While I could identify a few CGI shots in Tony Scott’s fast-paced, adrenalized new film “Unstoppable”, a good majority of it looks and feels like old fashioned film making with tension wrought out of simple heroics. Settling in with his muse, Denzel Washington, Scott tones down his hyper-real style that reached its apex in “Man On Fire” and “Domino” (an extreme guilty pleasure if there ever was one) and keeps things a bit more simple, though his roving camera still induces some moments of ‘please-slow-down’ theatrics long after the audience gets the point. In small ways, Scott has the ability to carve out human moments for his often cardboard archetypes- an old CIA spook feeding his cat in “Enemy of the State“…. A hooker writing you’re so cool on a napkin in “True Romance”….the scrambled letters on a refrigerator issuing a warning of supreme guilt in “déjà vu”. It’s easy to get carried away in the film tints and lens flares of his work, but what’s always brought me back to his work are these little moments of gentle interaction. “Unstoppable” carries many of these moments between Washington and co-star Chris Pine as they relentlessly try to slow down an out of control train barreling for Scranton PA. I cared about them. I desperately wanted them to succeed. It’s this attention to character that makes “Unstoppable” special. Oh, and it’s a pretty damn good action film as well. I’ve long been a Tony Scott apologist, but “Unstoppable” is his best film in years.
Alex Gibney’s documentary on the sex scandal of New York governor Eliot Spitzer clearly resides on one side of the political fence- the conspiracy theorist idea that Spitzer made one too many Republican enemies and they spent loads of money to usurp his seemingly untouchable image. I usually don’t appreciate a documentary that takes one side… then it becomes propaganda and Gibney is not a filmmaker who reaches to land in the neutral zone. Still, “Client 9” is a very good film that interviews all the main players, including Spitzer himself who fully accepts responsibility and places blame on himself, even if Gibney is reluctant to do so. Tracking the resignation from two parallel stories, the film spends just as much time on the creation and evolution of the escort service business as it does on Spitzer’s campaign to bring justice to Big Money fat cats and fraudulent insurance companies. While its fascinating to watch Spitzer’s history of bucking the system and attacking hedge fund moguls, it’s even more interesting to hear how a New York artist stumbled into the job of booking high class call girls or the consistently empty headed ramblings of the Emperor’s Club co founder Cece. “Client 9” is a fully realized documentary that teaches as well as entertains. One sided or not, that’s the best we can ask for these days in some documentaries.
Roger Michell is an interesting director, taking standard genre fare and tweaking them into little gems. His latest film, “Morning Glory” is yet another wonderful surprise and one of the best films of the year. Granted, a majority of the film’s success hinges on Rachel McAdams high-strung, perky performance as a TV producer grasping at straws at a basement-run early morning news show, and for me, she won me over. Even more amazing, though, are the supporting performances by Harrison Ford (as a gruff, been-there-done-that anchor who had me groaning at first, then joyously caught up in his role the next minute), John Pankow as McAdams’ suffering assistant, Jeff Goldblum who delivers every single line with precision and even Patrick Wilson as the love interest who steps outside the usual boundaries of the rom-com archetype. “Morning Glory” is witty, warm and very funny- just watch the background in certain scenes and see the weird extras milling around. I love it when a film totally exceeds my expectations like this.
Doug Liman‘s “Fair Game” charts the true story of the ‘outing’ of CIA operative Valerie Plame with Naomi Watts looking beautiful in pants suits and Sean Penn dancing through liberal, Republican bashing hoops. “Fair Game” isn’t a bad film, it just feels lifeless in the way it tracks the bureaucratic plodding that caused Plame to be vilified in the open press due to her husband’s anti-war sentiments that were published. Families are torn apart, operatives are left “open” in the field and the political standoff begins. As someone who followed this story daily when it broke a few years ago, the story feels right yet Liman’s herky-jerky cinematography feels borrowed from his Bourne trilogy with a splash of “Green Zone” and “All the President’s Men” thrown in for good measure.