Action, Baby!

December 31, 2010 | By

Spinning the illusion of time…

Yes, it’s Friday, the last day of a year I wasn’t crazy about, but at least a year with some solid entertainment and creative efforts worth writing about. Hey, I even got to write about malodorous muck like At Long Last Love [M] (1974), and never hit the shuttle button once (though I did shout at the TV, begging Burt Reynolds  ‘For the love of God, keep your mouth shut!’ when he was a bar or two away from murdering another Cole Porter song.

I dare Shout! Factory to release that film in 2011. They’ve already got Stanley Donen’s Lucky Lady (1975) slated for an early February release, so Peter Bogdanovich’s mess is a natural thematic follow-up.

In any event, the theme of this wave is Action! and it’s headed by Inception, both Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray [M] and the soundtrack CD [M] (Water Tower Music).

It’s interesting to hear people that love the film for its artistry, director Christopher Nolan’s bucking of all-CGI effects, and his scriptorial craftsmanship, and the nay-sayers who found the film either boring, baffling, or annoying.

Inception is sci-fi, which I guess doesn’t appeal the broadest possible audience if there’s no bug-eyed or invading alien monsters like the idiotic ID4 (Independence Day) which raked in a fortune in spite of being a bloated rip-off of Kenneth Johnson’s unsubtle moral parable V.

I mention ID4 because you really have to go back a bit for a major sci-fi film that grabbed the attention of critics and audiences, and while Inception did well, it’s nothing like ID4.

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were never subtle in their work – one German message board poster called 2012 (2009), Emmerich’s most recent I-hate-America volley, as being nothing but crash, crash, boom, boom, bang, bang abfall (which it is) – whereas Inception’s Nolan went for another puzzle film that provokes thought and analysis.

The payoff isn’t people of the world raising their arms and doing the screaming “Yay!” dance of joy (I hate that cliché. Really, really hate that cliché), but rather the smile of personal reward, either from figuring out the puzzle, being surprised by Nolan’s genuine ingenuity, or the outright cleverness of Inception, much in the way Nolan’s Memento (2000) is a his ultimate puzzle film (and David Fincher’s sick little The Game coming in second).

Inception is 2.5 hours long, but it feels like a slightly less than 2 hour movie, which is a hell of an accomplishment from a filmmaking stance because the sense of brisk pacing comes from skillful editing and the filmmaker’s ability to grab the audience and keep their minds busy with puzzles, theories and gradual revelations in spite of actual scenes being ostensibly just dialogue. That’s magic, whether it’s a dialogue film, or a balance of dialogue and action. Working that illusion, but feeding the audience substance.

The only other films that come to mind where a nearly 3 hours felt like 2 are The Right Stuff (an amazing little movie about the pilots in NASA’s Mercury space program, based on Tom Wolfe’s book); and Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece, Heat, incredibly a remake of an utterly mediocre, stilted, and badly dated 1989 TV movie called L.A. Takedown that no one remembers.

A close contender is Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus, and like the aforementioned films, it illustrates the artistry that can exist in a commercial realm if the filmmakers are skilled, have deep passion for the material, and are given wiggle room by the studios.

(Some of you may be thinking ‘Hey! What about Kevin Reynold’s Waterworld or Kevin Costner’s The Postman? and while they initially qualify, those films ultimately fail. The former makes no sense, and the latter loses its mind and becomes a Star Trek episode. Both personal visions feel as long as they are.)

You can regard Amadeus and Inception as art films, but the other two are commercial works by studio system mavericks, and to my eyes The Right Stuff and Heat are the best examples of creating the illusion of fast pacing when the damned movie’s an hour longer.

In any event, since the theme is action – Inception switches to the best James Bond sequence outside of a James Bond film (and puts the makers of Quantum of Solace rightly to shame) – I’ve also uploaded a series of action-related soundtracks.

I’ve an early review of Clint Mansell’s Faster [M] and John Powell’s Fair Game [M] (both from Lakeshore Records), Harry Gregson-Williams ridiculously fun Unstoppable [M] (La-La Land Records), and one of my favourite scores of the year, Guy Michelmore’s Jackboots on Whitehall [M] (MovieScore Music).

Michelmore’s evocation of a 1968 war score is brilliant. Completely (well, almost) straight-faced, and the spirit of Elmer Bernstein is everywhere.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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