June 29, 2012
The action film must be one of the hardest for anyone to justify enjoying to him or her self on a moral level. We can talk all day long about the technique and the artistry and, in the best cases, the moral depth that create a great action film, but at the end of the day, there’s always going to be that element of thrilling to the violence. In a fashion, the closer to a realistic depiction of violence an action movie achieves, the farther away from its purpose it gets. If you think of the brutal physicality and sad desperation in the fistfight-cum-wrestling match of a drama like All the Pretty Horses or the bathhouse finale of Eastern Promises, or even that moment in Saving Private Ryan where Adam Goldberg’s character kills the sense of war-action heroics by pleading with the German soldier not to slowly plunge a dagger straight into his heart, the last thing you feel is “fun” or “thrill” – the reality of violence is that it is generally a sad, ugly thing that represents the absolute worst in humanity. Therefore, the more outlandish and choreographed and lovingly filmed and edited an action scene is, the better. Many of the good ones have more in common with a Hollywood musical number than an actual fight. Even the recent turn towards the more guttural action, like the Bourne films or Craig-era Bond rely heavily on swift editing and choreography to keep the fast-paced excitement going so it can be punctuated by a violent knock to the stomach. It is on the level of thrills that the action scenes in Act of Valor and The Raid: Redemption hope to deliver, but due to the circumstances of each of the films, there is a drastically different effect on the viewer. Read the rest of this entry »
September 23, 2011
Caution: Spoilers Abound
Reading snippets of interviews and press releases for Drive, I found a number of references by star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn to John Hughes, specifically Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. These were perplexing remarks knowing what little I did about the film, but as I watched the film, I slowly found them quite instructive. Perhaps not for the reasons they intended, I’ll admit, but instructive all the same. Trying to analyze the similarities in a straightforward way, I couldn’t find any connection beyond a simple love story and romantic synth-pop heavy soundtrack, but even those elements weren’t terribly Hughes-like in any specific way. It dawned on me, however, during certain sequences between Ryan Gosling’s Driver (as is so often with characters of this type, he’s never given a name) and Carey Mulligan’s Irene, the next-door neighbour with whom he makes a connection. It was the feeling of these scenes that reminded me of Hughes. Not in a direct way, mind, but in the way that I watched Hughes’ movies as an adolescent, all filled with a simplistic, romantic notion that came about through a combination of my total lack of understanding of how real relationships might function and beautiful, heart-on-its-sleeve emotional synthpop. Therein lays, I think, the key to coming to understanding not only the Driver, but also the larger perspective of the film as a whole.
April 7, 2010
I’m sure I’ve talked about the importance of tone in films before, and before I go back to that old standby when talking about Matthew Vaughn’s comic book fantasy Kick-Ass, I think it worth stressing how crucial it is (for the thousandth time). In most films, suspension of disbelief is paramount for engaging with the characters and story. This is not to say that everything need be believable or even logical, but if you want to be swept up in whatever experience the film can offer, the wrong moment can jar you right out of the picture. A consistent tone does well to maintain the suspension of disbelief in genre films such as Kick-Ass because, after all, nobody wants to find themselves aware of the real world when they’re meant to be escaping from it. As a digression, a good director making a certain film knows when to use a moment totally at odds with everything else around it to emphasize a point and, hopefully, get an emotional reaction (Richie’s attempted suicide in The Royal Tenenabaum, for instance). I’m not saying Matthew Vaughn is forever incapable of accomplishing this, but Kick-Ass is most certainly not that film. Read the rest of this entry »
March 18, 2009
Seven weeks into its US run, Taken is still holding strong in the box office top five. It has seen less than a 10% drop from week to week for most of that time, which you’ll know is very unusual if you keep up with box office trends (as I’m sure you all do). At close to $127 million in domestic grosses, it is the second-highest grossing film of the year so far (and it’s outpacing the highest grossing, Paul Blart: Mall Cop). Now it most definitely won’t stay that way, and it’s true that this time of year is generally thin on big releases, but it still says something about the cultural draw of the film. Made for around $40 million, this is a huge coup for a moderately budgeted film starring an unlikely action hero. I really shouldn’t play the armchair culture pundit, asking the questions about why this film seems to resonate so well in America and what that says about the country as a whole, but I can’t help myself. I’m probably over-thinking a mindless movie, but after watching it, questions were raised.
The action film was always the B-movie. It has the A-budget now, and is the cash crop of the entire industry, but its thrills are cheap and visceral. Shallow, dumb, one-dimensional characters speed through a shoestring plot towards the inevitable climax that absolutely, positively must top everything that has come before it. The most inventive artisans with the largest teams come together and devote untold man-hours with the latest technology and the most cutting-edge photographic techniques to create the silliest and most disposable piece of trash they can. I do love action films. I also don’t expect much from them, which is completely unfair given how much work goes into each and every set piece, but still, I want it to be brisk and exciting. I want it to give me a reasonable degree of “WOW” and crank up the volume so I can’t hear the person rustling candy wrappers or crunching on popcorn behind me. Despite all the advances in the creative processes behind them, most are still made today for the same reason they always were. The basic thrills that a filmmaker wants to jolt into the viewer never change, and so it is no wonder modern action directors try so very hard to use new technologies to revisit and reinterpret the trends of the past.
Max Payne, directed by John Moore, seeks to meld classic detective noir via Sin City and The Matrix, which is even less original when you realize it has been based on a video game. Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular character, a depressed detective who still mourns the tragic loss of his wife and baby, who were killed in a still unsolved murder. In his off-hours, he contacts old informants and frequents underworld parties in an effort to piece together the truth behind the murders. He comes across Natasha Sax (Olga Kurylenko), who is soon savagely mutilated after taking a drug called Valkyr and leaving his apartment. His wallet is found on her, and now he’s the prime suspect. This should be where the film kicks it into gear. The wrongly accused cop must evade his former colleagues while seeking to find the truth that will resolve the murder and clear his name. Except, this doesn’t really happen. Not with any immediacy, anyway. Instead, Internal Affairs casually asks around and hopes to catch him, while he continues to speak with his old friends and contacts, slowly putting it all together. His wife worked for a pharmaceutical company, and if you haven’t made the connection by now, this might be a really shocking thriller for you. If you have, you have seen a moving picture before, and are probably wondering why the hell you’re still watching this one. Natasha’s sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) enters the fray, as does Beau Bridges, and we’re now so bored we just want the guns to come out and blow things up real good. Well, it takes a bit longer, and when it does come, it isn’t that exciting.