Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Hit (1984)

After the long (and ongoing!) discussion on Nobody's blog about No Country For Old Men, I couldn't stop comparing that movie to Stephen Frear's 1984 film The Hit. Both movies feature cold hit men and both use their characters to explore how people approach death.

The basic plot is that a "supergrass" (epic stool pigeon, played by Terence Stamp) who squealed on his former boss in exchange for immunity has been captured 10 years later in Spain. The two hit men, wonderfully played by Tim Roth and John Hurt, are taking him to Paris for execution. It's a bit of a road trip movie, and a lot happens along the way. The most important event is when they pick up a young woman named Maggie (Laura del Sol) as a bit of insurance against a colleague ratting them out.

Hurt's character (Braddock) is a seemingly emotionless professional hit man who is getting on in years. He wears dark sunglasses indoors and out, and despite his cool demeanor and professionalism, makes several mistakes. Roth (Myron) is a new kid, taken along on his first hit as Braddock's protege, eager to prove he has what it takes, yet obviously wet behind the ears and easily manipulated. Stamp (Willie) walks through the entire movie with a calm acceptance and a bit of playful maliciousness towards his fate and captors. His demeanor mystifies both Braddock and Myron. He cites his 10 years of book reading as the foundation for his new outlook on life and death.

**spoilers begin with the comparison of Braddock to Chigurh below**

Myron thinks he's ready to see death, to deal it, but each time he is given the opportunity he avoids it. By the end he's not so sure he wants to be a hit man at all. And, of course, he has no idea when it's coming for him, and his last words as Braddock's bullet goes through his eye are, "What's this?"

Willie has read books about life and death for 10 years, and seems very confident in his understanding of them. He goes along willingly (after his initial struggle when he is captured) for the entire ride, and even refuses to escape when given the opportunity. He seems to enjoy being "above" everyone else and mischievously causing trouble with Braddock and Myron. His mischief isn't innocent, either, as he gets a man killed by suggesting to Braddock that a particular man will squeal. He knew exactly what Braddock would do, and that it wouldn't affect his own fate at all, but he still does it. Yet, at the very end, when Braddock decides to execute everyone before they've crossed the border, Willie breaks down. He insists that he was supposed to die in Paris, according to the plan, and runs off, getting shot in the back. Braddock's response to Willie's change of heart is an incredulous, "You mouth!" Willie thought he had learned to accept death, but when he finally came face to face with it, it undid him. We'll never know how he would have responded had he actually met it in Paris as expected.

Braddock is the only figure of the group that actually deals death. I don't think he represents death as cleanly as Chigurh does, but he is clearly its agent. He knows he can't escape it forever, so he seems to have resigned himself to being its tool. He probably thinks that as its agent he has more control over his own time and place. His puzzlement at Willie's acceptance makes him question his own beliefs about death. He thought he understood it, but here is a man who doesn't seem to fear it at all. This causes him to question himself throughout the movie, and make "mistakes" that he normally wouldn't have, like sparing Maggie several times. Even after Willie shows his true colors and shatters the illusion that had been building, Braddock still ultimately spares Maggie, perhaps because she saw it coming and refused to accept it; she even physically fights Braddock on several occasions. Braddock is perhaps hopeful to retain the tiniest sliver of his humanity by sparing Maggie. Or, maybe he just respected her will to live. Minutes later, as he lay dying because of letting Maggie go, he winks at her, and has no choice but to accept his fate.

**end spoilers**

There's more to it than I've laid out here (I haven't mentioned the stylish production -- location, music, etc.), but that was the most interesting aspect to me, and I'd be curious to hear anyone else's opinion (especially you, Nobody).

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pook stuff

Frankie complained last weekend that I don't post my own stuff very often, and he's right. I usually only post finished stuff, which I don't do all that often, though I sketch all the time. So here are some sketches concerning my Pook comic.

First up is Miner Tom. I don't know if he'll be in the final book or not, but I liked the little doodle (mostly because it had a background that looked ok and I don't do those very often). As you can see, I did it almost a year ago.
Next is one of the pooks. I like the proportions on this guy, and for some reason I don't always get them looking right when I'm actually putting them down in the comic. They're very simple, but there are certain aspects that have to be right for them to have the right appeal I'm going for. The size and shape of the body, the eye level, and the legs are the major ones (what else is there, actually?). This one also has a nice invented background. Very simple, but at least it looks like he's in an environment.

Last weekend in San Diego I tried to come up with some possible covers. I wanted something with a conceptual hook and decent composition.

This first one is ok, though with the title at the top I think it might function a bit better. Also, you can't see that the fuse is lit.
This next one is the same concept, but a different composition. It highlights the concept a lot better. Then I went for the "crowd scene." This image points directly to the nature of the pooks in the book, and I like the composition. For a final, I'd more clearly delineate the movement from dark to light coming from the end of the tunnel.
This last one isn't a very good cover or composition, but I included it just because there's are decent bar/hotel bits in the background.

I'll try and post more sketches soon.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Blast of Silence, 3 Days of the Condor

Blast of Silence (1961) - Great noir film. The story is simple: a hitman goes to New York to carry out a mob hit. Frankie Bono (played by Allen Baron, who also wrote and directed) is almost entirely detached from the rest of humanity, but when he accidentally meets someone who gives him a reason to exist, he begins doubting his vocation.

The narration in particular has to be unique, either inviting the viewer into the role of hit-man Frankie Bono, or else declaring Bono's thoughts to him (I gather this is 2nd person narration). I've never heard anything like it.

There are many beautiful shots in the movie. From the the train tunnel/womb opening shot, to the carefully framed picture of Frankie walking through New York alone, untouched by his environment save for the sidewalk beneath his feet. This second shot occurs directly after he is cut off from his last hope for human connection, and it's composed so that the frame is filled with "New York," buildings on either side, the street before him, but his tiny silhoutte is outlined only by a slim strip of sky. The shot's meaning is obvious, but it's such a great image.

**edit** Found the image online. Here you go:

The finale also stands out in it's choice of setting and the very real storm that was blowing through the location. Frankie goes to an abandoned fishing town along a marsh (still in NY) with a hurricane-force gale blowing rain and snow and hats and water everywhere. The storm was the sort of thing you find in a Kurosawa picture, but from what I could tell from the documentary, it was a real storm.

As a gun nerd I loved the scene where Frankie cleans and tests his silenced revolver. While I'm told that a silencer on a revolver would be ineffective because the chamber (cylinder) is not enclosed, it's still a cool image and concept and I won't let reality ruin that scene (or The Sting) for me.

Another memorable aspect was Larry Tucker's performance as weapons supplier Big Ralph. His physical presence combined with his unique delivery made for a great break from all the straight-faced sobriety.

There's also the jazzy soundtrack, which adds another distinct flavor the the film.

I could see Scorcese remaking this with a 30-year-old deNiro as Frankie. Or, heck, even a present-day deNiro (to give the story a different poignancy). Young Allen looks a bit like young Bobby.

3 Days of the Condor (1975) - Condor's just like Bourne, except instead of having incredible training that he's forgotten, he learned it all from books. He brings in an innocent girl to help him figure out why a covert governmental agency (that he used to work for) is trying to kill him.

Redford's character is great. The idea of a nerdy bookworm who can actually function as a formidable spy based solely on his knowledge is a neat concept, and it's cool to see all the little ways he uses his knowledge. It never felt gimmicky, either; when it occurs it doesn't draw attention to itself.

I rank 3 Days alongside Taking of Pelham in quality. The pacing, the acting, the suspense all have a similar feel. It's very well done.

The way that Dunaway falls for Redford isn't quite believable, but the actors do their best to sell it and it comes very close. It's a small leap, and doesn't spoil the movie.

Max von Sydow as the assassin Joubert was a cool character. His look reminded me of the disguises in Taking of Pelham, too -- mustache, hat, tan jacket, sub-machine gun. It's a little strange at the end when Redford and he get talking, though. Shouldn't Redford be upset about all his friends being murdered?

The "oil" revelation is kind of lame; when you have this great mystery built up, and it turns out "greed" was the reason, it's a little boring. I was hoping for something more complex and interesting.

I'm nit-picking. It's easier for me to complain than to praise, and the movie is quite good. I should note also that I saw it on Blu-Ray, and the picture quality is very nice.