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Archive for March 15th, 2010

This is one of three blogs I have written for the Kathryn Bigelow “LAMBs in the Director’s Chair” but it is a little different to the other two, whilst one was an overview of her movies and the other a review of Strange Days this one is altogether more personal. I first saw Point Break on video in 1992 and was hooked. I think everyone knows what it’s all about Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an FBI agent who goes under cover to catch a group of surfing bank robbers. The robbers (known as The Ex Presidents because of the masks of the former US presidents they wear) use the money they steal to fund their adrenaline junkie lifestyle. Along the way Utah gets too close to chief suspect Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). The story is so good it was rehashed less effectively ten years later for The Fast and the Furious.

The kid in the surf shop who sells Utah his first board says “Surfing’s the source, it will change your life. swear to God.” this is something the character and the actor took to heart. At the end of the movie Utah says that he still surfs every day, Keanu Reeves learned to surf for the part and is still a keen surfer. So why is this personal to me? Simply because from the moment I saw the movie I knew I wanted to learn to surf it took me twelve years before I got around to it and I don’t do it very often but as the kid in the surf shop said “Surfing’s the source”. it didn’t change my life but it certainly makes it better. The feeling when you catch your first wave is increasable and when you learn to stand up is even better, you do literally forget everything else in your life while surfing. Strangely the most exhilarating , the time you feel the most alive at the worst moment not the best when you have wiped out. A another wave breaks on top of you pushing you back under water, you get turned around and you don’t know which way is up The only problem, if you were to work out the point in the UK furthest from all know surfing breaks it would be pretty close to where I live. Consequently I don’t surf very often but one thing is certain I probably wouldn’t have ever tried it if not for point break.

 

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Strange Days (1995)

Published as part of the LAMBs in the Director’s Chair Event #6 co-starring Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow.

Near future films are always flawed as they are out of date so quickly, that is the amazing thing about Strange Days, fifteen years have passed since it was made and ten since it was set but it isn’t dated. The main reason for this is that it isn’t a futuristic Sci-Fi spectacular, it is a contemporary noir thriller that uses its eve of the millennium setting as tool and not the crux of the story. It also helps that the SQUID device is a piece of technology that still does not exist but is could possibly exist in the near future. On the subject of the story it was written by James Cameron the ex-husband of director Kathryn Bigelow (1989-91), he also produced the movie.

Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a former cop now a dealer in “clips” illegal virtual reality playback that taps directly into the cerebral cortex. In a self delusional belief that he has a sense or morality Lenny refuses to deal in snuff clips, known as black jacks. Like all good detective stories the narrative unfolds slowly revealing many layers. As new years eve approaches the LAPD are on high alert, the streets are like a powder keg following the shooting of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), a rapper who is outspoken police brutality. Lenny doesn’t know what he is being dragged into when Iris (Brigitte Bako), a prostitute and friend of his comes to him for help suggesting his ex, Faith (Juliette Lewis) is also in danger.

Throughout the movie Lenny is helped by Mace (Angela Bassett) a chauffer and security expert Lenny met whilst he was still a cop. Provides both the spirit and the soul of the movie and is also a moral compass for the unscrupulous Lenny. Explaining her aversion to clips Mace tells Lenny “Memories were made to fade Lenny, they’re designed that way for a reason”. Mace represents two of the main recurring themes you associate with James Cameron, in herself she is a strong female character, probably the strongest character in the movie both physically and morally. Together with Lenny, she/they represent the mankind’s struggle to find a balance with technology, the same theme that is more overtly explored in the Terminator movies. Given the way that the internet has taken off with you tube, facebook and even blogs like the one you are reading the theme of computer technology as drug is strangely prophetic.

The visuals are truly stunning, shot mainly at night with LA looking like a neon lit ghetto. This is most evident in the seedy nightclubs and the new year street scenes. Showing what the characters see while using the wire technology allows Bigelow to take the point of view photography used in the foot chase scene in Point Break to a whole new leave with long single take scenes. It is all part of the frenetic nature of the movie that keeps you on edge.

The movie conveys a sense of despair and paranoia, Fiennes’ twitchy nervous performance is perfect for this vibe. Fiennes manages to walk the fine line of his anti-hero character balancing the sleazy loser with the lovable rouge whose heart may just be in the right place. Made just four years after the infamous Rodney King beating and three years after the subsequent Los Angeles Riots. What we are dealing with is flawed characters living broken likes, a grim reflection of society looking for direction. At the time Kathryn Bigelow said “If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don’t like what you see, you can’t fault the mirror. It’s a mirror”. The characters of the movie represent society as whole and for the movie to work as much as the villains have to be exposed Lenny has to find redemption. His first step on this path to redemption is the leap of faith he takes in Mace and the similar show of faith from Mace.

It takes immense nerve to make a film depicting corrupt cops, rape and murder culminating in a black women being beaten by riot cops on an LA street, it takes immense skill to get away with it. The film ends with the coming of the new millennium and with it a hint of optimism and hope.

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