Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

That Windy City

Event: Typeforce Gallery Exhibit (Closing Day)

Event: Agalloch concert
Place: Reggie's Rock Club

Event: Black Angels/Black Mountain concert
Place: The Metro

All the malls are closed

Let me just point out one thing before diving into this fresh slab of cartilage. This observation is based on the zombie film as horror. So it should be judged as such. Therein lies the dilemma. Dawn for some odd reason, tops both Night & Day as the scariest of the bunch in online polls. & while I would agree that out of all three, Night is the scariest, that still leaves the under appreciated Day of the Dead. I'm just going to pretend the last three Romero zombie movies don't exist. They shouldn't anyway.

There's a previous blog entry I made about Alien 3 which suffers from the same lashings that this film does. People expected it to follow in the tradition of Aliens. The same way Dawn had cast a cloud over all fututre zombie films that were released in its wake.

A blogger once said "Sometimes I don't want a comedy. I want a zombie movie." Don't get me wrong. I love Dawn. It's been ingrained into my psyche like a tick burrowed underneath the skin. Though to this day I am wondering why the hell that one biker had to have his blood pressure taken while zombies were surrounding him. But I'll save that for my "common sense gone to shit" rant.

Dawn has always been considered the most epic of the two in terms of scope. But scaling the zombie outbreak down and adding in an ingenious premise allows this grimy bag o' ghoulish glee to exceed Dawn in story. Not to mention the fact that it is the bleakest film the director has worked on.

The cooky (but disorientingly logical) doctor's old "400,000 to 1" quote gives the film a deeper apocalyptic tone moreso than previous. There's not gonna be any bikers breaking into the compound any time soon. For all we know, these could be the last remaining survivors. They don't do a good job of holding our sympathy. Rhodes becomes as villianous as the zombies by the end & the duo of Steel/Rickles doesn't help things along any further either. The moral compass is not only off center, it's thrown in the river along with a heaping dose of sanity. Which is exactly the way it should be.

To any doubters, I point to the opening scene that establishes the tone. Money flying about the desolate streets. That one newspaper being blown up against a trash can- The Dead Walk! Fuckin' A they do. & one of them greets us with its tongue permanently hanging out. Savini does some of his finest work here. The zombies look like, well, zombies! Filthy, mucky & rotting. Speaking of zombies, let's just pull the cat out of the bag: Howard Sherman as Bub. Out of all the countless actors who have performed as zombies in movies, no one quites nails it down as good as this guy did.

To dot the i's & cross the t's on this matter, previous Dead installments didn't have someone's vocal chords being stretched to the point of heightening their scream. Nor did they have someone laughing his ass off only to have it turn to gasping while a zombie was ripping the skin off his face with his bare hands. Vicious, bleak & horrific.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Risk Vs. Reward: Heat

Heat would represent the last time Mann would shoot in his old style of filmmaking. He would end up framing shots differently and not locking down his camera in the same way he did on previous films. One thing that is still apparent in Mann's work is his painterly visual style. The use of architecture, glass surfaces, color coding (he loves those blue filters) and introspective characters mimic the paintings of Edward Hopper. Both artists paint lonely characters against visual motifs. Even looking at the work of David Hockney, one is bound to draw connections on how Mann was influenced by the architecture and how it informed the "dead tech post modern houses" that overlook the city.

The most striking thing about Heat, moreso than the gun battle which set a new standard in bank heist scenes, is the way in which the ensemble cast go about in making choices that will either diminish them or move them further along a path of hopefulness. & that's the thing with the characters- so few of them have taken that route by the end of the film. Moral and causal relativity amongst characters was something Mann was interested in and has always been interested in. It's not so much good or bad but that grey area between that is defined by behavior. With a cast this large, each character is given nuance and depth that play into that factor. Right down to the getaway driver who was recently released from prison.

Neil's "30 seconds flat" philosophy that he discusses with Vincent in the now famous coffee shop scene between the two screen legends is something he abides by up until the very end.That one decision made ultimately determines Neil's fate. One could say everything led up to that moment which climaxes into another scene between both leads. But the ending is neither triumphant or cathartic for Hannah. Capturing the duality of the professional thief & the cop is something Mann has always excelled at more than any other director. Here he shows the full potential of his abilities in that respect.

People claim this to be Mann's opus. His defining work. While it's not my favorite of his, it is the first of his works I would see and a constant reminder of why I love his aesthetic. A+

Saturday, March 19, 2011

ducks, cold cuts & psychiatry

This guy is good.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Up & Down the Frontier: Last of the Mohicans

Mohicans is directed at a ferocious pace and carries one of the more well known scores of Mann's films courtesy of Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman. For a filmmaker known for reinventing the crime genre with his aesthetic, this film proved a departure from the streets. Instead it is fitted with 1757 attire. It's certainly one of the best looking films in Mann's filmography. Gone is the color pallette of previous films. In are the picturesque nature scenes with lots of brown & greens. One nice addition to Mann's style is the increasing realism of violence. Not that he's had the wrong penchant for depicting things with authenticity. It's just become more pronounced here. Particularly in the ambushes and geography of the scenes. The use of Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't hurt either.

Of all Mann's films, this feels like the odd duck of the bunch. Mann's storylines have, for the most part, been compelling . & that's not saying that this 'odd duck' of a film is bad just because it sticks out from the rest. What I am saying is that the story is too middle of the road for a Mann picture. I'm left wanting more. Not in a good way. However, more is exactly what Mann would deliver with his next film. B-

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Great Becoming: Manhunter

The inevitable comparison to Silence will always be brought up regarding this film. As well as the comparison to the haphazardly informed Red Dragon. As far as stories go, Manhunter is the more interesting of the two. To me at least. Particularly when it boils down to villians. Dolarhyde's storyline feels more striking than James Gumb's. Buffalo Bill may be nasty and repulsive towards his victims but the Tooth Fairy's M.O. is killing entire families in order to 'change'. Something I find just as terrifying as Buffalo Bill's tactics- if not moreso. Both Noonan and Levine turn in the performances of their careers in those films. Don't get me wrong, both are top quality films in their own respective ways. I choose Silence slightly over this because of how well Demme was able to build on the foundation this one laid.

A difference from Thief & The Keep is the addition of DP Dante Spinotti. A key collaborator who, along with editor Dov Hoenig, would shape and form a tight thriller that is informed by strong characters. Even if the music hasn't aged well (which honestly doesn't bother me), the sterile atmosphere of the sets & observational approach in its storytelling give the film a particular mood. It's even little things that make this film work the way it does. Reba caressing the tiger as Dolarhyde watches. All contributing to a potent sense of anticipation towards a startling climax.

Manhunter can be viewed as an underrated thriller unfairly judged for some of its stylistic choices. Whatever the case, it's further proof that we owe Mann awe. A

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Red State Experience

"Laundry detergant cocks." Girl sitting next to me talking to her friend

"That guy in front of me looks like he brushed his teeth with a fucking straight razor." Guy sitting next to me talking to his friend

Yep. I was at a screening for a Kevin Smith movie. The crowd was in form. Primed and ready to be delivered a slathering of relentless and ugly terror courtesy of Mr. ViewAskew himself.

Smith has dropped elements of action and thriller in for good measure. In a day and age where everything needs to be categorized, labeled and boxed in, it was rarified air not knowing what could happen next. If anything, that is a major strong point to the experience. Taking sharp left turns that have not been taken since the Firefly family terrorized a hotel full of musically inclined folk. Moreso in unexpected events than anything else. One review I read bashed it for not being conventional horror for the horror fanatic. How is this a bad thing? If anything, horror fans should be fed up with convention.

The audience in the theater was bloodthirsty. Some of the kills were met with gleeful adoration & applause. While other kills stunned them into silence. In particular the first few. The use of sound and editing makes them hurt even more.

It's not all just bullets and blood. There is some funny dialogue that is organically ingrained into the scenes to give them a punch. Although there were a couple of comedic bits I thought could be trimmed that felt out of place in the midst of the action. One thing Smith said in the Q & A was how Carlin said that people's minds are at their most fertile when they are laughing. In that regard, it allows ideas to come across easier. & the audience did laugh at parts of the movie. Only this time it didn't involve a donkey sho...ahem...interspecies erotica.

The sound mix is something Smith kept a close eye, or ear for that matter, on. Editing-wise the film feels tight for the majority with the exception of the few comedic bits I talked about earlier that were toward the end. Smith said he could lose 28 seconds after the tour was over & I don't think it would hurt so much as help the picture. The director also admitted the cut went quick thanks to editing on the Avid and shooting on the Red camera.

Another asset working to the advantage of this film: no score. Playing on one's emotions in these types of genre films has been done to death. Without a score it allows the audience to make up their own minds as to what they want to feel about a particular character. All the more appropriate that the moral center frenetically spins away throughout the film.

Michael Parks as Abin Cooper turns in a truly morally corrupt character. To quote a line from the script: "Fred Phelps may be a suer, Cooper is a doer". John Goodman was great (when isn't this legend great?) as a mid-level ATF agent.

The concept of Red State is what throws the switch to an emission of sparks and a hailstorm of hellfire. Smith emphasized in the Q & A that he grew up Roman Catholic. But he sure as hell wouldn't act like the people of the Five Points Church. More power to him. Something I wholeheartedly agree with. It disheartens me to see people pidgeonhole all Christians as ovezealous religous fanatics. Just as much as it makes my blood boil to see the Fred Phelps' of the world give religion a bad name. & that's about where I end that point before I turn this review into a soapbox tirade.

The last credit on the card left me with a big ole smile on my mug:
Almost the entire cast of Red State will return for HIT SOMEBODY when it goes over the boards in 2012.

Smith may be quitting from films after 2012, but rest assured, this is one he can be proud of.

I can't really give this film a rating right off the bat. My subconscious is still being gnawed at by some of the scenes in the film. Suffice it to say, it accomplished it's goal.

RED STATE hits theaters with a wide release on October 19.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Through the Smoke: The Keep

The sophomore slump. Something that is even common in music. How is that band going to capture the magic of their debut and build upon it? Well, this album has some of the same beats. Tangerine Dream & Robert Prosky included. But it certainly isn't the same genre. This time Mann serves us a horror film. What could go wrong? We saw what a high profile director could do when Friedkin went from the drug pushin' streets of French Connection to the pea soup covered sheets of The Exorcist. Well that's just not the case here.

Don't get me wrong. Mann is on point in his direction. One thing I thought I'd never see in a Mann work: a smoke monster (no, not the Black Smoke from Lost.) That's the whole problem. It's not so much that I'm criticizing Mann for doing something radically different from the rest of his work. Mann's visuals defined an important subculture of the 80's. The color pallette is even more subdued here. But when filtered through the horror film, a period horror film at that, the stylistic trappings only build to a point.

Mann admits he is embarassed by the film and slightly ashamed. Even if it's at the bottom rung in the ladder of Mann's works, it still warrants a release on DVD & Blu-Ray. Let alone the fact that the studio cut out a substantial amount of scenes- butchering it. A film like this is needed to explore the evolution in the director's career. How else are film fans suppose to see it? Well, NetFlix for the time being. That's how I ended up seeing it. C+

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Green Mill Fireworks: Thief

The debut film of an auteur should act as a blueprint for what is ahead. Small brushtrokes that are discovered throughout the artist's later work. In the case of Mann, Thief was that blueprint. The director's films (the majority of them anyway) always seem preoccupied with the concept of work. Men who practice their craft and live a routine. Jimmy Caan's performance as Frank embodies this in his yearnings for a better life. Something that haunts the individualists of Mann's world. They have no need for contractions.

Mann chose to set Thief to a propulsive electronic score by Tangerine Dream. Another thing that is his forte: knowing how well music adds depths to scenes. To some, the synth-driven score may come off as dust on a stylistic heist film. I look at it as a coat of polish. Setting music over the wet streets with the neon reflections became a trademark. Particularly in some of his static compositions during the 80's. It links itself to the In the Air Tonight montage in Miami Vice. What's even more present than any other film of his is the extended dialogue exchanges. In particular, the one at the cafe between Caan & Tuesday Weld. Add in some great Peckinpah-like slow motion and you got Mann's early style.

Mann would trim these stylistic flourishes that he captured in this film. It's still an very impressive debut that lies in the shadow of his more operatic works. Remember, Frank is the mold from which characters like Neil McAuley were made. A