PSA: Man On Fire (2004), or Creasy Is My Least Favorite Last Name On Earth

18 09 2009

After having seen Man on Fire once before, I found it to be a movie I didn’t think about very much.  After seeing it once again today, I wouldn’t say Tony Scott is the less talented Scott brother, but what he lacks (for the most part) is patience; in a formula, in a story, in a scene. Everything is often rushed and confused in a Tony Scott film, as if the earth itself downed an unhealthy dose of PCP and things are starting to get out of hand. Man on Fire is the perfect example of Scott’s impatience with the pace of life and the organic movement of a scene. It fidgets, twists, and sputters like an addict and seems to get bored with the idea of entertaining us very quickly. But there’s a lot more to this twitchy little feature than meets the eye, and that’s where it earns some points from me.

The film concerns the nefarious practice of kidnapping in Mexico. After a number of high-profile incidents, a Mexican businessman named Ramos hires a bodyguard to protect his lonely daughter. He finds the best of the best in former CIA agent John Creasy. He’s the best security guard money can buy, but he’s none too personable after all the death he’s seen in his life. He’s built a wall around himself, making sure nobody gets too close to him and his gruesome problems. But he never expected the girl he protected to get to him like she did. Pita, Ramos’s daughter, is sweet, caring, and in need of guidance and support, things which Creasy didn’t know he could give to anyone after all the things he’s seen and done. They bond after Pita finally breaks him down, and a sweet, touching relationship is born. But it is to be short-lived, because after a session of piano practice one day, a vicious kidnapping ring shows up and steals her away from Creasy, shooting him in the process. When Creasy wakes up in the hospital, and he hears that she has been taken, he rushes out of the hospital prematurely and begins to mount an assault on these evil forces at work, which include not only violent gangs, but corrupt police officers. It will take all of Creasy’s resources and cunning he honed in the CIA to deal with this. Can he track down little Pita before time runs out?

It’s a good concept, loosely based on both the A.J. Quinnell novel of the same name and the 1987 film starring Joe Pesci and Scott Glen. The character of John “my-last-name-sounds-like-razor-blades-on-a-chalk-board” Creasy is essentially the same throughout, a disillusioned badass who finds his only reason for living and then watches it being stolen away from him, but that idea especially clicks with Washington heading up the character. An important thing to note is that Man on Fire feels genuine, genuine in its actions and genuine in its purpose, and that’s something that drew me to see it in the first place. The addition of Mexico City and bringing up the real kidnapping dilemma in that country was a brave and important gesture, and if one more person can be made aware of the frightening state of affairs in Mexican organized crime, then it is worth every penny to watch this film.

The cast is good. Denzel Washington inhabits a broken-hearted alcoholic on the verge with John “Rhymes with greasy” Creasy, a bodyguard with a terrible last name but a heart of gold. The relationship between he and Dakota Fanning cannot be praised enough. It’s a very subtle and subdued thing at first, because he intensely dislikes her. It’s a very slow build between them, but when it finally reaches a peak and he warms up to her, it is so worth it. And it’s equally as heartbreaking when she is taken away. Dakota Fanning is cute as Pita, the smart, lonely daughter of the Mexican businessman (she didn’t get a lot of Ramos genes in her, considering Dakota Fanning is super-white) and I really liked the rapport between her and Washington, but I can’t say she didn’t annoy me at first as well. I was right there with Creasy when I first saw her; I didn’t really want to deal with her precociousness and her screaming that god-awful last name of his all the time. CREASY! CREASY!! CREASY!!! The supporting cast is excellent, with a few key scenes by the King of the Undead, Marc Anthony. I wish Anthony had gained some weight for this role, or any role. He looks uncomfortably skinny, and in the last scene he was in I got the vague sense that he was a zombie thirsting for the brains of the living.

But we all know why we rented this movie; that’s right, Christopher Walken! The craziest son of a bitch to ever grace the silver screen, Walken dazzles as he tries to return to serious acting but comes up riding the crazy train a little again. Now, as far as nuts goes, he was about a 9 or 10 as I showed you in my Gigli review. Here he’s only a two, but that’s amazing in itself. He melds his eccentricities into a typical support character as Rayburn, Creasy’s former CIA buddy. It gives him a lot of leverage to do what it is he does best; play Walken playing a character playing Walken. My favorite cheesy line in the movie is from him, when he stretches the limits of the super-serious demeanor of the film and speaks that eternal badass-confirming chestnut, “A man can be an artist… in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.” Yikes! He must have thought he was in a Steven Seagal movie on that one! Note that the only other artform he can think of besides death is food. HUH? Plumbers and IT specialists around the world weep as Walken snubs their skills for the prowess of the chefs at Marie Calendars!

The only part of Man on Fire that I really dislike is the direction. Tony Scott has a way of being a very insistent director, a show-off with his incessant bells and whistles, his filters and his film speeds. He has to remind us of his technical prowess by constantly dumping a chemically-altered tone to the film and arbitrarily changing the speed and tempo. It’s distracting and aesthetically irrelevant to the plot or the character development, and that can be incredibly irksome to anyone who watches film and contemplates the subtext of shots and film accoutrements. Now, as for the handling of the material, I again have no problem. Scott is very tasteful and his characters are endearing even as they act in desperation. The scene where Creasy kills the guy by his car is my favorite; it’s intense but bittersweet, and that’s the core of this movie for me. Powerful scenes, like the one where Creasy wakes up and discovers that Pita has been taken, are the emotional milestones of this film, and will stay with me long after the acid-trip Mexican scenery fades from my mind.

Man on Fire is a movie that knows how to be beautiful and violent, and somewhere in that loaded statement is a danger of being overly self-aware. Scott skirts this danger back and forth with his able cast, and while he doesn’t come out of it completely clean, I still respect the movie and what it was trying to do. It’s not perfect, by any means, but with powerful leads, a modestly strong script, and the man who I love and hate with equal measure, Tony Scott, at the helm, it makes for a compelling international thriller with a tender heart lost somewhere in Mexico City. I give Man on Fire 7 lip-snarling last names out of 10. CREASY!!!!

Stay with me, everyone! I’m going into overtime today with my review of Perfume coming up soon!

PSA: The Hunger (1983), or Equivocated Elegence

5 09 2009

What the hell, Tony Scott? I feel like you were hiding this film from me! Don’t be shy; just because it doesn’t have a ridiculous amount of jump cuts, an obscenely unflattering color scheme, and enough camera tricks to make me think they used Houdini’s ashes to make the lens, that doesn’t mean its anything to be ashamed of! In fact, I think it might be the best film I’ve ever seen from him. The last time I saw The Hunger, I was 12, maybe 13, and I was more interested in the nudity at that age, so watching this again was like watching it for the first time. It’s a vampire story that isn’t even really a vampire story, and it does what it does better than anyone I’ve seen in a long time.

It all begins with Miriam, a beautiful woman who has lived for a long, long time. She is something entirely different from our kind; she has survived for centuries under different guises, masquerading amongst humans and living besde them, although spiritually horizons apart. She even keeps human companions, offering them eternal life and resilient youth. The offer, as well as her beauty itself, is enticing, but there is a catch. While Miriam lives forever, her suitors are all doomed to a fate worse than death after they live a few hundred years. Her most recent suitor, John, has suffered long enough, and now Miriam has set her sights on someone new; a young and nubile doctor named Sarah, who treated John during his last moments. Miriam will tempt her with her charm, her immense beauty, and her strange gift; will Sarah be able to resist?

The Hunger is a very slow, finely paced film that did not do very well when it was released, chiefly due to the era. This was not a film for the 80s. Movies like this weren’t made that much anymore, and it really perplexed the moviegoing audience at the time. Even Roger Ebert gave it a poor rating, which was usually the death knell for a film like this. It’s a movie with not a lot of plot but a deeply compelling atmosphere; so much atmosphere, in fact, that it should have gotten a credit. It’s creepy, it’s unsettling, and it keeps you in the dark so much that it doesn’t even have to do anything to get you looking behind your shoulder.

Tony Scott uses his camera trickery for good this time around, making something methodical and well worth the wait. He uses the camera like a voyeur uses his telescope; he inserts himself into the intimacy of this tale with precision. And what is a voyeur’s favorite part of the act? The build-up. The time spent watching, burning his obsession into his mind’s eye. Scott does the same thing; he lingers around the characters while they’re thinking, daydreaming, or sleeping. These characters are weighed down by something powerful and unnatural, and Scott keeps every scene in some way from slipping into complacency. We always see something slightly off, slightly jarring, even when we’re away from Miriam, as if to say that the film always has her on her mind.

And why is that? Well, it seems to me that Scott’s obsession is with the beautiful and entrancing Catherine Deneuve, the woman who plays Miriam. She is the impetus of the film, and the medium in which the strange script, based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, comes to life. She is a wonder, a real-life mystery. She creates an X-factor that makes any true understanding of the film’s heart impossible. Her veiled words and her long, impenetrable past make fools of any who dare to put a label on what exactly Miriam is. Miriam’s sexy young partner, Sarah, is actually Susan Sarandon, who is almost unbearably gorgeous here in 1983. They are both dazzling, and their scenes together light up the fog surrounding the movie. If she didn’t have horrible 80s hair (I call it the Blanche Devereaux), I might’ve creamed my pants midway through this view. It’s a sense of vampiric passion that most vampire films explore to a degree, but The Hunger takes it a step further outside of the box because of the simple fact that Miriam isn’t technically a vampire. We don’t know what she is, and so the eponymous becomes whatever you want it to be; there is hunger in all these characters to an extent, so what you think might be different than my opinion.

Oh, and David Bowie is in this film. He plays poor John, and he does a pretty good job with his smoldering, semi-arrogant come hither-isms that makes all the young women swoon so. He actually isn’t in the film for very long, but he gets billing above Sarandon. It’s unfair, but I guess Ziggy Stardust had bigger marquee value at the time. Either way, his part is substantial for what it is, and it’s always interesting to see the Thin White Duke on the silver screen.

With a desire-stricken camera lens, genuinely interesting characters that are opaque at best, and a soundtrack that really puts most others to shame (seriously, it’s awesome; pick it up at Amazon now!), The Hunger is a wonderful debut that should not be forgotten. It’s more than some crappy box art and an appearance by David Bowie. It has a presence that is undeniable, and an emotional impact that is beguiling but satisfying nonetheless. I wish Tony Scott had gone down this route instead of The Taking of Pelham 123, but we can’t change the past, so I’ll just say that this was worth a LOT more than the 30 seconds of celebrity nudity I previously prided this movie on in my adolescence. Check it out; I promise you won’t be disappointed. I give The Hunger 9 1/2 Blanche Devereaux hairdos out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I’ll have something good for you guys! Come back soon and often to send me some suggestions! I need to know what you think I should watch!!!