Saturday, July 31, 2010

'A Shot in the Dark' is best Pink Panther film

A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Starring: Peter Sellars, Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom, and Burt Kwouk
Director: Blake Edwards
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When a murder takes place at the home of the rich and powerful Mr. Ballon (Sanders), the worst police detective in France, Inspector Clouseau (Sellars), is accidentally assigned to the case. He immediately ignores the most obvious suspect--the beautiful, curvecious blonde maid Marie (Sommer), who was found with the murder weapon in her hand--and continues to let his hormones guide him instead of the clues even as more bodies pile up around her.

"A Shot in the Dark" is the second movie in the "Pink Panther" series, but the first film where the formula, supporting cast, and wild slapstick antics of Sellers' Clouseau character that will become the hallmark of the series are fully present. Although often overlooked by fans of the "Pink Panther" series due to the unusual title, " it is also the very best of the entries.

Sellers is amazingly hilarious as Clouseau, and the routines he performs here are among the funniest of the entire series--only the battles between Clouseau and his overzealous man-servant and martial arts sparring partner Kato will leave viewers in stitches. The film is made all the more amusing by the fact that it not only serves as an outlet for Sellers' antics, but that is also works as a spoof of the traditional murder mystery, complete with a screwball "drawing room revelation" scene).

Typically when reviewing this film, one cites the billiards scene or the nudist colony scene (both of which are top-notch examples of Sellers' comic genius), but my favorite part of the entire movie remains the opening sequence, where we view the outside of a large house, and through the windows see a host of characters sneaking from room to room (and from bed to bed), turning the lights on and off... until we hear gunfire and the screen goes black.

This opening is both funny and engaging, and it is one of the best title sequences of any movie I've seen. The Henry Mancini-penned song "Shadows of Paris" underscores its the mood perfectly, particularly in the light of what follows.

This is a film that lovers of well-made comedies and spoofs should get lots of kicks out of.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

'The Hollywood Sign' needed to be repaired

The Hollywood Sign (2001)
Starring: Tom Berenger, Burt Reynolds, Rod Steiger, and Jacqueline Kim
Director: Sonke Wortmann
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Three down-and-out former Hollywood leading men (Berenger, Reynolds, and Steiger) stumble into the middle of a Las Vegas casino robbery that's in the planning stages. They decide that if they can't make a comeback in movies, they'll retire on ill-gotten loot, and they force their way into the robbery scheme. Can three well-cured hams outwit hardened criminals and live to tell the tale?

"The Hollywood Sign" features top-notch talent all giving fine performances--with Reynolds in particular putting on a good show--but there are some severe problems with the script that makes this movie go south in the final act. I can't really say what those problems are without spoiling a shocking moment in the film. I'm also not certain if others will have the same reaction to the twist-ending to this film that I has; I rolled my eyes and had to struggle to not reach for the DVD remote, as it coincidentally was the second film I've watched this month that featured such a twist. Admittedly, "The Hollywood Sign" was superior in every conceivable way to that other film--which was so wretched I probably won't even bother posting about it--but I still think the ending was lame. (I can see how the writers might think it was clever, though. It solves a story problem that was brought up at the very beginning of the film and that was echoed a couple times during it.)

This film is worth seeing if you enjoy Reynolds or Steiger as actors, or if you love movies featuring Hollywood insider plot elements. Otherwise, this is a film to pass on.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dirty Harry investigates murders of crooks

Magnum Force (1974)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, and David Soul
Director: Ted Post
Rating: Six of Ten

When San Francisco's biggest crime figures fall victim to a series of execution-style hits, homicide detective Harry Callahan (Eastwood) first believes that someone must be impersonating police officers to get as close to the victims as they are, but his boss, Lt. Briggs (Holbrook) is convinced that the murders the result of a typical gangster power-struggle. As Callahan investigates, he uncovers a frightening possiblity--that maybe the "fake cop" is a real cop, and that a secret death squad exists within the SFPD.

"Magnum Force" is a somewhat dissapointing follow-up to "Dirty Harry",and it's possibly the weakest of the series. The movie seems to drag on and on, in part due to some exceptionally dull cinematagraphy, and a lack of story focus until the third act, and a near-total lack of humor throughout. (The exception being an encounter totally unrelated to the rest of the movie, except to establish Harry's renegade ways, when Harry prevents a plane from bing hijacked,)

The film is still superior to most cop dramas out there--mostly thanks to its great cast--but it's a weak link in the "Dirty Harry" cycle.

Monday, July 26, 2010

'Black Cobra' is unoriginal, save for the cat

Black Cobra (1987)
Starring: Fred Williamson, Eva Grimaldi, Karl Landgren, Vassili Karis, and Maurice Poli
Director: Stelvio Massi
Rating: Five of Ten Stars
Tough-as-nails police detective Robert Malone (Williamson) must protect a beautiful fashion photographer from a gang of psychopaths after she takes a picture of their leader (Landgren) during one of their many murder sprees. But can even Malone succeed against a gang willing to kidnap a police chief's daughter to get get what they want?

"Black Cobra" is, for most of its running-time, a perfectly average low-budget action film mostly ripped off--oh, sorry... inspired--by the early "Dirty Harry" pictures. In fact, the Dirty Harry connection is so strong that the movie looks and feels like it dates from the 1970s (despite the fact it was made in the late 1980s) and Williamson delivers a speech that's a near verbitum copy of the famous "do you feel lucky?" speech from "Dirty Harry". So, if you're not too picky, this film will entertain with its not-terribly-original plot, setting, and characters. (Although, I think Robert Malone is probably the only movie tough guy who is cowed by his pet cat, a touch that I found to be one of the nicest elements of the film and probably the only bit of originality in it.)

On the other hand, the film really goes south in its last 15 or so minutes, so you're well-advised to stop the film after it copies the demise of Scorpio scene from "Dirty Harry", because you see a nonsensical return of a dead villian, one of the worst and completely illogical car chases ever put on film (how DID they get from an upscale restraunt into an abandoned string of warehouses?), and more proof than you'd ever want to see in a wide-release film that the filmmakers really had no idea how to bring things to a satisfactory close.

With so-so acting (Williamson was better even in "Fist of Fear, Touch of Death" than he is here), a script with everything except a tiny kitty-cat begged, borrowed and stolen from other films, and a pathetically executed ending, "Black Cobra" isn't a movie to go out of your way for; it barely rises to the Five Rating I'm giving it. But it's got enough well-handled cliches to be fun, and it would definately be a fine addition to any Bad Movie Night line-up.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

'Thunderbolt' is a darker effort for Chan

Thunderbolt (1996)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen, and Thorsten Nickel
Director: Gordon Chan
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When mechanic and race-car dirver Foh (Chan) crosses a street-racer who also happens to be an enforcer for a major international crime syndicate (Nickel), his world is torn apart, and he finds himself forced to race for the life of his young sister.

"Thunderbolt" is another fine action flick from Jackie Chan, with lots of action, drama, and fabulously staged fight scenes. The film is darker and more intense than most of his movies--the violence is more realistic and obviously deadly, and the villains are unredeemingly and savagely evil.

In fact, the grimmer tone of the film causes an otherwise fairly typical Jackie Chan bizarro fight location--on banners/trampolines extended over a Pachinko arcade in a Japanese city--to seem out of place and distracting. It's almost as if they forgot this film is markedly different from the likes of "Miracles" and "Police Story". Despite the one major misstep, I think there can be little argument that "Thunderbolt" ranks among Chan's best films. Fans may be a little shocked by the film's intensity, however. (The crane scene in the wrecking yard and its outcome was certainly not one I'd expected in a Jackie Chan movie!)

"Thunderbolt" is currently out of print, but it can be had used, or can be downloaded directly to your PC or Tivo through

Thursday, July 22, 2010

'The Wrong Guy' is the right viewing choice

The Wrong Guy (1997)
Starring: Dave Foley, Jennifer Tilly, Colm Feore, and David Anthony Higgins
Director: David Steinberg
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After being passed over for promotion and publicly threatening to kill his boss, dimwitted corporate executive Nelson Hibbert (Foley) finds his boss murdered. Convinced that no one will believe he is innocent, Nelson goes on the run. He accidentally (and completely unknowingly) stumbles upon the real killer (Feore) and repeatedly leads the police to him as he tries to escape. While a fugitive from no-one, Nelson finds true love in the arms of a simple country banker's daughter (Tilly)... just as the real murderer decides it's time to get rid of his dogged pursuer.

"The Wrong Guy" is an undeservedly obscure comedy that spoofs "The Fugitive"-style crime thrillers in general and a recurring element in Alfred Hitchcock thrillers in particular--"the wrong man"/"wrongfully accused"--with Dave Foley portraying perhaps the most oblivious, hapless figure to ever flee the scene of a crime. Even moreso than the classic sitcom "News Radio" this movie shows what a great shame it is that Foley isn't a bigger star than he is.

Of course, it helps that Foley is working with a very funny and very well-written script that derives most of its humor from the fact that just about every character in the story is a complete moron. However, in addition to slapstick and lots of dumb humor, the film includes many well-executed spoofs of standard elements in thrillers, such as its climax atop the Statue of Liberty head. This cleverly constructed sequence is so well done that the audience becomes wrapped up in the excitement of a standard thriller set-piece, only to have the tension dissolve with laughter a split-second later as we're reminded that the final showdown is taking place on a mini-golf course.

Foley is supported by a great cast, with Colm Foere as the coldblooded professional hit man and Jennifer Tilly as a cute country girl with an unfortunate illness that manifests itself at the most inopportune (and funniest) moments. Tilly is a welcome presence in anything she does, but her quirky looks, unique voice, and offcenter character makes her the perfect on-screen companion for Foley's equally cute and quirky Nelson Hibbard. When the inevitable love plot appears, it's a perfect couple that the audience is instantly rooting for. I hope that Foley and Tilly will appear on-screen together again, because they are excellent together. "The Wrong Guy" is a great comedy that deserves more recognition than it has gotten.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Idiots make poor (if realistic) criminals

Welcome to Collinwood (2002)
Starring: Isaiah Washington, William H. Macy, and Sam Rockwell
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Four down-and-out small-time thieves and hoods get their hands on a fool-proof heist plan. It's not exactly a "job of the century," but these are yutzes who think small, and who rarely have more than two pennies to run together, so the contents of a pawnbroker's safe is the take of a lifetime to them. Unfortunately, none of this little gang have two braincells to rub together either.

"Welcome to Collinwood" is populated with characters so pathetic that the viewer can't help but feel sorry for them. One also can't help but root for them to succeed in their sad little heist, although it is also certain that they're going to fail, because they're all so damn dumb. But they're not dumb in a screwball comedy kind of way... they're dumb in the way that real-life crooks are dumb. Where the characters of "Welcome to Collinwood" part with their realworld counterparts is that the would-be master-theives are, basically good and kindhearted; some of them are just too lazy for real work, while others are professional small-time crooks who are in dire straights. In the end, they turn out to fundamentally be decent, if thoroughly stupid, people.

I'm not 100% certain what kind of story the filmmakers wanted to tell with this movie, and I'm not sure they were either. If there had been a little more of a point to the film (other than "idiots make lousy criminals" as the film's tagline says), this might have been a Six-Star movie. I did enjoy watching it, I just wished there had been a little more to the film.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 31 is Elke Sommer Day!

I am declaring July 31 "Elke Sommer Day"!

Why? Well, for no reason other than I'm going to be posting reviews of a few of her movies, and she's going to be that week's "Saturday Scream Queen" at Terror Titans. Plus, anyone who filled a bikini like she did SHOULD to have a day named after them!

If there is anyone else out there who would like to post something for Elke Sommer Day, I will be happy to link to it from a post at Cinema Steve! She has made over 100 movies, in just about every genre, so there are plenty of things to write about and/or review! (If you want to send me links to older pieces you have written, I can spotlight those, too. I can even host your articles on one of my blogs, if you like. Email me your links or submissions to

At any rate, several of my review blogs on July 31 will be bright and Sommer-y. Please come by for a look!

Friday, July 16, 2010

'Inception' is most unusual action film ever

Inception (2010)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, and Marion Cotillard
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

A corporate espionage expert, Dom (DiCaprio), specializing in stealing ideas straight from the minds of targets is hired to enter the dreams of the heir-apparent of a massive energy company (Murphy) and plant an idea that he should break it up and sell of the pieces. With a team of similarly talented experts, he enters the dreamscape... but the job is complicated by unexpected resistance generated both from the mind of the target and from dark secrets lurking within Dom's own subconscious.

I don't like to use absolutes when writing reviews, partly because I have not seen every movie ever made, and partly because too many reviewers look like morons when they declare multiple films in the same year as "the best movie ever" or even just "best movie of the year."

However, I am going to make an exception with "Inception." This is, without question, the most unusual and unexpected action movie ever made.

First, it is a near-perfect fusion of the standard Heist Movie with an almost Gibson-esque futuristic setting where mega-corporations operate almost as independent nations, and technology has broken down the barriers between mind and machine in almost unimaginable ways. Nolan wisely stayed away from "cyberware," but almost every other element is here, and he handles those elements with a level of skill and effectiveness that has rarely been seen. (Nolan also stays away from cliches like "evil corporations will always double-cross you" and "it was a simple job gone wrong," which elevates the movie even further.)

Second, the film asks viewers to follow the action and story threads through the "real world" and five different dreamscapes. Not only that, but while following the story lines, the viewers need to be introduced to the "physics" of existing within the dreamworlds and juggle almost as many complexities as the characters when they undertake their "grand heist" by creating and penetrating a dream within a dream within a dream. With completely different worlds interacting with and impacting upon each other--the team at one point is operating on four different dream-levels after the mission "goes bad"--this is a film that could easily have either collapsed into chaos or gotten bogged down in unnecessary exposition. Neither happens here, because the parts of the film are so specifically thought out and the plot so carefully constructed that it all turns and spins like the works in a perfectly made Swiss watch; and because Nolan trusts in the intelligence of his audience to understand the unusual setting with just one purely expository scene, and some dashes of additional explanation between characters as the film progresses. (Ellen Page plays a character who is new to the profession, so she functions in many ways as the "proxy" for the viewer, allowing for things to be explained without it appearing out of place and heavy-handed. And even so, Nolan chooses more often to "show, not tell," an approach that more filmmakers need to develop.)

Third, the film has some fantastic fight scenes and exceptionally well-staged chase scenes. It's actually astonishing to me that no element of a spectacular, extended Zero-Gravity action sequence in a hotel corridor was not used in any of the previews and television ads for the film. Believe, the scenes of Paris exploding around DiCaprio and Page, and the image of a city street and buildings folding up at a 90-degree angle are nothing compared to to the truly exciting visuals and action sequences in the film.

Along with the action is the fact that everything is perfectly timed, like that Swiss watch I mentioned above. There is not a single piece of padding anywhere, no unnecessary or redundant scenes, no establishing shots that go on for too long... everything here is timed perfectly for maximum suspense and maximum excitement. I often get impatient with a film when it hits the 85-minute mark, but this one runs almost two-and-a-half hours, and I barely noticed the time pass. There was always something going on, and it was all important and relevant. In fact, this is one of those very rare films in this genre that sets out to be more intelligent and thought-provoking than the average action film or crime drama where I never had the sense that the writer/director was trying to show me how clever he thought he was... then again, Nolan didn't have to, because "Inception" actually is as clever and well-wrought as he probably thinks it is.

Finally, the actors are all very good in their roles. I'm not saying that anyone up there gets to have a Marlon Brando "Stellaaaaaaa!" moment, but the entire cast gives performances that are believable and suitable for the roles they're playing. Every character comes across as extremely intelligent and creative, just like I would expect someone who engages in manipulating the dreams of others would have to be, but also cold enough that they would violate those very private places without compunction. Only Ellen Page's character doesn't have that cold edge to her, yet even her character is ultimately enamored with the chance to build worlds from scratch and not terribly concerned with the impact on the group's target. The characters are all likable--even Cillian Murphy has a chance to play a likable character, something I have never seen him do before--and they are all portrayed by actors whose performances all seem absolutely real and believable. Heck, this film even gives me cause to reconsider whether Leonardo DiCaprio has any talent or not... this is the first film I've seen him in where I didn't feel like he hired just for his pretty face.

Fourth, there's the nearly perfect score by Hans Zimmer. It's been a while since I've seen a film where the soundtrack music so perfectly complimented and heightened the action and suspense as it did here. The beginning of the third act, where the team has scant minutes to escape from three different dreamworlds, or be lost for what will seem like decades in a mental limbo, wouldn't have been nearly as exciting as it was with that music. And, most of the time, you won't even notice it's there, because it is so well done. Zimmer's contribution here in on the level of what Bernard Hermann did for Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest".

This is probably another hyperbole I should stay away from, but, with this being the fifth film in a row from Nolan that I have been able to find very few faults with, I think he may this generation's Alfred Hitchcock. He seems to have a perfect eye for pacing suspense films, for getting just the right performances out of the actors, and for bringing every tool at his disposal to bear in order to shape a fantastic movie. Of course, it's not a judgement that one can really make without the sort of hindsight that we have on the likes of Hitchcock, but there is no doubt in my mind that Nolan is an extremely talented filmmaker, and that someone will be writing long retrospectives about a grand career seventy years from.

I said last week in my review of "Predators" that it would be remembered as one of the best action films this summer. I think "Inception" will be counted among the best movies of the year, period. Hell, it may even end up being one of the best of the decade when it comes time to look back. At any rate, I don't think it's going to be successfully imitated any time soon, nor do I think it's going to be matched.

See it. You won't regret it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

'The Prestige' is a tale of trickery and obsession

The Prestige (2006)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johannson, David Bowie, and Piper Perabo
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

From the time that they first met as young magicians on the rise, Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) were competitors. However, their friendly competition evolves into a bitter rivalry making them fierce enemies-for-life. When Borden invents what seems to be the ultimate magic trick, Angier embarks on an obsessive quest to find its secret, over the advice of his longtime associate Cutter (Caine). Eventually, he finds his way to Nikola Tesla (Bowie) and discovers the means to best his rival once and for all.

"The Prestige" is a brilliantly constructed movie that manages to tell its story in flashbacks nestled in flashbacks within flashbacks, yet the viewer never loses track of what is going on in the film. It also manages to present a cast of characters that both seem intimately familiar to the viewer as the film progresses, and who turn out to be very different than what we thought when their secrets are revealed, while evoking the sense of the late 19th century music hall circuit and the intense competiton that existed between performers for bookings.

Although the film exists mostly within the realm of the realistic, it is at its best when it introduces the weird science of Nikola Tesla--and the fantastic and twisted applications it is put to in persuit of creating the ultimate illusion. In fact, one of the film's "big reveals" that make up the climax is so twisted, and the nature of Tesla's wonder-tech so strange that I almost put this review in Terror Titans instead of here. Ultimately, though, I think it fits mostly in the mystery movie category, even if it almost defies classification.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'Insomnia' is worth staying awake for

Insomnia (2002)
Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank
Director: Chrstopher Nolan
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In "Insomnia", a big city cop (Pacino) travels to a remote hamlet in Alaska to help solve the brutal rape and murder of a teenaged girl, and to avoid a brewing corruption scandal at home. While his mental state slowly deteriorates due to an inability to sleep in the eternal daylight above the Arctic Circle, he finds himself in a bizarre relationship of mutual blackmailing with the murderer (Williams) while the town's young deputy sheriff (Swank) slowly puts the puzzle together and closes in on both of them.

"Insomnia" is an American remake of a Scandinavian film by the same title, and, unlike the seemingly endless stream of remakes of recent Japanese and Chinese films that are all worse than the originals, this film stands up nicely in comparison. It's a tad too slow--the middle sags almost as bad as the Pacino character on this fourth or fifth day without any real sleep--but the actors are all great in their parts, the script is generally well-crafted, the setting is used to its full potential, and the ending is perfect.

I think people who enjoy thrillers will be happy staying up late to watch "Insomina".

Sunday, July 11, 2010

'Batman Begins' is a great new start

Batman Begins (2005)
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, and Gary Oldman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Bruce Wayne (Bale) returns to Gotham City after spending several years under the tutalage of Henri Ducat (Neeson), a member of an order of martial artists that claim to be devoted destruction of corruption and criminals using any available means. Wayne proceeds to put the skills he has learned, his family fortune, and his access to the applied sciences department of the family company to create Batman, a second identity through which he hopes to avenge the murder of his parents and bring law and justice to corrupt Gotham. Aided by the faithful family butler, Alfred (Caine) and one of the few honest cops in the city, Jim Gordon (Oldman), Batman takes on the powerful Falcone crime syndicate and a strange plot being orchestrated by Dr. Jonathan Crane of Arkham Asylum (Murphy).

I avoided seeing this movie for a long time, because it's been at least ten years since I've read an issue of the monthly "Batman" comic I liked (some of the graphic novels and spin-off miniseries have been spectacular, but the core titles have not been anywhere near to the Batman stories I enjoy) and because other Batman movies from the last 20 or so years have been beyond bad. I was also afraid that this movie might be as drab as the "Batman: Year One" story from Frank Miller.

I am glad that I finally decided to heed the rave reviews of friends and take a look at it. It's an excellent chronicle of Bruce Wayne's start as Batman that manages to incorporate some of Batman's most terrifying foes in a sensible way--R'as Al-Guhl and the Scarecrow--and weaves an excellent thread about the power of fear through the film. The use and portrayal of Jim Gordon is in line with how the character has been used in comics like "Gordon of Gotham" and even "Batman: Year One" (Gordon's portrayal was one of the better aspects of that storyline). The treatment of Alfred was also excellent, and it was great to see Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) make an big-screen appearance. And then there's the Batmobile; the one in this movie has got to be the funkiest, funnest Batmobile that will ever appear on screen!

The acting was great all around, although I think Cillian Murphy was somewhat miscast as Jonathan Crane, because he's too young for the part; his performance was otherwise excellent. (I wonder if Oldman might not have made a better Crane, despite the fact he was a fine Jim Gordon.)

Finally, Gotham City looked better than it has any of the previous Batman movies; it actually seemed like a real city instead of a movie set or a model.

"Batman Begins" is a great action flick and perhaps the best screen adaptation of Batman so far. It stays loyal to the best aspects of the comic books while telling a unique story.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Moore becomes Bond in 'Live and Let Die'

Live and Let Die (1973)
Starring: Roger Moore, Jane Seymour, Yaphet Kotto, and Geoffrey Holder
Director: Guy Hamilton
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

British secret agent James Bond (Moore) is dispatched to find and eliminate the leak that's caused the death of several of Her Majesty's secret agents in the Americas. He soon finds himself pitted against Mr. Big (Kotto), a powerful drug lord who has more than just thugs and weapons at his disposal: He is allied with a sexy Tarot-reading psychic (Seymore) and draws upon the seemingly very real voodoo powers of Baron Samdei himself (Holder)!

With "Live and Let Die", Guy Hamilton helmed yet another of my favorite James Bond movies. It's a little darker than most, the horror/ overtones are incorporated with great skill into the high-tech world super-spy world of Bond, and it's got one of the all-time classic Bond chases that has all the humor, action, suspense, and stunts that we've come to expect. It also delivers one of the most interesting Bond Girls to appear in the series, the may-or-may-not-be psychic, Solitaire. For final icing on the cake, the usual Bond-with-the-girl denouement even has a little bit of a horror twist to it.

Acting-wise, I think everyone made a fine show of themselves, even if I would have liked to see more of Seymour as Solitaire(in both senses of that). I also prefer the somewhat grimmer portrayal of Bond that Moore gives here than the increasingly good-humor-glint-in-eye Bond that we get in later films; it really seemed more in keeping with the character. In fact, that the humor was kept somewhat restrained in this film compared to the Roger Moore vehicles that were to come is one of the reasons this movies is so effective.

Friday, July 2, 2010

When Spies, Lies, and Morons Collide....

Burn After Reading (2008)
Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, David Rache, and J.K. Simmons
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When a pair of dimwitted health club employees (McDormand and Pitt) find what they believe is a disk full of highly classified CIA secrets, their get-rich-quick efforts set in motion a series of events that shows that no one causes chaos like the very stupid.

"Burn After Reading" is a movie about hopes, dreams, lies, deception, and betrayal. It's got all the elements you find in spy movies, but they're found here in a story of cheating spouses--half the characters in the film are breaking their marriage vows spectacularly--a burned-out CIA analyst (played by John Malkovich), and the people at the CIA who are so concerned with secrecy that they can't take the simple step of asking "what the hell are you morons doing?"

The purposefully tangled mess that is the movie's plot gains its comedy from the fact that the smartest people in the world can't figure out what a pair of doofus are up to (nor the real causes for the events they set in motion) and it's a source it taps very well.

Hilarious performances by Brad Pitt as the dumbest health fanatic ever, George Clooney as the horniest government employee ever, and Tilda Swinson as a woman so bitchy no-one even dares to imply she's bitchy stand out in particular in this perfectly cast and skillfully acted and directed film. If you liked movies like "Fargo" and "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang", you'll get a kick out of this one as well. It's not quite as good as either of those two films, but it's still fun.