Monday, September 27, 2004


interesting that i should choose to 'review' oliver stone's paranoid epic on the heels of my curtailed 'casino' review. both films push the 3-hour mark. both are packed full of facts & characters & general madness such that first-time viewing is, if anything, a chore. but both, my god, both are such good films. wonderfully sustained dramatic tapestries of fact & mistruth. wonderfully evocative of their respective periods - in jfk's case, the mid-60's. & while any comparison of the two would see scorcese win out as the more masterful 'tapestrist' (?) (casino is better-paced than jfk, less dependent on extended conversations/extraneous character development, & more alive with flair, energy) jfk retains an almost film noir-ish sense of conspiracy-theory fun.

& getting back to my point about first-time viewing. must've been 1991. for some bizarre reason (i was, what, 9 or 10 years old?) i tagged along with my mum & her mum to see 'jfk' at the camperdown cinema. camperdown is a smallish country town about 2 & a half hours west of melbourne (a pretty town, actually, set below this big dormant volcano/crater-lake ) - as a kid we used to cruise down there two or three times a year & stay on a family farm.

from memory the theatre was empty. it was night. a summerish night, & they opened the side doors of the cinema to let a gorgeous breeze thru the place. i sat between my mum & my grandma & was mildly contented to find i was the only one to stay awake until the credits. my grandma gave in about the time kevin costner (whose face now adorns my bedroom wall courtesy of the movie poster) started interviewing donald sutherland - oh, sorry, 'X' - a vital half-hour sustained only by the fedoras & experienced urgency of sutherland's delivery. my mum relaxed into breezy sleep after double-checking with me that her mum was still alive - my grandma had really settled in, her mouth alarmingly open in repose. i'm near-certain there's a poem in this whole episode.

it wasn't that i was entranced that i managed to sit thru the full 3 hours. back then nothing really soaked in. there were a lot of names, a lot of connections, & a bit of action by way of flashbacks & the horrendous 'zapruder film' of the actual assassination, which we see towards the end of the film. more than anything i garnered a sense of intense, classy drama from the whole thing - especially from the black & white flashbacks, the very neatly edited packages of action that tend to accompany costner's voiceovers (inside & outside the courtroom).

i've sat thru 'jfk' about 10 times since. for a while there i embarrassed myself into believing much of what the film claims - that oswald didn't act alone, that he was indeed a 'patsy', as he claimed, & that kennedy was killed by way of an incredibly speculative & ludicrously multi-layered conspiracy involving about 1000 people, including LBJ. in high school i'd prattle onto various history teachers about my 'theories', ripped straight from the closing courtroom presentation of costner & co.

what a shock i got when i decided to 'read around', to see what people thought of the film, to see how costner's character (new orleans DA jim garrison) is judged by conspiracy-theorists & lone-gunman-believers alike. needless to say, the general consensus was incredibly & often eloquently unkind. watch the film, then spend half an hour reading a website like 'One Hundred Errors of Fact and Judgment in Oliver Stone's JFK':

& you begin to realise just how negligent & irresponsible a film 'jfk' really is. it's a stupidly speculative, wildly inaccurate & revoltingly libelous vision (stone - via garrison - essentially lays the blame for kennedy's death at the feet of innocent, ordinary & conveniently dead men). & yet inexplicably i cannot stop acknowledging it as a masterpiece of detective/P.I. fiction (with admittedly jarring patriotic overtones).

perhaps it's the performances. costner is good because he's dull; stone knows the real interest lies in the surrounding cast (perhaps the oddest yet most ordinary set of real-life people ever portrayed on screen) - the same cast don delillo utilises in his 'libra'. tommy lee jones as the king conspirator, 'clay shaw'; entepreneur & socialite - such a fine, upright but arrogant performance. joe pesci as david ferrie - a rare instance wherein pesci doesn't play joe pesci, but an openly insecure, aggressive, ludicrously high-strung idiot. so many little cameo roles for people who would never have imagined they'd EVER be portrayed by hollywood stars on the big screen. & therein probably lies the secret behind the power of certain performances - pesci, lee jones etc realised that they were playing figures from history who are not really that special. they had to make them seem important in order to add to the gravity of this 'history as lightning' tale we're told. thus the powerful sense of farce about guys like shaw/ferrie/dean andrews/even oswald.

but all blame, both for the film's wild inaccuracies & its dramatic successes, its fundamental ability to get us interested in such a convoluted tale, must rest with oliver stone. he's quoted somewhere as saying he loved the story for its mystery, its dramatic & stylistic possibilities - a plot traced to a random pistol-whipping in a P.I.'s office on a rainy night, a cross-texas drive in a massive thunderstorm. it's this kind of noir-ish spirit he combines so well with a paranoid patriotism to create such a horrendously flawed but compelling epic.

Monday, September 20, 2004


my repeated viewings of this rollicking, virtuosic epic have always been tinged with the memory of the critical maudlin of my first-year film studies lecturer - she wouldn't be swayed in her belief that it was one of scorcese's worst. which is immensely suprising, by the way - scorcese is basically the GOD of undergraduate film study, which is part of the reason i gave it up after about six months. most of the lectures were devoted to early scorcese, with theoretical dabblings in french film. & a COMPLETE ignorance of kubrick, as if he was just this big enigmatic cinematic black hole who didn't exist or wasn't worth the trouble of tackling.

& since i never summoned up the courage to ask this particular lecturer about her disdain for 'casino', i've always been curious as to how it might be seen as a failure. one theory i've come up with is that it's a strangely flippant film. it deals with fundamentally horrible underworld folk in a really watchable, super-stylised & often funny way. de niro & particularly joe pesci both play not-nice people in scorcese's house-style - fast-talking, swear-word-interjecting, stupendously street-wise: the dramatic anti-heroic. if one was wont to take a moralistic line, you could say that in 'real life' these two guys were probably just violent & efficient idiots. that scorcese succeeds too much in making them so watchable & even (in de niro's case) loveable/respectable; that he should've tried harder to tackle the question of just how sincere/troubled/frustrated a narrator sam goldstein (de niro) really is. that if there are 'emotional truths' behind the goldstein character (as are only hinted at in his constant talk of 'trust', his frustrated 'love' for his wife, his tricky & tormented status as a jew in the underworld) they are overshadowed by the documentary-style, voiceover-dominated music-video pace of the film. & that this, combined with the lack of lengthy emotional dialogues & even close-ups prevents us from getting to know these central characters beyond the crazy las vegas world they live in.

but to say this is to ignore just how wonderfully crafted, how well-put-together, how brilliant 'looking' it is as a film. it's a realist-novel grand-narrative period-piece for the 1970's/80's - characters constantly introduced, names flying everywhere, details & connections all over the place - everything & everyone working & relating & getting along & getting killed with a fictional efficicency. very early on in the film, i think pesci is describing goldstein's work as a bookie 'back home years ago' - scorcese actually flashes the words 'back home years ago' on the screen in exuberant font. this bit of farce is neat evidence that scorcese just loves the whole story - loves the pure self-indulgence & selfish 'world' these crims live in, loves it so much that he wants to share it with us gift-wrapped with all its self-indulgencies & narrative largesse.

more ought to be said about this film, but i need some lunch. how about some comments? how can 'casino' possibly be seen as a bad movie?

Thursday, September 16, 2004


saw this film about 3 nights ago so it's not totally fresh in my memory. mediocrity is never memorable.

this is an average film. it lacks guts & complexity. where bio-pics such as 'the life & death of peter sellers' have been criticised for being convoluted, for trying too much, for interspersing weird flashbacks/meditations into the linear mix, 'pollock' is formulaic dross. if anything it borrows its formula from underdog-comedies - underdog (read drunk, lonely pollock) inspired by a newcomer (here, lee krasner, over-played by an actress who tries too hard to be lee krasner) to realise his talents, have success (his first solo show, funded by peggy guggenhiem - again over-played to the point where she becomes a kind of historical novelty, not a character) have a down-point (fuelled by alcoholism) have even better success (the horribly executed 'drip' revelation) & another down-point. the only thing that sets this film apart (formula-wise) from 'the mighty ducks' is the fact jackson dies at the end.

it's a tale that's absolutely ripe for the screen (maybe his life has been made into a feature before, i'm not sure). but it's done with such dull hollywood regularity, with such a classically tame appreciation of the art & the way artists come to have their revelations & achieve success that it's almost laughable in parts. which is a pity - i don't mind ed harris (particularly as the mission control guy in 'apollo 13') & we oughta be grateful that he doesn't fill his first film (is it his first film?) with cinematic silliness - i can think of only one over-the-top cinematographic conceit: the krasner/pollock foreplay/sex scene, unnecessarily 'symbolic'. & he plays pollock with some aplomb (not an easy character to play, considering he was such a crudely simple man on the outside) - he does drunk & disturbed pollock pretty well.

but my god, he completely misfires in regards to the art. the scenes in which he paints the brilliant, brilliant 'mural' (for peggy guggenheim's place) are all montage; shots of the thinking, perturbed artist, the artist waiting for inspiration, & finally the artist getting to work (by the way, i can't fault harris's pollock-ian painting line; it's quite convincing). not sure at all that montage does what would've been a intensely dramatic process (for pollock) much justice. & the SCORE! the SCORE! zippy, fast-paced, seinfeld-theme-song-type pap, completely & utterly inappropriate given the scale & sublimity & grandeur of pollock's work. p.s. - pollock painted 'mural' on the floor.

the discovery of the 'drip' is even worse. having kicked the drink, having 'settled down' with krasner out in the country somewhere, having become a productive, workaday artist (symbolised pathetically in montage-shots of krasner & pollock planting seeds in the garden?!) pollock discovers 'the drip' by way of cliched revelation - he drops some white paint on the ground accidentally. oh gawd.

it's a gimmicky film. historical-gimmicky. it features historical cameos - val kilmer as willem de kooning, some other guy as clement greenberg (who by the way gets treated VERY kindly by harris; he's a big beacon of critical sense & solidity), & i've already mentioned krasner & guggenheim. & the way greenberg/guggenheim & others take one look at pollock's paintings & utter words like 'genius' after 5 seconds. like the film as a whole - only a superficial glimpse at a ludicrously complex painter. the finale couldn't come quick enough, it seems - harris wraps things up straight after pollock's car speeds off the road. an abrupt, mildly effective end to an all-too-abrupt movie.

Monday, September 13, 2004

the insider

this superlative film deserves a lengthy essay. too busy just now so here's an 'insider'-inspired poem i wrote this arvo. beginning with a word from rimbaud.

The last innocence and the last timidity. It’s settled. Not to display my betrayals and disgusts to the world.

How much this short-lived stance
informed what the 20th-century’s best
rallied against:
forgetfulness in settlement,
omnipresent in our country since
so many millions got penned in
above the burning plain.

Al Pacino was right to rip
into Russell Crowe the way he did.
Such timidity in stuttering
he could never become a man of science
because of his wife & kids.
Such innocence in that asthma
you cure & propagate.

Which is The Insider’s great
update to an age-old
confessional debate –
occupational confidentiality (comfort)
troped as a betrayal of what trust
disgust prefigures in the first place:
yr mind does the ideological stuff
& you're meant to be a mouthpiece.

The day we learnt complaint
(about the price of petrol, let’s say)
& forgot the (somewhat florid) skill
inherent in confession & polemic
was the day everything bourgeois
sought recourse in suburbia.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


criminally, last night was the first time i'd ever seen 'duel'. what a great little film. i can't say i've ever enjoyed a spielberg film so much - though the first time i saw 'jurassic park' (as a 13-year old, admittedly) was special in a sublime, fantastic way.

'duel' seems to me to be very un-spielbergian. that is, it's an intensely mental/cerebral film, subtextually concerned with issues of masculine paranoia, sexual frustration. everything's centered around our businessman/salesman central character. one can't help but think that spielberg's making a very rare political comment via this flimsy, weird figure - if he reminds me of any other cinematic character, it's michael douglas's anguished/uptight/high-strung businessman in 'the game': a film that deals with similar issues (capitalist-individualist paranoia & frustration, sexual & physical confrontation & 'release') in far more elaborate ways. 'duel' is the story of a capitalist pedant/family-man/hard-working-husband forced to discover dormant, aggressive, 'masculine' depths within himself by way of a 'duel' (a great, purposely archaic title, by the way, suggesting a medieval male showdown, a chivalric ritual designed to uncover just who is the more virile, worthy man); a showdown with a myterious, grumbling, rusty, massive (dare i say it?) phallis of a truck. a truck which might only exist as a sexual/physical threat in our protagonist's mind, much like 'the game' douglas plays.

all these themes are perhaps explored more coherently in the story upon which the film is based. i've no doubt they've been explored in countless cultural/film/gender-studies spielberg essays.

what needs to be celebrated here is the way spielberg, a cinematic first-timer (at least i think this is his first film), is able to suggest & reinforce these themes while still managing, a) to fill the film with a first-timer's cinematographic enthusiasm, & b) to keep things hurtling along, keep us, as ever with spielberg, on the edge of our seats. the two above points work hand-in-hand, in my opinion. it's not at all EASY to sustain a car chase for ninety minutes (give or a take a few rest stops), but spielberg pulls it off BECAUSE of the youthful/enthusiastic daring of the cinematography & the editing. look at some of the wonderful, dramatic shots he gets from cameras mounted on both the truck & the car. look at the way he intersperses roadside shots of the two cars chasing each other (at what still seems a quite incredible & scary pace, even by today's special effects standards). look at the quality of the shots of our 'hero' driving his car; often intimate, often side-on & distanced, often kubrickian-crazy (during the VERY sexual-orgasmic radiator-killing hill-climb, the camera seems almost to be sitting in weaver's lap, looking up).

essentially, what we see in 'duel' is a young director showing us his virtuosic bag of tricks WHILE AT THE SAME TIME providing us with a multi-layered mental tale. the opening shots of the film, for example - seemingly innocuous shots of a highway taken from a camera mounted on the car's front bumper. but no - there's more going on here. spielberg actually uses this intro to establish his lead character in a really subtle, classy way. we hear a radio, some music, but then we hear weaver (or could it be the disgruntled anti-capitalist truck driver?!) changing the station every time an advertisement comes on. already we get a sense of what an impatient, frustrated bloke weaver is - he instinctively changes the station the moment he hears his own working culture (a sales/advertising culture) intruding into his private sphere.

he loves this sphere. he probably loves driving, loves the chance to get away from the 'wife & kids'. (note the way he's so touchy about his car, repeatedly telling the school-bus kids to get off the bonnet). & note the way his telephone call to his wife is mere obligation, nothing else (lovely camera conceit during this scene, also). as i've mentioned, when this nomadic male sphere is inexplicably threatened by an enormous truck, he has no idea how to react. he wrongly identifies the truck driver in 'chuck's cafe' (a great little scene, featuring a really daring initial hand-held tracking shot as weaver walks into the cafe, & some wonderful close-up focus-pulling. having said that, i suspect weaver overacts a bit as the somewhat unnecessary voiceover takes over). he tries repeatedly to alert that ever-dependable source of (mainly male) authority - the police. in one incredibly dramatic & well-shot scene, the truck actually plows through the public phone box weaver is calling from. the truck seems less interested in 'killing' weaver (as he repeatedly says to himself & others) than in ensuring this is a true duel between men - no inteference from outside authorities such as the police is permitted.

& in the end, after the conflict becomes almost a father-son thing (the truck trying to push the infantile red car into the path of a train, & the red (read fiery) car - the son - resisting this suicidal rite of passage), when the fight dies down as weaver hides his car in a semi-junkyard (the suggestive shots of old, decrepit cars suggest weaver's infertility, his cowardly sterility), & when it is reignited after a very suggestive glimpse of the truck's huge undercarraige axle, weaver finally wins a hollow victory. he doesn't actually meet his enemy head-on, instead sacrificing his male 'sphere' by sending it head-first (with the help of his briefcase - another capitalist symbol?) into the truck (weaver jumps out before impact). the truck flies over a cliff-face - defeated & mangled but also having achieved what it wanted to achieve: the complete destruction of the smaller prey. watching the truck's huge wheel slowly come to a stop (a wonderfully effective imagistic conceit) you get the feeling it's meant to symbolise a film reel, & the shots of weaver shortly afterward would seem to confirm this. he's been through a crazy, fantastic, cinematic experience - good guy vs. bad guy - but also a weirdly private, paranoid, even masturbatory experience. it's not the kind of victory/experience he's going to celebrate with others (i.e. masturbation). he's instead left on his own, in the middle of nowhere - his world just as privately frustrated as it was before.

if only spielberg could've made a few more cerebral, suggestive, semi-freudian films like 'duel' before he became the spectacularly dull hollywood director of choice.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

terminator 2

thanks kindly to a writer friend, sly, for jogging my memory in regards to T2. sly runs an australian-football oriented site which also features his writing & reviews from time to time -

his primary argument is that T2 gets worse with each viewing. it does.

i first saw it on video when i was very young (too young to see it at the cinemas). as a ten-year-old it was an incredible, important, imagistic experience. the violence was spectacular and stylish - an important quality: kids bought up in hollywood homes are often connoisseurs of violence. as an example - arnie's shotgun work seemed supreme. friends of mine literally went wild when he reloaded his 'shottie' while continuing to steer his harley-davidson - the way he flung the whole gun around one finger & got off the next round with scary accuracy. for many of us this had wider lifestyle implications - the most sought-after T2 bedroom-wall movie poster featured arnie, shottie in hand, sitting astride his motorbike wearing black leather & opaque sunglasses. no surprise also that the shotgun became everyone's weapon of choice when first-person-shooter computer games such as 'wolfenstein', 'duke nukem 3d', & 'doom' burst onto the scene in about 1993.

i jest not - kids at school were raving for months about the amazing arsenal arnie commands in T2. that small, seemingly lightweight grenade launcher (at one stage late in the film someone is struggling to open a locked door with a key; arnie steps in with his grenade launcher & says, 'here, let me try mine'), & the mother of all machine guns, the 'mini-gun'. all made wonderfully effective sounds, sounds which you'd hear echoing around every schoolyard in the early nineties: the fatally understated 'fffffffhhhhhpop!' of the grenade launcer, the deafening, high-pitched 'bwwwwwrrrinnnngggg!' of the mini-gun, & everyone's favourite, the 'schhtick-schhtick-BOOM!' of the pump-action shotgun.

while these counted among the more carnal attractions of the picture, the film carried themes which seemed life-or-death important to primary school kids - basically, if sarah & john connor & arnie didn't come thru with the goods, we'd all die, courtesy of nuclear war & the rise of super-intelligent, violent robots. the nuclear war thing was especially terrifying to young kids - strangely enough, the only scene in T2 that me & my friends would think twice about watching (i.e. the only scene during which we'd subtly cover our eyes), was sarah connor's nuclear explosion nightmare. watching someone get their flesh blown off - leaving only a screaming skeleton behind - was just too much. we were much happier watching the very neat killing techniques of arnie & his arch-nemesis, the T1000.

these themes i speak of were given real resonance by a few different things - the urgency & desperation of the sarah connor character (in retrospect, awkwardly & aggressively overplayed by linda hamilton); a wonderful dramatic score, at once heart-poundingly simple & broodingly sad; & best of all, some wonderful lighting. lighting-wise, the film works around two opposites - LA during the daytime (the early scenes are bathed in an over-sunny californian glow, & the strange scenes at the desert weapons compound are similarly 'sunny'), & pristine/foreboding LA during the night-time. the night scenes, lavishly lit in artificial blue (very reminiscent of the blue kubrick uses in 'eyes wide shut'), remain memorable. it's as if the pristine colour-scheme justifies the neatness/efficiency of the battle being raged between two expert killing machines. & then of course when we are transported - during the film's climax - into a nondescript steel plant, the primary light turns from blue to fiery/sparkish-orange, signifying a boiling-point encounter, a less orderly showdown.

i sense the character of john connor (played by eddie furlong) was created in order to get kids closer to the somewhat foreboding arnie character (in that regard he plays a similar role to the excruciating jar jar binks in star wars 1; a 'fun' character designed to get the uninitiated young interested in the stars wars concept). just like jar jar, john connor's a complete disaster. even as a ten-year-old, he came across as a moralising, high-pitched annoyance. eddie furlong's not really to blame - some of the lines he gets are quasi-teenage-cool horrendous: 'time out, time out, stop the bike' etc.

as it turns out, it's another somewhat untested actor, robert patrick, who does his best to give the film a really classy, dramatic edge. aided by some ludicrously good special effects, his T1000 character stalks & sprints through the film with memorable, mostly silent aplomb. & it's worth watching this film a few times for those two reasons - patrick's performance, & the still-impressive special effects. & in order to appreciate just why it might've captivated you as a ten-year-old.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

die hard

forgiveth me this string of action flicks. you gotta understand, they formed my cultural backbone as a kid.

i'm hoping down the track i can sift thru the current-day implications of an 'action-film', or, moreover, a 'hollywood' upbringing. i'd hint at this early stage that, for example, montage has had an semi-negative affect on my workaday perspective. i.e. action/drama characters seemed to do things so easy via montage. hard work compressed into 2 minutes of well-edited glimpses + fast-tracked score. why can't my working/academic/poetic life function thus?

right now, allow me to treasure the occasional hollywood gem for surprising reasons. 'die hard' is a gem. much like 'the fugitive', it's carried over that line between unwatchable dross & re-watchable formulaic class because of certain production subtleties. little things. unblockbuster-ish things. let's list them.

a) the support cast. basically, bruce willis ain't much of a leading man (critically he hit his peak on the back of a bit-part in 'pulp fiction'). in spite of the dirty-singlet/greasy bicep chic, he needed a good support crew around him here. he gets it. few action films manage to pack in so many memorable side-characters. first & foremost of course is alan rickman as the bad guy, 'hans gruber'. surely one of the best villains in action-film history, he is much less 'hateable' than the average bad guy, simply because he's so bloody 'watchable'. he is skilfully introduced into the film via silence - he says nothing for quite a while, instead ordering his troops around via underhand glances & little shifts in his facial hair. when finally he does open his mouth, the cinematographer (who i'll laud later) frames him in such a way as to reveal rickman as the REAL star of this film - standing behind an invisible pulpit, bible-diary held gracefully in one hand, addressing his captive congregation. wisely the writer grants rickman (an established shakesperean actor & reputed bastard, from all reports) a chance to give the gruber character a bit of depth - some funny, classy, witty lines (quoting the classics, praising the tailored suit of a hostage etc), some flashes of near-humanity (the genuinely anguished look on his face when he's told one of his hostages is a heavily pregnant woman), & signs of instinctive intelligence (the way he shifts so quickly into the cowering american businessman-role as a disguise). efficient, intelligent but insecure (read: HUMAN) villains are the best, & gruber is great because he's basically a better-than-average bank robber with the manner & dress-sense of a nasty executive.

(to digress, the 'bank robber' bit need not be underplayed: the slapstick-ian nature of certain moments (a SWAT team member stopped in his tracks by a rose thorn, a mean-looking henchman distracted in the heat of battle by a chocolate bar, the crazy limo-driver kid) makes one wonder if 'die hard' isn't just a funny/serious bank-heist movie writ large. either way, the light-heartedness of certain moments distracts us from the silly un-reality of several things; willis & his mate, 'al powell', having extended, sentimental conversations over a walkie-talkie; the lunacy & impossibility of certain stunts; the way willis is taken so un-seriously by 'deputy chief dwayne robinson', another semi-slapstick-ian character)

as well as rickman, there are numerous other side-characters i can go on about (as mentioned earlier, what other action film gives us such an array of minor figures?). holly, willis's ex-wife - a hard-nosed & eloquent & intelligent character. mr.takagi (spelling?), the executive of the nakatomi corporation, played with a really genuine dignity & integrity early in the film. ellis (spelling?), the corporate lowlife who we see sniffing cocaine at one stage - a high-strung idiot, killed prematurely during a memorably tense scene between him & rickman. the similarly intense & idiotic newsreader, played by the guy who played a near-identical idiot in 'ghostbusters'. the long-blonde-haired maniac henchman who battles valiantly & madly with willis towards the end of the film (incidentally, the actor who played this guy died in about 1995/96; for some reason i remember a really gentle, moving obituary to him in melbourne's 'age' newspaper; you see, people came to love these characters). even the two FBI agents - who arrive on the scene with a real over-bearing sense of seriousness - are brought down to earth, made memorably human: riding in a chopper at full-tilt towards the nakatomi building, one screams 'wooohooo! this is just like nam!', to which the other replies, very smoothly, 'i was in junior high, dickhead'.

b) the second 'subtle' reason why this film is so effective: the cinematography. the director of photography on 'die hard' was a bloke named jan de bont (i think that's how you spell it), the same guy who went on to direct 'speed', an equally superlative, if not slightly more serious, action film. i implore you to watch closely some of the cinematographic work done in this film - it makes such a difference to the overall class & feel of the picture. from the wonderful opening ten minutes or so, which are bathed in a beautiful semi-hellish natural californian corporate light, right up to the climax - the super, super slo-motion shot of gruber falling from a 30th floor window (i can't say i've seen this shot bettered by any action film since - it still looks so real) - the whole film is so dramatically shot, capturing so well the complete neatness & under-contrstruction aspects of the office building.

c) fundamentally, the film is incredily fun (the same virtue that made 'die hard 3' so enjoyable, even if the jeremy irons villain was somewhat too virile & serious for my liking). watch it again & again.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


films involving guns & violent men are flavour of the month, it seems.

i recall seeing the promotional guff for 'ronin' back when it was released in 1997/98 or thereabouts. huge, brooding, greyish photos of the film's characters, hung high along the walls of melbourne's newly redeveloped 'jam factory' multiplex. ah, the jam factory - scene of so many nervous first-daters, so many teenage eastern suburb private school toughs in their ghetto fatigues, so many odd self-conscious wannabe-wanderers like me who i suspect still love the multiplex for what it represented as a ten-year-old - a weirdly warm, dimly-lit, dark-carpeted & magical den.

the big photos had accompanying captions - the names of each character &, from memory, their military 'speciality'; their 'role'. it was meant as a first glimpse at the concept of 'ronin' - a japanese term referring to samurai warriors whose masters had been murdered. 'ronin' subsequently went on solo revenge adventures, slaughtering all & sundry & eventually killing themselves when they felt vengeance had been achieved. here then, up on the wall, were 5 or 6 modern-day 'ronin'. not that any of this samurai stuff matters. the key points made by the posters were - a) robert de niro was in the film, & b) the range of terroristic talents on display ('explosives specialist', 'driver', 'weapons specialist' etc) promised one helluva classy bloodbath. i myself was happy to see the french actor jean reno had his own poster. after his wonderful effort alongside gary oldman & a very young natalie portman in 'the professional' (at the time i thought it one of the best films i'd ever seen, tho admittedly i haven't seen it since), i knew reno would be courted by hollywood for a blockbuster action role. after 'ronin' he even appeared in 'mission impossible', proof positive that he'd 'made it'.

thankfully he retains some class in a film that attempts to be too classy, too smart. the european locales (we start out in a rather quaint paris bar where the 'ronin' first gather, warily) are largely extraneous, even gratuitous - e.g. the paris tunnel in which princess di died features prominently in one of the film's boring, overlong car chases. character & plot-wise, this is an american action-film fantasy superimposed on european surrounds. the 'diverse & enigmatic but brilliant military talents joining forces' idea is classic action-film stuff, suited much better to blatant, up-front & effective bloodletting films like 'predator'. the 'action' in ronin is adjusted to meet apparently classy, european needs, i.e. the gunfighting is no-nonense, accurate & short-lived (the final confontration ends with only one boring bullet & an even boring-er last-line from the bad guy!). the ludicrous suggestion at the conclusion of the film - that the work of the 'ronin' has helped bring about a northern ireland peace accord - goes completely against the grain of what the film tries to achieve for its first two hours: a sense of independently volatile fighting geniuses. such an ending smacks of the big american action-film moral 'wrap-up'. (incidentally, the best cinematic evocation of the 'independent killers working together' idea is michael mann's 'heat' - a superlative film (also featuring de niro) which benefits from being completely oblivious to a larger world picture; it is purely a selfish character study focussed utterly on its underworld subject/subjects.)

the film might've been better had it completely ditched the whole 'ronin' premise, which by the way is introduced to us in big, over-important typeface before the movie starts. the director/writer seems to have thought that just by titling the film according to the premise, audiences would instinctively attribute more ambiguous depths to the characters involved. it doesn't work out, & even though the film tries to reinforce the theme by way of a reflective 'ronin' moment during a lull in the action, & by way of a 'ronin-esque' denial-of-romance plotline, the japanese connection remains strained.

probably worth watching once.

visitors since 26 august 04