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.
“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?
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
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.”
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.
- Fact vs. Fiction: The Science of ‘Limitless’ (techland.time.com)
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!
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.
Asian Woody Allen
- How To Add Rich Snippets for Reviews To Your WordPress Blog (makeuseof.com)
Good Night and Good Luck
Clooney’s directorial piece Good Night and Good Luck begins, the stars of this film as glamorous as they would be on an awards show in reality, the saxophone playing in the background. A man introduces 1950’s television news anchor Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn). He makes a speech towards his colleagues and people who work in the television industry, but when the camera cuts to them, it doesn’t look like he’s preaching to the choir. But that’s not such a bad thing.
And fine, while we’re at it, I’ll admit that my first encounter of the film is through the “Simpsons” parody, Kent Brockman becoming our century’s Murrow as Lisa eggs him on. This is probably how we first experienced other movies, knowingly or otherwise.
ph. Warner Independent Pictures
Did you know that the real Edward Murrow looks less Strathairn, and more like Harry Dean Stanton. Murrow would have been a perfect role for Stanton in the 70’s. But surprisingly, I don’t remember any anti-McCarthyism in films, not even with Hollywood class president and lefty extraordinaire Warren Beatty making controversial films like Reds.
The double threat taking Beatty’s place is George Clooney, and don’t worry guys, I’m heading somewhere with this tangent/segue. There was this CINNSU/ Bloor Cinema alum who once told me that Clooney wanted to direct a remake of Network. The word ‘remake’ seems like a pariah even to people who aren’t film geeks, but as the alum said something like, ‘Paddy Chayefsky’s like Shakespeare, why not?’ I wish the rules of cinema bent like that too. I suppose the closest we can come to seeing a remake of Network is Good Night and Good Luck, the story of Murrow combating McCarthyism and its abuses through televised journalism. And we’re back!
There are many differences between this film and its predecessor. The man in front of the camera is sane even if the world or the institution controlling it isn’t. Howard Beale is a deluded puppet while Murrow is a leader who still writes his pieces. Strathairn, in his best role yet, delivers perfectly, mastering the elocution that the real Murrow and gentlemen of his time might have had. Here, the fictional Murrow goes head-to-head against the real Joseph McCarthy, the menacing figure on the upper left side of the screen, the latter’s own words and pictures used to defame him. He gets criticized by some newspapers as ‘selective,’ but Murrow’s integrity stands strong.
In this scene, both Murrow and McCarthy quote “Julius Caesar” like many do with the Bible, choosing lines to further their cause. The Shakespearean play is about an unnatural shift in power, deceit and constancy, that latter quality being something that McCarthy doesn’t have.
CBS begins an investigation piece on the firing of US Air Force Officer Milo Radulovic – who is Irish, apparently – because of his father’s suspected Communist affiliations. The film uses authentic newsreels of the accuser and the accused, this one being rough looking but eloquent. Murrow, then, and CBS seems to have chickened out by doing celebrity profiles. An insipid few minutes with Liberace becomes subversive once we remember that ‘he doesn’t intend to marry soon.’
But don’t worry, the Air Force will retain Radulovic.
‘I’ve got my eyes on you/I’ll set my spies on you/Keep your eyes on me.’ As if she’s agitating the enemy, whispering sweet aggression to his ear.
The racial politics in Good Night and Good Luck are muted, the black woman doing her numbers in between the skirmishes where the white men fight for her constitutional rights. The actors doing the fighting, however, seem to be suppressing the outrage they would normally have if their names and the names of their friends are stained by Cold War paranoia. This film’s tone is less bombastic and more quiet. No dramatic music, no hammy speeches, nothing. But instead of a breathtaking experience that most great films should give its audience, its tone is its own, feeling like a last slow dance in the middle of the night.
Moulin Rouge! nine years later
The only handheld moment I remember from Moulin Rouge, as Christian (Ewan McGregor) sneaks away with Satine (Nicole Kidman), cuckolding the Duke even if the latter if a few feet away. Naughty!
This movie’s whimsy and surrealism in covering late 20th century pop songs in contrast with Paris almost a century ago is a precedent to Ryan Murphy’s surreal abomination known as “Glee.” I understand people who don’t like this movie, as Michael koresky called it ‘porno garbage‘ in context of a review of the Hardwicke-Seyfried Red Riding Hood movie. I admit, I sometimes hate parts of this movie too. Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent – he won an Oscar in the same year for Iris. I haven’t seen that, but I’m sure he should have won for this movie instead.) singing ‘Like a Virgin,’ or a ‘Roxanne’ in tango. In the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether the cast had the perfect voice, since they were auto-tuned just like pop stars and TV musical stars after them. But their gilded backgrounds help us dive into the film’s craziness, and as Christian belts out lyrics like ‘we can be lovers’ or ‘we can be heroes’ with an innocent enthusiasm and Satine, like us, can’t help but sing along.
I also believe this movie is created to venerate Kidman’s face, especially since this is her at her prime. Possibly the last time she’ll look immortal. Her emotions when Satine denies her affection for Christian, only to sing his loving words to him later. It’s really difficult to stamp any role of hers to be her best, giving something different here as she does with the naturalism of Grace in Dogville or the sincere upper-class pathos of Becca Corbett in Rabbit Hole. The first word that comes to mind is seduction, when Satine gets our attention by singing the words straight and looking directly at the camera with her big eyes. She doesn’t, however, shy away from the histrionic side of attracting men like Christian and the Duke, with high-pitched whispers for comic effect. Or when her game stops and has to tell Christian the truth, tearing up when necessary.
Also, when I was watching this, her face only has colour three times, when she’s adjusting her make-up, on top of the elephant singing along with Christian or when she’s trying to ward him off. She tells Christian that the Duke has given her everything, and anyone would have taken her word for it unless it’s someone as resilient as Christian. The rest of the time, the blue light makes her seem like an unreachable Parisian geisha, her wintry beauty under the evening blue light already foreshadows her tragedy.
This part seems like I’m over thinking this movie, but there’s also something interesting about her showstopper of a number, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ a song she sings in two versions. During both times, she’s practically dressed in diamonds, shining as they hug her body. I’m not sure what director Baz Luhrmann’s intentions are, but using the song inadvertently puts Satine with Marilyn Monroe, the rest of the characters depend on the woman’s intelligence but none of them point that quality out. They both commit to their fictional selves. Their health and career are vulnerable and precarious, their broken hearts hindering them from moving on.
Let me now talk about the multicultural references in this movie include Switzerland, India and Spain (or arguably Argentina). I’m still figuring out the fictional turn of the century Parisian’s fascination with what’s outside them, letting pieces of the world in through Expos and caged zoo exhibits and, in the case of this film, cabaret shows. And the ‘legitimate theatre’ of the last act. The film also dedicates some time to show Christian, Harold, Lautrec (John Leguziamo) and the rest of the crew making sets and backdrops, rehearsing intricately elaborate dance numbers, looking just as fabulous as the finished product.
There are also some intermissions, when the bearded Christian is alone, when the titular Moulin Rouge is barren, its red curtains no longer blushing like a youthful face. The fictional world of the Moulin Rouge at its peak is still vivid and magical even if once in a while, we remember that it all has ended.
The Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter was playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of their 80’s thingamajig every Saturday at 2. They’re also doing Gremlins today and Back to the Future, if they haven’t done it already. The looks of the star of The Last Starfighter reminds me of Armie Hammer, so if necking with Leonardo di Caprio in movies don’t work, he has a sci-fi reboot waiting for him! Oh wait, this guy plays twins too?
Let me explain. Alex Rogan lives in the 1980’s in some trailer park in California or the Southwest that isn’t as trashy as the one in “Trailer Park Boys,” there’s a video game outside the diner of that trailer park. He exceeds the top score, he gets sent in outer space because of this seemingly inconsequential achievement. A Beta version of him is sent down to take his place to keep the residents less suspicious, even if he mopes around and doesn’t like it when his girlfriend licks his ear.
He’s not the greatest actor. He doesn’t particularly sell me when he doesn’t want to be a starfighter. He has this wide-eyed inflection when he learns something new about outer space. But he does capable service to his double role, the original is sometimes angry both about his old and new predicament, Beta Alex takes the Earthlings with a humourous stride. And he has great timing when acting against himself too. I’ll also point out the deadpan ridiculous of Alex’s girlfriend and the rest of the trailer park residents, the most embarrassingly stereotypical acting from a black person in between Oscar Polk and the Wayans Brothers and the fake British inflection camp of the space villains because apparently there’s no other way to act out the latter. The enemy alien has a red space monocle snapping into place once in a while. The last time that happens, he says his last words “We die,” and he dies. It’s priceless.
As an 80’s sci-fi movie, the effects are pathetic compared to today’s standards. The space battles feel like the video game he plays back home, but with blocks and lasers. The good thing about the terrible, early stage CGI era is that the crew would actually make sets for the interior spaces outside Earth. The sets are well thought out and make sense for their contexts. Half of the film also takes place in and near the trailer park. The effects in this part economical like a shooting star, a sign that an enemy has landed. We see the tacky decorations of the kooky old trailer park residents, the truck with the token sexually rambunctious but not destructive cowboy friend and non-speaking token Asian friend and so forth.
There’s also something I like in the composition of this shot of Alex’s anguish, vegetation, sign, diner. There are a lot of contrasts that play well together, both earthly and magical. There’s also another shot where the good aliens parade Alex around the dark surrounding s suggest nighttime but actually mean the film can’t afford a night sky or special space traffic lights.
This film came out in 1984, a banner year not for the Academy but for genre films. The Terminator also came out this year.
Ladies and gentlemen, ignore the indie feel of the trailer. Thanks to Juno, high school sports are quirky now. Nonetheless, let me introduce to you the first great movie of 2011.
Win Win has the same bare bones story as director Tom McCarthy’s earlier film The Visitor, when one person finds another on his doorstep. But this film’s more organic. McCarthy shows us the colourful characters within lawyer Mike Flaherty’s (Paul Giamatti) Garden State life. His daughter’s first word to the camera is ‘shit,’ his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is an upstanding citizen with surprises. He also coaches an incompetent high school wrestling team with his wacky colleagues (Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale). This film’s visitor Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer) becomes the star of Mike’s wrestling team. The film can extract humour from banality especially with Kyle’s deadpan delivery. He says ‘Night, Jackie’ bringing laughs, and I wonder why other movies have to try so hard to be funny. The film’s first act is interesting enough on its own. I also feel as if with or without Kyle, this fictional Jersey’s continuum – its characters constantly in a quest for self-improvement, its middle class standing constantly threatened – would feel the same.
Thankfully, this movie also doesn’t have The Visitor‘s self-righteousness. Both Mike and Kyle’s mom Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) are neither portrayed as good nor evil, as both want financial rewards for being the guardian of Mike’s client who is also Cindy’s father. Lynskey is a contender in an insanely strong cast, agonizing about her Cindy’s father disinheriting her while tiptoeing between evil, manipulative daughter and disgruntled child, convincing Kyle of Mike’s deceit, saying the word ‘court’ with a perfect welfare-class inflection. It’s lovely to see someone as consistently good as her.
Cannavale, filling in the shoes of a showy, comic relief role, as his character Terry Delfino is the last person to join Mike as a wrestling coach. He transforms from Will’s barky boyfriend in “Will and Grace” and speaks with clarity and great timing, making himself the MVP of this film. From trying to keep Mike warm by climbing on top of him, telling Mike’s daughter not to get married to egging Kyle on as the latter confronts the former. a safer would movie would shut him up even in dramatic moments, but he doesn’t. McCarthy not trying to manipulate the film’s mood and tone, Terry’s presence adding to the film’s glowing naturalism.
Had the film ended one scene earlier, it would have felt too much like a back sell. Thankfully, it shows the Flaherty’s lives back to normal but living with compromises that always come with win-win situations. 4.5/5
Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul!
I, a ‘pretentious’ ‘film blogger,’ howling my way through the second half of a decent comedy, only trying not shitting on it later.
Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) go on a road trip starting from the San Diego Comic-Con and slices through UFO sites within America. This is the reverse Y Tu Mama Tambien, where meeting people along the way mitigates the two’s homosexual bond. Let’s talk about the fourth addition to Graeme and Clive’s RV, Ruth Braggs (Kristen Wiig), Graeme’s eventual love interest, making Clive jealous. Unlike their roles in Shaun of the Dead, Graeme’s goofy and Clive is sane, gay but never says it. I have yet to decide what I think of this non-revelation. Then we move to the RV’s third wheel. Paul (Seth Rogen). An alien. The first half of the film is getting through how hard it is to watch a movie with a CGI alien in it.
As Graeme and Ruth’s weirdo romance grows, Clive and Paul have a passive aggressive relationship. When they first meet, Graeme faints and pees his pants, the latter incident reaping expected comic rewards. The movie’s also about making effective winks and nudges to alien pop culture, or mostly said winks and nudges to Steven Spielberg’s career.
Part of the fun in this road trip is also a chase. Watching Clive and Graeme’s RV cut through the highway seems like an American pastoral, compared to how the FBI goons (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader) are depicted in menacing black suits and more menacing black cars. It’s funny watching them try to be indifferent to the alien subculture while trying to catch an alien. Tailing both the RV and the FBI is Ruth’s crazy father (John Carroll Lynch), stereotypically Christian and all. But wait for a James Cameron reference that true geeks will be gratified with. 3.5/5
Best Shot Redux: Memento
This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit me with your best shot series.
That’s fortunate since this season of the series requires me to rewatch movies that I’ve either seen before, or like Memento, four times. Twice, when the movie had its run on Showcase in Canada, when it still showed turn of the twenty-first century American independent film that began a new chapter of my love for cinema, unlike the less challenging cable programming and box office movies it shows today. The third time in Cinema and Modernity class, part of the Film Noir section, the first time I saw the beginning of the movie – or is it the end?
ph. Newmarket/Summit/Columbia TriStar/Alliance
Where was I? Rewatching any film means noticing things that I haven’t before. The first series of shots I’m going to talk about are what I thought my best shots were going to be. The bullet casing, animating itself through the film’s first scene playing in reverse, reminding me of Cobb’s totem in Inception. I started looking for other images here that reminded me of the other Nolan films. The birds in Natalie’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) room are less glamorous versions of the birds in The Prestige. Lenny’s (Guy Pearce) fire like the one that burned Bruce Wayne’s house down in Batman Begins. I’ll go for a stretch for The Dark Knight and talk about how both hero and villain mutilate their bodies and how both have unknown pasts.
But all roads lead to Inception, the connection between that magnum opus of a movie and this one are stronger than with Nolan’s other films. Like Cobb, the film shows Lenny remembering his wife through second long shots of her, the objects she used, of the things broken when she was attacked. Instead of the vivid feel of Mal’s flashbacks, Lenny’s wife’s seem fleeting and poetic, like how the only army wife in Malick’s The Thin Red Line is depicted. It’s also strange watching Jorja Fox be the prototype to Marion Cotillard, or is Cotillard Fox’s photocopy?
Second. The elusive Natalie, going from ordinarily shady character to foul-mouthed villain to everything in between. The audience sees minor characters like her through Lenny’s eyes and encounters. She’s the exception to the rule. Lenny leaves Natalie’s bedroom, leaving her three seconds to herself, making me wonder about the film’s subjectivity, or if subjectivity is what Nolan is aiming for. She touches Lenny’s side of the bed. Who is she yearning for, Lenny or Jimmy, her drug-dealing boyfriend that Lenny has killed? Is she finding a kindred spirit with her boyfriend’s murderer, since they both have lost loves? Falling in love with him and falling into the trap that she has originally set out for him? The film repeats this moment but instead Lenny acts it out, his reactions to the half-empty bed in his motel room feel less genuine.
I tried avoiding the ‘beautiful woman’ shot I’m always tempted to use, but I couldn’t resist with Carrie-Anne Moss here. What kind of performances she would have given if she wasn’t relegated to being Trinity from the Matrix trilogy? She makes my favourite shot of the film. Also, a few bloggers, including me at one point, have accused Nolan of writing terrible female roles, but it takes him three seconds to turn a seemingly bipolar femme fatale into a nuanced, complex character. And he really likes his brunettes. Whether you think that’s enough is up to you.
Third. In which Nolan gives us the film’s twist, making me wonder why I haven’t noticed this in earlier viewings, or if Nolan just hid this well. And do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get this screen cap? Ten minutes, seven times. Sammy Jankis (Sephen Tobolowsky) turns into Lenny. I am proud of this shot.
Seminal Television/Theatre: Les Mis
I’m a “Les Mis” noob and a musical noob, so don’t take the bad parts of this post seriously. In a time of rock and cabaret musicals, it’s kind of refreshing to have a traditional musical like “Les Mis.”
Marius (Nick Jonas) sings a stanza or two and Eponine (Samantha Barks) belts out one line and blows him out of the arena. Although Jonas can sing if he’s alone on stage. Did you know that she was on a reality TV show before this? Also, I like her Eponine even if that means its treasonous to like her rendition’s over national treasure Lea Salonga. Barks’ Eponine is melancholy and mature while Salonga’s Eponine fifteen years ago had this childlike glow but singing as if she’s already fleeting away.
Before I get to Salonga I keep thinking about how many fangirls are there who are on team Eponine. There are a handful of supporting characters in a musical dignified with “It’s my song about dramatic solitude/before I exit and go to craft services/And ignore insignificant bit players….” But the sweeping notes and poetry of ‘On My Own,’ ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ or even Fantine’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ trump some of the leads’ songs.
Speaking which, I do like Salonga as Fantine. If she is singing lower because of age, that doesn’t stop her emotion from pouring into the songs. She’s best when admitting about her daughter Cosette (Katie Hall) to the Foreman, or showing her hatred while immersed in the world’s oldest profession. She gets cool points for playing the latter. The book for this musical’s very angry, emo and sad even for my mom, and thankfully the score balances most of the anger out.
Either way, I’m hooked on the musical now. There’s a greenlit film version scheduled for a 2013 release. I guess they have to get stars to play Valjean, Javert and Cosette, but Barks and Salonga better be there, Heck, you can put Jonas in the movie version too. Also, if you have YouTube clips to prove me wrong about who is the best who, go ahead.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on Carson McCullers’ novel, shows how the characters’ time together, despite of their reliance on its permanence, is fleeting. Mr. Singer (Alan Arkin) has to move from a smaller town as Antonapoulos’ (Chuck McCann) guardian, being confined at a facility in Jefferson, Georgia, a place wher he isn’t supposed to be. In Jefferson, he boards with the Kellys and works for an Afro-Caribbean doctor, dealing with the latter’s family troubles.
I like the Kelly’s daughter Mick (Sandra Locke), supposedly being more refined than her respectfully working class family is and will allow. There’s a scene when she hosts a party for the other neighborhood adolescents and they end up using her brother’s fireworks. She wants happiness and acceptance but will not compromise herself to get that from her peers – as they play with fireworks, she kicks them out of her property I would have let them play with the fireworks while moping.
Singer is the perfect friend for an ‘individual’ like Mick as he is with the doctor or a recovering alcoholic (Stacy Keach). He’s shunned by Mick but she changes change her mind when he starts buying her classical records even if he can’t enjoy them. Arkin is perfectly cast as Singer, even if it’s in the level of physical appearance. His dark features, making him look biracial, contributes in his role as a shamanistic mediator between the whites and blacks. He wears a suit and walks around, his silence read as pensive, altrustic and even happy.
Yes, there are ridiculous points in the film, like when the doctor’s son-in-law Willie stabs a racist man with his own knife instead of throwing it away. Or McCullers piling on departures and rejections and violence on Singer to drive him to his end. Was Singer not strong enough? Mick says that he was there for her and for everyone, and I wonder if anyone can withstand constantly being that person.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong
Should I save my erudition for the time that the original King Kong and I will intersect again? Will the things I’ll be talking about here redundant with what I’ll be writing about in the original film? Should I be totally snarky for this post? Do you want to see Adrien Brody body check a dinosaur? To all those things, maybe. Every economical moment in the independently produced (an indie film before Cassavetes? I know, right) original film is expanded in Peter Jackson’s remake, whether that’s a good thing or not.
A fanatical 1930’s film director Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his film crew sail towards the South Pacific without telling all his crew that they’re looking for Skull Island, bearing a name that no Draper Daniels advertising should attract. Skull Island is exoticism manifested in cinema in the most stereotypical yet self-aware ways. When they actually get there they check off Stefon’s list – savages with ‘tribal’ body make up (there’s no way that their skin color is natural. It’s like the white native kid in “Giligan’s Island.”), King Kong (Andy Serkis), dinosaurs and giant insects. There are a lot of forested valleys sheltering at least the animals in this film, making me wonder why a place with this many inhabitants is as small as an island and hasn’t been officially mapped yet. But then I’m not a geographer. And of course, the two boat crew who will gather footage/rescue Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) will go through a process of elimination, the bit players eventually getting killed off.
I might also save my veneration of Watts for my inevitable by undrafted post on Mulholland Drive, so I’ll keep to talking about her presence in the film. I’ve seen this movie at least twice now, and her story is the one I remember instead of Fay Wray’s rendition of the same role. Unlike the modelesque or Manic Pixie Dream Girls today, he slightly button nose and small but thick lips make her look like a 1930’s beauty, elastic both to that decade’s glamour and poverty. Despite looking like a Ziegfeld/Busby girl, her more refined voice mixing in with her vaudeville colleagues make me think of what Katharine Hepburn’s character in Stage Door would have been like had the film shown her story for a longer time period.
One of the points of this film is to watch if she can scream like Fay Wray, but there’s a physical aspect to her role. Ann’s first steps towards the ship on the Big Apple’s docks look very much like a brave decision, being the first of many daring jumps she makes when she traverses through Skull Island’s dangerous terrain. She instinctively entertains Kong through the same flips and juggles that she performs on the New York the-a-ters. Who knew that vaudeville had practical uses? Running out of tricks, she eventually tells him ‘no,’ a simple word that she layers with defiance, crying out for Kong’s respect.
Most of the mythology within the original King Kong deal with ‘humanizing’ the eponymous animal. Yes, the first close-up we see of Kong shows a wound on the right side of his face, showing his vulnerability, but this remake enhances his ‘humanity’ as he learns it from Ann. He lets her live. He gets captured and chained, allegory of America’s history within Atlantic slavery, overreading of Kong’s provenance from the South Pacific as locus of post World War I American imperialism, yadda yadda yadda.
As he terrorizes New York, he grabs any blonde he sees as if obsessed by it but is able to differentiate between those paler examples to Ann than with the real thing. And since I’m running low on my word count, I’ll overread that the platonic union is Ann the oppressed woman and Kong, oppressed because he’s ‘different.’ She also teaches him another word, ‘beautiful,’ referring among things to her, to Skull Island, to the sunrise. Teaching Kong ‘humanity’ isn’t just about boundaries between persons as it is teaching him to appreciate what one experiences with others.
The movie’s fictional world also shows theatre, film and freak show as interchangeable, that there are no hierarchies between the three. The first sequence shows stages with diverse of stage acts in a city that is discovering ways to entertain itself. The film also shows these acts constantly change and the actors leaving one job for another only to find that next opportunity closed, just as what happens to Ann. New York’s players and playwrights have to move from one thing to another to survive. We’ve already seen Ann’s transformation, but playwright Carl practically kidnaps Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and both have to go along and keep writing and creating along the ride.
Later in the film, Carl’s blockbuster show plays blocks away from Jack’s replaceable comedy which is down the street from Ann’s dance revue. The more strange part about Carl’s show is the audience, paying an admission ticket only to be repulsed, decked out in furs as if watching Eugene O’Neill or a Balanchine. I shouldn’t have underestimated Skull Island earlier, since Manhattan Island itself has a lot to offer. And yes, the dangers within both islands are like oranges and stolen apples.
Gotham does have its advantage. Robert Osborne remarks that Kong’s size changes throughout the original. I can never train my eyes to detect those discrepancies, but I’m sure that Jackson makes his size more consistent in his remake. Being the big man on Skull Island, he’s dwarfed by the Empire State Building, a mammoth he has to climb and will unfortunately get him cornered.
Alien Resurrection vs. Freddy Got Fingered
I’m writing about these two movies because of Andrew Parker’s Indefensible series, as he presents films that respected Toronto film critics will publicly defend. Among the trailers they showed before showing Alien Resurrection are the worst uses of a recent Oscar winner, a trailer of a vehicle for a guy who’s winning now, and another of the Chad (Tom Green).
Alien Resurrection falls within the wrong hands, with the writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the director of Amelie. I asked critic John Semley about ‘race,’ which is the wrong word to describe the relationship between Ripley Clone #8 (Sigourney Weaver), the aliens, the crew, the space pirates (including Gary Dourdan and Ron Perlman) and a robot (Winona Ryder). Three of those groups work against the aliens and get out of the mother ship. Every alien or monster movie is practically a metaphor for race. The proper word is the ‘other.’ I didn’t want to be that guy in the theatre bringing up film jargon and taking a genre movie too seriously.
Anyway, Alien is a perfect movie because of its evocation of a style and simplicity, making the aliens mere intruders. The token mad scientist (Brad Dourif) disciplines the bred and captured aliens makes an even relationship between human and alien. Both perform unjustified violence against each other instead of only one side doing it to the other. The first scene of the film shows the scientists perversely fawning at her, calling her perfect. Watching Ripley eventually look at botched clones and imperfect versions of herself, and having to kill those clones out of disgust on what the scientist have done to them, and how perfection is achieved, and how people draw lines against each other.
Old adage says that Weaver hasn’t been good since The Ice Storm (released in the festival circuit earlier that year) an opinion she shuts down by elevating the film through moments within her performance. Half of the movie is ridiculous, culminating in a confrontation inside a smaller spaceship between Ripley and an alien who is also technically her son. John Semley made fun of the alien son being made of oatmeal, and watching the crappy special effects of his innards being splattered throughout outer space, but we go back to Ripley’s face, and Weaver’s sincerity and mourning doesn’t seem laughable nor out-of-place.
So what do the movies have in common? Well, viscera, inter-species relationships, parental relationships and the name Betty. The name of the pirate ship in Alien Resurrection is Betty and Freddy Got Fingered‘s protagonist Gord (Green) has a girlfriend named Betty (Marisa Coughlan). Trailers before Freddy Got Fingered include Arnold making fun of himself and a reason why I respect Chris Evans and Jamie Pressley.
Show two gross things, put one random image or plot point after another and 51% of us will be laughing. Every shock comedian probably knows this. It’s like the animation company’s CEO’s (I still don’t understand when Anthony Michael Hall became sexy) reaction to Gord’s father (Rip Torn), the absurdity of the violence is so physical that it seems measured and entertaining. What does a girl on a wheelchair who likes forced fellatio have to do with the Eiffel Tower? And why does Tom Green play a piano sausage and be called crass and excessive, yet when Dali and Bunuel put dead donkeys on top of a piano they’re called avant-garde? Well, even some critics looking at this film from retrospect have referred to it as a Dadist experiment. Its pacing is different. Neither does it compromise to make Gord cheesy and sympathetic like most gross out comedies end up doing to its protagonists.
I also love how Coughlan is the love interest instead of Green’s ex-wife Drew Barrymore, who instead plays a crazy receptionist. Drew’s sunk to a lot of depths but she wasn’t gonna permanently sabotage herself with this one. Well played. Coughlans’ the MVP of this movie. I’ll always have respect for Tom Green as with any guy who pronounces his T’s (I’m starting to notice that comedians and comic actors today have better enunciation than dramatic ones). Everyone else plays one note that go well together in this skull-beating symphony that is Freddy Got Fingered.
Oh, and after the movie, Mr. Wilner started impersonating Tom Green impersonation as if he’s fighting for the film’s final cut. That was great.
Image Erudition: Thelma and Louise
I first saw Thelma and Louise in its entirety on AMC. Rape scenes should make the most of us uncomfortable, but what makes this one so unsettling is how its choereographed and lit. Medium close-up of Thelma (Geena Davis), medium close-up of salivating skeevy rapist Harlan, close-up of Thelma’s bum, close-up of feet as the two go on an unconsented paso doble, all of them back-lit. The third thing on the list got to my nerves because we’re watching the light fabric of her dress caressing her body, if you know what I mean. I haven’t watched the channel in a long time, but it has a glare-y finish than other channels, this scene is bright and for that matter the desert scenes are more arid. The second time I watched this was in CTV, and this time there’s less lighting in that scene and I notice the lighthing elsewhere.
Oh, and that Thelma’s body is depicted in the same objectified way when she makes love to a hitchhiker JD (Brad Pitt). Both men exploit her. I’m not sure how aware director Ridley Scott is of the similarities between the two scenes.
Jonathan Rosenbaum talked about the unpredictable verve that Davis and Susan Sarandon being in their nuanced performances, which matches the film’s electric unpredictability. The average shot length of the film is slightly more than six seconds and we can actually hear the dialogue, so the film is THAT set up. But the film produces a documentary tone with the cars and trucks along the road, like when the titular Thelma and Louise (Sarandon) make a pit stop while escaping the crime scene. On the interstate, their conversations with JD get interrupted by the trucks honking while they’re passing by.
Speaking of their first pit stop, there’s a lot of abject in this movie. Salivating men, vomit, the women’s faces bloodied or with stained make-up or dirty since they haven’t had a proper shower in forever, Thelma’s husband stepping on his pizza. Which also reminds me of their two transformations. One, that Thelma goes from being the one who has to hand over the money and dependence to Louise to being the gun-brandishing store robber. Two, that they came from dress-and-headscarf wearing Southern belles to women you’ve avoid if you happen to walk in to a Lynrd Skynrd concert, not that the latter is a bad thing, mind you.
I also noticed while screen capping the movie that the characters spend a lot of time talking on the phone, the women mostly talking to men (Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen). Unfortunately the women don’t hang up on time.
Short Take – Roman Holiday
Yes, I watched the movie with one of the mot underwhelming Best Actress winning performances, but fine, dammit, I’ll be nice. She belongs to the 1950’s crop of well-groomed actresses who took a bit more time with their lines instead of rushing and being screechy like the past generations. I still can’t deny that it’s a well done film.
Its premise of a poor little rich girl kissing a man after meeting for the past twenty-four hours, but then he who has not sinned should cast the first stone. It also shows her among the beautifully cluttered streets of Rome. And the guy playing Irving is cute, who surprisingly is in his late forties when this movie was released. Typecast as amoral cowards in war movies, he would have been in great supporting roles in sitcoms today. Ah, the wonders of black and white cinema.
An unnamed chameleon (Johnny Depp) finds fifteen minutes in a film to go from an emptied aquarium inside a car traveling a highway to a small town called Dirt, inhabited by other animals. Trying to blend in with these Westerners, the chameleon comes up with the persona of a mean, bar fighting man from somewhere more west and christens himself as Rango, getting his name from an alcohol bottle from Durango. He finds a love interest in Beans (Isla Fisher), the daughter of a dead bean farmer who’s had better days. Her provenance and femininity means that she’s both strong-willed and scrappy. She’d occasionally roll her eyes at Rango but she’s sometimes vulnerable and needs him.
Rango is about the visuals. We know that our hero is the perpetually domesticated one, unable to change his green coat no matter how many times he sheds his skin, which is ironic since he is a chameleon. We also know that the gamut of cowboys, gunslingers, ranch hands and Southern gentlemen of Dirt are anachronistically Western since they’re mostly grey and furry, their period clothing coated with the sand that might occasionally blow their way. The work in Rango’s scales of the scales of the other reptiles aren’t as intense like the work in How to Train your Dragon. The mammals sometimes look scarily realistic – you can feel the hair in their faces and all.
There are the other visual antics in the film’s mise-en-scene, lights, shadows, arid desert haze, textural rocks on the desert, a gigantic eye overlooking Rango’s posse as they cross through a system of underground burrows, infernal sunset light, Rango drawing on the sky (easily my favourite image of the film). The latter images aren’t oversold, but they are often references to other westerns/neo-westerns/movies set on deserts, the lack of originality is slightly frustrating. I also felt conflicted while watching the film, kicking myself for not seeing it in 3D but also thinking that the animation in itself effectively suggests dimension and depth.
The third conflict in my head, which quickly and surprisingly went away, started when I was seeing the featurettes for the film. The film is shot through ’emotional capturing,’ which is basically the cast in a studio acting the scenes out and there’s a camera involved or something. I always thought that I’d rather watch the actors on set than to see the animated product, a la Dogville. But then I liked watching the valleys where Rango and his posse are being chased. Or watching Depp personify this childlike, imaginative and naive protagonist, a role that would have been a bit old for him. Reminds me of Clooney in Fantastic Mr. Fox, where both can be goofier and funnier than their real, physical human bodies can allow. And hey, I’m actually liking a Depp performance. When was the last time that happened?
Rango meets a few enemies, his bravado looks laughable. His feeble body also means that he’s agile. His earlier, circumstantial tests of bravery eventually gets him to meet the town’s reclusive mayor (Ned Beatty, playing an animated villain again). They mayor appoints him as the town’s sheriff. His main duty as sheriff is to protect the scarce amount of water in Dirt, a commodity also used as currency. Here we have the biggest flaw of the film, the plot. The town eventually gets disillusioned from Rango, town gets disillusioned from mayor, Rango tries to win town back by finding out how the mayor controls the water and taking that control away from him. The formulaic storyline makes me care less about the outcome, the visuals mostly seeming like window dressing. 3/5.
Oscar Hangover: A Single Man
Chandler Levack called A Single Man an ‘interesting failure.’ I agreed with her to a certain extent, reminding me of its disappointments, all but one are the film’s fault. A mix of diaspora story and American Gothic, I devoured the book about a day in George’s (Colin Firth) life and it devastated me (that’s a good thing). I found flaws within the casting, since George is ten years older than Firth when the film was released, or that they turned Asian Lois into white, or that all the actors are good-looking except for a Jewish bit part. I’m also going to back sell that despite Firth being theoretically miscast, he should have won the Oscar for this role.
The heading for this film indicates that I saw this again eight hours after I passed out while watching the Oscars. Sure it’s not a great condition to watch and write, but I retained a few things:
Director Tom Ford has given more attention to the film’s surfaces than any of the other film’s aspects, but I finally concede that George and his house, described as a constraining home across a bridge, can look stylish since every self-respecting middle class gay man in the early 1960’s should be dressed or living with class. Charley’s house actually has a better description in the book. But everyone else? And turning gruff Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) into a twink? I suppose the style adds a fictionality within the film, and you can decide whether the latter is a good thing.
George and Jim’s (Matthew Goode) couch scene also makes me think that he has taken Jim for granted when the latter was alive. There’s a power dynamic between them that heteronormative or fictional homosexual relationships have, their book choices show how one is supposedly more masculine or intelligent than the other. This dynamic is subverted by Kenny’s entrance into George’s life, Kenny being more game than George, the latter submissively lusting over the former. Anyway, I actually appreciate how the script and Goode characterizes Jim with sunny optimism, despite seeing him through George’s nostalgic goggles. Goode has always been my second MVP in the movie, but too bad he’s such a jerk.
Emily Watson could have been a great Charley (Julianne Moore) since she’s the right age and nationality. I’m however warming up to Moore’s performance now, and for some reason, it’s because of her dancing. Despite the beautiful exterior that she’s grown into, she dances like she’s trying too hard, making me think of someone who wasn’t loved in her younger years, who certainly isn’t loved by George in the same level that she does.
Overreading Colour! Shine!
This is stupid. Let’s begin.
Red is used in Shine, denoting public arenas where adolescent David Helfgott (Noah Taylor), well…shines. The curtains of a stage where he plays and is hailed a prodigy. He meets Isaac Stern. He’s supposed to tell Stern, through his stage dad Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl)’s coaching, that he’ll give anything for success. Surprisingly Daddy wants to thwart David’s education, offered to him by Stern himself. The colour is also used in a library scene, meeting a girl but leaves her out of obligation. Red marks the boy’s desires, repressed yet encouraged.
Humour me as I try to combine both pink and orange in symbolism, the two complementing each other, used on different times in young David’s life. The former, as you can see in the still, is the girl’s room where he can bond with his sisters and tell him about others who encourage his dreams of studying in America. The latter in a more minor moment, as he wakes up after a drunken night out in the town, wearing an orange boa feathered scarf, one eye-opening to his new world in England. Those colours mark freedom for David.
There’s a lot of green around Peter. The vegetation in his shack’s front porch, tall to protect his family from being taken by the outside world and the backyard grass, where he can watch over them. Except for the girl’s room, most of the house has green wallpaper, including the piano room where he teaches David, in the bathroom and in David’s bedroom. In the still, he’s telling David that hating one’s own father is the worst thing in the world. The colour in the interior scenes feel masculine, less of a stabilizing sense but more drab, weathered and gloomy.
White has its double meanings. We see it’s strongest manifestations around David’s music professor Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud), the latter’s collection of marble representations of body parts of the greatest musicians including Rachmaninoff’s beautiful hands. The piano keys themselves suggest the classicism that the music suggests and requires for the people who love it and want it. It’s an intellectual, genius’ colour. As the cliché goes, genius borders with insanity, the same colour of David’s hospital gowns.
Black. An internal colour, where David remembers the music and simultaneously forgets it. His hair that’s perfectly combed only to be dishevelled with sweat. His enlarged pupils. Cecil warns him not to let the music engulf him. This shot at first didn’t make sense, David’s head being vertical makes me feel like he never falls. Maybe that’s the point, or that this way we can see that there’s more air space above him. How much he’s lost into the space of the music.
Gold and yellow are closer relatives than pink and orange. The first pair, for both young and old David (Geoffrey Rush), mark domestic spaces outside his home, places where women dominate. The first belongs to David’s intellectual mentor. She’s the first person he tells about any scholarship, the golden brown effect coming from her eclectic possessions and personality. The yellow comes in as wallpaper on one of the institutions where David is admitted, a freer space where mentally challenged people can relax.
Lastly, there’s blue, shining through the windows of the lounge where he starts playing again. And with his sheet music floating his wife Gillian’s (Lynn Regdrave) pool, having to fetch him and sheet music from the pool. Blue spaces seem controlled, even modern. They represent his second birth towards performing music and the support he needs to do so, and again he gets that support from female characters. But unlike his younger self, he’s ready this time.
Mixing golden age filmmaking techniques and new Hollywood’s colourful realism, The Sting is more form conscious than director George Roy Hill’s earlier films. Meaning that this film also has enough wipes and page wipes for ten Kurosawa films. Both wipe montage overloads portray Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) getting makeovers and a new apartment. The latter montage also depicts Hooker’s new partner Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) gathering people for a con. Each of these people are like chapters in a book that we skip to see the exciting part of them performing their sleight of hand. Their mark is a gangster named Doyle Lonegan (Robert Shaw). These montages are accompanied by a ragtime score, the conflicts given a lighter mood.
There’s also a lot of running in this movie, mostly from Johnny’s part, having to leave Joliet, Illinois for Chicago to avenge the death of his former partner. He’s being chased by authorities and hitmen who have been on him since he has moved. There are guns involved and the clicking sound of Johnny’s shoes eerily makes the audience a little afraid for him. The camera follows Johnny enough for us to see Redford’s athleticism. There are also quick zoom outs from the gunmen, whether they’re on top of a subway platform or within hallways or back alleys behind a diner. Even if they’re looming they can never catch up to Johnny.
I started to understand why this won over Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers for Best Picture in 1973. There’s little quips from Johnny’s girlfriend, blaming her wasted training on her orchestra instead of her trip numbers. That could be overread as a satire on class boundaries in Depression-era America, but we can accept it as an incidental humour that’s as real because it’s delivered in little strokes. It’s a very masculine film, honestly portraying man in its different stages, from Lonegan’s bravado at the poker table to Gondorff wasting away before he and Johnny can get their acts together. There are red herrings before the winners bring out their Hollywood smiles, and most of us won’t have it any other way.
This is the first draft of my review for Hall Pass for the Innis Herald, a college publication that I write for and that, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a frequently updated web version yet. But you know, those kids have essays to write. Here goes…
Think of this movie as “The Ice Storm” but with explicit and projectile poop.
Due to a few loosely stringed factors – their husbands Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) constantly checking out other younger women while going on a night out with them, accidentally listening to said husbands talk about how much money they’ll pay to be with another woman, the advice of an older but energized neighbor Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar), embarrassing themselves in front of the other neighbors by talking about the said neighbors lady regions – Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) spitefully give their respective husbands the titular “Hall Pass.” The two Rhode Island wives leave for a week and let the men be boys again.
It’s strange how I have to talk about the women – subject – giving Rick and Fred – predicate – the said hall passes, since the subjects of more than half of the film are the men and their Berlusconi-esque pursuit for preferably young, just-turned-21 vaginas. We see the men doing it all wrong, in their forties having to go to the wrongest of places to pick up girls. Day 1 or Day 2, introduced through title cars with the “Law and Order” chimes, is spent chowing down banquets in Applebees, the married men stuck in domesticated suburbs instead of going to clubs or wherever where all the nubile women are supposed to be.
Forty percent, at the most, also show Maggie and Grace enjoying, by default, the sabbatical from their husbands. In Cape Cod with their parents, they watch a baseball game where Maggie catches the eye of the older but dreamy coach and Grace, being the prettier one, gets the attention of the hunky young star player (Tyler Hoechlin, the little boy from “Road to Perdition” all grown up). While the men are failing in their quests and having second thoughts about their temporary freedom, Maggie and Grace have the same anxieties even if the chances are knocking at them unsolicited. The guy who introduced their film tells writer-director Bobby Farrelly, who was present during the screening, that this is his first ‘chick flick.’
During the preview screening, there was this woman laughing so hard during a full frontal male nude scene, which made me pray for her unfortunate life. I ended my review by saying that the film’s ending makes me jealous of Stephen Merchant. 3/5.