Saturday, December 7, 2013

Three Films Make A Post: Based on the Historical Realities

Du rififi à Paname aka The Upper Hand (1966): Denys de La Patellière's crime movie is a sort of retirement home for tired looking old and middle aged actors (Jean Gabin! Gert Fröbe! Nadja Tiller! Claudio Brook! George Raft!), the kind of film that thinks just letting the actors turn their faces in the direction of the camera equals acting performances. What's actually going on is that no one in front of the camera seems even the least bit interested in the film they are involved in, which is somewhat understandable given the been there done that nature of the film's crime plot, and the script's insistence on not developing the plot's few interesting elements in any direction worth following. De La Patellière manages to make the film pretty, but doesn't provide any sense of tension or drama, and also seems to delight in the kind of "witty" dialogue only very few films can get away with. Most of those films have actors actually doing more than coasting on their mere existence, though.

An American Ghost Story aka Revenant (2012): Derek Cole's film could be a fine, low-key ghost story, if a highly derivative one. At least, the core performances by scriptwriter and male lead Stephen Twardokus and Liesel Kopp are never less than decent, often even quite good, the camera work is atmospheric, and the film has a nice, concentrated flow to it. Unfortunately American Ghost Story suffers from a case of Advanced Jump Scare Syndrome that borders on the ridiculous. There's no quietly effective scene of the supernatural the film doesn't ruin by making inappropriate loud noises at the audience in moments that aren't at all meant to be jump scares, no scene that doesn't end up destroying its own effectiveness by shouting "boo". It's nearly like a parody of other films who like their jump scares a bit too much, and feels as if the film were afraid to just let the creepy mood it so desperately tries to build work on its audience, permanently losing faith in its own ability to function without VERY LOUD NOISES. While this technique doesn't work at all to actually make the film scarier, it ruins any mood it actually builds quite effectively, dragging the whole effort down from the at least decent to the nearly insufferable.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): I'm more than just a little surprised that this one is the film of these three I actually like, but then surprising me is what J.J. Abrams's movie did more than once: by feeling much more like a Stark Trek movie than the first one, by not just fixing the first film's dubious politics but actually consciously having and using political themes and coherent morals, by actually doing some rather great (or at the very least fun) things with the Star Trek movie it is playing with/off, and by this time around actually having something (though still not enough by far) to do for its female cast members. If the last trend continues, the next Star Trek movie might even see Zoe Saldana's Uhura as an actual female lead instead of a relatively large supporting role for Pine's and Quinto's perfectly entertaining boy's club.

As it stands, the film is still nearly up there with the Avengers or the last Batman or Pacific Rim as a film that fulfils all blockbuster demands on spectacle, yet still has the time and space for human things of one kind of the other. Most of the time, it even remembers the spectacle is there to dramatize the humanity and not the other way around.

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