Sunday, March 3, 2013

Top 100 #58: Unbreakable

“You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world. To not know why you’re here…That’s… That’s just an awful feeling.” Elijah Price

The core idea that propagates the mythology of the superhero boils down to this- without evil, there can truly be no good. This is a founding principle on which most major stories are based. Since their inception, comic books have become the creative fuel that propelled the minds of . These storytellers, many of whom were immigrants that grew up in New York, decided to craft worlds whose only boundaries were the panels they were drawn in. Comic books would thrive throughout the 40s and 50s, giving us Superman, Batman, and several others. All who would sooner or later find themselves on the silver screen in adaptations ranging from superb (The Dark Knight) to downright headache inducing (The Green Hornet). Many people immediately point their finger to either Superman or the Dark Knight as the superior superhero film. Truth be told, we were given the superhero film we deserved. One that wasn't restricted to retelling a comic book story handed down to us by generations previous. It was fresh, invigorating, and above all else, a true look into what brought us to the dance in the first place.

M. Night Shyamalan originally envisioned the film as a three act story: origin story, discover superpowers, confrontation with nemesis. He then decided during the writing process that the origin story in this case was the most interesting story to tell and deserved to be expanded into the full length of the feature. Hard core comic book fans will tell this decision ruined the movie, and although Shyamalan usually makes bad choices when he decides to change something, this one I could appreciate. We don’t need to see guys in tights fighting unbelievable bad guys all the time. It is a retelling of the cliché hero origin story with every genre element stripped out. It is as clear as it can be, as pure as it can be and as realistic as a superhero film will ever be.

The biggest leap in terms of style from Sixth Sense to Unbreakable are of course the choices of switching the editor and cinematographer. Dylan Tichenor (coming off his work on Magnolia) and DP Eduardo Serra took to light the ideas the director tossed them and used them to create a dramatically paced narrative that unfolds as if we were pulled into the pages of a real life comic book. Boasted by what is hands down James Newton Howard's finest score, the collaboration on this film is one that found the production team firing on all cylinders. It is widely known that M. Night used a limited number of takes on the picture. 30 to be exact. In order to maintain a symbiotic relationship between the character and audience, he decided this stylistic choice would best suit the project.

Quentin said that Unbreakable is the story of Superman not knowing that he is Superman. Not only is this a fascinating concept, it also happens to be wrapped up in a film that saw M. Night hone his Spielberg meets Hitchcock style into something he still hasn't topped.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Those three words

Some movies have scenes so great that they supercede everything else in the movie. One of the main ingredients to make said scene great- dialogue. The 90's found us sitting in coffee shops listening to people talk about tipping and when we weren't busy eavesdropping on a conversation about someone being thrown out of a window on account of a foot massage we were strapped in our chair getting chewed out by a boss from hell that drove a Hyundai to work. Because that's who the fuck he is. The reject misfit of the pack was a short stocky comic book nerd by the name of Kevin Smith. His movie Clerks ended up turning heads at Sundance and of course would hit cult status. He would follow it up with the forgettable Mallrats. A movie that had some laughs but fell short in the race of wit.

Chasing Amy saw Smith already breaking away from the confines that bound him. The film ended up being a nailbomb in the face of trite romantic comedies. Woody Allen will always remain the benchmark for dialogue regarding relationships and the oh so many roads they take. But the 90's in a way gave us two great scenes of honest dialogue about relationships that didn't come off as sentimental hogwash. The first being a scene in The Fisher King involving Robin Williams reminding Amanda Plummer that he doesn't drink coffee. The second was this:

Smith wouldn't reach this level of dialogue again until 2011, when he unleashed Red State and sat us down in pews to listen to the sermon of Abin Cooper. A speech so well crafted it could belong to the Tarantino school of screenwriting.