Film director Anton Corbijn spent 35 years as a photographer before he went into movies, but he has a musical sensibility, as well. He has directed music videos and designed the stage for Depeche Mode’s world tours, and his film debut was Control, the story of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
Now, his second film has arrived, and it is the work of a visual stylist more than a musician. The American is a Euro-thriller about an assassin named Jack (George Clooney) who is fleeing an attempt on his life in Sweden — the latest locale for cold and soulless mayhem — and runs in Italy for what he hopes is his final job. It’s a film in which everything is cropped: the minimal soundtrack, the minimal dialogue, the dun landscapes of the Abruzzo region, and Clooney’s hairstyle, not to mention his thin muscular body and a nearly expressionless performance that nonetheless conveys his character’s watchfulness and (this is part of the Euro-thing) his spiritual peril.
Yes, The American is one of those. Corbijn is not afraid of silence or stillness, and he frames his actors with artful care, walking straight-faced through the labyrinth of an Italian village, in quiet close-up, or sitting at the edge of the frame, at once alienated and well-armed. Jack is alert but at a remove: You learn it in the opening sequence in Sweden, when he sends his girlfriend to call the police about a sudden death and she never makes it to the phone.
The American, based on the Martin Booth novel A Very Private Gentleman, is a violent story with the pace of an art film. One imagines a Hollywood version filled with helicopters and explosions, but in the calm and empty cafes of Italian villages, the tensions come with a more refined air: Jack’s glance to the side, a knotting of his brows, and you’re on full alert.
Jack is hiding in a place of stucco homes that spill along the side of a hill, with stairways running down to a few stores and unadorned streets. “Above all, don’t make any friends,” his boss (Johan Leysen) tells him, but on the first day Jack is approached by a priest (a beautifully, hoarse performance by veteran Italian actor Paolo Bonacelli) who befriends him. The priest sees something disturbing in Jack, and his concern for his soul — an underlying theme of The American — prompts Clooney to almost smile, a major concession for a character who seems beyond joy.
He also meets Clara (the stunning Violante Placido), a prostitute with whom he develops a close relationship, the prostitutes of small Italian villages apparently having not only hearts of gold but breasts of alabaster and the kind of sexual appetites you mostly find in Italian cinema, come to think of it. She’s more than a friend; she’s also a distraction.
And Jack has a job he can’t be distracted from. As well as being a killer, he’s a skilled gunsmith — he tells people, “I’m no good with machines,” but apparently he means “I’m up to no good with machines” — and he has been contracted to make a sniper’s rifle for the mysterious Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). The scenes of Jack assembling the gun and manufacturing its silencer have the clean pleasures of craftsmanship: It’s always a privilege to watch an artist at work, even if it’s making exploding bullets. Jack seems to lose himself in these tasks; his serenity comes in the manufacture of murder, and when he tells people in the village that he’s a photographer (like Corbijn), it’s not so much a lie as a description of a man who stands away from the world and sizes it up before he shoots it.
We don’t know how Jack became what he is, how he can be so merciless and tender; he’s a character from a Western, like the Sergio Leone film shown on a restaurant TV. He is also interested in butterflies — the women in the film call him Mr. Butterfly — and the things in his world inspire a butterfly interest: beautiful women, intricate guns, survival, the machinery of his own body. Those are the matters of many a George Clooney film (his character in Ocean’s Eleven has them, as well) but in The American, they’re in a cocoon, and we’re never sure what’s going to come out.
Look out for the modern-day western from first time filmmaker, Patrick Hughes. True Blood‘s, Ryan Kwanten is the star of the movie. The release date for the film is November 5th. Click on the thumbnail to check out the new poster and read the official synopsis below:
Young police officer Shane Cooper relocates to the small country town of Red Hill with his pregnant wife Alice to start a family. But when news of a prison break sends the local law enforcement officers – led by the town’s ruling presence, Old Bill – into a panic, Shane’s first day on duty rapidly turns into a nightmare.
Enter Jimmy Conway, a convicted murderer serving life behind bars, who has returned to the isolated outpost seeking revenge. Now caught in the middle of what will become a terrifying and bloody confrontation, Shane will be forced to take the law into his own hands if he is to survive.
A taut thriller which unfolds over the course of a single day and night, and told with explosive action and chilling violence, RED HILL is a modern-day western played out against the extraordinary landscapes of high-country Australia.
Alison Nastasi at Cinematical takes a look at a frame from Davids Cronenberg’s, Eastern Promises.
Welcome to Framed, a column at Cinematical that celebrates the artistry of cinema — one frame at a time.
For most of his career, Canadian director David Cronenberg has been known for his intelligent and disturbing genre films. However, Cronenberg isn’t just a horror filmmaker — he’s a genuine auteur with a keen visual eye and a recurring set of thematic concerns that turn up in the majority of his work. Unfortunately, it has taken the director crossing over into more mainstream fare to get people to notice how truly talented he is. Yet, even Cronenberg’s more commercial cinema marries beautiful imagery and extreme violence in an uncomfortably alluring fashion. One need look no further than his work with actor Viggo Mortensen for proof of that.
Today we’ll be looking at a frame from one the duo’s collaborations, 2007′s Russian mob drama, Eastern Promises.
Mortensen plays Nikolai, the chauffeur/cleaner for a Russian mafia boss in London. He meets Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife, after she starts snooping around in his boss’ business when she finds a diary on a young Russian girl who dies in childbirth. Nikolai tries to keep her out of harm’s way while rising through the ranks of the Russian crime syndicate and finding his own life in peril. It’s hard to discuss the film’s narrative with any more detail than that because to reveal too much ruins what is a masterful film. Trust me when I say that if you haven’t seen Eastern Promises, you should.
You should also stop reading here because there is a big spoiler ahead. Hopefully you’ll see the movie — which is definitely a Blu-ray worthy purchase — and then come back to read the analysis.
Much has been written about the film’s level of authenticity in chronicling how Russian gangsters conduct themselves. Mortensen took the role very seriously, going so far as to speak to actual mobsters about their tattoos, what they meant, where they were placed, and their moral codes in general. A New York Daily News story states that the tattoos were so realistic that Mortensen frightened diners at a Russian restaurant when he entered after a day of shooting. This attention to detail, along with the fine performances and beautiful cinematography, are some of the main reasons why Eastern Promises turned up on many Best of 2007 lists.
As Siddharth Pillai points out in his article about the film, there’s a sort of reverse noir aspect running throughout Eastern Promises — Naomi Watts plays the hero thrust into a complex mystery that may be too much for her to resolve while Mortensen is the femme fatale — dark, mysterious, and dangerous. Cronenberg, always one looking to subvert expectations, takes the gender reversals even further by adding in a great deal of homo-erotic subtext, particularly through Vincent Cassel’s character Kirill.
Pillai also mentions how flesh and blood are ever-present motifs throughout the film. From the opening scene wherein a murder is committed through to Eastern Promises’ conclusion, life and death co-exist casually within the characters’ universe — yet another way Cronenberg makes the viewer feel ill at ease. Flesh and blood, both literally and figuratively, play a prominent role in Eastern Promises. The tattoos on the flesh of Mortensen tell his history — and in this image, show his prospective employers his criminal resume. The flesh becomes his calling card — his entire history etched in a combination of ink and blood.
That blood is no less important. These Russian gangsters are bound by who they are and where they have come from. Theirs is a fraternity, a family that one can only enter if they have the proper genetic make-up. It becomes ironic, as it does in all mob films, that these organizations who place such an onus on being familial and loyal will then sell out their own “blood” for greedy and selfish reasons.
The frame I’ve chosen to talk about this week is one of the more iconic images from Eastern Promises. It involves Viggo Mortensen standing in front of the mafia hierarchy as they consider him for promotion within their organization. The actor is nearly naked as the higher ups read the story of his criminal life from the body art he sports on his exposed skin. It’s a mesmerizing scene — the air of ritual masking what in reality isn’t all that different from a farmer inspecting livestock at auction.
Cronenberg reteamed with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky for Eastern Promises and the end result is a visually stunning film that captures the somber mood of the story perfectly. Suschitzky worked on Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, A History of Violence, Spider, eXistenZ, and M. Butterfly with the director previously. He won a Genie Award for the first three films mentioned as well as his work on this movie.
Suschitzky and Cronenberg show us many things about the characters in this particular shot. The background is lavish, but also looks cheap and gaudy in its ostentatiousness. It’s old looking and hints at a time of opulence that has passed — yet the people in the environment don’t realize it. The use of red and green is interesting as well. The contrasting colors further highlight the different generations of people in the frame — yet the colors are tonally so close that the marriage of old world meets new clashes — something we continually witness the crime family struggle with.
The scene’s staging is also noteworthy. Cronenberg and Suschitzky eventually wind up with a low-angle side view of Mortensen and the gangsters. The mafia men look like judge and jury sitting there in their expensive suits. Nikolai, on the other hand, looks like a petty criminal about to be sentenced for his crimes. He’s forced to stand while the men judging him sit, once again giving the impression they’re appraising him as though he were somehow less than human. There’s a tension inherent in the positioning — one that’s very deliberate. Conflict hangs in the air — as though Nikolai must face off against these men. In the context of the film as a whole, this makes sense. There’s also a sense of ritual and importance — this is a big moment in any mafia footsoldier’s life — not unlike being baptized or taking communion.
We also see a lot of dichotomy in terms of the scene’s lighting. There are some well defined chiaroscuro elements happening in this frame, pronounced switches from brightly lit spots to one shrouded in shadows. On a subconscious level, it seems to mirror the inner lives of the characters in the scenes. They’re criminals, they have secrets, they’re dark people — yet they all play at being contributing members of society as well. It is particularly true for Nikolai — who’s an FSB agent posing as a gangster. Nikolai is a good guy — but to catch these bad men, he’s had to become one himself, doing things well outside the law. There’s a light and darkness inside the character — and when the revelation of Nikolai’s true nature comes out later in the film, it makes this scene feel that much more poignant and subtle.
These dichotomies, the merging of the subtle and the obvious, are what make Eastern Promises such a compelling experience. Cronenberg and Suschitzky have crafted a multilayered film that is not only evocative in its narrative and performances, but one that also impresses with its visual design
Original article by Alison Nastasi September 2nd, 2010
“If you’re gonna hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy isn’t you!”
As uttered in the original fake trailer attached to Grindhouse in 2007, that line sums up the charm of Machete as both a fleeting concept and, now, a feature-length endeavor. Robert Rodriguez has expanded that two-minute dose of goofy Mexploitation thrills into a somewhat ungainly, but mostly fun 105 minutes.
Danny Trejo, second cousin to Rodriguez, returns as the former Federale-turned-freedom fighter, a super-stoic anti-hero with a knack for taking out the bad guys and lovin’ the ladies. In the former group falls Robert De Niro as a Texas senator hellbent on keeping immigrants out of this great land of his, Jeff Fahey as his shady right-hand man, Don Johnson as a proud minuteman and Steven Seagal as the drug lord who cost Machete his family. Among the latter ranks are Michelle Rodriguez as a Che-like leader of the downtrodden, Jessica Alba as the ICE agent on her tail and Lindsay Lohan as Fahey’s incest-inviting dope of a daughter. (And that’s not even to mention the supporting appearances by Shea Whigham, Tom Savini and Cheech Marin.)
As you can see, things are a little more crowded this time around, and Rodriguez is as much a sucker for inventing icons as he’s ever been. In fact, he gets so caught up in including gun-wielding babes donning eye patches and nun’s habits, hot twin nurses, shotgun-shooting priests and henchmen inexplicably wearing wrestling masks that he almost forgets that Machete ought to be the star of his own show. When he’s in the spotlight, Trejo milks his trademark gruff charm for all its worth, deadpanning about how “Machete don’t text” and doing things with gardening tools and human intestines that they weren’t necessarily designed for.
These over-the-top moments help liven things up amid all the politics and plot that one’s left wishing that there were a few more of them, if not a few less minutes in between what’s already there. (How this managed to bloat beyond ninety minutes, I’ll never know.) Rodriguez is credited co-writer and co-director here, sharing respective responsibility with cousin Álvaro Rodríguez and cohort Ethan Maniquis in addition to cranking out a fittingly flavorful score with his band, Chingon
Beyond making sure that every explosion has an adequately cheesy polish and luring all the right friends into town, though, his presence isn’t a deeply felt one. Cheap even beyond its intentions — safety cones meant to re-direct traffic can clearly be seen in shots, the trademark “grindhouse” scratches and dirt disappear once the title appears, and many shots are lifted directly from the fake trailer itself — it’s lacking in his Desperado-era flair. Hell, even Shorts looked like more of a movie than this does
But hey, no one’s asking for much and everyone’s in on the joke: Marin as pot smoker, De Niro as taxi driver, Seagal as Mexican and so on… except for maybe Alba. Whereas Michelle Rodriguez owns her empowered persona, Alba aims for earnest sincerity and reinforces her status as primo eye candy above all else. Lohan, on the other hand, gets to lampoon her public image a bit (with the help of a body double), while Seagal proves to be the best sport in the bunch by following suit. De Niro delivers hokey campaign speeches with ease, Fahey sweats like nobody around, and as the resident redneck, Johnson is merely nibbling on his scenery in comparison to his colleagues.
Like I said: it’s a little ungainly, a bit crowded, but pretty much what you’d expect for a real movie based on a fake trailer. In a summer that’s been all about low expectations, Machete feels like the right kind of goofy high note on which to end the season.
Milla Jovovich reprises her role as the zombie-fighting heroine, Alice in the lastest entry in the Resident Evil franchise. Sure to be one of falls biggest releases, Resident Evil: Afterlife arrive in theaters, September 10th. Check out the latest Imax trailer for the film:
Will Smith is a busy man — a perusal of his current list of “in development” projects lists no less than 30(!) titles the actor is involved with, and that’s not even counting things like Men in Black III. However, the actor apparently found a few weeks in the next few years that weren’t full in his day planner and decided he needed to remedy that situation as soon as possible.
Deadline New York has the details on the performer’s latest project — a movie entitled The Legend of Cain. This Biblical tale with a twist would find Smith both producing and starring as Cain — “the original bad boy.” Of course, since this is Hollywood in 2010, don’t go in expecting something like The Ten Commandments … no, instead it’s a retelling of the classic Bible story with — wait for it — vampires!
Smith’s going to produce the flick with Overbrook Entertainment based off a script by Caleeb Pinkett and Dan Knauf. If you figured out that Caleeb is Jada Pinkett-Smith’s younger brother and that it might have helped this deal along, you too can be a Hollywood insider. No studio or director has been picked yet for the film, but Overbrook is currently coming off the success of The Karate Kid (starring Smith’s son) which has grossed over $200 million worldwide to date.
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