268. Outland [B-]
269. Taxi Driver [A]
270. Cinderella Man [B-]
OUTLAND: Having brought up this film enough times in conversation elsewhere on this board, it was about time that I actually watched it. Commonly described as a remake of HIGH NOON (but in space!), I was surprised by how little the two films resemble each other. Outside of the last act in very general terms (the town lawman faces off against a band of killers who come into town at twelve noon) it’s much less related to the Fred Zinnemann-directed film than to the western genre itself. To list just a few differences: Sean Connery’s wife is not a pacifist, nor is he retiring from his post (in fact, he has just arrived), and the killers who arrive at the end of the film were not previously jailed by him, but are hired thugs by the company he works for. Western tropes less specific to HIGN NOON are more prevalent: Connery plays a town marshal who has just come into town, with a wife and son, who is too good and honest to ignore the town’s obvious corruption. Connery’s tin badge and weapon of choice (a shotgun) further drive home the parallels.
But enough about that—the question is this—is the film any good? Well, like director Peter Hyams two other SF features (2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT and CAPRICORN ONE) it’s sufficiently entertaining, but never great. Most of the visual effects work well (though some are a bit clunky), and the production design (which is heavily inspired by ALIEN—OUTLAND also imports that film’s main title sequence and its composer, Jerry Goldsmith) has that wonderful dirty, industrial feel of 80s science fiction. However, much of the camerawork is pretty meat and potatoes, and the science is iffy at best. A particular annoyance: the vacuum of space apparently makes people blow up like balloons and then explode, and the film doesn’t have TOTAL RECALL’s excuse of being Quaid’s fantasy. Still, the film’s supporting cast is quite good (including Peter Boyle and Clarke Peters). I’d say it’s a prime candidate for a remake (and, considering the influence it’s had on Duncan Jones in MOON, I’d nominate him to direct it).
TAXI DRIVER: This may be Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, but it is assuredly one of his best films. I’m especially impressed by how effortlessly the film invites you to identify with Travis Bickle and his vigilantism, only to slowly reveal that you’ve been identifying with a man who is positively insane. The ending, as it has always been, remains an open question. Does it reflect a reality where Travis’ bloody rampage receives societal validation, and Travis himself makes a full recovery from his extensive wounds, or is it the insane fantasy of a dying man? I lean to the fantasy answer, but I’m happy that the film lacks a conclusive answer. Hopefully the rumored sequel that was discussed earlier this year never happens, because it would have to answer those questions to go forward.
CINDERELLA MAN: Ron Howard can be an exceptional filmmaker (APOLLO 13 is a film I take great pleasure in returning to), but he often falls into the trap of simplistic and sentimental storytelling. This is by no means a bad film (it is hardly the bore of a blockbuster that was THE DAVINCI CODE, nor the sentimentally-revisionist mess of A BEAUTIFUL MIND), but it isn’t a complex one. Jim Braddock is a straight-forward all-American hero, one who doesn’t steal (even when he and his family are starving) and pays back the ERA Office as soon as he has the cash. In case you missed his and his wife motivations, flashbacks are included to remind us that he’s just boxing to support his family. There’s a minor subplot involving a friend of Braddock’s who tries to organize dock workers (communism is implied, but never explicit), but the character is quickly killed (he dies off-screen), but it is entirely incidental to Braddock’s triumphant affirmation of capitalism. Craig Bierko plays Braddock’s boxing antagonist, and is made into such an absolutely evil figure (which apparently pissed off his relatives) that there are no shades of grey in the end.