…and the quest to see everything

Archive for March, 2010

Dersu Uzala


DersuUzala(Captain ph. secret)

I am inclined to compare the cinematography of “Dersu Uzala” to a Hiroshige, but the film’s visuals come into their own, original being. Hiroshige would show us blossoms bordering the view, while other artwork and films about forests would show the vertical properties of the trees, blocking the sunlight. There are not a lot of animals shown in this film’s version of Siberia, but the two or three that show up do end up being like characters instead of just props.

Kurosawa is hailed as a master in black and white cinematography, but I am probably one of the daft ones who think that colour is his best friend. I like the films he made in the 70’s and 80’s compared to the dusty look his classic material. In this film, the trees crowd in and cozy up on the Russian surveyors  and their eponymous Mongolian guide, although there is enough sunlight to make the footmen feel safe, for a while.

That’s the reason why I like this film – I don’t mind the good samurai versus bad samurai, but I love that nature can turn from pretty backdrop to harsh villain. The exact opposite of the crowded forests is the barren lakeside during winter, the object of Arseniev’s expedition. Getting lost from their colleagues, Dersu warns Arseniev to work fast and cut the grass before the sun disappears. The sunset looks just as menacing as the one that takes over the frame in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Arseniev faints a few times from exhaustion and cold and Dersu is there to save his life.

“Dersu Uzala” is not just a study of nature. The titular character is a great addition to great characters of colour in film, being more stern than your average Uncle Tom. It is also a study in friendship, and how friendships are more about the circumstances that begin them instead of the two parties involved. Just like friendships it is how some people are only fit for certain environments and certain times, and how the hostile forests and the urban order can do to those people.


Image: The Blue Dahlia


BlueDahlia(Shane gets censored. ph. secret)


Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera


(Sorry I cannot hear you. ph. doctormacro)

I have no soul. Or at least I have a shriveled one. There is a saying that comedy is timeless and there is another saying in my circle of friends saying that it is not. Nonetheless, I did not find most of “Duck Soup” funny, and so is half of the Marx Brothers movies anyway. They are kind of overrated compared to Katharine Hepburn or Cary Grant, etc.

There are a few scenes I like, Harpo’s telephone scene in Rufus T. Firefly’s office and the mirror scene. It probably took a lot of choreographing to do the latter, as one brother tries to outwit the other. It kind of scares me that Harpo is probably my favourite Marx Brother, showing his intelligence without saying a word. Well Zeppo’s the hot one, of course, whose last credit I think is this movie.

I have seen two or three of their movies and I think this is the first one where I realized that Groucho’s mustache is painted over. It did not look painted over in “Skidoo.”

What I did not like the racist joke about ‘ how darkies were born.’ I do not care about ‘it was like that then.’ Cut it.

“A Night at the Opera” is probably better because it shows us another dimension skipped over in the other films – their adorable side. The piano and harp scene with Chico and Harpo, entertaining the children – I can watch another five to ten minutes of that. This side of them, as well as the strong supporting cast, takes the heat of their quasi-class conscious screwball material so their screwball material actually stands out. It is also funny that the working class Marx Brothers tells Lasparri that Ricardo’s signing is “real singing,” taking opera criticism into their own hands, and we without cynicism take their word for it.

This is an excuse to show my rudimentary knowledge of opera, and by rudimentary I mean Italian, but the Miserere scene in “Il Trovatore” is the second most miserable scene since any part of “Madama Butterfly.” The movie only uses a bit of that sadness to add to the romantic tension between Rosa (Kitty Carlisle) and Ricardo, as well as the struggle of achieving their dreams. Side note that Kitty Carlisle kind of reminds me of Norma Shearer and she interprets the song in the stage-like way that Shearer does. They also sing ‘Miserere’ in their encore, but they look happy, as they celebrate their stardom in America. The movie is still about the Marx Brothers but you can hardly call this romance a B-story.

(I’m kinda busy)


Arguments for throwing the towel


ASeriousMan(My neighbours. ph. secret)

Here via Film Experience is Todd Alcott’s very erudite analysis of “A Serious Man.” It’s not perfect, as someone like Jim Emerson would say. But my comparisons of a Robert Redford to Brueghel just pales. I think of this movie as unapproachable during the experience of it, despite the fond memories I have of “There’s another Jew, son,” or “Do you take advantage of the newest freedoms?”, or “he’s a fucker,” or Larry Gopnik’s son Danny going through his bar mitzvah on weed, or the goy’s teeth, or Fagle chasing Danny but never catches him.

SeriousMan(Cracks me up)


Traffic


(Ayala’s Choice ph. secret)

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.

Traffic(Fuck you.)

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.


A Prophet and Love Songs


(Warning: post contains violent images, written content sexual innuendo and stuff like that.)

UnProphete(One step ph. secret)

I first saw “Un Prophete” at TIFF. I didn’t start my blog sooner and I paid 12 more dollars to see the film again, bringing a total of paying 52 dollars to see the movie.

My love for the film is less than unconditional at this second screening. First of all, we have to consider the prison as a national metaphor. That said, Malik El-Djebena’s (Tahar Rahim) is a likeable character but not sympathetic. Instead of being rehabilitated, the prison turns him into a wiser, slightly more determined criminal. However, a typical prisoner becoming a non-criminal after a six-year term is highly unlikely, and that is a Hollywood thing to portray.

Then I also overlooked that the Corsican prisoners step on Malik and he must abide by the rules of the other prisoners and bribed jail guards to get what he wants. Despite the possible metaphor in the film, his actions are mostly motivated on a personal level. He avenges when someone wrongs him, and thankfully at the right time. Knowing when to strike is one of the unpolished skills that he has entering the prison, and as the years go, he begins to think strategically. There is a scene when he helps his Corsican ‘boss’ Cesar Luciani (Niels Aestrup) deal with the new Muslim inmates, his advice thus surprises Cesar. You sympathize with him when he’s down, when he’s getting himself back up, and even when he’s killing a few people.

Brad Brevet from RopeofSilicon wrote about Malik’s prison education. Interestingly enough, this is a story of a man who learns from his enemies, a theme relegated to the sidelines in other crime films. Cesar and the Corsicans inadvertently teaches Malik strategy and ruthlessness and their native dialect. Another prisoner, Reyeb, tells him to come out of prison a little smarter. Malik becomes part of the cycle by advising – instead of using a rousing speech – the Muslims who had shunned him to fight for their rights in the prison. All actions are tough to pull off.

All in all, a very cinematic and enjoyable film. Those two adjectives fit even if the film features a guy cutting up his own moth with a razor, another guy having blood erupting out of his jugular, and a third guy putting a spoon inside the first guy’s eyelid. And that French prison food is awesome.

LesChansonsDAmour(French Robert Pattinson and French Haley Joel Osment make out)

Three hours before that I saw “Les Chansons D’Amour.” Ismael (Louis Garrel) is romantically pursued by a gay guy after his girlfriend (Ludivigne Sagnier) dies. I am proud that the gay one can sing the best in the movie, but I am very protective of gay characters. I like them flawed, but I do not like them fucked in the head. I do not wanna see them stalk straight people, I do not want to see them snivel, I do not want to see them get the straight guy that easily.

I do like Ismael’s nuanced world before tragedy happens. I also like how the film tackles the girlfiend’s death like a sledgehammer instead of a dramatic device. Deaths like this happen unexpectedly, and I feel that in the movie. Ismael does not deal with grief perfectly but the film does not paint him as a man whore or a sad little boy needing a shoulder to cry on.

Lastly, with the exception of Piaf and Josephine Baker, hearing French sung by these people in their twenties is as awkward as watching my mother get drunk.


Ordinary (White) People


OrdinaryPeople(ph. secret)

First of all, I would like to say that “Ordinary People” won over “Raging Bull” in the Oscars. Suck it, juiceheads.

Most of what I’ve learned in “Ordinary People” is what I have already learned in “Cache.” White people like having champagne parties with other white people they dislike, they have childhood secrets that they yell out inside urban buildings, their kid’s in the swim team.

OrdinaryPeople

I’m gonna paraphrase Ebert that other films tackling the dysfunctional suburban family would have been more contemptuous of them, like Haneke was in “Cache.” The main characters in “Ordinary People,” however, have their flaws but the film shows theories about why these flaws exist instead of using those flaws to attack them. Watching the characters can make anyone feel like they’re watching a dry period piece. This film may have a certain effect on a some of the audience since it mixes bourgeois complicity with ‘golf course America’ inflections.

OrdinaryPeople

Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton) adds to that effect by being closed off, sweaty and blaming himself for everything. Teenage alienation is intensified by watching his brother die. His psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch), however, helps him release from being a skinny boy with nervous ticks to someone who is rightfully mad at his situation and articulating what exactly is wrong. We feel relief when he cusses even at his own mother (Mary Tyler Moore) and father (Donald Sutherland), shattering their mannered sensibilities.

OrdinaryPeople

Fine, I will admit that it is not the ‘greatest’ movie but in the way that it does not really call attention into itself. It does not have a Paul Thomas Anderson effect. This is a movie about the suburbs, everything’s tailored. The golf courses, the lawned churches, the columned homes all have a groomed look without a hint of satire. If you can indulge me to stretch, this film is what Gainsborough or Brueghel would have captured with a camera depicting 1980’s America. This is what Kurbick would have shot if he was a sentimentalist.

OrdinaryPeople

This movie also stars hot piece of ass Adam Baldwin (not related to Alec) when he was 18 and cocky. You might know him as the wide-eyed young soldier in “Full Metal Jacket.” If you really want to get pissed about the Academy, get pissed that the Kubrickian masterpiece was only nominated for one Academy Award. He was also “Firefly” or apparently “Chuck.” I should watch that show, but not really.

OrdinaryPeople

Lastly, if “Ordinary People” teaches us certain truths, it is that drunk people flock to McDonald’s. The end.


Stage Door


StageDoor(Poker face ph. secret)

The best part about Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers sharing the screen is Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers sharing the screen with eye masks. The Bryn Mawr alum and the vaudeville girl seem to do scenes well together, sharing a lot of them in the film. That’s making me think that the drama between them off-screen was just for publicity. In their first scene, one woman is unwavering against the other’s tongue lashing. In the next few scenes Terry Randall (Hepburn) and Jean Maitland (Rogers) might as well be sisters.

Terry does take centre stage in this film, the new girl in the Footlight’s Club, a dormitory for stage actresses and dancers in Midtown New York. She ends up stealing both Maitland’s boyfriend and Kay Hamilton’s (Andrea Leeds) role in a new play. And this is why they called the movie “Stage Door” instead of “Stage Stars,” as Terry becomes the latest of replaceable actresses on the Broadway stage. Kay hints that she stole a role from another girl a year before, a passive character in Terry’s rise to fame. Had she lived in this time, Kay would be the kind of girl you would unfriend on Facebook, but you cannot help but feel sorry for her. At the end of the film, another new girl comes into the house, and we wonder if Terry’s stardom might be over soon.

StageDoor(Ain’t having none of it)

That doesn’t mean that Jean’s not a treat. No new girl can stop her from practically ruling the Footlight’s Club. You can listen to her quick wit directed at some of the boarders, or watch her dance away from a stage manager twice her age. She also knows how to say the right thing quickly when she’s the house’s shoulder to cry on.

I saw this film again after reading this article from next month’s Vanity Fair, which is a depressing read by the way. Beautiful dresses, young girls, broken dreams. Both times seeing the movie I wondered if it is time for a remake – the source material is a play after all. Maybe the movie is gonna be about actresses again but it could be for models too. I read a lot about how miserable those girls could be when on their own.


Christopher Plummer Double Bill


Parnassus(Always been partial to model-actresses. ph. secret)

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.

ImaginariumofDoctorParnassus

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?

LastStation(ph OutNow)

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.


Image: Yojimbo


Yojimbo(Marketing genius. ph. secret)


Network at the Bloor


Network(Like Noah’s Ark. ph. secret)

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

That is Howard Beale’s (Peter Finch) jeremiad proclamation, echoed by a handful of New Yorkers decorating its apartment walls. Seeing this on the big screen will incite wonder and dread, the first of many proclamation within this movie.

One of the components of a movie or it to be considered a favourite is the crazy. I mentioned this in my post about “Twelve Monkeys,” but you’ll hear different pitches of it in “Network.” The movie is one dialogue explosion surpassing the previous scene, culminating with a last and fucked up solution.

Sidney Lumet, one of my favourite directors,  is the hand that rocks this film. His theatre background is well demonstrated here, again handling Paddy Chayefsky’s eloquent script like it’s Shakespeare. Howard Beale asks his audience to be involved the same way Lumet provokes his audience to new crazy heights. The characters referring to the fourth wall reminds us that a self-aware fictional lie is better than the comforting one.

Everyone else who has seen this movie will talk about its parallels today. We’re at the ‘Golden Age of Television’ now, but that doesn’t stop “processed instant God,” as Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) says, to seep through and turn every viewer into a madman. Imagine a Glenn Beck who cannot understand Ayn Rand.

I want you get up now, turn off your computers, get up on your chairs, and go to the Bloor tomorrow night at 9. Plan this. Take at least one other person with you. See the movie and find out whether “Rocky” should have won. You have to see this movie before you die.


The Shootist


(Just in case. ph. secret)

I love watching people in movies who are past their prime. Not like Meryl who gets offered roles like she’s still in her thirties, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The characters I am talking about are old and will not shut up about it. “I’m John Wayne, I’m old and I have cancer, make sex with me!” Lauren Bacall, who pretty much takes Wayne in as her second movie-husband, ain’t having none of it.

Surprisingly John Wayne comes off as a benevolent figure in “The Shootist,” when he retreats to Carson City and wants to go out without an elegy. He’s a cowboy with the same practiced drawl, and we can’t take that away from him. He can go from hot to realist to sensitive father to psycho to now this, a man who wants to be left alone without being misanthropic.

(Down but not out)

Since other amateur shootists will not leave him alone, he decides to leave the world with a five man seppuku. SPOILER, he invites three other shootists to a saloon, a less claustrophobic version of the run down taverns in the Old West. This rub out is happening in 1901 after all, not 1871. We might think that he wants to test the three at who is deserving to take out the big man himself. But none of these guys fit the bill, he eventually outlives these guys by a few seconds. He’s gonna die and take four with him (three a bartender who, by traditionalist creeds, is a bad agent in society). His purgation of the bad elements in the burgeoning Carson City is his dying wish and gift to his Christian landlady, Bond (Lauren Bacall).


The Maltese Falcon


Maltese Falcon(ph secret)

Noir is a bit of a questionable genre for me. The more bebop, B-film, chiaroscuro, surrealist, youth culture oriented it is, the more I like it. It’s the convoluted plot of the mainstream ones that turn me off. The noir world is one for the wise and the good listeners. We are lucky that there are some great cinematographers, and the more recent the example is, the more visual the story gets. Conventions of the classic version of the genre, however, has dialogue snappier than Tarantino’s. The oldies also add more on-screen and off-screen characters and more dead bodies and more stolen artifacts, and unfortunately I’m too wired and ADD for that.

Like The Maltese Falcon, for instance. Watching Humphrey Bogart finally taking lead is rewarding. The guy who has been playing second fiddle to Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis mixes his hard, New York voice with elocution in the moments when he’s on the spotlight. He perfected his angry man thing even when he was doing supporting roles, and now that it’s his show, he gets to change the world and wipe out one scum at a time.

Maltese Falcon(The falcon makes its mark)

I also admire the bravery of the actors like Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor who allowed themselves to be photographed in such unflattering angles and moments. You’d think that the former is a giant circus freak or the latter as haggard and broken down if this is the first time you have seen them (and if you’ve seen Mary Astor in “Don Juan,” you might as well have seen the face of God). The latter examples of noirs would be full of beautiful people – Barbara Stanwyck and her dyed golden locks, Alan Ladd and his chiseled face. But in “The Maltese Falcon” we see people who look as rotten as the criminal plans they have obsessed with for years.


Let it be Known


Kate Hudson

Let it be known that I can’t fucking stand Kate Hudson. I took this picture in Goodwill, where I also glimpsed and did not buy the first All Saints album. But hey, if you want THAT, I’ll give it to you.

And yes, I do find myself at Goodwill at times. But I’ve never been abandoned there.


New Waterford Girl


(ph secret)

I often doubt the movies I have watched before I legally become an adult. The Tim Allen/Kristie Alley movies of my childhood? I have abandoned those a long time ago. The ones I watched in my adolescence, however, are more difficult to leave behind.

For instance, the unfortunately named Moonie Pottie (Liane Balaban) would just be an unsympathetic sniveling teen if she wasn’t played by someone with the look and build of a Shalom Harlow. And her relationship with her teacher Cecil Sweeney (Andrew McCarthy) would have been creepy if they didn’t have chemistry, surprising for a first timer like Balaban. She’s on good ground most of the time, taking the script into high and low emotions. Her scene with the town doctor (Mark McKinney) is pretty hilarious as intended.

(Beautiful people can get away with anything)

What I haven’t seen before in other movies about small towns is the insularity that the fictional New Waterford has. The town considers Moonie weird becuase she insists on leaving for New York, an invitation they have received that they strangely declined. There is also an older generation factor when the parents push her on becoming a nurse when she clearly wants to be an artist. The whole town, in other words, is adamant on sledgehammering each other dreams.

Moonie is then slightly obsessed with the train and the people who leave and arrive with it. When Moonie sees Tammy MacDonald go abroad the train teary-eyed, she narrates that Tammy would be visiting her relatives in “Cal-i-for-ni-a.” That would have been impossible because Tammy doesn’t look like the kind of girl who has family outside town. Then there’s Lou Benzoa (Tara Spencer-Nairn) willingly exiled from the Bronx with her family, a girl who would eventually become Moonie’s friend.

(Lou looks on)

It’s with Moonie’s friendship with Lou that she becomes self-aware of her attitudes about her small town. Both of them talk disparagingly about their provenance and romanticizes the places where they want to be. In one of the scenes where Moonie finally socializes with others, she and Lou gather round a fire with the other teenagers. One starts to sing a folk song and Moonie joins too. Planning to escape the small town and on her way into becoming an outsider in New Waterford, joining the sing along gives her a sense of pride for her home turf.

There are other treasured moments and factoids in the film, like Lou’s mother Midge (Cathy Moriarty) complaining about the lack of a deli in Cape Breton. And that her role as a boxer’s wife is a reference to her role in Raging Bull. And this is a film that features versions of 70’s fashions appropriately toned down for a small town milieu. We do get the Benzoas’ animal print and red leather mixed with the wool sweaters and corduroy of Moonie and the rest of the town.

A decade or so after the film, Liane Balaban ends up as Dustin Hoffman’s daughter in a movie, Tara Spencer-Nairn enjoys syndication immortality in “Corner Gas” and Mary Walsh and Mark McKinney are Canadian institutions just like Tim Horton’s.

Like Moonie’s final reluctance to get on the train, I cannot let go of this film, nor do I want to.


If and Elephant


If(ph. secret)

“If” and “Elephant” aired at TVO last Saturday midnight. Someone out there probably thinks both movies deserve a post of their own, but since the channel aired them back to back, I couldn’t write about one and not the other.

I just wanna first talk about the gay angle, since both movies present that theme, and that some gay characters bring out violent acts in both movies. Furthermore the gay thing is usually seen as a scapegoat – they’re gay and they’ll find the second most phallic thing to act out their repressed desires. I will say that causality between homosexuality and violence is blurrier in both movies, but both still show that homosexuality is the result of how the respective fictional societies molds these youths.

“If” has a more traditional view of homosexuality as it does in every relationship – one person is masculine than the other. There’s the senior boy and the junior boy, a relationship built on foundations of “smugging” or serving the older student, which is a part of the masculine patriarchy set in college culture. For example, the junior boy Bobby Phillips cooks for the senior boy and packs up Wallace’s things, while Wallace is desirable for being more athletic. Although the smugs are interchangeable, the Phillips still has loyalties to the one he is infatuated with, as expected. But Phillips gets points as well, being the first one in the relationship to use his gaze towards Wallace, as well as calling himself more goal-oriented.

Elephant

“Elephant” is different when depicting homosexuality, specifically that the film denotes its elusiveness. We get a look inside a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting, where they try to list things that would make someone look gay. And they can’t because indicators like that are arbitrary. Van Sant also rotates the camera so we can see the group, again not being able to tell who’s gay.

There is also the case of Alex and Eric. I don’t fall for the apologetic “they’re not gay” argument because they do kiss. Yes, their homosexual act does not define them just like many boys who kiss other boys end up being with girls and they’re still underage so their sexuality’s not defined. That does not mean that we can invalidate their affection for each other. And unlike the prescribed roles in “If,” one plays the piano while the other one has blonde hair, but we can’t tell which one’s more masculine or feminine.

The movies are also an observation of schools as institutions where they try to give you everything like gymnasiums and microscopes yet they try to take your individuality away.

I like “Elephant” more than I like “If” since you can hear the screams in the former instead of the gunshots. But then again “Elephant” is part of my generation. Sure I wasn’t in high school yet when Columbine happened but the next two or three years after Columbine was the culmination of teen angst that has been hidden and ignored since Cobain died. Kids today are too busy looking at LOLCats to even muster up hatred against each other. And whoever made LOLCats should get a Nobel Prize, but in my time I felt angry and that there was so much violence around.


Twelve Monkeys


Twelve Monkeys(ph. secret)

It’s really hard to talk about movies I love. Since I was under the academic wing, movie writing is especially difficult with examples that have a lot of comic relief. I would be talking about a pimp describing “a coked up whore (not Madeleine Stowe) and a fucking crazy dentist (not Bruce Willis)” instead of dystopia.

And dystopia’s pretty much what the movie’s about – the world is shit both in the 1990’s and in the mid 21st century. We see a grungy mental institution with overconfident psychiatrists and contrasted against a group of scientists who cannot even get the poor man to travel in time properly. The 1990’s attitude is when psychiatry and labeling people like James Cole as crazy is the norm instead of helping him as the prophet that he is. The 21st century, however, does not want to overdo themselves by changing the future but instead want to learn from it. The future scientists also get closer to their mark in all their attempts to solve their historical puzzle.

Vertigo

I also love how “Twelve Monkeys” is the closest well-resulting thing we can have of a Vertigo remake without it being too literal and therefore terrible. At one point, I even felt like this film is better than Vertigo. Like the Hitchcock film, one person contracts the crazy just as the other tries to wean himself off it. Both use insanity as a metaphor for love and vice versa, as the protagonists want to live in a perfect world and want to share that with someone. It’s this dream and mismatched love tragedy that makes us come back for more. And I’m not the biggest fan of Vertigo and writing that makes me wanna watch it again to see if I love the whole as much as I love the parts.

I also watched “If” and “Elephant,” and tried to put three movies in some umbrella post of violence, but it ain’t gonna work. I will talk about the two movies mentioned in this paragraph in a later post.


TJSFF


Through the Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival that wrapped up this past weekend, I finally saw the Oscar-winning “La Maison en Petit Cubes,” which is what I imagine what “Up” would be. Yes, I haven’t seen “Up.” It can wait when it premieres on Teletoon. Shoot me.

It’s about a self-sufficient old man who has outlived his adult children. It’s about seeing a man and as he scuba dives down to submerged foundations of his home, we come with him and see his lives the way he does and the way we never get to towards other people. He looks at the foundations of the homes around him and imagines them as the scattered farm houses of his youth. At first we ask why this fictional world exists in this state, but eventually we just go with the emotional ride. Screening this short after “Gaki” puts in context the Japanese skill in parchment, because stereotyping is faster. Or I could be an asshole and say that this movie is about global warming.

La Maison in Petit Cubes is part of a program in the festival I assume as the animated short category. Also in the program is the cute overload of “Komaneko -The Curious Cat- ‘The First Step’ ” and “Mitsuko’s Freedom,” which is by far the weirdest homoerotic thing I’ve ever seen in my life.


The Runaways


(ph collider)

You may or may not have read every review of Floria Sigismondi’s “The Runaways,” but to summarize: shit script, gritty tone. NOW’s Susan G. Cole, however, said that Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett is better in the movie than Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Twilight zombie bitch out-acts the future Hollywood grand dame? That, my friends, sounds like a dare. And she’s kind of right by an inch. Again, I can’t believe I’m talking about Kristen Stewart like she’s a de Haviland sister, but the spark in her eyes, the boom in her voice when she tells Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) to shut the fuck up, how I have a suspicion that she knows Kim Fowley’s (Michael Shannon) lines as well as she knows hers. She’s a girl you hate to love.

And again, Michael Shannon gets paid to verbally abuse women. It’s pretty much the same character in Revolutionary Road, but this time a guy wearing lipstick, make-up and Ascot is telling teenage girls to think with their cocks. As other bloggers have noted, I’m not doubting that any of this movie ever happened, but why are five teen girls hanging out in a trailer with some guy in his 30’s. Despite of its writing, the movie also has a great supporting cast. I wanna be stubborn and say that Sandy West (Stella Maeve) is secretly the star of the show, but Riley Keough and Tatum O’Neal disappeared in their roles. I just wished Alia Shawkat had a line or two, as Sigismondi used her as decoration in the movie.

1970’s America was a country that made the Soviets feel good about themselves, and “The Runaways” makes no exception in proving that. I agree with every other reviewer who points out the grit in this movie. Most of the 70’s movies I’ve seen are about New York, while this one takes place in Los Angeles, where everything is more spread out. I’m not sure if the sparseness of LA watered down the movie, but if you want real grit, go see other movies actually made in the 70’s.

This biopic leads us to an expected end, Jett achieves ubiquity and role model status as singer of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” SPOILER, Currie looks virginal while working for some pink wedding bake shop, I don’t know. Jett goes on a radio show to promote her hit song and tells the listening public that “If it wasn’t for Rock and Roll, I’d be in jail or dead.” The DJ invites callers, which gives Currie the opportunity to say that she’s neither rocking nor jailed nor dead. The film presents it as a reconciliation but I see it more as a challenge to a woman who pursues her passion from another who has gone through a phase. Yes, Jett as the founder of the first female rock group is more of a renowned name, as any woman who became the first head of state or to push suffrage or climb a mountain. Curie in the movie ends up having a man telling her to chop-chop (If anyone ever tells me that, I will do the closest legal thing to killing them), but she’s alive and has a future and that counts for something.

In an interview, Kristen Stewart said she wants to play Kate in a new adaptation of East of Eden. Get an audition, a guy who’s old enough to play old but not old enough that it’s creepy, and best of all, bring it.


Still upset about the Winslet-Mendes divorce


(ph tediosfera)

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.


Late Thoughts on Crazy Heart


(The last person who did this was Orson Welles. ph. secret)

  • I’m pretty sure Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal were drinking during their drinking scenes. I know the teary eyes and the blushing cheeks when I see ’em. My friend Matt called it method acting.
  • Watching Bad Blake be an asshole, be sandbagged, and have sex with Maggie Gyllenhaal made me feel really uncomfortable. No pathos nor tragedy is conveyed, just plain awkwardness.
  • Don’t wanna hate, but watching Bad Blake shirtless is tolerable unless he stands or sits up.
  • Kudos to the cinematographers for the colours in the movie, the cameramen for getting into Jeff Bridges’ face, the location scouts. Great movie in the technical aspects.
  • Sure, it’s Jeff Bridges, but he wasn’t the best this year. But then it took me two months to get Colin Firth in “A Single Man.” Will I change my mind about Bridges by May? Also, Maggie Gyllenhaal only had one great scene. Jeff Bridges has zero, or at least he does a little nuance-y things instead of having a bait-y scene, which is typical and refreshing compared to other people’s work. But still, Colin Firth and for that matter,  Samantha Morton, got robbed.
  • Jean Braddock is not professional. I’ve made out with older men after a few drinks before, but not while working and not while a babysitter is looking after my child at one in the morning. The rest of the movie made it look like Bad Blake had her on his fingernail, which isn’t her fault at all. And although I’m not an expert at her oeuvre, I’ve never been convinced that Maggie Gyllenhaal can play someone trashy enough to do these things.
  • If my creative writing prof saw this movie and heard Bad Blake sing, “The sun shines brightly,” he would cut a bitch. It’s the sun. Sometimes it’s yellow, white, but it’s always bright.

  • Colin Farrell is a good fit as Tommy Sweet, but he should have shown his face more.
  • This movie featured a mostly healthy relationship between a grown man and a child. Finally.
  • Time went by really fast watching this movie, and I haven’t said that about a movie I liked in a long time.

The Ghost Writer


(ph. OutNow)

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.


Bound For Glory


(Cowboy with a contract. ph. secret)

One of my shortcomings in movie blogging is talking about the social context of the narrative instead of how film delivers the narrative. This is true when I talk about historical pieces like “Bound For Glory”, that’s all I see.

As the caption in that screen shot says, Woody Guthrie is like a modern cowboy, with a twist! The film begins in Pampa, Texas, and no offense to anyone who lives there now but the film’s depiction of the town is fucking tumbleweeds. And this is the middle of country and a part that’s already considered “The West.” This isn’t a Brigham Young type of frontier-ism – the traditional West still isn’t good enough especially by the Depression, and an American can only expect to go further to succeed. And when he gets there he mingles with Oklahoman fruit pickers in California, gets his radio show, struggles with his union beliefs and fame and family.

(Comfort.)

Great cinematography, but of course I have a few complaints. The movie, like the real Woody, stayed too long in Texas and also a bit longer in the other places the character finds himself being. David Carradine does some good work playing a small town boy but comes short at making him sympathetic. He can’t juggle his beliefs and his family, a mid-20th century version of the workaholic dad who always misses his son’s big baseball game.

I’m still baffled yet in reverence of New Hollywood because they could make movies about socialism with jazz hands. The contradiction of being pro-union while working in a sponsored radio show isn’t stressed in the film, although that’s probably a more contemporary way of thinking. Tip: If someone wants to do an agenda movie, they can use the immigration in California in the 30’s and use Okies as a metaphor for the way Mexicans are treated today.


Green Zone vs…


(ph. ecranlarge)

I hate comparing one movie with another, but genre theory kind of makes it inevitable. A movie fits a certain canon and either adds to it or does nothing.

Take “Green Zone,” for instance. It’s Hollywood’s rendition of war realism with its share of above average acting and characters, especially with the Middle Eastern players. In other films they’re either raving, invisible, or emasculated. Here, they’re still yelling as loud as the American soldiers, but their anger’s is more intelligent and articulated. General Al-Rawi’s (Yigal Naor) scene with Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) especially powerful since it notes the miscommunication on both sides. The movie also introduces an Uncle Tom with a twist in Freddy, a man who ends up being Miller’s interpreter and has his own motivations. The movie also shows the cat and mouse game that’s perfect for urban areas like Baghdad.

The problem in this movie? The yelling. And the gunfire. And the explosion. And the loud score. We get it, invading a Middle Eastern city is loud and messy. But you gotta pace it. In a way, I understand what Iraqis went through just because of the use of sound in this movie. Roger Ebert was all for it and manages to make me feel old, thanks. It was like an hour of gunfire and loud vehicles before I got some rest out of this movie. John Powell should also calm down in the music department. I can already understand how tense the sites are in 2003 Baghdad through diagetic noise, we don’t need synthesized guitar to accentuate that. There’s also no need for the synthesized violins whenever somebody gets preachy. Another thing is the use of digital footage, making the night scenes grainy.

(ph. secret)

“The Hurt Locker,” on the other hand, is a better example of the Iraq war movie although the treatment of characters aren’t perfect. The Iraqis are always two arms length and aren’t the most verbose people. But then again the Americans aren’t either. The closest thing this movie ever gets to reciting three acts of Hamlet is Sgt. Sanborn (the snubbed Anthony Mackie).

Will James (Jeremy Renner) on the other hand, has this superhuman zen calmness while trying to diffuse a bomb. I guess I had to bring up “The Hurt Locker” because of the sound because it helps characterize James’ demeanor despite of the tense situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but the closest comparison I can come up with is “Jaws.” There were like these long, deep notes playing in the background in the bomb scenes. Without these I’d assume that I wouldn’t hear a pin drop in these scenes, especially since there’s so much cerebral musculature involved in James’ job. He would probably want to concentrate on as few things as possible.

Both movies use puzzles and mazes as metaphors to describe the invasion in Iraq. For “Green Zone,” it’s finding a general in the streets of Baghdad. For “The Hurt Locker,” clipping the right wire in a bomb. Both are easy to execute, but like they said in Serious Film, those missions don’t solve anything.