I Confess, Her, Minority Report, Captain America: Civil War

Movies watched:  I Confess (home – 91 minutes), Her (home – 126 minutes), Minority Report (home – 145 minutes), Captain America:  Civil War (AMC Kent Station 14 – 147 minutes).

Total elapsed time:  2 days, 12 hours 8 minutes

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This week I watched the Alfred Hitchcock movie I Confess so I could analyze and write about it for my alfredhitchblog site.  I hadn’t seen it for many years, and I was watching it with a particular eye for the religious symbolism.  It is a better movie than I remembered it, but far from Hitchcock’s best.  For a detailed look at this movie, look here.

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Next I watched the Spike Jonze movie Her.   This was one of my two favorite movies of 2013. My son Kevin and I see all of the Oscar-nominated movies every year, and we both really enjoyed this one.  I was very happy when Spike Jonze won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for this movie (happy for Jonze because I thought he deserved it, and happy for me because I picked him to win in my Oscar predictions).

I like futuristic movies that are set in the near-future, as opposed to hundreds or thousands of years hence.  This movie is not some fabulist’s tale of bizarre unfamiliar machines, but a future that is palpably close, and therefore much more real.  The set design, costume design, and cinematography all work together to form a very believable aesthetic.

Will people ever fall in love with operating systems?  It would not surprise me;  the Japanese are already working on very life-like robots that will provide unconditional love and emotional support for people who live alone and feel alone.   Now whether those operating systems could ever achieve a state of self-awareness, and act autonomously, is another question entirely, with the answer farther away from us.

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The performances are good (particularly Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson) the visual look is unique, and the screenplay is great.  The screenplay covers a wide range of emotion, not least of which is humor;  there are a few laugh-out-loud moments in this film.  This is one of those movies which makes me feel good about being alive, on this world, at this moment.

It was a pretty natural progression to go from Her to Minority Report.  After all, it is another movie set in the not-too-distant future, although the premise is not believable.  This was about the time that Steven Spielberg began to explore different genres and themes than he had for most of his career.   There are times when Spielberg seems to play it safe, to coast, but there are certainly times when he has taken chances, and many times they have paid off.

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This movie is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.  I purchased a collection of his short stories many years ago, but had never opened it.  I figured it was about time, so I read the story this week, after re-watching the film.  The basic premise of the movie exists in the story, but honestly, the short story is weaker than the screenplay.

About that screenplay.   Overall, it is very good.  There are a few moments that don’t quite ring true to me.   (I mean true within the confines of the story.  Of course the very premise of “precogs” who can see crimes before they happen is ridiculous;  but once the premise is established, the story must follow its own logic.)  It’s actually a very engaging premise.  Isn’t there a fundamental paradox in arresting somebody for a crime they have not yet committed?

Visually, the movie works very well.  Spielberg used a “bleach bypass” on most of the film, giving it a washed look, drained of most color.  One exception is the color red, which is used as a color cue.  Many directors have used red as a color cue (Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Spielberg himself), and it works well here.  Next time you see this movie, watch for scenes with red in them.  They happen when the character of Danny Witwer (played by Colin Farrell) is on-screen.  This is foreshadowing; in his final scene the color red has a very strong significance.

Tom Cruise was just reaching the peak of his power at this point, and is very well cast in the lead role.  Max von Sydow, alas, has played so many villains over the last 20 years that the audience becomes immediately suspicious of him.   Samantha Morton is very good in the difficult role of the “precog”,  one of the three people who see the future crimes.   Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson are memorable in small supporting roles.  Their characters give the movie the feel of an old film noir, in the vein of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, which have a bizarre cast of memorable supporting characters.

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This material definitely inspired Spielberg to up his game visually, with several memorable shots, including the one seen above.  There are also a couple of deliberate nods to Alfred Hitchcock (one involving umbrellas), and a fantastic overhead sequence in a tenement building.  Overall, this movie succeeds.  If you don’t pause to question the logic of what is happening, and just go along for the ride, it is a very entertaining movie.

Speaking of not pausing to question story logic, we get to Captain America:  Civil War.  

Nobody is more surprised than me that I saw this movie.  But my car was being serviced and I had some time to kill.  A few years ago, I declared a moratorium on comic book movies.  I just decided that I wanted a break.  I did see all of the Nolan Batman movies  I saw the first Iron Man.  I saw the second Captain America movie because my son and I were in London, and the movie premiered over there earlier than in the States, and he wanted to be able to scoop his friends and see it first.  I saw the first Avengers.   And that’s it.  So I’m missing a few pieces of the puzzle.  It’s not that I dislike the movies.  And it’s not that I’m highbrow or something like that, and frown on these types of movies.  I just got a little tired of the constant reinvention/rebooting of franchises.

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That being said, this Marvel franchise has done it right.  They had a long-term plan, and it has paid off immensely.  So maybe I’m going to have to watch the movies I missed, to fill in the blank.  This movie is exactly what you want it to be, just a pure popcorn movie.   The premise of characters that the audience all love facing off against each other is a good one.  The problem, of course, is that we know ultimately that none of them will die, and that they will be reunited, so that takes a little of the suspense away.  That being said, it is a good movie.  It did feel like it had about 3 endings.  Couldn’t it have ended with a cliffhanger?   Leave some of the Avengers in prison, and open the next movie with their escape?  Apparently not, everything has to resolve itself.    Performances?  Well, everyone is playing characters that have already been established in earlier films, so they are all comfortable and enjoyable to watch.

I liked this movie enough  that I will go back and see some of the movies I missed along the way.  At least the Marvel ones.  I will never watch Batman v Superman..

 

Find The Wrong Man? Sounds like a Mission Impossible.

Movies watched:  The Wrong Man, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible 2, Mission: Impossible 3, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Where watched:  Home

Time:  105 minutes, 110 minutes, 123 minutes, 125 minutes, 133 minutes, 131 minutes

Total elapsed time:  1 day, 19 hours, 53 minutes

I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man so i could post a rather detailed analysis on my alfredhitchblog site.  When watching the Hitchcock movies, I often watch the films (or at least sections of the films) multiple times.  So I wondered, should I count multiple viewings of the same movie in my cumulative time total?  I decided against it.  At any rate, The Wrong Man is a very good, and very underrated Hitchcock movie.  If you want to learn more about it, check out my alfredhitchblog review here.

I then watched all 5 Mission:  Impossible movies in a row.  (Not all in one day, but over the course of a week).   This is my favorite action movie franchise, by far.  Each movie has a different director, each one has it own look and feel.  And there are no duds in the series.  So here are some random observations on the movies in the series.

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The original Mission:  Impossible is often mentioned as the slowest-paced entry in the franchise.  Yet it set the template that has been followed in every successive film.   There is a break-in, or heist, at a high-security facility, and there is at least one high-speed chase.  I’m a big fan of Brian DePalma, and although he is often guilty of the style-over-substance claims made about his movies, he often has a style worth watching.  Someone who saw the later entries in the franchise first would probably be bored with this movie, because it is a bit slower paced.  But the story never lags, and the characters are all interesting.

The head of the IMF changes in each movie.  In this entry he is played (quite well) by Henry Czerny.

I won’t say who the “bad guys” are in this one, in case someone hasn’t seen it, because identities are not what they seem.

Team members:  Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Ving Rhames, Jean Reno.

As the franchise-launching movie, this film made almost half a billion worldwide (big money in 1996), and while not perfect, it is Mission:  Enjoyable.

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Mission:  Impossible 2 could not be more different from the first film.  John Woo has a very distinct aesthetic, and it is all on display here:  the doves flying in slow motion, the two-fisted handgun shooting, the balletic motorcycle chases.  The first movie was shot in a cold, muted color palette.  The sequel has a deep, rich tone.

The plot of this movie owes a nod to Alfred Hitchcock.  The idea of a woman seducing a bad guy to obtain information is borrowed directly from Notorious.   On the movie’s commentary track, John Woo also says that the car chase sequence between Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton was inspired by Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief.  

The head of the IMF:  Anthony Hopkins

The bad guys:  Dougray Scott, Richard Roxburg

The team:  Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, John Polson, Thandie Newton

Crazy stunt actually done by Tom Cruise:  rock climbing, high-speed motorcycle chase

This is the lowest-rated movie in the franchise on Rotten Tomatoes, currently sitting at 57%.  While Woo’s slo-mo shots and flying doves get old in a hurry, the movie is engaging, and actually better than I remember it.   This is Mission:  Congenial

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It’s kinda weird to think of Mission:  Impossible 3 as J.J. Abram’s directorial debut.  Who would’ve believed that he would go on to revive the two most popular sci-fi franchises in movie history.   He definitely has a sure hand here.   Ethan Hunt, the IMF agent played by Tom Cruise, is married in this installment, to the beautiful Michelle Monaghan.  She thinks he works for the Dept. of Transportation.  Boy, is she in for a surprise, when Hunt’s professional and personal world’s collide.   The stakes are much higher when Cruise is fighting to rescue his wife.

The head of the IMF:  Laurence Fishburne

The bad guys:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsan

The team:  Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Billy Crudup

This movie is currently rated at the very modest 70% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think were it made today it would be rated higher, because it is a very good movie.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is the best villain in the franchise to date.  The relationship between Ving Rhames and Tom Cruise is solidified with the banter they have during the mission.  The film looks great, and the stunt sequences are fantastic.   It also has a very high re-watch value.

Mission:  Rewatchable

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Brad Bird was a bit of a shocker to direct this movie.  He had only directed animated movies up to this point.  Granted, they were all fantastic (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille), but handing him the reins to this franchise was still surprising.  All he did was direct the best movie in the franchise to date.  This time around, the IMF is disavowed, and a handful of “ghost” agents must try to prevent a world catastrophe, and clear their names.   This is the longest movie in the franchise, but doesn’t feel like it.  It is engaging from the first minute to the last.

IMF director:  Tom Wilkinson

Bad guy:  Michael Nyqvist

Team members:  Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton

Crazy stunt actually done by Tom Cruise:  Climbing, and hanging off of, and running down the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.  This sequence, shot in 70mm, is one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed, and is beyond breathtaking on the big screen.

My only (very minor) quibbles with this movie:  Ving Rhames character Luther appears only in cameo.   I also thought it was a missed opportunity not bringing back either Maggie Q or Jonathan Rhys Meyers from MI3.  That being said, this is an incredible movie.

Mission:  Exceptional

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I went to see this movie with some trepidation.  It seemed like Brad Bird’s installment could never be topped.  Also, Christopher McQuarrie was known more as a screenwriter than director.   Would he be able to handle it?  Yes, he would.  This movie has the most repeat characters of any movie in the series.  Basically Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames are the team now.  This time Cruise is after the Syndicate (who was mentioned at the very end of MI4), a creation of the original TV series.

McQuarrie quite rightly realized that he couldn’t top the Burj Khalifa sequence from the last movie, at least in terms of spectacle.  So he didn’t try.  He went in a different direction.    Of course Cruise does some crazy stunts.  But the centerpiece of this movie takes place in the Vienna Opera House, and it is one of the best sequences of the entire franchise.  Sean Harris, in the role of Solomon Lane, the head of the Syndicate, is a great villian, arguably the best in the franchise.  Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him.

This film has the best look of the series.  Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit lit this film brilliantly.  It doesn’t have the look of a “typical” action movie.

IMF head:  Alec Baldwin (he’s actually the CIA director, but the CIA absorbs the IMF in this movie)

Bad guys:  Sean Harris, Jens Hulten

Team members:  Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson

This movie does not surpass the last entry in the franchise, but it does not try to.  Christopher McQuarrie has made a movie that is as exciting, and entertaining as any other in the series.

Mission:  Spectacular