blog under punches: day night day night, redbelt, iron man/the incredible hulk

Please insert lame-o hot suicide bomber joke caption here.

Day Night Day Night (2006) - A short, spare film - so lean and stripped down that even the title makes reference only to the order of plot's events - that features a stupendous performance by novice actress Luisa Williams. From the very start, Day Night Day Night hones in on the troubled face of a nameless, feckless, possibly-Muslim-wanna-be Times Square suicide bomber, and keeps us there throughout to powerful effect. While director Julia Loktev may not have created a wholly believable film (how can you make a movie about a suicide bomber sans politics?) she and Williams have nevertheless created an irresistable lead in spite of the unsteady ground their effort teeters on: a delicate, bird-like little girl, nibbling on junk food and much too polite for the mall much less New York City, she follows every gesture on her behalf with a breathy and lilting "Thank you," even for the driver dropping her off to the spot where she'll be killing herself.

Redbelt (2008) - Pretend, for a moment, that yours truly is not some penniless grad student a-blog-blog-bloggin' away with his movie store buddies, but a Rocky Mountain superstar film programmer (I don't know if there is such a thing as a professional film programmer, but we're pretending). And pretend that I'm asked to program a series on Bush Time - the deal is no docs, all narrative. So first up's The Departed (2006). And then comes David Mamet's Redbelt.

Redbelt of course runs through all the regular Mamet tropes - tough guys, tough guytalk (or apparently, how Mamet thinks tough guys talk), the limits of belief and honor. And while the film is, in essence, an update on the B-boxing flick, complete with the borderline-ridiculous and dastardly plot "pivot" to put our hero Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor, perhaps one of the most engaging and able actors ever to utter one of those insy-outsy Mamet lines of dialogue) into the ring, on the whole it also manages to be Mamet's most cinematic, as well as one of the most subtle and politically elegant - if there is such a thing as political elegance, but maybe you can pretend a little more with me - politically elegant films of the last few years.

Forget, if you can, Mamet's oddly-reckoned turn away from...well, it's hard to tell what, exactly. Something about hack economist Thomas Sowell and JFK. Forget that shit, though. It might just be Ejiofor's excellent, controlled perfomance in the demand for clarity his bruised and cheated character makes at the end of Redbelt, but I think there's more - more like compassion for what the characters are going through, real compassion, not faux-tough-guy compassion - and it shows a piece of drama underneath the pulpy trappings that's bigger than the rest of the flick.

Iron Man (2008) / The Incredible Hulk (2008) - One a new entry in the Marvel movie canon, the other a reboot after the lovely and odd and arty Ang Lee entry failed to impress fanboys: what makes, for me, the spate of comic book flicks so rewarding is seeing a director (Tim Burton, once upon a time, or Sam Raimi, or Chris Nolan) fall in love with a book's protag, and it looks like Jon Farveau might be on his way to making magic with Tony Stark - a super-brilliant, adult-adolescent, playboy-inventor assembled from Robert Downey Jr.'s unused acting tics and too-cool-for-school attitude, who seems genuinely surprised his throwaway character has won so many fans. Farveau himself is hip enough to know what makes a movie like this work: an incredibly cool guy in an incredibly cool flight suit with bombs and lasers and shit, and a measure of believability. It doesn't gamble on throwing itself head-first into the real world or at more serious themes, like Raimi's emo Spidey or the Nolan's end-of-the-century musings, but Iron Man does at least turn and face the idea that if there was a guy who made wonderful weapons, those weapons would more than likely be used on poor people living near or over oil wells. Oh, and that corporate heads - well, the CFOs, anwyay - are totally fucking evil.

This new Hulk moves the spotlight away from Ang Lee's meanderings (the only character he really cared for was Mr. Green, and the detached and stiff tone of the Hulk-less scenes bogged an otherwise excellent movie down) and onto Norton's solid portrayal of Bruce Banner via Bill Bixby - apparently, Norton's a big TV-Hulk fan who collaborated on drafts of the script - and the rest of cast looks like they're enjoying themselves. This makes up for a lot: Edward Norton's Hulk does indeed use the catchphrase, and he and the Abomination (a properly bitter Blonsky, played by Tim Roth) exact lots of damage on Harlem and New York, and the film puts the tussle between the two gods of late-20th century America the best versions of the comic looked at - the military and science - into crisp perspective, but the last third of the film feels hemmed in and way-too-tight: there's rumoured to be a 120-minute plus version of the flick somewhere out there, but the DVD release carries about 10 or 15 minutes of exposition the movie could've sorely used.

There's a larger effort afoot to create some kind of Avengers movie event, and because of this, neither of the more recent Marvel entries, despite all their class, their declared devotion to the comic continuity, and their superficially sharp performances, they dpn't feel like whole movies, but merely pitstops on a way to $8-dollar-slurping sequels. I'm liking what I'm seeing, but I don't like being taken for a sucker - at least, right up front, with only a bit of pretense - even less.


Joaquin said...

What I liked the most about Day Night, Day Night is the outcome of it all (which I'm trying hard not to give away here). Obviously our nameless protagonist has the courage and the conviction for whatever/whomever she believes in, but what does a suicide bomber do with what Loktev gives her? Is she a failure? Successful? A cruel joke? Exalted?

What are your thoughts?

Dex said...

yeah...you know joaquin, i've been thinking about this the last few days, and i don't know. i honestly don't know. for me, the sort of impenetrability of that last shot says that it doesn't matter. it's not exactly bleak, but it's certainly not what she expected. there's a kind of coming-of-ageness quality to it, you know?

gah. i hope that helps.

Joaquin said...

Agreed. Rarely is that outcome explored, especially when cinema meets terrorists. Our protagonists life oddly ends up very tragic, in a way. Like somehow large-scale tragedy is inverted/diverted to a small, interior one.