Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"X3" moves fast, stops for no one: It's the juggernaut, b---h


directed by Brett Ratner
starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, and many, many, many others (some old, some new)

If comic book superheroes are the natural refuge of anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider or an outcast, unnoticed or noticed for the wrong reasons, then the X-Men series represents the apotheosis of all that repressed angst, yearning, and rage. For the very powers the X-Men possess—the abilities that set them apart from the crowd—make them persona non grata (plural?) in the everyday world, shunned as freaks rather than upheld as objects of wonder. In this respect, theirs is a fantasy that’s easier, if less exhilarating, to empathize with than the fantasy of being the world’s savior or destroyer.

The basic theme of alienation isn’t exclusive to “X-Men,” of course. It underlies almost all superhero stories to varying degrees (Marvel comics more than DC, I’m told). After all, the other side of awe is always fear of what’s different, and the other side of all that “with great power comes great responsibility” stuff is the desire to chuck the responsibility and either try to fit in with everyone else or wipe out everyone who stands in your way. But only with the X-Men do we get such a strong sense that their powers are social liabilities. And so, to the extent they suppress these powers or hide their identities, it’s not in the interest of the greater good, but rather to protect themselves from persecution. It’s worth noting the same idea appeared in Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” though presented with a generous dose of tongue-in-cheek wit. In the “X-Men” universe, by contrast, it’s no laughing matter.

Or at least it used not to be, back when Bryan Singer was at the helm. With a new director, Brett Ratner (principally of “Rush Hour” fame), a new sensibility now pervades the franchise, evidenced by the fact that the most memorable line of “X Men: The Last Stand” is “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” To be fair, the differences aren’t so sharp or pervasive as to be distracting. There’s more broad comic relief, to be sure, and less angst; less brooding, and more action; fewer shadows and flashier special effects, including a showstopping sequence involving the Golden Gate Bridge. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of that; comic books are comic books, and not all adaptations have to follow the introspective, soul-searching path. I mean, what fun are superheroes if you can’t show them wreaking at least a little havoc or opening up a reasonable amount of whoopass?

Still, it’s in some ways unfortunate that the “X-Men” story that poses some of the most searching questions about identity and fitting in, and whether biological traits can or should be suppressed, is given the most superficial treatment of the series so far. The premise of “The Last Stand” is a rich one: a human scientist develops a vaccine that will permanently suppress the mutant gene. Some mutants line up for the “cure,” while others protest angrily that there’s nothing to be cured. The most militant flock to our old friend Magneto (Ian McKellen), who convinces them that the humans are out to exterminate them, and set out to eliminate the source of the cure.

It’s not that the film ignores the obvious resonances with today’s hot button issues, as well as deeper-seated existential questions; it marks them, but that’s pretty much all it does, largely because that’s all it has time to do. Indeed, my chief complaint with “The Last Stand” is that it feels overextended. Several scenes and plot threads seem to have been cut short or excessively edited, and a host of new characters appear on the scene just long enough to show off what they can do (e.g., Angel, a young mutant who’s made to feel his glorious wings are a defect). Even some of the returning players make extremely abbreviated appearances—most notably, Cyclops, Mystique and Rogue, who are largely sidelined (or worse) for the better part of the movie. And while Magneto still hogs the stage as the mutants’ version of Malcolm X, there’s not as much interaction between him and his peace-loving opponent, Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). This is disappointing, given that one of the great pleasures of the first two X-Men movies was the sheer delight of hearing the point-counterpoint between these two heavenly-voiced alumni of the Royal Shakespeare Company. As it is, Xavier isn’t given a whole lot to say, and even McKellen can’t quite pull off some of the inflated oratory he’s given to deliver—though he comes closer than anyone else could have.

Somewhat more prominently featured this time round is a newly short-haired Storm (Halle Berry) and the previously little-seen Kitty Pryde (here played by Ellen Page, last seen doing very bad things in “Hard Candy”), a student at Xavier’s who strikes sparks with Iceman under Rogue’s jealous eyes. Also given more than a walk-on role is furry blue newcomer Beast, aka Dr. Hank McCoy (a surprisingly good Kelsey Grammer), who serves as the mutants’ liaison to the White House. And, of course, at the story’s center, though curiously divorced from its main plot, is the ongoing soap opera of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, as deliciously smouldering as ever) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who returns from the dead as the Dark Phoenix, a creature of unbounded appetites and uncontrollable impulses that are apparently capable of destroying the world several times over. Turns out, at least in this version of the story, that she had these powers in her all along, but they were kept carefully under wraps by Xavier’s mind control. Well, no more. Nice Jean is gone, and Magneto and Xavier strive in vain to play ego and superego, respectively, to harness her pure id. Magneto's motives are clear enough; however, one of the more interesting aspects of “X3” is that it makes Xavier less obviously benign, and in his well-intended attempt to restrain Jean's powers, rather subtly echoes the humans' attempt to suppress the mutant gene.

Logan, of course, is still irresistibly drawn to Jean in her new and deadly incarnation, and, perhaps, may be the only one who can save her from herself. Melodramatic? Certainly. Yet oddly enough, it’s the one part of the movie that's done just right. Janssen’s face has a remarkable sculpted quality, softened by flickers of emotion at key moments, that’s used to great effect here, while Jackman quite effectively conveys the anguish of a man helplessly in love with the wrong woman. Their climactic confrontation, against the backdrop of an apocalyptic battle, has an operatic grandeur that the rest of the movie is too busy to sustain. “The Last Stand” gets where it’s going, with a brisk efficiency that succeeds on its own terms. But its soul—to the extent it has one-—is borrowed from its predecessors, and ultimately there’s not quite enough of it to go around.


Monday, May 22, 2006

"Da Vinci" by the book: Plenty of signs, not much wonder


directed by Ron Howard
starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, others

With all the huffing and puffing and ink-spilling over The Da Vinci Code—first the book and now the movie—it's easy to lose sight of what made Dan Brown's novel so controversial when it first appeared in the public eye. These days I'm amazed to find that nearly every review and article about it routinely launches into a matter-of-fact discussion of Code's central premise, without so much as a spoiler warning. I'm not one of those moviegoers who insist on knowing nothing about a film beforehand—quite the contrary, I generally try to glean as much advance information as I possibly can—but this strikes me as overload. At the rate it's going, not a soul who goes to see "The Da Vinci Code," is going to be more than mildly surprised by any of its revelations, regardless of whether he or she has read the book.

Which is too bad, since it's the impact of those revelations that gives the narrative its juice. The Da Vinci Code is not a good book, but it is assuredly a good read – mainly because it invests its energies in deftly unfolding a genuinely subversive, thought-provoking idea that sets the whole patriarchal tradition of Christianity on its head. The idea isn't a new one (the Gnostic gospels have been around for a while, after all), and was neither thoroughly researched nor accurately presented in Brown's version, yet it still has an undeniable kick. And despite Brown's lead-footed prose style, the book conveyed real excitement at its own ideas, and at the power of interpreting and repossessing religious and artistic iconography, that made theology and art history unprecedentedly sexy. The Da Vinci Code did for those subjects what the Indiana Jones movies did for archeology.

Unfortunately, very little of that excitement or sexiness made it into the movie, despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that it stays remarkably faithful to its source. The basic story, for those of you who don't already know it, is a decoding quest by Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a renowned professor of symbology. While visiting Paris on a book tour, Langdon is drawn into a mysterious murder at the Louvre that is accompanied by an obscure, coded message and clues linked to various famous works by Da Vinci. On the verge of becoming the fall guy for the crime, he is (rather improbably) rescued by a fetching young cryptologist named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who has her own personal motives for discovering the true murderer. The two go on the lam, bent on solving the murder and unraveling its symbological implications, which lead them from a high-security safe-deposit vault to the manor of an eccentric British scholar named Teabing (Ian McKellen) to various churches and historical sites in London, learning a lot of apocryphal (or is it) history along the way.

Sounds ok, but it doesn't transfer all that well to film. Part of the problem is endemic to the book, which is most interesting where it engages in its twopenny disquisition and analysis of art works and the history of the Catholic Church, and least convincing where it resorts to silly subplots involving a psychotic, self-flagellating albino monk (Paul Bettany) and diabolical conspiracies masterminded by a cartoonishly vilified Opus Dei. But those subplots are where the action is, and the danger; the rest is just talking and looking at art, which is admittedly hard to make cinematic. Howard tries, but doesn't bring much imagination to a difficult enterprise (his best idea seems to be washed-out "historical" flashbacks that look like they were cut from a Monty Python movie), and is further hampered by thoroughly wrongheaded casting.

I had envisioned someone like Campbell Scott, perhaps, as Langdon, and Julie Delpy, without question, as Sophie. Instead, we get Hanks, who is colorless, muted and withdrawn where he should be keen and faintly roguish, and Tautou, who is too young for the part and seems to be either struggling with her English or just Enunciating Everything Very Carefully, at the expense of any kind of emotional inflection. Bettany dons funky contact lenses and medieval torture gear and does what he can with a role that is more of a comic-book construct than a character, while the talented Alfred Molina is wasted (not for the first time) as the Opus Dei cardinal who may or may not be behind the murders.

Only McKellen injects any real life into his role. While I'd imagined someone littler and more roly-poly as Teabing (perhaps Sir Richard Attenborough, or maybe I'm just thinking of "Jurassic Park"), I have to admit McKellen is a delight as the obsessive academic, hamming it up like nobody's business and apparently having a gay old time doing so. But his energy only highlights Hanks' lack of it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the middle stretch of the movie, where Teabing and Langdon are arguing over history. Both should be impassioned and fully engaged; on screen, only one is—McKellen all the way. Hanks, by contrast, is oddly detached for someone who's risking his life to find the answer to what they're disputing.

This detachment also infects Langdon's relationship with Sophie, which in the book is supposed to include a certain level of implied attraction, even sexual tension, that is totally absent here. Curiously (or not so curiously, given Hanks' acting profile and the increased age difference between his Langdon and Tautou's Sophie), what develops here is a quasi-paternal dynamic that in some ways undercuts the very point of The Da Vinci Code. Their search is supposed to end with a celebration of the eternal feminine and its silent triumph over a male-dominated orthodoxy. But in this version, the lasting impression we're left with is a backpedaling conversation in which Langdon seeks to take the weight of this reversion, and its destruction of a long-established system of beliefs, off Sophie's fragile shoulders. The intent is good, and the message not unappealing for the skeptical reader or viewer who's loath to take this alterna-ideology (or Brown's spin on it, anyway) at face value. But in pulling its final punch, this "Code" strips itself of its own meaning and purpose for existence. Now there's a puzzle that even Robert Langdon couldn't crack.


Friday, May 19, 2006

The O.C. Report (very brief)

I was preoccupied while it was on, but it appears that Marissa Cooper is no more. R.I.P.

Preposterously melodramatic death aside (still doesn't beat Johnny's fall from that cliff, though), I am genuinely sad. I'm in the minority of viewers who's always liked Marissa, throughout everything, and I've been a Ryan-Marissa 'shipper from start to finish. Yes, Mischa Barton's acting was uneven, but she had moments where she was actually quite good. And there's a soulful quality to her beauty, a sort of luminous gravity, that really comes out on screen, even if it doesn't square with her offscreen lifestyle.

Others may disagree, but I think the show will suffer from her absence. Her character defined "The O.C.", for better or for worse. She was its Daisy Buchanan - the green light at the end of the dock. And now she's gone.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Water, water everywhere...

...and not in the way the Ancient Mariner meant it. More like the Biblical great flood way. I was in dear old New England this past weekend, where it rained to the point that the governors of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts had to declare a state of emergency. Appropriately, I saw two movies that were filled with water imagery and water-driven narrative. That, however, is the only point of commonality between them.


directed by Wolfgang Peterson
starring Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett, Mia Maestro, Kevin Dillon, others

I’m still scratching my head at the notion that an opening weekend gross of just under $50 million makes “Mission: Impossible III” a box office disappointment. Be that as it may, this much I know: after grossing less than half that amount and failing to unseat “MI3” as the #1 movie in its first weekend, “Poseidon” is a bona fide, unmistakable belly-flop. Like its eponymous ship, it will likely stay afloat and visible for a little while longer before it sinks inevitably into the depths of obscurity. This is what everyone thought would happen to “Titanic,” nearly a decade ago.

It’s a pity, because between the two, the leaner, meaner “Poseidon” annoys me much less than James Cameron’s witless, waterlogged, wildly overpraised aquatic opera did and still does. Besides, “Poseidon” isn’t a bad flick of its kind; in fact, I enjoyed it, apparently more than most critics did. But then, I’ve never seen “The Poseidon Adventure,” and I tend to enjoy movies that take place on big boats. There’s something inherently fascinating about the spectacle of human beings at sea—something about watching them maintain that floating microcosm of human society and that hairpin balance between navigating and submitting to the elements, that at its best, adds up to truly riveting drama (think “Master and Commander”) or at the least, makes for a good ol’ popcorn & disaster movie.

“Poseidon” falls into the latter category. Directed by boat-movie veteran Wolfgang Petersen, it operates on a refreshingly simple premise: Gigantic vessel, engulfed by even more gigantic wave, flips completely over; a small band of passengers attempt to make their way up to the ship’s bottom, which is now at the top. (No social symbolism there, alas: the have-nots are in no better position than the haves.) In this remake, the passengers and their back stories have been rewritten for the present times. There’s the leader, Dylan (Josh Lucas), a professional gambler and former Navy man; Ramsey (Kurt Russell), his chief competitor in heroics and survival knowhow, who happens to be an ex-fireman and former mayor of New York; Ramsey’s nubile and highly irritating daughter (Emmy Rossum) and her Ken-doll boyfriend/fiancé (Mike Vogel); a single mother (Jacinda Barrett) and her scrappy young son; a despairing gay architect (that may sound like a joke, but it isn’t) played by Richard Dreyfuss; a lovely, claustrophobic stowaway (yes, that’s a deliberate contradiction) played by Mia Maestro; and a couple of other, even less developed characters.

None of these folks evolve beyond those thumbnail sketches, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the visceral thrill of watching them struggle to move up, up, up, past sealed doors and hatches and across yawning chasms, desperately trying to outrace fire and water—especially the latter. And Petersen knows how to provide the thrills, and how to pace them. “Poseidon” clocks in at substantially less than two hours, largely because it spends hardly any time in the preamble. (That’s probably a good thing, given that the dialogue is nearly as tin-eared as anything in the first half of “Titanic.”) We are given just enough time to catch a glimpse of the luxury liner and the New Year’s Eve celebrations on board, a dash or two of suitably heavy foreshadowing, and a brief introduction to all of the major players before the master of ceremonies shows up: the 100-foot “rogue wave,” which materializes mysteriously out of a calm sea. From there, as the phrase has it, all hell breaks loose.

The actors acquit themselves respectably for a movie of this nature, with Lucas and Russell well matched as the men of action and Dreyfuss somewhat subdued as the man of thought. Josh Lucas is shaping up to be this decade’s Matthew McConaughey: groomed as a potential Next Big Thing, he’s likely going to have to settle for something less, especially in light of his record of summer bombs (“Stealth” one year, “Poseidon” the next). Luckily for him, he looks like Paul Newman, but has a more feral intensity that serves him well in this role. Among the women, only the stowaway, Elena, really registers as the outsider whose fear of small, enclosed spaces makes the situation her worst nightmare.

But this being a disaster movie, the real star of the show is the water—the water that capsizes the ship and then proceeds to infiltrate and submerge its entire interior. In a movie without villains or pursuers, water fills both roles far more effectively than any humans would. Relentless and omnipresent, it serves as a constant reminder that the very element man needs and uses most can also overwhelm and obliterate his very existence. The most sobering, and at the same time bracing, aspect of “Poseidon” is that it’s less about man reasserting control of the elements than it is about man narrowly escaping their inexorable power. In a world still recuperating from last year’s natural disasters, that theme may have an unintended resonance.



directed by Deepa Mehta
starring Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, John Abraham, others

At pole’s ends from the would-be blockbuster, the other water-themed film I saw this weekend had a much more serious objective than to supply thrills, chills, and spills. “Water,” the final chapter of director Deepa Mehta’s elements trilogy, is clearly intended to educate as well as entertain. For the most part it balances the two goals pretty well, but too often it has the feel of a consciousness-raising documentary slapped onto the framework of a Bollywood movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the fusion isn’t seamless.

“Water” is set in India of the 1930s, when Gandhi was just beginning to catch fire and the country was still mired in a mixture of British imperial culture and deep-rooted religious traditions that, to put it tactfully, were less than liberal in their treatment of women. The traditions examined here are those of Hinduism, which, in its strictest form, treated widows as unclean outcasts. At the film’s outset, eight-year-old Chuyia (Sarala), who doesn’t even remember being married, witnesses the death of her husband and finds herself deposited unceremoniously at an ashram for widows on the banks of the Ganges, never to see her family again. After a short bout of weeping, Chuyia adapts to her new home, for she’s a spunky, inquisitive little thing who fortifies herself with the daily fiction that her mother will come for her, if not today, then definitely tomorrow.

Seen through her eyes, the ashram takes on a vaguely fairy taleish quality, complete with a maternal goddess, Shakantula (Seema Biswas), a beautiful angel, Kalyani (Lisa Ray), an old crone (Vidula Javalgekar) who craves only sweets, and a fat, ugly, tyrannical ogre named Madhumati (Manorama) who presides over the place and is the only one who actually gets to eat sweets. Overlaying the child’s perspective, of course, is our own view of what amounts to little better than a gulag, filled with half-starved women with shaven heads and threadbare robes. And there’s a still darker twist to this forgotten world, which is apparently not altogether forgotten in some quarters: Kalyani, the only widow who’s allowed to keep her hair long and luxuriant, is sent covertly across the water to prostitute herself to wealthy men, while the proceeds, ostensibly for the upkeep of the ashram, principally end up fattening Madhumati’s purse and stomach. Ironically, it’s Kalyani who retains an undimmed faith in the very religion that oppresses her, while the outwardly pious Shakantula inwardly seethes against the unfairness of it all. The natural beauty of the river (which was actually shot in Sri Lanka, as protests and death-threats forced Mehta out of filming on location) only accentuates the division, in the name of faith, between the widows and a society that simultaneously rejects and exploits them.

But “Water” takes a turn into the land of star-crossed romance (pure Bollywood, or for that matter Hollywood, territory) as Kalyani, following the will o’ the wisp Chuyia, runs into Narayana (John Abraham), a young Brahmin law student who happens to be as pretty as she is. Narayana, as it turns out, is a follower of Gandhi, and suddenly becomes doubly inspired to free the widows—or at least one widow—from their grim plight. The love story is sweet and rather slight, and doesn’t quite hold up under the symbolic weight that Mehta ends up placing on it. There are glimpses of some interesting tensions between Kalyani’s faith in religion and tradition and Narayana’s liberalism (equal parts British education and fledgling Gandhism) that aren’t fully developed until the film’s tragic climax. Far more powerful, if even more melodramatic, is the galvanizing effect of the latter on Shakantula. Biswas is riveting as the one woman who’s inspired by the predicament of her fellow widows, rather than her own, to question the forces that have entrapped them all. Wisely and fittingly, the movie ends with a close-up of her face, caught in a wonderfully nuanced mixture of hope, fear, and underlying intuition that she is watching the dawn of a new era—in which she herself may be too old to take part.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Mission: Impossible III" cruises past the PR


directed by J.J. Abrams
starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Michelle Monaghan

I have a pet theory that the Tom Cruise we’ve been seeing gallivanting in and out of the entertainment news of the past year or so isn’t the real Tom Cruise at all, but a cyborg made perfectly in his likeness and owned and operated by the Church of Scientology. (As for Katie Holmes, don’t even get me started on her.) Think how much it would explain—not just his tirades against psychotherapy and his desperately unconvincing attempts to convince everyone he’s madly in love, but the fact that he looks eerily younger and handsomer now than he did, say, a couple of years ago. Of course there’s nothing in all of this that can’t be more chalked up to a change of agent and/or a facelift, but I prefer my more sinister explanation.

Fortunately, the Cruise that’s been showing up on the movie screen seems to be the Cruise we know of old. Certainly, having seen “Mission: Impossible III,” I detect no change in the formula that’s made him Hollywood’s most consistent box-office heavyweight. He still keeps in good fighting trim, runs around a lot when his stuntman isn’t needed, and alternates that million-dollar smile with looks of clenched-jawed determination, soulful gazes at women, and (a more recent addition, from roughly “Magnolia” on) valiant efforts to look like he’s in deep psychological pain where the script requires it. And he does this all perfectly serviceably in what I can really only describe as a perfectly serviceable thriller: MI3 gets the job done, it holds one’s attention and interest throughout its duration, and it’s better than the limp MI2. What more, really, can we ask?

J.J. Abrams makes a reasonably smooth transition to the big screen, though I’ve seen much tighter and neater storylines in any and all of his excellent T.V. shows. The catalyst for MI3—the crisis that brings Ethan Hunt (Cruise) out of semi-retirement—is a call to retrieve his star pupil, agent Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), from the evil clutches of ruthless arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This rescue operation, of course, ends up being the setup for a much bigger game, one that leads Cruise and an exceptionally good-looking team (composed of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, hapa model/actress Maggie Q, and old stalwart Ving Rhames) from the sewers of the Vatican (the movie’s best set piece) to the rooftops of Shanghai. In retrospect, of course, the setup seems both unnecessarily elaborate and elaborately unnecessary: the sure mark of being at once over- and underplotted. If you find on reflection that certain things don’t add up, despite a perfunctory third-quarter attempt at explanation by one of the movie’s villains, you’re probably right.

Plot creaks aside, the mood, tone, and pacing of MI3 has very much the feel of an episode of “Alias,”from the tense intra-agency dynamics to the nervous charm of loyal but apprehensive techies to the quick-change disguises that Hunt et al. must pull off, chameleon-style, in a matter of minutes. Of course, no “Mission: Impossible” movie would be complete without an appearance or two of the wondrous rubber mask, and this one, unlike MI2, uses the old device just enough and not too much. Visually, the film doesn’t have the pizzazz of either of its predecessors. Abrams, after all, is no De Palma or John Woo; his action sequences are adequate without being dazzling, and at times the camera work in those scenes is muddy and chaotic. What Abrams brings to the franchise that the first two installments lacked is a recognizable human scale. Brian De Palma, directing the original, wrapped the picture in the chilly precision of his style, which you had to admire for its sheer virtuosity even as it kept you at an infinite emotional distance from the characters. John Woo tried for something along the lines of an operatic love triangle, and ended up with a tepid ripoff of “Notorious.” Abrams, by contrast, focuses on a more modest romance: Ethan Hunt, having evidently had enough of his high-octane flirtations with exotic femmes fatales and foxy jewel thieves, wants to marry a cute American doctor, Julia (an appealing Michelle Monaghan), and settle down. It’s an old trope—the superhero who wants to become everyman for the sake of love, and thereby renders himself vulnerable—but Abrams works hard to vest it with as much heartfelt emotion and tenderness as you can stuff into a two-hour action film.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t buy it, any more than I bought the more melodramatic version in MI2. Ethan’s great love always felt like a function of the plot, rather than the other way around. It doesn’t help that I’m just a wee bit tired of the unsuspecting female love interest who becomes the hero’s damsel in distress—another classic trope, but one that hasn’t worn so well; I'm much more likely to be engaged when the damsel is clued in and can participate (think “True Lies”). Luckily, for all its functional dependence on the love story, MI3, unlike MI2, has enough going on that it’s not really necessary to buy into the idea that these two pretty people are soulmates. And if Abrams doesn’t quite pull off this relationship, he’s much more successful at adding a lightness and warmth to the subsidiary relationships—within Ethan’s team, within the agency—that fans of his shows will recognize and appreciate.

Indeed, the movie’s lightness and spryness is what ultimately distinguishes it from its forerunners. Even Cruise’s showdowns with Hoffman (who gets less screen time than he deserves) feel more like a sparring match than a duel to the death. And this is just as well. MI3 is as formulaic as a movie can get, but it succeeds by avoiding the three B’s—bloat, bombast, and boredom—and staying lively and quick on its feet. As such, it’s the perfect kickoff to the summer movie season. Now if its star could only tailor his PR so neatly...but that’s a discussion for another day.


Friday, May 05, 2006

The O.C. Report

Some friends of mine who, unlike me, have remained loyal watchers of "The O.C." recently took me to task about the disappearance of my weekly report, and instructed me in no uncertain terms to resume it forthwith. As a tribute to their friendship and to the golden days of season 1, I defer to their wishes, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that this season's practically over and that I pretty much gave up on the show a while ago. That said, I still have a lingering affection for the core characters, and still catch the occasional episode now and again - and I'll admit that a couple of the more recent ones still show a spark of life.

Tonight's, though, was pretty moribund. Apparently all the action was in last week's - which I missed - and this one was the painful morning after. Having also missed the recaps and the first five minutes, I never completely figured out a lot of what happened at the prom. So Ryan went with Theresa and beat up Volchok - big surprise there. Less clear was the impetus for the latter. I assumed it had something to do with Volchok's two-timing Marissa, but it apparently also had something to do with Taylor's money? And did Ryan try to put a move on Theresa tonight? I was in the kitchen at the time, and came out to find Theresa simultaneously rejecting him and telling him she would always love him. Women.

As for Ryan's forced return to Grand Theft Auto: Newport Beach, I have to say it's a strange police force that doesn't nab a guy who's seen in the company of the carjacker and who leaves his own car in the driveway but in the same night manages to link a fire and the roll o'weed that started it to a kid they had no reason to suspect. Go figure.

As for the girls, not much to report. Summer nurses her first hangover and accidentally precipitates the Great Cohen Family Truth Telling - yawn. Marissa comes to her troubled sister's rescue - double yawn. I never really got what it was Caitlin had Marissa retrieving for her, either from their mother's mailbox or from Preppy-Boy's pants. All I can say is that for a girl who recently saw (and was partly responsible for) a guy falling to his death from a hundred-foot cliff, baby sis seems awfully chipper these days. But that's the O.C. all over - every character in it has been through enough trauma to institutionalize any real person, yet none of them look a bit worse for the wear.

Well, perhaps the Cohens do. They are, after all, the soul of "The O.C." Amid all the fakery, glitz, melodrama and incestuous complications that surround and engulf them, they remain a remarkably coherent and convincing family unit. Whatever their issues, deep down we know they'll always come back together again, and bring others with them. And tonight's episode was no exception. Yes, Sandy's final decision to cooperate and do the right thing was a foregone conclusion, and his speech calculated for maximum "aww" effect. But so what? It worked, sealing my conviction that Peter Gallagher is the glue that holds this show together. I'd marry Sandy Cohen if I could, and he actually existed.

We're not out of the woods yet, of course. There's the little problem of Seth being arrested for arson, as well as Kiki's relapse and the ghastly prospect, blared by the season-finale previews, that someone may die! "May" being the operative word. Not that it's impossible by any means; killing off a major character on a TV show is so passé by now, it's ridiculous. The other thing they might do is to put the character in an indefinite coma - but I hope it doesn't come to that. The day any of the characters needs life support will be the day that this show does, too.

Lines of the week:

"You're surprisingly principled." -Dr. Roberts to Julie

Summer, briskly: "I want to be on top this time."
Seth, puzzled and possibly stoned: "You're always on top."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"United 93": Now forever enshrined


directed by Paul Greengrass


Review coming soon. For now, though, see Kenneth Turan's review in the L.A. Times - it comes the closest to capturing how I felt about the movie.

Update: Ok, so the "coming soon" was optimistic. I promise that when I see Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" I will do a review/comparison of both films. Because if the previews are any indication, "World Trade Center" is going to be everything that "United 93" very deliberately was not.