Friday, July 30, 2010

Le Soldat et son passe (Asger Jorn, 1957)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spread (David Mackenzie, 2009)
The Stolen Man (Matías Piñeiro, 2007)

Family Plot

Story of My Son (Johnnie To, 1990)

To's first collaboration with indefatigable scenarist / hero of modern cinema Wai Ka-Fai, synopsized (not that that does much good, even for this 75 minute [!] movie): the decline of a widowed (not that the kids know) banker who borrows money from vicious loan sharks after losing his savings in a harebrained horse-betting scheme. A tidbit that leads to something bigger: Story of My Son doesn't start "looking like a Johnnie To movie" (or looking like what Johnnie To movies have looked like since the mid-1990s: an odd mix of neons and funereal colors, with a lot of lively decay in the production design and lurching movements of a camera equipped with a wide-angle lens) until things get really bad and our three-person family unit (father, older son, younger son) hit rock bottom. (Also, as a To variation on a Luigi Comencini movie, was Story of My Son made for me?). Here's how To's group dynamics work (as true of families / marriages in his movies as of the gangs and police squads): individuals struggle as a group towards a shared goal while dealing with struggles of their own (often consciences) the other members of the group are incapable of helping them with. The group constantly buckles and resettles under the weight of individual pressures. The family plunges, but the father and older son have their own descents, too. Bullied and humiliated, they move through a succession of increasingly slummy apartments, eventually ending up in a doorless shack on a roof. By this point, their evenly-lit, upper-middle-class Hong Kong transforms into the massive (in the sense that it seems so much bigger than any one person) / tiny (in the sense that there's no place to hide) city familiar from the movies To and Wai would go on to make together, and they have transformed into post-war Italians.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Basic (John McTiernan, 2003)

Director & Spectator / Han & Fuller

Hand of Fate (Han Hyeong-mo, 1954)

Serge Daney on Samuel Fuller: “He takes off from an implicit idea: the spectator knows nothing." But remember: knows nothing is not the same thing as is an idiot. Call it Fuller's journalistic tendency, or his "AP Style," but he had a singular way of spelling out all of the facts (in action, dialogue, camera movement and editing) while assuming a degree of intelligence on the part of his viewer. Fuller hides nothing about his films. To a certain degree, that's true of the three Han Hyeong-mo films I've seen (well, there are only four of them anyway, so I've got 75% covered), and part of that might be because, like Fuller, Han makes movies for two reasons: to tell a good yarn and to show what he believes to be a certain social truth (however, his intentions are much less "corrective" than Fuller's). The plot of Hand of Fate is Fulleresque (North Korean spy falls in love with a struggling college student), but that's about as far as they overlap subject-wise (hard to imagine Cigar Sam coming up with Madame Freedom or Hyperbola of Youth). What they do have in common (moreso in Hand of Fate and Madame Freedom than the more "elegant" Hyperbola) is the willingness to go all out with an image or an idea or a framing (Han tends to be a little more pulpy and less punchy). Which isn't to say that Han is "simple" or "a primitive" (a word that still gets lobbed at Fuller a lot), because in going all out with a fairly pulpy plot, he manages to get at certain nuances; a "restrained," procedural handling of an espionage love story would have made it all about the espionage, but with Han it's all about the emotions (and here we return to The A-Team, where Liam Neeson mutters "Overkill is underrated.").

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Funn

The A-Team (Joe Carnahan, 2010; photographed by Mauro Fiore)

These movies are always better than you expect them to be. Though I liked Joe Carnahan's reversible film par excellence / shit-just-keeps-getting-worse shoot 'em up Smokin' Aces (and had heard a lot of kind words from the right people about this one), I didn't get around to actually seeing The A-Team until recently. Aside from stray observations (Liam Neeson is becoming the James Mason of action movies, Sharlto Copley wants to be the Jesse Eisenberg to Andy Serkis' Michael Cera, the appeal of Bradley Cooper is that he can make a face like a dog that's very happy to see you, Quinton Jackson is fine / charming but they should've cast Terry Crews, etc.), the big lesson here is how much actually directing action scenes instead of just throwing half-images up on the screen can improve a movie. Carnahan cribs a lot from John McTiernan here, which is good, because McTiernan's got a great sense of action-geometry and knows how to arrange opposing forces in a frame (it helps that Mauro Fiore does a killer Jan de Bont, right down to the magnesium-bright lens flares). It also helps that, like a lot of good action directors, Carnahan is also a fairly talented comedy director as well (in a post-Tarantino genre-archetypes-hanging-out-and-bullshitting-each-other sort of way); effective action and comedy are both all about timing.
"The Last Scene" (Paul Verhoeven, 1985), episode of The Hitchhiker

"I don't want great -- just give me a movie that's gonna make some money!" Here's an episode of an '80s HBO show (slow pacing, synth music, softcore sex, Canadian accents) directed by Paul Verhoeven (exceptional / entertaining / possibly cynical, possibly earnest use of all of those elements + wide angle lenses) from a script by Robert J. Avrech, co-writer of Body Double (it shows). First, that Avrech script, which was based on a story by one of the series' producers but feels like it was meant for a De Palma feature: Peter Coyote (really more of a Cronenberg man -- why didn't they ever work together?) plays an actor-turned-director trying to get his lead actress to nail the climactic scene of his debut feature; his directorial career hinges on it, so he turns to scaring the living shit out of her to get her into the right emotional state. Second, those late 20th century "edgy TV" elements: all present and accounted for, even the bland keyboard stabs on the soundtrack (you'd never guess that Michel Rubini would go on to score Manhunter) and obligatory scenes in hotel rooms (someone have a theory on why there are so many hotels in these sorts of anthology shows -- besides the fact that they're cheap to shoot in and easy to construct on a sound stage because they already look like fake apartments?). Best for last, how it all fits together with Verhoeven: sometimes striking in an impoverished sort of way (a rain-slicked street is a pretty cheap but strong effect), but, more interestingly, a throwback to his Dutch films in the way it handles its male protagonist, who would've been an artist if the script had really been given to De Palma, but becomes a manipulative dick in Verhoeven's hands.
When the Cat Comes (Vojtech Jasný, 1963; photographed by Jaroslav Kucera)

Simone Barbès, or Virtue (Marie-Claude Treilhou, 1980; photographed by Jean-Yves Escoffier)

Planes landing at Princess Julian International Airport, 2007 - 2009


[Princess Juliana is the airport in St. Martin that's famous for being directly adjacent to a beach and a road; jets pass very close to the water, seemingly just above the beachgoers' heads, and then, for the finish, appear to just narrowly miss the airfield fence with their landing gear before touching down. No surprise, then, that it's produced a whole sub-genre of YouTube videos. The rules of the genre are very precise. Because the plane flies very quickly, it only becomes visible on the horizon about 20 seconds before landing. Soon after that, it disappears into the belly of the airport and out of public view. For narrative economy -- so that we don't waste out time looking at an empty sky or the fence around the airport -- all of the videos are about half a minute long. The drama is broken into three acts: the approach of the plane over the water, which parts slightly; the seconds-long climactic passing of the plane over the beach, the road and the fence; and finally its touchdown, at which point the cameraman sometimes turns back to the beach to catch the reactions of onlookers. There are variations and jitters in the first and third acts, but the second act is always rigidly the same, because it's the moment of the plane passing overhead that cameras are trying to catch.Because the procedure of landing at Princess Juliana remains the same, the only choice offered to anyone recording the landing is where to stand. Shooting the event from somewhere between profile and three-quarters seems to create the most dramatic tension: it's here that the illusion of danger is maximized by the flattening of space, while the onlookers and cars remain clearly visible. Of course this is all very safe, and no real stunt on the part of a trained pilot. Standing directly underneath tends the plane tends to give away the actual distance, which isn't as close as it seems.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

Phone call follies / -30- (Jack Webb, 1959)
Lady in Blue (Edouard Vuillard, 1895; oil on cardboard)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Correspondances (Eugène Green, 2007)

I'll write about the laptops and e-mails in this "mini-film" Eugène Green made in 2007 some day (36 minutes long, one of those Jeonju Digital Shorts -- and part of the same project that produced Costa's The Rabbit Hunters), but for now I'm preoccupied with a different issue: though Le Monde Vivant, for instance, is often noted for its lack of costuming, Green's as much of a sartorial fetishist as Wes Anderson.

Men: Oxford shirts in muted colors (tucked in, with an unbuttoned collar), jeans and khakis in unfashionable cuts and shades, unshowy boots and dress shoes. Women: plain dresses (neither too long nor too short, sometimes in subtle lace), unpatterned blouses and cardigans, neither too baggy or too tight. Unadorned, but not bare. In short, what Green fetishizes are the young men and women who don't care about fashion, who shop and dress on autopilot because their minds are preoccupied with other things: love, cinema, etc. He can't believe (and he doesn't believe we'd believe) that a person who pays attention to fashion can really be fully devoted to something. His characters own old furniture and plain things, and wear their hair in plain (but never ugly) ways, because they don't care about objects, they care about ideas. And therein lies their youthful beauty.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Is my chest gonna look like yours?"

My Wife and Kids, excerpt from the episode "Michael Joins a Gym" (2005)

Sorry there have been no posts for a while. Busy with my Euro-Training. In the meantime, here's some Terry Crews for you.