Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Public Enemies (2009)

I recently got to see this in the Dreamworks theater with my friends Shane and Frankie (thanks, Shane!). It was a movie Shane and I had been really looking forward to since they first announced it.

Unfortunately, it was a let-down. The easiest way to critique it is to call it a weak version of Heat (one of my favorites, by the way). Heat gave you a fascinating look at the lives of the two leads, making them real and sympathetic characters. Public Enemies was really lacking in that department. I didn't connect with Dillinger or Purvis, or anyone else. I don't think it's the fault of the actors. The script was either lacking from the beginning or hacked during production.

Despite the lack of emotional connection, there are a few good things to be said about the movie. For one, Mann once again did not disappoint in the action and sound-design department (see also Collateral and Heat; Miami Vice also qualifies, but it's a terrible movie). The shootouts are loud; they look, sound, and feel very realistic. Furthermore, despite some shaky-cam hand-held work (die, trend, die!) and the occasional obviously digital picture quality that made you miss film grain, there were some beautiful compositions. The opening in particular has a great location that makes for some cool looking minimalist framing. Costuming and locations, of course, were all good. It was funny seeing the British actor who played Tommy in Snatch as Baby Face Nelson. And Faramir as a nameless henchman who must have been offed at some point.

To sum up: disappointing. Worth it if you have a good sound system for the action scenes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kill! (1968)

This is another selection from Criterion's Rebel Samurai collection. Samurai Spy is the last one I still need to see.

What a fun film! I didn't realize until it was over that it was based on the same story that Kurosawa adapted for Sanjuro. As I was watching, some similarities did occur to me (scruffy-but-skilled protagonist with disdain for traditional samurai life; small group of samurai hiding out from corrupt official), but it is otherwise (and even in those similarities) a completely different story.

The basic plot concerns a group of samurai who assassinate a corrupt official and then go into hiding, awaiting the arrival of the good official from the north who will come set everything right. As they are waiting, another corrupt official is trying to hunt them down. The two main characters come into town looking for work and food, and become involved on opposite sides.

Tatsuya Nakadai plays the experienced and world weary Genta, and it's my favorite role of his yet. He's such an affable decent fellow, and his interactions with Hanjiro (Etsushi Takahashi) make up a large part of the charm of the movie. It's also very different from his role in Sanjuro, which is also very different from that in Yojimbo (that guy is in just about every samurai movie). Hanjiro is an aspiring samurai, a former farmer whose years of toil have made him very strong. He's not the brightest bulb, but he's enthusiastic and determined, despite Genta's constant warnings that samurai aren't all that great. The opening scene where the two of them meet in a desolate town, looking for food, is a perfect introduction that sets up the relationship and tone for the rest of the movie.

It's a very funny movie, but it's black comedy to be sure. One of the earliest gags involves the image of a townsperson who has hanged herself. It's played for a laugh, and it works, but that's pretty dark. Like Sanjuro, Kill! doesn't care for the samurai values and has a good time deconstructing them.

Kill! also has a great soundtrack. Most memorable is the spaghetti western styled guitar from the beginning of the film.

Like the better spaghetti westerns, the movie features some great compositions, cuts, and editing. And a great score featuring a Morricone-esque guitar number at the beginning. And some great action (Genta knows his sword-play).

If you're interested in a black and white samurai movie that isn't all stern-faces and yelling, check this one out. This is one I'd show friends who were not up for a "serious" samurai film.

Making Movies Better: Breaking Scenery

I was watching The Matrix: Reloaded last night, and was reminded of another annoying action-movie trope that should be corrected.

Throughout the movie (and the rest of the trilogy) there are a lot of kung-fu fights, and lots of statues are broken, walls caved in, and benches splintered. The effect is supposed to sell how powerful these guys are and how dangerous the fight is. But because everything is shattering so easily with little to no effect on the body that's shattering it, the effect is, instead, of a guy flying through a weak prop. When Neo gets slammed into a wall for the billionth time, I'm not thinking, "Wow, what a strong hit!" Rather, the thought is, "Boy, what weak walls!"

The only time a fall ever looked like it really hurt was in the first one when Neo falls on the floor of the subway station (near the tracks). The floor doesn't give at all, so you know he fell on real concrete. So much more effective than if the floor had cracked or buckled! In the same scene he's slammed into one of the walls, and he slams Smith into the ceiling. Neither of those looked like they hurt, because the walls gave way like it was 1/4" dry-wall over soft isulation.

The solution is to sell these hits better. If someone hits a prop, it should give far less than it usually does in these movie. If he punches a wall, maybe MAYBE show a little crack; don't let his hand pass right through 6" of concrete. Showing the prop stop the hand will be a lot more effective in selling the reality of the prop. If a guy gets thrown into a statue, don't have the statue completely give way and break into a million pieces. Everyone will think it's made out of styrofoam. Have him bounce off, or knock it over. Same for a tree: he should bounce off, not snap the tree in half. And, if you have to have the prop shatter (bench break, wall crumble, log snap), show the effect of it on the actor! Don't have the actor just fly through the bench like it's dust! Maybe only a leg of the table breaks, and you show the actor bounce off the rest, hurting his back. Something like that will tell me, "Dang! That was a real hit! It must have hurt!" It broke the table leg, but you could see that it was "real" by the way the actor's body interacted physically with it.

This is a companion to this post, Making Movies Better: The Reeling Fall.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Comic Con 2009

Amy and I had a great time at Comic Con this year. Here's the run-down:

Friday - (nerd-shirt worn: Catscratch by Doug TenNapel)
- drove down, intended to make copyright panel, but hit traffic, so we stopped at my parents' house and hung out for a bit.
- met up with Biola friends Tawney and Elizabeth for dinner in North Park (San Diego). Good Mexican food place. There were rainbow banners everywhere because it had just been Pride Week, I think. Honestly, every single storefront on that street had one. Pity the poor business that didn't order theirs in time.
- Elizabeth then drove us to Eisners (comic book award - like the Academy Award for comics). Eisners were next door to the Convention Center at the Hilton. Got there in plenty of time. Sat with forum friends Ethan (nominated for Best Humor Publication for his book Chumble Spuzz 2, the one I have a pin-up in!), Ethan's brother and co-writer Isaiah, Ruiz and his girlfriend Brenda, and some others. Doug and Sean McGowan found us.

Eisners were boring, slowly paced, but Patton Oswalt and Reno 911 guys (presenters) were funny. One award was accepted on the winner's behalf by a guy dressed in a silver cape and t-shirt that said, "Yes, I am a Gay Robot." He gave a really long and incredibly unfunny acceptance speech. Doug had us rolling with his comments about winners and presenters throughout the ceremony. Ruiz was laughing hysterically at bad presenters and long-winded acceptance speeches. This old Mad Magazine writer was given a lifetime achievement award and went on for 20 minutes. Ethan didn't win (bummer!). We all left after that.
- Eric Peterson, Isaiah Nicolle and I were going to go surfing Saturday morning (like last year), but I forgot my cell phone and wasn't able to arrange boards or coordinate a meeting time, so we decided to do it on Sunday instead.

Saturday - (nerd-shirt worn: Ninjas Everywhere by Scott C)
- wanted to go to Chuck panel, but got there at 9:45 and line was already closed off. Didn't know floor opened at 9, either. So, Amy and I started walking the floor, aisle by aisle. Saw John Kricfalusi and Kali in booth. Said hi to Kali and told her I admired her skill. She was flattered I recognized her. She was very nice.
- bought a shirt from Giant Robot booth (another Deth P. Sun shirt - the blue one)

- met Scott C, who saw my shirt, exclaimed. Asked him for a cowboy monkey sketch. He did a great one.

Amy bought one of his prints.

Very nice guy. We talked about Bodie.
- met up with Hethe for lunch. It was good catching up.
- went by Doug's booth. Doug wasn't there, said hi to Eric Branscum, a friend from the forum and Sockbaby 4. Browsed Doug's original art pages.

- found this awesome prop of a fictional gun from a comic called 13 Chambers.

- came across some cowboy dudes.

- went to Behemoth booth, got picture with Orange Princess (what a nice gal!), got Barbarian sketch from Dan Paladin.

- went to annual Hodown with TenNapel and forum buddies. Doug bought us all chimichangas. Met Dave Nielson, who happens to live in Carlsbad and happens to know Hethe! Nice guy, we gave him a ride home. Josh Kenfield attended his first ever, and we hung out with Frankie for a bit, too. Also chatted with Eric Brown. And several other good friends from the forum.

Sunday - (nerd-shirt worn: Gear by Doug)
- got up at 5:30am to meet up with Eric, Isaiah, and Eric's wife Shayla for surfing. Only got a hold of one extra longboard, so gave those to Eric and Shayla, while Isaiah and I took shortboards. The waves were huge that weekend, but we went to Teramar, which doesn't face the south, so the waves were medium to small. Didn't stay out for that long, but had a good time. Water was really warm. Isaiah and I took the longboards when Eric and Shayla were done and caught a few fun rides.
- got down to the Con early to help Doug work booth. Amy dropped me off and went to find parking. Got on the floor by 8:30am with Exhibitor badge and walked floor with Doug for a bit, admiring artwork. Went back to the booth at 9 when floor opened to everyone else.
- watched Doug interact with some atheist/agnostic fans. Very graciously done. Planted a good seed.
- Doug's wife Angie came by and we talked about her days of airplane piloting (!).

- met a guy who made an escrima movie because he was inspired by Sockbaby. Nice dude.
- met a girl who is a producer for Xbox in WA. Another friendly person. Amy was there and we all had a good time chatting. She and Amy shared a "Mid-West Girls" bond.
- sold a lot of Doug's limited Earthworm Jim prints. Sold out of Jim, still had a couple Evil the Cat at the end.

- at the end of the day, we helped Doug pack up and took off for home! Had a great carnitas meal with the folks and bros.

There are many more pictures from our Con experience on Amy's Facebook, too.