May 6, 2008

Film Reviews: Not quite ‘Flawless,’ but entertaining to say the least

‘Flawless’(Starring Michael Caine, Demi Moore, Lambert Wilson, Joss Ackland and Constantine Gregory. Directed by Michael Radford. Rated PG-13; 1:45. Starts Friday at Baxter Avenue Theatres. LEO Report Card: B)    Right as the summer blockbusters are beginning to hit, director Michael Radford’s film “Flawless” gives us a smart heist movie with none-too-subtle liberal themes. It’s great timing — this time of year, a merely serviceable movie can be mistaken for a fantastic one.    Michael Caine plays Hobbs, a Cockney night janitor at the ultra-evil London Diamond Co. It’s 1960, an era of more (overt) classism and sexism, and he strikes up a friendship with Laura Quinn (Demi Moore). There’s an obvious bond of victimhood among the two; Caine is ignored and degraded because of the neighborhood he was born in, and Moore is struggling to burst through the glass ceiling.    It looks bad for her. She’s just been passed up for yet another job. So naturally, they devise revenge in the form of a comparatively modest bank heist. Just a thermos full of stolen diamonds can both stick it to The Man and set them up for life.    While the symbolism is obvious, it also provides much of the fun. Did Demi Moore accidentally sign up for a Marxist rant? Will these exploited workers (one working-class man and one upper-class woman) free themselves from the chains of patriarchal capitalist tyranny? Or is there something milder in store for her character, like a last-minute change of heart? Prison time? Or worse, a husband?    Yes, that’s an awful lot of symbolic weight for a heist movie, but it’s a good thing it’s there to keep Moore’s character grounded. Moore herself lacks the mixture of gravitas and femininity that the character requires. Her character is meant to represent part of the educated upper class — perhaps just shy of haughty — in a Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck sort of way. Moore is too rigid, too “G.I. Jane.”    Caine delivers with a character he can pretty much pull off in his sleep. He’s been doing the big-hearted-but-wily-working-class-Englishman since before I was born. It’s possible he’s gone to this well too many times, because I almost missed how good he was as Hobbs. By anybody else, this would be a truly memorable performance, but for Caine, this is destined to be just another great character in a career of them.    Ignoring a few ill-advised, book-ended sequences that have Moore pile on the fake-old-person makeup, the film is well-directed. Radford has a classic, Hitchcockian approach to the thriller; the heist scenes are so nerve-wracking for the audience as to be nearly sadistic. When things start to go wrong at the last minute (as they always do), it’s enough to make your stomach turn. And not in a “Saw III” way.    Flawless? Not quite. Clever and pleasant diversion? Definitely. —Alan Abbott•••‘Iron Man’ to the rescue(Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG-13; 2:06. LEO Report Card: B-)    That “Iron Man” succeeds as well as it does is a minor miracle. It’s no surprise, of course, that Robert Downey Jr. turns in a solid performance in the title role. What is surprising is that director Jon Favreau (auteur behind masterpieces like “Elf”) rises to the occasion. Perhaps Favreau felt some pressure given his first zillion-dollar budget for his first summer blockbuster. This one will likely not be his last.    Favreau’s skill lies in knowing what to leave out. Though obviously a high-tech action-fest, “Iron Man” (at least until Act III) avoids the visual overkill that has marred nearly every super-hero drama of the last five years.     Instead, the film finds its finest moments in small scenes of exposition mostly involving Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow, his assistant. Iron Man is actually the high-rolling armaments tycoon Tony Stark of Stark Industries, a major American military contractor. Stark begins to change his attitude about his profession after a near fatal (for him) abduction in Afghanistan. That and the witty banter he shares with Pepper Potts (Paltrow) serve to humanize a character who is often otherwise arrogant and abrasive.    It is at the juncture of character and theme that “Iron Man” shows its weaknesses. Tony S. is basically a good guy aside from having become monstrously wealthy building machines of horrific destructive power. The real bad guy is Tony’s lieutenant Stane (a cue-ball-headed Jeff Bridges, hamming it up). Stark has in fact seen the non-violent light and so is building his jet-powered super-suit in order to catch the real villains.    Brisk pacing, tart humor and the smell of popcorn should be sufficient to distract viewers from the fact that they are watching yet another gleaming and glorious war film tastefully dressed up to deliver an anti-military message. —Paul Kopasz