Hulk; Bringing Down The House; Dirty Deeds; The Recruit


It is hard to put one's finger on Taiwanese director, Ang Lee. His career has covered a wide range of genres: Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility, Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now, he has made a comic-strip hero action movie. He has said that he would like to do a musical!

Hulk is not your everyday hero. In fact, he is more in the tradition of King Kong than Spiderman. While Peter Porter is infected by a mutant spider that enables him to be the saviour of the city, Bruce Banner has been infected by his arrogant scientist father's experiments on himself. Nor does he know this. When he tries to save the life of a fellow
scientist and receives a super electric charge, his depth physiology and psychology are both detonated. His Jungian shadow, his smouldering inner rage, is so huge that he transforms into the destructive Hulk. One of his difficulties, he confesses, when he returns to himself, is that he enjoys the rage. Hulk saves no one. He destroys property and the greedy entrepreneur who wants to make money out of potential weapons of mass destruction. But, he can return to himself, like King Kong, and be tamed again by his love for Betty Ross.

Hulk is, therefore, both comic book and philosophical. It questions the ethics of experiments that dehumanise. In the character of David Banner, we have the mad scientist gone beserk (especially as he transforms into a destructive monster). Nick Nolte is one of the wildest-eyed, wildest-haired would-be Frankenstein on screen.

With the military context and with Sam Elliot's stern and stubborn General Ross, we have echoes of The Lawnmower Man and experiments to be at the service of American power. In the post September 11th era, Hulk offers some critique on warfare and terrorism. The fact that the military find it impossible to capture or quell hulk offers an ironic comment on American peace-keeping in Iraq.

Eric Bana is the nice Bruce Banner who is bewildered by his transformations. Jennifer Connolly is his strong-minded and loving colleague. As regards Hulk himself, the producers have not followed the television lead of having Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno do the two roles. Rather, Hulk is computer-generated. In the realism context of the film, this oddly shaped (though intelligently faced) creature, bouncing all over the countryside and flinging helicopters as if they were toys, does not really mesh with the film as a whole. Too much need for suspension of disbelief.

Bringing Down the House

The 'odd couple' has proven a constant and popular theme in American films. This time it is quite an odd couple: Steve Martin plays a middle-aged lawyer, divorced but still loving his wife, and a loving father; Queen Latifah plays a solid ex-prisoner who has been framed and who wants justice done. She has been corresponding by email with the lawyer, leading him to think she is a glamorous blonde. When she arrives at his house on a date, it is definitely not what he expected and it goes downhill from there. Obviously, by the end of the film, it is uphill again and she has resolved
most of his personal, family and business problems.

The humour is not particularly sophisticated - undemandingly amusing.

Queen Latifah has shown us in a number of films just what a strong presence she is. This culminated in an Oscar nomination for her role as Mama Morton in Chicago. Steve Martin is... well, Steve Martin, angsting over problems, though not without a touch of wheeler-dealering. Jean Smart is his ex-wife, Eugene Levy is his leering partner, especially in Queen Latifah's direction. Joan Plowright plays a snooty American grand dame from the South brought up in England who puts her foot in it all the time with her snobbery and racist attitudes. Add to that the gangsters who have framed
Latifah and you have quite a mixture for comedy and mishaps.-

Dirty Deeds

Although there are American gangsters in this film, it is particularly Australian. In fact, it is particularly a Sydney film. Overseas critics thought it exaggerated with a touch of farce. However, older Sydneysiders can tell you of the 60s and the days when there were violent disputes about poker machine sales' rights (and wrongs), about warfare and vendettas and how the New South Wales state premier of the time, Sir Robin Askin, has been unmasked as a corrupt politician.

This is not to say that Dirty Deeds is history. Rather it has touches of Aussie humour with its drama. It was written and directed by David Caesar who began his career in documentaries, made some feature films (especially Idiot Box about unemployed young men in Sydney and television culture and violence) and a number of television movies and series episodes. He has a good ear for the accents and speech patterns of his characters and it all has the ring of authenticity, no matter how exaggerated it may seem.

Most of this is to the credit of Bryan Brown who sounds 'fair dinkum' in his rather inarticulate eloquence. He can be both sinister and charming - which is precisely what his gangster character is like. Toni Collette plays his gum-chewing, brook no rivals, tough wife. Sam Neill is a corrupt Sydney police officer who keeps a lid on everything. Sam Worthington is a young Vietnam vet who has to make choices for his life: thuggery or being a chef.

John Goodman and Felix Williamson are two Americans who are sent to Australia to seal the deal on local buying of poker machines. Goodman is older and a touch wiser and is content to ride with the situation, eventually seeing that with the money deals and murders, it is worth nothing. Williamson, on the other hand, is a trigger happy petty crook who does not understand Australia and who is more at home with double deals. When you stir all this together, you get a fairly true picture of those dirty deeds days - the time when Pizza is being introduced to Australia and the country is being transformed by international culture.

The Recruit

In recent years, Al Pacino has been making a lot of films. He has a strong screen persona, with an ability to come across as much larger than life (Devil's Advocate, On Any Sunday, Simone, Insomnia). In The Recruit, he is definitely larger than life, playing a veteran of years of covert activity, now on the brink of retirement, full of angers and resentments, but an
overt patriot.

Colin Farrell, on the other hand, is a young man in search of a calling. The first part of the film shows Pacino playing cat and mouse with Farrell, trying to recruit him for secret service. Will he, won't he? What means of manipulating and manouvering will he use? Will Farrell succumb? Well, the title of the film does give it away. He does.

What follows are scenes of gruelling training, enough to make anyone in their right mind want to give up. However, Farrell's father may have been killed in some kind of operation in South America and he wants to know the truth. He perseveres and Pacino offers tantalising incentives of information.

The third act is more complex: the test. Farrell has to prove is worth as a secret agent, but undercover activity means living perpetually in puzzle and at risk. Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? Who is trying to kill whom? And why? And is it worth it? And that is how the film ends, with a high melodramatic confrontation, speeches about patriotism,
violence. While this gives us action entertainment, I am not sure that it is a very effective campaign for real life recruiting to the CIA or other agencies.

The director is Roger Donaldson who made Thirteen Days and other action films.

LONDON - 4 September 2003 - 556 words

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