…and the quest to see everything

Archive for January, 2012

Bad Movie: The Devil Inside


The Devil Inside, directed by William Brent Bell and co-written by Matthew Peterman, is the first of less than mediocre movies that reached the top spot at the box office during 2012. I know some Oscar bait has a longer run in the theatres than this movie, but I’m reopening wounds by reminding you that it still exists.

Ms. Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) tells her story to a man filming a documentary. Her mother (Suzan Crowley) is in some Italian insane asylum run by the Catholic Church (?). When in Rome, she meets these two priests in a…University class about demonic possessions? I’ll keep an open mind because that’s what some people think about psychology then and now. In fact, exorcism was probably the norm before mental wards came into being. During the class and apres coffee-bar meetings with some of the actually enrolled students who are studying the occult.  She discovers that within her new circle of friends are two priests do exorcisms that are not approved by the Church because they believe that the institution somehow is corrupt enough to disregard the well-being of some people possessed by the devil. Knowing what these knights of shining collar do on the sidelines, she enlists them into healing their mother.

But when they try to exorcise Mrs. Rossi, the devil jumps bodies from her to young renegade exorcist Father Keane – he doesn’t show symptoms until he drowns a baby. Then the devil goes to the young woman then to the man filming the documentary. This last possession leads to a anticlimactic ending. Which is unfortunate because they are going somewhere where their questions could be answered. Let’s look at what I said before. The devil jumps bodies, which means that the priests’ exorcising methods aren’t sufficient enough in extinguishing the evil entity possessing a person. The exorcists justify their actions, by saying that they’re spiritually healing certain cases that the Church considers as irredeemable. But what if the Church was in a way protecting those who could be saved, as they quarantine the possessed away from everyone. One body isn’t stronger than another so what’s stopping it from possession a holy man?

Despite of me trying to dig something into this movie, it’s constricted from expanding its ideas about the devil and God and people. And it might be because it set itself too low, choosing too small of a canvas and characters to tell their story that’s not really profound. 2/5.


LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring


While watching  Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen, my friends, as you, realize that I have never seen it until now. Yeah, it’s really sad.

Movies with people with long hair look more dated than movies with people with short hair. This is the conclusion I got from looking at Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) hair. But I don’t say the word dated as an insult and other elements in the movie that give it that vintage-y vibe. The colors here are deeper as opposed to saturated or drained. The CGI, which is unfortunately becoming director Peter Jackson‘s signature as of late, is almost absent if not beautifully seamless.

And yes, I’m surprised at how Peter Jackson-y this movie is, having fewer similarities with King Kong and more with his earlier and raw work like Heavenly Creatures. He takes shots of Frodo and other characters in a voyeuristic way through windows or  through uncomfortable arm’s-length distances. It’s also close-up heavy, like that of Gandalf the Grey’s (Ian McKellen) who makes us feel like he’s larger than life. Jackson also gives that sense of urgency, telling Frodo, and us the audience, about strange lands from which Hobbits are supposed to stay away. In the same vein, tracking shots and zoom outs, like the one when Gandalf visits Saruman (Christopher Lee), have just enough wobble to let its audience know that a human being is behind the camera.

After a prologue, this trilogy starts with peace, showing the Hobbits living within the greenery of the Shire. Short shot lengths follow the unnamed citizenry of Hobbiton, their images accompanied by the bucolic music. The Hobbits seem immortal and magical but they’re more relatable because their lives aren’t as busy as the other races living miles away. The movie is more famous for its fantasy and its battle scenes, but this beginning shows how the hobbits are beautifully oblivious towards what could be lost. The same short cuts are employed when other races disturb the peace, as Jackson introduces the black riders. His camera bordering on sadomasochistic fetishism as he closes up on their hooded heads and horses’ hooves or mouths – i.e. they might be scary but those armored gloves look shiny and intricate. And when the Uruk-hai assemble their army, the Orcs’ faces crying out for battle.

The same rapid cuts are used when Arwen (Liv Tyler), a female elf, rescues Frodo, a male, and says something in Elvish to wash the black riders away. I mention the genders to obviously point out how the scene subverts expectations towards them. The only other thing I can say about that is that it reminds me of how these horses are weapon as they were used in historical crusades, the riders evoking evil Conquistadors while Arwen rides on with her virtuous looking white horse. It’s an intensely badass scene, transitioning into one of two hallucinatory hazes, the first one involving Frodo convalesces in Rivendell, as he sees other elves comforting him. These white flashes strangely fit into the movie itself.

Ok I lied. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Fellowship, having seen glimpses of it when Teletoon was constantly playing this movie. They go to Mount Doom via the Mines of Moria where the titular fellowship made up of men of random races fight the Orcs. Gandalf and a Balrog have a death match culminating into Gandalf saying ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!,’ that seminal moment in gay history. Gandalf’s loss is one of two blows against the fellowship, but I held back my tears because rangers from the noble race of Men like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean) are on the screen. I had this irrational feeling that if I did cry, those men would have jumped off the screen and made fun of me for being such a wuss. Which says a lot about how it handles that event, these characters gaining control despite Gandalf’s absence.

The rest of this leg of the epic journey is pretty masculine with the well representation of Aragorn and Boromir, but it’s  masculine in a valiant and not in a constricting way. The movie also questions that aspect of themselves, with Aragron’s self loathing doubts and Boromir’s close calls with temptation. It’s a great story about clashes and friendship set in the most luscious of fantasy worlds.


Movie Association Game: Pina


Oh Pina, you esoterically creative movie you. You adequately use 3D. You let old people dance. I thought you were going to be just one dance piece after another but you also show the titular Pina Bausch teaching her company and those dancers whose lives she has touched. Here’s a media-heavy, pretentious are the movies/ dances/songs that I remember when I watched you.

Sacre du Printemps

1940: Fantasia – Walt Disney uses the end of the Jurassic period to accompany the music as opposed to the original subject matter. Speaking of which, how old was I when I knew about human sacrifices. I couldn’t have been that old. Also, my high school put together a performance of Printemps.

2009: Coco and Igor – Director Jan Kounen takes us to the first performance of Vaslav Nijinski‘s vision. We mostly see the the blackness that envelopes the dancers as the wait for the audience’s reactions while having to go on like professionals should. Nijinsky and Igor Stravinsky later fight about the piece’s reaction.

2009: Mao’s Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford. ch. Graeme Murphy) – Instead of a woman, the company’s star is a man, Li Cunxin. I’m not sure what the story is here, whether he’s the sacrifice or the one doing the sacrificing but this athletic, daring and exposing choreography looks enthralling.

2011: Pina (Wim Wenders) – Bausch’s interpretation of the dance is more arm-y although it incorporates the jumps in Nijinsky’s original choreography. The story is more coherent and shows how death randomly chooses its young victims as the multinational company pass along the chosen virgin’s ironic red dress.

Cafe Mueller

2002: Hable con ella – This movie’s Cafe Mueller scene is probably many movie lovers’ introduction to Bausch. Her gaunt face and slenderness complements the piece’s theme of yearning, even in an adult, contemporary setting where those kind of emotions should be eliminated by civilization and choice. The movie ends with Bausch’s piece Mascura Fogo, which is so simple and physically expressive that only someone like Bausch can invent it.

2011: Pina – The movie both shows Bausch’s rendition of her own choreography with the equally moving tribute by one of her company’s dancers. They also take bits of Café Mueller to different environments, making its lines look natural and transcendent. Oh and her pieces mostly seem to be about mating, barriers and behaviours about love.

Kontakthof

1946: It’s a Wonderful Life – Kontakthof strikes me as a very American piece with the multipurpose dance hall setting. It’s if its context would be relatable on both sides of the Atlantic, the dance hall a place for people to reacquaint with each other. I’d also make the same association with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? if I saw that movie.

2011: Pina – Unlike the two movies I stated above, Kontakthof uses the setting to play around with age and dancing traditions. A ‘senior’ troupe performed this piece in Britain. The Wuppertals mix the ages around, the seasoned veterans sharing the floor with the new blood. The pieces have their different purposes, Printemps showing what Bausch is famous for, Mueller retraces her steps, Kontakthof passes her legacy to new generations.

Vollmond

2002: “The Private Press” -Contemporary dance seems like the medium’s Wild West in a way that despite of the dominant use of (contemporary) classical and baroque music used in the pieces, any company can use whatever music they like. My favourite scene is when I’m sure that are the performers dancing to a song from the first half of DJ Shadow’s second album.

2010: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky. ch. Benjamin Millepied?) – It’s taken me this long and this piece to revisit that movie’s histrionics. The set here is just a full moon at the background, one of James Wolcott’s points against the movie in his scathing review. I can only compare Black Swan‘s sets to Wuppertals’ big rock and flooded stage as apples and oranges. There’s an air to their approach to how both stage dance as minimalist if not for the ornamental details, like the translucent curtains that both movies share.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy


The new movie adaptation of veteran spy novelist John le Carre‘s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels a bit quiet but that wouldn’t be a surprise because of its director, Tomas Alfredson, who made a vampire movie look sanitized. Although instead of snow and tiles painted with blood, he brings the same craftsmanship to London and Istanbul circa 1973. Unlike the more casual 1979 BBC miniseries, Alfredson and crew have the burden of making the movie feel distant from contemporary times. Old wooden furniture, soot-stained marble and stone buildings, MI-6 employees wearing sepia tone double-breasted vests, typing on dull green computer prototypes. I have a few issues with the tone, like the soundtrack in the beginning and the shadows on the actors faces but nonetheless, its’ an exercise in style in the best of ways, the formalism appealing because everything’s so toned and filed down, like a dull but blunt object.

Control (John Hurt) sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) down to Budapest to get a codename of a mole who has been in the MI6 – nicknamed ‘The Circus’ – for years. The set-up goes awry and Jim dies. To redeem themselves from national embarrassment, Cabinet Secretary Sir Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney) enlists someone from the ‘outside,’ cuckolded and ousted agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) to pick up where Jim has left off. George differs in his approach to the matter, he’s not trying to lure some field agent overseas. Instead he looks within the agency, its paperwork and interviews of ex-employees, convinced that the double agent would try, and fail to cover his tracks at home.

This movie is the epitome of boy’s club but in the best of ways, as the story lets us into the group’s fracking façade. The infighting, as these middle-aged Received Pronunciation speakers bellow about how authentic each other’s stolen information are and the sources from which these files are produced. They end up accusing each other of being too old, too much of a wild card or too paranoid, leading to some dismissals from the agency. The next step, of course, is for Smiley and other agents to spy on each other. One of the circus’ mostly deluded yet loyal members is a woman, Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke). When Smiley ends her interview, she waves, saying along the lines of ‘If it’s bad, don’t come back to let me know.’

Loyalty is the biggest conundrum here. It lacks the showy-er elements of contemporary spy movies which is a deterrent for some audiences. However, the MI-6 of the 1970’s doesn’t need muscular action against its enemies and neither do their battles involve a weapon that can kill them all. They live in a world where agents cross the Cold War’s already fluid lines. This betrayal is sickening and perplexing enough to these characters although thankfully, George and his rogue allies are jaded enough not to fight while brandishing Connie’s blind patriotism.

I’m on the fence here – the more time elapses between that surprisingly exhilarating last shot makes everything else seem more like a passing flavour. Like an experience that immerse its audience then just as gradually lets them go. A few things stay with me, like Tom Hardy’s performance as footman Ricky Tarr, that burly man reintroducing himself and his voice as a wounded stray. Or Colin Firth’s modest expressions as Bill Haydon. The zoom-outs between two pillars as dread-inducing jet fighters fly through European skies and another one from Control hearing about Jim’s death. And the slow motion sequence in the conference room with Control’s suspects, Tinker – Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Tailor – Haydon, Soldier – Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Poorman – Esterhase (David Dencik). The pipe smoke lifting from their faces, their eyes mockingly looking at George the Spy, Control’s oblivious fifth suspect. Good movies are one that twists the mind.


Overrated: The Descendants


The Descendants, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, is adapted by writer-director Alexander Payne but without his usual morbidity and nihilism. But in losing these qualities, there are many ways in which this film feels conventional, like the Hawaiian-inspired soundtrack reminding us of the paradise that the source material may be trying to subvert.

There’s the acting, especially from George Clooney, playing the protagonist, a Hawaiian-born and bred man named Matt King, over-narrating the story’s sociopolitical ‘undertones,’ but more on that later. In one of his voice-overs, he asks his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), in a coma after a boating accident, to ‘wake up,’ even if his deadpan delivery of those words inadvertently suggests that it doesn’t matter to him either way. The acting has strong points, especially when each character is reacting towards news that Elizabeth won’t recover and has to be take off life support. When Matt hears the news from a doctor, the former surprises us with glazed puppy dog eyes. Then his older, vulnerable, seventeen year old daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) submerges her head in a leaf-littered backyard swimming pool. Then it’s someone else’s turn, Matt taking on the duties of breaking the news to her family and friends. I’m fully aware that my indifference towards these characters in a time of need makes me seem like I have a heart of stone but the fault is how the movie presents it. The repetition makes me focus on the ritualized state of mourning as opposed to the emotions within the said ritual. Either Payne or the source material doesn’t have a handle on how an event like this affects the story’s many characters, and not enough variation with the who and the how.

These road trips and rituals allow Matt to be around people who think differently on what Elizabeth, a woman with many friends, means to them. But at the same time, it’s as if these people carry the burden of Elizabeth’s loss without any of that emotion transferring to him. A stranger case is Alex’ boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who stays within Matt’s posse because Alex demands that she’ll be more civil throughout the ordeal. Despite of what Sid says to aggravate Matt, the former stays a few days longer to conveniently redeem himself, telling Matt his approach to take life in stride despite its difficulties and defends the old man against an older man, Elizabeth’s father (Robert Forster). It’s as if Matt’s self-described ‘back-up parent’ disposition is an excuse to keep characters unnecessarily close to him.

Elizabeth’s accident also comes within bad timing, as Matt and his cousins, friendly with each other on the outside, decide on whether and whom to sell 25,000 acres of untouched property inherited from their ancestor, King Kamehameha. This part of the story interests me more, especially with how Matt distances himself from the decision, despite being the land’s trustee. One cousin thinks the transaction is ‘sharing the land with the world.’ Matt also talks condescendingly about the need to sell because of the poorer cousins, personified by Cousin Hugh, who is played by Beau Bridges, using a cheaper version of his brother Jeff’s ‘acting intoxicated’ playbook. He and his ‘pro-sell’ cousins treat this situation smugly because his generation can get rid of a land that seems useless to them. The only dissenting voices against the sale are some cousins who aren’t given lines – those cousins are from experience, the kind who will make a bigger fuss than the placid movie allows them – and Matt’s younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) who, when hearing an anecdote from Alex about camping in the property, tells her ‘I want to camp too!’ The movie’s ending awaits for his decision that isn’t really accounted for by his reactions to the voices around him. In both family matters, Matt doesn’t seem to learn anything or change, not because of an outright refusal but because the writing doesn’t give him an option to do so.

The are instances when the movie isn’t lukewarm, the first of which involves the supporting characters talking to Elizabeth. They’re having sincere conversations with someone who can’t talk back. She’s shown in close-ups, her face wan with liver spots, her mouth wide open, the image unavoidably disconcerting yet honest. Everyone says goodbye, including a nice stranger named Julie Speer (Judy Greer). Matt’s farewell is the most poetic yet surprisingly least sincere out of all of them. The other kinds of scenes show a more realistic, Islander’s perspective of Hawaii and its roads, skyscrapers and overpopulation. A last scene shows the family on a small boat, supposedly on a Arcadian ritual until the camera switches to Matt – even from afar they can’t escape the islands’ skyscrapers. Nature is lost and so is the family’s mother, but only if these images were captured by a director and a movie that cared more about them.


Ne’erending XMas: Prince Of Egypt


This is a blog post equivalent of Febulights, where I talk about a movie about the emotionally draining festival weeks after the fact. And this isn’t even about Christmas or a non-Christian holiday that also coincides with it. Why can’t the channel I tuned into broadcast one about the Maccabean revolt? I’m sure there’s many of those. Instead, we get the pre-Shrek Dreamworks offering called The Prince of Egypt. It’s a curious title that also hints at the complexities within the Biblical hero, Moses (Val Kilmer) who also happens to be the adopted brother of slave driving Pharaoh Ramses II (Ralph Fiennes). Fiennes lends his voice to a villain contending against the laws of nature, the latter of which is a force powered by good. Ramses also wears a lot of make-up and campy costumes and is sexually and species ambiguous like every other Fiennes character. Anyway, they still have contend with their relationship despite of the ethnic division wedged between them. Ramses is still in close contact with Moses, allowing the latter in his son’s wake, a sign of compassion from both ends. But Moses’ presence is still a reminder of the transaction that must take place in order for his kind of racist God to stop ravaging Ramses’ country.

There are some conventionally sub par parts in the animation like how hair, as beautiful as it looks, is fashioned in clumps as opposed to of strands. How gold looks more yellow. When light or fire comes out of the sky, which looks awesome yet artificial. Speaking of artificial, how about when it’s trying to replicate camera movement? The same artificiality also affects the scene with the parting of the Red Sea, looking like a tenth grade computer assignment. However, that part redeems itself when we see silhouettes of a whale trapped in the water while the Israelites pass through, showing us what they would have seen in this moment. It doesn’t distinguish itself from Disney although Disney movies will almost never have a predominantly dark-skinned characters and will never have Jewish protagonists. There are some new touches  like recognizing Orion or how objects touch light or vice versa. But I mainly like how old school the movie looks, where the rocks or buildings are rugged on the foreground but looking painterly as they recede. Or during the Exodus when the Israelites, their carts and tents placed within the picture through brushstrokes. This movie also features the greatest looking eyes ever.

I will always remember this movie for how Moses has more sexual chemistry with his sister Mariam (Sandra Bullock) than with his taller and skinnier wife Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer). The way their big eyes look at each other with the almost sighing expression, different from my experiences of friendly enmity that I see in other siblings. They are estranged and there have been other examples in other movies where people in that situation have the same reaction towards each other or more. Although personally I like the simpler looking Mariam better, Tzipporah looking too glamorous for me, even though her jewellery is a sign of class division within the enslaved Israelites. I don’t know what that says about my preferences about but enough about that.

And because this is an animated musical, Moses and the crew sing a song after being victorious against Ramses. Mariam and Tzipporah sing ‘When You Believe, made more famous by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, who are not the singing voices in the movie. The real character voices sing an octave higher than, what I imagine, the A-list actors would sound like. It’s not necessarily frustration and animation companies, under the veil of their drawn creations as opposed to real actors and sets, can hire as many people as they like to play a character. At the same, I never bought the ‘we chose a different singing voice to fit the character’ argument, even when MGM musicals of yore used the same justification. If they could express emotion through speaking, they can and should be able to do the same in music, and vice versa. I still want to know what Bullock and Pfeiffer’s voices sound like.

The movie ends with Moses with the Ten Commandments, bypassing the Golden Calf section because that scene would have soured the movie’s mood.


Yes or No: MI – Ghostocol


Like other series in this blog “Yes or No” is ripped off Nathaniel. It also won’t last long because I just see the good and the bad within movies instead of seeing what switches the movie could have made. Brad Bird‘s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is one of those rare cases where the thing that can make the movie better is already within it, it just needs highlighting while pushing the boring parts out. With….

Yes: Action sequences. Especially the first two which are immaculate pieces of cinema, starting from when Agent Hanaway (Paul Gross lookalike Josh Holloway) almost gets away from the bad guys. Then we get to when our hero, Impossible Missions Force Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), escapes from a Russian prison with the help of a few friends. I apologize for conflating them but they just have the same spirit.

These scenes have the greatest acting in the movie, from Lea Seydoux as Sabine Moreau – more about her later – to the goofy way Simon Pegg‘s IMF Agent Benji Dunn says ‘sorry,’ to Cruise actually pronouncing ‘Bogdan’ (Miraj Grbic) properly. It also took me days to realize that I was listening to Eminem, the perfect background music to Cruise punching out Russians of both hot shirtless prisoner or armed guard form.

It’s a surreal adrenaline pumping dream where there’s a tiger behind every door, or in this case an enemy behind every turn, back alley or hallway. These remind me of video game levels, Bird’s animation training translating so well in hyper-reality. If only he could have sustained this energy. Sure, that sandstorm was ballsy and visually ambitious but the movie hurriedly goes from one locale to another, making these changes feel forced.

No: Mikael Nyqvist as sadistic, apocalypse lover and nuclear warhead fetishist Hendricks. “For some reason, this $100 million tent pole movie couldn’t afford to hire Christoph Waltz. I’m underwritten, mostly silent and one note.”

Yes: It’s sad that Seydoux as Sabine is an afterthought in some of the criticism I’ve read. How else can a relatively unknown actress magically transform herself from an idealized young lover Midnight in Paris to a sashaying gunslinger in this movie? Sabine is an assassin getting paid with diamonds, which is a hilarious, borderline sexist stereotype by the way. But her reptilian yet graceful demeanour, the way she literally bears her teeth while exclaiming ‘Tuez-le!’ is what I look for in a beautiful yet scary woman If there’s anything I love, it’s an actress’ dedication to camp even in a secondary role.

No: Auteur-izing an actor here, but Jeremy Renner picks characters who obsessively follows esoteric, self-inflicted honour codes brought on by the post-traumatic, stressful, working class ‘modern’ masculine condition. His character, ‘analyst’ William Brandt, is one link more helpful in saving Ethan’s life in that thrilling Burj scene. But he’s so negative, nagging his teammates during missions and constantly picking fights with then. Is this who we want to spend two hours with in the new MI movies?

Yes: Instead of William, Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) seems more of a deserving heir for Ethan. Since she and Hanaway were an item, both she and Ethan are kindred spirits in the ‘I lost love for this job’ cliché. She also hides her pain during missions most of the time. And there’s also something about Patton’s performance as a woman in the field, never seeming vulnerable like the way other movies present women. Her bone structure doesn’t get in the way of her being occasionally worn down, not caring which angle makes her face look better.

This is especially true in the Mumbai scenes. Ignore that image where she bites a cherry so seductively that it’s cartoonish. It’s probably her biceps talking but it seems like she’s wearing her slit green dress like an athlete, revealing skin for a public appearance but she stops being that ‘feminine’ once she’s in a more private place.

Yes and SPOILER: Mrs. Julia Hunt (Michelle Monaghan). Monaghan is a great actress and a national treasure just like many actresses who broke out in the mid 2000’s and are now stuck within girlfriend roles and worse. I’ve spent most of this post praising this movie’s women. I think I’m straight. 3.5/5