By Noel Vera
Dir: Matthew Vaughn (2007)
Dir: Werner Herzog (2007)
not (to get that out of the way) great fantasy filmmaking. Too much
CGI for my taste, some of the action scenes seem clearly modeled
after the Peter Jackson house style (lots of circling shots and
mismatched landscapes), and the music could be more original. I
hear Gilliam was first offered this, and I wish he did take it;
for first half hour I kept thinking he could do wonders with the
material. But then 1) Gillaim's done this before, and 2) I can see
where it doesn't present too many sides to caputre his interest.
Then I learn
it's Neil Gaiman, which explains a lot. The script has a macabre
humor all its own (seven fratricidal brothers; three witches out
to cut out and eat a girl's heart; a sky pirate with a deep, dark
secret), and the kind of inventive, tightly paced plotting that
betrays Gaiman's comic-book background(trainingin writing for comics
isn't completely without its virtues--they taught Alfred Bester
how to tell a story, for one). The cast certainly agrees, because
they throw body and soul into the project (at the very least it's
obvious they're having a great time). Easily outdoes the past two
Harry Potter movies in the enchantment (the emotional kind) department.
Herzog's Rescue Dawn.
Dawn--did someone say The Bourne Ultimatum was the best action film
of the year, of several years? Beg to differ; there's this film,
and Michael Mann's Miami Vice, just off the top of my head.
This is more
of an escape picture than an action film, I suppose, but the pleasure
here is in Herzog being granted the giant toy train set that's a
Hollywood production, and seeing how far he runs with it. I think
he can play with the best of them--unlike, say, Greengrass, he knows
when to do a shaky-cam (immersive shots where the camera takes on
the character's point of view, emphasizing his helplessness) and
when to go for smooth crane shots (objective POV, where the point
is to create suspense, or a sense of approaching menace).
The plane crash--the single most spectacular sequence in the film--glides
by with a touch of unrealism: the plane comes down, flames and smoke,
breaks apart, and hatches Dieter into the rice fields, like some
kind of mosquito larva, all in what almost seems like a single smooth
motion. I can imagine Herzog playing with our notion of emergency
landings, turning it into some kind of unstated joke, a quick wink
at what Hollywood plane crashes are supposed to look like (at the
same time outdoing the standard-issue crash with careless grace
are the touches uniquely his--the great, slow, downward pans from
the tips of mountains to their base, filling the whole screen, showing
us the immensity of nature; the little cameos of insects, from a
beetle whirling on string to a huge butterfly on someone's limb,
wings flapping lazily to a caterpillar on a leaf, doing its level
best to clamber onto Steve Zahn's face.
sense of heat, humidity, of sheer mass of foliage pressing all around;
sometimes the jungle seems like a thousand-fingered hand, reluctant
to release Deiter (Christian Bale) and Duane (Zahn), the two Vietcong
prisoners making their bid for freedom.
And I love
some of the lines, which are pure Herzog. "This is not a village;"
"no, it is a village." "I dreamed there was a fire." Herzog's heroes
struggle under extreme conditions, and through all that suffering
they've lost their grasp of reality, must assert or debate it out
loud; when Zahn is so unsure of what happened that he has to tentatively
claim he only dreamt there was a fire, there, of course, was; yet
another of Herzog's sly pranks on his characters.
flag-waving seems a tad much, but for some reason I can actually
see Herzog buying into that; it's just something I sense in him,
a need to want approval from a country whose commercial cinema has
had little to do with his own work (till now), but who seems to
hold him in high regard. He seems to want to make that regard mutual.
he does give one a sense that the Laotians aren't stereotypical
Asian tormentors or merely sadistic prison guards (check out Cimino's
odious The Deer Hunter, or even interestingly enough John Woo's
Bullet in the Head). They're people with a sense of real anger (not
unjustified) at the United State's unadmitted bombings of their
And I love
the little details--the question of toilets and defecation in a
jungle prison (always an important question, but one you never hear
from Rambo), of food and water, and laundry (I love it that they're
shown actually doing their laundry). I love the dynamic between
prisoners, how emotions of trust and affection and anger flow freely
between them, intense and open like irrigation canals. I love how
physically expressive Herzog makes Bale and Zahn, always touching
each other, putting head on shoulder, cuddling against each other
for warmth. That's how people who've spent time--months and years--in
prison behave, even stay sane.
It's not Herzog's
best, and I can where the argument that he's sold out might stick,
but if he is selling out, I wish he'd done so decades ago; it's
head and shoulders better than anything I see from Hollywood nowadays.
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