Monday, May 01, 2006

Weekend viewing

Friends With Money (Nicole Holofcener, 2006)
The reviews on this one have been wildly mixed, but I liked it, for the most part. I haven't seen any of Holofcener's other films, so I don't know how it stacked up, but I thought it worked as a low-key character drama, with some very good acting. Jennifer Aniston's tabloid antics can give her a bad reputation, but she is really good at the kind of character she plays in this film, the insecure but good-hearted woman who just wants to find love. It's pretty much an indie version of Rachel Green, and she really nails it in this film, just as she did in The Good Girl. Some of the other characters come off as a little underdeveloped, but Holofcener's got such good actors (Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack) that they mostly pick up the slack. The story loses steam toward the end, but overall it paints a very nice portrait.

Mission: Impossible (Brian De Palma, 1996)
Mission: Impossible II (John Woo, 2000)
Obviously, preparation for the new sequel, which is out this week. These are not exactly the movies I'd put at the top of my list for re-watching, but they're decent enough as far as popcorn action movies go. I like Woo's film a little better; both have ridiculously inane plots, but Woo's is executed with more style, and the script at least offers a love interest and a clear villain, both of which are missing in the first film. Not that the villain in M:I II is even that compelling, but at least he's a clear antagonist for Ethan Hunt to fight against. Jon Voight doesn't even get to be villainous in the first film until it's almost over. De Palma's sequence with Tom Cruise hanging above the computer is justly famous, although this time around it just made me think of John August's rant about air vents. There aren't any similarly iconic scenes in the second film, but Thandie Newton is amazingly sexy and the action has a lot more zest to it. I have relatively high hopes for the third installment, not only because I think J.J. Abrams is a genius, but also because it looks like he's going to beef up the character development and offer a great villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman, both of which are elements that made the second film an improvement over the first.

The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
This has got to be one of the most violent movies I have ever seen. I was literally amazed at the opening gun battle, with its emphasis on brutal collateral damage and senseless killing. It's miles away from what you'd expect from a traditional, classical Western. I like that even through Peckinpah's bleak outlook, you come to like and respect the characters, on both sides of the conflict, which is something that's even more rare in this type of film. He really focuses not just on violence but also its effects, whether it's bystanders caught in the crossfire of gunfights or kids who are learning how to become the next generation of violent brutes. I guess it's a little long, and there are a couple of parts that drag, but overall this is a startling and very good film.

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