Bridge of Spies (2015)

He's behind you, Forrest.
He’s behind you, Forrest.

It’s hard to believe Spielberg will have to stop making movies at some point in the next 20-30 years, for, you know, biological reasons. It’s hard to believe because he’s still churning out stuff like this.

Apart from a stunning U2 bomber crash sequence, Bridge of Spies is a triumph of quiet tension. It’s a tension that always threatens to boil over at any moment, like the very best Cold War flicks. It’s a tension that is there in every glance, every unspoken word, every shadow on the street. It’s a tension that only the very best director could contain and depict.

The only let-down of this film, and this is a very tiny let-down, is that I felt some of the cinematography was a little trite. Let me get this clear, 98% of Kaminski’s work is utter brilliance, as per normal. But I feel like some of the shots may have been overdone somewhat. My viewing companion mentioned lens flare on par with Abrams, and while I probably wouldn’t go that far, some of the lighting was way off.

Spielberg always has a knack of mixing very familiar faces with several unknowns, or at least somewhat-knowns. Hanks is typically amazing, even when his role threatened to tip into Charlie Wilson territory. The casting of Rylance as his foil, however, was genius. Rylance is probably known to a few cinephiles that are even more dedicated than I, but I wasn’t able to remember his face from anything. On looking him up, I see he’s a lauded stage actor, which doesn’t surprise. The delicacy of his role — as a proven traitor to the USA — is handled with great deftness and humanity. And the supporting cast — Alda, Koch, Shepherd, Matthews — feel right and natural, even if (or probably because) they’re pretty much typecast.

Overall, Bridge of Spies is up there with Spielberg’s best. Can’t wait for the bluray special features.

[cross-posted from Letterboxd]

Whiplash (2014)

"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'Good job'."
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good job’.”

Richard Brody didn’t like Whiplash (2014).

That’s fine. Critics, of all people, are certainly entitled to their opinion. And Richard Brody is by no means an unqualified critic. What Brody’s done here, though, is fundamentally misunderstand the thrust of the film he’s critiquing. It’s a trap that a great many critics fall into: thinking the film is about one thing, when it’s actually about something else, or a bunch of other things.

‘The movie’s very idea of jazz,’ writes Brody, ‘is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature.’ It certainly would be, if this was a film about jazz, rather than a jazz film.

What on earth is a jazz film? Damn fine question. The notion came to me in one of the earlier scenes in Damien Chazelle’s film. Miles Teller’s Andrew leaves the Conservatory, heading home after thinking he’s failed to make the cut for the concert band. Amid the standard cutting of Andrew walking the streets between his school and his home, random shots show street lamps, illuminated windows, signage, traffic. This isn’t a standard contextualising montage between scenes – these are random shots interspersed with the character-centric frames.

This random approach to cinematography and editing persists throughout the film – take the phenomenal final shots which obscure the subjects’ faces, and not the parts a cinematographer would normally mask.

So while perhaps Chazelle is not glorifying jazz, the learning of music, or education more broadly, he is certainly contributing a jazz sensibility to the craft of cinema.

Billy Crystal is quoted as saying ‘That’s the thing about jazz; it’s free-flowing, it comes from your soul.’ This idea works for Whiplash: not only is the flow of images free, but they all feel as though they came from some deep place.

This is particularly appropriate given that this is not a film about music, or education, or history, or culture. This is a film about the systematic manipulation and mangled reconstruction of one soul by another.

Whiplash is a staggering film, that I’ll struggle to get over. It’s a stellar character piece, and I feel that the claustrophobic intimacy of its dark story will haunt cinema for some years to come.

The 10th Victim (1965)

Don't worry, Marcello, I'm just as confused as you are.
Don’t worry, Marcello, I’m just as confused as you are.

I found The 10th Victim on Letterboxd. I’m not sure exactly how it emerged in my field of view, but probably some crazy collision of Blade Runner, The Hunger Games, and 8 1/2. Regardless, I ordered the Bluray, then settled in for an evening of messed-up Italian future-noir.

It took me a few runs at it, but I made it through. It’s not the easiest watch. Petri treads the line between noir, drama, and utter camp, and sometimes his editing lets him down as far as pacing goes. That said, his cinematographer does an amazing job to frame a very specifically production-designed future. The little touches like the yellow backlit back door on the Hunt Club, and the transparent phone box, and Marcello’s fantastic clear-topped car — these top off a perfectly-realised future-world more accurately than any leather-clad Jennifer Lawrence.

The influence of this film is clear: from Ursula’s bra-guns that no doubt inspired Austin Powers’ fembots, to the competition itself, which finds echoes in The Hunger Games and Maze Runner. Overall it’s worth a look, if only for Mastroianni’s calm and deliberate persona.

[cross-posted from Letterboxd]

A day of catching up

Not exactly emptying the Netflix queue, or making a dent in the Letterboxd watchlist, but still productive, I think. I also half-watched Mad Max: The Road Warrior and A Year In Champagne, which I’ll try to knock over by the end of the week.

Primer (2004)

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this film. I didn’t quite get it. But I really think that’s exactly the point. The dialogue is so obscure, so layered, so full of scientific jargon, but not at all in a deliberate, dramatic-concealment kind of way. If two dudes stumbled across time travel in a garage, I pretty much think this is how things would turn out. Give or take. I’ll let you know when I watch the film earlier tomorrow.

Seven Days in May (1964)

I expected something of a Cold War countdown, similar to Fail Safe, or its comic attache, Dr Strangelove. Instead I got a tensely-wound political thriller, quite simply detailed despite its tentacle-like story threads. Lancaster and March hold this up — and I say this in spite of the presence of Martin Balsam and Edmond O’Brien in supporting roles.

What struck me most of all today (and you may be sensing a pattern today) is the cinematography. The framing in some of the scenes of this film is phenomenal. Some of the editing, on the other hand (I speak for the sequence where Douglas watches Lancaster’s speech) is akin to proper ’70s paranoia films (I’m looking at you, Parallax View).

But this had me hanging, which is an achievement for films of this ilk. [cross-posted from Letterboxd]

Pandora’s Promise (2013)

Just to top off a day of science and paranoia, I finished up with this rather optimistic view of what nuclear power might offer a world aching for a clean and safe source of energy. I enjoyed this, despite its sometimes feeling a little like a Kickstarter promo video. [cross-posted from Letterboxd]