Archive for July 2011

Third Time's the Charm?

Trilogies were not always a part of the cinematic landscape. While serials have been around since the Nickelodeon days, with moviegoers paying to see the same characters again and again and again, trilogies are a later invention. First, of course, sequels had to come into their own, which took years, and only then was the trilogy truly born.

Sequels and serials, to state the obvious, are two different things. From Russia with Love isn't the sequel to Dr. No but a continuation of the character James Bond in a new adventure. Likewise, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are not prequels and sequels, as they are often called, but, again, continuations of the character, Indiana Jones, from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The fourth film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, continues the character further.

I said "to state the obvious" near the beginning of the last paragraph but it clearly isn't obvious as Wikipedia's entry on sequels list the James Bond films as sequels. Technically, I suppose they are and so I must distinguish that for the purposes of this piece, a sequel is the continuation of a specific story that was only partially completed by the conclusion of the first film. It is not the new adventures of James Bond, Indiana Jones or any host of other action characters, from those in Lethal Weapon to those in Rush Hour. Nor is it a series of three movies that have been classified together as a director's trilogy (Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and her Sister, for instance, would be Woody Allen's New York Relationship trilogy) or three films made with disconnected storylines and characters that are thematically linked by the same director (The Three Colors Trilogy by Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski) It is a single story drawn out over multiple parts which, again for the purposes of this piece, would be, in particular, three parts. The story can be a biography following one character as he grows through life (The Apu Trilogy or, in a more limited sense, The Godfather Trilogy) or a specific story progression (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy aka The Millenium Trilogy, The Star Wars Original Trilogy, Lord of the Rings) with the same characters over three movies.

It was the audience desire to see the same characters again that gave birth to serials, which hit their stride in the thirties. Hollywood achieved consistent box-office success by giving the public the same characters in similar situations doing the same things they did last time, only with different supporting actors, a new script (loosely defined) and a new title. No one operated under the delusion that Boston Blackie, Torchy Blaine or Flash Gordon were ever expanding on their characters or exploring deeper emotional terrain in the next installment, they just wanted to see them again in a vaguely similar adventure and would happily pay for the privilege.

And serial characters weren't always confined to low budget affairs. The Thin Man movies proved that the idea could work on a big budget too, as long as you had top dollar actors (William Powell, Myrna Loy) willing to keep it up. The Andy Hardy movies were also given ample budgets and starred Mickey Rooney, for years the top draw in all of cinema. And, internationally, Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa scored big with their nameless men fighting for survival (their own and that of others) in the Dollars Trilogy and Yojimbo/Sanjuro movies, respectively.

But all of the above info can be found on the aforementioned Wikipedia page, linked here, where you too can, if you choose, read all about sequels and serials and how they came about. The above was only intended to differentiate between the two before getting to the meat of the matter, which, having amply buried the lead, I present in the form of a question: Do trilogies work?

The answer to that question is essentially meaningless ("some do, some don't") but acts as a good enough jumping-off point for a discussion. A better question might be, "At what point does a story's plot become so complicated and/or its characters so complex that more than two to three hours running time is required to tell the tale?" After all, practically every book ever written and every movie ever made is a trilogy in and of itself. They have a beginning, middle and end. In the case of a cinematic trilogy, the story is simply broken up over three installments rather than presented in one overly long film.

I would love to start the conversation with the trilogy generally acknowledged to be the seminal work of the form, The Apu Trilogy, but as it is not readily available for most to see (it is not on Netflix for DVD rental or instant viewing although an older DVD transfer of the set can be purchased on Amazon - this unavailability is, by the way, shameful) and since I, myself have seen only the final installment on PBS decades ago, I should reserve it for later discussion, when I have acquired the set or, if fortune smiles upon me, it is presented at the AFI Silver and I can take it in on the big screen.

Instead, we'll start a few years later with a trilogy that didn't become a trilogy for almost twenty years. For sixteen years, from 1974 to 1990, The Godfather movies were a pair, not a trilogy, until, finally, in 1990, Francis Ford Coppola decided it was time to finish the story of Michael Corleone. Even now, there is little consensus as to whether or not that decision was a good one. Nevertheless, The Godfather movies, especially the first two, are considered magnificent works of cinema by most cinephiles the world over.

The story of the trilogy is the story of Michael Corleone as he rises to the head of the Corleone Family. It follows Michael's character without a continuing story, that is to say, when the first Godfather ends, there is no cliffhanger, no unresolved moment we anticipate being the starting point of the next film. The movies aren't about plot but about Michael, how he changes, grows (or doesn't) and, perhaps, redeems himself. Interestingly, the movie of the trilogy most reviled, Part III, may be the most important for making the trilogy "work", to the extent that it does work at all.

The Godfather movies illustrate a problem symptomatic of many trilogies, one that, simplified, could be stated as such: The first movie tells the whole story. Many trilogies essentially work this way. From Star Wars to The Matrix to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the continuing story is unnecessary to the first movie. The continuing story of Michael Corleone, Luke Skywalker, Neo or Lisbeth Salander may be of interest and, perhaps, satisfying to the those seeking deeper exploration of the characters, but to the first movie, completely unnecessary. Had there never been another Godfather movie after the first one (or Star Wars or Matrix or Dragon Tattoo) no one would have noticed. The first installments of all of those trilogies work just fine on their own and feel completely enclosed. Had there never been another Godfather film, I don't imagine people would have been complaining, "I can't believe they left us hanging! What happens after that door closes?!"

And so the second installment must carry some emotional weight, some deeper understanding of character than the first, since the story is only of minor importance. The Godfather, Part II, in this respect, also seems to work on its own, independent of the first. It certainly helps if we have seen the first film but if we haven't, it's not a disaster. The second film contrasts father Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) with son Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) at different stages of their familial career. In the first film, we saw Vito entrenched in his position as Head of the Family and Michael just making his way up, albeit reluctantly at first. In the second film we see the reverse: Michael is now entrenched and Vito is now making his way to the top. In both films, Vito seems to do his work with a personal connection to those around him. The first movie even begins with Vito accepting requests for personal favors on his daughter's wedding day. In the second film, this quality is explored further, including his rise to power by killing the kingpin of Little Italy, Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin).

Considering Vito's power-grab, one could argue that he takes on the risk of killing Don Fanucci, not only because he believes Fanucci's power is weak and doesn't want Fanucci demanding shares of his takes but also because he is tired of seeing the community terrorized by him. That may not be true but the point is, it could be true. It could be imagined that Vito would kill Fanucci for the good of the Italian-American community and, as a side-benefit, gets to be the new Don for the neighborhood for his troubles. Whether it is true or not is entirely beside the point. Vito is presented as someone for which that kind of action would not be entirely improbable.

In the first film, when Michael takes on the role as Head of the Family, it feels different. After his encounter at the hospital, where we see Michael emboldened for the first time, we see him at the family home telling his brother Sonny (James Caan) how he will kill the two men responsible for the near murder of their father. When he assures Sonny "it's not personal, it's business," we believe him. It's his father and family that have been threatened and yet we fully believe that, to him, it is just business.

That line about it being "business" only fully resonates when we see how unbusiness-like Vito's actions are in the second installment. When Vito helps a widow and her dog stay in the tenement building from which they were about to be ejected, it is of no possible financial benefit to him. In fact, he's paying out of his own pocket to make it happen. It's about as far from being business-like as one can imagine. It's personal, strictly personal.

And none of this has anything to do with a trilogy. The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II are two sides of the same coin. They simply tell the story of Michael, contrasted with Vito, with one movie, the second part, furthering the exploration opened up in the first. But, again, there is no point where Part II feels like an unfinished "middle movie" of a trilogy, like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, in which the viewer is abundantly aware that there is more to follow. No one expected a Part III in 1976 which is why, when none appeared, people weren't demanding to know "what happened next" in the adventures of Michael Corleone. It was only in 1990 that the third installment created a trilogy, first by simply existing and, thus, making the sum total of Godfather movies three, but, more importantly, by shoe-horning into the "story" Michael's redemption or, at least, his attempt at it.

Whatever the qualities of the third film, or lack thereof, the point is that none of it feels necessary in the slightest. The first two films exist so completely on their own as individual works that the third feels like nothing more than an installment designed to create a forced trilogy where there wasn't one to begin with. In this regard, I'd have to rank The Godfather Trilogy as one of the worst trilogies under the definition of a trilogy used here. What it feels like is two masterworks of the cinema, Parts I and II, working off of each other but not necessarily continuing from one to the other, followed by a third unrelated film with the appendage "Part III."

For decades, and perhaps still, the most famous trilogy was the Star Wars trilogy. This trilogy, existing entirely between The Godfather, Part II and Part III with seven years to spare, falls more in line with a traditional story-bound trilogy. The second installment, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, leaves little doubt to the viewer that this is the middle of the story and there will be a final installment yet to come. And even though the first film works entirely on its own, a trilogy is created from it that feels more or less honest, even if it's not until the second film that it becomes apparent it is a trilogy. The same can be said of another eighties blockbuster trilogy, Back to the Future. Like almost every other trilogy, the first movie can easily exist on its own (and I like to pretend that's the case, quite frankly) but the trilogy that does exist works as a trilogy when viewed in totality.

More recently, another popular trilogy, The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl that Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) followed the same pattern but made the exploration of its characters deeper and more meaningful to the story. The first movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, works as a completely contained single film. Again, no second or third movie could have ever been made and the first film wouldn't have felt unfinished. It's only in the second film that a continuing story sets itself up and by the end of the second installment, we're left wondering what will happen to Lisbeth, with a third installment clearly telegraphed to the viewer.

Still, The Millennium Trilogy works better than most because the main characters, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), resonate with the viewer as people with more going on inside their heads of interest than anything going on in the story. In fact, the story that takes us through the second and third installments interested me far less than simply watching Rapace and Nyqvist play their parts. The story, involving government intrigue, cover-ups, lies and courtroom showdowns, has already left my head a mere year or so after watching them. Most of it left my memory within weeks. What kept me interested was those two actors playing those two characters. They seemed real, vulnerable and desperate. The courtroom showdown could have been about anything, really. In the end, it's nothing more than a MacGuffin. The point is to watch Salander and Blomkvist and root for them because we feel connected to them. In this way, The Millennium Trilogy is one of the few trilogies that seems to exist as a lengthy character study, like The Godfather films and The Apu Trilogy.

However, what about a true trilogy, one in which even the first film makes it clear that the story within it is to be told in parts and the first part, upon completion, does not stand on its own as a finished story?

By those standards, The Lord of the Rings is probably the truest cinematic trilogy in existence. This may very well be the case because the original work upon which they are based, the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, were intended to be one volume of a two volume set, rather than a trilogy. It was the publisher that decided the massive story should be broken into three works, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. This probably explains why the first installment doesn't feel entirely self-contained because it was, in fact, literally, the beginning of a story Tolkien had written as one volume with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. There is, within the trilogy, a specific story that continues from one to the next and each character within that story has specific goals and duties to perform in the service of that story. It is, without doubt, a trilogy, not just a set of three movies that have been made to work together. Each one stands on its own as a terrific entertainment but makes no attempt to be a complete story. The first two are adamant in their presentation that the viewer know this is only the beginning and middle. It passes the "First Movie" test of the trilogy, something no other trilogy discussed here has done: If no other movie were made after The Fellowship of the Ring, yes, people would wonder why the story was left hanging, as it were. The Lord of the Rings is indeed a trilogy, perhaps one of the few true trilogies in existence.

And so, it could be concluded, trilogies don't work very well, generally speaking. More often than not - much more often than not - they start with a first installment that, if need be, could stand alone as a single movie without ever having two sequels attached to it. Trilogies tend to feel like Hollywood greed more than a deep artistic need to "finish" the story. There's a first movie, it performs tremendously at the box office and the studios decide, "This should be a trilogy," at which point the second film gets made and finally starts a story to be completed in the third.

Trilogies have even started up in the middle of a film series that, otherwise, didn't originally set out to properly continue a story but rather present new adventures, ala James Bond. This happened with the Star Trek franchise after the success of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The next two Star Trek films continued a story that hadn't existed as a continuing story until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock got made. By the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the story finally finished and it was clear there had been a trilogy and a fairly decent, if inconsequential, one at that.

The Lord of the Rings will most likely continue to be the standard bearer for true trilogies, that is, stories that break their beginning, middle and end into three separate films. The Godfather movies will continue to have two of the best movies ever made contained within a nominal trilogy, but it doesn't feel like a trilogy at all. The first two movies stand alone as explorations of Michael contrasted with Vito, to be watched in tandem or separately. The third is something else altogether and exists solely to make a trilogy where before there was none.

Sequels and serials will never go away. There's too much money to be made and audiences actually do enjoy seeing the same characters again and again. If they didn't, television would have never succeeded. But when it comes to a trilogy proper, the landscape is pretty barren. There are plenty of them out there but for most, the first time's the charm. The second and third times aren't even needed.

Life is a Banquet...and perhaps a Banquette

"Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."

You may recall the infamous line from the 1958 film Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell as a larger than life character who raises her young nephew. Based on the Patrick Dennis 1955 novel of the same name, the beloved best seller became a Broadway play and two adapted screen versions (the latter was a musical starring Lucille Ball). The film had to be toned down from the book as parts were thought to be too risque (it was the fifties after all).

Rosalind Russell
The movie has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts as it has become a cult favorite among design aficionados. Recent case in point -- Jonathan Adler cited the film's interiors as one of his favorites in a recent Wall Street Journal story noting that "Watching Auntie Mame is a right of passage for every aspiring interior decorator." (Note: I did a Movie as Muse blog post on designer inspirations last year and Charlotte Moss picked this film as well. Adler also chose the Walter Matthau comedy A New Leaf, Liz Taylor/Richard Burton's X, Y and Zee and Pillow Talk).

Mame's 3 Beekman Place duplex was a study in design contrasts as art director Malcolm Bert and set decorator George James Hopkins set the plot story lines with six types of  decor -- Chinese, Danish Modern, East Indian, English, Chinese and twenties modern (with a nod to decorator Syrie Maugham). The Danish Modern decor was perhaps the most fun with sofas, chairs and tables that could be elevated for comic relief. The sets were glamorous, often over the top (the Oscar Academy must have thought so too as the film was nominated for Best Art Direction that year) and plan on hitting the pause button and taking notes throughout.

Adler is also influenced by Mame's joie de vivrie attitude with his own designs, explaining, "When designing for clients, I like to channel their inner Auntie Mame, to make them appear just a little more glamorous and eccentric than they really are."

Dinner with the Upson's provided some of the film's most unusual and over the top decor
Adler notes that a touch of humor and whimsy would be right at home in a Mame decor. Shown above is Pedro Friedeberg gilt sculptural chair

Adler's Desmond Screen would also complement a Mame room

My personal choices for a Mame inspired interior would also include...
Suzanne Kasler's Linwood Chair for Hickory Chair
No Mame room would be complete with a bar -- the woman liked her cocktails!
Shown here is Hickory Chair's Cleo Bar Cabinet

Mame would no doubt say it's "simply mahvelous" to have a stylish contemporary sofa, particularly one that could float in any room....
Jamie Drake's Chloe Sofa for Edward Ferrell/Lewis Mittman
The back of Bill Sofield's Wren Sofa for Baker, Knapp and Tubbs is just as wonderful as the front

Costume designer Orry-Kelly created the brilliant outfits for the film which ranged from bohemian to chic and must have been a designer's dream. Her jeweled pantsuit with matching silk coat and crystal studded capri pants and chartreuse shawl were just a few of the standouts.

I only wish I had better photos as numerous people have asked me why this was omitted from my book Designs on Film. (Sadly there are many great films that were not all that well documented interior wise). In the meantime, rent the DVD and you can read more of writer Jen Renzi's piece in the Wall Street Journal here.

And on another note, I am proud to announce my website is finally up and running. I have listed many of my articles and posts on the site and hope you enjoy!

Photo Credits: Warner Brothers, Jonathan Adler, Amy Vermillion

Sarajevo - Final Day

Yesterday I awarded the CICAE Prize to BREATHING, an Austrian film by first time director Karl Markovics (better known as an actor from COUNTERFEITERS). It's a beautifully engaging film, full of emotions but lacking any sentimentality or cliche. Austere and rigorous in its realisation, it's also surprisingly funny. The story of a 19 year old struggling to reintegrate into society while serving time in a juvenile detention center, it stood out far above all the other films in the competition.

The only other film that was considered for the prize was AMNESTY, an Albanian film which was solid throughout but let itself down with a melodramatic ending and a jarring harmonica score.

All the films in competition were interesting, but if there was one common complaint it was that the stories and scripts were seriously undercooked. Slovenian drama THE TRIP and Croatian drama SPOTS suffered from an amateur style which hampered the best efforts of its young cast. BROKEN MUSSELS, a Turkish attempt at neo-realism, benefited from likable child actors and great locations but lacked real dramatic drive and was clumsy at times. WASTED YOUTH was a PARANOID PARK style Greek feature which featured some fantastic skating footage in Athens but like many of the others, concluded with a over the top ending which made no sense. Finally LOVERBOY was a well-crafted Romanian drama which failed to ignite me emotionally but looked great, and AVE, a very slow Bulgarian film which featured Bruno S's final performance.

My Balkan experience has been fantastic - I've seen some beautiful places, met some wonderful people and spent time with some of my favorite friends. Thanks to Tanja in Pula and to the Sarajevo Film Festival for hosting us. Back to work now.

Record Club #4: Drive-By Truckers on August 29

Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South (2004)

The fourth installment of the Inexhaustible Documents record club has now been announced. Troy Olson of Elusive As Robert Denby has selected the 2004 album The Dirty South by Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers. The discussion will be taking place at his blog on August 29, so if you'd like to participate, all you have to do is listen to the album before then and show up to read his thoughts and offer your own comments.

If you'd like to promote the Record Club, you can display the banner below by pasting the code onto your own blog.

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Sarajevo Day 7

Yesterday was my first day without my fellow Jury members and without any 'homework' cinema to watch, so I scheduled myself for two films I'd been looking forward to seeing for a while, THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD, which Rob Beames saw in Berlin and really liked, and the Dardenne Brothers' THE KID WITH A BIKE, which premiered at Cannes.

THE KID WITH A BIKE was typical of the Dardennes' in that it focused on an underprivileged kid, this time a young boy who's been abandoned by his dad in an orphanage and fostered by a kind hairdresser. A simple, straightforward plot that is executed flawlessly and dramatically. Incredible moving and with unbelievable performances, particularly from the lead.

THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD is directed by Joshua Marston, an American filmmaker, but set in rural Albania, against a backdrop of blood feuds based on centuries-old traditions. The two young leads are non professional actors who give fresh, realistic performances and the story is unusual enough and interesting that you are constantly engaged. Solid all around.

I also went on a 'Mahala' tour of the city, which focused on tightly-knit neighborhood in Sarajevo, usually around a mosque, synagogue, orthodox or catholic church. This really highlighted the incredible multicultural nature of this city, which has embraced people from all faiths and ethnicity for centuries, ages before the modern metropolitan melting pots of today.

Tonight we hand over our awards and tomorrow I'll be able to discuss freely the competition programme.

Sarajevo Day 6

Yesterday we didn't watch anything other than competition films as we had to decide on our winner, which we did in a hotel conference room. It didn't take long, as we were all convinced of the quality of our winner, which is to be announced tomorrow at the awards ceremony.

The whole Sarajevo experience has been amazing and slightly surreal, hanging out at parties with Wim Wenders, breakfast with Bela Tarr, red carpet walks with Michael Fassbender and taxi rides with Ari Folman, the head of the Jury (pictured). The festival has really high profile guests and films while also being small city festival (Sarajevo only has 500,000 inhabitants) so you don't get such a 'VIP' feel as in other festivals.

My jury colleagues Francesco and Ruta departed today but I have the award-giving responsibility for Friday, so I'll stay on and watch a few more films and explore the city.

Resolve Nothing!

And so, once again, it is Wednesday. And, once again, TCM beckons. I resolve the issue of not resolving the issue, something I long ago resolved I would do. If you so desire to read about it, please do so here. As always, enjoy the post and please clean up after yourself. No, seriously, my editor complained about the mess last time guys, so really, use the trash cans, okay? Thanks.

Sarajevo Day 5

It was with great anticipation that we entered the Open Air Screening last night to see Nanni Moretti's latest, HABEMUS PAPA (WE HAVE A POPE), and despite some really poor projection quality (focus and out of rack), the film was hilarious and all 2000 people in attendance were laughing in unison. Unexpectedly, Nanni Moretti himself showed up at the end of the screening for an awkward self-Q&A. He was clearly upset by the poor presentation and seemed baffled that no one was interviewing him on stage.

Earlier we saw French animation A CAT IN PARIS, which, despite a poor DVD presentation, no English subtitles, and Bosnian subtitles that didn't work half the time, at least had beautiful animation.

In the morning we saw two more competition films, BROKEN MUSSELS from Turkey and BREATHING, an Austrian film. Today we see the final two films, LOVERBOY and WASTED YOUTH, and then decide the winner. Prizes are awarded on Friday.

This is my final day with my fellow jurors Francesco and Ruta as they depart early tomorrow morning and I am left alone to hand out the awards. I hope the sun stays out.

The Prowler

Joseph Losey's noir The Prowler opens with a shot that immediately tweaks the audience by placing the viewer in the voyeuristic position of a creeping pervert. The first shot of the film gazes through a woman's bathroom window as, inside, she dries herself off after a bath, putting on a robe. Her body remains teasingly just out of view beneath the window's frame, which functions like a cinematic frame within the frame, and Losey's camera, tracking slowly in to get a closer look, heightens the voyeuristic sensation of leering in. Then, the woman seems to notice the camera, looking out the window with concern and horror as she realizes that someone is watching her, and she quickly pulls the blinds shut, cutting off the view. It's not the camera she actually sees, of course, but a peeping tom whose perspective the camera had been taking. The titles roll then, and in less than a minute Losey has effectively signaled that, like all films about voyeurism, this too will be about the cinema, about those people out in the audience, watching eagerly from their hidden spots in the dark. The black humor of this set-up is made even more apparent when, after the credits, a pair of cops visit the frightened woman, and one insinuates that maybe she shouldn't have tempted the prowler by offering herself up for view like that, framing herself in the movie screen of the open window. After all, for a culture growing increasingly acclimated to the cinematic experience, peeping in on such living movies is second nature (and the woman herself is a failed actress, used to being watched).

But the real voyeur of the film turns out to be not the unseen prowler outside the window but one of the cops, Webb Garwood (Van Heflin), who is immediately attracted to the prowler's victim Susan (Evelyn Keyes) and begins aggressively courting her at night, after his shift is over. When Webb and his partner Bud (John Maxwell) first come to investigate the incident, Budd questions Susan while Webb remains outside, prowling through the bushes, looking into the house. The compositions suggest that he too is a voyeur, peeking through the windows, watching Susan from afar, and when he appears at the bathroom window, he startles Susan every bit as much as the original prowler had. Webb represents law and order in his crisp police uniform, but really he's an outsider, discontented with his life, feeling like he's watching other people's happiness and success while he's had nothing but "bad breaks."

Susan, it turns out, is from his hometown in Indiana, but while that fact draws the pair closer together, it also awakens a reserve of bad memories for Webb. He'd been a star athlete in high school, but his college scholarship had ended early after a quarrel with a coach, and his youthful dreams evaporated at that time. Unlike Bud, a model of contentment who loves being a cop, loves his wife, and loves his mind-numbingly dull rock-collecting hobby, Webb wants something more and can only dwell on all the missed opportunities and bad luck he's had in his life. Above all, he had the bad luck to be born poor and to grow up poor; while Susan grew up rich and married an even richer man, Webb was from the wrong side of the tracks and had to watch his poor father squander countless opportunities for improvement, settling for stable middle class mediocrity instead. Webb is an outsider in the spacious mansion Susan shares with her radio announcer husband; he looks in and sees the life he wants, the comfort and security he wants, maybe even the woman he wants.

The film's script, by Hugo Butler and an uncredited Dalton Trumbo, isn't exactly a model of sedate realism: it winds through multiple twists and turns and dramatic shifts in mood. The story is melodramatic and blustery, and its central romance goes through so many unconvincing reversals that it's hard to know what to think of the weepy, malleable Susan. A late revelation suggests that maybe this tonal confusion, too, is purposeful, since even Webb doesn't seem to know what he wants. Heflin, with his big, expressive eyes and perpetual hangdog look, is perfectly suited to Webb's chronic dissatisfaction and the sinister undercurrents that occasionally come bubbling up from deep within him, but Keyes delivers a much less satisfying performance that leaps wildly from one emotion to another. The film's shifts in locale and tone, however, are handled adroitly by Losey, whose direction of this lurid, intense material locates the proper balance of absurdity and tension.

Losey has an especially keen grasp of background diegetic sound, which he uses to comment on the images and foreground events of a scene. Susan spends her nights listening to her radio announcer husband, who ends every broadcast with the cheery sign-off, "I'll be seeing you, Susan." This turns out to be very convenient once Webb starts spending his nights with Susan while her husband is at work, since as Webb says, they always know where he is. The two budding lovers canoodle on the couch, lounging around together, laughing and kissing, and all the while the husband's voice murmurs away in the background, his words offering sly commentary on what goes on at his own house while he's at work, unaware. He describes the pleasure he feels when relaxing on an evening at home, being served a snack by his wife, and as he sets the scene, Susan lays out a tray of sandwiches for Webb, who leans back and lights a cigarette, the first tendrils of smoke wafting up into the foreground of the frame just as the announcer describes smoking his own first cigarette of the evening. Webb seems spooked, joking that he feels like the guy is watching them.

The announcer likes to babble on about his wife on the air, describing her cooking and their domestic contentment, and his happy words overlay the images of Susan and Webb having their fun in the time before that final sign-off indicates that the husband is on his way home. Later, the announcer's voice, played back on a record, has an even more sinister meaning, his affectionate sign-off now interrupted with the violent scratch of the turntable's needle being yanked out of the grooves.

It's obvious enough where all this is heading, but the inevitable homicide merely marks the film's halfway point, and the script has plenty of surprises left. Though the shadowy noir cinematography (by Arthur C. Miller) is effective and eerie in the Los Angeles scenes, the film really becomes interesting when the action shifts away from these typical noir locales. At one point, Losey signals the couple's decision to retreat into the desert with a fade to black, which is immediately followed with a gorgeous, haunting image of a car, isolated in the middle of a blank wasteland, kicking up dust in its trail as it cuts through the sand. The rocky western ghost town where the couple holes up is far from the usual noir haunt, and instead of shadows and grimy interiors (like Webb's cheap apartment from earlier in the film, with a silhouette target forebodingly hung on the wall) there's a grim, barren wasteland where nobody visits, "not even the coyotes" that are nevertheless heard howling plaintively at the film's climax. The way that Losey frames scenes of domestic idyll and hopefulness against this rocky and desolate setting suggests just how short-lived the film's cheerier moments are destined to be.

The Prowler is a rich and idiosyncratic noir that explores the archetypal noir themes — greed, violence, ambition — in some unusual ways. The actual prowler of the opening, it turns out, is incidental to the story, a plot device and a red herring. The real prowler, the real creep, is the outsider who so desperately wants what he can only look at from afar, the guy who waits in the darkness, watching and desiring but separated from what he sees by seemingly insurmountable barriers. Webb's voyeurism is a matter of class, primarily; he looks at the wealth and success of others and he wants what they have. Perhaps Losey is suggesting that the cinema works similarly by presenting visions of glamor and beauty to dazzle audiences, who watch from the darkness, voyeurs who desire the purity and wonder of what's up on the screen, the window through which they peer.

Sarajevo Day 4

Yesterday we saw another competition film, PLACES, from Croatia. And then we went to the Cinema City multiplex for a screening of the fascinating documentary CINEMA KOMUNIST, the story of the state-funded film industry from the creation of Yugoslavia in 1941 until its fall in 1991. It's an incredible documentary, which details the close personal involvement of the Yugoslavian leader Tito in the film industry, and serves as an in-depth look at life in his time.

It was an early night then as Festival exhaustion caught up with us and we recharged our batteries. Today, four films: two competition features (BREATHING, BROKEN MUSSELS), animation from France CAT IN PARIS and Nanni Moretti's WE HAVE A POPE.

Bigger updates tomorrow!

I watched stuff: Asian Invasion!

Man, I have been watching stuff like a crazy person, I tells ya! By which I mean I've been watching a lot of stuff...not necessarily that I've been watching stuff in the same manner a crazy person would watch stuff. Although I suppose I can't say that for sure, because I've never watched a crazy person watch stuff, nor have I watched myself watch stuff.

Or have I?


Ju-On 2 (2000)
I've mentioned before that I'm a pretty big apologist for Asian horror films, in particular the ghost stories. It really doesn't take much to get me on board with whatever vengeful spirit is going to essentially stare at death! It's simply another of horror's subgenres that I've a weakness for; I realize that's a huge list (have I ever told you about the time I LOVE MOVIES WHEREIN ONE PERSON TRIES TO DRIVE ANOTHER INSANE FOR THEIR INHERITANCE?), but I am just saying. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I super wicked enjoyed Ju-On. It is what it is, and what it is is a bunch of really scary scenarios stitched together with the barest hint of a storyline. "Yeah, if someone dies when they're all pissed off, they come back as a ghost and whatever. Oh, this lady and her kid were murdered, so here they are being scary ghosts." Simple. I like it!

In fact, many people enjoyed it. So many that Ju-On blew up, becoming a franchise juggernaut with sequel after sequel after remake after remake sequel after, I think, maybe even a TV show. Despite this ubiquity, I'd never crossed paths with any of the numerous follow-ups- no, not even at Ju-On-Con 2009! (which was awesome, by the way. I cosplayed as the little boy and it was so cool! I posted pics on my deviantArt page if you wanna see)- until I plopped myself down in front of Ju-On 2 the other night.

But oh, how I wish I'd stayed ignorant! Ju-On 2 is...I don't know what the hell Ju-On 2 is. The framework isn't bad- house haunted, blah blah blah- but they try to cram every scare from the original film into the sequel and the results quickly descend into...well, pretty much parody. It's a film that proves the rule "less is more" by completely dumping on the rule and opting for the "more is more" approach instead. The ghost kid and the ghost mom are fucking everywhere. Everywhere! It's like, "Hey, the audience loved 'em in the first film, let's have 'em in every damn scene in the second!" and you know what? That shit wears off but fast! Getting a glimpse of the ghost kid lurking in the dark corner of a closet = scary. The ghost kid, like, sitting in your bowl of morning oatmeal = "What the fuck is this, Quaker? The box said 'apples n cinnamon', not 'dead Japanese boy'. I want my money back!"

If- IF I SAY- you are as big an apologist as I am for this breed of film (and no, I'm not calling you fat), then it might- MIGHT I SAY- be worth watching solely for the "Is that...I think it's...yes, that's really happening!" ending, when the angry lady ghost crawls out of a most peculiar locale. And when I say "most peculiar", I mean "dannnnng, somebody watched some Cronenberg before they wrote this."

All that said, I saw Ju-On Black and Ju-On White pop up on Netflix and I was all "Yeaaaaaaah gimme gimme gimme!" I'm not sure what the point of mentioning that is, exactly. Is it that if I'm a sucker for these flicks and I say Ju-On 2 stinks, it's probably pretty damn stinky? Or is it that if I'm such a sucker for these flicks that my opinion should be completely disregarded? Or is it that if I'm such a sucker for these flicks, maybe I should just marry them? I don't know, I can't make all the decisions around here.

Ring 0 (2000)
Dudes, I had the weirdest dream! I know there's nothing more boring than listening to people talk about their dreams (I mean sleep dreams, not hopes-n-dreams...although honestly, those can be boring, too. "I just want to drive a nice sedan someday!" Oh really? GOOD FOR YOU), but hear me out.

I dreamt that someone made a prequel to Ringu that's supposed to explain everything but doesn't really explain anything! And Sadako grows up and becomes a shy theatre actress (oxymoron, I know, but it was a dream)! And the scariest part was...dun dun dunnn...the theatre people!

And then I woke up and I was, like, WHAT. I was in that weird state- not quite fully awake, not quite asleep- where I couldn't tell what was reality and what wasn't. For a moment, I thought someone actually had made a Ring 0, and it was as I described...but then I woke up a bit more and it became clear that it was all a bad dream- not a nightmare bad dream, but a bad bad dream. And not a good bad dream or a "'bad' means 'tough' like it did in the 80s" dream. Just...bad. I mean, who would make a movie like that? What a terrible idea!

Still, though- theatre people. Shudder!

Audition (2000)
YOU GUYS I finally saw Audition. After years and years of

"You haven't seen Audition? You have to see Audition!"
"I know."
"Why haven't you seen it yet?"
"I don't know, I just haven't."
"Well, you should."
"I know."
"No, really."
"I know."
"You should see Audition."

I have seen it with my own four eyeballs!

Aside: Does the "four-eyes" taunt/slur/tease still apply if one wears contact lenses? Or does the "four-eyes" only refer to eyeglasses and not impaired vision? I think it's a combination- I mean, certainly, it's said to make fun of someone without perfect vision...otherwise, people just wearing sunglasses could also be called "four-eyes". What to do with the contacts wearer? They still bear an impairment, which is OBVIOUSLY worth making fun of, but- GASP- they don't bear the MARK of the impairment, and they blend seamlessly into NORMAL society. What to do? Calling them "two-eyes" doesn't quite carry the same sting, does it? And unless everyone present is even aware that the object of derision is even wearing contacts, then calling him or her "four-eyes" might actually make the accuser look crazy. What a conundrum!

Aside to the aside: I think for Halloween this year I will be One-Eye from They Call Her One-Eye. I don't know why I haven't done it yet, or why every girl doesn't do it. Or why every girl doesn't dress like One-Eye all the time! Or, as I've mentioned somewhere before, why every guy doesn't dress like Snake Plissken all the time. Hmm. I guess eyepatches are hot!

Aside to the aside to the aside: I have had way too much coffee today.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Audition. I've seen it! I loved it! Now we can all move on with our lives.

No, really. What more can I really say about it? It wasn't quite as much of a gross-out as I was expecting- it's got quite the reputation- but that's fine with me. It's still squirm-inducing, no doubt, but I wasn't losing my lunch or what have you. I thought the way Takashi Miike played with time- the way the story unfolded and crossed back through and over itself- was genius. It was terrific, which is why everyone was telling me to see it. I'm just glad I've joined those ranks, because now I can bug everyone who hasn't seen it into seeing it.

Battle Royale (2000)
Another one crossed off my long list of I CAN'T BELIEVE I HAVEN'T SEEN THIS YET films! I tell ya friends, I feel like such a brash young go-getter, it's ridiculous! I should be in that film about Wall Street called Wall Street.

Since I'm likely the last person reading this blog to have seen Battle Royale, you don't need me to tell you that it's about a class of high school students taken to a deserted island and forced to fight to the death with all manner of weapon and non-weapon, so I won't waste your time telling you all about the plot. I WILL waste your time, however, by telling you that man oh man I loved oh loved this movie. Loved. Lurved. Loaved. I don't think I've ever been quite so entertained by violence before, except maybe the first time I launched Lara Croft off a massive cliff in Tomb Raider and she hit the bottom with a sickening thud and ended up in a sickening, if pixelated, pile...mmm, nope. Battle Royale is way more entertaining. And violent! And violently entertaining!

I swear, I was twisting my handlebar moustache- my METAPHORICAL handlebar moustache, thank you very much- in glee the entire time, waiting anxiously to see what gory (and creative, it should be said) atrocities these kids would inflict on one another next. I became every non-horror fan's idea of a degenerate horror fan, always hungering for more violence, never satisfied! I didn't even recognize myself, but then I suppose Battle Royale brings that out in people. Or me, at least. It sees your true colors shining through, and they're a rainbow OF BLOOD.

That doesn't make any sense, but then, what does?

Okay, plenty of things make sense, whatever. The point is, I was not at all expecting to want to have Battle Royale's babies, but now I do, even despite the fact that the ending was a bit..."But how did they...? Eh, I guess a wizard did it.", meaning that either things aren't explained very well, or I'm completely daft. Since I watched the Special Edition, which includes an alternate ending meant to "shed fresh light on the events of the film", and I was still confused, then I'll cop to being completely daft. But no matter! I've still got babies to have.

I just realized that all of these movies are listed as having 2000 as the release year. Surely that means something.

Or not.

To the Mystery Machine!

Okay, baby geniuses, I need your help. Or, to be more precise, a Final Girl cyberfriend needs your help because I am unable to provide said help.

I'd post the GIF here, but it's big and I'm having problems. (that's what she said)

Let's solve this!

Record Club #3: Sam Amidon

Sam Amidon - All Is Well (2007)

The third discussion for the Inexhaustible Documents Record Club takes place today, over at Carson Lund's blog Are the Hills Going To March Off?. The conversation this time revolves around the album All Is Well by modern folk singer Sam Amidon. Carson has started things off with a great lead post, and everyone who's heard the album is invited to join the discussion with their own thoughts. So head on over to Carson's place for what's sure to be another great discussion.

Sarajevo, Day 3

"There are three things we're known for: killing Franz Ferdinand, the Winter Olympics of '84, and the siege' said our guide, Mohammed, as we set off on a tour of the tunnel built during the war in order to smuggle weapons into the city. Although Sarajevo is now a bustling metropolis, with a world-class film festival, the spectre of the war is on every street, with the scars visible on almost every wall and sidewalk.

From 1992 till 1996 the city was under siege, and 11,000 people were killed from the snipers, shelling and bombing from the Serbian forces. While the complex politics of that conflict still escape me, it was clearly a humanitarian disaster right in the heart of Europe. The Festival started in the middle of that siege, both as defiant gesture and effort to regain normality, and has grown ever since. That gives this film festival a special quality not found elsewhere.

Before we set off on that tour we experienced MELANCHOLIA, Von Trier's latest provocation. The cinema we saw it in was so full, there were dozens of people sitting on the floor and the aisles. Enough to make any health-and-safety conscious cinema manager shudder. But it certainly added a certain 'gig' like atmosphere to the screening. The opening doesn't disappoint - a combination of spectacular cinematography and special effects combined with classic Von Trier family dynamics. But the ambitious storyline and science fiction elements come off the rails in the second half and I was left cold in the end. It seems Von Trier doesn't take his storytelling seriously, and really doesn't have a lot of respect for the audience. Comparisons to TREE OF LIFE are certain to emerge.

We also saw, as part of the competition, AMNESTY, an Albanian feature which, again, I shan't review as I need to judge it. Today, apart from my obligatory competition homework, I'll be watching documentary CINEMA KOMUNISTO, about the Yugoslavian film industry.

Sarajevo, Day 2

Yesterday was a film-filled day, as we caught up with our competition programme homework and saw two of the eight we have to judge. First off was THE TRIP, a Slovenian debut about three high school friends who reunite for a trip to the seaside. Then we saw AVE, from Bulgaria, another first feature.I won't really review the competition films here as we have to award a prize and it just wouldn't be right.

In the strictly fun category we saw Argentinian film LAS ACACIAS, from first time director (a lot of those here) Pablo Giorgelli, and I can tell you what I think about it: it's fantastic. A small, gentle two-hander that takes place almost entirely in the cabin of a truck, it features a very endearing baby and top notch performances from the leads.

We also popped into the KRITERION cinema, which is an offshoot of its namesake in Amsterdam, a wonderful, student-run venue that is a source of much of the most talented Dutch distributors and exhibitors. We had dinner with the other Juries, the Festival Director and Bela Tarr, who is presenting Turin Horse here.

Sarajevo is a city pulsating with a raw energy that you can feel everywhere, from the hard partying on the streets to the wee hours, to the men playing life-sized chess in the square and shouting like it was football, to the fresh memory of the siege with bullet holes in almost every building. A very special place.

The Perfect Cocktail: The Marriage of The Banana and Mad Men

Coming soon to a mall near you will be the sixties style fashions from AMC's popular hit series Mad Men. Emmy winning costume designer Jane Bryant teamed with the venerable retail chain to design a 65 item collection that includes everything from suits and dresses to men's hats and a leopard coat. I have always loved the tailored classics of the sixties and for those of us who love nostalgia, great lines and retro fashions, it's a closet godsend.

The collection sprung out of a friendship with Banana creative director Simon Keene and Bryant who clearly appreciate the intrinsic value of a good white shirt. And it's all here -- the two button men's suit, trench coats, high waisted skirts and leopard print pumps just to name a few. Items will range from 198.00 for a faux leopard coat to 450.00 for a men's suit. Information on the collection is  available on Facebook  and the AMC website and for those of you on Gilt Groupe, the fashions will also be offered here on Monday, July 25th for 36 hours beginning at noon - a full three weeks before the fashions hit the stores.

This is not the first time Mad Men mania has influenced styles -- Brooks Brothers designed a men's suit last year and Nailtini teamed with Bryant to come up with nail polish colors such as the Garden Party Collection below.

Throw on a cluster of pearls and leather gloves and you too can channel your inner Betty or Joan. Toss on a crisp white shirt and a trilby hat for a Sterling Cooper/Don Draper look when the collection hits stores August 10th.

Thankfully we have the Banana to remind us of all things Madison Avenue sixties as  Season Five series will not resume until 2012. Until then, get your fix with some Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies and Dean Martin television show reruns.

And speaking of Mad Men, stay tuned for my interview/Array Magazine cover story with the show's Bryan Batt (who played Salvatore Romano, closeted art director) and his upcoming design book big, Easy Style (Clarkson Potter, October, 2011). He is thoroughly charming, entertaining and very multi-talented and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend his first book/loving and hilarious tribute to his late mother, She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother as well as his New Orleans store Hazelnut. I just hope the powers that be at Mad Men (are you listening Matt Weiner?) bring him back on the show next year. As Batt noted, "Well Matt says my character is not dead" which is always a good sign.

Photo Credits: Banana Republic, Clarkson Potter

Goodbye Pula, Hello Sarajevo

Yesterday we arrived in Sarajevo after three very relaxing nights in Pula, Croatia, where my friend Tanja Milicic runs the fantastic PULA FILM FESTIVAL, which provided us with the unique experience of seeing the latest HARRY POTTER film under the stars in a Roman Arena with about 8,000 people. But it was a strictly pleasure, not business trip, and the serious work begins in Sarajevo, where my friends Francesco, Ruta an I are the CICAE Jury members for the SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL.

CICAE, faithful readers will recall, is the international network of arthouse cinemas to which the Dukes belongs and who organised the Venice training I attended in 2009. Our job is to give the award to a film that will then be promoted by the network, and help its chances of reaching more cinemas. We're the 'junior' jury if you like, and live below the main festival jury, which is headed by filmmkaer Ari Folman (WALTZ WITH BASHIR).

After an 11 hour train journey from Zagreb, we rolled in just in time for opening night film, Aki Kaurismaki's LE HAVRE. The film was essential Kaurismaki, with his unique way of staging performances and delivering deadpan laughs while saying a lot about the human condition, and immigration politics too. We were then whisked to the opening night party, where we brushed with Wim Wenders (in town for a 3D panel discussion) and the American ambassador (?).

More posts to follow as the days go - on top of the competition films, I am really looking forward to seeing Von Trier's MELANCHOLIA, Tarr's TURIN HORSE, Moretti's WE HAVE A POPE and other surprises I am sure we'll encounter.

Out of Sight

Out of Sight is the way sexy, charming, steamy star power movies are supposed to be. Steven Soderbergh's witty, beautifully filmed adaptation of an Elmore Leonard pulp novel is a throwback to classic Hollywood's casual stylishness and verbal sparkle, the kind of film that Hollywood isn't supposed to be capable of making anymore. The film is built around the mutual attraction between unrepentant bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) and the US marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), who's trying to catch him. Or, more accurately, it's built on the charm, attractiveness and rapport of the two leads, who are at their most naturally charismatic here, radiating the self-assurance and sexiness that makes them irresistible both to each other and to audiences. Theirs is a mad love, a lunatic love built on seductive banter, utterly unbelievable in any conventional sense: why would a smart, capable woman dedicated to the law fall so deeply in love with the man who represents her complete opposite? But then again, why not? Clooney and Lopez are so attuned to one another, so comfortable in one another's presence onscreen, that the unbelievable is rendered not only plausible but unavoidable, fated, totally logical.

This romance arises from the time the pair spends in a trunk together after Jack kidnaps Karen during his escape from prison. This scene is the most iconic and oft-cited of the film, and justifiably so, as Soderbergh keeps his camera inside the trunk with the dirty, mud-smeared escapee and the elegant, reserved marshall, all dolled up and glamorous after a birthday dinner with her dad, ready for a date with her FBI agent boyfriend. A red light overlays the pair, and the cramped space of the trunk enforces their physical intimacy. Later, remembering the moment, Karen will tell Jack, "you kept touching me, feeling my thigh," and she sounds wistful, nostalgic, fondly recalling the time he kidnapped her. Soderbergh captures Jack's hand in closeup, tapping idly on Karen's hips, feigning casualness but obviously lingering a bit over the curved thigh beneath her skirt. Karen lays in the trunk with her back to her kidnapper, her curves pressed against him, seeming as relaxed as though she's just hanging out at home, although whenever she hears a police siren pass by her eyes grow alert. They chat amiably about crime and the law and the movies, their banter leading them towards a discussion of unlikely screen love stories, such as the one they're obviously about to enact.

Soderbergh's old-school stylishness is well-suited to this charming criminal love story. Nearly every frame pops with brilliant colors, and Soderbergh associates particular colors and images with certain moods and themes. The scenes of Jack and his partner Buddy (Ving Rhames) in prison are awash in the yellow jumpsuits of the prisoners, and the color-coding helps clarify the otherwise unannounced leaps into prison flashbacks. The present-tense scenes in Miami, on the other hand, are full of bright pastel hues: lurid orange walls, the red Hawaiian shirt Jack chooses as a disguise. A trip to Detroit for the film's second half is announced with a shot of a blue-tinged street scene, smoke drifting from a manhole cover, a grimly urban noir landscape that ushers in the outbursts of violence that punctuate the final act.

After Karen gets separated from Jack during his escape attempt, there's a sequence that turns out to be a dream in which she visits Jack's hotel, gun drawn, to find him lying naked in the bath, his eyes closed. Soderbergh emphasizes the orange walls, and shoots through the louvers of a nearby window as Karen creeps into her prey's hotel room. Then Jack grabs her, pulls her into the bath with him, and there's an indescribably sexy shot of her sitting on top of him, fully clothed, in the tub, kissing him and sinking into the water with him. It's a dream, but Soderbergh's style is so lurid and romantically overblown to begin with that it's as plausible as any of the things that actually do happen in the film. The film is itself a dream, a romantic fantasy, and he merely calls attention to that fact by throwing in an actual romantic dream like this.

Soderbergh's romanticism reaches its peak during the central love scene in which Jack finally catches up with Karen again, and they get to play out a real version of that dream, although the reality feels every bit as dreamlike. Jack finds Karen at a bar, just as he'd imagined during their first meeting, when he wondered aloud what would've happened if they'd met under different circumstances, like in a bar. He shows up like a vision after Karen has been hit on by a pair of determined advertising agents, the very opposite, in their professional respectability and conventionality, of bank robber Jack. Behind Karen, a huge glass window reveals snow falling, large fluffy flakes tumbling down in slow motion, and as Jack appears the bar around them becomes fuzzy, the city seen through the bar window as a blur of colored lights in the background. Jack's initial appearance is as a reflection in the window, and Karen turns towards him as though half-expecting that he won't be there, that she was just imagining his ghostly form superimposed over the nighttime city and the snow. Soderbergh's cutting cleverly draws out the moment, making the audience wonder, too, if Karen is just dreaming again; it takes a few more shots for the pair to appear together in the same frame.

They speak in hushed voices, as though they're hiding in plain sight, afraid of being caught, their desire aroused even more by the forbidden, furtive nature of their romance. Soderbergh captures their faces in beautifully lit closeups, their eyes shining, shy smiles constantly seeming to flutter at the edges of their lips. The actors have never looked better or seemed warmer or more natural; they are captured here at their best, flirting with one another, their characters flirting with one another, it hardly matters. It's delightful, and sexy as hell. It's some kind of glossy ideal of what love is supposed to be like, not the painfully banal notions of love advanced by so many other Hollywood romances but a real, deeply felt attraction that expresses itself in every least gesture, every word, every glance.

Their conversation is intercut with a scene in a hotel room afterward, as Jack and Karen eye each other from across a hotel room, taking turns stripping, Jack taking off his shirt to reveal a muscular chest, Karen slipping her dress over her head to reveal a shapely body in a bra and panties. Their bodies don't communicate as much as the looks they give each other, though, those intense stares from across the room. Then, and only then, does Soderbergh restore them to the intimacy they shared during that earlier trunk scene, as they come face to face in bed, their faces in profile and shadowed, a freeze frame holding them in place just inches apart. All the while, the snow continues to drift down in the background, and the light in the room is gorgeous and moody, enveloping the lovers in the romantically exaggerated hues that their mad love seems to require. Soderbergh will subtly evoke this scene again towards the end of the film, when the criminals' plans have gone awry and Karen, of course, comes face to face with Jack again, this time with a gun in her hand, facing him down as criminal and pursuer. Behind Jack, a large window frames a glimpse of the midnight blue night, with fluffy snow falling as it had on that other night.

The film has a lot to recommend it besides this stylish romanticism, of course. Soderbergh has assembled a cast of gifted comic actors who anxiously flit and dodge around the central couple. The colorful criminals and lawmen who provide the film's detail and its heist plotting include Dennis Farina as Karen's father, Steve Zahn as a stoned and hapless would-be robber, and Luis Guzman as an alternately sinister and silly criminal whose scene with Catherine Keener's Adele starts out threatening but abruptly becomes surprisingly comic. Michael Keaton shows up for another very funny cameo, reprising his role as federal lawman Ray Nicolette, the character he played in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, another Leonard adaptation. It's a nice nod, because while Soderbergh's film strikes a very different balance from Tarantino's — tilting more fully towards romance and away from tragicomic violence as compared with Tarantino's much darker vision — the two films have in common their moodiness and their commitment to slow-burn pacing and sharply defined characters.

In fact, Out of Sight is best summed up by a small, subtle moment that occurs between its two central characters without a word being spoken. At one point, Karen is tagging along on a raid meant to capture Jack and Buddy. She's staking out downstairs while the rest of the federal agents storm the robbers' room, but while she's waiting in the lobby she notices, across the room, Jack and Buddy standing in an elevator, its doors about to close and take them down to the parking garage. She raises her walkie-talkie to her lips but then pauses, and lets her hand drop away as she simply watches until the door close. Soderbergh cuts away from the closeup of her to show Jack, as the doors are closing, tentatively raising his hand as if to wave, not the cocky, show-off wave of a cheeky movie criminal, but the genuinely confused wave of a guy who's acting nervous around a girl he really likes. It's a funny moment, but not as broadly funny as it might have been if Soderbergh had exaggerated the gestures or played it a little differently. This way, it's not broadly comic but natural and genuine, an expression of the pleasant confusion that these two soon-to-be lovers feel when in each other's company. That repartee, visual and silent as well as verbal, is the essence of Out of Sight, and it's that warmth, that real spark of attraction and wit, that makes it such a special and delightful film.