See That Man at Centre Right?
That’s rapper Phife Dawg who’s humble enough to still fit within his provenance, Jamaica, Queens, despite being one of the members of the pioneering hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, the subject Michael Rappaport‘s documentary called Beats, Rhymes and Life. The man has strong opinions on everything, his slight insecurity about his high-pitched voice, his reasons as a New Yorker choosing the Lakers instead of the Knicks and even hilariously comparing himself to Florence Ballard when talking about the group’s dissolution and ongoing squabbles.
But Phife isn’t the only colourful character in the film, as it interviews others about the group and the very diverse New York hip hop scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s. One of whom is Monie Love, praising ATCQ’s ethos compared to angrier groups as the time, saying ‘There’s a specific time and a specific place for Fuck the Police…[and]…Fight the Power!’ Here’s a longer version of my write-up of the doc at The Film Experience.
Writing about Past and Future Oscar Films
Sandra Bullock is serious business at my guest post at The Film Experience.
TIFF just announced their Gala and Special Presentations line-up which had many lovers and some doubters, but over at Anomalous Material I chose around ten of the fifty films that they announced. I suppose I could have written about more films that I was excited for, but I believed that it wads better to write about the why as much as the what. Although I’m ambivalent about not including Eye of the Storm, the image of Chloë Sevigny‘s friend Charlotte Rampling is captivating enough as her character, Elizabeth, chooses everything about her life including her ‘society’ and her own death. I then hesitated because of that synopsis but a cast that includes Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush are good enough for me.
I’m equally ambivalent about Hick, a coming of age story where a young Chloë Moretz finally plays a real person in a movie and Blake Lively might become a great talent, as potential and hype about her was around for a TIFF release two years ago, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.
- TIFF 2011: U2, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and more (thestar.com)
Double: “Outbreak” and “NeverEnding Story”
Preparing for Contagion, I watched Outbreak, since both have the same subject. Col. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and Robby Keough (Rene Russo) – are a divorced couple but they stay amicable, his military status still maintaining her respect, her bravery calling for his devotion. Besides, they’re both in the medical industry and any developments in that field both concern these high-positioned professionals.
Patrick Dempsey looks less McDreamy and more longer haired, leather jacketed Scott Speedman. His character, Jimbo Scott, in 1995, is a leftover from the grunge movement. He is one of chains in smuggling a non-indigenous monkey into California and lets her out into the redwood forests. She sneezes on him, making him this film’s Gwyneth Paltrow, and when Robby finds him, he’s too sick to utter a word. He falls victim to the airborne and mutating Motaba virus, its original strain being discovered in Zaire three decades before the film’s time frame. He dies along with his girlfriend, one of a few doctor dying through human error (Kevin Spacey) and more get infected.
After ‘going rogue’ from corrupt higher-ups (Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland), Daniels and Maj. Salt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) find the Motaba carrier, they go on TV and a concerned mother of a rural home call in that the monkey is in their backyard, her daughter christening her as Betsy. Cue the character’s spectator-ship echoing ours in such a tense moment – this happens a bit in many movie so I’m not surprised. Salt points a tranquilizer gun near the girl, the girl’s parents telling Hoffman ‘I can’t stand this.’ I can’t stand it neither. These officers characters get Betsy, then they fly away again.
This film is punctuated by characters flying in and out of America that they might as well call this movie “Army Helicopter.” Personal and worldly issues mix here in the most melodramatic of ways. The world was still reeling from AIDS, which gets a shout out in this movie, but thankfully Twelve Monkeys gets released seven months later, adding surrealism to 1990’s apocalyptic paranoia.
Outbreak‘s director Wolfgang Petersen is also responsible for The NeverEnding Story, about a kid who gets bullied because he reads or something. Again there’s the spectator within the spectacle, for example Bastian telling Atreyu (Noah Hathaway, whose credits include playing a ‘Harry Potter Jr.’ before the books came out) to run. The story engages Bastian so much that he’s reading and staying in school way after closing to find out how it goes. He’s aware that the story isn’t real, but he cares about fictional characters in a way that never stops after childhood. The film also shows that like him, a great reader bridges those two worlds to learn lessons about himself and the dangerous real world.
This film is pre-CGI so it’s still marvelous how Petersen gets most of the giant creatures and sets on-screen, both of which produce wonderment and fear. The talking creatures don’t look like mere scale sculptures and the sets look painted on to colourful effect. Some of the magical entities, like double sphinxes that kill passerby with their laser eyes, are accurately created to standards of antiquity that won’t ever be depicted the same way. I also get Flash Gordon/Clash of the Titans ’81 flashbacks because of the topless sculptures/violent subject that is still right for a children’s film. And despite the faltering British accent, Hathway’s Atreyu never gets lost within the magnificently designed sets.
- Cinema de Gym: ‘Outbreak’ (thefilmexperience.net)
Brother: Cruel Intentions
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Louise Fletcher in the film adaptation of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” called Cruel Intentions. Yeah she’s in this movie, undeservedly provoking Sebastian Valmont’s (Ryan Phillipe) misanthropy, one of the fakest things in the film. The Oscar winner’s got at two scenes, least five lines and loses meatier parts of the film to Christine Baranski or Swoosie Kurtz. Her role is more symbolic, as her century-old estate is the setting for Sebastian, her favourite nephew to clandestinely seduce Kansas born Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon). So yes, I haven’t forgotten that this movie is about the kids.
Yes, this movie asks us to make too many leaps of logic, as Roger Kumble‘s script makes the characters swear too much but oh, they’re private school educated, which accounts for all the witty comebacks. And that their Calvin Klein, minimalist chic makes the actors look like their real ages as opposed to their characters who are supposedly 17. Or that all the rich adolescents in 1999 had therapists and wore two layers during the summer or wore tighty whities or had invisible parents. And that they all suddenly looked younger by the time they wore their private school uniforms.
But I still prefer this over Dangerous Liaisons, since Christopher Hampton’s script is still more affected and mannered than this newer version. The chateaus of France became estates and penthouses inhabited by New York debutants, its gardens turned into Central Park. My generation has probably grown up to be slightly ashamed of loving Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s turn as Kathryn Merteuil, but she matches Philippe’s smugness with her raunchy side, fighting her sexual desire for him and chooses to destroy him instead. Besides, she’s probably the only actress who can dress like Audrey Hepburn and still doesn’t look insipid subvert her character’s mean streak. And Philippe makes Sebastian appeal to Annette instead of simply seducing her, their growing feelings towards each other being both a product of rich man’s cabin fever and that she can actually see sincerity and fragility pouring through, bringing in the change that both he and Kathryn were afraid of.
Daughter: Leon The Professional
Luc Besson‘s Leon: The Professional is part of the ‘wave’ of crime movies from the mid-to-late 90’s that I’m hesitant to (re)visit because of its violent fan boy reputation. Though it’s respectably well-shot in the beginning, especially in its first cleaning – or assassination – scene perpetrated by its quick eponymous hero (Jean Reno). Although he’s a physically trained man in his forties, he’s also meek, childlike and his self-imposed isolation – in New York City nonetheless – doesn’t help in ironing out his quirks. And you know he’s lonely because there’s nondiagetic European accordion music in the background trying to get empathy out of the audience, exposing how dated and uneven this film’s tone could be.
Next door to Leon’s apartment is Mathilda (Natalie Portman, living with an abusive family situation. Buying groceries for herself and volunteering to buy Leon’s two quarts of milk, she arrives too late for her family’s massacre by the corrupt DEA officer Stansfield (campy Gary Oldman). The street-smart girl ignores the thugs bringing the bloodshed walks forward to Leon’s apartment, persistently asking to be let in while ringing the doorbell and crying. Leon finally relents, white light shining on her face, bringing the film’s first redeemable moment. This is one of the moments in the film that remind us of the way her face strongly evinces emotion in her future movies as an adult. She’s also intense when she attacks her violent or sexual lines with determination, smoothness and an uncanny maturity.
After opening the door for her, Mathilda gives Leon an ultimatum to let her live with him teach her how to clean, threatening him with her alternative – death in the hands of Stansfield. But in a way, entering his apartment is equally an ultimatum for her, feeling a nix of Freudian resentment towards her new father figure and his closed-up, workaholic, machine-like nature. Fortunately, she elbows her own version of childhood naiveté, allocating some well-needed play-time in their routine. They squirt each other with water or impersonating pop-culture icons, finally makes us understand that this movie is like what would happen if Jacques Tati directed an action film. And then the guns go satisfying blazing.
- Clip joint: tearjerkers (guardian.co.uk)
Mother: A Woman Under the Influence
There was a Q&A after a screening of John Cassavetes‘ A Woman Under the Influence with its star Gena Rowlands. I wanted to ask about Cassavetes’ Kubrick-esque methods towards directing or how this film might have been about their generation. Her character, Mabel Longhetti declares that she’s not a ‘stiff,’ mocking other housewives’ affectations. She balk later and tells her husband Nick (Peter Falk) that she can be anything he wants but he tells her that she’s fine the way she is. Their brashness rebels against past generations’ behavioural conventions as well as those people’s facades of white normality. Instead, I asked instead about whether she thinks Mabel’s insanity comes from society or within – like anyone, she said both.
The film is frustrating because of how it portrays Mabel’s, like Pink Flamingos but with complex shot schemes. The camera blurs or closes up on characters during conversations with others who are off-camera. Cassavetes didn’t want to plop a camera down to capture a domestic drama through wide-shot long takes. Instead he cuts to different angles, skipping from one thread of a conversation to another, making sense in portraying the tempers firing off from different characters as well as their constantly changing allegiances for or against her.
Reading Jessica Winter’s book “A Rough Guide to American Independent Film,” I misconstrued her synopsis of the film and assumed genre conventions, thinking that Mabel being ‘committed’ is Nick’s fault. But her insanity surfaces first, causing his outbursts, making him unsympathetic. However, there’s some progressiveness or even misguided feminism in him – seeing her post-hospital self makes him want her earlier imbalances back. Maybe the double standard shows that we can dismiss Nick’s insanity as boorishness while her essential role in the family can’t make her expendable. That her insanity being separate from their idea of her while there’s no ideal Nick.
“Masks and Faces: The Films of John Cassavetes” continues until July 31st at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tonight’s movie is Husbands at 6:30.
- Gena Rowlands on John Cassavetes (arts.nationalpost.com)
I should not read too much into the moment in the Dardenne brothers‘ L’Enfant when one of Bruno’s (Jeremie Renier) contacts tell him ‘People pay to adopt, if you’re not up to it.’ The neon lights flicker from a bar across the street, as if subtly marking temptation’s introduction. The first fifteen minutes show Bruno exchanging objects for money and it doesn’t take long to attach that moral relativism towards another human being. Besides, his newborn baby can’t verbally object. Also, critics laud the film for its lack of judgement towards its unlikable protagonist. A notary agent just does his job quickly and tells them to fill their papers unlike the condescending lab technician in Juno. But talking to that with that woman is the first subtle judgment of these unfit parents and many more are coming.
I’d assume that the film isn’t sold outside the art-Cannes crowd because the premise of the movie might make a layman’s blood boil. Or maybe they’ll just be saying he’s a boy and stupid, the premise thus might be more contemptible and thus more challenging if it’s the child’s mother, Sonja (Deborah Francois) starting the bidding.
Anyway, to finish his goal, Bruno spends most of his time with his ‘mobile,’ waiting in rooms, waiting for other people or all the above. From the fourth minute mark the film is solely seen through his experience and the film sticks with that. Showing only his side and perspective of the conversation, we instead believe that money or the baby are going to show up or that his mother is on his side when the police might ask her questions about the infant. Sometimes his contacts asks for more but there’s no kind of shirking seen here. Despite being a callous liar, his trusting nature is admirable. There’s also a sense of community in the film, a shelter that extends their time to put a roof under a child, a hospital at arms when Sonja reports him to the police and Bruno in the end, through altruism, doing what’s right.
- 2 Wheels Good in Cannes Entry ‘Kid With a Bike’ (abcnews.go.com)
Thinking About These Two Movies…
Saw Jean-Marc Vallee‘s C.R.A.Z.Y. during Canada Day/Pride week. It was fun and by fun I mean trailer trash, which I liked because there’s often something authentic in trailer trash. In one scene, Gervais (Michel Cote) asks his son Zac (Marc-Andre Grodin) how Zac has become a sexually confused problem child since the former never beat his children. It’d be easy to say, ‘Well, you’re still a shitty father,’ but how do parents discipline his children in a changing world without being labeled an abusive father? Head to YourKloset for a few more words about the movie.
Andrew Rossi‘s Page One: Inside the New York Times is about the Media Department of the NYT facing its headless enemies – the first is the front page that Media is trying to get to, the second are the market forces trying to put an end to the paper industry and the NYT itself. After the screening there was a Q&A with NYT Media Editor Bruce Headlam. Appearing in the documentary along with his columnists, Headlam self-effacingly describes the movie as showing a bunch of white dudes answering phones. Noticeably these people, notably Bruce, have a lot of red spots on their faces, possibly from scratching, possibly from stress. However, I couldn’t write that on my review for Anomalous Material, it’s too unclassy for that website. Head over there and give me your thoughts.
Speaking of white people, Susan G. Cole‘s review of the film negatively pointed out that the NYT workplace depicted in the documentary is whiter than Obama’s dance moves. The rest of this paragraph will show my weird expectations about the film and the institution, the expectations being that it’s all ‘liberal’ elite kind of white. However, they do show it’s Iraq-war pushing history or David Carr looking like the kind of guys that hung out where I would shoot pool when I was in high school. I don’t mind white as long as it’s not vanilla.
- Here’s Why There Are (Almost) No Women In The Big NYT ‘Page One’ Documentary (thenewspundit.com)
I still don’t get it.
I understand the career woman who wants to get married – I’ve actually seen that happen. But Rosalind Russell’s character manipulates a jail-bird into a sound bite that gets him in the chair and that’s supposed to be funny? Or maybe I had misled genre expectations.
…With Your Best Shot: Aliens
Things aren’t as solid as they seem, pardon the expression, in James Cameron‘s Aliens, although we’ve been taught that lesson in the first film, Alien. In Ridley Scott’s masterpiece we get the breakdown of facades, each crew member suspecting each other of harboring the alien inside of them. When he finally get to see the alien that everyone is afraid of, it doesn’t look as gooey with its shiny exoskeleton.
Running opposite to the impervious behemoth of the spaceship in the original film, Cameron takes this lesson further by making the inanimate featured in the film more flexible, as if they have a life of their own. We see this in the beginning, when Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) pod thing docks into this Metropolis like port, although there’s something fluid about the pipes, or the way that mechanic arm moves as it frees Ripley from her pod. The colony planet’s suspicious too. Would you set up a colony where rock formations look like arms? Even if I was the CEO of a greedy, careless, callous company, I’d say EFF NOO!
My ‘best shot,’ or the one that captivates me the most, is the one above when the new, militaristic crew enters the colony’s gates. Metal and wires jut out of the ceiling like tentacles. You’d expect a cheap scare to come out after, that’s how eerie this place looks. This animistic structure that this depopulated colony has become foreshadows the gooey tentacles insulating the underground levels for alien egg-laying purposes. Or when the aliens are actually crawling in the ceiling on top of the soldiers. You’d think that Cameron had a termite problem while writing this script in the 80’s. Did he?
An inanimate yet uncanny object of note is also Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan’s (Carrie Hehn) decapitated doll head, her most prized possession. A series of attacks and escapes leads Newt and the team to some water-filled sewage area where one of the aliens kidnap her. Since she can’t holler out her ‘final’ ‘Help me, Ripley!’ in her British accent, here’s the doll doing it for her. That doll and her fake eyelashes is the second greatest actor in the history of cinema.
The humans, in turn, become more machine-like. A close-up of Ripley that make her seem uncanny, Bishop who actually is uncanny, the muscular body types of the soldiers – speaking of which, it’s strange seeing guns, installed binoculars and exposed skin on these soldiers at the same time. On that shot above, Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) isn’t ‘fully covered’ as soldiers would be in other movies about planets in outer space. And of course, the forklift Transformers-like machine that Ripley hops into that is really useful for her in one of the film’s most gratifying scenes.
Apocryphal information: my first Weaver film is not the Alien movies. Maybe it was Dave but it was most likely her turn as Lady Claudia Hoffman in that Hallmark movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Do you guys know what I’m talking about? This TV movie was awesome. It also had “Dawson’s Creek’s” Monica Keena as our Snow White Liliana Hoffman and Sam Neill is the oblivious father. It’s strange seeing Keena as the good girl and Weaver as the bad woman, but that TV movie cemented Weaver as an icy villain/anti-hero in other movies where I’ll watch her. Also, one of the ‘dwarves’ was a tall guy with a scar who’s also hot.
Digression! I remembered my introduction to Weaver because of the first scene, where she is Snow White. The frost covers her pod and everything. I’m not the only one who sees this, Vasquez points that out too, using the comparison to point out how ladylike she in comparison to the soldiers. I’m not sure if and how the metaphor sticks, since the original story is about a young woman’s blossoming sexuality and Freudian issues avant la lettre. Here instead, Ripley has both lost her status as a mother and is an exile. The mother alien is thus her evil mother/stepmother?
Lastly, Newt reminds me of the screaming child in The Bad and the Beautiful, both of whom remind me of young Cossette. I won’t be making more allusions.
This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers’ Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.
- Daily Dialogue — May 11, 2011 (gointothestory.com)
Judy Overload: Wizard of Oz
Frank L. Baum‘s book The Wizard of Oz was a downer when it reveals that Oz is a fake. Either he’s posing as a wizard to stop the anarchy that the bad witches represent or the picture show is his way of fitting into the magical world. The adaptation’s loyal to the source material, as Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) shitty life in the middle of nowhere changes when a hurricane transports her into the magical world where, among many things, she meets Glinda the Good Witch of the North. ‘I beg your pardon, but, I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.’
She’s not that pretty. And for a good witch she’s not hesitant to make a girl walk alone in heels with three strange men. Or the ‘munchkin’ explosion – this is the kind of high quality film criticism you can expect from me – at ‘The Witch is Dead’ number, one of the munchkins being a very tall child. There was like a hundred of them MGM, you can’t give up now! Yes, seeing this as a young adult, I couldn’t help but snark at some of the film’s dream logic or gay innuendo.
But as the colour sets in, the performances become livelier. Matt Mazur wrote about Margaret Hamilton’s work, but my MVP is Ray Bolger. Playing Hunk, his klutziness during the BW parts dialed down to 1930s bit-part standards, but when Dorothy meets Bolger as Scarecrow his physicality astounds. Along with this technicolour cast he is more believable, ushering a new era in cinema. Colour doesn’t hide anything. This should have won Best Picture despite the competition, because it presents a challenge for movies to reach new heights.
That doesn’t mean it abandons all ‘older’ methods and cues. The ‘oh-we-oh’ tune sounds like something you’d hear in a film half a decade earlier than this one but it doesn’t make the film feel dated. The way the film can borrow little hints from older and newer styles is simply magical.
Speaking of Judy Garland, Judgment of Nuremberg is playing at the Lightbox today at 6:30. Vincent Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz is part of TIFF in the Park showing selected musical films. Tomorrow’s is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
- This isn’t Kansas Dorothy (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)
QC: Notes on a Scandal
Richard Eyre‘s Notes on a Scandal begins with the symbolically named Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) looking out of her classroom window, narrating her low expectations about her pubescent, multiracial students. A lesser actress would read the word ‘progress’ as a racist, but Dench knows to keep the undertones down here and besides, Barbara has taught long enough to see the rough-edged evil within every generation of adolescents and she hates her students equally for that.
The more Barbara gets to know the new art teacher, the symbolically named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the more she thinks she knows what latter wants. She calls Sheba’s affair with the year 10 student Robert Connolly a middle class fetish to mold any poor person and that Sheba needs rescuing from her loveless and impulsive marriage. Robert joins her so, curtly telling Sheba that she wanted to feel like Bob Geldof. They’re not necessarily wrong – Sheba is a lost character but comfortably so because of her financial stability and beauty, making others covet her, and a character shouldn’t feel needy if she’s wanted back. She hasn’t planned on the husband (Bill Nighy) and children (Juno Temple) but she’s grown to love them.
I’m also still ambivalent about how these major characters place themselves on a morality scale. Barbara and to a lesser extent Robert distrust Sheba as the other, a person similarly inwardly dirtier. There’s obviously some class war here. These working class characters dissociate the bourgeoisie as a prison of appearances and consumerism, both thinking about the affair as if she’s had many. The two are easy to condemn if we forget that Sheba is inadvertently a leech, too.
- Notes on a Scandal (shewhoshallremainmentallychallenged.wordpress.com)
“Lethal Weapon” Movie Pitch
I watched Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 3. This is 1992 and the film shows the contradictions within depicting black people in cinema. The threat of Danny Glover’s character’s retirement and old age is ever-present because of Mel Gibson’s trickster of a character, but said threat is heavier against the former because of his son who is suddenly listening to rap music and hanging out within the bad crowd!
I changed the channel half an hour later, and I’m not going to wait to see this film in its entirety before I write about it, because what will probably make a better movie is if fact and fiction mix. If Gibson’s chauvinistic persona and Glover’s super left-wing self were in a movie and wrestled or fought or something. That’s worth ten dollars.
Queer Cinema: The Black Dahlia
Most of Hilary Swank‘s roles have always toyed with ambiguous sexuality, but when she looks uncharacteristically feminine, she has to talk with some fake, upper crust accent.
Her character, Madeleine Linscott, has the blatant surname of an aristocrat and a given name that would appall Emma Bovary. She’s the fourth wheel in Brian de Palma‘s The Black Dahlia. This film’s plot is complicated even for a noir. The threesome between Dwight ‘Bucky’ (Josh Hartnett), Kay (Scarlett Johannson) and her husband, symbolically named Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) is interrupted with the real-life murder of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Short (Mia Kirshner). As per the genre, Kay and Lee’s perfect, green lawn, post-war marriage is a façade hiding the secrets of their earlier, criminally involved lives. Bucky’s investigation also leads him to lesbian bars that ‘Betty’ allegedly frequented for money and pleasure, which led her to Madeleine, the latter is apparently Short’s doppelgänger even if she looks older. Madeleine condescends to the underworld, chasing Betty at first out of jealousy but eventually doing so in lust, in some way of trying to find herself through her mirror.
Of course, de Palma can’t help but tell his version of the story, reminiscent of the same camerawork that Hitchock gave up after 1948. In a way, his homages to his idol(s) make him (them) look bad and cheap. He also lets his players somehow simultaneously overact and limit their imaginations. Eckhart barks, Hartnett is bland. Johannson is the MVP here. Sure, her overtly expressive face is surprising, sometimes leading to laughably campy results. Yet she never leans on the sexuality that better directors world. She also evinces a lack of innocence that fits her character.
- Black Dahlia (mysteryworlds.wordpress.com)
The idea of revisiting Cameron Crowe‘s Almost Famous, like revisiting films I’ve seen in my childhood and adolescence, seems like an anxious and difficult one. My taste in movies have changed. Besides, this movie spends its reputation being the two words before a punchline about Kate Hudson‘s wasted career. It also seems like the movie’s opening song is cruel foresight to Jason Lee in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Where is Fairuza Balk and her mixture of sharp and round features and her dated Got spunk, the comic relief, one of the four band-aids or anti-muses distracting 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) from writing his Rolling Stones cover about the fictional band Stillwater, one of the misfits reassuring William’s mother Elanie (Frances McDormand) that she properly raised her son? I want to live in a world where Fairuza Balk is more famous than Zooey Deschanel. And where is Fugit?
The film features people I recognize when I first saw this in 2001-ish, actors who didn’t make a great impression then but do now or other actors who made an impression but whose names I didn’t know. But I’m naturally fascinated by those I couldn’t have known then. The outwardly anxious band manager is Noah Taylor, who also plays the inwardly anxious father in Submarine. Ben Fong-Torres’ (Terry Chen) right hand man is Rainn Wilson. One of the characters I don’t vividly remember Lester Bangs is, the actor who played him (Philip Seymour Hoffman), nor the way he mourns after post-Altamira rock music where everyone just wants to be cool. The 1973 I knew is the year after “American Pie” and the year before punk. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were the bands everyone listened to and still do today. This movie and Dazed and Confused might make a decent double bill, tackling and deconstructing the cynicism prevalent in the 1970’s. I also remember watching this when I was thirteen or fourteen, when William goes to his first Black Sabbath concert, watching the crowd of cool kids, and I was thinking that that was the last time that kids of all races listened to the same music. I obviously know that I’m wrong about that now.
But while races are united under the music, the film also shows how rock relegates unfair gender roles. How does William fit into all of this? Does that he has a male with a tape recorder mean that he’s above these ‘groupies? He equally idolizes Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) like they do. But Russell isn’t just a figure for William’s idolatry, as the film makes room for him to doubt William’s innocence – which the band only does – as well as confide in him, telling him to just make the band look cool. He in a way embodies a human who’s ambivalent about rock’s inherent contradictions without confusing the audience or breaking William’s soul. Meanwhile, some regard Hudson’s Penny Lane as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl avant la lettre but the airplane scene shows how the men neglected what she wanted from them. Yes, she does help men fences between William and Russell, but the last thing she does is treat herself.
Elaine is obviously the exact opposite of these ‘band-aids,’ being a stricter character, the natural yin to rock ‘n’ roll’s yang. I didn’t remember hearing what her possibly logical arguments have been about rock except that she objected to it. That makes her the film’s frumpy-faced villain, whose phone conversations with her son reinforce her conservative anxieties, the one referred to as a ‘handful’ by a desk clerk (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet). Rewatching made me see her as someone knowledgeable and therefore forging a new and flawed path in new parenting. But in her methods, such as partly homeschooling William, she won’t be right all the time. When she corrects a man for painting the word Xmas – X is Greek so be quiet! Despite her strong reservations about the new music, she’s more liberal than I remember, letting her daughter Anita (Zooey Deschanel) be an independent 18-year-old woman and allowing William to tour with the band instead of the latter two run away. These prodigal children’s eventual return and her understanding of them – as well as Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) – seem more organic instead of looking like a hurried third act finish.
The film is definitely not fast paced, letting its magical moments grow without meditating about them. The film is like walking down a dirty, seedy, big city main street and understandably calling it vibrant. Despite the subject, it’s innocent without being insipid. The film ends with Doris, Stillwater’s tour bus, riding out into the sepia tone sunlight, reminding us that we’re watching a happy nostalgia.
- Daily Dialogue — May 12, 2011 (gointothestory.com)
In Michael Winterbottom‘s miniseries/film The Trip, a publication assigns Steve Coogan (Coogan) to do a piece on fine restaurants all over England and Wales. Needing a plus one and seeing that his family and/or girlfriend are unavailable, he reluctantly calls Rob Brydon (Brydon), who is apparently the Jen Bunney of British actors. Hilarity ensues.
The film tackles the usual tropes of multi-generational British drama with reverence, beauty and humour. Steve plays Joy Division on his stereo to shut Rob up. They try to best each other’s impressions of other actors. They make fun of medieval war period pieces, producing one of the film’s funnier lines. Steve and Rob encounters an old man who takes away the silent romance of the countryside’s rock formations. All of those parts show the film’s improvisational nature that, sometimes uncomfortably, blurs the line between fact and fiction. Rob’s impressions are less spot-on that Steve’s and he is grating when other characters come into the mix, but Brydon, playing himself, is an optimistic delight to watch.
Although the next few parts in the film aren’t particularly nor intentionally funny, there’s a bit of dialogue about the complex British freeway system that makes me feel lucky that I live in North America. They also take a stab at food criticism that sounds either vile or pedantic and purple-prose-y, the words Rob read out can also be mistaken for film criticism. There’s also the lack of reception in the English countryside, possibly hinting at that hole in these places’ customer services or how these characters aren’t that connected with technology or the other characters with whom they want to communicate. Rob indulges in funny phone sex with his wife, Steve talks to his editor, agents, girlfriend and son and these conversations show how distant and different he is from those people.
But seeing this as a comedy, I’m going to be depressing in this blog post about it. Speaking of Jen Bunney and last resort friends, the comedy and the drama intersects within Steve and Rob assessing the latter’s recent dearth of acting roles. Coogan, as Rob says, is ‘brilliant’ in his leading and supporting roles, but the movie does remind us that he might just be a B-grade afterthought and yes, it makes us worry about his career a bit. He has dreams about the hyperpositive and negative that go with recognition (Ben Stiller makes another cameo in a British film). He works with a photographer that he can’t remember ‘meeting.’ Rob asks him if he’ll want to win an Oscar in the condition that his son falls ill.
The film also shows Coogan compared to his peers. His British and American agents call him about TV roles that were too late to be offered to Hugh Laurie. He resents that people recognize Rob over him or that agents choose Michael Sheen over him. Thinking of himself as the last resort also involves Steve and Rob’s contest of impressions including Michael Caine – apparently doing Caine is the trendy thing now. He doesn’t see the silver lining however, as Caine himself was probably as existential when he was making Jaws 3. The actors they imitate have had good early and later years, but since Steve is in the middle. And yes, it’s eye-roll worthy to watch two middle class white men complain while they’re living in contemporary style condos and work-vacationing while eating high-class, gourmet-cooked food. But this is only a week in their lives, and an actor’s fine life is understandably precarious and fleeting.
The Trip makes sense as a cut film as much as it does as a I imagine a longer miniseries would be. It’s a great meditation of career and age, as one man’s glee becomes infections to the other, and we’re left in the end to wonder whether this week has changed them. 4/5.
- The Trip (boston.com)