…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.


Television: How I Met Your


As much as we all know this, Mandy Moore is better than Enrique Iglesias in every single way. If she could only do some real acting, like be the obligatory trashy girl in a Ben Affleck film.


Nowhere Boy


Normally in films the audience has to wait five minutes to suck us in, but instead Nowhere Boy ‘wows’ us in the beginning with its cinematography, and we have director Sam Taylor-Wood and cinematographer Seamus McGravey to thank for that. This is the fifties, after all. I also kept imagining the film in black and white because of the photographic quality of the shots. Yet colour fits better in capturing the bright, breezy energy of a much younger John Lennon (Aaron Johnson). The film depicts beauty without making its contemplation necessary, since the audience follows a rebellious schoolboy around his hometown at the same time.

Then comes characters with emotional resonance and dimension. John is funny, selfish and gives and gets love unconventionally. The darkness within his cheery mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) appears within her first real encounter of her son in years, as Duff’s  impresses with her characterization of Julia as a broken vessel of repression. John’s aunt and guardian Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) is stern while trying to please a teenager who sometimes takes her for granted. All three powerfully contend with changing allegiances, portraying human irrationality brought on by love without making their characters seem inconsistent.

I also like how they can sometimes miss other characters’ cues. When John’s new friend and band mate Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) talks about how the latter’s mother ‘would have loved’ his music, he doesn’t at first understand what he’s hinting at. Or when Paul plays the banjo in a solemn gathering at Julia’s house. The script perfectly captures the fragmented relationships. The young (and young at heart like Julia) who have strong feeling and angry impulses, innocent, sometimes ignorant about others which, thankfully, doesn’t stop them from trying to connect with each other.

Lastly, this movie is secretly about the 80′s, or what might have influenced English-speaking culture decades later from the film’s setting, although I don’t really have enough space here to explain that. Of course, it was interesting to watch John dressing up like Elvis or Buddy Holly. The British borrow from American rock ‘n’ roll icons, and as we watch this film we remember that it shows the first stop to John and Paul’s evolution, their sound and look changing within and after their seminal band’s run.


Merry Christmas: Die Hard


Bruce Willis is just like Jennifer Aniston – both were in sitcoms but did art on the side. And yes, I just called Die Hard art. Yes, there are a few things that I appreciated from this crowd pleaser that played at the Bloor Cinema on December 15th. The print they played is obviously not a reprint, making the Los Angeles sky look reddish. And no, I’m not complaining.

Both Officer John McClane (Willis) and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) find themselves on opposite ends, Gruber trying to forcibly take $620 million in bonds from a Los Angeles branch of a Japanese company, John trying to stop him. They behave in this film and try to defeat each other like walking blindfolded, and this they make the best foils for each other.

ph. 20th Century Fox

Hans accuses John of the latter comparing himself to John Wayne and Rambo, but he’s performing too. This is probably just me putting 1988 in context with 2010, but is Hans loosely based on Carlos the Jackal? Kicked out from his terrorist group, has experience in Germany. Something always goes wrong with their plan, which only John’s wife Holly Gennaro McClane notices. Besides, what kind of terrorist owns a ‘John Philips’ suit? (p.s. I’ve never heard of this designer, I’m not familiar with London designers who weren’t CSM freaks. Anyway…)

He’s stealing from a corporation that’s trying to help infrastructure in the Third World. While making demands with the FBI, he tells them about random terrorist groups imprisoned around the world, including ones from Quebec, which got a rousing reaction from the Torontonian crowd. About an Asian group, Hans privately tells the right hand man that he’s heard of them on Time Magazine. When he faces John for the first time, he pretends to be an American.

Nonetheless John’s journey into this story’s more fascinating because well, it’s funnier. It’s hilarious to watch his face wince and repeat ‘Think,’ a sign of a man in panic. Besides, Bruce Willis probably knew how to say the lines better than the other actors whom the movie was offered to.

In the film’s first scenes, John tells the other characters how ‘he’s been a cop for eleven years’ or that he has a backlog of scumbags he has to put to jail. I suppose I’m being unfair, hinting that his bravado can’t possibly prepare him for what’s to come. However a) no one knows how to prepare for terrorism and b) even he knows that his victory against them would be miraculous, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Another condition to his challenge is that he begins it by simply wearing a wife-beater and is barefoot. A constant variable in his process is various stages of undress, while a less constant variable are the weapons he gains and loses throughout his exciting mess. He’s practically a video game protagonist.

He actually does something interesting in the beginning – he escapes, retreats and tries to spy on the terrorists. He bungles up a few things while he’s away from all the action, yet despite the accusations Hans throws at him, his invisibility is the opposite of performance. He makes sure he’s away until he has to inevitably meet the villains.

The film is also well thought out in a technical sense, as Mark Hasan writes here. There are also the showcasing of heights – ‘I swear I’ll never be in a tall building again.’ – the most real explosions in film I’ve seen in recent memory, non-CGI helicopters flying around a real city which will never happen in a movie again…

Of course, John flies all the way to Los Angeles is to meet his wife and hopeful resolve issues about their marriage and her career. She’s not the only woman there, but she’s second in command. I was ready to roll my eyes in what I thought the ending was gonna be. ‘You’re so hot and shirtless John McClane. I’m going to give up my career and cook bacon and eggs in a sexy French maid outfit for you. Take me!’ Which is exactly what I would do if Bruce Willis married me, mind you. Anyway, I thought I was going to be right because eventually John, in trying to rescue the hostages that include Holly, unintentionally contributes in the destruction of her workplace. Holly has two obvious choices now,  move to New York with him and finding a job will be difficult because her references are dead. Or stay in Los Angeles and ride the publicity train. The two don’t talk about it, grateful just for being alive. If it’s any consolation, she’s very assertive in trying to protect her boss and coworkers. She gets to call Hans out as a thief, and Holly’s the character who makes the film’s last act of aggression.

Eff yeah.


Albert, the Modern King


I found two brilliant starting points in The King’s Speech, both marking many of the film’s themes without overselling them. The first is the microphone, modernity, technology, what Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome. On the surface, the radio is another way to scrutinize the volatile monarchy, especially with Albert who has a stammer. His father George V would say that the wireless means that they have to ‘invade people’s homes with our voice.’ George’s words also imply that the king’s job now needs interpersonal skills. Connecting with the commoners.

The royal court doesn’t realize that modernity is Albert’s best friend. Speaking to the microphone with his ears covered in headphones, his stammer’s gone. The phonograph is a mirror-like device, making him see his potential. There’s another modern innovation that helps him – psychiatry. His wife Queen Elizabeth (the charming Helena Bonham-Carter) hires a speech instructor, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who actually asks why he has a stammer instead of yelling at him or making fun of him. That’s what he needs to overcome his impediment and helping him out of being an ‘incompetent’ king, or worse, being self-destructive.

Leading me to Firth’s performance. His Albert has a temper and the things he yells might make him sound like a spoiled brat. He even puts a heart at moments when he can be unsympathetic, like telling Lionel he’s a nobody. Instead he reacts to Lionel and to the other characters like a person constantly prodded, a man with a secret world where he’s funny, personable, a good king.

My second favourite moment is when Lionel walks on the stage to audition for “Richard III.” This shows an improvement on Hooper’s earlier work, where a male friendship has main and supporting roles. Her he has his own failures, which is why they relate to each other. Instead of Albert predictably hilariously talking Lionel’s ear off, Lionel equally reveals his own pathos, thus helping each other to be stronger.

The Richard III audition thematically brings about  the ‘monster’ who wants the spotlight. Like the Shakespearean character, the characters here openly discuss how wrong it feels for Bertie to be kingly. His brother David, or King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) finds something malicious in his speech therapy and even antagonizes him for it, leading him to regress. Lionel also brings up the possibility, which leads to the most devastating argument they would have in the film. Nonetheless, they know it’s  inevitable and they have to accept him despite his imperfections.

Nonetheless, Bertie’s doubts creep on him. In one of those scenes, he argues that he has no power yet he has to do all this publicity work. The film had to make a stance, either lying to the audience that the king was the most influential, politically powerful figure in the war or stick to self-improvement and make that Bertie’s outlook, no matter the ramifications. That final self-doubt scene adds either ambivalence or ambiguity. I’m picking the latter even if it’s still a minor problem.

Kudos to the acting, hair and make-up because I didn’t realize until the final credits that Michael Gambon plays George V and Timothy Spall plays Churchill, both of whom add subtle performances of a solidly acted, layered and funny film that humanizes the royal figure. While everyone else is quoting Black Swan, I’m quoting this movie. 4.5/5.


Coen’s True Grit


Mattie Ross’ story is back on the movies again, and this time we hear her adult voice first while blurry yellow lights shine somewhere within the centre of the screen. Eventually the audience gets an image of her father, Frank, lying dead in front of a porch.

The camera shows Frank’s body from a safe distance. Eventually the film shows dried skin from cadavers in a mortuary where young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) has to sleep, hollowed out eyes, a man (John Goodman?) shot in the head, bodies that become exposed on the snow, men who die because their heads will fall on rocks, a man who has long passed with a snake living where his stomach has been.

Do you want me to count the injuries too? The multiple gun wounds, the ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon) mangling up his mouth and teeth, Mattie getting spanked, getting a boot on her head and a gun pointed at her, threats of rape directed at her at least once. And that’s not the end of her suffering. As a frank depiction of the Western, the beautifully shot True Grit honestly show the corporeal effects of a violent civilization where the dead are disrespected, some of whom deserve that fate.

We’ve seen this realism in the Coen’s No Country for Old Men, but what makes the violence more shocking is that it’s seen and experienced by a girl. Mattie, who backs up her claims in knowing the legal aspects of 1870′s Arkansas, behaves as if her father’s death has always been a possibility. In his passing, she aims to take care of his business matters, since her mother’s apparently not so good at those things. She also looks for a hired Marshall to hunt for the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father.

The sheriff gives her three choices for her Marshall and she chooses the meanest one, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). The men she encounters already brand her as a headstrong, young woman in pursuing Chaney and going to the country with him despite Cogburn’s advice. Yet in hiring Cogburn, she concedes that she can’t do the job alone. The film exposes other symbolic manifestations of her shortcomings. A hat that’s too small for her that she modifies with a newspaper, her oversized clothing. Buying a pony instead of a horse – although she doesn’t ride side-saddle. She asks Cogburn or Laboeuf what should they do in instances like gunner showdowns, her question actually meaning what are the men going to do for her.

Going back to being unable to do the job alone, that fits not only Mattie but the rest of the major characters as well. Mattie and Laboeuf successfully petition to Cogburn and each other that they’re necessary in the journey, even if they have to do so repeatedly. Laboeuf, who has investigated Chaney, his other crimes and his whereabouts, convinces Cogburn that it takes a two-man job at the least to take Chaney. Mattie is the ethical heart of the journey, her presence in the trek a reminder of Chaney’s crimes.

Along the way, there are some  pauses and silences within the film that eventually leads to Coenesque humour. Mattie’s encounters with the men in town, their awkward if not mean-spirited treatment of her greeted with laughter and not of the nervous kind. Cogburn’s encounters with Native kids [ETA] made me feel uncomfortable. And of course, the dentist with the bear suit, taking us away from one-note solemnity that the rest of the journey could have been.

I saw this film with my sister, who lauded Mattie for being a feminist hero and Steinfeld’s fast yet smooth talking performance, besting veterans like Bridges and Damon in the Coenesque dialogue. There are also racial dynamics minimized here. Strangely enough, the black and Asian characters having fewer lines within the narrative compared to the John Wayne vehicle 40 years ago. She lastly pointed out Chaney, as Brolin adds paranoia and vulnerability to his irrational villain. 4/5.


Jafar Panahi: Offside


Offside reminds me when a friend of mine who visited Saudi Arabia disguised herself as a boy so that she could play tennis. She called herself Muhammad because there is a Muhammad in her name somewhere. Yes, Muslim girls get away with stuff all the time. Restriction always leads to rebellion. This film shows the apartheid between men and women in Iran, but it’s just as much about the joy these girls have in almost having something inches away from their fingertips.

ph. SPC via thecia.com.au

Offside begins with a father looking within crowds watching a qualifying futbol game between Iran and Bahrain in 2006. He  doesn’t notice the girls in disguise. This film is translatable to any other about a city, depicted by a film packed with many themes. The frustration of not seeing balanced with the game’s energy emanating through the stadium walls and bars. Soldiers from the country who are outsiders like the women they’re guarding in a makeshift prison. Independent Tehrani girls who come from respectable families, can go to the movies, can go to college and want to cheer for their country that oppresses them even if it means a criminal record.

This is the definition of gonzo, new generation neo-realist film making, having to make it in real-time, a movie about breaking the law while actually breaking the law. And yet there’s time for shot countershots and great amateur actors playing off each other so well. You can’t help but sympathize for all the characters, even the cute, grouchy soldier.


Jafar Panahi: The Mirror


Mina (Mina Mohammed-Khani), a little Persian girl with a broken arm, isn’t one of the school girls running across the pedestrians, on their way home. She’s left alone, waiting for her pregnant mother in front of her school gate. The Mirror doesn’t tell us how long she’s been waiting, the child’s anxiety of being left alone in a city warps her and the audience’s understanding of time. She clings on to an unknown woman’s black burqa to cross a street without stop lights. She tries to use a payphone and succeeds by having to climb the phone booth’s sides. This is just the first of her challenges, and when she goes out further into the city to go back home, the film proves how inhospitable Tehran could be especially to a second class citizen like her.


Then, while riding a bus, a man off-screen tells Mina to stop looking at the camera, making Mina react and yell that she doesn’t wanna act anymore, leaves the set, and crosses through Tehran to go home. She eventually runs into an old woman who was an extra in the film, telling the latter that she didn’t like her character, that she doesn’t like the crying because her classmates might think she’s too whiny. She doesn’t like the arm cast making her look clumsy. She doesn’t want being cast as a first grader. The camera then follows her as she asks for directions home, while trucks occasionally blocking our view of her.


In a way, Mina’s escape from the film set is her disavowal of limiting third world stereotypes. Her critiques of the crying, the arm cast and her youth are symbols of a supposedly debilitated Iran. It’s like Margo Channing fighting with Lloyd Richards. Of course, I still think this is all planned out, remembering that I did hear the director’s off-camera voice as the first break from the original storyline. The rest of the film can thus be seen as a set of disavowals and unintentional acknowledgments. The camera following her, latently to make sure she’s safely home, feels like a safety net to acknowledge that a person might not really be safe. Mina’s no longer acting but she’s performing independence. You can hear her voice through the mike attached to her body, but she might be far away, She no longer wants to be an actress, but she’s nonetheless a part of Iranian cinema.


To Maybe Watch Sweeney Todd


Jayne Wisener‘s Johanna is probably my reason if I was ever gonna rewatch Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Wisener wasn’t the next Kate Winslet, but she’s well-directed here no matter what her acting capabilities are. There’s something in the way she moves her head. June Thomas from Slate Magazine hasn’t been too kind on her rendition of the Sondheim-penned ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ but it’s my favourite rendition of the song, while most of the other renditions I’ve heard sing it with too much operatic force. Maybe I’m being cruel and that the other singers need to boom the song to the back of the audience, but I like Wisener’s softness.

ph. DreamWorks

There’s also something in the way she’s photographed here. High angle shot from the view of the birds. Through the window. My favourite POV of her is through the peep-hole from where the corrupt judge looks (Alan Rickman). The black spaces on the screen like that of silent cinema.

Should I watch a film just for two-minute intervals of a character watered down from the original source material and listen to her sing maybe twice? I don’t know why the film never fully connected to me the first time. Maybe I got bored by the ‘arterial spray?’ Or Helena Bonham Carter didn’t project her voice enough? Otherwise the film does look better on video. The thing about Sweeney Todd, and I can say this about at least one movie released every year, is that it’s either great in memory or in parts. There’s a reason why I was bored through half of the film, as if the scenes felt like the could have been played out better.

And those who know me will know that despite of 50-ish movies that I love – list coming up in never – I would rather get punched in the gut than watch a good or ok movie again.

There was also a small group of college-age kids near the front of the theatre who laughed at every other line of ‘A Little Priest.’ Like, we get it. You’re the biggest Sondheim fan ever. You’re so smart, you get all the jokes. I hated the Cumberland then. I said that I regretted not watching The Savages instead, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.

I might be going job hunting with my sister this afternoon. This movie’s gonna be at the Bell Lightbox at 9:30. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing at the Bloor. Black Christmas is playing at the Underground. I have time to think this through.


Repulsion


Repulsion‘s first few minutes might be mistaken for a Godard film. A young Belgian woman named Carole (Catherine Deneuve) works as a manicurist. After work, her effortlessly chic self walks the streets of London to softly energetic non-diagetic jazz music, guys both working class and skinny tie-wearers (Jon Fraser) hit on her. She often looks like she’s daydreaming, her voice evinces little excitement. Instead of Carole’s politics, director Roman Polanski‘s more interested in the psychological conflict, which, in Carole’s case, is barely seen by the other characters until it’s too late.

Polanski doesn’t explain Carole’s building insanity in ways others have – relationship complexes, haunted histories, addictions. Instead, she notices a crack on a kitchen wall. Her sister’s (Yvonne Furneax) boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) calling her ‘the beautiful younger sister,’ a throwaway comment that Carole interprets as a menacing sexual come-on. A night after he stays over for sex, she sees him shirtless and her sister asks her how she slept the morning after. She then takes those little things and associate them with nightmares, as I imagine most people in a state like hers do.

It’s easy to say that instead of being silent, Carole should say how she feels. However, the film’s  shows how words are inadequate since the other characters are reductive towards her. A customer tells Carole she’s in love – all problems are male related. Her boyfriend’s friends call her a tease. Also, her little acts of verbal resistance against her sister aren’t heeded. Her sister’s dismissal won’t help her talk about the terrible things she dreams about. I can’t settle on her real problem -  fear of men, an idle mind, wanting to be alone. In other words, the other characters often think of a quick word or solution for her, and these quick solutions don’t help her slowly progressing dementia.

At first underwhelmed by Deneuve’s deadpan line delivery, easily enough an aspect of her character. She then thrills her audience as she responds to the walls of her apartment, or attacking men as if she’s a sleepwalker, using candlesticks and books like I’ve never imagined anyone doing. It’s hard to understand her in the first scenes of the film, but she perfectly fleshes out a new breed of character in horror film. She’s a monster within the victim in a genre that mostly shows the monster as external and separate from the victim. Deneuve’s Carole is groundbreaking in this and many other aspects, an integral part of Polanski’s vision of the macabre.


Seminal Television Roundup


Here comes Mega-Godzilla! Boom. Boom. Boom. Thank you for choosing Staples.

My turn again. His garbage disposal is a dog. He eats cereal out of a turtle shell! His bottle opener is a dog.

Well you’re gonna eat a humble pie, stuffed with crow, and a big side of sorry. ‘Cause I just did. In your face – Girl with a Negative Tattoo!


Evening With Stephen Sondheim


ph. DreamWorks

The Mirvish company hosted An Evening With Stephen Sondheim at the Princess of Wales Theatre. He was introduced by Des McAnuff, who among many things, said something really nice about “Sweeney Todd.” Something along the lines of how effectively emotive or haunting the Johanna song is. I can’t remember for sure.

Sondheim’s not an island. McAnuff in his introduction talked about the composer’s trusty collaborations with his longtime collaborator/choreographer/director Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and many more later in his career. Sondheim’s let us in that Robbins scared him but the final results of working with him were worth it.

He’s very open about his flaws even within his well-loved works. He talked about how the words of “Forum” don’t match well with the music, and accuses himself of creating high music for a low comedy. As he said, it takes as much work to write a good song but a wrong song as it it to write the right one. He also talked about the enormous help that his mentor/surrogate father Oscar Hammerstein II has given him. Hammerstein helped especially on the first musical he penned when he was 15, which is, as he remembers Hammersten saying, is the worst thing the mentor has ever read.

ph. MGM

He also talked about the mentor as an experimental composer in capturing the vernacular in the songs. He said that Hammerstein was better in mirroring the colloquialism in period pieces than with the contemporary-set musicals. That said from the man who brought us the lyrics of “West Side Story,” and I know. I’m actually one of the few people who think that the Jets and the Sharks are tough. Because this is often my angle in the movies I see, and that it’s a topic I can’t really bring up in person, but accents aside, there’s little difference between how the two groups talk. Which is good and that the differences between they aren’t overplayed. Besides, they’re all in Hell’s Kitchen, right? This led to critic Robert Cushman talking about theatre evolving to mimic real-life conversation. Sondheim corrected him about the limitations of theatre mirroring naturalism, that the audience makes a pact as they go into the theatre to believe mostly what the stage delivers. That no one really breaks out into song. Well, not really. The passive aggressiveness was fun to watch.

I was such an embarrassing n00b. The only knowledge I have of him are about two film adaptations of his work. He’s alive? That’s what he looks like? He’s in his 80‘s? And when “Into the Woods” was mentioned, a musical that I’ve never heard, clap away. My friend must have been embarrassed, me being such a poseur like that.

I wasn’t looking at my watch the entire time, but the last ten or twenty minutes of the conversation involved question cards either from probably mailed or e-mailed in. Sondheim was asked about the popularity of the song ‘Send in the Clowns,’ probably one of the last songs from a musical to enter the Billboard charts. It took two years and at least four singers who switched hands in singing the song as their own. Apparently those singers had different interpretations. Frank Sinatra’s (Belated Happy Birthday, by the way!) was ‘You go with a chick. It doesn’t work out. Send in the clowns.’

I can’t remember the question, but the differences between the stage and film of “West Side Story” – He wrote that? That just made him more approachable, not that listening to him talk wasn’t approachable enough, which it is – was discussed. The Broadway recordings always have the song ‘America’ only sung by female cast members while I had to refresh my memory and that the film version makes it a boys vs. girls song. Sondheim clarified that Robbins insisted that the stage version have the song only be sung and danced by girls. He also joked, hopefully, that Robbins had death rights to the choreography that will make future stage productions of “West Side Story” be unchanged. And you know what, Robbins is right.

Another one of the last few questions was about “Sweeney Todd,” the more Sondheimian musical in my understanding of the man because of the elegant words and intricate structures of the songs. Although Burton’s version is better on video, by the way. I might see it in the theatres again. The question was about a translation on “Sweeney Todd” in Korean, and how he felt about foreign translations. He said that he only knew rudimentary French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Four out of those five. He said he was grateful that other countries perform his work. The people performing his work send a rough translation of the translation, and if it’s in the spirit of the original, it’s ok. Can you imagine how ‘a politician cake would run’ in Korean, though, or what Asian Angela Lansbury might look like?

Oh, and if I had a flask, I would have taken a swing every time either McAnuff, Cushmann and even Sondheim said ‘Shakespeare.’ In the end, the night taught me a lot about the intelligent man, insightful about the specifics and science of his craft, how characters work with their songs and within the body of a musical.


Barney’s Version


Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) has a second Mrs. Panofsky (Minnie Driver). She’s a Rebecca reference – an unnamed second wife considerably worse in reputation than Barney’s duplicitous first. And of course, I love her. While Barney brings up a guest, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), she replies, ‘She subscribes to The Economist but buys Vogue off the stands.’ I gotta use that one of these days.

Naturally, he ends up marrying Miriam, who’s more bland but less psychotic. Good call, Barney. At 7 tonight,The Toronto Reference Library is gonna ‘preview’ of Barney’s Version, shakily adapted from Mordecai Richler‘s swan song. Geoff Pevere is talk about the author, book and movie. Thanks for the heads up, NOW Magazine!


Zangiku Monogatari


A blogger once said that you need life experience to be a critic. That’s not true. You need life experience to be a great artist.

Zangiku Monogatari - or translated in English, The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums – is about a young actor named Kikunosuke Onoue (Shôtarô Hanayagi), an adopted child of a fifth generation actor, Kikoguro (Gonjurô Kawarazaki). The rules of the game are nepotism instead of meritocracy, and Kikonosuke gets critiqued behind his back while praised in his presence. His brother’s wet-nurse Otoku decides to break that chain by telling him that her aunt doesn’t like his acting. From this revelation, the audience knows that these kids are gonna end up being together through thick and thin, but this isn’t your typical love story. It’s just as much about Kiku’s career, the battle and benefits of both nepotism and meritocracy as they unfold in 19th century Japanese metropolises.

Mizoguchi makes the decision here to use wide shots and long takes. Yes, those long takes lost my attention span a few times, but they depict a city street or a room as a way of reminding us of the old form of the theatre. The characters are in the environment and we’re watching them for minutes without blinking, like we would on a stage. Their emotions radiating through the volumes of their voice, making close-ups unnecessary. Some of the low angles remind us of a view that a lucky audience member would have in a real theatre. Or medium angle shots between walls or tree trunks or plants, from the view of someone peeping into Kiku’s relationships and interactions with others. The most obvious instances of close-ups are of Otoku, either getting fired or reading a flyer promoting Kiku’s performance, and seriously thinking about going even if she’s forbidden.

Kiku chooses Otoku, making his surrogate father disown him. He has to go to Osaka where the competition for actors isn’t as bad. He leaves the theatre with no fans to greet him unlike the other actors. When Kiku’s family make a stop in Osaka for a performance, Otoku pleads for them to give him a chance. Kiku plays a geisha and kills it. The further the camera is from the characters, the more public the place is. That doesn’t stop Kiku from showing his joy to his father, as everyone else watches.

The actors recall the Kabuki acting of the era they’re portraying, complete with gestures and physical restrictions due to their costumes. Hanayagi’s acting choices are an acquired taste, being lifeless and wooden in the first act of the film, keeping in mind that he was playing naiveté and convinces the audience that he’s more than half his real age. He eventually evokes either mean-spiritedness or insightful pathos depending on his fortunes. The actress plays Otoku is the most consistent, caring and emotional, which counts for good acting I guess. Her heart breaks when he’s away from her, which physically manifests through illnesses. I do find her character too passive, altruistic, and distressed. Her sacrifice to petition for a better job for him doesn’t feel earned. What good does it do her that she’s a martyr?


Seminal Television Roundup


The after effect of talking about Strangers on a Train, and applying it on their own lives.

ph. FOX

Bart’s on the dumps that Jessica Lovejoy (Meryl Streep) doesn’t talk to him in public, but she tempts him that ‘if it’s a secret…it’s more exciting.’

The debate between The Hurt Locker and Avatar continues.


Princess Mononoke’s Voices


It feels somehow mean that instead of writing about the aesthetic principles of an anime film like Hayao Miyazaki‘s Princess Mononoke, I talk about the voice acting. And it’s not the Japanese voice-acting too, which apparently can only be obtained through a year’s negotiations and waiting and that would have been too expensive. Yet, here I am. Not an expert here, but there is some Noh theatricality bleeding into the Japanese style of film acting down to Kurosawa. Having new, English-language voices then means starting from scratch.

ph. Miramax

I saw this movie with a friend who told me that Bill Bob Thornton plays a monk. Otherwise I knew nothing about the cast, so throughout the movie I keep trying to figure that out. Was that Tom Cruise as Ashitaka? Angelina Jolie as Lady Eboshi? Drew Barrymore as Princess Mononoke? Julianne Moore as Moro (actually Gillian Anderson)? Is my hearing that bad?

Growing up in Manila, I’m normally greeted at home by anime cartoons, most would have the typical character interpretations, the raspy angry voices of the old and the chipper sounds of the young. Not in the English-language dubbing of this film. At the same time, it’s hard to show the flexibility of facial expressions in animation, and the main characters aren’t drawn to move with large gestures neither. For example, Billy Bob Thornton‘s Jigo is raspy too, but looking like an old fat man he sounds neither. He instead makes Jigo sound like a cynic instead of a uniformly bad person I would have imagines in the supposed evil Western lands where Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) is traveling. Jigo’s humourous even at the film’s most nerve-wracking moments. His realistic worldview makes Ashitaka realize that his quest as just gotten more complex than he might have expected.

And then there’s Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi. She yells in her first scene. Otherwise, she doesn’t need to raise her voice in front of even the male soldiers. They just have her full attention. Despite laughing at Ashitaka’s face, she spends her night with him by explaining her herself without having to prove herself. She’s like a mother to the residents of her Irontown, later attempting to show her men how to kill a god. ‘The trick is not to fear him.’ Her calm demeanor makes us confident that she knows what she’s doing throughout the film.

Driver and Thornton’s characterizations stand out because they seem for the most part the exception to the rules that I forget that there are two performances that are. And I don’t want this to come across as scorn with praise. Anyway, there’s Claire Danes‘ Princess Mononoke/San, and it makes sense for her to yell through half of the film. San is Eboshi’s enemy.  She’s more confused and angry about Ashitaka’s ambivalent allegiances, because of her feelings for him. The deaths of her allies and the destruction of her world don’t help neither. The change of environment brings the worst out of her identity crisis, a human desperately wanting to fit in with her wolf family. Danes also interprets San as someone stuck in girlhood, that even her calmest line reads are filled with misanthropy and rage.

Ok, so maybe the older characters are calmer while the younger ones are more spirited. Which explains Crudup’s Ashitaka, but he comes across more as gallant yet commanding. Which doesn’t explain Jada Pinkett-Smith‘s Toki, a passionate character, loyal to Eboshi. She’s left alone with the other prostitutes to defend Irontown. She takes on herself as the character who leads the women out into safety, becoming as maternal as her role model. Pinkett-Smith as well as the other actors add a universality to this movie.

p.s. I know what I want for Christmas.


100: Breaking the Waves


Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) petitions to an all-male Christian council to be married to an outsider, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard). She tells them that the outsiders are good because of their music, her eyes telling the camera that she isn’t talking about music at all. It’s already been established that her community’s very patriarchal, that even in the beginning, a beloved member of a community and her family will be addressed with the words ‘Hold your tongue, woman.’ Or that women in her community are not allowed to discuss questions during church like men. Or that this society relegates women to waiting for their men for long periods of time as they go to work on the rigs. These first scenes already denote the film’s themes – a young woman’s blossoming sexuality clashing with patriarchal suffocation. In no way do these scenes prepare us for the film’s second half, putting Bess in an emotional roller coaster on earth previously unimaginable.

Women are forbidden to go to funerals. Antony Dod Mantle (not pictured, not that I know) will rise again to win an Oscar.

Bess has put a heart on November 26 on her calendar, marking Jan’s scheduled return. She lets out a childlike outburst when she finds out that her sister Dodo has ripped and hidden the calendar. She wrestles with God (Watson in a deeper voice, don’t ask) for her husband to return ten days before he’s supposed to come. God tells her that she’s changed but nonetheless grants her wish. I watched the movie on November 27,  thirty something years and a day after Jan’s supposed to come back.

I’ve had at least a week to think about the film’s ending. Sure she didn’t plan for her husband’s debilitating injury. Nonetheless, Bess got the best possible escape to her situation. I wish I can have someone to politely argue against this film with me. I’m usually good to subscribe to feminist, politically correct readings that speak out against auteur’s misogyny. Yes, showing a woman being oppressed isn’t enough to be the equivalent of a statement that women shouldn’t be oppressed, as many aueturs and apologist critics and film writers have lazily tried to argue. von Trier, from the only other movie I’ve seen of his, gives his women 150 seconds of victory to erase 150 minutes of degradation. It’s up to you the audience to buy that, which I do. Yes, change is the only way to combat a patriarchal society. Yes, Bess is still dead. However, it’s not as if Bess can move to New York City and burn her bra. Yet her sacrifices ensured her husband’s convalescence who in turn can defend her right for a proper burial. Dodo eviscerating the men at Bess’ funeral seems satisfying. Lastly, von Trier successfully makes his audience believe that Bess did go to heaven. I know I should have a problem with the material, but I don’t.


Blitz: Edward Scissorhands


I’ve seen the infamously hilarious water-bed scene in Edward Scissorhands in the 90′s, the rest of the film is just waiting. A decade later, the Box is showing Burton films. Yay!

ph. 20th Century Fox

Scissorhands. Willing suspension of disbelief. Opposites. Those two themes merging together. An old woman starts a fable about the origins of snow with Peg ‘Avon’ Boggs (Dianne Wiest), who gets turned away by all the housewives in her pastel painted 1950′s neighborhood. Remember when Burton films contained the vernacular? She  turns to another house to for a prospective client, and I’m thinking, why would any real estate whatchamacallit build a suburban development at the foot of a haunted Gothic mansion? Not a hater here. I’m not sure how aware Burton and his team were of how implausible this is but Bo Welch’s set direction makes the juxtaposition of the old and the new jarring and noticeable.

Of course Burton makes sure that Peg’s just as weird as Edward (Johnny Depp), telling him that she can give him astringent for his scars. Now, we’re looking for Edward’s double, and Peg at this stage of the story is a decent candidate because she’s just as much of an outsider as he is, and inviting Edward home will highlight the tensions between her and the neighborhood. The rest of the film are comprised of either Edward being looked at or looking, but it’s more interesting is when both the observer and the subject are closer.

The rest of the film is the neighbors fawning over Edward and his talents that the audience knows and waits for him to do something and for the neighborhood to hate him, the characters thus bowing to the oldest story in the book. Instead of montage-y progression from love to hate, Burton lets Edward interact with the family and with the housewives, showing us humanity before and during hard times.

Let’s go back earlier where the camera moves through a miniature version of the neighborhood – I like it too, kids, don’t accuse me of snarking – at night, covered in snow to eventually show the mansion. Here the difference between the two areas are less striking. Edward has created something to remind himself and beloved Kim (Winona Ryder) that the two worlds can look the same, even if those two worlds, or the two of them, can’t be together.

Today is probably the last day to catch Edward Scissorhands at the Box at 4:15, 6:50 and 9:30.


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