…and the quest to see everything

Archive for June, 2011

Canadian Movie: Owning Mahowny


ph. Alliance

Owning Mahowny is austere minimalist cleanliness in cinema. This approach is surprising since it tackles gambling addiction, and addiction of any kind is usually portrayed with either evil, grit or glamour. The titular Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) walks around in beige-painted halls of banks, hotel rooms and airports or visit Atlantic City casinos that aren’t as loud nor distractingly colourful as other gambling places in other films. There’s also spectatorship at work here, as casino employees and patrons both feel greed and pity towards him. Hoffmann’s performance, accordingly, is unsettlingly stoic either when he’s working or sitting on the blackjack tables, losing millions of dollars in one sitting. He barely blinks nor breaks a sweat, his only way to know how to stopp is to endure a spectacular loss. With him is a great supporting cast including Minnie Driver and John Hurt, encapsulating Ontario and New Jersey cadences.


Not a Transformers 3 Review


Michael Bay‘s Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Transformers 3, starring Carey Mulligan’s shit cheater boyfriend, several Coen’s alumni including someone halfway through an EGOT and the aristocratic Rosie Huntington Whiteley, opened the prestigious Moscow International Film Festival and is out today. I present a conversation between me and a critic friend who, as his job requires, saw it before all of us little people!

– I’ve actually heard of Rosie Huntington Whiteley.

– And hopefully after this, Paolo, no one will ever hear of her again.

– The reason I like hearing of her is at least she’s not ‘model-actress’ Brooklyn fucking Decker, like model-actress is some tramp stamp you apply to the movie’s token hot girl I’ve never seen walk a runway, even if it is a Victoria’s Secret one.

– It doesn’t change the fact that she is one of the worst actresses of any type in the history of forever. See it and see what I mean. Or better yet, don’t see it. That would be even better.

– Worse than Andie McDowell or Kelly Preston? Also, I like rooting for model-actresses. Jane Fonda won two Oscars, for the lulz.

– Worst than the fucking worst worst you can imagine. Incomparably worst.

– Like Ryan Gosling’s blow up doll would have seemed like Liv Ullmann compared to her worst?

– As I said before, incomparable.

Context: 1. My life long dream right now is to be a film critic, and I hope that my future employers don’t see my procrastination, cowardice and lack of professionalism as a hindrance. Seriously, I should be working on a 1600-er on another McDormand film, Almost Famous, instead of this shit. 2. I was into fashion once. 3. The original version of this post contained a Steven Spielberg erection joke but alas, I’m too classy for that. 4. I’ve had lots of unprotected gay sex, I haven’t been tested for HIV since college, and I don’t want to. Being HIV-positive is obviously bad, but if I learn that I’m negative, I might consider this knowledge of relatively perfect health as a reason to consider watching Transformers 3.

Criticize This’ Andrew Parker’s reviews Transformers 3 in his personal blog.


Shout Outs


This post probably exists so that I can spread the comment love to the websites I write for.

I watched Joe Wright‘s Pride and Prejudice a long ass time ago and write at Yourkloset about it. I talked, or more appropriately, rambled on about a lot of things about the film, including Keira/Brenda Blethyn type casting, the camera movement, and a little about the costumes. I regrettably forget to talk about the sister casting and the reverse Bechdel Test.

‘You’re a serial killer.’ This is the greatest screen shot you will ever see in your entire life. It seems like the last few films I’ve written about are British films, but for Castor Troy of Anomalous Material, I fast forwarded a century or so to Richard Ayoade‘s Submarine, a movie that feels like its protagonist, Oliver Tate, is telling your his secrets without making it seem like purgation.

I’ve also been reading Charles Frazier‘s Cold Mountain after accidentally rewatching the film adaptation in French. I’m not being pretentious because I’ve lost all the French I’ve studied in Grade 9. I bought the book a long time ago after seeing a store closing shop, and I thought that reading it might add to what I might write about the film. The lyrical prose is a positive influence to the four unwritten movie reviews dancing inside my head but not on this post, sadly. I’m at page 49 now which is actually good but also means that I won’t get to write about it ’till next week and that I’m procrastinating.


Indefensible: The Butterfly Effect


ph. New Line

Ashton Kutcher was once ‘Ashton Christopher,’ model. If you’re rich or in your first month of getting your Rogers Digital cable box, you’re not feeding starving children in Africa and instead watching old footage of ‘Christopher’ in Fashion Television Channel. You’d be watching a Donna Karan fashion show or something in the 90’s wrap up, they interview Janice Dickinson, then ‘Christopher,’ who just walked the show. Best Week Ever alleges that he and Josh Duhamel are the inspiration for Derek and Hansel. Dan Savage also takes credit for discovering him and introducing him to America, and with the former’s stroke of luck, he decides that he’s the soothsayer of future hot famous men and picks Trent Ford, whom you’ve never heard of and will never hear about again. Maybe it’s the foresight, but there’s a glimmer in ‘Christopher’s’ eye and this weird mouth thing that seems like he’s wanting to burst out from this image of the preppy, well composed young man into becoming the turn of the 21st century goofball. A few years later, he decides to show America that he is a serious actor as well with his star vehicle The Butterfly Effect,  a critical failure, a relatively box office success, cult favourite. Cue Demi Moore, Twitter, “Two and a Half Men.”

I’ve only seen the first twenty minutes of it. Kutcher is almost absent and looks like ass, Eric Stoltz is terrible, the child counselor from Freddy Got Fingered is in it, shout outs to Dumb and Dumber and Se7en, I will never have children. Tonight at 7PM at the Toronto Underground Cinema, Criticize This’ Andrew Parker is showing The Butterfly effect as part of his Defending the Indefensible Series. Adam Nayman and Norman Wilner will be discussing the (de)merits of the film. And of course, the series continues because when you pay to watch these potentially terrible movies, you’re donating to charity. This month’s charity, appropriately enough, is the Red Door, sheltering women and children fleeing from domestic abuse.


3 Idiots


Three men look for their mysteriously estranged college mate, Ranchoddas or Rancho (Aamir Khan), and coming along later in the journey is his on-and-off girlfriend Pia (Kareena Kapoor), their ex-headmaster’s daughter. Rancho is so memorable to these characters because of the joy he has brought to their younger selves,  since most of these other characters are prone to suicidal thoughts, mental breakdowns and quarter life crises brought on by the general competitiveness of middle class, college life. ‘Life is a race,’ but Rancho thinks that a musical number is decent cardio too. Standing between the binaries that this film and its context present, he’s Western because of his idealistic view on education and love, Eastern because of his altruism and anti-materialism. What’s also admirable about this film is that it lets Rancho be wrong sometimes, its most heartfelt moment is when the headmaster, teary-eyed, tells him that he can’t be right all the time.

There’s also Pia, who, by learning how to stand up against her former fiancée as well as her father, is a woman more feminist than a Deepa Mehta protagonist. And since we’re comparing movies about India, the film also echoes the triumphalism of Slumdog Millionaire, the but the ride is wilder this time, taking characters to opposite emotional cliffs and back.


The Lovers: Midnight in Paris


Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), visiting Paris for unknown length of time, is so taken by the city that he considers moving in, be a perpetual tourist and write his novel. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) thinks that he should go back to Southern California and stay on as the moderately successful screenwriter that he is. His romanticized view of Paris gets intermittently interrupted by his fiancée’s parents, her older friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and the latter’s yes-woman of a fiancée. After a wine tasting party, Gil takes a rain check when Inez and Paul want to go out dancing. He wants to ingest the city and gets lost. While sitting on some steps, the bells ring midnight, a vintage car stops in front of him and inside are people dressed up for a 1920’s themes costume party. They wave him in, he follows, and they take a ride from one charming, drunken party to another in for real 1920’s Paris.

In his review of Woody Allen‘s new film Midnight in Paris for The New York Times, A.O. Scott says ‘critics…complain when he repeats himself and also when he experiments.’ The same can be said in his version of 1920’s France, the historical characters from that bygone era depicted like Coles Notes. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates, because who else?) saying something quotable and eloquent! Ernest Hemingway saying something equally quotable eloquent on an awesome musky drunken haze! Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) saying something coarse and/or surreal that no one rightfully bothered to write down! It’s a damned if he does or doesn’t scenario. The latter might have made history buffs and literati take their own nails out. But choosing the former makes history seem like pushing a button to reassure Gil, as he tells Inez, that the people in the past are exactly what he thought they would be, and that he might not learn anything new despite going into this different world.

Thankfully, history gets a different narrative through Ariana (Marion Cotilliard), a fashion designer originally from a smaller French city. Conventionally, no one in her time would write about her, the thankless muse and objectified trophy to many artists. She’s smitten by Gil’s writing and befriends him. Instead of the gilded tourist-y, antique shop present day France that Gil experiences in daylight, shot marvellously by Darius Khondji, his midnight strolls in 1920’s Paris with Ariana are gray, mahogany and smoke. She leads him to avenues with a whopping four prostitutes in one block. Four! She tells him about her relatively hard life and her encounters with sleazy people of that time.

Through Cotilliard’s commendable performance, Ariana talks about being these artists’ and writers’ lovers or working under revered couturiers as a measly job or a mere stop to a drifter’s journey instead of an honour that Gil thinks it is. Kindred spirits with differences attract, and it’s very convincing that instead of hanging out and being a sponge to ideas from these great writers, he is more fascinated with ‘some girl.’ Ariana is just one of  the film’s female characters who are counter-subversive to Gil’s subversion, being able to see the cracks within his nostalgia. Gertrude Stein criticizes a painting that would end up in a gallery that Gil revisits in the present day. Inez’ mother questions his lack of taste in furniture.

Woody Allen’s previous takes on the past are more magical, an element greatly missed in this film. Sure, there’s that bit of dust touching the vintage car as they’re going to Cole Porter’s party, but instead of fully embracing the world where Gil finds himself, we instead see his eyes get bigger, the characters introducing themselves with names of people who have been dead for years. But at least he replaces magic with self-awareness.


Malick’s “The Tree of Life”


The Tree of Life is a film more expansive than director Terrence Malick‘s previous work. A quote from the Book of Job. A nebulous entity with an adult Jack O’Brien’s (Sean Penn) voice. The O’Briens losing their 19-year-old middle son R.L. to an unnamed war. Jack’s voice accompanying fast, neon lights. Urbanite Jack living his architect life, having a tense phone conversation with his father, lighting a candle to commemorate his brother’s death. Jack and his mother’s (Jessica Chastain) voices on a quest for answers as we see the world’s biological prehistory. Short moments of Jack’s mother as a child. Jack’s mother becoming Mrs. O’Brien because of a dashing man in a white navy uniform (Brad Pitt) and starting a family in Waco, Texas. Giving birth and being there as Jack, as a toddler, learns and experiences things for the first time.

I do stand by one thing about this movie – Jack’s father is an asshole, for some reason the scenes that feature him having more personal importance than others. Given the film’s length, it’s generous enough to show its audience a diverse set of moments including Mr. O’Brien’s, starting us off with his seemingly innocent sternness. But he inadvertently indoctrinates them in this world of machismo and class angst, strangely enough since it looks like they have nothing to complain about property-wise. The film also uses one scene for its audience to distrust and hate that character, to show that his relationship with his family might never be mended, despite keeping up appearances.

Mr. O’Brien is a monster but thanks to Pitt building a great character, he is not a violent caricature. Eventually, young Jack’s (Hunter McCracken) anger towards his father surfaces, and the latter’s reactions vary. It’s his human moments that make Mr. O’Brien more fearsome. We see Jack’s father through his eldest son’s flashbacks, a strong balance of a detailed, mature understanding and a childlike/adolescent fear. It’s more difficult for someone to be hurt a few times by someone who they love, knowing that a person is inseparable from the ones who cause them pain.

Mr. O’Brien isn’t the only character subjected through this impressionistic depiction. Mrs. O’Brien, her disgusted face at her mother(-in-law?)’s (Fiona Shaw) terrible advice showing us that she would blossom more if she was born ten years later and/or read Simone de Beauvoir. To her sons, she’s a playmate, and especially to Jack, she’s a teacher, an inadvertent target of Freudian tension, disciplinarian, a Saint Veronica and a terrible cook. Or young, cherubic R.L. (Laramie Eppler), trusting of Jack and doesn’t treat his older brother as a competitor. The two, with the neighourhood boys, play like they want to win Darwin Awards. They add subtle humour to the film’s spiritual and philosophical film, mixed with both a childhood and an inarticulate yet poetically working-class experience.

This voluminous film turns its audience into lucid viewers, observant of its every detail as well as making us ask why Jack doesn’t talk to his wife or father about these  issues, why in such a big house would the three sons room together or why the youngest son is treated like a prop. Devoid of obvious musical cues or other director tricks, these stories are intertwined, devastating moments seamlessly mixed in with more idyllic ones, letting its audience judge what Jack’s life and inner thoughts are like, if the part about the world’s biological prehistory influences the way we look at the O’Briens as they love and hurt each other, and if the ending provides closure or not. 4.5/5