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.]
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?
- Quebec filmmaker is ready for his close up (thestar.com)
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.
“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?
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.
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.
- Movie review: ‘Animal Kingdom’ a wild thriller (sfgate.com)
- Dan Persons: Mighty Movie Podcast: David Michod on Animal Kingdom (huffingtonpost.com)
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.
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.
- ‘Lebanon’: Experiencing the horrors of war, from the inside of a tank (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Lebanon: Seeking truth from inside a steel prison (thestar.com)
Armchair Historian: A Knight’s Tale
(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.
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.
Meryl Streep’s Tough Love
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.
Style Guide: (Not) Rating Movies
I rated Fubar II a 3/5, and the TIFF volunteer was looking at me like a small town girl looking at a stranded over-caffeinated New Yorker. If 37 of you have noticed, I’ve never really rated my movies until this year’s festival. Instead I aim to focus on the performances, what elements the director/crew used while making the film, what I can make fun of. In other words, to me it’s more important to eloquently articulate what I just saw instead of putting it within a good-to-bad spectrum.
I also like to think that my perception of ratings are weird. Three our of five for me is a diplomatic mark, four is a diplomatic three, two is a diplomatic one, five is something that I give out on impulse. Reading a three star review is enough for me to see a movie. But then other people think that 3/5 is in the C range in letter grades, and receiving C’s in university have made me doubt my purpose in life. There have also been movies that I like but I can’t help but nitpick, and movies that I dislike but I’m looking at one or two things because I realize that these people, shortsighted as they might be, thought hard on specific aspects of their work. There are movies that I hate now that I used to like when I was in high school. There are also my best movies (Touch of Evil) and my favourite ones (Clueless), my emotional attachment to one or other will upset my rating system. And I guess all this means that I’m not too confident about my tastes, because most people who are too confident with their tastes are stubborn, unctuous dicks.
I’ve written about some movies lately where all I do is talk about screen-caps or scene studies.
I’ve blogged for seven months now, and it still feels like walking blindfolded. I wonder whoever is out there, if it gets easier or not, or if I should actually put a rating for the movies I talk about.
Somerset Hitting the Books
Before I show my answer, I wanna show my back-ups.
The most elegant/scary opening credits.
Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) reacts to stuff.
Four reasons why Mills is a terrible person are shown/implied in this shot.
I suppose this is the right space to write about my complaints about this movie, on how Mills, a guy who’s worked homicide for five years is still a moralizing optimist. Or that the murders wherever Mills is from can’t be as bad as the one’s he’s about to see in L.A. I also have problems with John Doe (Kevin Spacey) hating fat people but hating skinny people too. I don’t know about California law but around here if a the defence admits to his counsel of being guilty, the fight is over. I’m also sure that the whore he killed has used condoms while she’s on duty.
Thankfully, my latest viewing of this movie is one when the dominant force is Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), patient, pensive yet jaded. My answer after the cut.
Director David Fincher‘s always known for his low-light sfumato effect in his films. The same goes for Se7en, where even the ‘white’ shots are wedged in contrast with sharp black. There are, however, instances within Se7en when big dots of colour appear, like here, colour shown behind a car window, made translucent by the rain, looking like a Van Gogh.
The neon signs of the city can advertise anything, including, sadistically, this
But my best shots and two that I can expand upon are these.
Green study lamps, aesthetically pleasing. What a way to visualize enlightenment ignored in a dark, seedy, crass city. Bright objects always get to me.
The library guards are on good terms with Somerset, leaving the books all to himself. He chooses a table, sets the briefcase down, looking at all the books that the guards are ignoring. He eventually addresses this disconnect ‘All the knowledge in the world at your fingertips.’ The guards see his bet and tops it by playing Bach on the boom box, making this trip to the library a relaxing time.
It’s been established that Somerset wants to give up his badge. However, it’s stuff like pulling all-nighters that make others, like the guards in this library, think that he’s eternally linked to this job. He absorbs the information on a handful of books neither with young earnestness nor a yawn. No coffee breaks. The film also establishes this scene as if this might be his last trip to this library, and wants to sit down and take his time with the books.
A guard say ‘Hey Smiley, you’re gonna miss us.’ He responds ‘I just might.’ Interesting nickname.
Also notice the lamps in the second shot are pointing different direction, the mise-en-scene arranged in meticulous disarray.
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot Series.
- Blu-ray Review: Se7en (seattlepi.com)
- Check Out a Classic Scene From the New ‘Seven’ Blu-ray (cinematical.com)
Seminal Television: Beautiful Girls
Shot: Do not come out of there.
Counter shot: I know!
TIFF Hangover: Attenberg
Two themes support Attenberg, the first is its portrayal of awkward human interactions. We see protagonist Marina, a 23 year-old girl with an extremely low sex drive, learning how to French kiss from her sexually experienced Charlotte Gainsbourg lookalike of a best friend, Bella. She can talk to her architect father about taboo sexual issues in their native Greek, French and animal. She’s a chauffeur for a little company, driving around a visitor who she’s going sleep with. She describes every little thing she does to try to arouse him. I’m serious.
All of this happens in decay, in a small Greek city with ample infrastructure – hospitals and tennis courts. Yet there only seems to be a handful of people enjoying these things. The movie spends most of its time capturing Marina and Bella’s walks together, showing that boredom is quirky’s workshop. It’s only until their third or fourth walk together that the film shows people other than the main characters. They sing a Brigitte Bardot song ironically, the sidewalk near the tennis court isn’t ripe with the men or women of their sexual fantasies.
Attenberg doesn’t have a good start pacing-wise but it has a lot of good ideas. It keeps the audience laughing and thinking and has a different approach in human behaviour in an isolated and limited world. Labed perfectly captures the boredom, confusion and pain so subtly in a role that won a best actress award in Venice. And a good indie rock soundtrack always helps.
TIFF: Route Irish
Ken Loach‘s film Route Irish seems meditative for its 110 minute run. Every detail of Fergus’ own investigation of his best friend and coworker Frank’s so-called accidental death in Iraq is treated as a cold fact. There’s minimal non-diagetic music in the film, and Fergus’ eyes don’t light up when he sees a video or hears a statement that helps him piece the events together. He doesn’t ponder over any paper clippings posted on his minimal apartment walls. And scenes that accelerate his knowledge of the Frankie’s death is carefully paired with other scenes that show that he has a life outside of it. He goes to pubs, has interactions with Frankie’s widow, Rachel and takes his blind friend out to his ‘football’ games.
Fergus’ reactions in the days after Frank’s death is interesting as well. Generally, however, he’s more wrathful – one little thing can tap back into his raw emotions and he snaps at someone. The film tries to be an examination of someone getting personally affected with a friend’s death. There could be different reason and enemies for someone to have a fate like Frankie’s. Fergus tends to yell, an interesting knee-jerk reaction that I can’t get used to. He eventually stops listening to other people’s explanations of the events when someone misguides him to a different version of the truth. There’s a sensitive scene where he tortures his suspect and forces his to admit crimes, making one of the memorable frames within this mediocre film. 3/5.
- Today at TIFF: James Franco, James Caan and much more (theglobeandmail.com)
TIFF: Machete Maidens Unleashed!
The Marcoses have supported the arts including, shockingly, subversive B-films that put his dictatorship in question. One of the first voices we hear in Mark Hartley’s documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! is director John Landis, poking light fun at the taglines that got people in the drive-ins screening those B films. The film is the story of American B film-making in the Philippines. B directors, American and Filipino ones mostly under Roger Corman reminisce about the golden age of the B film, talking about large breasts as selling points for these films. Touchy, off-putting conversation, but hang in there.
The film also paints Corman as someone who goes through phases of genres lasting a year. It’s hard to find differences between genres because the cast looks the same, but there are war films to horror to jungle prison films where the Stanislavsky trained Pam Grier got her start.The female leads feel ambivalent towards their work, from Grier’s humourous take on it to others shocked at how DVD’s will put their past into permanence to one who points out how these films gave more decent work to black actresses in the 70’s.
I also wanna point out how little interference Hartley has with the tone, keeping it groovy even if the subject is exploitation or violent conditions in the Philippines. He doesn’t force a bleeding heart over the death of a stuntman. The ones interviewed have honest reactions of maturity about the films’ accident prone shooting conditions. I call it refreshingly educational. 4/5.
- Fantastic Fest 2010 Honors ROGER And JULIE CORMAN! (geektyrant.com)
Confessions starts like a ‘taut,’ elegiac film about the eventual loss of innocence, with images of milk cartons and Japanese school children being rambunctious while their teacher meekly prattles on. She announces her resignation for being an ineffective teacher, writes on the chalkboard a huge calligraphic symbol denoting ‘life.’ She eventually gets their attention on a sad, dreadful, unforgettable lesson.
Director Tetsuya Nakashima sometimes uses traffic reflector mirrors to show the kids walking and meeting, or slows down to watch a softball hitting someone’s head. Muted colours dominate the film, only giving breaks of warm red and yellows when characters flashback into happy moments. The music balances out the children’s chaos and eventually is in tune with the teacher’s dread-filled lesson.
Confessions can be also read as a genre film, a revenge horror, comparable to the Noh-inspired examples within the Japanese canon. By revealing that her child’s murderers are two of her students, her calm demeanour turns her into a ghostly figure. She’s a woman both victimized by men and out for revenge, her little victims eventually depicted as incorporating abject elements into their lives.
In revealing that genre spin we can talk about the performances, any of the leads can arguably be best in show, whether it’s the teacher’s slow burning vindication or the students’ evil facades and psychological pain. The transformation and genre-crossing of the film isn’t a smooth transition and the film’s long scenes makes it drag and tonally imperfect, but Confessions is both artistic and engaging. 5/5.
TIFF: The Christening
In The Christening, immature army boy Janek bunks with his best friend, burgeoning businessman Michal and the latter’s wife, Magda, coincidentally a week before their son’s baptism. His stay complicates the latter’s marriage and reveal each other’s differences as well as the men’s violent past and the people from it.
There are many close-ups of Janek’s face, who lacks conventional handsomeness with his bug-like blue eyes and a scar in his forehead, but looks able-bodied, sinister, childlike. Watching him smoke, or looking at the cross – many images that are read as Christian symbolism, by the way – feels iconic. There’s also the cold greens, blues and blinding whites used in the film. Magda’s hair gets flushed out into the stark Warsaw this movie depicts.
And in Magda lies the film’s flaw. Director Marcin Wrona regards her as an innocent angel, Michal’s relief from the underworld he comes from. She’s not completely one-dimensional, with her defiant reaction against Janek’s stay. Yet I feel as if she doesn’t have a life outside her marriage – Michal sometimes makes his demands known to her in terrible ways.
Despite of that flaw, The Christening is a thrilling drama that shows how the underworld can psychologically control those who find themselves belonging to it. The emotions and evolution of Janek and Michal make this a worthwhile discovery. The film has scenes of violence and sexual aggression. If Ben Affleck runs out of material, someone should show him this movie, although Affleck’s women are stronger. 4/5.
- The Christening (Chrzest) (variety.com)
Shot in digital and under natural light, Ingrid Veringer makes her directorial debut with MODRA. Protagonist Lina breaks up with her boyfriend Tyler. Her classmate Laco calls to invite her to a movie and she instead ends up inviting him to Modra, Slovakia, her family’s home town. It’s not the most original film in visual terms – a shot of the Toronto skyline indicating that the film begins in…Toronto, low angle shots looking up a tree indicating an idyllic summer afternoon. Yes, I’m nitpicking. What also distracts me are the portrait close-ups of Lina’s family members with sound from the scene they cut away from, taking away from the scenes’ continuity. I do like the way the film photographs Modra, a clump of red roofs in between a green field, in many scenes in the point of view of the summer couple.
The impressionistic performances of the characters redeems this film greatly, focusing on the two North American teenagers, nonchalant yet have envy-inducing independence. Lina’s a girl who wears unflattering empire waist dresses yet sings like Feist, Laco’s agile, awkward, not loquacious but a gentle soul. Like teenagers, the couple have unassuming exteriors and hidden anger and sadness that only comes out in economical taps. I also like how Lina is mature enough to deal with family secrets that involves her separation from her home country. Lina and Laco also accept that permanence can’t exist, and whatever happens, they see the trip as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. 3/5.
- AUDIO: Modra’s family ties (cbc.ca)
TIFF: Passion Play
Ex-famous trumpeter Nate Poole’s (Mickey Rourke) the kind of guy who keeps his money with a clip, has a toothpick hanging from his mouth, and deals with an urban underbelly. His tanned-leather stripper blonde friend explains a part of the synopsis. He is almost killed by one of Happy’s (Bill Murray) hitman (Chuck Liddell) for having sex with the latter’s wife, he gets rescued by ninjas, walks into a traveling circus and meets a Bird Woman named Lily (Megan Fox) who rescues him.
There’s something weird continuity-wise that happens in this film. At night, Nate goes into an interior space to have a quick talk with a villain, both defending their stake on Lily. Glass gets broken, Nate escapes, it’s daytime when he comes out.
This movie also probably took me off the Megan Fox team, or her agent. She’s decent in comedy, a genre where she never gets cast. She’s decent here too, playing someone who thinks not getting fat or growing a beard are flaws. She moves her mouth too much I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only person who noticed it. Rourke infamously said in an interview that she can do so much more acting-wise than he’s seen with his former co-stars. Let me just say she’s not the greatest crier he’s ever worked with. Like the movie, the more it progresses, the more she and it fall apart.
In conclusion, needs more of Happy’s over the top line deliveries. I give this a 1/5.
TIFF: L.A. Zombie
A friend warned me against Bruce La Bruce and therefore warned me against the latter’s new movie at TIFF, L.A. Zombie, that he has no desire to watch because it would end up being like ‘pretentious hack poverty porn.’ But of course, I’m not a good friend.
An alien zombie emerges (Francois Sagat) in the form that whoever Supreme being created him, from the Pacific Ocean and walks his way to the beaches of L.A. There’s three versions of this monster. There’s the alien zombie version of him who penetrates dead men with the former’s whatever it is in the latter’s man-made orifices – I hope I’m understood. The homeless version of him, cured after intercourse with the dead men – he regresses into the first version although he eventually controls his transformation between these two stages. The third version looks like the first, but the latter watches the former have sex with dead sadomasochistic muscle heads (including Francesco D’Macho, Erik Rhodes, Matthew Rush) and this third version has bigger fangs. Portions of the film accompanied by Chopin’s violin concertos.
The two coexisting versions of the alien zombie are, according to him, open to interpretation. Every text is open to interpretation. There are many intentionally disappointing things about the film. That he can’t fully commitment to any message is my biggest disappointment. The film has its fashion connections, from Bernard Wilhelm’s deconstruction designs to a cameo by Santino Rice as a homeless drunk. I gave this movie a 1/5, and I felt good doing it.
- Australians won’t see zombies having sex (theglobeandmail.com)
TIFF: Meek’s Cutoff
Set in 1845 and based on a real man who helped people cross the Oregon trail, the images of Kelly Reichardt‘s new effort Meek’s Cutoff leaves its audiences breathless. Meek (Bruce Greenwood) and three families cross a river, where the blues and yellows of this riverside scene contrast so beautifully, the first of many visual contrasts within the film like as the bright costumes and the night and day scenes. Each actress, actor and prop is meticulously placed within the film’s full screen format. The 1.35:1 aspect ratio, an interesting choice for Reichardt, emphasize the vertical lines and shapes lost in most wide-screen films today, the latter only emphasizing the landscape and horizontal divisions within the picture plane.
We also have, in this first sequence, Thomas (Paul Dano) carving the word ‘lost’ on a rock, outlining the uncertainties of the frontier, the families becoming withered, pessimistic and doubtful of their guide. Then Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) finds an ‘Indian’ – she’s at first tries to shoot him but eventually becomes his ally and advocate in the group, thinking that the elegiac figure can help the group better than Meek can.
The movie sometimes doesn’t engage its audience, with its commitment to show the arid silences between wagon treks. However, the images and the subtle performances from a cast that includes Zoe Kazan, Will Patton and a firm Christian played by Shirley Henderson make watching this a memorable experience. 5/5, but I was balancing out the 2’s and 3’s I was seeing.
TIFF: Peep World
The narrator (Lewis Black) talks about a large family sitting on a table to celebrate their paterfamilias’ (Ron Rifkin) seventieth birthday, describing every one of the father’s children as a series of mistakes. The civility and silence break when the unemployed singer/actress/dancer Cheri (Sarah Silverman) bellows at her younger, successful brother Nathan for writing a novel, also named Peep World, too accurate for her taste. This is best scene of the film, although the scene isn’t finished.
The body of the film is a flashback eighteen hours before this dinner, unsurprisingly revealing this fictional book’s secrets and more. Jack (Michael C. Hall) has a wife (Judy Greer) who faintly swears at him during her sleep, Joel’s (Rainn Wilson)’s big SUV breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Peep World the film is filming in front of Cheri’s home and Nathan is very condescending to his PR agent (Kate Mara). Every sibling has a sexual Achilles’ heel, all used for effective comic relief.
This film also has sincere moments, like the falling out when Jack’s wife finds out he frequents an adult theatre, a scene both well-shot and well blocked. The film eventually heads to the restaurant where cruelty, revelations of decades of hurt feelings and comic reliefs are the main dishes. The cast elevates this funny film, also including Taraji P. Henson who delivers the film’s best line and Geoffrey Arend, the luckiest man on earth. This is lowbrow entertainment at its classiest and best. Rating – 3/5.
Before Iraq and the other countries before it, the Philippines was one of the first countries under the hand of the American colonial project, and John Sayles‘s new film Amigo tells a part of that story within the fictional, small Tagalog village of San Isidro.
As expected in good films, moral lessons aren’t traceable within the film, and it’s especially hard to find stable morality within wartime. The handful of American soldiers march into San Isidro with little incident. Col. Hardacre (Chris Cooper) follows in and tells his lieutenant (Garret Dillahunt) to work on ‘winning the natives’ hearts,’ eventually introducing them to puppet democracy that reelects the village’s jailed capitan, Rafael ‘Amigo’ Dacanay (Joel Torre). Asked about living with his brother-in-law Nenong, Rafael answers that ‘people have to tolerate living together with one eye always open.’ We can say the same about both Filipinos and American within the village’s new population, helping each other for the village’s infrastructure. We see a lot of little scenes among the villagers, indicating that most people in occupation pretend to set up order as a way of putting off battles between both sides.
There were a few ‘parallel’ scenes, the quasi-tribal music accompanying shots of guerillas is a bit insulting. With those flaws, we also get beautiful natural cinematography of the rain scenes and a villager’s great metaphor about the new telegram wires. Guest starring DJ Qualls, Dane DeHaan and Filipino screen veterans Rio Locsin and Bembol Roco, all parts of an impeccable cast. 4/5.
- John Sayles’ Next Film: ‘Amigo’ & Its Off-the-Radar Website (cinematical.com)
TIFF: The Debt
A remake of an obscure Israeli film, John Madden‘s new film, The Debt, starts in 1965 with Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), David (Sam Worthington) and Stefan (Marton Csokas) being congratulated for killing a Dr. Vogel, the Surgeon of Birkenau, a composite of three real Nazi leaders. These perfect-looking Mossad agents carry their celebrity spy status thirty years later. Rachel’s daughter writes a book about them, unfortunately only Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) survive, and elder Rachel comfortably makes the people think the story ends there.
What proceeds and dominates the film are both a flashback and a solid balancing act. Rachel’s the new girl in the field, David welcomes her as his wife, the three learn martial arts and live and eat with each other, cabin fever included. Chastain is the heart of her section of the film. Worthington portrays a multi-faceted David, loving fake husband, butt kicker, wounded soul. Csokas is a believable group leader without trying to mug for the camera. We also see great glimpses of Vogel (Jasper Christensen), who conveys empathy despite being an irredeemable monster.
We forward to the older, bitter versions of Rachel and Stefan, and both learn that they must correct their big mistakes in the mission in different ways. The willing suspension of disbelief is slightly lifted since the elder and younger versions of the characters are never perfectly in sync. Comparisons with Boys of Brazil will be inevitable. I gave it a 4/5, but yes, I was being too nice.
TIFF: Rabbit Hole
In John Cameron Mitchell‘s adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire Pulitzer winning Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman plays perfect modern wife Becca Corbett, and the film can serve as a primer for what Kidman can do. In describing Becca, the people in her life – her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart – not a good yeller) her mother Nat (Dianne Wiest), her sister Izzie, Jason, the people in her God-fearing support group – would give different answers. The audience can watch Becca pretend to be normal as she does her chores. You can also watch her giddily hopping down the streets of Manhattan in high heels as she goes back to her old turf at Sotheby’s. And almost get turned on by Al Green. And make drug jokes. And cry while watching teenager Jason be driven off to prom.
Abaire re-imagines the characters in his play. Becca, Howie and Nat are intact, he waters down Izzie’s confrontational trashiness while Auggie and Howie’s SPOILER alleged mistress (Sandra Oh) END SPOILER appears in the film. Like Becca and the principal characters in her life, the film never reuses the same emotion or depicts every scene in the same way. Sometimes the cloud hanging above Becca and Howie, perceived by others, lifts and humour finds its way into their natural conversations. Rabbit Hole, shot colourfully without being too artificial, is not one of those movies that try to change your life. However, it can change the way one thinks of emotion and the permanence of one’s loss. 4.5/5.
- TIFF: A Glimpse of Rabbit Hole Enthusiasm To Come? (filmexperience.blogspot.com)
TIFF: Black Swan
Black Swan fits director Darren Aronofksy’s other work, with an obsession with the body and performance, close-ups of Nina’s (Natalie Portman) feet and ballet flats being warmed up. There’s CGI, grainy digital photography, and uncompromising close-ups of her face. Like other Aronofsky’s protagonists, she embraces quick success without anticipating her antagonists, like rival Lily (Mila Kunis), choreographer Thomas (Vincent Cassel) Nina’s mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), and all the voices in her head.
The actresses also do great work here. Portman interestingly interprets her character as a virginal girl without confidence, panting at every step, obeying Aronofsky’s pendulum swing vision of her character. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen Portman attack cruelty in its basic form, scratching and clawing away at herself, as if a demon is possessing her. Kunis is smooth and elastic as she dances and seduces everyone, deserving the Marcello Mastroianni award she got this past week.
The inconsistent characters, are my big complaint. I don’t mean the other dancers’ double pronged admiration and bitchitude, from what I heard normally directed to women from women. I’m talking about malleable Nina, mentally unready to become Swan Queen, despite having a ‘flash’ of it in her. Or how the ‘prick’ Thomas still has his job. We are perceiving them through Nina’s warped state of mind, but I’m not sure if that’s justifiable enough. The film’s ending feels invigorating, but still, 3/5.
p.s. Just realized that the douche-y blonde guy from Hot Tub Time Machine is one of Nina’s dancing partners.
- Black Swans’ difficult takeoff (theglobeandmail.com)