Archive for the ‘Interesting Special Effects’ Category

Air Force

07 Jan

Air Force — directed by Howard Hawks.  World War II Story. With many adventures, a B-17 heavy bomber makes its way from California starting on 6 December 1941 to Hawaii, on to Wake, on to Manila, on to Australia, with no sleep for the crew. 2 hours and 2 minutes Black and White 1943.

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Terrific! One of the earliest and one of the best WWII films, it demonstrates Hawks’ ability to create living scenes among actors. Here they are filmed in very close quarters, but the characters, their relations with one another and their environment in the fuselage of the bomber carry the film. Our overall interest is, will the plane end up safely? In the story there are many characters with personality interest but only one character with dramatic interest, and that is John Garfield, who plays a disaffected gunner. Will he come around is the question. Or will he be killed beforehand. On hand for all of this are a bunch of very good young male actors full of pep and ideas: Gig Young and Arthur Kennedy and Garfield and John Ridgeley and Charles Drake and James Brown. Abetted by a remarkable old hand, the one-time Western star, Harry Carey, as the sarge in charge. He is just grand. As is George Tobias as a comic engineer. The movie would be dreadful in the hands of any other director, and it often was, as imitators of its melting pot WWII War story crowded the screen after it. Part of its satisfaction derives from its being filmed by the great James Wong Howe who performs miracles of presentation. The air fights were not filmed by him or directed by Hawks, but they are superbly exciting and startling, and the destruction of the Japanese fleet heading towards Australia is a masterpiece of content and editing, and rightly won the Oscar that year for it. Hawks and Howe capture the sweaty tight tube of a great bomber, afloat like a submarine in another element into which there is virtually no escape. And it captures how the men of that day got along with one another to achieve a common and very worthwhile purpose for those men, for the fighting forces, for the home front, and for the allies: the defeat of the Axis powers.



11 Dec

Hugo — Directed by Martin Scorsese. Drama. An orphaned boy winds the clocks of a huge Paris railway station as he seeks his true parentage. 127 minutes Color 2011.

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Asa Butterworth plays the 12 year-old and hits a homer. His performance is simple and ingratiating, for he lets his impression of his situation carry him, and Martin Scorsese lets Asa’s fine blue eyes carry him the rest. He is mated with another 12-year-old well played by Chloë Grace Moretz. The two of them take us along on their adventures in early 1930s Paris, adventures which are imperiled by the train station guard, a victim de la guerre, played with a crazy Martin Short accent which is supposed to be comic but is not, by Sacha Baron Cohen. The problem with the material lies not with them but with the special effects which clog and over-lengthen their tale. These effects which are 3-D and which at first impress and amaze, fade in power as they supplant the story and the human interest of it. For instance, two of the greatest actors alive, Richard Griffiths and Frances de La Tour (remember them in The History Boys), are sidelined, while the sequences in the towering stacks of a bookshop owned by Christopher Lee displace the narrative with a plot device that could have been handled more briskly another way. Virtuosoism will attack narration every time. For the entire film is manufactured by computer. All we see, save the actors themselves, is fabricated with the doomed magic of an application. It even opens the picture carrying a character moving through a maze, duplicating a famous opening sequence in another Scorsese film of years ago. But these elaborate and highly detailed fabrications steal breath. What first impressed now fails to. The forgotten passages of the huge old station bring us into the power of the secret mischief of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera, but with them the special effects of the station itself eventually cannot compete. The film almost loses heart – but not quite, for the heart is that of Martin Scorsese, and the story is that of the Ben Kingsley character, an old great silent film fantancist/magician/inventor, Georges Méliès, now superannuated and inutile and running a toy store in the train station. We hope our Master Scorsese does not fear to become like this director, outdated, his work lost and forgotten. The old director is restored to praise, and, when I saw it, the audience applauded Hugo, as I did myself. A good whole-family picture.



Swing Time

04 Oct

Swing Time – Directed by George Stevens. Musical. Two dancers and their lovers at cross purposes. 103 minutes Black and White 1936.

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Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of all Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff Hermes Pan, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct The More The Merrier, Woman Of The Year, Shane, and A Place In The Sun and who brings to the picture an angle of vision which unifies it by personalizing the performances. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the essential musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a shadow dance with 24 chorus girls, 12 in black 12 in white, and then dances to a black and white rear shadow projection of himself. Minstrel shows celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers unheard of freedom: that is what is being celebrated here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it. “Never Gonna Dance” is considered to be the greatest dramatic-romantic dance ever filmed, and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields won the Oscar for “The Way You Look Tonight,” and we are also treated to “A Fine Romance,” “Pick Yourself Up And Start All Over Again”. Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers, is liquid itself in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him. The most valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion. What a treat! To actually see for oneself what actually went into these intricate, witty dances! Astaire’s body was a genius. That body made American movie musicals! Excellence upon excellence was his credo, never more so than here.

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The Fountain

31 Jan

The Fountain – directed by Darren Aronofsky – Sci-Fi Science Drama. To save his dying wife a brain surgeon leaps into his past and future incarnations in search of a panacea for her. 96 minutes, color, 2006.

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As in his dreadful Black Swan, we are faced with an essentially adolescent temperament in the director. This does not mean that brilliant results are not produced, but it’s a false brilliance. Darren Aronofsky often uses the same staff on his films. They are all young males, just a gang of clueless neighborhood boys getting together to talk about stuff. Matthew Libatique films most of them, and does so with an imaginative power that is so striking one almost believes the picture might be saying something. Clint Mansell writes music with such justice to it that one is almost convinced the film might have some content. But no. This becomes blatant when one listens to the dialogue, such that the actors are altogether competent, except when they open their mouths and words come out. Aronofsky especially betrays his immaturity in the way he handles Rachel Weisz. Her character’s life hangs in the balance, but she is made to seem a high school sophomore’s wet dream, just a pretty chick – but why should we care about such a vapid thing? Yet on the Extras we see Weisz on the sound stage, and she is clearly a woman who has moxie, wit, readiness, intelligence, and truth, all of which would have made her an ideal heroine to loose, but none of which is in the film itself. This leaves us with Ellen Burstyn, an actress of limited temperament, and Hugh Jackman who is very talented and whose performance carries the picture – to just outside the Five and Dime. Aronofsky intended audience was who? Adolescents? But this is a sci-fi-sci story about a brain surgeon trying to save the life of his brain-tumored wife, and it involves incarnation stories, which take him back to 1500 and a search for The Tree Of Life in South America and a future in which he is meditating Buddhist. The visual effects throughout, for the most part not computer generated, are remarkable, but kids’ stuff. It is a film about soul without a soul. Science Fiction, like computer games, is adolescent escapism. It is always about initiation. But we cannot feel an initiation when the author has never had one. And Aronofsky has never had one.


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