Cliff Curtis

Hobbs & Shaw (2019, David Leitch)

Hobbs & Shaw is a tad too aware of how little it needs to try to succeed. Like it knows it doesn't just have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it's got him giving a downright good performance in an energy drink version of a James Bond movie. Sure, Jason Statham–Shaw to Johnson’s Hobbs—doesn’t really work out, but Vanessa Kirby makes up for him as his fugitive secret agent sister. Rounding out the leads is Idris Elba as the villain. He’s basically a Bond henchman but well-acted (one wonders how Elba kept a straight face during some of the exposition); he’s got an unseen boss with an electronically disguised voice so they can wait for the sequel to cast him. So Elba’s stuff when he’s talking to the unseen Big Bad is silly but Elba still keeps it going. If Statham were better and the script weren’t insipid, the movie might have more of a chance. And if the second act weren’t such a slog.

But the first act and the third are really solid, mostly because of Kirby in the third and Johnson in the first. Despite being a Fast and Furious spin-off, the movie’s got no attachment to its parent franchise other than Johnson, Statham, Johnson having a kid (Eliana Sua), and Statham having a criminal Helen Mirren for a mum. Mirren’s got a fine cameo, but given how much she’s holding Statham up for it, it should’ve been a sign he was going to run out of energy. But he actually never gets it. Kirby’s got it, Johnson’s got it, Elba’s got it. But not Statham. He never does anything wrong in a scene, but he never tries either. The scenes where he and Johnson banter back and forth, Johnson’s carrying Statham and the scene. Same goes for Kirby. Maybe they cut out Statham’s subplot because the movie’s already two hours and seventeen minutes and it’s incredibly bloated in the second act.

Or maybe Statham just isn’t enthusiastic enough for the movie. Hobbs & Shaw, in general, confuses bombast for enthusiasm. Statham has neither. Johnson’s got enough to share, so it works out.

There are also the silly cameos, which are funnier than they ought to be because their inclusion is so desperate. Because the biggest one is for Johnson, who doesn’t need the help; unless the Helen Mirren scene with Statham is supposed to count but it doesn’t. For a movie with endless exposition, somehow Hobbs & Shaw is always missing the right exposition. Instead it’s nonsense about cyborg supermen, human evolution, and programmable viruses. It’s cartoon blather but the film knows it doesn’t have to do better because Johnson’s charming and is about to have a decent action sequence—albeit one with lousy digital background composites, a problem plaguing the film and its action—so it doesn’t try. It doesn’t make Statham do better, it doesn’t worry about the messy second act.

It’s not wrong about it’s ability to land the proverbial plane despite the turbulence. The film finds a way to get sillier but also more human, becoming cartoonish in a good way, and the third act is good. The sequel set up is obnoxious but as long as Kirby’s back, it’d be worth it.

Also perfectly good in the supporting cast are Eddie Marsan and Cliff Curtis. Marsan’s a little rocky at the start, but he finds the film’s rhythm. Curtis is so sturdy you wish he’d had a bigger part.

Hobbs & Shaw is stupid, fun, and funny. The soundtrack is loud and omnipresent—including a full song montage presumably for the artist placement—and never seems like the track complimenting the action is as important as the track getting used. The film’s also big on production placement, McLaren underwrites Statham’s garage of sports cars while Elba’s cybernetically-linked (it’s a cartoon, just go with it) Triumph motorcycles gets a lot of screen time.

It ought to be better, it’s not as good as it should be, but it makes clear it could’ve been worse. Johnson, Elba, and especially Kirby make it work.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Leitch; screenplay by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, based on a story by Morgan; director of photography, Jonathan Sela; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, David Scheunemann; produced by Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Hiram Garcia, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Shaw), Idris Elba (Brixton), Vanessa Kirby (Hattie), Helen Mirren (Queenie), Eddie Marsan (Professor Andreiko), Eliana Sua (Sam), Cliff Curtis (Jonah), and Lori Pelenise Tuisano (Sefina).


Three Kings (1999, David O. Russell)

Three Kings ought to appeal to every one of my liberal affections–director Russell very seriously wants to look at the Gulf War and how it failed the people it should have been protecting. Over and over, Russell goes out of his way to make the American soldiers take responsibility. Not for the war itself, but for their personal involvement with it and the Iraqis. Not just Iraqi civilians, but the army too. It’s very deliberate and precisely executed. It’s just not enough to drive the entire film; nothing in Three Kings is compelling enough overall.

Political statement aside, there’s a lot of other distinct elements to the film. There’s the writing–Russell’s script is quite funny–lots of inane and mundane details. But it’s also rather responsible, at least while Russell’s establishing the ground situation. Russell sets up an excellent tone and structure to the characters and their relationships. Even though some of the film takes place on an army base, it always feels very small. Maybe because Russell has title overlays identifying the main characters. With amusing commentary, of course.

Then there’s the style. Three Kings is very stylized; high contrast Newton Thomas Sigel photography, very quick cuts, some very slow cuts, some slow motion. Russell directs his actors for this exaggerated style, but with only marginal success. Ice Cube and George Clooney, for instance, have nothing parts. Russell gives all the character material to Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze. Neither of them is bad, though Jonze can’t handle the transition between being an uneducated racist redneck to a soulful world traveller. He doesn’t really need to do much after that change because Russell’s moved on to focusing on Wahlberg. Wahlberg’s all right for the first act, but has this big subplot to himself and he can’t hack it. So Jonze and Wahlberg getting the most outlandish direction makes sense. They need the most cover.

By the third act, however, Russell has given in to the comedy a little much. He has Nora Dunn and Jamie Kennedy for the comic relief but he takes it even further. It starts to get absurd, which–were Three Kings more successful–should raise some issues about Russell’s political statements.

Great supporting performances. Cliff Curtis, Dunn, Saïd Taghmaoui, Mykelti Williamson, Holt McCallany. Kennedy’s annoying and probably should signal Russell’s eventual tone problems, but he’s good with Dunn. Williamson is awesome opposite Clooney. Then ppor Taghmaoui has to carry Wahlberg in their important (and informative) showdowns.

Decent music from Carter Burwell. Robert K. Lambert’s editing is probably exactly what Russell wanted, though some of the cuts aren’t graceful enough. Three Kings takes place in all of us, Russell demands the audience engage. Three Kings needs more script busywork and far less technical busywork. It also needs a director more concerned about his actors.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David O. Russell; screenplay by Russell, based on a story by John Ridley; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Robert K. Lambert; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Catherine Hardwicke; produced by Charles Roven, Paul Junger Witt and Edward McDonnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Archie Gates), Mark Wahlberg (Troy Barlow), Ice Cube (Chief Elgin), Spike Jonze (Conrad Vig), Cliff Curtis (Amir Abdulah), Nora Dunn (Adriana Cruz), Jamie Kennedy (Walter Wogaman), Saïd Taghmaoui (Captain Said), Mykelti Williamson (Colonel Horn), Holt McCallany (Captain Van Meter) and Judy Greer (Cathy Daitch).


Push (2009, Paul McGuigan)

It’s understandable Push bombed at the box office. It’s hard to find a film so with much intelligence in the filmmaking, casting and acting applied to such a subpar script. Strangely, David Bourla’s script isn’t bad in regard to dialogue—there are some great exchanges between Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans—or in how it’s plotted—the narrative twists and turns resemble those in a heist movie. Where it fails is in creating an engaging setting—Push is a superhero movie where everyone has boring superpowers (it sort of feels like Summit wanted a teen superhero franchise to go along with Twilight).

Director McGuigan picked the film’s Hong Kong setting because he wanted something exotic a la Casablanca… and it does work. Fanning and Evans are basically Bogart and Rains here—a mildly abrasive, endearing chemistry. But maybe McGuigan worrying about bringing that sensibility to a superpowers movie just can’t truly work with the silly concept. In fact, McGuigan constantly works against the superpowers element.

I’d never seen Fanning in anything; I was shocked how good her performance is in this film. She and Evans are fantastic together. It’s distressing Bourla could write this great relationship between them, but couldn’t not be goofy when writing the script in general. Push shows why an established mythology is easier to adapt than to create.

Push might be better if you’re a fifteen year-old, albeit one who wants to see a superhero movie more like Casablanca than Iron Man.

Still, it’s okay.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul McGuigan; written by David Bourla; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music by Neil Davidge; production designer, François Séguin; produced by Bruce Davey, William Vince and Glenn Williamson; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Nick Gant), Dakota Fanning (Cassie Holmes), Camilla Belle (Kira Hudson), Djimon Hounsou (Henry Carver), Ming-Na (Emily Hu) and Cliff Curtis (Hook Waters).


The Fountain (2006, Darren Aronofsky)

If you were to tell me I was going to react the way I did to The Fountain, Aronofsky’s dream project, I wouldn’t have believed you. While The Wrestler succeeded, Aronofsky didn’t write it. All my experience with his screenplays is negative.

In terms of how the film works, The Fountain is somewhat singular. It’s a rather straightforward narrative masquerading as a sci-fi event picture. It’s insane to think anyone would have given Aronofsky seventy-five million dollars to make this picture (with Brad Pitt, no less, who couldn’t have handled the acting). Hugh Jackman has to be three different people who are occasionally the same person, but don’t know about the other people, but are aware of the other people. It’s probably Jackman’s best performance.

I sat and waited for The Fountain‘s ending to fail, since the whole thing is about the ending. It never does.

Aronofsky’s direction is fantastic, as he incorporates special effects into his shots and to the way Jackman’s character experiences those special effects. Simply because what happens to Dave Bowman doesn’t matter to anyone but Dave Bowman and the viewer, The Fountain and its treatment of Jackman’s experiences is the first film to do it in this manner since 2001.

It seems like a great waste of budget to have these big space scenes with only one character experiencing them.

The Fountain is an experience for the character and the individual viewer. It’s hostile to the idea of an audience or communal reaction.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Darren Aronofsky; screenplay by Aronofsky, based on a story by Aronofsky and Ari Handel; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, James Chinlund; produced by Arnon Milchan, Iain Smith and Eric Watson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Tommy), Rachel Weisz (Izzi), Ellen Burstyn (Dr. Lillian Guzetti), Mark Margolis (Father Avila), Stephen McHattie (Grand Inquisitor Silecio), Fernando Hernandez (Lord of Xibalba), Cliff Curtis (Captain Ariel), Sean Patrick Thomas (Antonio), Donna Murphy (Betty), Ethan Suplee (Manny), Richard McMillan (Henry) and Lorne Brass (Dr. Alan Lipper).


Live Free or Die Hard (2007, Len Wiseman)

Remember the “Simpsons” episode where Bart watches ‘Die Hard’ jump out the window? Live Free or Die Hard–the title, incidentally, has nothing to do with the film’s content–is the first one where I expected McClane’s nickname to be ‘Die Hard.’ They come close in terms of self-reference….

Still, as a Die Hard movie, it’s about as good as a Die Hard movie featuring Bruce Willis versus a fighter jet is going to get. It’s really well cast, which carries a lot of the film. Much like the third one, it follows the short codas of the first two–which are fine for those (i.e. with Bonnie Bedelia–has everyone else forgotten the first two Die Hard movies are like a Thin Man on angel dust?)–but the movie doesn’t have a closed narrative. It has a fake ending, not going on long enough. The immediate action is resolved, then it just stops.

That good casting is necessary–and Len Wiseman’s enthusiastic direction is helpful–because the writing is terrible. Willis has some good lines and he and Justin Long have some good scenes, but it’s incredibly stupid. The Die Hard movies kept their predicaments small and manageable–even the third one kept it within reason–but Live Free is crazy big: it’s the end of the world as we know it (something left unresolved).

For half the movie, I felt like the script came from John Carpenter’s unmade Escape from Earth.

It isn’t just the dumb ideas, but a lot of the setups. McClane’s stalking his daughter in this one, which makes little sense (especially since the image of him alone, his heroism costing him everything–conjured by a discussion–is so much more striking). Luckily, there’s a lot of decently executed action. Die Hard movies always create an aura of reality, usually because of Willis’s performance and the production design–and he makes the unbelievable Live Free palatable.

As a director, Wiseman has no personality, but he incorporates CG well enough. As a Die Hard movie with CG, which means it’s fundamentally broken but it is what it is and it’s fine.

Cliff Curtis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Timothy Olyphant are all fine. Curtis is sturdy, Winstead is fiesty and Olyphant is hissable (if a little foppish).

As for McClane versus the fighter jet… it’s the kind of ‘too much’ even Willis can’t ground. Combined with that flimsy ending… There’s also the issue of Wiseman’s blue filters, which I won’t expand on, since I want to end on a high note:

Live Free or Die Hard isn’t the best it could be, but it’s far from the worst. It’s fine.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; written by Mark Bomback, based on a story by Bomback and David Marconi; director of photography, Simon Duggan; edited by Nicolas de Toth; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos; produced by Michael Fottrell; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Timothy Olyphant (Thomas Gabriel), Justin Long (Matt Farrell), Cliff Curtis (Bowman), Maggie Q (Mai) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy McClane).


Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Martin Scorsese)

What to say about Bringing Out the Dead… I remember now why 1999 was the hardest year to make a top ten list for–and I hadn’t even seen Wonderland at that point. Whatever. It’s the best. It’s certainly Scorsese’s best work in the 1990s, puts the rest to a kind of shame (it’s odd, then, that Scorsese doesn’t like the film, or maybe not).

I remember hearing a few things (one echoed by IMDb when I looked it up for running time) back when it came out. 1) nothing happens. The answer to that is ‘to hell with anything happening.’ 2) it’s too Catholic. The answer to that is ‘what are you talking about?’ I can’t remember why Bringing Out the Dead was so critically beloved, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t even know that it should have been–isn’t it sort of degrading for those who laud floaters to laud greatness?

I hate writing about great films. I absolutely hate it. Don’t rent this film. Buy it.

Interesting, movielens just told me that I’d give it 1½, which is the first time movielens has been so wrong (that I can’t remember, but I’m not linking to it, so I must be pissed). I’ve rated 836 films at movielens and the recommendations tend to be spot-on, frighteningly so sometimes. But Bringing Out the Dead throws a wrench in the works, apparently. Bringing Out the Dead is a desert island film, I realized while watching it. It’s not enough to say it’s great or that I love it, but it’s a film that I cannot do without. Which makes watching it tonight even the more odd. I was sitting at dinner and all of a sudden I decided I had to watch the film, which I probably haven’t seen since the DVD came out in 1999, but maybe I didn’t even watch the DVD then. I may have only seen this film once. Which is a tragedy. It’s such a tragedy I’m starting sentences with ‘which.’ What the hell? Go and buy it. They’ve got them for $7.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Joe Connelly; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Scott Rudin and Barbara De Fina; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Frank), Patricia Arquette (Mary), John Goodman (Larry), Ving Rhames (Marcus), Tom Sizemore (Walls), Marc Anthony (Noel), Cliff Curtis (Cy Coates), Mary Beth Hurt (hospital worker) and Aida Turturro (nurse).


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