Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oeuvres: Tony Scott - including Unstoppable

Sometimes I can't figure out whether Tony Scott wants to be taken seriously or not. At his best, he's one of the most solid action directors we have. His visual sense is so strong that even his terrible movies look great. However, his narrative sense often does not measure up to his visual sense. If he's handed a weak script, Scott can do nothing to save it, and he comes across like the bargain version of his brother Ridley. If he's handed a strong script, however, Tony is very much his own man. He sees-saws between the two extremes, making for one of the most uneven filmographies in the business,

The Hunger: Scott's first film as a director is very typical of his early work. It has visual style to spare, but it doesn't make a lick of sense, even for a vampire movie with Catherine Deneueve and Susan Sarandon. It's a Skinemax movie with better cinematography and a lot of blood. GRADE: C

Top Gun: Scott made his name with one of the most seminal movies of the 80s. Notice I said "seminal," not best.The story is as deep as a birdbath and as predictable as thunder after lightning. But the actors are appealing and the action scenes are fun.  It's junk - but it's entertaining junk. GRADE: B

Beverly Hills Cop II: I have sort of a soft spot for this movie because it was one of the first times I was able to identify a director by the visual style. That doesn't mean it's actually any good. The first movie was a very funny comedy with a few good action scenes. The second movie was a by-the-numbers action flick where the jokes blew up too. GRADE: C

Revenge: Quentin Tarantino counts this boring, turgid, pretentious slop one of Tony Scott's best movies - which just goes to show there's no accounting for QT's taste. GRADE: D+

Days of Thunder: Pick your automobile-related put-down. Top Car or Formula One. Either of them fits. GRADE: C

The Last Boy Scout: I only watched about the first half hour of this, before I realized Netflix had it in the wrong aspect ratio, but I saw enough to know that Tony should never, ever direct a sports-related movie again. Unfortunately, he did.

True Romance: Talk about a rebound. Working from a script by Tarantino, Scott turns in a wild ride. Tarantino's voice sounds out loud and clear, but so does Scott's eye - and the result is one of his most purely entertaining films. GRADE: A-

Crimson Tide: The rebound not only continues but soars with this underwater battle of wills between Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. One of the best submarine movies ever made - and Scott's best film to date. GRADE: A

The Fan: Rebound? Never mind. Scott followed up his best film with his worst, a preposterous, thematically ugly film pitting De Niro's psycho versus Wesley Snipes' stuck-up ballplayer. The only thing I can say in favor of this piece of shit is that it's well shot. GRADE: D-

Enemy of the State: Scott rebounds again with this taut techno-thriller about Big Brother's electronic eye watching you. Maybe the director should have made more movies with Gene Hackman. GRADE: A-

Spy Game: The teaming of Robert Redford and his metaphorical son Brad Pitt was entertaining enough but should have been much better. It might have helped if Scott hadn't made me so dizzy with all the swooping helicopter shots. GRADE: B-

Man on Fire: Scott's visual style went into Oliver Stone-like overdrive here, with wild cutting and hallucinatory visuals. The tone is sometimes ugly and off-putting, but as revenge thrillers go, this one is better than many. GRADE: B

Domino: There's a good story in the life of the former socialite turned model Domino Harvey, but Scott buried it with the same visual fireworks he used in Man on Fire, and this time they smother the story. Keira Knightley tries hard, but she's miscast. GRADE: C-

Deja Vu: Sure, the story is ludicrous, but Scott seems to have a knack for hi-tech stories. The action scenes are thrilling and even rather inventive, which helps overcome the thin dramatics. GRADE: B+

The Taking of Pelham 123: This hostage train thriller pitting Denzel Washington against John Travolta made for a great battle of wills but only an OK action movie - the end result was curiously subdued. It didn't help that the original film with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw is far superior. GRADE: B

Unstopptable: One might think that Scott would have wanted to avoid trains after Pelham underwhelmed. Thank goodness he didn't, because this time he really gets a train movie right. Yes, it's similar to Speed in that both are about imperiled vehicles, but what sets Unstoppable apart is that there's no human villain. The machine is the nemesis - which allows Denzel Washington and Chris Pine to team up very effectively.  I only wish Scott hadn't thought he was Paul Greengrass in that he got too happy with the qucick-zoom, a visual tic that distracts from a very strong story. GRADE: B+

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