…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.