…and the quest to see everything

Archive for February, 2012

Parent Relationships: Hugo

Any other seventeen year old can see that the paternal figures in Hugo represent a cultural fatherhood as it does with a biological one. That our eponymous hero Hugo’s (Asa Butterfield) status as an orphan living in a train station is a break from that said culture and identity. And his self-appointed mission to fix the automaton that his father (Jude Law) has brought home from the museum where the latter works is symbolic of him repatriating himself. The he in convinced that the automaton has a message for him that stems from the belief that the objects our forbears leave us says a lot about them and ourselves.

John Logan, screenwriter and Martin Scorsese, director adapted this movie from Brian Selznick’s children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” And as a necessary evil, Hugo’s life is full of coincidences, his notebook of the drawings of the automatons catches the eye and anger of a man named Papa Georges (Shutter Island alum Ben Kingsley), who owns the top shop from which Hugo steals. That Hugo can’t even utter why he has the notebook points to how stunted he is. Papa Georges takes the notebook, a part of Hugo’s journey then being to recover it, going to the former’s through a cemetery, a setting so visualized out that it inescapably became overt symbolism.

Anyway, Papa Georges is actually acclaimed silent filmmaker George Melies, almost lost in movie history until Hugo and Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) rediscover him in the early 1930’s (I imagine a more boring story, Tabard or some twenty-something assistant finding Melies through records or whatnot, but we like this story better for reasons of our own). Pointing out Papa Georges is a case example shows how loss doesn’t only occur through accidents but through adult self-will. He almost shuns movies because he believes that his contributions are no longer wanted, because he’ll never have a comeback because those things aren’t supposed to happen.

Speaking of which, the movie, being from a children’s lit source material, only shows the development and evolution of a child through its connections with the father. But whatever is missing through the Hugo-father-Georges story lines is shown through other story lines and connections within the characters. There’s the limitation or lack of Hugo’s adolescent phase, the loss he experiences or his survivalist induced kleptomania don’t count as that. His adolescent phase is shown through the world falling out of Georges’ movies the same way a person outgrows movies or cultural pieces they used to love as children. ‘Films have the power to capture dreams,’ as Hugo quotes his father describing a movie the latter has seen as a child.

But that fantastical quality is also George’s biggest disadvantage, as most of the children who have seen and loved his films have experienced the war and other misfortunes and have wanted other movies if none at all. The lightest genres they can tolerate are social commentaries disguised as comedies, as evinced by Harold Lloyds and Charlie Chaplins. And time moves on, as sound in movies demand that even those slapstick silent movies have to become relics. Thankfully, not everyone grows into adolescence or adulthood, that Hugo and Rene, instead of sporting battle scars and limps, use their first childhood encounters with beauty and magic to continue into great artistry. Their much derided interests can show the other grown-ups that dreams can come true in a big screen. They even have to remind Georges that.

The second thing missing directly from Hugo as a character but is well and alive through traces around him is the female presence. The only thing we know from his mother is his father’s words of her English provenance. There are slightly stronger examples. Hugo’s love interest Isabelle (Chloë Moretz, her grating accent scaring me of what Les Miserables might be like this year) instinctively chooses to dig up her godfather Georges’ past with Hugo – both calling it an adventure –  her precociousness disregards that she can possibly hurt Georges’ feelings and instead views this as her right to know about his past or about anything. She probably chooses this as punishment for her godfather banning her to watch movies.

She lacks the protective instincts that her godmother Mama Jeanne has, but she still has a stake on the resurfacing of Georges’ work, her role as his actress and muse being a great contribution to his work. Rene’s compliments confirm her share within early cinema. There’s also the woman selling flowers in the train station (Shutter Island co-alum Emily Mortimer) revealing to the Station Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) that her brother died in the same war that has gotten him injured. I resent giving masculine-dominated movies brownie points for writing one line for each female character or something (which is an exaggeration I admit but come on, why give Emily Mortimer such a small role?). But these women and men surprise each other with their shared history, and these revelations support and cement the connections that these characters have.

There are a few silver linings to being an orphan (or yes, fan girls and boys, to Jude Law dying. The movie visualizes his death forgettably, as paper-thin fires consume a museum, one of equally paper-thin looking sets. Anyway….). First is the connections that these grownups forge under his voyeuristic eye, that these workers and shopkeepers and regulars organically create a familial rapport. That these are older versions of his lonely self, and that they can cure their anomie.

Second is that Hugo’s orphan-hood allows him to dig twice as hard and in many different directions to discover himself. Let’s think about his direct provenance – he’s a son and nephew of repairmen and he would have stayed that way had these elder men lived. I don’t want to romanticize him living in a train station by himself. The other train station orphan shows what hygienic state Hugo could have been in. But the station also represents multifaceted urban stimuli and he could also have followed the examples of those around him. A cafe owner, a flower sales rep, a station inspector (Gustave also being an orphan), a librarian, an Indian Chief, you know how the Imperial nursery rhyme goes. For a person who belongs nowhere, like an apprentice in Confucius’ world, the choices are endless. And as much as there are people like Gustave who wants to lock him up or the characters who think he’s invisible but there are others like Georges and Rene who give him a chance.

Lastly, I don’t want to sound like I’m belittling repairmen. If anything Georges just saw himself as a box cranker and a vaudeville act – a man with a bigger sense of entitlement would have probably died instead of reducing himself as a toy shop keeper. But as Hugo’s father saw potential in an automaton that the museum didn’t want to display, these stray young characters’ constant search has great results. As much as this movie is about the characters’ returning home, it’s also about appreciating the utilitarian craft, a 20th century fight and attitude towards unappreciated art forms. The other characters have thought as a rickety few hours of escapism, Hugo and Rene’s mission was to convince everyone that they have experienced movies as magic.

Pink Ribbon$ Inc.

Lea Pool, of Lost and Delirious fame, is great in documentary form while attacking the ‘breast cancer culture,’ a militant movement turned into a unicorn march, in Pink Ribbon$, Inc. This is a movie about semantics, one with which I have an issue. One of the movie’s featured talking heads criticize the word ‘survivor,’ used towards and by women who have faced tribulations. That word is preferable because it implies a ‘post’ phase of convalescence, a move up from ‘victim,’ the latter word evoking constancy and forced submission to their suffering. One of the talking heads’ arguments is that ‘survivor’ makes the ‘victims’ feel that the latter weren’t strong enough to defeat the disease. So what’s the correct word then.

These words are chess pieces within a war about the voices of those afflicted with the cancer. Some have understandable problems with breast cancer allowing us to say ‘breast’ in public, both sexualizing and infantilizing a disease. There are scenes where a woman is holding up a poster saying ‘WALK IF YOU LOVE BOOBS,’ negating that the cancer should be more urgent. The culture has thus acquired a dictatorial attitude of public optimism, neglecting how diseases suck, making these feelings of pessimism shoved into the private sphere. Hiding/not being able to vent bad feelings and pretending to be constantly perky are signs of neuroses, insanity if we count that one group tries to silence the other.

Silence on one side can occur when the other’s message is overpowering. There are four stages of breast cancer, as a Texas-based stage four breast cancer support group informs us, the group having to find themselves because they’re pariahs in other supports group who see them as ‘angels of death.’ The disease can permute from stage two to convalescence to stage four, or someone can just be diagnosed to four and wait to die. We have forgotten so much about the nature of cancer and the happy ones’ clamouring misinforming us about the methods of finding a cure and treatment. Doctors remove cancer cells in a medieval way, like ‘slash, burn and poison.’ Misinformation is also bound to make many of us forget out tenth-grade science that cancers are mutations of the cell and opposed to viruses that destroy them, complicating the way scientists should be looking for cures.

Common knowledge suggests that Radioactive materials advance cell mutations causing cancer, those chemicals unsurprisingly found on the products of the multinational companies that advertise the perkiness and sponsor the Runs and Walks and Jumps for a Cure. The lack of cognitive dissonance is especially alarming when a mother and daughter are one of many who take part and have to be massaged after a long few days of the marathon. So basically these people, mostly women, are asked to buy products – pennies of proceeds will go to breast cancer research! – that would hurt them and take part in actions that would hurt themselves so they can fundraise money with the slight possibility of curing themselves. They’re asked to inflict self-harm twice! ‘Corporations are evil’ is hardly a novel message, but it’s still startling, knowing the effects and the rising numbers of women diagnosed with the disease. Images via TIFF.

African Diaspora: Kinyarawnda

Sure, the acting is rudimentary here – if you want to watch amateur actors reenacting their national trauma, any hipster can point you to The Battle of Algiers. One of the six interweaving vignettes of Aldrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda (the title deriving from Rwanda’s national language) also portray the Mufti (or the Muslim leaders within the community) conversing about the conquering Belgians diving their country by tribes because of their physical appearance, which sounds like a clunky history lesson. But the others depict different emotions and tactics within characters living in a border city during and after the Rwandan genocide.

It’s not just a simple, melodramatic arc of submission and redemption with which first world audiences are accustomed, although there are some versions and permutations of that here too. We see the soldiers like Lieutenant Rose create new friendships on the field while discussing the ones who ‘understand’ at home. Rose continues the work, in a camp full of humiliated men who participated in the genocide. These stories show characters who become heroes through their natural altruism, remembering that the ones who could be victims are, sometimes, lovers or simply neighbors. Years after the goal is forgiveness, which is asked for and given with sincerity.

Parenthood: A Separation

I saw Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation after I wrote my Parenthood in 2011 Cinema post and I didn’t want to just write a sentence or two and ruin that post’s flow. And I’ll probably decide to discuss the movie outside its gender/familial dynamics. So voilà.

A Separation gives attention to how members of its society views and examines motherhood and womanhood, among the many complex topics upon which the movie beautifully touches. Nader (Peyman Maadi) deals with his father’s (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) incapacity by hiring working class Razieh (Sareh Bayat) as a daytime housekeeper and caretaker for his father while he leaves for work. After a dispute between them – some money is missing in Nader’s drawers and he of course accuses her of theft – he pushes her, possibly leading to her miscarriage.

If Nader is found guilty of causing the miscarriage, it’s murder under Iranian law. Nader’s pre-trial takes place in some bureaucrat judge’s office, where he has to bring witnesses like his daughter Termeh and her tutor to prove that he didn’t know – I also can’t help but point how as much as it’s perfunctory for both families to bring their children in to exonerate themselves, it’s still simultaneously hella classy and tragic, the daughters seeing handcuffs and Termeh seeing her father wearing a pair and being one of them criminals.

He has to prove that he couldn’t hear a conversation revealing Razieh’s pregnancy, etc. Both Razieh and her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) question Nader’s and the testimonies supporting him. How could he not have known? It’s obvious just by looking at her. I can’t look up Nader’s verbatim but he says something like how he couldn’t tell that she was pregnant because of the chador. I didn’t want to read it in a way that a first world perspective would, I coming from a third world background who sees the chador as a choice. Nevertheless, I still can’t help but hear this line as a critique of Islam, that article of clothing oppressively weighing her down.

I couldn’t see this movie any other way, as the chador is inescapably bound to Razieh’s character. It accentuates the waddle that she has as she goes up the stairs to Nader’s apartment, or her ghostlike running as she looks for Nader’s father or her hurried face and hands as she tells Hodjat not to take Nader’s money. Bayat’s award-winning performance fleshes out a woman whose duties as a mother and wife of a man drowned in debt is showing through her physicality, with or without that article of clothing. But that doesn’t mean that her words don’t matter neither, her Streepian revelation of ‘I have doubts’ contributing to the moral duplicity that the movie shows with sympathy and without judgment.

The movie can be seen as one with two halves. We spent the first half with Razieh while the second is where Nader’s wife Simin (Leila Hatami) dominates. A Western rendition of this story would have had to soften Simin up or villain-ize her. I don’t begrudge her for leaving home to move back in to her mother’s or being unable to take care of her father-in-law because she’s always at work although I know one or two wackos who would find a problem with that.

It is uncomfortable watching her push Termeh around, the latter reluctant to leave her father and Iran. Or that both husband and wife lock each other into a staring contest, waiting for the other to blink so he or she can blink back. She packs her bags into her car, waiting for Nader to agree with everything she wants. They’ve gotten to the point when compromise, an iomportant part in maintaining a family, is impossible, even if both can’t be seen as in the wrong. Both are proud, which I read as a masculine trait while neither character is ‘feminized.’ In the portrayal of their relationship, they’re even – their qualities and decisions aren’t divisible by stereotypes, Nader and Simin are the more ‘progressive’ yet flawed couple, unlike Razieh and Hojjat who are still bound by religion and patriarchy.

Let’s not forget that their separation occurs because she wants a better life for her family, their pre-trial being that electric Arthur Miller-like scene that sets the movie’s humanizing tone. She doesn’t have to prove anything as the story lets us know what her intentions are in the first place. And let me just say that my hesitation to view these characters’ tribulations as a critique of Iran’s theocracy and justice system. Every country sucks, every bureaucrat seen with disdain, especially ones who can sentence others although they don’t know the ‘whole story.’ Whether we’ve been struck by quandary like this, the movie still calls on our fears that we can be maligned. Either if it’s on a criminal standpoint, when people can get jailed for things they didn’t know were wrong – and you can’t get acquitted for ‘not knowing what you did was wrong,’ on a legal standpoint – or just under others’ piercing eyes of.

If the mothers in this movie symbolize a the state of benig broken, Razieh transgressing by taking care of two fractured families while Simin being the point of one fracture, the fathers then posit themselves as the fortress of the family. Nader tries to teach Farsi words to Termeh, despite her protestations that her school system prefers Arabic words. But if that means that he’s the ‘conservative’ stronghold of the family, then I don’t know whether telling his daughter that it’s ok to, spoiler, lie in court is deviance or traditional self-preservation. Every scene with Nader and Termeh has this slight sense of danger that a jerk is raising someone who will be a jerk.

Hojjat, however, tries to keep his family afloat through his creditors, sometimes forsaking his wife’s religiosity for their much-needed money. He’s a a man, after years of unemployment and trauma, whose version of protecting his family is harming others. It’s this sort of personal dysfunction that provides us with the most nuanced characters whom we haven’t seen for a long time until now.

Oscar Animated Shorts

I lied, the Oscar-nominated animated shorts come first. As I was watching them I kept thinking about how the next short was better than the last. Which kind of felt like a cheat because the latest one was probably fresher in my memory. This probably will show my biases about aesthetics but the audience during my screening saw, in the order that they were presented, go from capturing the mundane to portraying the fantastical, from the most rudimentary forms of animation to the most breathtakingly detailed. Oh, and before I talk about each short, I would just like to say that this is the first time I’ve seen these selections.

Patrick Doyon’s Dimanche portrays a titular regular Sunday in rural Quebec. It evokes the cloudy whimsy of childhood with its sensory interpretations of trains and elephants and the protagonist looking up while the adults, presumably his aunts and uncles, have indiscernible conversations. ‘Rudimentary’ is probably a belittling comment to describe this, as it does play with two-dimensionality. There’s also something remarkable with the economy of drawing birds and humans with simple lines and shapes. There’s also a texture that smoothed out, computerized animation hasn’t completely captured, making me miss the paper and pencil animated movie.

Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby’s Wild Life makes my biases resurface because I graduated high school to get away from stories like this ad nauseam. Most versions I’ve heard about Prairie settlement on the Canadian West which are full of Eastern European characters and that’s represented with a vocal cameo by the hilarious Luba Goy. But our protagonist here is a young British man who fancies himself as a cowboy. But just because it’s tenth-grade history doesn’t mean that it has parallels now, that a lot of co-dependent overgrown children still today. Some sequences feel like two frames interchanged to simulate movement but the sound brings that conceit to life. And I’m a sucker for watercolour so this gets a pass.

Contrasting those old school historical Canadian annies are two shiny ones from south of the border. The fourth one being William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, the most widely-seen short when it hit online by itself. It’s a bit lengthy and sleepy – what kind of ADD do I have? – but the latter half of the short makes the titular books look tactile. It also hits on the ‘important subject matter’ criteria that may or not be important for the voters in the Academy, but it does touch on the topic of temporal loss and how books can comfort us from those anxieties.

Lessmore reminds me of Up – book balloons! – and so does this last annie, Enrico Casarosa’s La Luna. It’s a 20th century version of a myth, as a three-generational Italian family who look like fishermen are actually out on the sea to work on the moon so they can clean it up. They take us on a journey that includes stars, both shining and exploding, on the moon. And spoilers, they make the moon wax and wane. This short is also the closest thing we’ll have to Melancholia getting an Academy Award nomination, with the moon and all, so it gets my vote. And this short is produced by Pixar and those guys know how to push their stuff so I’m not worried.

Oh and there’s the second one, Grant Orchard’s submission, the most forgettable of the bunch, which is a shame because it mixes both old school black and white and colour computer animation. It also has a gross-out, apocalyptic spin in the end as it envisions a zombie chasing a chicken down the street, a contrast from the earlier scenes when it’s just a man seeing a chicken. It also has the sleek, urban, virtual Fernand Leger that reminds me of that short that won in 2008-2009 I think, I can’t remember the title. Although A Morning Stroll doesn’t evoke that technological aesthetic though.

Yay! These shorts were very popular during Family Day when I watched them so they’ll still be playing from today until March 1st at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Images vis TIFF.

Motifs in Cinema: 2011 – Parent Relationships

Perhaps because it’s one of the youngest artistic forms, cinema is often assessed in much different manner that literature, or the visual arts. We discuss it in terms of genre, not in terms of thematic offering. Comparing, for example, Corpse Bride and Up because they’re both animated leads to some dubious discussion especially when – like any art form – thematic elements examined in cinema and the way different filmmaker address them make for some stimulating discussion. Motifs in Cinema is a discourse, across eleven film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2011 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of the artist or the family dynamic? Like everything else, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a single idea changes when utilised by varying artists. – Andrew Kendall

Let’s begin this with the power of mothers, sometimes relying on their mystery of their and their children’s origins. Part of the journey that sons and daughters take in movies is to unearth this said origin. It could be of a sexual nature, where her past can be considered as a threat in comedies like Submarine‘s Oliver Tate hears news that his mother Jill’s ex boyfriend is moving next door, or No Strings Attached‘s Emma discovering that her mother is dating a biker.

She can also be like The Tree of Life‘s Mrs. O’Brien, the movie’s connection to world’s prehistory. In a way, it makes sense for her to be the character that we the audience first see in the movie’s two beginnings, manifesting and letting the audience experience the desire and poetic consciousness of her and any human being’s place in the world.

Her actions can be a catalyst that unite strangers, like Cindy from Win Win being temporarily separated with her son Kyle. Movies also inspire within its characters an impulse to write this history and its sociopolitical ramifications. The Help begins with Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan interviewing Aibileen and the latter’s maternal connections to slavery. She lives in a constructed world where men are passive and women have their own ways of controlling each other. She also discovers her own mother’s role in the stratification and divisions between the housewives and the maids, directly involved in the separation between her and her nanny who she might have loved more than her own family.

Both Win Win and The Help have children with ‘two mothers,’ the latter experiencing double-sided paranoia. One is the suspicion that a stranger can be better than one’s biological mother. The other is the inevitability when the child grows away from her. In Win Win, both fall on Cindy, while Kyle’s adopted mother Jackie Flaherty’s only complex is imagining Cindy to be a crack mother. The Help divides this double inferiority, the housewives having the former, and the titular help – as Aibilieen notices that the children she’s taking care of are growing to be as racist as their real mothers – having the latter. Both movies end with one maternal figure letting go, letting the audience decide if a victory is won with one woman’s concession.

I also pondered on other maternal models like Take Shelter‘s Samatha LaForche. Chastain, playing Samantha, makes me feel ambivalent for conceding her dissent against her husband Curtis and his compulsive need to have a storm shelter that’s killing their expenses which include an operation for their deaf child. Again, the mother holds the family’s origins, the same way Curtis might have inherited his mental state and delusions from his mother. She is where the story really begins. I also remember one of the characters telling Samantha to her face that both Curtis and their daughter are her burdens and as insulting as it is, it’s true. The same thing happens in a comedy like  50/50 where Katie, a young psychiatrist, dealing with an equally young, closed-up cancer patient named Adam. While complaining to her about his shrill mother, Diane, who won’t stop calling him, she eventually tells him something like Diane having a husband she can’t talk to and a son, Adam, who won’t. In both movies, both the child, in early or adult stages, becomes a liability and it’s unfair that it’s up to the mother to keep the family together and be the back-up plan.

Or ‘origin’ can also be seen and interpreted as a symbol of precarious tradition, like Audrey in Pariah. She is mother to Alike. We can argue that enforcing womanhood on her children is her way of transferring the sexuality which she’s robbed, as her suspicions of her husband Arthur having an affair makes more sense by the day. Her Christian, conservative world falls apart when Alike comes out of the closet. Their last encounter ends when Audrey, teary-eyed tells Alike that ‘I’m praying for you,’ this movie’s way of negotiating a mother’s ‘badness’ by following, for the lack of a better word, hate with love.

One parent’s essential place in a familial unit means that the other is kept slightly away. Two movies that show this are written by Steve Zaillan, showing paternal distance in present day families. His first movie Moneyball has Casey Beane getting firsthand news about her father Billy through her mother or the media and it’s up to Billy to either confirm, deny or comfort her. The second movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, also has the same theme with The Help when a de facto left-wing parental figure sees retroactive conservatism in their child figures. Mikael Blomkvist, a liberal journalist, has a teenage daughter Pernilla, who is going to Bible camp, although their relationship is more adult and amicable.

But in ‘traditional’ environments, the father is closer to the children, causing resentment within the child. The Tree of Life‘s Mrs. O’Brien and her eldest son Jack have a borderline Freudian bond but her husband overpowers her influence. Footloose‘s Rev. Shaw Moore bans public dancing, angering his rebellious daughter Ariel. The Devil’s Double, Uday Hussein preferring his mother and not his father Saddam. One of the few exceptions of this paternal resentment is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘s Thomas Schell, the coolest dad in recent cinema, the reason his son Oskar remembers him after his death.

Sometimes the mother gets killed off for the father to make a bigger impression – it’s also a convenient way for some movies to write lesser female roles. Beginners’ Georgia Fields recedes within flashbacks as her son Oliver faces his father Hal’s homosexuality and cancer. The titular Hanna gets training from her father Erik. Super 8‘s Elizabeth Lamb leaves her husband Jackson to raise their son Joe. A Better Life‘s Carlos Galindo is a father trying to give to his son the opportunities he never had. Real Steel‘s Charlie Kenton’s journey to bond with his son is an uphill climb. The Descendants‘ Elizabeth King succumbs to a coma and her husband Matt gets put to use. These families sons and daughter of those movies eventually learn to accept their loss.

The past few paragraphs have reminded me how heteronormative this year in has been. I’m interjecting on myself to call on Annette Bening and Julianne Moore to work together every year. And the funny thing is that I didn’t even like The Kids are All Right, mainly because of my ambivalence about the ending and Mark Ruffalo’s character. Neither do I find Lisa Cholodenko’s movies perfect.

But speaking of perfection, that’s something I couldn’t meet here. So I wrote separate posts coming out on the next two days on two different movies. First is A Separation, the four main characters and how class binds their behaviours and decisions as parents. I also wanted to dedicate the last paragraph on the parent-less, the characters with ambiguous parentage and ones confirmed as orphans. The relationships they build and the heroism they can conquer. There have been so many characters like them in movies during the past year, all of them wanting to know who they have to fight and who’s on their side. I concentrated on one movie, Hugo, and the different meanings, superficial and hopefully deeper ones, on what it means for the titular Hugo’s to rediscover his father and finding a new home and purpose.

This mini-blogathon exists because of our mutual friend Andrew Kendall, quoted above, of Encore’s World of Film and TV. Click here to see what he says about characters in the movies of 2011 and how they work hard for the money and links – more links! showering links like gold coins of wisdom! – of the other participants of the blogathon.

2011: I am Mavis Gary

This recreates my mental state three days before Valentine’s Day. It ain’t pretty.

A conversation I had with a critic – the same person with whom I was discussing Dragon Tattoo – eventually got us discussing Jason Reitman’s Young Adult. I agree with him, it’s a zombie walk where hack writer and man stealing slore Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron) converses with her high school co-alum Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) as a way of Diablo Cody talking to herself like, pardon the comparison, Ingmar Bergman with hoodies and home brewed whiskey. It’s only energized by Mavis’ blood curdling speech at the end. A villain’s tirade before leaving an all-American environment – in this case it’s Mercury, Minnesota, a small town provenance she’s seemingly outgrown – and her departure typically resulting with the other good-natured characters hugging and keeping their relationships intact and so forth. That speech is one of the elements within the movie that riskily decides to side with Mavis despite her being an intentionally terrible person and I give brownie points for those things.

His criticism against Young Adult stems from how it tries to both mock and pander to opposite sides of whatever line the movie draws to divide Mavis from the other characters. There’s the use of “Kourtney and Kim Take New York” among many uses of pop culture to either make fun of lowbrow culture, the working class reassured that the middle class is more pathetically trashy. In short, condescending to both classes but mostly to the townies who don’t even know what ‘the TV’ is. Keep in mind that it’s screenwriter Diablo Cody doing the finger-pointing, funny enough because she has appeared on the E! Network as well as being engaged to someone who works there. Also keep in mind that I watch and secretly love “Kourtney and Kim Take New York.”

It’s like a rom-com making fun of Katherine Heigl like Friends with Benefits does. It’s equally hurtful when an intellectual like Woody Allen makes fun of us. But Young Adult shows my reflection pointing back, a flawed conceit that my reflection is an ugly mean girl AND Charlize Theron. The rich make fun of us whether they’re classy or trashy and I still feel ambivalent knowing that these masks of class, education and breeding are in place against others.

What he also finds smug is something that, despite deeming the movie passable, I also could never make peace with – she’s one of the unique cases who, despite being love struck, only chooses one target for her supposed goodwill if at all. Why is Dolce-clad Mavis still holding out for Buddy Slaide (Patrick Wilson), who has unkempt facial hair, wears thick plaid jackets without being ironic and works in a factory? Just because Patrick Wilson has cheated on his wife in many miniseries/movies doesn’t mean he’ll cheat on her for you this time, Mavis. I don’t even know if he has sex drive in this movie at all.

This perpetual high school reunion one-upmanship happens all the time. Someone created the Twitter handle @FriendFromHS for this purpose. Or like what I used to do during the first year I joined Facebook – I’m trying to forget that someone else might be doing the same to me – and laughed at how this guy got fat and so forth despite not being able to find my man who got away who by the way is straight. I should actually do that now because looking at him will make me feel good about myself, hoping he finally signed up.

Oh my God he got hotter.

And I don’t care if he’s the kind of guy who takes pictures of himself in his bathroom without closing the shower curtains, holding the camera in his hand in front of the mirror because he can’t figure out how to use the timer, accessorizes with cubic zirconium bling and befriends girls who spell ‘sexxxy’ or ‘chineese’ (He’s white. Aryan, even). His face is in the same immaculate state when we were both young, belonging to better clothes and a svelte body.

If he blocks me, I wanted to write the typical ‘I hope you’re not offended by the past’ thing. But I always had a speech prepared if I see him. That there have been others after him – ‘after’ despite him not reciprocating in any sense of the word. That I thought he was the one and that those others made me feel lost, that I didn’t know what love is when I fell out of my infatuation for him. But now that I can see him again that changes everything. I could have pressed enter and told him everything, making me seem crazy if I didn’t have a friend to stop me.

The artist is someone who insists on content, form and image – especially image’s importance – despite others perceiving it as unapproachable. Her present is everyone else’s past, she views it as nostalgia but others perceive it as stubbornness. She performs this past ad nauseam but never tires because of its comforting rituals. She’s a risk taker in her eyes but that doesn’t matter if the others see madness or chooses not to see her at all, their rejection making her lose everything. This creation or dedication is caused by love and some conceive love, giving into love and to another person, as containing destruction. Love forces a person to change for the other person, to create herself anew, making her lose her individuality. But love can also be an instinct against outside forces and this form of stasis could lead to the same destruction she’s been trying to avoid.

Sorry about that insanity, although I wanted to talk about that. It’s been a long time since Young Adult came out, but what I remember from its criticism is Mavis as an unsympathetic character or her place within the movie’s class boundaries. But what about her character’s mental state? Most movies about the insane are pretty self-centred, the other characters are either supporting her convalescence or driving her to madness. We see the other characters through Mavis’ warped prism, blocking them, their relevations of ‘I feel sorry for you’ seemingly tacked on and coming out of left-field. Are we not seeing her mental condition because she looks like she has her shit together or am I using her state as an excuse? Buddy’s wife gets a whiff of her condition and I don’t know if it sticks. And her presence within Mavis’ peripheral vision causes for new lines to drive up between them, making the movie problematic.

P.s. I still haven’t added him yet.

Oscar Live Action Shorts

I’ve seen the Oscar Live Shorts a few weeks ago and they’re apparently bad crop but they show different emotions and they’re better than the animated ones. I ranked them, but doing that via Twitter limits the discourse towards whoever’s favourite short or whatever, so for completist’s sakes I’m writing about each in the order I’ve seen them.

Pentecost (Ireland) – Peter MacDonald – It’s the most visually pleasing of the bunch, the digital photography deepening the hues of the leaves and the brick walls of the setting. It reminds me of Albert Nobbs cinematography in some ways, showing us that the trees in the British Isles makes North American ones look malnourished. But it plays out the same joke that becomes tedious even in its ten minute running time, an 11-year-old altar boy named Damian (Scott Graham) in the late 20th century and those around him bringing up comparisons of mass to football. The deacons as coaches, the boys as players, the Archbishop’s mass as the big game. Meh.

Raju (Germany/India) – Max Zahle and Stefan Gieren – A couple (Wotan Wilke Möhring and Julia Richter) come to India to adopt a child named Raju. The husband and Raju go out to Calcutta before they leave for Germany but he loses the child, leading to a big reveal. The camera loves Möhring’s face as he observes the city’s squalor-filled third world streets with wonder, not revulsion. The movie deals with colonialist issues so it’s not going to win in some people’s eyes. If you’re filling your Oscar ballot with your mind and not your heart, pick this movie because the Academy loves important issues and this movie fits that bill.

The Shore (United Kingdom) – Terry George – Ciaran Hinds and Kerry Condon lend their talents as a San Francisco father and daughter Jim and Patricia visiting his hometown Northern Ireland, having left because of the turmoil decades beforehand. But this is more about the personal secrets between him and the other townspeople, specifically his best friend (Conleth Hill), an alcoholic who works as a seafood harvester, married to a woman (Maggie Cronin) who used to be Jim’s girlfriend. The bucolic tone makes sense in the beginning but it unfortunately stays on that. Nothing happens, the storyline feels chopped up as funny anecdotes and the ending makes me feel like Hinds’ character is a terrible person.

Time Freak (United States) – Andrew Bowler – I read another blogger’s column about these shorts and asked why would the protagonist make a time machine and keep coming back to a specific day within the present and not visit Ancient Rome. With all due respect, listen. If you visit Ancient Rome, you would die, everyone from the present day would die from an extremely violent and disgusting moment of human history. While prosperity and safety was only given to 1% of the population of previous eras, our generation is the most advanced and we can only go downhill from here. And short filmmakers are poor, they don’t have money for costumes and period sets. Our mistakes, big or small, haunt us if only in the faintest sense. This is what neuroses are like. Besides, I’m part of the Youtube generation. I have no idea what my forebears looked for in their shorts but I look for compelling – read, hiLArious – storylines so this one gets my vote. But not for my friends who find the next as their favourite.

Tuba Atlantic (Norway) – Hallvar Witzo. We’re spending a few minutes with a curmudgeon named Oskar (Edvard Hægstad) who likes to shoot birds. His seaside existence is interrupted when a doctor announces his impending death. Fortunately his mean-spirited nature, which governs the movie’s tone, is counterbalanced by a perky blond Death Angel (Ingrid Viken) who comforts him in his last days while ensuring that he goes through all five stages. I like this interesting concept, heightened by Oskar’s regression into his childhood inventions like the titular tuba, a quirk that’s successfully played. His progress parallels her growth as an angel. Witzo is an exciting filmmaker and I can’t wait for his next movie.

The Oscar-nominated live action shorts are playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the next few afternoons and evenings, as they have been for the past two weeks. Pictures via TIFF.

2011: David Fincher’s “Dragon Tattoo”

I was having an hour-long conversation with a critic who will choose to name himself if he wants to. I choose for his anonymity because my few disagreements with some of his arguments will make me look like the kind of douche who uses the internet to talk back. I have to write about the movie we talked about weeks after I saw it, I guess. Meant no harm.

Our conversation got to his dislike of rape revenges, leading to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He dislikes the book – yay! – Oplev’s adaptation – hated that too! – and Fincher’s version. Wait, what? That movie is gunning for a place in my list top movies of 2011! People who apparently watch this polished turd – my words – wouldn’t be caught dead in an equally schlock-y Saw series.

I agree that Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a false and misguided conception of the left-wing’s more extreme version of himself, stemming from white male guilt that does more harm than good. Speaking of fetishizations it also relies on the concept that rich people makes Charles Manson’s childhood seem normal. I explained to him that as a fifth-generation nobody that the riches are more like the Kings in The Descendants with some of “Revenge’s” Amanda Clarke.

I’m a 90’s kid but that’s exactly the problem, lumping him with other movies I outgrew. Most of what governs my taste as a film viewer is my re-education when I was in college, shoving away the shock violent quirk of 90’s American indie movies. Fincher always has ‘something missing’ anyway. Se7en is elegant yet chooses one form of elitism over another. Fight Club is boy stuff. Zodiac and The Social Network seem cold. TSN specifically feels like a missed opportunity as Sorkin’s one liners feel stunted through an emotionally distant lens. Ben Button is fine.

I was sceptical of Dragon Tattoo because of the bad reviews Alien 3 and Panic Room and if you add TSN‘s yucky gender politics I’d even conclude that Fincher doesn’t know women. But Dragon Tattoo pumped my adrenaline from the opening credits and as the movie continues, I exclaimed yeah! he’s back to form and these people are hitting each other! But why do I like that he’s back to form now even though I stopped liking his form for half a decade now? And why am I responding to this movie that’s supposedly more vulgar than his earlier work?

It’s the mood, isn’t it? Jeff Cornenweth’s cinematography of the snow and the cozy interiors. Lisbeth’s techno-gothic iFetish. Techno-gothic also applies to the howls escaping Martin Vanger’s (Stellan Skarsgard) Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house built on top of  a ‘laundry room’ on top of a priest’s house. I can almost hear Trent Reznor pressing down harder on his keyboard. A push and pull from the aesthetic making the subject simmer down.

The performances are also great, Fincher fleshing out scenes while screenwriter Steve Zaillian economizing the characters’ words. Mara is indisputably great under Fincher’s direction, screaming during the right times and deadpan in others. She can be as sexual aggressor as she is a victim, telling her elder cohort investigator/boyfriend Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) to keep his hand under her shirt, coldly demanding affection like Garbo in Ninotchka. The ending also feels relaxed, Martin’s words ‘immigrant whore’ a slightly suitable alternative to the elongated caricature of the book and Oplev’s movie.

This refining of schlock reminds me of Miss Bala, a festival favourite, Oscar-shortlisted version of a drug cartel movie. Same thing with how my family would turn their nose up on jeep gangster movies while Brilliante Mendoza’s Kinatay, gets recognized as the gritty film-making for which Filipino film gets recognized. But whole ‘nother parameters, making me wonder what kind of room cinema has for the needlessly sadistic.

The second part of this conversation is bat shit, which is why I ask you if I should post it.

Seminal Video: Vision of Love

Like any sane person infected with collective panicrity, I searched for Whitney Houston on Youtube. There’s a sobering quality to her mourning, actually. Some of us celebrated Michael Jackson’s with a morbid dance party, Amy Winehouse’s made us energetically growl.

I’m not saying there’s no energy in Houston’s songs – at her peak, her windpipe can power a small, hippie European country. Besides, during the night when the news spread of her death, the gay clubs reportedly only played “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and moved on because what other choice did they have? And she’s one of the cases where drug use or mental duress doesn’t cause productivity so her creative output and her troubles were separate. And in her early years she had the most amazing power ballads, making us react in different ways. We could be annoyed at their ubiquity and dated-ness, we could sing them off-key with a bit of humour. Her lyrics might have told us something about the loss of love but they equally celebrated it. And although I’m proud that I’m known as a sap within my new circle of friends, I could never cry to her songs because they weren’t downbeat enough. That’s also partly because “I Will Always Love You” came out when I was five which was too young for me to realize ‘influential’ and stuff like that.

One the latter sections of Houston’s page contained a link to another about ‘melisma.’ What is that, some sort of disease that afflicted her as a child/this year? No. According to Wikipedia, it’s ‘the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession.’ Anyway, melisma – click, Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love and it’s apparently unfortunate influence on the vocal stylings of the American Idol generation – click, random girls covering the song and sounding so good it has to be auto tune, click – the official music video, click. Which made me think that was a Rene Magritte music video. The tan walls, the candelabra, the tree in the background that might as well be floating on air. Maybe it’s the spare quality of the visuals that make them seem like they don’t add up. That video is exactly why I need to sleep now.

Guilty Pleasure: This Means War

This Means War introduces its first recognizable cast member in Angela Bassett during the first scene, her appearance on a McG movie being akin to using an American flag as a dishcloth. At least The Green Lantern waited thirty minutes to waste her talents. She plays agent Collins in the CIA, babysitting two men, Franklin ‘FDR’ Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy). In Hong Kong, they’re instructed to get their target Heinrich (Til Schweiger) and his suitcases and to keep this operation covert. They fail there, bathing the party with glass and bullets but they kill Heinrich’s brother, save each other’s lives and they’re best friend’s forever!

Just get to the cheesy part already. Since Collins condemns both FDR and Tuck to desk work, Tuck realizes how lonely he is. So a spy. Decides. To enter online dating. Coincidentally, Trish, (Chelsea Handler) a housewife from Los Angeles also creates an account but for best friend, product testing supervisor named Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon). She’s the kind of beautiful woman who catches herself wearing sweatpants in public just for her ex-boyfriend Steve to spot her, infuriating even on other actresses who ace this charade.

Lauren enters into permanent dress up mode and has a coffee date with Tuck but she walks into a video store and meets FDR. A video store is a place where humans rent or buy physical copies of movies or television shows for ten dollars or more. Lauren eventually dates both men and they discover this fact. But in an exaggerated for of the ‘hero’ in romantic comedies, they break their friendship, waste American tax dollars to survey her likes and dislikes, snoop on each other and literally annihilate each other’s chances with her. Some CGI ensues.

While we’re at it, this movie fails to pass off some of Tuck’s traits. He’s the more virile looking man – he has no neck! – and wears his tattoos like a shirt but for some reason we’re supposed to believe that he hasn’t been to da club or have had sexual relations with anyone after his divorce. Hardy is Bradley Cooper’s replacement for the role. It’s all right if he’s the poor man’s Michael Fassbender but being the poor man’s Brad Cooper is beneath him. Anyway, Tuck’s sweetness and fun side is in his deck of cards while somehow FDR has the edge in this competition by being arrogant.

This movie does have some aesthetic value, appearing expensive but is barely on the good side of the border between flashy and tacky. Every office must have stainless walls, minimalist logos, state of the art technology. Apartments have large objects reflecting character’s taste to pass off their credit card bourgeois economic status as quirk, even for the spies who are so well-traveled that they’re barely home to decorate. Tuck can apparently afford a butch gay interior designer even with assumed child support payments. The decision to deck out the three main character’s spaces also means that they have to bring Trish in as the dowdy one by comparison. This taste is also reflected in the movie’s arty references. I like the already dated second meet cute – they’re showing classical movies in a mainstream video store! – because it involves Lauren saying that Rebecca and Notorious ARE Hitchcock’s best movies. FDR is also one foot within her heart by feigning a love for early 20th century art, although change Gustav Klimt to Fernand Leger and we got ourselves a deal.

I also like the movie’s banter, especially when Hardy doesn’t overplay his lines. It’s also delightful to spot supporting cast members like Rosemary Harris, Jenny Slate and Abigail Spencer. I’m especially partial to Handler and yes, I have willfully let her corrupt my definition of comedy. I almost thought she wrote the script until I realized that there were no jokes about the female anatomy. Her rapport with Witherspoon is clear during their dialogue. I don’t even care if she promotes herself as subversive only to sell out because she thinks that’s what people in movies do. This is McG we’re talking about. I’ve already implied that I can’t like this beyond guilty pleasure. But I see it as if McG and Witherspoon called CAA and a friend to make a movie and tell jokes that the audience will laugh at and forget as soon as they leave the door. It’s not worth thirteen fifty but I got the fun that its cast and crew evinces. 2.5/5


You know where I stand on Channing Tatum – in front of him. But seriously, I probably won’t watch this for a few reasons,

a) My incessant complaining about still trying to finish 2011. I have seven movies left, minus one plus one.

b) Glenn Sumi told me not to, and it’s Metacritic score is probably too low anyway.

c) I’m poor and I would rather spend my money feeling up working strippers instead of watching retired ones on the big screen. It’s my way of ‘supporting the arts.’

d) ‘I don’t want to marry Channing Tatum because I like an intellectual challenge.’ – No one.

Seminal Video: …All Your Luvin’

Yes, I’m still reeling from the Madonnabowl. Sorry for my lateness, I don’t watch music videos unless there are necessary exceptions. She hasn’t changed her sound in a decade, and I probably will forget this song after hearing it. But it takes me back to my cheerleading days. That’s something me and Madonna have in common, other than a Canadian heritage and promiscuity.

Post-VDay Movie: Cafe de Flore

Don’t be mistaken – I like Jean-Marc Vallee’s Cafe de Flore. A friend of mine criticized its ‘acid trip aesthetics’ but I like how it flows, showing osmosis between oceans and generations, characters dancing to variations of the same life, like the song sharing the same title as the movie. It visualizes the present and the different healing practices of a complex middle class Montreal family – yoga, jogging, floating in an incubated tub, reading about dreams and past lives, the odd joint. The family’s head is Antoine (Kevin Parent), a man with an ex-wife and girlfriend, a DJ nonetheless who has to work with lights and laptops and music of different tangible and data formats. The objects around him are disposable yet still beautiful.

Antoine’s story is an intertwining half of another taking place forty years beforehand, where Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) cares for her son, Laurent, with Down syndrome. If the present day scenes scream ‘The future is now,’  the portions may be set in 1969 but might as well have been any other decade, Jacqueline and child in earth tones walking the unwashed cobblestone of Paris. Her working class conditions also seem impervious to the Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress that another mother in her school wears.

Its implicit worldview also concerns itself with the hierarchy of boundaries. The middle class are supposedly better than the poor, the present an improvement of the past. Jacqueline feels inferior because of Laurent, studying ways to improve his brain, subconsciously thinking that educating and raising him properly will lead to a cure. That while the present day characters, surrounded by their comfortable, manicured property, disregard what someone like Jacqueline would have worked hard for while being petty and vindictive towards each other.

The movie eventually connects both plots, bringing us to flaw number three, that the mysticism that Antoine’s wife dabbles ends up revealing her ‘punishment’ and the justification for his adultery. It imposes this viewpoint upon her while she suffers through mental issues while all he has to do is to fall in love. This new family situation is also imposed on Antoine’s children who prefer her as the parent. But I’m making it seem more one-sided than it really is, as Antoine and his ex-wife explore their pasts, within memory or otherwise, portrayed as vividly in flashbacks. His new girlfriend joins in with the introspection, questioning the replaceable aspect of love and lovers and searching for the happiness and stability within it.

Threedux: Casablanca

Friend 1: I want Casablanca to be my deathbed movie.

Friend 2 and I: You won’t like it the first time.

That’s because I didn’t. This also reminds me of that time I went to a public screening of the 2009/2010 Oscars when they were trivia-ing about the last year when there were ten Best Picture nominees, 1943 being that year when Casablanca won against nine other movies that no one remembers about and these two college-educated yet ditzy sounding girls behind me said ‘I HATE Ingrid Bergman.’ At that point of the night I wasn’t drunk enough to yell at her. But that’s also due to realizing that there’s a vocal minority that’s been maligned against Bergman and the other cast members because of their average performances in this movie. And I was one of those people. It took me the second time to realize that it was good and a third time to see its details while making fun of Drive on Twitter procrastinating on getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party that, no offense, could never have been as classy as the one I was watching.

Casablanca is a decidedly different background for a reunion for stars Humphrey Bogart, Hollywood’s first yo-yo dieter Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet or as I like to call it, this movie makes these ugly guys look good. Warner Brothers had the beat-up looking stars, Paramount despite of what we know has the hottest ones and MGM had the ones who could dance and sing. This summarizes our lecture on American Filmmaking in Studio Era Hollywood. Anyway, director Michael Curtiz turns these actors who, during the Maltese Falcon, looked scrappy with some disposable income, into white tuxedo, bow tie wearers who have more disposable income. His camera flattering them as they’re on ‘vacation’ – they might stroll on the streets and get a little tan and they look well rested despite their anxieties of exile and war and morality.

It didn’t start to impress me until the scene when Sam (Dooley Wilson) performs “Knock on Wood,” when I realized that the first seventy minutes here make up for the most fluid musical ever made. Two or three scenes of dialogue between songs in the right mix for the genre. And when the songs happen, Sam or the other performers have the same spotlight on them but they’re integrated with the bar/saloon’s patrons. Other musicals would have the performer and his spotlight dominating the screen, either forcing an externalized manifestation of their inner thoughts or the performer altering the world around him. It’s a kind of cheat that this ‘musical’ takes place in an environment where one can hear music but it’s more natural and we’re all the better for it.

I remember the second time I saw this, realizing that the reason for this movie is to make love to Bergman’s luminous, youthful face. As Ilsa Lund, she and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) unknowingly enters her ex boyfriend’s namesake bar Rick’s (Bogart). Repeat viewings shed light on the familiar, also showing her maturity at 27, when actresses today don’t get taken seriously until they’re 31. She’s the most beautiful actress to beg Bogart for something and simultaneously break his heart. Acting wise she does all the work while Bogart, for what seems to be the first time in his career, is cool and collected. But somehow these opposite acting strategies work together. And as I’ve said before, he looks good here, blissfully enjoying Paris during the flashbacks.

The cinematography serves the leads as it does with Rick’s establishment, the glitters from dresses worn near the bar and casino and the darkness when the patrons have all disappeared. The symmetry of these deep shadows evoke noir techniques I’ve seen in British romance movies of the era, where the love can forbidden despite the lack of guns. And unlike noirs where the men’s silhouettes haunt the alleyways and doors, the chiaroscuro stays indoors and somehow the frame doesn’t make me feel cagey. These sequences also reminds me of Curtiz’ later work in Mildred Pierce.

I don’t know why I didn’t like it the first time and that would have made an interesting post. I thought that the lines were cheesy, perhaps? But all cylinders fired off in repeat viewings and I don’t know why it took me this long for me to love this movie.

Pre-VDay Short Take: Quartier Mozart

Jean-Pierre Bekolo‘s Quartier Mozart begins with a Spike Lee inspired, fourth wall breaking introduction to its attitude-filled characters. It continues into what seems like African folklore coexisting within modern times, where one Cameroonian girl becomes a slender, gender-shifting trickster who wreaks havoc on the other quartier’s citizens. It might be the cultural barriers but eventually I lost track of who’s the girl or boy or who gets emasculated but that lively, authentic music remains.

Bloc Sci-Fi: Stalker

I’ve never wanted to scrub a surface shown on-screen until I’ve seen this, and I meant that in a good way.

The man who programmed the TIFF series on Russian Sci-Fi warned us that Andrei Tarkovsky‘s Stalker, adapted from Arkady and Boris Strugatzky’s novel called ”The Picnic at a Roadside,” was ‘accidentally’ filmed with expired stock, giving it that look as if he shot the movie in mercury, which captures light differently.

What he didn’t tell us is that makes way for normal colour, welcomed after the delightful yet rusty cinematography of the earlier scenes. This transition thus reminds me of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz which is profound until I realize that I’m not the first person to make the comparison. Here’s Jose with more of that.

But one of the trespassers of this Russian real estate – cordoned off after a meteorite attack like Tunguska – calls it home. We can give that word some political meaning. The characters have nicknames instead of names. The group’s mercurial guide, the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), help his new tourists the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko) to find what they need to flourish in their fields. But their visit can be seen as reclaiming the happiness the government that has taken away what has once been theirs. Whether I’m off-base of or not, this land, called The Zone, has already been eerie in black and white, with “Life After People” like flowers showing up in ruins.

In colour it’s a totally different animal. The Zone makes the urbanite characters question the flowers lacking smell, the sand dunes, and a self-sufficient wild dog, if those creatures are what nature is like at all. The strange this is that the camera during the movie’s black and white portions look unstable while the compositions in the Zone make more sense, only off-centre in content.

Light bulbs.

In the threshold of the room within The Zone that gives its visitors happiness, the reason Writer and Professor are there in the first place, they decide to sabotage their mission, making Stalker go apeshit. A part of me said ‘Be a man, go in there and fail properly!’ Russian…fatalist…defeatism. But we watch these anguished characters for a longer period after their failure, determined that advertised happiness isn’t in the room across them.

Fifteen minutes, a few scenes, enough time for me to reacquaint myself with that part of the psyche that stops before the top rung in the ladder. How admirable it is to show the realism within myth-breaking. When they return to their city the Stalker is bedridden and feverish, still struggling to take care of her daughter Monkey (Natasha Abramova). Destroying a man’s belief system – despite the political symbolism above – is devastating, handled thus than the preceding version of the story. That home is forever lost.

Friday Film: Fanny och Alexander

Ingmar Bergman‘s Fanny och Alexander is not just a pretty gilded portrait of a well to do Swedish family, the Ekdahls, who face constant threats towards its dissolution. Interpretations of this movie are boundless, whether we’re looking at it in terms of class, religion, life reflecting art, human fortitude and intentionally terrible child rearing.

I also see the widowed actress Emilie Ekdahl’s (Ewa Froeling) second marriage to Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo) and their inevitably toxic relationship as a metaphor for the austere nature of mourning.

Critics have applauded the film’s lack of neuroses but let’s be tools and look at it in that perspective anyway. Besides, this is about Emilie’s son Alexander’s (Bertil Guve) childhood and the events in that stage of his life will be the one he would most likely recall as a functioning yet fractured adult would. The spirit of Alexander’s father Oscar first appears while playing the piano and seems to rest after he gives his son advice. What haunts me the most is when Edvard visits Alexander. As if by helping killing Edvard off – there’s a part of me that wants that scene remade so that I can see what Jessica Chastain, who so really needs more work, can do as Ishmael, Alexander’s mystical ally – Alexander replaces his father with his strict stepfather. ‘The horrible, dirty life engulfs us’ as Alexander’s grandmother Helene says as she wipes her tears and leans on her Jewish paramour Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). But the Ekdahls are a well-natured bunch and their happy moments cushion the movie’s scary message.

Bad Movie: Moon Point

For the opening sequences of this Canadian movie, we have to set our attention to the Strozkas, a loathsome suburban family, and their black sheep, Darryl (Nick McKinlay). There’s tension between the two camps that could easily be solved by better people skills or better writing.

For example, the Strozkas don’t have to verbally pounce on Darryl – the writer’s pass this off as comedy, by the way – or make fun of him for not having a driver’s license like Margaret Thatcher would. They could, instead use nepotism to get him a job so that he won’t stand out within the family or society.

Likewise, if Darryl didn’t compare employed people to Hitler, because that comparison hasn’t been used before,  or if he didn’t have delusions about his childhood sweetheart still loving him, maybe I wouldn’t hate him as a main character so much. Isn’t he tired of being a loser?

Darryl’s old flame happens to be shooting a movie at the titular Moon Point, the same title Sean Cisterna’s movie a hundred miles away from him and his hateful family. So he goes on a trip with his paraplegic and recently MIT-admitted friend Femur (Kyle Mac) on the latter’s mobility device and the cart attached to it.

It would have been painful if the audience had to stick with the annoying Darryl and the whiny Femur so they inadvertently pick up a third for their journey. Along the road is a broken down car owned by boyfriend escaping Kristin (Paula Brancati). Her Sophie’s Choice to go on her way is to either an ice cream vendor who’s also a sex offender or the cart.

Kristin decides the latter and the three are on their way. Brancati is a glowing presence onscreen,a change from her gloomy yet equally powerful turn in “Degrassi TNG.” But her outgoing personality collides with her new dependence and attachment to these men, especially passive towards Darryl’s lies and amateur psychoanalysis. Why is she taking this from a stranger?

The movie has solid attempts towards being cartoony and this is a good thing, distracting from the character’s misanthropy.

This exists on flashbacks as a Darryl’s younger version reminisces about the love of his childhood’s life, drawn hearts and tears and all. These sequences have an off-kilter heart, as these pint-sized versions of the character mix age-inappropriate body, birds and bees humour with good old puppy love.

Darryl is himself a cartoon character, his lanky frame flailing around situations too strange and occasionally funny to be true. With Kristin he meets psychotic innkeepers of a Victorian-styled hotel and a AA costume party.

Another break from the messed up characters and plot happens near the end when Darryl finally meets his woman and not in the way he expects. She’s a fantasy, a woman who, despite her budding career apparently doesn’t care if her girlhood sweetheart is unemployed because she’s a good person and he is too.

This movie just affirms a man’s perceived and undeserved right for instant and consequence-free companionship, and it’s really sad that straight male nerds still think like this.

The Lion King

Disney’s protagonists have always had to leave home. This is true from Snow White to Belle and even characters in Disney movies that are outsourced from Pixar like Wall-E and the gang from the Toy Story series. But unlike these debutantes and adult inanimate objects, The Lion King‘s Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) an actual child, and a change of environment at such a young age demonstrates how precarious the idea of home really is. He delightfully gasps when he sees the untouched African jungle where Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) live, a place ripe for adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) to be too content to to live. But there is something to be said a carnivore adapting to eating bugs, Fear Factor style.

The jungle didn’t look like emeralds, outdoing that scene in The African Queen in showing how luscious and verdant it could be. The jungle isn’t the only landscape feature here, as we also have the African veld pre and post-Scar, and within desert dunes where Simba does some slow motion running. All of those have the Dinsey glow even though its animators were still working in 90’s technology.

Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) sings “It’s a Small World” to the chagrin of the regicidal and decadent lion Scar (Jeremy Irons) , Simba’s uncle. When Simba and his unlikely crew attack Scar, Poomba does his part, goes on a Travis Bickle rampage and exclaims ‘They call me MR. PIG!’ before doing a number on two unfortunate hyenas (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings). Pop cultural humour happens when a movie allows the supporting cast to talk, and I’m constantly surprised how our generation didn’t invent it. Movies or populist artistic expressions in the turn of the twenty-first century has this insecurity about itself that it references earlier work. Everything else before it seems like a solid text that I forget that these works have their own pasts, and that the people who are behind these older texts might, a bit, have felt the same way. Or that these references exist so that the kids will know that the world they’re watching isn’t exclusive and is actually relate-able to them.

Africa is in new and rougher hands because of Scar and while that is not untrue, it’d be more right to see that outside forces equally let destitution happen and no, hyenas don’t count as outsiders.

Timon sings the first and last verse of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight.” If only he’s more famous than Elton John, or maybe his already and I just don’t know it yet. During that musical number Simba and Nala grow from friends and much more. Nothing around Timon and Poomba’s jungle would have pushed him to adulthood, but finding love should.

Hakuna Matata – no worries. It seems like an alien concept in a worry-centric world. But this laid back feline only becomes victorious because of two inherent things, his royal lineage – which contributes a lot to his physical prowess, even with eating all those bugs – and his goodness. He doesn’t have a Rocky-esque montage where he trains to beat Scar (Jeremy Irons) and instead, he looks down on a pond to see his father Mufasa’s (James Earl Jones) but as himself.

This means two things. First, that there’s a difference between becoming and being and that, despite how Simba makes it looks easy to kick his Claudius-like uncle’s butt, that we have to believe in ourselves first. Although with this interpretation, what’s stopping the Claudius-like Scar from thinking the same way, grumbling to Zazu and the other animals that he IS the king.

The second involves adolescence as a state and the different responses towards becoming an adult. Some of us might be anxious to get the process of growing done already, but Simba partly gives up on it because he’s lost the proper environment to do that. The movie has Timon and Poomba harmlessly yet deliberately laughing at Simba’s interpretation of what stars really are. This shows adolescence as a state when we can be derailed and when our childhood narratives of destiny can be crushed. At least he learns kindness and acceptance towards creatures whom he would have eaten had things gone differently, even if they’re jokey and a bit passive aggressive towards him.It’s not cool to think you’re the king. But on that note their jokes are nothing compared to what would have happened if he stayed in Pride Rock – Scar would have probably subjugated him. Somehow the time off works, as the pressure to be and to have lost the throne is cagier than him slacking off, attaching himself to swinging vines all over the jungle and looking at the stars. Or let’s compromise and say that both suck.

Nonetheless, Simba in the jungle symbolizes a tendency within many of us to be oblivious of our own growth, that we need a good support group like Rafiki, Nala and a mirror to tell us what we can do. Broderick’s voice work as Simba has the gravitas with the roles he’s taken half a decade earlier, but he still has Bueller’s reputation and a boyish demeanour that he could easily switch on, even at thirty-two. He eventually finds himself snarling at Scar as if he’s just learning how to do so, as if he’s surprised that he can do it. It may seem like a compromise to show that he can only reclaim to his kingdom or as his old self but not do both. But he’s returning home because he’s a different being and that greatness is deserved through change.


Channing Tatum brings the first great quotable of 2012. As privately contracted secret agent Aaron in Haywire, he says “I’m hungover…and you’re really starting to cut on my vacation time so can we go,” being straightforward about the state of mind that he says he’s in.

In short he’s there to propose that his former colleague Mallory Tate (Gina Carano) to surrender herself. That’s a contrast from the flashbacks – she narrates the events to some bloke name Scott (Michael Angarano) – they seemed to get along like a perfect couple. He looks good for someone who might talk with his mouth full, she sounds like a robot trying to hug me after my father died.

They’re assigned on a rescue mission in Barcelona and cross professional boundaries when they finish the job. Days and oceans later, they kick each other’s butts, letting us know that this isn’t a love story. It’s one of professional betrayal, as each man in the field tries to kill her while she uses her training for self-defence.

Steven Soderbergh here employs the same drained digital color schemes as he did in Contagion. I forgive directors who ‘improve’ on themselves but he’s more ubiquitous, inadvertently letting his audience see him as derivative of himself. Two years might make us look at four movies conflated into a phase instead of each one being able to stand up on their own.

The choreography of the fight scenes are also noticeable. Punch, unfurl, weapon, punch, kick, wall, unfurl, repeat, choke hold, death (I actually don’t mind how he films fight scenes, as wide shots and no sound make limbs do all the good work).

Despite of Soderbergh holding on to a list of obsessions, a few end up working. If Contagion felt like the angel of death with a coach ticket, Haywire finds the B-spy action (sub)genre perfect for cinematic globe-trotting. A chase scene in Barcelona is exhilarating partly because we’re going through strange city streets.

The action also brings out the sadist within all of us, the audience with whom I watched the film laughing when Carano injures her sparring partner. Soderbergh as usual finds humour within confrontations between professionals.

Haywire also plays around with the feminine action hero. Unlike others, it lets Carano – a MMA fighter in her movie debut – be a lover, eye candy or the cool-headed avenger. She softens up during  dialogue or when she’s with her father (Bill Paxton) but becomes intimidating when she needs to.

The other male actors including Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor – I love his bunny-like grin as he asks Paul (Fassbender) if ‘the divorce is final’ – and Antonio Banderas, who plays a philanderer, eventually cower under her fists. Just the way we like her. 3.5/5

2011: My Week With Marilyn

Oy, this movie’s a mess. If I see another burnt light bulb again and go insane, it’s because of Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn. The iconic Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) from the second she lands on England to work in the troubled set of The Prince and the Showgirl with (Michelle Williams), Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Dame Sibyl Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench), those light bulbs help to capture her image and aim to symbolize the fanfare around her but only shows how badly edited the movie is. Speaking of aesthetics, the cinematography is decidedly British, dulling the bright colors of 1956 movie making but it looks occasionally dewy and romantic.

I watched it expecting to experience the shadows that walked the hallways of those British studios in 1956. Marilyn, her arm cradled by her Method acting teacher Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) while third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) watches from behind. But neither Williams, Branagh, nor Julia Ormond who plays Vivien Leigh, capture these old essences, although it’s understandably hard for them to do so knowing how famous those characters still are. These actors’ voices are a bit deep for the characters they play and yes, I do want mimicry.

Let’s talk about Marilyn Monroe, the alter ego to Norma Jean Mortensen, the ineffable within the already ineffable. The closest that the latter is documented is in Monroe’s performance in The Misfits. Marilyn is the person on camera while Norma seems to be more of a blank slate. Williams  portrays ‘Marilyn’ because she might be accused of playing herself if she fully tune out from emulating Monroe’s on-screen persona. It’s a kind of shorthand. But even in her attempts the poster for Prince has more chemistry that Williams and her co-stars. And despite getting Marilyn’s comic timing right, there’s too little in her performance that warrants the other characters’ praise of her. Her performance also has its share of multiple personalities, talking in Marilyn’s well-known whisper-y voice then dropping it in the next sentence.

There are moments where this bipolarity works. They’re filming an easy scene yet Marilyn fumbles lines. When Larry yells ‘Cut!’ she hides behind the door, sweat filling her brows. But when they do another take, she glows from afar. These transitions happen in seconds, Williams showing Marilyn’s professionalism. Then Larry tells her to ‘be sexy,’ making her eyes and lips quiver like Monroe’s, breaking down. In a way, Williams is micro-acting here, stretching and moving her body express both the sorrow and the joy. Leaning her head forward as Marilyn nervously tries to get another line right, or a hand gesture while spending alone time with Colin. If it’s not the real Marilyn, it’s the studied performance of a mid-century lady who finds her life’s mission to seduce either in person or on-screen. In a way she can represent the 21st century infantile ego, someone who’s been comforted into thinking that she can take her own time for the sake of professionalism. Someone who is addicted to constant praise and yet is never satisfied by it. We’re seeing this woman’s insecurities, putting her in a situation where she’s placed to work to be her best for these issues to come out, as an actress who’ll never know how great she is.

2011: A Dangerous Method

The title and trailer of David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method made me assume that Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) endures histrionic mental states and transforms into a seductress going after her psychiatrist-turned-lover Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), making him unfaithful against his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) and destroying his friendship with his colleague Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Fortunately it’s a more intelligent movie than that.

Knightley’s performance was always going to be imperfect, burdened in early scenes with a younger Sabina’s schizophrenia. Name me an actress who can go from laughing to crying to yelling within seconds while making us get used to a Russian accent, I’m sure you can. There’s bravery in her physical portraying Sabina, protruding her chin and bending her body, as if taunting her detractors who make fun of her face, posture and weight even when she’s looked her best. She’s an animal in the movie’s first scenes. But what’s fascinating is her great work after her spells, transforming herself as the dependent lover and intelligent student. And even if she shows Sabina’s insecurities and paranoia about relapses, when she’s in a room with intimidating men like Fassbender and Mortensen and forming and verbalizing theory, she commands these men’s respect as an intellectual equal and has enough stature in her frail body to get it.

Mortensen has great supporting work as Sigmund, showing the character as confident about his theories and flippant about the anti-Semitism that both he and, he assumes, Sabina faces. Vincent Cassel appears as himself under the name of psychoanalyst Otto Gross. But keeping Sabina in mind, and knowing that this sounds reductive, all she has to do is climb down towards relative convalescence. Carl, thus, is the most difficult character to play, Fassbender embodying the struggle between repression and sublimation that Jung struggles with within the decade-long time period. He also gives us the theoretical and emotional heart of the movie even if he makes us work for it a little.

I also sense the characters’ ambivalence towards sensing a bigger – that is the war – conflict that will arise out of smaller ones like the ones Jung serve in and his growing rift with Freud. The movie’s goodbye doesn’t have the same feeling of dread, but separating these three different persons – they haven’t been happy together anyway – signals how they are never going to be complete without each other. And that Sabina has made peace with that but Carl, who has perceived her, among many things, as his theoretical muse,  hasn’t.

2011: Monsieur Lazhar

In Philippe Falardeau‘s Monsieur Lazhar, an elementary school teacher hangs herself in her grade school Montreal classroom.

This is not what the trailer promises, with its piano music softly trumpeting the titular substitute teacher Monsieur Bachir Lazhar (Fellag) – hired by headmistress Mme. Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx) – who shows and paves for his impressionable students (including Sophie Nelisse and Émilien Néron) the magical road towards higher learning.

Surely his presence in the school would mean some healing for these kids, especially the two who have seen their previous teacher’s body. Right?

Monsieur Lazhar can also be known as Bad Teacher, his minor flaws putting into question our traditions and cultural understanding on who and how to raise our kids.

Many of his colleagues and some of the parents relish to remind him how terrible he is at his job. Good God there’s a lot of passive aggressive workplace verbal exchanges in this movie.

And these body check-size words hint towards the cultural barriers that separate Bachir from everyone else, tiptoeing on saying that he doesn’t belong in the classroom.

The first comes from the child psychiatrist, telling him that his classroom needs colour. Every other classroom in the school looks like a Treehouse TV set.

He tries his best to emulate the other teachers, hoping to get inspiration by entering one of those classrooms as if incubated in a cutesy alien civilization. He buys a plant that dies because he doesn’t water it.

But as a child from across the seas, I actually prefer his very Spartan arrangements – desks straightly aligned, little to no decorations. He believes in learning above playing, and a good smack upside the head to a child who deserves it. The later is problematic, I know.

Another teacher tells him that it’s sad that he doesn’t think that his students have an interest in his life. This coming from somone who incorporates her travels in her lesson plan, assuming that he must have a lot to say about a faraway land.

I see in Bachir, an unlikely advocate for French-ness, a bit of an Uncle Tom. He teaches Balzac and Moliere instead of elementary school level readings. He educating the kids in proper grammar and teaching them big words. He tells his one Mediterranean student to stop speaking in Arabic and to speak in French instead.

All of this is ironic because assimilation is a philosophy drained into immigrants, welcoming their new home while their hosts find traits within immigrants to other them.

But most people just want to a taste of the exotic. They want to hear, as he concedes, an image of Algiers as a city of blue and white.

But what about the scars produced by a dangerous land, as he has experienced? He thinks Algiers is an inappropriate subject, a topic he has to deal with in court appointments, associating his home town with a family separated from him because of the Algerian Civil war.

Seeing his difficult life outside the classroom, his assimilation complex, although a character flaw, becomes understandable.

He also wants to treat these children like adults. As much as he doesn’t like discussing his wounds, he lets his students have an open space where they can talk about theirs.

In a way, the children mature and are able to deal with trauma, a state of being that scares some of the children and most of the adults.

And the most emotionally wrenching and devastating thing about this movie is not the loss of innocence produced by horrific incidents. Falardeau effectively shows us in this Oscar nominated movie how barriers, cultural, personally built, or otherwise, stops the characters from the healing that they need.