…and the quest to see everything

Archive for June, 2010

Carlton Cinema, reopening


ph. Jonathan Loek for BlogTO

Ah, the Carlton. You have given me fond memories. Seeing “Ballast” by myself, Seeing “The Damned United” by myself. To clarify, ‘by myself’ doesn’t mean I didn’t go with someone, it means I was the only one in the room. I could text people, move seats. I’m gonna rephrase Norman Wilner that the Carlton was where short run art movies stayed for months. Watching the movies I listed above felt like discovering it, and yes, it’s a little sad that the movies I’ve listed above weren’t seen by more people despite the greatest performances and visual uniqueness packed in those films. The setting  and circumstances might have helped that feeling of discovery.

There’s also seeing “House of Sand,” the first movie I saw in that theatre, and “Road to Guantanamo,” both were pieces of crap. I watched one after the other with my family. It made me realize that not all foreign films are good and that Showcase lied to me. My sister and I decided that the movie theatre is cursed with bad foreign films, vowed to never come. However, the Carlton kept luring me in and I kept coming.

ph. NOW

There’s also seeing either “Son of Rambow” and “How My Parents Went on Vacation,” both great movies by the way, and losing my glasses in watching either of those movies – I never found them and never got them replaced. Don’t tell mom. I also saw “Bright Star” there which is one of the best movies I’ve seen.

Tonight my schedule should have been “Away From Her” and “Julie and Julia” but knowing that Atom Egoyan will be there and I haven’t seen him at the Cinematheque, this is my chance to bother him about “Chloe.”

Tonight will also be my first time downtown since the weekend. Although I tweeted about last weekend furiously I haven’t said a word about it here. I don’t know how sad I’ll feel seeing  my city’s scars but I still wanna see it and I feel like a coward not being there for her at her worst.

This entry is also the first one I’ve written since the weekend and planning to back to the Carlton got my energy back. The next entry will be one on “Mean Girls.”


Robin Wood – Code inconnu: Récit incomplet…


The Robin Wood retrospective offered a film by my second favourite director, Michael Haneke. He directs like a painter. In “Code inconnu,”  Anne’s (Juliette Binoche) boyfriend’s teenage brother Jean throws food wrapping at a beggar named Maria (Luminata Gheorgiu), angering Amadou, a young bystander.

Wood said of the first eight minutes of the film as “among the most astonishing instances of virtuosity in the entire history of mise-en-scène.” It’s not showy, and subtlety must be part of the criteria for a great long take. Haneke makes the conversations as the star instead of his own camerawork, and the events in the background are unmistakably authentic. The scene shows the experience of new Paris like any other city, with unrelated events and shops strung together in a street. When something happens like a confrontation between two teenagers, it feels more like a steady fire than an explosion.

This film uses Binoche in her best capabilities, and it’s a sadness as a latent actress lover that I haven’t had a chance to watch all of her films, especially the ones in French. That said, I’m ambivalent about Anne. She’s an inconsistent actress – she delivers one of the intentionally worst readings of Shakespeare on film – she’s passionate about the people in her life, and she’s probably racist. I do have a few problems with her character. Why does she have the worst wardrobe in Paris? Why would she be grumpy to a boyfriend that hot? Why wouldn’t she complain about her neighbours?

The same questions arise with the other characters. Why is Jean unhappy about both the city and the country? Why does Maria go back to Paris after being deported, as the film shows how happy she is in Romania? Why is Amadou so nice all of a sudden? And does Anne’s boyfriend Georges realize how creepy it is to take people’s pictures on the subway?

The man who introduced the film also said that the film encapsulates the capitalist lifestyle that continuously exploits. Another way of looking at the film is that terrible things happen to four people and more terrible things happen to them while they go on their separate ways. It doesn’t stop. It’s an onslaught on anomie and cruelty coming from strangers, yet they’re not more angry as they should.

This film’s one of the greatest movie about cities, perfectly capturing the meanness and cadence of urban streets. It shows multiculturalism as tense yet not in an aggressive way. It lets people meet and meet again in different places and circumstances, and one seeing another like a different person than before. And it shows people being alone in a densely populated area. This is also surprisingly one of Haneke’s most accessible films, neither sprawl-y nor thesis-y like his other, more acclaimed films. Also, if you’re a fan on colour blind casting or acting, this movie might be for you. The names Luminata Gheorgiu and Maurice Benichou –  the latter merely has a bit part, but I care not – are now in my mind. I hope so will be yours when you watch this.

And I will never forget that ending.


Robin Wood: Letter from an Unknown Woman


ph. Criterion

Oh, Joan Fontaine. She tells a character’s story like it’s her own. For less than a decade in her career she’s been playing little girls who grow up. Her performance is Max Ophuls’ “Letter from an Unknown Woman” made me remember “Rebecca” and start my ‘Best Female Performances’ list, but that’s still too big a task for me. She’s like the precursor to actresses like Kirsten Dunst, the latter having played teenagers for 15 years in her career.

Lisa Berndle (Fontaine) experiences an unrequited love with an egotistic pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan). Her earlier mannerisms are waif-y and awkward but she grows into a poised but nonetheless oblivious and idealist of a woman. Her voice is more full and thus distracting this time around. That also means she puts just as much sympathy and maturity to her character the same way that Jourdan does with Stefan.

The characters are still placed within the constraints of a melodrama. I love melodramas but I can’t find a place in my heart for this one. Lisa’s still a stalker. She must have known how Stefan would treat her knowing that he goes through women. She feels no anger for him despite his forgetfulness and how he has not supported their child. Also, despite of how bad his actions look on paper, the film doesn’t blatantly show a streak of meanness on Stefan. However, if the audience had a bigger hint of that, they might have walked out in droves.

What I also appreciate in “Letter” is Ophuls’ auteur-like touch on the film. There’s the long take camerawork that follows its subjects like a carousel. There’s diamonds and glitz and trumpets and music. There’s also the little freedom that the he allows female characters, like he does in parts of “The Earrings of Madame de…”. I’m not an expert on classic melodrama, but I can’t imagine any early female characters allowed to have a second marriage or a marriage after a second child, or the social mobility involving with a 19th century model marrying a general. With Ophuls’ worldview and Fontaine’s performance, it also seems like the movie is more about the fun Lisa had along the way instead of the tragedy that befalls her, and both feel refreshing.


Kurosawa: The Idiot


Maybe early Kurosawa and me aren’t just meant to be, with the exception of “The Seven Samurai.” There’s something about “The Idiot” that I can’t fully immerse myself into. The film is about one idealistic man who finds himself involved in the lives of a few families in a Japanese city. Is it because the film doesn’t allow any of its characters a chance of full happiness? Does it try to cover and juggle too many plots and characters? Or maybe it’s because we’re seeing the work of a man who’s just starting out?

I’m part of the immature ilk whose reductive assessment of the film would be “zOMG, Japanese people in Western clothing! Loves it!” The film is a balance of post-war Japan and Dostoyevsky as the story’s source material. New, Western customs add to old customs, the caste system still exists, some people get ostracized, everyone is miserable. The audience can even over-read the three-footer snow as metaphorical of the heavy burden that society places on its characters.

If anything, this is the also the hardest Kurosawa’s actors have worked so far – I’ll find out if I’m wrong by the time I see “Ran” in three weeks. Toshiro Mifune, before his stardom, actually relaxes his face in some of the scenes. The female characters are still bitchy, but they freely flow from acidic to damaged to vulnerable. And we like bitchy, right guys?

I also borrowed my first Dostoyevsky from the library, a daunting task with all 643 pages of small print. Maybe this big, heavy key will unlock a few things and offer me more insight towards the film.


Robin Wood: The Chase


I saw this movie a week or two ago and I was really worried that this article might be too late. The politics in this film doesn’t fit like a puzzle piece in the events this week. Nonetheless, how timely is it with riots going on to write about a movie with riots going on?

This movie’s so ambitious and powerful I don’t know where to start. It’s a hidden highlight of the careers of the film’s actors like Brando, Fonda and Redford. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but then again I change my mind about that a lot.

ph. Columbia

“The Chase,” directed by Arthur Penn by and is a Lillian Hellman adaptation from a Horton Foote novel. It centres on small town Texas, troubled by one of their own, Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford), who escapes from prison. I’ve read a lot of Lillian Hellman lately, who fills her stage mostly with a family or group of friends who exploit the unseen lower classes. However, the movie is just as much an Arthur Penn vehicle, shaping this film as a western in plain clothes, as American decadence while putting violence and the youth’s rebellion in the mix.

I understand that the film uses its first act for introductions, which some viewers see as a bit tedious, but it’s better for the film to answer those questions in the beginning instead of doing so for the rest of the movie. Bubber’s escape is a problem for the town’s citizens. Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) wants to keep Bubber safe from a mob, but his good intentions and clouded by Val Rogers’ (E.G. Marshall) bribing. Bubber’s wife, Anna (Jane Fonda, the best actress of New Hollywood, but we’ll talk about that later), wants to leave him for Val’s son Jake. Bubber’s mother (Miriam Hopkins) wants his son back and even considers selling it to her contemptuous neighbours. Edwin (Robert Duvall, subtle this time) becomes paranoid since he’s taken money that all has accused Bubber of stealing.

Unlike Hellman’s earlier plays, we finally get to see in Bubber, a lower class victim, as a fleshed out character. Robert Redford’s amazing as Bubber that I always wonder why I doubt his acting. He’s dangerous, troubled, trashy and childlike. The movie itself divides critics then and now and Sam Kashner called him miscast. However Redford’s good looks, distracting in half of his earlier films, helped his character. If he was less attractive and more gruff, the audience wouldn’t have sympathized with him. His mother is another face of the oppressed, yet she is just as flawed. Her blind maternal love makes her lash out at Calder and despite of the little truth she bellows to the town, she can’t see his true intentions.

Besides from being a ‘contemporary western,’ it’s also a part of the ‘lynching’ sub-genre, more popular in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. In 1966 this movie adds to the genres and making the mob’s methods more terrorizing. They already don’t respect Calder, branding him as paid help by the Rogers’s and they invade his privacy about the news of Bubber’s escape. Calder takes a three-minute gang beating in his own office and home. Learning that Bubber’s in the wharf, the town leaves their sexually and alcohol-charged parties and congregates with their guns and alcohol. Instead of other ‘lynching’ films when the mob is already marching in numbers, the film lets the audience watch the mob grow. A car and then another car and then the rest of them. These people aren’t as single-minded but just as dangerous, some just wanna kill Bubber, others make him as a strange sexual icon, the rest disapprove and cynical but don’t express outrage and watch the lynching happen.

The film, however, shows larger differences in the younger generations. There is Bubber, Anna, Jake in the wharf and technically Lester is part of their group though the latter gets thrown in jail. Class and race divide the four characters yet they still found a way to grow together and help each other. Redford and Fonda shows great chemistry and rawness as a couple, finding romance just before the end. Unfortunately the town separates them from each other. I felt dread when the teenagers started throwing Molotovs and burning tires and throwing them at Bubber’s direction, the visuals effectively horrifying in the big screen. Kids should know not to follow their parents bad behaviour but they do. The youth’s participation in this brutality shows Hellman and Penn’s stark worldviews and makes the town hopeless. And yes, for those things it makes this movie more shocking than Penn’s next film, “Bonnie and Clyde.”

1966 and to a lesser extent 1965 were crap yet some films release in those years seemed to have opened the floodgates for 1967 and New Hollywood. To understand the films of 1967, we have to look at some of the films a director did a year before. “The Chase” gave way to “Bonnie and Clyde.” Mike Nichols gave us “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” before giving us “The Graduate,” which should have won Best Picture that year. Stanley Kramer’s troubled idealism in “Ship of Fools” helps him and us into “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Richard Brooks shows the guns in “The Professionals” and eventually in “In Cold Blood” (To be honest, Richard Brooks is the Cezanne of New Hollywood in a way that he was pedantic until he discovered the rebellion of the 60’s).

And for every week era in Hollywood, foreign films step in to do the job. Godard followed the cool “Masculin Feminin” with the dangerous “Le Weekend.” Melville follows “Le Deuxieme Souffle” with the slick “Le Samourai.” Films released in 1966 include “The Battle of Algiers,” “Blow-Up,” “Aflie” and many more that I haven’t gotten into. 1967 is an all out party while 1965-6 is a tight rope walk, but I kinda wanna see the latter instead.


Reasons to Like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure


ph. Warner.

Saw this at NFB as part of the LuminaTO festival. Most of these reasons are Tim Burton related.

It’s pre-“Big Fish” Tim Burton. Nothing wrong with that movie, but what’s wrong is what comes after that.

It’s light and colourful, the exact opposite of his moodier films.

Tim Burton actually uses real mise-en-scene instead of CGI, the latter devoid of humanity.

The art director and the director of photography worked hard, especially for Pee Wee’s house. I want that house now.

Because Rube Goldbergs are awesome.

Because Danny Elfman emulates Bernard Hermann (no relation?) in this movie, of all places.

Because as much as it makes fun of childhood’s absurdities, it’s very honest about its fears and losses.

I love children’s movies with dirty jokes. However, don’t bring your child to watch this movie.

Because bikes are environmentally friendly.

It shows Paul Reubens in drag at least twice. And he wears said dresses on top of a suit and never breaks a sweat.

I don’t know exactly what Paul Reubens does in this movie, but it’s acting.

It changed my opinion about white men doing excellent impressions of Mr. T.

And I’ve run out of good reasons. Some parts of the movie were surprisingly tedious. And why does he have all this cool stuff and not have a job?


Robin Wood: Rio Bravo


ph. Warner

Sorry for the hiatus, 32 regular readers. I’ve been busy with the World Cup/ shenanigans.

The film’s focus is on maintaining order. John T. Chance (John Wayne) is middle management, the Sheriff of Presidio County, Texas. He arrests a murder suspect and does his best to keep the latter in a jail cell for six days when the Marhsall comes and takes the prisoner into a larger penitentiary. To have a John Wayne character have so much trust on slow government bureaucracy is a rare thing to watch. You’d just expect him to shoot the guy. But then again, he tries to convince the town that he can run the town by himself, so tough guy’s still there.

As Hawksian film go, the supporting characters do not believe that Chance  can do it by himself. In an inspired human resources strategy, Chance reluctantly hires Dude (Dean Martin), a junior driven to alcoholism by a girl, Colorado Ryan, a young buck out to avenge his old master’s assassination and, unofficially,  a histrionic ex-stripper named Feathers (Angie Dickinson). One of the main plots concern Chance’s relationship with Dude, the former not deriding the latter but actually hopes that Dude goes back to his old form.  During the screening, I saw this team as the manifestation of old values, that it was easier to get a job or a second chance those days even for a drunk. Now I also realize that most of Chance’s associates asserted and fought for a place in his circle, definitely a capitalist move for those characters.

There’s a slight presence of music felt in “Rio Bravo” as in some classic Westerns. The characters in the sheriff’s office can hear the trumpets blaring the same tune played by the Mexicans who invaded the Alamo. Also and most importantly is Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson’s musical number. There are many readings of music sequences like this. To relieve tension before the final showdown. To show how civilized the sheriff/hero is. To show a growing culture in the early days of America. All of those apply to “Rio Bravo.”

This film might also be the gayest John Wayne will ever be in front of the camera. Howard Hawks is all about the bromance, after all, and John Wayne has that sense of humour about himself that nobody expects. Almost trying on red pantyhose while Feathers walks in. Kissing his crippled jail guard in the forehead. Dude being jealous, thinking Chance has replaced him with a younger gun. Making the most beautiful woman in the world wait for Chance while he’s ‘stuck at work.’ Gay. In a more serious note, Chance is a character with a homosocial bond with his fragile deputy, treating the latter like a son, which is exactly what both need and they won’t shy away from that.

There’s also Feathers as a character, who is superficially more of a whore than a mother, but she’s more complex than that. For contrast, a man in “Rio Bravo” are carte blanche. One man is wronged by a woman while another is somebody’s son, but there’s no real history of the man beyond that. They might as well be born in and by the desert. Feathers, on the other hand has traversed from city to city, from being a gambling accomplice to singing songs in her stockings. She came from somewhere, has a deeper past, the bearer and mother of old America’s past sins. Yet she came to Presidio to eventually settle down and fortunately found a man willing to overlook her past. She’s shocked and even mad at him for overlooking the fact that she’s ‘that kind of woman.’ He likes you for who you are, girl, just take him. And yes, the age difference is kinda unrealistically creepy, but they eventually find a compromise.

Rio Bravo is showing on AMC at July 1 and 2, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you again.