I haven’t enjoyed action movies for some time. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, and my taste in movies has matured, so that I no longer feel satisfied by the whizzing cinematography and glib violence found in a typical action movie. But at the same time, the grand cliché of the aged – they don’t make ’em like they used to – might hold some truth. If one defines an action movie as a film in which the on-screen spectacle is of equal or greater value than the plot, and charitably excluding the sub-genres of superhero (Batman Begins), sci-fi (The Matrix), and historical (war movies not starring Mel Gibson, with the exception of Gallipoli), the last decent action movies I saw were Casino Royale and Ronin. Ronin is even pushing our plot requirement.

This is not to say that there has been a paucity of action movies. On the contrary, big-budget action movies are as readily available as Arby’s sandwiches. It’s just that as action movies seem to be incorporating more and more advanced computer graphics, their plots are steadily devolving. Not only do there seem to be more and more movies made from games, but action movies are beginning to rip out parts of games wholesale – supposedly, in the Doom movie (no, I didn’t see it, and I won’t see it) the camera transitions to a first person perspective for a hearty chunk of the last part of the film. So that it looks just like a video game. Which you paid 10 dollars to watch someone else play.

On the other end of the spectrum, video games seem to be on the evolutionary rise. Games have long taken inspiration from movies, and as games rapidly approach film in terms of visual verisimilitude, they are taking plot and other cinematic elements as well. For instance, Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4 is basically your own personal action movie, as demonstrated by this lengthy clip below. The game’s graphics are amazing (though the quality of YouTube doesn’t do it justice), and while its plot won’t win it any Academy Awards (Russian Ultranationalists and Middle Eastern terrorists working together? Mon dieu!) the ability to actually participate in all of those action movie scenes is remarkable fun.

While serious movies don’t have much to worry about from video games (a real-life My Dinner With Andre video game is years away), action movies either need to start evolving plots, or go the way of the dodo.

••• For those who couldn’t imagine anything more profoundly boring than watching other people play video games (or, the Quidditch matches in the Harry Potter films), watch from the beginning to around minute two, then from minute six to the end.

1988: The Year in Pictures

November 5, 2007

With Nate’s visit to scenic Somerville now one for the books, another year of Academy Award reviews can be added to the YS’ archives. In fact, 2 years can now be added, but given the bizarre absence of a record for 1990 (contra 1991 and 1989), I’ll hold off hyping the 1987 list until it has somehow made its way from my computer screen to yours. And, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, as I promised in the 1991 post, I’ll one day get around to adding grades for the other years.

But let us now praise famous films and take a look into the not-too-recent-or-useable past.


A Fish Called Wanda: Rather unlike today, the academy of wanda_200_200.jpgyesteryear used to regularly nominate two, or even three comedies, for the major awards. Perhaps things were just simpler in a world with history, without great conflicts that necessitated drama after drama. Either way, A Fish Called Wanda is really funny. Not just lighthearted or charming (adjectives that will come to dominate the 1987 list), but legitimately funny. John Cleese and Kevin Kline standout in a cast of standouts, and Charles Crichton was justly nominated for managing the cast and coaxing the best out of his actors. But what’s truly interesting about Fish is the timelessness of its humour. The best jokes and set-ups would be funny in any generation; almost nothing is dependent on immediate cultural references, and, if it is, the joke is immediately transparent. Justly on everyone’s mothers list of top comedies. Grade: A

The Last Temptation of Christ…has not aged well. Willem Dafoe is still excellent, and David Bowie’s Pilate is far superior to Jeff Ament’s. But Harvey Keitel is horribly miscast as Judas and the movie at times feels as if it’s going through the motions, portraying one biblical scene after another solely for the sake of having them in the movie (this predictability is really the problem encountered by all Jesus movies). Still, it’s hard not to appreciate Peter Gabriel’s score, and Scorsese’s gusto is evident. B/B+

Best Picture Nominees:

Working Girl: The second comedy on the list, 000980_13.jpgWorking Girl tells the story of a plucky secretary’s (invented) rise to dealmaker. Think The Secret of My Success with the girl-power of Veronica Mars. Actually, I’m not sure what WG (no Robinson) is trying to say about the place of women in the workplace. Tess’ boss (the excellent Sigourney Weaver) is the only female executive in sight and she tries to steal Melanie Griffith’s idea, lest she too succeed. Though the movie would seem to be acclaiming equality there is still the bizarre suggestion that only one woman can succeed at a time, or that the only way for a woman to succeed in business is to be conniving and manipulative. Perhaps I’m reading into the movie, but perhaps not. Then again, the movie may be a mirror and not a lamp, reflecting commonly held ideas while arguing against the culture that would pit two obviously qualified women against one another. Also, Harrison Ford makes even Mr. Hammerskjold’s heart go a flutter–quite a feat considering his alleged Asian fetish. A- Read the rest of this entry »