…and the quest to see everything

Archive for August, 2011

The Golden Age: About Schmidt


The Shiningph. Alliance

Alexander Payne‘s About Schmidt is, to my knowledge, Jack Nicholson‘s third foray into the road trip movie, strangely enough because his earlier two road trip movies went so well for his characters. In the first one, Easy Rider, his character visits American landmarks while in the second one, , makes his character Jack Torrance delve into familial dysfunction in the remnants of native and pioneer civilizations. And we can say that this relatively newer movie has a bit of both.

Payne punctuates the film through Nicholson’s protagonist Warren Schmidt’s epistolary narration to his World Vision-styled adopted Tanzanian 6-year-old Ndugu. Ndugu’s probably has no use of the knowledge of Warren’s woefully mundane life since we assume that he’s evading famine, but at least Warren’s not complaining about being too rich, famous or some other insufferable first world problem. What he writes and what really happens sometimes syncs up, like his retirement forcing him to notice his vehement lack of attraction to his unglamorous wife who is the same age to his devastated state when said dowdy wife dies.

But he’s mostly  an unreliable narrator when it comes to his treatment of his wife when she was still alive, keeping the household in shape after her passing to the conditions and sights on the road. Sometimes he’s in between, telling Ndugu that he’s driving on a Winnebago from his residence in Omaha to Colorado to stop his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) from making a terrible decision that she’s regret for the rest of her life. That decision, which he doesn’t tell Ndugu, is her marrying some pyramid scamming schmuck with mulletted gray hair. There’s finally some things that anyone would try to block from memory, like his sexually charged encounters with two women (Kathy Bates) close to his age.

I don’t blame Warren for his lies, equivocations and omissions, since he’s thrust to become a new person and find his new fit into this new age, vulgar, overtly commercialized world, which is hard to do at his age. He wakes and behaves as if disoriented. All he has to do is watch, and it’s for us to find out whether he accepts the inevitable world in which he might not leave a trace. And despite the film’s conventionally sentimental end, the film’s results, along with the four menacing notes on its soundtrack, are deliciously symphonic.


Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Apparently Michael Pitt played a young, clean-cut football jock in “Dawson’s Creek,” thus becoming the show’s second most successful alum. I watched the show’s first two seasons but I wouldn’t know. The Michael Pitt that I know is the one who got his rocks off at a tub, as well as other forays into American indie cinema.

ph. Warner

The off-Broadway incarnation of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has its star, writer, and director John Cameron Mitchell plays both the titular East German transsexual rocker and her arch-rival Tommy Gnossis. The film begins with Hedwig singing one of her songs about the origin of love and he might as well be singing about their broken relationship as lovers and mirror images as well as about his disjointed body. In the film, Pitt plays Tommy and we can see the characters in their separate lives when Tommy has become famous and during flashbacks, when Hedwig is still singing in restaurants and Tommy is still a God-fearing 17-year-old. Instead of an off-screen reference, Hedwig now has someone to lust for, to break her heart and to plot revenge against.

Pardon my ignorance on queer trans body politics, but it’s easy to assume that drag is an exterior performance. Camp and sex appeal, essentially. There is some truth to this bravado in the film, as we look at Hedwig’s glazed eyes as he looks into the mirror, looking like one of the deadpan mannequin heads where he places his many wigs. But Mitchell also remarkably infuses interior layers within Hedwig, a confident performer and a vulnerable child. There’s a revelatory scene when he appeals to Tommy that he Tommy loves her, he should also love the front of her. Of course it’s a hard sell. Nonetheless, her drag side is so human that we the audience might be surprised at what she looks like in the end.


Chick Flick Remix: The Women


ph. Alliance

In Dianne English’s re-adaptation of The Women, Meg Ryan comes out of obscurity and plays Mary Haines. Mary is praised by her circle of rich, Long Island housewives even if her hair looks like that of a drowned rat and she dresses like her window curtains. Her husband, Stephen, is cheating on her and her friends Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith) are all so surprised. Cue a more forced character arc than the original, her ‘I’ll change myself in hopes of getting him back’ is implicitly placing blame on Mary for Stephen’s indiscretion with a girl behind the perfume counter, Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes). This material has already been remade before with the 1956 film The Opposite Sex starring the insufferable June Allyson. Films about the rich were both a fantasy and a target for satire but today it just seems out of touch, upper-class snobbery falling flat in front of contemporary, more cynical audiences.

Despite my strong words above, I can see some things where this remake excels. The original has Mary’s declaration along the words of ‘In [her mother’s generation], women were chattel. Today we’re equals.’ She stays a trophy wife from beginning to end. It would be easy to fall towards Crystal’s methods by pretending to learn how to bake like a fetishized housewife, but in the remake, Mary is her own woman, actually getting her own career, her seduction is independence instead of subservience. Speaking of careers, this film also makes a bigger deal about the falling out between Mary and her best friend Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening). It allows us to see Sylvia’s side as well as her clichéd struggle between her friendship and career, betraying the former to keep the latter intact. Slyvia inadvertently hijacks the story and even gets Mary’s daughter’s friendship because of her more realistic take on life.

Bette Midler is also in this movie. I’ve always been on her side in the Bette versus Barbra debate, although that changed in recent years with discovering Barbra’s work in Funny Girl and her winning streak in the 70’s while Bette is doing indie films with Helen Hunt that I nor many people have not seen. But all it needs to take me back is watching her character smoke pot with Mary. She looks good and she doesn’t overdo her lines, saying them like she’s experienced love and loss without them scarring her. If only the movie was two hours of female stoners, I would have paid to see that.


Similar Images #2: The Loving Headlock


A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes; 1974)

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick; 2011)


Seminal Video: with Ryan Gosling


Via Jezebel. So this place has degraded itself to writing about videos while I’m doing my real writing everywhere else and I have six reviews to write (including four here) and I owe Queen Video a DVD and I have to finish a book and read parts of another and a preview for a Kate Winslet film (She and her kids escaped a fire is Richard Branson’s house, by the way. Yesterday just kept giving me strange emotions.). It’s so weird knowing that Gosling lives in the Lower East Side – I got of the wrong stops off the F train then. What entertains me more in this clip are the New Yorker narrators, who are proof that even if Gosling can stop rough New York fights, he can never stop The Notebook. Enjoy!


Similar Images #1: Parent and Child


A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes; 1974)

The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick; 2011)

Series idea via Tomas Sutpen. Yes, I should get tumblr but I just got a gmail this week. Baby steps. Yes, I am a copycat. Yes, I may have just helped you write a thesis. And yes, these shots summarize half of the movies they come from Check out the other half next week.


Seminal Video: The Evolution of…


…’Movie’ Dance! Michael Mirasol posted this on his Twitter feed.

1. I want to learn to Bande A Part dance because it looks fun and not difficult.

2. I can talk about the video’s omissions all hour, but the biggest is Mao’s Last Dancer, which features Chinese folk, ballet and contemporary.

4. I’d rather the montage also show Nina’s killer pirouettes or something from the fourth act of “Swan Lake.” And reminiscing from my cheerleader days, I tried doing some arabesques and toe touches. I sucked and I didn’t suck.