Saturday, July 31, 2010

CD Review: Jason King: Original Soundtrack

At only two discs, Jason King is among the shortest in Network’s parade of ITC soundtracks. Whether that’s because it had a relatively small amount of original music commissioned for it to begin with or because only a small portion of what was recorded survives, I don’t know. I’m sure Andrew Pixley does and probably says so in his liner notes (if his other, absolutely excellent booklets are anything to judge by), but my review copy sadly didn’t include liner notes. Not being as intimately familiar with Jason King as with certain other ITC shows (I actually adore the quirky but flawed series, but as brilliant as the flamboyant Peter Wyngarde is, I find he’s best enjoyed in small doses), that inhibits my ability to pinpoint exactly where any given cue comes from in the series, so instead I’ll provide my overall impressions of the album.

For a series as irrevocably (hopelessly?) mired in the 1970s as Jason King, its soundtrack is surprsingly not. For composer Laurie Johnson, it would be The New Avengers (and later The Professionals) where he explored his fondness for wah-wah guitars and 70s funk sounds. Jason King sounds more like the louche lounge life embodied by Serge Gainsbourg, which is entirely appropriate for the character, but which I associate more with the late Sixties. After all, this was still only the very beginning of the Seventies, and the loungy score is somewhat akin to John Barry’s loungier tracks in Diamonds Are Forever the same year. Of course, invoking Barry is a bit misleading, because the Jason King music isn’t, for the most part, all that typically “spy” sounding. It’s appropriate to the show. When you think of Jason King, you don’t necessarily immediately conjure up double- and triple-crosses, betrayals and chases, although the series does have all of that. No, the first thing you think of (or I do, anyway) is purple cravats and a general abundance of hair, signet rings and silk shirts unbuttoned far too far for comfort, champagne and beautiful girls in bell bottoms and overstuffed furniture in gaudy colors. And the music does its job; it evokes all of that when listened to. Track 6 on Disc 1 in particular exemplifies the Swinging (early) Seventies lounge life, but pretty much all the tracks get across the appropriate mood.

That said, there are some terrific action cues buried amidst the cool, easy listening material. Tracks 17-20 on the first CD are all action-packed, and could just as easily accompany the suavest secret agent as well as a slick buffoon in a bouffant. And Track 25 is as propulsive an action cue as any spy fan could hope for. In the context of the album, however, these cues become swallowed up by the overall loungy vibe. In general, this isn’t the kind of spy music you put on when you want to speed through traffic; this is the kind of spy music you put on when you want to pour yourself a martini or three, lie back in your most decadent love seat and exchange flirtatious banter with your favorite long-haired, bikini-topped babe or hairy-chested, mustached man. I love both the action and lounge schools of spy sounds, and enjoy being able to select between Jason King and, say, Danger Man as the mood strikes me. Jason King is anything but typical, but it’s a worthwhile addition to a robust spy music library.

Jason King: Original Soundtrack is available in the UK exclusively from Network's website; in America it's available from Screen Archives Entertainment, where you can also listen to samples.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Moore Plays Lazenby

There is a Roger Moore spy movie opening wide this weekend in North America... yet, shockingly, I don't think I'm going to see it, so rather than reviewing it myself I'll link to The Hollywood Reporter's write-up.  (This line piqued my interest: "The opening-title sequence, easily the best thing in the movie, deliciously mimics those in James Bond movies.")  But it does seem worth mentioning that Moore (or his voice, anyway) plays a feline spy chief named Tab Lazenby.  Perhaps it's revenge for George Lazenby's turn as "JB" in The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. during Moore's official tenure as 007!  Sir Roger recorded his dialogue in Monte Carlo, where he lives.  If anyone sees this, please post a comment and let us all know how it is!

Eventos de la Semana

Promoción de "True Blood" en el Comic-Con 2010, San Diego

Anna Pquín llevó un vestido con estampado desteñido y de manchas de pintura, de Helmut Lang Invierno 2010.

Gala 2010 HollyRod Foundation Design, LA

Eva Longoria llevó un vestido plateado con detalles de lentejuelas de Naeem Khan Resort 2011.

Premiere de "Knight & Day" en Munich

Cameron Díaz llevó un vestido blanco con cinturón negro, de Bottega Veneta Primavera 2010.

Fiesta Asics and Drai's Hollywood, LA

Rihanna me sorprende cada vez más, en esta ocasión llevó un mono de lunares de colores, de D&G Pre Fall 2010, y sinceramente con ese color de pelo me tiene un poco pinta de payaso...

Fiesta de EW and SyFy por el Comic-Con, San Diego

Jessica Lowndes llevó un vestido corto en color negro, con encaje en el escote, de Rebecca Minkoff.

Nina Dobrev llevó un vestido negro de French Connection.

Premiere de "Karate Kid" en Paris

Jada Pinkett Smith llevó un conjunto negro, con falda tubo.

Premiere de "Night and Day" en Francia

Cameron Díaz llevó un conjunto de falda negra y blusa blanca de Vionnet Resort 2011.

Kristen Bell en los premios VH1 Do Something! 2010

Kristen llevó un vestido color champán de Georges Chakra Couture Primavera 2010. Lleva unas sandalias doradas "Freya" de Jimmy Choo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tradecraft: Comic Book In Mandeville's Crosshairs

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mandeville films have picked up the rights to Marc Silvestri's Top Cow comic book Crosshair.  The comic follows a former CIA assassin turned suburban dad who learns that in 48 hours, a Manchurian Candidate-like "suppressed program" in his brain will turn him into a single-minded killer whose target is the President of the United States.  He then has to race the clock to discover who's manipulating him and stop... himself.  "Crosshair is a unique premise in which the main character is both the hero and the villain," producer Todd Lieberman told the trade. "This dichotomy is very unsettling, which makes it a fantastic twist for audiences." It's another one of those movie deals that happens before the comic actually hits shelves, but the book is being written by Jeff Katz and drawn by Silvestri and Allan Jefferson.

Presentación de La colección de joyería de Neil Lane para novias, LA

Eva Longoria estaba preciosa con este vestido negro, con mangas abullonadas y semitransparentes, de Gustavo Cadile Invierno 2010. Me ha encantado la joyería que lleva.

Annalynne McCord llevó un pantalón de talle alto, acampanado, con una blusa de print de zebra.

Kate Walsh llevó una falda globo en color negro, con un top plateado de Dries Van Noten Primavera 2010.

Festival Comic-Con 2010, San Diego

Angelina Jolie Promociona "Salt"

Angelina llevó una falda tubo negra con cazadora de cuero de Versace.

Pormoción de "Green Lantern"

Blake Lively estaba guapisima con este conjunto de pantalón negro y top blanco de Preen Resort 2011.

Promoción de "The Other Guys"

Eva Mendes llevó un vestido metalizado, con escote en pico, de Vivienne Westwood.

Promoción de "Sucker Punch"

Vanessa Hudgens me gustó mucho con este vestido negro, con aberturas en la cintura de Black Halo. Llevó sandalias con estampado de leopardo, de Jerome C.

Promoción de "Resident Evil: Afterlife"

Milla Jovovich llevó un vestido de rayas en tonos verdes y grises de Roland Mouret Primavera 2010.

Promoción de "Captain America: The First Avenger"

Scarlett Johansson me decepcionó un poco con este conjunto en color negro, esperaba algo más veraniego y un poco más espectacular.

Natalie Portman también llegó un poco sosa, con blusa rosa y shorts color nude.

Promoción de "Tron: Legacy"

Olivia Wilde llevó un traje negro, con chaqueta de Helmut Lang, y sandalias "Risha" de Aldo.
DVD Review: Codename: Kyril (1988)

Of all the 80s spy miniseries made for British television that I’ve been watching lately, Codename: Kyril is by far the most enjoyable. That’s thanks more to the cast of well-known actors and first-rate production values than the script (by Smiley’s People scribe John Hopkins, based on a novel by John Trenhaile), though. Fantastic actors, fantastic sets and locations and slick cinematography put it head-and-shoulders above the others, but don’t help it make much sense. The plot is very dense and undeniably muddled, but everything that’s actually going on on screen–from the dialogue to the rather impressive action setpieces–makes it easy to swallow nonetheless. I stopped trying to mentally plug every plot hole and instead just went with it, and let myself be carried by the frequent twists and turns the story takes, savoring the rich performances along the way. And it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

The version of Codename: Kyril available on Region 2 DVD from Network is not the cut-down movie version that aired on American television and subsequently enjoyed a VHS release. This is the full two part miniseries, totaling nearly four hours. I’m actually a little bit curious about the two-hour cut version, because it would certainly be possible to edit all of this material into a tighter, more streamlined and more cohesive story... but in all likelihood the truncations probably just make it even more muddled. Given a choice, I’d much rather see the full, uncut miniseries, because there’s a lot of globetrotting espionage to enjoy, and the pacing works quite well as it stands, so I would hate to see individual sequences needlessly pared.

Codename: Kyril follows two rival moles working against each other to prevent their exposure–one in MI6's London Station (note the Le Carré jargon) and one in Moscow Centre. This isn’t a who’s-the-traitor? mystery, though, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; the audience is aware of the moles’ identities very early on. Instead it’s about watching the game unfold, as they and their superiors each make moves and counter-moves. The great Edward Woodward plays Royston, the Russian mole very highly placed inside MI6, as a haughty, petulant asshole with a penchant for bow ties. He’s about as far away from Woodward’s career-launching spy role of David Callan as one can get–but a bit closer to Robert McCall gone bad. (Codename: Kyril was made while The Equalizer was still on the air.) He answers to Joss Ackland as C, the head of MI6 who doesn’t realize there’s a traitor within his organization. On the other side, Denholm Elliott plays Povin, the bookish, bespectacled highly-ranking KGB man passing secrets to the British. His performance is somewhat similar to the “complicated man behind a phony, ‘silly ass’ facade” with which he imbued his Smiley in A Murder of Quality. Quintessential Englishman Elliott seems a bit too British to pass for Russian, but then again we’re dealing with an entirely English-speaking, Russian-accented KGB here–an 80s TV conceit that works just fine for me. Peter Vaughn plays the Russian spymaster, Stanov, and unlike his English counterpart, he knows that he has a mole in his organization. It’s his efforts to force that mole to reveal himself that set the story into motion.

Stanov sends a very capable and highly trusted agent code named–obviously–Kyril (Ian Charleson) out into the cold to pose as a defector, thus flushing out the British mole and forcing him to make a stupid mistake. He is bait, and he knows it. The finer points of Stanov’s plan were never totally clear to me (why would a defector take his knowledge of a British mole to the British, who would already be well aware of that?), but of course events don’t go exactly according to plan anyway–and the way that things actually turn out is much easier to follow than the way they were intended to go. MI5, meanwhile, has uncovered a KGB treasurer and armorer operating in London–and makes the mistake of contacting Royston about their discovery. He takes charge of attempts to turn the spy–operating, of course, according to his own agenda. To that end he recruits a patriotic lawyer and sometime MI6 agent named Sculby, played by Richard E. Grant (at his most flamboyantly 80s). The Russian agent, Loshkevoi, meanwhile, is making his way through Europe (to make the defection look genuine), with the eventual objective of hooking up with his London girlfriend, Emma (Catherine Neilson), who has come under Sculby’s observation in the course of his mission. Those are the key players, and it should be clear from their numbers alone that they’re probably better suited to a miniseries than a TV movie. It helps to have so many recognizable actors in the roles, as that makes it easier to keep track of all these characters.

While the intrigue is pure Le Carré, the action is more Ludlum. The combination of those two makes for ideal miniseries material. Kyril’s defection route takes him from Moscow to Amsterdam, across Europe to London. Along the way he stops to cash out his own stashes of money and weapons and passports that any good agent would have accrued over years in the field, all in order to make the defection look real to both sides. (This deception is crucial, since Stanov doesn’t know who in Moscow Centre he can trust.) That also pits Kyril against his own KGB comrades, whose orders are to stop him using any means necessary–short of killing. This scenario leads to some accomplished action sequences–including a chase across Dutch rooftops ending in gunplay and a large explosion.

The locations themselves–a key element in any spy tale–are phenomenal. East Anglia doesn’t stand in for Russia. This miniseries clearly had a budget. And director Ian Sharp (2nd Unit Director on GoldenEye) makes the most of it. Codename: Kyril was shot on location in London, Bristol, Amsterdam and Oslo. Oslo makes a very convincing Moscow. I don’t claim to have been to Moscow (in the 80s or ever), but I was sold. I would have believed it was Moscow if I didn’t know better. It’s clearly cold enough, and the buildings and trains look distinctive enough that they won’t be confused for British. Even the locations within England are superb, spanning from a very modern looking MI6 office space to a spacious London flat to a sprawling country house–a wing of which the Public Trust makes available to MI6 for use as a safe house.

The prolonged climax in which all the characters finally comes together (or most of them, anyway) takes place at that country house, and I couldn’t help but flash back to Callan while watching Edward Woodward pace around a giant, darkened country safehouse waiting for a supposed defector to appear! It’s “The Richmond File” all over again–only circumstances are somewhat reversed.

The climax that events in that country house build to is inevitable, but the suspense–and the fun–comes in how we get there. You always know that these 80s British spy miniseries are going to try to outdo each other in terms of utterly bleak, existential endings. That was a mark of the genre in those days. You know how it’s all going to end (badly) but the game is guessing why... and how it will get there. And, of course, who will survive. Characters don’t necessarily have to die in order for things to turn out poorly for them.

One of the many things that Codename: Kyril has going for it is that we actually do care about these characters’ fates–on both sides of the equation. Royston is the closest thing to an actual villain on display–but that’s more because of what an utter prick he is than because he’s a traitor. (And despite that, he’s still kind of badass–mainly thanks to Woodward.) The other Russian characters come off pretty well. It’s quite interesting, in fact, that the story is told largely from the Soviet agents’ point of view. Even the assassin who’s dispatched from Moscow late in the game and murders a pivotal–and likable–character is not presented as a bad guy. He’s merely someone with a job to do, like everyone else. And he questions that job for a moment, but ultimately does what he’s paid to do. Most of the spies in Codename: Kyril are just pawns, slaves to the whims and machinations of spymasters and victims of traitors and moles.

Codename: Kyril may not tell a totally cohesive story, but it doesn’t need to. It’s got so much else going for it. Huge stars, fine performances, slick production and great locations all add up to provide everything you could ask for from a spy miniseries of this era. (And of its era it certainly is–from Richard E. Grant’s and Hugh Fraser’s hair to all the neon lights to Grant’s oversized checkerboard linen sports coat, Codename: Kyril screams 80s.) If you, like me, often find yourself wishing that there were more miniseries from this time based on the works of Robert Ludlum and John Le Carré, Codename: Kyril will satisfy you on both fronts.  Right now, the Region 2 PAL disc is available exclusively through Network's website.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

The streak continues.  Once again, the most notable new spy DVD of the week comes from the United Kingdom... and from the ever-reliable Network.  Their newest release of interest is Codename: Kyril, a late Eighties British miniseries starring a stellar spy cast including Joss Ackland, Peter Vaughn, Denholm Elliott, Richard E. Grant, Hugh Fraser and spy legend Edward Woodward.  Codename: Kyril has been available in a truncated two-hour movie version on VHS, but this Region 2 PAL DVD release marks the first time it's ever been available in its nearly four-hour entirety.  The plot is a tad muddled, but this globetrotting tale of rival moles in British and Russian intelligence boasats just the right mixture of Ludlum and Le Carré that makes for perfect Eighties miniseries viewing. Right now it's available only as a Network exclusive from the company's website for £12.99.

Meanwhile, in America, we get Operation: Endgame from Anchor Bay Entertainment.  This violent spy/assassin comedy (which seems to have shades of Duane Swierczynski's novel Severance Package) may be going direct to DVD (and Blu-ray, of course), but it stars quite a roster of name actors including both spy vets like Ving Rhames and Maggie Q and talented comedians like Jeffrey Tambor, Rob Corddry and the great Zach Galifianakis (who's finally getting his due thanks to The Hangover)... as spies.  Killing each other.  Bloodily.  If that notion alone doesn't have you intrigued, the plot finds rival teams of covert operatives set against each other with improvised weapons inside their (underground) office complex after their boss dies.  Extras include an alternate beginning, alternate ending and 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. The DVD will run you $15.49 on Amazon, the BD $24.99.

Finally, Hannie Caulder deserves a mention.  It's not a spy movie, but any movie pairing Raquel Welch and Robert Culp certainly bears a mention on a site like this... especially when it's one that's been missing in action on DVD for so long!  (In America, anyway.)  Relative newcomer Olive Films has stepped up to the plate where Paramount has so long come up short and finally put this curiously compelling 1971 Western revenge movie on Region 1 DVD.  (It's just a pity they didn't use any of the famously sexy poster artwork featuring Raquel in nothing but a poncho and a holster for the cover!) Christopher Lee, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin and Stephen Boyd co-star.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

COMIC-CON: More Bond Girl Barbies

Mattel had all of its Bond Girl Barbies on display at last week's Comic-Con International in San Diego, both the previously announced (and currently available) Jinx, Honey Rider and Pussy Galore who comprise Wave 1, and the forthcoming Wave 2.  Wave 2 of Mattel's James Bond series includes Barbie dolls based on Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live and Let Die (in the high priestess dress, of course) and Maud Adams as the title character in Octopussy, apparently clad only in that white bathrobe.  Wave 2 cases include three dolls–one Solitaire and two Octopussies.  (So grab those Solitaires when you see them!) The dolls in Wave 1 are currently available through multiple outlets (very reasonably priced, too–at least compared to that expensive FAO Schwartz exclusive James Bond Barbie set from 2002–at just $34.95 a pop); Wave 2 is due out in August.  Cases are currently available for pre-order from Entertainment Earth.

Photos of the dolls in Wave 1 can be seen here.
DVD Review: Glory Boys (1984)

Of the two Gerald Seymour-scripted spy miniseries included in Acorn Media’s Cold War Spy Collection, I was looking forward to Glory Boys less (either because its terrorism angle didn’t appeal to me as much as the straight-up espionage of The Contract, or else because the cover for Glory Boys–as with any cover prominently featuring Rod Steiger–is just uglier), but I ended up enjoying it much more. Glory Boys centers on an assassination attempt on an Israeli nuclear physicist and the Security Service’s efforts to stop it. Although Steiger is featured most prominently on the cover (and is, as usual, excellent), he is not really the central character. The focus is mainly on the alcoholic, over-the-hill MI5 agent Jimmy (played by Anthony Perkins) and the two terrorists–one Irish, the other Palestinian–who mean to carry out the assassination.

You may be asking yourself about this point why American Psycho Perkins was cast as a British agent, and you’d certainly be justified in doing so. But whatever the reasons, Perkins overcomes a dodgy (and intermittently absent) English accent with an edgy, affecting performance stellar enough to make the accent easy to overlook. In fact, so engrossing is his performance, you won’t even notice the accent flaws after the first twenty minutes. Jimmy (who could possibly be Seymour's cynical take on James Bond) proves to be something of a proto-Jack Bauer: a single-mindedly determined operative capable of going to great lengths (including torture and even point-blank execution) to prevent a terrorist attack. But he’s a little too unhinged for the comfort of his superiors, including MI5 director Mr. Jones (The Public Eye’s Alfred Burke, with too little to do), who puts his own job on the line vouching for his agent and friend–then second guesses himself when he discovers Jimmy’s drinking again.

Unlike The Contract, Glory Boys takes full advantage of its miniseries length. The plot moves quickly from Jimmy to Mr. Jones and his secretary Helen (an utterly wasted–but lovely–Joanna Lumley)–who is also Jimmy’s lover–to the scientist Professor Sokarev (Steiger) and his unwanted detail of two Mossad bodyguards to the terrorists. By following all of these equally interesting plotlines, former Sandbaggers director Michael Ferguson keeps things moving quickly, and ends each of the three parts on a nail-biting cliffhanger that leaves you eager to keep watching.

Glory Boys looks great. It’s slickly directed and perfectly captures the era in which it was made. Obviously any TV program can’t help reflecting its era in clothes and cars and hairstyles, but some go beyond that to make excellent time capsules. Whether it was an urgent need to feel contemporary on the part of Ferguson or just pure serendipity, Glory Boys serves as a wonderful document of Britain in 1984 as it actually was then, which is much subtler than what a costume designer or art director would come up with today in trying to replicate the period (see: Ashes to Ashes). I just found all the little details fascinating, from the street level advertising for Risky Business to the coats on whippets being walked by extras to a poster of Alexei Sayle decorating the wall of a college dormitory. Watching now, all that stuff really helped to put me in the setting. That might seem neither here nor there when reviewing a spy series, but part of that setting was the fear of terrorism that hung over London in the early 80s, and heightening that fear (all to easy to relate to today, unfortunately) helps sell the threat of the storyline.

The two terrorists themselves represent a frightening alliance of the two primary groups that Londoners–and MI5–would have feared most back then: the IRA and the PLO (or particularly militant splinter groups within). They are not portrayed as boogeymen, but as believable characters. Seymour’s script certainly doesn’t sympathize with them (in fact it severely condemns their actions), but it does explore their motivations–probably more than those of any other characters in the story. Both young men possess absolute conviction. The Irishman, McCoy (Aaron Harris, who looks rather jarringly like a young Conan O’Brien) is only helping the Arab because such an alliance is politically convenient to his masters, but he identifies with his plight and–perhaps seeing it as an extension of his own cause–is willing to die for his comrade.

Jimmy presents himself as the ultimate expert in counterterrorism and security, quickly schooling the Mossad men in personal protection. (“I would have thought you would want to see the venue in the same conditions as when the professor will be speaking there,” he shrugs, when they’re reluctant to accompany him on an evening sortie of the site of the speech.) However, even with a man like this on the case, the best security measures of Britain and Israel prove inadequate against even a weakened and partially incompetent terrorist duo on more than one occasion. At first I thought, “Come on! All that beefed-up security and they can get some shots off through a window?” Then I realized, yes, that’s probably exactly what would happen–and the point of Seymour’s script. Intelligence operations–both offensive and defensive–may rely heavily on tactics and preparation. But at the end of the day, they come down to fallible human beings and human behavior. Sometimes–as the characteristically downbeat ending underscores–all the best planning and most heroic actions can’t alter a fate dependent on the randomness of human nature.

Glory Boys is available on DVD along with The Contract (reviewed here) as part of Acorn Media’s Cold War Spy Collection. If you’re a fan of the era or of the particular brand of bleak espionage drama to come out of the waning days of the Cold War–or if for some weird reason you ever wondered how Anthony Perkins might have played 007–then the set is definitely worth checking out.

Eventos de la Semana

Jennifer Aniston lanza su primer Perfume, "Lolavie" en Londres

Jennifer Aniston ya estaba tardando en sacar su propio perfume, y lo ha hecho con los grandes almacenes Harrods en Londres. Jennifer llevó un vestido palabra de honor, en color nude, de Valentino Pre Fall 2010.

Premiere de "Karate Kid" en Berlín

Jada Pinkett-Smith está de tour mundial con toda su familia, patrocinando la nueva película de Karate Kid. En Berlín la vimos con un vestido dorado, de tachuelas, y sandalias también con tachuelas, las "J-Lissimo" de Christian Louboutin.

Selena Gómez asiste al Show de David Letterman

Me encantó el look de Selena, con ese top de rayas marineras, con escote corazón, de Colette Dinnigan Primavera 2010, y falda tubo negra de Valentino.

Premiere de "The Dry Land" de LA

Camilla Belle llevó un vestido ancho en color perla.

America Ferrera llevó un vestido negro sin mangas.

Premiere de "Knight and Day" en Londres

Cameron Díaz llevó un vestido de punto en color gris, con destellos, de Stella McCartney.

Premiere de "Karate Kid" en Madrid

Jada Pinkett-Smith, llevó un vestido de seda, en color fucsia, con sandalias de tiras cruzadas, "Lance" de Jimmy Choo.

Inauguración de tienda Target en NY

Me encantó el vestido estampado de flores que llevó Michelle Trachtenberg, de Bob Basic.

Premiere de "Ramona and Beezus" en NY

Selena Gómez llevó un conjunto en color blanco de Christian Cota Primavera 2010.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Movie Review: Salt (2010)

Salt is kind of an odd movie. For its first half, it’s exactly what I expected: a thrilling (if utterly preposterous) spy movie combining the barest bones of a Le Carré-esque espionage plot (which is quickly abandoned) about defectors and sleeper agents with breakneck action sequences that come as fast as those in the Bourne movies, but with a refreshing pre-Greengrass 90s sensibility. What I mean by that is not aimed as a slight against Greengrass, who is a master of the quick-cut, shaky camera sensibility he pioneered, but merely a frustration with his many imitators. Greengrass’s influence has been so pervasive that that style has become de rigeur for the genre today–and in less capable hands it often doesn’t work. In Salt, Phillip Noyce (an accomplished veteran of 90s spy movies like Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger* who then fled Hollywood to spend the last decade directing artier independent fare, including the terrific spy film The Quiet American) very competently builds action sequences that you can easily follow and allows them to play out in full view. There is very little room for CGI trickery here, and the practical effects and physical stunts are highly impressive. Noyce’s action style reminds me of that of Bond veteran John Glen (perhaps the most underrated action director of all time) in that its genius is the appearance of no style. By that, of course, I don’t mean that it’s actually without style; I mean that the art of the style is to remain unobtrusive. You will enjoy the action for the stunts themselves, and not get distracted by flashy direction. I love this, and found the old-school approach quite refreshing. In its second half, however, Salt veers wildly off the rails.

What begins as a Bourne-ish spy story (and now I’m using Bourne as a story comparison rather than a style one; there’s no denying the Bourne influence in that respect!) goes places you might never imagine from the trailers and becomes a conspiracy thriller involving the President of the United States, the President of Russia, control of America’s nuclear arsenal, multiple assassinations and the fate of the world. Clearly I’m not against such a story, but I was enjoying the first story better and didn’t really appreciate the radical shift in the second half. (I suppose the writers would probably argue that it’s an escalation rather than a change, but in escalating the stakes they end up discarding most of what they built in the first half. See The Tailor of Panama instead for an example of perfect unexpected escalation in a spy movie!) The conspiracy half (which features one of the least convincing–and dopiest–actors to ever play the American president) strays from Bourne territory into more 24 territory–or even Eagle Eye territory. Personally, I preferred the first half. But my girlfriend felt just the opposite, and thought that the movie really came alive when it went so over the top in the second, so perhaps you’ll find that more your cup of tea as well. I suppose the glass-half-full way to look at it is that there’s something for everyone!

The movie (surprisingly short for a modern spy film) also ends rather abruptly. I recognize that this ending (extremely Bourne-like, by the way) is a set-up for a sequel and I will happily line up for that sequel. But in this movie, I felt a bit ripped off, like someone had turned off the TV before it was over. I wanted to yell, “Hey! I wasn’t done watching that yet!”

What’s odd is that now it seems like I’m giving this film a negative review–and I’m not. I really did very much enjoy the first half–and I did enjoy the movie as a whole, as well, even if I had misgivings about the second half. It’s also impossible to deny that it’s a better movie than Knight and Day, for which I wrote a very positive review, so I suppose that comparison exposes the extreme subjectivity in film reviewing, and the large role that expectations play. (I felt defensive of Knight and Day, a far-from-perfect but highly enjoyable movie that seemed to be under attack on all sides; Salt, on the other hand, seems to be garnering rather favorable notices that it doesn’t totally earn.) Anyway, the action is amazing, and Angelina Jolie is at the top of her game. She is sexy, and that certainly adds to any movie star performance, but the role doesn’t rely on that fact. (In fact, she spends a good chunk of the film in decidedly un-sexy drag, sporting a very unfortunate kd lang haircut!) She’s also an extremely physical actress, and the role does rely on that. Overall, it doesn’t really show that the part was originally written for a man (Tom Cruise flirted with the project for a long time), but that fact may have served to create a tougher female role than we usually see, even today. Tough without relying on sexiness, I mean. (Salt is never pictured in her bra, I don't think... though she does discard her underpants–off camera–in the middle of a rather tense standoff!) There are plenty of strong female roles in the spy genre, but most of them thrive on combining capability with sexuality. (Think Sydney Bristow.) In Salt we get a female agent who doesn’t rely on that crutch in her actions. As when Honor Blackman stepped into a part originally written for a man and in the process forever changed female portrayals on genre TV, I think that might be attributable to the character’s sex change on the page.

We’re never fully aware of Evelyn Salt’s true motivations (Who Is Salt? indeed!), but that doesn’t alienate us from the character–largely thanks to Jolie’s compelling performance. Pretty much off the bat her character’s world is thrown into chaos when a walk-in defector accuses her of being a Russian sleeper agent, and we’re plunged into that chaos along with her. Her performance and Noyce’s slick direction were both strong enough that I didn’t really stop to ponder the utter preposterousness of the spy plot until after the movie was over. If she is really a sleeper agent, though, then how on earth would it benefit the Russians to expose such a successful mole right before they really needed her? It makes no sense whatsoever, but such questions of logic are easy to ignore amidst a fast-moving action plot. (Once you do start asking those questions, however, you might also ask yourself exactly why “the world’s foremost arachnologist” has unprecedented access to the North Korean border. Is the North Korean border just crawling with exotic spiders?) Instead of wasting time contemplating the logic of it all (or lack thereof), we’re breathlessly following Jolie’s daring escape from a CIA tactical team. Along the way she improvises with tactics equal to Jason Bourne’s, mountaineers along precarious ledges, leaps from moving truck to moving truck, and–when the situation dictates–ruthlessly mows down whole cadres of enemy agents. Salt is a truly exciting movie with refreshingly old-school action, and for that it deserves to be a hit. I just can’t escape the feeling that it could have been so much more. Oh well. We have the inevitable sequel to look forward to for that...

*To protect his dignity, we’ll say nothing of The Saint.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mejor Vestida de la Semana 30 del 2010

Aquí está la sección semanal con las elegidas a mejor vestida de la semana. Espero que os guste, y que votéis por vuestra favorita. ¡Gracias por Votar y Feliz Fin de Semana!

Todavía podéis votar a este Blog en el Concurso de Galicia de Moda, podéis hacer click aquí.

Jessica Alba, Mejor Vestida de la Semana 29 del 2010

Jessica Alba es la Mejor Vestida de la Semana con este vestido blanco y rosa de Christian Dior.

En segundo lugar, y también en tercero, encontramos a Olivia Palermo. En ambas fotos está fantástica.
¡¡Muchas Gracias a todos por votar!!