Saturday, May 05, 2007

Revisit: Road To Bali

A Paramount Pictures release 1952

Directed by Hal Walker

Writing credits:
Frank Butler
Hal Kanter
William Morrow
Harry Tugend

Bob Hope & Bing Crosby star as song-and-dance men who find themselves on a tropical island full of treasure - and a beautiful princess that they both fall for.

An extremely self-referrential comedy, Road to Bali isn't so much about the plot as it is the star-power between Crosby and Hope. Like many comedies of the 50's, it's full of topical referrences, winks to the audience, asides, and of course, silly songs. Crosby and Hope make a great team, and even though the film points out it's own lack of substance, the fun that everyone is having on screen seems to translate. A pretty entertaining way to fill ninety minutes; they simply don't make comedies like this anymore.

Review: Spiderman 3

A Sony Pictures release 2007

Directed by Sam Raimi

Writing credits:
Sam Raimi (screenplay)
Ivan Raimi (screenplay)
Alvin Sargent (screenplay)
Stan Lee (Marvel comic book)
Steve Ditko (Marvel comic book)

Six years after 9/11, Spiderman continues to swing on the big screen, keeping New York safe from a slew of spiteful evil-doers. The original Spiderman film, released in May of 2002, was the first true post-9/11 movie. While critics debated whether director Raimi should have kept shots of the fallen towers in the film, audiences connected to Spidey's every-man-with-the-odds-against-him charm, the anti-hero that, like our own country, just wanted to do good for his friendly neighbors but couldn't seem to get the respect he deserved.

Well, now Spiderman has that respect and more - and it seems to have gone to his head. Spiderman 3 is all about Peter Parker's inability to see past the suit, to deal with the 'fame' of being a local hero and the dark forces that drive him to revenge. The film boasts three villians - a feat not since seen in a comic book movie since Batman & Robin - but really it has four, with Parker himself perhaps being the greatest of them all. As he continually pushes the people he loves away, Parker becomes consumed by his own hubris, and that internal struggle is brought to the forefront.

While this may be the logical progression for a franchise that roots itself in the struggles of herodom, unfortunately the film lacks any subtlety that would make this transformation interesting. The characters flail around, guided by that most magical of forces: the hand of the writer. Each moment feels painfully obvious, and fails to take us to any new or spectacular height. It doesn't help that much of the dialogue is stilted in that George Lucas sort of way; look for a trying love scene between Parker and MJ on a bridge that actually brought some of the audience at my screening to hysterics.

But most people don't see these films for the dialogue anyway; its all about watching the webslingler shoot his way across the New York skyline. While some of the CGI moments are momentarily breathtaking, much of the action feels claustrophobic, with shots that are too close up or moving too fast to really even see what's going on. In their most evil form, the villians look overly cartoony and at times it's hard to believe that anything on the screen is even being presented with the illusion of reality at all. I really wish they had waited ten years or so for the technology to improve - it certainly would have helped the Sandman, who looks like a giant clump of digital dust.

My suggestion? See this film on IMAX. It's probably the only way to get the full effect of the action sequences, and it might make the rest of the film seem a bit more palatable as well.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Paris In Pictures: New Wave Visions of the Modern City pt.1

The image seems clear. A giant crane towers over fractured earth; its red steel beams crosscutting sections of a bright blue sky. Thunderous shrieks of metal rubbing against rust permeate the air as the machine slowly turns, moving large pieces of pipe to their desired destination. A group of men in plastic orange suits work feverishly below, setting fire to steel and debating the specifics of their creation. Dump trucks rush past, carrying tons of dirt and rock, leaving trails of dust in their place. Fragments of ground spew forth; everywhere the land is shifted, reshaped, recycled.

The image seems clear, but it is contradictory. It is at once a sign of progress, and of gentrification. Construction and deconstruction. Destruction. We tear down the past to make room for the future. Destroy in the name of creation. The City is no stranger to the effects of modernized men; who, of the belief that ‘newer’ is synonymous with ‘better’, rebuild to reconstitute their surroundings and align them with contemporary modes of thought.

But what effects does this modernization have on the people? Where does the simple man fit into this neoteric equation? And who is to say that progress necessitates physical growth?

The French New Wave directors were not quick to dismiss old ideas, nor were they content to celebrate innovation. As post-war Paris experienced its largest development since 1914; as the suburbs began to expand considerably with the construction of large social estates known as cites; as a comprehensive express subway system, the RER, was built to complement the M├ętro and a network of freeways began circling around the city, New Wave directors explored city life with a watchful eye, observant of the profound effects innovation had on its inhabitants.

And perhaps no two directors were more cognizant of this transmuting social climate than Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard. Tati, with his long overcoat and towery frame, seemed ill suited for modern life, uncomfortable in his surroundings as he was within his own skin. More a predecessor than a part of the New Wave, his uncompromising vision and inability to meld into modernity made him an influential figure within the movement, and it is difficult to separate his image from that of la Nouvelle Vague. Likewise, Godard, the figurehead and an inscrutable insurgent, proposed radical explorations of humanity and social order. His films question the commonality of the human experience, and prompt viewers to re-evaluate the significance, practice, and capacity of culture.

For both directors, the devastating effects of modern times proved fertile ground for thematic exploration across multiple films. However, Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958) and Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) are their respective seminal works on the subject. While they were made almost ten years apart from each other, both films present representations of the modernization and physical growth of Paris. Both filmmakers use intertexts to comment upon this rapid expansion: Godard through semiotics and the written word, Tati through the modes of silent comedy.

However, beneath these intertexts lies each director's comprehensive knowledge and technical abilities to make full use of the malleability of the film image. It becomes necessary, then, to explore these two films specifically as representations of a ‘modern’ Paris and how these representations relate to the flexibility and sculpture-like qualities of the cinematic image.