A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 92 – The Rock

The Rock – May 31st, 2010

It being Memorial Day here in the US, we decided we wanted to watch something at least tangentally related to the US armed forces. And then we looked through our collection. We don’t have much in the way of war or soldier movies. We don’t own Saving Private Ryan. We don’t own Good Morning Vietnam (yet). We just don’t buy war movies. Huh. So I scrolled through the list and picked out a couple that would be really horrible ideas. And a couple that might work. When I hit The Rock I thought “Huh, isn’t the whole reason Ed Harris’ character and his Marines steal the chemical weapon and take the Alcatraz tour group hostage to get the attention of the government because they’ve covered up the deaths of soldiers? It’s the whole first scene.” And I was right. Sure, this is massively over the top and involves domestic terrorism and Sean Connery hamming it up. But well, if I was going to take it far more seriously than a popcorn action movie, which is really what it is, there’s a thread of respect for the armed forces running through it, from the Navy SEALS who help our leads to infiltrate Alcatraz to the whole “respect our fallen soldiers” plot. So while it’s a Micheal Bay explosion-fest action flick, I think it’s suitable for today.

Part of what makes this an interesting action movie is that you’re meant to see the bad guys as having a point. Their methods are totally and completely unacceptable in any way, but their message is one that the viewer is supposed to empathize with. The government even pretty much admits to it. The reactions to Hummel’s initial speech are a mix of disbelief, shock and the look that comes from knowing that if what he says gets out, the public reaction will be hideous beyond belief. And then there’s Connery’s character, Mason, a former British secret agent who’s been held without trial for the past twenty-five years. They know they did bad things. So the bad guys are bad guys because of how they’re handling it, not because of why. It’s an interesting set-up. It creates a level of tension in the movie on top of the chemical weapon stuff and the odd couple team of Connery-the-aging-secret-agent and Cage-the-geeky-scientist infiltrating a hostage situation. It means you can’t unequivocally wish for the bad guys to get it. I mean, with the car chase through San Francisco, the good guys do more damage to civilians and civilian property than the bad guys do. There’s a whole confrontation between the Navy SEALS and the Marines under Hummel’s command that underlines just what I’m talking about. The “good guys” agree with the “bad guys” motives but not their actions. It’s an impossible situation. Which is what makes the tension perfect.

I’ve probably given enough of the plot already, but for the sake of completeness, here’s an overview to catch the bits I missed. Hummel, a heavily decorated Brigadier General, angry about the government’s cover-up of the deaths of soldiers on black ops missions, steals several rockets full of a chemical agent called VX (which really exists and is super nasty but doesn’t make your skin melt off) and takes a bunch of hostages who were on a tour of Alcatraz. He threatens to shoot the rockets off to San Francisco if the government doesn’t transfer some money and do something, whatever. He makes the threat and he’s got a crapload of civilian hostages so the government calls in their best chemical weapons guy, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nic Cage) and former secret agent John Mason (Sean Connery) who’s the only known person to have escaped alive from Alcatraz. They infiltrate the island and have to get to all the VX rockets and remove the guidance chips from them so they’ll “harmlessly” splash into the water. Never mind the damage they’d do in the water, but whatever, fine. So the majority of the movie is Goodspeed and Mason sneaking around Alcatraz and getting in the occasional fight with some of the Marines holding it, finding rockets and disabling them. Mason starts out thinking Goodspeed’s a useless schmuck but around when Goodspeed disables the first rocket he clearly gains some respect for him. Obviously Goodspeed’s no soldier, but he does know his shit and his shit is lethal. So they disable all but two rockets and the climax of the movie involves one rocket being launched and the government sending in a team of fighter jets to firebomb the whole place to destroy the VX and Goodspeed has to disable the last rocket before that happens. But of course he can’t just go find them, he has to deal with the remaining Marines, who mutiny so you don’t have to empathize with them anymore and can cheer when they get offed in a variety of creative ways.

Really, beyond the soldier stuff, this is a buddy flick about Mason and Goodspeed, two guys who’d never have met otherwise and who initially don’t like each other, coming to work together and respect each other. Goodspeed starts out thinking Mason’s an old crank who’s really pretty fucking scary. Mason starts out thinking Goodspeed’s totally useless and a burden to drag around. Some of the best moments in the movie involve the two of them, with either Goodspeed actually seeing some action and being alternately horrified and empowered by it, or Mason doing some awesome Alcatraz breakout stuff and wowing Goodspeed. They have some fantastic interactions that make the movie fun to watch as more than just an action flick. Ed Harris as Hummel is fantastic too, doing what I mentioned above: Imbuing the enemy with a sense of purpose that you and everyone else in the movie are meant to care about. I’m not bothering to much mention the whole thing about Goodspeed’s girlfriend and how she’s pregnant and it’s meant to give him purpose. I get it, but I think he has enough purpose without mentioning her. He mentions her like, twice, and then really his focus is on the VX rockets and how they’ll kill millions. It gives his character a little more depth, like Mason’s daughter (who’s only met her father once before due to his unrecorded incarceration) gives his character depth. But it’s not a major force in the movie for me. The major force for me is Mason and Goodspeed and Hummel and the Marines and the rockets. That’s what I watch it for.

Some final notes: Did Klaus Badelt watch this a lot before doing the music for Pirates of the Caribbean? Because the main theme in this movie, done by Hans Zimmer, is incredibly similar. Eerily so. And this came first. Also, this is a Michael Bay movie, and you know what that means: Explosions. It’s impressive. Being fans of Mythbusters, we’ve watched some specials about how they do those fancy car explosions and what car explosions actually look like when they happen and the force that an explosion like that has. So now when I see big fancy car explosions, I can’t help but think about that. It doesn’t make the movie less enjoyable, but it does make me chuckle. Then too, Mythbusters did an Alcatraz escape episode, so really, one could patch together a The Rock themed Mythbusters episode. That would be fun. Anyhow, this is an enjoyable semi-serious action movie with enough humorous dialogue (gallows humor, to be sure, but humor nonetheless) to make you smile between the seriousness and the explosions. What more can one ask for from a popcorn action flick?

May 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | 2 Comments

The Rock

May 31, 2010

The Rock

I choose to view this movie as James Bond flick. Just a kind of AU James Bond. In the sixties Bond was captured by the FBI and has been in American custody in a supermax prison ever since. And this movie is the story of how he eventually escapes. All the rest of the movie is just window dressing. Big, exploding, noisy, window dressing.

Actually, for a Michael Bay movie this is pretty much the cream of the crop. It’s got all his usual explody nonsense, but it’s better done than his more recent junk. The plot involves a U.S. general driven bad by the government’s refusal to acknowledge the sacrifices made by soldiers under his command in top secret black ops. When he and his team steal a bunch of chemical weapons and hole up on Alcatraz to demand that the soldiers’ families get compensation the only way to stop him is for a desk-jockey FBI chemical weapons expert and the only living man to have broken out of the Rock to join a group of navy seals and take the prison back. Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Well it’s far more convoluted and silly in practice. There’s a daring raid on a high-security weapons depot. There’s a big San Francisco car chase that ends with an improbably large explosion. There’s a lengthy mine cart fight scene. It’s not really explained why there are mine carts in the tunnels beneath Alcatraz (perhaps they’re part of the laundry?) It’s a big mess of stupidity and adrenaline pumping action.

The only reason this movie works as more than a stupid summer action flick (which is what it mostly is) is that the casting is better than you might expect given the plot summary above. Ed Harris as General Hummel plays an interestingly human bad guy. He has to carefully walk the line between driven madman and honorable soldier. Nick Cage is the FBI agent who’s out of his element. And of course James Bond himself – Sir Sean Connery – is the FBI prisoner whose brain holds the key to getting in to Alcatraz to save everyone. It’s Sean’s movie, really. Everybody else is just playing in it.

Watching this movie tonight I’m struck by how much it is part of a progression in summer action blockbusters. You can see that Michael Bay is refining the tool-set that was developed through the action blockbusters of the eighties and early nineties. It’s got the kill-the-badguys-one-at-a-time formula forged in such action greats as Commando and Under Siege. It’s got military camaraderie as seen in Aliens and Abyss (including Michael Biehn as one of the marines sent in with Cage and Connery.) It’s got the girlfriend looking on in concern waiting to hear back from her boyfriend as seen in Apollo 13. It’s an amalgam of great action moments all strung together. And of course in bits like the trolley car tossed in the air and then sliding along the ground after Cage’s character it presages the silly excess of Michael Bay movies to come. (Some of which we will be reviewing later!)

I do enjoy a good turn-off-your-brain movie, and this is amongst the best. Action and explosions with a bare framework of a plot. If you try to think about it you’ll hurt yourself, but in general it’s fun to watch. And, really, has Sean Connery ever been anything but easy on the eyes? He’s so believable as a kick-ass but still suave hero even in his sixties that it’s simply unfair to us lesser mortals.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment