Laker Notes: When the best films are the most violent
The holiday season marks a time in which many households revive treasured traditions, gift exchanges and special cuisines. The winter months tend to signify comfort, relaxation and compassion for those we hold dear.
Yeah ... in my family, it doesn't really work that way.
While most individuals take this time for classic festivities, my parents and siblings spend the months of December and January huddled in movie theaters and absorbed in streaming services. I come from a diligent film-loving family, and our Christmas revelry is often our only opportunity to watch movies as a collective unit. Regardless of the film, context or content, it's a fair bet to assume that I'll be watching it over a winter break.
As with the holidays before it, this season was decorated with a flourish of both new movies and old favorites. Additionally, however, this break was accompanied by a personal revelation regarding my relationship with motion pictures. After 18 years of considerations and reflections, I think I've finally begun to realize what my favorite genre of film genuinely is.
I like to call it "artful action."
Most directors will tell you that action is an exceedingly challenging subject to film. Its frantic, unpredictable nature, coupled with the possible danger it places on actors, often results in scenes riddled with extraneous jump-cuts and CGI. These struggles have resulted in such franchises as "Transformers," "The Fast and the Furious" and "Jason Bourne" which, despite their popularity, don't necessarily constitute earth-shattering efforts in filmmaking.
But not all action flicks are held back by the complications of their genre. Rather, some films thrive in their portrayal of violent movement, embracing its complexities and harnessing the skills of both a cast and a screenwriter. Rather than choppy, overcut and falsified, these movies elegantly convey realistic, thoughtful and, dare I say, "artful" action.
Three particularly "artful" action films come to mind, all of which I managed to watch during winter break.
The first, Quentin Tarantino's 2003 classic "Kill Bill:Volume 1," is a master of swordplay and unadulterated violence. While not free of cuts or strange moments, the film's greatest strength is its ability to beautifully employ blood and gore, which are featured prominently in its famous "Black Mamba versus The Crazy 88s" fight scene. Tarantino's movie tends to leave viewers entranced by the perfection of virtually unspeakable acts of violent cruelty.
Released a full 12 years after "Kill Bill: Volume 1," George Miller's 2015 take on "Mad Max: Fury Road" also boasts its fair share of stunning gore, though primarily as a consequence of its astounding practical effects. "Mad Max" took a number of years to shoot and edit, as virtually every moment onscreen was performed realistically. While the relentless vehicle explosions and tense scenes required exhausting effort, the work stands out as an arresting example of how rejecting CGI can produce something visually striking.
The final film of my list, David Leitch's recent flick "Atomic Blonde," demonstrates the vital role of artistic directors and talented actors in the production of action movies. Though technically considered a mystery or thriller, "Atomic Blonde" doesn't shy from action scenes, making full use of choreographed fights and detailed set pieces.
Unlike so many sloppy attempts, however, "Atomic Blonde" nails its action by taking advantage of both camera movements and the abilities of leading lady Charlize Theron. Having trained profusely for her role as Lorraine Broughton, Theron's movements are exceptionally staged, permitting the director to employ lengthy, wide-angle shots that showcase her talent. (One scene is approximately 10 minutes long, without cuts!).
Though many individuals champion romantic comedies, dramas or horror films, I've always possessed a personal soft spot for movies like "Kill Bill," "Mad Max" and "Atomic Blonde." While the plot of these works is often secondary to their visual appeal, this scarcely holds their stories back. These works emphasize detail and articulate design amid a genre often dominated by precocious noise.
Appearance is an integral yet often-neglected aspect of motion pictures and, as I realized during this winter break, I commend any film willing to dedicate itself to its pursuit of cinematic beauty.