Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Like the runaway train central to the movie, director Tony Scott is unstoppable. Thoroughly commercial in all his instincts and training, his movies, which include Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Man on Fire, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, and True Romance, are examples of filmmaking as corporate product. Meaning there is no artistic pretension.

Sure, the same can be said of almost all Hollywood movies today. But this seems doubly true for Tony Scott, brother of Ridley. Tony comes from a background of TV commercials. So all his movies play like an extended commercial for themselves. His stories are simple and streamlined, his dialogue is obvious, his characters nothing above tropes, and his filmmaking style apes mid-1980s television.

He's a hack. And I'm not trying to be mean. That's just the way it is. When you go to a Tony Scott movie, you know what to expect. So, I knew generally speaking what to expect from Unstoppable. What I hoped was that I would see a movie that was better than his last movie I watched, Domino. The nadir of cinema, Domino is one of the worst American movies of the last ten years. The language that Tony Scott uses to convey the story of a spoiled rich brat turned bounty hunter (based on a real life story) originates not from cinema, where each shot logically follows from the previous shot, but from the power cord of his favorite Avid editing system. Unfortunately, Domino was a watchable, if disposable, movie. So, I concede that every Tony Scott movie is entertaining on a level that co-mingles with the knowledge that he is also reducing modern culture to the level of bright colors, loud noises, and grunts.

Unstoppable is watchable because it is one of the better Tony Scott movies. It is what it is. The story of a runaway train and how the corporate suits want to stop it in a way that will reduce risk to their public image. Denzel Washington (old dude) and Chris Pine (young dude) work together to first get out of the way of the train, and then put themselves completely in harm's way to stop it.

There are stereotypes (corporate suits are stupid, working class rail men know better) and tropes (children and horses in the way of the train!). The only surprise comes when Tony Scott, his writers, and, in many respects, his editors, just shut up and let this relatively old-fashioned story play out along the rails of hard Pennsylvania country. Will Denzel and Chris save the day? Will all the news helicopters crash into the train? Will Rosario Dawson as a dispatcher get her hair tied back correctly? Will Denzel's two beautiful daughters (they're waitresses at Hooters!) stop sulking and answer the phone when their dad calls? Will Chris's wife drop the restraining order against him? None of the story complications matter against the man against train elements of the movie. And at that level, this movie entertains.

One more surprise: Kevin Corrigan, cast as a train safe inspector, doesn't talk with a doofus accent, trims his beard, and makes his slicked-back hair look almost regal. More Kevin Corrigan please! And Rosario Dawson, she's always fun to watch.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday afternoon bargain show. Price $6.00. Viewed solo.
Snacks—Twizzlers! Diet Coke with Lime! (I splurged).

Coming Attractions:

The Next 3 Days. Paul Haggis directs what looks like a pretty preposterous movie, about a woman convicted of murder and her husband who tries to break her out of prison. Actually, sounds good on paper, but it looks like a slog with Russell Crowe as the husband doing some stupid stuff to spring the wife. Is she innocent? Why is it called the Next 3 Days? Is that how long it takes a movie to tank?

Love and Other Drugs. Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway. It’s a rom-com. Liz said, “It’s weird to see Jake Gyllenhaal smile.” He plays a slick salesman who falls for a beautiful free spirit. So, maybe we’re not supposed to trust his smile.

The Dilemma. Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connolly, Winona Ryder. Directed by Ron Howard. This could also be called, "Where Starlets Go After They Turn 35." All I can think is that Jennifer and Winona, who can be wonderful actresses, take these types of supporting roles because there are no other roles offered. Both actresses are relegated to wife roles. Winona plays a woman who cheats on her husband (James) but is discovered by his best friend (Vaughn). So, the movie’s dilemma is, should Vaughn tell his best friend his wife’s cheating. Regardless, it’s great to see Winona Ryder in a mainstream movie again.

Scream 4. I lost track at Scream 2. I don't see much new here in the fourth installment. I loved the first Scream, it blew my socks off and thought I was witnessing a revolution in cinema. I'm actually serious, I thought it was opening the door to some new stuff. But, in retrospect, it was just ushering in the next generation of more of the same. As a horror movie franchise, Scream 4 comes off as a bore here. It doesn't give us anything new to gnaw on. Maybe Sidney Prescott tweets, but that's it on the update.


Cynthia Sherrick said...

I like the sound of this movie. :)

Dell Smith said...

Even sleepwalking, Denzel is interesting.

Robin said...

Dell -- This isn't a movie I would see on the big screen, but I like your reasons to entice me to try it!

Dell Smith said...

I'll have to try harder next time!