Friday, May 17, 2013
Saturday, May 4, 2013
“Mystery Man,” Heat
Nobody ever accuses Mann’s films of being tender, which they are indubitably. He has, unfortunately, become known as the ‘shoot ‘em up’ guy or, even more inaccurately, the ‘cop movie’ guy. This could easily be the single most heartbreaking scene he’s ever written, directed or filmed: we see these three men (Vincent, Donald, Neil) butt heads with their women during one night. Vincent can’t get enough of what he does, Donald doesn’t want any of what he’s got, and Neil just wants to run away and take his gal with him. This scene packs a bigger punch with each viewing.
“Tumbling Down,” Velvet Goldmine
The whole film is a love letter to glitter and glam and the hope it brought to the hearts of many lost youths, but no other scene in the entire picture was able to reach the kind of cathartic, melancholic height that this one was. It’s a beautiful, bitter-sweet ballad celebrating an era of fervent self-expression and pain. ‘Softly, he said: I will mangle your mind.’
“I Shall Not Walk Alone,” LOST
It’s become popular and perfectly acceptable to kid LOST about its ending and how ‘awful’ an ending it really was - calling the final scene ‘meaningless’ and ‘lazy,’ it didn’t ‘answer any questions’ - and anyone who does so is well within their rights. But these same people consider themselves fans, and that I do have a problem with. If you watched LOST just for the answers to its questions then you weren’t a true fan at all. It was this scene from season one and others like it that told you, the audience, very early on what the show was really about: the people. And if you couldn’t get that then I’m glad you hated the ending.
“Running on Empty,” Forrest Gump
Much can be speculated about Robert Zemeckis’s intentions with this song - its mood and temper evoke the right feel for the scene, and its title has obvious relevance, almost too obvious. It leaves me wondering which of the two informed Zemeckis’s decision to use it. Let’s hope both, because I’d rather not leave room for happy accidents.
“Waiting Around to Die,” Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad did (or is doing) for the late 2000s and early 2010s what Miami Vice did for the late 1980s. It’s a cool crime drama that draws heavily upon indie rock and what can be called contemporary New Wave culture, the only difference being that this culture and style of music is not nearly as ubiquitous to our day-to-day lives as Phil Collins, Chaka Kahn, or Roxy Music might have been, hence me identifying BB’s soundtrack as being primarily indie. In any case, the show is filled with lots of fun indulgences in folk, electronica, and rock n’ roll, but no scene stands as tall as does the ending to ‘Bit By a Dead Bee,’ and the reason might be simply that this was the first time (or just the time) when we realized: Hey, Breaking Bad is more than good writing. From this episode on we consciously expected to be introduced to new bands, new tracks, and altogether new artists at the behest of Mr. Gilligan and co. Every once in a while I’ll meet someone who pretends to have been a follower of Apollo Sunshine’s before 2011.
“Jack Hamlet,” Last Action Hero
There are four things one should expect (and want) from the Schwarzenegger genre (and it IS a genre): one-liners, heavy metal, elaborate action set pieces, and, most of all, Arnie. Last Action Hero is the only film he’s made where we really get all of those things. It’s probably the most existential action film to date and this scene, above all, shows how and why. It’s an Arnie flick in an Arnie flick invading Hamlet in an Arnie flick. You can’t even make fun of it. But this series isn’t about films’ overall quality (or the quality of their individual scenes); it’s about music. And here we have a catchy take on classic symphonic arrangements bred expertly with heavy metal. I will say, without fear of being scorned, that this is the greatest Schwarzenegger scene in the history of cinema and Schwarzenegger.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
The Departed (2006)
At the end of the day a bad performance is a bad performance, and Jack Nicholson’s work in The Departed is not only bad, but it’s also embarrassing -- for me as a viewer (and fan), for Marty, and, most of all, for Jack. William H. Macy once said something akin to, “no matter how good the performance, no matter how good the directing, nothing trumps great writing,” a thesis I greatly disagree with. I’ve rarely come across a film where good dialogue has saved a poor performance, but I HAVE come across the vice versa. Unfortunately for Departed, the lines Costello is given can be just as awful as how they are delivered, i.e. “This ain’t reality TV!”
Furthermore, people often praise the film for its editing. I guess they’re right for the most part, but said praise leaves me wondering: have they even seen a Scorsese film before? Departed is nothing exceptional in the cutting department when set beside pretty much any and every film Marty made after GoodFellas and before The Aviator. In fact, I’d say it’s worse -- not MUCH, but still. During the main title sequence of the film Scorsese undertakes a montage of shots, all connected by one, smooth camera pan, and the smoothness of that ‘pan’ is so obviously altered in post-production that it almost makes me cringe. On top of that, there are a couple of ‘fade out’ moments whose executions are equally as clumsy and awkward. And although I don’t like to nit-pick, the moment when the volume of ‘Shipping Up to Boston’ drops real low so we can hear Billy talking to the other inmate is so jarring that even paying attention to the subsequent dialogue becomes a challenge.
The flip side
Whether Wahlberg deserved his Oscar nom is up for debate. All I know is that Leo deserved it more. As a matter of fact, Leo has deserved an Oscar nomination (let alone an Oscar win) for nearly every performance of his since, and including, Aviator (with obvious exceptions). He’s a natural.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Saving Private Ryan (1998) Here’s one of the greatest tales of brotherhood ever told and arguably the most culturally significant portrayal of war in cinema history - ensemble cast, hyper-real set pieces, impeccable aesthetics and compelling drama - and the best they could do was a soldier in silhouette standing in some grass and a few floating heads?
Jacob’s Ladder (1990) This one’s really a matter of which you refer to. The cover of my own DVD looks like the kind of movie your eyes skim over in the horror section at Blockbuster without really seeing. Yeah, that bad.
Contact (1997) The film is sweeping and ambitious in its imagination, two qualities that the sleeve (and official poster) lacks entirely. Knowing nothing about the film I would’ve assumed it was a TV movie about a woman scientist dealing with relationship problems.
Take Shelter (2011) Another Jacob’s Ladder situation - it just looks like the kind of movie you assume sucks.
The Age of Innocence (1993) There was no sensible way to sell this movie to the right audience under any realistic circumstances. The studio execs must’ve had their fingers crossed, hoping that the director’s and actors’ names and the reputation they carried would hold up. I guess they did?
American History X (1998) Instead of a compelling drama, American History X is a docudrama filled with cheaply-produced reenactments narrated by a guy whose voice we recognize but just can’t place, or so the DVD cover would have us believe. The title doesn’t help either.
No Country for Old Men (2007) Like Saving Private Ryan... exactly like Pvt. Ryan actually... the silhouette man on grass... the floating heads... what the Hell?! Also: don’t forget the awkwardly mismatched names and faces.
The Graduate (1967) I’ve always felt that creating a poster by sketching/painting and matting a shot from the film itself is lazy and, for obvious reasons, unimaginative. It doesn’t necessarily hurt the film but it doesn’t help it either. It simply leaves you as indifferent as you would’ve been with just a title on white paper, if not more so.
Seven (1995) A sleeve that says, ‘one of those thrillers that ripped off Seven.’
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Possibly the most boring artwork of them all.