Feb 16, 2015

60 more Magic Movie Moments Part 2

A Fish Called Wanda: "Disappointed!"

I'm not one for throwing movie quotes out in conversation - most of the people I speak to offline wouldn't get the references anyway - but I've quite often been tempted to throw out a line from this clip after a highly anticipated film has turned out not to live up to expectations.

Kevin Kline's deservedly Oscar winning work in A Fish Called Wanda is masterpiece of comic tone and timing.  In this scene he discovers that he has been double crossed and the the loot stolen during the robbery at the beginning of the film has been moved.  His reaction is priceless.  The dialogue itself "Okay... okay... DISAPPOINTED" isn't funny, but the detail of Kline's performance is.  First there's the drop of the head when he sees the empty safe, then the perfect delivery of the line, then the frustrated kick of the car that's also in shot.  It's a mini masterclass in comedy acting.

Georgia: Take Me Back

If I had to explain with a single sequence why I think Jennifer Jason Leigh is the best and most underrated actress working (and I don't, see below) I'd choose this one.  She is astounding in Georgia, playing a small time singer with drink and drugs problems, whose sister (Mare Winningham) is a country music star.

In this scene, Leigh's Sadie has been invited to play at a charity concert, a high profile gig set up by her sister, and one that could give her a shot at recognition.  In ten minutes, Sadie sabotages that shot, playing an extended version of Van Morrison's Take Me Back, in which she slaughters the song.  Leigh recorded this sequence live, and it's painful to watch, not just because it's simply a bad version, but because Sadie is pulling the song out of her guts; as exposed as if she were naked up there.  It's a sequence I almost want to turn away from, but Leigh's so good that I can't.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ['11]: Opening credits

David Fincher's take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is one of the more pointless films I've seen.  It's considerably better looking than the Swedish film, but an inferior work in almost every other aspect, especially when it comes to the two lead performances.  This title sequence doesn't help, because it is much, much too good for the film.

It sets up the film brilliantly and even seeds some images - the match - which won't pay off until the third book/film (which seems unlikely ever to be made in English, at least with this team).  What makes the sequence such an attention grabber is the music; a propulsive cover of Immigrant Song by Trent Reznor, featuring Karen O, sounding more than a little like Robert Plant as it happens, on vocals.  The film never recaptures the thrilling energy or even the visual verve of this sequence, indeed for me the whole thing made me long to watch the film these titles advertised.

Still, brilliant opening titles.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2: Ron and Hermione
The Harry Potter series is perhaps the great 21st century example of franchise filmmaking.  They were wildly popular, but didn't dumb down in search of commercial success, always finding plenty of room for character beats in amongst the plot and special effects.  One great example of this is the way that the relationship between Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) grew organically in the background throughout the series, before paying off in the final film.

Their first kiss was much commented on, but for me the moment that resonates comes soon after, as they walk hand in hand find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) in the aftermath of the battle of Hogwarts.  There's a smile of recognition from Harry, and then Hermione just gives a slight look down, indicating their hands.  Watson plays it beautifully, making it a beautiful, low key, way to seal the relationship that says more than any line could have.  After a film long action sequence, one of the most moving moments is silent, and all the better for it.

Hellboy II - The Golden Army: Angel of death

Hellboy II is a sorely underrated film, Guillermo Del Toro's best fusion of the personal and commercial sides of his cinema.  This scene should have been a lead in to an even better third chapter of the franchise, but instead it will have to stand as a moment.  

I liked the relationship that both films established between Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his love interest Liz (Selma Blair), but in this scene that relationship develops a soulfulness it hasn't had before as Liz, a dying Hellboy in her arms, is offered a choice by the Angel of Death (a gorgeously creepy design) "The world or him".  The thing that hits hardest about the scene is not just the conviction of Blair's "Him" but the fact there is no thought before it, the fact it's instinctive makes it seem all the more deeply felt.  If only the franchise could have built from this moment.

The Hudsucker Proxy: “A thingimajig that would bring people together”

Yes, it's Jennifer Jason Leigh again.  She doesn't often get to play broad comedy, but she does it brilliantly in the Coen Brother's fast paced and wordy homage to screwball comedy.  This whole speech, in which she takes Tim Robbins' corrupted innocent Norville Barnes to task for his recent decisions is hilarious throughout.  Leigh's crisp delivery is a key reason for this - I especially like her periodic  "Shut up" to anyone who dares try to interrupt her - but there's one line that just makes me roar with laughter.

Talking about the reasons that Norville invented the hula hoop and the reasons people took to it she says "Finally there would be a thingimajig that would bring them together... even if it kept them apart spatially".  Not only is this a great line, it's character appropriate.  As an undercover journalist Leigh's character, Amy Archer, is concerned with accuracy and that line comes across as her own editorial note on what she's saying.  It's also just a great line.
Incendies: Intake of breath [SPOILERS]

The word 'breathtaking' can get thrown around in criticism, I'm certain I've done it myself at times, but it's rare that it's literally true.  I saw Incendies twice at the cinema, and have since shown it to a couple of friends, and every time I've seen and felt this moment do the same to the audience as it does to the character.  

The film revolves around twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette).  Their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal)  has just died and she has left them each a letter.  Jeanne's is to go to the father they never knew, Simon's to the brother they didn't realise they had.  Throughout the film, Jeanne traces her mother's life, discovering her time as a double agent during civil war and as a prisoner who was raped by her guard.  She also hears stories, legends really, about who her brother became.  In one terrible moment at the end of the film's second act, she comes to realise a connection between her father and her brother.

Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin keeps the reaction very simple; just a sharp, disturbed intake of breath as she, in a horrific second, understands the truth.  It's an incredibly impactful moment, and further proof that some of the things that are said most clearly and loudly in cinema are never actually spoken.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The legend begins

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of my favourite films; one that, the instant I put it in my Blu Ray player, turns me back into the enthralled eight year old who first saw it at the Angel Centre cinema in 1989.  Picking a favourite sequence is almost redundant, as the whole film is so perfectly executed, but the opening does stand out.

In this age of prequels, when we're being given endless background information on characters whose mystique is a key part of their appeal (that's you I'm glaring at, every horror remake of the last 15 years), Last Crusade provides a masterclass in filling in a character's background without overexplaining him.  This is because Spielberg sticks to the iconography; Indy's hat, his whip, his scar, his fear of snakes, wraps it up in a thrilling action scene and, most importantly, does it all in under 15 minutes.  

The sequence sets the scene well, shaking up the traditional intro to the Indy films, which always feel like the ending of previous adventure, but it also has a bittersweet tone now because, good as he is here, you can't but mourn that we may have missed out on a great young Indy film with River Phoenix.

Jurassic Park: First encounter

Another literally breathtaking moment, though obviously in a very different way to the one I picked from Incendies.  As with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this is a film I have a clear memory of seeing for the first time and of this moment in particular.  I was too young to have seen Terminator 2, so Jurassic Park was my first experience of the major advances in CGI.  I had been interested in dinosaurs as a kid, even toying with the idea of being a palaeontologist until I discovered movies.  

This sequence was like wish fulfillment.  I couldn't believe how real the dinosaurs looked, how much like they had seemed in my imagination.  I remember gasping, just like the characters in the film do, in sheer awe.  It was the first time a film had ever done that for me and, remarkably, it still holds up.  Okay, the integration of the CGI is a little rough around the edges now, but I still feel like the dinosaurs have presence in the scene, which is perhaps thanks to how strong Sam Neill and Laura Dern's performances are here.  Once again, Spielberg transports me back to my childhood every time I see this moment.

Katalin Varga: The story [SPOILERS]
Katalin Varga is far from a typical revenge film.  It's quiet, the revenge non-violent and the morals not always cut and dried.  Its centrepiece is this five minute scene.  Having tracked down the man she believes raped her years earlier, making her pregnant with her son, Katalin (Hilda Peter) is out on a boat trip with the man and his wife.  On the water with what is effectively a captive audience, she relates the story of her rape.

Peter's performance is incredible.  Her delivery of the story hits hard, but it's the way she watches Antal (Tibor Pálfy) as he becomes uncomfortable, clearly realising this is him that she's talking about.  My favourite moment comes when, towards the end of the scene, Katalin sees that Antal knows.  She leans back in the boat, there's a sense of victory, a sense that even making him recognise her, with his wife sitting right there, is a victory.  Director Peter Strickland makes the scene visually unsettling too, with the background unstable behind Katalin as the boat turns, but it's Hilda Peter's performance that holds the attention here.

Lady Vengeance: Removing eyeshadow
Lee Young-ae is seeking a more conventional vengeance than Hilda Peter's (see above), but as I'm finding so often with this list it is a smaller, quieter moment that makes the most impact on me.  I wasn't able to the still I wanted for this moment because the only DVD I have of Lady Vengeance is the fade to white version, and that ruins this moment.

Throughout the film Geum-ja (Lee) wears striking make up, with her red eyeshadow the standout feature.  As the film begins to wind down and the final vengeance is accomplished she goes to the bathroom and rubs that eyeshadow away; a heavily symbolic moment suggesting that now blood has been spilled she can wipe away this figurative blood, the job done.  This is why I'm baffled that the fade to white version is Park Chan-wook's preferred cut of the film, because the fact the the film is by this point entirely in black and white in that version robs this image of its symbolism and much of its power.  

I didn't love Lady Vengeance the first time I saw (I do now, it's in my Top 20), but this may well have been the shot that made me want to revisit it.  It hit hard in the cinema, and continues to whenever I see the film in full colour.

The Last American Virgin: Ending [SPOILERS]

Newsflash: Being a movie nerd doesn't exactly make you a girl magnet in high school.  I think that's (part of) why I love The Last American Virgin; it's a film that captures the crappy feeling of being on the outside looking in when, as a teenager, social standing is important to you. 

AJ, a friend of mine, hates the ending of The Last American Virgin, and I get why.  By the end we're rooting for nerdy Gary (Lawrence Monoson) to get it together with Karen (the impossibly lovely Diane Franklin), not just because that's what's expected at the end of a high school movie but because he has genuinely shown, over and over, that he cares about her and has gone to a lot of trouble to be there for her, while his rival is a douchebag.

The thing is, douchebags quite often get the girl.  They certainly did when I was at school, and in acknowledging that this film feels much more reflective of my high school experience (and, I'll wager, that of most other viewers) than most its time and genre.  It's certainly an unexpected kick in the balls on which to end a comedy, but there's a truth to it that resonates.

No comments:

Post a Comment