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Coppola’s Rumble Fish – does it deserve the acclaim?

May 3, 2014

Francis Ford Copola’s 1983 film Rumble Fish is really one of the most stunningly photographed films of all time – here working with cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, a frequent Brian De Palma collaborator. The problem is the meaning of the film isn’t made by the visual elements; they are just plastered on top. The baroque visual style is not allowed to speak for itself. 

Some examples of the beautiful compositions in the film:

Image     Image    Image

Instead, the film’s meaning is mainly created by the characters, the dialogue and the plot – all of which are wholly clichèd. The archetypal characters are all there; Matt Dillon’s poser rebel, his pretty girlfirend who puts up with his bullshit, his bad-ass big brother who comes to the rescue, and his pathetic alcholic father. Add to that fact each scene is so predictable that the film no longer borders on, but fully enters into, the realm of parody.

 Image  Image   Image

The middle image over is particularly telling, as it is a strikingly beautiful expressionistic composition, tarnished by the absurd-looking, sunglass-wearing cop.  Keep in mind that the entire film is played straight, almost overly serious in tone. (The top image is of a baddie that comes to kick Dillon’s ass.)  

It’s rare to see such an utterly polarizing film that is at once ravishingly beautiful, and yet cannot be describes as anything other than a failure. Had this been a silent film it could have been a great film – even a masterpiece – but as it is, it is plain painful to watch the way Burum’s talent is wasted, one scene at a time.

The result is a soaringly overrated and pretentious film. 

 

Image

The Motorcycle Boy Reigns; one of the last shots in the film.

 

Looking at other Coppola-films, I find, although well made, The Godfather to glorify the Italian gangster.  Coppola’s best film might very well be the post-modern and genre-transformative The Conversation.

Agree or diasagree?  Feel free to sound off in the comments below 😉

Top Ten Films of The Year 2013

January 26, 2014

My Top Ten favorites from 2013:

1. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
2. Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)
3. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)

These first three are real standouts. Some of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.

4. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
5. Passion (Brian De Palma)
6. In The House (Francois Ozon)
7. The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-Wai)
8. Mud (Jeff Nicholas)
9. Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
10. All is Lost (J.C. Chandor)

I will write more about my picks later this week. Feel free to comment or post any qestions if you want me to elaborate.

Film of the Year? “S….”

December 9, 2013

I’ve been really busy lately with my own film projects. But I am currently working on a new blog entry on my favorite films of 2013. My favorite? I’ll give you a little hint – it starts with an “s”. 😉
Stay tuned.

So what was your favorite film of 2013?

Great Action: Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter & The Raid: Redemption

October 1, 2012

Lately, I’ve seen two great action films. Action is a very interesting genre for those who care about pure cinema. It’s all about communicating space and time in a coherent manner – and let it be said right away – 99.9% of all action movies fail quite miserably.

The first movie is Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Slayer and The Raid: Redemption. In “Lincoln” Bekmambetov slows the the action down at cruical moments to build up suspense. It’s a rare display of cinematic skill. Interestingly, the film uses vampires as a metaphor for the wealthy feasting on the poor – the rich can only stay rich by making sure the poor stay poor. Bekmambetov’s vampires are wealthy slave-owners. At one point he shows how the vampires grow and spread from the southern states, in what looks like a computer-generated political map from a CNN election coverage broadcast.

 

 

The second movie is the The Raid: Redemption. The Indonesian film is beautifully crafted from start to finish, it’s short, fast, and the action never lets up. It’s a fairly brutal film, but the outstanstanding choreography, cinematography, editing and spacial coherencee makes up for it. The shoot-outs and fight scenes are extremely intense, with fitting variations in tempo and rythm.

Disagreeing with Cronenberg

February 1, 2012

In an interview David Cronenberg did in conjuction with the release of his latest film A Dangerous Method, he stated that

“Often people talk about things being theatrical, and they often think lots of dialog is automatically theater, like a stage play.You know, as a filmmaker, the thing I photograph most is a face talking. To me, that’s ultimately the essence of cinema: the human face talking. If you have a fantastic face saying fantastic things, you’ve got real movie-making.”

Wow, I have to disagree with this.

What is true is that the CLOSE-UP is inherently cinematic. Not necessarily people talking. That’s two different things. The close-up is an important cinematic technique, one of the major building blocks of cinema. It brings the viewer in close, leading him to see things that are rare in many other art forms, for instance the theater. But it’s far from the only important building block in the language of cinema. When used right, creating a contrast with other shots, it can be very effective. But to go from there to say that shooting people talking is the essence of cinema honestly couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Cronenberg goes on to say some even more remarkable things:

“I’ve often said you give the movie what it wants and the movie will tell you what it needs, and you give it that. It’s a mistake to impose on the movie some outside idea of what it’s supposed to be.”

Imposing an outside idea of what the movie is about? Really?

I’m pretty astonished by this. All art is about presenting your personal view of the world. In Cronenberg’s view the director is aparantly not such an artist. That makes no sense to me. For me the director is an artist, creating meaning through images. If not the director, then who else?

Why Scarface is a true Masterpiece

December 12, 2011

I always considered Scarface to be one of De Palmas lesser achievements, as I saw it as a more impersonal film for him, a film that did not reflect his particular social, psychological and political sensibility. In that sense, I saw it as being in opposition to films such as Hi, Mom!, Blow Out, Snake Eyes, and Femme Fatale.

Well, I was wrong.

I just rewatched this film expecting to see a spectacular, but ultimately somewhat superficial epos. However, not only does De Palma coax what is perhaps a career-best performance out of Pacino, but the movie is wildly entertaining while at the same this serving as a stinging criticism of the Reagan administration’s hypocritical “war on drugs”, which was little more than a PR-campaign and the consruction of an external enemy.

De Palma makes it clear that both police, bankers and politicians are all corrupt, meanwhile using Tony Montana as a scapegoat to illustrate everything that is wrong in America. No wonder the afro-american community has taken this film to heart, as they have experienced this first hand.

Watching Scarface today, it’s easy to forget that the story was contemparary in 1983. The political reality that the movie describes – enormously brutal violence, government corruption at all levels – was happening outside the movie theatres as the movie played out on the screen. No surprise De Palma almost got lynched after this one. The criticism of the Reagan administration and American society was so intense that it was impossible to accept. It was an incredibly ballsy move by De Palma. The satirical critique of capitalism and the American Dream is easily recognizable in this movie as well as in De Palmas filmography as a whole.

Making Dressed To Kill, Blow Out and Scarface back to back over three years? Has any major Hollywood director ever offered a more direct criticism of American society? All while keeping his audience glued to their seats with their eyes wide open.

Bad Lieutenant: Pain as Metaphor

July 30, 2010

Regardles of original director Abel Ferrara’s apparent wish to see the people behind this picture die and burn in hell, I thought this was Werner Herzog and Nic Cage’s best effort in a while. Cage is able to express a number of different emotions and personas as convincingly as I’ve seen this year. (Jeff Bridges also did it empathically in Crazy Heart, but Cage’s performance seems more important.) With his hunched back, walking with stiff, short steps he embodies a whole city’s (if not to say country’s) feeling of despair and disillusion.

Cage’s character, Terrence McDonagh, is a highly flawed, corrupt cop who at one point decides to jump into a flooding prison cell from one story up to save a drowning prisoner. The result is irrepearable back damage and a permanent condition of severe back pain. These chronic back pains spiral McDonagh further and further down into a world of narcotics and prescription drugs.

Setting the plot in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a masterstroke by Herzog. If there is ever a place to illustrate the brimming injustice of the ever-growing inequality in the U.S. (and the world), this is it. (Consider the plans to privatize and gentrify the area in the wake of the catastrophè.)

I find it hard not to see Cage’s tortured cop as a metaphor. A metaphor for how poverty and downward social mobility as the result of disease, injury and disaster strikes coincidentally, dragging shame and humiliation along in its footsteps.

Cage’s good deed does not go unpunished. His injury perfectly illustrates how New Orleans’ poor and predominately black population was brought to its knees. The same way desperate people all over the world see the windows, doors, and borders of opportunity close all around them by a brutal, overwhelming, and merciless force, as poverty sweeps up its random victims.

“If He is not the word of God, then God never spoke” – THE ROAD

July 19, 2010

The movie uses a post-apocalyptic world as an analogy to discuss contemporary issues. Such as the struggle to find meaning in a capitalist world. In this sense I thought it was reminiscent of Kafka’s The Trial. Struggling to find a reason to go on, Viggo Mortensen looks at his sleeping son, and says “If he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.” A lot of credit goes to author Cormac McCarthy’s poetic words. Even for an agnostic like me, the love I feel for my son is so strong that it feels like it has God-like dimensions.

Brilliantly, The Road sheds light on the struggle of the poor, starving and desperate populations of the present day world. It removes the blindfolds from the prosperous, showing a harsh truth. Steven Spielberg also the same in his underrated allegory War of the Worlds.

However, director John Hillcoat chooses to use tremendously low contrasts in his imagery. At times it’s hard to make out anything at all in the the muddy grey and brown colors. The flashbacks to present time, on the other hand, have over-saturated  colors, creating a dramatic distiction between now and then. A different approach emphasizing the parallels between the two worlds would have been much more interesting in a cinematic sense.

Because that parallel is the real story here.

Nowhere Boy -the young John Lennon

July 19, 2010

Just saw this on dvd. It is a surprisingly well shot film. It is rare these days that a movie tries to take advantage of cinemas’ intrinsic visual capabilities, but instead relying on dialogue, plot, narrative and character to convey meaning. To a considerable extent, this is also true for Nowhere Boy -which is nonetheless an interesting look at some Freudian trauma of John Lennon’s dramatic childhood and youth.

The camera is always a player in Nowhere Boy.  Nowhere Boy at times uses editing and cinematography to achieve beautiful results. Let me give you one example of how director Sam Taylor-Wood uses cinemas own vocabulary to convey meaning.:

At one point Lennon is given a guitar, and rehearses in his living room. We see him pull out the guitar, sit down, and start playing. He is alone in the room. After a few seconds we realize that the images have been sped up. The other members of the family fly in and out of the living room at exaggerated speeds while John sits still and plays his new instrument. The idea is that he has finally found his calling.; for him time is standing still.  It is understood that John’s life will never be the same again after this moment, brilliantly reinforced by pure visual storytelling.

KICK-ASS

April 24, 2010

Apart from the nihilism that have become all-too common in action films – particularly since Tarantino popularized the justifiable tooth-for-tooth  revenge fantasy in the mid nineties – Kick-Ass is a very likable movie. In that sense it is reminiscent of 1994’s Falling Down, which was a sensationally watchable and engrossing vigilante-drama with a poignant turn by Michael Douglas in top form.   

The editing in Kick-Ass is rapid and competent. It is a rare sight to see action-sequences edited together this well, without cheating. Most action-directors employ a blisteringly-paced and eventually confusing form of jump cutting that leaves the audience to make out the spacial-temporal logic of the scene by themselves. Such directors do not show how the different elements of the scene relate to each other. (Take for instance films like Quantum of Solace,  District 9 or Avatar. )

Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaugh is, however, able to do this to a considerable extent. The action sequences in Kick-Ass are exciting, suspenseful and truely involve the viewer. 

Add to that an unusually vibrant color scheme and a truly charming lead actor in Aaron Johnson and you have the year’s second best action movie to date, only behind the fascinating real politics of The Green Zone.


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