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Romeo Must Die (2000)
A solid US entry for Jet Li...
Like a good many American filmgoers, I first became acquainted with Jet Li through the unholy debacle that was "Lethal Weapon 4" (that he was the best thing in the film also didn't hurt my memory any). I got curious enough from this to want go see "Romeo Must Die", a film that, for all its flaws, felt like a breath of fresh air after LW4. I thought that they stopped making action films like this in the mid-1980s.
Because I want to end on some high notes, let's get what didn't work out of the way. First, the ridiculous wire-fu on display. In and of itself, I don't have a problem with it as long as there's a rationale for why someone is able to do these feats (it's the inside of a computer program, the fighters have been enhanced with super powers, etc.). Any self-respecting martial artist could study most of the sequences in this film and tell you how about 40 to 60 percent is wire-fu enhanced. This actually a disservice to not only Li's skills, but also those of Russell Wong in the final battle. Second, one-sided development. The O'Day camp is fully realized in terms of dynamics, characterizations, and relationships, something noticably lacking on the Chu side of the block. The closest thing to any of the preceding elements mentioned is when Chu has his final meeting with the Collective. Finally, the X-Ray CGI. I'm a bit more forgiving on this one, as it is a bit of an experimental approach. But it still boils down to a case of "nice try, but without this stuff, we'd still get the idea". End of rant.
Now, what I did like about this film...first off, Jet Li. I remember a Cinescape review coming just short of accusing Li of having the non-acting skills of Van Damme (obviously, the reviewer needed to rewatch Van Damme's filmography to realize their error). He may not, to paraphrase from the aforementioned reviewer, have the goofy charm of Jackie Chan (what charm?) or the cool charisma of Chow Yun Fat (a close second in my HK actor list), but he has his own brand of quiet dignity, bringing to mind Bruce Lee and the early Clint Eastwood. His English is just barely passable, but he makes up for it with his expressions, his eyes, and, of course, his combat. That Li has been careful with picking which movies he wants to be involved with since this film, plus the above, will probably ensure a long life in the action genre.
Second, the O'Day side of the equation. The late Aaliyah as willful Trish O'Day is an extremely pleasant suprise, maintaining excellent chemistry with Li throughout and even getting involved in the combat in a novel fashion (to be described later). Delroy Lindo is in top form as Issac O'Day, an original gangster trying to cash in his chips before the game gets ugly...too late. Finally Isaiah Washington, as the ruthless Mac, brings just the right hint of danger to the proceedings that makes you suspect him from word one.
Finally, there are the fight sequences, some of the most original setups I have ever seen on any martial arts film. Anyone who feels like they've seen it all with the usual chop-sokey needs to see Li fight five guys upside down, use improvised weaponry and his impressive agility in a stairway/alleyway fight, play one of the funniest games of football ever put on film, dance a mambo of kung fu with Aaliyah (all because he can't hit a girl, mind you), and use a fire hose in a way that no action hero outside of Hong Kong has ever thought of. The only place where it breaks down is in his final fight with Wong, which relies too much on the wire-fu gimmickry. But nobody's perfect.
All in all, thinking about this film is making me anxious to see what he'll be doing with DMX in "Cradle 2 the Grave".
Hard Target (1993)
A "doughnut" movie...
I've loved John Woo's films ever since I took a chance and bought my subtitled copy of "The Killer" for VHS (no bad dubbing jobs for me, thank you very much). The blood flew pretty close to what it probably does in real life, all actions had consequences, and nearly no one was a cardboard cutout. For years, I've been listening to folk grouse about "Hard Target" being a misfire, a mistake, or just simply not worthy of what came before (one of the most irritating examples they love to throw up is "Hard Boiled", a good, solid HK movie, but not up to the hype too many folks have given it). Curiousity finally got the better of me and I decided about four months ago to see for myself. What I came away with was the belief that this is a "doughnut" film, weak to non-existent center surrounded by strong elements all around (the original "Under Siege" is a similar such film).
But, before I go into the single biggest defect in this film, let's start with what the film got right. Chuck Pfarrar's script isn't too original (going back to that short story classic, "The Most Dangerous Game", in concept), but it carries the premise solidly and believably enough. The real New Orleans is a city of complicated and crooked political crosscurrents, which, with its surrounding bayous, makes it the ideal manhunting ground. Woo's direction captures the sense of the place very well, making it as much a character in the story as the human players (one could argue that he did the same for Hong Kong in his earlier films). Genre veteran Lance Hendrickson brings his patented smoky, suave menace to bear on the twisted "game warden" who's been organizing and making a killing, so to speak, off his inhuman enterprise. Not that he's without human qualities (his piano playing sequence and small smile of admiration for Roper's decision to take it from the front are the best examples), but definitely not a guy one invites to dinner. Arnold Vosloo, as his sociopathic second-in-command, Van Cleef, seems to relish the role, playing him as a svelte animal whose only joy in life comes from inflicting death, the messier the better. Future Witchblade Yancy Butler is a little too believably naive and helpless as the woman looking for her father and later his killers. That said, she does redeem herself with one memorable event towards the end that brings to mind a similar scene in "Hard Boiled". Finally, Wilford Brimley is a treat as the old Cajun moonshiner out to help his nephew at any cost. You gotta respect a guy who's willing to blow his own place up just to get the bad guys.
Perceptive readers may have already guessed where I've been going with this, but I'll say it anyway. The single biggest flaw in this film is its star, Jean-Claude Van Damme You All. This could have been the best film of his career...if he actually had any acting talent to begin with. It's a meaty role, a Cajun merchant marine who did time in the Marine Recon and now needs the cash of finding Butler's dad to get back to work. As written, he's tough, he's clever, he's likable. As played by Van Damme...well, let's just say that Woo did not get the Belgian equivalent of Chow Yun Fat. His accent, for once, isn't a problem, but his line readings are. He could have been reading a prescription bottle for all the emotion he put into them. Plus, he never manages to convince me that he's actually smart enough to come up with any of the very clever ways of offing the hunters that come into play. It makes his reported clashs with Woo over the film look even more petty than they already are (Woo probably found the MPAA more reasonable, by contrast). In short, he is the hole in the doughnut for this film.
It's really kind of sad that, but for one major flaw, this film could have become a classic of the action genre. Sadly, as things stand, it can only be called a missed opportunity.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
A 1970's throwback...well done
For starters, let me say that I have partially read the novel that this movie is based on (published in the 1980's) and found it a sometimes tough, boring slog. The only reason I picked it up to begin with is because I saw the TV Movie in 1988 with Richard Chamberlain. It was the beginning of my understanding that books and movies, by their very natures, are completely different animals. As for this version of "The Bourne Identity"...well, I wasn't expecting much (though I was intrigued by certain ivory-tower critics who gave this film a second look when it hit DVD and decided that maybe it wasn't so bad). If I was moderately entertained, I'd have called it a success. But I was suprised.
For all its occassional hi-tech trappings, this film reminded me, more than anything, of 1975's "Three Days of the Condor" with Robert Redford and Max Von Sydow (anyone who liked "The Bourne Identity" needs to see it immediately if they haven't already). It's geared to entertaining the over-18 crowd as opposed to the usual adolescent thrill-seekers most modern action films pander to. There's gunplay, but nothing so overblown as ten thousand bullets for one shoot-out (the cat-and-mouse game outside the farmhouse comes to mind). There's martial-arts (a lesser-known style called Kali), but no wire-fu for once. And, lest we forget, there's one of the best car-chase sequences in recent memory through Paris (who'd have thunk that a Yugo could make such a good getaway vehicle?).
But these are general elements. Specific details that brought back "Condor" memories are as follows:
--Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Like Redford's low-level researcher, he plays a man stuck in a situation that he has no idea how he got into and even less of an idea of who's aiming the bullets at him. But it's not quite one-for-one. Redford didn't have anything to fall back on aside from his experience in the Army and Ma Bell. His ignorance is based on his rank in the CIA hiearchy. Bourne, on the other hand, speaks multiple languages, has formidible fighting skills, and is one of the brightest tacticians I've ever seen on the silver screen. But he has absolutely no clue as to how he is able to do what he does. It's all just instinct and reaction. The frustrating conundrum for him (a fact that is made very clear in the initial sequences when his skills come into play) is that, in spite of these advantages, the unknown past may have already doomed his future.
--Franka Potente as Marie Kruetz. Potente's role is more of a bohemian version of Faye Dunaway's character in "Condor" than anything else. But again, there are key differences. Redford forced Dunaway to cooperate at gunpoint, only coming over to his side with great reluctance. Kruetz is made of sterner stuff, as one would expect from a lifetime on the road. Bourne uses that other great persuader, money, to get what he needs from Kruetz and actually gives her the option of getting out while the getting is still good. Their eventual sleeping together even feels a bit less forced than the similar setup in "Condor" (a particularly novel touch about the inevitable morning after scene is the fact that Bourne is already up, dressed, and has wiped every surface in the room). The relationship is really the heart of the movie. Without it, most of the story is just not there.
--Clive Owen as the Professor. While I'm a trifle disappointed that Owen didn't get more to do with this role (unlike most folks, who discovered his obvious talent in "Croupier", I first saw him prove his acting chops in the video clips for the old adventure game, "Privateer 2: The Darkening"), his smoky, grey presence brings to mind Max Von Sydow's cultured assasin in "Condor"(even the "Professor" moniker seems to hint at such a connection). Like Bourne, he's a killing machine, as impersonal and scary as a fully loaded AK-47 to the head (the scene where he pops into pick up his info from Julia Stiles illustrates this beautifully). The only real difference between him and Bourne is the fact that he knows the answers to the questions Bourne has been asking. That he doesn't mind answering them after being bested calls to mind Von Sydow's killing of Redford's quarry and then politely suggesting an extended vacation in Europe when they both walk outside. A baddie who isn't really a baddie...what a concept, huh?
Without giving too much away, I thought that the final twist on what put Bourne out in the middle of the Mediterranean to be both logical and even believable, given everything that came before. This would seem to suggest the influence of John Woo (but only in the arena of character development, something particularly stressed in "The Killer" and the "A Better Tomorrow" films). It's basic plot logic: set up the story in such a way that, when the final suprise twist comes through, it doesn't feel like a deus ex machina so much as a reasonable conclusion.
I honestly hope that this film is the start of a trend in the action genre. Just because most action movies are the cinematic equivalent of junk food doesn't mean they have to be. What's wrong with a little fillet mignon?
Paint the screen red...
I've noticed a peculiar discrepancy in my taste for vampiric fare. Though I constantly claim that I find the archetype of the vampire rather repulsive and boring, I'm nevertheless drawn to stories dealing with vampires. There is, however, one concrete ground rule: they must not be romanticized as completely misunderstood victims. Generally speaking, the nastier the depiction of vamps, the better. Which, I suppose, ultimately accounts for my reaction to "Hellsing".
Overall, I loved the series for many reasons: strong characterizations, a twisty (albeit mostly unresolved) plot, a refusal to sugarcoat the nastiness factor, and an awesome soundtrack that sounded like something that just bubbled out of the Louisiana bayous. But the thing that grabbed my attention the most was the method of vampiric infection used: a small microchip that induces the same results that the real thing can.
The one everybody remembers from this series is Alucard, a grinning, fanged spector of the night that, with his crimson riverboat gambler duds, John Lennon glasses, and Zorro hat, looks like he just stepped off the drawing board of comic artist Tim Truman. While he does have a few points of honor here and there (I doubt that he'd be one of the "good guys" otherwise), he's mostly a vicious engine of destruction who lives for nothing more than a good fight. The more carnage he can cause on a worthy opponent, the happier he is. His contempt for "trash vampires" is mainly based on the fact that he considers them not worth his time and trouble, to say nothing of the fact that they can't really command full vampiric abilities. One can't help but feel just a little uneasy about him. You thank God he's on your side, but you also wonder what would be the right circumstances for him to be playing for the opposing team.
His "daughter-in-darkness" (to borrow Ian Eddington's phrase for a converted vamp's relation to the one who turned them), Seras Victoria, is really the series' main protagonist when one thinks about it. Alucard is flashier and more violence-inclined, but "Police Girl", as he affectionately calls her, is the one who changes the most over the course of the story...and not just because she goes from life to undeath. In the beginning, she's D-11's "baby kitty", a girl in her twenties who hasn't really matured all that much. Ironically, it's not until after she's been turned that she starts to grow up. By the final episode, she's become a take-charge, take-no-prisoners fighter on the order of Sarah Connor. She may never quite come to terms with what she is, but she has truly become her own person.
*Spoiler Alert* One thing I found supremely frustrating about the series was the fact that the biggest mystery--who was behind the manufactured vamps?--is never answered directly. Oh, the hints are there from the first episode on, but the fact that the story never turns over its cards and says "This is who done it" is a minor annoyance that took away from the final, rock-em-sock-em finale. Maybe we can see this resolved in a sequel? One can only hope. That aside, this is primo stuff for the vampirically inclined.
The City of the Dead (1960)
H.P. Lovecraft by way of "Psycho"
"Because of all we've seen/Because of all we've said/We are the dead."
--David Bowie, "We Are The Dead"
"That is not dead which can eternal lie/And in strange eons, even death may die."
--H.P. Lovecraft, "The Nameless City"
I came upon "Horror Hotel" strictly by accident. Since acquiring my new DVD player, I've been obsessed with building a library to complement it. Being an economy shopper, I was immediately intrigued by some of the cheap, double-bill DVDs of low-budget horror movies. My real goal was the companion piece for "Horror Hotel", "Carnival of Souls"...but I realized that I had acquired something incredibly special when I played "Horror Hotel" first.
The earliest scene that leaves the deepest impression is Christopher Lee's college professor screaming out his lecture to his students, "Burn, witch, burn, witch, burn!" The punctuating statement of a long dissertation on the local New England witchs, it impresses one of his students deeply enough for her to investigate a little deeper. She returns to the village where it all happened, a place so steeped in Lovecraftian darkness and fog that even Cthulu would think twice before entering. But the poor girl can't seem to help herself in probing just a little deeper, whereupon she finds...well, that would be telling, wouldn't it? Suffice to say, she winds up finding a whole lot more than she bargains for at the local inn...with DEADLY consequences.
The only real flaw with this movie is its public domain horror characters. Anyone looking for someone along the lines of Norman Bates, Ash, or Freddy Krueger is going to be supremely disappointed; no character here is quite that singular. But so what? Like any truly well-made Frankenstein monster, its whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Thanks to the two essential factors that shine--acting and staging--this film lives and breathes like a Ray Harryhausen monstrosity, pitiless and cold in its intent on building the atmos-fear to fever pitch. From the initial burning of the witch Elizabeth to the disappearing familiar who marks his mistress' victims to the grisly fate of our initial heroine at the hour of thirteen to the desperate struggle for survival in the cemetary to the black irony of the last scene...simply put, this film should be shown to anyone who ever questioned Neil Gaiman's assertion that the genre we call Horror is not a place that a traveler should walk alone.
A final note: there is a supreme irony in the movie's resemblance to another, more revered black and white horror gem: Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". The stories are different enough for the most dim-witted audience member never to be confused as to which was which, but the arc of the story follow the same threads: (minor spoiler alert) girl goes to far-out-of-the-way place, girl checks into hotel with slightly creepy owner/operator, girl is brutally murdered, focus switchs to boyfriend and another girl as protagonists, boyfriend and other girl throw down on the bad guy's @$$. Though both movies were made in the same year, 1960, I can't help but wonder if this was one of the films that Hitch was looking over when he saw how its mostly tacky brethren were turning a considerable profit. A master craftsman such as he could not have possibly missed the resemblance to his own film, one that is light-years more sophisticated than our current subject. But that is another review for another day...
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
The Greatest Film Stanley Kubrick Never Made...
"The mind can make substance,/And people planets of its own with beings brighter than have been,/And give a breath to forms which outlive all flesh."--George Gordon, Lord Byron
The above quotation is what I found written on my calender the night I watched "A.I." for the first time on May the 30th. After I had watched the film, I turned the calender over to the new month to find that bit of Byron's verse waiting for me. I couldn't help but think to myself how appropriate a quotation it was in regards to the film's protagonist, David, and the film's grandfather and father, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielburg, respectively.
I see very, very little of Spielburg in this movie, in spite of his having written the script (which, in fairness, was made from Ian Wilson's treatment for Kubrick and was in turn based on Brian Aldiss' "Supertoys Last All Summer". One of Spielburg's greatest acts of creative kindness is the onscreen credit of all script-related parties.). Though Kubrick didn't direct one frame of this film, it's through his worldview that I see this incredibly unique story that all GREAT science fiction is supposed to be about: the development of technology and how that technology affects the human race that created it.
In some ways, "A.I." almost harkens back to the technological subtext of "Blade Runner". That said, this world is a kinder, gentler dystopia than Ridley Scott's dark future, where the true problems of mankind simmer beneath a surface security and comfort. Humans have now managed to do miraculous things with their mechanical children, but their true nature hasn't really changed. The ugly parts of it are still crouching in the shadows, squirming for expression (which may have been the point of the "Flesh Fair" sequence, about which I will only say this slight spoiler: think the unplugging of HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" with fireworks). By staying with David after his introduction into the film, I didn't just see this world, I FELT it in my gut. All the grandeur, the depravity, the ingenuity, the decadence, the highest hopes, and the dashed dreams came through with the same amount of force that it did to David.
I find it interesting that David, the most Spielburgian character in this film, was mostly developed by Kubrick and that supporting character Gigolo Joe, a Kubrickian entity if ever I saw one, was mainly developed by Spielburg from Kubrick's notes. To me, they are the most vital parts in the machinery of this film. Perhaps even more so than David's ongoing quest (about which, I will say nothing), their evolving relationship is the central core of about a third of the film. Each winds up learning something of value from the other, though those lessons do not seem to profit them by much.
While I am not a Kubrick fanatic, I have seen roughly half his films in the course of my life ("Paths of Glory", "Spartacus", "Dr. Strangelove", "A Clockwork Orange", "2001", "Full Metal Jacket"). Though hardly a prolific filmmaker, he was widely acknowledged by many, myself included, as one of the greatest. More than just a great film, "A.I." deserves to be remembered as a monument to this cinematic master, carved with loving and able care by a devoted and compentant friend...a monument that may very well "outlive all flesh".
Outshines your average good movie the way a supernova outshines a star...
**SPOILERS**"Three rings for the Elven kings under the sky/Seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone/Nine for mortal men doomed to die/One for the Dark Lord on his Dark Throne. In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie/One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them/One Ring to bring them all and, in the darkness, bind them/In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie."
--J.R.R. Tolkein, Opening poem for all three books of The Lord of The Rings trilogy
I made a point of memorizing the above verse back when I was in high school, just as I made a point to read the trilogy and its prelude, "The Hobbit". That said, I could not and shall not claim to be a true Tolkeinite. I don't religiously follow the books the way some have, but I do think that they are some of the finest gifts that the nation of England has ever given to the world, right up there with the complete works of William Shakespeare. When I first heard about the adaptation of these books coming to pass, I was neither suspicious nor prepared to scream blasphemy. I've seen enough film adaptations to know that some things would inevitably be changed (the merit of such changes, I leave to more die-hard fanatics and anal-retentive scholars than myself). Indeed, just before "Fellowship of The Ring" came out, Sir Ian McKellan addressed that very issue in an interview I saw in Newsweek, referring to how he always had issues with film adaptations of the work of Charles Dickens, but also said that this was intended to be a tribute to Tolkein, not a crass commercialization that too much of Hollywood indulges in. So I had hope. When I finally saw it...my hopes were surpassed by a VERY large margin (considering how high they were, no mean feat).
Yes, there are changes to the story. Even my vague recollection of the tale showed several parts that had been rearranged and/or excised from the film (though I've been given to understand that some of the scrapped bits shall reappear on DVD release). When all's said and done, I can live with that. It takes nothing away from the film itself, which follows the main storyline closely enough to where only the most die-hard Tolkeinite would be displeased.
Also, too many people have complained about the CGI in the cinematography, almost as if there was something ignoble about it. I simply see CGI as a tool, one that, while often misused, is capable of being an important partner to a film and not just the only reason to see a film. Inevitably, there were certain parts of Tolkein's universe that could not be duplicated any other way in the real world, ergo CGI was the only way to achieve the desired effect. About the only other director who has been able to use CGI as well as Jackson does here is George Lucas (which, I suppose, is a no-brainer).
The acting company involved included many of my favorite supporting players: Sir Ian McKellan (one of the most well-deserved Oscar nominations in the history of the academy), Ian Holm, Sean Bean, John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, and last, but certainly not least, Christopher Lee (who, even at this late date, has lost none of the menace and majesty that made him Hammer Studios' version of Count Dracula). I never thought that I'd actually see them all in one movie together, but, as I know myself, Tolkein's epic story has that kind of pull on people. Why should the acting fraternity be any different?
One personal benefit that the movie has given to me is helping me see the roots of Tolkein's saga more clearly. Odd that they never occurred to me while I was reading the books, but does now that I've seen it on screen. While Tolkein always bristled at the suggestion that it had anything to do with what went down in the real world (I doubt that he would have been persuaded by the late Dr. Issac Asimov's assessment on the subject), I wonder if he would have agreed with what I saw as references to classic legends and mythology:
The One True Ring--This corresponds with the Ring of the Niebelung, an accursed ring in Germanic myth forged by Alberich of the dwarves (who has counterparts in both Gollum and Sauron) that caused nothing but calamity by all those who wound up possessing it.
Strider's shattered sword--Suggested perhaps by the legend of Siegmund and Siegfried Volsung (whose lives played a major part in Wagner's "Ring of The Niebelung" cycle). Siegmund's invincible sword was shattered on the god Odin's magical spear, to be reforged by his son Siegfried.
Strider--He seems a throwback to King Arthur, who, it will be recalled, was raised by a far different father than his royal sire before taking his rightful place on the throne.
Boromir's betrayal--This also seems to follow the Arthur model, making Boromir the Sir Lancelot figure of the fellowship. The only noticable difference between the two is that Lancelot betrayed his king for love of his queen and Boromir betrayed Frodo and the others for want of the Ring's power.
Boromir's death--It wasn't until Boromir blew the horn of Gondor that I realized that it paralleled the title character's death in "The Song of Roland". Roland, too proud to call for reinforcements before it was too late, blew his horn just in time for his uncle and lord Charlemagne to find his dead body.
If there is any one reason why I cannot help but think of this as my favorite movie of all time, it comes down to this: it's the fantasy film I've been wanting to see all my life. No other fantasy movie I have seen--not "Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie", not "Willow", not even, to some degree, "Clash of The Titans"--wove the slow but sure spell that this movie did when all was said and done. Rare is the movie that runs for three hours plus and still leaves you wanting more. While I applaud the wisdom on the part of the filmmakers to break the saga up into three seperate films, I cannot deny that there is a gnawing frustration in the bottom of my soul for the next two parts. Without question, I have no fears that the next two films will wind up being a couple of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.
Perhaps this generation's "Point Blank"...
"Everyone complains of his memory, and no one complains of his judgement."--Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, "Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims", 1678
The above is a very good quotation to keep in mind as one watches "Memento". Believe me, it all makes sense in the final context.
My main attraction to this movie was Guy Pierce (whom I became acquainted with via "L.A. Confidential") and the nature of the story. Having heard a little of short term memory impairment via a "20/20" show long, long ago (as I recall, I believe the particular instances cited were the result of a disease transmitted by eating mussels), I thought that it would be interesting to see how a mystery was being investigated by a man with the same problem. My reaction was the same that I got from watching "The Limey". It was NOTHING like I was expecting.
The opening sequence sets the tone straight away, up the hill backwards, to borrow a phrase from David Bowie. Like a surreal slideshow, we flash backward and forward from the beginning and end points of Lenny's week(?) to figure out basically what the hell is going on (one of Nolan's smartest moves was to film the earliest sequences in black and white and the time just prior to the opening in color to reduce audience confusion). At first, I believed Lenny because he seemed so calm, rational, and assured in spite of his obvious handicap. SURELY he'd know what he's talking about. (bitter chuckle) More the fool me.
The whole of his world is constricted to five minutes at a time. Five minutes where every incident, every insult, every indignity that is heaped on him is flensed from his mind like a stain exposed to bleach unless he considers it important enough to write down. How could one possibly trust such a man who's forgotten why he's running away from a man with a gun (indeed, forgotten that he's being chased and not chasing), that his wife was called a whore by a woman who is supposedly helping him, or that said woman spat into a tankard that he then thoughtlessly drinks from...all of it instantly forgotten at the end of his memory cutoff? Nolan deserves additional credit for not letting Lenny off the hook at the end. Yeah, we can see that he's been used by a few folks, but he's no innocent himself.
In a weird way, it reminds me of "Point Blank", another one-of-its-kind crime film with some very unorthodox storytelling methods. It had the same sort of flat characterizations (not necessarily a fault, to my mind; watch one of the many versions of "Hamlet" if you want characters), the feeling of being unstuck in time, and a protagonist with rigid but flawed moral compass. But there are important differences. "Point Blank" was like living someone's life the same way Kurt Vonnegut wrote "Slaughterhouse Five". "Memento" is like watching a couple of cars start at opposite ends of a long street and end up hitting each other in a head-on collision. The resulting smash-up, as well as that last, casual line, will haunt me for the weeks the way "Sunset Boulevard" did. Watch it and see if it doesn't do the same for you.
Sheer cinematic magic...
"I'm not a prophet or a stone age man,/Just a mortal with potential of a superman,/I'm living on/I'm tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien,/Can't take my eyes from the great salvation/of bulls**t faith"
--David Bowie "Quicksand"
When I first heard about "Unbreakable", I got the feeling that I usually get off present-day movies that look like they might be worth investigating; I call this feeling "a grave disturbance in the Force". Of course, the Kubrickian approach to the marketing helped immensely. No one outside the people who have seen the film, to this date, have any idea what it's all about. Such silence I will keep as best I can throughout this review. The last thing I wish to be known as is a spoilsport.
I suppose that the best place to start is with the film's director/writer/producer, M. Night Shyamalan. It is good to see that there is finally someone in the movie industry who rewards his audience for having an attention span longer than five seconds. To truly be able to appreciate "Unbreakable", an audience member has to watch every frame of what goes down, no matter how out there it is. The most significant achievement Shyamalan makes with this movie is his perfect blend of images and words (which, considering the film's comic book subtext, is extremely appropriate). The problem with most films is their habit of focusing too much on imagery, none of it very imaginative (i.e. big explosions, ripped limbs, guns going off by the thousand). On the other hand, there are films in our current day and age that swing the other way, way too much pointless chatter to make up for the fact that the films themselves have inadequate plots, stories, or sense to go with it ("Pulp Fiction", anyone?). No such problems here; Shyamalan's dialogue is as spare and economical as that of Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain and his imagery speaks a thousand words. One image in particular comes to mind: the immediate aftermath of the train wreck (the only plot element that has been publicly released), as David Dunn steps into the ER waiting room surrounded by all the families of his fellow passengers. In that one sequence, Dunn's relationship with his son, wife, and the world at large are summed up magnificently.
The acting is definitely no problem. Bruce Willis gives the most restrained performance that I have seen in any film of his as David Dunn. He conveys the sense of a man lost in the world he lives in but not knowing where he belongs. How many people go through their life like he does, trying so hard to fit in that he denies what he truly is? As for Samuel L. Jackson (one of the few good things to come out of "Pulp Fiction"), he gives yet another superior performance as comic art dealer, Elijah Price. As played by Jackson, he is a man consumed with a quest, one which he considers nothing less than his life mission. By the end, he lives up to the nickname of his biblical namesake: the Weeping Prophet.
Now, as to the ending, maybe it's because I have an easier time believing that such things come to pass, but I had no problem with it whatsoever. Yes, it was a shocker. Yes, I did not see it coming. BUT it was the ultimate revelation that had been built up from frame one. I fail to understand why people have such a hard time with it. My only thought is that they think that it is very improbable. To this I say improbable does not mean impossible. If one is willing to accept everything fantastical that has gone before, it would seem to me as though this would have been EASIER to believe than anything else in the script.
It will be very interesting to see where Mr. Shyamalan goes from here. So far, he's delivered two films that outtrumps most anything else in the cineplex. Here's hoping the next suprise up his sleeve is just as compelling as this one.
Blade Runner (1982)
Style only carries a film so far; this one has substance...
As a fledgling writer, I'm always in pursuit of a good story that can, in turn, inspire me with my own visions. However, most movies I tend go after are usually the relatively unknowns (such as "Hangmen Also Die!", "Dark City", and "The Professionals"). In doing so, I usually pass the ones everyone else has seen a hundred times already. Up until two days ago, "Blade Runner" was part of that group. I'd seen a little bit of it back when I was a kid, chopped up on TV by some stupid telethon, but this is the first time that I've seen it all the way through (with the letterboxed director's cut, thankfully; never trust a studio to edit a film right).
Once I got over my annoyance at no onscreen credit for the writers (at least for the opening credits and the tape case; like most people, I don't stick around for the end credits), I realized how much I actually enjoyed this movie. I look at this L. A. in a 2019 that I hope never comes and I see a world that is the logical updating of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis": dehumanized, dreary, and rotting from the inside. There can be no better representation of this world than the replicants, synthetic human beings who surpass the average human in intelligience, speed, and agility, but who only have four years to enjoy them however they can. Is it truly any wonder, therefore, that the Nexus 6 models rebelled the way they did? Four years isn't very long, so what's the point of toiling under masters you can live without? No wonder the corporations want them dead.
Deckard (as played by Harrison Ford) has been called many things: a 21st century Sam Spade, an anti-Han Solo, and even a replicant himself. To me, the true answer is none of the above. Deckard is Deckard, that is all. Unlike Sam Spade, he doesn't enjoy the job he has to do or really even tolerates it. It's obvious that it makes him sick to have to gun down people whose only crime is wanting to choose their own destiny. Deckard doesn't have that luxury and every downed replicant seems to kill another piece of his soul.
From this, it's been suggested that Deckard is a replicant himself. Again, I don't think so. Such an assertion is too easy an answer for Deckard's revulsion for the profession he quit once already. Besides, infiltration is something that his employers have undoubtably considered and so probably make a point of screening potential candidates. Add all this to the fact that Deckard can't roll with the replicant's superpowered punchs any better than the rest of the general population and all you have left is a man who is deeply troubled by the trap his life has become.
Rutger Haeur's Roy is no less complicated himself. Granted, thanks to the lack of emotional maturity that he was engineered with, he has no qualms about such things as wantonly taking life and serious injury. Yet, for all that, all he truly wants is to live a little longer than what's already been built into him. The whole point of the final cat-and-mouse chase through the Bradbury (also used for "The Outer Limits" episode, "Demon With A Glass Hand", and the TV movie, "The Night Strangler") was not so much kill or be killed as it was to make Deckard understand what it feels like to be a replicant.
While there is no denying Scott's impeccable style on display here (any lover of German Expressionism or film noir would appreciate it), the story development involved is not given nearly enough credit. It's almost as if the public wants to forget that someone (in this case, the legendary Phillip K. Dick, who wrote the film's basis, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and Hampton Fancher, who adapted it to screen) had to actually sit down, plot things out, and bang the story into shape. But without the efforts of Messers. Dick and Fancher, there would be no "Blade Runner" or if there were, it would not be nearly as good. Not even a director of Scott's obvious ability can make up for such a fundamental component (don't believe me? Try watching "1492" without falling asleep or throwing up). So, in spite of the efforts of whoever decided to omit the writing credits, kindly remember the aforementioned gentlemen who did the job. Because of them, "Blade Runner" will still be talked about another twenty years, I think.