Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Diva and a Drunk, both on DVD

For as long as I can remember, the culture has used the terms "cool" and "hot" to suggest hipness, sexual attraction, beauty, effortless grace in entertainment, athletics, and personal relations. "Cool" is used far too often; it's tossed around as a comment without much meaning, as a complement on what one has seen or heard or done, and as defining word, when you've run out of words.

I just re-watched what I called and still call the epitome of "cool" in film. DIVA(1981), a French noir thriller practically defines "cool" in its story, its color palatte, its views of Paris, and its attitudes. A young postal worker who delivers on his moped is obsessed by a great operatic diva, who has always refused to record her voice. He secretly tapes a performance, an action which begins a whirl of events involving corruption in high places, agents ready to pay big money for the tape, a zen master and his young Asian paramour, and a second tape which exposes a crime ring that threatens to expose important people and comes into Jules' possession without his knowledge. Suddenly he is pursued by violent thugs as well as by the agents who want the vocal tape. During all of this the diva allows Jules into her life, and his obsession transcends vocal gymnastics.

All of the above may seem beyond belief, but one has to experience DIVA in one sitting to experience its mysterious pull to the senses. There is of course, the music, but there are also the settings, designed with such skill that they define the characters who inhabit them. Jules lives in an abandoned factory surrounded by his stereo equipment and a huge pop/surreal mural. The zen master and his disciple live in an apartment that seems to have no boundries. He sits in front of a huge puzzle gazing at one of those water tanks where the "ocean" flows back and forth. The color schemes here are lush blues and purples. How all of this flows together lies in the genius of first-time director Jean-Jacques Beiniex whose use of fluid camera work keeps us on the edge until he allows us to see surprise after surprise. I looked back at the reviews of DIVA. Rotten Tomatoes gave a 96 rating (collection of many critics), the New York Times gave it a rave review, and on and on. COOL.

And now for the drunk. The previews for FLIGHT indicated an action thriller like the old AIRPORT movies. Well, that's the first 20 minutes, which are harrowing and not for those who are squeamish about flying. After his passenger jet goes into a nosedive, veteran pilot "Whip" William Whitaker (is that a movie name or what?) flips the plane and manages to land it in a field, saving most of the passengers and two of the crew. But the hero soon becomes the target of a federal investigation about his being under the influence while flying. The audience already knows he is a drunk. He gets up drunk, immediately starts drinking, snorts a line of cocaine, gets on board and secretly downs two passenger size bottles of vodka. As the airline attempts to protect him and itself, he only makes it worse by continuing to drink  in excess and stubbornly refuses to admit that he is an alcoholic. Since Whip is played by Oscar Nominee Denzel Washington, we know his road to redemption will be a rough one, and it is. But FLIGHT is worth seeing for the fine acting, its not too subtle but necessary message, and, of course, for Denzel Washington.

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