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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

doulos-1 (1)

© 2016 by James Clark

      For the past while we’ve been trying to unlock surprising nuances in current films and those from the middle distance. But here we are, far back with the work of that of that fading comet, Jean-Pierre Melville, with a view to his always valuable coverage of the labyrinthine ways of integrity. After being away for a while from our auteur’s mastery of the magic of sensibility, I’ve come to realize the importance of that mantra, amongst cognoscenti, to the effect that all the commotion boils down to the remarkableness of zeal for mutual loyalty amongst thugs, needing serious recasting. Due to Melville’s telegraphing his unique commitment to American film noir, we tend to overlook the territory of “human relations” (in the vernacular of that Ridley Scott whose Thelma and Louise [1991] has a kinship to Le Doulos [1962]) in effect over and above the world of lawbreakers.

In this context of confusion, Le Doulos may be uniquely equipped to lead us into Melville’s true metier, in relation to which the crime gratifications are but a rewarding foretaste of dawning surreal intensity. Le Doulos introduces us to a couple of protagonists so palpably lacking those bona fides of grace and charm—assets on the order of Bob le flambeur, Jef the samouri, and Corey, contending with a red circle—from out of which claims of sensitivity could actually pull the wool over our eyes. Our two fast friends in the underworld here, namely, Maurice and Silien, are audacious punks on the order of Gu, having a discouraging form of second wind, Philippe being an insubstantial functionary on board an army of shadows and even Leon Morin a smart, but half-baked, con artist. Whereas Gu, Philippe and Leon circulate amongst associates with cogent integrity whereby fine feelings make some sense, Melville has crafted this current display with such minimalist barrenness as to prompt the viewer to consider that mysteries are afoot which far supersede the mysteries of stealing, murdering and eluding arrest. (more…)

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thelma-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      The career of Ridley Scott offers a fertile sense of the glories and the pitfalls of contemporary film. Most particularly, his connoisseurship of conflict, resentment and equilibrium meets in the workplace and marketplace a bizarre and bruising dismissiveness, notwithstanding superficial salutes.

Feeling to be at his best when giving a consummate twist to the products of others, Scott unveils works tending to be remarkably at odds with the inceptions, stories and screenplays of those populating the credits. Having a keen eye (and heart) for natural and historical incidents significantly pertaining to the preparations on hand, he very subtly provides his rip-roaring, usually quite winning, dazzlements with far less plebeian ranges of nourishment, far more aristocratic ranges of problematics and sufficiency, than the public would suspect. As we make our way through Thelma and Louise (1991), being equipped by feminist screenwriter, Callie Khouri, we must be on our toes to comprehend why such exclusivity strikes him as the way to go. (more…)

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bladerunner-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Blade Runner (1982) is one of a very small handful of films that can be truly described as “haunting.” What makes its power doubly remarkable is that it derives from an auteur who does not originate the bare bones of his works but depends upon pre-made literature by which he can deliver impacts at cinematically optimal force. The writer behind Scott’s scenario here, Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), was an exponent of science fiction with a view to the question, “What constitutes the authentic human being?” His novel, Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? (1968), cites a planet Earth largely abandoned by old-line Homo sapiens and populated by androids in relation to which a bounty hunter reaps rewards of sorts. Dick, who died four months before the film’s release (to a tepid response), had declared that Scott’s running with those initiatives “justified” his “life and creative work…” But before we party with the overwhelming visual-sensual drama on tap, let’s show some apt amazement brought to our attention by those literary roots. “The world we actually have does not meet my standards,” Dick has remarked; and before we get into personality disfigurement it would be wise to recognize that the sense of “more real,” flourished by that venerable insurrection, Surrealism, has been heavily criss-crossed by the history of philosophy and science for the past 150 years. Scott has no qualms about the input of others because he recognizes that the waves he’s intent on making are part of a much wider effort. (His renowned earlier and now parallel TV ads also derive from serendipity events, upon which he expends graphic design magic, and something more.) That’s why he also brings on board the fading candle light of that Jacques Demy who loved color saturating his streetscapes, had a thing about umbrellas and black cars and a thing about Catherine Deneuve in Camelot outfits—Scott’s leading lady, Sean Young, being a dead ringer for that exquisite bone-china presence. (more…)

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alien-1

© 2016 by James Clark

I think it’s a big mistake to suppose that the film title, Alien (1979), pertains solely with regard to the ugly killer of most of the crew of a spaceship. To opt for that simplism is to underestimate the sensibility of helmsman, Ridley Scott. Not that seeing Scott at his best is an easy task, however. Fortunately, he sprays about quite a lot of trailblazing self-characterization—often wildly self-contradictory—ample enough to allow those of us, who have been assured that he’s got the right stuff, to wade past a façade of “professionalism” which brazens out an homage to all the journeymen involved in cash-flow (and nothing much else), on the order of The Martian (2015). Scott generously shares with us not only his life-long commitment to design craft but also his recognition that such a field is very crowded with brilliant practitioners, necessitating relentless and ruthless competitive assertions—assertions (he hearkening to his ongoing TV ad work as in the spirit of Mad Men) not above outrageous bullshit. One of his unforgettable remarks is, “I try to hit the truth.” Another of his unforgettable remarks is that, whereas when he began his film career (Alien being near the beginning) there was a 50/50 confrontation between the watchable and the unwatchable, now it’s down to watchable 3%. (Can you imagine he’d include The Martian in the league of 3%?) A third declaration of importance to us here is, “I’m more intrigued by human relations” [than typical suspense yarns].

Getting back to the good old days of 50/50, after a long winning streak of unprecedented, dazzling Super Bowl commercials (the pilot of the craft in Alien being outfitted with that magic NFL word, Dallas; Dallas also being an assassination site) and the like, our guide was brought aboard a vehicle stemming from screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon and Surrealist painter, H.R. Giger, who met during the abortive Alejandro Jodorovsky run-up to the sci-fi property, Dune. Among those considered for directorial duties for Alien was Robert Aldrich who, with screenwriter, A.I. Bezzerides, had briefly, during the output of Kiss Me Deadly, showed a penchant for “human relations” (or was the real work there that of Bezzerides?). But, elbows in play no doubt, it was Scott who convinced everyone who mattered that he could do the job, a job considerably more complex than giving customers a good scare. (more…)

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hail-caesar-1 (1)

 © 2016 by James Clark

      While it is indubitable that the new film by the Coens, Hail. Caesar! (2016), runs past us a tale impacting as a slice of the early 1950s, it is just as palpable that the thrust of the work is not a nostalgic homage to Hollywood productions of that era. Failing to do justice to that latter gust of skepticism known by gut if not by gab, opens a spigot parading the slight that the film is lower-drawer fluff, released in February because it could never be considered as festival- or prize-worthy. Quite a poke in the eye to greet the lads as if they’d lost it!

Maybe a sense that festivals and prizes are not in the offing does factor here. But maybe the crisis is not about not being good enough but, in an onrush, being too good for a film industry now on track as a very comprehensive juggernaut of lowest-common-denominator escape, availing itself of cutting-edge marketing intent, as a prevailing science, to wipe out the competition. Anyone having made an effort to attend to the dramatic motives and carnal assaults of the work of the Coens could never imagine that they’d settle for geriatric pap. (more…)

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loners-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      I love film stories where the protagonist is not simply haunted by an oversight but is palpably surprised by rare traces of insight, due to his or her carnal strengths. Fortunately for me and, as I see it, for all of us, there are quite a few cinematic virtuosos who excel in conveying such singular moments. Today, however, instead of trying to put out there the often easily missed treasures, I want to draw attention to the phenomena of film products which, on paper, seem likely to be handling such golden matters but in fact are largely intent upon quantity of approval as against quality of output. My reason for straying away from the usual excitements is a recognition that several such films might harbor their own kind of significant beachhead (or provocation) where surprises may well up for audiences in unpredictable ways.

This is a storm-tossed interpretive venture. But the increasing fate of important work being denied fanfare and serious distribution seems to demand some kind of account by which to get a grip on what might be in store. I think that the undiluted popular triumph of Inorittu’s The Revenant(2015)spreads much farther than the cash flow of a facet of the entertainment industry. While it is true that that auteur (manqué) has now become a darling of the awards self-service of the Gucci corporation, we must not lose sight of the passion from which his enterprise has gone ballistic. (Nor should we overlook the subterranean current of innovation running through an industrial and fashion design concern like Gucci.)

The Revenant unleashes a relentless spree of desperate agitation. What does it hope to accomplish by way of its hyperventilating screenplay (by Inorittu and Mark L. Smith) couched in lovely, but not shatteringly so, landscape cinematography by cameraman, Emmanuel Lubezki? Before tackling that very challenging question, there is a third clarion call in this mixture to be measured very carefully, namely, the protagonist’s frequently looking back to a life of affection with a woman and their young son steeped in the priorities of her aboriginal spirituality, if not to say, mysticism. Mystic, mysterious shards from this quarter do definitely have a role to play in this panorama. The question is, however, how steadily does that asset (closely linked to the remarkably tentative landscape) reach its potential? (more…)

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hateful-8-1

© 2016 by James Clark

      The Hateful Eight (2015) is suffused with such a dazzling and challenging vein of cinematic bounty as to momentarily stop us in our tracks when setting out to convey it in all its bushwhacker severity. Tarantino’s work here is indeed a delicious entertainment; but it is also a cornucopia wherein very little is in fact what it seems to be.

Proceeding on that premise, we’ll tap the film’s vital signs by way of two scenes seemingly miles apart. The first has to do with a factor eclipsed here by the movie’s more disconcerting virtues, namely, that of our host’s comedic genius. In the wake of our accompanying four characters on a stagecoach ride through a snowbound Wyoming countryside a few years after the official end of the Civil War—a quartet revealing themselves therewith to be steeped in murderous violence of various kinds—they reach a stopover point just as a blizzard hits. That ride had been marked by a bounty hunter, John Ruth, having handcuffed to himself his prisoner, Daisy Domergue, en route to the regional hangman, repeatedly smashing her face and head while the bloodied captive persistently referred to another bounty hunter on board, Major Marquis Warren, as a nigger who should not be in the coach, and defiantly ridiculed her captor. His penchant for beating up Daisy, notwithstanding, Ruth, as his name rather quaintly telegrams, is a mainstream, rather doctrinal, John Locke liberal (referring to Warren as “Black fella”), whose well-known (to Warren, for instance) nickname, “The Hangman,” pertains to his eschewing the “dead” part of the “wanted dead or alive” prescription. Warren’s three frozen corpses on the stage’s roof declare that he is all for the “dead” clause. His referring to himself as “a servant of the Court” introduces a touch of chivalry which might be lingering in his kindly eyes and resonant voice. Daisy, a Southern girl, to judge from her accent, blows a nostril full of snot in Warren’s direction and spits on his letter from Abraham Lincoln which has left Ruth deeply touched (“That gets me”). In smashing her for that latter impudence, he brings both of them crashing outward into the snow. When he catches up with her and his letter, Warren spits on Daisy, smashes her and then she remarks, “That nigger like to bust my jaw… Is that the way niggers treat their ladies?” A fourth member of the party, the son of a notorious leader of a rebel, post-War vigilante gang, “Mannix’s Marauders,” enters into a heated quarrel with Warren—each citing lurid, well-known details of slaughter perpetrated by the other, with firmly anti-slaver Ruth siding with the dishonourably discharged Black fella and putative friend of Lincoln. (more…)

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