I have to say that after long periods of watching very serious movies with subtitles, I start to long for the simple things in life, specifically action movies that blow shit up real good. Right now, I'm sitting on a trio of very serious movies from Netflix, and I haven't been able to get into any of them. So I took a flier for the first part of March and went for the comfort food movies.
In the blowing things up real good department, I must express a certain amount of dissatisfaction with Hancock (2008, directed by Peter Berg), in which Will Smith plays a disaffected superhero trying to turn his life around. The movie is frontloaded with mayhem, but its big climax is surprisingly toothless. I mean, you have two superheroic characters in this movie, but at the end, in a shootout at a hospital with some common robbers, neither of them has any powers. This is a failure at a fundamental level, in so far as when you have superheroes, you need supervillains. Otherwise, you're just rehashing those Marvel Comics TV series from the 1970s where there was no budget for the heroes' heroics, to say nothing of any villain's villainy. In a Will Smith blockbuster? There's no excuse. Also, I wish the movie had forgotten about Will Smith and did something more interesting with Charlize Theron. All in all, a missed opportunity at every level. I watched this on Netflix's instant watch service, which seems an appropriate way to watch this, because I have the least amount I can invest in it other than time.
I'm trying to remember the last film by James Cameron where I didn't have to preface my enjoyment with some kind of apologia. Aliens, maybe. Certainly not True Lies (1994), a bang-up Schwarzeneggerian epic compromised by a deep and nasty streak of misogyny. This is a bit of a surprise, given that Cameron has traditionally featured strong female characters in his films, but this film, even more than The Abyss, seems informed by the director's serial marriages and divorces. It manifests itself in a "family values or else" storyline and in a casual use of the word "bitch" that starts to draw blood as the film unspools. By the time Jamie Lee Curtis's character finds her own inner strength, the film has gone to great lengths to degrade her and even then, her inner strength is defined by her husband and her strength has been fetishized. It's bad shit, and an unfortunate undercurrent for a film that, at its core, is a state of the art (in 1994) example of action filmmaking. The comedy bits mostly work--especially those involving Bill Paxton, who gives a particularly selfless performance here--and the big set-pieces are generally scaled and executed with aplomb. Pity.
The Pierce Brosnan reboot of the James Bond franchise confronts the essential sexism of the action genre Bond inspired head on. It hasn't changed Bond himself, who is just as unapologetically sexist and misogynistic as ever, but it has changed the world around him, which is why when Goldeneye (1995, directed by Martin Campbell) walks through all of the Bond tropes as if it were following a checklist, it all seems kind of fresh. This film provides Bond with a new, female boss. Judi Dench's M is prickly and harsh and doesn't have any time for Bond's charms. Samantha Bond is a radical departure as Miss Moneypenny. She seems to have a life of her own, and even if she IS still mooning for 007, she gives as good as she gets in this movie, as if there has been some leveling of the playing field. The movie-specific female characters are an interesting departure, too: Izabella Scorupco's Natalya has smarts and initiative on her own such that, when the time comes to choose between the love interest or the mission, it's her that does the choosing instead of Bond. And Famke Janssen's sadistic Xenia Onatopp goes into the Bond canon as one of the best evil henchmen. The erotic dimension to her depravity is refreshing for the way the movie puts it in the foreground. It doesn't hurt that Janssen holds the screen better than anyone else in the movie, and the expression on her face as she crushes her victims to death between her legs is an expression I wish someone would put on MY face in the throes of passion.
I wish Sean Bean was as compelling as the evil mastermind behind everything, but there's a kind of petulance in his character that puts me off--and, trust me, I would NOT kick Sean Bean out of bed for eating crackers under any other circumstances as a candidate for giving me that expression. In any event, all of the elements are put together perfectly--did I mention the credit sequence? One of my favorites from the Bond series, with Tina Turner doing the honors on the soundtrack--and even if it's not a transcendent Bond film, it's certainly an archetypal one. Director Martin Campbell saved the transcendent Bond film for Brosnan's successor in the role, some eleven years later.