Friday, January 7, 2011

Vengeance: Or Why I Love Johnnie To

Johnnie To's Vengeance hinges on the edge of perfection. Like most films by To, there is a flawless mix of action, comedy, and brotherhood. Vengeance not only exposes To's cinematic prowess, but shows that he can direct characters with rich complexities with minimal dialogue. With every glance or subtle twitch of the eye the audience already knows what the character is thinking. Vengeance relies on this because the protagonist is in a predicament. His daughters family is killed by a hit squad and he is charged to avenge them.

There is a problem though: his memory works in spurts of a few hours and sometimes minutes. Costello, played by Johnny Hallyday must take polaroids of people and write notes about them like Nolan's Memento. For a while Costello even forgets why he is even in China, which calls into question what is vengeance for? Costello doesn't even remember his daughters family being slaughtered. So why should he avenge them?

To's Confucian themes of brotherhood and fatherhood answer this question throughout the movie. Vengeance is not a personal vendetta or selfish action, it is an action which carries the weight of justice. Whether one remembers why they must avenge matters not. The importance relies on the fact that debt must be paid. Johnny To could have taken a nihilistic approach like most Hollywood films and had the thirst to kill be inspired by a relative and emotional based sense of justice. Instead To reminds the audience that our actions carry weight in the world and vengeance in a sense needs to be done to balance the world. A sort of blow your brains out karma.

Watching Vengeance is yet another breath of fresh air in contrast to the state of action films coming out of Hollywood. Instead of over budgeted messy action sequence's, To gives the audience a graceful dance of well thought-out shots and perfect visual storytelling. To trades the frantic, hand held nauseating style of y2k's action films for a reserved style, which holds on shots and lets the audience react instead of constantly guess what they just saw. In Vengeance there is a gun fight in a park which seems like a violent ballet with mixed slow motion, extremely wide shots, blended with a dance of bullets, and mist filled exit wounds. To's visual style continues to evolved and inspire awe in those who watch at his craft.
Overall I must say get out there and buy all of Johnnie To's films, skip the rental, but they are hard to find so please rent them and support pure and true action at its finest.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising could have been a great film! The first fifteen minutes are violent, enthralling, and visceral. The beautiful Norse/Celtic landscapes are contrasted with the scarred face of One-Eye, a slave, gladiator, and kill-your-ass-for-looking-at-me-wrong kinda guy. Being a history and religion nut, this film immediately grasped me with conversations about the Christ God taking over and how abnormal Christians were to the "heathens." I mean they do devour the flesh and drink the blood of their "god", which seemed abominable to most pagan religions.

But the religious discussion of the film turned out to be very base, favoring a nihilistic note. This nihilistic tone took the (perfection of the) first fifteen minutes and turned it in the longest hour and a half I have ever spent watching a movie. With drawn out boring sequences where the audience is supposed to "get something deep" out of pretty shots, long stares, and senseless character development. Then when director Refn throws random things in the film such as good ol' male on male viking rape it proves to be an exposè into crappy themes of "indie" filmmaking more than an exploration of Norse (vs Christian) religion, culture, and violence.

By the end of the film if you aren't bored you must be into cinematography, because the film is beautiful (save the constant CGI blood that looks like shit). The film was shot with the RED camera, which is the best showcase of its prowess I have seen to date (F U Book of Eli, bleh). Overall I'd say if you are only mildy into Vikings or history then skip this movie. If you want to have a so called ultra-violent movie as a bedtime story go for it.
And I really wanted to say this movie was Refn Awesome! Instead it was Refn boring...