XIXAX Film Forum


Sight and Sound

©brad · 9 · 2687

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

©brad

  • Admin
  • *****
    • Posts: 4632
on: January 28, 2003, 08:54:24 AM
Great great film magazine with writers who actually know what they are talking about. They tend to focus more on a director for a change. Really good reads. Here are three reviews.

This Gangs of New York review is the best one I have read. It hits on pretty much the majority of what people think is good/bad about the film.

Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York has been in Martin Scorsese’s mind since the late 1970s, when Herbert Asbury’s book examining the city’s turbulent formation in the mid-19th century was briefly embraced as a seminal punk text, and the director worked with his friend Jay Cooks on a fictional take to be made on a moderate budget. Cut tot the mid-90s, when Scorsese finally had a big commercial success with his least personal film to date, Cape Fear, but continued bravely to go his own way, recreating lost worlds and civilizations in The Age of Innocence (late 19th century aristocratic Manhattan) or Kundun(pre-communist Tibet).In the midst of this ardent quest Gangs resurfaced, only this time as a big-budget epic with a trio of major stars and a vast set built in Cinecitta, not to mention the backing of mini-mogul Miramax, ever keen to marry art with making money and reaping awards. The cameras may have turned over in 2000, but the proposed release in Christmas 2001 was postponed after September 11, and another year of editing ensued. Stories in the press talked of a soaring budget (over $100 million has been suggested) and confrontations between producer Harvey Weinstein and the director over the film’s length.

Of course, a similar aura of troubled gestation threatened to bedevil Titanic, but James Cameron’s shameless folly won through, and made a major star of Gang’s lead Leo DiCaprio. Titanic evidently succeeded at the box office because of the strong appeal to the youth audience of its tale of teen love set against the backdrop of a cataclysmic historical event. Superficially Gangs could be seen to be playing the same hand, with its poster-driven promise of grand passion between beautiful young leads, plus a moustachioed villain of considerably greater weight. This, however, is where Scorsese’s film has its problems. He is clearly in his element depicting the ferocious aura of the gangs and their ritualistic behaviour, as well as the cultural clashes and political corruption of the city; and the level of achievement here in prodction design, costumes, camerawork and editing is as high as anyone could wish for. But the script (worked on by two other hands, plus an uncredited Hossein Amini) responding perhaps to the implications of an engorged budget, now has an obligation to temper the intrinsic extreme violence with a veneer of romance.
A few years ago, DiCaprio is no longer the tousled, feckless teenager who stirred deep feelings in Kate Winslet’s every girl, but as Amsterdam is a rather weightier, hirsute twentysomething bent on revenge, who constantly furrows his brow in a manner reminiscent of such 1950s screen rebels as Jeffrey Hunter or James Dean. While Cameron Diaz as the pickpocket Jenny is arguably more at ease in her role, fully alert to the precarious, devilish life her character leads, it Is hard to feel where her deep attraction to Amsterdam lies. An extended scene in which Amsterdam follows her uptown to discover how she infiltrates a rich family (presided over by Scorsese in a Hitchcockian cameo) is clearly positioned quite early on to depict their growing love. But the proverbial screen chemistry proves elusive, and while Scorsese’s strengths have always been a severely adult view of human relationships, the tension between his clarity of vision and the refusal of the sentimental demands of a Hollywood blockbuster is not satisfyingly resolved.

In contrast to this, Daniel Day-Lewis’ fearlessly flamboyant performance as Bill the Butcher dominates much of the early part of the film, underlining the more oedipal aspect of the drama. Not only is there an ambiguous history between him and Jenny, he also confesses to Amsterdam, whose father he killed 16 years earlier, in a memorably strange scene (all the more potent for its stillness in the centre of a busy film) that he wished he had a son. Futhermore, Bill is stitched more effectively into that aspect of Gangs where the director’s real passions seem to lie- the conflict and violence out of which the city is born, right from the opening battle where an array of bizarre weaponry is deployed in hand-to-hand combat. Characteristically, Scorsese doesn’t flinch from showing the carnage, even if his montage technique actually suggests more than it directly depicts.

However, if the first part of Gangs lacks the intensity of focus expected from Scorsese, the film receives a tremendous kick-start in the pivotal Pagoda Theatre scene when love, jealousy and revenge do finally combust, with hitherto uncertain character motivation now made defiantly clear. There is a knife-throwing scene which is a dazzling display of kinetic cinema, with a palpable sense of perversity and terror that was previously more subdued. The political machinations of Boss Tweed (including a hilarious scene of voters being shaved before returning to the polls), the revival of the gangs, and finally the outbreak of the Draft Riots are all combined in a propulsive montage that recalls the heyday of 1920s Soviet Cinema. As someone observes of an Afro-American dancing an Irish jig, this depiction of New York as a melting pot of world conflict is “A fine American mess.”

In fact it’s regrettable that Boss Tweed is not more present as a character, not only because it is another superb performance from Jim Broadbent but also because the bigger social and political picture is so much more persuasive throughout. An early scene of a seething tenement building recalls Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) which the Italian director famously described as “science fiction in the past”- an apposite description for Gangs itself. When the final confrontation between Amsterdam and Bill (magnificently spectral duel enveloped in clouds of dust, a scene worthy of Kurosawa) is all but drowned out by the violence in the streets and as the cannons let rip over downtown New York City, there is a palpable sensation that life will be forever changed. At the same time, the corruption of the voting system and the everyday racism on display have an uncomfortably contemporary ring to them.

Perhaps there’s a deeper irony in that the true subject of Gangs- the meaning of being an ‘American’ in a society of immigrants- has had to be filtered through the genre of a popular Hollywood epic, itself the fantasy of a generation of ‘foreigners’. Scorsese has talked of ‘smuggling’ in his view of how directors once transcended the dictates of studio movies, but here it feels as if not all of his film has passed safely through customs. Ultimately though, if our emotional response to the central characters is muted, the final shots, dissolving through time to reveal the modern Manhattan with twin towers defiantly in place, will have a particularly deep resonance for the people of that city, and many more elsewhere.

David Thompson

-What a good writer!


©brad

  • Admin
  • *****
    • Posts: 4632
Reply #1 on: January 28, 2003, 08:58:08 AM
Here's a good one on Solaris and Soderbergh.

Solaris

   Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris begins with a delicately enigmatic image of fronds wafting in a stream; in the new Steven Soderbergh version the opening shot is of drops of water on a window pane. It’s an image at once eerily noncommittal and mater-of-fact, telling us next to nothing about the film we’re about to see, where Tarkovsky’s tells us everything. In fact, you could say that the whole of Tarkovsky’s poetic disquisition on mind, memory nature and time’s ebb and flow is in that first image, which returns at the close of the film, just before one of the most sublimely mysterious FX shots in film history.

   Soderbergh’s Solaris has no business with the elegiac nature imagery of Tarkovsky’s film, nor does it have the same morose languor- where the Russian movie stretched to 165 minutes and didn’t get off Earth for the first 40, Soderbergh contracts his cosmos into a spare, telegraphic hour and a half. His is not, it should be said, in any way a remake of theTarkovsky film, but rather represents that quintessentially Hollywood trope whereby quibbles about the ins and outs of the ‘remake’ are wriggled out of- a retour aux sources, a fresh adaptation of the original Stanislaw Lem novel.

   This Solaris is also, much more straightforwardly than Tarkovsky’s vaulting enquiry into the state of the future soul, a love story. No more Dostoevskian colloquies here between art and science, incarnated by intense balding savants, but an intimate two-hander between a man and a woman, or rather a dead woman, or rather a dead woman’s un earthly simulacrum. The man, psychologist Chris Kelvin, is played by George Clooney, whose brooding detachment for the first time acquires a real intellectual focus as he visits the space station where the influence of the planet Soalris has materialised astronauts’ long-absent memories in the form of phantom ‘visitors.’ In Kevlin’s case the planet has revived his wife Rheya whom he has mourned since her suicide.

   McElhone, with her strangely elongated features and haunted, almost mesmerised eyes, doesn’t quite have the Slavic other-worldliness of Tarkovsky’s revenant heroine Hari, but she’s certainly alien, in a breathily cut-glass Home Counties way that stands out as passably strange in a Hollywood context. At first, seen on Earth as the still-living, “difficult” Rheya, she seems merely arch, but in space, as she emerges out of nowhere, she comes into her own. “How are you here” Kelvin asks. “How do you mean?” she replies, unaware anything’s wrong. Her unfazed disorientation, her out-of-spaceness, plays up the film’s Pirandello aspect- she’s a character who’s appeared in the story, unaware that she’s even in a story.

   The thought of a Hollywood Solaris, let alone one produced by James Cameron, might have struck dread into purist souls, but what’s impressive is how committed Soderbergh is to understatement. There’s a strange, telling elision, as when at one point the camera drifts past an unexplained rip in the metal wall of Kelvin’s cabin. What we haven’t seen- whether it was cut, or never even filmed- is Soderbergh’s take on the single most dramatic image in Tarkovsky’s version, the moment when a bloodied Hari bursts through a steel door. It’s one of many remarkable absences that shape a film structure on discontinuities. As in the original, Sopderbergh omits the space journey: Solaris might as well be next door to Earth, so suddenly does Kelvin arrive. Clooney himself is a notable absence: in the scenes where Kelvin interrogates his shipmates, Soderbergh keeps his camera away from him, as if they were simply talking into space.

   Doing his own editing, Soderbergh makes this a very fragmented narrative, pausing mid scene with fades in and out of black and providing a starkly notated vision of life on Earth at the start and end of the film. The mood approaches that of Godard or Chris Marker’s futures- a whole world evoked in a few concise visual strokes, such as a bowler hat of odd design (perhaps it’s another Kubrick reference, to A Clockwork Orange, supplementing the more obvious 2001 allusion in the console lights reflected in Clooney’s helmet). Most of all, however, the mood is European, and not just because of the central couple’s trust in an antiquarian bookshop. The sense of temporal dislocation in tandem with romantic mourning echoes Alain Resnais’ recently rediscovered Je t’aime je t’aime (1968) while the scenes in Kelvin’s claustrophobically clean, soncially deadened apartment- where very shot screams Rheya’s conspicuous absence- have something of the soul-crushing sleekness of life in Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). The sense of Soderbergh reviving a 1960s dream of futurism is underlined by something else we haven’t seen in a sci-fi story at least since Space 1999 (1975): jackets with Nehru collars, in which Clooney looks far less ridiculous than you’d think.
   
The above-mentioned auteur names locate Soderbergh’s film
at one remove from the Hollywood sci-fi mainstream: he’s pastiching 1960s art cinema’s own pastiche appropriation of the genre. This might make his film appear empty and soulless to some- another, even more extreme case of Soderbergh the cold-hearted genre-snatcher borrowing a form, emptying it out and moving on. But this is to reckon without the precise, hand-crafted nature of Solaris: as his own cinematographer (under the name Peter Andrews) Soderbergh determines the total look and feel of the film, creating something that seems organic and fully formed even though its ultimate purpose may escape us. (To use a sci-fi analogy, Solaris resembles one of Joseph Cornell knock-offs assembled in space by a rogue computer, in William Gibson’s Count Zero.)

The point of the film may have been purely to see if it could be done, and if so, what would emerge- Soderbergh may simply be an experimenter in the purest sense. I can’t see much connection here with any other Soderbergh film so much as with Ocean’s 11, partly because there’s the aforementioned sense of a honed, autonomous machine running through its elegant but inscrutable operations, partly because that film’s single most striking feature- a certain shade of blue, a little deeper and darker than the Yves Klein standard- makes a welcome reappearance here.

   There is spectacle here, some of it verging on kitsch- the shifting purple patterns of the planet Solaris itself, like a deluxe version of any energy globe from Camden Markey- but otherwise there’s an admirably prosaic approach to standard space-opera paraphernalia. If there must be spacesuits, then let there be spacesuits, and let them resemble the spacesuits of the past, let there be corridors, and let them be a little closer to the familiar industrial spaces of Alien  than to Tarkovsky’s lugubriously vacant halls. Soderbergh’s real fascination is with textures and elegant details, as if to show that the accoutrements of lifestyle follow humanity even unto the depths of the galaxy: you may find yourself remembering the film for a certain metallic sheen on Clooney’s pillow, or for the strange ice tray edging around his bed.

   Most of all, you may remember the silence. There’ no music at all until Kelvin makes it into space, at which point Cliff Martinez’s own sound design, in which Russian voices, at once distracted and declamatory, hung in the empty, recycled air of enclosed space. Here the voices are muted like felt or suspended in relief against a gossamer steel-mesh sound. You may be thoroughly moved by Solaris, or find it elegantly pointless yet either way there’s a sense of a controlled, melancholic intellect brining all the pieces together and letting them float: the planet Solaris, you might say, is played by Soderbergh himself.

Jonathan Romney


©brad

  • Admin
  • *****
    • Posts: 4632
Reply #2 on: January 28, 2003, 08:59:09 AM
Last, but certainly not least, is a fantastic review of our favorite Punch-Drunk Love that doesn’t talk about the fucking pudding or Adam Sandlar’s departure from screwball comedy the whole time!

Punch-Drunk Love

   One of Punch-Drunk Love’s trailers begins with Adam Sandler’s lumbering, browbeaten Barry turning with an air of groggy helplessness to a medically trained brother-in-law for advice on his bouts of self-loathing. “But Barry,” he replies, “I’m a dentist.” This exquisitely timed deadpan gag is immediately followed in the film, although not in the trailer, by Barry collapsing in tears, complication our reactions to him as both the latest incarnation of Sandler’s buffoon persona and as a male lead in a romantic comedy. Clearly Punch-Drunk Love has to be sold as an Adam Sandler movie proffering predictable pleasures to his core constituency.

   In Paul Thomas Anderson’s first modestly scaled project since his terrific debut Hard Eight, very little turns out to be predictable, least of all the fact that Sandler’s usually malevolent inner-child-on-the-rampage shtick, seen in such films as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, coupled encompass a degree of convincing emotional rawness. As it progresses, Punch-Drunk Love worries away at the star’s trademark infantilism, finding in it both simmering rage and inarticulate neediness. It’s an achievement on a par with Martin Scorsese’s creation of a phlegmatic Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy- except that Barry in his electric blue suit (worn as a hermetic protest against his drab world and prone to bursts of neurotic violence) is probably more Rupert Pupkin than Lewis’ Jerry Langford.

   Anderson’s two large canvas movies, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, aspired to the individualistic heights reached by 1970s US auteur filmmaking and were especially influenced by Robert Altman’s way with multiple narratives. Punch-Drunk Love is Altmanesque in perhaps a more subtle way- the soundtrack’s prominent use of Shelley Duvall singing Harry Nilson’s ‘He needs me’ (recorded for Altman’s Popeye, 1980)  notwithstanding. Where Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973) probed Philip Marlowe’s hard-boiled nobility by landing him in hippy 1970s Malibu, Punch-Drunk Love stress-tests the parameters of romantic comedy in Anderson’s lonely, neurotic, contemporary San Fernando Valley. As the movie opens, Barry, alone in the silent warehouse before the other workers arrive, is pushed to the edges of the desolate widescreen frame. Into Barry’s life come, in quick succession, a battered harmonium, which is inexplicably thrown from the back of a speeding vehicle, and Emily Watson’s winsome, elfin Lena- both holding out the same promise of lyricism and romance as the movie’s abstract pastel title sequence.

   Lena wears bright red in counterpoint to Barry’s suit and their exchange, as she asks him where she can park her stalled car, is off-kilter to a level beyond whimsy: even the camera flares caused by the harsh Valley sunlight which sporadically eloquently eccentric widescreen shots seem agents of a hostile environment. The harmonium is introduced with a nerve-jangling screech of traffic noise on the soundtrack; as Barry’s co-workers arrive, the soundtrack becomes cacophonic with avant-garde artist Jon Brion’s wildly percussive score. Anderson orchestrates proceedings with deftness and perfectionism, without which the various, barely reconcilable pulls on the material- alienation, slapstick, romantic longing, sudden bursts of violence- would render the film opaque and arch. His stylistic brio creates the atmosphere of a musical in which the male lead Is too benighted to sing and dance (the blue suit was, according to Anderson, inspired by one worn by Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon, 1953). This is why the film’s most whimsical moment- Barry suddenly doing joyful shuffle down a supermarket aisle after buying dozens of puddings to collect unlimited air miles- seems touching rather than indulgent.

   The air-miles subplot, like the harmonium, is dispensed with when it can reveal nothing more about Barry’s character (it becomes one more cause of frustration when he learns he can’t use them to follow Lena to Hawaii). Just as surprising is the fact that the potential conflict in his relationship with Lena is generated not by love rival but by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s self-righteous phone-sex credit card conman Dean. Dean stands revealed by the film’s end as the kind of implausibly dumb fall-guy gangster beloved of the Coen brothers, but he is also a mirror image of Barry, slipping into hysteria for a telephone yelling contest in which Barry vainly attempts to control his own pathological rage by repeatedly calling him ‘sir.’ The climax of Barry’s relationship with Lena arrives not with their love scene, as smart and off-beat as this is (“You’re so cute I’d like to scoop out your eyeballs”) but with the moment when, severed receiver in hand, he threatens Dean with the “strength” his love for Lena has given him. It is deeply heartfelt, seemingly unironic and perhaps the most disturbed thing in a film full of wondrous derangement. This crazed take on the romantic comedy as a delirious quasimusical, in which male neurosis and violence are not so much redeemed as channelled and focused by romance, seems to sideline the motivations of Lena. But the film’s most subtle joke may be the lingering suspicion, for all the effectiveness of its feelgood ending, that we have merely assumed Lena to be as sweet and innocent as Watson plays her. Who was that unidentifiably out-of-focus red figure in the background, stalking Barry in the supermarket?

Richard Falcon  


bonanzataz

  • Electrician
  • *****
    • Posts: 2887
Reply #3 on: January 28, 2003, 10:21:34 PM
That brought back all the magic and splendor that is Punch Drunk Love. I can't wait to see it again on the big screen when I go to England.
The corpses all hang headless and limp bodies with no surprises and the blood drains down like devil’s rain we’ll bathe tonight I want your skulls I need your skulls I want your skulls I need your skulls Demon I am and face I peel to see your skin turned inside out, ’cause gotta have you on my wall gotta have you on my wall, ’cause I want your skulls I need your skulls I want your skulls I need your skulls collect the heads of little girls and put ’em on my wall hack the heads off little girls and put ’em on my wall I want your skulls I need your skulls I want your skulls I need your skulls


Duck Sauce

  • The Master of Two Worlds
  • *****
    • Posts: 1986
Reply #4 on: January 28, 2003, 11:34:22 PM
Quote from: bonanzataz
That brought back all the magic and splendor that is Punch Drunk Love. I can't wait to see it again on the big screen when I go to England.


Gonna visit Cbrad?


©brad

  • Admin
  • *****
    • Posts: 4632
Reply #5 on: January 29, 2003, 05:37:15 AM
I think it comes out here in Feb., will definetly see it again. Anyone who's near Liverpool, hit me up.
When I saw About Schmidt they didn't use a projector, it was a smaller screen. It looked very clear though, what kind of equipment do you think they use?


phil marlowe

  • The Master of Two Worlds
  • *****
    • Posts: 1437
Reply #6 on: January 29, 2003, 12:10:39 PM
Quote from: cbrad4d
When I saw About Schmidt they didn't use a projector, it was a smaller screen. It looked very clear though, what kind of equipment do you think they use?


Hmmm...ahh! A tv?


Duck Sauce

  • The Master of Two Worlds
  • *****
    • Posts: 1986
Reply #7 on: January 29, 2003, 12:15:54 PM
Rear Projection TV?


Xixax

  • Electrician
  • *****
    • Posts: 2326
    • http://maddancer.com
Reply #8 on: January 29, 2003, 12:16:13 PM
"It doesn't have to look good, Jack.
Film is just too damn expensive.
The theaters are already planning
converting to video projectors."


Rest in peace, Bob...
Quote from: Pas Rapport
I don't need a dick in my anus to know I absolutely don't want a dick in my anus.
[/size]