…and the quest to see everything

Archive for January, 2011

Seminal Television: Jesse Eisenberg’s Hair

Other than Rainn Wilson, I thought that the Jesse Eisenberg SNL last weekend was funny. I’ll make a concession, SNL is ‘rarely funny,’ but it’s a better showcase of talent for the host. Why just nail one role when you can nail eight? Anne Hathaway does a mean Katie Holmes, Jon Hamm cries weird.

The show made Eisenberg finally get out of the Jewfro, hoodie and breakneck Woody Allen-esque speech thing he’s been doing for the past two movies and make him speak and look differently. Hipster, check. Guido, check. Also, I declare that his hair should stay like the picture above forever. Super yum.

Another Year

Janet (Imelda Staunton) is a depressed older woman suffering from insomnia and wants to get prescribed pills. When advised by a hospital’s psychiatrist Jerri (Ruth Sheen) to think about having more sessions with the latter, she say she does. She won’t even try to deceive Jerri and pretend that she’s found the solutions to her problems and she’s fine but instead she’s a closed clam.

Covering a year in its characters’ lives, Another Year, delves on Pavolvian traits and their effect on relationships and friendships. The wall Janet puts up against Jerri is an easiest way to end a relationship, but writer/director Mike Leigh‘s shows us the exact opposite of Janet with Mary (Lesley Manville). We first meet Mary as Jerri walks through her workplace, their work relationship seemingly harmless and normal, not too many attachments. She invites Jerri to a drink, and we finally get to see the real Mary. We’ll see, as she talks about saving up to buy a car, making everything about her. She opens up and brings up her life history after three glasses of white wine and start picking fights with Jerri’s husband Tom (Jim Boradbent) about his supposed hypocrisies in his environmental stance. How can the couple stay in a decade old friendship with someone they’re practically babysitting?

Mary brings up a fear within the audience that we might be Mary, the unfortunate outsider. She abuses her friendship with the couple without  returning the favour by bringing a glass of wine and not finishing it, or asking ‘How are you’ back, or invite the couple up to her apartment even if it doesn’t compare to a house. Despite differences, Mary and Janet feel ashamed about themselves, which stop them from creating healthy relationships. Janet closes doors while Mary intrudes upon others so her friends doesn’t have to enter her space. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is her hostility towards the innocent Katie (Karina Fernandez), the couple’s future daughter-in-law. At the same time the couple then brings up a conundrum on how to become a good friend, as Leigh doesn’t show us alternatives other than being a non-burden and being a ‘nuisance’ as Jerri finally says about Mary.

I’m probably the only person who isn’t 100% sold on Manville’s performance, whose nervous ticks and hand gestures invade her own close-ups. Broadbent and Sheen’s roles aren’t showy, but their soft-sell condescension chills and might be missed by characters as daft or unintentionally insensitive as Mary. The last scene saves both Manville and Mary, experiencing the same problems, and the audience finally gets on her side. Her car problems do suck and yes, Katie is kind of annoying. Her problems are heavier, as her friends become unreachable.

Casino Jack

Background – Passes for Casino Jack came with the package I bought at TIFF. I skipped it for Modra, a Canadian film with hip reviews and hipper people giving out flyers for it. I felt bad about missing Casino Jack since director George Hickenlooper‘s untimely death. My intuition failed, choosing a movie that came to theatres four days before this one, thinking this had better distribution chances. I’m watching Casino Jack in January instead of The Mechanic, ditching a friend in the process :(. I’m a Metacritic slave I so might never see The Mechanic.

On Casino Jack. I have faint recollections of people belonging to the footnotes of history, and the film’s subject, Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), is supposedly a monstrous figure. Instead we get an ex-movie producer quoting movies a lot, with delusions of grandeur and a warped perception of competitive capitalism. The film’s first scene shows him claiming, in front of a mirror, that he works hard so that his family doesn’t have to walk or ride the subway, juxtaposed by him getting stuck in traffic with his daughter, hearing bad news from his partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), hiding from FBI for frauding left and right. Affluence doesn’t mean convenience, especially if your means are illegitimate.

Jack tries to convince us that he’s in the right while the film tries to convince us that he’s either deluded or caught up. He says that his job, lobbying helps congressmen to decide the laws for America. The film knows that it’s audience is smart enough to know that if congressmen wanted to write effective laws, they’d visit their constituents. Almost every character tainted hands in this fictional yet probably accurate portrayal of Washington. Jack uses his laundered money to build restaurants or Jewish schools, our devil’s advocate. We see the embarrassment of riches that he and these usurpers dip themselves into, the trinkets they need to feel accomplished, taking down enemies without knowing the consequences.

Nothing interesting visually in this film. Most of the camera work hides, for example, the blue sky, photoshopping the CN Tower between or behind those condos in ‘Florida’ that I’ve been in, hiding Senator ‘John McCain’ between those Manchurian Candidate-esque TV screens. There’s Spacey transforming himself into Jack in the photos of him, his skin droopier. There are also low angle shots of Jack as he’s being fired and/or interrogated.

Spacey’s never convinced me as a lead actor, and it takes a while for Pepper to settle within a suit-and-tie role, but they’re wonderful to watch in quieter scenes. They’re also a great part of an ensemble, illuminating a script full of pas de deux between characters. Michael’s girlfriend is played by Rachelle Lefevre, making memorable entrances and exits, doing wordplay as efficiently as the men, the film’s Cressida. Adam Kidan is played by Jon Lovitz, complementing the film through ccomic timing. These four are worth a matinée, including Jack’s description of Imelda Marcos, the strangest one I’ve  heard.

Canada’s Top Ten: Incendies

Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) leaves a will to her fraternal twin children. She gives each of them a letter, one for their father and another for their half-brother and tells her children to give those family members the corresponding letters. Her son Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) hates his mother and doesn’t want to follow the will’s instructions, while daughter Jeanne (Maxim Gaudette) is dutiful enough to do her part.

The film, essentially, would cross-cut between the siblings’ and their mother in her youth, both stories paralleling in the same, storied homeland. Thankfully the boring first five to ten minutes end with a gunshot killing the Christian Nawal’s Muslim refugee boyfriend Wahab. This act of violence gripped my attention for the rest of the film. They try to kill her too but her grandmother intercedes. Finding out that she’s pregnant, her grandmother takes her in to seclude her until delivery. She is then told to leave for a bigger town.

ph. TIFF

Azabal’s a regular player in films about the Middle East that get some recognition outside that region. The foreign-educated, rational Palestinian who has a quick relationship with a terrorist in Paradise Now. The guarded sister to the Iranian woman being romanced by Leonardo di Caprio in Body of Lies. She does some of the same things here as she would on those two movies, crossing borders, argue ideas, live through political conflict. The most popular image of the film, her face brushed with blood, fires burning behind her, suggest many things but subtle. Yes, the film has its decrescendos but the film still embodies the insanity of war within one woman. As she puts on different hats while trying to survive within the war-torn area, she convinces both as victim and victimizer. We’re thankful that she’s getting a vehicle in the form of this movie.

As this film fits well with Azabal’s characters it does the same with Denis Villeneuve’s other film Polytechnique, as both concern violence against women. The clean cinematography in the earlier film reflects the Canadian scenes in Incendies, while it’s more textural in the Middle Eastern scenes, the latter reflecting the violence in that area.

Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play, the film is far away from a ‘theatre film,’ making me curious to compare the two versions. The Greek tragedy elements, especially with the shocking revelations, still resonates within this adaptation.

The Illusionist 2010

The audience can feel the paper where The Illusionist is animated, but on other moments, its colours and shades has its own energy. The film’s usual colour scheme consist of shades of brown, from the titular illusionist Tatischeff’s raincoat to the brownstone streets of the cities where he moves around to do his work. Paris, London, a Scottish town, and Glasgow, where the second half of the film is set. Smoke and cloud travel through the screen weightless like in Miyazaki’s animated films. My favourite part of the film’s aesthetics is when the bluish nights are interrupted by the yellow city lights gleaming from Glasgow’s boulevards. Sylvain Chomet’s film gives us what Impressionist or German painters would have delivered if they knew how to fly. I guess the lines are too fine and colours too full to evade those influences.

ph. Philadelphia Inquirer

Tatischeff and this film becomes a symbol of the uphill climb involved in preserving tradition. His Parisian audience is apathetic towards his tricks. It seems like he isn’t the perfect guy for the stage neither, his head being caught on the curtains. In London, an audience of two, the only ones left after a pre-Beatles band finishes their set. He also has to contend with drunks in parties where he performs. The drunk does give him a card of a pub is Scotland, a long travel through land and water until the fog seamlessly clears, seemingly greeting the man who’s small compared to the mountains. Here they laugh and clap at his jokes, but the crowd, with their pints of beer, look like they’ll cheer on anything. Tatischeff, who seems to have no other job skills, is thankful enough for this full venue.

ph. MovieLine

The llusionist is adapted from the last, unfilmed script from French auteur Jacques Tati, and this film is then technically my second Tati. Instead of a relationship between an older yet childlike man playing innocently with children, this film deals with a surrogate parental relationship between an older man and an ungrateful adolescent girl growing up, finding their way from the small town to Glasgow. Both face the world’s volatility in the late fifties, her moving within the urban, fashionable world and him coping like the other struggling vaudeville acts living in the same hotel. This film differs from my first Tati, Mon Oncle, with this film’s grownup sensibilities. The material even feels sad to have grown up. It’s depressing enough not to make me love the movie, but I respect how it boldly faces this reality nonetheless.

I saw this film in theatres, with a small, weeknight crowd of a handful of post-hipster couples, appreciative of the film’s nostalgia. The film ends with the city lights all slowly turning off, but I know there are people who will hold on to the film and its old-time charms. 4/5

Les Innocents (Adult Film)

An open letter to the province of Quebec.

I channel surfed my way into a film called Les Innocents, which turned out to be Bertolucci‘s  The Dreamers. Having seen it before, the French dubbing makes hasn’t changed how this film is a cineaste quiz that, unlike Tarantino films, gives the audience the answers with delight. It is a love letter to cinema after all, and that this second time watching it, I’m getting and remembering more right answers. One of these days I hope to match the trio’s film knowledge, winking at each other’s references after going to the movie theatre. Also, how it has Eva Green‘s character Isabelle instead asking ‘quel film’ and for that matter, that this film introduces us to Eva Green and we still thank it for that. That there is no way Eva Green isn’t or doesn’t speak French. How Michael Pitt‘s body makes me not wanna eat anything. How I will always want to visit Paris because of how they visually capture the city’s energy and anger. How I still vie for and romanticize revolution and that I still think of the joy of watching Michael Pitt’s Matthew as he dresses up like James Dean, walking the streets of Paris, and thinking to myself ‘That’s a real cinema lover,’ and not those snobs polluting universities today. How I wanna run through the Louvre with two people I love in a fraternal way, because I’ve accepted the possibility that no other gay guy loves movies. All because of this movie.

ph. Fox Searchlight

This was my first Bertolucci, a director I know now through his portrayals of flapper girls, threesomes and the dangers of fascism and communism.

And the nudity, which you guys are probably used to more than we are. I don’t remember much nudity – I’d remember such things. Well, aside from Isabelle dressing up as Venus de Milo – real cineastes are well rounded people who know art. Or Isabelle finding her picture on Mathew’s crotch, but not the crotch itself. Or the three young people discovered by Isabelle and Theo’s (Louis Garrel) parents, the former naked and sleeping peacefully like angels. But there’s more. Isabelle Matthew have sex on the kitchen floor while protests are happening outside, As both Matthew and Theo find out that Isabelle loses her virginity that night, Matthew and Isabelle kiss, her blood on Matthew’s hands and on both their faces. When she finds out about her parents discovery, she dresses up and tries to kill herself, but is stopped when something breaks their windows. Here, like in any Bertolucci film, sex and politics clash as they take on their most primal, animalistic and violent forms.

Enough of my pontificating. First. No scaring by putting it on the TV Guide listings as an adult NC-17 film. Although yes, it made me feel cool to finally have seen an NC-17 film.

Second. We English Canadians are generous enough to use subtitles when we put movies with your language and other language on the big or small screen. Do the same, please. During the commercials, you guys renamed that horrific Leighton Meester movie ‘Le Coloc’ and dub it in French! I don’t care if you’re trying to preserve your culture by Frenching everything, we in English Canada do that by watching hockey or something. I know it’s ridiculous if I’m trying to play with my rules on your channels, or that I’m complaining about characters in Paris speaking French. That I’m complaining even if the actors themselves did the dubbing. That I’m complaining about the dubbing of a minor masterpiece and a piece of crap instead of the apparent dubbing of the Marx Brothers. None of this dubbing crap. I’m actually one of those people who wanna remember the conversations between the sex scenes.

Respectfully yours,


Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor

Hazy childhood movie memory – Pu Yi goes from child emperor (Richard Vuu) to teenager (Tao Wu), either doing group martial arts warm-ups or military warm-ups with the Communists within the Forbidden City. That’s probably not how the movie actually goes.

My first film class showed Visions of Light, where it talks about this film’s use of symbolism through colour. Red means tradition and authoritarianism. Yellow, apparently is transition but I think it’s actually marks discovery. I haven’t seen Visions in a long time. I remember Pu Yi’s tutor Reginald Johnston’s (Peter O’Toole) bike being yellow. Lastly, green, and thus all the cool colours – even brown, strangely enough – means change, abdication, moving away from Pu Yi’s (John Lone) Imperial past. The words ‘open the door’ are often said with hostility in this film. This is the first movie I remember to use blue as a feminine colour, worn by women in the Forbidden City, or blue lighting/screen to depict an escape where the women are in focus and in their most troubled and precarious. Or white for loneliness. Great cinematography from Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s longtime collaborator.

I’ve tweeted that a big chunk of The Last Emperor is the Asian Conformist, which is reductive, yes. Bertolucci’s about style and morally cold-hearted characters, a combination he masters here. The film is essentially political, as it publicly calls out authoritarianism’s hypocrisies. I suppose knowing that Pu Yi wasn’t that nice of a person makes the film more morally complex. It makes an emperor’s story relatable because it’s about any individual’s growth from unwanted independence to confusion to selfishness to adult self blame to resignation. Lone performs this rollercoaster of an arc beautifully, like playing hide and seek with the character’s moral ambiguities, changing depending on the man’s place in life. Other great performances include O’Toole’s enunciation, Maggie Han as Easter Jewel and Ric Young as an interrogator, the latter two camping it up without distracting from the film’s even tone.