…and the quest to see everything

Archive for November, 2010

Charlie’s Angels

ph. Columbia Tristar DVD

Cameron Diaz is born in 1972. Her father is Cuban and her mother is part Cherokee. Her Cherokee heritage is the reason we’re showing her movies here at APTN.’ So says the voice-over. Here she’s paired with Pete (Owen Wilson), because the film would rather pay for martial arts training than pay for the more expensive Wilson brother.

This should be bad movie territory, and of course it’s not perfect. It’s also an excuse to advertise Nokia, and break said Nokia. The film also has a lot of different espionage scenarios that it might as well be written by the manatees who write Family Guy, which isn’t that bad of a thing here. I saw it for the first time was when I was twelve. The film also makes room for comedy that I can still laugh at today. I don’t know where comedy is placed in McG‘s priorities, so I’ll give the cast credit for that. Fact! Lucy Liu was the fifth choice to play Alex. Other actresses slotted to play Alex were Julia Roberts and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who have their own humour. Other actresses Angelina Jolie and Thandie Newton can wear skimpy leather office wear. But I can only see Liu balance sexy, campy and funny, both dominating and empowering the Red Star engineers. Of course, the film needs someone who can bring funny as much as Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Bill Murray, who have a steady hand in comedy work.

And who can turn down Bill Murray who in the film look like he’s almost improvising? ‘May I have some ice water please?’ He then does some pretend crying, talks to a bird, plays catch with a wall, put antenna in his head, makes fun of Cher. Hilarious.

‘Bitch’ is used in the film at a time when, I imagine, it would sting as bad as the c-word did last year. The word is mostly directed to the angels. The frumpy woman at Red Star says it to Alex, Natalie (Diaz) says it to Eric Knox’s associate Vivian Wood. But when a guy says it to Natalie, he gets punished for it. To our delight.

Fact! Although this is the movie that helped Barrymore into a marriage with Tom Green, this movie put her in the arms of another man. Sam Rockwell and her play doomed couple Eric Knox and Dylan. This won’t be the last time Rockwell’s character would hide something from Barrymore’s. They’ll also be paired up two years later in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Their careers have gone on different paths, but someone pair these two people again, in a more serious movie this time.

The sequence is also one of director McG’s Wachowski Brothers references in the action part of the film, Knox shooting Dylan bullet time style and all. Dylan would later do air kicks, destroying four guys at the same time. Dylan is the shorter and more voluptuous of the girls, the others look like ballerinas while they’re fighting. But she throws more punches that the audience can feel.

The Chad (Tom Green) is great. Where is the Chad? I still think he’s funny and it’s weird to see this film showing him as a relic of the past. Well, as long as he isn’t doing damage to movies today. He’s Canadian? Dammit I was looking forward to hating him!

The film also has a well-rounded soundtrack that covered my bipolar music tastes spanning a decade, from Prodigy to Heart. And of course, to the disco music that is the only clear reference to the TV show in which the movie is based. The final act doesn’t show what Charlie looks like but where Charlie lives. I imagined him to be more of an office guy than some old coot with a Hawaiian shirt on a beach house. Strange. Anyway, Hope you had fun as much as I did.

Seminal Television: Chief of Hearts

Homer Simpson and Chief Clancy Wiggum (Hank Azaria) aren’t talking about Faye Dunaway.

Tamara Drewe

Loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,” ‘Tamara Drewe’ isn’t that visually interesting. The blue-tinted flashbacks compared to present day warm hues, the non-split screen between characters. Those two things don’t seem groundbreaking at all. The film’s first thirty-five minutes merely introduces the characters. The titular character (Gemma Arterton), a swan of a journalist back in town with a new nose job. She also owns a house that is originally owned by the working class Andy (Luke Evans). Two teenagers, Jody (Jessica Barden) and the other one, read gossip magazines. A mix of novelists, Glen (Bill Camp) and Nicholas (Roger Allam) stay at a country house and rock stars like Ben (Dominic Cooper) and muscular help. Like the source material, Tamara scandalously has relationships between two men who are wrong for her while the right, gruff one, in the case Andy, is waiting to become the third.

ph. OutNow

Before we get to that inevitable end, there are a lot of subplots and minor characters colouring the film. Jody spies on Tamara and disapproves of the latter’s relationship with Ben, hilariously saying ‘She can’t love him. I’ve loved him since March.’ That’s when the film really begins. The film’s style of comedy isn’t selling Britishness and is more universal. We have campy adolescent humour. We have Nicholas, an otherwise successful crime novelist and his physical output on the frustration of his old life and a new life he can’t have. Glen also has a few quips delivered so subtly that it took me fourteen hours to realize that they were poop jokes.

I do feel ambivalent about the film’s understanding of love –  I hinted about this already in the first paragraph. On one perspective, love is a step higher than friendship. One’s words of approval sparks the other’s love even if this other person isn’t filmed to have that eureka ‘I love her’ moment. Tamara trusts Andy on what to do with ‘her’ house. Nicholas’ wife Beth (Tamsin Grieg) tells the dejected Glen that if he writes the way he talks about Thomas Hardy, it makes the man more interesting. Another thing about those encounters is that the women ave the upper hand without purposely asserting it, and their words are given more attention to than the men’s reactions. On the other hand, the film lets the characters end up with their true loves and wants the audience to believe this should work because they have been badly matched with others.

Nonetheless, the films’ funny and engaging, moreso than the ‘epic’ Julie Christie film in the 60’s. Although Alan Bates‘ character seems more like a realistic cute-enough working class man than Andy, who looks like less embarrassing version of Fabio. I take the lot of good with the bad.


ph. Fox Searchlight DVD

Juno, its eponymous hero and the actress who plays her, Ellen Page, probably have slightly maligned reputations by now. The movie and character would be seen as aloof and jokey despite of her pregnancy, and the actress almost got typecast as the leading star of the indie pack. My ‘job’ is to tell you the readers that there’s much more to the film. I caught this movie four minutes in, and Juno’s in real distress, convincingly telling her best friend (Olivia Thirlby) on the other side of the hamburger phone that she’s a ‘suicide case,’ revealing her situation. But yes, she does deliver on the humour, so relax. It’s eight minutes in and she’s already covered pop culture references and ironic ebonics, and sells her lines efficiently. She understand exactly what she’s experiencing, by this part of the movie anyway. And there’s her and the movie’s conundrum during unexpected pregnancies – the slightly depoliticized choices of keep, adopt and abort. When she chooses to give up her child for adoption, she has to deal with the new characters as well as ones already in her life.

And no, the characters in Juno don’t all talk alike, with their different rages of old, conservative – both gentrified and not – Americana and new, snarky Americana. Even bit parts have their own ticks, just like every human being in a fictional universe like this one we live in. A lone pro-life protester who shouts that all babies want to get ‘bornd,’ or a goth, sexually active receptionist.

Speaking of quirky, there’s a bit of focus on the characters’ material possessions and moments of privacy. I already mentioned the hamburger phone. There’s the discarded living room set, the picture of prince Charles in Juno’s cheerleader best friend Leah’s room, love interest Paulie Bleeker’s (Michael Cera) maroon and yellow outfit combination while he’s putting deodorant between his thighs. While we’re at Paulie’s shorts, by the way, let me just say that yes, cinematographer Eric Steelberg isn’t Wally Pfister nor Roger Deakins, but correct me if I’m wrong, he did bring the most eye-popping movie in an otherwise sepia tone year. Brenda’s (Allison Janney) obsession with dogs, adopting prospective Mark Loring’s guitar. Again, my fascination with these objects root from my boring decor. Mark’s wife Vanessa’s (Jennifer Garner) contradiction of bourgeois chrysanthemums and Alice in Chains tee are given the same light of individuality as the possessions of the working class characters on the other exit on the highway.

Yes, Bleeker’s a nerdy jock anti-stereotype and Leah encourages her best friend’s new sexuality yet still cool enough to join a rock band. However, the movie has clichés. Product placements. Juno’s short body trying to walk opposite everyone else’s direction. Juno’s stepmom Brenda warning of something that’s gonna happen and being right. Speaking of which, I would like to congratulate the internet for not ruining the movie.

Despite her wit, thank God she isn’t always the smartest person in the film, where the adults also show her things that are as she says ‘beyond her maturity level.’ She has her flaws. She crosses the line with the people in her life, using the word ‘gay’ – Leah does too. Page is nonetheless amazing in this, giving more than expected for the role. There’s something even in the way Juno runs up the stairs to the bathroom that shows how inventive and physical she is in a role that’s more script-based. If there is a flaw to her performance, it’s her voice that usually isn’t this nasal. She also ends most of her snarky lines with a lower tone, reminding me of how a younger Jorja Fox would speak.

And who says the women’s picture is dead? Diablo Cody sprinkles her script with well-written female characters. As Leah, Thirlby supports her and moves furniture for her. She also does the best readings of the word ‘pants’ and ‘I know, right’ in the history of cinema. Vanessa’s slightly frosty demeanour ventures for need to have a child with sane amounts of caution. Janney plays Brenda as a sap with a Kristen Wiig outfit yet knows how to eviscerate anyone like she does in “The West Wing” in probably the film’s best scene. All three equally convince the audience that they’re the best parts of this movie in their moments onscreen.

The male supporting cast does wonders in this film too. J.K. Simmons as Juno’s dad Mac reinvents himself as the balanced, supportive parental cool from whom she gets her sense of humour from. Bateman as Mark Loring tries his best both to support his wife’s wishes to adopt while holding on to the youthfulness that Juno’s sparked within him. Cera knows how to convey anxiety only through his eyes – his face doesn’t move but it doesn’t need to. And despite seeing her at her worst, Cera’s Bleeker gives her the moment of tenderness when she needs it.

The trailers on the DVD include 27 Dresses who co-stars Jonathan from “30 Rock,” The Savages which I should have seen instead of Sweeney Todd and a digital copy promotion thing that ties-in with promoting Live Free and Die Hard.

Female Characters – Crouching Tiger, Hidden…

ph. Columbia Tristar DVD

I’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in parts before, watching Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) sharing tea together and talking about their repressed feelings. Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi)reminiscing about her lost years in the desert. They make me feel like I’m watching a story from Regency period in England as it is a story taking place probably in third century China. But then this movie has fights in them so I know what kind of movie I’m watching. These characters have already made an impression on me before finally seeing the film in entirety, in layman’s terms, knowing what they’re already like.

So I don’t know what it is seeing Shu Lien skip towards the common room to greet Li that strikes me, her feelings emanating through her face and posture. I’m not even sure if this image from the film perfectly captures a young lover within someone supposedly more mature and controlled, because she goes back to being more formal within a split second. I’m comparing this introduction to Shu Lien’s character with the way the film introduces Jen, a demure aristocrat in disguise. Shu Lien’s introduction, however, is a revelation. I use that word even if it doesn’t feel like the rest of her character is lying to herself. She isn’t, she’s just disallowing herself that bit of freedom other thinks she deserve.

There are other women in disguise – like Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), who trained Jen masquerading as the latter’s governess and a policeman’s daughter calling herself a circus performer while trying to find Fox, Jen hiding her own talent from Fox and from the rest of the world. The social strata calls for the female characters to go into these disguises, at the same time this game of pretend allows them to act out freedom and aggression. When other characters, male and female, allow them some defiance, they take on the chance. An example would be the scene when the daughter tells an inspector of her certain belief that a murderer is living under Governor Yu’s household, letting her father’s blood on her shoulder seen by Sir Te.

In a way, this story is just about these two leading women as it is about the Green Destiny. One wants what the other has. There’s also some delicious passive aggressiveness between them specifically from Shu Lien’s part. She tells Jen that she’s happy for Jen’s engagement, temporarily killing the latter’s fantasies of becoming a warrior. She also invites Jen and her mother in guise of an engagement party to test the latter, giving her faint praise after damnation. Jen of course gives the results Shu Lien expects, and does so either because of carelessness, vanity or both. The differences between them are constant until the end, when one goes one direction and the other chooses drastically different. One presumably moves on despite of the death around her, while the other can no longer accept happiness because of the past.

Oh my God! Oh my God!

“Viagra is not a drug, it’s a revolution,” says Jake Gyllenhaal as Jamie Randall, besting Vincent Karthesier’s trademark shit-eating grin. Brad Brevet thought this movie was terrible, but I’m a sucker for Spin Doctors-esque music. And both Gyllenhaal and co-star/ love interest Anne Hathaway get naked in this movie. Love and Other Drugs came out yesterday. Enjoy! 3/5.

While We’re At It

Long story long, while looking for reviews of Andrei Rublev on Google, I read the one from a blog called Precious Bodily Fluids. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, yes, my blog name’s still weirder. His blog post on the film is the second or third entry on Google by the way, whoo hoo.

Anyway, while he writes about he movie he also mentions six other epic films. Lists suck, but that doesn’t stop me from making them. Gone with the Wind, Seven Samurai, Ben-Hur 1959, The Leopard, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, The Thin Red Line. And yes, it’s mostly a boy’s club. Just for when you were wondering.

TIFF 100: Andrei Rublev

Andrei Tarkovsky‘s first film Andrei Rublev, like his later films, is known for his impressionistic environments inhabited by characters who exist as poetic entities. He’s also known for making movies with a long duration period. Both elements don’t make the best combination for me, but the film does have a lot of merits. Also, watch the film on the big screen if you can. The tenebrism and the close-ups look better in that format.

ph. Criterion

Nonetheless, the film for me doesn’t really start until three icon painters, Kirill (Ivan Lapikov), Danill (Nikolai Grinko), and Andrei (Anatoli Solonitsyn) set off and stop their rainy journey on a barn where a jester (Rolan Bykov) is performing for other townsfolk. His performance is physical, lively, lewd. The townsfolk repeat awatered down version of his song. Andrei stares and observes the jester like every other kid who didn’t know that staring is bad manners. He sees the man after the performance, tired but not necessarily in agony. He might even feel a camaraderie with the man, unappreciated for his talents that he exhausts himself for. Kirill steps in and says that the devil brought jesters into the world, although Andrei doesn’t show that he agrees with Kirill. The content of the jester’s song reached to some authorities, who have him arrested.

Kirill enters Theophanes the Greek‘s home. Kirill praises him and criticizes the man Theophanes has asked about – Andrei Rublyov. This is pretty much where I drool and bring up my art history background. Fifteenth century Russian icons were at the tail end on the Medieval chapter. All I knew about the era were Italians. Another impression I had of the Byzantine/Orthodox art was its rigidity, and that the image was more important. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention about the superstars of the era, which Theophanes has been and Andrei, at this part of the story, could potentially be. Anyway, Kirill’s main criticism of Andrei is that the latter didn’t seem to believe. Imparting his ‘opinion’ to the master, Kirill pleads for a public appointment to be the latter’s apprentice.

Theophanes hilariously – just to me – chooses the younger, more handsome Andrei instead, making Kirill really angry and denounces the monastery where they all live. Andrei then embarks on a second journey, the beginning of a new section in his life where he’ll see memorable sights and events along the way. These demonic moments eventually follow him through the town of Vladimir, where he’s commissioned. At least one does he take part in the lustful, violent world he only knows through theory, a Russia he hasn’t really been exposed to. He neither becomes lustful nor violent, but his experiences in this part of the plot posts the film’s real conundrum. Whether he’s passing through hell, passing through the real Russia, wondering how human beings can let a world become this degenerate and if all this exposure, participation and sympathy for evildoers makes someone a good or bad person. Tarkovsky doesn’t answer the questions more easily for us by depicting these devilish images with beauty, the long takes used to capture them letting his audience contemplate on moral dualities.

The Tatars raid Vladimir, and more than a decade later, many of the characters around Andrei have died, and those who haven’t are destroyed. The jester has little sense of humour left in him, and his bitter towards Andrei and accuses the latter of putting him in jail. He points out that Andrei has lost his looks, which isn’t Andrei’s biggest problem since Andrei has turned down work for a decade. The two are opposite a young bell maker’s son Boriska (Nikolay Burlyaev) trying to fill his father’s shoes, energizing the town in the process. Andrei observes the kid as he ha observed the jester in the past, as the audience wonders how the child’s efforts affect Andrei and his rusting talents.

100: Opal and the Locals

I didn’t realize I had to pay attention to the opening credits until I saw Jeff Goldblum’s name being read aloud. The worst part is that I couldn’t point him out in this ‘panoramic’ film until halfway through watching it. This is also the most creative opening credits I have seen so far.

The character in this film that had the biggest impression on me is Opal (Geraldine Chaplin), a BBC reporter. Nobody in director Robert Altman’s all-star cast films is cut from the same cloth as the rest, and each character is an outsider in their own way. However, there’s gotta be one character who really sticks out, although it’s debatable who it is in his films. In Gosford Park, in my opinion it’s Bob Balaban’s American vegetarian producer, in A Prairie Home Companion, it’s Virginia Madsen’s character. In Nashville it’s definitely Opal. In her first scene, Haven Hamilton’s cute-ish son Buddy (Dave Peel) kicks her out of his father’s recording and is forced to hang out next door to a session of a mostly black choir led by a white woman named Linnea (Lily Tomlin). Opal prattles on about ‘Keenya’ and the Masai, who if I’m right, should be way down lower in the continent. Opal tops it off with

Look at that rhythm, it’s fantastic. You know it’s funny you can see it’s come down from the genes through ages and ages and hundreds of years but it’s there. Take off those robes, and, and one is in, in darkest Africa you can just see their naked frenzied bodies dancing to the beat of…Do they carry on like that in church?

Chaplin’s usually quiet and reserved in other films in both English (Doctor Zhivago) and Spanish (Habla con Ella, El Orfanato). Here she plays against type but isn’t out of her element.

Interruption – Sueleen’s not that bad of a singer in this scene at least, serenading the Tricycle Man (Goldblum).

Interruption – LA Joan (Shelley Duvall) doesn’t look at the camera, Altman’s improvised 360 on character method at work. Duvall also plays a character that she isn’t that known for.My TA once told us that she was seen as a sex symbol of the 70’s, and really? First Farrah Fawcett RIP and now her? God old generations have weird tastes. Even Tom (Keith Carradine) from Tom, Bill and Mary is questioning that. ‘Jesus, you gotta stop that diet before you ruin yourself.’

Tom mows on to his path of asshatery by turning down a Hal Phillip Walker volunteer and ask a cute Sargeant (Scott Glenn) if he’s killed anybody this week.

Interruption – WANDA WANDA WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE IT WAS A HIT! Unlike my ironic appreciation of Opal, Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley) is my favourite character in the film.When a fight breaks out in her joint, she calms the audiences down by screaming ‘I have two guns in here!’ She’s not always like that, however. She represent the Catholics in this city of many Protestant denominations, and in a later soliloquy she carries the heart that this film needs and that the other characters are not able to express by themselves.

Back – Opal’s in Linnea’s car, stuck in multiple car crash on the freeway. She’s exaggerating accounts on seeing limbs sticking out from the cars, talking about how America is about cars smashing into each other and complaining about how her cameraman isn’t here to capture the action. Linnea asks someone off-camera to get her some popsicle to combat Opal’s hyperventilation. She interviews Linnea and finds out that the latter’s children are deaf. Only she can react with insensitivity, irascible to Linnea’s pleas to meet the children and see their great personalities. For some reason the BBC’s human resources at the time is either dysfunctional or full of nepotism. She eventually moves on to Tommy Brown’s car. The man doesn’t know what the BBC is. The pre-interview with Brown is the least awkward of her encounters. Of course, she screws that up,

He must be a marvelous person because I mean to have all you lovely people working for him. I the South I know the problems of the South, you know I’ve heard of them.

Because it’s nice, the van plays into her obliviousness than set her straight.

Interruption – Smoking in the hospital. Classy. She’d rather flirt with Buddy than see her dying aunt, which is why she’s even in Nashville.

LA Joan and Opal are just two of the selfish characters in the movie. Nashville, as an environment, promotes narcissism and entrepreneurship. You can become a country western star, hang out with them or sleep with them. There are, however, hindrances to everyone’s ventures, who never get what they want as they have imagined it. There are limits to even the stardom statuses of Tommy Brown and Haven Hamilton, both powerless against the tests of time. I might also be stretching for a bit, but the offshoots of  narcissism is other minor character’s guttural need for self-sustainability – like the Tricycle Man drinking his own magic alcohol inside someone else’s establishment. But he, like the other characters, mean well.

Despite of this, there’s also no character who stands further aside from the rest, eviscerating them or putting the mirror in front of  their faces. And Tom and Sueleen’s boyfriend don’t really count because they only have one liners and they don’t change anybody’s perspective. None of these people are capable of doing so since everyone has their flaws. There are other reasons why such a character doesn’t exist in this film or any of the Altman films I’ve seen. Why admonish characters for going for what they want? For example, Winifred (Barbara Harris), pursues her country star dream while her abusive husband is always inches away. Or Buddy who went to Harvard law to please his father instead of singing songs himself. Arguably, those are more tragic scenario we would rather not see in place of what the other characters are doing. Besides, if a character goes against another for being selfish, he has to go against twenty-three other characters. Why tire yourself?

This post is overdue, having watched it almost two weeks ago. I’m letting the late fees ride out and I hope it’s not gonna kill my pocket. If I wrote my gut reaction to the film, it’ll be like ‘This movie’s long.’ Sitting on it, however, and waiting that long to write about it, made my ideas about the film ferment. It’s that kind of flick.

Seminal Television: Everybody Hates Chris

Rochelle undoes everything Faye Miller or Peggy Olson have tried to do two decades ago.

ph. CWTV

“Now I know y’all say you don’t need a man and I know you all say you don’t want a man, but the truth is, you can’t get a man. Look at her. You think she don’t want a man? Why do you think she wear all this make-up? Believe it or not, the heifer’s 62 years old. But she looks good! And if you wanna look like this when you’re 62, I suggest that you purchase some Yvonne.”

100: Johnny Guitar

Let me just begin by saying that this is the campiest western I’ve seen so far. Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) rushes into Vienna’s (Joan Crawford) casino and accusing her of hiring the Dancing Kid for a stagecoach ambush that killed her brother. They throw empty threats about each other’s gunnery or gunship or whatever that will make Joan Collins pale in comparison. Emma throws remarks that eventually reveals her secret desire for the Dancing Kid and resentment of Vienna’s plans to introduce a train line to the insular town. McIvers (Ward Bond), who is in Emma’s team, instates a law to ban gambling and drinking outside town limits, crippling Vienna’s business. That’s just the first scene.

Then the Dancing Kid robs a bank because he thinks it’s a good idea.

This is the first time I notice the colour black in costume to pop out in a western. While Emma and her people wear the dusty browns of typical Western costume, Vienna wears black. She seems like the villain in this part of the film. She’s also more showy in her affluence, also wearing pants to show one of her employees’ endearing quips about being more manly and making him feel like less of one. The next day shows an inversion of that duality. Vienna has a few costume changes while the mob keeps wearing their mourning black and staining it while hunting for their usual suspects. Vienna’s a woman who has to transform herself because of her past, present and future, the mob keep on to old grudges and bring with them a wave of revenge and death.

After the bank robbery come the best scenes of the film, for my shallow and subjective reasons. Vienna lights the oil lamps of a chandelier, wearing a white dress that looks like she’s hosting a ball in Europe instead of closing shop in the West. Then one of the Dancing Kid’s collaborators, Turkey, totters into her saloon. Despite the hallowed Lightbox screening, I gasped loudly ‘No!’ Don’t ruin the dress.

Thank God. Vienna shows us a BAMF move, playing a piano peacefully despite of Emma’s shrill (sorry) accusations.

The lynch mob tries to finish off Vienna but she escapes. The red dust of the West doesn’t even touch the dress. My eyebrow is raising.

Vienna and the titular Johnny ‘Guitar’ Logan (Sterling Hayden) escape to a mine shaft under the former’s now burnt down saloon. A little burning wooden beam falls down on Vienna’s dress. Finally.

Despite of how well some of her contemporaries have aged, it’s still strange to see Joan Crawford try and succeed to pull off something like that. But then it’s not like the film was trying to hide her age. As Vienna, she has a history, but she knows how to take care of herself.

I’ll make a last sartorial note about the film about the final showdown. Vienna and Johnny escape through a waterfall to the Dancing Kid’s lair. The Kid offers her dry clothes – Turkey’s. Vienna shoots Emma wearing Turkey’s yellow shirt, although she looks like she cans hoot a gun better than Turkey would. In a way, she helps him get a revenge he may have asked for.

Johnny Guitar is part of TIFF’s 100, a strange choice for the campy movie being championed by critics today. TIFF’s write-up of the film touched on the movie having the two strongest female characters in film history. I agree in a way that it took me four years and this movie to know that there’s a movie out there that has two women in opposing ends of gun mobs. And yes, the men in the film are as useful as the guns themselves, rarely opposing the women who lead them. They do subvert stereotypes of good and evil, virgin and whore. And of course, Vienna and Emma are better than many female characters today. But are these female characters only strong in comparison?

Johnny Guitar, directed by pot-stirrer Nicholas Ray with a supporting cast including Ernest Borgnine and John Carradine, is on again at the Lightbox on November 20th at 6PM.


The film begins in 1973, with a car explosion killing Mohammed Boudia. Then they show the man who’s going to avenge that death, a fashionably dressed man named Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Edgar Ramirez). We see him going to Beirut to meet Wadie Haddad, trying to prove himself to Haddad by telling the latter his guerrilla history. Despite his youth and inexperience, Haddad includes him in the PLFP. An important theme of the film will be Ilich, now calling himself Carlos, constantly trying to prove himself to Haddad and win his approval despite his shortcomings.

We see Carlos, going to and from his contacts in Paris and London, the camera fading in and out and beginning a scene with captions of the place and time elapsed, marking how disjointed this short version of the film can be. He’s assigned and taking on missions by himself, accomplishing them with quick athleticism. We get to see Carlos get weaker and fatter as the film progresses. The film wanes as it goes on yet Ramirez’ performance gets stronger and he portrays Carlos’ later days. The shorter film focuses on Carlos’ nasrcissism and interiority, yet I would rather have seen him pull off more terrorist plots than to see another full frontal shot.

Seminal Television: Sex and the…

ph. HBO

Charlotte (Kristin Davis) wants what Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) thinks she can’t have, no judgment. The stills are from the episode ‘Coulda Woulda Shoulda,’ directed by David Frankel, who ends up directing The Devil Wears Prada.

TIFF 100 Silent Redux: Metropolis

The ambition and spectacle of Fritz Lang‘s film Metropolis makes you forget the others. It shows the technology and  possible in a fictional 2026, buildings, freeways and city lights storeys high and the slavery and class stratification running that society. There are apparently 300 extras needed for this film – it wouldn’t be a city if it doesn’t have the workers, the party-goers and the mobs to make the infrastructure look real. No film production today can brag the budget to make set designs like what we’ll see in this film.

This is the second time I’ve seen this film – the first was in a film genre class I wasn’t even enrolled in, at the time when the lost footage hasn’t been restored. There was also a screening at Yonge and Dundas Square that played the film with a trip-hop score, which I missed and would love to have seen. The screening this past Wednesday at the Bell Lightbox was accompanied by Gabriel Thibodeau and conducting string and brass sections, playing to a full house. There’s something sinister in the horns sounding off when Freder (Gustav Frohlich) runs and wins a dash around a race track, as well as a satirical – not parody – atmosphere in the decadence of the upper classes. The sound has more volume and boom when we see the catacombs where the working class lives. And of course, silence in moments like when we see the clock showing the end to a ten-hour shift, and more silence in tense moments.

There’s a lot of little things about the characters that I remember or notice at this second viewing, like the female costumes, a mix of rococo and flapper girl, noting that the film really isn’t talking about the future. The named Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a name I’ve tried to search and scour for an origin. How Maria (Brigitte Helm) looks less like LeeLee Sobieski this time around and looks more like a blonde, fair, young and naive version of Norma Shearer. She embraces the children like St. Ursula, one of the subtler images in a very Christian film.

The lost footage also sheds new light on the Thin Man who is creepier this time around. There’s also the lightning and other visual effects – they’re up on-screen and I don’t and can’t question how Lang and his crew got them up there. And how we only see animals, mutant ones in the garden of the Club of the Sons – the working class have no animals nor pets.

Freder can run track and beat up people, but since he’s human, can’t last a breakless 10 hour shift. If you didn’t take a second look at him, you wouldn’t know he has upper body strength just like Maria or Josaphat (Theodor Loos) – I didn’t know Germans named their kids Josaphat. Anyway, they do need upper body strength for saving children from a massive flood, climbing through stairs and ladders, or clinging to railings on the roof of a cathedral. Also, the three characters’  clinging scenes aren’t filmed from the POV of someone looking down but either on eye level or from slightly below, where the workers and children would be. Still tense, though.

Metropolis is playing today at the Lightbox at various times.

100: Birth of a Nation

The TIFF Bell Lightbox first screened Birth of a Nation appropriately enough on Veterans Day 2010, since the movie remembers and aims to convey that ‘war may be held in abhorrence,’ an inter title apparently removed in the film’s online public versions. They showed the George Eastman print. No blatant colour filters like the warm sepia tone in the DVD copy I rented. The DVD also shows the Lincoln or Northern  scenes with a purplish tone as well as fires and deaths with a red filter with a bit of pink. Also, the Lightbox screened this with NO SOUND ACCOMPANIMENT. They’re showing it with sound next week called “Rebirth of a Nation.”

Writing every review or post isn’t easy, but writing about this movie feels like a monumental task. Half of this entry is probably gonna seem like an apology for the movie or a more erudite, example-filled wording of ‘but this film could have been MORE racist.’ The first parts I’ve seen of the film is the last scene between Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) and the mulatto Lt. Gov. Silas Lynch (George Siegmann). I can argue that the scene, out of context, makes the depictions of both black and white races more even-handed – he IS capable of everything that white men are. I also I wanted to write said argument just to be contrary. However, I can’t call the rest of the movie even-handed. And of course, there’s the Ebert ‘we must deal with this‘ position.

The movie about the Civil War, the racial tensions during the Reconstruction while also telling the story of the Northern Stoneman and Southern Cameron families – the latter eventually founding the Ku Klux Klan – depicts most of the black and ‘mulatto’ characters disparagingly but, pardon the cliché, not everything is black or white. The inter titles of the film’s first scene say that ‘The bringing of the African in America planted seeds of disunion.’ At least it shows that the problem is centuries older than the Abolitionist movement and the Civil War. It also recognizes the inevitability in presenting an ‘other’ into the dynamic of a certain civilization and if it didn’t create tensions in 1671, it might by 1871.

That little scene also uses real black extras just like the rest of the film, although yes, Siegmann and other credited mulatto and black characters are in blackface. The scenes depicting black people in both acts of the film are the most fascinating ones, like the scene showing the idyllic antebellum lives of the Camerons, living in harmony with their slaves. When the Camerons give the Stonemans a tour of the plantation, showing the slaves on a two-hour dinner on a twelve-hour workday, which would be nicer if they paid those people. That scene’s also reminiscent of Seth McFarlane’s depiction of the Mexican quarters in Mr. Pewterschmidt’s mansion. Anyway, there are also black extras cheering the Confederate soldiers and the Uncle Toms who stick around serving the Camerons in the second half during the Reconstruction including their Mammy whose blackface makes her look like she’s in drag.

Of course, the film lives up to its reputation by exaggerating its version of history and omitting certain factors that led to the Civil War. Apparently Lincoln wanted to enforce federal rule into the states, which is the official and diplomatic wording of the cause of the war. There’s also some bitterness in elections, a theme that would be carried out into the second act of the film. There’s also the omission of slavery and abolition’s role in the war and a pretty big omission at that. and don’t even get me started on the film’s second act, with an apocalyptic revisionist history of black people ‘taking over’ South Carolina.

The film also shows the North and the South were actually friendly in the antebellum, and I don’t know how to feel and process this alternative scenario. In the Stonemans’ visit to the Camerons, the tension between North and South is reduced to boyish horseplay that has its roots with a childlike level of xenophobia between two family friends, which isn’t good enough of a reason for two sides to go to war. During the war there are also moments of humanity and kindness between soldiers in combat, when the eldest son Ben Cameron (Henry Walthall) brings a Unionist some water. We see both sides at the home front mourning the dead instead of being angry at their enemies. After the war, Elsie’s brother Philip asks her to take care of Ben, keeping in mind a friendship that might be mended between both sides.

Speaking of the home front, the film also shows women’s role and response during and after the war, and there’s a give and take in the positive and negative depictions of these female characters. The Cameron women are mostly conservative, having to sponsor the men’s war by giving up and selling their possessions. The ‘pet sister’ is also affected, and for some reason the war and even at the home invasions of the negro militia excites her. She expresses anger about the deaths and injuries of her three brothers. The film doesn’t explicitly say if she’s angry at the North, although she does take it out on her sister a bit. She gets her fire from her mother, who is brave enough to speak against a Unionist. The men again ask for their loyalty after the war, having to make costumes for the Klansmen and keep quiet about their brother’s involvement with the terrorist group. There’s also the eldest daughter, dead inside and incapable of love because of the war.

Elsie is more three-dimensional, thanks to Gish’s performance conveying personality. She has a sense of humour and uses that to hide her resentment of her brothers going to war. As a nurse she keeps the men in check while looking after and petitioning for the life of her favourite patient, Confederate Colonel Ben. When she finds out about her fiance Ben involvement with the Klan, there’s a mix of emotions and loyalties. Her desires for Ben quashed by her obedience towards her father, a wish to keep Ben out of trouble, an implied disapproval of violence. The film also depicts her naiveté especially as a war nurse facing wounded veterans and the monstrous lust of black men she eventually faces when she moves south to Piedmont – cough bullshit. I’m not sure if those are character flaws or just bad, biased writing.

The second part of the film’s reputation involves its narrative techniques and use of camera angles. I wouldn’t know how it revolutionized the art of filmmaking, since this is the oldest movie I’ve ever seen. Anyway, the camera angles show the spatial relationship between the characters and their mise-en-scene. The camera captures Ben on the right hand side of the screen facing the audience’s left side on a 45-degree angle, and the audience understand that the Camerons and the slaves, off-screen, are to his right and to the audience’s left. The camera is also placed either left or right of centre at Lincoln’s office, the hedges in the Stoneman estate or the pillars on a street in the Camerons’ city of Piedmont, efficiently expressing those spaces’ dimensions. There are also, occasionally, black spaces on-screen to focus on certain objects and faces without having to give them a close-up. Griffith’s inter titles are also very poetic like ‘While youth dances away, childhood and old age slumber,’ and minimal, letting the characters and the acting do most of the narration. Griffith’s films are my first silents, and for a longtime I considered minimal inter titles as a standard for a great silent film. Occasionally there are close-ups shown just after wide shots when certain characters are having a moment and it calls for a visual of their facial expressions, then going back to a wide shot to return to the general mood of the scene.

With the exception of a few shots, this film isn’t as visually awe-inspiring as it might have been perceived in its time. Its values, worldview and revisionist history doesn’t strike a chord with the mainstream movie watcher. The film insists that white men shouldn’t respect black people’s rights. It doesn’t even offer a solution but aggravation, showing the lack of willingness to learn on both sides. Nonetheless its reputation as an essential film for any movie geek to see persists. It shows, for one, the epic storytelling what Hollywood was capable of and will be capable of showing. We have to see it to know what the fuss is about, which side you think the film is on, which side you the viewer are on, and that the belief of the freedom of speech and expression means having to contend and preserve relics of past prejudices.

Birth of a Nation and “Rebirth of a Nation” are playing today and tomorrow at various times.

Seminal Television: Women of SNL

ph. NBC


ph. Lionsgate

That’s an image from a good, colourful montage, close-ups of objects that the partygoers in Waiting… use to party. Or a more condoning montage than that in Requiem for a Dream. They’re just as colourful as the decorations and wallpaper in the restaurant where all these partygoers all work.

There’s two major story arcs. The first is with Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the restaurant’s token studs, who has to train a younger kid named Mitch (John Francis Daley). He lets Mitch in on a game where the men show each other their genitals and call the loser a fag, which surprisingly isn’t offensive. He also shows Mitch different types of customers, women who love male waiter and will give them good tips, pervert frat boys and a bitchy lady (that’s the character’s name on the credits) who has a Pavlovian masochism to keep going to a restaurant with ‘terrible food.’ How small is this town? Typically, the movie almost made me not wanna eat in a restaurant, with all the terrible things they do to the food. But the crew’s gonna be there all day and night so that’s a Pyrrhic victory.

The second is Dean (Justin Long), a guy who had all the good grades in high school but is a member of the lost generation and hasn’t finished his diploma or degree yet. His mother tells him about Chett Miller, another guy he has gone to high school who has finished a degree in electrical engineering, and Dean’s still working his job as a waiter. And I can so relate to this stuff. This new ruins Dean’s day – this is the unique way he’s emasculated even if every other guy in the restaurant get emasculated if he hasn’t been already. There’s good news. Manager Dan (David Koechner) offers him to become an assistant manager – with that he’s ambivalent about. But then Chett Miller is Chekov’s gun within a movie that portrays a 24 hour span and will show everything that can happen to someone in a dead-end job.

The film has an impressive supporting cast that includes Dane Cook, Anna Faris and Wendie Malick who are typecast but their work is subtle for a sexually explicit script. The actors who play waiters are typically good-looking, Anna Faris’ ironically named Serena having to wear trashy blue eyeliner so that the audience can distinguish her as Amy’s (Kaitlin Doubleday) spunkier version. In general I call it redeemable and good enough for a ‘bad’ movie night.

Between Two Titles: Batleship Potemkin

ph. Kino

100: Jaws

ph. Universal

The first time I caught Jaws was on TCM in the third act of the film, where it pretty much takes place on a boat and I thought that was the movie. This film, then, became part of the TIFF’s Essential 100 and was introduced by NOW Magazine film critic Norman Wilner. He enthusiastically gave it a lot of superlatives. ‘The greatest accident in the history of cinema.’ ”The greatest American film’ – I disagree but my answer’s really boring. In a write-up of yesterday’s issue of NOW, he also writes, ‘…ask the TIFF people how the hell a film this gripping managed to place 79th on their stupid list.’ Meow.

What I will say is that one of the key elements in this movie is subtlety – there are a lot of scares but not too much. There’s Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gray), the strongest female amidst a groan-worthy male-dominated cast. She comes up behind her husband Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), but the camera’s not on her POV. That would have made the scene into a cheap scare. Later on, her complacent reaction to her son being on his boat changes when she sees Martin’s book with an illustration of a boat being t-boned by a shark, her fear added by the two shark attacks that hits their small town of Amity. She’s not the only one bringing comic relief, however. Martin has his share of calling out bad hat Harrys. Despite of that the shark attacks still put me at the edge of my seat for most of the film.

It’s also a film that has the best shot compositions on film. However, unlike films that take the cake in cinematography, Jaws’ cinematography doesn’t call attention in itself. There is an opening shots of the coral reef, two silhouettes of young adults kissing by a bonfire, another drunk college boy lying by the beach. There’s arguably a lull period in between, then a shot of a typewritten form about a dead young woman’s (Denise Cheshire) body transferred to a ‘CORNER’S OFFICE’ and a long shot of Brody framed by flowers and it’s shot by shot heaven after that, despite of the bloody shots of course. Wilner also said that this film is timeless, and with the exception of red corduroy pants and shots of people smoking indoors, he’s pretty right. It’s in the faces of the characters seemingly drawn or bordered from the background images as well portraying an evolved post-Tennessee Williams, post-Hitchcock Americana that does make it timeless. And yes, I paid attention to the cinematography to distract myself from being scared throughout most of the film, which didn’t work.

Speaking of urban-rural divides, this movie is one of those that came out around 1974 and 1975 that features a character moving away from the city only to find troubles in rural America. Brody is a New York City ex-pat, where ‘the crime rate will kill ‘ya,’ and in Amity his main concerns are boy scouts and mending fences. That’s until the shark came in. With the mysterious shark in the equation, he also has to deal with a mayor and a civic committee who wants the beaches open. When the creature makes Alex Kinder his second victim, Brody’s the one who gets slapped. The second victim does get him the permission to recruit Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), an oceanographer, but the mayor still want the beaches open and he’s the one who has to make sure the waters are safe and litter them with deputies.

Director Steven Spielberg doesn’t shy away from unsympathetic characters, the mayor being the first one. He doesn’t even need to raise an eyebrow when Hooper wants to make sure that the tiger shark caught by fishermen is the real one. He also borders between shock and lucidity when Brody’s eldest son almost became the shark’s fourth victim, this event finally convincing him to approve the closing of the beaches until the shark is captured by Quint (Robert Shaw), a shark hunter. He stutters and justifies his decisions, saying that he’s acting in the town’s best interest, and he’s right in a way. He wants business to flow through Amity and doesn’t want to put people in more shock by closing them. Three dead victims are bad enough without economically crippling the small town.

The second unsympathetic character is Quint himself, who I found off-putting, greedy, crass and doesn’t really come around to getting my sympathy. He’s a war hero to some, he’s a war criminal to me. However,  unlike other ‘working class heroes,’ Quint doesn’t try to seduce us with adventure and neither does he smooth his edges out and sells himself like he’s everybody else. He doesn’t make the labour more difficult for the two men he doesn’t want on his ship, but nonetheless the work comes first. yes, he does talk about a past but doesn’t make that his pathos and he doesn’t really take Hooper’s rich college boy background against him. I don’t like him, but in cabin fever situations like that of the film’s third act, you have to. He also realizes this and mixes up the dynamic between Brody and Hooper – it used to be just the two of them but Quint by default makes Hooper his right hand man and kinda alienates Brody.

Trivia: Peter Benchley, the author of the book also named Jaws, wanted Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen in the cast. Boring. Jaws screened last Sunday at the Lightbox and there was a line-up in front of the 300 seater where it was screened. The Lightbox is showing it for the second time tonight at 11, without an introduction. Still, come.

Mary, Queen of Scots ’71

Mary, Queen of Scots is on every other night at CBC. It’s like telling me to finally watch Vanessa Redgrave‘s Oscar nominated performance in the titular role.

So that means yes, I’ve seen the film before in parts. I honestly thought that Glenda Jackson as Mary’s rival Queen Elizabeth I in this film, was the best in show. The way her head and hands move when she’s thinking up a plot to offer her own lover, Sir Robert Dudley, to Mary is fascinating. The first act of the film shows her driving the plot instead of being passive within it. When the rejected Dudley talks about how Mary has charmed him, Elizabeth also gets physically aggressive. Which is fun to watch.

Elizabeth almost steals the show because of the damage done when Mary repeatedly cries out ‘Francois,’ to her dead husband King Francis II. Mary sounds girly, lovesick, dependent. In a way, my fears about the character getting stuck like this has become true, Mary becoming a queen who’s repeatedly imprisoned by her enemies, never becoming a woman and person in her own right. Redgrave keeps pace with those plot points by giving her character a vitality – a woman in her mid-30’s convincingly portraying the youthful obliviousness of someone ten years younger or more. That, nonetheless, is a better portrayal than the saintly inhuman interpretation of Mary in an earlier John Ford film in 1936.

ph. Slant

Of course, those two characters grow up. Elizabeth wants to survive and still holds grudges but won’t use her ruthlessness to even imprison and execute the woman who also happens to be her cousin. She feels sorry for having to send Mary to Forthingray. Mary repeats the same adulterous mistake with a Lord Bothwell that Elizabeth has made with Lord Dudley – Elizabeth suspected of murdering Dudley’s wife, Mary accused of murdering her own king consort for and with Bothwell. She isn’t convincing when she says that she has made peace with her God and pities Elizabeth. She nonetheless carries on to her beauty and dignity, fighting fer her crown till the end.

Mary’s story isn’t told in film with such frequency as Elizabeth’s, the latter being told in film or television every decade. It’s probably because Elizabeth, as an English Queen and one who has reigned for decades and made the kingdom into a superpower, whereas Mary’s seems like the story of an outsider, even if she is the matriarch of England’s future kings. Elizabeth’s is always shown as a victory, whereas Mary’s shows victory and defeat in both sides, which interests me more.

Timothy Dalton and an unrecognizable Ian Holm are also in supporting roles.

ph. Premiere


Oldboy is a movie that shows the sloppiest fights I’ve seen in film, adding realism to the video game rules applied in most action films. Protagonist O Dae-su is imprisoned for fifteen years in an accommodating yet sadistic facility. One of the things he does in his stay in the facility is his self-training in martial arts, and has the callused knuckles to show for it. Nonetheless, he has to be hurt before he hurts the mob on the other side of the fight. And his lack of exposure to other human beings during 15 years hasn’t been an advantage to him in physical encounters.

It’s hard to find humanity in a movie that starts with blatantly Asian pop soundtrack and threats of violence, but the audience will find that treasure ten minutes into the film. His forced monasticism didn’t dull his mind but actually made him think and remember things. In the latter half of those years in his prison, he decides to write a list of all the people he’s hurt. He narrates ‘I thought I lived a normal life, but there was so much wrongdoing.’   There’s so much truth to that question on whether his past has come to haunt him and how his damnation starts in his adult life. I know that’s a Christian approach to an Eastern text, but the character did go to a Catholic school.

As he is released from the prison, he tries to find out who has taken him there and avenge himself, but that involves retracing his steps. Remembering his young self leads to flashbacks in the film, showing a young man with a shaved head and no resemblance to him. In one of the film’s final scenes he finally gets to talk with Lee, the man who has imprisoned him, also looking nothing like his supposed younger self. The scene show how withered Oh Dae-su as compared to Lee’s self-preservation. Eventually, the men and their younger versions are edited more closely into the scene showing that yes, they do look like their young selves, both of whom have no idea how their actions and obliviousness would anchor their fates.

Seminal Television: SNL

ph. NBC

It really disturbs me that I think Bryan Cranston is hotter than Kanye West.

Go back to China, Bitch.

ph. Pandora

‘Go back to China, bitch?’ No, chut the fuck up.

English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) shakes hands with, as my judgmental friend says, a kiddie fiddler (Patrick Swayze). Guess which one gets fired in the school first. Tears for Fears plays.

Seminal Television: Jersey Shore

ph. MTV