DrVolin's film reviews

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DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Tue Oct 27, 2009 11:57 am

I have been writing these for a while now. Here are a couple. I'll add an old one once in a while, and post any new ones that emerge from my mental fog.
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Postby DrVolin » Tue Oct 27, 2009 11:59 am

Blood Tide (1982)

Imagine James Earl Jones as an Othello declaiming antiquities pillager, Jose Ferrer as the mayor of a Greek island village, and a virginal American art historian offering herself to an ancient reptilian creature in a secret cave. You've got Blood Tide, a minor masterpiece by the politically controversial and artistically reviled Nico Mastorakis.

As a creature feature, Blood Tide is merely comical. Its monster is reminescent of the worst episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Its alledgedly gory moments are prudely signified by red ink bubbling through sea water. But the monster is clearly not the focus of the film, and could just as well not have been shown at all. In fact, that could have made the film even stronger. There are far darker and more ancient forces at work in the tiny community, and this is where the real interest lies. The film succeeds because of the interwoven implied conflicts, and the understated tension between and within well marked groups. The entire film can be seen as a metaphor of the superficiality of globalization and social change in general. Beneath the carefully painted layers of convention lie realities that are best left unquestioned. Their mere mention can lead to catastrophe.

When a couple of American newlywed diving tourists pull up to a Greek island village, we quickly learn that they are in fact looking for the man's sister, a woman with a reputation for odd, individualistic behaviour. An exchange between the couple and the village mayor reveals that the locals are not terribly communicative, and are not interested in helping tourists find what they are looking for. The couple quickly meets another couple of American tourists who have been staying on the island for some time. It turns out they are secretely exploring a cave they hope will provide them with antiquities to sell. Naturally, the villagers are not interested in helping them either.

By exploring the island despite the warnings and interference of the locals, the man discovers that it hosts a convent, and he locates his sister there. She has been on a retreat, paying her keep by restoring old icons for the nuns. She has discovered that one of the icons has several layers, and she is going through the arduous task of revealing each image in turn, while preserving the surface paintings. The surfacemost icon is an image of an orthodox saint. The second one is an early and unusual depiction of the crucifiction, with several decidedly uncanonical features. The third painting is no icon at all and shows a monstrous figure with an exaggerated phallus threatening a young woman lying prone at his feet. This stratigraphy of religious imagery, excavated by a stranger, correlates well with the social geography of the island. In the village, the local inhabitants continue to live as they have since antiquity, from fishing and minor commerce. The nuns are a comparatively recent addition, occupying an old crusader castle at the top of the island.

The tourists, each seeking their own form of treasure, are at best a temporary surface distraction from the village's long and linear history. Like the layers of the icon, each overlying image more familiar and comforting than the previous, covers but does not erase the older, more disturbing vistas. But it takes an outsider, a foreign glance to boldly ignore the unspoken order and look beyond the agreed upon surface, whether of the icon, of the water, or of the social fabric.

When young women start disappearing in the water, including the female American treasure hunter, the village elders know what is happening and what must be done. While the nuns are giving the first two victims a proper christian burial, the elders erupt in a ritual chant, shove the shocked mother superior aside, and open the caskets to complete their pagan rite. Even James Earl Jones' powerful protestations are insufficient to stop the outrage.

In a very effective and haunting scene, the village's children take up the elder's chants in their games on a ledge above the sea. They start a merry-go-round and at the height of the chant, they release their hands and a young girl goes spinning off the cliff and into the sea. Her mother, witnessing the scene, dives after her, and so does the treasure hunter. He saves the little girl, but he watches in horror as the creature drags her mother to the bottom. In a state of shock, he realizes that his destruction of a retaining wall in the treasure cave must have released the horrible creature. He determines to return to the cave to destroy it and the monster.

In the convent, the young art historian has finally uncovered the third icon and understands that it represents the force responsible for the death of the women. That evening at a community feast, the elders begin to chant again, this time around a young woman being carried on a chaise. Everyone now understands that she is to be sacrificed to appease the monster. When challenged by the remaining Americans about the barbaric custom, the mayor intones that the women are willing. That they know their destiny. A light flickers in the young art historian's eyes, and she understands that she is to be the sacrifice. This is the fulfillment that she was seeking by coming to the island.

The denouement is predictable but still interesting. As the treasure hunter heads for the cave, armed with explosives, the art historian leaves the convent looking for the creature, which has in the meantime begun attacking the nuns. Her brother also goes to the cave looking for her. Having been disturbed, the various layers of the island's history and social reality are in upheaval, and will not settle into their original configuration.
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Postby DrVolin » Tue Oct 27, 2009 12:00 pm

Killers Three (1968)

This is the dark precursor to the Dukes of Hazard. In a world in which local bosses effectively have power of life and death, in which the federal and even state governments are rumors of order and distant visions of justice, individuals sometimes fight back against corruption and unjust exercise of power. Sometimes they use guns, and once in a while, fast cars.

Dick Clark, whose name is strangely distinguished by its own font in all titles, produced, starred, and partially wrote this descent into death. Just after WWII, a young veteran tries to raise his family in a southern county ruled by moonshiners. As one of their drivers, his job is to make deliveries, eluding a few incompetent feds who ludicrously try to infiltrate the local power structure by hanging out at the town's harvest dance. Expertly maneuvering his souped up roadster on dirt roads that are little more than cow paths, he makes a precarious living, seemingly at the mercy of the local boss and his corrupt police force. But slowly and surely, the outside world is starting to encroach on this southern feudal enclave. Not only are there perfunctory treasury men prowling about, sporting stylish fedoras and blowing up stills in the woods, but one of the veteran's army buddies from the North visits. This reminds us (and our hero and his wife) that there is a world out there, and that it works differently.
But instead of escaping to the outside world, our antihero and his wife drag their buddy inexorably into their own, taking up arms against the bosses.

Their stated aim is to get to California and start a new life, but their methods speak of more geographically and socially limited goals. Perhaps they're not sure which way California lies, or which rutted dirt road can lead them there. Those same methods bring the state machinery into action, alas, on the side of the bosses, in the form of the wife's brother, who is the local State Trooper. He's been sitting on the side-lines so far, but when the trio begin forcibly wresting their lives back from the bosses, he sternly warns them that he'll have to stop them. There ensues much bloodshed, fast driving, and wrecking of 1948 Ford roadsters with sirens and spotlights attached. The ending is dark, violvent, and pointless. The bespectacled,pointlessly mustachioed Dick Clark, in a useless heroic last stand, gets it.

There are some positively ethnographic moments in this film. The extras and even some of the supporting actors are obviously locals who just showed up and play themselves as they remember themselves to have lived a mere 20 years before. The kinship with the Dukes of Hazzard comes through in nearly every sequence. The leads are dangerous, live ammo using versions of Bo and Luke. The wife is a dark and desperate Daisy, and her mother a poignantly helpless and fatalistic Uncle Jessie, watching her kinship network unravel because of its refusal to accept its fate.

Judging by its ratings and user comments on the web, this film is one of the most misunderstood I can think of
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Postby DrVolin » Fri Nov 06, 2009 8:39 pm

Idaho Transfer (1973)

Anything directed by Peter Fonda has inherent appeal, if only as an artefact of another era. When it is a film about time travel that actually makes sense and is filmed naturalistically, it becomes irresistible. Idaho Transfer combines minimalist sets with a largely amateur cast and a simple, non-linear and incomplete story to create a very thoughtful, unexpectedly effective critique of contemporary western society and government.

A group of gifted teenagers are secretely recruited by a scientist to participate in clandestine time travel experiments. A research team at a secret facility in Idaho has been developing a teleportation (matter transferance) machine for the military. They accidentally discover that the machine can also be used to project things and people into the future and bring them back. They keep this discovery secret from the authorities.

For some reason the process is dangerous for mature adults, so the gifted teenagers, some of them the children of the researchers, are brought in. They discover that in the near future, the area around the time machine at least is desolate and abandoned. They trek to nearby urban centers to discover that they are also empty. They refer to the coming eco-catastrophe.

But the authorities are starting to suspect that all at the matter transference facility is not as it seems. As the military closes in, the kids make a break for the future and try their luck in the post-apocalyptic wastes. They eventually separate into several groups, with differing results. We find out what happens to a few of them, but the writer and director feel no need to give us a full accounting of the expedition.

The sets are barren, the landscapes are stark, the time machine is crude, intriguing, dangerous, and exhilirating, just as a research prototype should be. The time machine set consists of little more than a chrome handle, four light switches, a long bench and some red masking tape on the floor, but it conveys everything it should. It is believable.

The teenagers are quiet, unassuming, unable to comprehend the significance of the enterprise on which they've been embarked. They are confused and conscious of the need to stay calm and stay together, but of little else. The post-apocalyptic world is empty but pregnant with the social anxieties and even the urban legends that we live with almost 40 years later. The place is empty, but no one knows why. In a car abandoned by the side of the road, there is a child seat and some toys. The occupants have vanished. In a motionless train out on the plain, there are cars full of corpses in body bags.

And all through this, one of the girls can think of little else but her desire to have babies. Lots of babies. She never says why, and none of the others ask her. After many adventures, she ends up farther into the future than any of the others. And there, when she encounters some evidence of a regenarated human society, the viewer understands why the urge to procreate is ultimately destructive. As one of the boys puts it early in the film, "perpetuation and all the crap that goes with it is a big hoax anyway". He may have been right.
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Postby Perelandra » Sat Nov 14, 2009 2:57 am

Thank you, Dr. I appreciate your mythically evocative descriptions. The movies sound very interesting.
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Postby DrVolin » Sat Nov 14, 2009 5:58 pm

Black Point (2001)

On the surface, Black Point is a low-budget, shot in BC for Washington State, one explosion, David Caruso vehicle. Deeper down, it turns out to be a fine Noir revival, complete with a Femme Fatale, a Heavy, a Distant Big Boss, a Tragically Flawed Hero and his Unfailing Ally, and the triple cross you thought you should have seen coming.

After a drug deal gone bad, which features the explosion, The Heavy and his buddies, including the nearly unwilling Femme Fatale, travel to a small fishing village along the Washington coast to regroup. And most importantly, to figure out how to recover the 3 million dollars in cash they lost, before the Big Boss, played very competently by the terminally Cartelesque Miguel Sandoval, comes around to collect it.

As luck would have it, they are not the only outside force recuperating in town. David Caruso’s John Hawkins, interestingly named after a semi-shadowy Elizabethan privateer, spy, and a major naval figure in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, is an ex-navy special ops type who is recovering from the loss of his young daughter and the subsequent break up of his marriage. In between self-pitying drunken binges, he works for the Unfailing Ally, a fishing captain and restaurant owner called Standing Bear. They have an interesting relationship, rough and curt on the outside, full of respect and mutual admiration on the inside. The relationship between those two characters would be at home in any Chandler.

Hawkins delivers some food to the house into which the Heavy and his crew have just moved. He encounters the Femme Fatale and they clearly connect. He senses that she is in trouble, and, knowing that the Heavy is in some difficulty, she is reassured to see a life buoy floating by her badly listing ship.

Without giving away too much I can say that before the story is over, the satchel containing the three million dollars changes hands many times, and that the bodies pile up fast and deep. The Tragically Flawed Hero tries his best to resolve the situation without involving the innocent, friendly Sheriff, played very nicely by Eileen Pedde, and without sacrificing the Femme Fatale, in who’s goodness he believes much longer than the average viewer.

This is Noir, but not classic pulp Noir. It isn’t Bellem. The characters grow. The bad guys, largely, are predictably bad, which makes them simple. They’re deader at the end than they were at the beginning. The good guys are not so predictably not bad. That makes them complex. By the end, the Tragically Flawed Hero is not as good as he used to be, but still better than the rest. The Femme Fatale is possibly not as bad as she used to be, but I wouldn’t turn my back to her for too long.

The dialogue isn’t the cold snap of a Hammet, or the studied Queensbury jab of a Chandler. It is contemporary but economical. The story respects major conventions of Noir while exploring new terrain. The locals are scenery, but unlike the Big Knockover islanders, they are warm and earnest, and even defend themselves when threatened. The bad guys are bad. The boss, like a Mendy Menendez, is unaware that there can be a world without his bossness, until there suddenly is. The broad is devious, self-affirming in the mold of the girl in the House on Turk Street, but still vulnerable and manipulative. The hero and his ally are good going on bad, but they’re the only game in town.

If I were you, I would watch it a couple of times and give it some thought.
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Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Sat Jul 03, 2010 4:13 pm

End of the World (1977)

Beyond being an incisive commentary on colonialism, a fine example of 1970's paranoxploitation, and one of the most classically Lovecrafttian films I have seen, End of the World is your only chance to see Christopher Lee and Dean Jagger together. And not just in an end of the world film, either. Your only chance period. Throw in that the script is by the writer of Dracula's Dog and directed by the maker of Grave of the Vampire, and you have a surefire winner. If you're still not convinced, consider that, after a prologue that features a short-order cook, exploding neon signs and remains mystifying long, long after the film has ended, the story opens with extended footage of a vintage computer terminal with tape storage. When, after long reflection and much silent staring at green screens, the man working the computers picks up the red telephone on his desk, lying next to the white telephone, and utters the single line 'Codeword equator', you know you are in for a treat. Besides, how many ofther films end with an exploding papier maché earth seen from space? Precious few outside the seventies.

Professor Boran, who cryptically keeps saying that he works in 'communications', whose lab is shot on location at the North American Rockwell Rocketdyne research facility, and who seems to be on the phone to some supra-mysterious infra-NORAD organization much of the time, thinks that his instruments have been detecting coded messages coming from space. Even more interestingly, he thinks he has also been picking up similarly coded replies originating from earth. Well, actually, from southern California, just down the road from his lab.

Things become even more interesting for the professor, when, ignoring his superior's urgent intimations to 'work on something else', he breaks enough of the code to decypher parts of the communications. They speak of natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Listening to the news that evening (yes, listening), he realizes that the messages announce actual natural disasters that are taking place around the globe. He immediately returns to his lab to transmit this important intelligence up the chain of command, only to be told that he has been booked on a nationwide lecture tour of university campuses. Young kids, it seems, have not been entering space science in anything like the numbers needed to get the best minds involved, and the future of humanity depends on this. The professor, being such a skillful, thrilling and entertaining speaker, is the obvious man to reverse the trend.

Uneasy, worried about what comes next, accompanied by his day-planner bearing, sixties-groovy supportive and enthusiastic wife slash personal assistant, Boran embarks upon his vitally important lecture tour. It isn't terribly surprising that he deviates ever so slightly from his instructions and thereby becomes invovled in a plot of some finality. Well, perhaps not for him, as will be seen, but certainly for everyone else.

By some coincidence, a leg of the lecture tour takes the professor and his wife past the place from which the coded signals originate. Driving out there, they are surprised to discover a charming little convent in a late colonial spanish mission building in a fairly remote but well manicured corner of California wine country. They are welcomed by the nuns and father Pergado, played with habitual summerisleness by Christopher Lee.

Finding nothing suspicious with a few handheld instruments, the couple return for an illicit night visit and are promptly captured by mother superior and her henchnuns. As the viewer has suspected for some time now, and as the professor and his wife find out the hard way, the nuns and father Pergado are actually aliens who have occupied the convent and destroyed its original occupants for their own shadowy purposes. They have taken on their appearance through the menacing sounding techinque of cloning. There were presumably convents available in which the occupants did not look as menacing and creepy as Christopher Lee and could have been cloned just as well, but one presumes that this particular convent was chosen out of some sense of alien style, however misguided as a security measure. Like some grand Churchillian operational code name, the towering presence of Pergado should have given the game away.

The aliens were sent to do a job, and they have realised that they will need the help of the professor to complete it. Their only objective beyond the completion of that task is to return home, to a world they describe as a Utopia. They are stuck in a colonial backwater, and long for home. They need the professor, the local elite, to achieve their goal. They hold his wife hostage while he goes back into the world to collect what they need. Despite the professor's best intentions, however, the task is not accomplished without damage to his friends and countrymen. But as the wife notes, what choice do they have beyond the immediate saving of their own lives? What limited good can they bring their conspecifics if they are not alive, mediating?

The taks accomplished, the aliens put in motion the destruction of the earth, which, according to them, has been condemned as a galactic source of disease both physical and social. The earth, having served its purpose, having been looted of what the aliens need, no longer serves a purpose. Worse, it could some day be a threat. It must be neutralized. The colonial masters, marginal in their own world, have earned their ticket home. The natives, useless now and potentially dangerous, have been condemned. But what of the local elite, hostage of the colonial masters, protector and torturer of the native population? The professor, opines father Pergado, would make a good citizen of his world. On earth, the professor's gifts are used for destruction. On his world, they would be used for construction, he says, like an Old One whose behaviour is locally evil for tiny humanity but indifferent at a more appropriately cosmic scale, as he puts the final touches on the destruction of the earth. He then follows the nun clones into the gate that will transport them home. With the planet disintegrating around them, the professor and his wife take their only chance, and step through the portal.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

--Guns and Roses
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Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby barracuda » Sat Jul 03, 2010 10:23 pm

Ooo, that one sounds good. I'm into just about any movie where they step through a portal.
The most dangerous traps are the ones you set for yourself. - Phillip Marlowe
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Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:22 pm

I am not doing a full discussion of this one, but it may be of interest to some here because of the themes. Death Warmed Up (1984) is a New Zealand horror film that I think might be unique as a mind-controlled assassin/Child abuse victim revenge fantasy. Mind-controlled assassin films typically focus on the process of mind control and/or the inner struggle of the victim against implanted instructions. The films often climax at the moment of carrying out the instructions, and whatever happens after that is usually denouement, or even epilogue (The Manchurian candidate being the iconic example).

Dearth Warmed Up starts with the assassination and focuses on the assassin's quest for revenge on his controller. There is a persistent subtext of pedo-homosexual relationship between controller and controlled, and the young man's victims are his own parents (friends and co-workers of the controller). Not only does the controller engage in classical brain washing, but he also uses experimental brain surgery and implants. In his quest for vengence, the victim seems to replicate some of the patterns of his controller by manipulating some unknowing friends into helping him in his quest, with predictably gory results. Speaking of gore, it is very competent here and includes various surgeries as well as violent encounters. This is a seriously messed up film.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

--Guns and Roses
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Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Sun Aug 01, 2010 11:44 pm

Prisoners of the lost universe (1983)
A battle to the death between Richard Hatch and John Saxon for the attentions of Kay Lenz: a fine premise for any film. But put it in the hands of Hawk the Slayer director Terry Marcel, and the result is a politically (un)aware celebration of the working class in a world of increasingly abusive oligarchs. And to make sure that young people get the message, it is cleverly hidden in a Dungeons and Dragons flavoured candy and accompanied by a stunning semi-epic, nearly classical soundtrack that verges on the casual orchestral country-western.

Speaking of soundtrack, this film has some of the worst foley work ever. Actually, that may not, strictly speaking, be true. The sounds are well done, they are just not used as one would normally expect. The first sign of trouble is that a large and menacing boulder, careening off a cliff and straight at our heroes, is accompanied by the dismal sound of a slide whistle. This is almost as egregious a transgression of dramatic taste as the slide whistle that hurries James Bond's car through its corkscrew jump in The Man with the Golden Gun, but mercifully not quite. But it is only the start. The film is polluted by bells indicating kicks in the groin and other sadly misplaced sound cues.

In present day (1983) Los Angeles, Kay Lenz is a journalist for a tabloid-like science program who is tasked with interviewing a mad scientist developing a machine that teleports objects between dimensions. As she is driving to the interview, earth tremors begin and are being discussed on the radio. Earth tremors are always a very bad sign in any no-budget movie, especially if, as in several classic Godzilla films, they are being discussed on the radio. One of those tremors inexplicably leads to a minor fender bender between Lenz's car and the pick-up truck driven by electrician and state Kendo champ (fortunate coincidence, given the story arc) Richard Hatch. After a less than friendly conversation about Kendo swords, Lenz continues to her destination while Hatch, his pick-up disabled, starts to walk.

Lentz arrives at the home/lab of the scientist (slightly Lugosiesque Kenneth Hendel) who, after a thoroughly Paul Carruthers-like speech about being ignored and ridiculed by the scientific community, explains how Lenz's coverage of his interdimensional transferance machine is going to really show those FOOLS in the world of science. Now, if earth tremors are inherently bad in z-grade movies, one can imagine just how bad they must be when combined with something as "very finely tuned" (dixit Dr. Hartmann) as an interdimensional transferance machine. Given the transient seismic instability of the LA basin, it doesn't take long for the good doctor's demonstration to go haywire, sending him, the reporter, and through some convoluted plot device, the electrician, into another dimension. Nor does it take long for the viewer to discover how very like southern California the other dimension is.

But while this unknown dimension may look quite familiar to southern Californians, it is populated by quite a different bunch from your regular LA neighbourhood. First encountered is a kind of Half Orc Barbarian who will regularly and unexpectly save the bacon of the protagonists, despite several apparent death scenes. The irrepressible Barbarian becomes a sort of protective Lenny to Lenz's distressed journalist. There is also a halfing thief, played appropriately enough by the halfing-like Peter O'Farrel, who doubles as cowardly comic relief, as halflings often do. Then a sort of green looking Elf Ranger who is clearly chaotic good (he leaves our friends in the lurch after "repaying his debt" to them) and uses a kind of green technology that seems native to the dimension. He harvests gas filled pods from plants to power his projectile weapon, starts fire with a nodule of some local amber with pyrotechnic properties, calls wild horses with a sort of horn, and extracts water from seemingly parched ground with plant stalks.

But as Hatch and Lenz discover to their detriment, this natural technology has lately been supplanted by more powerful devices. Enter John Saxon, a little too magnificent in the role of sexually sadistic warlord Kleel, armed with 18th century vintage pistols provided by his new wizard who promises him even greater power. Kleel, smitten with Lenz, temporarily ditches Hatch and his friends. Back at his fortress, Lenz will discover that the wizard and the source of Kleel's newfound power is predictaly, none other than Dr. Hartmann.

Before the party can set a rescue in motion, Lenz and the scientist have a confrontation in Kleel's prison dungeon. Lenz, having refused to submit to Kleel's advances, is imprisoned. Dr. Hartmann, having provided him with powerful weapons using his science, lives in luxury and perhaps illusory security. The scientist, having prostituted his Art for the sake of comfort, encourages Lenz to prostitute her body in the same pursuit. But while she may be willing to symbolically whore out her talents to the tabloid television shows, she draws the line at sleeping with a dictator.

Only the working-class hero, secure in the knowledge that his value as a person is intrinsic, dares challenge the autocrat. He organizes the normally timid marginals and, hijacking the scientist's tools, overthrows the dictator, whose only power is derived from the fear of others.

In terms of production, Prisoners of the lost universe is somewhere below a final season episode of CHiPs. The acting is quite uniformely excellent, with some performers, including Saxon, wearing their character like a glove. The message, quite obviously intentional, is in the lineage of the 70s paranoxploitation, reinterpreted for the more outwardly optimistic, and more actually totalitarian 80s.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

--Guns and Roses
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Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Tue Dec 28, 2010 1:01 am

True Grit (2010)

True Grit is in some ways a fundamentally different and unique film. A small, subtle moment reveals this: Marshall Cogburn, on a distant ridge, being observed through a spy glass, fires an agreed upon signal shot. The eye says that the movement of the hand is unmistakable, the puff of smoke erupts from the upraised weapon, the recoil moves the arm, but the ear is no participant until a second later, when the distant, muffled report reaches the observer. The delay, which tells us the Marshall is about 300 meters away, is far from insignificant, and far more than simple albeit usually absent proper regard for the physics of propagation.

Hollywood seems obsessed with the coincidence between sight and sound. This even carries into documentaries. There is a big budget documentary on the sinking of the Bismarck in which the Hood is seen from a distant ship firing its forward main battery. The original footage is most likely silent, but the film maker has added a soundtrack (or modified the unlikely to exist original) so that the loud, suitably impressive bass enhanced and reverberated boom of the guns is perfectly synchronized with the volley. This is the depth of Hollywood's committment to matching image with sound, and it is the depth of iconoclasty of this film that it breaks even that rule.

Except for an indulgent melodramatic flight of fancy near the end, this film is starkly realistic in the way that the shot in separated from its sound. The violence is occasional, brief, personal, and in the moment separated from its eventual emotional impact. The history is small, socially aware, inevitable, and separated from the personalities that drive it.

On the surface, True Grit is about a young Electra seeking revenge for her father's murder. Beneath that surface, it is a study of four men, seen through the eyes of a woman who has seen it all. Watching the film, it is easy to forget that the narrator is not the fourteen year old girl on a dogged quest for her father's killer, but the old woman standing at Marshall Cogburn's grave, decades after the action takes place.

She never married, she tells us. Again, the surface hides complexity. The easy thought is that the lack of an arm, lost in the pursuit all these years ago, contributed to her celibacy, making her a victim. But the film is socially realistic enough that one can suspect her literacy, book keeping skills, and obvious managerial ability would have made her a sought after party on the frontier, arm or no. She decided on spinsterhood, making her an agent. After seeing the four archetypal men with and against whom she struggled at the tender age of fourteen, in such stark physical conditions, one can't blame her. Once men had helped her achieve her object without tying her down, what more did she need of them?

Marshall Cogburn, whom she hires to guide her despite himself, is a man who is secretly ashamed of being all that he is, and secretly wishes he was less. Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, who wishes to be hired by her, is a good man who is secretly ashamed that he doesn't live up to the reputation of his kind. He passes for a fool, in her hurtful words a rodeo clown, for trying too hard to look and act his part. In the end, he proves a better man than anyone, even he, suspects.

The murderous Chaney/Chelmsford, the object of her quest, according to her the half-wit, the man she places beneath herself in both intelligence and ability, is constantly and publically frustrated that the world doesn't yield what it owes him. He can't understand why his every hope is constantly in vain, and why his every plan always works against him. It is perhaps because it is this inferior who took her father from her that she is so relentless in her chase. But as Cogburn's testimony in the trial scene tells us, this is a world in which the line between mere killing and outright murder is the word of a judge, the bang of his gavel, or even the weight of public opinion.

Lucky Ned Pepper, the outlaw-because-someone-else-is-the-law, the capable-man-and-difficult-to-deal-with of the Norse Sagas, in this instance is not so lucky. Because he harbours the murderous Chaney/Chelmsford, he becomes involved in a conflict not of his choosing and not of his own making. And because the just-as-good-man Cogburn happens to be the law, because Cogburn happens to have an old grievance with him, and because he chooses to live and die on his own terms, Pepper will stand up to the young woman and her roped-in champions.

True Grit is the second in what now must be seen as at least a new minor golden age in the art of the Western. After The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, one can hope that it heralds a few more.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

--Guns and Roses
DrVolin
 
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Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Sat Jul 28, 2012 10:40 pm

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The messages conveyed by this film are simple, straightforward, and carried on its surface, like a Kurt Weil tune over a scene by Bertold Brecht. Secrecy is necessary. In the hands of the masses, power inevitably becomes a weapon. Only shadowy billionaires can be trusted to use power for the common good. The wealthy are where they deserve to be, and so are you.

Harvey Dent, martyr for law and order, has become the symbol on which is founded a new, more repressive Gotham, complete with harsh detention measures and pro-active police intervention. And it is a peaceful Gotham. The well armed police are reduced to chasing down overdue library books. The trains run on time in the New Gotham. Little do the people know that Harvey Dent was a master criminal, brought down by the people's arch-enemy, the Batman. And little do they know that the Batman, reclusive and eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne, is their only ally. This is how it should be in the world of The Dark Knight Rises. If the truth were known, order would collapse, the world would be turned upside down, it would be the end. The people must be protected at all cost from the deadly truth by a comfortable tissue of convenient lies, even at the cost of an old and upstanding police commissioner's ethics and self-worth. No price is too great to protect the people from the truth.

In the wrong hands, the reactor created by Wayne Enterprises to feed hungry Gotham and ease its energy anxieties becomes the deadly seed of its destruction. Bruce Wayne, knowing its evil potential, has kept this wonder and its benefits from the people, for their own good. When the hateful Bane liberates the city and unleashes the shoe shine boys, the doormen and bell boys on an unsuspecting and defenseless privileged class, he, in the name of the people, assumes control of the technological miracle and turns it into an infernal machine. Only the secretive billionaire can stop him and restore the rightful order. But not before enough damage has been done for us to realize that any redistribution of wealth and power can only lead to deadly chaos. The people, unable to govern themselves, inevitably turn to a tyrant bent on their destruction and ultimately his own. Standing in the desolation of what was the splendour of Wayne Manor, the Cat Woman can only admit that this is not what she wanted. Let the rich have their mansions. The people can't manage them.

In the Dark Knight Rises, the rich and powerful are where they belong, and so are the people. Any change in the divinely appointed order can only be disastrous. The rich are not powerful because they have money. Their wealth does not make them who they are. Who they are makes them wealthy. They are superior. Put Bruce Wayne in any context, he will prevail. He will do better than anyone else. His wealth is an accessory, a renewable resource, and the mere result of his ability. Stripped of his fortune through fraud and crime, he never misses a beat. Imprisoned in a hell on earth, he escapes where others fail, and somehow makes his way to Gotham, half a world away, hale and hearty.

Bruce Wayne triumphs because he is good. The villains fail because they are evil. Bruce Wayne is wealthy and powerful because he is both good and superior. The inevitable implication is that those who are wealthy and powerful must be good, because in time, the good triumph over the evil, and the superior over the inferior. And the superior are good. It is useless to fight fate. Accept who you are and take your place in a social structure which is not a ladder but a stack of sealed alcoves. And trust that the good triumph and work for the common good.

And what of women in this universe? Ruled by their desires, they are the root of all evil, or at best, reluctant and unreliable allies who must be closely watched and monitored. The villain in the piece is the fruit of an illicit union between the daughter of a rich, powerful, and therefore good and superior man, and a common warrior. From the mismatch, only evil can issue. Accept your condition, stick with your kind, trust in greatness, and believe the lies as if they were your only truth. They shield you from your doom. These are the message of the Dark Knight Rises.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

--Guns and Roses
DrVolin
 
Posts: 1544
Joined: Sat Sep 15, 2007 7:19 pm
Blog: View Blog (0)

Re: DrVolin's film reviews

Postby DrVolin » Wed Oct 10, 2012 7:39 pm

Rendition (2012)

The most terrifying film I have ever seen.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

--Guns and Roses
DrVolin
 
Posts: 1544
Joined: Sat Sep 15, 2007 7:19 pm
Blog: View Blog (0)


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