Happy Feet 2
Hanna
Young Adult
One Day
Jane Eyre
The Eagle

What am I missing?

Friday, December 24, 2010

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

True Grit today at 11:30am.  Should make for a nice early x-mas present.

From Netflix is the acclaimed French prison film A Prophet.

Just watched Easy A a few nights ago -- cute, funny, harmless fluff.  Emma Stone was terrific and I can see why she's the object of desire for so many casting agents/directors. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

SWAN POWER

Can't stop thinking about Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece Black Swan -- for any number of reasons.  I am still putting together a formal review, but I know that multiple viewings will be required to truly dissect this amazingly powerful cinematic creation.  Matthew Libatique's stunning cinematography in tandem with some extremely clever visual effects help contribute to a general atmosphere of dread, anxiety, and unease.  Melding a pyschosexual thriller with the melodramatic tale of a mentally and physically tapped ballerina losing her mind over her art, Black Swan is an unsettling and unforgettable film, powered by a bravura lead performance by Nathalie Portman and fantastic supporting work from Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, and Vincent Cassell.  I can't wait to delve into this mysterious, sexy, and brilliant piece of work again and again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

HO-HO-HO

Aside from Airplane!, Bad Santa is arguably the funniest movie ever created.  And the director's cut is even more deranged and offensive.  Merry X-Mas and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

UPDATED: TOP 10 OF 2010

Enter the Void
Carlos
127 Hours
Black Swan
The American
Valhalla Rising
Inception
The Social Network
Never Let Me Go
Cyrus

Major titles from 2010 left to see before I can officially call it a year:  True Grit, Rabbit Hole, and The King's Speech.  Blue Valentine, The Way Back and Somewhere are also of definite interest but I doubt they'll open theatrically in my area.

BLACK & BLUE

Tron: Legacy was only O.K. for me. Daft Punk’s musical score was ridiculously amazing (I'll be buying it this week) and the art direction/architectural design aspects of the movie were very unique and eye-catching, but overall, the movie didn't do a ton for me as a whole. Olivia Wilde is very hot and alluring but I thought Garrett Hedlund, the lead, was average at best.  Michael Sheen completely stole the show as an over the top nightclub owner how knows more than he lets on.  And while it was fun to see Jeff Bridges hamming it up in dual roles (the eerie looking de-aged version of Bridges was a neat trick), everything had a weightless/soulless quality which resulted in a “who gives a shit?” mindset while I watched.   Maybe that was the point considering the all-digital-environment that the characters were living in, but something tells me it wasn't. It probably had more to do with the fact that the screenplay was a disaster of half-formed ideas and notions, and that nothing was ever adequately or sensibly explained.  This is director Joseph Kosinski's first feature film and it clearly showed.  Coming from the world of commercials and architecture, it’s clear that he’s got a sharp, lightning-quick visual sensibility, and some of the big action set-pieces definitely left an impression.  It’s just that literally everything else in the film fell short. The dialogue was painfully on the nose and the multiple/endless scenes of exposition made similar scenes in Michael Bay's output look like quiet moments out of an Antonioni film. It's the kind of movie were bong hits or a nice gel tab of acid would improve everything.  All that said, I was never bored, the sound design was fucking tremendous, and there were enough money shots for me to recommend it to hard-core sci-fi fans. The blue/black/gray color design with bold swatches of neon orange and yellow were very interesting and unlike anything I've ever seen. It's just that the whole endeavor seemed more like a piece of video/concept art that you'd see in the bowels of the Getty Museum than a fully fleshed-out feature film.  It’s almost as if Kosinski showed a pre-viz version of the light-cycle chase to Disney execs, and then the execs green-lit the film based on that one piece of action, under the mandate that they do 5 or 6 similar scenes, and then fill the rest with techno mumbo-jumbo that nobody in the audience will be able to understand much less make sense of.  When in doubt, confuse your audience, and then pummel them with shiny colors and flashing lights.  Tron: Legacy will work for you if your desire is to see some cool shit on an Imax screen.  Don’t expect anything more.

NO GUTS...NO GLORY...

The Fighter is a total triumph. Christian Bale, as a crack-addicted boxing coach, is worth all the hype, but  Mark Wahlberg, starring as boxer Micky Ward,  is every bit his equal. Wahlberg clearly excels while working with director David O. Russell (they previously teamed on Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees) and it's clear from frame one that this is Wahlberg’s passion project. It's the least idiosyncratic movie that Russell has directed (he debuted with Spanking the Monkey and then followed with the brilliant black-comedy Flirting with Disaster) but switching it up a bit thematically and stylistically was probably a good move for him; he definitely showed that he’s got solid commercial chops and that he can stay focused with a concise story. The film also has some huge and unexpected doses of humor (mostly at the expense of the broadly drawn characterizations that comprise Ward’s white-trashy sisters) that really had me laughing out loud. It's a very solid piece of work on all fronts, and it'll be a tough movie for people to walk out of and say that they didn't like it or that it was bad. You might not like the brutality of boxing, you might not want to have your face rubbed in the low-class-Lowell-grit-'n-slime for two hours, and sure, most of the beats in the script are predictable, but it's got such a rousing finish and the story is so quintessentially American (who doesn’t love a second, sometimes third chance in life?), I don't think there's any question that it gets a best picture nomination. The acting across the board was so strong and persuasive that in tandem with the sharp and believable dialogue, the obviousness of some of story receded into the back of my mind.  The Fighter has a somewhat traditional boxing movie story trajectory but everything is spiced up by the gritty, lived-in atmosphere and by the Ward family’s rough and tumble dynamics.  Because at the end of the day, what makes The Fighter so effective are the characters on display, and the actors bringing them to life.  It’s a crime that Bale has yet to get an Oscar (he should have won for American Psycho) but it seems impossible that he’ll lose this year…his work is Method to the extreme and unbelievably powerful.  He’s able to make you love him despite his character’s many, many weaknesses and faults, and the brotherly chemistry that he shares with Wahlberg pumps up every scene.  Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are obvious supporting actress contenders for their terrific work, and again, it needs to be said – without Wahlberg’s sensitive and quietly observed performance, the film would be without anchor.  It's his best overall performance since Boogie Nights and it's something that he should be very proud of.    

Friday, December 17, 2010

THIS WILL BE GREAT

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Tron: Legacy Saturday morning in 3-D Imax.

The Fighter late Saturday afternoon.

Black Swan 1st show Sunday morning.

Huuuuuuge weekend of moviegoing...

Just sent back the slightly disappointing Micmacs to Netflix...not entirely sure what ships today for delivery tomorrow...

Monday, December 13, 2010

WHAT'S IN THE QUEUE?


Shipping tomorrow: Micmacs

Followed by:

Easy A
Map of the Sounds of Tokyo
Restrepo
A Prophet
Three Monkeys
Reprise
Barking Dogs Never Bite
Paris
The Secret in Their Eyes
Memories of Murder
Silent Light
Revanche
Red Road
Altered States

ANNOUNCED & PRE-ORDERABLE

THIS WEEK'S BLU

I really enjoyed Ben Affleck's sophomore directorial offering The Town, which hits Blu Ray this Friday. I'm definitely interested to see how an extra 20 or so minutes (Affleck has created a director's cut) fleshes out the already engrossing film I saw last October.  One thing's for sure -- those car chases and shoot-outs are gonna rock my surround sound system.

UPCOMING EYE-CANDY

Friday, December 10, 2010

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Sadly, I'll be waiting for The Tourist to hit Blu Ray as opposed to seeing it in the theater.  I just can't bring myself to spend $16 on a movie that has a Rottentomatoes score of less than 30% (as of last night).  And to be honest, there's no fucking excuses as to why the extremely talented group of Depp, Jolie, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), and writers Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) & Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria) couldn't and shouldn't have knocked this type of supposed entertainment outta the park.  Set in Italy with Jolie acting all sorts of extra-hot-glamorous and Depp playing a "regular-joe" for the first time in eons, I was really excited to get whisked away by some international intrigue and speed-boat chases.  I guess not this time.

From Netflix is Olivier Assayas's (Carlos, Boarding Gate, Irma Vep) French family drama Summer HoursCarlos is a masterpiece, and the second best film from 2010, so it's now my mission to track down all of Assayas's previous films unseen by me and give them a watch; those titles include: Clean, Demonlover, Les Destinees, and Late August, Early September.

Next week will be a busy one: Black Swan (fucking-A-finally!), The Fighter, and Tron: Legacy in
3-D/Imax.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

3-D BAYHEM

My eyeballs will likely fall out of their sockets next summer...

OH FO SHOW

The genre-blending of this film makes me weak in the knees...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

Nothing in the theaters this weekend, as, well, there's really nothing to see.  Black Swan opens but only in limited release...Aronofsky's latest can't get to CT soon enough...

From Netflix is the acclaimed foreign film Mother from the director of The Host, a film I quite enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

INCHING CLOSER

BOUND TO BE EPIC

Picnic at Hanging Rock.  The Truman Show.  Witness.  Master & Commander.  Peter Weir doesn't mess around.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NEXT TIME...LEAVE A NOTE...

There will be many people who will hear about a roughly three minute long sequence in Danny Boyle’s riveting new film 127 Hours and decide, based on that one sequence alone, that they will not see the film at all.  And that’s a shame because what 127 Hours does is nothing short of a movie miracle – it takes the most desperate and haunting of situations and turns it into something life-affirming and unexpectedly inspirational.  Based on the true life story of skilled mountain climber Aron Ralston, the film recounts a horrifying accident he encountered where he remained trapped in a mountainside crevice, for 127 hours, with little to no food or water, while his right arm was pinned under a boulder which had fallen on top of him.  So, you might be asking, what might that three minute sequence I mentioned above entail?   Yup – you guessed it – the graphic removal of his arm in order to set himself free. 
James Franco, in nothing short of a tour de force performance as Ralston that has to be seen to be believed, has you hooked from the film’s busily frenetic opening moments, all of which are a blur of sound, energy and momentum.  Boyle, in tandem with two phenomenal cinematographers (Anthony Dod-Mantle, who also shot Slumdog Millionaire for Boyle, and Enrique Chediak, who shot the Boyle-produced 28 Weeks Later), displays an amazingly kinetic cinematic vocabulary that owes much to the style of Tony Scott, another Brit with a hyper-stylized view of life.  What could be boring and banal in the hands of a lesser filmmaking team, especially considering the limited setting and small cast, never approaches anything less than thrilling.  John Harris’ swift and propulsive editing is in perfect harmony with A.R. Rahman’s pounding musical score, while the spare and forbidding production design of the cave (courtesy of Suttirat Larlarb, who designed costumes for Boyle on Slumdog and Sunshine), is nothing short of amazing.  The audience spends almost the entire film trapped with Ralston in a standing-up position, and because of how real and menacing everything looks and feels, you never get the sense that any part of the film was shot on a set. 

But beyond the obvious and numerous technical merits that 127 Hours has at its disposal, the power of the story lies in its script, which was co-written by Boyle and his Slumdog counterpart Simon Beaufoy.  Beautifully framing the narrative around Ralston’s flashbacks and hallucinations while intercutting with the predicament that he faced, Boyle and Beaufoy have you in their pocket right from the start.  The most touching part of the film revolves around Ralston’s video-recorded messages that he made for his parents in the event of his death.  The fact that he did this – and then lived – makes the story all the more poignant.  Boyle and Beaufoy’s dialogue always sounds real and natural, and with someone as effortless as Franco in the lead role, it’s no wonder how organic and raw everything feels.  Franco, as an actor, is someone I’ve come around on in a big way.  Early in his career, he left me deeply unimpressed by his work in the Spiderman films and in garbage like Annapolis (a laughably bad movie to begin with), Flyboys, The Great Raid, Tristan & Isolde, and City by the Sea, all non-starters that left me wondering what the big deal was.  Then, as if all of a sudden, Franco was on fire: In the Valley of Elah (a strong bit-part), Pineapple Express (an instant classic performance), and Milk (a great, Oscar-nominated supporting turn).  And now with his commanding and deeply felt work in 127 Hours, he’s rapidly becoming one of my favorites.  He reunites with his Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green for 2011’s Your Highness, a medieval stoner comedy with Danny McBride and Nathalie Portman.

127 Hours will be a tough sit for many people.  The arm removal scene is graphic in an extremely honest way.  Never becoming gratuitous yet never shying away from the awful truth of the situation, it’s a positively squirm-inducing passage that is mesmerizing in all the ways that powerful cinematic images can be.  Fantastic sound design is put to great use, and through some very skilled editing and shooting, you actually see less than you think you are seeing…that’s Boyle’s genius as a visual storyteller.  But here’s the deal, at least for me – I wanted to see that fucking arm come off…I wanted to breathe that big sigh of relief once he set himself free.  To go to the theater and to watch the film but then to cover your eyes during this sequence would be to rob you of the catharsis that both Ralston/Franco and the audience collectively shares.  Personally, I found the entire sequence to be electrifying in the best possible way.  127 Hours, in a weird, perverse way, is sort of like the ultimate Thanksgiving movie, because it’ll definitely make you thankful and appreciative that you’ll likely never be in the same spot that Ralston found himself in (unless you happen to live in Connecticut and enjoy self-cleaning your furnace…do a Google search…).  Boyle, like De Palma, Tarantino, Scott, and Noe, is all about pure-filmmaking, boiling things down to their filmic essence and filtering them through a hypnotic array of possibilities.  Everything feels wonderfully in synch with one another while watching a film from Boyle.  127 Hours is a masterpiece and the crowning achievement in his body of work thus far.

THE KEEP

Michael Mann's long-disowned, 1980's-released, horror/WWII hybrid The Keep has never been made available on anything other than a pan-and-scan VHS.  No DVD.  No Blu Ray.  No announcements.  It's now been made available to watch instantly via Netflix streaming:

http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The-Keep/70153886?strackid=5fc220798f94cbec_0_srl&strkid=288297263_0_0&trkid=438381#height2082

When I lived out in Hell-A, I rented a VHS of The Keep @ Eddie Brandt of North Hollywood.  I don't remember everything from it as the copy was old and faded but I recall the film being one of the oddest and goofiest movies to be made by a major filmmaker.  Yes, The Keep was an early Mann effort, but it's so funny to think that the guy who made The Keep is the same guy who made Heat or Public Enemies.  Mann famously fought with the studio over almost every creative aspect/decision on the film, and since its release (where it was critically destroyed and shunned by audiences), he refrains from discussing it publicly.

I'll give it another watch ASAP...



Monday, November 29, 2010

HMMM...

Could provide some good special effects and explosions come next February...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CHEMISTRY

Ed Zwick's slick new romantic dramedy Love and Other Drugs blinds you with its nudity and the magnetic attraction between its two hot leads.  Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver a pair of very persuasive and committed performances as unlikely lovers who meet, fall into serious lust, and then, one by one, into serious love, discovering a lot about themselves in the process.  What makes the film stand out the most, however, is its depiction of sex and nudity -- so few major Hollywood films these days depict sex the way Zwick and his co-writers did in this film, and the bravery shown by Hathaway and Gyllenhaal, who both look fantastic, is undeniable.  Hathaway is unclothed for almost the entire film; same goes for Jake, so it's an equal opportunity situation for guys and girls.  I lost count of how many love scenes the two of them engaged in, and overall, the film just has this steamy and sexy vibe that is very uncommon these days.  The film that surrounds them is enjoyable and mostly predictable with a busy story focusing on pharmaceutical salesmen (Oliver Platt steals about a half-dozen scenes), dysfunctional relationships, morally and ethically questionable doctors (Hank Azaria rules), and the capacity for one person to love another unconditionally.  For some reason I was reminded of Jerry Maguire a few times while watching.  There is a big twist to Love and Other Drugs (one that I won't give away here) that gives the narrative some weight behind all of the yuk-yuks (mainly from Josh Gad in a sloppily funny performance), the wonderfully lit and choreographed love scenes (Steve Fierberg is the d.o.p.), and the 90's pop-music infused soundtrack.  And while the film goes a bit gooey and Hwood at the end and ties things up a bit to neatly, there's no denying that it works on pure entertainment level alone, and that the electric chemisty between Hathaway and Gyllenhaal is ridiculously palpable.  These are two people you want to see together, doing anything together, just occupying the same space as one another.  I wouldn't be surprised if the two of them work together again in the future.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WHAT MOVIE DO YOU LIVE?

GIVING THANKS, CINEMATICALLY SPEAKING

Of course, and above all else, I am most thankful to have such an amazing, beautiful, and loving wife who somehow is able to live with me and all of my craziness; an incredible set of parents who never stop loving me despite all of my idiocy; and the best sister any brother could ask for, especially in light of how much I affectionately annoy her.  Life throws everyone curve balls every single day, and without my immediate support system, nothing would be possible.  And I'm extremely thankful for the joy and love that our cat, Gus (named rather appropriately after Richard Pryor's character in Superman III), has brought into our lives...he's the best.

And now...as I've done the last few years...here's what I'm most thankful for when it comes to my passion -- movies:

I'm thankful that guys like Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Martin Scoresese, David Fincher, Werner Herzog, Ridley Scott, Peter Berg, Nicolas Winding-Refn and Michael Bay are all actively working on a variety of new projects, all of which sound amazing.

I'm incredibly thankful that 2011 could potentially see the release of two, count 'em two/2!, Terrence Malick films.  The Tree of Life has been set by Fox Searchlight for a late May release (following a Cannes Film Festival premiere) and his currently shooting but still untitled romantic drama might get a late in the year release, but don't count on it...that one's more than likely to get released in 2012...

I'm thankful that a guy like Gasper Noe (Enter the Void, Irreversible) continually pushes the limits of the language of cinema and shoots for the moon with each and every picture; Enter the Void is a cosmic experience in many ways, the ultimate trip movie (sorry 2001, I love you, but there's a new sheriff in town), and a film that I haven't been able to go a day without thinking about since I've seen it.  The blu ray is set for release on 1/21/11 -- it's been pre-ordered @ Amazon.

I'm thankful that filmmaker Olivier Assayas decided to go the full 5.5 hour route with his brilliant terrorism epic Carlos.

I'm thankful that Matt Reeves didn't fuck up Let Me In, his fantastic but potentially hazardous remake of Let the Right One In.

I'm thankful that Zack Snyder got the job for the new Superman reboot -- he's gonna really make you believe that a man is able to fly...

I'm extremely thankful that I still get to read written movie reviews by Roger Ebert each and every week.  God bless him.

I'm thankful for the comedy stylings of Jonah Hill, who, aside from Danny McBride, is quite possibly the funniest person on the planet right now.

I'm thankful that Sony got their act together and finally got Moneyball made...they've even set a September 2011 release date.

I'm thankful that wild and crazy director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Snow Angels, Eastbound and Down, George Washington -- eclectic as shit, no?!) is about to unleash something like Your Highness on unsuspecting audiences in April 2011.

I'm thankful that Jody Hill (Observe and Report, The Foot Fist Way) is getting a chance to make more edgy comedies within the studio system.

I'm thankful that my childhood heroes are all getting a shot at big-screen glory -- 2011 will see the release of Green Lantern, Captain America, and Thor, with 2012 bringing us The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

And lastly, I'm massively thankful for the fact that I now live within a 5 minute drive from a huge, all-stadium-seating, IMAX-equipped multiplex.

MOVIES FOR THE LONG WEEKEND

Happy Thanksgiving to anyone who reads this blog!  I'll be away Thurs-Sun so nothing major until next week.  I plan on seeing Love & Other Drugs next Tuesday when I return from vacation.  Saw and loved 127 Hours last night -- absolutely brilliant filmmaking courtesy of Danny Boyle (yet again) with an Oscar-worthy lead performance from James Franco; it's a tour de force for everyone involved.  I also watched the insightful documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer -- very interesting stuff.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

127 Hours.  But not until Monday or Tuesday night.  Tough to get to the theater this weekend.

From Netflix is Red Desert, one of the many Michelangelo Antonioni films that I haven't seen yet.  It sounds quite interesting.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

THE REST OF 'EM

These are the titles that I will definitely see theatrically before the year is over:

127 Hours
Love and Other Drugs
Black Swan
The Tourist
The Fighter
How Do You Know (reviews dependent...)
Tron Legacy
Rabbit Hole
True Grit
Somewhere
The Way Back

Other films that I might see in the theater (or just wait for Blu) include:

The Next Three Days (looks solid but nothing special)
Fair Game (not sure if this will open in my area)
The King's Speech (not sure how interested I really am)
The Company Men (if it opens in my area I'll see it for sure -- looks excellent)
Casino Jack (doubt this'll open in my area).

This is what my top 20 of the year looks like so far:

Enter the Void
Carlos
The American
Valhalla Rising
Inception
The Social Network
Never Let Me Go
Cyrus
Green Zone
Shutter Island
Unstoppable
Let Me In
The Town
The Square
Due Date
Repo Men
Catfish
Winnebago Man
Please Give
The Kids are All Right
Monsters


And here's a list of the major titles from 2010 that I missed theatrically that I plan on seeing on Blu Ray:

Toy Story 3
Despicable Me
Paranormal Activity 2
Red
Dinner for Schmucks
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Easy A
Secretariat
Legend of the Guardians
Edge of Darkness
The Crazies
The Switch
Clash of the Titans
Going the Distance
Skyline
Jonah Hex
Get Low
Conviction
You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger
Stone
A Prophet

ANTICIPATION

Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) hasn't missed yet...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SOUND & FURY

Tailor made to director Tony Scott’s aggressive and intense filmmaking sensibilities, his ferocious new thriller Unstoppable is a wildly entertaining throwback to the mid-to-late-90’s “high-concept” actioner genre that he helped pioneer.  Sort of like Speed but refreshingly lacking a mad-man terrorist character, the film is inspired by true events (most of the craziness depicted in the film did happen in real life…) and doesn’t suffer in the slightest when it comes to a non-existent mega-villain.  The runaway train at the center of the film is mean and nasty enough.  Scott, working for the fifth time with Denzel Washington and for the first time with rising star Chris Pine (the new captain Kirk in the recently re-booted Star Trek franchise), gets two meaty, manly performances from his charismatic leads, and as usual, peppers his film with a terrific supporting cast (Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Corrigan [love this guy!], T.J. Miller, scene-stealer Lew Temple, and David Warshofsky all pop up in key roles).  Mark Bomback’s lean, fast-moving screenplay injects nice character beats all throughout the narrative as opposed to front-loading the first act with nothing but background and exposition.  We get to learn about the characters as the movie progresses, while Bomback (with certain help from action-maestro Scott) piles on the near-death encounters that Washington and Pine have to contend with.  There’s also a quiet little streak of anger running throughout Unstoppable when it comes to the way mega-corporations care more about their bottom line than the lives and well-being of their employees; the subversive subtext is there no matter how much it’s overshadowed by explosions and flipping-cars.

Based on a true story from 2001 where an unmanned train carrying highly-toxic chemicals careened through the Ohio countryside at speeds of up to 45 mph, Unstoppable ups the ante considerably (now a heavily populated city is in jeopardy and the train is chugging along at close to 70 mph) but still stays true to the events that inspired it.  Due to simple human error, one segment of the train dislodged from the main portion, and with the gears stuck in forward motion, took off down the track.  The fact that the engineer most responsible had left the train car for a moment didn't help the situation either.  Most people won’t know much about trains going into this film (I know I didn’t) but by the end, you’ll certainly have a better understanding of how they work and just how dangerous they really are.  Credit goes to Washington and Pine for never over-stating the obvious; the two are playing men of action who rise to the occasion when they are needed (a theme running all throughout Scott’s body of work) and they never go over the top with their performances.  Pine, in particular, has a great way of never seeming overly pushy as an actor; he possesses that natural quality that Robert Downey Jr. has in that it just seems like he’s being himself at all times.  Washington seems completely at ease under Scott’s direction and does a nice variation on the same character that he’s been perfecting for the last 10-15 years.  There’s nothing complicated about Unstoppable – how will these two train operators (one a veteran, one a rookie) stop the runaway bomb-on-wheels and save the day?
There’s a certain element of predictable eventuality to Unstoppable – it seems inconceivable to think that the train will really crash and eviscerate close to a million innocent people.  So without spoiling anything (and there are a few surprises in Bomback’s propulsive script), I’ll say that Scott keeps you interested the entire time, not only by destroying any number of things that get in the train’s way as it charges towards its destination, but by staying focused on the brass-tacks of the story and never succumbing to cheap humor or stupid side distractions.  So it’s no real secret to reveal that the real star of Unstoppable, beyond the train itself, is Scott the auteur.  No other filmmaker, to my recollection, has transported their audience directly on a train in the way that Scott does in Unstoppable.  Every single shot in the film looks real – viciously, dangerously real.  At no time do you feel like you’re watching actors on a set or in front of a green screen, which goes a long way in making the entire movie feel vital and alive.  The elaborate and amazing sound design deserves Oscar nominations; this is a loud but detail-loud sound mix that enormously enhances the film.  The aerial photography is stunning, with numerous shots of the hard-charging train going neck and neck with helicopters and pick-up trucks that are trying to stop it.  Scott, along with the gifted cinematographer Ben Serensin (Transformers 2), always manages to keep all of the action coherent and spatially understandable, without ever sacrificing in the style department.  They’re aided immensely by Scott’s long-time, go-to editor Chris Lebenzon and Robert Duffy.  All of Scott’s kinetic shooting and editing tricks (jump-cuts, de-saturated color palette, on-screen titles) are employed during Unstoppable, so as a result, some people might get motion sickness, as the camera never stops swirling, never takes a breather, and is always on high alert.  It’s visceral filmmaking of the highest order and a further reminder that Scott is the best in the business when it comes to this sort of stuff.  On pure entertainment value alone, Unstoppable is the most satisfying of the year. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

MOVIES FOR THE WEEKEND

As if I need to say it -- UNSTOPPABLE!  Sunday at 2pm. 

Just watched I Am Love from Netflix last night -- straaaaange film.  Sending it back today so my next disc (not sure what...) will be delivered next Monday/Tuesday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

VISUAL GENIUS: THE FILMS OF TONY SCOTT

If you were to ask me who some of my favorite filmmakers are, it’d probably go something like this:  Scorsese, Mann, Fincher, Ridley, Bay, Herzog, the Coens, Greengrass, Nolan, and Pete Berg.  There are plenty others who I admire and whose films I strongly anticipate.  But if I had to name one filmmaker who makes me most excited by a new release, I’d easily reply: Tony Scott.  Why?  His films just make me feel good.  And cool.  And excited.  And pumped-up.  His unmatchable style (despite legions of imitators) has certainly evolved over the years (compare the aesthetics of something like Top Gun or Revenge to something like Domino or Man on Fire) and his career has had some very interesting twists and turns.  But we’re at a point where I think it’s safe to say that the label of auteur can properly be bestowed upon him.  Not only does a Tony Scott film have a distinct visual personality, his movies have numerous common emotional threads that help create a seamless effect running throughout his entire body of work.  Long derided by critics for being too stylish and too interested in his camera and not enough by story/character (a lazy criticism in my estimation), he’s a filmmaker that has often been misunderstood.  However, he’s won the approval of audiences over and over again, even if some of his recent work has flirted with the avant-garde, at least in terms of what is generally seen from his contemporaries.   Always trying to out do himself and never seeming to run out of steam, I hope that there are many more years of Tony Scott movies.  He’s a trendsetter, a bar-raiser, someone who the phrase “pure cinema” was coined for.  And because of that, I can say that he’s my absolute favorite filmmaker. 

Tony Scott’s first film, The Hunger, is the one that I’ve seen the least.  I don’t remember a ton from it.  I remember a young Susan Sarandon, 80’s-style David Bowie, lots of billowing linen curtains, soft-core lesbian sex-scenes with Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, some vampire shenanigans, and a distinct Euro-trash vibe.  To be sure, The Hunger was a bold directorial debut, at least from a visual standpoint. Graduating from the world of commercials, Scott brought a quick-pace and luxurious sheen to his first feature film, style traits that would follow him his entire career.  Maybe it’s because vampire movies aren’t my thing that I haven’t seen The Hunger very often.  Despite weak reviews and non-existent box office, the film has attained healthy cult-classic status since its VHS/DVD release, and it even spawned a short-lived Showtime series spin-off, of which Tony directed the pilot. 

At this point in our culture, it’s impossible to discuss Top Gun with any amount of clear-eyed objectivity.  The film is a milestone for all of its key contributors.  For director Tony Scott, it’s his early-career masterpiece, with True Romance his mid-career masterpiece, and Domino his late-career masterpiece.  It’s also the film that got him out of director jail after the flopping of his debut, The Hunger.  For producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, it was the movie that truly solidified them as the uber-producers of the 1980’s (Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop came before; Cop 2 and Days of Thunder would immediately follow) before they came back into prominence in the mid 90’s after a bit of a dry spell.  And for star Tom Cruise, it was his first runaway blockbuster sensation, his first taste of global superstardom, and the film that made him a house-hold name.  Top Gun is a product of its time in a way that so few films can claim to be.  Released in the summer of 1986, the film played on the still lingering fears of war with the Soviets, and carried a rah-rah, jingoistic spirit that seems laughable nowadays but probably felt very honest at the time of release.  It feels pointless to rehash the plot of Top Gun – anybody with a pulse has seen it and knows all about Maverick and Goose and Iceman and Jester and Charlie and the rest of the crew.  Sure, the scenes on the ground pale in comparison to the ones up in the air (Jeff Kimball’s gorgeous cinematography is still a lesson in perfection) and most of the dialogue is cheesily pedestrian.  But that’s not the point of Top Gun.  The film is all about machismo (a major theme in all of Scott’s work), and how men deal with expectations, loss, tragedy, acceptance, and success.  Those classic scenes in the shower (or during a particular game of beach volleyball…) seem homoerotic in hindsight (and maybe they did upon first glance…), but what they’re really about is men trying to one up each other, trying to figure out how to best your opponent, and always remembering that there are no points for second place.  To say that Top Gun is one the manliest movies ever made would be understatement; you can practically smell the testosterone on the set.  And that’s what’s so fun about it.  And when you add in the ridiculously quotable one-liners (who knew that rubber dog shit originates from Hong Kong?) and the high-flying airborne camerawork (still unmatched to this day), then it’s no wonder that the film plays every Sunday on TNT and has become one of the most influential and iconic movies ever made.  And if you’re not a fan of Top Gun, then just remember, the plaque for the alternates is in the ladies room.
Tony Scott is not Martin Brest, the soft-spoken director of Beverly Hills Cop 1, so it was going to be a challenge to replicate the amazing balance of comedy and action from the first Beverly Hills Cop for the sequel.  Cop 2 is much more violent and action-oriented than the first installment (which was mainly a comedy), and stands as a classic 80’s actioner -- empty-brained, implausible, and entertaining, with tons of Tony’s trademarked smoke and sweat covering every scene.  I am almost certain that a then-young Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight) was massively influenced by Scott’s visual style on Cop 2, as all of Harlin’s late 80’s/early 90’s actioners look just like it.  And, just this past year, the action-spoof MacGruber seemed to have been shot in Scott/Harlin/late 80’s-vision.  The film was a massive hit at the box office despite being pissed on by critics (most of who loved the first one), and coming after Top Gun, put Tony at the top of the action directing short-list.
Pouncing on a chance to flex his artsy-fartsy muscles after some big box office hits, Tony Scott next took on the hard-boiled Jim Thompson novel Revenge, which, from a story standpoint, was nothing like any of his previous work.  Starring a subdued and stubbled Kevin Costner and a red-hot Madeline Stowe in the prime of her young beauty, this erotic drama contains some brutal violence and some truly ugly bad-guy characters (Anthony Quinn was intense). I’ve still yet to see the newly released director’s cut and I haven’t seen the film in a number of years so not all plot details are fresh in the memory banks.  I remember it feeling like a Tony Scott movie on look and atmosphere alone, but I remember feeling that the narrative just wasn’t as interesting as everyone may have thought it was.  Critics were mixed and the film didn’t do very well at the box office.  I think I need to check it out again at some point soon…

Days of Thunder, a.k.a. Top Car, is basically Top Gun with race-cars, and while it didn’t go nearly the same box office as Top Gun, it returned Tony Scott to the chair of an expensive studio action picture. Thunder is a shamelessly stupid and ridiculously entertaining movie with some of the best race-car scenes ever put onto film.  However, it’s still a mystery as to how a writer like Robert Towne could have penned some of the lines in Thunder; on-the-nose-corny is being nice.  But anyone watching a race-car movie looking for Shakespearean dialogue is in the wrong place to begin with.  Cruise essentially reprised the character of Maverick but instead of being in a cockpit for most of the movie he’s in the driver’s seat of a stock-car.  Scott shot the hell out of every single racing sequence and all of it is 100% real (remember – CGI was still a few years away).  And it truly feels it.  There is an authenticity to the race sequences that feels vital, and the visceral impact of Ward Russell’s measured and masculine cinematography cannot be ignored.  The sound work was also dynamite.  But my favorite moment has to be Cruise’s entrance to the race track; pulling up on a motorcycle, rocking a leather bomber jacket, and cutting through some classic Tony Scott fog-machine-produced-fog, Cruise was in pure bad-boy mode in Days of Thunder.  The solid supporting cast includes John C. Reilly, Robert Duvall, and Michael Rooker.  This is a great flick to watch with some friends while drinking some beers, with the surround sound cranked way up.

The Last Boy Scout is some sort of treatise on the entire cop-movie genre.  As written by action-film specialist/deconstructionist Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), the film is like a loony tunes adventure starring Bruce Willis as an unkillable cop who just keeps coming back for more and more.  From the opening moments on the under-lit, overly rain-soaked football field where a player pulls a gun out and kills his opponent, you just know this is going to be a ridiculous movie.  The dark, subversive humor in Black’s writing is present right from the start, while his outlandish and over the top plotting melded perfectly with Scott’s flashy and flamboyant directing sensibilities (another terrific collaboration with cinematographer Ward Russell).  Gratuitously violent, profane to the max, and silly as fuck, The Last Boy Scout is the kind of movie that the term “guilty pleasure” was created for.
Tony Scott’s mid-career masterpiece is True Romance, which boasts the best screenplay that he’s ever worked with (Quentin Tarantino penned the amazing original script).  Mixing glossy images with gritty locales and editing, the film is a supremely stylish and absurdly entertaining fantasy about a comic-book reading, Bruce Lee/Elvis Presley loving geek (Christian Slater in a career best performance) who crosses paths with a hooker with a heart of gold (Patricia Arquette in a career best performance) and then gets mixed up with pimps, the mafia, the FBI, suitcases of cocaine, and a stoned-out Brad Pitt sitting on a couch smoking pot from a homemade bong made from a Honey Bear.  Tarantino’s colorfully profane voice can be heard in every frame and Scott’s hard-charging visual style can be felt at all times, creating an amazing cinematic experience.  The supporting cast must also be commented upon:  Chris Walken, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Rapaport all appear and make vivid impressions.  True Romance is the sort of movie that I can watch at any point on any given day.  Scene after scene is movie gold -- Walken's confrontation with Hopper, Slater's conversations with Kilmer-as-Presley, Gandolfini's beat-down of Arquette -- True Romance has one amazing bit after another.   And while it bombed at the box office and was met with indifferent reviews, it’s become a major cult item and many critics who panned it upon its release seem to have come around on it.
Crimson Tide is the best submarine movie ever made.  A bold statement, yes, but a statement that I feel is perfectly valid.  It has two of the most dramatically commanding actors (Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman) giving two of their most intense performances.  Michael Schiffer’s tight and smart script had zero fat on its bones and presented a thoroughly believable nuclear scenario.  And Scott’s clear-eyed and extremely focused direction was placed mostly on his actors as opposed to his trademark visual splendor.  Not to say that the film is a slog to look at – hardly so – it’s beyond gorgeous to behold.  From the claustrophobic set design to the neon-lit interior of the sub, Scott and his cinematographer Dariusz Wolski created a sense of forward moving urgency in every single scene of Crimson Tide.  In a film where every second counts big-time for the characters, the filmmakers have to be up to the visual task of conveying that intensity to the audience.  Crimson Tide also had some great humor (mostly thanks to a Quentin Tarantino on-set re-write) to go along with all of the tough-guy dialogue and submarine jargon.  The film was a big hit with critics and audiences alike, and it’s one of Scott’s films that I’ve seen the most amount of times.
The Fan made one thing clear – never hire a Brit to shoot a baseball movie because Scott didn’t know what he was doing with the baseball scenes in this dark, bombastic thriller.  The Fan is probably Scott’s “worst” movie but that’s like saying that the Hershey’s company slightly screwed up a bar of chocolate.  An angry, mean, and scathing portrait of a psychopathic knife salesman (a deranged Robert De Niro) who stalks a Barry Bonds-esque baseball superstar (Wesley Snipes, pre-IRS trouble), The Fan is Scott’s attempt at a straight thriller, and while he gets the pulse racing, the script is so overblown that  it’s impossible to take any of it seriously.  However, that doesn’t stop it from being absurdly entertaining every step of the way, all the way up to the asinine climax that literally makes zero sense.  It’s also got some glossier than glossy cinematography courtesy of Dariusz Wolski.
Political thrillers don’t get much more live-wire and jacked-up than Enemy of the State, a shiny, cool-blue, lightning-fast “man-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time” movie which served as a critical and box-office comeback for Tony Scott after the drubbing he took for The Fan.  Mixing The Conversation with The Parallax View and adding in a few terrific car and foot chases with some stylish shoot-outs, Enemy of the State was the fifth collaboration between Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and marked a more dramatically serious trend for the producer (films that immediately followed Enemy included Remember the Titans, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, and Veronica Guerin).  Will Smith, fresh of the mega-success of Independence Day, was perfectly cast as a hot-shot lawyer who inadvertently comes into possession of a video  showing an evil U.S. Senator (John Voight, appropriately oily) masterminding a murder.  Smith teams up with a reluctant ex-spook (Gene Hackman, terrific as always, doing a riff on his immortal character from The Conversation) and goes head to head with the NSA in an effort to clear his name.  The pacing of Enemy of the State is unbelievable as images and plot are hurled at the viewer.  But what’s amazing about that approach is that everything can be followed logically and coherently despite the frenetic nature of the filmmaking style.  Scott, working with cinematographer Daniel Mindel (who also shot Scott’s aesthetically groundbreaking Domino), put cameras in every corner of the room in Enemy of the State, mixing various film speeds and stocks with an overall high-contrast visual palette, resulting in a film that feels icy-hot to the touch.  The camera never stops moving, never slows down, and never gets tired; it’s energetic filmmaking to the max, especially when set to the rhythms of Harry Greggson-Williams’ pulsating musical score.  By the time the film reaches it’s thoroughly clever finale, in which Scott even cribs from himself (True Romance, anyone?!), you can’t help but feel out of breath and exhilarated.
An adult espionage tale that's light on gadgets but big on story, Spy Game had the somewhat unfortunate event of being a CIA/spy/terrorist movie that got released one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Well reviewed by critics, the film did solid box office, but has become a big player on DVD and cable (it seems to be on the tube every day).  After a mostly wordless and utterly gripping opening 10 minutes which sees Brad Pitt’s young spy character getting nabbed in China for spying, Spy Game hurtles along at a break-neck pace, shuffling between flashbacks which establish the relationship between Pitt and his mentor, a grizzled but still suave old spook (Robert Redford), and his status as a prisoner of war in a Chinese holding cell.  And for a ticking-clock additive, he’ll be executed in 48 hours in accordance with Chinese espionage laws.  The physical similarities between Pitt and Redford were clearly not lost on Scott, who photographs his leads with maximum gloss set against gritty, war-torn backdrops – it’s an interesting mix (and much like his work years later on The Taking of Pelham 123).  Christian Wagner’s propulsive editing works perfectly with the sonic booms of Harry Greggson-Williams’ score; Spy Game is a film that never seems at rest, always on the go, from way up in the sky to the corners of a small room.  My favorite scene in the film, other than the opening 10 minutes and the lushly photographed hotel explosion, is the clandestine conversation that Pitt and Redford have on the roof of a building somewhere in Beirut (or are they in Germany?).  Scott would be the only director to think of shooting a two person scene like this with a helicopter, and not only did he do it, but the results are stunning and incredibly rare.  Redford was famously annoyed by the idea and couldn’t understand why Scott was shooting coverage with a helicopter for a dialogue scene.  Until he saw the finished film (at least that’s the story that I heard around Tony’s office when I worked for him…).  He’s gone on to do versions of this scene in Déjà Vu and Pelham but this one bit in Spy Game is a real standout.  And without spoiling the fun, of which there is a lot in Spy Game, the ending is a real hoot; Redford’s subversion of his bosses is great to watch on repeated viewings and the final twist is sympathetic yet earned.
Tony Scott’s late-career, ultra-impressionistic style began taking its roots with the gloriously hyperactive Beat the Devil, his contribution to the BMW film series, The Hire, which was a series of extended BMW commercials in the guise of slick and exciting short films with serious Hollywood pedigree.  The talent in front of and behind the camera on The Hire was staggering.  Directors included John Woo, Wong Kar-Wai, Joe Carnahan, Ang Lee, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guy Ritchie, John Frankenheimer and Scott with an acting lineup featuring the likes of Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Madonna, Gary Oldman, James Brown, Danny Trejo, Stellan Skarsgard, F. Murray Abraham, Ray Liotta, Dennis Haysbert, Maury Chaykin, and Marilyn Manson.  And for those of us who hoped to see Clive Owen as the next James Bond, we’ll always have The Hire, where Owen plays the nameless Driver, an expert behind the wheel (always a BMW, naturally) who is tasked with various life-threatening missions with differing degrees of difficulty.  The one linking thread between the different films, Owen brought a manly command to the lead role that helped solidify the entire series.  Beat the Devil is the most out-right entertaining film of the bunch, and it’s the one that seems to be having the most fun.  It centers on the idea that James Brown (who played himself), back in his youth, sold his soul to the Devil (a hysterical Gary Oldman, in make-up and costume that has to be seen to be believed) in exchange for the chance to have a legendary career.  But now that the rocker is getting old, he wants to renegotiate the terms of his deal so he can go back to being young, so he suggests that his Driver (Owen) will race Lucifer’s driver, Bob (Trejo), from the Vegas strip out into the dessert.  Winner takes all.  For roughly 10 minutes, Tony Scott makes cinematic rock ‘n roll love to his camera; every image is cranked, every sound effect is juiced, every edit is sharp as a tack.  His fragmented, cubist style that would be seen in future efforts like Man on Fire and Domino was being first experimented with here (overlapping subtitles, a washed-out and de-saturated color scheme, staccato editing patterns, skewed camera angles).  Beat the Devil exists primarily as a sensory blast but it’s also got a great sense of humor, probably the best sense of humor out of any of the movies in The Hire, which is why it’s my favorite. 
Man on Fire is such a bad-ass movie.  It really is.  You’ve got Denzel Washington as a one-man killing machine bent on revenge after the little girl (Dakota Fanning) he’s been assigned to protect gets kidnapped.  Simple set-up, simple story.  Brian Helgeland’s lean and mean script took it’s time setting up the relationship between Denzel and Dakota before her abduction, which gave real weight to the violence and bloodshed that Denzel unleashes after she goes missing.  It’s a straightforward narrative goosed by Tony’s desire to immerse the viewer in a hyperactive, extremely in-your-face style that grabs you by the neck and never lets up.  Mexico, judging from Tony’s vision in Man on Fire, is a festering shit-hole, a place where violence and kidnapping are a common way of life (the film states that someone is kidnapped every hour in Mexico).  I don’t doubt it to be honest…there are so many problems with that country it’s a joke, and their problems have only worsened in the six years since Man on Fire’s theatrical release.  But that’s another matter for another blog entry.  Man on Fire is a very Catholic film in many respects, and the moral questions it asks about violence, murder and revenge drive most of narrative.  Washington’s hit man character, Creasey, is a man of few words who has lived a damaged, violent life.  Clinging to the bottle and growing unsure of himself in society, he has very little to life for.  Until he’s given a reason to care.  It’s the classic cinematic hit-man scenario, and what Scott does in Man on Fire from a visual standpoint is thrust the viewer into Creasey’s burnt out psyche.  Subtitles race across the screen, images are blown-out to hot-whites, and every edit feels like a pin-prick, as the increasingly disorienting style starts to feel perfectly normal – this is what a descent into a violent hell would feel like.  Paul Cameron, Scott’s cinematographer on Man on Fire, really earned his money on this one.  The film was greeted with mixed reviews overall (it has some serious lovers and haters) and did strongly at the box office.  And it’s yet another title that seems to play every week on FX or Showtime.
Domino.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  Hahaha…we’ve come to the most divisive, most misunderstood film in Tony Scott’s filmography.  Most people hate it.  Some people, like me, consider it to be the apex of Tony Scott’s career as a storyteller and stylist.  Boasting his most intricate script (by Donnie Darko/Southland Tales scribe Richard Kelly) and a wild cast of characters (Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Mo’Nique, Christopher Walken, Dabney Coleman, Delroy Lindo and many others), this is a wild and crazy pseudo-biopic of bounty hunter Domino Harvey (the fantastic Knightley) that exists primarily as a showcase for Tony Scott’s obsession with style.  Simply put, this is one of the most visually elaborate and sophisticated movies ever created.  It resembles, to my eye, a form of cubist-style filmmaking, a hyper-stylized form of visual storytelling that feeds off of adrenalin, excitement, and raw visceral impact.  What makes Domino work as a whole is that the story is as wild as the style.  Also, many people seem to forget that much of the film takes place through a cloud of mescaline, hence the fragmented and baroque style.  Much of the third act incorporates a hallucenegenic trip aspect to the proceedings.  And then there’s Domino herself – a wild, rebellious British model turned bounty hunter, the real Domino Harvey did in fact lead a crazy life, but it probably wasn’t as over the top as Kelly’s criss-crossing and zigzagging script.  The filmmakers make it clear upfront that they have taken liberties with the facts – there’s even a graphic that reads: “Based on a true story…sort of.”  What I love most about Domino is how aggressive it is, and how incredibly intricate the plotting is.  At one point, in a bit of hysterical, self-reflexive irony, Kelly and Scott literally draw out a diagram of all of the various plot strands on-screen which is accompanied by Knightley's voice-over.  Scott’s hyperventilating and exhilarating style would mean diddly-squat if it wasn’t in service to an exciting plot with characters you like.  Knightley shredded her good-girl image with her balls-out performance in Domino; from the lap-dance scene to breaking Brian Austin Green’s nose to busting out the double machine guns during the explosive finale, she grabbed the role and ran with it.  Mickey Rourke’s recent career resurgence really began here (and then continued with Sin City) with a gruff and stern performance as Domino’s boss.  And Edgar Ramirez, currently blazing up the screen in the epic five hour terrorist biopic Carlos, busted out in a big way as Domino’s partner.  For me, Domino is a work for art, and a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word.  Free from the demands of a major studio (the film was produced independently), at no instance during any part of Domino does the film feel compromised or anything less than Scott's total vision.  Starting with the obscenely amazing opening credits sequence and climaxing with an exploding casino and a massive, three-way shoot-out, the film is akin to a roller-coaster ride.  It’s got big laughs (Walken is incredible as reality producer Jerry Heiss), a twist-filled plot, and enough visual fireworks for 10 movies.  As Manhola Dargis of the New York Times said in her glowing review of the film: “It’s all the Tony Scott you could want in a Tony Scott movie.”  Damn straight.
Déjà Vu is a trippy thriller with nods to real-world science fiction, a genre that Tony Scott had never tackled.  Snazzily photographed by Paul Cameron (Collateral, Man on Fire), Déjà Vu contains some incredibly rendered explosions (the one that opens the film is mind-blowing in its intensity to be perfectly honest), a heady murder/conspiracy plot, and one of the coolest car chases ever devised (it’s certainly one of a kind).  When a massive bomb goes off killing hundreds of Navy sailors and their families, ATF agent Doug Carlin (a headstrong Denzel Washington) is called in to investigate.  However, he never would suspect that the U.S. government has time-travel technology that might be able to help catch the terrorist (a sleazy Jim Caviezel).  The production design in Déjà Vu is extraordinary and one of the film’s best assets; the fast moving computer images and zooming of the time-machine’s controls keep your head buzzing.  And then there’s the breathless car chase set on a bridge in which Denzel is in two planes of time at once (the past and the present).   As his character says mid-chase, “This is trippy!”  It’s probably Scott's most underrated movie.
Bloody, profane, and obsessively stylish, Tony Scott's hostage/hijacking tale The Taking of Pelham 123 is more than up to the task of reimagining its source material (Joseph Sargent’s 1974 original film which itself was based on an original novel by John Godey).   Scott’s version is crisply written and wonderfully efficient (Brian Helgeland gets screenplay credit and does a crafty, tight job) with juicy performances from Denzel Washington (his 5th movie with Tony) as the morally conflicted hero and a sneering, bald, tattooed, and constantly cursing John Travolta, in one of his best performances, as the psychopathic villain. It's quite clear Travolta was having a blast; he's in Face/Off territory here. The Taking of Pelham 123 isn’t an awards movie and it's not the sort of film that appeared on a ton of top 10 lists. It's just a souped up genre film made with extreme skill by a director in love with is craft. Scott takes a well-worn narrative (the hostage crisis thriller scenario) and amps up the thrills and excitement with sexy cinematography (by Tobias Schleisser, a Peter Berg regular) and flashy editing techniques (Chris Lebenzon, the action genius behind Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, and Pearl Harbor), which makes for a fast-moving piece of hard-edged, R-rated entertainment. Scott always brings the visceral in all of his movies and Pelham is no exception.  And with Pelham, at this point, I think it’s safe to say that Scott can be considered an auteur -- something that most elitist "critics" might not want to admit, but deep down inside, they know is true. Over the last 30 years, Scott (with some help from his brother Ridley), has done more to set the visual standards employed by his peers than maybe anybody else in the business.  Guys like Bay and Fincher and Jonze and Boyle and Glazer (just to name a few) have all been clearly influenced by what Scott has been perfecting over the years. And even though he's pushing 70 years old, Scott is showing no signs of slowing up. His work keeps getting bolder, faster, more intense, more impressionistic, and more visually audacious.  Watching his movies is like experiencing two hours of Picasso-esque moving images while tripping on a bit of acid.  Some people say that this is a case of style over substance.  But in Tony’s world, the style is the substance.