I can’t even conjugate a sentence now because:
First item. Two days old news, but the paps got a look at the Kate Winslet vehicle “Mildred Pierce.” Haven’t read the James M. Cain source material and the only knowledge I have of the story is the Joan Crawford movie. This new “Mildred Pierce” miniseries covers the titular character’s struggles in the Depression when she leaves her husband. Ballsy move for the character and Todd Haynes who’s directing the project. I don’t know if I should readily assume things by just looking at paparazzi photos, but this homely Mildred looks like a continent away from the glamorous Mildred of Joan Crawford. And wait, the story’s set in New York instead of LA? We’re probably gonna see more snaps in the future, but I wanna see Kate’s version of Mildred get rich. Ad to see the episodes next month somehow.
I also found my way again to Nick’s Flick Picks, who by the way wanted more from Kate in her career best in “Little Children,” and who’ll have a profile on Kate Winslet coming soon.
Second item. I saw a documentary on TV called “Queen Mother: Her Reign in Colour” about the 16 years when King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth ruled England. The focus is both between the Queen Consort and her subjects, as both have to deal with her brother-in-law’s abdication and the Second World War. With the archive footage we hear about her duty towards her husband and country as well as how she charms people in her foreign tours. That doesn’t mean we don’t get the other viewpoint on royalty, as her lavish lifestyle gets criticism from working class Britons. I’m still surprised how republicanism had its early starts. What I know about her is progressive thinking, quick wit and loving the gays, which makes her probably one of the best historical figures ever.
Which leads us to me getting excited about “The King’s Speech.” Some worry that it’s gonna be another bid for the Weinsteins to get Colin Firth an Oscar, which is a weird yet noble obsession of theirs, by the way. But just like the woman who would become Queen Mother, I really hope Helena Bonham Carter steals the show. Weinsteins, don’t screw this one up!
Vivien Leigh may be the great beauty of 1939, but in “Waterloo Bridge” she turns herself into just one of the girls. As Myra Lester she’s meek and chummy and a little bit fragile. We first see her behind other girls passing by the bridge, we only see her because we’re looking for her. She’s not the lead of her ballet company playing in a vaudeville theatre, nor the first lady to get the job or the soldier. What makes her stand out in the crowd and to Captain Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor) are her ideals. The rainy day after their first date will put her in a whirlwind engagement and a series of events that will slowly but surely transform her, and Leigh transforms with her character every step of the way.
Roy, however, keeps the innocence that Myra’s lost, a difficult thing to pull off for a grown man who’s fought in the Great War. He’s also the soldier who doesn’t take no for an answer which makes us feel a little uncomfortable but fortunately finds Myra who’s in love with him despite a few apprehensions. His speech and body language are good, especially in the scene when he has to go through the bodyguards in his barracks. Yes, Taylor only uses the British accent one word per sentence, but we let that go.
Although made by MGM and stars Nebraska-born Taylor, the film is very much British. It kinda reminds me of “Brief Encounter” in a way that there’s a certain noir aspect to the film. Instead of guns and grifters, there are menacing shadows inside night clubs and train stations and ancestral homes and flats, fogs on bridges, headlights on women’s faces. Instead of a suburban American home, romance is set in London grit. It’s like love isn’t meant to last in the city, or that the city has too many roadblocks and temptations that take two perfectly matched lovers away from each other.
It’s interesting to see Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta Jones) go from bourgeois California wife to tough negotiator facing drug dealers.The best part about that scene was when Obregon (Benjamin Bratt) tells her they don’t have a deal and she looks defenseless, apologizing for wasting his time. Obergon, seeing her in this state, reconsiders, giving Helena the room for her demands and to make a quip about Obregon’s coke. Watching the tables turned by a woman whose life changed because of a secret is one of the great nuances to this complex film. Although at the risk of sounding like a feminazi or anything, if it was Helena’s husband who found out that she peddled drugs, he would leave her without hesitation.
The roles do get reversed in the same movie in Robert Wakefield’s story (Michael Douglas). Through movie magic, his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) swiftly falls from honour student to crack addict, because for some reason rich people drugs aren’t good enough for her. She’s the victim and although this submissive slant is why Robert is helping her, the male is still staying through the female’s troubles. He is her father after all. As his duty, he helps her to one rehab centre after another, even if she runs away. Again, I wonder how Robert deals with a son who gets hooked because of his girlfriend. That would be like the forties, and that sounds interesting enough for a movie for me.
Aside from the US good, Mexico bad, and the blinding monochromatic cinematography, the film’s portrayal of the unique personal effect of drugs is good enough to revisit. This is like what would happen if Kieslowski and Scorsese collaborated on a movie. I kept whining that this movie needs to air on TV more, and here it is, and I hope I run into it again a few years from now if I can find something new. And I kinda wanna see the miniseries, both of them.
We will also find similar narratives in Soderbergh’s new film “Contagion,” and I wonder how Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow’s relationship gets written. When I found out that Gwyneth Paltrow will play one of the first persons infected with a strange disease, I thought shit, Fishsticks got the meaty role. I wonder what that says about me.
During the first half of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, I asked myself “Where was this going,” “When is it gonna end.” Terry Gilliam films promise you a lot of fantasy but the first half shows in the aughties’ version of grunge – alcohol, London traffic, tattered costumes, all three revolving around the travelling circus, especially the immortal Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), the film’s troubled storyteller. He has lost control of his show, the world has lost interest in his stories. Add Tony (Heath Ledger) to the mix and his presence and suggestions add conflict to the other members of the cast-in-wagon (Andrew Garfield, for instance).
A part of ‘Parnassus” also feels like a perfume ad, Valentina (Lily Cole) floating in the air, her dress swirling, her arms reaching towards the oversized flowers and high-heeled shoes while Imaginarium Tony (Johnny Depp) dances with an elderly woman. That doesn’t mean I have a prejudice against this former model, it’s the other way around. Nonetheless, the occasionally frustrating glimpses in the imaginarium are a bit distant and CGI for me to look at it with wonder.
The Imaginarium Tonys (also Jude Law and Colin Farrell), despite being a part of the fantasy world, actually grounds the film. The most emotionally gripping parts of the film are when Tonys personal troubles follow him in the imaginarium. It would have been nice to see Heath in these parts because they’re the meatier part of the role, but the incorporation of four actors in one role is well done.
The film ends with Plummer being another beggar, the fantasy world gone. His old friend Percy (Verne Toryer, not a cameo) wonders if the beggar is the Great Doctor Parnassus. Is greatness compromised when life drags on?
I also caught “The Last Station” this past Wednesday, which was a little more even. The peaks and valleys of each character are charted in placed where you will know to find them. If I did not end up watching the film, it would be immortalised in my mind as the one where Countess Sofya Tolstaya (Helen Mirren) breaks plates and shoots a gun as shown in the trailers. It’s more than that, but there’s still some genre conventions within it. Got a problem with melodrama?
I wanna talk about the nuances in James MacAvoy as Valentin Bulgakov, the way MacAvoy is the best male crier in the industry, this time keeping himself still yet making the moment raw. How the film does not take his away from a shot when he goes from one emotion to another. How the other characters does not allow him to evolve from a spineless intellectual. How a beard does not make a man.
Helen Mirren also makes me doubt my choice as putting Gabourey Sidibe as my Oscar choice, although Sidibe is still number one. Sofya makes the characters around her listen to every word without making it look wink-wink nudge-nudge. You sympathize with her as extremist Tolstoyans like Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) try to take away her influence from her husband. Yet her last request to her husband to come home with her still sounds duplicitous.
We see the film in Bulgakov’s eyes. However, as much as all these characters tugging at each other is sometimes fun to watch, but I still wonder who is the centre in all this intrigue.
I guess she won’t be polishing Sam Mendes’ Oscar anymore. Some newspapers claim that someone else is doing the polishing, while other newspapers claim that Sam Mendes claims that Kate is too busy polishing her own Oscar. Sadness.
Can I just say that Roman Polanski is a weird guy. After all these years, he’s kept his absurdist humour from “Rosemary’s Baby” alive within his new effort, “The Ghost Writer.” Little idiosyncrasies like a bulky security guard following bitter ex-politician’s wife Ruth Lang (Olivia Williams) and her husband’s ghost writer (Ewan McGregor), Ruth’s husband ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) highly anticipated best-selling 600 plus page memoir that begins with a mind numbing multi-generational family history, half of what Amelia Bly (Kim Catrall) says. A lot of the movie was weird enough to twist my face a hundred times. The Ghost putting himself into his situation makes him just like every other man and woman in Polanski films who get themselves into inescapable situations.
“The Ghost Writer,” while convoluted, is still a text that deserves erudition. Typical of Polanski’s movies, technology, transportation and social institutions both help and hinder the main character and is well incorporated with Polanksi’s unique humour. The film opens with an empty car found in a ferry and later showing a body washed ashore, the ferry being a good way to trap oneself to death. The Ghostwriter’s predecessor’s manuscript and USB key has been locked in some advanced security system, getting injured when he tries to break into it. He uses Google to find links about a conspiracy his boss is a part of. Instead of an SUV, he rides a bike to investigate the death of the Ghost’s predecessor, only for the bike to have a rough start in his boss’s gravel path. He eventually uses a GPS equipped BMW (this movie is product placement heavy, by the way) whose instructions unexpectedly lead him to another secretive co-conspirator, Professor Paul Emmett (Tom Wilkinson).
The characters in Polanski’s former movies, however, have this need to hang to dear life. The ones in “The Ghost Writer” doesn’t. Sure, the Ghost finds out Lang’s secrets, therefore putting his life in danger. I can’t pinpoint yet why the urgency in the other movies is absent in this one. Maybe the secret was too big, especially since there were too many people involved in it. Maybe that the Ghost got himself into his situation was because of money, making him unsympathetic. Still not sure.
Nevermind that I saw this at the AMC, but there’s also this glossy digital look to the film, especially at the seaside motel scene, where the red lighting was just so stylized. Must have had to do with the constructed sets since he can’t access the real thing.
I don’t want to talk about the humour again, but it’s what makes me treasure the movie after the fact even if I didn’t fully enjoy it while I was watching it. I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t feel like I stayed in the playground too long. Just like Polanski.
P.s. It’s been floating around forever that Polanski’s gonna direct God of Carnage. I read the play a while ago. The play has a part when a woman pukes. Of course Polanski’s gonna direct.
Nathaniel R from The Film Experience listed his take on his best Oscar grade performances of the decade. I’ll be a bad student and not fully understand the assignment, but my list:
2000: Maggie Chung – In The Mood For Love. Snubbed
2001: Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive. Snubbed
2002: Meryl Streep – The Hours. In wrong category. She’s here by default because I haven’t seen far From Heaven or Adaptation in entirety.
2003: Nicole Kidman – Dogville. Snubbed.
2004: Uma Thurman – Kill Bill 2. Snubbed.
2005: Maria Bello – A History of Violence. Snubbed.
2006: Kate Winslet – Little Children. Nominated.
2007. Marion Cotilliard – La Mome.
2008. Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married. Nominated.
2009. Abbie Cornish – Bright Star. Snubbed.
I can’t decide between Winslet and Watts right now. Winslet’s first scene in Little Children just breaks your heart and she keeps you in the ups and downs of that movie, but Watts’ performance is a classic that I end up missing her when the credits roll. My favourite actress who actually won, well there’s only one.
And while we’re at it, an incomplete list of Best Supporting Actresses if I had 3000 votes at my disposal.
2001. Helen Mirren – Gosford Park. Nominated.
2004. Natalie Portman – Closer. Nominated.
2007. Kelly Macdonald – No Country for Old Men. Snubbed.
2008. Viola Davis – Doubt. Nominated.
2009. Mo’Nique – Precious: Based on the…. Won.
My Winner: Natalie Portman by a millimeter. Visceral, sexy, cool, she can hold her own with her co-stars.
Shortlist for the guys:
2000: Javier Bardem – Before Night Falls. Nominated.
2004: Gael Garcia Bernal – Bad Education. Snubbed.
2004: Joseph Gordon Levitt – Mysterious Skin. Snubbed.
2005: Viggo Mortensen- A History of Violence. Snubbed.
2007: Brad Pitt – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Snubbed
2008: Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler. Nominated.
2009: Colin Firth – A Single Man. Nominated.
My winner for the who: Bernal did a lot with the range of things he had to do. I guess Daniel Day Lewis winning in 2007 is great but Brad Pitt’s performance wins a place for me.
You know Marianne Jean-Baptiste from “Without a Trace” but before that, she has played Hortense Cumberbatch in this great Mike Leigh film “Secrets and Lies.” There are drastic events thrown at her character’s life in the past two months. At one point she almost turns up as the depressed, obsessed girl who alienates her old friend, but she seems well-balanced and even cheerful for that. She’s pretty much the equivalent of Sally Hawkins’ Poppy in “Happy Go Lucky.”
Her smiles and goofy faces even pull up everyone around her, like Cynthia Purley, the screechy and mentally fragile woman who we’d find out is Hortense’s white mother. Played by Brenda Blethyn, she has her flaws but thankfully she’s more verbose than Imelda Staunton’s eponymous Vera Drake. She reluctantly meets the daughter she has given away, but her week nights with Hortense made her rise from her fragility to become an older woman of class.
The story culminates in a birthday celebration in the suburbs, and yes, it did feel awkward watching one secret pour after another, where one person sobbing triggers another, which made the scene seem both stage-like and real in one stroke.
There’s so many interesting things about this movie – how Cynthia’s rank bitch of a daughter Roxanne becomes strangely beautiful while she’s being vulnerable for the first time, how whoever cast Timothy Spall as the schlubby voice of sanity that he’ll be in half of his movies is a genius, how long takes are enjoyable with truthful dialogue, how it did work out that Hortense must be lost and regained than to never have been lost at all, how we realize that the portraits of the multicultural Britain get perfectly merged into a family after twenty or so years of struggle.
And there’s something glorious about this last shot. The sun shines on Cynthia. You can see Hortense’s face smiling even from that height. The backyard’s a little untamed but it’s the perfect place for a banal teatime.
And big digression here but just seeing this ultimate dysfunctional family, I just know that Mike Leigh should direct August: Osage County with a fuck off British cast.
I’m so emotionally exhausted from that movie now.
(First week at the Cumberland.)
I’ve been reading some of the reviews of this movie in papers and in iMDb, and I saw in the latter that some anonymous person conclude that “The Messenger” is not a war movie (Faux pas alert, especially for a n00b like me: I shouldn’t be reading other people’s reviews because it’s gonna bleed into mine. Also, I shouldn’t be reading fucking iMDb. Not dissing the creators). It IS a war movie. As the actual soldiers die, the next of kin continues the battle for them. They carry the soldier’s pain and translate them emotionally. They often exhibit rage. Some accept the casualties of war, hide their wounds, and move on.
Woody Harrelson’s character Capt. Tony Stone (subtle) is an example of the latter, instructing his protege Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) (will as in future? Why am I writing this review like I’m still in college?) to shoot the message and the sometimes, the next of kin might shoot you. He’s baffled why the next of kin can’t get the concept that soldiers die in war and even introduces the idea to televise military funerals so that people will get used to it. And Stone unknowingly encounters a mirror image in Samantha Morton’s character Olivia (don’t know what her name means, ok), who reacts to her husband’s death by telling the messengers how hard it is for them and shaking their hands. She’s a dutiful, stoic soldier’s wife with unwritten regulations thrusted upon her, perfect and therefore suspicious.
Another battle begins to exist between Stone and Montgomery, the latter finding his own way to deliver a script nobody wants to say. At one point Montgomery tells the next of kin about their son’s death in the most awkward places to do so and turns it into a powerful moment, only for Stone to abscond him.
We see characters with different ways of coping with grief and war. Like your independent drama, it pulls on the strings without insisting on orchestrated high notes. Also in the film are three rewarding cameos.