Friday, October 06, 2006

Camera Obscura - The Departed, The Proposition and Other Acts of Vengeance

It"s no secret I am a big fan of the Hong Kong action films and many of them draw power and ideas from American Cinema. Director John Woo's operatic "The Killer" is dedicated to Martin Scorsese, who returns the thanks this weekend with the release of "The Departed," a loose remake of one of the best HK films in some years, "Infernal Affairs."

The hallmarks of Scorsese violence are large in "The Departed" and he leans heavily on three A-List stars - Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson - in an epic story of living double lives, as police detectives, mob informants and mob bosses. His version of the film, set in Boston, also runs about 50 minutes longer. Scriptwriter William Monahan says he never saw the original film, but made his adaptation after reading a translated version of the original Chinese script.

It's a good way to re-interpret the movie, since the original's visual style, pace, acting and music are truly without match. The Scorsese film flows more from his own style, which will give audiences two distinct takes on a similar story. But I get so disgusted with American critics/media promoters who claim this movie is a "triumphant return" for Marty -- as if he last two or three were somehow sub-par, half-assed nonsense.

What I do encourage viewers to do, however, is to vigorously search out "Infernal Affairs." Not only does it boast it's own A-List Asian stars, the movie is expertly engrossing, suspenseful and constantly surprising with the way it twists and turns the characters. It swept up so many awards in 2002 and has such respect in the film community, it clearly echoes the admiration Hollywood gave to "Seven Samurai", which has been endlessly remade.


As with "The Departed," another type of cop drama, another type of re-imagining of genres hit DVD shelves with the visceral and relentless Australian "western", "The Proposition". A gritty and character driven script by punk rock legend Nick Cave, the movie takes on a time-honored story of what is deemed necessary to "civilize" the countryside from haven for "outlaws and savages". It opens in mid-shootout, which is as grim as anything from Peckinpah -- messy, chaotic and not one bit sanitized.

The local "sheriff", Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) and his crew ends up capturing members of the brutal Burns family and, in his mind, offers a crafty plan. He tells Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) he will hang the somewhat innocent youngest Burns brother unless Charlie seeks out and kills the oldest of the family, brother Arthur (Danny Huston).

Just as Sergio Leone did in the 1960s, director John Hillcoat, fills the screen with a scarred and barren landscape of faces and scrubby wastelands. The story also draws from ideas used by Clint Eastwood to examine the nature and effects of equating revenge and retribution with justice. No mistake, the Burns brothers are ugly beasts - but the ugliness of the settlers and the law is made nearly identical. And for all the intense violence, the story is also deeply subtle and never preachy. It has moments of lyrical beauty and absurd madness.

The movie is not for every taste, I admit. But it is deeply haunting and a brilliant take on the Western genre. Also of note are the fine performances by Winstone (who also provided the voice for the cuddly li'l beaver in "Narnia'), Pearce, and Huston. Huston, the son of director John Huston has been making terrific supporting roles in a wide range of films over the last few years. But here he stakes out a real breakthrough performance.


Poor George Lucas - loved for creating the "Star Wars" movies and hated for making more of them - is truly having a tough time with what to do now. He announced this week he is giving up on film and is taking Lucasfilm to television -- "
We don't want to make movies. We're about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we've moved away from the feature film thing because it's too expensive and it's too risky. "I think the secret to the future is quantity," Lucas said."

George -- it's the Quality we all miss.


As the American Library Association has again devoted time and attention to books that have been banned or removed from shelves due to complaints, I noticed a webpage of short student-made videos based on some of these nefarious writings.

Take that, you censors!! If a parent was horrified their child might encounter "Catcher In The Rye," the short video translating it with a lesbian twist may well make their heads explode. Also featured are videos based on such banned titles as "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Brave New World" Check the page out here.


Here's one for your discussion and review -- a list of the best ever zombie movies via RetroCrush. The good folks there even give you YouTube clips of all their picks.

Happy Halloween!


  1. Love love LOVE Infernal Affairs. Andy Lau is aytch-oh-tee.

  2. it is a true high point for HK action and even plays well in dubbed versions.

    i'll let you be The Decider for his hotness.

  3. Thanks for the headsup! I'm lovin' the banned book vids!