Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mission: Impossible III d. J.J. Abrams, 2006

Pitch-perfect Hollywood action film with, surprisingly, a few strange bits up its sleeve. #1) Cold opening, in media res. Not unique, but not standard by far. Still, a nice little coup and a sharp way to open. Audience left feeling: bewildered, excited, punched in the face. #2) One of the boldest ellipsis of action I've seen. (Necessary aside: M:I:II is pretty much all action. Relentless retina pounding w/ explosions, et al; it knows - to an uncanny extent - when the pace needs picking up, when the film is becoming too talky, et cetera. Perfect, in that regard.) Some lame, digressive story tangents - two agents, with nothing to do really, except wait for Ethan Hunt, talk about a prayer or something that brings Ethan back home safe. Weird. Meanwhile, Ethan is in a building in Shanghai (right above their heads - I realize this makes little sense if you haven't seen the film. Sorry.) tracking down something called a rabbit's foot. I know all the missions are impossible, but this one's, like, super impossible. However (!): the whole bit with Ethan grabbing the rabbit's foot - surely one of the easiest tension builders available to screenwriter, et al - is ellipsed. Beautiful. How did he get it? Who cares; the point is this: if you're not part of the action in an action film (like these two discussing middlers are) you're liable to be excised, nixed, muted at any point. Beware, stragglers. Again: beautiful. #3) Two MacGuffins and a general reluctance toward exposition.

Now: I think that a perfect ending to a perfect Hollywood action flick is impossible. How does it end? The only perfect ending for this is an imperfect one, i.e. the one we have where we get an unnecessary bit of tension building (cue dissonant violins and slow-motion photography) and a neat, tightly packaged resolution. (Although they do fuck around with this last part a little. Kudos to them: it's clear that Abrams, et al are after something a little more interesting and respectable than John Woo and even Brian De Palma. Unfortunately, that thing might not sell quite as well.) The result: a flawed (albeit necessarily for $$ and, because, as aforementioned, a perfect ending just isn't possible), nearly perfect Hollywood action film, wherein the viewer is served with far more than escapism.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Bridge d. Eric Steel, 2006

On top of having little direction - this isn't an educational piece, it isn't pensive, and it doesn't really entertain (more on that in, like, two seconds) - and becoming pretty boring after the first 30 minutes, The Bridge is, in part, truly reprehensible. Concerned with the people who attempt suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, the film isn't reprehensible because it shows these suicides in media res. Nor is it because the filmcrew actually waited for this footage, filming the bridge every day for a year. Jumping is what the film is about - as morbid as it is, that footage was necessary to make the film. The problem lies in the fact that Steel uses these deaths - one in particular - as mechanisms of suspense.

The film follows the stories of several different jumpers and their families; we see roughly 5-10 people jump throughout the film. One in particular, Gene, we see near the beginning of the film. We see friends and family interviewed; they talk about Gene - his life, what pushed him to jump, et cetera. We know Gene is going to jump. Steel forces us to wait. And wait. Gene paces the bridge, one end to another. Finally, in the last five minutes, Gene steps up onto the guard rail, turns his back toward the water, puts his arms out Christ-like, and gloriously falls to his death. The camera captures him perfectly, never - unlike every other jump we see - losing sight of him as he plunges. A flock of birds fly in front of the camera - perfectly placed for juxtaposition - as he falls; it ends with a cathartic splash. The fact that, aesthetically, Gene's fall is so superior to the others captured is the problem. There's no rhyme or reason for placing this last or building it up other than suspense - the interviews with Gene's friends aren't any more compelling than any others, his story isn't any more pathetic, he isn't paradigmatic in any way. Except aesthetically. To use a human life - an actual human life, not the life of a character - in a purely utilitarian manner is absolutely reprehensible.