Monday, September 06, 2004

Movie reviews

Man on Fire ****

Denzel Washington revisits his darker side, as previously seen in Training Day, to play loner slash former anti-insurgency operative (aka super hardcore mofo) John Creasy, who's alcoholism and unemployment issues bring him south of the US/Mexican border where he finds work as a taciturn bodyguard to Dakota Fanning's Pita, the daughter of a Mexican automobile manufacturer and his American trophy wife. Puny latino crooner Marc Anthony does ok as the Mexican, but both he and Radha Mitchell (trophy wife, Phone Booth) are blown away by Washington and the adorable Fanning (Uptown Girls, I Am Sam, The Cat in the Hat). The little biter just makes me want to be a dad - she's leagues beyond Haley Joel Osment and a f*&kload cuter. Not that I think girl-boy Osment is cute, mind you. But I digress. When Pita is kidnapped by a gang of corrupt cops, Creasy shrugs off about twenty bullet holes and goes on a rampage of punishment (YEE-HA!), butchering everyone involved in the process. As Christopher Walken's mentor-figure explains at one point, "Creasey's art is death...and he's about to paint his masterpiece" (shivers up the spine). Although the violence is AWESOME and you see Washington kick ass like no mutha-f*cka's ever kicked ass before, its the interaction between Creasy and Pita that adds the winning dimension to what would otherwise be a classic action movie. He has no family, no past and no reason to live - until she gives them to him. Its beautiful.
Not many movies psych you up to the extent that you throw "don't f*ck with me" eyes to every moron who dares cross your path in the parking lot afterwards, whilst simultaneously warming the cockles of your heart and generally making you feel fuzzy all over, as this one does. And in spite of the crazy Steven Soderberg-ish camera angles and handycam shots that bring on waves of dizziness at times, and the artistic yet often unnecessary use of pop-up video style sub-titles, about both of which I am still undecided, Man on Fire is a stupendous movie that is a definite must see.

King Arthur **

Action-supremo Jerry Bruckheimer's take on the Arthurian legend is plain dumb. I actually would have preferred the movie if Bruckheimer stalwart Nicholas Cage had been cast as the lead character, half-Roman half-Brit Arturious Castis (aka Arthur), 'cos then I could have accepted the movie for exactly what it is: Gladiator-meets-Robin Hood (Prince of Thieves)-meets-a whole lot of kak (actually, Kevin Costner would have done well too). Instead, up-and-coming Celtic thesp Clive Owen wields Excalibur, and joins an otherwise competent cast (including Welshman Ioan Gruffud, from the Hornblower series of TV movies, as Lancelot), in a laboured, overly produced cheese-fest that is as familiar as every other Bruckheimer outing. Expect staged battles, complete with sneaky strategic twists and turns by our heroes (seen it before), corny and mostly ill-timed quips from entirely pro forma characters (snooze), and Keira Knightley as a swashbuckling Guinevere, who starts with promise, but ends up running around in bandages, which squash her already non-existent boobies even further into her chest, and painted blue.
The movie sets up a few interesting side-plots, and hints at a spark between Lancelot and Guinevere (which, of course, we all know about), but fails to follow through on any of them. Its one way traffic from start to finish, with very little subtext (that I picked up on, anyway), and no character development whatsoever. In short, it failed to engage me on any level, and I spent most of the movie passing stupid comments to Scotty, or cringing through the ridiculous Hollywood moments that are periodically vomited-up all over the audience.
Of further concern is the disturbing lack of dismemberment, beheadings and gore, presumably in an attempt to qualify for a PG rating (which it does). The mysterious yet lethal diagonal-body-slash predominates - you know, where the main characters charge through the battle chaos, slicing their swords or axes up, down and across uncredited extras, who then go "aaarrrgggh" and fall over without even the slightest hint of blood or injury. Whatever. More snooze.
If you can, avoid this fromage platter. You won't be missing out.

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