Monday, July 14, 2008

Functions of Genre

Only two features this week:

221. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, directed by Guillermo del Toro) has a pretty standard storyline for an action fantasy, but that's genre for you. All genre movies are pretty predictable, and this one is no different. You know in pretty short order how this film is going to turn out. But that's only plot, and, as someone once said, plot is only an excuse. Lord knows, this movie understands that, because once you discard the plot, the individual scenes and individual moments are quite special, and the MEANING of what happens to the characters goes pretty far beyond what you can glean from just anticipating how everything turns out in the end. Sure, you know going in that in order to kill Prince Nuada, someone was going to have to kill Princess Nuala. Sure, you know that Hellboy is going to defeat the Golden Army by challenging Nuada's right to rule. You get that in the first ten minutes of the film (and if you don't, you just aren't paying attention). What you DON'T get is the relationships between the characters. These are unpredicable and largely independent of the plot. You don't anticipate the lovely dual motif of saving the life of the one you love even if it means the end of the world. You might anticipate the great tentacled monster that rises up over the city in this movie, but you don't anticipate what happens when it's killed. And you don't anticipate the film's many visual wonders, from the troll market to the elemental's fate to the Angel of Death. To a one, these are fabulous. But it's the smaller wonders that really make the film click. The sight of Hellboy and Abe Sapien drunkenly singing Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" might be worth the price of admission all by itself.

222. Depending on what I've seen lately, I usually name Miller's Crossing (1990) as my favorite among the Coen Brothers' movies. This alternates with Fargo, usually, but lately I've been drifting towards No Country for Old Men. Miller's Crossing is, of course, a reworking of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, which itself might be my favorite of the hard boiled novels. As in Hellboy II, the plot is incidental, intricate and twisty turny though it might be. I could tell you that the movie is about Irish gangsters, but what it's really about is Gabriel Byrne chasing his hat. Early in the movie, he even comments that there's nothing stupider than a man chasing his hat. The Coens have built a formidable gallery of grotesques over the years, but none of their other movies is as packed with them as this one, whether it's Jon Polito descanting on criminal ethics or a street urching swiping the toupee off the head of a corpse. The parade of characters--none of them leading-man or leading-woman material--is endlessly fascinating. And after all these years, I still think this movie contains the Coen's best-ever sequence, in which Albert Finney defends himself against would-be assassins while "Danny Boy" plays on the soundtrack. It's contrapunctual music at its finest.

I also watched some of the third disc from the Norman McLaren Masters Edition, including:

223. Narcissus (1983)
224. Pas De Deux (1968)
225. A Chairy Tale (1957)
226. Neighbors (1952)
227. Opening Speech (1960)
228. Christmas Cracker (1962)
229. Canon (1964)
230. Ballet Adagio (1972)

These are mostly dance oriented--Narcissus is particularly lovely--and show McLaren following the lead of Maya Deren to its obvious conclusions. I should give a shout-out to Neighbors, which is a masterpiece. How this won an Oscar during the Cold War, I know not. But there it is.

Neighbors is all over YouTube. By all means, watch it:


Renee said...

Miller's Crossing is indeed fantastic, but it's one of those films whose plot eludes me...I've seen it a bunch of times, but I still can't tell you what order stuff happens in.

I didn't enjoy The Golden Army as much as you did, but everything you say is spot on. Of course, you would know that, because we talked about all those same scenes elsewhere...

Still, my favorite bit might be that within five minutes of each other, two major characters make the choice to let the world rot in the name of love. That's fantastic, and a third film will be richly welcomed by me.

Lori D said...

You know, I've never even watched the original Hellboy. However, I have to admit, the ONE interesting movie that I continue to ruminate on is the fantastic imagery and silly storyline of Hellboy2.

You're right, it was as predictable as any other summer blockbuster movie, but damn was it a lot of fun, and I have to admit I was quite drawn not only to Hellboy but to every major character in the movie.

When my son returns from vacationing in hell-los angeles, I will be taking him to see it, mainly because I want to see it again.