Saturday, September 3, 2016

Retro Trio: Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen (2012); Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005); The Incredibles (2005)

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen (2012)

Director: Gyorgy Palfi

A very tough movie to track down, but an astounding piece of work.

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen is a masterpiece of vision and film editing by Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi. Palfi uses literally hundreds of short clips (most are between 2 and 5 seconds) from hundreds of famous and not-so-famous movies to tell the classic boy-meets-girl story that has been told so many times in film. It is almost difficult to put into words what this film does and just how amazing it is in its execution.

To give you some sense of the magic in the movie, it may help to describe the opening few minutes. We start with various clips of male characters from roughly a dozen or so movies going through the actions of waking up, getting out of bed, showering, and shaving. In a scant few seconds, we viewers understand that all of the men in these many scenes are really one character, going through the very familiar motions of starting his day. From this point on, the movie becomes not the story of a single male and single female character but rather the universal story that literally hundreds of film couples have lived out on screen. It's a trick phenomenal not only in its ingenuity but also in how quickly it establishes itself.

While there are little dashes of dialogue (in several different languages), the movie is far more about the feelings which the scenes evoke. Relying almost completely on the characters' facial expressions and physical movements, the tale exhibits visual storytelling that is the true hallmark of film more than any other medium. Through the moving pictures, we sense the joy, boredom, confusion, excitement, lust, sadness, anger, fear, and wealth of other emotions that the two "everycouple" goes through. The fact that these emotions are so very clear is an amazing testament to the editing work done by director Gyorgy Palfi, whose blending of so many films (almost 450, apparently) is truly awesome.

You might think it odd to meld the likes of Norman Bates and
Amelie in the same sequence, but it becomes completely
orgranic and highly entertaining in this movie.
And lest you think that the basic tale might be too general or broad to be interesting, I should make clear that there are plenty of great little turns and unexpected visual twists. Waiting to see just which film clip will be used to convey a certain feeling is an exhilarating experience, and one that offers more than a few surprises. You might grin when you see John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever strut used to exhibit the man's confidence, but it's downright hilarious when the scene shifts to a silent Charlie Chaplin walking along a street with equal self esteem, also in time with the Bee-Gees' disco beat. There are also plenty of fun and playful combinations of different clips whereby you get an unexpected reaction or simply a clever use of an already-humorous film segment.

This film is an absolute treasure for movie lovers. I would be seriously remiss if I didn't acknowledge my local video store, Viva Video, and its pure cinephile owner Miguel for tracking this movie down and making it available. Apparently, it is completely unavailable for sale in the U.S. (perhaps the entire Western Hemisphere) due to the Gordian Knot of movie licencing rights involved. All the same, Miguel procured a couple from a Hungarian library, allowing people like me to enjoy a truly unique work of film art. Anyone who appreciates the artistry of cinema would do well to track this one down.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Director: Shane Black

After recently seeing and loving Shane Black's The Nice Guys, I had a strong urge to go back and watch this earlier hidden gem of his. I had seen it about 10 years ago, but remembered virtually nothing about it. While it might not be quite as entertaining as The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is still a lot of fun and sadly underrated.

Seeing this movie again, it now seems like a solid precursor to what Black would master in The Nice Guys. Borrowing from the neo-noir template, it follows small-time thief Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a lovable semi-loser who is accidentally mistaken for an aspiring actor and whisked away to Hollywood. There, he meets his old high school friend and secret crush Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), and the two become embroiled in a murder mystery too bizarre to happen anywhere but Tinsel Town. Reluctantly assisting them is the tough and highly capable private investigator Gay Perry (Val Kilmer).

There are ample Shane Black hallmarks in this movie. Plenty of great one-liners and verbal exchanges. A few solid sight gags. Fun, unexpected little twists on overly familiar tropes and cliches. While it doesn't take long to recognize the story as neo-noir, it is nearly impossible to guess which avenues it will take on the way to its resolution. At times, this can lead to a mild sense of incoherence, but the many plot threads do come together at the end.

Helping the movie along is some great acting by Downey, Monaghan, and Kilmer. It's interesting in retrospect, as this movie was a very early part of Downey's steady rebound back into feature films, while also being one of the last solid movies starring Val Kilmer. Both phenomenal actors, whose careers were heading in very different directions in 2005. Seeing them in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is likely to remind you of why Downey reclaimed his status as a great actor, while at the same time reminding you to ask what, exactly, has happened to Val Kilmer.

The movie does have a few little bugs. The primary one for me was the use of voice-over narration. While this has long been a standard element of noir movies, it actually seems out of place and often completely superfluous in this film. There are also a few moments when the story moves at a herky-jerky pace. These are actually things which Black seems to have worked out wonderfully in The Nice Guys. These little flaws aside, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a somewhat hidden gem that more people should revisit.

The Incredible family, dealing with some domestic problems
in their own ways. The incorporation of their powers into the
visual action and sight gags is top notch.
The Incredibles (2004)

Director: Brad Bird

Still my favorite Pixar movie. And this is saying something.

I hadn't watched this one in probably seven or eight years, and this seems to have been just enough time to fully rediscover my appreciation for how brilliant it is. It's even more impressive when you realize that it came out just before the complete explosion of modern comic book superhero movies, sparked in my mind by Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005. Even before all of that, Brad Bird came up with a superhero story that is still just as original and entertaining as it was a dozen years ago.

You're likely to know the story - the Parrs are a family comprised of people with superhuman powers, but they have to keep them completely hidden since public use of superpowers has been outlawed. The father, Bob, previously known as Mr. Incredible during his superhero days, accepts a clandestine invitation to stop a runaway robot on an exotic island. This leads to a greater threat that eventually forces the rest of his family to come to his rescue and make use of their considerable abilities.

The movie is everything a person could want in a good movie. It's funny, thoughtful, and endlessly entertaining. As with the very best Pixar movies, there is some worthy social commentary to be found for those looking for it, and the plot is smarter than much of big-screen movie fare, animated or otherwise. This most recent viewing enhanced my appreciation for the clever visual storytelling and creative use of superpowers - two things sorely lacking from even some of the better superhero movies among the heaps of them offered to us these days.

I've seen nearly every movie in Pixar's highly impressive catalogue (except the Cars movies, which I've heard are geared towards much younger viewers). Wall-E and Inside Out are also brilliant pieces of work which every person should watch, but The Incredibles still gives me that magical combination of child-like thrill while being engaging on a deeper level. Because of this, I grew excited about the recent announcement that a sequel will finally be coming out in 2019, now that Brad Bird has finally settled on a story which he feels is equal to or better than the original. Nearly any Pixar release is worth getting excited for, but this one will have my movie and superhero nerd senses tingling extra hard.