Scary, Funny, Sweaty, Hot Docs
I’m linking and recommending you to two websites that have Hot Docs coverage, because I write for both. The first is Nathaniel R’s The Film Experience (link below), where I write my first impressions on the Hot Docs line-up, intimidated by a few stand out movies that have too serious of subjects. Or at least that is true with some of the festivals’ opening movies such as The Invisible War and Outing. The former captures talking heads who have firsthand experience of the rape within the military while the latter is about a man who, at fifteen, discovers his sexual attraction to children. But there is a silver lining to the festival’s programs as I’ve discovered other, fringe-y subjects who look at the bright side of their imperfect circumstances.
The second is Entertainment Maven, where our friend Kirk Haviland has written a preview of the festival. He starts his coverage by reviewing Brett Whitcomb’s Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I share reviewing duties with him, starting with the Ross Brothers’ Tchoupitoulas, a movie sharing a name with a bustling street in New Orleans’ French Quartier. I’ve also seen Najeeb Mirza’s Buzkashi, about a traditional Tajik sport that’s raising Western eyebrows. I also have pending tickets about Tajikistan’s powerful neighbours in The Boxing Girls of Kabul. I’m sensing that my coverage is more international than I previously thought. I’m also looking forward to our co-reviewer Nadia Sue Sandhu who is bravely facing the James Franco doc, among others. This week will be tiring, as most scary fun things are.
- Hot Docs: Paolo’s Opening Reactions (thefilmexperience.net)
The All Wet Blog-A-Thon: Inception
It’s super boring to talk about Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, the favourite movie of people born yesterday, but despite of the flaws we know about it’s a movie we like revisiting. Or it likes revisiting us. Like every (lax) fan boy I was obsessed with Hans Zimmer‘s bombastic soundtrack, half of the songs deserving to be a ballet that needs to happen, especially the track “The Dream is Collapsing,” it’s suggestions of violent and volatile movement. I then had to look up and remember which scene it corresponds and it couldn’t have been a better one, starting with the appropriately named Mal (Marion Cotillard) ruining her living husband Dom Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) extraction. Being in a dream within a dream Dom’s collaborators try to wake up him up to salvage the mission. On the first dream level it just looks like the old architect (Lukas Haas) pushing his boss down a tub and ruining the latter’s not so young face and white suit which, in hindsight looks ridiculously over-played. But we see that the first level infiltrates the second. This isn’t necessarily rain as the blogathon requires but it, like an act of God, comes out of the sky and into the palace’s rooftops. Dom eventually watches this artificial world’s destruction, being brought back to the fiery troubles of the first level and the real world itself. It’s a beautiful event in itself.
This is part of The All Wet Blog-A-Thon via Andrew Kendall.
I know I’ve discussed gender perspective in genre movies so I feel as if I’m treading too familiar of a ground but it still fascinates me that we’re watching a male protagonist in contemporary romantic movies now, like here in Nick Cassavetes‘ adaptation of The Notebook, the catalyst to Nicholas Sparks‘ factory of insufferable ubiquity. But this movie that started it all is still exemplary in the way it visualizes emotion.
Anyway, we’re seeing James Garner‘s character narrating. At least that shows that men have some semblance of feelings, as well as giving for both the female target audience and their poor boyfriends a reason to stay for the movie. Or no, it’s more complex than that, he tells it in Rachel McAdams‘ character’s point of view who, after all, is a fitting centre because she – as part of the genre’s formula, I know and I don’t care – has to choose between two men, a poor young man of her dreams (Ryan Gosling) and his richer yet equally handsome and benevolent rival (James Marsden). He has a purpose and pathos in retelling this story. Attraction or emotional attachment, as the genre suggests, are the most important aspects to ponder in her choice and with the movie’s setting – the 1960’s – and class dynamics it’s still a wonder whether she would act on those factors or repress them and stay with the suitable man her mother (Joan Allen) want to marry. Whether this would end in a fade-out happiness or tragedy.
The Notebook is the closest we’ll get to a Sirkian drama although it doesn’t go to those heightened emotions. I’m talking about the well-crafted visuals here, the clear images, sticking out against movies made that year that are either too plastic, dark or wintry. It’s a great lens to portray Garner and a woman he’s taken a liking to at an old folks home (Gena Rowlands) – he tells his younger relatives that he will never let her go after taking pains to find her. But the cinematography is more naturalistic yet glowingly lucid in depicting their younger equivalents, experiencing rural beauty – someone has probably already written some thesis about how different it is to fall in love within the country as it is in the city. The couple find themselves alone while he rows a boat further into a river where tall trees and the whitest ducks in the world would be, but there’s this Arcadian purity in their seclusion and the camera is in the right kind of distance to experience both the lovebirds’ perspective as well as enjoy their environment. Great romantic movies like this fool us into thinking these two can’t be in any bad scenario – some of us think of courtship scenes more cynically because doesn’t work with us real people – except for the ones where they have to be pulled apart. And the movie’s length didn’t bother me as long as they spent more time or possible grow together.
This is a movie of boat rides and car rides, a woman going to her loved one or her mother showing her the risks of marrying down. A movie about discovery that those little journeys produce. Although one thing strange about the mother’s revelation, that maybe the reason that her own fling ends up the way he did is because she didn’t save him. I’m not saying that women are obliged to save lower class boys and convert them into the kind of men that their parents will approve of but there is this therapeutic element to relationships, or at least the movie shows characters’ romantic bonds as to having that effect. But even though her mother and her fiancée prefer that she doesn’t run off and elope, they’re not necessarily the movie’s villains, since they’re merely looking out for her best interests.
Also, isn’t it a bit Crazy that Allen and Rowlands are in a movie together and if McAdams proves herself to be better than her present role choices – this movie, like Sparks’ oeuvre, also starting her stint as the actress in every other weepy – she could join them as part of a great actress ensemble? She can hold the screen in what could be considered a period piece without being overwhelmed and relying on the costumes and hair. It’s the latest example of a movie knowing how to sympathize with and aestheticize a woman and the people and objects around her in a way that most directors have now forgotten to do.
The House Bunny
The House Bunny is the only movie that allows Anna Faris and Emma Stone to share the same screen and since the movie views women to Faris’ standard, Stone will probably never get this naked and Mean Girls-y again. Shelley Darlingson (Faris), being last out in the orphanage (the movie pays lip service to this part of Shelley’s character which, to be honest, is all it needs), always thinks of herself as an outsider even though she has one of the most coveted jobs that conventionally beautiful women have, a job that some of those women use to stab each other with. She’s grateful and has a sunny perception – she says something like “It’s like being naked in the centre of a magazine and people unfold you!” – about her precarious place within the mansion, as a 27-year-old she sees herself as 59 in Bunny years. After being schemed out of the Playboy mansion, Shelley becomes house-mother to Stone’s sorority house – the Zetas – although both mentor each other, the former with knowledge about how to attract men to help them save their sorority house and the latter knowing how to attract a man who isn’t superficial (Colin Hanks, obviously son of Tom). One of the movie’s funniest montages involve her trying to smarten herself by reading many books at once in a library and going to senior level classes in which she’s not enrolled. It reminds me of one of the movie’s earlier scenes where she asks one of the girls from a rival house where all the desks are. Both scenes are, to my limited knowledge of the subgenre of frat/sorority movies, the biggest indictment of college culture in cinema.
Stone, like her other housemates (Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee and Rumer Willis) go through two makeovers. The first, through Shelley’s guiding hand, takes too long to set up. The second is when one of the Zetas tell the other that they’ve become as superficial as their rivals. Stone’s character soberly advertising Zeta’s mission statement as being about acceptance is how we’ll see her onscreen persona in future rules.
Even if Faris and Stone are regarded as underrated comic gems stuck in a cinematic era that treats them like shit, the former, a secret national treasure and a celebrity impression that some cheerleaders have in their comic arsenal – is good but not enough to elevate this movie. There is absolutely no reason for everyone to watch this movie or to call this as a comedy – but then I read a lot of complaints that contemporary mainstream comedy isn’t funny so I guess this movie’s first few scenes might fit in with that description – and I felt the same way until I heard Faris’ voice get deeper and more guttural because that’s the way Shelley remembers names. I’m immature and get amused by stuff like that – it’s actually the first thing I’ll remember with this movie, the ‘erythromycin/meteor’ soliloquy in the end being the second. OHLIVEHR! That voice, simply enough, makes Faris’ Shelley a physically straining, full-bodied performance. You can call it as Faris putting the wool under our eyes but I still like it.
Aside from those two leads the movie also boasts a cast that sounds useless on paper but are awesome together. I tweeted earlier that McPhee acts and sings more here than in all of “Smash” and I stand by that. And who knew that Willis, whose character is stuck in a body brace for most of the movie, ends up having the best body in a cast of many beautiful women? Dennings in her most sarcastic yet most restrained, surprisingly. I love the scene where the sorority girls take out their fake eyelashes and tell each other that despite of Shelley’s inadvertent bad influence the latter still has style. Anyway, back to the cast, Beverly D’Angelo’s villain reminds us that, despite not necessarily deserving a lead role in anything, she’s a competent and more preserved Faye Dunaway. This is an ensemble picture in, as many would see it, its worst and most embarrassing way bot I can’t knock it because of its entertainment value and that I keep rooting for these actresses in their future projects.
HMWYBS: Raise the Red Lantern
Raise the Red Lantern is my first Zhang Yimou and first Gong Li, the latter’s talent discussed with exclamation so much that it makes me feel like I missed out, although there are many beauties who have come to grace cinema after her. Nonetheless there can’t be a better first impression than watching her play Songlian, determined to dig her own grave despite her mother’s warnings. She behaves as stiffly and as nervous as a wall in one minute and trying to shout those same walls down during the next. I’m used to more Western narratives where a woman, whose only companion is her husband and perhaps a lover, becomes unhinged in isolation. But this movie complicates that dynamic by making Songlian one of four mistresses to an early 20th century Chinese aristocrat Master Chen (Ma Jingwu), whose attitudes to each other are less cooperative and more competitive, adding to her isolation, a crippling yet universal feeling for many of literature’s heroines. But while we’re sympathizing with her and want her to succeed and play her wifely role perfectly, we’re also frustrated by her introversion the growing viciousness that her servants (especially Lin Kong as her servant Yan’er) begin to notice.
I love how the mistresses are depicted, Songlian, the dowager one, the ‘nice’ one (Cao Cuifen) and Meishan (He Caifei), the holdout who still introduces herself as an opera singer. She always uses lipstick and light make up and her chamber reflects her former occupation, looking like a stage as Songlian remarks. It’s has the most personality compared to the golden warmth of the first two mistresses’ chambers. It’s one of the last times that the two women will be positioned as equals, both having the same stakes at the game, both deferring a chance to be in their Master’s company to the ‘nice’ mistress through one’s schemes and the other’s indulgence.
But I noticed that there’s more to Songlian’s off-white chamber when her frenemy the third mistress visits. Plastered on the walls are scrolls as large as Meishan’s masks, a reminder of her off-screen past as a university student – funnily enough that Meishan looks up to her because of the former’s unfinished education. I’m starting to grow into the shot above as my best because of the inadvertent double effect that these scrolls put attention to themselves as well as recede to walls of the same colour, as well as reflecting the restrained nature of both her studies and as a mistress-in-waiting. Even the red lanterns don’t even make the place look more colourful. Yimou’s camera prefers to push the camera back, making these women as secondary to the room as the room’s motifs. She finally lets Meishan into her chamber not as a competitor but as a confidante but there’s so much going on with the body language and blocking to reinforce the borders between them, as Meishan furthers herself into Songlian’s quarters there’s still some reluctance, with her arms crossed and the latter with a demure pose, not looking at her visitor directly.
The shots that came close to being the best are exteriors. Songlian is outside her quarters, giving her the freedom to navigate the palace in open air but she again recedes, making her insignificant compared to the palace’s grand scale as well as its many, conniving inhabitants. But this new knowledge has a price, giving her more access to the family’s ghosts. The ‘nice’ mistress tells her not to go to the locked chamber. Of course the household likes to keep their oppression from reach but she goes back when her friend Meishan is dragged there through her own drunken fault.
Because of an injustice the house seems as if it has its own spirit, or that Songlian makes it seem that way to keep her victim alive. In the household light means power and most of the time the Master and the men have this, the lanterns symbolizing the Master’s company and the favour tipping towards a certain mistress. But sometimes the women get this power like the shot below where the women can scare the men off, being unable to kill off or rid of a subversive mistress.
Her freedom is eventually negated in the end when she regresses into her childlike self with school girl outfit, walking back and forth in her own hallway like Minotaur, barred from the Master and the household’s company as they fear the destruction she might cause to the society that’s been equally cruel to her. It was kind of frustrating to get this shot, as Yimou kept cutting these static shots too fast and with slightly different angles. It had this effect where the lanterns criss crossed together. There’s probably something more to these shots that I can’t articulate but I eventually embraced its beauty.
- Coming Soon to “Hit Me…” (thefilmexperience.net)
Playerhaters from Outer Space!
Guy Pearce is a punching bag. He is a man without a past, able to negotiate with or win against authority. This lanky figure, under the shadows of independent cinema, portrays movies’ masculine myths, sleuth, cowboy, king, explorer, diver, fishing on both good and evil. He says your insecurities loud enough for you to hear. I referenced at least five of his movies but he relives them all in the Luc Besson-incepted and Stephen St. Leger and James Mather–directed sci-fi Lockout, a movie set in 2079, while wearing a women’s sized medium graphic tee to expose his veiny biceps, telling audiences he’s not too old to play the Hollywood game of Commonwealth actors working out on the gym to get leading roles. He’s passable as a sellout but let’s be honest, he bagged this role because Hugh Jackman was busy and Pearce wants to buy a condo and put kids through college.
This movie has a plot. Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is on a humanitarian mission to a detention centre on outer space – I feel so stoned typing that – where the prisoners are cryogenically frozen to keep them from assaulting each other. Somehow the American government taxes the rich in this sci-fi. She’s there to check whether the detainees are treated fairly but all goes awry when one escaped prisoner (Brit TV actor Joseph Gilgun) helps lead the hundreds of others into taking the scientists controlling the complex as hostages, including Emilie. The secret service’s (led by Peter Stromare) mission is to rescue the hostages, bringing in maligned rogue CIA agent Snow (Pearce) to rescue Emilie and to hope that the prisoners don’t discover that she’s the president’s. Daughter!
The performances here is interesting, where the supporting cast either flaunt or hide their European accents (Besson by the way has occasionally portrayed America through his European lens), one of the prisoners, suffering from the dementia caused by the freezing, is acting like a Scottish gargoyle. Grace is painfully deadpan as a blonde-tressed damsel with sleepy eyes but all she needs was an impromptu haircut from Snow for her face to open and show her second note, shooting off the script’s witty banter to counter his remarks against her that are so sexist that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Pearce’s performance here is lazy but it’s also admirable to watch him play devil’s advocate without trying. Together Grace and Pearce play off each other like middle school kids who punch each other as a shorthand for affection, Emilie learning the ropes even though Snow doesn’t readily give them to her.
There are some contrivances in this fictional world that the characters aren’t smart enough to grasp, like when Emilie doesn’t realize that Snow’s friend helps her cause. The movie’s technology is also questionable. But those shortcomings are compensated with its honest execution. Its tone is just like Snow’s philosophy that despite being surrounded by concepts, these characters speak and act as snarky yet competently forceful. It has its share of quotables, referring to kin-hood and character flaws delivered ridiculously. And sometimes a movie not caring about how good it is makes the actors and the set pieces seem like they’re going all out. I’m not the kind who predicts on a movie’s success – and keep in mind that I wouldn’t pay to see this movie – but if this ends up being a cult favourite or a franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d actually be happy. Image via THR. 3/5
2011: We Need to Talk About…
I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.
But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.
Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.
There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.
That’s who representative Effie Trinket chooses out of a glass bowl to see who will play in the futuristic, titular 74th annual Hunger Games. It’s the nightmare scenario for the girl bearing that name (Willow Shields), as well as for her sister, our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), because the former will be too young to survive the bloodbath that comes with these games. Imagine if the neon lights of “American Idol” have younger and more homicidal contestants. But let’s get back to the real issue – this representative looks so ridiculous that I didn’t even know that Elizabeth Banks was playing her. It’s as if Nicki Minaj apparently is the face of the future, one of the adults from Panem’s Capitol – the seat of power of a futuristic version of North America – who all look like anime villains. And I haven’t run out of metaphors and references – as if Zac Posen and the now-defunct Heatherettes’ palettes puked on Stefano Pilati and Viktor and Rolf’s otherwise perfect tailoring, these futuristic designs fitting within the uber-capitalistic society, the latter’s flag looking like an Aryan bastardization of Rome built in the Rockies. It reminds me of what Walter Benjamin said about how France under Napoleon emulates Rome. And it’s not just because science fiction stories, by nature, are pretty much ideas and fashions and designs from the present day set in titanium. Present and future societies will always repeat their past. And these games are a reminder of the past, Effie repeating the words of the video she shows to the district about how the games are the Capitol’s way of giving peace and fear, indoctrinated that her messed up world is perfect.
I also noticed the differences between the people in the Capitol and Katniss’ peasant-like District 12, where pastel and steel are separated from earthier tones. She’s her family’s provider but when she volunteers as the district’s female tribute to replace Prim, she transforms. Her earlier ‘masculine’ habits of hunting are still intact. I never imagine her in a beautiful dress, as I’m supposed to, but there she is wearing a red number in her publicity tour as one of the tributes. She even twirls and shows off her ‘fire’ for the audiences. I saw this as a change from awkward, unsightly adolescence to full-blossomed adulthood but that binary is complicated that she’s one of twenty-four chosen while the rest of the people in many districts are stuck without ‘growing.’ But then again that seems more realistic, that the glamourous adulthood of our imaginations can’t come true for everyone. And even with being chosen she still has to compete with twenty-three other youths to ‘have it all.’ It’s like what Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says to the man presiding the games (Wes Bentley), that this kind of entertainment brings false hope to the masses. Dystopic sci-fis are really great in bringing up these issues in exaggerating present day conundrums and it’s really to Suzanne Collins’ – who wrote the original novels and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Billy Ray and the movie’s director Gary Ross – credit to have created such a detailed world.
And Lawrence, playing a younger version of her Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, is one of the foundations that make this world more solid, especially with the contradictions within her character. Her full cheeks masks her eyes’ rage and curiosity. She’s awkward – during athletic/publicity training she asks her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) how she can make people like her. Effie criticizes her for being ill-mannered after many conflicts against the sponsors and her co-tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). But this young woman eventually finds and protects her new family, inadvertently becomes the face of a new rebellion and rides out a semi-fabricated story that she and Peeta are the games’ star-crossed lovers. That the characters, Collins and Ross’ final and cynical word on their love feels subversive for a young adult narrative. Although at least some of their love is real, Katniss bringing him medicine and both saving each other’s lives during the games.
If there’s anything I’ll strongly say against this movie, it’s that Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern bring their camera too close and fast, especially in its opening sequences. As much as I would like to be acquainted with these characters – the shaky cam replicating her perspective as she walks and runs through her journey – I also want to see the world where they belong. The Bourne-style quick-cutting also doesn’t help with the violent scenes. Seeing those deaths, admittedly, was part of the sadistic fun and it kind of sucks that the audience doesn’t get to fully experience this. The cast also includes Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Alexander Ludwig. Image via Villagevoice.
HMWY Best Shot: Serenity’s Characters
It’s surprising that a “Buffy” fan like me – I’ve seen and love the movie too – wouldn’t catch “Firefly,” but I had my stupidity to blame. I wanted a “Buffy” 2.0 – so why didn’t I read “Fray?” – and it seemed too much of an outlandish concept for me. But Nathaniel, probably the only person guiding me through my schizophrenic viewing habits, chose “Firefly’s” movie adaptation for his best shot series, keeping in mind that creator/writer/director Whedon’s having a big year this year. So why not? Above is a shot of carnage fitting for the movie’s ‘space western’ genre mash-up and that although Joss Whedon isn’t on top to direct Blood Meridien but he should at least be in consideration.
This experience is making me regret that I didn’t watch the series, the logical reason should be Whedon’s sharp writing and I suppose it’s nice to see futuristic cowboys but it’s really because of the characters and casting, including Alan Tudyk, David Krumholtz and Sarah Paulson. Specifically, of Adam Baldwin of Full Metal Jacket fame. I wouldn’t say that this part of the movie’s premise is ludicrous, and that his character Jayne butts heads with the titular Serenity‘s Captain Malcolm (Nathan Fillion) a lot and wants to kill the mysterious River Tam (Summer Glau). But like come on guys, his tight, short-sleeved shirts makes me think that the show should have given him a love interest. Things would have totally been different if I was on that ‘boat.’ Looking at his iMDb “Firefly” isn’t the only show I should watch for him. Apparently he was in “Angel” too and fuck do I have to watch “Chuck” now too? What kind of fan am I?
The best lines and situations saved for Malcolm, or Mal for short (Why isn’t Fillion, this movie’s star, getting the Jeremy Renner roles? The guys look alike but he’s taller yet yes, more intentionally awkward). And there are some good shots of him being framed by the movie’s well-done mix of multicultural sci-fi punk ethos, contrasting yet perfectly complementing his character as this old school masculine gunslinger. Above is him moving a fan to see what River is up to and below is him being irreverent, mocking Buddha – one of the religions and ideals that he as a character questions – for his love interest Inara’s guilty pleasure. Kudos to the movie’s art director Daniel T. Dorrance and costume designer Ruth Carter for this awesomeness.
But the movie’s most visually compelling character is River, who only gets into and stays in the boat because she’s the younger sister of one of the newer crew members (Sean Maher) and because she’s psychic. She looks like a friend of mine here in Toronto who also blogs about movies, actually. My best shot actually involves the movie’s intricate opening sequence, a series of scenes that would get novices like me confused as to what the movie is about. There are wide shots of different planets followed by a teacher explaining ‘the verse’ in an outdoor elementary school – thank God the future has smaller class sizes, am I right or am I right? – which turns out to be a dream sequence, Matrix style. Her brother helps her escape her almost permanent comatose state, which is actually hologram-recorded by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character, Javert looking at his Valjean and waify Cosette and trying to find out where they could be hiding.
But the fun of watching her doesn’t stop there. She has two kinds of entrances, one where her leg(s) and the seam of her flowing dress come into the shot and one where the camera zooms or shock cuts into her perma-startled face. She also climbs up the ceiling to hide sometimes. And the one below? Bad. Ass.
My Movie Year
Andy Hart from FandangoGroovers sent us an e-mail asking us what our best movie years are and instead just blurting out what years I chose, I opted for introducing my reasoning behind the chosen years.
Because I’m suicidal.
There have been other posts like this obviously, citing the year that saw the height noir as a style in 1941. It’s easy to assume that the year before, 1940, might be a weaker year but I don’t think so (what were you thinking, Paolo?). I already said that 1941 was the year of the noir and it was the beginning of stylistic achievements that will be influential for the next forty years. But no one wants to peak young Those arguments, I admit, are me trying to put both years under investigation before I declare them as banner years).
What 1940 has is diversity. What other year could boast an animated movie that has different yet complementary aesthetics and another movie that successfully convinces us that the all-American Jimmy Stewart is European and/or a man of class? What year will we find such comedy greats like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell? It was also a great actressing year that followed 1939. Joan Fontaine being the light anchor in only Alfred Hitchcock movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Katharine Hepburn returns and makes the studios realize that her sense of comic timing can crowd the movie theatres. And Vivien Leigh simply haunts us. The movies: Fantasia, The Shop Around the Corner, Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, Waterloo Bridge.
Because it was the year of (forgotten) classics.
1955 saw three movies so breathtaking that it almost makes me want to say ‘Revisionist Western,’ although it would be too anachronistic to use that phrase. But those movies subverts North American ideas of villainy, race and It was also the year of the blond.
Doing away with her Academy Award-winning de-glam, Grace Kelly has a career-best performance in another Hitchcock movie as a smart golden-locked woman. Shelley Winters plays victim to Robert Mitchum, too charming to be good, but she might not necessarily be dumb. Marilyn Monroe almost steals Evelyn Keyes’ husband and makes us think differently about the hot air on street vents. Julie Harris, a honey blond, steers the lost James Dean, in his best performance, into sanity and domesticity. But the brunettes represented too, James Dean also finding love in a hopeful teenager Natalie Wood. Jean Simmons making Marlon Brando fly her to Cuba and she still won’t give him the love that he doesn’t deserve yet. And Martine Carol, overshadowed by younger French actresses, gives us a 19th cnetury circus act that we should never forget. The movies: The Night of the Hunter, East of Eden, Bad Day at Black Rock, To Catch a Thief, Lola Montes.
Because I might be suicidal after all.
1974 saw most movies come back to the streets. Walter Matthau deals with a subway train gets high jacked in Manhattan, New York City by good for nothing British terrorists. Los Angeles saw its share of impersonators, near impossible water shortages and crazy ladies chasing for their children riding in school buses. In San Francisco, Gene Hackman and John Cazale do their job as many lovely yet suspicious conversations under wiretap. And the past catches up with the present as Michael Corleone does his best to escape chaos and brotherly betrayal in Havana, Cuba. But that doesn’t mean that the rural areas didn’t get some love, as a singer travels to find a job and a college student finds a crazy family.
When it comes to the Oscars, Martin Scorsese directs a melodrama (he needs to do another one and if you say Hugo I swear I’ll…). Francis Ford Coppola created a kinetic magnum opus and lost Best Picture against himself. A frazzled married woman played by Gena Rowlands and a tough woman with a tougher lawyer in Faye Dunaway lose to determined single mother brought to life by Ellen Burstyn. The movies: The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence.
Because I’m a hopeless romantic.
2010 was the year I started blogging, the year culminating the plurality that independent cinema has worked for in the past forty years. Indie masters like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Edgar Wright made movies with actors who will become Hollywood’s future and made hundreds of millions of dollars with them. I’m going to try to stop overusing the word ‘indie’ no, although I used it one last time to a movie so good that it doesn’t even need to be finished.
But in 2010, I surprisingly found sympathy within mopey characters aimlessly wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Or it could be London, where a reluctant king impersonates an Emperor penguin for the young daughters who themselves will make history. Boston also has its share of competitive brothers, both brothers and their entertainingly abrasive mother, sisters and wives. A brother and sister explore what we assume is Lebanon and learn a heart wrenching through, out of all things, mathematics. The fashionable Milan has a shy, Russian housewife learning what love is in its primal states, throwing her life away from him. And I learned how to love an overrated director since he created characters who can make the Parisian streets of their dreams shake and bend. The movies: Greenberg, I am Love, Meek’s Cutoff, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Fighter.
Other years under further investigation: 1927 – the year when the Academy started getting it wrong (Sunrise, Metropolis), 1939 – the height of the studios (The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind), 1966 – the year when we said terrible things to each other a lot (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Persona), 1988 – when he loved and hated the Germans (Der Himmel Uber Berlin, Die Hard), 1991 – genre versus genre (Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 2001 – weirdest sexiest year ever (Mulholland Drive, Y Tu Mama Tambien).
Vimy Week Movie: Gallipoli
War movies use the image of the young man through exaltation. It’s a cinematic method that wouldn’t seem fitting for a genre with a predominantly masculine audience unless we realize that this male-on-male gaze, more dominant in the last three decades’ box office returns, is a fantastical version of the innocence we thought we used to have. Similarly, contemporary filmmaker Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, co-written by David Williamson, starts with the picaresque backyard stories of blonde Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee), who would have otherwise existed if Katharine Hepburn and James Remar had a love child. In his Australian home turf he gets challenged twice, by his uncle training him to be a medal-winning runner and by a cowboy who conventionally thinks that he can ride a horse faster than Archy can run.
The second face is young Mel Gibson’s as a Archy’s tougher and more cynical counterpart Frank, who goes through multiple transformations, job titles, states of dress and occasional undress depending on situations he faces mostly without reluctance.
The two of them meet in a running competition and become unlikely friends, both craving the adventures that bigger cities like Perth and Cairo can offer. Archy treats the war as a way to see the world like his grandfather did, despite his uncle’s protestations of a world that has changed for the most dangerous. Nonetheless they race more than once in the movie, each challenge becoming more fraternal, treating, as the cliché would say, the world like their playground which is more of Archy’s philosophy than Frank’s.
Our first impressions of these epic actions are, again, Archy’s face and the surprising determination from his lean figure that we forget that he didn’t want to wait for the train and made Frank cross the desert to Perth with him, a difficult feat that in which he succeeds effortless. Frank stumbles before Archy does and the latter comes to save him and continues to do so no matter what country they’re in. It’s a character building experience yet both men survive that trial almost unscathed – instead of chapped lips and un-moisturized faces like those in Sergio Leone movies, all they have are dusty clothes. And during the trip he convinces Frank to join up, inadvertently promising women’s admiration and his prolonged friendship.There’s a subtext of class warfare more voiced out by supporting characters and minor plot lines and I even watch out for times when one young man is winning a race over the other but these two major characters disregard that, belonging within this story which is simply about two people who make each other happy.
In other words Archy has the same spirit of his English forebears, that optimistic underestimation that they try to hold on to for as long as they can. Their titular destination isn’t as well-known in their and this part of the world, bearing a name that the characters can hardly pronounce, which surprisingly attracts them to conquer it. They don’t heed warnings of their superiors of Cairo’s liquor and women, as if that’s the only source of their downfall. Weir thankfully allows them to have their fun, accusing a store for overcharging them for Egyptian knickknacks and hiring local prostitutes, bearing this philosophy that they should do these things if they die the next day. Both runners race again to the pyramids. Ironically, Weir sees Egypt as Australia’s twin country, both being arid locales. Because of the heat he outfits his characters with light pastel colours and later with uniform shorts, looking more like boy scouts than military men.
Being one of Weir’s earlier work it’s easy to see his signature, more of an epic movie and a more colourful tribute to David Lean thanks to Russell Boyd’s cinematography. Instead of choosing to portray destruction, Weir is more concerned more about the myth of invincibility. His depiction of the desert or the sea his glossy yet mostly survivable for the men of our past. Even when he gets to the movie’s perfunctory ‘waste of war’ section, he directs his actors with care, playing off Lee’s smiles with Gibson’s blossoming expressiveness, one of the only directors in memory who doesn’t satirize and instead, lets complexity shine through a mask of optimism, which is a mask we can live with. Image via horroria.
You have the right to…
This movie, by the way, takes advantage of its source material, an 80’s TV show of the same name starring Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson (now Peete). Had it been released in an alternate universe as its own concept, audiences would think it’s ludicrous. The screenwriters adapting this material to the 21st century, Jonah Hill, Scott Pilgrim writer Michael Bacall, director Phil Lord and Puss in Boots director Christopher Miller perceive this as a hurdle that they cross beautifully.
A personal note about the subject of this movie. Like junior policemen Jenko, played by Channing Tatum and Schmidt, by Hill, I also belong to the class of 2005 (The blue and red all caps inter-titles also probably makes this the greatest American movie to ever reference Jean-Luc Godard. I’m half serious.). In this America, Jenko and Schmidt fall on opposite sides of the polarized jock/nerd dividing old high schools of reality and fiction. I’m not going to take this as a point against the movie, but I saw the tides turn in that year or ones before. I remember a jock (specifically the most coveted male student who had the face/abs/nipple piercings) telling me that he found it weird yet enjoyed that a goth, a Polish girl who listened to gangster music and me accidentally joined his pot circle. Despite being the voice of a generation, Eminem and the other aggressive angsty figures are replaced by dancey stuff.
I even suspect that our generation has something to do with it and yes I’m being cocky here. The elder classes held on to the binary but dissatisfied with these earlier models we took our different perspective and repressed resentments into making new moulds of chic in college and afterwards and I’m pretty sure the younger kids saw that and thought it was awesome. And now kids, or middle class kids at least, are sophisticated, dinnering in midtown restaurants, shopping for clothes that would have gotten me beat up seven years ago, impressing their teachers and being blase about doing so many kinds of drugs that I would run out of digits to count them, if I tried.
The movie deals with these cultural waves but in an extreme execution. After graduating high school and the police academy, becoming unlikely friends and bungling a drug bust, their Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) re-assigns our protagonists into the titular 21 Jump Street, a program where younger looking cops (including Rye Rye) return to high school and infiltrate juvenile crime.
Just like my unreliable old man observations about today’s youth, they return to an environment giving them clue after subtle clue. Despite of Jenko’s predictions, kids don’t carry their backpacks singe strap and the parking lot is populated by geeks, one group more colourful and uninhibited than the previous one. The nerds have become popular and the jocks are semi-awkward track kids. Jenko, the only jock left in the traditional sense, is the fading noble viking conquered by his intellectual superiors, some of whom work out just as much as he does. In a way, this main plot structure is a retelling of Rip van Winkle, already making this movie an American institution. I’m half serious.
Like my eclectic pot circle, a drug is the secret invisible force that unites and corrupts Jenko and Schmidt’s assigned school, Sagen High. This time it’s called HFS which is short for Holy Fucking Shit, a synthetic drug that lives up to its name (I’ve also been watching a lot of NatGeo lately, adding to my armchair knowledge of the misinformation about these designer drugs and complicates the movie’s dénouement but who cares). We see a student, Billiam Winningham (Johnny Simmons, who plays Young Neil in Scott Pilgrim) post a Youtube video of himself taking the drug and recording its four stages, the effects on young Billiam is exemplary physical comedy to both the policemen and to us until their new boss Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, playing cop again after Rampart) reveals that the kid has died of an overdose.
Their mission, as Dickson shouts in a mantra, is something like ‘infiltrate the dealers, find the suppliers,’ which should be easy if the two gun-toting, hand-to-hand fighting chaser cops didn’t dip into hilarious human error, including Schmidt’s friendship with yearbook committee member/dealer (Dave Franco) and the latter’s open relationship girlfriend Molly (Brie Larson). These forbidden partnerships ruins the dynamic between the two cops and the movie delicately plays with their own unlikely friendship, as both are haunted by the past and present power dynamics between them.
The rifts between Jenko and Schmidt cause some of the movies surprisingly unforced pathos. There’s something interesting about these supposed sentimental moments, that the camera constantly moves – or has the semblance of movement – in those sequences so we don’t lose that comedy-action momentum while showing the drama. Those sections, in other words, have a cartoony aesthetic that complement the comic-book effect on the hilarious drug phase scenes (Bacall and Miller’s animation CV’s help with this.
The other source of comedy is the protagonists’ one-upmanship, both causing a lot of falling gags, dick jokes, relentless montages and ‘I rule and you suck!’ barbs. Those methods of comedy shouldn’t work but they do, just because Hill, Tatum and the rest of the cast deliver their jokes with a straight face and Miller directs these scenes without telling his actors to overt and slowing down the jokes, which surprisingly and disappointingly happens too much in recent comedies. There are brilliant scenes with Ellie Kemper’s – who I’m always partial to – conflicting Mary Kay Letourneau lust towards Jenko (ironically because it’s Jenko as an undercover who’s forbidden to fraternize with students and teachers) and she just says opposing words and phrases given life by her delivery. Her character could have been a histrionic one but she makes it just kooky and makes you listen to how hilarious her conflict is.
Also in the cast are Rob Riggle, Jake M. Johnson, many more familiar young faces and Depp is in a surprising cameo. This brew of crudity didn’t necessarily make me love it unconditionally for the movie’s first half but it’s underplayed, straightforward approach refreshingly went down easily, and I dismissed any possible objection as the laughs kept coming. 4/5. Image via hollywood.com
Best Shot: Snow White and…
Walt Disney and crew’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this week’s featured movie in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, doesn’t really suggest images to me but acceleration. There’s this slowness to their movements but there’s this jolt of urgency to them as the movie progresses. The characters are also the only solid blocks of colour, the opposite of their Medieval-styled ornate surroundings. Here are some of my favourite shots.
Ok, this image is more of a static and and I didn’t even feel like including this because it feels like I’m just repeating my Black Narcissus best shot. Springtime is for lovers and Disney’s version puts us smack dab in the middle of the story as opposed to taking us to Snow White’s parents, etc. I know you know the story but the original Grimm Brothers’ tale is about Snow White’s growth as a domestic and sexual being, as well as the Evil Queen being Snow White’s mother and the Prince being the father, if I haven’t ruined your childhood yet. Anyway, this shot reminds me of the movie’s operatic structure, this tenor complementing Snow White’s coloratura. There’s also the Medieval costume’s drapery being very creamy throughout the film, influencing how we see these characters’ movement and posture. He’s not as effete as most of the Disney princes but those shoes look like they can walk on water.
Just like her suitor’s footwear, Snow White represents the daintiness of womanhood that earlier literature – and 1937 counts as ‘early’ – propagates, going through the woods and surviving while wearing pumps. She glides on surfaces instead of touching them like normal humans. She finds refuge from her homicidal (step)mother in the most hopeful of places. However it’s strange how these strangers can carve wood for their houses but find no time to dust heir house. Digging all day is not an excuse. It’s also more infuriating that her ragged state while shining the Queen’s Palace’s front steps is framed as slavery but cleaning for a bunch of dudes is totally ok. But we’ll give her brownie points for venturing into the cottage on her own and leveraging her lodgings and influencing the dwarfs’ eating habits. But that still feels codependent.
But can I really begrudge such people, even if they scare me more now than I did when I was a child? The dwarfs, by the way, probably start the tradition of fairy tale creatures as surrogate husbands, later prototypes of which include the original “Peter Pan.” This shot is my best shot simply because it will begin my quest to decide which dwarf is which. Doc, Dopey and Grumpy are the most constant characters so they’re the easiest to tell but to know the others I had to look into their eyes, which is nearly impossible if they’re moving too fast and freaking out while they’re imagining a monster sleeping in their beds. Thank God I eventually used the pause button. Also, this shot is one of the few examples that show how these characters have no bones in their bodies. They’re swift yet also graceful.
And finally the shot of the Queen. This scene is the Wicked Stepmother’s Lady MacBeth moment, having to take away her own femininity to make herself do the evil deeds that she believes must be done. The hoarseness within the voice actress becomes externalized, her slim figure becoming more brittle. This also baffles me after this recent rewatch because she is getting herself ugly to defeat the young woman more beautiful than her. Eventually she poisons the princess, their only onscreen encounter which is surprisingly not hostile.
Vimy Week Movie: Passchendaele
This is the second installment of Vimy Week and the first movie of the series that I saw on the big screen that is not a new release and therefore fits into John’s Big Screen Challenge. I promised to watch a safe number of 26 non-new release movies on the big screen but since I’m almost halfway I know I can totes do more than that. Come join us!
As a 1.5 generation Canadian the country’s curriculum exposed me of its generation rift. Its youth, though increasingly becoming centre-right, still look like multicultural pot-smoking passive hippies to our old teachers so they’re trying to educate us that when this country was still full of just integrated Europeans, we were the world’s fourth biggest military. We educated of the former glory that is the Great War and the Franco-Germanic names where our troops have fallen and risen again, Ypres, the Somme. The movie is cyclical in nature, beginning and ending with Michael Dunne (Paul Gross, who also wrote and directed) in European battlefields, the first time in Vimy and the second in the titular Passchendaele.
That title is a misnomer since its first half takes place in Michael’s home town of Calgary, where he finds himself being treated by a nurse named Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas), these characters expressing their love through drug withdrawals and battlefield sex, scenes of which are automatically ridiculously awesome. Not by intention she poses problems for him because her German father fought for the other side. The movie magnifies race and ethnicity, as Sarah gets fired from her job. Her brother David (Joe Dinicol), ridden with Daddy issues and too effete for a barely legal lower middle class boy, is guilt-tripped into signing up for the war by a English-descended Canadian to be his bride. Neighbours vandalise the Mann home with red paint spelling ‘HUN’ – the movie intermittently shows drawn Asiatic caricatures of Huns, curiously enough. This anti-Germanic plot line’s similarities to the one in East of Eden which would be distracting if it didn’t have roots in reality. The front lines eradicate those issues – the Englishman, First Nations and Québécois have their archetypal one-liners before they get painted in with the rest of the Canadians, all of them muddy due to days on the trenches. And the enemy, which they kill in glorious hand-to-hand combat, look just as dirty as they do! But despite of how many bodies get flung in the air or close-ups of decent looking men one second before dying by gunshot, this still feels a bit shiny and CGI’d for a war movie. Image via Guardian.
Vimy Day Movie: War Horse
Vimy Week Movie is a series of WWI movies. It has three parts that will be doled out within four days, matching the battle’s grueling duration. Instead of doing this series on Armistice Day like a normal person I’m starting this today on Vimy Day, a holiday that will be recognized if we Westerners feel like it, which we really don’t. But there are mini-events and pins to commemorate the day, since we’re not on the holiday-size yet.
With War Horse Steven Spielberg not only proves himself again as a filmmaker but also as a nightclub promoter. Anytime I entered a multiplex that also showed War Horse there was a tendency that its sound system would overpower the walls, which was totally annoying. But it also invoked jealousy, making me want to enter the screening room despite the mixed reviews. I finally saw it in a smaller sized theatre which didn’t do the sounds any justice.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit to like this movie, especially the second time around when I hear ‘Be brave’ and when Jeremy Irvine says anything. But it’s by its awesome antebellum moments like ducks quacking to make David Thewlis go away and Emily Watson using her yarn needles to make David Thewlis go away. What has David Thewlis done to these characters except for threaten their livelihoods like villains do? There are also great war moments with Joey, the titular war-horse and method actor, and his black beauty of a rival. I also mention ‘antebellum’ and ‘black beauty’ because this movie also references another great war movie Gone With the Wind, Spielberg echoing that American classic’s deep colours and broken, borderline delusional characters. References also include Terrence Malick’s poetic approach to nature – although Spielberg tries and competently success to do in seconds what Malick would do in hour-long sequences – and John Ford’s methodical battle scenes. And of course, he incorporates his own hammering method of portraying violence.
A friend of mine really loves this movie and we like making fun of him. What I also like to do more is to sandbag him because he calls this ‘melodrama’ in the positive sense of the word. Although I don’t feel comfortable with that word because there’s some earnestness in this movie, which begins in the movie’s hour mark, which is, admittedly late but boy does it compensate. It brags stellar actors including David Kross and Niels Aestrup who, despite being German or French, speak English because they want to be in more Hollywood movies. On the English side it stars Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan and Toby Kebbell, the latter somehow aging backwards. There are also some moments where it just looks dirty and muddy as it should, because war is. And when the boy (Jeremy Irvine) comes home, he’s as fractured as his father (Peter Mullan) but is trying to rebuild the family he left temporarily.
Nicholas Ray’s “King of Kings”
The Bible is renowned for its simplicity but it’s more complex than Christopher Hitchens or most people give it credit for. I’ve ruminated about Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings, not to be mistaken with de Mille’s version. And it’s always been my obsession to know the differences between the four Gospels and its relation to the film adaptations.
I watched the movie when I still had TCM and couldn’t distinguish it from the other, overlong epic period movies at the same time. I didn’t give it a chance and I changed the channel, regrettably. Thank serendipity for the second run-in, when I saw Ray, through Orson Welles’ Godlike voice over contextualizing Jesus’ rise with Roman imperialism, infrastructure building and the burden of oncoming tribal hostility between Jews and Arabs.
I will say that the movie’s depiction of the historical figures somehow contradicts Biblical accounts and sometimes, one woman’s spirit is captured more so than the other. Mary (Siobhan McKenna) has a soldier-like loyalty to God, willing to ride an improvised steed to Egypt to run away from a Herodain onslaught, She also returns to Nazareth and showing to a Roman official named Lucius that Her young son is the only one who survives. The book and movie fork into the interpretations of the Virgin, as the Gospel of Luke already shows Her, in pregnancy, as an indoctrinated, militant woman poetically reciting Her knowledge of Her purpose in the Father’s master plan. Although the movie’s portrait of Her is delightful enough, the Mother learning from the Youth and His lessons of peace of love which counters the warlike ideology of the area and period. She shares these lessons with Magdalene, a possessed woman in the Bible but commonly depicted as a prostitute in adaptations.
Salome is also maligned as well as her family. In the movie’s first scenes, Herod Antipas ousts his ailing and genocidal father, the son having respect for his enemies like the unknown Saviour and His cousin who grows up to be John the Baptist (the interestingly cast Robert Ryan). Antipas marries Herodias, bringing her daughter Salome in tow. Salome dances her way into getting John beheaded, the texts portraying her as Herodias’ weapon. Ray’s version subverts these women’s characteristics. Salome becomes a lustful young woman, having her stepfather’s father’s violent streak, ending her dance by sitting on the same thrown that Antipas himself has stolen. It’s easy to joke that her similarities with Herod exposes Antipas’ subliminal lust for his own father. Herodias, on the hand, isn’t as scheming as she’s depicted in the Bible, the film actually placing her as one of the audiences on the Sermon on the Mount with Lucius, both authority figures attracted to the message that tries to destroy the system that makes them benefit.
Lastly, there’s Judas Iscariot, the Bible characterizing him as a thief and traitor. Contemporary interpretations of him have always wondered why Jesus would include Iscariot into His fold, most likely knowing that he needs someone to help Him sacrifice Himself. Norman Jewison has a black actor for Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and we can add whatever symbolism we can to the colour blind ensemble, keeping in mind the racial tensions in the 70’s. Ray also paints Iscariot as a Zealot but chose a different strategy in his casting. It’s already strange and absolutely typical of Hollywood to hire the all-American Jeffrey Hunter, who does his best as the quote-worthy preacher. For Judas he picks another dirty blonde, Rip Torn, showing these two men as mirror images, Iscariot’s double loyalties haunted by Jesus unwavering sympathy, a part of a complex, political rendition of the Saviour’s life and world.
Nicolas Cage: And Laura Dern
Ugh I hate having to write about movies that I can’t prove with words but that’s David Lynch for you and besides, I’ve been procrastinating writing about Mulholland Drive ever since I saw it (and rewatched the ending after my ongoing depress-athon). Here’s what I have to say, as I have originally typed on Ryan McNeil‘s blog:
a) I told you this in person but I’ll do it again because I’ll probably never end up writing about it in my space. Despite the incoherent fuctory that is Wild At Heart it’s probably the only movie of his – or any movie ever – that simultaneously conveys all emotions of funnysexyscary, mostly thanks to Laura Dern’s performance. Even in his better work, he can only manage to convey one of those three tones, or compartmentalizes them from one scene to another.
Don’t worry, this post will get slightly smarter.
I feel it juvenile that I hate to compare Dern’s Lula Fortune to other actors with more well-known movie quotables, and nothing beats those originals but we have seen de Niro’s bravado or Judy’s childlike demeanour through multiple imitations. And I suppose Dern also gets it easy with some of the one liners that we first hear on the trailer, like ‘You make me hotter than Georgia asphalt.’ We can do that as an inside joke, add a head or shoulder roll or two, remembering Lynch’s innately referential nature as he pays perpetual homage to post-war camp Americana. Slick greaser hair and jackets and antisocial behaviour are particularly more present here than in Lynch’s other movies, given a contemporary flavour through Sailor’s affinity to epilepsy-inducing metal music. Her love-making non sequiturs and narratives astound – ‘And I swear, baby, you got the sweetest cock. It’s like it’s talking to me when you’re inside. ],’ ‘You [Nicolas Cage’s character Sailor] remind me of my daddy. (I shouldn’t judge),’ ‘One time, [my aunt] found [my uncle] Dell putting one big cockroach on his anus.’ She says those lines with the borderline childishness that some girls put on in front of their boyfriends. They say that the portrayal of gravitas lessens over time and yes we can laugh at these lines but there’s this timeless earnestness in Dern and Lynch’s delivery of lust that I simply cannot negate. Who knew that the gaunt actress only needed her blond locks and a silver tongue to be sexy? Can she do it again?
And as Lula and her Sailor elopement gets bumpier and more crime-ridden, Dern’s performance gets its equal rocky footing. There’s also a scene where she find herself alone with Willem Dafoe’s grilled character – that’s never turned well in 99% of that actor’s movies. He sexually intimidates her and tells her to tell him to to ‘Fuck me.’ At first she resists but she does it, putting fear into a mix that cannot be duplicated. She’s Lynch’s instrument for better or worse and I don’t even see anything wrong with her bravery and vulnerability, while most of the leading actresses Lynch hires only has either. I wonder how her dad was like as an actor, if he could produce such a great here.
There are also Wizard of Oz references for some reason, Lula’s mother (Diane Ladd), the venomous woman from whom they;re running away, conjured through hallucinations as the Wicked Witch. Lula clicks her heels like Dorothy but Sailor doesn’t seem like any of Dorothy’s companions. Scarecrow maybe, for participating in failed bank robberies? Anyway, both the stunted feminine and masculine body politic is within the escapist Lula and she solves it by…marrying a dude? This is a man’s perspective of a romanticized female pathos, after all. And I keep talking about this movie as if I’m bored with Cage’s histrionics but Sailor does have death threats to avoid. And I just don’t want to see him as sexy with all the implications of that title, which this movie insists and almost succeeds on doing.
Bloc Sci-Fi: “Solyaris”
For style guide’s sake, I will call this movie Solyaris while the supposedly misunderstood masterpiece by Steven Soderbergh will be Solaris, which I’ll write about in that Viola Davis retrospective that I’m too lazy to do. I also heard that it expands on the original’s love story.
Despite beginning by looking into a wide lake’s reeds, Solyaris is a breeze compared to Andrei Tarkovsky’s other work. Rublev is comprehensible and straightforward enough despite its three-hour running time, Stalker devastating in its showing of the longest non-magic tricks ever. It makes me feel like a young luddite not remembering anything plot wise from Zerkalo but do you? What probably makes me think that this movie is fast paced – clocking in at two hours and forty-six minutes – are the quick cuts in the sequence portraying a non-hostile interrogation of a man who has previously been to the space station near the titular planet. It also adds to this eerie aura because the witness can’t corroborate his testimony with video footage, subverting the ‘show, not tell’ adage and successfully heightening the mystery.
Yes, despite its big budget, it has cheap sets, a grievance I have in other classic movies, but that criticism tries to make the movie sound like it also features Gondry’s cardboard box aesthetic. I treated this lightly. The protagonist, Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), travels to a space station near a planet with strange magnetic waves, throwing rules of physics and even life off-kilter. Everything is grubby and made of plastic, buttons are unlabeled and look similar, other characters stuck in the station smoke and light candles and tobacco occasionally, there are master bedrooms and flammable books. But what makes the movie enigmatic is the resurfacing of Kelvin’s wife, either as wishful thinking or a gift from the planet. Mrs. Kelvin’s love towards her husband adds to her heart wrenching pleas to prove herself human to the space station’s men. Her conundrum can be seen as an allegory of prejudice but how can we sympathize when her existence crosses the boundaries that science irreverently crosses.
The romance in Tarkovsky, in my humble opinion, is enough and even surpasses its Western equal in the well-crafted but overrated 2001:A Space Odyssey. Solyaris will no longer be showing for now. But I hope that this post goes live just in time for the last movie featured in TIFF’s Attack the Bloc retrospective, Piotr Szulkin’s film rendition of the Golem story, screening at the Lightbox tonight at 9PM. Images via TIFF and cine y literatura.
On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue…
This week’s episode of Nathaniel’s ‘Best Shot‘ features Easter Parade with songs written by Irving Berlin wrote between 1914 and 1948, the latter being the year the movie came out. The movie is set in between 1911 and 1912, a time of pre-war gaiety, when characters like Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) strolled on Fifth Avenue, the American version of Parisian boulevards, and greets his fellow Manhattanites ‘Happy Easter’ on that holiday’s eve, which is known in my part of the woods as Black Saturday. And apparently Black Saturday is when secular Protestant Gilded age New Yorkers bought gifts to each other when all we got were eggs and dried up palm leaves. God being Catholic sucks.
This is an access to a culture, a 103-minute extension of the ridiculous silhouettes in the fashion show in Cukor’s The Women, shown in a technicolour version of traditional Golden Age film making. And I don’t care if it didn’t really exist because it brought us a fluffy movie like this, with its avenues of shops and restaurants where people on the up-and-up flashed what they had while people of all classes mimed what they wish they had to offer. A field where the exotic shape shifter – embodied within Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) – battled and arguably lost against the all-American – Nadine’s simpler and thus better replacement Hanna ‘Juanita’ Brown (Judy Garland).’ A routine in the Ziegfeld Follies about fashion magazines and being surprised when some of the rags featured are still running. Stages where Miller can make her heels click without moving and Astaire slows down so that we’ll notice that he’s on black face. A place where, just like “Revenge,” dinners are replaced by scandals or in typical musical fashion, a song and dance routine.
In obvious ways, this is Judy’s movie, about her discoveries and rediscoveries. The movie reminds us the audience of the qualities that made us love her, that middle American-ness can be qualities that can still make a star survive amidst the countless dangerous sexpots of the 1940s. In one scene she makes funny faces when posing doesn’t turn men’s heads. She’s at her best when she performs with the girly quality with which she’s made relative peace in her adulthood. But despite holding on to the true self that might be buried under misguided mentoring, she doesn’t succumb but gets integrated into the glamourous Broadway lifestyle within which she must play. The best shots featured in this post are MGM’s clean versions of Manhattan’s avenues, leading up to the last gratifying moment of Judy/Hanna’s stardom, where character and actress takes it all on in good humour.
Road to Hollywood: Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show, the title of what could be Peter Bogdanovich’s only good movie, begins in the early 1950’s with a teenager named Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) trying to have a smooth drive in his heap of junk of a truck while the Hank Williams on his radio fills in between the sound of tumbleweeds and violent dead wind. The scene develops, he gets out in front of a pool hall, meets the owner Sam (Ben Johnson), the latter’s son, and Sonny’s best friend Dwayne (Jeff Bridges). Methodically the grubby cinematography and the camera’s closeness is almost un-cinematically counter-intuitive but it also feels like a welcome change, like Kenneth Anger and Maya Deren chronicling the smutty lives of straight rural Texans. It’s a good old evocation of mood while simultaneously cutting the BS.
These men are in between stages of feral wolf-boyhood and foreshadowed deep-voiced manhood. The older men see them as members of their incompetent football team but within the same day they neck with their girlfriends in the dark while watching an Elizabeth Taylor picture. The Last Picture Show, like many late 20th century young adult texts, is about sexual awakenings and missteps. Sonny meets an older woman named Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman, looking her best in a deserved Oscar-winning performance) and stands her for a few more minutes. While their friendship gets uncomfortably close, Dwayne’s girlfriend Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd, a more girly version of Faye Dunaway) does her own exploring. Both characters repeat the patterns of the previous generation, Jacy taking after her mother Lois (the versatile Ellen Burstyn being hilarious and foxy). All of these are going on while these teenagers, walking slowly into being roughnecks, express their cynicism for a school and town that isn’t worth saving.
The audience knows what’s going to happen when Sonny takes out the trash with Ruth the same way that they react negatively to the relationships and friendships that the insufferable Jacy ruins. And yes, you’re allowed to use that and the phrases in the previous paragraph as euphemisms as long as you give Bogdanovich and co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry some credit. Anyway, the impressions that these characters take in their worst and most shocking scenes are so strong that we forget how Bogdanovich and McMurtry plants the seeds for these outcomes to happen. The movie doesn’t give us alarum bells when Sonny’s coach asks for him to drive Ruth to the clinic the same way that we don’t see Jacy’s layered reaction to Lois’ lessons of shrewdness. These pivotal moments and decisions occur in seventeen seconds instead of minutes.
It has echoes in others tackling post-Western desolation but it also references past movies like the magnum opus directed by Bogdanovich’s idol Orson Welles. It has delightful moments, like a Western-styled non-standoff between Sonny and Sam, referred by the latter’s diner cook/hamburger expert Genevieve (the tough Eileen Brennan). Or real standoffs when its frank characters squeak their voices and destroy the English language, not that I’m one to talk. Then there’s all the awkward sex in between and all the scenes everyone else has talked about because this movie deserves it. The Last Picture Show is part of the Road to Hollywood, its next dates being April 3 and 5, promoting the TCM Classic Film Festival in LA between April 12 and 15. To the two people I know who are going to the festival, I am extremely jealous of you.
Ghibli: “Laputa” and “Spirited Away”
It’s difficult for my mind to stray while watching Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, especially the bombastic sound work in Tenko no Shiro Laputa (the English title is Castle in the Sky. Laputa is an unfortunate title if you know a bit of Spanish but we’ll use it for brevity’s sake). I’ll never forget the dimensional feeling of the air crafts. But as the characters started to sink in I realized that I grew up with anime, especially ones that portrayed ‘Western’ narratives. This cross-cultural storytelling is interesting in the visual sense. I know the young arms catching Sheeta from the air, starting their puppy love – are just plain slabs of white meat between penciled borders but somehow I felt the characters’ sinewy qualities on-screen. I also like its accuracy, capturing how the European build is more muscular, dense and square shaped although that’s probably just my ignorance talking.
Also, older women such as Mama are booby but not in a sexual way. Speaking of which, the sexuality in Laputa is a bit disturbing, as Mama’s crew are metres away from preying on Sheeta although they do blurt out the subtext that the innocent-looking Sheeta might grow up to be a good witch like Mama. But it’s not just about the human characters, the robots and the plot also showing how Miyazaki influences Brad Bird and Chris Miller. Puss in Boots also has the same plot and imaginative spirit but the latter tucks in and lets out. Think about it.
Spirited Away begins with a family uneventfully moving into the smaller suburbs, makes a detour to what looks like an abandoned amusement park and turns into a ‘introduction to work and adulthood and its pitfalls’ metaphor. It also shows more slender Asian bodies in Chihiro and the other cynical bath house servants she joins. It’s a more Japanese narrative but that doesn’t mean that European visual tropes are completely absent. Chichiro’s father has the same stocky European build before he and his wife eat the amusement park food – where are the guests? – and magically turn themselves into pigs. The Mama lookalike of a matriarch, Yubaba, and her overgrown baby almost turn the exception into the rule, as well as the visitors of Yubaba’s resort for the gods, spirits and monsters, most of them looking like characters from Where the Wild Things Are. I’m not saying that Miyazaki relies too heavily on Western influences as he also includes river dragon gods into the mix and actually makes these characters, whatever they look like, into his own.
I’m also probably in the minority that likes the simple structure and the complex characters in Laputa although I do admire the consistent menace of Spirited Away‘s matriarch. I also like Laputa‘s three different visual textures while depicting the landscapes. Spirited Away, however, also marks a digitized aesthetic, especially in depicting objects and characters moving through vegetation. What does make the latter film special, in an Berlin Film Festival and Academy-award winning way, is its unrelenting and inexhaustible imagination, introducing more fantastical creatures and mises-en-scene like the hand lamp greeting them after a trip on a train that crosses an ocean, coming just after me thinking that Miyazaki must have run out of them.
Spirited Away has two screenings at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, on April 1st at 7:00 PM and April 7th at 1:00 PM. You can also catch Laputa one last time on April 7th at 6:30 PM.