…and the quest to see everything

Archive for December, 2010

Neverending Christmas: Shreks


I already complained about watching the Shrek trilogy on twitter and did it anyway. The sharp comedy that turned itself into a cliché simply by existing again and again and again. We watched the first one in Grade 9 religion class, I think.

ph. Dreamworks

One thing about lobbing off one gag on top of another is that one will eventually make you laugh. Or that on repeated viewings, you’ll actually laugh about the one you forgot about. Such as when the recently rescued Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) opens the new morning with a series of vocalizations. She sings with a beautiful blue bird. We know what’s coming. She intentionally sings with such pitch and volume that the bird explodes. She takes the bird’s eggs, and there’s a mixture of solemnity instead of pushing the gag. And you know, Fiona the 0rge cancels out how this movie’s supposed to be about couples who don’t look good together.

The best in show/scene for the second installment goes to British comedy queen Jennifer Saunders, who plays Fiona’s fairy god mother. In order to get Fiona to marry her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), she locks Shrek up on Fiona’s childhood bedroom. She mocks his cries out for her. Great delivery.

Ooh, Shrek the human’s (Mike Myers) kinda hot. Looking back two paragraphs ago, yes, it’s a sad North American staple for a hot woman to be paired with Kevin James . That got my weird brain to thinking about what my former prof said about masculinity being the absence of performance. Both in ogre and broad-shouldered human form, Shrek is more acceptable as a masculine figure. Especially than his arch nemesis Charming, one of the gags involve the latter whipping his hair, feminizing the character. Even Fiona sees something wrong with Charming, pretending to be the transformed Shrek, mugging for the citizens’ attention at her royal wedding.

The theme of the masculine duality between Shrek and Charming rides on up to the third installment. It makes sense that Charming’s in a fairy tale version of a dive bar until you really think about it. He thus tries to rectify that wrong by getting the other bar patrons, fairy tale villains, to sign up to invade Far Far Away. I mean, what’s stopping him? It’s not like Shrek can function in his royal duties anyway.

I like the first half of the third movie. It was my first time seeing it, so the gags feel fresh. There’s a feminist spin to it – as Charming rounds up the villains, Fiona rallies her fairy tale princess BFF’s, who are normally passive and wait for a…prince charming. This came out when I was in summer school. For a class I was watching some old movie either about the Algerian resistance or one about a depressed Senegalese maid. Yes, I could have rebelliously written an essay about either of those movies AND Shrek 3.


Christmas: Home Alone


Macaulay Culkin’s acting chops at the time is him mugging for the camera, and is nothing compared to the ten-year old child actors we have today. Joe Pesci is delightfully not a ham, and whatever internet snark anyone may have for this being his Norbit is unfounded. Oh hai, John Candy! Why are there no black people in this movie? The guy playing Macaulay’s brother is not the most attractive child. The script isn’t pedophile proof, with mentions of his older brother ‘pounding’ him.

ph. Fox

Also, that child is really immersed in American gun culture. Of course, I wonder how verbose the last 30 pages of the script are. the words ‘I’m gonna kill this kid’ is just as effective as the f-word. The film is an interesting perspective of how a child brushes off fear. Both children and the adults in the film expose their fears especially about families and homes. His family is terrible, using numbers instead of names for counting the children. Weak grocery bags suck.

This is my snappy write-up.


Pikes on Bikes


Director Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham owes John de Borman’s creamy, pastel cinematography and balanced lighting that eases the transition from the fictional film to the 1960’s newsreel-like footage in both colour and black and white.

ph. Sony Pictures Classics

The first scene shows protagonist Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) riding a bicycle to her job at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England. I remember those bicycle scenes when an American senior at Ford threatens labour minister Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) to withdraw, I recall 40,000 jobs that Ford gives to the United Kingdom. The only character I remember having a car is upper-class Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike). Rita’s coworker Brenda (Andrea Riseborough) also as a quick scene in a Ford, although the car’s ownership isn’t explicitly revealed. I assumed that the company at the time wouldn’t give cars to their workers either for free or for cheaper like they would in Detroit. The company has thus treated the British more as labourers than consumers, and I wonder whether Barbara has caught into this. That or the English and just weird and prefer bikes. The cars don’t fit within the housing apartments in the London suburb anyway.

Hawkins, Riseborough and the other actresses make for good activists. I expect some of the audience to wonder how a meek wife like Hawkins’ Rita to become a loud mouthed expert demagogue. From experience, having a working class job and pointing their eyes and ears in the right directions turn these women from just workers to masters of knowing union rights. The film portray these women at the tail end of their patience, rapidly having the courage to demand equal pay. Rita beautifully portrays the workers’ voice, a character who has experience at the factory and years of pent-up personal anger – e.g. having to deal with her son’s condescending school teacher – to be able to speak up to union presidents and even Barbara without hesitating.

Another way of looking at this feminist courage is looking at the actresses’ CV’s, both Hawkins being busy playing another woman going against the grain and Pike playing another not-your-average perfect wife. How do they do the same things, fail in other movies yet excel here? Is this because the constraints of ‘unique’ storytelling from the other films isn’t found here, surprisingly freeing both actresses to do more? Or because they’re in the driver’s seat, letting the audience see the characters react from one situation to another instead of male actors reacting to them?

Hearing the word ‘feminist’ in describing a film might turn audiences away, fearing that a movie like this will be about the female characters against the men. The men are mostly ‘icky,’ but there are defectors from both sides. There’s Rita’s husband (Daniel Mays) who needed a little convincing and Lisa who was suspected of fighting with her husband, who happens to be a superior at Ford. Thankfully, the characterizations are more subtle and they don’t behave like they have jerseys or labels behind their backs.


The Fighter


ph. Paramount

The Fighter‘s first sequence places the camera behind Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), as his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) throws fake punches behind him. They play fight as Dicky welcomes a documentary crew to his hood at Lowell, Massachusetts. You see the brothers, the crew, the neighbors yet the neighborhood feels uninhabited and thus, artificial. The rest of the film feels that way, the small city, both depicted with interior and exterior space, feels sunny bot not vibrant. The camera then zooms out with the same speedy feel as director David O. Russell’s earlier work Three Kings or the opposite yet reminiscent of, dare I blaspheme, a shot in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.

Lowell, Massachusetts, where everyone wears a size too small except for Dicky, who, despite revealing musculature later in the film, has an emaciated face floating above ratty oversize t-shirts, and for a while, Micky, better dressed than his brother, who tries to hide that he’s getting fat for lack of exercise. When they’re physically in shape, Micky and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) would have their enviable three percent body fat sticking out on top of their boxing shorts or cutoff jeans.

The movie also makes Micky look short (in reality Wahlberg is 5’9″), since no one that jacked could weigh 145 pounds. I’m not saying that the clothing nor the physicality does all the characterization – I’ll have a lot to say later about those aspects of the movie. I just like those details within the costume or mise-en-scene popping up once in a while.

I’ve previously said that I can’t relate to trashy characters. How many times do I have to say that I hung out with a bad crowd in high school or work with the working class now before it sounds like I’m appropriating something that isn’t mine culturally? I don’t feel comfortable in saying that I can relate to the characters and the situations they get into. It has already thrown and turned off some audiences against the film. But I feel like I can relate to these characters.

The playacting violence that for some reason is associated with both fun and survivalist thinking more than performed working-class masculinity. Their gestures. Dysfunctional families and in-laws. Women who are tough and foul-mouthed. Trouble with the law. Characters who are oblivious to the self-serving nature of their actions. I especially like scene when Dicky realizes that he’s hours late to train his brother. Of course he’s late. I can assume, consuming drugs in his level, that if he starts a session at 8 o’ clock, he’ll be lucky to realize that he had to get out.

Or like mother Alice (Melissa Leo) booking Micky into one badly matched HBO fight after losing another, not realizing she’s hurting and exploiting a son who may not wanna continue into this career. Expecting different results. O. Russell shows how poverty can induce insanity without harshly labeling these characters as insane. If any of us does the latter, then that’s our fault.

Harsh verbal and physical confrontations. Terrible ideas of trying to unsuccessfully scam people out of their money. Any of these things can be a subject for one movie. And it all feels real coming from these actors.

Like movies with trashy characters, we see a substantial amount of physical antics, bad decisions and yelling here, but none of those three things take the forefront in the film. Or at least we aren’t welcomed into the storm, as the film’s  continues that with the family explaining which of their members are Eklunds and which are Wards, treating this fact of their lives matter-of-factly and without shame. And then two bar fights happen, one between Micky and another guy and another between two women. O. Russell knows how to stir the pot at the right time.

Another instance showing the character of the Eklund-Wards is when they’re watching a documentary about Dicky’s crack addiction – they’re bravely confronting the reality of their situations. The only time they’re hesitant about the material is when Alice tells Dicky’s son to stay upstairs or when Dicky, now in jail, unplugs the big TV set to stop the schadenfreude from the other inmates. If anything they’re prouder to watch this than to watch the first rounds of Micky’s fights. While that doc is playing on HBO, Micky’s college dropout girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), instead of avoiding ‘white trash,’ knocks at his door and slowly, like a human being, reaches for his hand.

It also helps that Charlene has the best lines of the film and steals the show. From contending with pretentious film patrons on a better side of town while on a date with Micky as well as confronting his family members, she sure knows how to stand her ground. A scene with her in the lions’ den of Micky’s sisters and another when Dicky makes an impromptu visit to her house make her an integral part of the best ensemble acting this year. Even in a scene when Alice tries to explain to her why he’s not sitting on a stool. Yes, that was Alice’s moment but it says a lot about her character that they have made peace that way.

There are negative effects and connotations to the film’s ‘team effort’ feel. From the first sound of the film – hearing Dicky’s voice as he talks both about his career and his brother’s, the audience knows that this isn’t Micky’s film. Charlene and Alice dissuade Micky from giving up, which would be encouraged even by a different peer group within the town. Micky’s dependence towards other characters shows how weakly written his character is, and that can be said about the rest of the characters too. The script then, despite its wonderful cadence, serves to be a impressionistic work on characters grinding against each other’s nerves. The characters then, have to have these fights and verbal exchanges a hundred times to grow as human beings.

So is this movie trying to say that what happens about the characters are more important within the characters? And it is true that it takes a long time for people to grow, and that evolution gets slowed down by poverty, lack of education and drugs. Although those things allow perseverance.

I didn’t have those questions while watching the movie. If you sat in the same theatre as me, you’d think I was watching the best movie ever. 4/5 rating because of the arguably shabby script, but it created characters I’ll love and cherish until another charismatic ‘hillbilly’ comes along.


Neverending Christmas: Gremlins is Black


So watched this movie last week at the Underground, had some spiked apple cider, met Sasha, entered raffle, not win anything from raffle. Also, there were short theatrical and musical performances. The former from the Underground staff, the latter from a band with a front girl who sounds like Feist. Thanks girl, I was rooting for me being the hottest person in that room.

I remember the chair scene, I remember a mall instead of a department store. The sequel probably ends in a mall. I haven’t seen the sequel since my childhood.

ph. Warner

Apparently the gremlins is black. Stripe with his mohawk doesn’t register as black to me. I guess their ‘blackness,’ in a ‘Renaissance’ perspective of the word, has something to do with the second rule, as light can be seen as whiteness, something that the gremlins can’t live under. The gremlins don’t even register as Chinese, since the parent gremlin does come from China. Ok, thinking about the raciality of the gremlins almost made my head explode. I was this close to comparing them to ‘Muslims,’ or at least how ‘red’ America perceives them.

Nonetheless, the racial reading of the film roots from that despite Christianity’s strength, there’s still an anxiety that Christmas, in its ever-evolving form, won’t be celebrated ‘traditionally,’ whatever our understanding of that is. On that note, maybe it’s not a racial but about generational differences, that the multiplication and transformation of the gremlins are the fault of a curious, young man.

Why is the school open on Christmas Eve? The science teacher wouldn’t have died if he didn’t work. I guess it builds on the childhood assumption that teachers line in school. For some reason, schools in Reagan-era America actually had enough funding to indulge their teachers to make their own research and the facilities that go with them. Also, ooh, black on black violence.

Also, the retired Phoebe Kline nee Cates. She made Jessica Alba seem like a Shakespearean actress.



Jennifer Love Hewitt is a witch. Her Golden Globe nomination makes sense to me now.

Colm Meaney and Keeley Hawes (what does she look like again?) are neither of these people.

ph. CityTV

Boys who rape (Shawn Roberts) should be typecast in crappy films or eaten by zombies.

ph. CTV

Nobody report my blog because of the picture below.

ph. NBC


Inside Job


Visually, Inside Job, the documentary about the 2008 economic collapse that has led to a worldwide recession, could be broken down into three parts. The scenic Iceland. The glamorous glass infrastructure that houses our contemporary financial institutions and the mostly American men who have made this stratified section possible. The consequences of these individuals’ greed, mostly damaging the working class. The fourth part is just like the second, returning to the greedy dicks who still think they can dictate the terms of this investigative documentary.

As most films, it’s all about inclusion and exclusion. Why we see a black screen with caption about Timothy Geithner and others who declined to be interviewed for this film, instead of the same caption accompanying an unflattering picture of them. Why we see a young, good gal Brooksley Born and not a young, baddie Henry Paulsen.  The faces of those people who got huge severance that could buy islands, and that those faces don’t necessarily belong to white men. Graphs! Charts! That if Errol Morris was doing the interviewing, he would kill these people on the spot.

Yes, the film still feels like reading an article of Newsweek or another ‘intellectual’ weekly that I don’t buy off the stands. Not even Matt Damon could help me decipher what complicated of a mess the people in power has made the world’s economy into. How does credit and property turn bad? How do these people bet on mortgages and make their sadistic wishes on those mortgages come true? All these questions help generate a discussion and/or make the ones who know remember. Economics has never been my strong suit.

The film also has the potential to be interactive. At the parts I actually understood, I flailed my arms and was this close to yelling at the screen. When one of the lobbyists interviewed kept saying ‘um’ while trying to defend the criminal activities of the men he defended, some guy behind me kept yelling ‘um’ back, taunting the lobbyist. It’s like a smart, literate man’s Rocky Horror.

The third act shows that this movie isn’t just about watching grown men squirm and actually exposes the damage is more extensive that previously thought. Do you want a glimpse of how a $13 billion country is in trouble? Greed’s Reaganite roots? Where the residents of foreclosed houses go, where the jobs of both the American and Chinese manufacturing industry end up? The stratification of education as well as the amoral education that the rich get? This is your movie. And this movie doesn’t help me wanna get an adult job at all, seeing the consequences.


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