So once again we have survived.

The Loveless

tn_lovelessThe Oscars this year performed a courageous service: they taught the world who Kathryn Bigelow was. Or at least that she’s a woman, she won the Oscar, she directed THE HURT LOCKER, and that business about her ex-husband, whatsisdick. So now she’s pretty close to a household name, she’s not just that legendary female director of action movies who for a short time had the filmatic chops to match or better her testacled counterparts. Now she’s reborn with a great movie at the top of her IMDB profile and a place in history.

Don’t get me wrong, she still directed POINT BREAK. But there’s more to her than we paid attention to before. So in honor of that I decided it was time to go back and watch the ones I haven’t seen before.

What I’d really like to see is her student film THE SET-UP, a 20–minute short that supposedly deconstructs action. Word is it’s one long fight scene with a voiceover by two philosophers. The most promising part is that one of the fighters is Gary Busey. But I don’t know where to get that mp_lovelessone, so I started with Blue Underground’s release of her first feature, THE LOVELESS (1982). It stars Willem Dafoe (his first starring role) as a nomadic biker some time in the ’50s. Bigelow co-wrote and co-directed with some dude with the redundant name Monty Montgomery, who didn’t direct anything else but produced a bunch of David Lynch projects. And I can see the connection, it makes sense.

Montgomery says on the commentary track that he wished they’d worked on the script longer, and I wish they did too. It doesn’t have much of a story. But man does it have a tone and an atmosphere. It’s a much more realistic, less nostalgic version of the ’50s than what you usually get in movies. It’s very slow and deliberate, with minimalistic dialogue, lots of quiet. But also a great soundtrack of mostly rockabilly. Dafoe, sometimes alone, sometiems with some other bikers he met in prison, is headed for Daytona. He stops in little diners and bars, buys some Thunderbird, changes a woman’s tire, then grabs her boob, picks up a teenage girl and drives her dad’s car.

Early on it does a great job of showing the appeal of the open road, the freedom of perpetually moving forward to new places and people. And all throughout it keeps stopping to peer at people looking at him. Women fear or lust for him, one man says he’s an “animal” but wishes he could switch places with him for a little while, another thinks bikers are all communists and gets impending-heart-attack-livid at the very sight or thought of them.

There are a bunch of really well put together scenes. My favorite is when he’s staying in a hotel with the girl. He’s naked on top of her while race riots play out on TV. Suddenly there’s a noise – the tires being shot out on the car. They jump up to put pants on as the girl’s dad kicks through the door, grabs her and drags her out. She cries that Willem ain’t done nothing to her that ain’t been done to her before. The dad tosses her in the car he came in and drives off.

That over with, Dafoe exhaustedly stumbles to the door, shuts it, and sits down on the bed and forgets about it. I mean, what else is he gonna do? That’s over. Time to move on.

So within individual scenes it’s got the visual storytelling Bigelow later mastered, but as a whole it’s more about a feel than a plot. But for that type of movie it’s very good. I just wish she would’ve gone and made one of those bikers-in-Vietnam movies, she could’ve done a good one. But this is pretty good too though.

I’m not sure if Bigelow has done any other DVD commentary tracks besides this one. It’s interesting because on this she’s very soft spoken and quiet, doesn’t say much. She recorded with Dafoe, who she lets do most of the talking, and their time is split with Montgomery who recorded separately. Because of the type of movies she makes and the fact that she has made it so far in what in my opinion is a male dominated industry (please send feminist of the year award c/o Vern, Seattle, WA, USA) it’s easy to assume she’d be a real assertive ballbuster type, a female Michael Mann or William Friedkin. Nope, she sounds more like a Sofia Coppola type, at least when talking about this movie. Interesting.

I gotta admit, because of that cover and title I always thought this was a gay hustler movie. It’s not, but it’s a real dry arthouse type of independent movie, it’s probly closer to a gay hustler movie than to POINT BREAK. Let’s put it this way, I don’t think it gave a whole lot of competition to E.T. that year. It’s probly the least straightforward of Bigelow’s movies, but it shows obvious talent and potential right out the gate. Then it took her five years to get her next movie going but when she did it was worth the wait ’cause it was NEAR DARK.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 8th, 2010 at 1:22 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

50 Responses to “The Loveless”

  1. OLEG LIVES.

  2. does anyone shoot a whole mag of bullets into the air?

  3. Not sure about full commentaries, but the laserdisc for Strange Days had a track of Brigelow giving a talk on the
    initial POV sequence, explaining how its actually made up of three cuts even though it initially seems like it was
    done in one take. I believe it ended up on the UK DVD aswell.

    Willem Dafoe’s look in Streets of Fire also screamed “Gay Hustler” – especially when he turns up at the end
    wearing leather pants and braces and no shirt.

  4. I also think she did a DVD commentary for Near Dark.

    Thanks again for the review, Vern.

  5. Bigelow’s also done commentaries for Near Dark, K-19: The Widowmaker, and The Hurt Locker, and the Strange Days DVD does have her very long, lecture, I guess you’d call it, or presentation, about the opening scene.

  6. “Don’t get me wrong, she still directed POINT BREAK.”

    That’s not a jab at POINT BREAK, is it? Because I love POINT BREAK.

  7. “He stops in little diners and bars, buys some Thunderbird, changes a woman’s tire, then grabs her boob, picks up a teenage girl and drives her dad’s car.”

    just from that plot description it almost sounds like the inspiration for BROWN BUNNY (also including the fact that he is traveling to eventually get to a race).

    Dan – i’m pretty sure that wasn’t a jab at POINT BREAK. i think vern meant that there was a reason to know about and respect bigelow before HURT LOCKER, but it showed a new level to her skill.

  8. Ms. Bigelow is a hack. Point Break is great and Strange Days is good, though, despite the shitty filmatism.

  9. Jareth Cutestory

    April 8th, 2010 at 6:35 am

    In addition to producing some of Lynch’s films, Monty Montgomery also played The Cowboy in MULHOLLAND DRIVE, possibly the most memorable supporting character in that film.

  10. MikeOutWest already mentioned Streets of Fire, but have you seen it, Vern? It has a young Willem Dafoe as the leader of a biker gang, in a universe with a weird 50’s aesthetic. In fact, Dafoe’s Wikipedia article even says that the roles he plays in The Loveless and Streets of Fire are quite similar. It’s directed by Walter Hill and has some really neat music by Ry Cooder, though admittedly it stars Michael Pare (blech). If you haven’t seen it you might want to check it out. It’s more of a cheesy action movie than what The Loveless sounds like, though.

  11. Vern- I had the opportunity to interview Bigelow and Jamie Lee Curtis in college when they were promoting BLUE STEEL. She was very soft spoken and basically deferred to Curtis on every question unless asked specifically for her reply. When she did speak though she was very intelligent, and surprisingly dry witted. I remember asking her what it was about action, and violence that intrigued her as a filmmaker. Before answering seriously she said, “Have you heard I’m doing BABAR THE MOVIE as my next project?”.

  12. it pains me to say this, but I watched Near Dark for the first time recently after the Oscars and I…..just wasn’t very impressed with it

    not I think it’s a bad movie per se, it certainly has it’s moments, but I expected a lot more, for one thing I thought *SPOILER* the whole thing with blood transfusion made no sense and was a cop out

  13. Highly recommend watching and reviewing Streets of Fire. That movie is pure, ridiculous magic. Maybe my favorite Walter Hill movie, depending on mood.

  14. Only This site could bring back memories of STREETS OF FIRE. A flick I haven’t seen since I was a kid. What a singular, quirky vision that picture was. There never was or will be another one like it. I can’t even think of another film to compare it to. Well worth reviewing, Vern, if you’re into Walter Hill.

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    April 8th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Griff: I’m not a fan of NEAR DARK either (and I really dislike STRANGE DAYS), and it pains me to say that because I pretty much think that Lance Henricksen is the most awesome guy around. It all seems choppy and perfunctory to me, a series of plot points more than a story, a bunch of charsimatic personalities more than characters.

    But in fairness, the film does away with so much of the junk that vampire films have accumulated over the years, that it deserves credit for its restraint. In fact, I don’t think that the word “vampire” is used in the film. I might be wrong about that.

  16. I agree that Near Dark pretty much pisses itself down its own leg with that blood transfusion thing. So let me get this straight: This rural veterinarian replaced every drop of his son’s vampire-inflected blood? How? Where’d he get the blood from? And why did no one ever think of this before? It’s not just that I don’t buy this scientifically, I also think it cheats on the themes of the movie. Kids, you can explore the dark side and not pay a price. Just go out there and lose your innocence, then come home and Pop’ll put it right back. It’ll be like you never left home and tried to discover yourself at all. We’ll just pretend that whole “becoming an accomplice to mass murder” thing never happened.

    Other than that the movie is pretty awesome.

  17. Fortunately the blood thing happens only in the last like, what 20 minutes. Besides the ridiculousness of the whole process, the film fails to address the fact that shit, they’ve just figured out how to cure vampirism. Why not just cure the whole family, or at least let ’em know that they have a choice? Seems like Homer at least migth like to get back to growing.

  18. Mr. S, just to be clear, I wasn’t being sarcastic. Other than the blood transfusion thing, the movie IS pretty awesome.

  19. Sorry Dudes and/or Dudettes, but I will defend Near Dark, and Strange Days as both being ahead of their times, and well worth the good will they’ve garnered over the years. Maybe it’s my ever advancing middle age ( I’m 42), but when they were released they were unlike most everything the 2 different genres (vampire and Dystopian Near Future respectively) had offered up to then. While it’s all subjective, it works for you or it doesn’t, there is no denying the impact, and the fan base those movies have had.

  20. Nobody’s denying the impact of the movie. It was the first really American vampire movie, and I think it’s safe to say that without it (and The Lost Boys, the cuddly Beatles to Near Dark’s sleazy Stones) there wouldn’t be Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Twilight or True Blood or whatever the hell other sexual awakening metaphors are coursing through the veins of pop culture at any given moment. Hell, there’s even an entire subgenre of “vampires in the desert for no good reason except Near Dark did it and it was cool so we did it too” ripoffs. (Seriously, is there a worse place on earth for a vampire to be than the desert? Maybe the arctic tundra during its 24 hours of sunlight phase?) I’m just saying that while the vast majority of the film is well imagined and executed, its third act transition is not. Maybe not working on her scripts enough used to be a problem for Bigelow. I think the Best Screenplay Oscar The Hurt Locker received proves that she got over it.

    Anyway, this plot foible used to bother me a lot more than it does now. Now I recognize that the excellence and innovation of the rest of the movie more than makes up for it.

    Mostly.

  21. Mr M – don’t worry, I love it too, iffy ending and all. But I was almost willing to go along with the ridiculousness of the blood tranfusion idea until it became clear that they were not going to address the potential ramifications of this amazing discovery. To me, that’s where I can’t quite defend the thing. But otherwise it’s great.

  22. Christ, it disturbs & baffles me to see that people really seem to believe that The Hurt Locker is a good movie. I apologize for tearing down the thing, but it made such a tiny blip on my cinema critic radar before it actually diminished in standing over time, moving from nonentity to a bad, out-&-out failure of a film in my assessment.
    Also, The Lost Boys is a lot more fun and rewatchable than Near Dark.

  23. Mouth, I somewhat agree with you. I think The Hurt Locker is a very well-made film but it didn’t really have much of an impact on me. I like what it’s setting out to do and I think it accomplishes it but I don’t really connect to the characters and I didn’t feel any of that suspense and tension that everyone else is talking about. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see it until a month or so ago so I was expecting too much. Dammit, I knew I should have gone to that sneak preview back in fucking ’08.

    I also agree that I’ll watch The Lost Boys a lot more often over the course of my life than I will Near Dark. It’s a controversial notion but I think Lost Boys is a prime example of how you do mainstream pop horror right. You don’t pretend that you’re making a serious work of art but you don’t skimp on the filmatism, either. I think it’s the perfect starter horror flick. You know, for kids.

  24. Yes, The Lost Boys is more fun than Near Dark. Also, oranges are more citrus-y than apples.

    How are we defining “more rewatchable”? There’s plenty of stuff in Near Dark – as flawed as it is – that reward repeat viewing. The filmatism, for instance. A decent two-hour presentation could be done on the roadhouse sequence, in my opinion. The cinematography, the atmosphere, the pacing in that sequence alone — there’s a lot to be learned from it.

  25. Streets Of Fire + Rumble Fish = (stylistically, at least) Sin City.

  26. “I think Lost Boys is a prime example of how you do mainstream pop horror right. ”

    Mr. M – Oh dear lord, MONSTER SQUAD was scarrier than LOST BOYS.

  27. And, y’know, I agree, Near Dark’s storytelling rhythms are a bit awkward and it isn’t the smoothest-flowing narrative (although after you see The Loveless, you understand why–they’re VERY similar in many ways, and The Loveless has the same episodic structure and iconic characters). BUT, it’s strengths VASTLY outweigh it’s weaknesses. Near Dark and The Lost Boys revolutionized not just vampires, but horror movies, and arguably American genre movies, forever. It’s punk / rockabilly, leather jacket gun-wielding outlaw vamps were unlike anything else seen before and the originality and excitement of Eric Red and Kathryn Bigelow’s vision still knocks you out.

  28. Anyway STREETS OF FIRE was ok. I mean I like the aesthetics, good cast with Rick Moranis getting to play a total prick who *SPOILER* gets the girl *SPOILER* and Michael Pare is solid. The movie works…until the 3rd act, and the fucker falls apart like the Bluesmobile in BLUES BROTHERS.

    Still decent. Best bit was Future Mrs. Ed Harris knocking the fuck out of Bill Paxton at the bar. She really is able to play a credible tough chick without being silly. Which most movies inadvertedly tend to do with such things.

  29. While I have a nostalgic soft spot for THE LOST BOYS ( By that I mean I had the poster up, next to my MIAMI VICE poster when I was in high school. ), as a now 42 year old life long film fan, I can say with all certainty, Katherine Bigelow made a MUCH better film than Schumacher. Of course it’s all subjective, but really, you’re gonna’ defend LOST BOYS over NEAR DARK? I blame we older fans. We obviously failed you if you’re still praising a hack over an artist.

  30. Jareth Cutestory

    April 8th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    RRA: You remember that moment when the Bluesmobile fell apart, and Jake and Elwood, despite being in a great hurry to see Steven Spielberg, pause to remove their hats for a moment of silence? I love that moment. And THE BLUES BROTHERS is filled with stuff like those priceless little moments.

    Does anyone know if Bigelow had final cut on NEAR DARK? The end of that film always seemed tampered with to me.

    But she sure got the being-burned-alive stuff done right. Neither UNDERWORLD or TRUE BLOOD come close to NEAR DARK in that respect.

  31. ***I also agree that I’ll watch The Lost Boys a lot more often over the course of my life than I will Near Dark. It’s a controversial notion but I think Lost Boys is a prime example of how you do mainstream pop horror right. You don’t pretend that you’re making a serious work of art but you don’t skimp on the filmatism, either. I think it’s the perfect starter horror flick. You know, for kids.***

    Well put, Mr. Majestyk. It’s for the kids.
    For some reason, I’ve felt too preoccupied today to elaborate on my own “controversial notion[s],” but you’ve reminded me of some good times here. Even when I was, like, 13 years of age, in 8th grade circa 1996, my friends & I already were ridiculing The Lost Boys even as we admitted that we genuinely enjoyed it. In the days just before Halloween, one of us would mention something about a younger sibling wanting to be a vampire for the holiday, and at least 2 of the guys would automatically immediately start singing in mock soprano–“Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill.”

    Point Break & The Lost Boys are quite similar, now that I think about it. Both have ridiculous moments that are impossible not to laugh at, yet both are highly satisfying if the viewer chooses to kind of take the movie seriously on some level. Both films hold up well to repeat viewings, yet both should theoretically suffer harsher critiques in correlation with the presumably advancing maturity level of their viewerships on a linear time scale.

    Joel Schumacher has put out some garbage in his day, but he got this “mainstream pop horror” film right.

  32. Mr. Majestyk – that’s what I was thinking when it came to the blood transfusion, you expect me to believe that someone could not only do a homemade blood transfusion, but get every drop of blood out of a person? that stretches suspension of disbelief to it’s breaking point, I remember in one of the special features for 28 Days Later shows that the third act of the movie was going to be very different and end with *SPOILER* Jim transfusing his blood into Frank to cue him of the infection, however Danny Boyle said that no one would be believe that they would be able to get every drop of blood out

    anyway I too prefer The Lost Boys over Near Dark, for one thing The Lost Boys doesn’t have any suspension of disbelief destroying moments

  33. also, remember when TNT would play The Lost Boys constantly?

  34. I shudder every time I see the word “hack.” Maybe i’m too forgiving or maybe i’ve see the word in the same sentence as “Taratino,” but it just seems like a knee-jerk reaction to an artist that makes a mistep. Most directors (arguably) do not have a perfect track record, and calling someone a “hack” that has made it far enough in the biz to become a well known name and a career (considering the hundreds of wannabes who will NEVER make it) just seems to be unfounded. Exceptions can be made for a few directors i’m sure, but come on. Surely there are better ways to say when something isn’t to our taste.

  35. And I meant “seen the word in the same sentence as Taratino too often.” stupid Blackberry keypad.

  36. I agree with you there anthony, the fact that someone could hate Taratino is absurd

    I think it’s a good litmus test actually, if you hate Taratino because you think his movie have too much dialog or whatever, then you are a jackass

  37. Mouth – Hack is a bit strong isn’t it? I think you’re kind of just stating your tastes and opinions as fact – which isn’t a very reasonable way to critique anything.

    Regardless, I can see that Near Dark might have been much more effective at the time of its release – but it never really did much for me. I saw it for the first time in the mid-90s, so I’d already been exposed to all the work that succeeded it – so the effect was probably diluted.

    But I love Strange Days, Hurt Locker and Point Break – and find there’s some really great aspects to Blue Steel. I don’t see how anyone – regardless of how much they did or didn’t enjoy any of those films – could consider them the work of some anonymous hack. Her authorship is all over them.

    Vern, I’m also surprised at Bigelow’s girlishness. She this amazonian beauty, making all these macho films – but when she received her oscar she looked like Carrie before the bucket fell. I actually think it might qualify as her own female badass juxtaposition. I expected her to be all gruff and dismissive, but found her emotional openness and vulnerability incredibly endearing. So, yeah – I totally have a crush on her.

  38. Also, no explanation to why she’s a hack kind of makes it pointless. It’s just saying “I didn’t like the movie so the person who made it sucks.” Can you articulate some aspect of her directing that you actively dislike?

    And does it really disturb you that much that people like THE HURT LOCKER, or were you just being dramatic for effect? I mean, getting disturbed or baffled because people like movies you don’t is silly to begin with, but really, THE HURT LOCKER bugs you that much? I could get people finding it forgettable, but not offensive.

  39. Point Break and The Lost Boys have moments that are impossible not to laugh at?

    No they don’t, unless you’re watching them with this superior, sneering attitude of being cool….

    As a matter of personal taste, they may have moments that seem absurd to YOU, but c’mon, those are two good films. We’re not talking about “The Room” or “Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus” here….

  40. I know for a lot of people Lost Boys has been relegated to “guilty pleasure” status. However, I think by any honest assessment it’s a good movie. It’s clever, well-written, well made. Yeah, it’s got a super-1980‘s kind of vibe, but, having just watched the new Clash of the Titans, I’ll take 1980’s wackiness any time over modern day strained-seriousness.

    There’s a small moment in the movie that I think is kind of cool….

    Sam (Corey Haim), having launched an arrow at a vampire and knocked him to the floor, is actually smart enough to get another arrow ready to shoot before approaching the body. And the way the movie shows him approach, without actually showing what his hands are doing, is a nice piece of misdirection. It leads you to expect the scene is going to play out a different way. Something like: the vampire jumps back up (“You missed, sucka!”), Sam fumbles with the bow as the vampire approaches, vampire knocks the bow away and grabs Sam, they struggle until Sam’s brother jumps in and saves him.

    But no. Instead Sam, being smart, already has an arrow (and a one-liner) ready.

    “Only once, pal.”

    I also like the way the Grandfather’s final line is foreshadowed by the fact that, earlier, he seemed to be putting those posts in upside down, with the pointy side up.

  41. “It’s clever, well-written, well made. ”

    See I must have been watching the wrong version of LOST BOYS because I’ve never associated that movie with being particularly clever with anything. It’s like a studio executive got the bright idea of combining vampires with then 1980s contemporary pop culture. That’s about it. Decent cast, a director who like Barry Levinson can equally dish out a good or horrible picture…just it’s too lacking for me.

    Strange too this same thread people bitched about the “logic” of a particular sequence in NEAR DARK…

    Well I haven’t seen LOST BOYS in several years, but I seem to remember last screening to note how the whole blood-transformation shit was a few bottles short of a six pack…also, why didn’t Jack Bauer after getting staked like…you know…?

    That said, the last line is killer. Wish the movie was as witty and fresh as that moment.

  42. There’s really nothing to debate, because if I were to say something like, “kids putting holy water in super-soakers in order to kill teenage vampires living an eternal life of constant partying = clever.”

    You can simply say, “No, it doesn’t.”

    I’ll grant you it’s not Oscar Wilde type shit, but few things are.

  43. Kathryn Bigelow is a very soft spoken person indeed. She has a very quiet and educated way of talking. And yet all the uber-macho men actors who have worked in her movies say they would rather face raging bulls then cross her. And she’s gorgeaus.

  44. LOST BOYS seen from the perspective of an 80s geriatric… which means, me. I was a late teen when i saw LOST BOYS on VHS, a few years after it’s theatrical run. And believe you guys or not, back then it was a darker movie then the vast majority of the other teen genre movies, be they SF or even horror. The movie had a mood to it that wasn’t common bakc then. It almost bordered on sleaze. And it was gory. Maybe gorehounds of today would find LOST BOYS’s gore tame, but this was back in the 80s, and a mainstream movie to boot.

    This might sound like i’m defending this movie. I’m not. I don’t really much care for it. But i’m offering a context to understand the movie as seen back in the day.

  45. I’d love to see Vern’s reaction and opinions about Bigelow’s BLUE STEEL.

  46. Thanks, friend.

  47. I’ve been meaning to check this film out for years but alas, the cover and title have put me off of it…

    I can’t imagine having a sexed-up black leather-clad Willem Dafoe staring at me from the shelf I put my DVD’s on… Not to mention the fact that it’d always involve some sort of explanation when someone browses your collection (“What the hell is this?”)
    ..
    Anyway, speaking of Michael Mann… review MANHUNTER… I’m curious to how you’d rank it alongside its more famous brethren (me? I think it’s a vastly superior film to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS)…. All hail the Noonan!

    (and speaking of nothing, ever see THE PUBLIC EYE with Joe Pesci? Kind of a lost classic from the early 90’s….)

  48. Maybe “hack” ain’t precisely what I should say. Bigelow is capable of doing some good things, and her style is identifiable. Still, she’s no auteur. Her style and filmatic choices by turns provoke either laughter or indignation.

    On Point Break and Strange Days, even though the stories are interesting, she and her crew seem to have gotten confused in postproduction or editing. As director, it’s her responsibility to decide whether her final cut should try to resemble, say, Pablo Picasso-meets-Ray Chandler or Gary Larson-meets-Phillip Dick or a uniquely Bigelowian effort; when it’s a mishmash of straightforward narrative, implausibility, melodrama, and decent action scenes, it’s going to have some laughable moments unless the director walks a fine line just right.

    Point Break is fun. It has Gary Busey. It has a beach bum hair-pulling montage. It has bank robbers who moon the security camera. It has a guy named “Starchild” or something if I recall correctly. It has a gratuitous tit shot followed by a fight involving a lawnmower. Despite all this, I can’t help but get the feeling Bigelow is attempting to make a straight-up dramatic action film. It has the narrative tone of, say, Roadhouse, but some of the cinematography and pivotal moments suggest that the film crew thought they were making All the King’s Men, surfer edition. That kind of seriousness doesn’t bother me in this example, though. In Point Break, it still mostly works, so that’s why most people like it a lot. If others enjoyed it without laughing, as I did, at some of the stupider moments, then maybe that means I underestimate Bigelow’s dramatic filmatism.

    Strange Days is fun, too. It’s a sci-fi whodunit, and, even though it insists that Juliette ‘I’d rather scratch my own eyes out than hook up with her much less obsess over her and listen to her sing’ Lewis is hot and has a wrenchingly silly part-slo-mo partial Die Hard-rip-off ending, it’s a good experience. However, it suffers from a similar confusion of ideas and tonal scatteredness that hurt Point Break’s standing among 90s action films. Namely, there’s a graphic first-person rape scene.

    See, it takes some serious skill to make a “gritty,” social commentary type futuristic work whose plot relies on black market virtual reality trips and the ineptitude of colorful bad guys to reach a poignant, exciting climax. The alternative, for the viewer & for the filmmakers, is to regard it as an entertainment rather than as a serious dramatic narrative. The rape scene sort of kills the mock-seriousness that it might have otherwise achieved successfully. Interestingly, for some reason Paul Verhoeven was able to include what was essentially a twisted rape scene in Flesh & Blood without it killing his movie. See it and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Verhoeven’s climax–an awesome extended sequence of fights and breahless cliffhanger moments–feels right, and the whole movie is enjoyable as a dramatic action film and as an entertainment. The director was in control the whole way, and the viewing experience is a thoroughly enjoyable one. With Bigelow’s work, I don’t get that same feeling. It’s not that I’m misunderstanding that she’s, like, deliberately challenging the viewer to ride along from genre to genre in her stories; it’s just that her filmatic/filmatistic technique seems like creative laziness to me. It seems hackish.

    The Hurt Locker is her biggest failure because she genuinely tried to make a serious dramatic action film. She no longer relied on ‘ha-ha’ moments (“This morning, I caught my first tube, sir.” / the football player-bodyguard who bounces Ralph Fiennes) that could allow her or the viewer to retreat from the seriousness of the narrative. But then, her narrative is meaningless, as I discovered after viewing this boring (if it had been relegated to the DTV bargain bin like I thought it would when I first saw it in January 2009 in Iraq) or frustrating (as it is now that it is so highly acclaimed among civilians) film.

    “War is a drug.” Roger, got it. Let’s see some war. Okay, so they got a bunch of details wrong. Okay, so that would never happen in Baghdad circa 2004. Whatever, Johnny Utah wouldn’t keep his field assignment after popping off pointless rounds from his pistol, so might as well suspend disbelief for this one, too. No big deal. That special ops soldier is crying instead of reacting to the threat, hmmm. But I’m not supposed to smile at this one, so. . . I guess there must be some symbolic shit going on. I looked and looked. Couldn’t see it. Well, SFC James goes out on his own, on dubious intel, and gets dead-ended in unfamiliar territory in an Iraqi neighborhood, so maybe that’s like symbolism for the US involvement in Iraq. But that’s not an original idea or political statement in 2008-09, so. . . It seemed like Bigelow strived for something that just failed to add up to anything in that movie. And the action scenes were boring or just grating to my sensibility. Even if Point Break & Strange Days were meaningless, too, at least they had some bizarre elements or spot humor to remind me that I’m supposed to be enjoying myself. At least there was mystery. THL didn’t register anything in me.

  49. Recently rewatched Near Dark too. Stunning atmosphere – some great scenes: the attack on the bar, the cop raid on the motel – Henriksen’s and Goldstein’s final demise – but also somewhat weak in the story department. The blood transfusion thing doesn’t make sense and the whole showdown is rather lame, not to mention a lot of minor shit. But Bigelow is a great director, breathing life into something that in other hands could have easily been a crappy c-movie. Only the gasoline-truck scene feels kinda choppily edited.
    Still a great movie.

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