Friday, March 29, 2013



Two Mules for Sister Sara (Don Siegel, 1970)


Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)

Action Basics 3

Fast Five (Justin Lin, 2011)

The simple ability to create visual tension between antagonists is, by and large, a dying art these days (see: Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises). We are supposed to infer, through dialogue and plot, that they are nemeses, but their relationship is devoid of tension, simply because they don't exist in the same physical space. Even when sharing a shot, they aren't actually defined and affected by each others' presence, because it doesn't flow from anything, it's just another haphazard fragment lacking the cohesion of editing and space. 

The above is an exception, something truly basic, but in the formally limp wheelhouse of big budget contemporary action cinema, it floors with its elegant simplicity. Justin Lin, up to this point, understood only the motion of cars with his camera. This is the first time people truly felt ingrained in his formal approach. What's even better, and what makes this brief moment so strong, is its relation to establishing the tension and intensity between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson's characters (pungently homoerotic). 

The real star shot of the piece is, of course, when the camera, following Diesel's jump, captures Johnson crashing through the window. It is, much like in the sequence from Isaac Florentine's Ninja previously written on, a strong example of complimentary motion. It would be nothing without proper punctuation, which Lin provides with a neatly timed long shot that allows for clear detailing of Diesel and Johnson's proximity to each other. The concluding medium shot glares give us explicitly the personal undercurrent of the relationship.

Sadly, their actual showdown later in the film does not cary the same charge. However, Lin appears to be improving film-by-film in this franchise, each more punchy and exciting than the last, and if the trailer for Fast & Furious 6 is any indication, he's beginning to nail down kinetics outside of cars. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Action Basics 2


Ninja (Isaac Florentine, 2009)

So much to learn here, and not just about action cinema. Players intersecting, drawn together by form. Movement matching movement. 

Innocent customers flee, the camera quickly following "Baseball Cap Guy", until reversing directions to follow the henchmen to the doorway of the cafe. The movement of Baseball Cap Guy begins the cycle of movement that make up this sequence, a sense of matched motions.

And then, beautifully, at the tail end of the shot you can see our hero, Adkins, in the doorway. Cut to a shot from inside the cafe, the henchmen spilling in. It's a seamless progression, the out-of-focus Adkins preparing himself at the first shot's conclusion, the henchman springing into the cafe immediately in the second shot. 

In the same shot, Adkins kicks down Henchman 1, before throwing Henchman 2 to the floor in a fluid motion, the camera accompanying the falling body. 

Baseball Cap Guy's retreat unspools into the henchmen's attack, which feeds into Adkins' athleticism. A complete transference of motion.  

Eight seconds.