…and the quest to see everything

Archive for March, 2012

SNAM Short Take: Almodovar’s “Volver”

Before I get to the smarter stuff I just want to share how some of my friends pronounce the title of this movie as ‘VOHLvurr’ when it’s actually ‘vohlVEHR.’ I love North Americans and I especially love any way that I can show that I’m better than I really am.

Volver‘s simplicity probably makes it my favourite out of the measly three Pedro Almodovar movies I’ve seen, the other movies being the morally questionable Hable con Ella and Mala Education, the latter having great performances but being too convoluted for its own good. It has Penelope Cruz in a performance that should have won an Oscar that year, the exported Hollywood star returning to her roots as a believable all around cleaning woman named Raimunda whose chaotic life constantly hangs in the balance. She has to care for a lazy a husband and a blossoming teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), who doesn’t know that – one of the movie’s three spoilery secrets – the man glued to the couch and Canal Plus soccer isn’t her father. Raimunda also surprisingly becomes a restaurateur, feeding a film crew and singing for them. All of this is happening while Almodovar contributes to my belief that Romance-language cinema’s landscape would never be the same without its fart jokes.

The movie begins with Raimunda and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) polishing their mother Irene’s (Carmen Maura) burial plot, foreshadowing the family’s return to the past. Or rather, return of the past as Sole discovers that Irene is alive and has hidden herself for years. Sole plays this game with her, hiding Irene in plain sight as a Russian immigrant assisting her hairdressing business.

Thankfully the movie doesn’t end with the next door neighbour, cancer-stricken Agustina (Bianca Portillo), revealing Irene’s scandalous secret. Instead, Irene privately talks to Raimunda and voices out another cyclical, inter-generational family secret, her method of doing so somehow lessening the shock and elevating Pedro’s material from soap to a high drama about reconciliation. In essence, an improvement on a special Roman Polanski plot twist. After this heart to heart talk Irene goes to Agustina. Irene is supposed to be the ghost but it’s  Raimunda who slithers away from the door. In a way this is Raimunda passing the torch back, giving her mother a loving goodbye as the older generation must care for each other as an act of contrition. The only way for all women to move on is to do things and pay their dues properly.

Gainsbourg’s Bonnie and Clyde

I am not submitting a Best Shot entry, I wrote about Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and I don’t even know if that post makes any sense, especially as a Best Shot post. So instead I’m posting a video that doesn’t have the same sexuality as the sonic experience of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s song about the ill-fated couple.

I imagined two people with the wind blowing on their faces as they traverse the Southern crossroads, not two glamorously dressed people pointing guns and posing away from the camera. Adrien Brody/Vincent Cassel and Lara Stone should do a photo shoot or a full remake of this video. We’ve come a long way from music video artistry/acting.  It also delights to me watch Disgusting Racist Bardot’s looks slowly deteriorate. She held on to her looks long enough. Either way, it’s a relief to see that musicians didn’t have to be good looking back then.

I first heard of this song in Laurel Canyon but this song was apparently on Rush Hour 3 and I’m almost willing to forget Brett Ratner’s homophobia for this. Also, I’m drunk now.

BS and Beauty in “The Raid”

The characters’ bodies’ tenacity in Gareth Huw Evans’ The Raid makes me wonder many things, among them, ‘Sure that one guy plays with a punching bag in the morning but does he also eat a healthy breakfast?’ Or maybe what re-energizes the intruding, wounded youngish policemen is the drug room that they eventually reach after elbowing a few gang members and violently losing men of their own. The white sand being kicked up in the air serves as some temporary sustenance. I’m not even sure if their near-invincible physical states can be criticized since the movie just covers an hour and a half of the titular police assignment, although movies apparently are supposed cover a longer time period than the minutes that are used to portray them.

I also found the cinematography to be problematic, reminiscent of wet wood, peeling drywall and spare lighting that, we imagine, are the visual qualities of a run-down urban drug den. There are some digital simulations of bullets coming out of illegal modern rifles. As the cops enter further into the building’s higher floors, they’re depicted through medium shots of their torsos. But I got over that eventually, as the camera gets brighter and moves up and sometimes back to show the combatants’ faces and arms and legs. All that fighting makes the cops lose many men on their team but the thugs make deliberate mistakes that cause the cops to get a Pyrrhic victory but really, would you have it any other way?

Perhaps what’s more irksome to this movie’s detractors is the back story of one of the policemen, Rama (Iko Uwais), the one doing the dawn time boxing preparation. In between sit-ups we also see him kissing his pregnant wife who wakes up to greet him goodbye, optimistic despite risks. Some consider that his wife’s image jolts him as he stumbles through the complex’s hall ways. Eventually I haven’t been as warm towards the film, since it has its detractors and genre films will never be perfect. But here’s how I see it – the other policemen have similar domestic lives, Rama recedes into his police unit and he emerges not because of his pregnant wife but because he’s an excellent martial artist who defeats his hoodlum enemies and happens to have a baby on the way.

Pardon me if I try to find a national metaphor within this movie, a straight up punch-and-kick flick ruined by a ghettoizing lens. It’s in my nature to over-think and be pretentious. But think about it – the cops are indistinguishable from first-world SWAT units except for their faces, also framed by near-bald or crew-cut heads. Their weapons are supposedly state of the art, contained with their deceptively bulky uniforms. Their mission is to civilize a place riddled with drugs and other anti-social behaviour, occasionally impeding on the rights of the decent people who have no other choice.

The gang members on the other hand have longer hair, more colourful and less professional clothes. They brandish mostly homemade swords or large versions of knives reminiscent of traditional weapons. There’s also one henchman who prefers to fight with his bare hands, an excuse to choreograph the greatest martial arts sequences rapidly caught on camera. They protect their fortress not just with this carelessly planned police raid but from rival gangs, like tribal warfare within one side deviating from the law. Both camps aren’t within perfect opposition, though, as the hoodlums’ illegally obtained machine guns, the surveillance technology, the traitor playing both sides, the Traffic-like revelation that the police’s presence is to help another gang’s corruption. What’s also complicating the binary is Rama, a good Muslim and we can interpret his religion as either one that’s victimized or one that conquers.

But that’s all mind fodder for later, what got me while watching the movie are the raiders’ faces. I’m not usually into Asian guys but it’s always good to remember what stimulated me when I was younger. Even now, living in a multicultural country, I still get a glimpse of those kind of faces – a narrow beady eyes giving out a piercing stare that owns the room, that stare of a warrior buried deep inside poverty or civilized repression. Sometimes they have bushy eyebrows like Jaka, a trait from our common ancestors in the mainland before moving further into the islands. At other times, to the audience’s advantage, they have Rama’s near-perfect Roman symmetry, covered in darker than olive skin perceived as perfection in our shared childhood mythologies. It’s probably indulgent of me, and I’ll admit that it’s careless to owe Rama’s survival because he has the looks of the movie star, rising above lesser prototypes. He doesn’t get to make it because of those aspects, it’s also because of his fucking fists. 4/5


Just saying that Lawless reminds me of “Xena the Warrior Princess” and Paul Gross although yes, the new title is tone-setting and concise. The Wettest County, the movie’s previous title sounds like something bucolic.

I first got wind of this new title change from The Playlist, who also posted a photo and general information about the movie’s casting, implying that Jessica Chastain will no longer share the screen with Take Shelter star, Michael Shannon. The movie is set in Franklin County, Virginia during the Great Depression and centres around three moonshining brothers played by Tom Hardy, Shia Labeouf and Jason Clarke, providing great man candy for viewers like us. Also starring in the movie are Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Dane DeHaan, the latter of whom you might know from Chronicle (still haven’t seen it, unfortunately) but I know from the period-indie foreign drama Amigo. I’m also hoping that Chastain’s role is enough to get her an Oscar nomination. Lawless’ release date is on August the 31st which means it will definitely not première at the Toronto International Film Festival, but any sign of  a decent movie before fall is good enough for me.

I really need to start Entertainment Weekly more.

Greatest Poster: On The Road

Via Alt Film Guide are two On The Road character posters, one of which is giving me a few thoughts:

Viggo Mortensen’s casting in this movie almost confused me since he also starred in a movie called The Road three years back. Either way, this chameleon of an actor gives us intriguing masculinity here. He isn’t the only one playing supporting roles to the duo of the convincingly shimmying Kristen Stewart and non-shimmying Sam Riley. There’s also Garrett Hedlund, Elisabeth Moss and Kirsten Dunst and in what world does Dunst play second fiddle to Stewart? Either way I can’t wait for everyone else’s own poster.

With this movie, Cosmopolis, Life of Pi, The Hobbit and Gatsby it’s looking like a decent year for films adapted from real literature.

I also like the sepiatone giving this semblance of fade. Have there been other great posters for 2012? Because this sure is in the running, despite of my worries that the trailer makes the movie itself look like it might not be as good as ‘everyone’ hopes.

The Greatest Teaser: Cosmopolis

Edward Cullen will always haunt Robert Pattinson’s screen persona. For David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis the same vampiric animism showing in his face when his character looks at the women around him. I couldn’t easily recognize Juliette Binoche here scares me that she’s put in a more compromising position compared to their other female co-stars, Samantha Morton and Sarah Gadon. Anyway, back to Pattinson, there’s this seductive naïvety from him, especially when he says the word ‘more.’ He stands out more than the crazy that Cronenberg and Don DeLillo can come up with. I can see this much within thirty-five seconds and that I’m already rooting for him as a Best Actor contender (although no, the Academy’s not that cool) also makes me want more. That I, a life long Team Jacob member, have changed colours.  And that if this movie comes out in North America later than the May 15 date promised in this teaser, I will hate francophiles more than I already do.

Best Shot: ‘…mother’s womb.’

My first reaction to Richard Donner’s movie, second to ‘Nat’s Best Shot series is back! Yay!’ is that I have now learned where that hipster singer’s name comes from, assuming of course that all musicians get their names out of thin air unless stated or informed of otherwise. And fortunately, the movie Ladyhawke isn’t as bad as the electro-whaetever musician. Little Boots is better.

An actor’s blocking and personality changes an image in a movie despite of how the camera sticks to the same frame boundaries. This shot of a dirty wall and a hand desperately trying to stick out comes after one that shows three men getting hanged. The first thing that comes to my mind is that this man faced another execution, of getting cemented within a wall or something, suggesting a brutality that the movie might have. It cuts to a scene when knights search for an imprisoned Philippe Gaston to be hanged next and it cuts back to the same muddy surface we see earlier.

And then we realize that it’s just Cooter Burger breaking out of that wall and we realize that he and we are just going to be fine. We see and hear Matthew Broderick’s luminous face and first words – comparing his current state to that of ‘escaping mother’s womb.’ Despite his and everyone else’s wobbly accents, he brings whimsy and youthful physicality to a movie that we’ll discover is anachronistically yet enjoyably cartoony, a Medieval adventure story viewed under a modern lens and a good God soundtrack.

Those are my favourite shots although there were many from which to choose, the movie simultaneously bringing my tendencies to compare the natural compositions with Brueghel, which is coincidental because Philippe’s unlikely road buddy in the cursed Navarre is played by Rutger Hauer, who will eventually play the painter three decades later. Other shots and the colour within them also remind me of Cezanne, Powell, Poussin and Cameron although the silhouettes makes a Western trope into its own thanks to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The movie also features Michelle Pfeiffer as the titular love interest Ladyhawke/Isabeau and Alfred Molina as Cesare, a man who works for the three characters’ common and blasphemous enemy.