Wednesday, December 12, 2012

a boxer, biker bandits, and a really twisted murderer

Body and Soul: (1947. dir: Robert Rosson) A pretty good boxing picture is dragged up into the pantheon of greatness by the dizzying brilliance of James Wong Howe's relentless photography. That, and one of John Garfield's best performances. Howe's noir night-times are like nothing else, his day-times nearly as good, and that final boxing match is a dazzler.

Lone Hero: (2002. dir: Ken Sanzel) Why do I love this movie? Is it because you get to watch a tourist-trap destroyed by nasty outlaws? (Yes, I live in a tourist town; am I carrying secret angst?) Is it just that Robert Forster gives another of his incomparable performances? What is it about that guy? Does he inspire writers to create brilliant characters, or does he have a brilliant agent who roots them out for him, or is he just so good that he takes a middlin' character and elevates it into greatness with his dry wit and wry delivery?

This is the story of an aging kid suspended between youth and adulthood, working a kind of interesting but pretty much nowhere job recreating gunfights in one of those touristy old West towns like Virginia City or Tombstone or Jacksonville Oregon, with wooden sidewalks and a little train that scoots through town while tinny music plays and a girl in a hoop-skirt and bonnet points out places of historical interest. The "kid" is played by Sean Patrick Flanery, who you think you know, right? but who is transformed by this DP (David Pelletier), filmed so that he is the most sensuous creature in the world, which he may be, but I have yet to find him so in the few of his other films I've seen. Then there's Lou Diamond Phillips, about perfect as a psychopathic cop-killing biker, and Robert Forster as (you guessed it) the toughest gun-toting libertarian in this tiny Montana town. When a gang of outlaws on motorcycles ride in, John (Flanery) stands up to its leader, bringing down the wrath of the bad guys.

The dialogue is clever, the story moves at a good clip, there's gunplay a-plenty, and, although it follows the basic formula, you're never sure exactly how it's going to achieve the expected ends. There's some great music, including a raucous rendition of "Streets of Laredo" by the Headstones, and a lot of surprisingly effective good humor. In short, you go in expecting little to nothing, and you come out the other side with two hours of good entertainment, and I guess that's why I love it.


Perfume: (2006. dir: Tom Tykwer) It was a book first, and an enormous hit among my generation when we were still enjoying our morose and often noir-clad salad days. It was often said that, popular as it was, it could never translate onto the screen, as the story happens inside the head of one of the most enigmatic and laconic anti-heroes ever written, and its chosen vehicle, the sense of smell, can just barely be translated through words, and how does one do it through images instead?

I read somewhere that this was Kurt Cobain's favorite novel, and I believe it, because it's the ultimate Rock Star book. Here is the Artist as Sociopath. Hardly aware of the wake of destruction he leaves in his quest for perfection in his art (in this case, the serial murders of beautiful women whose essences he distills to design the perfect perfume), this anti-hero achieves the long-fought perfection, the world falls in love with his art and therefore with him. Then, of course, he must suffer the terrible loneliness of being Apart and Unable to Love, and is eventually, out of love, devoured by his fans.

This is the kind of book for which you ache with passion when you are seventeen and obsessed with Baudelaire and Rimbaud; it's a story for angstful teenagers. If you bring an adult sensibility to the table, it will probably spoil the feast unless you garnish liberally with vast doses of irony.

The film itself is no doubt as well done as it can be. Ben Whishaw is a young maestro, correct in every detail, showing us never too much or too little. The production values are gorgeous and smooth. The script relies overly on narration, but that, considering the source material, was probably inevitable. The early suspense is effective, and the story only loses its grip into absurdity in the last twenty minutes or so.

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