Donnerstag, 24. März 2016

Prisoners (Villeneuve, 2013)

I haven't seen many of Villeneuve's movies, but I really like everything so far. When thinking about Prisoners after a few days, there was a particular scene that somehow kept returning to my memory: When Gyllenhal's character is introduced, sitting alone in Chinese restaurant, not-flirting with the waitress. For some reason this scene struck me as "different".

That gave me the idea to examine all the first appearances of the characters in the movie. (SPOILERS)


KELLER DOVER (Hugh Jackman) - we don't actually see him, we start with a very static shot into the forest. The man is looking into the forest, it is his POV (which we find out quickly). But we can hear him praying, while a deer walks into the frame. When the camera pulls back, a rifle points at the animal. And just after "Amen", a shot is fired. Now, here's a little surprise: Keller, who was doing the praying has his son RALPH (Dylan Minette) shooting the rifle. It's a father-son-hunting-bonding trope. (Jagten has an interesting variation on the subject). While they're driving home, we learn about Keller's job and status, just by looking at the back of his car.

RALPH doesn't get to say much. It's hard to tell if he's looking up or is afraid of his father. He doesn't look rebellious.

ALEX JONES(Paul Dano) is completely off-screen when he appears the first time. There's a POV shot, but we don't know who it is. Actually, we relate to him through the menacing appearance of the van - although the country tune is not the run-of-the-mill "looming danger" track, the lyrics reference religion.

GRACE DOVER (Maria Bello) and her daughter ANNA (Erin Gerasimovich) are introduced with an out-of-focus shot through the windshield, suggesting death or religion. Also, quite remarkable - it's the POV from an invisible driver inside the car - it might want to show that Anna likes to get into cars. Also, the mother 'forgets the cake' and has to call on the others to 'wait for her' - she's not running the show.

NANCY BIRCH (Viola Davis) opens the door to the Dovers arriving, although the first brief shot we see her from the back, walking towards the front door. It shows a friendly middle-class home with all the gadgets that go with that.  Her husband FRANKLIN (Terrence Howard) merrily greets the children in the living room, holding a glass of white wine with the TV showing a football game. It doesn't get more middle class than this. I remember that when I watched this, I was wondering if there might be a theme about racial discrimination coming up somewhere. It doesn't - I got caught in my own film clichés. ELISA (Zoe Saul), the elder daughter is only quickly introduced (from the back), coming into the living room, just as briefly as her sister, Joy (from the back).

JOY BIRCH, the younger daughter, is clearly visible on-screen, when the two girls run walk down the street. The camera pulls back to reveal the van, like the rifle in the opening shot.

DET. LOKI (Jake Gyllenhal) sits in an empty Chinese restaurant, eating his dinner. Again, this character is introduced with dollying in from the back. When we reveal his face, he chats to the waitress about Chinese astrology. It looks like he's hitting on her, but he seems to be more interested in studying his napkin and getting the bill lowered. Even when the woman walks away he continues talking. This man is a weirdo. Still not quite sure, how this scene is to be interpreted inside the story, but it definitively stayed with me the longest. There seems to be a connection to religious motives - the prayer and the cross with the Dovers, and the Thanksgiving with the Birches, in contrast to Loki's name, his Freemason ring, and his casual interest in Chinese astrology.

ALEX is re-introduced on-screen. Again this is a shot from inside the car. The framing, the sound and the outview have been seen before: He is looking at a forest, like Keller did in the opening. He is inside a car, looking out - like we saw Anna appear. The framing is exactly like the shot seconds before of Loki talking on his radio.


HOLLY JONES (Melissa Leo) comes out the door, holding her dog in her arms, while Loki is looking at her cars. Her first reaction to his trespassing is mentioning her husband, who's dead. So she's a widow first, and definitively not the scared mother.

CAPT. MALLEY (Wayne Duvall) is glued behind his desk in front of a wall of diplomas. I don't think he ever gets out of that chair in all subsequent appearances.

Up to Alex' second introduction I really liked the introduction of the characters, the Birch's are lumped up in one scene, whereas the Dover's are laid out in mother-daughter and father-son groups. Later, it was decided that we don't need Holly carefully introduced (she is a major character) - or maybe it just ended up on the cutting floor.

Amazing location and shot

Dienstag, 16. Dezember 2014

007 Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965)

Bad guy steals atom bombs and hides them close to a seaside resort. James Bond saves the day and every woman from virginity.

This shot was used a couple of times.
After not having watched this in a long time I was amazed at how strange the 60's Bond comes across. For my taste, the Bonnery character is just a bit too plump verbally in his predatory attacks on just any woman he encounters. Many of the quips that must have been hilarious during the day come across as quite dumb now - even when looking at it as a period piece.... but who knows what the socially accepted standards were 1965 for the mating dance in England? Still it is an enjoyable movie - the villain is straightforward evil, the girls are beautiful, smart and opportunistic and the men are sex- and power-hungry (and quite stupid). The world of James Bond.

The final battle scene under-water is still jaw-dropping to watch. Just to set up the scene the director had to solve a load of problems: Orientation and lighting issues, anonymous participants wearing facemasks and hand-to-hand as opposed to group fights. And no dialogue, no quips, just... bubbles.

The battle scene including setup lasts well over ten minutes, which is an eternity in terms of film time. I was wondering how this could have been structured. I couldn't find the screenplay, albeit some rather amusing notes about it here: Notes about violence in the Bond script from 1965 -
So, dissecting the battle into various sequences helped to understand the dramatic structure.

  • Approach (30s): The boat arrives and soldiers parachute into the sea trying to prevent the atom bomb to be delivered by the bad guys. There are some spectacular scenery shots showing the environment.
  • Army Setup (30s): Now we dive into the water with the camera. For this sequence a sense of left-right is established and the good guys wear orange, while the baddies wear black diving suits. 
  • Artillery (15s): First the harpoons are fired from a distance. Some men are immediately killed. This is a classical field war fought by two armies marching towards each other.
  • One on one (30s): The parties engage in man-to-man combat. Spectular group scenes here. The harpoons are used as rifles.
  • Bond enters (30s): After about a third of the battle scene, Bond plunges into the water from a helicopter and disappears into the water. He is easily discernible by a long orange plume coming out of his propelling unit. 
  • Battle scenes (45s): As Bond approaches the battlefield, various on-to-one combats are shown. These are usually two or three edits for a single struggle between combatants.
    Same colors for ongoing "skirmishes"
  • Bond vs. Baddies (30s): Bond fights various baddies, using some creative means of killing them. Realism is lost now, as the baddies die more or less at random (hit by a door etc)
    The higher the clip is on the timeline, the closer the shot is. Lowest lines are wide shots.
  • Trap inside boat (60s): A very long sequence of Bond luring three bad guys into an old ship and trapping them there, while he drops a grenade inbetween them. This is a humorous sequence and has no bearing on the battle whatsoever. It appears in the middle of the scene.
  • Bond vs. Baddies (30s): He kills two or three others.
  • 1vs1 Fights (15s): We focus back on the overall battlefield, showing rather gruesome one-on-one fights with knifes
  • Battle Scenes (45s): More general battle scenes. To be honest, I lost the orientation here a bit. It's a pure killing feast now. 
  • Shark Attack (30s): Another small substory - a shark is attracted by the blood. Good and bad have to cooperate to shoot the creature and divert it. The wounded shark swims away. 
  • Pursue Largo (20s): Largo feels that the battle is lost and tries to get away with two guys. Bond sees him and follows him.
  • Bond vs. Largo (30s): Finally the two get to fight each other directly. By pulling of Bond's goggles, Largo gets the advance he needs to get away.
  • Largo gets away (45s): Largo manages to transport the bomb into the boat. The doors are already shut, when Bond arrives there. Largo seems to have won the race, but Bond holds onto a rudder underwater as the boat drives off.
Viewed as a whole, the Battle scenes that don't fit into the story make up about 5 minutes of the ten. The story is intermittently weaved into the rest of the battle. As a remark I was surprised about how often the same reaction shot of Bond is used again and again. They must have been quite plagued in the editing room the extend the sequence.

Dienstag, 11. November 2014

Shane (George Stevens, 1953)

A former gunfighter on his search for peace has to defend a family of farmers from the gang trying to take their land.

The interesting part of this movie is that the 'bad' guys have quite a strong motive for acting their way. They see their hard-earned paradise endangered by the growing influence from the outside modern world, symbolized by such things as 'the new laws'.

In certain ways their 'nation-building' is a doomed enterprise. The interests of the locals are too different, their backgrounds too diverse as they could form a united party to defend their little piece of heaven.

Even our protagonist is reluctant to pull the trigger. It is only when he adopts the moral values of family life and is threatened – by him as a potential lover for Marian - he starts to take some initiative.

I am reluctant to draw a conclusion about Stevens' (AB Guthrie, the screenwriter) motives behind the story, but couldn't shake the feeling that the film hides a subversive message somewhere.

Time Action Comments
0:00 A glimpse on paradise and Shane arriving.

0:01 Boy aims at a deer when he sees Shane arriving. The farmers live in, but not in harmony with, paradise.
0:03 Shane talks to the kid. Sees the calfs. Meets father, still is quick pull.

0:05 The Ryker's are arriving and the father sends him away.

0:06 Ryker boys are coming. They want to use Joe Starret's land for their cattle. They Shane didn't leave – he seems to have known what's coming.
0:08 Shane is invited in. Joe explains his world view. Starret is opting for more effective production of meat and self-sufficiency.
0:10 Shane talks about him being a drifter. Joe convolutely offers him a job. Marian seems nervous about something. They are served apple pie, and there is an amusing remark about having new plates.
0:12 Shane takes the job – by starting to work immediately.

0:13 Joe and Shane manage to take out the stump.

0:14 The deer are feeding on the vegetables in the morning. Joey the boy bonds with Shane. Marian is not too happy about that.

0:17 Shane and Joe depart for the town store. Shane doesn't take his gun. Shane has found peace and seems happy.
0:18 A neighbor comes to complain about the Rykers having raided his land. He seems powerless.

0:20 Shane arrives in the shop. The Ryker gang hangs arround in the shop. Joe offers that they should get together to organize some form of resistance. But the neighbor seems reluctant.
0:22 When Shane orders a soda-pop in the bar, he is violently attacked by one of the Ryker's guys. But Shane doesn't fall for the provocation. Shane can stand his man. But chooses to back off.
0:25 The meeting between the farmer is ambiguous. One man standing out is Stonewall. He is quite clear about not being pushed off his claim. Joey and the others assume that he is not much of a fighter.
0:30 Marian still doesn't want Joey to bond with Shane. She can feel the violence from his past.

0:30 All the farmers decide to go to town together to get their supplies. The Ryker's await them.

0:35 Shane goes into the bar again, to get another soda-pop for Joey. Calloway threatens him again. But this time Shane fights. And wins easily. Ryker offers him a job but Shane refuses. Shane's clear stand on his moral principles.
0:42 The brawl goes on, it's Shane against many. Finally, Joe comes to help him and the two beat the gang. Ryker decides to hire a gunman.

0:45 Marian takes care of the two men at home. Shane overhears Joey confessing his love of Shane to Marian. Shane has become an equal to Joe in the household. Actually, Marian feels quite unsettled about her feelings towards him.
0:48 A new man rides into town and asks for Ryker. The dog walks away when he enters the saloon.
0:49 Ernie (one of the farmers) has decided to leave and give his land up for Ryker. Torrey Stonewall won't stand for it when he sees Ryker's cattle running through Ernie's plowed earth.

0:51 Shane fixes the fence that Ryker's boy damaged in the night. Joey admires Shane – also for the gun – which makes Shane uneasy.

0:54 Shane teaches Joey to shoot, when Marian surprises them. She is very upset and sends Joey away. “A gun is a tool.” There is an interesting statement. Basically, the chainsaw in the kitchen. Just a tool.
0:56 4th of July celebrations next to Grafton's. The bad guy in the saloon is mostly shown from behind.
1:00 Torrey comes into the saloon, gets drunk and provokes Ryker's men. They don't budge.

1:01 Celebration with dancing by the farmers. They celebrate Starrett and his wife's 10th anniversary. She dances with Shane. Stressing Joe's connection to his family and Shane's reaction to it.
1:05 Torrey tells about the new man in town – Shane identifies him as Wilson.

1:06 Riding home at night, they realize that Ryker's men wait for him on the farm. Ryker makes an offer. Starrett turns him down. Shane and Wilson size each other up. We learn about Ryker's backstory. He feels alienated by the new laws which go agains everything he fought for.
Beautiful day for night shots.
1:12 Torrey and the Swede arrive at town, where Ryker's boys are sitting quite impatiently. Wilson provokes Torrey until he agrees to a gun fight and is shot. Amazing location. The road is muddy, the 'town' looks quite shabby.
1:18 The Swede brings the body to Starrett's farm. Joe is ready to go to Grafton's to confront Wilson.

1:21 When Joe goes to the other farmers he realizes that they're packing up. He convinces them to stay for Torrey's funeral.

1:22 A long and quiet funeral – the Swede plays the harmonica.But the men at Grafton's are waiting. Gorgeous photography all the way through!
1:26 Joe with the help of Shane tries to convince the farmers to fight against Ryker. Meanwhile, the gangs burn Lewis' home. This pushes Lewis over the edge: he will stay and fight. Joe promises to take care of Ryker – even maybe kill him.

1:32 On Joe's farm, Shane stays with the boy – while the father has decided to go into town to confront Ryker. Shane refuses to interfere. Shane seems to stretch his reluctance to assist – as an audience we know he will clear things up later.
1:33 Ryker's gang arrives on the farm. They invite Grafton to the saloon to talk it out with Ryker. Calloway who's had a change of heart warns Shane.

1:37 Joe is dead set on leaving for town. Marian tries to stop him, but he is too proud (and quite stupid). But Shane has dressed up as a gun man. He won't let Joe leave and they fight. This also seems to be a talk about matrimonal faith.
1:44 Shane knocks out Joe and parts for town. Joey runs after him. There's a goodbye scene- the romantic moment is 'spoiled' by Joey calling 'Mother'
1:46 Shane rides through the night, while Joey tries to catch up. Nothing happens for a full 3-4 minutes!
1:49 Shane enters the saloon: Ryker and Wilson are the only guests. Ryker doesn't want to do business with Shane. Quickly, Wilson gets into the quarrel and Shane and Wilson are ready to duel. Old vs. new (and the dog leaves again – which is funny)
1:53 Shane shoots Wilson and Ryker. Joey warns him of the third, hidden man and he also shoots him.

1:55 Shane says good-bye to Joey. He then rides out of the valley at night, as he rode in by daylight. No going back from a killing.

The other very impressive thing is the absolutely gorgeous photography by Loyal Griggs who deservedly won the Oscar for it – the day for night shots are beautiful and the colors of the landscapes are beautifully rendered – even when shot in the studio. Jean Arthur being photographed through a screen to make her look younger was a bit distracting, but it might be a sign of the times.

Also the editing of the film deserves a closer look. Many of the scenes are really long, others are surprisingly short. The fights are always told through the reaction of the viewers, mainly Joey's who witnesses all the fights in the movie. His (not very appealing) reactions are edited into the action constantly, sometimes to the point of annoyance. It's interesting that so much emphasis was placed on the boy. Maybe this gives the film a slightly more moralistic touch, or the target audience was supposed to include children.

Donnerstag, 30. Oktober 2014

Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)

A private detective is sent to search for the runaway daughter of a rich LA ex-actress and stumbles over an intricate web of lies.

What I like so much in film noir is that there is a certain quirkiness to the motivation of the protagonist. With Night Moves being classified as a Neo-Noir, I thought it might be interesting to map the journey of the main character throughout the movie.

There is no dramatic irony in this film. We know exactly what the character knows at all time. He is in every scene of the film. But we get to know him quite a bit over the course of the story.

Short description of Harry Moseby: A former football player, now working as a struggling private detective, has problems of confronting family problems. He cannot cope with his cheating wife, or talk to his estranged father. On the other hands he tries to "fix" or "break" families professionally. He only mentions his football career in terms of losing a game, so he must have been kicked out or abandoned the sport he loved.

There are some great dialogues in the film: Paula seducing Harry. Joey and Harry talking about 'everything' but work. Many of those scenes 'unpack' Harry's past and his personality. Poignantly speaking: he is in a long analysis session.

What Harry learns.
What we learn about Harry.
Character in his environment. Gets a job. It's a rich client, so he dresses up.
Harry Moseby is private dick. His office is not in perfect order, but doesn't look too shabby. His secretary is an answering machine, so not doing great either.
Visits wife in her antique shop. Doesn't particularly like her co-worker.
That's where all the stuff in his office comes from. Still has sexual attraction to his wife. She asks him for cash, so she might not be rich. His contempt for Rohmer movies indicates that he is not culturally sophisticated.
Visits the client. She's rich (looking down on LA). His job is to look for her daughter.
He's quite down to business with her – not interested in her fading charms.

Visits his friend in his office.
He doesn't know too much about antiques, either. Allusion to his past as a football player.
Listens to brief on Anderson. Learns about a trust fund for the missing daughter. Finds out his wife is cheating on him.
Remains professional detective, despite spying on own wife – relatively calm.
When wife comes home, he doesn't mention it.
Does not know about to confront his wife – fear of what?
Seeks out Quentin/ex-bf of daughter Delly. Learns that Delly stayed on with a stunt-man.
Can become violent when needed.
Waits for the lover of his wife to return.
Harry plays chess.
Confronts the lover.
The lover reveals the protagonist's back story: abandoned child, athlete, etc. by relating it as something his wife had told him. Has to battle his anger not too hit the disabled lover.
Lets wife confront him. She interprets his behaviour of being “professional”. She wants him to take a 'stable' job.
A certain resignation to the situation, but he might not have made up his mind yet about his marriage.
Goes to the set, to see the stunt-man. He befriends the stunt-coordinator Joey.
He was quite a prominent football player.
Talks to the stunt-man. But Joey also seemed to have some relation to Delly. Joey can get quite nasty and seems impulsive.

When he says bye to Joey he sees Quentin working on the set.

Goes back to the mother. Questions her about Marv and Delly. He thinks that Delly might be with Tom Iverson.
He can be pretty cold, when he is reciting his deductions to the client.
Meets wife in the garage but no time to talk.
Harry still avoids confrontation (and conclusion) with his wife.
Goes to Iverson's place. Learns that Delly is there.
He is not immune to the charms of the woman Paula he has met.
Talks to Delly but doesn't break it to her. There is something between Tom and Paula, but he doesn't know yet what.
Paula seems also charmed by him.
Tom Iverson shows up. He seems to be some kind of eccentric egoistical type. Harry figures correctly that Tom has some kind of relation to his step-daughter and confronts him.
Harry barely is more interested in Paula than in Tom.
Delly is in Harry's room, trying to seduce him. But Paula shows up and after an awkward moment Delly takes off pretty angry.
Harry is a bit awkward when it comes to himself. And he is a passionate chess player.
There is a beautiful little dialogue here about not seeing the check mate between Paula and Harry.
Breaks his purpose to Delly. But she doesn't want to go back, because her mother is only interested in her trust fund.
He is still a man with great physical strength.

Learns more about Paula's background. Delly finds a sunken plane with dead pilot inside (coincidence?)

Tom is not too surprised about it. Lot of accidents in the area.

Asks about lack of Paula's reaction to the dead man. Paula stays with him. More bg on Paula.
He succumbs to her.
Delly wants to return home.
Harry doubts his own behaviour (cheating on his wife)
Harry brings Delly home. Meets Quentin there who's angry at him for bringing her home. Big scene at their house.
He doesn't want to be part of this disintegrated family's problems. Runs away (rolls up car window)
Breaks into his wife lover's home. His wife is there.
He confronts his wife. He wants to change his life.
Meets Joey at a football game. Delly also has cards from Joey. Harry doesn't understand the connection between them.

His wife visits him in the office. He gets together with his wife again.
His wife notices that he's changed. He has, indeed.
Tells his wife about tracking down his father.
Inner bg story. He didn't have the guts to step up to his father when he found him.
Delly has died. Harry watches a film take with Joey where she was killed during a stunt take. Joey had been driving the stunt car.

Harry learns that the mother is not exactly grieving.
There is a growing anger inside Harry at the injustice done to Delly.
Quentin says he doesn't know a thing. Ellman (the stuntman) was the dead man in the plane at the bottom of the sea. Quentin flees when Harry accuses him of having manipulated the car.

Learns that Quentin knows Tom (from Joey) and the plane crash didn't get reported.

It seems he can resolve the issues with his marriage.
In Florida he finds a dead Quentin. Surprises Paula and Tom before they're heading off with the boat (to flee?) - Tom and Harry fight
He has theories but can't seem to connect them.
Harry learns from Paula that it has been all about smuggling antiques from Mexico to Florida.
He trusts Laura (has to) – but realizes that she only was with him to distract him. He fell for her lies.
Paula decides to dive down. Harry sees a plane approaching. He gets shot in the knee. The plane lands and kills Paula as she gets back to the surface.The plane crashes and sinks. It's Joey who was flying it.

The wounded Harry can only make the boat drive around in circles.
He didn't solve the case. Has been played by every party.