I have weaknesses for a lots of different kind of films and PARANOIA certainly fits in one of those categories. People playing human chess against one another. Manipulations. A character turning the tables on his handlers, setting both sides against the middle. Twists! Turns!
Plus that line: “Now I’m standing on your neck!”? That line is gold.
From what I’ve gathered the book this movie is based on is great. It’s a very thoughtful work that is quite interested in not just the idea of using math to “break” blackjack, but actually explores the ins and outs of doing it. People I’ve spoken to who’ve read the book tell me this movie is a poor adaptation and just not good.
I’ve never read the book. And I like this movie. Take that for what it is.
I can understand why, especially if you are into the
technical exploration of how counting cards works and/or a book about that,
this movie could be a frustrating enterprise. It is, essentially, a team heist
movie that using counting cards as their gimmick. The OCEAN’S movies (11, 12,
13…for now?) had the
“hey, we’re cool movie stars who are friends who are making a movie together,” TRANCE had hypnosis, THREE KINGS had the army pulling a job, and 21 has card counting.
I enjoy heists movies though. I like the assembling of the team conceit, the clashing and melding of personalities, and the inevitable betrayal. Those tropes are events that I hook into very easily and I probably give a wider berth to heist movies because of that (see again: TRANCE).
PARANOIA’s director Robert Luketic is at the helm here and performs competently. He deploys a couple of tricks that feel like, “hey this is a filmmaking trick that looks stylish but doesn’t actually serve much purpose,” but it’s not over-intrusive. That’s a bit of a backhanded compliment to be sure so I’ll say it another way: Luketic never lets style overwhelm the story. I hope that makes that a bit clearer/kinder.
The cast, similarly, is not great but is competent. Kevin Spacey—and Laurence “Larry” Fishburne, to a slightly lesser, more scene chewing extent— are, unsurprisingly, standouts. Finally clear of the post-Oscars “I need to just make other Oscar bait films” funk that marred his career immediately post-AMERICAN BEAUTY (it encompassed, amongst others, K-PAX, PAY IT FORWARD, THE SHIPPING NEWS, THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE), his performance is understated and coiled. Surrounded by the younger and (arguably) more beautiful, Spacey—and, again, Fishburne—stands out with performance and charisma.
I recommend, but, as stated above, if you’ve read the book or are more interested in exploring the mechanics of car counting, this probably will not connect.
LAST MAN STANDING
Directed by Walter Hill (THE WARRIORS, of course), this latter day Western—think Prohibition era although the town still feels very much like the old West style soon to lapse into a ghost town setting—embraced the two gun hyper violence, almost John Woo but not quite feel that marked several action offerings of the time. Adapted from Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (other adaptations include the violent and wildly naked THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS and the nearly perfect Wild West Western A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) and chock-a-block full of recognizable talent including Bruce Dern, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Leslie Mann, and Michael Imperioli, LAST MAN STANDING has the distinction of being a movie I watch every few years despite feeling that it is, ultimately, not very good.
Yet, I do keep coming back to it so…? There must be something about it, right?
For this biennial revisitation, the inspiration was that Willis’s John Smith comes into the aforementioned town and immediately sets all sides—most especially the two crime families that have tentatively co-existed as rulers of this tiny fiefdom—against one another. As previously noted, I love the dynamic of one man playing both sides that PARANOIA seems to promise, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember an example of that plotline that wasn’t LAST MAN STANDING. Thus, with a sigh of resignation, I watched it once again.
I still didn’t like it. It has an early-day Bruce Willis is a little too busy to be bothered to act performance and Christopher Walken in a fairly restrained Walken effort, so that might do it for some. It’s incredibly loud. It’s not very well paced. Hmm….not much else to say. It isn’t a grievous effort, but of every version of YOJIMBO out there, it is one of the lesser efforts.