…and the quest to see everything

Archive for March, 2011

The Affair of the Necklace


In which I will use my armchair knowledge of film criticism and French history to write about The Affair of the Necklace.

I’m starting to blame Hollywood less for Americanizing any foreign narrative. If someone’s playing ‘let’s pretend’ in their backyard, they might as well play with the neighborhood kids. Hilary Swank, Adrien Brody, Brian Cox and Christopher freaking Walken are the last people the last people you’ll think about when you say ‘French costume drama,’ since they don’t make a lot of movies under that genre. But there it is, gnawing at the corner of their luck-filled and strangely eclectic CVs. She, playing protagonist Jeanne de la Motte de Valois, leads a cast of two Brits, an Australian and others who are mostly and blatantly too American for their roles, no matter how much they push their affectations to each other.

But I’m a nice, forgiving person and say that those affectations are a part of Hollywood tradition, another convention being the actors’ tight bodies which are a few sizes smaller than wealthy 18th century adult aristocrats. And the slow motion and soundtrack combination when something extremely devious or extremely violent is taking place. And stop trying to make the Illuminati happen, it will never happen!

The film Jeanne into a Scarlett O’Hara figure, she submits to the deceitful and decadent court life, getting herself into a plot to steal from Cardinal Rohan (Jonathan Pryce,as French as he has been before) who thinks is a loan for Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson) to buy a diamond necklace the latter can’t publicly do so. But Jeanne will rationalize that plan, saying ‘I’ll finally get my home back,’ to her gigolo (Simon Baker) to remind us of it once every ten minutes that she’s a good person underneath. And I suppose we all are.

This film also exists to get Milena Canonero adequately employed, two of her three Oscar wins are from her work in movies set in the Rococo period. There’s one scene where de la Motte wears the same pink number that Kirsten Dunst’s Marie Antoinette wears. Canonero also works through fashions with de le Motte’s arc between a dour woman into the perfect yet classy seductress. I also remember mr e hats, veils and head-gear for de la Motte and the other female characters here than in Coppola’s film.

Which brings me to Joely Richardson‘s Marie Antoinette, my first time seeing her in a movie. Her brash force and dismissal reminds me of Cate Blanchett while her naiveté feels like 90’s Uma Thurman. I was wondering if the film considered Joely’s sister Natasha for the role but the latter doesn’t seem as gullible. She also looks slightly closer to the Vigee-Lebun paintings of Antoinette than Norma Shearer on Dunst ever does.

I also actually like how the film portrays Antoinette. I have a hazy recollection of Shearer’s Antoinette, but Coppola kept Dunst’s Antoinette away from the backroom, her most political decision is staying with her King despite the riots getting closer to Versailles. This Antoinette has her hand on the chess board, refuses the titular necklace because it was commissioned for her grandfather-in-law’s mistress Madame du Barry, overseeing the Petit Trianon’s construction, personally vindicates Rohan or decides a public trial about the necklace as if her husband the King isn’t in the same room. Joely’s Antoinette thus has a more active role in politics than the two more famous Hollywood depictions of her. But in compromises by showing the revolution against her and her beheading, just like the film shows everything we already expect in a movie about that era.

The film, choosing more conventional ways instead of going for an auteurial vision of the past, competent in telling its story. But after the credits roll, we can always go to wikipedia and find out that real de la Motte wasn’t a Valois, that she was probably killed by debt collectors instead of royalists and become severely disappointed that she looked less like Swank and more like Karla Homolka.


Psycho stories and shots


Sorry for the short blog hiatus! There’s more of that to come, unfortunately.

Instead of talking about my favourite shot from Psycho – that’ll come later – or my long-ass history with arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, or my veneration for the woman with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Janet Leigh) and the man with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Martin Balsam) I’ll talk about a shot and a story that I’m probably not supposed to tell. This story also means that I can’t talk about what school I went to, although I probably can’t keep my mouth shut for that long. And that despite the slight Schadenfreude, I feel bad about telling this story because the same things that I might imply on this person might also be said about me.

As a background, in my college, there is a great film professor pushing into his emeritus years. If you wanted an introduction to ways of thinking and philosophy from the 20th century and beyond, he’s your guy. He is much beloved by the earlier classes but the dissent against his has been coming stronger as new generations of students come. My ambivalent opinion towards him doesn’t make the fact that I’m unemployable because I like talking shit any less true.

So me and an alum were talking about B film ‘Hobo With a Shotgun,’ that recently had its Canadian première. I hesitated on saying that I hated it, he was talking about its merits and deeper nuances, about how the film treats. “So, like, the Drake character is Stephen Harper and Rutger Hauer is some guy in some other political party or ‘the people’ or something?”

“No, not that deep.”

“Sorry. I guess it’s the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ training in me that make me over-analyze things.” Although I do believe that every film is political and social, a belief that will lead to a story that I will never tell unless we meet in person.

“Oh, God. Him. It’s like every film to him is about the economy. Like for Psycho. For genre class he made a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene. At the end he showed the shot of the drain, and asked the class ‘What do you see?’ You know what he said?”

“The swirling of the water is reminiscent of the dollar sign,” I asked sarcastically.

“ZERO!”

“NO!”

“And I shit you not, _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ yelled ‘Bullshit,’ walked out of the room and never took his classes again.”

“That is kinda funny. I have _ _ _ _ on my Facebook. I should write on his wall sometime.”

I’m haunted by that sequence because the chunky blood that comes out of Marion Crane (Leigh), eventually being diluted in the water for that ‘zero’ moment.

What’s also ironic is that while I’m talking out of my ass, I’m using one of my prof’s shot-counter shot analysis that he intended for Vertigo – another clue – and how in the earlier scenes, the backgrounds used for Jimmy Stewart’s character had clean geometric borders while the Barbara bel Geddes character worked around a hot mess.  The same thing happens here in Psycho, where two characters are literally a few feet away from each other yet the spaces are clearly bordered. Marion sits in front of a relatively blank wallpaper while Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) chooses to sit with his creepy stuffed birds. The clutter around him shows his conflicted, angry mind while she’s fine if a bit delusional.

Despite Marion’s blood and her effects, the  bathroom feels clean when Norman enters. It’s as if doing the deed is a method of purgation for him. The clouds and the fog hours before seem to disappear for him, the dead trees making way for his brooding face.

Or to a lesser extent, there’s one particular shot with Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis (wooden John Gavin). It’s a little bit smoky on Lila’s side while the downtown buildings serve as a background for Sam. We can argue which parts of the mise-en-scene make one more troubled than the other, but I like this shot because it’s pretty.

Then there’s the last scene, showing Norman imprisoned around the ultimate void, when the battle’s been won.

This has been part of Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.


‘Gothic’ as a film genre


Did you know that I’ve seen three Michael Fassbender movies in the same room? Jane Eyre –  my poorly written review here – is playing now at the Varsity 8, possibly the biggest screening room in Toronto (if you don’t count the repertory and TIFF theatres). I also saw Hunger and Inglorious Basterds at the same screening room. That’s one hell of a coincidence.

This post exists because Anthony Oliveira retweeted A.L. Day’s mini review: ‘Jane Eyre: solid “meh.” tried to be Austen; suffered for it. go gothic or go home.’

Then I thought about the difficulties of perfecting Gothic literature into cinema in the age of colour, the grainy textures of  the walls of a grand old house pale in comparison against the shadows of black and white films?

ph. MGM

Gothic cinema to me are movies released in the 1940’s or 50’s. Rebecca, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, but those movies are also called ‘noirs,’ referring either to genre or style. I looked up Gothic cinema on Google but the films that the pages listed belong to more genres – German Expressionism, Hammer horror, giallo and new Spanish cinema. Maybe ‘Gothic’ is too big and elastic of a bracket to have ever been considered a genre in the first place?

Anthony actually brought up Shutter Island as Gothic film’s ‘truest recent inheritor,’ which makes sense since the film checks off things on the list, scary men, haunted architecture, jagged rocks, insanity, damsels in distress. The film’s sensory overload, with the blaring bass of the soundtrack to the white screen flashbacks, also matches the descriptive prose of the Bronte sisters and Byron.

Jane Eyre has a slightly faster pace and is more plot-centred than the impressionistic feel of Emma Thompson’s Austen adaptations. The visuals are Campion-esque. I looked for Gothic references through the artwork featured in the film. The pictures within books that the young Jane (Amelia Clarkson) reads are minuscule, mature Jane’s (Mia Wasikowska) drawings more ethereal than ghostly, the paintings in Rochester’s (Fassbender) walls are French academy. I’m sure he has a Goya or a late Rembrandt tucked behind the walls somewhere, like ‘Grace Poole.’

The film has harsh close-ups under candlelight, foggy moors with barren trees, claustrophobic dark rooms and hallways but those images together don’t a Gothic movie make. I blame Dario Marianelli‘s score, its violins playing at a slightly slower pace than the faster piano footsteps in Atonement, although I’m not saying that those scores aren’t great.

Shutter Island embraces its campy insanity, as Anthony said it’s more Poe than Romantic. Fukunaga and crew, however, didn’t want Jane Eyre to associate too closely with genre, hoping it would bring the film some quality (it succeeds in doing so). I’m also hesitant in Gothic cinema’s campy tendencies, especially in its manifestations in Hammer or giallo. Is it scary if I’m laughing at the cheesy organ music? The visuals might be seen as gags if they veered closer into genre film, and Fukunaga then seems to tone it down.

Rochester should also be scary, my father’s girlfriend distinctively calling him a monster. But Fassbender gives the character heart, talking about horrific things with concern instead of disgust. Sally Hawkins‘ Mrs. Reed also seems more misguided than fiercely cruel. These sympathetic villains outweigh the abuses of Mrs. Reed’s son John, the Lowell headmaster and the force behind the terrors within Rochester’s home. One is underage, another is insane, all are bit parts. The movie decides to absolve those characters’ sins despite their actions. The wise forgiveness of an adult governs this film instead of the fears of a biased, oppressed child.

But in the end, do I care if Jane Eyre didn’t meet nor revive a genre’s expectations? Not yet, still swooning.


The Brothers Grimm


ph. MGM

The titular Brothers Grimm (Heath Ledger, Matt Damon) are quack exorcists, redundant as that is, who, by order of a conquering French military official (Jonathan Pryce), have to face a real enchanted forest and risk their lives in the process.

Sure, there are references to the Limbourg Brothers and the pre-Raphaelite movement, but The Brothers Grimm just has too much CGI and there’s nothing real and/or astounding about the film. Sure, that might be too much to ask for in a fantasy film, but director Terry Gilliam usually uses something concrete. Remember when Parnassus has painted cardboard or plywood trees, but even that was awesome? Actual sets in this film are unfortunately given some weird post-production finish. Even the gold lighting doesn’t help. Auteur hunter Damon and Gilliam regular Ledger do great work, settling for a ‘theatrical’ British accent, even if the plot takes them nowhere. And it’s kind of nice to see Gilliam regular Pryce combine his roles in The Age of Innocence and the Pirates series in one movie. Now if only he can do half-Brazil, half Peron. What is he up to, by the way?

I remember this film being advertised as a horror film, taking the Gilliam-esque comedy out of the trailer. It’s not like the comedy worked too well anyway. The most fascinating thing about this film is the strange surge of German nationalism in a Hollywood film. When was the last time that happened? It focuses the country’s folkloric history. The British or cockney-accented Germans are the good guys and the French-accented French are the bad guys. The film risks labeling Germans as hicks, but they’re not hicks if the tales they believe in are true. And the Red Riding Hood sequence was more haunting than the one in the Amanda Seyfried-Catherine Hardwicke movie that I will probably never see. But unfortunately, those are the film’s only redeeming values.


Few more thoughts on Limitless


I work in a ‘cheese factory,’ where it was magazine day on Monday and Limitless stars Bradley Cooper and Abbie Cornish are on the cover of next month’s “Marie Claire.”

ph. justjared

This is on the buy list, after the Wasikowska ‘W’ and the Rihanna ‘Vogue.’ This is also on the buy list even if I’m more than five years too young for the magazine’s demographic. Just saying.

My review for Limitless for Anonymous Material (Sam did it better) went online yesterday. Sam has second thoughts about NZT, I called shenanigans on Eddie’s career change, and I have another one.

Carl van Loon asks Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) – not to be confused with Edward Murrow – about how he knows which stocks are going to rise and fall and the latter answers something vague about knowing the algorithm of human behaviour and interests, helping him find out stock trends.

Why didn’t Carl’s (Robert de Niro) right hand man just ask Eddie about  the rise and decline of a specific stock? Carl is reputed to be a quiz master and trumps novices, and I wanted to see that in action. I would also rather be bored by a few seconds of expository dialogue than be left hanging.

Or maybe the film’s worldview chooses determinism over free will, Eddie knowing that every company or honcho has its time. He can’t pretend to have all the answers in case one of them bites him back. The film ends with Eddie bragging about how he can see 50 scenarios, knowing how to beat someone with their first move. ‘Why’ is, then, an inferior question compared to opportunities he can grasp from the said scenarios.

The assistant instead just calls Eddie a quack. It’s easier and time efficient to dismiss someone than to further test him.

I also like what it does with the idea of knowledge, that Eddie laces it with his own opinions, as he does with law theory and Renaissance European imperialism, the latter a reference hinting to the volatile nature of the Wall Street culture that Eddie is getting himself into. Spoiler, but Eddie’s victory has little to do with whether what he’s saying is right.

Or that there’s no rift or resentment between old ascetic Eddie and new suit Eddie. Being a few years younger than Eddie, I should prefer the old one over the new Wall Street one but writer artsy types are only tolerable if they’re successful and/or content. Or do director Neil Burger and his writers Leslie Dixon and Alan Glynn think that old Eddies can’t be successful? This is a B-movie, I should stop thinking too much about it.


Book: Sense and Sensibility


I finished this book on February 15th for a Jane Austen Book Club. We’re never going to have our first meeting. Sad. The first thing that comes to mind is the dialogue, impressionistic between the Dashwoods, focusing instead on portraying a pastoral tone through narrative. The novel seems more dialogue-centred during chapters when Elinor and Marianne encounter male characters. Some conversations are either omitted, or through hearsay, obscured so that even the Dashwoods don’t know their endings. dialogue is important both in form and content in this book because it cements or disintegrates the female characters’ engagements with their suitors.

Had Austen been born in this era, Elinor would have rolled her eyes at people, especially when it comes to the alleged relationship between her and one of Marianne’s suitors, Colonel Brandon. This platonic relationship is probably Elinor returning the favour to Marianne with the latter’s few conversations with the former’s suitor Edward Ferrars. Marianne and Edward both hate jargon, the former’s poetic personality refreshed by Edward’s simplicity.

The book also perfectly encapsulates female heartbreak. I’ve seen it personally and it’s nasty and can almost suck the soul out of someone. Yes, and even if the book is mostly from Elinor’s perspective, Marianne’s heartbreak is more tragic. Speaking of conversations, Elinor has a last conversation with Willoughby that doesn’t really make him sympathetic, no matter how hard Austen tries to sway us.

The only adaptation of the book that I’ve seen is from Emma Thompson’s screenplay. Willoughby’s introduction scene still makes me giddy, even if I know how he really is. Eventually having to cast herself as Elinor, Thompson is the wrong age for the part. But I can’t help but hear her voice when I’m reading Elinor’s dialogue. Pardon the limp wordplay, but Thompson’s adds sensibility and soul to make Elinor and Austen proud. Also, House is in this movie.


I got a new theme!


…again.

I’ve liked the slide show feature of the previous theme, Modulary Lite, but once in a while, I remind myself to look at the WordPress announcements to check out new themes. Most of them suck except for this one. Other commenters in the WordPress blog have already called it retro, which is why I chose it. It comes with a retro font, too, but I have to upgrade my Firefox to see the result. Nards.

Also, I have a heading like a real blog now! And it’s from Jane Eyre! Yay! But I might remember/forget to change it once every ten posts. Boo. The fact that my original blog name, ‘Brown Okinawa Assault Incident’ ran down to two lines in the header made me want to shorten my blog name. Still too esoteric, though.

Everything in this new theme feels too big, the header, the font. I don’t want the reader to have to scroll down to see my content. And I have to put more pictures in each post [UPDATE: which means it’s probably going to take longer to load my site.] so that the visual and written parts are balanced within the computer screen. But meh. This theme stays for another six months, I guess. Or when something better comes along.

UPDATE: Because I’m not talking about this theme change again tomorrow, here were rejected suggestions for my new blog name, which blogspot hasn’t updated yet. I have the best Facebook friends.

  • “blog”
  • Cutekittenssavedafterthejapaneseearthquake-notthelybianwarblog-movies.wordpress.com
  • Blog Bloggerson
  • Ordinarypeopledontwantsartsfundingvoteharper.wordpress.com