The Michael Mann Chronicles Entry Three: “Manhunter” is Mann’s First Great Film

Manhunter, Copyright 1986 De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Sorry, no title card this time. That being said, this poster is much nicer than anything I could cobble together with GIMP, so marvel at the use of color blocks and enjoy William Petersen’s stylized visage.

Greetings internet.  Before we begin, yes, I am actually alive.  My life has been fairly hectic as of late, what with a trip to New York to do some work for a family member, another job that I worked full-time on and now preparation for my return to school in a few weeks.  As a result of that craziness, I am going to attempt to diversify this blog’s content a bit.  I will not have as easy access to Mann’s work at school as I will here (one of the cons of going to college in rural Vermont, but there are many more pros, so it evens out.)  Instead of writing about Mann week in/week out, I am going to focus on film in general, since that is what I love and what I am studying.  Be it a review of a work I’ve stumbled across or trekked into Brattleboro to see, I hope to cover quite a lot of cinema here.  I would also like to give my thoughts on television and literature when the time to examine them is appropriate.

But I digress, I massively digress.  We are here to talk about Michael Mann and his films, and this entry in the series brings us to his third work, 1986’s Manhunter.  Manhunter is an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, and as a result of being so, the first time Hannibal Lecter (Here spelled Lecktor, and played by Brian Cox) appeared on screen.  But while Lecktor’s presence in the work is quite strong, and through Cox’s performance quite memorable, he is not the focus of the film.  Instead, Manhunter chronicles the battle of wills between William Petersen’s dangerously good FBI profiler Will Graham and Tom Noonan’s methodical serial killer Francis Dollarhyde.  As an adaptation, it is mostly faithful, and certainly captures the spirit of Harris’ book well, but as a film I find it to be really, really excellent.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that of the Mann films I have covered, Manhunter is the first one I would call a really great film.

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The Michael Mann Chronicles Entry Two: “The Keep” Might Have Been Amazing… In an Alternate Timeline

Jurgen Prochnow enters the titular Keep, unaware that he is dooming both his sanity and the movie's coherency.

Copyright 1983, Paramount Pictures.

I love horror movies.  At their best, they give writers, directors, cinematographers, special effects teams and actors a chance to explore the many things that make a human brain tick in a thrilling, creative story.  Good horror can take the audience on a journey to the edge of existence, make them question things they might never have questioned before, show them exactly how horrible and how amazing people can be, and then bring them back.  John Goodman gives a wonderful speech about that experience, coming out of a horror movie and realizing that the whole wonderful, imperfect world is still there, in Matinee.  I will definitely be writing about that particular picture at some point, because it is in desperate need of more love.  But I digress.

I opened with that bit on horror because today’s entry in the Michael Mann Chronicles, 1983’s The Keep, is one of the most frustrating horror films I have seen so far in my life.  For that matter, it is one of the most frustrating films I have seen in my life, period.  It has a fantastic setting, both in terms of time and place.  It has multiple factions involved in its central conflict, all of whom could have had some great interplay with each other.  It has great practical special effects, with the main antagonist’s moving fog form being a particular standout.  It has Jürgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen sharing the screen.  It has Tangerine Dream’s second and last collaboration with Mann, and this time they do not go overboard with the guitar riffs.  It has marvelously moody cinematography that perfectly meshes with the tone of the current scene.  And despite all of that, it is an awful movie.   Continue reading

The Michael Mann Chronicles Entry One: The Past is a Competent Prototype in “Thief”

James Cann's Frank during the break-in that the picture builds up to.

Copyright 1981, United Artists.

Greetings from suburban Pennsylvania everyone.  Before we get started this evening, I would like to apologize for the delay in this series’ inaugural entry.  I had planned to post this last week, but chose to focus on my family reunion.  It was an absolute blast, and I will be posting some of my favorite photos from it in a few days.  For now though, I would like to direct your attention to the dawn of the 1980s, when Iran-Contra was four years away from happening, G.I. Joe was in the process of being rebooted and suburban life was considered a glamorous ideal.  That same glamor; the perfect home in the perfect neighborhood for the perfect family, is one of the major inspirations for the conflict  in Michael Mann’s directoral debut, Thief. Continue reading

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Let’s Take it to the Limit One More Time: The Films of Michael Mann, a Chronicle

The inspiration for this entire project.

We won’t be getting to this particular picture for a little while, but it is the reason I am embarking on this project.

It has been quite a while since I posted anything here.  Part of the delay may be attributed to my schoolwork, and part of it may be attributed to my occasionally tumultuous personal life, but I have the time and more importantly the need to write here again.  Summer is a good season for movies, from massive Hollywood blockbusters to low key independent comedies about time travel.  I have seen a few of the former and want to see at least one of the latter over these next few months, but that is just a fraction of what I would like to watch this summer.  I plan to work through something of a backlog I have had for a while now, both for entertainment and further study.  I am aiming to eventually acquire the rest of John Carpenter’s filmography, since I plan to begin writing a book on his work next year, so expect my thoughts on StarmanChristine, Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s made-for-TV Elvis biopic and a few others down the line.  But outside of my academical endeavors, I would like to take a look at the work of a director who I have had a chance to see a lot of.

Michael Mann is both a producer and a director.  He is responsible for one of the 1980s’ iconic pieces of television, Miami Vice as a producer, and recently oversaw HBO’s ill-fated Luck.  As a director he introduced the film world to Hannibal Lector as Hannibal Lecktor in Manhunter, gave Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino their first scene together on-screen in Heat, and successfully sold Tom Cruise as a vicious hitman and Jamie Foxx as a nebbishy cab driver in Collateral.  Or to put it another way, he has done some really good, really interesting work with cinema.  And I would like to honor that by taking a look at his complete filmography, from 1981’s Thief to 2009’s Public Enemies.  I will be looking at recurring themes and techniques across body of work, as well as examining my personal reaction to each film.  As for when this will be happening, I am going to aim for at least one update a week, starting with Thief next Wednesday alongside photos from my upcoming family reunion in Minnesota.

This should be a blast, so if you are reading this, please do not hesitate to comment on the films and let me know what you think of them and my writing.  I look forward to hearing from you all.

Cheers,

Justin

Drive: The Moody Scorpion Synthesizer Blues

On its own, this would be a sexy, memorable kiss.  But combined with what comes after, this scene becomes iconographic.

There is a reason Film School Rejects named this their scene of the year. The build-up, the climax, the aftermath - it's all extraordinarily well done. And the rest of the picture matches it in quality.

Hello again, and welcome to the first regular post here post-Sundance.  Since I am no longer in Park City, Adventures in Celluloid will be undergoing a bit of a shift – from travelogue and film criticism to straight film criticism with occasional adventures elsewhere.  To start things off, I will be writing about one of my favorite movies of 2011.  Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was advertised as an action-packed blockbuster in the spirit of the indefatigable  Fast and Furious franchise.  That was a poor choice on the distributor’s part – Drive and the Fast franchise do both feature characters who are expert drivers and put those skills to use while committing crimes, but beyond that they have very little in common.  Where the Fast franchise has had success because of its over-the-top action, Drive treats its action and violence as far more matter-of-fact.  Instead, it succeeds as a film because of strong character work, a carefully maintained balance between peace and violence and a fascination with motion that fills and (I apologize) drives the entire film forward.

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Sundance Days Four and Five: Everyone Dies in the End, it’s More a Matter of How they Meet it.

Taken on the night of January 23rd, just before a rap battle.

Whatever else there is to say about Sundance 2012 and its place in film history, it was the year I got to be there. And I had a really fantastic time.

Fair warning before we get started; this is a LONG post.  I am writing this several days after the fact, due mostly to a very busy schedule involving bus rides, plane rides, van rides, a mad dash around campus to hug most of my friends and the start of this semester’s classes.  But now there is time at last to talk about my last two days in Park City Utah.  One has gone down as one of the best days of my life so far, while the other saw me stay up until five AM watching Prince of Darkness and Drive in an effort to wash out the bad taste of what may be one of the most impressively off-putting movies I have ever seen.  Both were experience I am glad I got to have, but I cannot say I am crazy about repeating the latter any time soon.  That being said, I will be talking about it first, since its aftermath is going to directly affect the future of this blog. Continue reading

Sundance Day Three: Waiting for the Future, Waiting for the Past

The tent outside the Park City Library, a venue located right next to the Chateau Apres hotel.

Despite the blizzard the previous day, this tent was actually fairly comfortable.

First things first, sorry for not posting this yesterday.  I was fairly exhausted, and the results would probably have been close to unreadable.  Since I’d rather avoid this, there will probably be two posts today, this and another in the evening.  But enough of logistics, there are two movies and another interesting Sundance experience to talk about. Continue reading

Sundance Day Two: Conversations, Questions, Confrontations

The leads and director of "Red Lights."

Rodrigo Cortes elaborates on how he developed "Red Lights'" plot while Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen look on.

The best things about Sundance from the perspective of a would-be screenwriter?  The networking opportunities and the post-movie Q&A sessions.  Both pictures I’ve had a chance to see here so far have closed on these, and both have been incredibly fun/educational to sit through and partake in.  Today’s, for Rodrigo Cortes’ Red Lights (More on it shortly) featured both the director and the three leads; Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen.  They were all quite personable, if in very different ways – Cortes is a very charismatic host with a knack for directing audience attention where he wants it, Weaver is incredibly funny (a question about how working on a movie that deals very heavily with the supposed supernatural had affected everyone’s perception of it led to her mentioning that she would love to learn more about extraterrestrial life if it is out there, although said life “might not really want to meet her.”), Murphy is erudite and charming if very quiet and Olsen is self-effacing and very good at building on conversations to take them in interesting directions.  In short?  Getting to hear them talk was a lot of fun, and I got to learn a bit about how directors and actors work together in developing characters and their relationships with both each other and the plot.

Speaking of that, from here on I’d like to talk a bit about Red Lights, a picture I liked quite a lot, but one that is not without several major flaws. Continue reading

Sundance Day One: Waiting, Raiding

Taken at seven something in the morning, just when things were getting REALLY busy.

Right: The Start of the Line. Left: The End of the Line. Not Pictured: The Rest of this Very Large Building.

4:38 PM, the Chateau Apres in Park City Utah.  I have been up since 4:37 AM.  I am running on four and a half hours of sleep, a bagel and two cokes.  And I have not been this happy in a long time.

On a personal level, the community here is incredible.  So far today I have had conversations with an agent and an actor, both friendly and one rather extensive and engrossing – these are people I would like to get to know better, and if I can manage it, work with.  Outside of business based people, I have a lot of peers here – twentysomethings with a serious passion for film and it has lead to conversations on everything from why Jackie Brown is seriously underrated to the many and myriad ways we ended up here in Park City.  It is one of several things that makes the ubiquitous incredibly long waits worth while.

Another one of those several things?  The movies, particularly today’s – Gareth Evans’ The Raid. Continue reading

SUNDANCE!

In about fifteen minutes I leave for twelve hours of travel, specifically travel to Park City Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival is being held.  It’s kind of exciting, yeah.

Watch this space, there’s going to be a lot of interesting stuff up in the coming days.

-Justin

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