Month: May 2008
Redbelt wound up being ultimately unsatisfying for me, which was all the more regrettable given that 95% of the movie rocked. Jeffwik noted last night that he’d never seen a Mamet movie which progressed towards an emotional climax in the way Redbelt attempts, and on reflection I think that’s exactly it. Mamet was working a bit outside his comfort zone, and almost nails it, but I’m not sure the guy knows how to do a story in which good guys win at the end.
Which is a pity, because he builds tension and despair about as well as anyone in the business. The story is positively claustrophobic, not in the scenery but in the way Chiwetel Ejiofor’s options contract and dwindle. He’s in a bad state, and then there’s a ray of hope, and then it vanishes hard. He’s the perfect actor for this, too — it’s another movie where he nails the tough determined moralist who suffers for his morals. See also Dirty Pretty Things. So you’ve got this foreboding, mannered atmosphere to work with.
About five minutes before the movie ended, I thought it was going to be another despairing Mamet ending, which would be OK by me. The moment when Ejiofor turns back was beautifully staged, too: silhouettes with no dialogue, just an action and a decision. That worked. And the culminating fight scene was unlikely, but on the margins of plausible. And again, it’s Mamet. One can accept some artifice in a Mamet movie.
But the last two beats fall flat. Perhaps one would have been all right. The fact that the two redemptive moments are identical, two separate people performing the same action — that was leaden for me. Yes, we get it. Ejiofor is noble and is recognized as such. Just… not twice.
Of course, this is the story equivalent of the repetitive overlapping Mamet dialogue I love, so perhaps I’m getting what I deserve. Still, it just broke my acceptance of the artificial world.
Which is a shame, because other than that it’s one of the best things he’s done in years. There’s the usual cast of Mamet regulars doing the things they do, plus Ejiofor, plus Tim Allen (who’s awesome). The aforementioned tension hooked me emotionally; I cared about the outcome. I’d even still recommend it. I just wanted the climax to match up with the rest of the movie.
“It was Dungeons & Dragons, but I wouldn’t have owned up so quickly a few years ago. But it gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance. You’re creating this modular, mythic environment where people can play in it.”
So there you go.
It’s 2020: Orlando. Walt Disney World is bigger. Universal Studios has become a true rival to the Mouse. The rulers of Miami are emerging from a brutal civil war; Tallahassee has been disturbingly quiet for over a decade. An old Prince is sleeping; a disbarred lawyer who started his political career in a nursing home watches over the city. With a Sheriff’s approval, of course.
One day, there’s a letter.
“Hey, kids. Long time no see. You guys ought to drop by Dubai; the moonlight is thrilling. Bring the ambulance driver.”
Orlando Trash 2020: Dubai Trash.
We played some Esoterrorists over at Jere’s last night, and it was awesome. I may have some more analysis-like thoughts later, but I wanted to get down some actual play stuff before it faded from memory. One of my questions going into the game was how smoothly the flow of play could work; would it be awkward getting clues? Would point spends work well? Turned out that all that can work very well. Here’s how it played out, more or less.
I have been driving Susan nuts by humming the Black Sabbath song incessantly. “I… am… Iron Man!” Which are not the actual lyrics. “Dah dah dah dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah!”
Does everyone know I put spoilers in my reviews? OK, good.
I think it’s the best acting we’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Downey’s fussy and scared and pissed off in appropriate measure. In a way, yeah, he’s playing himself in that Tony Stark has addiction problems and a lot of money. On the other hand, Downey isn’t living a life overshadowed by the achievements of his father, with a mentor who he looks to for paternal wisdom. So there’s that.
Likewise, Jeff Bridges is good. It’s tricky to make the big fight scenes work, what with the masks and all. Bridges does this nice slow patient simmer throughout the movie, which means it’s easy to believe that the big giant suit of armor is letting out all that tension through the thrill of physical violence. You know it’s Bridges inside there not because he takes his hat off at the end, but because Bridges portrayed a character who’d get off on acting the way the suit acts.
Also good: Paltrow! Not expected. I’ve seen her turn in good performances, but it’s usually in the chilly socially superior roles, so I wasn’t expecting her to do a good job as Pepper Potts. Possibly it’s that she needs a character with a lot of reserve and a lot of pride? Either way, yep, that worked. And Terrence Howard is great as Stark’s other pal. I’ve literally never seen him before — no, I lie, I’ve seen Dead Presidents. But I don’t remember it. Anyway, he’s got kind of a thankless role, but I liked him holding down the acting fort while Tony’s jetting around with a mask on in foreign airspace.
OK, so great acting. Allow me to summarize the CGI with this: “Yep, the CGI isn’t getting in the way of the movie any more, good times.”
The script, well, I liked the dialogue. Unfortunately, I think the plot reveals that Favreau falls prey to one of the comic book movie traps; he doesn’t give the story enough weight. You kind of want to do something, even just a throwaway, to establish why Stark is willing to use the same battery for both his pacemaker and his powered armor. And it’s helpful to explain why modern surgery is unable to get shrapnel fragments out of someone, given that an electromagnet can hold ’em back from penetrating the heart. Maybe turning up the power on the magnet would help?
I think it bugs me a little in retrospect — and it didn’t bug me during the movie at all — because you can maybe work around that stuff. Tony’s obviously too busy to get surgery, and he’s a stubborn bastard, so throw that line in there. The scene with Pepper swapping out fusion generators is a great scene, but it means that Tony clearly can build multiples of the thing, so there’s no reason not to put one (or two) in each suit of armor. I’m not a screenwriter, so I won’t come up with a glib fix. It’s just a plot hole of minor importance.
None of this kept me from thinking it’s in the top echelon of superhero movies. Again: best acting. And a good script, mostly, just with those few casual flaws.