Conversations: The new movie "Miami Vice" | Rock Candy

Conversations: The new movie "Miami Vice"

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Blake Rutherford, who organizes the Movies in the Park weekly free movie series at Riverfest Amphitheatre and is a huge movie buff, discusses the new release "Miami Vice" with Arkansas Times movie critic David Koon. Feel free to chime in yourselves in the comments section (and, you can read David's full review of "Miami Vice" on the Times website):

Blake: David, this past weekend was a different weekend from the one I spent (or should I say the 60 minutes I spent) weekend before last [walking out of "Lady in the Water]. I saw "Miami Vice" on Friday. It was a whirlwind of excitement fresh with fast cars, beautiful women and guns.  Lots and lots of guns.

I love the camera work -- this digital age seems to fit Michael Mann well. I read a few reviews before seeing it so I had an idea of what to expect. I was still very impressed. I found the plot at times difficult to follow and I really didn't understand the relationship between the Columbian drug lord and the white supremacists (or why they subsequently kidnapped Tubbs' girlfriend), but I didn't seem to care. The film worked for me, even in spite of Colin Farrell's weird accent.

What did you think?

David: I like "Miami Vice" a lot too. I think some of that had to do with the fact that I wasn't a fan of the original series, and therefore had no preconceived expectations about it. I think a lot of the bellyaching is coming from fans — those who somehow expected that Mann was just going to take scenes from the original series, CGI some more up-to-date clothes on Don Johnson, and make his flick from that.

First of all, you're absolutely right about the look of "MV." Mann's hand-held style, which he used to great effect in "Collateral," almost makes you feel like you're watching an impossibly exciting documentary. At the same time, it's all so artfully done that you never really notice that they're not shooting off a fixed camera. Too, I love the washed out tone of "MV," which works so well with the shots of Cuba and Latin America. So many directors don't know how to manipulate a film's color and even grain on the screen to make it work for them. Then, when you see something like this, or "Collateral" or "Saving Private Ryan" where they have took the time to rendered that washed-out palette onto the screen, it just puts you there.

As for the plot being difficult to follow, I found that at times as well, along with quite a few dead ends (like the mole inside the FBI, for instance; or why the white supremacists were hooked up with the Columbians; or how the Columbians got the "military only" cell phone jamming equipment). As I said in my review, however, even that worked for me. As in "Syriana," I though that part of the point in having such a convoluted plot — one where most of the problems are never neatly resolved — is to show you how confusing and frustrating trying to fight international drug smuggling must be. At the end, when they bust into the Columbian kingpin's big-ass house by the waterfall, and he's gone, there was part of me as a viewer that was disappointed. But at the same time, I had the sense that was pretty much the way it would really go when trying to catch these high-level people: the little fish take the fall, while the sharks swim off to feed elsewhere.

That's all for now... I've got more to say about perfromances by Foxx/Gong Li/Farrell if you want to volley it back to me with your comments on the above.

Blake: We're on the same page with this film and with Mann in general. He's making really good films and he seems to be able to, remarkably, hold the audience's attention for two and half hours.
 
I want to comment quickly on his style. You remarked that you loved the washed out tone of the film. I agree. But what I also like is how Mann doesn't pass on an opportunity to do something visually stunning. A friend told me that she read where a critic commented (and I'm paraphrasing) "With Michael Mann, it may be a plane passing a cloud in the sky, but it will be the most beautiful cloud you have ever seen." He clearly respects his audience and their attention to detail, not to mention their appreciation for beautiful things. He blends what we love about art house films and summer blockbusters. A.O. Scott of the N.Y. Times argued this point in his review, "With 'Miami Vice' he [Mann] clearly had money to burn, and the flames are beautiful to behold. Mixing pop savvy with startling formal ambition, Mr. Mann transforms what is essentially a long, fairly predictable cop-show episode into a dazzling (and sometimes daft) Wagnerian spectacle. He fuses music, pulsating color and high drama into something that is occasionally nonsensical and frequently sublime. “Miami Vice” is an action picture for people who dig experimental art films, and vice versa."
 
In terms of the performances, I was impressed. I thought Farrell was good in this film, but his accent was odd and there were some lines I thought Mann did pull from the television show ("it's 11:47 p.m. on Saturday night and this is hand we've been dealt"). Still, it's surprising to me that he's as big of a star as he is. His best films ('The New World,' 'Phone Booth,' 'Tigerland') are some of his least well known. But his better known films ('Alexander,' 'SWAT,' 'Daredevil' and 'The Recruit') are some of his worst. But he continues to be courted by the best directors (Terence Malick, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen). 
 
I thought Jamie Foxx was very good, but I would have liked to have seen more of him. I like Foxx. I didn't know what to expect when I heard that Mann cast him in 'Collateral,' but I was impressed after I saw it (and I'd forgotten than Mann cast him in 'Ali'). And then there was 'Ray' and I understood Foxx was for real. But while he was good, his character seemed to lack some of Crockett's badass. Maybe that the was point; that Tubbs was the more dare I say moral of the two?   
 
Gong Li's lines seemed forced to me as if she was piecing together words she had memorized, but didn't ever understand what she was saying.  I read somewhere that was she was having difficulty with them during the shoot because she doesn't speak English. I wonder why Mann chose her over someone like Lucy Liu, who was vicious as O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill Vol. I? Sex appeal, maybe? 
 
I'm very high on "Miami Vice." But maybe it's because Crockett and Tubbs (along with Mann's central characters in 'Manhunter,' 'Heat,' and 'Collateral') are just damn cool.
 
Back at you.
 

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