Monday, August 30, 2004

the fugitive (2)

sorry for the mild break in transmission. weekends are harrowing & unproductive. though i did read, in saturday's 'age' (at least i think it was in the age), a review which lauded a critic for inspiring readers/viewers to see/read what the aforesaid critic was reviewing. ah yes, i remember now - twas an owen richardson review of barbara creed's recently released introduction to film theory text. something of a pertinent book, one might say, though i can't see myself reading it anytime soon.

it's a good critical quality i reckon - contagious critical enthusiasm. i recall back in year 10 or thereabouts after a ludicrously overlong 'class presentation' on kubrick, the english teacher told me about a week later that i'd 'inspired' her to go see kubrick's films again (something which is vital if you're to love kubrick, i might add - constant re-watching). 'contagious enthusiasm' she called it. ever since, i've found less & less to get enthused about as far as films go. having said that, of course, when i DO get enthused, look out.

p.s. fair to say that the majority of the academic literary criticism i read lacks any such enthusiasm. rather one constantly comes across the dull tone of a writer who knows his/her readership expects no fanfare. 'if you're so academically specialised as to actually want to read this article, you're probably already committed to/excited about the text in question'. maybe. but what a limiting (dare i say cliquey?) way to go about things.

where were we? 'the fugitive'. the efficiency & 'tightness' of the support cast, in particular, lee jones's crew. i love their interaction. a zippy, intelligent, co-operative investigate effort. the images of this group effort balance so nicely next to the wonderful montages of harrison ford going it alone in the windy city - at once trying to evade capture & solve his wife's murder. the montages are a serious highlight for me, backed as they are by james newton howard's urban, pacey & again, 'efficient' classical score. incorporating snare & tom drums & classy percussion alongside normal orchestral sounds gives the chicago montages a really 'busy', dramatic & gritty edge. it's a classical sound which i think has influenced a lot of films/tv-series since. newton howard would go on to write the very 'busy', percussion-dominated opening theme to the hugely successful series 'ER'.

HAVING SAID THAT, there are also moments of real windy-city melancholy in the soundtrack. the opening theme, for example, heard over the top of really quite beautiful helicopter-shots of chicago at night - it builds to a quite emotional cymbal-assisted crescendo. it's actually one of the most effective opening credit sequences i can remember. mildly tragic but (& the wail of police sirens heard thru the opening theme reinforces this) essentially dramatic.

& then of course there's that moment during one of many montages (these montages, coincidentally, give off a real sense of chicago's 'greyness' & low-rise grittiness, which i love) when you hear a crazy but contained saxophone, wailing away behind a brooding section of the score. my god that sax sounds good, i decided after about the tenth time i'd seen the film. after buying the film soundtrack about a year ago i found out the sax-player was actually wayne shorter, apparently one of the better jazz players of the last few decades. you only hear him for about 30 seconds, but he provides a tiny bit of tang to an otherwise speedy, percussive score.

& speaking of cameos. another subtle reason why this film is formulaic-great is a 5-minute appearance from julianne moore as, that word again, a very 'busy' nurse. this may have been the first film she ever appeared in. either way, even though she only has about ten lines, you can't help but sit up & take notice. every one of those ten lines is delivered with such genuine nurse-ish routine authority. watch the way she reveals to lee jones that ford (dr. kimble) saved a boy's life on his fugitive dash through the hospital. it's a vital line - one that reinforces kimble's distinctly uncriminal humanity to the still-stern-faced detective. 'he saved his life', she says with such tired conviction.

these are the little background reasons, then, why 'the fugitive' is worth watching & re-watching. it's not a film that's going to revolutionise the artform, but it is a film that proves just how effective formula can be if directors/producers pay attention to subtle details - score, pace, support cast, use of montage, location. the fact it's a rollicking good story also helps.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

the fugitive

before i go on, allow me to express a concern. thus far i've only focussed on films full of 'leading men'. films about men. 'the thin red line' is a male film. indeed, the actress miranda otto i mentioned in my review below is one of about 2 women in that entire film - & she has about three lines total (voiceover lines at that). kubrick - who i've only just started celebrating, let me assure you - basically all his films are about men. which is why nicole kidman seems so strikingly odd the first time you see her in 'eyes wide shut'. it was the first time stanley had given a woman a real defining role in a film. not THE defining role, tho - cruise is the jet-black-haired centrepoint of that brilliant rainbow dream of a movie. it's gotta be said - women very much took a back seat to men in the majority of kubrick's films. shelley duvall, who played jack nicholson's wife in 'the shining', she's interestingly stated on occasions that her character never really got a chance to evolve over the course of filming - indeed she found working on 'the shining' to be one of the most emotionally exhausting experiences of her life, since she basically just ran around screaming/bawling hysterically the entire time.

just sitting back & thinking this over again, though, i guess kubrick did, on occasion, give women strangely powerful minor roles in his films. one is reminded of the aggressive & flexible 'cat woman' in 'a clockwork orange', who is eventually bludgeoned to death by an enormous penis sculpture. one is reminded of barry lyndon's mother in 'barry lyndon', a vital, subtly domineering woman. one is reminded of the vietnamese sniper in 'full metal jacket', around whose dying body the film's stilted, disappointing climax occurs.

all interesting characters, no doubt. the fact remains, though, that when one thinks of kubrick's films, one thinks instantly of male roles, male characters, male tales. has my love of kubrick thus affected my general filmic taste? i fancy so. grant me another indulgence, then - i want to celebrate another utterly male-dominated film, 1994's 'the fugitive'.

'the fugitive' is formulaic detective/mystery drama at its absolute peak. it just doesn't miss a beat. i know nothing of the original tv series. perhaps this ignorance makes things all the more compelling.

i recall when this film was up for best picture nomination at the oscars alongside, from memory, 'pulp fiction', 'schindler's list' & a few other movies. ah, 1994, back when the oscars seemed such an annual cultural pinnacle for this weird 12 year old. the academy figured 'the fugitive's' worth in its action-packed dramatic explosiveness. bah. the train-crashing-into-bus sequence, the promos ran, was surely one of the best action sequences ever. bah. the jumping-off-dam stunt one of the most daring stunts ever attempted on film. bah.

for mine there's really subtle, background reasons as to why this film remains a winner. for starters, let's not doubt it - the film REALLY swings into gear the moment tommy lee jones steps out of his U.S. marshal's car & states, hard-texas-workin-man-sardonically, 'my, my, my, what a mess'. in a wonderful, wonderful 2-3 minute sequence, he not only comandeers the escaped fugitive case from a befuddled local trooper, everything about his character comes into focus. he's a smart, proficient, coolly intelligent man. one's tempted to label him an 'intelligent bastard', but he never struck me as a bastard in this film. he's certainly not a 'bad guy'. indeed we end up loving him just as much as the anxiously intelligent harrison ford character. the director/writer does well not to paint jones with a 'bad guy' brush. early on, giving us glimpses of the way he interacts with his loyal support team, for example, the viewer suddenly starts thinking 'hey hang on - this is the bloke who's supposed to be hunting our innocent hero? but he's a decent fella, if not a tad obsessive! what's going on?'

but it's that support crew i want to waffle about a bit more. harrison is less of a figurehead in this film than a fleeting, verbally stifled & shocked professional on the run (he does it well). he needed a good support cast, & he got one. lee jones won an oscar for best supporting actor, first & foremost, but it's the really minor support characters who, i feel, make the film. we've got lee jones's detective crew, most of whom we get to know on a first-name basis by the end of the film. they deliver their lines with a cool proficiency. they are like mini-lee-jones's. all the interaction is great. the scene in which they analyse the harrison ford telephone recording - locked inside a nicely-lit conference room, it's as if all the minor characters are mental projections of lee jones, working quickly, sophisticatedly to figure out what this recording's all about. great scene.

i'll write some more tomorrow.

the thin red line (2)

for those taken aback by my somewhat idiosyncratic love of malick's film, fear not. 'the thin red line' succeeds on a conventional level, no doubt. if you've no time for its reflective episodes (e.g. the kinda guy/gal who'll say 'oh christ the pacific islanders are dancing again, here we go', 'zzzz the two lovers are doing their weird flashback sexual dance thing again') the film is pure adrenalin-filled entertainment in patches. the prolonged charge up the guadalcanal hill easily rivals spielberg's over-lauded 'saving private ryan' opening for sheer drama & surprise value. the subsequent small-party attack on a machine gun emplacement is a wonderfully intense little sequence, filmed almost purely from the perspective of a hypothetical US soldier, crouching behind rock for cover, glancing occasionally out at the emplacement, peering up at the sky warily for the incoming artillery barrage. again, it's worth remembering that the 'camera shot from behind the barrel of a gun' was mastered by kubrick in, oddly enough, 'dr.strangelove'. at least i'm pretty sure it was one of the first instances a director said 'ok bugger it, let's film this from the actual perspective of a regular soldier on the ground, tentative & hesitant behind his weapon'. that said, malick doesn't waver from his 'face aesthetic' in these sequences, every now & again giving us an anguished close-up (e.g. cavaziel's strange look of bewilderment as he contemplates his wounded comrade near the gun emplacement).

but it's the reflective in-between episodes i really want people to savour. this is a film that makes flashbacks/fantasies work. we get a good taste early on. with dulcet american-boy voiceover going, we see images of pastoral innocence before the war - the soldier as child, gloriously happy in the wheatfields it seems. there's a bit of winslow homer about this short-lived image - 'the veteran in a new field' comes to mind, the clear but breezy blue sky. just as there's a teeny bit of edward hopper domestic lighting in the later flashbacks, involving the australian actress miranda otto & the actor guy who's name i can't recall. these, for me, count among the most beautiful visions of my film-viewing life. a beautiful utilisation of natural, palish-orangey light, filtered thru the omnipresent set of dull curtains constantly ebbing & flowing in an open window's wind. the suggestion is of breeze, domestic bedroom light at noon, & a summery, erotic heat. the two lovers, fully-clothed, we get the feeling they've been indulging forever in this semi-prudish feeling-out of one another, this preparatory eroticism. it's not quite foreplay, though, is it - sex is never explicitly suggested. these are two people just loving one another's physical company. a teenage conceit. is not so much teenage lust driven by the incredible erotic shock of first-time touch? we see each lover peering fixedly at their own hands, not at one another, as their fingers wrestle. we see her (& make no mistake, otto pulls off these scenes, or at least the faces required during these scenes, with serious aplomb) face overcome momentarily with shock as he takes the balletic grinding at once too far & not far enough. this is wonderful, wonderful cinema.

these fantasies/flashbacks, of which there are more later in the film (the 'love, where did it come from? who lit this flame in us?' episode is probably the best minute of the picture) - they fill me with confidence as to the artful possibilities of combining moving image-voiceover-score. kubrick made the first step, juxtapositioning the most unlikely sound with image. malick has incorporated words, or, moreover, a humble poetry, & succeeded brilliantly for a few minutes. now of course many directors might've done this before - please, if they have, i'd love to know when & whom. no doubt i'm exasperatingly naive about such aesthetic antecedents, & also probably overly enthused about malick's 'innovation' here. but i remain convinced that this is superlative film-making.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

the thin red line

i am as biased towards this film as i am towards any stanley kubrick film. it is indescribably beautiful & brilliant. in a recent doco on kubrick, one commentator noted that lovers of stanley love him for very minute, detailed, unique reasons. this commentator was right. me, (sorry for the digression, no, stanley didn't direct 'the thin red line') i love stanley not for one film in particular, not for the breadth of his entire ouevre, not for the fact he revolutionised the use of music in film, not for such general-critical reasons. i love him for certain moments. moments which take my breath away every time. steven spielberg has said that, if you sit down to watch a kubrick film, you always end up watching the entire film thru to the end. can't say i agree with him. it might be cheating, but more often than not my experiences of kubrick come in glimpses. certainly, i've watched his films right thru, many times. but nowadays it's the moments which matter. the wonderfully stilted but courteous conversation between space professors/engineers on the space station hilton in '2001' (everyone is so beautifully courteous in kubrick films, it's almost as if he over-directed them to be robotically polite to one another). the ludicrously beautiful sequence when we first see the jupiter mission craft - the accompanying cello music like enormously mournful brushstrokes. from 'barry lyndon' i can name a dozen such moments. it is my favourite film of all time. i can't remember not crying during barry & lady lyndon's first gambling-table encounter. but enough.

'the thin red line' has become for me a kubrickian equivalent. it is an amazingly kubrickian work, only it is far more fluid & unrestrained than any kubrick picture. its classical score is diverse & free-wheeling, oftentimes extraneous - something kubrick just wouldn't have allowed. its ending is ambiguous, metaphorical even. kubrick's endings were notoriously ambiguous, but it was always a loaded ambiguity. you walked away thinking, devising solutions, re-thinking. you walk away from 'the thin red line' with a filmic vista in your mind. its voiceovers (various character's voices are heard as voiceovers) are far more florid & ambivalent than anything kubrick would've considered. which is not to say that they're not utterly, utterly honest & effective & apt.

where 'the thin red line' really turns kubrickian is in the use of faces. it is a film of faces. stupendously rendered faces. the bloke who went on to win an oscar in 'the pianist' - i forget his name - he was apparently shocked & appalled when he saw the premiere & realised he only had about 1 line in the film. but that was terence malick's point. his character - fyfe i think is his name - we remember his enormous, terrified eyes for eternity. just like i remember jim cavaziel's (that how you spell it?) wonderfully, wonderfully humane, gentle, & sometimes deadly expressions. he is like a latter-day warrior whitman. pensive, loved, loving, immeasurably brave. & what of nick nolte? surely the best film he's ever done. his character is established very early on via comparison - as we see him striding around a ship's bridge beside his superior (john travolta), we note the sadness, the concern, the worry in his face. it stands out so perfectly next to travolta's overplayed aloofness. & he has the voice to match it; a wonderfully senior, barking noise of a voice which echoes thru the picture. when malick finally captures him in a private, mournful moment (as he does throughout the picture - this film is almost a documentary, malick seems to drift thru the battalion like a documentary-maker, giving us snippets of the soldier's most intense moments of reflection), the effect is stunning. nolte heaves an enormous, stifled sigh, his mouth mildly open. any smoker would know that sigh, the one that makes you kinda swallow for breath deep down the back of yr throat. malick captures it.

enough for now. more must be said, tomorrow perhaps.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


this rather grisly little joel schumacher thriller/mystery thing came out about 7 years ago from memory, just as nick cage was riding a wave of action/drama-film success after his oscar for 'leaving las vegas'. 8mm wasn't exactly a box-office smash, & the critics reacted coolly at the time, dubbing it (again from memory) as almost TOO dark, TOO nasty.

but it's the dark shit in this film i love. no doubt it's an average film, completely conventional in spite of its snuffish subject-matter. but the lighting in some scenes is just beautiful. where hollywood directors tend to bathe 'family scenes' in a semi-bright, vapid glow, all the family scenes in 8mm are dark, brooding, enveloped in an x-files-inspired-tightly-clustered-pine-trees-theme that's straight outta maine. it also helps that cage's wife, played by someone (can anyone help?!), pulls one of the better performances in the picture (behind wuckin phoenix's hypo porn-store clerk & the guy who plays the canniving attorney). she is a quietly controlled & semi-aggressively concerned wife to her roaming P.I. husband. & she does a good job trying to inject some life into her scenes with cage, who's remarkably flat through the majority of the film. schumacher (or whoever wrote the picture) subtly manages to establish within about 5 minutes just how in love the young couple are. they just look at each other & say 'i love you'. it's probably cage's best moment in the film.

HAVING SAID THAT, what he does do extremely well in the end is bring off the 'man-on-a-mission' 'anti-snuff-crusader' character. having seen his investigative friend, max california (wuckin phoenix) meet a premature death, he suddenly becomes a nicely aggressive man. when he eventually gets to lay the boots into the villains, when he stealthily sneaks a knife into the abdomens of various enemies, you WANT him to. he's the master of the aggressive, vengeful grimace. the face of someone who can't quite believe he's actually enacting vengeance.

which is the key to cage's character - he's an everyday blue-collar fella who can't believe what he's seeing, who can't believe the world he's investigating, but who oddly WANTS to discover WHY this kind of world exists. in the words of tobey maguire's peter parker, he's both 'excited and terrified' by this lascivious world of porn & violence. thus his gunpoint debate with the really evil bespectacled attorney 'longdale' (probably the best scene in the film) becomes both a revelation & a disappointment for him. the dead industrial czar (longdale's boss) had the snuff film made, had the girl killed on camera, 'because he could', says longdale. 'were you expecting a different answer?', he asks a baffled cage.

while this is an interesting & ambivalent twist in 8mm's tale, it's oddly disappointing & unnecessary that the film is drawn out such that cage eventually tracks down & battles one-on-one with 'machine', the masked super-bad-guy who killed the snuff film girl in the first place. it's a vindicating end for cage's character - 'machine' admits that he actually enjoys what he does. he's not in it for the money, not in it for the power thing - he finds the whole thing pleasurable. symbollically killing him in a graveyard, we ourselves feel a sordid pleasure that this white trash example of 'living death' incarnate is dead. but it brings things to a very good vs. evil cliched end.

full credit to schumacher tho for making a solid generic P.I./dark detective film. i've heard around the traps that there's a lot of cynicism surrounding schumacher as a director. i'm unsure why - did he direct something really shit? can anyone help? one thing's for damn sure - he really failed to bring cage into line in this picture. nicholas is all over the shop.

in summary, it's worth a watch. rather a tense & well-lit mystery. nothing special tho.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

wall street

watched this one in glimpses for the first time a while back. watched it more comprehensively about a week ago.

let's see. what did it win. michael douglas as gecko got himself a best actor oscar. which is fair enough, you fancy. he's very good in this film, kickstarting a career-full of similar performances - the angsty but oddly charismatic middle-aged men of films such as 'the game', 'basic instinct' & 'traffic'.

but he's far & away the highlight of the movie. it's a film full of faults. douglas is good, no doubt, but he's on an olivier-like level compared to his co-stars. charlie sheen is lukewarm & absolutely freezing from scene to scene. he does the slick-haired young go-getter thing nicely early on in the film, but degenerates badly as his character is challenged by the hidden non-niceties of the street. here in wall street, cast primarily i suspect for the charlie/martin curiosity factor, charlie had a chance to assume a mantle tom cruise would eventually master for the next decade - that of the first-choice actor for young-turbulent-but-talented-professional roles. he had the preferred black hair & everything.

but cruise, while not brilliant, does the intensity thing so much better. after inadvertently discovering that gecko plans to rip his dad's company to shreds, charlie stumbles from the board of director's meeting & onto 'the street', where stone frames him slightly from below, sighing heavily & leaning against a tree. 'oh look', one is tempted to say, 'charlie is leaning against a tree. that's nice'. such is the 'drama' of the moment.

similarly about two minutes later, sheen (now drunk & doing an appallingly crap drunk at that) & his love-interest, darryl hannah, come to verbal blows over the virtues of the money-game. it's easily the worst scene in the film, & surely one of the worst scenes in stone's ouevre. it's also one of the only times sheen & hannah are on camera alone together - something we should be thankful for. throughout the film hannah delivers one of the worst performances i've ever seen (she arrives in the film interestingly enough, as a sharply-spoken interior designer), but is dreadful when trying to counter sheen's equally shit drunken outbursts against gecko. storming out of their apartment ("you walk out that door, i'm changin the locks!" screams sheen convincingly), hannah ends up seeing herself in a disjointed hallway mirror shortly afterwards. cue the imagistic cliches oliver! ugh!

& in part that's one of the main problems with the film. it's full of weak cinematographic conceits which seem so contrived when you realise this is a conventional rags-to-riches-to-rags melodrama overlaid with stone's own anti-capitalist didacticisms. heated exchange between sheen & douglas - ohh, cut to shot from gecko's perspective, looking 'out' at sheen from a limousine or pristine office, thus suggesting the true underlying gulf between gecko's & fox's (sheen's) world. the character-study stuff just doesn't stack up beside the monolithic presence of the film's true capitalist anti-hero - gecko. he is the film. the shareholder's meeting 'greed is good' speech - best scene in the film, no doubt. stone, framing douglas electioneering among the shareholders from the perspective of the overpaid vice-presidents on the stage, encapsulates nicely the sense that these stock-giants like to think of themselves as people's people. gecko is a convincing capitalist politician. the characters around him? just devices. ways of driving the surrounding tale. even terence stamp, such an accomplished actor, wavers in his portrayal of gecko's rival capitalist monster. he has this weird english/australian way of talking (strangely interspersing 'mate' a lot in his arguments with gecko), & ends up coming across as a philanthropic good-guy by the end of the film. an odd character.

kudos to stone, tho, for his handling of the film's more dramatic sequences. it takes technical talent to make the stockmarket exciting, talent to make the frenzied buying & selling of 'Bluestar Airlines' (late in the film) seem intense. & i love the vision of the buyers/sellers on the floor of the exchange itself. stone really gets us in amongst them at times. truly dramatic.

probably worth watching for the 'good solid yarn' factor.


wilkommen to filmism. i've decided i waste so much of my life watching crap old & new movies, i may as well start up a blog dissecting & criticising them all.

my background is in poetry. i'm a widely published poet/writer. current postgrad student in english at melbourne university. i come to film as a kind of estranged onlooker. i both love & hate film. i was obsessed with cinema late in high school, & then totally lost interest when i realised what a shitful/infantile art form it is compared to literature/poetry/writing in general. i'm convinced film could do so much more than it does.

having said that, let it be known that i've been brought up purely on US cinema. this explains my filmic cynicism, & one thing i hope to achieve via this blog is relate my slow conversion to european & world cinematics. the kind of cinema which might allay my fears in regards to the art form as a whole.

all the same, i wanna kick things off by blogging on & on about all the US films i see weekly. they deserve attention & dismissal. primarily i'm here to help you decide what's a complete & utter waste of time, & what might enrich yr life.

i IMPLORE any readers out there to anti-review my reviews, i.e. if you don't agree with what i say, tear me to shreds! i'm no expert, & if you want to provide additional insights/arguments/whatever regarding the films i review, feel free to use the comments feature. even better, if you want to recommend films - any films - to us all, go ahead. i'm always keen to learn/hear about new stuff.

finally, bloggin inspiration props have gotta go out to alison croggon & ron silliman - two poetic/intellectual heroes of mine, whose blogs are bloomin incredible. n.b. alison's 'theatre notes':, & ron's blog:

wish me luck.

visitors since 26 august 04