Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Faster - George Tillman Jr., 2010

 Faster is a strange case of a film, in that it gets better as it progresses. So much better, in fact, that it feels almost like an entirely different film, as if the final 2/3 had to evolve out of the first act's primordial ooze. Shots and edits become more creative and evocative, the actors and characterizations gain depth, and what was heinously immoral becomes compelling and challenging.

The first act is cobbled together with those familiar, egregious signposts of contemporary action cinema: "cheeky" music cues, title cards, villains who are outrageously evil, etc. Some problems remain throughout; a hitman subplot, while ultimately emotionally affective on its own, would work better as its own film. But somewhere around the forty minute mark, the film tonally and stylistically shifts, not once looking back. The Rock's lumbering totem of vengeance becomes a moral terror, destroying families with each murder,  while Billy Bob Thorton's character (actually tolerable here) becomes more nuanced. Ultimately, in the film's final act, it reveals itself as a parable, an almost Biblical morality tale (as Ignatiy Vishnevetsky aptly pointed out).

What was a bland visual landscape becomes an atmospheric, metaphoric nightmare of neons, blues, and parched Nevada desert. In a striking composition, The Rock approaches a woman in bed while a television turned to a dead channel buzzes consistent, eerie white noise. The Rock's character, already sparsely developed, becomes less developed as the film progresses, until he merely becomes a force of destruction, moral and immoral alike. He's a man born of a dead channel, or, as he calls himself, the "...demon that crawled out of..." a man's personal, earthly hell. The semi-apocalyptic endgame slightly fizzles in the film's conclusion, the myriad of dark tones settling uneasily into something like resolution, but the film lingers as one that touches greatness. Contemporary action cinema could use more films like this.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Rack Focus & 2.35:1: Memoirs of an Invisible Man - John Carpenter, 1992

Carpenter crafted and exacted a flawless mise-en-scène by about the time of The Fog (not to discount the brilliance of Assault on Precinct 13). Like John McTiernan, he is a master of the old/tested/worn-out/forgotten cinematic technique, evidenced here by a modestly but brilliantly deployed rack focus that warps his trademark 2.35:1 frame while effortlessly integrating special effects, a moment of disorientation, balance, craft. Carpenter and McTiernan are those most rare of Hollywood artists, directors who can wield what is overused/worn-out, and integrate it into their mise-en-scène in a way that makes it feel born anew

Friday, January 4, 2013


From a fragment of Josef von Sternberg's lost film The Case of Lena Smith (1929)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ace Attorney - Takashi Miike, 2012

Ace Attorney, like many Takashi Miike films, is a virtuoso showcase for various cinematic techniques and tones. Stationary shots play against frenetic editing, comedy against high tragedy. This being Miike, he succeeds at all of these approaches. Miike's cinema is the cinema of the limitless, a cinema unbound, the promise of the medium itself a perfect promise; indeed, Miike is cinema.

Ace Attorney, a playful, dramatic, somber, upbeat work, is a perfect example of his strengths. Although it may fall short of his masterpieces (Graveyard of Honor, Izo, Dead Or Alive 2: Birds, The Guys From Paradise, Detective Story) it offers a vast array of Miike's talent. Take for example the sequence capped above, in which the memory of a crime becomes a screen in front of our titular attorney, a moment of old school cinematic layering (which also calls to mind a similar sequence from Francis Ford Coppola's recent Twixt). Here we receive memory (and legal process) as cinema, an approach continued in the courtroom sequences, suffuse with Miike's devil-may-care attitude towards CGI, as well as a casually masterful wielding of camera and editing (rack focuses worthy of McTiernan, long shots, jump cuts, etc). Miike, in the sequence above and throughout the film, proves himself a true melting pot of film; Coppola may be beholden to the cinema of Old Hollywood and 60s Europe, but Miike is capable of absorbing and reinterpreting all.

Only with Miike could you get a devastating death and a hilarious joke about a cockatoo in the same film and not feel a critical imbalance.