Wednesday, 31 December 2008
I recently had a look at the Miami Vice movie screenplay, Michael Mann's first draft. Oh goodness, from first draft to final film it is obvious it has been hacked to pieces. It's worth looking at if you are interested in the cross over from story and character development to practical screen writing. The refining of script, as if refined by fire, is very apparent. In the first draft one senses a similar character style development from the 80's series, but this is obviously mostly cut out for the final draft, which feels more sombre. The earlier draft seems to see the film set for one of Mann's epic length, 3 hour adventures. I have never understood why critics and film company owners complain of lengthy movies - I much prefer getting a fix for 3 hours rather than just 2, or even a measly 1,5 hours. In truth, perhaps Mann realised that his character development of Crockett and Tubbs just could never have the depth, to bear any relevance to the main plot line of this movie, as limited within the framework of the screenplay already written. For this reason, it appears that a shorter script would be tighter and more appropriate.
Those are my initial reflections - if you have any, I would be interested to hear them. Those most critical of Miami Vice the movie, have said that the dialogue was incomprehensible most of the time. I personally disagree, although I did find myself straining to hear what they said occasionally. But critics also meant that the screenplay was weak. I admit to saying Miami Vice didn't in my view achieve the same alchemy as Heat or The Insider and wasn't near Mann's best work in terms of emotional engagement with the viewer, but there were some special moments and I have enjoyed watching it over and over.
Well, if you would like to see this first Miami Vice Screenplay draft then click here!
One has to read about the deeply spiritual music of Lisa Gerrard to understand how this alchemy works with Mann's other ingredients. They were made for each other. I often feel I "understand" the character of Michael Mann himself more through his choice and implementation of music than sometimes through just his visual tools. Certainly, any conventional interview with Michael Mann is a blind alley if you are trying to see what drives him, what is important to him in his personal life. Mann is famously protective about his personal life, so we don't learn much about him except through his creativity.
We can also learn about Michael Mann through the work of other artists. It was through Michael Mann that I first discovered Lisa Gerrard. Here is an excerpt of an interview about her work on Michael Mann films. She also talks of working with Ridley Scott (notably Gladiator), another brilliant implementer of music into the visual realm. For the full interview and to see a collection of other interviews with her check out the Lisa Gerrard website here.
How did you get involved in film scoring?
By accident, but actually because of Michael Mann. I did some work in Spain years ago for a film doing sound score and many people over the years have used lots of pieces of my music for different films and temp dubs. Michael decided to take the risk of working with Pieter Bourke and I on The Insider, that was really my introduction to major film scoring. I‘d done a Spanish film, El Nino Del La Luna (The Child of the Moon), the original score for Nadro, which was with Ivana Massetti, an Italian director, and also Baraka. I worked with Michael Stearns on this, but on only one or two pieces, and they used a licensed piece, The Host of Seraphim, from a record (The Serpent's Egg by Dead Can Dance) I'd done years before. That was the introduction to the work, that piece of music. In turn they gave us footage for a video for the Yulunga Spirit Dance (Into The Labyrinth by Dead Can Dance), a piece of music that was already released. That was quite an extraordinary gift because this was all filmed in 70mm*.
Why do you think your voice attracts certain directors who want to use you in their films?
It's really interesting because when I worked with Michael Mann somehow he felt that there was a subtext, a story that could be told with a soul fabric type consciousness music in Jeffery Wigand's life. That we saw this very withdrawn character, so he painted a very large subtext in an almost conscious, soulful, inner experience of him, through the music that Pieter and I had written. He used my voice to depict certain emotional qualities, while in Gladiator, Ridley has used the voice as a connection with the familiar, with the family, and with the things that are true and have that value in the characters life. The human voice is an interesting instrument because it can't lie. When we have these inner feelings about our true private inner feelings, we don't lie, we can't lie. They're automatic, the voices automatically unlocks this interior journey of the private. I think that's why Ridley and Michael have found an affinity with this particular interpreter. I had very interesting experiences working with both directors.
See the full interview here
In the action-thriller Public Enemies, acclaimed filmmaker Michael Mann directs Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Academy Award® winner Marion Cotillard in the incredible and true story of legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger (Depp)—the charismatic bank robber whose lightning raids made him the number one target of J. Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), and a folk hero to much of the downtrodden public.
No one could stop Dillinger. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone—from his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard) to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression.
But while the adventures of Dillinger's gang—later including the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham)—thrilled many, Hoover (Billy Crudup) hit on the idea of exploiting the outlaw's capture as a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. He made Dillinger America's first Public Enemy Number One.
Hoover sent in Purvis, the dashing "Clark Gable of the FBI". However, Dillinger and his gang outwitted and outgunned Purvis' men in wild chases and shootouts. Only after importing a crew of Western ex-lawmen (newly baptized as agents) who were real gunfighters and orchestrating epic betrayals—from the infamous "Lady in Red" to the Chicago crime boss Frank Nitti—were Purvis and the FBI able to close in on Dillinger.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Michael Mann has a modus operandi as distinctive as any master criminal's. He's a hard-boiled sensualist: half muckraker and half fabulist. If he had been born 100 years ago, he'd have followed Jack London's path, not just into bare-knuckled journalism but also into transcendent evocations of the beautiful and the wild.
Talking to Mann is as surprising as it is stimulating. His unfettered intuition and exquisite awareness compel your rapt attention. It's as if you're tuning your radio dial to a brainy, original talk show host on a faint college-town station -- you strain not to miss his special code words and hard-won observations. You feel Mann gets extraordinary commitments from actors like James Caan in "Thief" (1981) or Tom Noonan and Brian Cox in "Manhunter" (1986) or Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) because he catches them up in his enthrallment with his material.
When I listen to tapes of the marathon interview sessions I held with him five years apart, one before the release of "Thief" and the other before the release of "Manhunter," they sound as if they're halves of an ongoing conversation, whether he's discussing his past or the projects then at hand. He grew up near "the Patch," one of the roughest areas of Chicago. ("It was very aggressive, it was very masculine and it was very heterosexual.") He still has a flat-A accent. "In my neighborhood," he once told me, "anyone who carried around a camera would be considered a 'fairy.'" By his count, only 13 of his high school graduating class of 365 went on to college, Mann included. It was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he majored in English, that movies first got their hooks into him. The film that clinched the obsession was (appropriately enough) G.W. Pabst's coruscating study of urban vice, "The Joyless Street" (1925). By the time he graduated from college, Mann knew he wanted to make movies. But he didn't like the curricula of most American film schools: "It was like vocational training. You're not supposed to do 'student' films; you're supposed to do a show reel." So, in 1965, Mann entered the London Film School, where he got an M.A. in film and did what he thought he should do -- "make two-and-a-half minute, fully symbolic statements on the nature of reality that'll shame you 10 years later." Mann stayed on in London for about six years, filming documentaries and TV commercials and working as an assistant production supervisor for Twentieth Century Fox. Having been part of the Madison campus' radical days, he began to feel the contradictions of his position: "I would make money on commercials and try to put it to use on my own projects. Some material I filmed on the Paris student riots wound up on NBC's "First Tuesday" because NBC's own people couldn't get close to the radical leaders. You never resolve these contradictions."
Read the full interview
The travails of upper-middle-class life and corporate careers are often fodder for movie comedy. "The Insider" approaches them without condescension or preconceptions; this film knows that the loss of medical benefits is a weapon as lethal as a knife or gun.
Wigand's struggle to preserve his good name and his kids' future becomes as palpable as the quest of any action hero. But Wigand is an inaction hero -- paralyzed by powerful forces, dependent on the kindness of strangers. And, despite some advance press reports, Bergman emerges as a complicated protagonist, not a bloodied-but-unbowed journalistic saint. He's bloodied, he's bowed, but he's strong enough to change his life.
Mann speaks in a Chicago accent, in a kind of elongated staccato; his disdain for personal revelation is reflected in his language. He likes to use words like "atonal," which are usually linked to more abstract arts like music or graphic design. Even in idle chatter about the visual sophistication of MTV-weaned audiences, he describes their ability to pick up "distonic little vibes."
But I do have one personal story. In 1981, the late Jonathan Benair, a screenwriter and voice actor deservedly renowned for his wit, discovered he was living in an apartment that Mann had once occupied, a block away from Canter's Delicatessen in L.A.'s Fairfax district. Not long afterward, Benair asked his favorite Canter's waitress why she'd left her post for a few days. "Oh, there was this writer," she said. "He used to come in and work at all hours, and he promised me that when he made his movie he'd fly me to the premiere." The movie was "Thief," the premiere was in Chicago and the writer was Michael Mann.
Read the full article
It was the credits at the end of an episode of Miami Vice that first drew my attention to the work of Michael Mann. The words "a Michael Mann production" appeared over the top of an animated abstract painting of pink and blue - jazzy italics making a claim for authorship. It was as executive producer of this extraordinarily successful, groundbreaking television series that the name and the figure of Michael Mann first entered popular and global consciousness - credited and celebrated with bringing a cinematic style to television. He then used this power and notoriety to do two things. The first was to make more exceptional television. The second was to continue pursuing his passion for the cinema - to make highly individual films of his own. And so the commanding words "a Michael Mann production" metamorphosed into the more subdued, but equally significant "a Michael Mann film". But Mann had traveled a long, hard road to get to that watershed moment of Miami Vice, and his return to full-time feature filmmaking proved to be just as long and difficult.
The Mann biography spans nations, passions and storytelling forms. Mann majored in English literature at Wisconsin University, and, at one stage, even considered pursuing an academic career. However, he fell in love with filmmaking and decided to move away from America to study at the London International Film School. His time at film school intersected with that remarkably rich middle period of the '60s from the Nouvelle Vague to the Paris riots. It was also the halcyon time of the "director as auteur". In London, Mann's compatriots were Alan Parker, the Scott brothers and Adrian Lyne - filmmakers who started out in the commercial, highly stylised pictorial field of advertising. Mann himself followed a similar path, making shorts, and advertisements as well as documentaries for television. One of his first projects was an NBC documentary about the May '68 Paris riots - a film called Insurrection. Shortly after, he also made a well-received abstract experimental short - Jaunpuri - which won a Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. (4)
Ready, Set, Shoot!
Any DP making a first move into digital cinematography might expect to have time to study the new format, running tests and experimenting with different approaches, before actually lighting a scene and rolling tape. But Beebe landed on Collateral with no ramp-up time. Two weeks of production had already been completed with cinematographer Paul Cameron (Swordfish, Man on Fire), whom Beebe was hired to replace. So he hit the ground running, calmly assessing how Mann’s decision to shoot digital would complement the story he was trying to tell.
"Certainly when you look at it on screen, the format is different from film," Beebe notes. "It’s a different result. Because you’re seeing a night world that is richly illuminated, with an enormous amount of depth, it’s slightly unsettling. It feels almost otherworldly, and it’s somehow a little bit alienating. I think that works so well with the storyline and with the journey of these two characters in this cab, because it becomes this alien landscape. You’re left with a different impression, certainly, than if it were shot on film."
The decision to switch between the Grass Valley Viper camera, Sony’s HDW-F900 camcorder and 35mm film throughout the shoot had more to do with practical issues than with aesthetics. For example, Beebe says the production favored the F900s, with their onboard recording, when the camera needed to be very portable— scenes shot inside the cab, for instance— and film cameras were used when action scenes needed to be overcranked, one area where digital cinematography still lags far behind the curve. The Viper’s main disadvantage was its umbilical-cord connection to the hefty HDCAM-SR decks that were used to record the data. ( Sony has since introduced the portable SRW-1, a streamlined approach to image capture that would have been welcome on Collateral.) But that inconvenience was outweighed by the Viper’s ability to capture a widescreen image across the camera’s full vertical resolution, rather than simply masking the top and bottom of the frame to the desired aspect ratio. In the end, Beebe says, the Vipers "did the bulk of the work."
Read the full interview here
Saturday, 13 December 2008
The movie trailer is here:
I first became aware of Michael Mann and his style of work in the original series 1 and 2 of Miami Vice, which in my view were the best episodes. Anyone remember that wierd Michael Mann logo displayed at the end? There is so much to write about just Miami Vice the TV series! If you want to know almost everything about the TV series as well as the movie you should pay a visit to:
And if you miss the iconic opening music by Jan Hammer, as ever, YouTube has it all:
Jan Hammer's other great piece of music for the series was Crockett's theme from a very poigniant scene. A personal favourite. Here is the music with an arrangement of Miami Vice clips:
The Miami Vice scene that is mixed with Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight is a cult classic, and if you click here you can see it in full.
And if you want to know what one of my favourite scenes is from the series, then you will find a lot of Miami Vicers will agree this clip from Calderone's Return is one of the highlights:
Friday, 12 December 2008
If you are like me and interested in cinematography, why not pick up a back copy of an interview with Dion Beebe on shooting Miami Vice the movie. You can purchase it at the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) website.
Manhunter is probably my least favourite of Mann's films, despite it being typically brilliant in style, acting and directing. I am not betraying Michael Mann in saying this - I thoroughly appreciate the usual nuance and visual complexity that is brought to this film. However, I always struggle with content that includes horrific abuse. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, which is what movies are about - shifting or at least challenging your boundaries and thinking. I can watch it, but I prefer not to dwell on it or "love it". Nevertheless, I cannot overlook it on this blog, nor do I want to. It is again, an exceptional work of art that in my view is far more sophisticated than Silence of the Lambs, which was more Hollywood box office stuff.
If you are a Manhunter fan or want to find more out about this film, then you can't find a better place to visit than www.manhunter.net
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Michael Mann’s films have taken their place alongside the most dynamic and singular representations of modern urban environments within the cinema.
This thesis analyses Michael Mann’s representation of Los Angeles (LA) within his 2004 film, Collateral.
As a contemporary of post-classical American filmmakers including John Carpenter, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, his films, although the source of considered review and discussion have yet to be the subject of sustained academic investigation.
Centred on Collateral, this thesis argues that although the film is directly related thematically, stylistically, intertextuality and self-referentially to Mann’s previous film set in LA, Heat, he has more than simply reiterated old preoccupations and imagery, rather he has effectively extended his representation and vision of the city.
Collateral represents an important work from one of America’s most highly regarded auteurs, highlighting the city’s exceptionalism and ‘global city’ status in new and interesting ways.
This thesis arrives at the conclusion that Collateral establishes not only an accurate and relevant reflection of contemporary urban LA but that it represents the city in a revelatory way seldom explored within mainstream Hollywood cinema.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Working on Public Enemies reunited LaserPacific with Michael Mann and his post producer, Brian Carroll. Just as on Collateral and Miami Vice, LaserPacific provided video dailies for editorial and studio executives along with dailies playback on location. This includes playback of the digital dailies on a calibrated projector in a custom screening room, set up by LaserPacific's skilled projector engineers.
F&V: Break down the workflow in terms of shooting.
We shot about half the movie on film, and then 20 percent with the Sony CineAlta HD camera, and the rest with the Viper FilmStream. The CineAlta has two more stops of range at the high end, so before whites clip and burn out, I’ll see details. So if I’m shooting in front of a car, I’ll see the outline of the car’s headlight with the Sony camera, but I won’t with the Viper camera. That’s the strength of the CineAlta camera.
F&V: What’s the strength of the Viper camera and how did that mesh with the workflow?
It’s got this glorious, lustrous mid-range, particularly in the records it makes of reds, yellows, oranges and blues. I love that look. Basically it’s a different chip. The Sony uses a Japanese chip while the Viper’s is made in Northern Europe, and I don’t know why but it has this totally different palette of rich Rembrandt-style colors. Maybe it’s the Dutch chip [a 9.2 million pixel frame-transfer CCD]. Go figure, but that’s the way it is. That was a big issue to us— how it looks on video— but now I’ve got to film the thing out, get a [Kodak] Vision release print and put it up on a 60-foot-wide screen. Now what’s it look like? And the heightened resolution, meaning more information, is there in the Viper, so that was really our camera of choice. Then we recorded to HDCAM-SR tape using Sony SRW-5000 machines. That was the best format available to us, and that way we could get compressed images made and then work on them and tweak them later in post. The drawback with the Viper was that you’re hooked to a bunch of recorders by these umbilical cords, so when I had to be freewheeling with the camera I’d go with the Sony camera, which uses cassettes instead.
Finally, in full wardrobe, we were taken to the capital (FBI) steps. We rehearsed for a good two hours while the camera operators, sound guys, video play-back technicians, and a bunch of other crew members set the necessary “shots” up. The scene was supposed to take place in October. It was at least 75 degrees where we were at, and wearing all of those wool clothes and overcoats made it feel like it was 100 degrees. I met Christian Bale (MELVIN PURVIS), Billy Crudup (HOOVER), and Director Michael Mann. They couldn’t have been nicer.
All of a sudden – just before we were going to start “shooting” the scene – I felt a good amount of sweat dripping down my back getting cold and clammy. Yes, here it is! My BIG Hollywood moment! And, I fainted, going down for the count! Michael Mann, watching everything from the video play-back tent, saw me going down and ran out to me – literally catching me before I hit the ground. In seconds, a crew member put a bag of ice on my neck and I was given, oh, about a hundred bottles of water. I didn’t completely lose consciousness (THANK GOODNESS), but they let me sit on a “crane camera” that was directly behind us, shooting a point-of-view shot from our perspective of J. Edgar Hoover and Melvin Purvis. Michael Mann kept saying, “David! Are you feeling okay now?” First of all, how cool was it that HE caught me, that HE was so concerned about my well being?
Here is another perspective of the Public Enemies shoot seen through the eyes of an extra in a courtroom scene. Read an excerpt below. For the full story click here:
On the set of Public Enemies with Michael Mann and Johnny Depp in Wisconsin
One extra's experience from a movie shoot in Darlington
Zac Shipley on Sunday 03/30/2008 2:04 pm , (46) Recommendations
Director of Photography Dante Spinotti and the photographers shot with two top shelf cameras, covering the scene with wide shots and close-ups of every actor from multiple angles. The scene was repeated for the entire day, with only a short break for lunch. While some of the extras groaned there at repeating it over and over, I gained a new appreciation for how intensely difficult it is to get the right shot and delivery.
Eventually the extras in most of the courtroom were dismissed as they moved the cameras to the perspective of the gallery. Luckily remaining in front, I dutifully continued my role, staring at Dillinger as he entered while casually whispering to the gentleman sitting beside me. For continuity purposes, it was important that extras performed the exact same actions for every take, so in the event of a quick camera cut there aren't any unexpected continuity difficulties. Of course I was somewhat nervous when the camera was settled right over my shoulder for a shot of the prosecution and the judge. But then I remembered, I'm a professional and a star now!
With the arraignment scene completed, the dozen or so extras remaining in the room had to wait before being dismissed, as another scene was about to be shot in the rotunda of the courthouse. Here, Depp as Dillinger was led down a hallway and into the courtroom under armed guard. Some minor movie magic was employed as the camera followed him into the back of the room though the scene we spent most of the day shooting showed Dillinger entering through the front. This was the only shot of the day I got a chance to see from behind the cameras, as I watched a monitor along with Spinotti.
After a couple quick takes, the clock struck 8 p.m. and Mann called it a wrap. Public Enemies was finished for the day in Darlington, though it would be retuning to Columbus the next day, Crown Point itself last week, and on to the Chicago area and various other locations around Wisconsin in the coming months.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
To see the plane during filming, have a look at this! Also shows how superb the photography is on this movie.
Click here to visit >>
By the way, a signed photo of Michael Mann is on ebay if you are interested (I have no idea if it is genuine, and the signature looks nothing like his name!).
Hey Cool Crew...
I had an opportunity tonight to catch a test screening of Michael Mann's Public Enemies.
This was in Portland, OR at the same theater that held the Watchmen test screening about 6 weeks ago... far less security & Hollywood goons this time out.
Didn't even make us sign NDA's...
They let us know that we were the second audience to ever see the film, and that there were SOME unfinished elements to it... warning us that what we were watching was a video transfer print, that the audio was not completely mixed, the skies in the film were not rendered yet, and that a pivotal "bullet to the face" scene was missing the blood. That all being said, I can genuinely say I was shocked how complete the film looked and felt as far as post production elements given that it has 6 months to go till release.
The short and not so short of it:
Depp plays John Dillinger, a gangster that looks a lot like Ed Wood... Depp's performance starts good, but gets great.
He is an elusive mouse for much of the first half of the film. Imagine if Jerry in Tom and Jerry had a machine gun. This is Depp in the first half. Running, outwitting, smiling, blowing the shit out of things.
You start to get more of a feel for him in the second half. The classic hollywood scenes that I wanted in the first 90 minutes, finally came in the final 60.
If this movie becomes a hit, it will be remembered mostly for a scene of Depp walking through a police station... classic Depp.
The capture and demise of Dillinger is the stuff that Best Pictures are made of... it is a combo of the visual flair of De Palma's Untouchables mixed with the tension of Sergio Leone's westerns.
Bale is FBI agent, Melvin Purvis, who is pursuing Dillinger across the country. For me, he was a non entity in this film and should be reduced to a supporting character.
Bale gives a one note performance throughout the film. You never feel for him, root for him, root against him, or quite frankly care when he is on screen. His character is WAY under developed.
I would seriously call this a flaw in the current cut of the film. A major chunk of the film's resolution deals with Purvis facing his conflicts with J Edgar Hoover. A conflict that is not examined with any significance earlier in the film.
Think Costner in Untouchable, a legit comparison... he had family torment in every direction, you wanted him to catch Capone, even though you kinda wanted Capone to win too. This film does NOT have that dynamic.
The Bale scene in the closing 10 minutes pulls out the rug from the emotional build up of everything prior.
Billy Crudup serves up a scene stealing performance as J Edgar Hoover. He is a pretty minor character in this film at its current cut, but I HOPE HOPE HOPE that changes.
His role, beefed up, even slightly, provides everything that Bale's character does not... he is the one who NEEDS Dillinger caught, he is the one that should be shown blowing his lid every time Dillinger escapes.
They touch on this, but split this chase with Bale... unneeded. Crudup deserves props for bringing something more to this film that no other actor in the film does. Depp is great, but doing a great Depp part. Bale is doing Bale. But Crudup is doing something you have never seen him do before and it is very fun to watch. On a side note, I will be curious to see if anyone else thinks he looks alarmingly similar to Darren # 1 from Bewitched.
Last but not least, Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger's girlfriend, Billie. Although I thought their courtship went way too fast from fling to serious.... do not be mistaken, Public Enemies is a love story.
It is for this reason I find the title to be very unfortunate. "Dillinger" is the perfect title for this film. It is about him, his heart, his passion for those important to him, above all, Billie. The emotional climax of this film has nothing to do with cops and robbers, but all about "the girl".
Imagine if the Fugitive was all about Harrison Ford's character running back to his LIVING wife.... it changes a great action film into a helplessly romantic one. Now, take that, add the inevitable fate from "The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and you have "Dillinger".
This movie will remind some of The Assassination of Jesse James, though it not near as epic in cinematic scope, nor as lyrical.
The directing is fine, for 2 hours, but brilliant for the last 30... could definitely be improved with more cuts and story restructuring.
Make it a romantic tragedy, with Hoover chasing Dillenger as he chases the girl. Throw in some good supporting acting from Bale, and you have an oscar contender.
As it is now, it is just a really good summer film.
call me Emmet Otter
Thanks, Emmet! Now here's EccoGamer with his/her/its thoughts!
I got into a preview screening of the new Michael Mann/Johnny Depp/Christian Bale movie tonight called PUBLIC ENEMIES at the Regal Lloyd 10 (here in Portland). And as I had suspected, it is about 1930’s criminal John Dillinger and his gang. The words ‘early cut’ were mentioned before the film and the show itself was delayed almost half an hour for supposed 'sound' problems. The cut I saw did seem too long but ultimately this is a really terrific movie that I assume will be rolled out for awards season next year.
Apart from the two marquee stars, the cast is huge. As usual both Depp and Bale are great, if somewhat subdued. But there’s also Marion Cottilard (wouldn’t even recognize her from Ma Vie En Rose), Channing Tatum (small part in a chase scene), Leelee Sobieski (good to see her again), Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, etc. Oh and Billy Crudup has a cameo as J. Edgar Hoover which is quite funny.
And look, we all know how Michael Mann can excel with these crime flicks – HEAT, MANHUNTER, etc…this is his version of that in 1930’s period. In a way, it shows how violent early America gave birth to the obnoxious overseas big brother superpower we are now.
The movie hits the ground running with a great, ballsy ‘breakout’ scene from the Illinois State Penitentiary that is pure Mann: Dillinger (who has only been paroled from this same
prison 8 weeks earlier) simply walks in to the place pretending to have just been arrested before all hell breaks loose and he busts out his entire crew.
From there we go to Melvin Purvis who is in the midst of chasing down Dillinger accomplice Baby Face Nelson (Channing Tatum). Purvis the sharp shooter nails the guy with his rifle from hundreds of yards away. Later on J. Edgar Hoover (Crudup) surprises Purvis by naming him new head of the FBI in the middle of a press conference. Purvis’ sole aim from there on is to get Dillinger. And there you have what is not only an early American crime saga but also a public relations cat-and-mouse game that both sides engage in.
The movie makes some interesting – even amusing – points about Dillinger’s celebrity. It posits Dillinger as the handsome ‘jackrabbit’ robin hood that the depression era public was fascinated by. And it plays out as a sort of power struggle between he and Purvis: who is the American public more fond of this week? Press conference scenes where Dillinger manipulates the reporters and plays for the crowd are very funny. And what I love about Depp is (despite Captain Jack) he has learned when to be a character actor and when to simply service the role: he never overplays this but always nails the character’s intent. Like you can see his mind working behind his eyes.
There is also a layer of personal one-upsmanship we see between he and Melvin Purvis: even when they’ve got Dillinger behind bars, the notion of who is in control is always shifting. There’s a great line where they surprise Dillinger by telling him he’s being separated by his fellow crew in jail and extradited to Indiana. His reply is something along the lines of ‘Why would you do that? There’s absolutely no business I need to attend to in Indiana”.
I’m rushing to get this posted so I can be first so I won’t go into all the famous episodes that are depicted here: the soap gun breakout, the bank alarm system scams, and the climax where Purvis and his men plot their capture of Dillinger at the Biograph movie theater where the ‘Lady In Red’ betrayal happens. But they seem to have covered everything.
If they could trim this down to a clean 2 hours, I think this studio would have something major on its hands. I am very hot and cold on Mann’s movies (Miami Vice was unwatchable to me) but here he seems to have a clever, well honed script to work off of and the best possible cast around. Thumbs up from me.
GF: Heat doesn't take sides or moralize about who's good or who's bad.
MM: One of the ex-convicts we talked to during the research period described how, no matter how pathological someone doing life in Folsom without the possibility of parole might be, there's one day every two months at three in the morning when [the lifer] wakes up and says to himself, like a ten- or twelve-year-old boy, "How did I fuck my life up this bad? How did I end up like this?" The point is, everybody has emotions, regrets, expectations. People don't walk around as a personification of moral conclusions. They walk around with the package of who they are. That's real. It's also very dramatic.****
That statement by Mann is actually quite profound and reflects something I deeply believe in - that despite how screwed up a life gets, each one of us has the capacity to recognize we are screwed up. Now it is another thing to know what good is, and know what to do about our waywardness. But in recognizing we are screwed up gives way to the fact that there is a plumbline for humanity - a place of order, balance that manifests goodness. There are glimpses of this searching for balance in Heat. Every person comes from a unique background, some are severely emotionally deprived, creating all kinds of sociopaths and emotionally indifferent characters. But can we judge them? Aren't we all searching for balance, for everything to make sense in this twisted world - and yet we often see an image of our world distorted through our own backgrounds and experiences, and therefore make our decisions based on ill founded conclusions. I love Michael Mann's films, because he too seems to connect with this very idea about humanity, allowing his characters to briefly question themselves. We see them connect and wrestle with their waywardness - Mann brings an almost redemptive like quality in some of his protaganists, despite the extreme, destructive nature of their personalities. I like that. The people out there that are most screwed up, are those that think they aren't. But there is hope...
The Worst Johnny Depp Movie I've Ever Seen, And I've Seen Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
I had read about Public Enemies this time last year, and was honestly looking forward to seeing it. I'm more than a little fond of both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, and I generally put up with period films and true-crime dramas.
Public Enemies is bad. Bad like check-your-watch-every-five-minutes bad. I've never wanted to walk out of a theater more than I did during this screening.
The main offenders here are cliche and predictability. There isn't one element of the film that feels original or surprising or even remotely interesting. It's all been done 100 times before, and often better. From the moment it begins, you know exactly where every character is going and it's simply counting down the minutes until everyone dies.
The action sequences make the time slightly more bearable, but they too suffer from eventually falling into familiar territory where one can't tell what the hell is going on or who is going down. They are certainly capable and vaguely entertaining, but Mann doesn't break new ground here from his previous gunfight sequences. They actually feel dialed back when viewed next to 1995's Heat, and by the time you've seen the first one, you've seen them all.
What would have saved this entire effort? Possibly the focus of the film. There is definitely something compelling about the folk-hero bank-robber, but the story fails as an anti-hero picture. The problem is that I never cared about Dillinger for a single scene. He opens the movie as a violent and murderous criminal, and rides through the whole thing on nothing but greed and desperation. What would the film have been like if we had seen Dillinger pre-crime spree? What if we had seen a glimpse of his time served in the Navy, or even a day of his earlier prison sentence? Johnny Depp's performance is completely workable, but little more. Far from one of his countless standout performances.
What if the film had focused a little bit more clearly on Purvis and the early beginnings of the FBI? The movie fails here, too, as the scene's involving Hoover are simply too short and spread thin, and Bale's character hardly does anything but run around and seem mildly frustrated. Hardly interesting to witness when it makes up every other scene, and Bale seems equally underwhelmed with the situation whenever he's not ducking bullets.
And that leaves the love story, also a complete failure. It's a whirlwind romance in the first act, and then for almost an hour, we hardly even glimpse Cotillard. I had honestly forgotten she was in the movie by the time they throw her back in. Cotillard's Billie is far from the worst love interest in this kind of film, but the movie spends such little time developing her relationship with Dillinger that they both seem like fools for risking their necks for each other. It's almost creepy at times.
I understand that this was a working version of the film, and that many things will be ironed out, but its problems stem directly from the overall structure, and anything short of chopping out an hour of the movie isn't going to make much difference. The romance aspect could be easily restructured, but it too has a long way to go at this point.
I have to point out one undeniable glowing factor in the film, and that is Stephen Graham's "Baby Face" Nelson. I recall Graham most clearly from his super meek character in 2000's Snatch. He is worlds away from that memory in Public Enemies, a complete mad man and easily the best thing about the movie.
My favorite moment of the screening was towards the final sequence as Dillinger is in a theater watching Manhattan Melodrama directly before his demise. What I liked here wasn't that Public Enemies was implying that Dillinger, through the magic of cinema, was accepting and welcoming his imminent death in the last moments of his life. That was silly Hollywood crap, desperately grasping for a conclusion after so much mindlessness. No. What I liked was that, for a moment, I was in a modern day theater watching a Carey Grant film, and not Public Enemies.
Monday, 8 December 2008
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Just saw a raw cut of Public Enemies in Portland, OR! Definately can't afford to miss this on the big screen. Too bad I had to leave early, so I can't tell anyone how it ends (and I wouldn't either...buy the DVD).
The combat scenes were great from prison escapes to wild chases.
I was worried that the romance scenes would get flaky, but they didn't. Thanks Mr. Mann for leaving it tasteful.
Speaking of which, the director was in the audience and it seemed like no one recognized him, or the crowd did what I did--give him his privacy and let him make sure the film went smoothly.
It did...about 99.5% of it. The staff were superb. The movie started just 5 minutes (and then another 5 minutes) late. Inside joke, you had to be there.
There was a lot of subject matter to cover, and I did my homework before I saw the movie. Not a lot is explained, so the viewer must have a strong working knowledge of the period. The First World War was over a decade over, but the subsequent disillusionment led to the irresponsible roaring 20s which imploded into the Great Depression. If the viewer doesn't know more than few details (and more than what the History Channel and public education merely provide), then the logic of the characters' intentions and decision making can seem very alien.
I will watch this movie again and on the big screen, too. Because the film stives for authenticity, it sparks an interest in the period deeper than just a frivolous Google or Wikipedia search. I wondered if it would be similar to "Road to Peridition". While capturing the flavor, "Public Enemies" touches the conscience of honorable policework while battling suspicous public scrutiny and low confidence in anything government. The viewer will have to ask hard questions such as what sort of force is allowable in a criminal interrogation? When is the line of decency crossed before the public and fellow crime fighters question the methods? These scenes aren't overly explored, but neither are the subjects of lethal response and forceful interrogations ignored.
On a personal note, though, I don't side with crime nor the crimal. Johnny Depp's character, Dillinger, is superb at wooing a woman's under garments to the floor, but the consequences of his criminal actions are still mortal and permanent against the flesh. The criminal is the betrayer, not the seduced. Dillinger was a murderer from the beginning. Don't be fooled by the charms of the devil as he'll still eat your soul when he's through using you to do hell's work.
Policework is a passion, and Christian Bale's character, Melvin Purvis, though cold in appearance, is brazen in executing his duties. He's a brute when the response call for it. He's passive aggressive when sizing up a caged Dillinger. He's a gentleman to reign in the policework when agents step over the line of decency and they become criminal in action. I wish that the movie explored his logic and determination much more. Criminals are boring. The quick temptation for easy wealth and fleeting sexual satisfaction whithers. What inspires a cop or G-man to remain resolute when society doesn't give you the tools required for your basic job description? What keeps cops from becoming perverted and abusive with power? And if a line is overstepped, what is the redemption for good men who've wronged?
It's a lot to cover in just one movie and maybe too much for an uninformed audience. Because the story covers real events by real people, accuracy must suffer to keep the story bearable for one sitting. But, if you want action, Public Enemies gives it in spades. This movies was definately "raw" and not all of the scenes had the the proper sound effects from bullet strikes and and near misses as they "cracks" when whizzing by your ears. Public Enemies' combat scenes are enough to make adreneline junkies duck and cover.
All of the actors were outstanding. Of the supporting characters, I'd say that Stephen Graham, who plays "Baby Face" Nelson, is one the audiences will love to hate. He's cunning yet slimy. He lacks the presence of mind in keeping the execution of a crime low key; yet, he's quick witted enough to let down the guard of agents (Purvis included) providing for his own escape.
Okay, no more for now. You're now obliged to see the movie for yourself. I could comment about what I'd want changed, but that would be my vision and not the director's vision. Well done Michael Mann, and thank you for a very entertaining evening.
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Monday, 1 December 2008
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