Monday, July 31, 2006

Miami Vice

by Brian
Let's start off by saying what Miami Vice is not. It's not another Heat, or even another Collateral. But it's also not Bad Boys 3. It's well made and beautifully shot, and while the action scenes don't match Mann's previous work, they're still more exciting than the rote overkill by the Michael Bays of the world. And while the plot does stretch credibility, the film never feels stupid and never insults the viewer.

The biggest problem is that, well, there doesn't seem to be much of a point. It lacks the urgency and depth of previous Mann films. Heat was a masterpiece of mood and character, but there's little effort at a consistent mood or character development here. Crockett and Tubbs are complete blank slates; no background or motivation is ever given, and besides a couple of by-the-numbers sex scenes, they have no personal moments at all. There's an interesting movie to be made about the psychological tolls of undercover work, but Mann surprisingly doesn't pay much mind to this angle at all except for a couple of tossed-off lines of dialogue. Despite the inviting warmth of the wonderful digital cinematography (better here than in Collateral), this is a cold, cold movie.

This would be OK if the plot wasn't so perfunctory, but as labyrinthine as it is, it's not particularly interesting. Mann might have taken the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the drug trade, but we don't see much except for some crates being loaded onto boats. The film doesn't really drag, exactly, but afterwards I was wondering just how the 146 minutes or so were filled. Scene after scene comes and goes without making much of an impact.

As for my long-running crusade against Colin Farrell, this is the first movie I've seen him in since Minority Report that I didn't find him actively annoying. On the other hand, that's probably because Mann gives him absolutely nothing to do. He walks through the movie without bothering to so much as react to the things going on around him - even faced with a third-act twist he just seems to shrug it off and keep shooting. Since Foxx, an unquestionably talented actor, does the same thing, I have to assume this to be a directorial choice. So, all things considered, in the Mann v. Farrell life-force contest, I'll call it a draw.


Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Big thumbs down from me. I echo a lot of Brian's comments--it was an empty experience, cold, cold, cold. I really can't think of anything I liked about it. The photography was okay, but nothing to write home about. And he's right--Farrell and Foxx are complete blanks. The movie starts when they are in mid-investigation, and it makes you feel like you've walked into the middle of a movie. Frankly, I was ready to walk out about fifteen minutes in, but stuck it out. I should have walked.

8/01/2006 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

God, I still haven't seen this--it's truly been a lousy year for moviegoing for me, but I did come across a tidbit I was going to incorporate into my upcoming review/comment, but since that's taking so long....

I was a pretty big fan of the series, but haven't really watched more than an episode or two since its original run (my two faves "Florence Italy" and "Shadow in the Dark"). I was stunned to come across something while caught up in all the movie PR: an early final season episode, "Too Much, Too Late," never aired on NBC and was unseen until 1990 on USA. I'll be looking for that one on the Sleuth channel....

8/24/2006 07:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Saw this a few weeks after you guys.

It's not the perfect Miami Vice film that could have been, nor is it exactly the best movie Michael Mann has ever done. But I dug it. I seriously think it sits pretty well in the Mann canon of films.

It bears all of the trademarks of a Michael Mann film. The criticism of it being "cold"? Since when have his films been "warm" (so to speak)? That would have to be Ali, and I doubt that's an example one wishes to hold up of a proper Mann movie.

Nearly all of Mann's films have dealt with professionals, usually men, caught, while also defined, in their roles of being - simply put - one of the good or the bad guys. On one side of the fence or the other.

Take The Insider, for example - which is more and more looking like the best film of Mann's career - deals with one guy going away from the 'bad guys' to the 'good guys', and then realizing doing the right thing might have been a mistake, and the other guy supposedly the 'good guy' realizing that he may in the end not be one of the 'good guys' but instead be working for the bad guys.

In the cases of Heat, Collateral, Last of the Mohicans, even Manhunter, this case can be made quite clearly as well. Not with Ali (or perhaps The Keep, which I have not seen), but then again, that's the exception.

In the case of Miami Vice you have this again, professionals, defined in their roles as 'good guys' but having to spend their time defining them in others eyes as 'bad guys'. Right there there's both an internal and, settings for, an external conflict. And then there's Gong Li, who has defined herself as a 'bad guy' (even though, yes I know, she's not a 'guy', and this also makes her pretty interesting in the Michael Mann canon because she's the first woman in any Mann film I can remember also suffering from this conflict. Oh wait, maybe Madeleine Stowe in Mohicans counts as well, even though she's not a professional like Gong Li can be defined as), and interestingly, *spoiler* her greatest emotional outburst comes not when threatened by guns, shells and violence, but when she realizes she's been betting on someone from 'the wrong side'. *spoiler end*

That great shout of "who are you?!", is sort of a template for the entire film, and I think Mann's entire output of films. Are we good or bad guys, and what is preferable? If your results are better being bad, why be a good guy? Simple, but big, questions.

Then there's the fact that the film looked great, even if it wasn't his best shot film, the performances were good, realistic even, even if they can't be said to have been great, the soundtrack is really good (listening to it now), and the action set pieces were really awesome, when they eventually happened. And I found the story interesting, even if it was just because I recognized the template.

So I wasn't disappointed. I'll even go so far and say it was a good film.

8/29/2006 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Maybe they're showing a different version of the movie over in Sweden. You pretty much described all the things that would have made it a good movie, but which I thought were ideas that were not developed at all.

I would never describe Insider, Heat, Mohicans or even Collateral as 'cold'. They all had very strong emotional currents, in a lot of the ways you describe. Miami Vice was set up that way, but just didn't follow through on any of that.

8/29/2006 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Got to agree with Brian. You can't call a movie like Mohicans, which contains a romantically sentimental line such as "I will find you, no matter what occurs" to be cold. And the Al Pacino cop in Heat had oodles more shading than either of the cops in Miami Vice.

8/30/2006 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

On the other hand, Miami Vice did have the line, "I'm a fiend for mojitos," so maybe we're overlooking the emotional shading at play.

8/30/2006 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Where did I say his films were cold? I just asked if they were what one could define as 'warm'? Or, what have you, sentimental?

Like I said before, most of the characters in his films are pretty hard edged people, so them being it here is hardly surprising.

You pretty much described all the things that would have made it a good movie, but which I thought were ideas that were not developed at all.

The ideas are there if one sees them, if you know what I mean? They are somewhat developed, just not very fully.

Like I said before, the whole film is lacking in nearly all departments we have come to expect in comparison to previous Mann films, but the qualities are still there, themes, photo, music, and even emotional undercurrents (was I the only one who felt both the bad guys feelings implode/explode on screen when they realized they'd been betrayed?).

But I think the disappointment of this not being a great Mann sort of overshadows the fact that this is at least a good Mann movie, and good film period. Not great, good. Compare this to the Bad Boys films and you see what I mean, even though that is going pretty low.

8/30/2006 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Well, yeah, it's better than Bad Boys, I already gave it that.

The ideas are there if one sees them, if you know what I mean?

Yeah, and I saw the ideas, but having the ideas and doing something with them are two different things. You can make a movie about undercover cops, but if you're not going to do anything about being undercover, what's the point?

You're quite right, that a lot of the elements of a Mann film are here. But because the template is recognizable, the things that are missing are just as recognizable: a compelling story and well-established characters. And without those things, what have you got? Two and a half hours of interesting cinematography, that's what.

8/30/2006 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

Last of the Mohicans is, quite possibly, my favorite movie of all time. Not the expanded director's edition, however. In addition to putting back scenes he left out Mann actually CUT some of my favorite items from the movie for his definitive edition. This has soured me on Mann for along time. I don't think he and I see eye to eye....

8/31/2006 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I didn't even know there was an extended edition. This despite the fact that I apparently own it.

Not being familiar with the theatrical version, though, I don't have a problem with it. What did he cut?

8/31/2006 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Nick spoke of The Insider; I like it a lot, too. It was a film that I didn't understand why Mann would be interested in the material, or why it wouldn't be some hack TV-movie. I knew all the details--I had followed the news, I had seen the "60 Minutes" interview and knew about the surrounding intrigue (I even think TV Guide did a good job of covering this, back when they actually practiced some serious journalism, something people today may be surprised to hear). I only saw the film after all the good reviews, and I was surprised at how good it was, and how much I enjoyed it, given how much I knew about the real events. Kinda like Apollo 13 in that way.

Count Olaf: you must visit the mountains of North Carolina. I find myself returning again and again to the locations used in Last of the Mohicans: Chimney Rock, Linville Falls, Table Rock, places around Asheville. I even once stumbled across the site used in the opening scene while taking a dirt road up from a horse farm to the Blue Ridge Parkway. You may find On the Trail of the Last of the Mohicans interesting, though I have not bought the books and it seems that some of the pages there are broken (or using some plugin I don't have?).

8/31/2006 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I think that The Insider might be the best movie of the past 10 years. Just watched it again two weeks ago, and it's so expertly done in every facet: direction, acting, script, cinematography, editing, music. And even with that being the case, it still manages to equal more than the sum of its parts.

8/31/2006 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

I grabbed this from IMDB. All of the additions to the expanded edition I love. But I couldn't stand the absence left with what he took out. Here are just the removals:

-The whole "I will find you" sequence has been changed. The original had footage of Cora, Alice and Major Heyward being taken up a mountain. This sequence was accompanied by the song, "I will find you" by the Irish group, Clannad. In this version, the song is gone and the sequence is about thirty seconds longer. It has different shots of Hawkeye, his brother and Chingachgook running up the mountain and following the Huron War party. Their are also beautiful shots of the group being led into the sunset.

-A quick shot of Major Heyward burning alive has been added but his screaming has been deleted in the rest of the shots.

-When Chingachgook kills Magua, the pike from the battle axe is no longer shown impaling Magua.

-The scene where Hawkeye goes to comfort Cora has been deleted.

-Hawkeye's statement to Major Heyward in the Fort, "Someday you and I are going to have a serious disagreement," has been removed.

-At night in the burial ground, Hawkeye's line about his father saying "Do not try to understand them, and do not make them try to understand you, for they are a breed apart and make no sense," and Cora's response later have been deleted.

-When escaping in the canoes Hawkeye's line "Isn't there anything better to do on the lake today, Major?" has been deleted.

-Cora's line behind the waterfall, "If the worse should happen, if only one of us survives, something of the other does too," and the first part of Hawkeye's following speech have been deleted.

-After telling Major Heyward that he ain't no scout, and ain't in no damn militia, Hawkeye's line "Clear it up any?" has been deleted.

It was definitely my favorite movie for a long time and I have (had? can't seem to find it now) the theatrical version on VHS so I knew it by heart. Watching the expanded edition for the first time felt like some of the life was taken out of the film. And knowing that it was the director who rechopped it made the whole situation unsettling.

I bought the first expanded DVD when it came out out and have only watched it twice since I bought it. The first time was too shocking and the 2nd time was to make sure I really preferred the theatrical version. I hear the 2nd expanded (with DTS) is a much better transfer video & audio wise, but it still has the cuts.

The dream combo (for me) would be to just add the expanded footage to the theatrical release and leave everything intact.

Jaydro I'd love to come, but are you buying my ticket?

8/31/2006 02:50:00 PM  

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