Versus (2000, Kitamura Ryuhei)

So, watching Versus, I realized a few things. First, Kitamura is probably the best action director… ever. Second, he can’t write his way out of a hat. Third, he’s also a great director of actors. Versus, for the superior first forty minutes, has a lot of characters in frame, doing a lot of things, not just action, but also just exuding personality. Kitamura does a great job with it.

It’s not just his shot construction, of course. It’s the way he moves the camera. He only does it in the first forty, but it’s a fantastic system for informing the viewer of what’s going on–where people are standing, where they’re moving. There’s so much good in Versus, which is incredibly hard to believe considering it’s described as Evil Dead meets The Matrix. Unfortunately, like I said, all that goodness is technical (some of the performances are excellent, however).

The writing falls apart, but then it breaks down more and more. Whenever Kitamura feels the pace slowing, he introduces more characters. We start with eight, which quickly becomes six, then he introduces three more, then another, then another two. The last additions are these asshole cops who are supposed to be funny, and to some degree they are–and it’s really interesting that one makes the (intentionally) geographically incorrect remark that he grew up in Yellowstone National Park in Minnesota, but the American DVD company subtitled it to Canada. Not surprising, that Japanese people have a better awareness of U.S. geography than American DVD aficionados.

Kitamura, as a writer and somewhat as a director (he keeps twirling the lead’s leather trench coat), is seemingly obsessed with “cool.” Versus is a film dictated by “wouldn’t it be cool if…” which is no way to tell a good story, but there wasn’t one anywhere in Versus, thankfully. It just got worse than it needed to get.

Had I seen Versus before Azumi, I might have shut it off (though probably not, as the opening forty are incredibly well-directed), but I certainly would never have found Azumi. Azumi is a good movie.

All Kitamura needs is a good script–which means he shouldn’t touch it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; written by Kitamura and Yamaguchi Yudai; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; music by Morino Nobuhiko; produced by Nishimura Hideo; released by napalm FiLMS.

Starring Sakaguchi Tak (Prisoner KSC2-303), Sakaki Hideo (The Man), Misaka Chieko (The Girl), Matsuda Kenji (Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife), Arai Yuichiro (Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver), Matsumoto Minoru (Crazy yakuza with amulet), Ohba Kazuhito (Yakuza with glasses), Katayama Takehiro (Red-haired assassin), Yoshihara Ayumi (Long-haired female assassin), Masumoto Shoichiro (One-handed cop), Kamiaka Toshiro (Samurai warrior), Tanikado Yukihito (Cop with Barrett), Asai Hoshimi (Short-haired female assassin), Watabe Ryosuke (Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat) and Komiya Motonari (Other prisoner).


Advertisements

Olga’s Chignon (2002, Jérôme Bonnell)

I think this film is the one of the best films Woody Allen never made.

I don’t talk about it much, or ever, since I watched all of Allen’s films long before The Stop Button, but there are some distinct Allen formats and he never seems to mix them. Olga’s Chignon mixes them a little–it’s never as depressing as Allen’s depressing films–and it’s never as playful as his most playful entries get.

Except for the end, which sort of stops, leaving a number of characters unresolved simply because the third act concentrated on two of the four main characters. The conclusion is well-handled enough, however, that I can forgive some of it. It’s just when you introduce your thesis at the last minute, it makes a lot of the previous story setting instead of important.

Bonnell’s young, twenty-eight, and Olga’s Chignon is an impressive debut for someone that age. As much as he concentrates on the writing, his directing is the most important part of the film. He holds scenes a few seconds longer than you except, giving the viewer time to reflect on what he or she has just seen. It’s a literary equivalent to ‘white space’ in short stories, expect ‘white space’ is sometimes used to display change in time, and fade outs are the traditional film device. Except fade outs don’t let you reflect. The only other film I can think of that does this is Horse Thief.

Olga’s Chignon is also my first French family drama and it’s set an incredible standard. Bonnell’s got a new film this year, but Olga never made it to the US (thankfully Nicheflix has it), so I’ll have to track that down somehow. Based on this film, of course, getting slaughtered with a UK exchange rate would likely be worth it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell; director of photography, Pascal Lagriffoul; edited by Benoît Bechet; produced by Arnaud De Battice, Joël Farges, Sylvain Goldberg and Elise Jalladeau; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Hubert Benhamdine (Julien), Nathalie Boutefeu (Alice), Florence Loiret (Emma), Serge Riaboukine (Gilles), Marc Citti (Pascal), Antoine Goldet (Basile), Valérie Stroh (Nicole), Clotilde Hesme (Marion) and Jean-Michel Portal (Grégoire).


Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)

So, I was worried about Sea of Love. After all, the last movie Richard Price is credited with writing is Shaft (though I realize it was changed from what he wrote by Singleton, who’s just a screenwriting dynamo). So, I was worried. Sea of Love was a film I loved–absolutely loved–when I first got into film, when I finally decided I needed to sit and watch a film, not read at the same time, not sit in the room while it played. Frighteningly, this evolution was late in life–it was 1994 or so, when I was sixteen, the Robocop Criterion laserdisc. I sat and watched it.

I’ve seen Sea of Love since, of course. Universal was a great laserdisc company in the 1990s and I had the Sea of Love laserdisc (I still might, in storage, since I never got around to selling M-Z). The first DVD release was pan and scan, so I missed that, but Universal did a widescreen edition and I rented it from Blockbuster–Netflix is no good if there are two versions.

Sea of Love is a great film. Richard Price’s writing is beautiful. For the first three quarters of the film, until the mystery takes over for a half hour, the nuance is unbelievable. Characters saying things, the meanings involved, just beautiful. Sea of Love is, I think, the last film written by the novelist Richard Price, everything after was by screenwriter Richard Price, who was still good, but reserved the good stuff for his novels (Clockers, incidentally, came from the research he did for Sea of Love).

It’s one of Pacino’s two or three best performances. I actually don’t know, off the top of my head, what I’d assign to the other two slots, because you have to decide between Pacino the star (as much as he is–Pacino is a star in The Godfather, Part II and Heat) and Pacino the regular guy. Pacino’s a regular guy in Sea of Love, when he’s in a fight, there’s a chance he might not make it. Sea of Love is from the era before the happy ending… Though Price would argue otherwise (sorry, I’ve read his collected screenplays and the studios always changed his downer endings).

It’s Ellen Barkin–I never realized how much I miss Ellen Barkin. I’m aware of how much I miss actors like Madeleine Stowe and (good) Elisabeth Shue, but Ellen Barkin’s from before that era of recognition. Barkin’s someone who should have transitioned to some great TV in the early 1990s, she should have gone to “Homicide” or something (damn you, Barry Levinson, you know her!).

I really need to see Night and the City now. I actually probably ought to see both of them, but I was thinking the DeNiro/Lange version.

Anyway, if you haven’t or if you haven’t for awhile, see Sea of Love. It’s New York City when that actually meant something, when it was actually a place that changed people, when the city was still alive. I went to New York City, the first time, in 1987 and it was scary. I didn’t leave Manhattan, so it wasn’t quite Fort Apache, the Bronx, but it was ominous. The second-to-last time I went there, maybe third to last, actually, was in 1999, to see a Broadway Show (“The Wild Party”). It wasn’t scary anymore, it was Disneyland. It doesn’t change people anymore….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; written by Richard Price; director of photography, Ronnie Taylor; edited by David Bretherton; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, John Jay Moore; produced by Martin Bregman and Louis A. Stroller; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Det. Frank Keller), Ellen Barkin (Helen Cruger), John Goodman (Det. Sherman), Michael Rooker (Terry), William Hickey (Frank Keller Sr.), Richard Jenkins (Gruber), Paul Calderon (Serafino), Gene Canfield (Struk), Larry Joshua (Dargan) and John Spencer (Lieutenant).


Safety Last! (1923, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)

Film used to be a visual medium. It’s an audio/visual now and getting more and more audio–Dolby Digital and DTS has convinced folks they need five speakers plus the discreet (while Woody Allen still shoots mono). Film has become stage-less theater (without the pretension of theater), but it wasn’t always that way….

I’ve never seen a Harold Lloyd film before and my silent comedies are limited mostly to Buster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a silent Chaplin, just a couple talkies he didn’t talk in. Keaton cannot be surpassed in his quality or his influence, but Safety Last! is just a lot of fun. Silent films use different storytelling techniques than sound pictures do (regardless of the awkward-“intended to be silent” talkies of the late 1920s, the change was immediate–their awkwardness was something else entirely). Without telling the audience the character sold the phonograph, without intimating it with dialogue, the film is left to suggest to us that the phonograph has been sold. Sure, there’s the full explanation with a pawn stub, but that’s either for the stragglers or, more likely, to introduce the concept of money into the scene. Money’s one of those concepts that needs to be enumerated.

Silent comedy and silent drama are also completely different (silent comedy quickly establishes its characters while drama can just go on and on, making a comedy a safer bet for someone just seeing a silent film–not everything that survived is necessarily good). Safety Last! is able to introduce a major character in the last act. It’s just a drunk, but he’s in it the act more than the romantic interest. We rarely see that–I’ve got Sea of Love on the brain since I just rented it and really want to watch it and I remember reading Price’s screenplay collection and he said he wanted to introduce the murderer in the last act and the love interest in the middle of the film and the studio gave him a really funny look. But, even in comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, not even mentioning dramas, big characters did not appear in late in the film. Characters whose presence is felt throughout the film (ranging from The Senator Was Indiscreet to Seven) is a different situation, of course.

As for Lloyd, he’s impossible to dislike, a perfect Everyman. His physical comedy is not as athletic as Keaton’s, of course (is that possible?), but it’s superb. The film ends with his attempt to scale a 12-story building and it’s the first time I got worried about someone surviving since I saw Superman as a kid.

Lloyd is well-known to film buffs–customers at the video store I worked at, back when there were smart people seeing movies (the late 1990s), used to ask about his films. Someone had seen it on TV or something, when he or she was a kid, and now he or she has kids… Lloyd’s the most accessible silent comedian and it’s great that “someday soon” his films will be available on DVD. Until then, check your TCM listings, as they frequently have mini-Lloyd marathons.

….oh, that’s a little scary. Movielens had my star rating dead-on….

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor; written by Hal Roach, Taylor and Tim Whelan, titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Bill Strother (The Pal), Noah Young (The Law) and Westcott Clarke (The Floorwalker).


superior film blogging

Advertisements