Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Art of the Chase

Sixteen Blocks

I have to commend Richard Donner's "16 Blocks". Not only does it prove to be a highly entertaining, frenetically paced action film, but it manages to shroud Bruce Willis with his first role wherein he gets the chance to look, act and feel like the years are wearing on him (unlike the stubborn 'machoness' that Harrison clumsily exudes in "Firewall"). Willis is asked to do nothing super-heroish in the film. He walks steadily with a limp, runs continually out of breath and looks like shit the entire film, carrying a pale complexion that leads one to wonder if he was actually drinking before Donner yelled action. "16 Blocks" is an old-fashioned film that unfolds in real time as Jack Mosley (Willis) has to transport Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) 16 blocks to appear in court. Of course, it turns out that the court date is to virtually bury several of New York's finest, and they (as well as the gargantuan sprawl of the city itself) stand in the way. David Morse (such a fine character actor) is one of those cops, and "16 Blocks" certainly takes a jaundiced eye at the New York police department. There's a scene in a small bar towards the beginning of the film (the first that David Morse appears in) where Willis learns of his ex-partners motivations. The tightness and economy of that scene is breathless, and it's a tone that Donner sustains throughout the remainder of the film. Nice stuff.

Running Scared

I wish the same economy and tightness was found anywhere in Wayne Kramer's "Running Scared". Now, an admission- I was drawn to this film from the slightly glowing review of Andres Sarris in ****** .com in which he wrote that the film is not as bad as others are saying. I'm not sure what Sarris saw in the overly aggressive and emotionally bankrupt motivations of this film, but it didn't strike me as anything more than yet another Paul Walker vehicle in which he gets to look tough and overract. I won't go into the narrative details, except the fact that it's virtually about the allure and criminal perversions that often accompany a handgun as it passes through various hands, a trope that usually offers interesting results, as in the way Bresson handles the subtle human calibrations as a bill makes it way through the landscape. But I apologize for even mentioning Bresson in any comparison to "Running Scared". This is a crushingly boring film, even though it features probably 95 minutes worth of action and bloodshed. If anything, the most memorable part of takes place towards the end in which all the film's nauseatingly empty characters end up in a hockey rink and take practice on Walker's face. At this point, my disinterest in the film turned into pleading for the film's full frontal assault to end. And the most inane part of the whole affair is the way Kramer's script dodges it's hyper-reality and twists towards a happy climax.


Kiyoshi Kurosawa is quickly becoming a filmmaker that I shout out to anyone interested in Asian cinema- with slight caution. His film's won't give you nightmares through cheap scares… they creep up on you and disturb your senses in subtle ways. And even then, not all of his films are designed to disturb. They slowly immerse the viewer in dread-soaked visions that leave your eyes searching the corners of the frame. And they feature great humor, such as in "Doppelganger". "Pulse" is no exception. There is one scene where a woman slowly walks out the shadows towards a man hiding in the same dark room. She swaggers and almost stumbles in a highly supernatural way that chilled me to the bone. But "Pulse" is not really a ghost story. Instead, it's an apocalyptic caution drama doused in horrific overtones, featuring images that rattle around in your head for days (such as an airplace crashing off-screen and the single take as a woman leaps from a water tower.) The idea is this- isolation and loneliness as the key to world destruction. People slowly fade out of reality and become black gobs of soot in their final minutes. Sometimes, they re-appear inside computer screens, slowly reaching out to the living for some kind of connection, which is Kurosawa's sly comment on the disconnected-ness that world wide technology like the internet is supposed to eliminate. Even if all of the film's ideas aren't readily understood on first viewing, "Pulse" is still a masterpiece of world cinema that sells itself as horror and comes off as something more. Essential viewing.

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