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Non-Review Review: Project Power

Project Power is an oddity, a strange clash of style and content that never quite aligns but results in some interesting chemistry.

The basic plot of Project Power is fairly straightforward. A mysterious designer drug known only as “power” has arrived on the streets of New Orleans. These pills cause the user to spontaneously manifest a random superpower for five minutes – that power can be awesome, mundane or fatal. It’s a basic set-up as these sorts of stories go, and its rooted in the tropes of the modern superhero genre: human experimentation, industrialised production. unchecked power fantasies.

The bitterest pill.

Project Power uses this central plot element to two competing ends. In terms of direction, the simple-yet-flexible set-up serves as a motivator for a variety of high-concept and high-energy action sequences as characters manifest strange abilities that inevitably alter the dynamics of one-on-one combat, allowing for impressive stunts and frantic violence. In terms of theme, Project Power uses this set-up as a metaphorical commentary on the War on Drugs and the historical exploitation of marginalised communities by those in… well, power.

These are two interesting angles, even if they are never explored as creatively as one might hope. Indeed, the two approaches make strange bedfollows, with Project Power feeling like a paranoid conspiracy thriller that movies with the hyper pacing of a modern direct-to-video action film. It doesn’t really work, but the cocktail is fascinating enough that it holds attention.

Power play.

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Collapsing Into One Frame: Miami Vice, Time and Luck…

It’s that time.

Yeah.

Badges get flashed, guns come out. Arrests get made. That’s what we do.

So?

So, fabricated identity and what’s really up collapses into one frame. You ready for that on this one?

I absolutely am not.

Time and again, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice returns to the idea of images collapsing into a single frame.

It’s a recurring visual and thematic motif in Miami Vice. Around the midway point, the undercover police note the technique that smugglers are using to get past the complex array of checkpoints and scans set up to secure the border. “What’d you spot?” Tubbs asks their source at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Go-fast boats running that close?” Crockett muses looking at the footage. “On radar they look like one, not two.” The same technique is used later with the jet, which blurs on radar into a single image. More impressively, Mann accomplishes something similar with the camera. Two become one.

This theme of collapse is core to Miami Vice. Watching the film, there is a sense that everything is falling apart, that boundaries cannot hold. This is true of all barriers; the lines that Crockett and Tubbs try to create between their professional and personal lives, the walls set up among the different groups on the inter-agency taskforce, the borders that nominally exist to separate Miami from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It arguably even applies to the boundaries that writers and artists try to impose upon story, with Miami Vice constantly threatening to collapse into itself.

The result is a challenging a provocative piece of work, an ethereal dream-like mediation that reads very much as the inevitable climax of Mann’s meditation on the themes of law and order. Mann’s protagonists typically work to maintain some structure on what they do, to prevent the barriers from completely caving under outside pressure. Miami Vice represents the film in which those boundaries come crashing down.

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Digging the Claws In: The Wolverine, Superman/Batman, World Building and the Future of Blockbusters…

When you produce one of the most successful movies of all time, you change the rules of the game. The Avengers was the biggest box office hit of 2012, narrowly edging out The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall for the privilege. That means that all the other major film studies were taking note of what Disney and Marvel had done. So it’s no surprise that the majority of announcements trickling out of this year’s Comic Con feel heavily influenced by the success of that blockbuster.

Most notably, it seems like DC and Warners will be fully investing in their superhero world-building, with the sequel to Man of Steel broadening its focus from the Man of Tomorrow, announced as a Superman/Batman team-up feature that will build towards the inevitable Justice League film. It seems like The Wolverine might just be the most major stand-alone superhero feature film we’ll be seeing for quite some time.

The future is now...

The future is now…

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Non-Review Review: Django Unchained

“They’ll call you the quickest gun in the South,” bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz remarks to the freed slave Django Freeman. The cliché would suggest that he meant to say “West”, but Django Unchained has its mind firmly on the Southern United States. Producing the film, writer-director Quentin Tarantino argued that he wanted to produce a “Southern” rather than a “Western”, and he has done an admirable job. However, what’s really remarkable about Django Unchained is the way that it balances Tarantino’s trademark grindhouse aesthetic with considerable mature nuance. Django Unchained is the story about two bounty hunters tracking down wanted men dead or alive, but it that doesn’t mean that it is afraid to tackle more substantive and challenging aspects of American history.

If you’d asked me whether I thought that Tarantino could produce a powerful and insightful exploration of slavery in the Deep South before I saw Inglourious Basterds, I would have hesitated before answering. Django Unchained is smart, sophisticated and thoughtful, but never pretentious, never pandering, never dull. In a rather unlikely way, it is the most mature film Tarantino has ever produced.

An ice cold killer...

An ice cold killer…

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Watch! New Django Unchained Trailer!

Okay, I’m still sore that Django Unchained isn’t opening here until next year, but a new trailer does a little bit to alleviate that. And, well, at least I’ll be getting my most anticipated movie of 2013 a little early, I suppose.

There’s not too much here we haven’t already seen, but everybody looks to having such a good time that I can’t help but feel a little more excited about the film. In particular, Leonardo DiCaprio looks like he’s having a whale of a time.

Requiem For a Genre Star: Michael Massee and Familiar Faces In Small Roles…

With Jamie Foxx in contention to play Electro in the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, I got thinking about the teaser in the middle of the credit sequence. In the small scene, a mysterious visitor confronted Curt Connors about what Peter Parker did or did not know about his father. He got a single line, and was couched in shadow. My less cynical side suggests that this was an attempt to play up the mystery of the character so his inevitable appearance in the sequel would make sense. My more pragmatic side figures that it was to leave the role open for the production team to hire a big-name actor for the character’s appearance in the next film in the series. That is, after all, why all the shots of Norman Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man were careful not to reveal any facial features. Perhaps they can be digitally reinserted into the first film when the role is cast next time around?

However, this short sequence is a bit disappointing, if only because I was able to recognise the actor appearing, only for a second, cloaked in darkness. He was Michael Massee. And I feel a little sad that this means he likely won’t be playing a significant role in the sequel.

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Watch! New Django Unchained Trailer!

I’m still hurting a bit from the decision to push Django Unchained‘s Irish release date into 2013. Then again, I shouldn’t be too disappointed – hopefully it’s worth the wait. Anyway, they’re released a new trailer for the film, and I have to agree with The Guardian when they suggest that Leonardo Dicaprio might prove a dark horse in the Best Supporting Actor race. Of course, as with most of the Oscar season excitement, I’ll only be catching up after the fact.

Non-Review Review: Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding Citizen is an interesting movie. It’s a well-made thriller that seems to have some underlining arguments about the justice system and civil liberties, even if it tends to get a bit muddled towards the end. However, director F. Gary Gray knows how to handle tension, and has two very strong leading actors, which helps carrying an intriguing premise through some of the difficulties it has with its own moral philosophy.

Naked guns?

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How Studios Put Together Valentine’s Day…

News broke last week that Julia Roberts received $500,000 a minute for her screentime in this year’s romantic ensemble comedy Valentine’s Day. Yes, for six minutes of screentime, she got $3m (which really doesn’t seem that impressive without the zeroes – so $3,000,000). However, that wasn’t the most interesting part of the coverage of the movie – well, at least for me. A bit of commentary revealed how Hollywood can attract so many big names under one matinee sign (which is, undoubtedly, a key part of the movie’s success).

Here's to you, Mrs. Roberts(on)...

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