Friday, November 20, 2009

Park's THIRST and Jarmusch's LIMITS OF CONTROL: See 'em for the amazing visuals

TrustMovies rarely recommends a movie based purely on its visual appeal. Yet two new-to-
DVD films have ap-
peared this week that absolutely merit that advice. Though both are perfectly OK (if a little been-there/
done-that) in the story department, their "look" -- the colors, composi-
tions, and all-round visual flair -- is such that I believe any-
one who prizes what beauty and and originality can bring to a genre film will appreciate either of these two treats.

Within his much-commented-upon deadpan style, Jim Jarmusch has managed to work in an interesting array of genres, from crime to ensemble comedy, romance to western. His latest, and certainly the most beautiful color film the fellow has yet given us, is in the "thriller" mode. You might call THE LIMITS OF CONTROL the Jarmusch answer to the Bourne movies but, of course, a lot slower-paced. Which is fine, because this gives your eye plenty of time to pop, pop, and pop again.

This movie has been art-directed and production-designed (by Eugenio Caballero) to within an inch of its fragile life. But because the art and design are so accomplished, there is neither a moment nor a frame that is not glorious to view. And I don't mean that it's forever calling attention to itself. Rather, it moves along in stately fashion, while the eye of the cinematographer (Christopher Doyle: Are you surprised?) frames and captures the enormously varied and splendid locations (by Albert Proveda), from a men's room to a museum, a train to a vast plain.

The cast offers a study in international stardom, from Britain's Tilda Swinton (above) and John Hurt to Spain's Luis Tosar and Paz del a Huerta (below), Japan's Youki Kudoh, Mexico's Gael García Bernal, Israel/Palestine's Hiam Abbass and America's Bill Murray to name just a few. In the lead is one of the most beautiful actors to grace the screen, the Ivory Coast's Isaach De Bankolé (shown two photos up), whose amazing face is a study in gorgeous, dark planes and cheekbones to die for.

Using few words, most of them oft-
repeated, he com-
mands the screen via his quiet strength and classy suits worn so well (to get a more hu-
mane sense of the man, see the under-
rated movie The Guitar). If The Limits of Control has little plot and the capper smacks of red state/
blue state division, it works well enough to carry us along, murmuring quietly, again and again, "Just look at that!"

South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook's latest to reach our shores, the nouveau-vam-
pire flick THIRST, is another lesson in how cleverly chosen and created visuals can add immense pleasure to, as well as ringing changes on, a genre as old and often dog-eared as the blood-sucker movie. What especi-
ally sets Thirst apart from others in the genre is that it's "hero" is a priest, carrying along with him all the fun Catholic guilt you might expect. And if the wordplay of vampire priest doesn't quite have the delight of Nazi zombie, never fear: Thirst is ten times the movie that Dead Snow wishes it was.

Mr. Park seems to divide critics. I come up almost wholly on his side, for I love his way of merging big themes (the uses and wastes of vengeance) with can't-take-your-eyes-off-'em visuals. His foray into the vampire genre is no exception. Thirst is in some ways as much a film noir (deceit, guilt and a femme fatale play an enormous part in the proceedings) as a Dracula-clone.

As usual with genre movies, it's what the writer/director does with his material that counts, and Park does a lot. From his use of fantasy fears and dreams (even vampires can be afraid -- something that I don't think we've seen before, and certainly not like this: the waterlogged coffin, for instance) to his take on the vampire's avoidance of daylight (can't have it? OK: we'll paint the walls white and install a lot of fluorescents!), the filmmaker offers originality that goes a step farther while still making sense.

Park keeps his sense of humor about him, too. Toward the end as events rise to the expected climax, that humor keeps bubbling up, mixed with feeling and sadness. As usual, we sympathize with our vampires even as we know they must perish. The finale is a wonderful mixture of odd humor, graphics both wild and beautiful (a shot of whales at sea is simply unforget-
table), and splendid reticence (the final shots crop an old cliche into a resonant image, brilliantly reduced). What a movie-maker this guy is!

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