Posts Tagged ‘Bigelow’

The Hurt Locker Screenshot

We watched this one together and then headed out to get a drink because we needed to defuse after the high intensity experience! This movie has that much heart pounding, pulse racing, adrenaline coursing action. At some points, we were practically begging for some kind of low key scene to just loosen up, let out a breath and unclench muscles. This is an unusual war movie for at least two reasons – one, it focuses on process, what the soldiers do in the field and how they go about it, rather than a higher calling or the politics of war. Secondly, it is made by a woman – director Katherine Bigelow seems in her element. It is a huge surprise to see a woman have such complete command over such a macho, muscular movie! Pan, having seen a retrospective of Bigelow’s work recently, had experienced Bigelow’s remarkable mastery over action set pieces but this was my first taste. Well, color me impressed!

The movie doesn’t really have a plot – often a good thing for us! It tracks the life of three members of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad in Iraq whose job it is to deal with/disarm improvised explosive devices (IED) which are homemade bombs that are hidden in public places. The three men are a study in contrasts – Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is jumpy, nervous and verging on PTSD, Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) works by by-the-book with discipline, caution and a strong sense of duty and James (Jeremy Renner) is the “wild man”, the loose cannon. Although all three are excellent and get almost equal screen time, the movie belongs to Renner. This is a terrific performance veering from arrogant, cocky, dangerous and detestable, to decisive, courageous, empathetic and tender even. The James character craves danger above all else and to him war is a drug. We get that even without Bigelow’s exposition illuminating the character’s motivation.

Where Bigelow slips up a bit is in depicting the motivation of the three principal characters. It seems like a cliché but you get the impression that depicting emotion and motivation is not Bigelow’s strength. Instead of letting that play out through the characters’ actions, we get heavy handed dialogue. My view was that perhaps Bigelow doesn’t trust in the audience’s intelligence while Pan felt that she isn’t confident in her own ability to depict the inner workings of people’s minds without obvious props. Given that Pan has seen a lot more of Bigelow’s work, that’s probably the better explanation – also the more charitable one 😉 . These are minor quibbles however, as the movie is an action fest and psychological explorations are few and far between.

The movie plays out like an amped up, realistic video game with awesome special effects and I think there is a real business opportunity there! However, it also begs the question of how fact and fiction are melded. The James character in particular seems very much the sort of renegade who is a staple of the movies. Would someone with such disdain for authority last very long on the field? In an area where life and safety are predicated on discipline, sticking to a chain of command and trusting other specialist units to do their job, this sort of characterization makes for a fun adventure on screen but perhaps a poor depiction of real life. At any rate, for the two hours or so we were transformed into action junkies and were happy to let some of the questions of realism slide.

Pan-Card: B+             Scorn-Card: A- 


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Near Dark Screenshot

The Pan Scape

Kathryn Bigelow makes a vampire film without having to mention the word vampire once during the movie.

I think what really worked for me here was how moody and evocative the film is. For the duration of the film, I felt totally transported to these lonely, dusty, isolated highways in the West. We start with a boy meets girl scene but things feel off right from the get go. The dialogue feels stilted and we immediately fear for our sweet and wholesome looking cowboy. I think what I enjoyed most about this film is how successful it is at evoking and sustaining this mood. Pretty much the entire film inhabits this magic hour in these small towns and it’s like being there literally. The film has shot after shot of light dying out and darkness setting in or the other way round and they are all hypnotically beautiful. Plus, the movie has a lot of things that get set on fire all the time and it’s lovely to watch – every single time.

I think the point at which I really got into the movie was the initiation sequence in the bar. It’s simultaneously intense and utterly hilarious. It’s patiently gruesome and violent and the whole thing is choreographed so beautifully, literally like a dance piece, with the music playing on the jukebox in the background and by the time we get to “Fever”, all the violence has slowed down to a languorous and bone-chilling pace. It’s really pretty perfect.

There’s a particular plot device that took me out of the film for a brief moment (i.e. the cure) but the plot isn’t really what the film is about anyway. It’s all subservient to the atmosphere and the ideas that the film does a great job conveying.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how she envisions these vampires. Bigelow’s vampire family seems full of conflicted, desperate characters (as opposed to seductive and glamorous) and I really enjoyed the casting too. Bill Paxton is just fun to watch and Lance Henriksen has the weathered look of a man who has seen it all and been here forever.

There are a ton of fun set pieces in the movie. By the time we get to the amazing sequence in a truck and the one of people going up in flames, the film had totally won me over and any niggling doubts about the plot had more or less vanished.

Pan-Card: B

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Blue Steel Screenshot

The Pan Scape

Seriously, worth the price of entry for the incredible hotness that is Jamie Lee Curtis in cop clothes. I love the opening shot of a rookie cop putting on her uniform and gathering up her tools. Both the character and the camera seem to be seduced by the gun and the way the camera gazes at the gun is fetishistic (bullets entering the chamber and what not!!). Turns out gun fetishes play a key role in the entire film.

I also really loved the initial shots of Curtis walking down the street on her first day strutting her stuff and that it’s women checking out her, as opposed to the standard male gaze. Plus, it’s done in a real fun way. Just one instance of the many ways the film subverts the gender stereotypes we are used without being heavy-handed about it.

On paper, the film has a little bit of the made-for-TV movie feel about it. A female cop who becomes the object of obsession for a crazy serial-killer. Much blood and stalking and seduction ensues ending in a final terrifying shootout.

And all of this is pretty much how things turn out. But here again, like in Near Dark, the plot just feels like a vehicle to convey so many other, much more interesting ideas. Even without thinking too much about the subtext, I picked up on the gender politics, the transactional nature of sex / seduction, the juxtaposition of the buddy cop relationship with the female friendship between Megan and Shirley and so on.

There’s also lots of interesting stuff in Megan’s characterization and her own attitude towards power. Right off the bat, she has little credibility in the police department and it’s not because of her gender. Her issues with her Dad and the other males who she sees as curtailing her (superior officers and so on) drive her to make some rather questionable decisions. When the serial-killer character talks about how they are both the same in that they can both pull that trigger without flinching, he is tapping into some very real fears. And this becomes even more interesting given that at least based on these two films, Bigelow herself seems so drawn to guns and explosions.

There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief required to buy into the film. The Eugene character swings too far between two extremes from his smooth veneer when he is out on dates with Megan to the raving lunatic at home on his exercise machine. Some of the police procedural stuff seems rather sketchy as well. The ending is just plain absurd and illogical.

But surprisingly, all of that bothered me less than it probably should. I can’t dismiss the fact that once again, I loved the world the film inhabits. The scenes with all the gunshots and the bullet penetrating the flesh and so on are all exhilarating to watch (albeit in a slightly unsettling sort of way). The film has some really funny and charming scenes (Megan scaring off a guy her friend introduces her to) and is full of ideas that stuck with me well after I had left the screening. Recommended as long as you can live with the narrative holes.

Pan-Card: B-

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