…and the quest to see everything

Archive for September, 2011

A Woman’s Scene: The Proposition


Then comes a scene inThe Proposition when Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is haunted by his titular…proposition. I know he’s right but he doesn’t successfully convince two people, his boss and his wife, Martha (Emily Watson), who is listening next door. Now I know what’s she’s thinking, being mad at Stanley for releasing one of the men who allegedly has raped her friend. She later voices out ‘What if she had been me,’ giving us Lars flashbacks. In both senses, I can’t fault her. Maybe Watson’s superbly visceral portrayal of Martha’s engender the emotional distance between her and me, the viewer, and Stanley. Between opposing definitions of justice and retribution. That moment definitely made me want to reach out and try to fully understand.


Television: Made in Canada (Documentary)


Not to be confused with the Rick Mercer show, the documentary “Made in Canada” is coming out on SunTV at the fall. It’s so cool it doesn’t have an iMDb page yet. Well, it is fall now, and I hope my fellow countrymen sees director Scott Boyd’s journey into making a film in his land. He brushes us up on Canada’s film history and the ridiculous quest for Canadian public funding centred in Toronto (film) and Banff (television). Boyd interviews the people running the system and those defeated by it, as well as discussing the fate and reception of the material that does get approved. Although there’s a lot of footage of Boyd in a funding conference, cringing in a large chair with a drink in one hand, there should be an optimistic end to this rainbow. Like him, the people he interviews have a great sense of humour about the system and the marketing of Canadian films, a quality that helps them in their journey to get their stories out.

This documentary also takes me back (remember “ZedTV?”)when I actually watched the real films in Showcase in my high school years when the channel was still cool. The latter channel, as much as they showed worldwide and Amerindie fare, also introduced me to the work of Vincenzo Natali and is the reason Don McKellar, pre-Grey’s Sandra Oh and Sarah Polley, not interviewed in the doc, are still my heroes. Thus, the defeatist tone of the film’s first half differs from my experience, because the same people who say that Canadian films suck are the same people who say that Toronto is boring, which, get out there, you’re wrong. Which brings us to the people who don’t give Canadian content a chance who get ‘fair’ representation in the documentary.

It wasn’t until watching “Made in Canada” that I realized if any of those movies made money in theatres where it’s supposed to count. And like every other boring film fan, there’s a few screenplays dancing inside my head, and if writing it feels like walking a mile, getting it out there will feel like a thousand. Good luck to us all.


Climaxes: The Paul Haggis Crash.


After watching some hard-hitting cinema at the Toronto International Film Festival I went home to watch a great movie in Paul HaggisCrash last Saturday night. Oh that’s right, I’m not supposed to like Crash, a movie I first saw as a summer film in 2005 and liked then. I started noticing the backlash in 2007, when people started questioning its premise that the anomic and diverse environments like Los Angeles, California encourages racism but also lets these characters overcome their prejudices. They’re all racist, which is pretty grim.

And I can’t necessarily divorce myself from the warped mind that guides racism. Take for instance, disgruntled Officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) unloading his issues on the stereotypically named Shaniqua Johnson (Loretta Devine), as if everything that’s happened to him and his father is automatically her fault. Like, are you fucking for real? Unpleasant topic aside, at least it’s not one of those movies or shows trying to pass racism or other people’s ignorance off as funny.

It’s also called by some bloggers as the worst during the 80th Academy Awards slide show, and this is taking into consideration that Around the World in 80 Days won the same award too. It also didn’t help that Brokeback Mountain made decade lists two or three years after and a movie that I still haven’t seen in its entirety despite being a Queer Cinema essential. Besides, what’s so wrong about a movie that has both Iron Man sidekicks and Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock, the most reviled cinema couple in recent history? And any Devine movie that isn’t a Tyler Perry movie is automatically passable.

A friend of mine has criticized the film’s premise, And I start seeing that now. Det. Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) has a girlfriend/coworker Ria (Jennifer Esposito) who snaps and tell him about stereotypes, and he says stuff back. Then another coworker, Flanagan (William Fitchner) fires off more stereotypes towards him. The movie takes place in two days and they are already saying fighting words, which is strange because Graham and Flanagan might have just met each other for the first time that day. I’m pretty sure there’s a long grace period between civil conversation and its exact opposite, right?

The first half of the  of the film shows these characters – or groups of –  encountering each other, race relations coming to the forefront. After the sixty-fifth minute mark, these characters will meet again. It’s pretty straightforward, but there are some variations. Character A, who might have had a clash or a crash with character B might either meet the latter again or with a character C or maybe A, B or C might meet together. I don’t know what I’m taking about.

From here on, this post will talk about these scenes in the dénouement and maybe I’ll talk about the actors in those scenes. Also, these scenes happen at the same time, which I find it difficult to believe but then I live in a big city. Weird stuff happens to me all the time. Some spoilers straight ahead.

John saving Christine Thayer’s (Thandie Newton) life makes it forgivable that he molested her the day before.

Officer Tom Hansen (Ryan Philippe) defends Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard), a ‘Uncle Tom’ character gone E.L. Doctorow. I cared about this the least because I became lukewarm towards Philippe after his post-turn of the 21st century fame. His ex-wife Reese Witherspoon won the Best Actress trophy the same year, making people think that she has the advantage in that doomed marriage, but he was in the film that won Best Picture. So I guess they were even. Hansen will later let a man hitch a ride, which won’t end well.

Look at Daniel’s (Michael Pena) face! This is the film’s best climax. Pena here gives nuance to a half stereotype.

The nobly named Jean Cabot (Bullock) talks to someone over the phone on how angry she is all the time. And then she falls down the stairs because she wears socks inside.

Say what you will about the writing but I give kudos to these actors who were known for anything but drama. It affirmed the positive side on my continuing ambivalence towards Bullock. It also reintroduced Howard – who also starred in Hustle and Flow which was released in the same year – to audiences before he went crazy and   introduced Pena who is one of the most underrated and versatile actors working today.

And I like how Haggis and crew shot this film, the blurred city lights at the background, the actors well framed within the screen. These visuals give the film both gravitas, warmth and hope and the rest of you can debate the legitimacy of those elements in the film.


TIFF Hangover: Fish Tank.


Sleep deprivation in 2009 would probably have made me wonder ‘What is this HORSE doing in Fish Tank?!’ But the day before this year’s festival’s kickoff might be the perfect time to watch this to prepare for Michael Fassbender and Andrea Arnold‘s new works. This movie also has the funniest one liners and might be the only Criterion that features a Cassie song.

Nick wrote that Katie Jarvis should have been nominated for an Oscar, which my friends doubted because she was playing ‘herself’ here. I’ll never know what ‘herself’ is, but it’s probably the only time I’ll see an actress convey emotion even when her back is towards the camera. Her performance, the imagery and even the horse adds to its novelistic feel.


TIFF Coverage on The Film Experience


Oh, I forgot that the reason I’ve only posted one thing every five days or something for the past month is because I was covering the Toronto International Film Festival for Nathaniel in The Film Experience. And since I like my ego stroked, I will lead you to my post there that has the least comments. And come on, it has Jane Fonda smoking pot – A Murdoch publication is drawing a caricature of it as we speak – the greatest Clinton-Obama allegory and a Viola Davis cameo. What more could one ask for?

While I’m writing this, I’m possibly getting ready to watch two films. One is from Brazil and the other one? Let’s just say my lips are sealed.


The Golden Age: Gosford Park


The first time I saw this film I thought it was lighter and less stiff upper lip than its reputation. I even tolerated that it used the oldest joke in the book – ‘…deaf in one ear.’ ‘Sorry?’ I also thought that this would end up being one of those movies where ‘nothing ever happens,’ even if it does.

Pardon the socialist reading of the film, but Robert Altman‘s GOSFORD PARK shows the class stratification between the dying British noble class and their servants. The latter is both gossipy best friend and lap dog to the former, this dual role making the relationship more complex, nuanced and multifaceted than any worse ‘camp’ possibilities it might have already had.

This latent function of the servants make them the eyes or the audience stand-ins for the movie, especially Mary MacEchran (Kelly MacDonald), the ‘Miss Trentham’ to Countess Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), Mary being new to the country world as we are. She’s the one finding out things like bringing a small box to store jewels that would be used on the first night. The secrets of the house falls under her lap, and she spends a significant time in the film running around the servants’ level to ask her coworkers why they’ve done certain things she wouldn’t.

What I love about this film are the scenes like Constance throwing a scarf at Mary to pack while leaving the house. It’s simple moments like this that can create a feeling of outrage within an audience, specifically because of how fast they can happen. Constance also does this childlike, as if she’s doing nothing wrong.

Then I realized that Constance, just like the upper classes in most movies set in the first half of the twentieth century, is a child. She needs an allowance that is threatened by Lady Sylvia McCordle’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) husband, businessman William (Michael Gambon), who for some reason has control of the finances that would be passed down from centuries long lines of nobles. It also reminds me of Vera’s condescension towards her own mother in “Mildred Pierce,” a warped and archaic mind-set that income is a birthright.

By earning his, William is threatening the nobility’s old world order, although that doesn’t stop them from depending on him. He is the one to ask for allowances and investment money, having created many businesses that continually exploit the poor in many ways. And they get disgruntled when he ruthlessly takes away.

The movie also shows the characters’ diverse reactions what is happening around them. Constance anticipates the shame in the inevitable event that would lead all of them to confess their grievances about William. Mary grows, although the sills she attains as a novice servant may eventually be useless. Sylvia’s callous, thinking about selling the house as if that is only a minor change.

However, there are characters like Elsie (Emily Watson, who usually plays innocent roles), the first head maid, the woman who teaches Mary about the big and little things about serving in a country house. She’s like the older sister, smoking a cigarette and telling a younger Mary on her lovers and the realities of romance and sex in the upper and middle classes. She wards off Henry Denton’s (Ryan Philippe) come-ons. She gets sacked for speaking to Sylvia out of turn but she bravely says that this even ‘might be the making of me,’ riding off in Hollywood producer Mr. Morris Weissman’s (Bob Balaban) car, a beginning in itself.


The Magdalene Sisters


This movie has some pretty grim stuff. In a scene from The Magdalene Sisters, Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) tells a young woman something like all men are sinners and that women should guard themselves from these sinners. While cutting that girl’s desirable hair. She would also call one of the inmates, Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) ‘the likes of you,’ disregarding the miraculous redemption of her titular patron saint however. She blocks many layers of cognitive dissonance, that women do have sexual desires that aren’t necessarily sinful or that her abuses are more depraved than the sex she’s repressing.

The film is about the order of Irish Catholic nuns who, in the mid to the late 20th century, run a laundry delivery service. In these institutions these girls received physical and sexual abuse and exploitation from the nuns, driving some of these women into suicide attempts, insanity and causing harm towards themselves and others. They denied their rights to emancipation even into adulthood, separated these young women from their families, children, friends and contexts. They’re not even encouraged from socializing with each other and are forced to sleep on mattresses on the attic floor. Although I’m not really sure who’s at fault here. We can’t blame the girls for doing things that they didn’t know were wrong. Nor the community who turns a blind eye like we do on the goods and services we consume. The nuns didn’t really kidnap these girls. It’s also their parents or guardians – Bernadette (Nora-Jean Noone) grew up in an orphanage where the nuns handed her over to the Magdalenes – that refer them to these places.

Bernadette’s origin story isn’t the only one being told in the film’s first five minutes, eventually unfolding the wanted, unwanted pregnancies and sexual indiscretions that these young, single women have had that has led them to be confined within the convent for at least one half of the 1960’s, when Protestant Britain and the rest of the developed world was loosening up.

There’s something matter-of-fact of the film’s cinematography – dominated by the dumpy and even fascist swatches of blue and brown in the costumes – and mood, letting the cruelty do the talking instead of adding any sort of context or directorial indulgences. The shots aren’t as beautiful on the small screen and it takes time to appreciate what’s within the frame, populated by objects, props or the characters faces. It’s like these characters – even the innocent women –  and the institution itself shroud the film in darkness.

Sister Bridget has composure when she’s parading the girls outside, calm even when Crispina (Eileen Walsh, Britain and Ireland’s version of Heather Matarazzo) shouts the fiery “You’re not a man of God” more than forty times. Sometimes, like a scene after Margaret confronts her, she stops to think about herself yet continues on without changing. Nonetheless, she still ruins Miss Marple for everybody.

But the real treat here, or the silver lining in this very dark could, is the younger cast. My money on who would be famous was on Noone, who is skinnier than I remembered and looks like a punk rock girl I hung out with in high school. She has the same big feline spark, from the moment her big dark eyes flirted with the boys across the fence like a young Bettie Page to being the most misanthropic inmate in the laundry. She steals Crispina’s medallion. She also tells one of the oldest inmates (earlier in the film this character is an intermediary between the inmates and nuns, yelling at the younger ones to go back to work)  that the laundry is the only thing that the nuns cared about and that even the most docile inmates didn’t matter to them, breaking that dying woman’s heart.

But it was Duff, now Mrs. James MacAvoy, who moved on to do bigger things. With that hindsight in mind I began to inspect her character and performance in this repeat viewing. She’s not the sluttiest, the most mentally vulnerable nor the insipidly prettiest, because those roles are for Bernadette, Crispina and Rose/Patricia (Dorothy Duffy). She, however, mends and minds the insanity that is brewing within the girls although yes, she gives Bernadette and her brother Eammon some tough love as well. She also serves as the film’s eyes, reacting to the world around her, very much aware of its changes and evolution despite being forcefully cloistered. She overlooks a wide set of hills during spring time and almost gets into a strange man’s car before she returns to the convent without getting caught. She watches her revenge against a priest having effects beyond her control or observant of instances when the girls start picking on each other. She is the film’s conscience and she might never be better than her earlier self in this movie.