Category Archives: Assorted Sundries

Several shorter reviews of titles tangentially connected by something (like a common theme).

>Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome< (1967, 1968)

After being passed over for the lead role in the gumshoe film Harper (1966), Frank Sinatra made a handful of similar films in the late 60s, in two of which he played the same character: Tony Rome, Miami private eye. Rome, the opening song for the eponymously titled first film helpfully informs us (“mothers lock your daughters in”), is a ladies’ man. His attraction for the female form is made obvious by two close-up shots of ladies’ behinds that essentially bookend the first film and are echoed in the second. His own irresistibility to women is portrayed as mixed in the first film (a young heiress suggests she’d “do anything” for him to take her case, but Rome doesn’t actually score in the entire movie), but sheds all hints of irony in Lady in Cement (1968), the one-year-later sequel which sees Rome hit on by not one, but two exotic dancers as well as a wealthy socialite. A minor character in the second film reduces a dead girl to her potential for motherhood without pushback. Females in general have very little non-sexual agency, being pushed around by pimps, crime bosses and other men.

Beyond being a bit of an ego booster for a Frank Sinatra who was, by then, in his 50s, the films’ casual sexism as well as the more than casual homophobia seem to be part of an attempt by an older generation to adapt to the cultural changes brought by the 1960s. Tony Rome especially has a lot of dialogue that was probably deemed risqué for that time, but comes across as mightily forced (for instance, a female character freely admits that she’s used to and okay with being called a slut, there’s an extended bit with an old lady wanting Rome to pay attention to her pussycat, and a small subplot concerns the insatiability of a newlywed woman). Continue reading


>Sherlock, Batman: Two okay superhero sequels< (2012, 2011)

I enjoyed Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) when they came out, but never bought into the hype surrounding particularly the latter. Good, yes; revolutionarily brilliant, no. Maybe that’s why I also didn’t feel the great sense of disappointment that has apparently befallen fans of the first two instalments of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) takes place eight years after the last film (longer than real time) ended with Batman as a hunted man, having taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent so Gotham City could have a hero to believe in. The Batman hasn’t been seen since. Bruce Wayne has withdrawn from public life and deteriorated in health. But when Bane, a mysterious figure associated with the League of Shadows, the group whose leader Batman killed in the first film of the trilogy, begins to terrorise Gotham, Wayne feels the need to don the cowl once more.

It goes badly, in keeping both with the comic storyline Bane originated in (the character famously broke Batman’s back) and with one of the motifs of the film: By Batman’s own admission, he is a symbol to the people of Gotham, and his absence is a dereliction of his duties that must be punished. Broken by Bane, Bruce Wayne must go back to his roots and be reborn as the Batman before he can become a symbol of true hope once more, as opposed to the false hope offered by Bane, who gradually takes over the city by pitting the poor against the rich.

The film’s screenplay is competent, if occasionally overzealous, in highlighting this (and other) motif(s), but doesn’t really succeed in developing coherent themes. Unlike The Dark Knight, which might justifiably be said to comment on post-9/11 concerns about privacy and the trustworthiness of government and commerce, its sequel merely hints at issues like the growing income disparity, and contents itself with platitudes regarding human propensities for chaos and revenge.

In the end, the film is a fitting capper to its series in that it’s well-made action cinema that takes itself a little too seriously but makes up for that with good acting and a thrilling plot. Despite the almost three-hour running time, the movie never really becomes boring. The viewer is swept along from destruction to more destruction, driven by Hans Zimmer’s effective but unmemorable score. I’m writing this review a few days after watching the film for the first time, and couldn’t really describe more than a few action set-pieces to you. I was satisfied in the moment, though.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) has less lofty ambitions and certainly can’t be accused of taking itself too seriously. In this sequel, Holmes is annoyed at his heterosexual life partner Watson for getting married – and thus leaving the game – before they’ve had a chance to catch his arch-nemesis Moriarty in the act. Because said villain is very clever but apparently also stupidly vindictive, Watson of course does end up joining the chase to foil his dastardly plans, after all. Is it a spoiler to say that they succeed and Moriarty fails? Not really.

If you want to watch this film looking for an intriguing cat-and-mouse game between two equally intelligent opponents, look elsewhere. Like its predecessor, A Game of Shadows isn’t anywhere close to a straight adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Instead, it’s another attempt to establish a new superhero franchise inspired by, but not really based on an established literary property. Or history, for that matter; anachronisms abound in both films, perhaps to better facilitate the obligatory explosions.

Both Holmes and Moriarty, as well as their various sidekicks, are only as smart as the plot requires them to be at any given moment. And said plot itself provides only very flimsy excuses to show Holmes and Watson travelling all over Europe at implausible speeds, building up homoerotic tension and escaping lots and lots of bullets (and cannon balls). Because even supporting character deaths are not invested with any particular gravitas, the pretty-to-look-at gratuitously slow-mo action rather quickly becomes exhausting rather than engrossing.

The film is okay while you’re watching it, as a thrillride propelled by its score (once again provided by Hans Zimmer, a man who is often criticised for the same-y-ness of his music, but whose contributions to both the films under discussion in this post are invaluable) and the rapport between Watson and Holmes. But that’s all it is, a bit of rather silly fluff that maybe should have taken itself more seriously.

>Goodbye Solo, Megamind, Safety Not Guaranteed< (2008, 2010, 2012)

I consider Plastic Bag (2009), directed by Ramin Bahrani and starring Werner Herzog as the voice of the titular protagonist (yes, really), one of the most affecting and memorable short films I’ve ever seen. Recently, I finally got around to watching one of Bahrani’s much-praised indie feature films: Goodbye Solo (2008).

The film begins with a conversation a taxi driver, Solo, has with one of his customers, William. The latter intends to pay the former a significant sum to drive him to a North Carolina landmark at a later date. William intends it to be a one-way trip, heavily implying that he wants to kill himself.

The rest of the film follows Solo’s attempts to befriend William, both to find out the reasons for his decision and to make him change his mind by showing him the simple pleasures of Solo’s familial and professional life. Continue reading

>The Marvel films of 2011<

Three films based on Marvel Comics properties were released over the summer of 2011, all with hopes higher than usual for this kind of film: 20th Century Fox wanted to repair the image of the X-Men brand, damaged by two prior sub-par installments. Marvel Studios (along with Paramount) desperately needed two hits in addition to the Iron Man series in order for there to be any chance of success for The Avengers (2012), their risky experiment in bringing the comics’ shared universe to the big screen. More or less by coincidence, I watched all three of these films this summer (in the order of release, no less).

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>Shaun/Dead, Naked/Prey, Fingers/T< (2004, 1966, 1953)

Since circumstances have made it difficult for me to regularly write 600+ word reviews recently, but I don’t want to a) give up this blog or b) litter it with blog posts that are only a few sentences long, I will now occasionally feature shorter musings about somewhat related works. This time around, the incredibly contrived theme common to all three features being reviewed: the characters are being hunted.

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