"And chamber maids were once such a liberal breed."
I managed to get another cold over the past weekend so I ended up doing a lot of slug-like activities. The other night, I was looking through my Netflix instant-watch list and came across this Reagan-era relic: Firefox (1982). I was amused to give this a watch since I was feeling like something, shall we say, unchallenging? This movie fit the bill and was a good nostalgic choice as I had seen it a number of times on cable in the 1980s (it's also a movie my Mom likes). This Clint Eastwood movie, while being slightly overlong, is above average for its genre, the cold war espionage action thriller. Much of the plot and character motivations aren't very convincing. Clint's character, in refuge in Alaska, is all too quick to take the assignment and the "he's the only man for the job" thing is as contrived as can be. But no matter. The paper-thin plot fares only somewhat better. This also isn't too big a problem for this kind of movie.
We all know Clint's going to get the plane and the journey to that end makes the movie entertaining. One thing I like about this movie is the way that Clint's Air Force Vietnam vet character doesn't instantly become James Bond when he starts the mission. There are scenes where he is obviously fumbling with the whole spy thing and his Russian helpers don't seem to think much of his abilities at first. The sequences involving Clint's travels through the USSR, a lot of chases, are paced well with some colorful supporting characters and good European stand-ins for the real Russian locations (you can easily spot where they used rear-projection process shots of certain Moscow landmarks). Once Clint's character makes it to the Russian superplane, we see where much of the production budget went. The models of the fancy fighter plane look pretty good and while crude by today's standards (or even compared to the action sequences in Top Gun), the flying scenes are pretty good for the time using models and process shots. One of the fun things they came up with here is the idea that this superplane's weapon systems can be controlled by the pilot's thoughts. It's an interesting idea that only partially works on screen. The scenes where Clint's character interacts with the weapons are cut in such a deliberate way, that it looks like it'd be faster to press a few buttons, despite the movie's claim that this system would be quicker to respond than a traditional button-pushing fighter jockey. The ending is a bit anti-climactic and needed something more of a coda.
The political element wasn't entirely evident to me when I was younger, but it really stands out today. The whole idea that the USA was so far behind on high tech weapons that we had to send in 'ol Clint on this desperate mission makes it all clear that the USA has gone soft on the Evil Empire. There's Star Wars and there's Star Wars:
Star Wars: The idea that the USSR is out-gunning us in weapons tech, so we'd better get crackin' on that missile defense system.
Star Wars: The effects-heavy fighter scenes are obviously influenced by the Lucas epics. The sequence where the two fighters fly through a snow-covered trench at high speed looks almost exactly like the Tie Fighters/X-Wing chase at the end of Star Wars. Of course Clint's movie was far from alone in copying these movies.
And, never mind that in retrospect, the USSR was going broke and not anywhere near overtaking the USA in expensive high tech weapons. The transparent political message on display here is quite laughable today. The buffoonish Soviet officials also tend to undercut the idea that the USSR is about to overtake us. The plane is a credible, if imaginary threat and the Soviet police are menacing, but the military officials end up being cardboard villains. Perhaps a lost opportunity for a good Moo Hoo Ha Ha villain.
Okay, so there are plenty of problems with this movie, but I still had a good time watching it. I won't go so far as to recommend it, but I had fun.
I also managed to catch A Serious Man (2009) on BD. I liked it pretty well. The look and mood of this dark comedy really pulled me in. I found some of the material to be like a Woody Allen comedy, at least the parts pertaining to the Jewish faith. Seeing all the Minnesota locations and 1960s looking college buildings was fun and the cast was excellent. The ending is something I'm not sure about yet; I need a bit more time to digest this one.
So on we go to this week's new stuff:
Alice in Wonderland (1951) Another reissue of the Disney animated version. Oddly not on BD this time around.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009) Ugh...also on BD.
Housebroken (2009) Also on BD.
IMAX: Under the Sea Also on BD.
Salt of the Earth (1954)
Sherlock Holmes (2009) Holmes is recycled once again in a big-budget blowout. Also on BD.