…and the quest to see everything

Archive for November, 2011

Sofia’s Lost in Translation


Sofia Coppola‘s choice of indie-trance music on Lost in Translation‘s soundtrack probably blinds me but she  lyrically captures a modern, non-European city that might never be topped by a future film (correct me if I’m wrong, obviously). When slightly washed up action star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) or her heroine Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) look out of the window, there’s a reason. The fluorescent-lit signs and flashing posters depicting a calligraphic language that the don’t understand. Charlotte leisurely walks the scramble crossings in Shibuya, Tokyo and travel the city’s subway system, Sofia making both modes of transportation look less like its notoriously hectic reputation. She also visits Buddhist temples and enjoys a nightlife that somehow involves a fake shootout, in both times having fun without having to fully drain her energy.

I’ve forgiven Johansson in misjudged performances she will have after this but hers here is probably the best she’ll ever give. Charlotte uglies herself up, agonizing in moments when she feels alone,  abandoned by her husband or when around B-list movie star Kelly (Anna Faris). And her rapport with Bob, her being childlike and girly, captures the spontaneous air that Sofia tries to capture. It’s easier to watch her boredom and frustration and her spark that help cure those things. Bob is the only person to make her smile, pulling out her effortless glow.

This is probably the second most beautiful movie Woody Allen never made as both writer-directors have, in their movies, bourgeois pseudo-intellectual misanthropic characters. Charlotte has a disdain for Hollywood – embodied by characters like Kelly or her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). She, when the occasion arises, prefers to sing classic 80’s tunes as opposed to the usual Queen-Journey-top 40 often playing in karaoke bars. (Interestingly enough for Sofia to create a character who is also a Yale graduate majoring in Philosophy but is barely, if ever, seen with a book. On vacation.). Although this quiet snobbery doesn’t stop her from befriending Bob, both of them are in Tokyo for showbiz related reasons, both of them bored and wanting to get out although they’re free to do so anytime.

Most Allen films have characters or devices holding up a mirror against their protagonist’s insanity or at least find someone to cure them. But Sofia, in making these two characters meet, encourage each other’s misanthropy even to a racist level (I’m not the first one to say this) specifically on Bob’s character. It’s understandable to feel anomic in the Japanese urban landscape that equally and inadvertently exclude them as ‘foreigners’ but it shouldn’t excuse their language and attitude. “Why do they switch the ls and the rs here?” I don’t trust my interpreter. I refuse to learn the language. These people like eating body parts of white girls like Charlotte. Murray pulls these lines off with his wit and comic timing but I still feel uncomfortable with his and the movie’s xenophobia.


Guilty Pleasure? 27 Dresses


I’m sorry for inflicting this movie unto you, which began Katherine Heigl‘s reign of terror of  romantic comedies, making films more sexist that the ‘sexist’ Knocked Up. I tuned into 27 Dresses just when the impossibly altruistic Jane (Heigl) juggles two weddings during the same night. The Brooklyn Bridge backdrop during a montage makes it obvious that the studio didn’t want to pay real money for an on location shooting if this queen of box office flops follows her tradition.

Jane’s tricks a handful of people except for one man, Kyle Doyle (James Marsden), a marriage hater who writes for the style section of a minor league newspaper. Which, by the way, what other kind of newspapers are there in the Big Apple between the New York Times and tampon wrappers? Maulik Pancholy and Michael Scott’s girlfriend, by the way, costar as Kyle’s co-staffers. Anyway, Jane’s idealistic, he’s cynical, they bicker until the hour mark where he relents and they fall down the fuck in love.

Movies like this sets up glamorous stars like Heigl into ‘best friend’ types. Let’s dye her hair to a honey brunette so she’ll look frumpier compared to her hotter blonde sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), the latter falling in love with Jane’s boss (Edward Burns, Christy Turlington’s husband)! And what kind of person goes to the club and wears a top that makes her look like a Regency-era woman? Although I do admit that there are parts of this characterization that I believe. Heigl morphs her slender bone structure into showing us herself in her younger years, the kind of girl-turned ingenue with puffy cheeks and wore braces as a child. And there’s something about her line deliveries, a little husk in her alto voice, effectively playing a woman that’s frazzled yet witty.

And you know what? I also don’t mind the script, making its main gimmick to make Heigl look like a loser. It also allows its ensemble of B-list actors to talk on top of each other. This is the kind of movie that would be deemed a ‘classic’ had it been released in the 80’s or earlier. James Marsden’s charisma willfully distracts us from how Kyle is Jane’s terribly written foil.

Again, it’s ridiculous to have Katherine Heigl as the ‘always the bridesmaid’ type but it’s equally unfair for the talented Judy Greer to keep holding the ‘slutty best friend’ torch. She thanklessly gives the movie its dirty tongue colour – watch out for some daddy issues and sexual references from other characters too – and she slaps Heigl here, which is something, I assume, that you also want to do.


Cool Story Bro: “Antichrist”


Showing up to screenings two hours before the movie starts, I headed off to the rush line at the Ryerson Theatre. An hour later an older man sells a pair of tickets to whoever wants to see Antichrist.  I raised my hand a second later than someone behind me, who happens to be a French woman who is also pregnant. Dammit. I’m pretty sure this woman lives a twelve-hour drive from Cannes Why didn’t she just see it there?

Half an hour later, she comes back and says “Mai hazzbahnd won’t cam zee eet.” Obviously. Why the fuck do you? Or me? “I want feeftee dallarz for zeez teekehts.” (I am so racist). Fine.

I join the ticket holders’ line and find kids from my university, the ones who make fun of the slightly special needs kid in the film studies department or talk about how Amanda Seyfried was ‘The most BEAUTIFUL woman I’ve EVER seen…” because that’s what sexy hipsters talk about. We eventually headed to the doors where the most beautiful hipster tells some security guard “This film will win People’s Choice.”

It was one of the most fucked up movie I have ever seen.

Later, the most beautiful one tells us that she gave the movie a 3. “He’s a master master master master master master but…” I can’t remember what she said but it’s something like how gruelling he is.” I tell them that I bought my ticket off a pregnant woman. ‘You saved a pregnant woman and her child.” Imagine someone giving birth while watching that movie.

I have no idea how notorious that screening was compared to others. Watching it at Cannes might have been an experience. There’s another fest somewhere in middle America where the audience chanted “CHAos REIGNS!” Apparently someone vomited during the Toronto première but I was probably drowned by my own reactions to hear someone retch.

Days later, in other screenings, I meet industry guys before the Micmacs where the cuter business guy kept saying “That scene where she hammered his BALLS and I’d cross my legs every time he said ‘balls.’

I have new goals during the festival while writing for myself and others – next year’s choices will be actress-y because of Nathaniel. But because of that first movie during that first real TIFF, one of my goals is to see the grossest movie ever. Last year’s is Black Swan and LA Zombie. This year’s is Lovely Molly. Swear I’ll do the best I can to catch the Midnight Madnesses.


FFF: “Der Himmel uber Berlin”


The angels look down upon Berlin. In Wim WendersDer Himmel uber Berlin, they listen to the poetry and grumblings of its different citizens. They hear mostly in German but occasionally in English, like the voices of Peter Falk (Falk), visiting to shoot a movie. They try to comfort people despite their limited powers to send their messages across. When they meet they compare notes. Today is a normal day but they talk glowingly, their excitement towards humans is legitimate in a way, every life a miracle full of climactic emotions and insights.

Claire Denis is Wenders’ assistant direction and it does feel like a Denis film at times, as the camera sweeps to follow the angels and the Berliners in their natural environment. There’s also some impressionistic touches, with the first shot of a child’s eye or many others, like a wing, the inside of a sewer, the angels and their shadows, sequences showing high angle zooms, fast subway cars and the people inside them and an angel reacting to these people in a dark space. The occasional violin in the film score also gives that impression of a continuing German film making tradition.

Among the Berliners are Turkish families, black students and Asian rockers. Colourful graffiti plasters itself unto the Berlin Wall. But it inevitably shows reel footage of the city after the war. The angel Cassiel guides an old man within the obliterated Potsdam district, the latter shocked that the can’t find it in its original bustling form. The movie has its own concepts of statehood, as if Germany has existed before the landmass rose out of the water. The angels crossing the wall feels like a statement although most of the film doesn’t have the preachy tone of every political film. Instead it has the spiritual aura, thus showing a fractured yet evolving country.

It wouldn’t be long until one of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) envies the tactile nature of human experience although his colleague tells him to distance himself from such thoughts. He’s partly motivated to become human because of a Barbara Stanwyck lookalike of a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Ganz’s benevolent face shines throughout Damiel’s angelhood that naturally gets stripped when he transforms. He, with the movie, negotiates this premise, the human Damiel having the childlike giddiness brought on by a schoolboy crush. He still embodies the spirit of the city he used to watch.


Mary, Walter and “The Muppets”


Like any sane person who came out of The Muppets, I ended up singing the infectiously unforgettable line ‘I got everything that I nee-eed right in-front o-me’ on the streetcar home. Hats off to Bret McKenzie. But the sugar rush ended because of three grating yet forgivable flaws.

First is vintage store-clad (this is a good thing) Mary (Amy Adams), Gary’s (Jason Segel) girlfriend who si frustrated by her man’s undivided attention towards his Muppets-loving Muppet brother, Walter. Adams sings and dances feverishly, only bringing half of the joy that her scene partners, both human and Muppet, effortlessly produce. She’s more convincing when she’s playing against type than she is as an adorable love interest. It’s not entirely her fault, her face seemingly colourless and lit sloppily. She’s also one of three major female characters who, in a script co-written by Segel, are ‘attention seeking shrews’ ‘distracting men from work.’ An Oscar-nominated actress can’t save badly written characters like hers.

Chris Cooper rapping made me wince in my seat. And the characters’ self-awareness after singing their songs are a bit distracting.

And can I declare a fatwa against the premise in movies that the world is ‘cynical?’ Sure, as the movie shows, broken relationships and sketchy characters and greedy oilmen like Tex Richman (Cooper) and power-hungry executives like Veronica (Rashida Jones) do exist. But the world has its equal share of revisionist, retro-living, overgrown children. Our decade-long obsession for cute old anthropomorphic things is the reason Pixar gets awards. Cute is definitely why this movie exists.

James Bobin‘s movie epitomizes cute with the other Muppets whom this unconventional family is trying to reunite. The group find themselves on a mission to stop Richman from destroying the Muppet studio to build an oil well. Richman also wants to acquire the Muppets name to skew the well-known brand from its original content and form. Sound familiar?

The joyful aura is good enough to sustain itself for most of the movie. Despite the mushy middle, let’s remind ourselves that the movie begins with the postwar nostalgia of Smalltown, USA and we fell for it. Then we see the physical comedy, signature Muppets flailing, celebrity cameos like Emily Blunt and Leslie Feist and loved it. Then it sets up Gonzo as Chekhov’s gun and we smiled. And Kermit, the movie’s undisputed star, sings the old tunes as well as new songs and we cried and we loved the movie a bit more. 3.5/5


Reel Asian: Piercing 1


I tweeted earlier that Liu Jian’s début movie Piercing 1 is like “Beavis and Butthead Do The 2008 Economic Collapse And Its Effects On China.” The animation is like Mike Judge’s early work – gaunt two-dimensional figures, the movements are pretty one-two. But it also adds its own spin to a seemingly primitive, 90’s era take on the visual medium. It’s as if there’s no air in this fictional universe – flags and lamps don’t move but smoke rises up in the air. And the palette, lacking the colours yellow and purple, is dour and dark, which seems right with its depressing and scary subject.

Among the handful of characters that it follows are two men who have moved to Beijing. After a boss beats one of them for allegedly stealing, they hang out on a public space. Their litanies in their first scene together resonate with younger people and/or immigrants, as one of them is more defiant against returning to their small town, not even considering if their lives have been better or stable there. It’s like this refusal of an alternative because it feels like a million steps back. The more defiant youth also seems attracted to the trappings of capitalism. The money, the clothes, the promise of women – of which there are only two in the movie who aren’t sexually pursued – the exciting day and light lives, the population.

It loses steam after that scene, as it’s littered with Kafkaesque accusations and assaults. It’s as if every person they meet is misanthropic because of the anomie-inducting big city. The beaten youth comes back to his boss and asks for ‘mental damages’ and gets beaten. While eating noodles, he sees a woman get hit by a motorcycle only for that woman’s police officer daughter to beat him again. It’s like Jia Zhangke and Sion Sino collaborated and made an animated feature, the former’s portrayal of ghostlike modernity mixes with the latter’s theatrical violence. The last scenes veer into ridiculous heist movie territory since i this movie’s world, all Chinese businessmen are also sketchy money dealers. But I do give the movie credit for going into unexpected places.


Birthday Movie: East of Eden


East of Eden has the best hair. Aaron (Smiths album cover boy Richard Davalos) resting with his girlfriend Abra (Tony-winning Julie Harris) after running around a barn, as his good-natured yet impish younger brother Cal (James Dean) watches from behind an ice-cube. Cal perpetually looking like a teenager who just woke up, perpetually watching. Later on, Aaron again lies down on his stomach on his father’s lawn, face up, the picture of pastoral boyhood, weighing in on the Great War and money concerns as if from a distance. Cal lying down on neighbouring farm land, impatiently watching his rows upon rows of bean sprouts grow from up close. Blessed with bounty, the citizens of Monterey establish civilizations under the guise of creation, of failures and successes but are nonetheless wary of the tension that is actually closer than they think.

They are brothers and therefore born rivals, the story marking their competition even through the different personalities of their parents. Aaron taking on his father Adam Trask (Raymond Massey) and Cal with the mysterious Kate (Jo van Fleet) who lives on a suspicious house on a hill. But the lines within the family criss-cross too. Cal’s entrepreneurial skills come from both parents – as much as his business ventures are unethical, he also gets Adam’s wild yet good-intentioned visions of their Californian goods reaching outside the state. The performances also serve as a key to their genetic similarities, Aaron echoing Kate’s tough-love parental instincts towards Cal, in one scene telling him to go watch the rally. Dean, in turn, plays Cal as fidgety as a regular teenager.

The sequence when Cal and Abra go to the  circus, one of the most novelistic and symbol-heavy patterns of storytelling in cinema. These friends walk through a hall of mirrors, skewing one of the most handsome faces in film into monsters. They meet one of Cal’s Mexican girlfriends, he kisses Abra on the Ferris wheel, he climbs down and jumps on a mob. All these events awakening innocent Abra’s sexuality, although her reaction towards him is tame by today’s standards. He becomes an imp again, his jealousy and Adamr’s rejection causing him to tell a family secret that would destroy Aaron, proudly telling his father what he has accomplished. He would twice destroy the angelic female that Aaron holds dear. In a movie about beauty and broken purity, Cal redeems himself, fixing things with his broken self and family as he has always intended.


TADFF: War of the Dead


This is what happens when I put off writing reviews. It took a while to remember the first scene in War of the Dead when Nazi officials are chatteling hostage soldiers to a bunker somewhere along the Finland-Russia border. They resist but when the chemical starts working, their eyes turn white. Chilling scene. Too bad the movie goes to pot after that. Cue Andrew Tiernan, plays soldier Martin Stone, with a permanent Clint Eastwood-esque scowl to convince the audience that he’s American. Along with a troop of Finnish soldiers, he’s on a mission to destroy said bunker. But when the night falls on this strange wooded area, Nazi zombies fly out of the trees, this ridiculously violent entrance fulfilling the “of the dead” part of the title.

I also got the feeling of Schadenfreude in knowing that the Finns actually sided with the Germans during the Second World War. That explains what the cute Finnish soldier and his Russian counterpart didn’t get along in this movie.


Seduction and Ophuls’ Lola Montes


I mark every chapter of Max Ophuls‘ biopic of Lola Montes with the carnival routines. It’s probably not good to do so, since I conflate one part of the circus act with another. Some scenes, like the one involving horseback riding, even remind me of other carnival movies like the one with Charlton Heston.

It’s probably better to do this instead with what part of the heroine’s (Martine Carol) fascinating life that we’re seeing, like her mansion at the French Riviera or when she was Bavarian King’s (Anton Walbrook) courtesan. But there’s something less concrete about those episodes, as if they were a fantasy, because circumstances disallow permanence. Without the carnival the movie would be surprisingly boring, as if we’re watching her shuffling to different palaces. There’s beauty in those places but the circus’ surreal set pieces are to die for.

The movie’s transitions from wide-screen to lesser-wide screen seems more choreographed with repeat viewings. The ringmaster’s (Peter Ustinov) voice more commanding, the conversations between Lola and a German student (Oskar Werner) more intimate because the frame’s walls are closer. However, these black spaces also makes this feel like an incompletely restored movie. For a master, it feels like a gimmick to make these kinds of decisions or the refusal to make such a decision.

I want to know something deeper about the commonalities of Ophuls’ films, deeper than his opulent portrayal of the fragile status of the 19th century woman. Like fleeting glory that they can only touch but never hold. I envy women. Or maybe it’s the failed misogynist in the that does so, thinking that their ability to marry or consort into money isn’t self chatelling. I’m willfully confusing seduction with power. Social distinctions were more distinct back in Lola’s lifetime but she transcends her poor and suspiciously mysterious Irish provenance and be on stage for or to sit alongside Tsars and Grand Dukes and Kings.

But when students depose Kings they also get rid of her status. Her carnival life after Bavaria  is as humiliating as, I imagine, it would have been for Cleopatra had she been found alive. A circus copyrights her life and she has to do it nightly for different towns. Thankfully she makes no pretenses, that she’s nothing but a performer. As a metaphor for her life, for the last act she climbs up different ladders and swings to the ceiling of the tent until she has to risk her life, taking a leap all the way down.


Scenes: John Singleton’s Shaft


Search ‘cluster fuck’ in the dictionary and you will find John Singleton’s ‘re-imagination’ of the 70’s classic Shaft. The movie tries to deliver an all-star cast into a violent pool of bullets, beatings and stabbings. Ryan G. Helms was just talking about this. This is especially true around the movie’s sixty-five minute mark with a scene portraying Shaft’s botched rescue of mysterious star witness Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette). She lives in a pier, for some reason. Anyway, I also love how she’s wearing a leather jacket at home, coincidentally well-prepared for any time like now when she has to escape. When she does, all she does is react to the violence around her, as anyone else in the same situation would.

The swift close up zoom on her is reminiscent of the 70’s camera work and aesthetic. We the audience also get the earlier decade’s vibe from the amentioned leather jackets and the music but it feels as if the movie just tacks on these motifs. Calling this movie Shaft sort of elevates this movie. Without the title it would look like a directionless action/crime movie that came a year too late.

“Yo get the BROAD in the fucking car in!” Ok, Busta Rhymes as Rasaan, a second generation Trinidadian or an American with Trini affectations. You’re such a worry wort.

Hey look! There’s also Peoples Hernandez played by Geoffrey Wright. In both the actor’s incarnations as the gangster and the nerd, he will always be the poor man’s Laurence Fishburne. But only Wright had the body and the audacity to pull off a white outfit like that, with histrionic wailing and self-stabbing, reacting to his brother’s accidental and instant death.

See?

“It’s fucked,” Dan Hedaya weighs in with unintentional hilarity. The most exciting four minutes of those people’s lives, thirty seconds of which is Diane and Shaft crossing a street.

And the thing is Christian Bale isn’t even in this scene. He is in others where his character deals with Peoples and his drugs and a memorable one that stuck out when I was younger. The one in the beginning taking place in a lounge/restaurant, playing Walter Wade Jr., a pompous, rich yet crass character that a younger James Marsden would have played. He throws remarks across the room to where Trey Howard (Mekhi Phifer) is sitting, his racism seeming both out of the decade’s context yet timeless, like many tensions between groups of people in any fictional world. Blame the third world child of my past for that skewed perspective.

When Shaft enters the crime scene, he sees blood on Diane’s chin. She doesn’t talk because she seems like she’s also hiding things on her own.


Seduction and Jerry Maguire


The titular Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) wears two shirts two sizes too big to a Mexican restaurant. Afterwards, he walks his single mother of a date (Renée Zellweger) up her porch and hands her the leftovers. He meekly and respectfully pecks her on the lips but she reaches for his neck and returns the favour. They try to tell each other good night, trying to set each other’s boundaries. But they do things on that porch what they could do in a place that has four walls.

This is what sex could look like in movies. Director Cameron Crowe and his chooses to show kisses and close-ups of the two fully clothed lovers’ faces together. A director could plop a tripod near a wall of a dimly lit bedroom but there’s something in the implicit and romantic that makes two people falling in love look like an art form. This reminds me one of the earlier scenes in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It with You, Cruise and Zellweger whispering to each other like Jimmy Stewart and Ann Sh…Jean Arthur, both couples basking in stylized warmth.

Another great aspect of their romance is that they’re surrounded by people who love each other, including Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for his role here and Regina King, who plays Gooding Jr.’s wife.

I remember seeing this movie when I was younger but not this scene. I just remember the first part and another one with Zellweger and a then young and nerdy-looking Jonathan Lipnicki, who plays her son in a car. Or maybe he was in the car with Cruise. Anyway, the scene I’m describing in the past two paragraphs feel like something I would have seen as a child. God knows which movie couples whom kids are watching and learning from these days. I also don’t remember – and correct me if I’m wrong – Cruise doing anything further than this despite of his Hollywood crush object status. His character in Eyes Wide Shut was probably the most sexually frustrated one.

And the joke is that I can’t even stand these two people. Couldn’t then, couldn’t now. But still, I really like how effective this scene is.


Seminal Television: Greek


“Evan! We were just doing…sleeping time”

“Shower, and we’re doing some…”

“Crunches…(unintelligible)…”

That episode of Greek was something I saw almost exactly last year. That, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching stuff from this season. ABC Wednesdays, NBC Thursdays, “Wilfred,” what else…. Anyway, remind me before Emmy season to talk about those other shows.


Ozu, Ending All Auteurs


According to iMDb, I’ve seen less than fifteen hundred movies and sometimes I wonder how the hell did I get here? How did I end up practically living in front of my television or a movie theatre? How did I end up being able to pronounce – AND spell! – Apitchatpong Weerasethakul and Jerzy Skolimowski without a bat of an eye and what possessed me and my younger selves to watch more?

I had a good foundation with healthy doses of David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick as a child (my dad actually showed Eyes Wide Shut to my older sister in high school and if any of make any jokes…). But college came. I think it was 2007, between my second and third year studying English and Art History that I realized that even though it might have been too late to switch, that I might have picked the wrong majors.

Not in any particular order, I watched my first Godard (It was Le Weekend, which is more visual than dialogue so I was ok. I still have to see Pierrot le Fou, which used to play a lot here). Then there were three films from fellow Frenchman Louis Malle for the first time. Four from Woody Allen and one from Ridley Scott on an outdoor, downtown big screen, so good that the flashing advertisements around the screen couldn’t distract me away. I’ve seen my first Lars von Trier on a big screen and of course, I drank vodka from a flash minutes after watching the movie, rethinking the sadness of my life. The first Danny Boyle I’ve seen in entirety – I’ve seen parts of and the ending of Trainspotting before. Two from Sidney Lumet, a favourite because his theatre background kept creeping up into his films. Two Johns at their later, tamer years – Waters and Frankenheimer. My first Hitchcock which should have come earlier in my life. George Cukor’s celebration of the feminine. Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket). Two from Nicholas Ray and two more from Frank Capra.

There were also the films in classes under the English major bracket, where my professors were self-loathing whites. They introduced me to George Stevens’ colonialist propaganda, although I’m pretty sure not all of them are like that. John Ford, poking criticism towards colonizers under the guise of propaganda. D.W. Griffth, who is quasi-apologetic for being a colonialist in his first and most important film. Errol Morris, Ousmane Sembene and more capturing depressed people in both developed and developing nations. Find out why I wrote this entry after the jump.

The reason why I’m prattling on about my lifetime journey in cinema so far is because recently, a few weeks before I’ve seen a movie directed by an auteur whose name everyone can pronounce but who is nonetheless elusive – Yasujiro Ozu. His last name smoothly rolling off the tongues and keyboards of the better movie critics and bloggers. When Roger Ebert – hi! – and other film critics and bloggers write about the director, the more intimidating he got. Deathbed movie intimidating. I didn’t go to regular film school so I didn’t watch Tokyo Story during 101. I also don’t do the Criterion thing like all of you – finances and clutterphobia are both to blame. I watched my first Ozu, the auteur to end all auteurs, a few weeks before my twenty-fourth birthday and I don’t feel ready.

But a film group here showed Ohayo, a film produced by Shochiku and not Toho. It’s one of his lighter, more jokey ones. Here he chooses to film in colour, giving the film a more modern feel. The film’s supporting characters have such strong impressions that I don’t feel like there’s a central character here, although I don’t see that as a bad thing. Some characters include a set of children with no female friend and housewives talking about shares of money that makes it feel like a Mamet film avant la lettre. And Ozu has a more elastic definition of the word ‘trapped.’

I might also be overreading when I notice how the camera’s so close to the ground or how the frame almost hugs the body. I’ve seen more medium shots and close-ups here than in, say, a Kurosawa (other than Kurosawa I’ve only seen one Mizoguchi and one Sion Sino. It’s really sad). I also noticed on the pictures of this film that are available on the internet, as well as my screencaps, that it focuses on the faces and figures of the targets of the jokes. It’s as if these characters look depressed, that we need sound and movement to understand that they belong within a comedy. I suppose it’s foolish for me to believe that I’ll understand everything about Ozu within a single film, that I need to see more to get a sense of the man.


Singin’ in the Dark 80’s


About time, eh? It’s been a month since Shawn Hitchins‘ Singin in the Dark, 80’s edition and it’s taking me just this time to write about the memory lane – or lack thereof – and the associations I remembered while watching his art piece.

Andrew McCarthy‘s face is so comically expressive that if was born sixty years earlier than he did, he would have given Chaplin a run for his money.

Did I have a chance to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the big screen when I still had money to see and decided to skip it to argue with a good friend? Twice. Did I buy the DVD only to pop it in my laptop to get screen caps and never watch the whole thing? Yup.

We Asians are very visual. I caught more jokes from This is Spinal Tap than my mom while watching this on the big screen, but this ‘Big Bottom’ song flew right on top of our heads. Took some closed captioning to find it funny.

This song’s tune is really catchy but I didn’t realize the staccato lyrics were so hard to keep track of. Also haha, Lake Titicaca. And Appolonia. Purple Rain did not help my confused adolescent sexual identity at all.

Eh, close enough. Thoughts on Back to the Future here.

Remember that scene when he just eats a TV dinner without microwave-ing it? Yeah, me neither. We all know the scene but have never watched all or Risky Business, which is on tonight at 9 at the BLB. This movie is SLU-tty, like a straight man’s wet dream.

I love how I know none of the lyrics to any song in this series but when a Madonna clip comes on I don’t even have to look at the screen to sing the words. Anyway, the point she’s making in W.E. is that she wants to be that girl in this picture again. It’s up to you to decide if she can turn back the clock.

Beaches! It has the best post funeral scene ever which involves a fucking horse. Fucking rich people.

Thoughts on Flashdance here which I saw AFTER Dogtooth.

Andrew McCarthy again! Thoughts on Pretty in Pink here.

This song sucks without context.

I thought he was Robert Downey Jr. instead of Alan Cumming. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion was my favourite movie when I was ten, playing the soundtrack incessantly on tape. I don’t know if it’s my third world view but nobody in the late 90’s dressed like that. Also if Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow made a movie together this year, it would be indie and awesome.


Hysteria: The siblings in “Harvey”


The first half of Henry Koster‘s Harvey questions my personal expectations of the film as a light studio-era comedy. Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) embarrasses his sister Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull) and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne) in a socialite gathering at their old home. In turn, she wants to get rid of him, placing him into a mental institution, which is admittedly a treacherous thing to do. Then in the twenty-five minute mark, playwright turned screenwriter Mary Chase uses the old switcheroo plot.

The pompous middle management of the institution, led by Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake) and assisted by the hopelessly devoted Ms. Kelly (Peggy Dow), literally turn their backs on Elwood’s symptoms, interrupting him before the Elwood introduces them to the titular imaginary white rabbit. They make the latter walk off scot-free while Veta cries her heart out to the doctor and gets labeled as hysterical. And only when the hospital staff realizes their mistake is when this movie supposedly oscillates into comedy territory.

A few scenes later, she labours on a detailed description of her treatment at the institution, her soliloquy having no place in a comedy film at all. These scenes feel so uncomfortable that it’s easy to just flick the switch away and tell everyone else that they’re the insane ones for calling this movie a classic. This sounds blasphemous but it’s kind of like Bridesmaids, where depression wedges itself into the comedy.

All I wanted was for the hospital to get the right guy, even though we can argue that both siblings have their traces of insanity. Once Veta is free we have the delight in knowing Elwood. Stewart’s characterization of the man is both mature, as he doesn’t give into stereotypes about people with special conditions, mixed with his eternally child-like voice. There are also the scenes in the bar and afterward, the alleyway, when he tells both Sanderson and Kelly what his drinking buddies think about Harvey, that makes his performance that’s disarming yet more comforting than Mary Chase’s quotable screenplay or words or language in general could be.

Drake and Dow’s matinée idol looks contrast the rest of the actors’ cartoonish appearances. There’s also the specificity within enunciation of certain words, especially Hull and Horne’s affected accents that make them sound either like Americanized Brits or rich middle Americans, speaking just like every upper class character “back then.” Hull’s expressiveness also saves her character from being simply a one-note hysteric, making us sympathetic for those who have to deal with a mentally shook relative. There’s also the cast who – and Stewart inadvertently falls into this as well – never fully reaches naturalism but that makes this movie a time capsule of theatre-based acting.

I also applaud this movie’s brave depiction of homosexuality. Just kidding, but you can argue for it.

This movie is brave because of its collaborative subversion of psychology’s labels, making me think of its limits within certain polarities. We can factor in gender within its ‘insane’ characters. The “white slaver” Wilson could be a “nut” himself, trigger-happy when it comes to wringing Elwood’s neck or shoving Veta around. The male-dominated institution is more lenient towards Elwood’s quiet insanity than Veta’s. In one of her soliloquies she recounts how Wilson strips her and how the other doctors ask her about sexual things, concluding that “they’re not interested in men in places like that.”

The movie makes psychology look like a practice that by nature hunts people down as well as causes for why people are the way they are. Sanderson makes up a story on why Veta wants to confine Elwood. Later, at the alleyway, he asks Elwood where he gets the name Harvey from only to end up dry, simply because he never asks the right questions, just like we shouldn’t. We should just let the eccentric yet pleasant people as they are.


Guilty Pleasure: Love’s Labour’s Lost


We’re on Kenneth Branagh‘s adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese presented Miramax production! It’s one of Shakespeare’s comedies that I haven’t read yet, is about the King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) asking three men in his court, Berowne (Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lilliard) and Dumaine (Adrian Lester) to embrace three years of study and shunning love. Unfortunately, Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone) and her ladies-in-waiting including Katherine (Emily Mortimer) and Rosaline (Natahsa McElhone, her Streepian looks having such promise a decade ago) visit their kingdom. Because of the oath the women have to stay in a tent outside the palace gates outside but that doesn’t stop the men from peeking.

Pardon the blasphemy, but listening to the men harmonize to Irving Berlin classics like “Cheek to Cheek” is an equal alternative to Fred Astaire’s seminal version. The movie’s 1930’s setting also allows Branagh and crew to go all out with the musical numbers, the set pieces, the one-time cabaret-style sexuality, the ridiculous newsreels about mobilization and the war. The colourful cinematography and the costumes are a great treat for actors like Mortimer – who would go de-glam in their future roles.

It’s also about actors who shouldn’t be hanging out together. Branagh, Mortimer and McElhone are fine together, his soliloquies here are better than in his own adaptation of Hamlet. Branagh wants to make things interesting, casting 90’s teen movie regulars Lilliard and Silverstone. Lilliard is awesome in SLC Punk, his American delivery of the Bard’s lines can’t be as distracting as Keanu’s. Silverstone, however, might never rub the glee off her even when she’s playing middle-American mommy roles, but that’s what she’s here for, to offer sunshine and girliness fitting to a movie about romance. If you’ve ever read or heard me call Silverstone a ‘Shakespearean actor,’ it’s because of this movie. I don’t know whether Nivola or Lester fits in more with the Brits or the Americans. And hey, this movie is probably the only Shakespearean adaptation where miscegenation is no. Big. Deal.

Nationality and race is no boundary to make it seem like everyone was happy making this movie, despite its overshot ambitions. Oh and veterans like Timothy Spall as the lustful Armando, Nathan Lane as the King’s clown Costard and Geraldine McEwan as the tutor Holofernia are in this too, camping it up singing and dancing with the rest of the cast. This isn’t just any movie, this is a PARTY!


Box Office/Plug, Fawkes Edition



Hysteria: The Women and “Niagara.”


One couple, the Ray Cutlers, decides to vacation in the majestically shot Canadian side of the titular Niagara but finds themselves intertwined with another couple  the Loomises, who still occupies the former’s honeymoon cabin. We can see the mismatch of the latter because Mr. Loomis’ pointed shoulders (Joseph Cotten) contrasts his wife Rose’s (Marilyn Monroe, first billing) ample voluptuousness. One could lead to the conclusion that she’s adulterous and she plans to make her husband look crazy in front of a bunch of strangers and hires her boyfriend to kill him but that plans goes wrong. And because the 1950’s thinks that it’s not easy enough for future generations to make fun of that decade, the oblivious Ray keeps calling his wife (Jean Peters) hysterical because she has seen Mr. Loomis after his supposed murder. Yeah, he’s the kind of bumbling idiot , sexually objectifying both Rose and his own wife.

There’s an ambivalence towards Monroe’s performance here since I can’t believe most of the words coming out of her. Her eyes look like someone drew her and there’s a certain camp when she is wearing make-up in bed. Although she can still look sexy while wearing an oversized yellow raincoat and a shower cap. She shows some naturalism before her 20th Century Fox musical days, her characterization of Rose being the middle ground between the polar opposites of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Misfits, having time to both sing a song and later be confined in a hospital’s mental health wing. There have been femmes fatale before but they’ve all had a certain maturity and a natural virtuosity for evil. She however is younger, her sexuality uncontrollably natural, more vulnerable when danger returns to her. And it’s true that the movie’s excitement goes away when her husband kills her at the bell tower as we’re stuck with Peters’ affected 50’s era speech.

But it’s also arguable that it is Mrs. Cutler’s movie because we see the movie through her perspective, a point of view that goes inappropriately deeper than a regular tourist, getting to know the locals and even the police. She congratulates Rose’s sexuality the same way her husband does – she chooses to not be that kind of woman although she shows her abs in a swimsuit. Her discovery of the Loomis’ secrets like Rose’s adultery and Mr. Loomis’ survival coincide with her visits to the falls and at one time, she gets way too close for comfort.


Hysteria: Roman Polanski’s The Tenant


Simple misunderstandings can ruin already precarious relationships between coworkers or neighbours. Roman Polanski has made a movie about that called The Tenant. He plays the titular tenant, a Polish immigrant named Trelkolvsky who lives in the same building as Shelley Winters‘ concierge character and some senior citizens. They, by the way, want to uphold the quietness of their building by keeping families out and not reporting to the police during robberies. It’s also the kind of building that has old plumbing but the landlord Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas) audaciously asks for 5000 francs a month. And they think that he’s a playboy because he had one party in his apartment with his very coarse coworkers.

The apartment’s original tenant is Simone Schoul, who has left the apartment furnished. Even the walls have their own identity as she has apparently left some of her teeth behind a wooden wardrobe. The movie shows this urban condition when people live, sit and meet the same people others have. We inhabit spaces with histories like hearsay but that littleness doesn’t make it insignificant. We think of ourselves as ‘individual’ but individuality, after all is only marked by how we differ from the other and it is more difficult to assert our identities when the other multiply around us, surrounds us and makes us claustrophobic.

At the same time Polanski is weary of asserting individualism as he presents a coworker/best friend character as the Trelkovsky’s foil. The latter is a man who would be rude when his neighbours complain about him. Trelkovsky doesn’t want to become that person but he gets lumped with his best friend because of ageist prejudices and other reasons. But that’s the same way that first or bad impressions last in others’ and in our own eyes.

I wasn’t sure about Polanski’s performance while watching the movie but I’m starting to like it more and more. He hugs and almost juggles the trash he has produced with his first and only party, taking it down the stairs. He becomes the frazzled man with his screech-y voice eventually snapping at people equally for the smallest reasons and it’s funnier watching that anger coming out from a man with a childlike face. The movie feels sleepy after the forty-five minute mark, going into a cycle of Trelkovsky meeting his girlfriend Stella (Isabelle Adjani), the neighbours complaining and him moping. All of that while waiting for him to come out in drag which…


Once Upon a Time, Larry…


…Flynt (Woody Harrelson) discovers God. An old woman named Ruth wearing pastel-coloured suits leads him to this path. He gets baptized in a river, accompanied by stereotypical black gospel singers, robes and all. He misinterprets the word of God or our traditional understandings of it. He tells his editorial staff that he wants to show hardcore depictions in his magazine or have a golden plaque that says Jesus H. Christ on his office table. The older woman drives a wedge between Larry and his ex-stripper wife Althea (Courtney Love).

There’s musicality in the scenes’ speedy montages in Milos Forman‘s The People Vs. Larry Flynt, reminding us that he’s the same guy who directed Hair and Amadeus. Nothing is impossible, not ‘surprise ending’ impossible or ‘special effects’ impossible in 1996 but 1970’s impossible, when anyone can make a big budget film about a man who made an empire out of prurience. Imagine what Orson Welles and Michael Cimino would do if they collaborated, without the indulgences and the meticulous crazy. Who else but Milos Forman, who makes out with Catherine Deneuve in movies now instead of making films as ambitious this.

Even the decline of Larry’s Jesus years play like trumpet notes in the wind. After facing another obscenity trial in some Southern town he gets shot, paralyzed. The older woman comes to him and he laments that he can’t make love to his wife again. Despite her comforting words and his paralysis he says something that shocks the non-practicing Catholic in me. ‘There is no God.’ Powerful stuff.

Then Althea says ‘We are porn again’ with such executive delivery, as if it isn’t Love’s post-Hole acting.

I first saw this film in Media Class in Grade 11. It was my semi-formal initiation into art house films, a class that taught me about the appearances in the media and how they fool their demographics. The People vs. Larry Flynt is one of the movies my teacher showed us. And it was a perk because I worshipped Love because she was skinny and had the right amount of crazy. Because we were in a Catholic school, he told us to promise not to tell anyone that he’s showing us this movie. That makes my guitar teacher who taught us heavy metal riffs look way innocent by comparison.

This movie tells a story about a slightly incapacitated Goliath slinging stones at his own demons, from a poor country boy to starting Hustler magazine. Since the magazine’s foundation he’s been trying to reclaim his control of his publications despite of enemies from without and within. He knows exactly what he wants in his magazine, which forbidden body pats these women will be showing, what or who the women will be with and how it is going to look on the magazine’s matted paper. And will not apologize because of it.

In 1996 this is another male character paralyzed because of his job while his devoted and altruistic wife inflicts harm upon herself. In Althea’s case she keeps taking opiates way after her husband has quit taking them. Their physical challenges intertwined like a bittersweet tragedy, this time playing out within the tacky opulence we expect from an adult entertainment mogul.

I think it difficult for Love to play a drug addict or easy, depending on what you think and/or know about her. And if Harrelson, who got an well-earned Academy Award nomination for this role, loses the physical charm that he gives Larry in the movie’s first half, he becomes one of many actors playing physically challenged roles excellently, using his face to deliver emotion, compassion and affection. His eyes go to and fro before the words slowly leave his tense jaw, talking with the direct authority and a cultivated deep slur that the real Larry Flynt still has. His blue eyes mark the traces of handsomeness, coming out through the unkempt hair. And he gets to play around with the wheelchair quite a bit too.

Larry Flynt offended middle America both with pornography and irreverence towards sex, politics and religion. What ensues are many courtroom scenes where, among his many troubles with the law, he and Jerry Falwell challenge each other. Falwell sues because of a satirical Campari ad claiming that he had committed incest while Larry counter-sues because Falwell restrains on his right to satire. These litigations are taking place while Larry’s lawyer (Edward Norton) is babysitting him, even getting a laugh from the Supreme Court. The movie should have some credit for America giving Flynt respectful indifference while Falwell, revered in Reagan’s years is now one of the most hated men in America.


I’m Finished! Cunningham’s The Hours


I’ve seen Stephen Daldry‘s The Hours yea ago.

A movie that has an imprint on my brain. Its deep vibrancy and visuals to show the spark within its three protagonists, all of them connected with Virginia Woolf and her novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” I remember the dialogue and arguments that the characters have with each other, the camera’s close-ups towards these women and the object that surround them.

The parks where Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) strolls to after discovering her first sentence to “Dalloway.” Laura Brown’s (Julianne Moore) colourful suburbs and one-time hotel room that she rents before she resumes her duty as housewife for her husband Dan’s (John C. Reilly) birthday. How Clarissa ‘Dalloway’ Vaughn (Meryl Streep) taps her chin with her finger before doing her chores, walking all over the cold and polished grit of Manhattan to prepare for the party she’s throwing for her poet ex-boyfriend Richard (Ed Harris), starting with deciding to but the flowers herself.

And there’s the other common element among the main characters – their female love interests, unrequited and fleeting for both Virginia and Laura. Vanessa (Miranda Richardson), who has three young children and is a better and more benevolent head of the household than her sister Virginia. Kitty (Toni Collette), the well-built yet childless and possibly cancer-stricken housewife next door to Laura with a husband grosser than Dan. And Sally (Alison Janney) who gets to go to dinners with a recently outed action star named Oliver St. Ives. The three having this aura and presence when they walk into a room even if they’re arguably less beautiful than the women who pine for them. It was the early 2000’s and despite the lamented decline of queer content then, this is one of the instances when queer cinema was becoming mainstream.

One of the entries in the trivia section of the movie’s iMDb page: “Although the widely perceived notion was that Michael Cunningham‘s original novel was felt to be unfilmable, adapter David Hare actually thought it was effortlessly cinematic.”After seeing the movie, I read the book to find out.

Hare and Daldry make subtle changes to the story, setting Laura and Clarissa’s story lines two years later than they are in the novel. Clarissa’s Manhattan feels more autumn than June. The movie excises characters like St. Ives and Mary Krull. And sure I had reservations about casting like Moore who is older than Laura. Reilly, despite being well-groomed, is on the schlubby end instead of being in the middle ground of schlub and war veteran as the novel suggests. Clarissa’s competition Louis who is seemingly smaller than Jeff Daniels. Claire Danes has to wear chunky sweaters to remind us that she’s Julia, Clarissa’s Viking-like daughter. But they bring such effortless life and well-rounded nature to these characters.

The novel stays with each protagonist for a longer section of time while we see each women reluctantly start their days. The movie is otherwise loyal with the book’s interwoven time lines, such as portraying what happens to Clarissa before showing how Laura has caused them.

Sentence structures look simple until Cunningham’s urban sense kicks in. He describes the places where the characters live, putting his reader into each world and making us shift our eyes from one building into another, into the sky, making us hear the loud sounds or the silences. The writing evokes the few morsels of Virginia Woolf’s prose that I’ve read both in this novel and in college readings. He pulls out from detail to a bigger picture, these transitions within the paragraph read as easy as Woolf would push in the other way.

It’s also very object-oriented, especially in the novel’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ sections. There, he explains the bourgeois exoticism and how Clarissa likes things like her flowers to appear wild, even if everything is clean and arranged. Equally he writes how detached she is with things like her dishes that feel like her girlfriend Sally’s instead of hers, the same way the other main characters feel dissatisfied and awkward with their own relative comforts and successes. There are still traces of unhappiness in Clarissa’s life even though she’s supposedly the symbol of progress that feels so fleeting that the fictional Virginia and Laura couldn’t grasp it in their minds.

There is also less dialogue in the novel, as if it wants Virginia and Laura to share a kiss and a love for a woman or for Clarissa to successfully negotiate the power dynamic between her and her few guests. I like that the movie lets the characters air their stuff out with each other and let their pathos be more visceral and verbal. Of course that’s the only choice since two people staring or firing short sentences at each other in a room seems anti-cinematic. That makes me sound like a Philistine, right?