…and the quest to see everything

Archive for February, 2011

Hat Trick Girls


Doing this post on a whim. Much more actresses have one or two great movies a year, but due to realizing that the great Claudia Cardinale has been in three great movies in 1963, I decided to do some time-wasting and find out which other women have had the same luck.

Yes, I’ll admit that I’ve only seen Cardinale and Williams’ full list while the rest are below because I’ve seen one or two of each actress’ movies. Many of the women on the list are also here because of their supporting roles. It’s hard to carry a great film. Can you imagine trying to do the same for three?

Also, I know nothing about the silent era but I’m sure that I’ll eventually learn that the likes of Lillian Gish and Janet Gaynor have hat tricks under their CV’s, the latter winning the first Best Actress Oscar for three performances. It’s also harder to get names of actresses and movies belonging to world cinema. If I could only double myself and extend the hours of a day.

And yes, Williams is here because as much as I hate parts of Shutter Island, I know a lot of you love it. Although I’m sure her 2011 is looking better than her 2010. Here goes the list.

ph. MGM

Olivia de Haviland – 1939 – (Gone with the Wind, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth of Essex)

ph. Universal

Barbara Stanwyck – 1941 – (The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire)

Grace Kelly – 1954 – (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl)

Claudia Cardinale – 1963 – (8 1/2, The Leopard, The Pink Panther)

Faye Dunaway – 1974 – (Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Four Musketeers)

ph. Miramax

Minnie Driver – 1997 (Princess Mononoke, Good Will Hunting, Grosse Pointe Blank)

Patricia Clarkson – 2003 (Dogville, The Station Agent, All the Real Girls)

ph. TWC

Michelle Williams – 2010 – (Shutter Island, Blue Valentine, Meek’s Cutoff)

A factor in making this list involved representing each decade, one actress per decade to be more frank. I chose de Haviland over Bette Davis’s movies in the same year, Kelly over Marilyn Monroe‘s 1953 (it hurt me to do that), Driver over Kirsten Dunst (Driver might be disqualified since her involvement in Mononoke only came through 1998/1999, when Miramax released the film stateside, but Dunst 1999 films are guilty pleasures that I can’t admit to the public yet) or Clarkson over Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2002. Besides, this post is a picture overload already, as is most of my posts in this blog.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no actress in the list that has an 80’s hat trick. Great roles and movie seemed spread out generously among the Meryl Streep generation and the Brat Pack girls.

Lastly, I’ll make a list for the boys and the directors, or make hat trick lists for consecutive years or movies, but only if you ask nicely. Or better yet, if you could do the rest 😛


Seminal Television: TGS Hates Women


“I hate the ocean, it’s for tools!”

Also, this is my post for today even if y’all are talking about the Oscars. Suck it.


Bonnie and Clyde


Banjo music plays during car chases when the gang of Bonnie and Clyde get away, the only soundtrack we hear in the film. The film doesn’t romanticize through diagetic music, the gang’s ups and downs portrayed through a consistent tone.

The gang drive by the countryside too quickly, or cut often towards close-ups. The film’s briskness still allow us to experience great images, slowing it down would only call attention to its Academy Award-winning cinematography too much. Images like during nighttime on highways, the only source of light are the headlights from the car. The interiors of the cars are well-lit, but outside they’re plunged into darkness, surrounded by the insufficient infrastructure, alone in their journey’s last legs.

Or when the gang visits Bonnie Parker’s (Faye Dunaway) family, the yellow earth of that country under sunny haze. The film’s most manicured moments are here, the clouds looking too light. Bonnie breaks the scene’s dreamlike essence, feeling disconnect between her, her senile mother, and her shortsighted boyfriend Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty).

The actors don’t deliver lines like those in earlier gangster films, realistically sounding like hicks instead. Most of the actors exclaim their raspy Southern accents, mostly during good times, but the dialogue’s just as energetic and quick during the film’s denouement.

The gang aren’t Robin Hood, nor am I attracted to them in the Manichean sense.  They don’t seem evil, even with the cop killing, infighting and how they narcissistically take pictures of themselves. The characters behave like ones in early Godard films, impulsively childlike, dressing up and chasing their victims, toting their guns.

The film’s doesn’t view them as neither good nor evil. The newspapers portray them as curiosities instead of hunted criminals. The bankers they rob hog the camera just like the gang. A couple (one half of which is Gene Wilder) rides along even if the gang steals their car. The rural sprawl causes plurality of reactions towards the gang, equally creating both fans, onlookers or snitches.

The ‘good guys’ don’t live up to their labels, as Texas Ranger Hamer goes to Missouri hunt for the gang for bounty money instead of protecting people from his own jurisdiction, his quest for them eventually rooted on revenge and not on trying to do good.

The characters often think of the couple’s death. The farmer in the bank promised to order them flowers at their funeral, a morbid way of saying thanks. Bonnie poeticizes their martyrdom. We know how this film’s going to end but not its specifics, a few close-ups of the couple followed by a wordless shootout, without lyricism, a brutal defeat portrayed in twenty seconds.


The Pink Panther’s Hat Trick


ph. MGM

Does Claudia Cardinale get a hat trick for having three great movies in 1963? The Pink Panther isn’t a ‘great’ movie. Neither is Cardinale’s performance flawless as Princess Dahla. Dahla owns the Pink Panther diamond, the anxiety of the latter’s theft outlines the plot. She thankfully doesn’t try to seduce through every line, too smart for such ingenue moves. Neither does she have the glee that Audrey Hepburn has in director Blake Edwards’s earlier film, although I do appreciate Hepburn efforts there.

As Dahla, she tells a suitor Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) about being a product of the East and the West, a ‘contradiction’ Cardinale might be able to relate to, being a Sicilian born in Tunisia. Cardinale approaches Dahla’s with confident detachment, and she makes the latter word have nothing to do with a fear that it normally does. So fine, I’ll give her the hat trick.

Even some of the gags don’t have enough punch. I will, however, say that the gags involving Charles and his nephew George are stuck in Inspector Clouseau’s (Peter Sellers) hotel room, Charles and George doing a better mirror scene than the Marx Brothers – yes, I said it – and the zebra in the party scene are unforgettable moments. And Edwards is the classiest ‘sixties’ director I’ve seen so far, his comedy making time’s passing seem quicker.


The Many Faces of Eliza


ph. Criterion

Exhausted. This is after the disastrous tea time social with the Higgins’ family and friends. Colonel Pickering tells Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) that they’ll never be able to pass off Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) as a duchess. Higgins asks her if she wants to go on and says yes. She tells him in a later scene why she decides to go on. What follows is a really crappy montage, Howard portraying an affected caricature, making himself look older, making Hiller look like the better actor as she deserves to be hailed as so.

Perfection. Eliza enters the room with fear in her eyes, but  she puts this mask on and she transforms into elegance. She smiles at the right people with warmth. She’s in the receiving end of a conversation and she’s so worried about standing gracefully that she might as well not be listening. She does the right moves, performing, so calculated that people can marvel at her and know that she’s not ‘from here.’ Karpathy (Esme Percy) tells his former teacher Higgins that she must be a Hungarian countess. I would have put my five pounds on outer space.

Mad. Eliza is exhausted again after the Embassy Ball. She is furious at Higgins, then anger turns slowly into depression. She asks him ‘Where am I to go? What am I to do?’ He hells her that she’ll get married, which doesn’t comfort her, retorting that as a Covent Garden girl she sold flowers but not herself, a line I don’t remember from the play, but packs a big punch. She easily moves from upper class to a refined Cockney within her anger.

Let’s discuss the ‘noirlike’ style here. I’ve noticed a lot of shadow play in ‘British’ movies between this one and The Secret Garden in 1949. Pygmalion‘s cinematographer, Harry Stradling Jr., is also responsible for Southern Gothic films like A Streetcar Name Desire, and actually shot the colourful My Fair Lady as well.

The scene also hints on the uselessness of institutions like education and marriage. Upper class people learn to speak the King’s English and ‘science and literature and classical music.’ Then they start a business and marry. It’s easy for the upper class to get from one institution to another, but those are hurdles for Eliza. Her education with Higgins isn’t adequate.

Awakened. Again, this scene is probably not a part of the play. Context. Freddy has waited outside Higgins’ door for Eliza for days, without looking like he smells. Eliza, while constables are watching, tells him to kiss her again. Both factors should seem creepy, but it’s not. Both actors don’t play the scene as if it is real love, and neither does Hiller act out Eliza like she’s using Freddy, not consciously anyway. It’s a fine line between those two extremes of love and rebound that this scene walks on, and greatly so.

Triumphant. There are ups and downs within this scene and Hiller’s elastic facial expressions takes us to this last stop. For this film, she’s looked like many personalities between her transformation. From an ancestress of a chavette as she  to a mannered Hungaian ‘ingenue’. From boyish innocence to an elegant, chiseled-face goddess. Eliza is now a ‘pillar of strength’ over Higgins. This part of the scene is actually when Eliza lovingly tells Higgins why she has gone along with the experiment, even if it has meant emotional strain on her. But she leaves for a while anyway. Also, I dare you to find me a more prominent set of cheekbones in the history of cinema.

Awakened

Book: I am Number Four


Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four has a film adaptation now. The trailer includes love interest Sarah (Diana Argon), falling from a building for protagonist John (Alex Pettyfer) to catch him. Sarah’s reaction is to look at John lustily. One of John’s lines include ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of,’ sounding like something that would make me call an abuse shelter.

I had to choose either the original cover art or one with a quote from film producer Michael Bay, who is apparently a book critic now.

Norlinda wrote about I am Number Four echoing traditions of  teen sci-fi. Superman. Buffy, especially that John’s survival depends as much on his peer support, ironic since Henri (Timothy Olyphant) advises him to keep to himself. They belong to an endangered alien race, the Lorien, exiled from their planet, hunted by another alien race, the Mogadorians.

Yes, I’m the asshole who will talk about the implicit politics in a book about teenage aliens. The prologue begins with a “Heart of Darkness”-y depiction of the Congo, the setting for Three’s death. John is one of nine powerful aliens on Earth, the death of Three personally hurting him, thus the interconnected nature of their relationship that transcends skin colour and geography.

John is both an alien and all-American. John also talks about a fear of cities, where the Mogadorians might blend in easier, yet has a love-hate relationship with his new home. Cynical at first, he eventually subscribes to the mythology connected to the aptly named Paradise, Ohio. He also recounts the histories of his planet and the Mogadorians’, both having dealt with overpopulation and pollution, the former dealing through change – liberals – the latter choosing viral destruction – conservatives.

Lore writes the book’s prologue in clunky third person. Thankfully the rest is in first person, Lore writing John’s narration with such attention to specific objects, making his world as tangible as he is intelligent. The last chapters of the book tell a drawn out fight between him and the Mogadorians that I lost attention on the details. Lore also breaks the Frankenstein rule but that also humanizes the Mogadorian beasts.

Henri also tells John that Loriens and humans have procreated, siring great men like Julius Caesar, which is weird because I’m pretty sure a 15-year old girl can go to Wikipedia and trace Julius Caesar’s provenance by at least two generations. And it’s great that Lore includes an asshole like Julius Caesar into their fold.

Lore is a collaboration between Jobie Hughes and James Frey. In page 264, they write ‘…force causes it to smash into a million little pieces.’ This happens again in page 300-something. In between those references, page 333, there’s a reference about a drug movie. Page 439 is the second to the last page of the book, where Lore indulges himself with a Milton reference.


All I Care About Is Love!


I’m not gonna be the Debbie Downer who talks about how this movie is a satire of the demonization of women who vengefully act against the abuses they face from their partners. Or that the musical and its adaptations came out within different contexts, the 1970’s urban prurience, the 1990’s circus trials and the cynical escapism and ‘reality’ crazed 2000’s reflect the prurient, circus-y crazy escapism of 1920’s Chicago. This movie’s too fun and campy for that.

ph. Miramax

Not like I can cite these opinions I’m talking about, but Chicago today is treated as a shallow visual exercise, that other films deserved the Best Picture trophy better, and that it’s dated. How terrible of a fate for a film to be called dated. It’s only eight and a half year’s old! I don’t have the problem with the separate worlds of gritty jail and colourful cabaret fantasy, the transitions between the two are seamless. Maybe because both worlds are as colourful, unlike the drastic cinematography changes between the fantasy and ‘real’ segments in director Rob Marshall’s later work, Nine. My problem on that department is that the takes are too short and quick, sometimes the audience can’t see the actors perform their song and dance, especially with Richard Gere‘s Billy Flynn. Sometimes it shakes too much, like when Kitty Baxter (Lucy Liu) is arrested, stealing Roxie’s thunder, or the last number.

There’s been also been many discussions about the casting. Sometimes I think about what Goldie Hawn, Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra would have done under Bob Fosse. I’m also  pretty sure that some of you are slightly bitter that Charlize Theron, Toni Collette, Hugh Jackman and Kathy Bates weren’t in the movie version we have now. Yes, I’ll admit that Gere is the weakest link of the cast. Sometimes he doesn’t know what to do with his arms. He gets a showy role but like every capable actor given a boisterous character, he doesn’t always turn it up to 11. it’s Although his renditions of his songs border on sprechgesang, his voice is still nice to listen to.

And he may be Mr. Cellophane all right, but John C. Reilly can outsing Gere any day.

I’m probably one of the people who will defend Renee Zellweger‘s casting and performance as Roxie. Yes, her face is a bit twitchy, but her dancing not that’s bad. Although I do have to see a stage adaptation for comparison in the triple threat department. She has a wiry, sinewy body, not as voluptuous as her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones, like she’s lived a life of poverty. Her voice is also a little hoarse, like a female version of a schmoe. My favourite song from the film is starting to change to ‘I Can’t do it Alone,’ or ‘We Both Reached For The Gun.’ Nonetheless, Roxie’s songs always catch me, like ‘Funny Honey’ and ‘Roxie,’ because there’s anger and delusion to them. The latter number, when we see her body from tilting close-ups to wide shots of her body into the darkness of her fantasy, or when she looks to the right and finds a mirror, and more mirrors. Those are my favourite images of this film.

Zeta-Jones’ Velma Kelly needs the least defense from me, because her Oscar-winning turn’s pretty much well received even now. Some regard it as the best Supporting Actress win the past decade. Zellweger’s hoarseness matches Zeta-Jones’ raspiness, reflecting the anger and toughness that comes with her situation then as a dancer who had to make her way to the top and her desperation in jail. Egyptian dancers and her theatre background would be proud.