Lockout (James Mather, Stephen St. Leger, 2012)
Filmed in oxidized green-grays, Lockout has an agreeably dingy look to it, something both exacerbated and subverted by the directorial style built on top of it. Wearing its "Like Escape from New York, but in space!" pitch on its sleeve, Lockout wrings a great deal of immaculately sloppy fun out of its well-worn material. Guy Pearce shines as Snow, a framed CIA agent whose trip to prison turns into a recruitment to save the president's daughter, taken hostage during a humanitarian trip to this cryogenic space jail gone horribly awry. Speaking solely in Plissken-esque, macabre quips, Pearce has a ball on his own. But that's nothing compared to his double act with Maggie Grace as the naïve but sharp daughter; Andreas brought up It Happened One Night and now I can't not think of that. I was hooked from its literally punchy opening.
Fixed Bayonets! (Samuel Fuller, 1951)
Released hot on the heels of Fuller's other 1951 Korean War film, the geographically compressed The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets! expands the field of battle but retains its compatriot's focused character study. Its surveyed platoon, abandoned to cover the rear in the dead of bitter winter, lose themselves to psychological contemplation as the cold threatens them as much as the encroaching Chinese. Lest you think that the voiceovers turn the film into some kind of reverie, however, Fuller here nails down the pulp-prose-poetry visual style that would make him such a distinct filmmaker. Indeed, Fixed Bayonets! offers a host of striking, idiosyncratic shots and tics that say more than even the bluntest dialogue.
The tremble of the camera when a mortar round explodes, both prefiguring the rise of shaky cam visceral "realism" and transcending its inherent thrill ride with more static, observational framing. The almost religious procession of the rest of the regiment (complete with Gregorian-esque chant) as they leave their comrades behind. The cacophony of Chinese bugles calling troops to arms but also containing the mournful last notes of "Taps" to further rattle the Americans. The amusing, fraternal scene of the men in a circle rubbing their frostbitten feet together until one of the sergeant's good-natured ribbing turns to horror when he realizes the cold, numbed foot he grabbed is his own.* Most gripping is the scene of Corporal Denno going to save the other sergeant stranded in a minefield, his own cowardly desire not to have to lead in the man's stead ironically compelling him to bravery. Fuller wrings tension out of a series of close-ups of Denno's boots, twinkling with melted snow as if the shoes themselves are sweating in nervousness as he takes each ginger step forward. It's all gorgeous and harrowing, as aesthetically thrilling as it is morally grounded in the complexities of respect and regret for its characters.
*As Gene Evans' sergeant tells the others, "Only three things you gotta worry about the infantry: your rifle and your two feet." As the grandson of a vet whose feet never fully recovered from winters in Korea, this tossed-off line carried a lot of weight and understanding.