…and the quest to see everything

Archive for July, 2011

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.

ph. SPC via NYT

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.


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.

ph. Warner

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.


Brother: Cruel Intentions


ph. Columbia

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.


Mother: A Woman Under the Influence


There was a Q&A after a screening of John CassavetesA 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.

ph. Criterion

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.


Father: L’Enfant


ph. SPC

I should not read too much into the moment in the Dardenne brothersL’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.