Posts Tagged ‘perception’

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.

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“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.

Che Part 2 – communicating space

May 5, 2009

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Cinema is about communicating space.  Film can communicate three dimentional space in a way none of the other art forms can.

This is done primarily with the techniques of editing and camera movement. It is an absolutely essential aspect of the art form.

Steven Soderbergh does a pretty good job of this in the battle scenes in ‘Che’. He doesn’t really engage with the language of cinema to any extensive degree in the two films. But at one point we see the guerrilla soldiers walking down a river shot from an overhead angle -it is a rare and refreshing visual touch that adds some texture to the film.

But still – space is represented quite consistently in the film’s battle scenes, especially the final scene where the Bolivian soldiers close in on  Che and his men hiding in a a hillside behind some rocks. As the the soldiers (who are far superior in numbers) approach, the claustrophobia mounts. The way this is done is through use of foreground and background in the frame, as well as consistency in the communication of the spacial relations in the editing. That means that there is a relationship between the shots, that they relate to each other and work together to communicate space, and don’t contradict each other visually. 

I will write more  tomorrow.


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