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The 'Three Colours' Trilogy (BFI Modern Classics)
The 'Three Colours' Trilogy (BFI Modern Classics)
by Geoff Andrew
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.95
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Three colours: grey, May 27, 2002
Even at the time of its release (1993-94), Kieslowski's 'Three Colours' trilogy (in which the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity embodied in the French flag are ironically applied to such dilemmas in modern life as grief, communication in a media-saturated culture and post-communist capitalism) was seen as the last gasp of a 'world cinema' auteur tradition that had flourished in the 1950s and 60s, but had become virtually moribund by the 1980s. At the time, however, reviews were mixed: some critics were in raptures at the rare, spiritual power of these films, treasuring their exploration of inner lives, and holding them as a Fine Art stick with which to beat the commercial inanities of modern Hollywood; others decried Kieslowski's rejection of a political cinema, his retreat into a self-indulgent, decorative, bourgeois-currying aesthetic of the individual.
Geoff Andrew was, from the start, one of Kieslowski's most ardent acolytes, but his study of the trilogy is wholly inadequate as an analysis of Kieslowski's complex art. Film editor for listings rag Time Out, Andrew doesn't progress beyond the insights offered in original newspaper/magazine reviews, and his prose is littered with the kind of quotable hyperbole designed for snipping from articles and pasting on blurbs and posters: 'an extraordinarily affecting triptych', 'deft black comedy', 'Kieslowski's greatest achievement'. The whole point of this BFI Classics/Modern Classics series was surely to go beyond the platitudes of contemporary opinion, and put the works in some kind of context or framework.
Andrew's study is the kind of bland, untheoretical fanzine that used to pass for film criticism in the 60s - the films are treated as simply the poetic inspirations of a great auteur. There is no attempt, for instance, to see how issues such as finance might affect certain aesthetic decisions (casting, location etc.), or what the contributions of other personnel might be. Kieslowski's intellectual and cultural heritage as a Pole, a reader and a film-maker is ignored as if he was a singular genius who emanated from the ether, untouched by environment, circumstance or influence.
After a brief sketch of Kieslowski's pre-'Three Colours' career (which is extraordinarily reduced to the level of films anticipating the trilogy, rather than major works in their own right), the 'analyses' of the 3 movies are actually mere synopses, while the 'critical' chapters, charting thematic and formal connections, and links with Kieslowski's previous features, never gets beyond mere listing, never coheres into anything resembling an interpretation. The density of these playful, ambiguous, deeply ironic films is reduced to the trite, touchy-feely Disneyesque message 'Love conquers all'. Worse, the films themselves are discussed as if they were mere screenplays, in terms of plot and character, as if they were books; anyone who has seen a Kieslowski picture will know that these are the least interesting elements (or, at least, that they are undermined by various formal and narrative procedures), and to properly interpet Kieslowski, a detailed, informed account of his style is needed. On the DVDs of the films there are interviews with his editor Jacques Witta, and masterclasses from Kieslowski. These interviews show how profoundly meaning derived not from plot or character, but from complex decisions about editing, timing, rhythm, colour, texture, framing, sound etc., about how material that was shot but didn't work in the editing suite could be abandoned or rearranged. Anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of these elusive films would do better to skip this book and get the DVDs instead.

The Shooting Star (The Adventures of Tintin)
The Shooting Star (The Adventures of Tintin)
by Herge
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.03
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Herge's wartime Swiftian satire., May 27, 2002
After a string of stories loosely based on mystery/crime plots, 'The Shooting Star' initiates the formula that would become fairly standard in the Tintin books to come: the science-fiction adventure, a kind of modernist Jules Verne. A huge meteorite flying past earth splinters a large fragment which lands near the North Pole. Containing a new metal called phostlite, named after the astronomer who detected it, Tintin and Snowy join an expedition of world-class scientists to lay claim to the rock, in a ship captained by one Haddock, now unlikely President of the Society for Sober Sailors (despite smuggling crates of whiskey for the journey). Their quest, however, is pre-empted by another expedition, financed by crooked Sao Rico banker, cigar-chomping (anti-Semitic caricature?), Bohlwinkel.
The first dozen pages of 'Star' are unequalled in literature for sustaining a nightmare mood of unaccountable suspense and anxiety (appropriate given the Occupation context [1941] in which the story was written). The meteor is introduced as both a speedily growing incandescence in the night sky, and by a melting heat afflicting the usually drizzly Brussels, the tar on the roads melting, armies of rats fleeing the gutter, car-tyres popping and mad prophets pronouncing millenarian judgements. The spangled blackness of the sky is offset by the dreamlike twilight blue that illuminates the streets. When Tintin rushes to the observatory, he finds the spanking, steely modern technology run by an eccentric gaggle of Dickensian relics, all black frock-coated dodderers, running around in the vicious circles of their own self-absorption, headed by the appropriately-named, anvil-headed Phostle. When he encourages Tintin to look into the giant, cannon-priapic telescope for himself, he sees a colossal spider heading towards the planet.
No work could keep up that sweat-making momentum, and Herge wisely lets the narrative dip, mixing comedy (including Haddock's pathetic attempts to sneak a nagan, Snowy's incessant raids on the kitchen, and the sight of the world's finest minds keeling over in green-faced sea-sickness) with race-against-the-clock suspense as our heroes strive to reach the meteor, despite various chilling sabotage attempts by their rivals. The meteor itself is a creation worthy of Swift, soon erasing memories of 'The Black Island'. The affirmative faith in science that propels the action is undermined by the instabilities of the sinking meteor, with its magnified lifeforms (including flies and spiders) and exploding toadstools (among the book's many great visual effects, the best is possibly the shrinking in successive frames of our hero as the mushroom enlarges). The massive apples that knock Tintin on the head may be an ironic allusion to the great Enlightenment hero Newton, who could be said to usher in modern science, and the famous fruit in the Garden of Eden (like Adam, or Columbus, Tintin explores virgin land), a warning against the dangers of pursusing too much knowledge (earlier predicted by the decline into madness of the scientist Philippus); nature will always fight back, in ever more aggressive and distorted forms.

No Title Available

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can actually feel your heart lifting as you watch it., May 24, 2002
'Red' is the most magical of the 'Three Colours' trilogy, one in which metamorphosis or spiritual transformation is central. 'Blue' and 'White' could never be confused with social realism, but both were true to the inner, poetic reality of their protagonists. This isn't the case with 'Red' - none of its four main characters can be said to dominate the film: although there is definitely a controlling consciousness, it's not clear whose it is. As always with Kieslowski, the film's first sequence sets out its strategies in miniature. On an unexceptial Genevan (NOT Parisian!) street, the camera picks out one character and his dog, abandons them to peer into the bedroom of its heroine, Valentine, a student and model with a jealous boyfriend we hear but never see, who is working in England. Despite the technical virtuosity of this one-shot sequence, this opening could be considered realistic: we are introduced to characters and their environment. But there are two details that work against this. The heroine lives above a cafe called Chez Joseph, which also happens to be the name of the film's anti-hero, the misanthropic ex-judge Kern, who eavesdrops on his neighbour's telephone conversations by radio. This is only the first of the film's many patterned coincidences which take us out of psychological realism into a different kind of storytelling (the cafe sign is in red which will similarly, anti-realistically, be splashed throughout the film).
The second detail is that the heroine is not introduced by her self, in person, but by her voice on the answering machine. Immediately we have a split within selves, between the present and the absent, that proliferates in this film of doubles, shadows and correspondances. Not only do characters mirror others, but individual characters see their identities diffused through different media (telephones, photographs, newspapers, TV, radio etc.), means of mechanical reproduction which assume a fetishstic or spiritual power. Despite its apparent realism, then, 'Red' is a work of magic or fantasy. When Valentine first enters Kern's dark, dank bungalow (a modern Plato's cave), having run over his dog, the camera takes on the sinister point-of-view familiar from slasher films, while the bleeping radio sounds announcing the judge seem like the laboratory appurtenances of a mad professor. In the second, more important meeting, the fact that Valentine is crossing thresholds into a magic realm is doubly signalled. The gate and dooorway is guarded by the mythical dog who brought the pair toghter, by way of a church. Before she enters, a wind suddenly shivers the leaves of a framing tree; later, at the moment we are supposed to hate him for his moral nihilism, Kern summons a blinding epiphany of sunlight. He may be a monster, but in his 'eavesdropping' on others, his making connections between disparate, disorganised lives and his creating consoling fictions in the face of tragedy, Kern is a substitute for both director and viewer. In the figure of the young judge, who seems to exactly replay the older man's life (both of whom are never seen in the same scene), we have that haunting Proustian conflation of past, present and future, the outer world and inner life, that Kieslowski strove for, but didn't quite catch, in 'Blue'.
'Red' is the most sympathetic of all the films in the 'Three Colours' trilogy. Perhaps this is because red is a warmer colour than blue or white. Or because Preisner's score is lusher, almost celebratory, close to Maurice Jarre. Maybe it's because Irene Jacob is a much more open, generous actress than her predecessors - like her name and colour, Valentine seems to irradiate love. Sometimes her innocence is too ideal to be true, and we find ourselves much more drawn to the fascinatingly ambiguous, charismatic, persuasive figure of the judge. Their stagy dialogues could have had the banal quality of Shavian dialectic if it wasn't for the metatextual patterns that cast shadows around the coherence of their words, shadows that make the film at once soul-soaring and unforgivingly bleak - is salvation of the few really worth the deaths of thousands?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2013 9:27 AM PDT

No Title Available

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most under-rated of the 'Three Colours' trilogy., May 24, 2002
'White' is a refreshing improvement on its portentous predecessor 'Blue', a dazzling tragicomedy about an impotent Polish hairdresser, Karol, who is unceremoniously divorced by his Parisian wife, thrown out onto the streets without a sou, a possport or much French. Busking on the Metro, he meets a fellow Pole, the lugubrious Mikolaj, who smuggles him back to their home country. Determined to exact revenge on his wife, Karol begins to trade very profitably on the black market.
Maybe it's because Kieslowski is back in Poland, but 'White' is a much 'lighter' film than its predecessor, not in the sense of insubstantial, but in the director's relaxing the grip of his elaborate style, allowing his effects emanate from his story, his wonderful characters and the Polish landscape overlooking the post-communist embrace of (crooked) Western capitalism. Though still glossy compared to his earlier films, the relentless striving for poetic preciosity that marred 'Blue' is checked. Perhaps the return to Poland allowed Kieslowski to make an authentically East European film, a kind of absurdist shaggy dog story, its black comedy aching with anguish. The almost-ridiculous, little-man clown-hero could have bumbled from Gogol or Kafka (or silent cinema?), rumpled, besuited, a bit roly-poly, self-important despite being victim to a fate with a very sick, humiliating sense of humour - his admiring gaze at one of the film's many pigeons ends with dirt sliming down his shirt, just before a court appearance; the bank teller who cuts his frozen credit card is suitably, bureaucratically, inexorably faceless.
The film's comic tension emerges from the disparity between the character's unintentional individuality, his being made seem eccentric because of the unfortunate things inflicted on him, and others' reaction to him; and his dehumanisation, both comically, as he is smuggled by suitcase to Poland, a devalued commodity fetish, only to be purloined by airport thieves, and, more bleakly, in the hardening of his soul as he becomes more successful at being a capitalist - the ironic message of 'White' seems to be that money and power is the key to sexual potency. Karol's natural self was deemed a social failure, so he has to play a part, even if it risks killing his soul, even if he must play a corpse, become his own ghost though he tries to assert the primacy of his body. His progress is symbolised in the film by the importance of language (translating, interpreting and misunderstanding), with epiphany only possibly with its transcendence in a physical, non-verbal communication, perhaps the human equivalent of what Kieslowski tried to do in his films, reach viewers through pure cinema.
Like 'Blue', and all his films, 'White' is structured around recurring and reconfigured imagery - birds, suitcases, glass, statues, combs, 'lucky' coins, snow etc., - but, again, because they belong to the story's world, rather than being imposed on it by a style, they seem much more effective.
'White' isn't perfect - the plot is damaged by nagging implausibilities, and the film certainly dips in the second half, but that's inevitable after the fleet comic energy preceeding it, swept along by the tango melodies of Zbigniew Preisner's score, a welcome contrast to the bombast of 'Blue', and again more rooted to place. Once again, Kieslowski's irony, his play with viewpoint and fantasy, suggests we don't take his images or plot developments at face value.

No Title Available

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Diminished on the small screen, even on DVD., May 24, 2002
'Three Colours Blue' is one of the most celebrated films we have about grief and the fall-out from family tragedy. Significantly, Kieslowski only briefly and fragmentedly shows us the family life that is lost - the film begins with an inhuman, almost abstract montage of sound and image: underneath a speeding car as loud and fast as an airplane; the viewpoint of a young girl looking out the back window as the motorway tunnel trailing behind morphs into liquid shapes; a roadside stop-off again filmed from below, this time behind an open door, the human agents blocked out or blurred. This is a family already alienated from one another, with less identity than the Fate that hangs over them. Of the two characters whose view we get to share, one is killed off (the girl), the second is a bystanding witness to the car crash that screeches with a shock, but had been prepared for by a tension we could feel, but not understand.
This distance from human interaction in the first sequence sets the pattern for the film as a whole, as Julie comes to terms with her loss, tries to block off the outside world and her past, rejects a lover, discovers unwelcome secrets about her composer husband's private life, and tries to destroy the music that she may have written. The film's tremulous tension derives from two conflicting narrative strategies - on the one hand we are kept at a distance from the heroine; on the other, everything we see is what she focuses on - we are literally (claustrophobically) in her head. Distance is maintained, not only by Juliette Binoche's very private, often expressionless performance, but by a mise-en-scene that keeps blocking her off from us, framing her through glass or decor, catching her in a staggered perspective of frames-within-frames. Like the characters, we fail to comprehend what she's thinking (the central enigma - did she write her husband's music - and how she understands it, obviously limits our experience of her mindset), not helped by a story that emphasises privileged, pregnant, obscure moments rather than a coherent narrative. But it is in those moments that we share Julie's sensibility - the blue filter that bathes the entire film; the breaches in editing rhythm (especially the slightly bathetic Godardian fades to black within shots to underline 'significant' moments); the optical tricks (from her first appearance in the film, simply a quavering eye reflecting a doctor informing her of the tragedy, to various patterns, distortions and blurs imposed on the frame); to the relentless close-ups on seemingly insignificant objects that are subject to Julie's intense attention; to the blaring of music and the heightening of ambient sound; to the distension of narrative time, wholly subordinated to subjectivity.As is approprate for a film about a composer, 'Blue' is patterned according to various thematic and visual motifs that recur, develop and transform throughout the work (for instance, the TV watched in disparate rooms; or the many women of varying ages and classes; or the use of the colour blue itself).
When these films first came out, I was a fervid teenager eagerly awaiting Kieslowski's visions like Moses on Mount Sinai. Now, I find something a little spurious about 'Blue', something synthetic and academic (this may have something to do with the DVD transfer - Kieslowski's sensual-spiritual aesthetic doesn't translate well to digital), as if the extraordinary technical command, virtuosic style and narrative euphoria utilised by the director is somehow a mannered evasion of true feeling. In fairness, he does leave open the possibility that the entire film is a hospital hallucination (those framing extreme close-ups of Julie's eyes), and surely I am not alone in finding her lovemaking behind glass closer to Dante than harmony. In the DVD available in Britain, respected 'Cahiers Du Cinema' critic Serge Toubiana compares the famous last montage of this film to 'The Passion Of Joan Of Arc'. It is certainly striking (if bombastic), but I don't think so; 'Blue' is to Dreyer what Plexiglas is to granite. It has all the hollow momentousness of a concerto specially composed for the Unification of Europe.

Eisenstein: The Sound Years (Ivan the Terrible Parts 1 & 2 / Alexander Nevsky) (The Criterion Collection)
Eisenstein: The Sound Years (Ivan the Terrible Parts 1 & 2 / Alexander Nevsky) (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Nikolai Cherkasov
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $49.99
16 used & new from $45.89

14 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Awezzzome., May 22, 2002
'Ivan The Terrible', the story of the first true Russian tsar, is Eisenstein's most theatrical film - with a couple of brief exceptions, every scene takes place indoors, with the theatrical space and decor hanging turgidly over the dehumanised human action. Long rhetorical speeches are performed by actors with grotesquely stylised movements and poses, oritund declamation and popping eyes. Whispering consists of shouting in crowded, silent halls. This already static film (which seems closer to Shakespeare's history plays and Russian opera like 'Boris Godunov' than cinema) often petrifies into interminable tableaux. All this barnstorming and grandstanding seems more Victorian than we'd expect from a modernist master. It's all thematically relevant of course - like Shakespeare, Eisenstein is concerned to analyse the politicking, the construction of symbolism and myth behind apparently 'natural' official pomp. If this is a Shakespeare history play, though, it's more 'Richard II' than 'Henry IV', a talkative, humorless pageant (with the exception of one bizarrely homoerotic scene in a chessboard-tiled throne-room, where a traitor unsheathes his sword for the Polish King, who fondles and returns it for a kiss).
'Part 2' is famous for having two reels shot in colour, but their quality is over-rated; shot in seeping orange and neon blue, their drunken revels aren't exactly 'An American In Paris', and having convicingly created a 16th century world with compositions that echo carved woodcuts, tapestries, paintings etc. the move into more modern, 'abstract' colour is an unsatisfying shock. Motifs that worked brilliantly in monochrome - the swans, the disapproving religious murals, the black cowls of the priests - lose all their definition and impact in colour, and to regain its power and suspense, the film has to return to black and white.
For a confirmed classic of World Cinema, 'Terrible' is an easy film to dislike, and even mock (you have to see some of these beards). With the exception of a couple of crowd-scenes recalling the montage-frenzy of earlier classics like 'Battleship Potemkin' or 'October', this slow film depends for its dynamics too often on Prokofiev's amazing score, with its mixture of pastiche and commentary, scuttling action and brooding menace, even wistful emotion - this music is perhaps irretrievably lost judging by the poor soundtrack on this otherwise essential DVD set.
'Alexander Nevsky' opens brilliantly on a plain of warrior skeletons, but as the film continues, you understand that the idea is less the futility of war than the futility of invading Russia. The oppressive stench of propaganda - the film, made in a period when Hitler was expanding eastwards in the search for Living Space, shows 13th century Rus discarding internal struggles, uniting under a saintly, strong leader, and defeating the bucket-visored Huns (as allegories go, it's not exactly subtle) - is not the only reason to baulk at this unlovely film. Like 'Ivan', it is faithful not just to the historical look of its period (costumes, buildings, language [here translated into the silliest cod medieval Yoda-speak], but its representational modes also, in this case the Scandanavian warrior sagas, with their formal speeches and boasts, their breaks for chants, marches and laments, their insistence on lineage etc. After the relentless interiority of 'Ivan', the sunny outdoors of 'Nevsky' is a great relef, but Eisenstein's narrative still proceeds by an accumulation of static, exhaustingly 'awesome' tableaux, in the rather tedious manner of late Kurosawa. The battle-sequence itself offers intriguing tensions, balancing a view of combat as a graceless mass squabble with individual feats of heroism - the result is ridiculous and endless. Individual scenes are staged with magnificent power, especially the massacre of Russian villages, the Huns burning babies while scaffolds loom in the smoke and humiliated prisoners litter the square. The pre-battle sequence is a remarkable feat of logistics, geometry and space, the two armies dehumanised as ominous lines on a vast landscape. There is a marvellously funny shot that seems like a parody of 'Lawrence Of Arabia' a quarter-century before it was even made, as two riders emerge from dots in the snowy wastes, racing towards the camera, only for one to slip on the ice!Unlike 'Ivan', the irritating lead performance is marginal and emblematic; once again, Prokofiev's multi-layered score is the film's saving grace.

3:10 to Yuma
3:10 to Yuma
DVD ~ Felicia Farr
Price: $9.66
66 used & new from $0.49

131 of 136 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From a time when men had to prove they were men., May 22, 2002
This review is from: 3:10 to Yuma (DVD)
'3:10 To Yuma' is a stark monochrome Western that has been praised for its suspense and high moral tone. Van Heflin, in a darker variant on his role in 'Shane', plays a character who picks up where most Westerns leave off. The genre is usually concerned with taming wild loners or men with pasts. rewarding them with the joys of civilisation. Heflin has seen what civilisation really means. He lives on a drought-dry farm with a wife and two children he often fails to feed. The grind of fruitless labour has worn them all down, and Heflin's identity as a man, having been once the greatest shot in these parts, is now undermined by humiliation in front of his family by outlaws stealing his cattle and horses, or forced to beg money from indifferent acquaintances. His wife can't understand that his inability to 'be' a 'man' is the result of the civilisation she represents.
What's a poor honest farmer to do when he sees murderers and thieves throwing money around, drinking their fill, bedding beautiful strangers, and generally living the whooping-it-up life? Glenn Ford is the not-completely-irredeemable leader of a gang of devoted sadists so feared throughout the region that no lawman dares touch him. Such men are usually let down by their sexual desire, and when he leaves his gang to schmooze a barmaid, he is captured by the locals. Knowing that they will be no match for the manpower or ruthlessness of the gang when they return to rescue Ford, the sheriff plans a decoy, which will need two foolishly brave men to take the bandit to the train station at Contention City. The initally reluctant Heflin accepts the job when a farm-saving reward of $200 is offered.
In many ways, 'Yuma' works against the conventions of the Western as it seeks, like the hero to avoid action and the inevitable climactic shoot-out for as long as possible. The film's centre-piece is a lengthy, stagy sequence in a hotel room in which Heflin holds Ford prisoner - potential ponderousness is offset by the terrific acting of the two aging actors, one goading and testing the other, tempting with crooked offers that are all too tempting; the other struggling manfully to resist. At first, Heflin's taking the job is strictly economical - he needs the money. Then it becomes ethical, a stand against socially disruptive forces threatening the community. It is also a test of the masculinity that has long been buried by family duties. Finally, it is an existential struggle, with Ford as the man Heflin could easily become (and perhaps once was?), and his men as the instruments of inexorable Fate the farmer must face and outwit on his own, stripped of support, just as Man must eventually face Death.
The film's mise-en-scene is suitably austere, the black-and-white cinematography emphasising sharp contrasts, the alienating outlines of buildings and landscapes, and the vulnerable men and women who walk through them - sometimes watching 'Yuma' is like leafing slowly through an album of stark 19th century photographs taken of the West. The 'city' in which the film is mostly played out initially seems like a ghost town, and a surreal funeral sequence interrupting, or accentuating, the tension, gives a quality of dream. Delmer Daves' direction is not self-effacing - every shot is meticulously, often heavily composed, character patterns structured in frames creating a sense of constriction and claustrophobia that serves to turn the plot's screws. What saves the film from being just another superfical 'High Noon' 'allegory' is the sudden bursts of violence rupturing the tense silence, and the ultimate refusal to wholeheartedly embrace doom-and-gloom existentialism.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2013 3:47 PM PDT

Bangkok Dangerous
Bangkok Dangerous
DVD ~ Pawarith Monkolpisit
Price: $7.99
58 used & new from $0.02

15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't exactly Woo it..., May 22, 2002
This review is from: Bangkok Dangerous (DVD)
Like its deaf protagnoist, 'Bangkok Dangerous' tries to find a way to communicate beyond language. There is very little dialogue in this film designed to elicit adjectives such as 'hyper-kinetic', 'high-octane', 'pulsing' etc. It is a cliche that most modern action films are glorified pop videos; 'Dangerous' plays like a medley of dance videos, a series of 5-minute chunks in which the movement of the editing and lighting is dictated by the rhythms of the techno, giving character movement and the staging of the action a deliberately late-night clubbing effect.
The film has been compared (ridiculously) to John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai, presumably because it is an excessively violent thriller, and tries to salvage romance and poetry from the detritus of urban post-modernism. But it has neither the rhythm, grace or sense of a choreographed whole of the former, or the risk-taking intelligence of the latter. A more accurate comparison might be with the thrillers of Brian de Palma - there is the same laborious, bombastic staging of set-pieces in which characters (including obligatory, vulnerable children) and space are shot from every possible angle in order to telegraph 'suspense'. But the Pang Bros. lack even de Palma's technical nous - they expend so much effort fumbling with complicated montages they forget to pay attention to the basics of framing a shot, and so their craft seems, on this fundamental level, inept.
The film begins well enough with a lavatory murder caught on CCTV, the clean, steely rattle of the gun splicing through the grainy black and white. But it all goes terribly wrong from there, in this tale of two hitmen friends, one a drug-addled wreck after an accident has forced him to retire, the other a sad-eyed deaf-mute who tentatively begins an almost-touching relationship with a beautiful chemists' assistant (this blatant attempt to siphon the neon-charm of Wong Kar-Wai by having an 'offbeat' romance in the middle of a genre piece, at least has the merit of offering an oasis of calm in a desert of head-pelting noise. Although the lead is cute and watchable, his character is fatally ill-conceived (he can write, apparently, but can't lip-read or use sign-language). Preposterous monochrobme flashbacks 'explain' his present situation, while the film's focus on his point-of-view is at odds with the pounding din the film is puffed out with. 'Dangerous' takes itself very seriously in trying to aestheticise this trashy material, but sometimes you wonder if the whole thing isn't just a big joke, especially a fast-forward, pixellated chase through the back alleys of Bangkok (the representation of whose underworld and city atmosphere is disappointingly generic) is pure Keystone Cops. But then you remember a vicious rape sequence shot like a glossy disco promo, and you realise that the joke isn't funny anymore.

Bandit Queen
Bandit Queen
DVD ~ Seema Biswas
17 used & new from $4.65

25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost unwatchable., May 21, 2002
This review is from: Bandit Queen (DVD)
'Bandit Queen' is an arthouse update of the old 70s exploitation movies, in which a relentless focus on female suffering is justified by a pseudo-feminist revenge-plot. Taking us far away from the multi-coloured, song-and-dance Hindi spectaculars that are currently all the global range, Shekhar Kapur shows us an India riven by violence, poverty and a vicious caste system, where women are treated as subhuman. Before she even hits puberty, Phoolan Devi is married off to an older man (dowry: rusty bicycle and old goat) and raped when she expresses dissatisfaction at her social lot. When, some years later, she is nearly raped again by the landowner's son, it is she who is expelled from the community; she takes up with bandits and begins her first true love affair with the atypically sensitive Vikram, de facto leader while Babu Gujjar is in prison. When the latter is released, now turned police informer, he resents the pretensions of this lower-caste woman (called a goddess by her followers), has her gang-raped by all his men, and publicly stripped and humiliated. Having plumbed the lowest depths there are, Devi takes the blood-spattered road of vengeance, turning torture and massacre into a media-fuelled spectacle.
When the director of 'Queen' later went on to make a film about Tudor-era royal conspiracies ('Elizabeth'), many were surprised because of the gaping differences in subject matter, but Kapur imposes his own concerns on the two movies: both feature outsider-women attempting to assert power in rigid male-dominated hierarchies; both emphasise the importance of costume, ritual and public spectacle in these societies, and the necessary reuninciation of sexuality and 'normal' femininity of strong women. In both, the apparently immovable class system represented in heavy buildings and landscape is made fluid and unstable by Kapur's gliding camerawork that seems to make walls melt away.
But whereas 'Elizabeth' was an artistic success, 'Queen' seems to me a manipulative failure. This is mostly due to its reliance on a single source, the prison diaries of Devi, whereas the latter film created a web of conflicting viewpoints and omnipresent sense of surveillance. It is of course right to expose the atrocities embedded in the Indian caste system, and the slavery of women; it is right that a woman denied a voice in her own country (where the film was banned) should be heard. But the catalogue of unspeakable crimes inflicted on Devi has the effect of caricaturing the villains around her, turning her very real plight almost into a cartoon of repetitive violence. There is no nuance of social analysis here; instead the most simplistic behaviouralism - if such-and-such is inflicted on you, you will respond thus - depoliticising Devi's very real social transgression, reducing her to a mere melodramatic heroine, the 'woman wronged'. Having stayed so closely with its heroine and her experiences of abuse, when the film has to distance itself from her violence (which it must to avoid endorsing eye-for-an-eye brutality), it feels like a betrayal. By lingering on her suffering rather than her revenge, the latter is as abrupt, arbitrary and dreamlike as 'Lawrence Of Arabia', the vile murders shot with the same kind of exquisite taste and fussy staging, the political wholly subsumed to the deranged personal. I always get a bit queasy when men direct these kind of pseudo-feminist pictures - more interested in her body than her voice, 'Queen' can only continues the dehumanisation of its so-called heroine.
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My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady
DVD ~ Audrey Hepburn
Offered by Solo Enterprises
Price: $20.00
67 used & new from $0.98

14 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lahverley., May 20, 2002
This review is from: My Fair Lady (DVD)
When cinephiles go to heaven, most will rush straight for the projection room screening the original cuts of 'The Magnificent Ambersons' and 'The Red Badge Of Courage'. Of course, so will I , but first I'll take a peek at the 'restored' version of 'My Fair Lady', the one in which dubmeistress Marni Nixon's blandly functional singing is replaced by Audrey Hepburn's own, her limited, hesitent, fragile voice infinitely more moving and appropriate to her role as Eliza Doolittle, the flowergirl taken from the gutter by the gentleman-phonetician Henry Higgins, who places a bet with fellow linguist Colonel Pickering that he can pass her off as gentry at an Embassy Ball. The true, tantalising joy of this DVD, surpassing anything in the film itself, is its footage of Audrey's audition singing, which was deemed inadequate for the soulless pageant planned by Jack Warner, but now quivering with all the haunted pathos, yearning, grace, wit and rapture of which only Audrey was capable. Although I think it is more defensible thematically and visually than its detractors allow, 'Lady' would still be a mechanical bore were it not for the performance of Audrey. Famously and contentiously, Julie Andrews, the original stage Eliza, was dropped because she wasn't a star name, and even today, many regret that decsion. But 'Lady' moves precisely because it is an Audrey Hepburn picture, one of those duckling-blooming-into-duchess roles essential to her. Andrews may have been broadly convincing as a Cockney guttersnipe, but there is no way she could have pulled off the regal elegance required for part two. Because director Cukor rightly disdains realism, it doesn't matter that Audrey's impersonation of a Cockney is a failure - what matters is that the audience knows the actress is the acme of aristocratic refinement, and is willing to undergo the exquisite torture of seeing those precious features and that precious voice grotesquely distorted for the ephiphanic pleasure of seeing them as if rising from the dead. The fact that Audrey's own beautiful English was inflected by her Dutch background gives her a 'foreigness' that further adds to her alienation. And Andrews could never have captured the sadness or vulnerabilty that lay just beneath Audrey's self-possessed chic, qualities that see Shaw's brittle comedy crack into tragedy - witness her appearance on top of Higgins' stairs on the night of the ball, in off-white and noose-like pearls, descending with all the melancholic majesty of a dying swan, donning a clostral velvet cape as if condemning herself to a nunnery. After the broad pantomime of the Covent Garden sequences and the rollicking celebrations around 'The Rain In Spain', the contrast is almost too much to bear, and Higgins' once hysterical jibes wound like the most brutal of blows.
'Lady' is dismissed by 'serious' film fans as the last lumbering dinosaur of an already fossilised studio system. Certainly, the film is a failure as a musical - I don't believe for a moment the legendary Herme Pan had anything to do with the stillborn choreography; and the the switches from drama to music are ungainly. Any attempt to frame complex shots or even move the camera seem to have been blocked by the heavy decor. Viewed as a George Cukor film, however, and 'Lady' is a triumph. It is a film that insists upon its own rigid artifice and theatricality (brilliantly freezing into anti-illusionistic tableaux, or breaking into undiegetic choral commentary) to recreate a social system in which human beings ossified like mannequins, or mummies in a museum; the construction of all human interaction ('language', class, gender) is meticulously analysed. For all its lavish production values, this is not a film to wallow in - it has a hard, flat, stark, grey, often ugly look. The cold, Higgins-like brilliance of Shaw's only readable play is tempered by the humanising of Eliza, while the cultural milieu from which it sprang is contextualised to add layers of meaning - Holmes is like Sherlock Holmes, an eecentric bachelor genius with slightly dimmer sidekick and loyal housekeeper, who can 'read' the unmanagable city and its inhabitants by (verbal) clues; like a HG Wells mad professor, he uses the latest scientific gadgetry in his 'laboratory' to create a new human being; the relationship between Higgins and Pickering has all the epigrammatic homosociability of Wilde, while the presence of the Transylvanian Queen and predatory males invokes another fellow Irishman, Bram Stoker. In fact, it is only when unalloyed Shaw intrudes - for instance Alfred Doolittle's tiresome paradoxes about 'middle-class morality' - that the film threatens to stall. Perhaps the real subject of the film, cued in the budding flowers of the opening titles, is Eliza's sexuality, potentially deviant and disruptive, and often suspect to accusations of vice, which must be controlled for more 'respectable' barter. She is a kind of wild child, an animalistic savage who must be 'tamed' by benevolent Imperialists like the gentleman scholar and the Raj officer.
Alan Jay Lerner's unfailingly witty book is a vast improvement on the original, and the songs are such a delight that straight filming of the musical would be pleasure enough. Each character and mood has its own type of music - Higgins declaims in Gilbert&Sullivan-type patter-song, especially in those two classes of misogyny 'But Let A woman In Your Life...' and 'Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man'; Alfred's Victorian working-class pub singalongs; Freddie's sappy operetta; and, most treasurably, Eliza's lyric rapture, soaring with 'I Could Hae Danced All Night', curdling into the Grand Guignol of 'Just You Wait, 'enry 'iggins', in which she fantasises murdering her tormentor.

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