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🎬 #82 Action and Farce, an Irresistible Combo.
A romp, an action comedy, a comedy adventure - whatever you want to call it, the combination of comedy and action has been there since the origins of cinema. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a rollercoaster - the compelling duo of breakneck action and the comforting laugh reflex, because it’s so brilliantly ridiculous.
This week are two great ones - I hope they brighten up your day/night/weekend.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: TRUE LIES
1994 Dir James Cameron
In between Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Titanic, Cameron knocked out this hit, adapted from the French film - La Totale. Cameron’s first and only foray into action comedy, delivers because he’s James Cameron. You can imagine this film in the hands of a lesser director becoming quite formulaic and forgettable. But his obsession over story points, his verve with visual set-pieces and perfect action pacing, make this a film that is endlessly enjoyable. His cast also shoulders the film to make it a stand out - Arnold and everyone really - flex their comedy muscles to show that they're in peak form. The blend of stunning action set-pieces and genuinely fun, farcical comedy is an addictive blend, the pace of each blitzed together - complimenting the other.
Jamie Lee Curtis is especially amazing as bored house wife turned apprentice secret agent - but the real Cameron flex here is the perfectly executed bridge chase sequence. The strengths of his filmmaking skills on full display - especially his expertise with seamlessly blending miniatures and practical large scale visual effects. All the stakes, drama, and action happen to characters that we really empathise with and root for. Without that, no amount of perfect action set pieces and visual flourishes will make a good film. Cameron’s specificity of vision, corals the story and characters - they’re all pointing in the same direction, they know they’re in the same film and they know what type of film it is. Something else that stands out about the film, and I think, I’m yet to see in any other, is a note on a subtitle. Harry is speaking Arabic and there’s a descriptor that appears next to the subtle so it reads: ‘In perfect Arabic.’ Another funny and very specific Cameron touch, not to mention the onscreen kiss backlit by a nuclear blast.
TL;DR Cameron’s experiment in adaptation and action comedy pays off massively as one of my personal favourites in the genre.
*Available to steam on Paramount Plus and AMC Plus in the US and Disney Plus in the UK.
Fact: Cameron makes his [I think] only ‘cameo’ in any of his films as the voice of the helicopter pilot who says ‘Yeah she’s got his head in his lap, Yahoo.’
FILM TWO: KNIGHT AND DAY
2010 Dir James Mangold
A film that contains the line - ‘nobody follow us or I’ll kill myself and then her’ has got my vote any day of the week. Cruise plays massively into his action star persona, but flipped on its head, played for fun not the action dramatics. It’s like he stepped off the set of his Mission Impossible franchise and decided to do something just for fun. His character, a send up - a mishmash of action characters from across action cinema [and like I said before, a healthy helping of Buster Keaton] takes us on a whirlwind farce across the globe - with a civilian in tow - played by Cameron Diaz. One of my favourite recurring sequences is the ‘drugged montages.’ Mangold shortcuts huge swathes of action by showing them from the perspective of a character drifting in and out of consciousness.
Cruise and Cameron play to their comedy strengths with Cameron, a comedic veteran, playing the ingénue, helping the audience orient themselves in the world of global espionage. Cruise’s perfect, disgraced spy is particularly funny - but remains a fair few notches down from his amazing Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. Mangold’s handling of the pace, the set-pieces and the mix of action adventure and comedy was a good audition for his Indiana Jones duties.
TL;DR Cruise and Cameron revive their Vanilla Sky chemistry but this time in the shape of Mangold’s propulsive action comedy.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK. Also available to stream on Netflix, Prime and Disney plus in the UK.
Fact: Cameron Diaz and Cruise were in a third film together - Spielberg's Minority Report, in which she has a brief cameo as a passenger on a train. In the same shot, Cameron Crowe [the director of Vanilla Sky] is the foreground subject.
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