Based on a true trailer

Since we’ll be leaving the United States in just over 32 hours, we thought we’d check out another movie, if only for the experience of sitting in a movie theatre armed with a double espresso shot caramel macchiato and an apple fritter. I’ll never eat in this town again.

The film itself, Burn After Reading, was decidedly so-so. I think my main problem with several of the Coen Bros. comedies is that the characters are painfully flat and, as a result, I simply don’t care much. (The Big Lebowski gets around this by making its characters quite endearing and strangely poignant, which should be an impossibility with such a far out, potheaded plot.) Same here: apart from very few moments, all of the protagonists remain cartoons – added to which there simply isn’t much of a plot to hold everything together. While the individual situations are comical, there’s a “ooookay… what should happen next? dunno…” quality to this film.

So, since a lot has already been written about the film, let me talk about more interesting things: the trailers. Four of ’em, and all of them intriguing.

I’m not a big Meryll Streep fan, although I acknowledge that she’s a good actress. Much of the time she seems too much like “Meryll Streep acting her little cotton socks off”, just like Robert de Niro, even at his best, tends to make the strain of acting very visible. It works in some films, but I prefer acting that almost vanishes – or otherwise make it very overt acting that doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s an act. Having said all of that, this trailer made me look up. Added to which it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman. Colour me intrigued.

Trailer no. 2. Okay… on the surface, this looks like it’s trying way too hard to win Oscars. Disability. Troubled musician. Based on a true story. Directed by the guy who brought you these middlebrow tearjerkers. And yet, and yet. Robert Downey Jr. can make most middling films interesting and Jamie Foxx definitely knows how to act. Also, based on the trailer the film looks beautifully shot, without going for the glossy, strings-swelling-triumphantly, one-step-away-from-Hallmark visual style.

I’ve only seen one film by Gus Van Sant: Finding Forrester. Yes, I like Anna Paquin, but that didn’t make it a very good film (although it was one of the weirdest, coolest, loveliest evenings and nights in my life that followed that film). Okay, I’ve also seen the vignette he directed in Paris Je T’Aime. I have no idea whether I like him as a director or not. Mostly I’ve read reviews of his films and thought, “Um… right.” (I am uncannily interested in Gerry, mind you.) Then there’s Sean Penn who, for me, is very hit-and-miss. When he’s good he’s very, very good; when he’s on a mission, he’s annoying as hell. But, I must admit, this trailer looks fascinating.

Finally, Frost/Nixon. So far I wasn’t interested at all. And if I’d remembered the director, my disinterest would have doubled, nay, trippled. Is there a more competently nothingy director than Ron Howard? But this may be just the right film for a bland director who nevertheless knows how to get good performances out of his actors. Added to which: Matthew Macfadyen. Yep – it’s Tom Quinn. It’s Henry IV. It’s one-eyed guy with bigass scar. (That last one was Enigma, in case you just went, “Huh?”) And the trailer doesn’t look like “Talky sort-of-historical film based on a play, with actors who wish they hadn’t played in those vampire movies” – it looks like a proper film.

So: main feature – meh. Trailers? Gimme more of that!

Second chances (cont.)

I finished (re)watching the Miami Vice movie yesterday, and I can confirm my impression that it improves on repeat viewings, at least for me. It’s still one of Mann’s weaker films, mainly because the characters are more sketchy, but it makes for a nice change from all of those ’80s and ’90s cop buddy movies. The main reason for this is the characters’ professionalism. You get the impression that these guys are good at their job, and so are the criminals.

In so many other films, neither the good guys nor the bad guys are very professional. Usually, the cop characters seem to be (bad) stand-up comedians first and policemen second. Similarly, the villains of such pieces fail because they’re so easily manipulated. How often in these action movies do you have to suspend your disbelief so much that it’s almost at sea level because the characters act in such stupid ways?

Yes, the professionalism of Mann’s Miami Vice also means that it packs less of an emotional punch. To some extent, the conflict between the guys wearing white hats and the ones in the black hats is so cerebral that I was fascinated, but I didn’t necessarily care. Ricardo’s relationship feels a bit more real, because there’s a sense of history; Sonny’s affair with the high-class gangster moll doesn’t seem like the sort of relationship that has a future, but the erotic charge between Colin Farrell’s Sonny Crockett and Gong Li’s Isabella is nevertheless quite effective.

It’s unlikely that anyone who completely hated the film the first time or who doesn’t like Mann’s work would like Miami Vice on a second viewing. If you don’t fall into either one of these camps, you may want to check it out again in the slightly extended version.

P.S.: And to make up for yesterday’s puerile homoerotic joke, here’s a different ’80s joke. Enjoy! (Note to self: Mwahahahahaha. Erm.)