Saturday, 1 December 2012

Over-rated Action Scenes.

There's something extremely annoying about an action scene that doesn't live up to the rest of the film, that goes on too long, outstays its welcome, or is simply repetitive in what it does. Its simply bad grammar that should be pointed out when it happens.

What's especially annoying when these scenes get raved about, when they derail the film's story.

So here's a short list of action scenes that get more respect than they should. I'll admit this is one of my less serious posts, but I've just rewatched the first of the below list and it bugged me.

Kill Bill Part 1: The final showdown. This one has been raved about by the unfortunate. The problem here, which continues throughout Tarantino's career, is that he's very good at set-up of tension and framing and fairly terrible at action choreography when things begin to get intense. Essentially the central character The Bride goes up against about seventy henchmen, and a few supposed master fighters. Trouble is, none of them can fight well, including The Bride. They run at her, she parries, they have no defnsive position, she disembowels them. For twenty minutes, which stops the story for no legitimate reason. Sometimes she does flips or seemingly flies through the air. And they all wait for her to finish one part of the fight without stabbing her in the back. The good elements of the scenes are the black humour of all the body parts flying, like an Evil Dead Movie, that these gags vary, that they change colour scehesm, have snow in bits of it. The bad news is that there's no real thrill you'd get with a good action scene. Tarantino does better earlier in the film with a fight scen set inside a suburban home but its more brutal than inventive or thrilling.  Death proof shows a similar problem with car chases, where the set-up is great then the chase lacks buzz. Action is not Tarantino's strength. I like these films but not at the bits that are meant to thrill me.

Batman Begins/The Dark Knight: Nolan has the same problem as Tarantino, in that the set-up is better than the action (although he is getting better at action and using space well to progress the thrill of the experience in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises). Two scenes jump out at me in Batman Begins, in the mountain-top fight and the Batmobile escape from the city, where there was plot urgency and lots of movement but little effect, as the framing was a burden. The Dark Knight was an improvement, managed good images within the action but the Joker attacking the police truck under the bridges was a lot of repetitive action with little kick to it, as it was two trucks going down a long street, firing guns but with little real invention in what occured. The action improved as the scene went above ground but the underground section went on far too long. These films lack a bit of humour in how they set up situations, how they pay off an action and progress into the next part of an action movement. But unlike Tarantino, Nolan is improving as he goes. Again, Nolan makes films I like for other reasons.

Skyfall: This is a fun Bond film, which is better than The Quantum Of Solace, or The Brosnan Monstrosities, had some terrific humour and the action was fun. Yet it was generally a bit obvious for its action. It was shot with a lot of coverage, very similar shots intercut, the action not progressing shot to shot with cohesion. Blocks of action, running, jumping, on top of a train, through London, all were covered, all had plot points, but they all felt that they needed an inspired action director.

There is obviously lots of action direction gone bad: Michael Bay can be terrible and is getting worse, directors of films like Die Hard 4 and such-like aren't worth bothering with. Decent directors dither around in effectiveness. Ridley Scott comes and goes, depending on the film, as does John Woo. McTiernan has lost his action abilities it seems, Walter Hill doesn't work much, James Cameron is less action focused. Directors like Steven Soderberg can make good action images but don't seem as interested in its intent. There seems to be a lack of genuine visceral excitement in this area of film-making, which is a shame.

Not to be disheartened. Most of the directors I mentioned have other skills that make their films terrific things to watch. One bit of good news on the horizon. Christopher McQuarrie has a new film out in December. He's a director who knows his way around an action sequence. His last film Way Of the Gun, had one of the most visceral and effective action sequences in recent years, a no holds barred shoot-out in a Mexican shit-hole.

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