Men Under Pressure

Last Action Hero: written by Shane Black, David Arnott, Zak Penn, and Adam Leff; directed by John McTiernan; starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jack Slater/ Arnold Schwarzenegger), Austin O’Brien (Danny Madigan), F. Murray Abraham (John Practice), Art Carney (Favourite Second Cousin Frank), Charles Dance (Benedict), Tom Noonan (Ripper/ Tom Noonan), Robert Prosky (Nick the Projectionist), Anthony Quinn (Tony Vivaldi), Mercedes Ruehl (Irene Madigan), Ian McKellan (Death), and Bridgette Wilson (Whitney Slater/Meredith Caprice) (1993): 

Much-maligned action-satire when it came out, hilarious Hollywood satire now (and then). Last Action Hero‘s main problem was that it bit the hand that fed it. If nothing else, it seems to show that action-movie fans are too sensitive to fully support a movie that savages action movies and their fans, albeit with a certain amount of affection. 

Last Action Hero may be uneven and even ragged at times (some of that seems to come from rewrites and reshoots ordered by a nervous studio), but it’s really funny when it’s on. And its Mad-magazine approach to crowded humour in foreground and background rewards careful viewing and careful listening. Some of the physical gags are great slapstick or maybe techno-slapstick, as so many of them involve the destruction of cars in hilarious ways, sometimes as throwaway background gags.

The cast is thick with cameos, but much of the heavy lifting is done by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Dance as the villain, and Austin O’Brien as the kid who loves action movies. They’re all great, though O’Brien takes awhile to grow on one. That some of the movie’s more developed gags involve Hamlet (a parody that seems to be poking Mel Gibson’s ‘action-Hamlet’ of a couple years earlier) and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal may be one indicator of why it bombed. The world inside the movie universe ends up being as complicated and metafictional as Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and almost as fun at times. Whiskers, where the Hell were you? Recommended.

A Most Wanted Man: adapted from the John LeCarre novel by Andrew Bovell and Stephen Cornwell; directed by Anton Corbijn; starring Grigoriy Dobrygin (Issa Karpov), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Gunther Bachmann), Rachel McAdams (Annabel Richter), Willem Dafoe (Tommy Brue), and Robin Wright (Martha Sullivan) (2014): Mournful spy procedural follows a covert German anti-terrorist agency led by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his second-last screen role. 

Hoffman’s small group is after a seemingly charitable Muslim leader in present-day Hamburg, Germany who may have as-yet-unproved ties to Al Qaeda. The movie looks great — worn and lived in — and the acting is all high-end, though Rachel McAdams struggles a bit with her on-again, off-again German accent. As this is based on a John LeCarre novel, you can expect betrayal and ruthless competition among the various intelligence organizations involved. Hoffman is superb as a man who’s seen too much but nonetheless goes on because he genuinely wants to protect people. But whether or not they need to be protected from terrorists or from the anti-terrorist governmental agencies or from both — well, there’s the problem. Recommended.

The Man Who Could Work Miracles: written by H.G. Wells and Lajos Biro; directed by Lothar Mendes and Alexander Korda; starring Roland Young (Fotheringay), Ralph Richardson (Colonel Winstanley), Ernest Thesiger (Maydig), Joan Gardner (Ada), Sophie Stewart (Maggie), and George Zucco (The Butler) (1937): Whimsical, comedic fantasy turns into a socialist polemic at the end. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

An argument about humanity’s potential among three gods (or perhaps angels) leads one of them (The Giver of Power, who likes humanity) to give an English store clerk the power to do pretty much anything except control human minds. What follows is a deceptively light-hearted story of escalating stakes, as the clerk initially uses his powers for minor tricks before seeking out others for advice on what do — and then finally deciding to make his own decisions. I suppose it’s the thinking person’s Bruce Almighty

H.G. Wells adapts his own short story. The performances are all fine, especially those of Roland Young as newly super-powered Fotheringay and Ralph Richardson in heavy make-up as a blustery, upper-class twit of a Colonel. Fotheringay’s epiphanic speech toward the end anticipates the concluding speech of Chaplin in The Great Dictator, among others. The visual effects are extremely well done for the time, especially a great bit involving the miraculous destruction of a mansion and subsequent erection of a much larger palace. Recommended.

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