Sunday, February 26, 2006

two biopics and something that grows on you {Ray, American Splendo(u)r and Creepshow}

{February 24, 2006} Besides the music, the greatest thing about Ray is a tremendous performance from Jamie Foxx. Except for a fantasy sequence where Ray has sight, Foxx spends his time on screen wearing eye prosthetics and dark glasses, and becomes Ray Charles. Made me think of Claude Rains, who, when he played the tragic eponymous protagonist of The Invisible Man, was never "seen" until the final moment. All things considered, Taylor Hackford gives us a 152-minute by-the-numbers Hollywood biopic badly in need of a temporal liposuction and laden with cinematic devices good (liked the old-style wipes and the yellow-schemed titles) and bad (the predictable components that despite their genesis in fact remain clichés). The cast features familiar faces like Harry Lennix (Commander Lock in the last two editions of the Matrix trilogy), Terrence Howard and Larenz Tate (both of whom I saw in Crash) and it was a pleasant surprise to see Curtis Armstrong (remember Herbert Quentin Viola from Moonlighting?). What stayed with me at the end of the movie were the songs, the recording sessions and each of the Ray Charles performances. That's when I thought of Bird and wished this film had been half as personal as that one.

{February 05, 2006} I had not heard of Harvey Pekar so the American Splendor DVD sitting on the library shelf didn't seem too interesting. When a mention of the film came up in an IM conversation with Sudarshan, I found the incentive I needed to grab the DVD and I must say that it has been a very rewarding pleasant surprise. The film mixes devices employed in comic book storytelling and in filmmaking in a very interesting way. Comic book panels come to life, comic book panel captions show up introducing frames in the film, thought bubbles (and animated ones at that) become an extension of the live-action space, and there's this delicious segment (where Paul Giamatti talks to the camera about the different Harvey Pekars listed in the phone book) that combines a set, comic book animation, and CG to create a confluence of worlds. As if this wasn't enough, the real Harvey Pekar does the voiceover, shows up on set (as do other people played by actors in the film) doing an interview with the camera. The film blends reality and fiction in a charming way, giving us the kind of insight into the artist's life that mainstream by-the-numbers filmmaking can only hope (in vain) to achieve. I was impressed with how they mixed footage from the actual David Letterman show with scenes featuring the actors, but I didn't know that the reason they did the lashing-out scene with actors was that Worldwide Pants (David Letterman's company) refused to lease out the actual footage. Giamatti is a joy to watch in this delectable mix of documentary, fiction and comic art. As Roger Ebert notes in his review this film is delightful in the way it finds its own way to tell its own story. Need to snag a copy of Ain't that Peculiar, the song that plays during the end credits.

{February 04, 2006} It was only a gift from coincidence that I had Creepshow in the same bundle as American Splendor. Romero/King's tribute to the spirit of the EC comics of the 50s offers another example of doing a comic book movie. Romero employs several devices including the familiar switching between comic book frames and live action footage, the doubling of the film frame as one or more comic book frames (a strange case of Rear Window?), page-turn wipes, and the change to a red/blue scheme in scene lighting every time an attack (by a creature or corpse) occurs [a device that sometimes gets a tad annoying]. There are lots of in-jokes and no one's trying to scare you. The sole purpose of the film is to pay respects to the EC tradition. So people's reactions often border on expressionism in keeping with the heightened illustrations in the comics. Don't look for subtle performances here (Stephen King's Jordy Verrill should be a good indicator). I loved two moments in the film. The first: During the Father's Day segment, there's a diegetic song with the words Don't Let Go that underscores the theme of the segment. The second: during the Jordy Verrill segment, there's a black and white movie/show playing on the telly. The dialogue seems to be about building a nation (presumably America). Jordy has risen from his seat to evaluate the situation outside. You hear the movie/show continue in the background as Jordy steps out to see that the green growth is spreading.
Clip: because we were doing what we wanted to do. can you understand that?
Jordy: No! No! (because he sees that the growth has extended its reach; however, the clip from the movie/show seems to double up as being representative of the intent of the strange green growth).

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.