…and the quest to see everything

Archive for May, 2012

Violent Rich People: Sexy Beast


I was passively watching Sexy Beast the weekend when I had Hot Docs going on and had a lot of backlog, but why not? This movie’s reputation will always be Gandhi Gone Wild, even though Ben Kingsley hasn’t been Gandhi in awhile. He character Don Logan eventually disappears between Spain and Heathrow turns heads in his gangster circle. As the movie’s odd thumb, not perfecting the working class in a ‘tacky suit’ (gangster class?) accent but he makes us pay attention when he puts belligerent on top of belligerent, gauging the right kind of distance between him and the camera and letting his bellows do the job. He brings the ‘David Mamet screenplay’ comparison to fruition, even though it’s reductive and only covers a certain portion of the latter playwright’s work in the 1990’s.

Being the odd link – being too strong might do that, you know – the movie surprisingly loses its energy without him. It all becomes just Ray Winstone‘s character Gal moping, even though he looks too tan, nouveau riche and dare I say attractive to do so. He gets flashbacks about his involvement in Don’s disappearance. In theory both actors are interchangeable for either character, but of course Kingsley has star power and Winstone’s bad boys can be boorish, toothy and one-dimensional for him to carry. It’s all for the relative best.

And again, despite of Kingsley contributing his energy and marquee billing, Winstone’s Gal fights for his right to control the movie’s tone. He’s not necessarily bored with the affluent life, stylistically shown within the movie, yet he and most of his colleagues too old to glamourize it. They’re simply comfortable with it. You can see it by the way he and most of the people interact with each other as opposed to connecting more with their spaces. I suppose that’s what class really means – indifference and being blase about the shiny objects and treasures while knowing that one has earned it.

I also can’t make certain of what I think of the ending, subverting previous expectations – which is probably Gal’s too – that it of it being a movie that belongs within a nihilistic genre. It’s equal parts lounge-y and angry, guilt being the final leg in the movie’s tonal triumvirate. He’s afraid that the gangster honour code would haunt him. Although one positive thing I can say about it is that it breaks the cycle of violence and revenge, which is something most these characters have wanted to do when they’ve reached a certain point. And Don never gets to that point, which is telling of how he ends up.


The Cabin in the Woods


Edited from its original form. This was intended to be my observations of the movie’s first few scenes with some criticism here and there.

Reviews of The Cabin in the Woods have been generally positive, although there have been voices of dissent here and there. Whichever side of the fence they’re on, they don’t write about its plot except for a basic premise. There were the few I’ve read and the many that have advertised themselves as spoiler-free. I’ll do my best for this to not be that kind of post even though I’m the last person ever to see it. But nonetheless, let’s get this party started.

It starts with two women in their college dorm, the scene continuing with one character introduction after another. Jules (Anna Hutchison), recently changing her hair and personality, tells Dana (Kristen Connolly) to ditch her Soviet economics books and get into a weekend getaway mode. Jules’ also takes her boyfriend Curt with a C (Chris Hemsworth), a guy who dresses like jock who’s actually a smart sociology major. Out of this triumvirate, only Hemsworth can pull of the dialogue’s wit. Hemsworth is also able to recommend what books Dana should be reading while sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.

Hutchison and Connolly, however, seem to be too deadpan – Drew Goddard‘s blase direction doesn’t always help with this neither. But those two are interestingly cast, Hutchison’s face and demeanour seemingly too mature, her gaze too penetrating to really be the dumb blond persona that Jules has taken on for the weekend. Just as intended. Connolly is more fresh-faced so we’ll know that she’s last girl, whether she lives or not.

Anyway, apparently they’re the only people awake on campus despite it being a sunny spring day, or that they’re the last people to leave on their breaks. Curt offers his cousin’s cabin for the weekend getaway place and Jules asks him to invite his friend Holden (Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) so that Dana doesn’t feel left out. Marty (Fran Kranz), who looks like he’s going to act like a gargoyle for the rest of the movie, usurps into this otherwise picture perfect group and before they venture out into the titular cabin.

The journey towards the rural hideout is already filled with dread (why do young people in movies still go out in the woods to party even though we all know that most of them are going to die?). Being unable to find it on a GPS, they make a stop at a gas station and its attendant, Mordecai (Tim de Zarn), appears through a perfunctory shock cut. He calls Jules a whore, and a fight between the group and Mordecai almost break out, but they decide to leave him and have their fun as planned. As they drive their Winnebago through a tunnel a CGI bird flies in the sky, only to be stopped and killed by an invisible electric grid, reminding us that there are another set of characters in this story.

The movie actually begins with a mundane shot of a coffee vending machine that two white coats Sitterson (Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Studio 60’s Bradley Whitford) use. Joined by the pencil-pushing Lin (Amy Acker), she worries about the day’s operation, although Sitterson smugly reassures her that they haven’t had a glitch since ’98. The two men leave her stranded, driving out with their cart within a large – public or private? – facility whose operation involves the characters who are cabin bound. We don’t know why they’re doing this or why they choose those kids. The same clunkiness permeate here as well, shot too close and lit too dirtily than I would expect in a scene featuring workplace humour. It also seems like the actors on this side work Whedon’s dialogue better throughout the movie…just like Curt does….and it is his cousin’s cabin. Despite of the imperfections here, Whedon and Goddard do start dropping pieces of the puzzle this early on.

It has the usual setup of young people discovering things hidden beyond the borders of civilization or revealing a character’s family secret. But what I like is that these characters challenge each other, the ones in the facility wondering, just like we do, how these kids will slip into which mess. The characters in the cabin, however, test each other on whether they’ll advance on each other sexually or be more modest towards each other like Dana and Holden does.

The movie is enigmatic and works its way into being character based but it didn’t really win me over until two of the characters find their way to fight back. When a certain scene happens the sounds of it make me feel like Whedon and Goddard had smiles on their faces while writing and making it. But that defining moment, coming in so late, and the movie’s hype itself, makes me cautious on whether to embrace it. Either way, the movie’s second hour makes the rest more bonkers and fun. 4/5


HMWYBS: Colours and Threats in ‘The Exorcist’


This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.

I’m probably underestimating the aesthetic value of these shots in William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist but I’ll start my entry with this scene because I did not know where it was going and when I did, it hit personal sides of me. Actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has exhausted many treatments for her daughter named Regan (Linda Blair, in the role that would make and break her career), who changed from being a nice girl into a cursing, welting, throwing, puking machine. The doctors and psychiatrists in white coats surround Chris and tell her that Regan needs ‘the best care’ in the latter’s situation.

And because this is an Ellen Burstyn movie, she says that she’s a strong woman and don’t you dare tell her how to raise her child and Regan is not going to an institution! This inquisition-like deliberation is reminiscent of methods decades ago where male doctors tell female hysterics how to be cured, which makes me wonder how that would subvert gender dynamics if the movie stuck to showing a possessed boy as opposed to the female characters in exorcism movies then and now. To ease the tension and since we already know that this movie is going in this direction, one of the doctors suggests an exorcism, explaining that –

It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the…Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of embarrassment, but uh, it has worked.

He’s all hand gesture-y about it too. Chris responds with –

You’re telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor? Is that it?

Witch doctor? Screw you, MacNeil. Well, at least she’s never fully passive through this ordeal. I can’t say that I’m offended, with all the implications of the word ‘witch.’ But even from a ‘sinner’ who looks at the Church from an ambivalent standpoint I, as a believer, still feel targeted when people, fictional or otherwise, talk about religions as hocus pocus.

But then it’s an adage from Film School 101 that horror as a genre casts doubt on our technology-age, secular society and ironically makes us return to the original way of thinking that we and our ancestors doubted in the first place. The last resort, the one that might cure Regan, is the one that has no scientific proof at all. Even the priests (including Max von Sydow) are shocked that a practice they believe is archaic can heal the possessed.

The threat against an individual as a mirror threat against Catholicism arguably isn’t Friedkin’s intention, although there’s enough visuals to harp for that interpretation to be real enough. One of the movie’s opening images is that of the Virgin, carved from white marble. White, the colour of the civilized hospital words, is also the colour of worship. This movie, as well as David Lynch’s horror movies, uses white or bright colours a lot which is the opposite of the black or red in other movies of the genre. It starts showing Her with the dissolve from an urban American street, perhaps showing Her omniscience. But Her pristine texture can also mean that she’s passive to the world going retrograde and evil, as Justine from Melancholia would say. It even makes me uncomfortable to watch the vandalism against Her image – I almost posted it and decided against it, and it’s probably out on the internet somewhere already – her statue degraded like the ‘evil’ ones that the elder priest’s archaeological team finds in Niniveh in modern Norther Iraq (evil characters as Iraqis, how typical), the Virgin’s body transformed by the changes outside her cloistered church. It’s the same difference when it comes to Regan, we the audience are taken each step towards her transformation into this outlandish creature, making us finally believe that the devil has invaded her.

Just like Regan’s slow changes, we can also feel this ‘threat’ or ‘dread,’ a particular requirement in the horror genre, especially in the other introduction sequences, like the one where the rock picks surround the priest get louder, more menacing and invasive. Or when Chris walks around Georgetown during the autumn and there’s already something suspicious in the way the wind blows and the leaves fall around her. And when Father Karras encounters that ‘former altar boy’ in the New York subway.

And since the demon-populated, pre-Christian beliefs represent human’s innate primeval side, the titular exorcism and thus, the Catholic Church is a force of civilization ironing out humans’ former kinks. Regan’s exorcism reminds me of a well-orchestrated theatre piece where three entities have physical and verbal beat downs, the movie finally going into the shadowed darkness to battle the evil out.


Fox Thrillers: “One Hour Photo”


Director Mark Romanek and production designer Tom Foden bring their cool aesthetics to One Hour Photo. At first its backdrops, the empty, well-shelved halls of a fictional department store named SavMart and a whitewashed interrogation room where the movie begins and ends, also looks like matted comic strips instructing me what to do when a plane crashes. But the movie also has its share of warmly lit interiors that cinematographer for which Jeff Cronenweth will later be known, those palettes reserved for more private spaces.


One Hour Photo – Romanek also wrote the script – is about middle-aged loner Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), SavMart’s senior photo booth guy just before digital photography, among other things, threateningly sweeps his job away. He has an irrational infatuation with the Yorkin family, with its young and hip, credit card bourgeois parents and adorable son. Speaking as a customer service employee here, I either have indifference or superficial curiosity towards my patrons, which he narrates in a certain sequence. To be honest, there’s some attraction or ‘these people look really happy’ but I’ve never wanted to include myself as a part of my customer’s lives. In a way this movie is the most contemporary spin towards the upstairs/downstairs scenario, where the master and servant are more separate and their interaction is relegated to certain places within the community although despite this distance the help still knows your secrets. Sy’s latent job description is handling evidence of his customers as either competent parents or kinked up bores. But if I found out that one of my customers is cheating on his wife like Will Yorkin is (Michael Vartan), I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d be disappointed at the most. I understand that Sy might be protective of people he’s known for a long time (Connie Nielsen plays Yorkin’s wife) – he also gives the Yorkins discounts and free cameras like old timey store owners would – but a violent switch from love to contempt? Too much. And that the police takes too long to see Sy’s Yorkin collage – collages being a clichéd sign of a character’s insanity – was also ridiculously paced for melodramatic effect.

I also recently saw parts of Mrs. Doubtfire which, despite being a chilhood staple, is admittedly like an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians” where the protagonist (Williams) deliberately creates tension that he can undo so we have something to watch for two hours. Williams has lent his jovial, rambunctious self to both comedy and prestige stuff, but here he tones it down, his thin-lipped smile serving as a mask for what’s inside of Sy. He also adds benevolence to this creepy character. I keep rooting for Sy because first, of this yearning and perception of a purpose in life of someone like him and secondly, because I never bought all the aspects of his character for me to be fully creeped out by him anyway. There’s also this interesting ambivalence of the revelation he makes in the film’s last minutes, talking about people who would take naked, exploitative pictures of their children. The easiest way to read this is that he’s been that child, seeing that Sy has no onscreen contact with his real family and his stunted way of behaving and being. The second is that he’s co-opting other people’s pain and I’m not necessarily saying that in a bad way. As a photograph developer he says that he has to report kiddie porn when he sees it, and assuming that he’s seen his share of it I’d also understand if that eventually has gotten into him. This movie shows a small slice of these character’s lives, giving its audience enough possibilities to ponder where their suffering has begun.


What Happens “In Darkness”


I finally started writing about this movie two and a half months after watching it but despite not remembering all but one name, this movie demands attention not just because of its subject but how it handles that and the conflictophile characters within it.

Sophie Ziewatowska gives a bittersweet goodbye with a Southern writer. Rachel Stein commits to a Nazi official, who knows why she’s trying to hide her brunette roots. Hanna Schmitz, in close-ups, teaches an underage kid to be more gentle. Movies in the past thirty years have focused on the woman and her entitlement to her own to encapsulate the victimization that has occurred in the WWII. But here comes In Darkness. We were so scared about it winning and jinxing the chances of ‘better’ movies we liked, as well as the vitriol targeted towards a movie with a subject automatically deemed as Oscar bait and even criticizing it for justifying the Holocaust. That criticism, valid or otherwise, is because the movie has characters whose meanness to each other doesn’t just cross racial lines but there are enough schisms and verbal and physical violence within both groups. It’s not a problem that its protagonist, Polish sewage worker Leopold ‘Poldek’ Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), is a man who happens to be a working-class anti-Semite, hiding Jews under Lvov, Poland’s tunnels. This is war, its more modern incarnations discard honour between the occupier and the colonized. He’s doing it for money but eventually his motives become a mix of honour code to keep what’s secret secret and of, surprisingly, good old benevolence.

We can also put this movie as the latest entry in the ‘sexy, borderline tasteless Holocaust movies’ canon. Well, there is a some of nudity devoid of sexuality, as shown through other Holocaust movies and archive photos. Leopold sees line-ups of running, naked women within a forest, lit as if they’re a dream within the surreal, violent world in which he participates. But eventually nudity would imply sexuality. A scene where a refugee named Mundek (Benno Furmann), after infiltrating and miraculously escaping a concentration camp to find his friend Klara (Agnieszka Grochowska) sister, finds Klara naked under a sewage waterfall and kisses her, which is actually more sweet than anything, and less romantic one where another man Yanek (Marcin Bosak) commits adultery in the same room where his co-refugees are staying, including his wife and child. But the movie’s climax – ahem – that made me decide that this is too much, is a scene days into these characters’ stay within the underground tunnels, where the Yanek and his new girlfriend Chaja (Julia Kijowska) have sex and Klara, as the third woman, quietly masturbates while watching them. Round of applause, everyone! Not even Jolanta Dylewska’s glinty cinematography can disguise these scenes or make them a bit more subtle, showing us what would happen when people have to crap where they and their friends eat and sleep.

But I suppose director Agnieszka Holland has a point in fleshing out their story this way. This movie, adapted by Canadian David Shamoon, is based on Krystyna Chiger’s experiences, written in book form as “The Girl in the Green Sweater,” which I have yet to buy and read even though I do have the money to. So instead, after watching the movie I expertly Googled about the refugees hidden by Socha, which only succinctly hints at Chaja suffocating her own baby and Klara marrying Mundek who was hiding literally underground with her. The former subplot is almost indefensible, but why couldn’t they have violently fallen in love in the sewers? Does showing these characters kissing make them less honourable or more? Are the filmmakers striving for authenticity or are they exploiting the people they’re fictionalizing?

Besides, this movie doesn’t just show the needs of the refugees which, to be honest, has to be attended to somehow. It also shows the lives on the Polish side, as one of the movie’s first scenes have Socha having sex with his wife Wanda (Kinga Preis) while their daughter is sleeping in a different bed in the same room, a scenario that despite its grossness is more probably realistic than the rest of the scenes in this movie. So what, they love each other. Leopold’s coworker spits on a Jewish man who gypped him as if there isn’t a wooden boundary between them, not taking the apartheid and massacre that cones next. Claustrophobia is the norm. The movie suggests this across-the-board crowded arrangement as intolerable, but that’s because I’m seeing it in a North American perspective, one that relishes bounty, privacy, expansion, etc. I can’t necessarily speak for a European perspective and how they deal with the kinds of people with whom they share their land. Again, this movie is one of those cases where I don’t agree with its argument but it’s strong enough to put into consideration.


Seminal Video: John “Jesus” Waters


This is self-explanatory. I’ve been that hopeless guy. Not Jesus, that is. Many people have taken the role as my life coach (Hi, Tim’s girlfriend!) but if John Waters appeared to me because of some alcoholic/drug haze and tells me not to give up my dreams, I might just do it.


Post-SNAM Movie: Georgy Girl


This is going to sound mean, and I’m trying to be nice, but the titular Georgy Girl (Lynn Redgrave) looks like what would happen if Kim Novak was loud and had an awkward phase – really 1960’s you call this overweight? But I like this awkward phase because she still has this full liveliness, running around to or being chased around London by the equally crazy people in her life, like her godfather Mr. Leamington (also Academy Award-nominated James Mason), roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) and the latter’s boyfriend, Jos (Alan Bates). Without context it’s a good thing if you’re being chased around the most happening city in the world by a younger Alan Bates – I’ve had a crush on this bushy-haired man since seeing Far from the Madding Crowd. But I changed my mind because his character is a underemployed flake and married his pregnant girlfriend. And that Georgy is contractually Mr. Leamington’s mostly platonic mistress and the latter, despite the creepiness, makes for a great situation that she shouldn’t abuse.

The movie shows the seeds of the Sexual Revolution through these relationships and uncertainties, characters lusting on each other strangely enough because of cabin fever like Georgy and Jos do. Georgy lands her place with Leamington because of a parody of a cabaret number, becoming a part of the mini-trend of leading women who are also awkward and make fun of female sexuality because their faces, body types or age don’t fit beauty standard. She’s an archetype, the supporting character in her own life, altruistically wrestling their problems and making her friends help her other friends. But she turns from having to watching people make love to this still-unfashionable woman being courted by two different men, getting accepted into the fold and her man being her best revenge. The Revolution also manifests itself through Georgy’s foil and object of jealousy, Meredith. This movie is very frank about this generation’s good and bad sides, poking fun at marriage with a scene showing Meredith and Jos’ civil wedding, Georgy trying her best to keep with other couples’ tradition and throwing rice at two people who don’t belong together. This honest is especially  shown when Meredith proudly tells Jos about aborting the fetuses he’s sired – she asks Jos why he should have a say on keeping it or aborting, which is a valid argument although we don’t like the character making it. Despite her first optimism towards being a mum, she eventually screams about Georgy ‘babying’ up her flat and eventually shocking her ward mates and their visitors by playing one of movies’ worst mothers, calling “it” “that hideous thing,” shunning her child into Georgy’s care.

This movie is director Silvio Narizzano‘s one hit wonder but I’ll include it with Repulsion and John Schleisinger’s Darling and yes, I’m using the comparison on a superficial level – because all three are in black and white. There are diverse approaches and tones among these movies and directors but what I like about this movie is its energy. The other two who have mature-looking actors, the younger members of the cast are baby-faced people who can make babies despite their immaturity. Even Mason’s higher voice is like that of a child’s, making his rapport with Redgrave easier. Rampling, despite her sculpted features and bitch virtuosity, still has this smoothness to her and thus we can easily perceive her as one of the three youngsters whose  generation probably conceived the ‘trying to figure it all out’ thing that hordes of future twentysomethings will stumble into. They’re into awkward phase between education and ‘real,’ financially stable adulthood. They still want to play like kids do – the movie having that tone of playtime, really – but are ushered into marriage and baby rearing and all that. All three movies, in dealing with young urbanites, also cross shaky class lines. But unlike Repulsion and Darling‘s snazzily dressed, partying working class, Georgy Girl‘s characters are part of the grubby quasi-intelligent class. It’s not necessarily clear whether they are moving up or down, their adulthood marked by their independence from both parents and the class system. It’s also not easy to dismiss Jos as an idiot despite of his actions because of his vigour, he just seems like a slacker with too much squandered potential. Meredith, a great beauty, is surrounded by classical music through her work as a violinist and the one with the most constant brushes with high culture and is the highest paid. Georgy has connections through Leamington but she’s still the kind of girl who, on a violently rainy day, needs to be checked up by a child welfare inspector. And all three have to, for most of the movie, go home to the same shitty, overcrowded apartment or ‘flat,’ and that I like the complexities among these kids’ class statuses.

Georgy Girl is part of a double bill for the late night program for TV Ontario’s Saturday Night at the Movies. I know that what I say in the previous paragraphs and the terrible behaviour in which supporting cast uses to react to their situations, this movie is light thanks to Redgrave’s tone setting performance, earning that Academy Award nomination. And despite her perma-jovialness, she contrasts it because her face carries the same gravitas for which her sister is known. The movie rewards this constantly joyful character with happiness. I’ll write about the movie featured in the second half of that bill, another movie released in 1966 but with much better critical/awards reception, when I feel like it.