Saturday, March 22, 2014



I have emerged from my day of self-imposed house arrest, ready to take on the world; not bad after a day of bad cinema, Spago's take-out menu, and Nurse Tameka's care. I have much to do today. I absolutely must go over my Sink For Your Supper numbers so everything will be ready for the Bluefield, West Virginia concert. I also have to pack a wardrobe appropriate to Appalachia. I own some lovely little designer things, cunningly ripped, left over from the days of Flashdance which should do nicely for street wear. I also must run and see Mr. Pepper, my personal licensed cosmetologist, for a bikini wax so I shan't be too embarrassed when my skirt chugs off downstage during the thrilling new finale.

Norman has been absolutely no help. He’s had this amused grin on his face as he’s been watching me dash around this morning like a madwoman. Instead of giving me assistance or advice, he's rehearsing speeches for his upcoming audition. The Confessions of Saint Augustine project is still on. The casting director is deciding between him and Robert Wagner for the part of Augustine's father. I hope Norman gets it as it would get him out of the house a bit. When I asked him, very nicely, to please move out of the way, he retorted that he'd submitted my name to the producers for the part of the Hippo. I was not amused.

I barely had time this evening to collapse in the home theater for a rest; given the theme of the day, I popped the DVD of Speed into the machine. Speed is one of those roller coaster thrill rides disguised as a movie. This one involves a mad bomber and a city bus that can't slow down. The biggest difficulty with this type of movie is repetition, once you introduce the characters and then put them in mortal peril, it's difficult to keep flinging more disasters at them without just doing variations on a theme. Speed solves this problem neatly by actually being three short films joined together as one. The first act introduces the obligatory psycho villain (Dennis Hopper who makes this kind of role a specialty); as the film starts, he wires a bomb to an express elevator in a high-rise building. His motivation is financial; he’s trying to fund a comfortable retirement through a ransom. Enter our hero (Keanu Reeves) and his affable sidekick (Jeff Daniels) who have to rescue the poor people trapped in the damaged car before it plummets to the bottom of the shaft. The second act is the bus act. This time the mad bomber has placed a bomb on an LA city bus. It’s rigged to go off if the bus slows below 50 mph. Keanu finds out, has to board the bus to figure out how to defuse the bomb, and we introduce the heroine/love interest (Sandra Bullock in the part that established her as America's favorite spunky girl next door). Sandra, who lost her driver's license for speeding, has to take over driving the bus because (oh, never mind - it's just another one of those highly improbable plot twists to ratchet up the tension). There’s a successful resolution but the film’s not over yet. There’s a third act and, in this one, Keanu has to battle the psycho and rescue the girl from a speeding LA subway train.

The secret of the film's success is in its structure. The main plot, the bus movie is only just over an hour long. This allows director Jan DeBont and screenwriter Graham Yost to pile on the complications quick and fast, never letting the audience catch their breath. The creators also needn't worry about getting too repetitious, as they don't have that much time to fill. The other two films which bookend the main plot are only about twenty to twenty-five minutes in length. It's real easy to keep the adrenaline going there.

If pacing were the only measure of directorial success, movies would be dull. DeBont's background as Paul Verhoven's long time cinematographer serves him in good stead. Shot after shot is beautifully composed. The opening credits are superimposed over a glorious shot of an elevator shaft that segues right into plot. Another memorable moment shows flames reflected in the windows, framing the frightened faces of innocent people. There is also a witty little visual homage to Eisenstein's Potemkin that turns out very differently than you might expect which is a lot of fun. Mark Mancina’s driving score also helps the film.

Jack Traven, the bomb squad expert, is a part Keanu Reeves was born to play. Jack is a man of few words, relying instead on forceful and physical action. Reeves is one of the most physical of actors. His sculpted face and deep eyes convey much in terms of emotion and he is a natural with body language. The problem with most Reeves films is directors miscasting him in parts that require the delivery of heavy text; the poor man can't deliver a line of more than about three words without sounding idiotic. Give him a part like this, where he doesn't have to talk much, and he's dynamite. Dennis Hopper does a variation on his Blue Velvet routine and you almost expect the gas mask to come out. The movie drives forward at such a pace that Hopper works, even if he is a walking clichĂ©. Jeff Daniels is a nice touch as he's playing completely against type. He's often at his best when allowed to do something different and he does not disappoint. Sandra Bullock does her warm and spunky routine - nothing special but it’s a fine counterpoint to Reeves. Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Beuller's Day Off ) resurfaces as an adult in a small comic relief role. He hasn't lost his great comic timing.

Elevator shaft dangling. Smashed crane. Screwdriver to ear. Bus flambé. News helicopters. Children in danger. Rigged garbage cans. Sign destruction. Aluminum recyclables massacre.

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