Friday, January 19, 2018

3D Infernos

About a week and a half ago, I posted about a couple of Japanese movies I bought as part of larger orders, pointing out that the other things in that order would make for a tremendously specific themed post, and here it is - two 3D movies named "Inferno", made sixty years and half a world apart!

Both, in a way, were "what more can I buy" purchases - Out of the Inferno was found while I was just digging around DDDHouse, looking at what was relatively cheap on 3D Blu-ray because, when you're ordering from Hong Kong, you might as well pack as many things as you can into a single order to save on shipping, and "3D movie from the Pang Brothers" raises an eyebrow for me. Then, of course, it sits on my shelf for a while because that's what 70% of the movies I buy do, as they're both a compulsion and a hedge against not being able to watch them the day I do feel like it because video stores no longer exist (or, at least, the nearest non-Redbox one is roughly an hour from my apartment on the T) and who knows if it will be on a streaming service I have a membership for the day I want to see it. Not that I'm likely to suddenly feel the need to watch this movie on short notice (especially when I didn't know it existed five minutes before ordering it), but it's the principle of the thing.

Similarly, I was on a 3D Blu-ray buying kick on Amazon, looking deep in the "people who bought X also bought Y" stuff when I found Inferno, though I was a bit alarmed at the price (something like $50 from resellers). It looked good enough to chase down elsewhere, though, which is how I eventually found Twilight Time's site and now will likely order a couple movies a month for them for the foreseeable future.

Both, thankfully, wound up pretty good, or at least good enough for a couple evening's entertainment. This pair of movies is also a kind of fun side-benefit to me liking 3D and kind of obsessively hunting it down (admittedly, partly due to necessity) - it's leading me to some fun places. Oftentimes, this sort of focus can get you into ever-more-narrow niches, but it's cool that even though it led me to this super-specific list (two 3D movies with the same name, at least in terms of what's on the front cover), the end result was two reasonably different movies.

Inferno '53

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 15 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (watching 3D stuff, 3D Blu-ray)

"3D", "Technicolor", and "film noir" are not three things that traditionally go together, and that's a large part of what makes Inferno such a nifty discovery: It really is all three, and not just that, it's good at all three. It takes an intriguingly gritty crime story, transplants it from the city to the desert and strips it to the bone, and gets a heck of a lot of impact from its visuals.

When it opens, Geraldine Carson (Rhonda Fleming) and her new paramour Joseph Duncan (William Lundigan) have already abandoned Gerry's husband Donald (Robert Ryan) in the desert and are covering their tracks. It's a crime of opportunity; Donald has a reputation for wandering off on his own, and if he falls and breaks his leg while Joe is showing him a mine to invest in, well, Gerry at least is able to convince herself that not rescuing him is different from actual murder. The trouble with that plan is that while they go through the motions of telling Carson's business manager Dave Emory (Larry Keating) that the boss is missing and misdirecting the search party, Carson is demonstrating more will to live and ingenuity for survival than most would credit the soft heir with.

That the audience never really sees Carson as the unimpressive, abrasive gadabout that the other characters describe leaves a bit of an empty spot in the film, but the nifty performance by Robert Ryan as the inconvenient husband is nevertheless a strong enough base to hold up the rest of the film. There's a sneering hatred and self-pity to him that gives way to the makings of a less grudging admiration as the tenor of his voice-over changes and his physical performance shows more assurance; the audience may not witness the entirety of Carson's arc, but we get enough to extrapolate the rest, and Ryan does a nice job with it. He's a little theatrical when on his own for much of the film, but he slides into a more natural mode when playing against co-stars later, and it feels like both what the movie needs to be entertaining and growth.

Full review at EFC

Tao chu sheng tian (Out of the Inferno)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 16 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (watching 3D stuff, 3D Blu-ray)

Brothers Danny and Oxide Pang made a splash on the Chinese film scene with The Eye and Re-Cycle, and have worked steadily both on individual projects as a team since, but the movies they have made don't seem to be booked at a lot of genre festivals any more. Maybe it's because they're like Out of the Inferno (aka "Inferno" and "Out of Inferno" depending how the title is translated) from 2013 - well-made enough but not unique. Hollywood makes things like this, and the Pang's good eyes roughly making up for the difference in effects budget between there and Hong Kong doesn't quite grab one's attention, even if it is a perfectly fine movie about heroic firefighters.

Four years ago, brothers Mak Tai-kwan (Lau Ching-wan) and Mak Keung (Louis Koo Tin-lok) were both offered jobs in the private sector; Keung took one, while Tai-kwan stayed with the Guangzhou Fire Department. Now, both of their lives are at a turning point; Tai-kwan has decided to leave the department so that his expectant wife Lam Si-lok (Angelica Lee Sin-je) doesn't have to worry about every day and Keung intends to propose to his girlfriend (Gillian Chung Yan-tung) after an event launching the company's fire-suppression products. Given that they are in use in the high rise where the company is headquartered - and, coincidentally, where Si-lok's OB/GYN (Wang Xue-qi) has his office - it's not going to be a great advertisement, as a set of unlikely circumstances will carry the flames through the entire forty-plus story building.

It's kind of a shame that this plot requires Keung's technology to be something of a spectacular failure; neither the script nor actor Louis Koo portrays him as particularly foolish or full of hubris. On top of that, it makes it a little harder for the filmmakers to talk about the practical difficulties firefighters in cities like Guangzhou face with skyscrapers growing like weeds, too high up for ladders to be stable or water pressure to be sufficient. The moments when the Maks have to solve that sort of problem are some of the film's most thrilling and intriguing, far more exciting than the familiar subplots about a lost kid and an opportunistic crime. Tai-kwan and Keung having different ways of approaching the same problem, and friction about how one is valued monetarily while the other is lionized (something that applies to a lot of fields where risk is involved) might be a much more interesting way to create tension between them than the late introduction of issues involving their father's death.

Full review at EFC

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