Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Miami Vice

Miami Vice
dir. Michael Mann

"My mommy and daddy know me."

January 17, 2007 - DVD

I was walking through the aisle at Ralph’s when an impossible deal made me stop in my tracks. It said, essentially, “MIAMI VICE DVD: 19.99. Ralph’s Club Price: 8.00.” I was all, “Whaaaat?” So I asked the clerk if that price was right, and he looked at it and went “Whaaaat?” He rang it up, and the pricing was accurate. He stashed the remaining two copies under the register. I left the store thinking that it was kind of charming the way the Ralph’s clerk dug the cool-looking but ultimately goofy Miami Vice movie enough to save multiple copies for himself. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t have bought the thing if it hadn’t been for the price (in tandem with my kind of insatiable desire to own DVDs), and if I hadn’t, I would perhaps never have realized that this was one of the absolute triumphs of 2006.

Now, I saw Miami Vice in the theater and enjoyed it, but kind of came away feeling like there wasn’t a lot there outside of the visuals and editing. Seeing it at home, however, was... well... the best way I can get at the feeling is by using a sort of trashy, stupid simile, for which I really do want to apologize in advance. Here goes-- to me, watching it this second time felt like jumping into a swimming pool while intoxicated. You’re kind of out of your element, and “this isn’t like normal swimming,” but it feels so good. The water has a new weight against your body, and the fact that something you’ve done a hundred times is now unfamiliar makes it twice as exciting. This was the effect the movie had on me this second time-- it made the familiar, procedural, drug-bust plot seem alien and immediate, and the look of the thing is not just slick and high tech, but exciting in a way that stirs the soul (see: 2001, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and almost any Herzog movie ever made for similar examples of visuals with the capacity to fill your heart). Yes, it’s true—I see all this in Miami Vice.

And the only explanation I have for this nearly 180-degree turn in appreciation is INLAND EMPIRE. I think it’s valid to let it be known that there are members of this very site who loathed their INLAND experience, and I certainly won’t, and don’t, speak for them now. It’s not a film everyone will love (neither is MV). But for me, watching INLAND was like thinking about movies with a new brain. It asked me to accept and adore what I would under normal circumstances refer to as hideously ugly image quality, and to see the tools used as the only possible way of communicating Lynch’s thick and balmy soup of ideas. It’s not that I just became okay with losing the quality of film—it’s that I was made to prefer this ugly, shit-looking, three-chip digital image to film stock. It told the story better, and INLAND would be worse without it. The filmmaking synchronizes with the visuals, and I realized that with enough revolutionary storytelling, the beauty of the visuals fall into place naturally.

With Miami Vice, I find almost the complete opposite equation. Here, the visuals are so unbelievably enthralling that the story feels perfect and sparkling new. Gunfights take on a new immediacy, even when most of the participants are just ducking behind cars, popping up for potshots. There's an unbelievable camera move during the final shootout, handheld and feeling totally unplanned, in which our perspective urgently races from behind one car to another, while bullets fly overhead. Watch that shot, and see if you don't feel like ducking. Wind whipping through Colin Ferrel's hair as he roars down a street in his convertible-- the moment feels fast and cold. Clandestine meetings in parking garages, when shot on this high-def video, feel like they're really happening-- someone could show up from out of nowhere and catch these guys, because this feels like real, unpredictable life. The difference is in the immediacy; on film, you're aware that there's a hand at the controls. On this video format, you're not so certain. Oh, man, and I don't even want to begin talking about the way the sky flashes in the background, but never quite gives way to rain; it's cinema fucking magic, and gorgeous to behold.

After seeing INLAND, I think I’ve become more open to the idea that image quality and storytelling are somewhat separate, and with enough of one you can feel entirely satisfied with the other. If INLAND is the new brain of digital cinema, asking the viewer to think in a difficult and challenging new way, than Miami Vice is certainly the new eyeballs (okay, okay… at least until this behemoth proves otherwise…), demanding a whole new way of looking at the screen. Visuals this beautiful seem to inspire a different kind of acting, and I think Ferrell and Foxx got kind of a bad rap when the movie came out—check out the way Ferrell and Gong Li nod their heads while looking at each other while sharing a shower. Thanks to Hi-Def digital’s strange, intangible ability to make things immediate, this rang to me like one of the truest cinematic moments of 2006.

There are many, many more individual great moments on display in here. I’d love to write about those extensively, or write about why (in both MV’s and INLAND's case) an extensive knowledge of the directors’ filmographies will vastly improve your experience (not in an elitist, in-jokey way, but in the way that triumphant art rewards those who know the biography and work of its creator). But I think both of those things will have to be saved for another time, or maybe for a personal conversation (and since I think I know most of the few people that might be reading this, that’s not at all out of the question—start me up, man, we’ll talk about this shit all night). For now, just go to your local Ralph’s grocery store and drop the 8 dollars. It’s so worth it if you can catch this wave.

I haven't posted in a while, and I think this article is a bit more breathless and less considered than other ones I've written. Somehow, that feels appropriate. I usually write about older movies, and MV and INLAND are brand new, and I think suggest a lot of wonderful, wonderful possibilities for the future of cinema. It's difficult for me to find a careful, considered way to put that into words... I think it says something that I'm really struggling to explain why the movie based on that funny show and later unofficially adapted into that sweet, bloody video game strikes me as revolutionary. Just see it. And if you've seen it already, see INLAND EMPIRE, then see Miami again.


Jeff said...

All I have to say is "fuckin' a right." On both counts (especially for Miami Vice: the most fun, in a boozy sort of way, I had in the theater last year. But also, Miami Vice was about a drug bust? Who knew? I thought it was about Mohitos).

dan keezer says bang! said...

going to cuba is boring...

Kalen Egan said...

Boring to a mental midget who can't stop quoting the "Norbit" trailer, perhaps.

Eddie Murphy said...

wow you're really hurting my feelings Kalen.

dan keezer said...

i actually don't mind cuba.

it is a beautiful country.