…and the quest to see everything

Archive for September, 2010

Les Amours Imaginaires


Xavier Dolan‘s Les Amours Imaginaires, or Heartbeats is about Francis (Dolan) and Maria Callas lookalike Marie. While writing the previous sentence, I just realized why Dolan named his character ‘Francis.’ Marie, however, is the kind of girl who asks ‘Do you think of movie stars when you make love.’ [ETA: Nobody thinks about movie stars during 90 seconds of lovemaking, stop asking. If you find someone who does think of movie stars while making love, shank them. Sex is like a conversation, you think about yourself and the person in front of you. Nobody’s ADD is that bad. Just because movie stars arouse you and sex arouses you doesn’t mean. Worst syllogism ever. And you know what, Angelina Jolie thinks about movie stars while lovemaking because she’s in a civil union with one. I call a fatwa on this question.] Anyway, these socially awkward young adults find a hot Adonis-like guy in their social circle. The latter’s name is Nicolas, seducer yet seemingly wholesome. By including him in Francis and Marie’s friendship, he should be the third wheel, but he manages to make them feel like said third wheel. Francis changes his description of his ideal to fit Nicolas, and tells this in front of another lover. That this is Francis’s first ‘is he gay’ guy makes me wonder how he never went through this in high school. Or buys Nicolas a plain-looking $500 ‘tangerine’ sweater for a birthday present after knowing him for two months, which oh brother. [ETA: I’ll punch my child in the mouth if he ever makes an expensive mistake like this, which tells a lot about how I was raised.]

ph. OutNow

Nicolas talks about holding a 91 hours a week seismograph job that he looks too twinky to handle, kisses both Francis and Marie in the cheek, kisses a girl’s hand the first time he meets her. Everyone’s nerdy best friend will tell you that this guy’s bad news, but no such character exists in the film. The nerdy best friend within us keeps thinking of the other times when we got rejected and hoping we weren’t this shattered at 20 or 21. Marie does notice something fishy about him in his drunken birthday party but does nothing about it.

An hour or so after watching the film I realize that Nicolas as a character is deliberately posited with a mysterious, impressionistic sheen in trying to make him more complex and less villainous. He’s the ‘other’ compared to the needy kids that dominate the film. He charms and runs. This cycle might say more about his character than anything Francis thankfully didn’t narrate about him. Making him mysterious, however, doesn’t make him any more sympathetic.

There are also interviews of three Montreal hipsters. Girl 1 will live a life of rejection because her patrician nose and glasses come with a perma-scowl. Boy talks about Kinsey. Girl 2 thinks it’s cute that her beau is 39 minutes late for everything. We come back to these people two more times into the film.

So that’s a total of four bitter girls and boy out of six characters keeping a torch for an undeserved love. The film shows both broken hearts and trying to hide the broken hearts underneath a ‘cool’ exterior – the latter done way awkwardly, by the way. There is interestingly more focus on the former, the interior these characters, than the latter. It’s also mean to negate characters’ hurt feelings. But that Dolan’s worldview suggest that 67% of us are sensitive puppy dogs inside, or that if this state of mind is more accurate than we’d like to admit, or that these people aren’t shown doing other things to distract themselves and have little or no intention to move on. They look like they have had lives before this guy has come along. And where are their parents?


Restrepo


ph. National Geographic Entertainment

Restrepo chronicles 15 months in the lives of soldiers deployed in outposts of the breathtaking, unassuming and dangerous Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Journalist/ co-directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington capture it in a cellphone camera, shaky cam, non-shaky cam and post-interviews when we get too close into the soldier’s faces. In one of the documentary’s first scenes as the troops drive up to their outposts, the Taliban starts shooting at them. The directors didn’t have time to get sound equipment. It feels like the camera has luck instead of access to capture what they can, making the experience too raw and real. Yes, the first few scenes are jarring, but things eventually smooth out when the multicultural, heterosexual platoon create an outpost they call OP Restrepo.

In another earlier scene, Cortez uses updated Joseph Conrad language but we can’t spite him because he follows that with realizing the possibility of his death within the same sentence. He also talks about the effects he’s experienced of a certain mission in his tour of duty in the Korangal. The directors juxtapose the not-so-bad with the bad, duplicating the emotional whirlwind that the soldiers face daily. Pemble-Belkin has hippie parents, goes to war, draws the scenic valley that might kill him. His mother’s birthday follows a charismatic comrade’s death. A shot of another officer sun tanning gets me nervous because we saw his legs first. They’re told they’re coming home and later told that nine men from another platoon have died.

There are so many little details packed into this film, aided by the soldiers’ different personalities. These guys are knowledgeable in geography and strategy and try their hardest in public relations. That they’re silly enough to get into wrestling matches or make faint-praise gay jokes to each other, or drag each other into dancing to shitty 80’s remix music. That they’re allowed to bring their PS2 consoles. That they’re shirtless a lot, even in winter, which still makes me kinda jealous. That asking for unconditional love and cooperation after accidentally killing a few locals is a splendid way of apologizing,  Kearney.

That reminds of the few ‘shuras’ or meetings with the elderly men with dyed red beards featured in the film show that the locals in the film might be nameless but aren’t entirely voiceless. Also, strangely, the few shots of local women and children whose costumes are still colourful despite the war, one girl shying away from the camera. Or birds circling the snowy peaks of the valley makes me think I’ve watched a muscular version of Black Narcissus.

Let me use this part of this post to kinda gripe about the conventions of war films, a genre I didn’t know I loved. Thankfully, this film doesn’t show nor push for war archetypes. Yes, the soldiers sometimes remind me that they’re still the frat boy meat heads of yore by shooting ammo and letting out a hoot. Or when they’re slightly amused by the Taliban running and their body parts dangling, but no more. There are no local bleeding hearts, just ones with grievances. There are blood-soaked uniforms instead of gratuitous death scenes, especially that of the youngest, innocentest one we see in war films. Coldly recounted events instead of soliloquies. Kearney makes passive-aggressive yet carefully constructed language about killing ‘individuals’ – delivered in a straightforward way – instead of being the groan-worthy token racist guy. And no close-ups of dead animals.

Lastly, there’s the other war archetype – Restrepo himself. The film and outpost get their names from PFC Juan C. Restrepo, the said charismatic soldier. The film’s references to him feel like laces, like a soldier gleefully remembering the drunken moments with him in Rome – and yes, I’m jealous because they’ve been to Rome. Or another impersonating his long fingernails and fantabulous flamenco guitar skills, giving us the impression that he may have talked funny. He seemed like a Cool Hand Luke figure, getting that nostalgic treatment because of his death. Nonetheless, this film isn’t about him, a story of a martyr but about the living and their everyday struggles and little acts of bravery.


Seminal Television: In Which I…


…predict what Don is actually gonna say for the first time.

ph. AMCTV

“Betty?”

“Yes?” Say thank you.

“Thank you.” Thank you. Maybe say that to Peggy next time you rip off one of her ideas, you douche.

Also, Sally looking like a little Drew Barrymore here. The best conversations happen with Don, on the phone, while the worst encounters happen in person, with people who have stunted family relationships. Not saying that Don and Betty don’t have that. Betty and Sally are lucky because can you imagine Henry allowing Sally to go to a rock concert?

McCarthyism has survived ten years after its peak. If I was Don, I would have ridden it out till they actually caught me, but he couldn’t take that risk just because G-Men wanted to know if he was a communist.

It’s funny seeing Don and Betty being a sort of ‘team’ again, looking out for each other 18 months after their divorce. I don’t necessarily think that they love each other with the same intensity as they used to. They have a secret code between two people – you don’t tell anyone what you’re told not to. Later on, she ironically asks Henry to not have secrets between them, hoping she won’t make the same mistake twice.

It’s surprising how that code worked on Betty and Pete, especially Pete since $4 million was at stake. I wish Don and Pete waited until the board meeting before they cut off ties with American Aviation to save Don’s neck. Burt also knows who he is. How will SCDP and Don survive after all of this?


Animal Kingdom


J or Josh Cody’s (introducing James Frecheville) mother OD’s beside him. He calls maternal grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), her little, meek voice telling him to move in with her and her sons, family man Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), ‘don’t call me uncle’ Darren Cody (Luke Ford) – only two years older than J, and fast-moving shirtless Craig. These men are bank robbers. No biggie.

I assumed toughness from these men, and they do exude that on scene and through grainy footage screenshots of them sporting balaclavas and guns. What destroys their bravado is the decline of the bank robbers, as it goes in many films of the same genre. J also confides that they have fear and feel a familial dread, and looking at the brothers supports that assessment. Barry for example looks like he’s holding in a sigh before talking to the detectives staking out near his front door. Or Craig struggling while play fighting on the couch. Or Darren unable to interfere while someone murders a girl in front of him. There is a little part of me that doubts that fear because the narration technically filters our understand of the characters. However, at least it directs into looking at these men’s eyes at quiet moments within the film.

ph. CinemaBlend

Then the big brother Andrew ‘Pope,’ (Ben Mendelsohn) pops out of hiding. Pervy and destructive even towards his family, he sets off the crucial events within the film. Pope’s to blame for making things worse – I see it, J sees it, but it’s never fully established whether the other characters do too.

In his misdeeds, the audience watches out for two characters. There’s Janine who seems complicit and J, whose estrangement from the family makes him wired differently from them. He can either be part of the fold or snitch to a detective (unrecognizable Guy Pearce). Their performances are underacted, naturalistic. Weaver as Janine surprises by ordering a hit,  slyly dangling the reasons why that hit is beneficial to her henchmen while still keeping her motherly cool. Frecheville as J starts out as a silent wallflower but shines in a scene by himself and in another when he maturely wards off Janine’s empty promises of comfort.

However, what I like best about Animal Kingdom is how it treats these subjects and characters with deft and sympathy, while others could have seen them – watching game shows, smoking indoors, going at each other – as crass human beings.


TIFF 2009 Cheat: Lebanon


(All entries with the heading of ‘TIFF Cheat’ indicate selections from said festival that I couldn’t watch during the festival’s run.)

Lebanon can be separated into two parts. The body of the film is  when we see the film through the eyes of young gunner Shmulik, the new addition to the now team of four young Israeli troops in a tank nicknamed Rhino. The other team members are Asi the irrational commander, Hersel the trash talking loader and Yigal the driver, an only child with elderly parents.

ph. SPC

In Shmulik’s job, he has two options – to kill and cry about it later or not to kill. He does both and fails, either action leading to the deaths of those they’re attacking either from his hands for someone else wearing his uniform. The other men in his team accuse him of shooting or not shooting at the wrong times, and they’re arguably right.

He says he’s tense. He quivers at the sight of destruction left from the day before, and in his defense, he has to look at the destruction caused the day before and he sometimes gets the feeling that the people and animals he’s looking at, alive or dead, look back at him and know his presence inside the tank. The Air Force has attacked a Lebanese town the day before, and the tank’s job is to ‘clean up’ the town. Gamil tells the crew that the clean-up is swift and easy, a promise that, the audience knows, is not kept. Shmulik’s periscopes close-up to disturbed copies of Christian oil paintings that used to hang in people’s homes, followed of course by a woman who lost her daughter, stripped because of a fire in her dress.

In the final act of the film, Shmulik doesn’t share the point of view of the movie, the camera instead is shaking because of a Syrian attack. There’s less light than the earlier parts of the film. The camera closes up on the four young men and their different reactions and futures.

In general, the film hints at the different fates of these men too easily. But with that we also get the most TMI story of a father’s death, a strange act of kindness, and survival with a subtle deus ex-machina. A solid multi-character study all around.


Armchair Historian: A Knight’s Tale


(Another “I remember in Art History” post. Sorry?)

ph. Columbia

Watching parts of A Knight’s Tale reminded me of this essay I wrote  about Medieval costume and jewellery. My professor wanted to use that essay as an example to future students, and I’ve coasted ever since. It’s been three years, and after that have been coffee table books about the history of fashion as well as late nights watching Trashopolis. So take half of what I say with a grain of salt, including the part that the a certain percentage of production of clothing in that time had a trickle down system and that some of the clothes worn by the serfs are hand-me-downs from the royals, accounting for how ratty some of the clothes looked. I can’t even imagine living back then with that garbled factoid in my head.

The language of clothing is pretty interesting here with William Thatcher/Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger) and Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) wearing thin, loose, flexible fabrics, exuding the lightheartedness and youth of the film. We’re reminded of that young innovation when Kate the blacksmith gives Will a thinner but stronger armor. Or when William plays with a red rose in a short sleeved tunic.

I remember other Medieval flicks having thicker fabrics with bolder colours. A servant boy had a greener tunic than Ulrich, but the latter’s tunic had better detailing. But the darker, thicker and more layered the clothes, the more serious the character’s business is. For example, bellowing Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) always wears a jacket and Adhemar’s (Rufus Sewell) is darker and more broody.

Of course, Jocelyn’s costumes are more anachronistic than the rest. She dyes her hair punk red and the tunics hang more like South Asian costume. There’s even one part of the movie where she wears a Regency looking hat and a Turandot-esque headdress.

Films like this try to ease its audience in its anachronisms and it works in this case. I like the clothes and the music, I’m just observing. I also like the colour-blind casting of Sossamon, and despite her emotional limits, who else can play a slender punky noblewoman other than her? If anything, the most fatal flaw would be how needy Jocelyn got in her relationship with Ulrich.

Costume designer Caroline Harris is also responsible for the costumes in Othello ’95, making it into my list of movies I will see one of these days.

Also, this is my primary resource for my medieval costume essay.

(Another “I remember in Art History” post. Sorry?)

Watching parts of A Knight’s Tale reminded me of this essay I wrote  about Medieval costume and jewellery. My professor wanted to use that essay as an example to future students, and I’ve coasted ever since. It’s been three years, and after that have been coffee table books about the history of fashion as well as late nights watching Trashopolis. So take half of what I say with a grain of salt, including the part that the a certain percentage of production of clothing in that time had a trickle down system and that some of the clothes worn by the serfs are hand-me-downs from the royals, accounting for how ratty some of the clothes looked. I can’t even imagine living back then with that garbled factoid in my head.

The language of clothing is pretty interesting here with William Thatcher/Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger) and Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) wearing thin, loose, flexible fabrics, exuding the lightheartedness and youth of the film. We’re reminded of that young innovation when Kate the blacksmith gives Will a thinner but stronger armor. Or when William plays with a red rose in a short sleeved tunic.

I remember other Medieval flicks having thicker fabrics with bolder colours. A servant boy had a greener tunic than Ulrich, but the latter’s tunic had better detailing. But the darker, thicker and more layered the clothes, the more serious the character’s business is. For example, bellowing Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) always wears a jacket and Adhemar’s (Rufus Sewell) is darker and more broody.

Of course, Jocelyn’s costumes are more anachronistic than the rest. She dyes her hair punk red and the tunics hang more like South Asian costume. There’s even one part of the movie where she wears a Regency looking hat and a Turandot-esque headdress.

I’m pretty sure men’s short sleeves or trousers weren’t as prevalent, if nonexistent.

Films like this try to ease its audience in its anachronisms and it works in this case. I like the clothes and the music, I’m just observing. I also like the colour-blind casting of Sossamon, and despite her emotional limits, who else can play a slender punky noblewoman other than her? If anything, the most fatal flaw would be how needy Jocelyn got in her relationship with Ulrich.

Costume designer Caroline Harris, is also responsible for the costumes in Othello ’95 and Croupier, both movies making my list of those I will see one of these days.


Meryl Streep’s Tough Love


ph. Miramax

It’s Roberta Guaspari’s (Meryl Streep) second day at her new job at an East Harlem alternative elementary school teaching violin. Her class is half as large as it has been the first day. They’re still rambunctious with the exception of Naim, who actually pays attention to her. She notices her competition, DeSean, talking about basketball, when she asks him a question on that day’s lesson, about the parts of the violin’s bow. He feigns indifference in not knowing then she replies ‘Yes you were [here], buy you weren’t paying attention. Do you want people to think you’re stupid.’ She turns to her star student, saying ‘Tell him, Naim.’

As the expression goes, her words with the kids are like a confident tightrope walk, and as expected she doesn’t come off as any hurtful. Neither does she look like the naif who miraculously comes up with a quick rebuttal to hurl on the person she’s talking to. Well, she does raise a few alarms from a parent, but that gets ironed out by the urban ‘stop snitching’ code.

The movie also typically shows the difficulties in running and staying in a class related to the arts. The children have to be whipped out of their ADD, which all but one of them apparently have. They have to regard the class as if no other exists. And Roberta deals with her own marital issues and its effects on her own children, having to let them ride a plane on their own on Christmas.

Also cast and crew notes: Directed by horror director Wes Craven, trying something new. Aidan Quinn plays Roberta’s boyfriend. Gloria Estefan plays a teacher/parent who also sang the film’s theme song. The grown-up version of Roberta’s kids are Abe from Mad Men and Kieran Culkin. Don’t pretend you don’t know who that is.