February 21, 2008

The Molly Maguires (Ritt, 1970)

Ritt's bleak portrait of working class immigrants chasing liberty and the American dream belongs to the golden age of American cinema that began with Bonnie & Clyde, and is far more intelligent and artfully crafted than it is given credit for. James Wong Howe's incredible scope photography of the coal mines and Tambi Larsen & Darrell Silvera's Oscar nominated art direction lend the film a sooty authenticity, and the wordless nearly 15-minute long opening sequence immediately calls to mind P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood. As in his best work, Ritt doesn't allow his fondness for tackling social problems to overpower the narrative. A film in serious need of critical reappraisal. IMDb listing.

February 20, 2008

Killer's Kiss (Kubrick, 1955)

Stanley Kubrick's lean B noir, only his second feature length film, provides a revealing glimpse of his emerging personal style. And though Killer's Kiss is a relatively simple exercise, running a trim 67 minutes, it is fascinating how Kubrick chooses to tell this pulpy story of l'amour fou with images rather than dialogue. The final chase sequence is a thing of beauty.

February 19, 2008

Flash Point (Yip, 2007)

The cinema of Hong Kong has always been defined primarily (at least in an international sense) in terms of its action films. From the martial arts films of the Shaw Brothers in the 60’s and 70’s (Come Drink With Me, Five Deadly Venoms), to the pioneering work of Jackie Chan (Police Story) and John Woo (Hard Boiled) in the 80’s and 90’s (to name but a few, the list could go on and on…), Hong Kong has often been at the vanguard of action cinema, constantly innovating and redefining the look and feel of the genre and just as constantly being imitated.

With Flash Point, director Wilson Yip and star/fight choreographer Donnie Yen once again attempt to push the action genre to more extreme heights, though the results are quite mixed. From a narrative standpoint, the film is rather perfunctory. Taking place in 1996, just before the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, it deals with the efforts of a police operation, headed by Yen’s Inspector Ma, to take down a Vietnamese crime family. All of the requisite beats one would expect from such a plot are present. And though Yip broaches the interesting theme of “returning home” – many characters comment on their migrant status – it isn’t developed beyond a superficial level. Anyone even remotely acquainted with Hong Kong policiers will find themselves on familiar ground.

Given this, it would be quite understandable to dismiss Yip and Yen’s film as yet another formulaic entry from a stagnating contemporary Hong Kong film industry, though such an assessment wouldn’t be completely fair. Yes, the plot is hackneyed, the acting is exaggerated, and the dialogue is mechanical and sometimes nonsensical (though I assume something was lost in translation), but to judge this film predominantly on these elements would be to miss the point almost entirely. For though it grinds to a halt in its quieter moments, Flash Point positively explodes during its louder ones, especially when Yen is in the spotlight.

At its core, Flash Point is an outlet for Donnie Yen’s continuing obsession with MMA (mixed martial arts), something he utilized to great effect in his first collaboration with Yip, Sha Po Lang. This particular approach (which blends styles as diverse as Muay Thai and submission grappling) would seem to be a direct reaction to the graceful bloodletting of Woo’s The Killer, or the wire-fu spectacles Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. The action feels organic, the fights gritty, brutal, and unpredictable. Every punch is felt. In the current homogeneous action film landscape, Yip and Yen have created something fierce and angry, something that feels like the logical next step.

There is far too much banality in Flash Point for it to be considered a complete success, yet for all of its shortcomings, it still succeeds as a pure adrenaline rush. This is the action film as performance art, pushed to an almost abstract level, where the emphasis is on the technical beauty of the action, regardless of plot and characterization, and pleasure is derived from the sounds of bones crunching, and above all else the athletic prowess on display.

Direct Cinema Is Back!

...not that it was ever really gone, but... you get my point.

Hello to all of my readers. I realize that it has been quite a while since I last updated my blog, and longer since I last updated it regularly, and trust me, it wasn't without reason. I have been quite busy with other things for the past couple of months, but I just wanted to let all of you who have been reading know how much I appreciate your support, and also how much I love running this blog. Film is something I wake up for in the morning. It is something I breathe, something I bleed. And I wanted to use this post to state that starting today, Direct Cinema will return to being a regularly updated blog.

I just finished folding the reviews I did for last year's 1st annual "Shocktober Horrorfest" into my regular review directory, so there won't be a Shocktober sidebar anymore. Anyone looking for those reviews, you can find them all under the general "reviews" sidebar. October '07 is past and I felt I needed to do some cleaning and maintenance of the blog so, that's that.

Anyways, all of the old columns (The Trailer Compendium, the Best of Lists) will be back, along with film news and of course my reviews, and I have some ideas for a couple of new weekly/monthly columns. I'm aiming to have my Best Of list for 2007 up before the Oscars. I hope that you all continue to check out Direct Cinema, and again, please leave comments! I love reading them and having critical discussions about the film's I highlight is one of the reasons that I do this, so don't be shy. Also, if you enjoy the blog, spread the word!

-R.A. Naing