Required reading: David Bordwell’s Bond vs. Chan essay

tn_bordwellMouth and several others have sent me the link to this blog post by the film academician David Bordwell. (Unfortunately he never mentions Seagal in there, so I can’t call him ‘fellow Seagalogist’ or ‘my esteemed colleague.’ And I’m not familiar enough with his work to call him ‘Dave.’)

It’s a good one and I figure it oughta be on the reading list. Basically he does a shot-by-shot analysis (with screen grabs) of a fight scene from the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie TOMORROW NEVER DIES and one from the Jackie Chan movie RIGHTING WRONGS. He shows how in the Bond scene the hits or even the enemies are often off screen, and shows how the Chan scene is designed to show fluid and clear movement. He also makes a good point about how the Chan scene is able to use very quick shots and still be understandable, which proves that the problem with that Michael Bay style is more than just the editing.

He sort of frames it as American action vs. Hong Kong action, but also mentions at the end that many modern Hong Kong movies have picked up the post-action style as well. It’s interesting that TOMORROW NEVER DIES works so well to demonstrate the points, since I think we’d all agree that QUANTUM OF SOLACE is much more extreme.

Bordwell also found some quotes from Stallone about THE EXPENDABLES which were disappointing. I didn’t realize that he had intentionally done a shitty job of shooting the action scenes, basically telling the camera crew to just cover what happens because “‘This is not supposed to hang in the Louvre.’ I wanted it to be disjointed and rough, not choreographed.”

I hope Stallone and all other current or future action movie directors will read Bordwell’s essay (for starters). Film is a medium of visual communication and if you’re not gonna communicate what’s going on in the action scenes then you shouldn’t bother filming them. Just go out in the backyard and wrestle some dudes.

Now here is Scott Adkins fighting Van Damme in THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL.

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74 Responses to “Required reading: David Bordwell’s Bond vs. Chan essay”

  1. First x 2!

    This is a great day for the relationship between Vern & Mouth. Now I’ll have to remember to get him a present exactly 6 months and exactly 12 months from now.

  2. ***I hope Stallone and all other current or future action movie directors will read Bordwell’s essay (for starters). ***

    And I hope Mr. Stallone makes Rambo 5. And Rambo 6. And, eventually, Rambo 12.

  3. I think it’s agreed the decision to refrain from clearly showing an impact is a choice in favour of “realism” as opposed to clarity and orientation. This realism is a different type of illusion giving us no clearly missed stage punches visible to dispute. The sound design takes over, and I’ve got to say the sound designers must love this style. They are the ones telling the story! Jackie Chan is an extreme example because he’s willing to become so physical. There are no illusions, Jackie Chan is doing a lot of that stuff in reality so in a way it’s an unfair comparison. Stallone is not about to do Jackie Chan level stunt work to create convincing impacts. This however can be solved with craft in my opinion. I feel a great action scene is constructed using cuts allowing seemingly complete events to be strung together, smoothed over using action cuts of a few frames and appropriate change of angles/lens length. Illusions of impacts are created by compression with long lenses and clever composition, or can happen off screen (if done well you may be convinced you saw it). This can all look very stiff if the director doesn’t have their own elements of style, interesting use of composition, blocking of the actors (for relation to the camera not just the fight choreography), rhythmic cutting of shot length and speed etc. If filmmakers lack this visual craft one can understand why they might adopt this frenetic and “realistic” trendy style. I think what’s disappointing about the Expendables is we’ve seen more coherent work from Stallone and he seems to have used the style to be current in what was an expected throwback.

  4. I’m sorry but seeing Van Damme fight Adkins and win just depresses me. I’m ashamed for Scott watching him check himself enough to lose. Brings back memories of watching him beat the holy shit out of Kelly Hu and then getting himself blown up by his own grenade in the Tournament. Spoiler.

    Adkins and MJW should be required casting in every action film. And they cannot lose a fight. Unless its to each other. In that case some sort of coin flipping impartial system should be implemented.

  5. Tomorrow Never Dies was a stepping stone to Quantum of Solice. Not just because its Bond, action movies in general slipped down this route.

    For me, the best example of a perfectly executed action scene is the airplane fight sequence in Raiders of The Lost Arc. Not for one minute does the viewer lose sight of any of the parts of the scene. The fist fight, the broad shooting the Jerries and the fuel leak creeping towards fire. The whole thing plays out in such a clear way it would probably be regarded as clunky and slow by todays standards. Shame really. Less than two minutes later, Indy is on a horse chasing a truck in one of the other perfect scenes.

    I don’t expect Jackie Chan levels of commitment, just more than Pierce Brosnan’s lazy ass smug shit.

    In his defence, Brosnan had a great fight scene with Bean Sean in Goldeneye.

  6. CJ Holden. Please don’t take offence at me calling you or any german a jerrie. I apologise immeadiately.

  7. ***best example of a perfectly executed action scene***

    My roommate points to the bald Nazi focker getting it in the face with a propeller blade in that The Terminal director’s early 80s oft o’erlooked Illinois Jones low budget-flop.

    Mouth approves of a plethora of “the best example of a perfectly executed action scene,” since we’re all snowflakes and shit, but I’m not afraid to acknowledge that the phraseology of “best” and “perfect” brings out the Englishy nerd in me who now indicates that I am not allowed to use a modifier here when I state my numero uno. No equivocation permitted. And I read and studied Macbeth, so I know all about some equivocation, plebeians. So, with all this absolutism at hand, handcuffing as its nature may be, I shall kindly raise my hand, cuffed or otherwise, and submit hereby that

  8. . . .uh. . .

    Seems like I would have thought about this quite a bit before now. . .

  9. Is it possible to top Tony Jaa in The Protector? He stars in 1 of the best single shots ever and 1 more of the best sequences ever. He breaks so many dudes’ bones & joints, dude.

    If anyone here has not yet viddied The Protector, A) You’re a bad person. B) Dude, go see it right now. Go see it yesterday if possible.

    Now off to check if Mr. Bordwell has done some analysis involving The Protector. . .

  10. Van Damme and Scott Adkins are doing another film together now called Weapon. They team up in that one.

  11. If you are interested, Bordwell also has a couple very good posts about shaky cam, specifically as it’s used in the Bourne movies directed by Greengrass.



  12. I take it “Vern Nobles” is no relation to a certain Outlaw Film Critic?
    I personally thought the editing in THE EXPENDABLES was a more mild example of shakeycam annoyingness. I could tell what was going most of the time, I felt the camera was in too close sometimes and there was a bit of a disjointedness between different moments at times.
    Another thing notable about the Police Story fight, is that when Jackie slides down the pole, he actually does an “action replay” from a different angle.
    You can see it at 2:39 here:
    And right after it, the Clock Fall from Project A, which isn’t just action replays, but MULTIPLE retakes of it. It makes no sense from a continuity standpoint, but it sure looks incredible.

  13. And then the tube of u says this:


    Not bad. I’ll be seein’ you indeed.

  14. Ok… well I liked Bordwell’s essay also. Not quite sure what to make of the Adkins vs Van Damme fight though. I’d give it a six. There’s definitely bits that work and bits that don’t.

    Having read the essay, it’s easy to spot the bits that don’t “fit”. At one point, Van Damme / Adkins has delivered two very close range punches to the other’s chest (you can’t see which one is doing the punching, which is a BIG problem), and then in the next shot – instantaneously – there’s a full-length leg kick. The distance between the two of them has tripled, at least, with nothing really to say how it got that way. Lots of moments like that in the fight.

    There’s a lot of avid-fartiness (unnecessary slow-mo, etc) and while some of it – in particular the bit just before the fight, where Van Damme is dazed – works well, other parts clearly don’t. Reducing the frame rate to make things seem more “staccato”, I think, doesn’t really work.

    As Bordwell said, it comes down to what you’re trying to communicate. The “dazed” bit works because is communicates a “mood” or “atmosphere” very quickly, and punctuates the fact that Van Damme is, well, dazed. That’s using an unconventional technique to communicate an idea. But what does the “staccato” bit convey? Nothing to my mind – it just takes the viewer out of the action for a second.

    On a different subject – I wish there were more formatting options on this blog. Seriously, I do. I wrote up two LONG posts on “The Tournament”, which I thought was pretty good; but so much less than it could have been, had it lived up to its central premise. The main character “assassin” isn’t really an assassin at all – she never actually kills anybody except in self-defence – and it definitely suffers from the “Domino effect”. (See what I did there?) Specifically, that if you didn’t know what an assassin was before seeing that movie, you still wouldn’t afterwards.

    Anyway, those two posts are probably the best thing I’ve ever written, at least on this blog; but unfortunately they suffer from severe “wall of text” syndrome, even though I’ve tried to split everything up as much as possible. I’d definitely like to see what you guys had to say about the second post though – it’s not a rant, and in fact I end up recommending the film, but it’s very specific about why I don’t think the movie lives up to its potential. So if anybody’s seen “The Tournament” and fancies a debate on that film and several other action films in general, amble over to the comments there.

  15. It was an interesting read but I don’t recall having any problem understanding the fight scenes in The Expendables.

  16. Mouth. See I didn’t read much Shakespeare and didn’t realise that I meant to say “a good example of a clear action scene would be the airplane fight in Raiders.” Thank god for all the schooled folk around these parts to drag me up to speed.

  17. Mouth –

    I would choose the Bar Scene in T2 and the “Take your big stick, and your boyfriend and find a bus to catch” scene in Hard Target. Both are very simple and low in the amount of hits but extremely stylish and well crafted. They are both kind of introductions to a character’s level of badass too. I chose these because I always find I have to go back and watch them frame by frame. I guess the Seagal equivalent would be the bar scene in Out for Justice or the Liquor Store in Hard To Kill. I guess I like slow dialog laced action scenes.

  18. Allow me to preface everything here by saying plain out and out that I thoroughly genuinely honestly appreciate any response and any comment from anyone here, be it Vern or a Vern sycophant like those whose names/pseudonames appear on the left edge of my computer monitor screen here & now. I regret that this is not stated clearly more often, though I suspect it is generally understood among the better-adjusted among us. So, huzzah for my co-nerd friends.

    Oddly, AMA, my boy arrived at his conclusion about the propeller scene completely independent from your comment. Great, well, good at least, minds think alike. Seriously, though, dude, there is nothing about which I can argue with you or your ilk, brah. ***Not for one minute does the viewer lose sight of any of the parts of the scene. The fist fight, the broad shooting the Jerries and the fuel leak creeping towards fire. The whole thing plays out in such a clear way it would probably be regarded as clunky and slow by today’s standards. Shame really. Less than two minutes later, Indy is on a horse chasing a truck in one of the other perfect scenes.*** Word. Your welcome?

    Fair enough, Maxo. I find it hard to top the artistry of Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights, before & when he does his best Gene Kelly moves. And don’t make me go back to The Wooden Men for to contriboot to this here best akshun scene argyment, yah? Jes watch and lern, yah.

    Just as recently, I’ve been blown away by the big chase scene toward the beginning of T3. Seagalogist & Vern aficionado I may be, but, to be horribly honest, nothing Steven Seagal has ever done has come close to touching the badassery of T3 or the best of Jackie Chan’s fights. I forgot what the argument was. Shall I post another YouTube badass vid? Nahfuckit.

  19. And I seem to recall that Vern mentioned & described with quotations the simplistic beauty of the Spielberg approach to non post-action action in a pre-Indy 4 talk up, yah?

  20. The best introductory book on film art ever published (9th edition):


    FILM ART lays out the fundaments of film as an art form, i.e: a method of using pictures and (after 1927) sound to communicate coherently. It is not an analysis of _meaning_ (that would be this one: http://www.amazon.com/Film-Theory-Criticism-Leo-Braudy/dp/0195365623/ref=pd_sim_b_2 )
    but rather a superbly written exploration of _method_; or “how” movies are put together, how they work and what they are about – all from two people who passionately *love* cinema.

    My own 6th edition is lavishly illustrated on good paper stock, using frames from the original films rather than set stills, a distinction none of the cheaply made “film appreciation” books on the shelves treat with respect.

    Highest recommendation.

    (it’s the perfect book to lend a friend who honestly wonders “Why is CITIZEN KANE supposed to be so good? I don’t get it, it’s just slow and boring.” FILM ART lays out all the tools to figure it out – so long as the reader is interested in more than just “watching movies”.)

  21. It bears mentioning that there are lots of different types of action scenes, each with their own requirements. You have your vehicle chases, my favorite being that T2: JUDGMENT DAY chase that starts in the mall, most of VANISHING POINT, the famous ones from THE FRENCH CONNECTION and BULLIT, the climax of THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, that one with the armored car in THE DARK KNIGHT, etc. You have your foot chases, like the parkour scene in CASINO ROYALE, that one in POINT BREAK, the rooftop chase in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, the climactic chase in GREEN ZONE (I’m probably not going to get much agreement with all these Greengrass mentions), etc. You have your tournament fight style action: UNDISPUTED II and III, ENTER THE DRAGON, LIONHEART, BLOOD AND BONE etc. Your street fight style action: Piper vs. Keith David in THEY LIVE, Seagal’s bar scene in OUT FOR JUSTICE, etc. Your Asian martial arts action: WAY OF THE DRAGON, THE PROTECTOR, ONG BAK, etc. Your gratuitous shoot outs: HARD-BOILED, HARD-BOILED, HARD-BOILED, etc.

    All of these are off the top of my head and I got progressively lazier as I went along but you get the idea.

  22. Maybe its time a return to the Stanley Kubrick school of filmatism.

    You know, put the camera down and don’t move it for 15 minutes.

  23. OFF TOPIC!

    But, thought I would mention to Vern that Universal Soldier Regeneration is getting a theatrical release (fairly wide) here in Japan.

    Also, great essay thanks for linking to it.

  24. Gwai Lo: And just when you think the book has been written on all the different types of action scene, some genius comes along and re-writes the rules, like Jet Li using a rope to turn his kid into an ass-kicking yo-yo in MY FATHER IS A HERO or large parts of KUNG FU HUSTLE.

    BR BARAKA: Your point stands for the vast majority of his work, but it has to be said: Kubrick loved his hand-held stuff as well. That was him down there in the trenches following the soldiers in FULL METAL JACKET.

  25. Jareth – we’ll just file those away in miscellaneous…

  26. no offense, but now Stallone sounds like kind of a moron, did he really think that’s what we wanted?

    also as Ace Mac Ashbrook points out, Spielberg is a 100% master of action sequences

  27. I got no idea what a Jerrie is, but I don’t take any offense in nicknames. So don’t worry, Ace.

  28. That scene with Jet Li and using his son as a yo-yo, is still a fight scene, so there certain rules how to film a fight scene. Imagine that scene being filmed by Greengrass or Michael Bay. Wouldn’t work.

    You can group action scenes into:
    1. Chase scene – on land, in the air, on the water, on foot etc.
    2. Fight scenes – street fight, martial art fantasy, fight with weapons (Samurai, knights etc)
    3. Shoot outs
    4. Explosion – most of the time with the other types but explosion can be used alone
    5. General stunts – like McClane jumping with a fire hose outside a building, James Bond jumping on crocodiles to go on land

    I don’t think there are other types. An action scene are either a chase scene, fight scene, shoot out, or got some cool stunt or an explosion.

    An action scene should be shot the way the action is the best captured and edit to perfectly create the intensity and suspense of the action scene for the viewer. It should not be about getting a PG-13 or hiding the obvious stunt man. Or trying to create a fake realism which isn’t realism. The director should get us involved in the story like we feel we are involved. If you do that, you don’t need to think about realism. Did Raiders of the Lost Ark try to have a realistic style? No, but the audience feels the action and gets very involved with the character and the story, it doesn’t matter. Shaky cam wouldn’t make that more realistic for the audience, it would just confused them and not involve the audience in the story or action. On the other hand the shaky cam did work in Saving Private Ryan too make us feel invovled in the action, but he didn’t use it in every scene.

  29. I think I found perhaps a 6th type that can’t be put with the 5 others, heist/breaking inn scenes. I guess like the one in Mission Impossible can be consider a suspense scene, but in The Rock when Hummel gets his rockets and gas, that I would consider an action scene. Also the heist scene in Die Hard with A Vengeance I also would consider an action scene, but doesn’t fit together with the other types.

  30. This new taxonomy is tedious.

    You know what’s an underrated fight scene? Achilles versus Hector in Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy. Good simple camerawork, good brutality, good drama, good athleticism, and it’s somehow PG-13.

  31. The convo here reminded me of some terrific reading for those interested in blocking and shot composition: http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2010/08/mad_men_how_to_direct_an_actio.html

  32. Mouth what do you mean by somehow PG-13? Troy is R rated and has a lot of bloody battles, or do you mean that fight was just PG-13? Because fights like that are PG-13 until the lethal blow that makes it R rated, until that it’s only sword/spear against shield or sword/spear, before one hits a lethal blow and kills the other.

  33. You’re right. Should’ve said “could be considered a PG-13 fight.” I need to fire my typist. I just meant to point out that it was brutal but not grimace-inducing violent & bloody. The point is, it’s well worth watching or rewatching if anyone’s not already done so. Yeah, then Achilles drags the body behind his ride, and it’s definitely an R movie.

  34. Anybody see The Town yet? I thought the action scenes in that were pretty good. It seems like Affleck found a good mix old school and post-action direction. I thought the scenes worked really well especially when you have the scenes showing the POV of the security camera with no sound and you see some guys with masks come running into the front door then BAM they cut to the action right as someone is getting butted in the head.

    You have four guys wearing identical costumes and somehow I was STILL able to not only tetll what was going on but who was who. That’s pretty impressive action directing if you ask me.

  35. Just found out that Robert Elswit was the DP and the editor did a lot of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies as well so I guess that’s why the movie looked as good as it did.

  36. I feel that a combination of consumer demand and expediency has a lot to do with the new action cinematography. After the arrival of Jackie Chan and his Asian action contemporaries, North American audiences began demanding their favorite stars perform their own stunts. We no longer were fooled by stunt doubles performing the harrowing action we craved. This had a lot to do with the introduction of home video and the consumer’s ability to watch a sequence over and over, slowing down or even freeze-framing the action. Consider an example. The motorcycle/truck chase from T2. It’s a fantastic piece of action choreography but you have to admit that after multiple viewings on home video the shot of Arnie’s motorcycle jumping the embankment is jarring. It’s painfully obvious that a stunt double with hastily applied prosthetics performed that stunt.

    Distracting Shaky Cam action with ultra-quick cuts eliminates a number of hassles inherent in the action filmmaking process. The need for stunt workers with complex, dangerous and time consuming choreography is negated. The necessity of training actors to perform complex stunts and fight choreography has been cut from months down to weeks and the actual coverage a fight scene or chase sequence has been shortened down from days to hours. A fight scene can be shot in an afternoon with multiple cameras.

  37. hamslime – I also really liked THE TOWN. It has a pretty great shoot out (reminiscent of HEAT, probably on purpose since a lot of the story seems to take cues from HEAT as well) and a pretty great car chase in it. Affleck has more than made up for whatever we’re supposed to hate him for.

  38. Did anyone know at the time of it’s release that HEAT would turn out to be such an influential movie?


    It’s certainly had an influence on me.

  40. I certainly never let myself get attached to anything I am not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if I feel the heat around the corner.

    Thanks, HEAT.

    I’m so lonely.

  41. Me too. I saw HEAT in the theater when I was 11 or 12 or so and instantly declared it my favorite movie of all time. I was a De Niro fan and had seen a lot of his best stuff already, but somehow this sprawling crime epic with its shootout centerpiece was the height of cinema for me at the time. Incidentally I had actually almost died just prior to seeing it and it was the first movie I saw after leaving the hospital. Not sure if that had anything to do with it.

  42. My favorite action scenes are the bank heists from Heat.

  43. Good read , indeed. Since we’re talking about good old Jackie here ( and best action scenes ) , this is a page at Cinemassacre where you can find 2 top tens about him , best stunts and best fights :


    You can bet Police Story is in there , but also Drunken Master and Dragons Forever.
    I don’t know if anyone pointed this out , yet , but I also think that’s unbelievable that the glass in that scene was supposedly twice the size of regular stunt glass , and that some of the cuts you see in the actors are real . That’s elbow grease .

  44. Interesting article. Thanks to Vern and Mouth for sharing. I wonder if shooting action like in “Tomorrow Never Dies” has less to do with getting a PG-13, and more to do with helping to cover up the fact that the performer can’t convincingly stage a fight. I am sure part of it has to do with getting the rating they want, but I think a lot of it is smoke and mirrors designed to hide actors that lack the presence and/or physicality needed to be believably tough on screen. It would be hard to shoot an entertaining/credible fight scene with little to no camera movements or cuts with Peirce Brosnan or Matt Damond. I am not knocking them as actors. I am only questioning their screen fighting credentials.

  45. To be fair to mister Stallone , he’s one who was frequently hospitalized ( or needed medical attention ) after some of his action scenes ( the last one with Stone Cold ) , so he also knows the meaning of elbow grease . Obviously not as much as Jackie , and not nearly as death-defying , but I really thank him for almost breaking his neck to entertain us , at his age.

    With that said , I don’t think that the style used in the Expendables will stand the test of time. I enjoyed it a hell of a lot , and I don’t find it nearly as annoying as Bay or the last Bond , but I think that a director goal should be to create imagery worthy of a museum. I often bring this up , but if you watch Tarkowsky’s Stalker , almost every shot looks like a painting. Granted , it’s slow paced and not action oriented , but I find the visuals nonetheless exciting.

  46. I do think that the shakycam style can be beneficial to SOME action sequences. The Bourne movies do have a strong sense of coherence most of the time and Greengrass uses his method the way that guy says you should, to accentuate brutal hits and smacks. Most people misuse it, no question, but I don’t think the style should be completely written off as bullshit. Mostly written off, but not completely.

  47. Charles – if they can make Michael Cera look like he’s kicking ass in SCOTT PILGRIM then I think they could make Matt Damon look convincing. I liked the BOURNE movies and their approach to action, but too many movies and filmmakers have followed suit without the same stylistic intent. I think most actors could pull off realistic fight scenes, there probably just isn’t enough time/motivation to train them properly and then shoot the scenes with thorough enough coverage.

  48. Gwai Lo, I have to disagree. Scott Pilgrim was all smoke and mirrors designed to carry the fight scenes because Cera can’t do it as a performer. I am not knocking the movie, but Wright had to use every tool in his bag of tricks to make Cera a credible action star. Actually, Scott Pilgrim is a good example of what I am talking about. It is an action movie without any real action star leads that has to rely on it’s director to compensate for the lack of a credible and capable physical presence.

  49. I hated SCOTT PILGRIM the movie, but thought that several scenes of the titular character flipping around serving fools looked pretty credible. A lot of it was staged so that it could have possibly been a stunt double, but there was nothing glaringly obvious in there. Yes, there’s a lot of whizbang pyrotechnics going on, but there was also a lot of clearly shot punches and kicks that don’t require a camera shake or a suggestive cut/sound effect to work.

  50. I shall withhold the main body of my TOWN comments for Vern’s hopefully forthcoming full review, but I will state upfront in agreement that it was amazing in the opening scene how you could tell exactly whom of the four masked guys was who AND, as stated, always follow what was going on: bravo, Ben. You could identify Renner just by his posture and aggressive body language, and Affleck by the way he stood there and looked at Rebecca Hall. I knew right then this was gonna work.

    And without giving anything away, I loved the shot of the door that begins the bank robbery. That was inspired.

    (That opening robbery, by the way, was inspired by a 1995 attempted heist in Harvard Square that ended in a huge shootout between three robbers-from Charlestown, duh-and two guards. One guy had a Tec-9 a la Renner; I was in Cambridge the next day and remember lots of broken store windows and seeing bullet holes in a stop sign.) (And Boston was number one for bank robberies in 2008, but this year we’re only number three.)

  51. By the way, most of the HEAT similiarities stem from the book THE TOWN is based on, “Prince Of Thieves”. There are even more in the book, which I frankly think borders on near-plaigarism: it should practically be titled “Boston Takedown”. (It’s impossible to read the end of the book and not hear the “dadadadadada” Moby song in the back of your mind.) I heard Affleck tried to downplay the HEAT connections via his script rewrites.

  52. Anything made after Heat that’s about career criminals robbing banks is going to be compared to it.

  53. parker – I would even argue that HEAT was so successful, Mann still hasn’t gotten over it.

  54. Saw HEAT twice in theaters . . . and have not once felt the need to revisit it. I worked in a video store for 3 years and didn’t even put it on while I stacked shelves. I don’t know if it’s because I find it too reminiscent of the TV movie it is a remake of (by Mann also) or there is something I’m missing. My brother bought the DVD on release day, I just don’t get the attraction. Yes, the daylight heist is terrific. But I will – and have – reach for my crap MGM disk of THIEF many times over before I even think about HEAT.

    I really believe I’m missing something. I just can’t figure out what “it” is.

    One of “those” I guess…

  55. I do know what I find repugnant about it, though: the Pacino character’s need to assert his masculinity by hounding his ex-wife and scaring her new guy.

    Also annoying: the Pacino character was scripted as being a cocaine addict. With that detail removed, his MEGA-ACTING! just gets on my nerves.

    Cheaply manipulative: his daughter committing suicide at the dramatically opportune moment. In fact, HEAT smacks of poor alpha males unable to fulfill their destinies because of the “evils” of women. Hence the De Niro line about being able to leave at a moment’s notice.

    Perhaps Mann was going through a nasty divorce?

  56. SirVincealot, I’ve got you beat on THIEF. I have an even crappier VHS copy that I put on occasionally just for James Caan’s performance.

  57. I take it you guys prefer the LPs over the CDs?

  58. Has anyone else seen the 1970s japanese disaster movie BULLET TRAIN? It was part of a Sonny Chiba collection I bought (he just has a supporting role in it though), and the ending to it is strangely reminiscent of HEAT’s.

  59. Baraka – Put the Camera down and don’t move it for 15 minutes. In modern filmatism, that results in a Paris Hilton sex tape.

  60. Beautiful Piece.

  61. @ Darryll: probably the same tape I had. I upgraded to DVD the day I bought my player (Jesus, is that 13 years ago already?!).

    @ RRA. I do prefer vinyl to CD but I don’t got a choice no more now, do I? It’s not like I can satisfy my need for DIMMU on LPs up in the great white North without paying exhorbitant dues to bring the stuff from Norway.

    As far as THIEF is concerned, the moment it’s on Blu, I’m all over that shit.

  62. I suspect we’ll see THIEF on Blu around the same time we get THE KEEP on Blu. It will be a long wait.

  63. Speaking of THE KEEP, who around here has seen it besides me?

  64. I have watched the KEEP since its original release on VHS – holy sh!t that was a long time ago! (1984) I first watched it in French (“LA FORTERESS NOIRE”) since that’s my first language on advice of a friend who, in a tiny town just off the map, was one of the only ones to whom I could say “Have you seen this new British werewolf movie?” and get “You mean The Company of Wolves? Awesome!”

    Good times.

    THE KEEP has still not been released to DVD so I had to “acquire” a LaserDisk rip. It looks like crap (all the sky in the opening bleeds into a few pastels) but it’s the best I’ve ever seen it and, most important, it’s letterbox. THE KEEP has to be one of the very best composed horror/weirdo movies in history, right up there with KWAIDAN, LES VAMPIRES, UZUMAKI and NOSFERATU. (Speaking of, the Herzog remake of that last one is pretty darned good!)

    There are multiple versions of THE KEEP because the studio essentially threw Mann out of the editing room. The “Mann cut” was supposedly 3+ hours long and its ending has been shown on TV (it’s on YouTube) but I can only imagine what else may yet lay dormant in the Paramount archives, slowly rotting in a bunch of cans.

    As with MANHUNTER, this is a movie that greatly surpasses the source material – especially in the ending. It’s humorous to think that Red Dragon (the book) has a more bombastic, Hollywood ending than Mann’s *excellent* movie of it. One of the many idiocies of Rattner’s version is being more faithful to the original material.

    THE KEEP follows the novel beat for beat until Cuza arrives at the keep, where it gets down to its acid self and turns what is essentially F.Paul Wilson’s take on RAVENLOFT (the Dungeons&Dragons spin off campaign setting) into the surreal meld of gorgeous cinematography, trippy Tangerine Dream and sci-fi we all love. By comparison, the book is plodding, predictable, boring.

    Yeah. I frakking _love_ THE KEEP.

  65. Paramount cut THE KEEP to shit, and thus its rather chaotic, incomprehensible, and wacky as hell. Which maybe by accident became a more interesting movie as a result of the hacking. And all to Tangerine Dream soundtrack!

    I read the book some years after seeing the movie, and the book kinda bored me. Technically a fine horror thriller, but I was let down by the fact that the entrapped “monster” for all enternity is a fucking vampire. MEH. The movie is goofy, but I liked how it basically suggested that this demon or ghost or whatever the hell it is that is trapped in the mountains of Romania might be the original essence of Evil which inspired the Devil of myth, etc.

    Personally a KEEP remake isn’t a bad idea at all, hell they can keep the vampire if they want.

    I doubt it can top that one crazy scene when the Nazi gets totally obliterated from the waist up.

  66. I wanted to share with you guys a movie I saw last night at Fantastic Fest here in Austin and it is relevant to this discussion. The movie is BUNRAKU, and it is a hard movie to describe so I will will just lift the description from the Fantastic Fest Program guide, “In a world with no guns, a mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett), a bartender (Woody Harrelson) and a young samurai plot revenge against a ruthless leader (Ron Perlman) and his army of thugs, headed by nine diverse and deadly assassins.” However, that synopsis in no way prepares you for the distinct colorful and playful visual style of the film, or it’s elegantly shot and edited action sequences. I would go into detail of some of my favorite sequences, but I don’t want to in anyway spoil the film. What I will say is that many of them involve long takes, and the actions is clear and understandable. Not only are the action sequences well constructed, shot and edited they are also plentiful and diverse. There is hand to hand combat, sword fights, knife fights, Axes, and even a car chase. The set and costume design are also incredibly imaginative and beautiful to look at. I think it comes out in the sates later this year, and I would highly recommend checking out. However, I will say that it is not for everyone. My buddy that I saw it with is a martial arts film fan and he liked the actions but felt it was overshadowed by the artistic production design and saturated color palette, so if you are a fan of more traditional martial arts films beware this on may not be for you. But, if you are down for a beautiful and creative genre bending action film that puts a emphusus on skillfully crafted and exacuted action sequnces, production design and color pallet much like the old Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films did then this one is for.

  67. @RRA: I absolutely adore that bit where the guy drops down a shaft and ends up hanging off the lip of what appears to be a cave, the proportions of which would fit the ALIEN spaceship twice over. That long, long pull back hooked me to the movie like nobody’s business. (I just remembered today that I first saw LA FORTERESSE NOIRE as a VHS double-bill with a buddy. The second movie? THE TERMINATOR.

    Yeah. That was a cool evenin’

    @ Charles: you spoke the magic words. I just watched FIRE OF CONSCIENCE and it was really, really well put together . . . and not memorable for me in any way. It’s one of those I’ll remember having watched but not remember anything from it (well, maybe that birth scene!) Whereas almost every frame of LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. is etched indelibly on my brain. I freely admit to being a snob. I watched 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY at age 12 – that sort of thing preps one for some rather specific aesthetic desires.

    “Action” rarely moves me anymore. It has to be insanely imaginative to keep me interested (I’m looking at you CHOCOLATE). Pace, tone and design is what moves me. I’ll take ALIEN over ALIENS – and that’s form a guy who saw the sequel 12 times in the theater! The original still disturbs me (especially Dallas in the ducts. Wow!) whereas ALIENS is “merely” intense.

    Of course, *character* is supreme. I’m probably just getting old. It’s kinda good getting old, though. It means I can really dig MAD MEN. And that can’t be bad, now can it?


  68. The closest I’ve come to understanding why KEEP hasn’t come to DVD, and this is pure hearsay, is that Michael Mann is embarrased by it. He thinks its a failure and wants to keep it buried like Kubrick did to his first picture.

    Which is silly because THE KEEP is a better movie than FEAR & DESIRE imo.

  69. i saw True Legend at fantastic fest and this article kind of solidified some of the stuff that was floating around in my brain about the first fight scene in that movie. thanks to CG yuen woo ping is able to exert a never-before seen amount of control over time in that sequence that just blows me away. i recommend seeing it immediately. it makes zack snyders haphazard, seemingly random, use of slow motion and frame skipping during the action in 300 and watchmen look like a hilarious joke. yuen woo ping comes from the tradition that bordwell is talking about in this article and he knows exactly at what speed he wants everything to happen in this fight and it is incredible.

  70. Finally got a chance to read this. Great stuff and never boring for all the academic attention to cinema theory. It’s really about the viewer experience which I think is why shaky cam is misguided. Makes me want to read his Planet Hong Kong book, maybe find some more recommendations in there.

  71. Well we are actually getting Bond vs Chan. It actually looks incredible. Looks like Chan channeling Charles Bronson. He is totally in a career resurgence. Plus it’s Martin Campbell who is probsbky real suited for this type of movie.

    Trailer #1

  72. Been following this one for about a year or so now (it was actually announced much longer a go but I guess there were scheduling and budgeting issues). With a real director at the helm I’m very hopeful for this one*. Plus I’ve been really digging Chan’s more dramatic roles lately (SHINJUKU INCIDENT, POLICE STORY 2015). If it goes the way of SKIPTRACE (better than I was told) and KUNG FU YOGA (worse than I was told) though I will have to use VOD to view it instead of a much preferred theatrical screening.

    *Campbell isn’t 100% as he has both CASINO ROYAL and GREEN LANTERN on his resume show he is capable of both great entertainment and bad (and forgettable if you include VERTICAL LIMIT). To his credit, and as you mentioned, this one seems much more his speed than LANTERN and I doubt he had as much interference on this one as he did with LANTERN (expect for the Chan interference but it should be a given by now if you work with Chan, Chan is calling the shots and you’re just there everything else).

  73. I really enjoyed Skiptrace.

  74. I liked it. Everyone was telling me is was awful going in though so I was pleasantly surprised that I found it entertaining and got the job done.

    Same people told me KUNG FU YOGA was better and I disagree. Mediocre and forgettable from start to finish. Chan doing yet another ARMOUR OF GOD-riff and unfortunately it was more like THE MYTH and forgettable.

    I think mentioned to you before that I mostly go into Jackie Chan movies now judging them based on whether or not they are better than AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (which some people really like for some reason) and RUSH HOUR 3 and SPY NEXT DOOR (which I have met those who will defend it of for some reason) and THE TUXEDO (which I re-watched because Broddie went to bat for it for I didn’t like any more than when I watched it in theaters).

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