Though I am lamentably not at all well versed in Spike Lee's body of work, I nevertheless felt compelled to seek out Inside Man this weekend. I'm glad I did; it is fantastic and highly recommended. Taut, funny, scary, thrilling, and, as it's practically being billed, a showcase for some truly bravura performances. Of course all bank heist movies are, in the end, more about power than about money, but that's way more true of Inside Man than most. This is thanks to both the political subtext here that, for once, doesn't make me want to puke inside my own mouth a little (which is saying something considering Lee has the audacity to set up a momentary tableau in the middle of the film that casts shadows in a way that make it look like an Abu Ghraib torture image) and thanks to the fireworks generated by all these freaking huge actors getting up in each other's grills. Folks everywhere are talking about how this is Jodie Foster's best performance in years, and it's probably true, but, of course, it's really Denzel's movie. The flirtatious hatred that swells up between him and Ms. Foster in their handful of scenes together is infinitely hotter than any of the "did you bring the gun?" pseudo-dirty banter between him and his on-screen girlfriend, and the non-linear scenes of him interrogating witnesses with his partner (the ridiculously beautiful Chiwetel Ejiofor, known to Joss Whedon fans as the baddie from Serenity) take Eddie Izzard's "but he's dead now/no he's not" bit from Dress to Kill to its thrilling, nerve-jangling, Method-acting extreme. This is all not to mention that the film explodes out of the gate with one of the most instantly gripping opening sequences in recent memory. You've got Clive Owen talking directly into the camera, telling us in no uncertain terms what a badass he is (as if we could doubt it for a minute), perfectly paired with the sounds of the sexy, stealthy, Bollywood-cool "Chaiyya Chaiyya." Bra-fucking-vo. The movie does lose a bit of steam toward the end as we're waiting for Denzel's character to catch up with what we, as the audience, already know, but it in no way diminishes the overall effectiveness. A grade-A B-movie.
Thank You for Smoking yields its own pleasures, though it's nowhere near as interesting as it could have been. It's great fun to see Aaron Eckhart chew up the motherfucking scenery and make us, yet again, forget every other role he's ever played, but it's nowhere near as subversive as the filmmakers think it is to give us a tobacco lobbyist full of rakish charm, superhero good looks, and "well, wouldja get'a loada that sonuvabitch!" attitude. A satire actually worth its salt would have made that character a complete, unlikable bastard yet still demanded us to sympathize with him. And, as something of a sidenote, maybe it's just because I think he's unspeakably adorable, but it's entirely possible that Adam Brody has actually realized the potential that everyone once expected of Topher Grace's career. He's skillfully balanced his lead role on The O.C. with sparkling supporting work in movies like this one and Mr. and Mrs. Smith (which I've praised previously) and manages to play smarm with gangly dorkiness instead of smothering irony and self-awareness.
Finally also caught up with Shaun of the Dead on DVD, which, as expected, was an absolute delight and should be mandatory viewing in those professional prep/resume-writing courses you take during your senior year in college. "Students, take note here: you need to shoot your zombie parents in the face if you ever want to make anything of your life, and, if you must maintain contact with your fat, slobby, videogame-obsessed childhood friend, you're best advised to chain him up in your garden shed." (Thanks again for the recommendation, Mikow.)
Chicago love this morning from Gapers Block: the 10 CTA Commandments, and we've got the #2 skyline in the world, bitches!