Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 is the year I learn to watch movies.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, and I don’t ever really write about movies, but it’s a new year, so I figured I'd try it out.  Maybe we can make a thing of it.
These are the movies I’ve watched this past week:

Spider-Man (2002) Sam Raimi

I remember when this came out, I think I was a sophomore in High School.  I remember watching that Marvel logo come up and being already excited, and when the movie finally got started after that very long animated credits sequence, I was thinking “I’ve been waiting for almost ten years to see this movie.”  This movie was pretty important to me as a young superhero comics reader, and it holds up pretty well.  

Superhero movies have become so serious and self-important lately, and this one was a lot of goofy fun.  It’s an origin story of course, so it drags a bit since we all know how this one turns out, but it always seems like everyone involved is having a good time.  Willem Dafoe in particular looks like he’s having a great time, camping up that Norman Osborn/Green Goblin performance.  

What struck me with this viewing was how similar it felt to one of those old Stan Lee / John Romita-era Spider-Man comics, most especially with that voice-over narration that Tobey Maguire has running through the movie.  All that voice over just had the feel of Stan Lee’s narration in those old comics, and those exaggerated performances from Dafoe and J.K. Simmons (forever known to me as that guy who was J. Jonah Jameson) give Spider-Man some memorable silver age comicbook-style bad guys.  There’s a part where Norman Osborn, in full Green Goblin armor, disguises himself as an old lady with a shawl to trick Spider-Man into fighting him in a burning building, something I’m betting Christopher Nolan never even considered suggesting to Heath Ledger on the set of The Dark Knight.

Hannibal (2001) Ridley Scott

Tessa and I have been watching the Hannibal TV Series and we love it, so we figured we’d watch some Hannibal Lecter movies to tide us over until the new season starts up.  I saw this one in a hotel somewhere or something like that years ago, but not much of it stuck with me, and probably with good reason-- this is not a very good movie.  Most of it is really surprisingly boring stuff.  You can see that a situation is supposed to be tense, but you just sort of don’t really care, and I’m not sure who’s to blame for that.  I like most of this cast, but this movie just didn’t work with them.  Ridley Scott uses this weird blurry camera effect for no apparent reason, Gary Oldman’s weird revenge plot just seems really silly, it feels like this movie was just sort of thrown together and no one really gave a shit how it turned out.

Manhunter (1986) Michael Mann

Now this one’s more like it.  Hannibal’s not as huge a part of this one, but Brian Cox’s take on the character is pretty memorable in that it comes before the world sort of linked Anthony Hopkins to that role.  I like Cox’s performance as this sort of caged animal.  Hopkins plays Hannibal as a charming intellectual, but Cox played him like a brooding killing machine pacing around his cage, always planning out his next move.  Less charming than Hopkins, but Cox has this great sense of power and strength just waiting to be unleashed.  He’s a threat that’s always lurking in this movie.

Tom Noonan as Francis Dolarhyde is excellent too.  He’s so good at balancing the tension between the frailties of this damaged man and the deranged violence that he commits.  There’s this unpredictability about him, like at any moment that skinny 6’5 frame could just reach out and smother someone.  All of these characters move with such purpose, so it makes it easy to get pretty wrapped up in all of that procedural FBI stuff.

I think my favorite thing about this movie is the atmosphere that Michael Mann creates.  Tessa said something like “Michael Mann really makes me want to go to places I have absolutely no interest in visiting,” and I think she’s right.  This movie’s got those Michael Mann neon colors that are simultaneously attracting your gaze and making the dark look darker.  The opening scene where we see Mr. and Mrs. Leeds waking up in bed from the killer’s perspective is such a good mix of confusion, tension, and suspense.  Plus, that soundtrack cannot be beat.

Only God Forgives (2013) Nicolas Winding Refn

This one’s the only one of the movies on this list that I hadn’t seen before.  I think I heard this one got booed at Cannes, which is really funny to me.  I didn’t get around to seeing this when it came out, but I remember it being pretty polarizing?  Well, at least among people I’d heard talking about it.  I get the sense that Nicolas Winding Refn is far more concerned about visuals and style than he is about complex plots or characters, and I think that’s fine, so for the most part this movie worked for me.  I say “for the most part” because the other parts of the movie, plot and characters, were things I just didn’t much care for.  Everything just felt a little bit thin.  We get an idea of what these characters want (it’s either revenge or justice), but there just seems to be a lack of, I don’t know, nuance?  We’re told they want something, but none of these characters feel like they really need it.  It feels like they can take it or leave it.   Nobody really cares. They all come off flat since we don’t really know so much about who these people are to begin with.  There’s super sword cop, evil mom, and Gosling playing pretty much the same handsome psychopath from Drive as far as I can tell, and Winding Refn just sort of winds them up and lets them violently plod along on the way to their eventual confrontations.  There’s not much of a challenge here plot-wise, but that’s fine. I guess this movie isn't worried about it.  

Where this movie excels is in color and style.  It’s got those Michael Mann-esque neon city lights that I enjoy, and I loved the sort of refrain of seeing super sword cop sing a song in his favorite karaoke joint.  Every scene seemed to have a dominant color, and I’m not sure I know how to properly speak about the use of color in movies, but it definitely made it visually compelling, like every scene you’re looking at was set in this beautiful, highly stylized world.  Did NWR and Gosling just make this movie to take a trip to Thailand together?  There are worse reasons for movies getting made, I guess.

Oh actually, here’s something I just thought of: the sword wielding cop character works as a pretty nice subversion of white savior expectations that come with having Gosling surrounded by a bunch of Thai people.  It’s cool to see white people as bad guys in an Asian country getting taken down by one Thai super cop.  Just thinking out loud here.  I’m sure someone more well-versed in talking imperialism would have a better, more serious take on this.

Man, I don't know, I might like this movie more than I think, but I'm not sure I want to?

Alright, so those are this week's movies.  Hopefully I’ll get better at talking about movies.  I’ll try to keep it going when I can.

1 comment:

  1. I recently watched Only God Forgives as well, and I hated it. I almost felt embarrassed to watch it. The evil mom character was so unnecessarily repugnant, that it put me off from basically the entire movie. The one thing about the movie that I absolutely loved was the soundtrack. Cliff Martinez knows how to create an atmosphere. The song "Wanna Fight" from the scene where gosling and the police officer box was basically all I wanted the Tron: Legacy soundtrack to be but somehow even more fulfilling. I will say that I loved that scene with the cuts between Gosling getting the crap kicked out of him and the muay thai fighter statue just standing there as the personification of justice.

    I always wondered if Willem Dafoe had extra make-up or prosthetics attached to his face to look like the Green Goblin, but it seems like he did not.