I'm a night owl and while I work away into the morning hours I like to play movies in the background. There's a certain type of movie that fits the bill. It has the be action focused, with a good visual style and more importantly, strong audio and dialogue, as you listen more than you watch. Any smouldering tension or complex storylines are a no go, they are too distracting. A film like Chronicles is a perfect choice, and it's in the regular rotation.
I'm not saying I enjoy it 'cause its bad, on the contrary I admire this film. Wikipedia tells me the budget is USD 105 million, and I believe every cent is up there on the screen. Some of the sets are awe inspiring, and are very reminiscent of Dune, the action set pieces never feel small. I also like the running time, its got a pleasing number of arcs. That's very important when you don't want to be distracted thinking of what film to play next.
As for Vin Diesel, well its the part he was born to play, so its no surprise he's so fond of the character. Which leads me on to the scene I want to talk about today.
- Riddick is on the prison planet Crematoria reuniting with an old friend Kyra, who is running into some problems with the resident rape gang
- He advises them to depart while they still can, unsurprisingly, they decline..
- Vin Diesel plays Riddick, the archetypal anti hero
- Alexa Davalos plays Kyra, a tough girl with abandonment issues
- Riddick calmly advises the rape gang to depart
- They quite rightly point out that he's only armed with a soup cup
- Riddick informs them that its actually a tea cup, and yes, that's all he needs
- He places it on a suspiciously convenient ledge shaped rock
- The classic 'ragged metal cup to the chest' move
- Riddick shows them the next improvised killing instrument
- They key from a sardine tin, nice
- The bad guys get the message
Amusing deaths and witty one liners are the staple of a solid action movie, and here Chronicles does not disappoint. A character like Riddick is perfectly fit to deliver both, which is a big part of this movies appeal.
Oh I almost forgot..
I may have simple tastes but I prefer 2010 to 2001. I saw the sequel first, when I was about 10 years old, and I was keen to see the first film for some answers to the many questions I had. Perhaps as a child I was too young to appreciate 2001, but I found it unsatisfying. 2010 always seemed more accessible to me, the kind of film I would want to experience time and again.
I love the balance between accuracy and entertainment on show here, tipped just enough towards realism to be engaging, but not so much that you lose the excitement of the movie. This is a film first and foremost, and the story takes centre stage. The depiction of space travel may not represent how it will actually be in about 30 years time, but its how I imagined it would be, and to me, that’s more important.
And nothing conjures the imagination more than a space walk, which is the scene I want to talk about today.
- Following the events of the first film, the abandoned vessel Discovery is in orbit near the Jovian moon Io
- A Russian vessel, the Leonov, is dispatched carrying American crew members attempting to salvage the Discovery and determine why her mission failed
- John Lithgow plays Dr. Walter Curnow, an engineer who is afraid of heights
- Elya Baskin plays Max Brajlovsky, a friendly cosmonaut
- After reaching the vicinity of the Discovery, they must now execute a space walk to enter the rotating ship
- Curnow is an engineer and is terrified of heights, he's having a difficult time composing himself for the ordeal
- Max on the other hand seems very relaxed and helps Curnow throughout the walk, this is nicely contrasted with a role reversal shortly after they breach the Discovery
Over the eerily alien planetscape of Io the two men set out across the hundred or so metres between the two ships.
- They leave the Leonov and start toward the Discovery
- Curnow’s pulse is a little high, he starts fogging up
- 50 metres..
- Time for some small talk, Curnow asks Max the Russian for ‘chicken’
- 10 metres..
The weird sounds coupled with the ragged breathing, that’s what really sells this scene. The blend of Curnow’s rational humanity, and the completely alien environment beneath, and around him. I always felt this depiction of space was a good middle ground between the soundless vacuum of hard science fiction and the whizzing engine noises of video games. Its hosts some elements of humanity, but it still feels quite alien and barren.
Oh I almost forgot..
The disturbing image of the floating foetus..
The adventure movie when done well is one of my favourite story formats. A rag-tag team is set an impossible challenge and they must find a way to reconcile their differences as they take on one thing after another. The enemy threatens to destroy them from without, and when that danger passes, their personal conflicts threaten to destroy them from the within.
It’s a slow burn that builds the tension from one scene to the next. Each skirmish the team faces is leading up to the big event, and even if you know that the day will be saved, the anxiety continues to mount. Of course, this is all assuming that the story is executed well.
Sot it is with this weeks movie – The Guns of Navarone
For those who haven't seen it let me set up the scene I’m going to talk about:
- During World War II, 2000 allied soldiers are trapped on a small Greek island
- They cant be rescued as the only access by sea is guarded by massive guns on the nearby island of Navarone
- The team must assault the guns before the ships sail through, and they only have a few days to do it
- Gregory Peck plays Capt. Mallory, the team leader. He’s determined to get the job done and takes full responsibility for their success, or failure.
- David Niven plays Cpl. Miller, the explosives expert. A glib college professor who shirks responsibility (he refuses to become an officer despite repeated attempts).
- Gia Scala plays Anna, a local resistance fighter. She no longer speaks after being captured and held by the Germans for a time. She forms a bond with Pecks character.
- Irene Papas plays Maria, the resistance contact and a friend and protector of Anna.
- As the team are preparing for their final assault they realise the explosives have been sabotaged
- Miller concludes that its Anna and he makes the case for her execution as a way to punish Mallory for dooming his friend in an earlier decision
- Mallory, after defending his desire to take responsibility (and after Miller once again refuses to do so) prepares to do the dirty business of killing the woman he’s developed feelings for
- Just as he's about to shoot, Maria shoots instead. After a sombre moment the team are ordered to move out.
- Miller stands motionless and speechless, as he realises that he can no longer set himself apart from the war raging around him, and the awful decisions that have to be made
With the dead body lying face down in the dirty ruined building, and the gunshot still ringing in the minds of the two men, a rage builds in Mallory as he finally confronts Miller about the necessity of responsibility. Miller is frozen and can only listen. Here's how it plays out:
- It’s not hard to kill someone, sometimes its harder not to
- You’re in it now, up to your neck!
- You got me in the mood to use this thing..
- By God, if you don't think of something, I’ll use it on you!
- I mean it!
- Go on.
What I love about this scene is the performance from Peck. There's a real sense of fury as he wrings his hands on the gun strap at his shoulder, pulling his uniform out of shape in the process. That, mixed with the controlled repose as he tells Nivens character that he’ll kill him if he doesn't shape up (and we believe that he would).
But perhaps even more than that is the way the almost overpowering weight of responsibility, the weight of leadership, is portrayed. The truth that a leader is just a person who resolves to take responsibility for achieving a goal, and then does everything possible, even at the cost of his own conscience, to see it through. I share the sentiments of Nivens character as he looks on, speechless, at the tremendous strength of character required to undertake such difficult decisions.
I hope this whets your appetite to see the film, either for the first time, or after a long time. I know that's what I’ll be doing as soon as I finish this post.
Oh I almost forgot ..
Too much of a good thing
One thing I’ve found over the years is that watching a favourite movie too much can actually work against you. Like saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning. There comes a point where the film tends to unravel, and becomes a sequence of set pieces. I sometimes find myself imagining what might have happened if key characters weren’t killed at particular moments, things like that (what might have happened if Apone hadn’t died?).
A good set up never gets old
After the initial fascination of a movie ends (sometime after the 20th viewing) the large action set pieces become less engaging. The one thing that always keeps me interested however is the opening set up. There's something engaging about watching the characters before everything goes wrong, you can see the aspects of their personality that will be conveniently tested to breaking point later on.
There's also a measured calm-before-the-storm atmosphere, especially for movies that take place over a single night. There's a continually mounting tension as the sun goes down. In Die Hard this is really nicely done, with a beautiful amber dusk and vague hint of Christmas here and there.
For me, the end of the beginning, so to speak, is the meeting of McClane and Takagi. Shortly after that the bad guys roll in and kick off the main event. Takagi makes a nice subtle joke in there, but it took me a while to hear it when I first saw the movie, many years ago.
- McClane wanders around the party, unsuccessfully avoiding yuppies
- He meets Takagi who recognises him right away
- They look for McClanes wife, Holly in her office
- We meet Ellis, the archetypal 80’s power exec powdering his nose at the desk
- Takagi apologetically introduces them
- McClane quips about the party, stating that Japan doesn't celebrate Christmas
- Takagi retorts with ‘Hey were flexible, Pearl Harbour didn't work out so we got you with tape decks’
- Ellis buries the joke with his over the top laughing
And that's it, immediately after that Holly rushes in and the story moves on.
Letting things go fallow
The key to enjoying your favourites is to space them out. Watching Die Hard today was a lot of fun because its been about a year since I’ve seen it, there was a sense of freshness and familiarity. Watching movies you used to watch (a lot) when you were a teenager is also a lot of fun, as you are anchored to those previous experiences.
Do yourself a favour and pop your copy in the DVD player some evening, a great movie is always fun no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
Oh I almost forgot..
You don't “have to”, you “choose to”
One of the things I realised a few weeks back while laying out goals was that its too easy to forget why you are doing something. Why do I want to make movies? I had to take time aside and remind myself that the next 15 years (and of course those that follow) are supposed to be fun.
Yes, strange concept isn’t it? I got too used to repeating things like ‘success takes hard work’ or ‘it’s not easy to follow your dreams’ that I forgot that its not about the destination, its about the journey. As Alan Watts says, you don't dance to travel anywhere, you dance just to dance.
Why I’m doing this..
So it should be with your life's major goals, they should be their own rewards. So then, I’ve decided to share some of my favourite movie scenes with you (future) readers.
Every Sunday I’ll talk about a specific moment in one of my favourite films. These are moments which shaped my film tastes, and someday, I’ll count my own scenes somewhere amongst them.
I remember when this film was released, way back in the early 90’s. I was too young to see it in the cinema, but I do remember the posters. Thankfully I had easy-going parents and saw it on video a few years later. This is one of my all time favourites. The great storyline with its mind bending twists, the fantastic action sequences, the hilarious violence, and last but not least, the truly immersive sense of Mars. This was one of the last great science fiction/action movies (which sprung up in the 80s) that was smart and entertaining without selling out to merchandising, pre-teen ratings, or ridiculous and/or frustrating endings.
If Arnold Schwarzenegger runs up behind you in an escalator, duck
There's a lot of scenes to like in this film, so instead of choosing a favourite, I picked this one at random. Here's how the scene plays out:
- Schwarzenegger is trying to get away from some bad guys and decides to escape via a slow moving escalator full of commuters.
- Some more bad guys appear at the top and open fire.
- This guy is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and takes one for the team.
- He makes a handy shield though.
- The other bad guys catch up to the escalator, and Schwarzenegger spins the corpse around to take a few more hits.
- Finally, the body is flung down the escalator like a rag doll, and buys Schwarzenegger a few precious seconds of escape time.
It’s hard to point out one specific aspect of this that I don't love. The fantastic squibs and bullet hits, with puffy cotton plumes and red mist. The frenetic action. How about the hilarious disregard for human life? This is perfectly demonstrated by Richer (Michael Ironside) stomping on the chest of one of his dead goons as he scrambles after Schwarzenegger. I cant help thinking that it would actually be more difficult to stomp on a chest than weave around it, and it’s that malicious attention to bloody absurdity that makes this so enjoyable.
Wont someone think of the Children?
This kind of action is sadly lacking in today’s cinema. The last film I recall that had the same kind of bloodthirsty glee was Gamer, which was an enjoyable flick, but wasn’t quite there. Don't get me wrong, I laughed, God knows I laughed, and it was 10 bucks well spent, but its over the top attitude is more of a parody of the greats than a continuation of them.
Now I remember why I care so much about films
It’s been a pretty interesting experience writing this, grabbing the shots of the scene, and just flat out enjoying the spectacle of it. No matter which way you slice it, a classic film (and yes, I consider Total Recall to be a classic :) will always pull you back into a different world. It’s a strange combination of the memories of seeing it before, and the possibilities of watching it again, there's just no comparison.
It’s worth a lifetime of dedication to be a part of that experience.