Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tristana (Buñuel. 1970)

"It's good to have dreams, even if they're frightening... The dead don't dream."


Luis Buñuel's Tristana has got to be one of the most personal films Buñuel made in his brilliant career. Known for his dabbles in surrealism, the great Spanish director made several movies that floated on the surface level in dealings with the upper-classes, religion and even sadomasochism. This Academy Award nominated effort finds ways to work in all of those themes, but it stays away from the overly-surreal and the melodramatic. Because honestly, if any director other than someone as world-loathing as Buñuel had tried to make this movie, there is a good chance that the whole thing would have been laughable. 

The personal touches in Tristana could be compared to the meticulous works of a surgeon while operating on someone famous or important. The surgeon, in this situation would want to do everything he or she could to make sure that the operation goes perfectly. If the surgery is not perfect, a career could end. Hell, a life could end. And what is more life-like than the career of someone as passionately connected to his work like Louis Buñuel? 

Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) is a young woman in Spain who has recently been orphaned. At 19 years old she is taken in by a middle-aged intellectual atheist by the name of Don Lope (Fernando Rey) for whom her mother worked as a servant. Lope is a well respected nobleman despite his atheism and his socialistic political views. His obvious weakness is women, and Tristana does not long remain the exception to the rule. Lope takes Tristana as his lover all the while reminding her that he is also her only father-figure. The relationship plays out in a way that is just as creepy and gross as it sounds. Tristana is disgusted by Lope's sexual advances and frequently has dreams where she sees Lope's disembodied head as the clapper for the church's enormous bell. 


After being the victim of Lope's strange sexual desires for long enough, Tristana meets an artist closer to her age named Horacio. Lope's jealously explodes, but the young couple run off and get married anyway. Two years later Tristana falls ill and has to be returned to Lope. Tristana's behavior from here is directly pulled from her desire to take control away from the disgusting man who heavy-handedly took her virginity. The lonely, drunk and elderly Lope has lost his advantages in this ever-so-gag-worthy father/lover relationship. The rest of the movie plays out like a sexually-fused hyper-drama.


Buñuel's directorial style can be seen all over the closing moments of Tristana. The dream sequences, elongated conversations, voice-overs and flashbacks have the familiar feel of earlier Buñuel works, but you can also sense the momentum from this film that carried on through other masterpieces from the director like 1972's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. As a lifelone atheist, Buñuel used religious imagery in a controversial way throughout his entire career. The clergymen in the film are presented as sympathetic, but opportunistic people. Nobody in Tristana is a person worth cheering for, but isn't that real life? Or is it simply surreal? I have a feeling that Buñuel would tell you to figure that part out for yourself. 


Tristana: B

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Orphans of the Storm (Griffith, 1921)


Okay, now I have officially seen every considerable work by the Father of Contemporary Cinema, D.W. Griffith. Orphans of the Storm has become historically important because it is the last Griffith film that performed well at the box office. Everything about the movie fits the classic Griffith mold. The sets are large, extensive and lavish. The acting is melodramatic and the story intertwines actual history with not only a love story, but also a dramatic tale of two "sisters" named Henriette and Louise. And, for lack of a better phrase, a ton of stuff happens.

I call the two main characters sisters, but the story is actually a little bit more complicated than that. The movie takes place in 18th century France right before and then during the French Revolution. The action opens with Louise as a newborn baby. Her parents are a Noble aristocratic woman and the common man she loves. Because this type of mixed relationship was frowned upon at the time, Noblemen killed the man and took the baby from the mother in an attempt to hide the happenings from the public. A trembling, infant Louise is then left on the snow-covered steps of a cathedral in hopes that the church will raise the baby. Shortly after that happens, another man carries his baby to the same steps. The baby is named Henriette and her father believes that he must give her up to the church due to the economic times. But when the father sees the near freezing Louise on the steps he changes his mind and actually takes both babies home. From then on, they were raised as sisters.

Fast-forward a decent amount of years and the sisters' parents have been killed by the plague. The same disease has left Louise blind with only Henriette left to be her caretaker. Naturally this experience bonded the sisters, and Henriette promises to never marry unless Louise can see again to approve of her husband. They go off to Paris in search of a way to restore Louise's sight, and then things get really messy.

All of the dramatic, sisterly action takes place in the wake of a major Parisian revolution. Robespierre and Danton are revolutionists who believe that the monarchy has become tyrannical and that France should adopt a government like that in the United States. They have managed to get the police on the side of the common man and against the King - essentially kicking off the Revolution.

Okay, I need to wrap this part up. Long story short, Henriette is kidnapped by a rich man due to her virginal beauty leaving Louise blind and alone on the streets of Paris. Louise is then kidnapped and forced to beg in the streets for money. The Revolution begins. There's a love story and a bunch of other stuff happens in between. I'm not trying to make light of the plot, but at 151 minutes long, too much happens to explain it all. The sisters are played by real life sisters Dorothy and Lillian Gish and neither of them were strangers to working with Griffith as director. Their acting is pretty much what you'd expect from a silent epic. Everything is exaggerated and animated.

Orphans of the Storms is a movie that has cemented a place in film history, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has aged well. The biggest problem with Griffith films is that none of them hold up through time. He may be a pioneer in feature films, but his movies sometimes get a little clunky and heavy-handed. Like previously stated, a WHOLE LOT happens in this movie, but very little of it is ever developed or introduced in an interesting way. It is well known that Griffith had a political agenda when making the film, but I think he may have focused too much on it. Don't misunderstand me, the scenery and overall spectacle in production is awe-inspiring. I just needed more from the story. Top that off with the dated acting styles of the Gish sisters and Orphans of the Storm suddenly becomes hard to sit through.

Did I enjoy watching Orphans of the Storm? Overall, kinda. But I do think it is the worst Griffith movie that I have seen so far. It is almost sad to watch his movies in order and seeing the quality steadily decline. Then again, I've pretty much exclusively read that D.W. Griffith was a jerk. Therefore, I am okay with saying that Orphans of the Storm was a major disappointment.

Orphans of the Storm: C-

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan. 1951)

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers..."

 
I have a challenge for you. The next time you watch any movie made before the release of A Streetcar Named Desire I want you to have a pen and pad ready and available. While watching whatever film it may be, I ask that you keep a tally of every single emotional scene that comes off as just a tad too stiff to be believable. Seems easy, right? Just make a note of each moment where you needed the action to be a bit more raw. A lot of films from Citizen Kane to The African Queen have been criticized for the dated feel of their leading actors. We all know that realism was the problem with movies before Streetcar, and actors before Marlon Brando.
 
Brando has an unequaled ability to dig deep into himself to find the characters that he is playing on the screen. It has famously been dubbed "Method acting" and his particular use of the practice in this film paved the way for several actors, like James Dean and Sean Penn who would go on to use the Method style with great success. I am not an expert on the acting process, but it does not take an expert to see that Brando's portrayal of Stanley Kowalski is one of the most emotionally charged performances in all of movies. He is played with such depth and circumstantial understanding that if the audience didn't know any better they would believe that Marlon and Stanley were the same person.
 
The whole production is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans and follows Stanley, his wife Stella (Kim Hunter) and her sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh) as they live together in an apartment that feels a great deal more claustrophobic than it does inviting. Stanley dominates his home life with an animalistic dominance with his ripped, sweaty shirts that show off defined muscles and his brute  speaking tone. As a character, Stanley's intelligence is lacking, but his masculinity has inflated his head to the point of being comparable to a Neanderthal.
 
Stella is about as anti-feminist as a female character can be. She is blinded by her sexual attraction toward Stanley. Just watch the famous scene in which Stanley is screaming for Stella to return to him. Pay attention to how quickly and sharply she reacts to his voice as he wallows in the rain for her forgiveness. The crime he committed against her was domestic abuse, and Stella had the presence of mind to escape that bad situation. But then hearing him emit an almost masculine battle cry immediately sends charges of sexual energy through her that ultimately lead her down the stairs and back into her abusive husband's arms. As she slowly walks back to him it almost looks as though she has surrendered her well being over to her own desires. She even later admits to being "excited" by Stanley's overly-aggressive behaviors. I'm not going to say that her situation is her fault because Stanley is obviously to blame for the abuse, but nobody in Streetcar is really the good character. They are all flawed - none more than Stella's sister, Blanche.
 
Vivien Leigh is an actress who has been crucified for her off-screen behavior, but on the screen she is as solid as any other Golden Age actress. Her performance is so charged with emotion that the audience is automatically drawn to her. Tennessee Williams not only wrote the screenplay, but also the play on which the film is based. I think it is obvious that he spent the most time coming up with Blanche as a person. Her psyche is annoyingly fragile, but her varying life experiences demand sympathy. Her young husband committed suicide due to his inability to deal with his own homosexuality. She cannot return home because she was forced out of town for being promiscuous with younger men. One of the best scenes in the film has Blanche flirting with a young delivery boy. A lot of the original "sexiness" in this scene was initially cut from the film (though Kazan fought to keep it) and wasn't seen as a part of the movie until the restoration in 1993. 
 
It goes without saying that the acting in Streetcar is superb. Leigh, Hunter and Karl Malden all won Academy Awards for their roles as Blanche, Stella and Blanche's gentlemen caller, Mitch. Brando's Method acting technique changed the way that actors played characters, but he actually lost the acting Oscar to Humphrey Bogart. Most people chalk this up to the fact that Stanley was much too vile of a character to be awarded in that time period. Marlon Brando was simply ahead of his time with his gritty performance.
 
Most of us already know how A Streetcar Named Desire ends. For those of you who do not, I will spoil nothing. But the ending has created controversy and sparked discussions for many years now. I personally think the ending is perfect in every sense of the word. The black and white shimmers perfectly and beautifully amidst the heartbreaking conclusion. Kazan's camera frames the action deliberately to keep the audience focused on the characters over everything else. Streetcar is a movie that is primarily about three people - each one of them flawed. Whether it be masculine aggression, sexual desire, homosexuality or insecurity - this masterpiece was bold enough to approach the topic and mature enough to do it well. 
 
A Streetcar Named Desire: A  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley. 1992)

"'Cause only one thing counts in this world: get them to sign on the line which is dotted!"



When I started this blog I made it pretty apparent to any reader that I was a college student. I have now been out of college for about one year, and I pretty much still feel like a kid. My current work situation has me hosting four hours of country music radio every weekday, and working in an office with several people who make up our sales team. After seeing how these sales people operate, I have come to the conclusion that I do not mind still feeling like a noob - as long as I don't have to hate my life by wasting away in sales.

That profession is the center subject of one of the more dialogue-heavy English language movies on the "1001", Glengarry Glen Ross. It also happens to be a movie that fully encapsulates my nightmares. Who on this great Earth would want to sell real estate from a shady office below the L-Train?! The interior of the office itself looks like it was furnished using the bare bones technique. There is a sectioned off office area with big glass windows to separate the boss (Kevin Spacey) from his sales staff of peons. The sales staff (Pacino, Lemmon, Arkin, Harris) get the luxury of sitting in plain, empty desks making heartbreakingly desperate phone calls while the boss sits in his office flaunting the "good" leads (cards that contain the names of potential real estate buyers). From the opening moment in the film you can see that a life in this office is not a good one to live. And it is about to get a whole lot worse.

The most famous moment in Glengarry Glen Ross happens within the first few moments of the film. Blake is a hot-shot from the ever mysterious "downtown" who is here to inform the motley sales team of the newest incentives for sales. This month's contest prizes are pretty varied. First prize: new Cadillac. Second prize: set of steak knives. Third prize: you're fired. All of this is laid out to the audience and the staff in a profanity-ridden monologue that is delivered perfectly by Alec Baldwin. I understand that in 2013 Baldwin is a polarizing actor due to his mouth, but his only moment in Glengarry Glen Ross makes the entire picture.

The movie is based on a play written by David Mamet. I had the great pleasure of reading the play while in college and it is worth noting that Blake is not a character in the source material. Mamet also wrote the screenplay for the film and added Baldwin's character as a way to kick-start the action before letting his masterful dialogue take over the film. The way the characters talk to each other in the movie is harsh, profane and sad. Mamet creates a world with his writings where this type of speech is the common language. I personally love the numerous reaction shots caught by Foley's camera after almost every sentence. As the film rides on, the sales staff become more and more desperate to not necessarily win, but rather to simply not be fired. The emptiness behind their eyes becomes more evident by the minute.

Though Al Pacino garnered the film's only Academy Award nomination, Jack Lemmon is the real protagonist (albeit in an unconventional form of the term). He plays Shelley "The Machine" Levene - a once great salesman who is no longer making any money. His wife is in the hospital and desperation drips from his mouth with every word. It is a wonder that the man doesn't just physically collapse by the conclusion, though it would be safe to say that he does collapse morally. I think it is interesting, though I could be reaching that Mamet chose to give the most floundering character a name that has been shared by both genders. It is obvious that the entire production is a statement on greed and business, but I think masculinity has a major role in the goings on as well. Blake almost makes Shelly cry at the start of the film, perhaps implying that Levene can no longer hack it in a man's world.

Glengarry Glen Ross indirectly asks the audience a very simple question - are you man enough to close the deal? A. always B. be C. closing. It is the urgency behind the ABC mentality that gets the film off the ground, but it is  Mamet's cadenced words that turn the movie into something special. Everyone is impacted differently by the actions surrounding the conclusion, but nothing is really concluded by the end. At just 100 minutes in runtime, Glengarry Glen Ross is a must see for actors and a should see for everyone else.

Glengarry Glen Ross: A-

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Warriors (Hill. 1979)

"Warriors...come out to plaaay..."


Some movies do not have to be all that great to garner a loyal fan base. Very few would argue that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a "good movie", yet it has been running in midnight theatres for years. Another great example of a less-than-decent movie that has gained considerable cult-classic status is the 1979 gang war movie, The Warriors. Directed by Walter Hill and VERY loosely based on a novel by the same name (that is very loosely based on Anabasis by Xenophon), The Warriors is one of my favorite anytime movies. I say that because I can literally watch it at any time and still enjoy it just as much as the time before. Admittedly, it is far from being an actual example of good filmmaking, but it serves the purpose of a movie based on such ridiculous subject matter.

The movie takes place "sometime in the future" in a version of New York City that sees the streets overrun by gangs. The opening credit sequence, which is very long, explains that Cyrus (the leader of the biggest gang in New York) has called a summit to which all gangs should send a designated roster of unarmed members. The resident gang on Coney Island goes by The Warriors and they are skeptic about sending their men into such a meeting without any way of protecting themselves. In the grand scheme of things, The Warriors are pretty small potatoes and would rather follow the rules than stir up trouble with New York's biggest gang. They all reluctantly agree to follow the rules of the gang summit.

This elongated opening credit sequence is important because it introduces each character, the plot and the point of the entire film all in the first moments. The director, Walter Hill, decided that he needed a faster way to introduce the plot in order to promptly kick off the action in the movie. I cannot stress enough that this part of the film seems to drag on forever, but if you can stick it through the formulaic dialogue that introduces the action, you will be rewarded with an overall pleasant experience.

The gathering of New York gangs, if thought about, is actually a pretty terrifying scene. The shear mass of gang members in one area is like a nightmare for your average major-city dweller. Cyrus delivers a charismatic message posing the idea that if all gang members in New York combined to make a super gang they would outnumber the cops and be able to run the streets. He stresses his points with his now-famous "Can you dig it?" catchphrase and each time he says it he is met with wild applause from the densely populated audience. Cyrus, played by Roger Hill, is an interesting character because he seems to be able to keep every gang in check. Though you know he is a bad guy, you strangely respect him as someone who unites people.

All of that ends when Cyrus is suddenly shot from the crowd. The viewing audience knows right away that it was Luther (David Patrick Kelly) of the aptly named "Rogues" who fired the shot. Luther wastes little time before blaming The Warriors for the assassination and the rest of the action flows from there. The Warriors are now miles away from home and will have to fight their way back to their beloved Coney Island through not only police, but every other gang in the city. The Warriors, of course, have no idea that they have been blamed for killing Cyrus, but they still have an understanding that the gang truce in no longer active after the messiah-like leader was killed.

What makes The Warriors so interesting is Hill's visual style as a director. Everything from costumes to extended panning cameras instill a sense of a dystopian world. I mean, New York in the 70s was a pretty rough place to be, so it had to take some work to make the future look worse than the actual times. Every aspect of the film is strictly staged and characters sometimes seem telepathic in their ability to be in the right place at the right moment. The major flaw of the movie is easily the dialogue that could be called the opposite of Tarantino-like. Every single line is unnatural in delivery. Not all of the actors in The Warriors are bad, but when you let the frame of the camera dictate who is allowed to speak and set up all conversation in a linear, A-B style, you pretty much shrug off the desire for realistic characters. But is anything in the film supposed to feel realistic?

My biggest peeve with the movie is how it has been re-marketed as a great action thriller. The Warriors is not that. Rather than making an everyday action movie, Hill decided to make a heavily stylized statement about violence and overall male testosterone. It does not promote violence in the way that other movies can, but it is not as anti-violence as its own source material. In other words, it is far more complicated than it seems on the surface.

If you pressed me for an answer I would say that this film became a midnight, cult-smash because it features an array of elaborate costumes and people seem to like dressing up when they hit the midnight cinema. It is not as fun as Rock Horror and it isn't as "overlooked" in its own being as a film like Plan 9 from Outer Space. I think it was just a film that people were not ready for at the time of its release. In 2013, it seems pretty tame. The acting is below average mainly because the dialogue is atrocious. But the story is compelling and the uniquely slow camera work and artistic design is straight out of graphic-novel-nerd heaven. A movie like this is not for everyone, but if you can put up with slow action that is made up for by an original artistic style, then The Warriors is for you.

The Warriors: C+

Friday, February 22, 2013

Singin' in the Rain (Donen. Kelly. 1952)


"What a glorious feeling. I'm happy again..."


Singin’ in the Rain is a movie that supplies more energy than maybe any other I have seen. The entire ordeal takes place amongst splendid colors and the vast, if not overzealous, landscapes on which some scenes were set remain not only memorable, but also extremely impressive. The cast includes a few of MGM’s biggest Hollywood stars in an era where movie icons were being molded and thrown away at a rapid pace.The music, of course, stands the test of time as proven by the numerous retellings of the classic story on stages from Broadway to The Little Theatre on the Square. What might surprise you is the fact that Singin’ in the Rain was never really meant to be a national treasure. In fact, only one of the ever so famous musical numbers was written specifically for the film in the first place. 

After the incredible success of the Best Picture winning An American in Paris, the figureheads at MGM wanted to crank out another musical vehicle for Gene Kelly as soon as they could. This meant searching the warehouses for any old sets they could find, and revamping some tunes that were already owned by the studio. The Criterion special features even include scenes from other MGM works with lesser known talents singing “Make ‘Em Laugh” and the film’s title song. The movie was not as critically successful upon release as many people may assume. It only garnered two Oscar nominations in 1952 and went home with no trophies. As many films have proved in the past, time is a much better measuring stick for greatness than Oscar will ever be. 

The year is 1927 and Don Lockwood (Kelly) has made a slew of successful silent love stories alongside his ditsy and vindictive costar Lena Lamont (Jean Hagan). Lockwood’s beaming charisma and Lena’s beauty make them the perfect silent film duo, but (note the year) things are about to change. Hollywood is taken over by a new trend called “talkies”. Lena’s voice is far too….wowbad…to ever be realistically featured on the screen, but the studio insists that they must transition into the talking phenomenon. They enlist the talents of an upstart named Kathy Selden who, unbeknownst to Lena, will be providing the speaking and singing voice for the already cemented star as they move on to make “The Dueling Cavalier”. 

Selden is played by a 19 year old Debbie Reynolds who was not a dancer before she was cast in Singin’ in the Rain. Her task was to keep up alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor during some of the most athletic dance sequences ever filmed. Though the whole production has a very improvisational feel, it is obvious that these dance scenes were very heavily rehearsed.  Just watch “Good Morning” and see how Reynolds never seems out of place. I obviously do not know either of them, but Kelly and O’Connor seem like a decent sort. I have a feeling that she got some hefty tutoring. 

It has been said by critics that Kelly’s performance in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number is the single greatest musical moment captured on film. Simply put, I agree. In a moment of pure, unfiltered happiness we see Don Lockwood put on an impromptu song and dance during a rainstorm. He does not mind getting drenched because he is overcome by love and romance. This, kids, is what we like to call the “Honeymoon Phase”. The dancing includes significant prop usage including an umbrella and a streetlamp on which the most famous moment of the film is captured. According to legend, Kelly had a bad fever when he did the scene. I do not know if it is true, but for some reason I believe it. The whole film has that sort of magical feeling. Almost as if nothing could stop it. 

It would be silly to not mention the breathtaking and stunt-filled “Make ‘Em Laugh” number that is perfectly performed by Donald O’Connor. In this funny scene the great entertainer throws himself into walls, rolls all over the floor and utilizes the now cliché ability to do a backwards flip. The entire scene adds to the idea that Singin’ in the Rain must have been a gruelingly rehearsed feature, but the scene is staged so perfectly that It seems really cluttered and hectic. This is movie-staging at the highest level. 

The time of the original Hollywood musical seems to be very much in the past. Singin’ in the Rain shines through as the best film from that era because it is less structured and more charismatic. What it lacked in original music it made up for with technical masterwork and exuberant entertainment value. The dancing is some of the best on film and each actor makes it obvious that they are having the time of their life. Some movies have too many scenes. Some do not have enough. Singin’ in the Rain is a rare film in which every scene is an individual treat. It is not just the best musical ever made. It is also one of the greatest movies ever made. 

Singin' in the Rain: A

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Rock (Bay. 1996)

"I was trained by the best. British intelligence. But in retrospect I would rather have been a poet. Or a farmer."
 



It goes without saying that even the snobbiest of film snobs has a guilty pleasure. Of course, sometimes that pleasure may not seem very guilty to the casual filmgoer. “Me? Oh, my guilty pleasure is Rudy (1993)”. But like, that’s a pretty good movie. That might be the line at which you can assume someone really is a cinema-prick. Guilty pleasures make movie-watching a much more tolerable experience. I mean, I love The Red and the White, but I very rarely have a desire to watch it recreationally. I may be a glutton, but I am not a masochist.

Though I only came across it recently, I believe that I have found a socially acceptable guilty pleasure. I am aware of how far behind the time I am with this realization, and for that I will admit to being a tad embarrassed. If you have read this blog in the past then you are aware that I have always been a major Nicolas Cage supporter. My love for the most insane actor alive does not cause guilt, but sitting through his movies has not always been a positive experience. With that being said, I was extremely reluctant to potentially poison my love for Hollywood’s creepy uncle by seeing him paired with a director like Michael Bay.

If money is the stick with which you measure success, then Mr. Bay may be one of the greatest directors of all time. If you measure success by the amount of personal reflection a director is able to mix into his art, then Magic Michael is the cinematic equivalent of Madonna’s British accent - fake and unnecessary. I have often said that his filmography is mostly too mind-numbing to watch, yet way too loud to sleep through. The Rock is the exception to this rule. Though the film has massively significant flaws, the whole thing kinda plays out like a sweet action-dream that you never want to wake up from. Are there plot holes? Sure. Does it matter?

The film stars the aforementioned Nicolas Cage as a biochemist who works for the FBI named Stanley Goodspeed. After finding out that he is going to be a father, the government calls him in to help with a very serious situation. General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) and a band of renegade Marines take hostages on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island and threaten to unleash chemical warfare if their demands are not met. What do they want? Well, Hummel is upset that men have died under his command on secret, government-denied, missions and therefore their families were never compensated for their loses. He demands that the government pay 100 million dollars to the soldier’s families. Is that really such a bad idea?

Though his stance probably could have been spotlighted more…legally…by an “Occupy”-esque demonstration, the chemical warfare thing works too. Hummel has three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor. The government takes his threat very seriously. Why do they need Goodspeed? He can dismantle the bombs. But how does he get to them?

Sean Connery may be the best part of the movie, though his character his extremely thinly defined. His name is Mason. He has been in prison for 30 years and he is the only man to ever escape Alcatraz. He is released from prison to use his skills for accomplishing the opposite. Mason will lead Goodspeed into the maximum security prison using the route on which he escaped many years ago.

Like most action films, The Rock is a wham-bam, blink and you’ll miss it mashing of hardly related scenes of violence, catchphrases and unsubtle humor. What makes the film stand out is the three performances by the talented leads. Cage and Connery have a chemistry that makes the viewer forget that the government never even briefed Mason on the mission. They do throw in a half-hearted attempt at motive – Mason has a daughter living in San Francisco, but they obviously saw that as a burden to the pace of the film because the sub-plot never really developed. The Oscar winning duo also has their share of lines and dialogue which can be quoted in almost any stressful circumstance. A certain reference to the prom queen comes directly to mind. It is a far cry from your average “look out!”’s and “get down!”’s that usually dominate action thrillers.

Ed Harris is a sympathetic villain, but he also oozes with crazy. The audience is immediately brought into the action because Harris makes the action believable. The Rock quickly becomes a rollercoaster, but on this particular rollercoaster the participants are forced to wear blindfolds. It is a thrill-ride with unexpected ups and downs, but if you could see what was coming, you would realize that it is a little bit shallow.

Film svengali Roger Ebert once accused Michael Bay of selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for The Rock. This is because there has been a massive drop off in his critical acclaim over the years. This is what caused my initial uncertainty leading up to watching this movie. I assure you, I feel silly for liking it as much as I do. It has action, cheap laughs and great performances. It isn’t a great movie. But I would watch it with a group of friends on a random night. And there is something about that which I admire.

The Rock: B