Sunday, August 29, 2010

As of late: From The List

Dominic and I managed to polish off:

The Killing Fields
I think perhaps the only major Vietnam War movie that I hadn't seen yet, this was pretty good but yet another reminder of one of the few film genres I just flat-out don't care for: the [usually international] political journalist drama. I do like a healthy dose of political thrillers, though to be perfectly honest I have to devote a good deal of my brainpower to follow along with those stories (not to mention raid my memory banks for what I learned in Government class), but the journalism-based stuff... ugh. I don't know what it is-- perhaps I simply don't find journalists all that compelling or entertaining. I suppose it's probably that the tactic taken for those sorts of films is the no-frills, documentary-style of storytelling, chosen to compliment the subject matter, but I personally find it a drag. Strangely, Paul Greengrass often uses this technique, and I like his films, so go figure. ANYWAY. This movie is up there with The Year of Living Dangerously, featuring brave journalists finding their cause after seeing everything first-hand. The problem here is, again, the characters are not really compelling because the piece is not character-based, so I care little for their conflict. Then we have the main political conflict, which would fine, however I find that films like this fail to explain the conflict in terms that I can connect with. So all in all I lose interest.

However, The Killing Fields did something to turn all that around-- the first half of the movie is cold as I have described, but about halfway through the film begins to rest on the shoulders of a native journalist that has been left behind [in Cambodia, where the story takes place, where a civil war occured as the result of what was happening in Vietnam) by his American cohorts. Feared dead by his family (now safely in America), the remaining Cambodian is forced into labor for the communist rebellion people (they have overthrown the Cambodian government proper). The film then becomes very compelling as we are exposed to the hardship that he undergoes under the watchful eye of the Cambodian children trained to be the new communist leaders. He pretends to be simple-minded in order to protect himself-- intellectuals are no longer acceptable under the new regime. He escapes, is recaptured, many die around him, etc etc. His story was really fascinating and educational to watch (as it is based on a true account), and I felt as though he was a very brave man. More than that, the film ends with a (true) happy resolution for both main characters. So anyway, after sticking out the first half I was impressed by the second.

Most impressive, though, was the cinematography. Cinephile that I am, I usually don't heed the technical stuff all that much, but this film was beautifully yet matter-of-factly shot, a weird combination. On the one hand you're watching a news report, on the other you're watching the beauty of nature and humanity. The two most memorable shots were the famous siloutte shot of the journalists discussing their next plan of action, what I suppose is the eye of the storm before it becomes violent again. The other is the frightening yet removed scene of the Cambodian stumbling into THE killing fields, long stretches of land, once crops, that the rebellion used for the deposit of bodies. It's a startling reality, but also a sprawling sight, meant to describe what could be the tip of the iceberg for this war that lasted so very long.

Incidentally, I also really liked the timely addition of the Paul McCartney song Band On The Run (hinting at the exodous that is to come, heard over a handheld radio used by one of the rebels), and the closing song Imagine by John Lennon. I found the placement like bookends to this slice of history, and a little of Lennon's dreaming is still moving in juxtaposition to the reality of death and the killing fields.

All the same, I have no desire to see this film again.

Don't Look Now

Rated very highly as one of the finest thrillers/horror films ever made, I was not very invested in this film. I liked Donald Sutherland, and I found the marital issues he experienced with his wife, Julie Christie (who was beautiful but not convincing at all in this movie, sorry) believable. The infamous sex scene is not my cup of tea, though I did think the way the director inserted the couple getting dressed and doing mundane things within the scene was pretty clever (motions used during sex/foreplay are transitioned to nonsexual actions). Though I understand that the film must be built on their relationship, I didn't find her grief all that real and so this scene just seemed kind of overlong to me. Also, I'm uncomfortable with sex scenes that try to convey intimacy, like that between a husband and wife. I always feel like I shouldn't be there. But anyway...

The setting was probably the most effective, and the start of the movie is very intriguing. I found the inclusion of the psychic women and the unsual priest very important and particularly interesting-- neither was condemned nor extolled as The Truth. The best scene, in my opinion, was the scaffold bit in the Church. Sutherland, directing the restoration, climbs on the scaffold to attend to some detail, and a plank falls, causing the scaffold to fall and Sutherland to hold onto a rafter for dear life.

The bizarre "twist" at the end wasn't really believable to me, though it was a bit spooky, and I did appreciate the sense of design in the film-- all things happen for a reason, come full circle. SPOILER: it was Sutherland's destiny to die, and his daughter's death began the domino effect leading up to his end. If he were a bit more spiritual maybe he would have tapped into that.

Meh, not a favorite at all.

Naked City
One of the first police procedural type films by Jules Dassin, master of the noir. I admire this film for what it was at the time-- also its use of real locations in the city and inventing the template that millions of films and cop shows would go on to ultilize. All impressive, and headed up by that Irish fellow, that fantastic supporting actor that you can't help but always love (I think he may have been Darby O'Gill). Still, I wasn't into it-- probably because I felt I had seen it so many times. That's the drawback of the classics, occasionally. They have been mimicked and built upon so much that once you see them they don't resonate as they would have in their time.

However, Dassin's masterpiece of noir tragedy, Night and The City, I watched also recently and fell in love. It is my new favorite film, complete with the tradition of the noir finale in which nothing works out for the half-honest protagonist. I will probably talk about it at a later time, but I reccommned it very highly, it is Dassin at his best (also, set in London with an American protag, which makes it very unsual, especially for a noir which is a decidely American genre).

In keeping with the noir theme, Dominic and I crossed out this one a few weeks ago. It's another solid police procedural with a bit of a B-movie vibe (low budget so far as I can ascertain) but far more interesting than Naked City in my opinion. It's about agents of the government, Treasury Men (T-Men) who investigate related crime, in this case a conterfeiting ring. It details the dangerous process of agents infiltrating organized crime. An interesting movie overall and a bit of a history lesson, complete with fairly tense will-they-be-discovered scenes. I have to say though, I may have dismissed the movie were it not for a really compelling scene in which one of the two agents is found out by the organized crime ring. He's in his room preparing to escape when his undercover partner and the mob guys come in. The agent who's been found out knows that he's going to die, and that their knowledge of his affiliation will also cast doubt over his partner's loyalties. He then falls into character, calling his partner out as a member of the mob and not an agent, and eggs his partner on until his partner and fellow agent kills him. His partner knows exactly what is happening-- the exposed agent is trying to protect him and the mission, and he realizes that staying in character and killing him is the only way to honor that. It's very compelling stuff.

Panic in the Streets
Starring the same actor from Night and the City, this Elia Kazan movie (his first, perhaps?) is about disease control and maintains suspense and foreboding throughout much like the disaster movies to come (Outbreak comes to mind, even some of the zombie movies). Detectives race against time to find the friends and the killer of a dead man whose body shows signs of a severe and infectious disease. Of course, the killers don't want to be found, regardless of disease. Jack Palance and his incredible face plays the big bad, and he's phenomenal to watch as usual. Apparently the man underwent reconstructive surgery once he was burnt while serving in the air force during the war, and that's why he had the appearance that he did. This coupled with his incredibly imposing frame makes him eerie to watch. Anyway, solid movie, though not terribly compelling.

The Sundowners
Strange, long movie about "sundowners" in Australia-- cowboys, basically, who settle where ever the sun sets. It's a family in this case, and the mother wants a home for her son to grow up in while the father has the itch to roam as much as possible. She convinces him to stay and work with sheep for a season, and he complies. It's an enlightening slice of rural Australian life, and though it's not very exciting I enjoyed it. The relationships are believable, especially that of Deborah Kerr and Mitchum, and I enjoyed "the old west" of Australia. What a strange country. Also, Peter Ustinov plays a supporting role and he's hilarious every time he opens his mouth.