…and the quest to see everything

Archive for June, 2012

HMWYBS: Reactions to Adele H.

I’m only writing on this space for Nathaniel R.’s Best Shot series (we’re still waiting on Possessed :S) because my water birth-like paragraphs about the shots from Francois Truffaut‘s The Story of Adele H. that interest me are too long for tumblr. Truffaut thought that Adele’s story as fitting to tell in a 95 minute feature. However she is only and arguably unjustly seen as a footnote in her father Victor Hugo’s life and only having a stub page in Wikipedia. Anyway….

Third runner-up, because of what iMDb’s mothboy88 thinks:

When Adele (Isabelle Adjani) writes “Victor Hugo” in the dust on the mirror, and then wipes it off, it’s almost exactly the same as when Hanzo writes “Bill” on the window, and The Bride wipes it off with her sleeve.

Although I can’t remember which Kill Bill he or she is talking about. Part 1?

Second runner-up: I’m probably not the only Canadian who reads Nathaniel but I’m probably the loudest. If I was patriotic I’d dedicate this whole post to Canadian representations in this movie, since it’s mostly set in Halifax. I was also a bit irritated at how half of the characters didn’t know who Hugo was, or that this movie made Halifax look like a city for less than the 50,000 of its population during the film’s time period of 1863. Or that it wasn’t filmed in that city until iMDB’s pbellema reminded me that Old Halifax blew up in World War I, the same war that put the news of her death in the fringes. I also realized that beginning the story with a map reminds me of Casablanca but this movie is obviously more depressing.

Runner up: Because it’s my space I would like to talk about my broken heart. And fittingly, downward spirals are one of Truffaut’s favourite arcs. There are many instances where I withdraw my investment on such stories from him and other directors, as much as I appreciate the execution and the acting in those movies’ final moments. Regardless of what I think about these kind of movies, my tendencies to over-read images sees this shot as a heterosexual masculine aversion from ‘ridiculous’ women, or the world, gender dominated or otherwise, rejecting her. It’s also a majestic moment in an otherwise intimate movie, although it makes me feel like an asshole that my runner-up shot shows Adjani’s back instead of her beautiful face.

Best: If the earlier shot shows the movie’s world, this shot explains its format. This is not your average epistolary movie, as she recites her letters instead of being heard through voice-overs. What captivated me visually is how it’s dark and grimy like a Delacroix painting (this movie loves the colour brown). The scene where this shot belongs to also puts many things into context, how she has to cut paper from a roll like she would for bread. How she would talk about how her father owes her money which, even to me who belongs to the ‘entitled generation’ sounds unthinkable. How her beloved Albert’s position would be jeopardized and how single-minded love like hers might and should have only existed in her lifetime.

This is NOT Funny 2

‘I realize that it dun sound as funny as I described it.’ You bet, star and director Jay Chandhrasekhar.

‘Cocaine?’ And it’s customary with every thing written about Super Troopers ever to say that the ageless Lynda Carter, also known as Wonder Woman, makes a cameo here as Governor Jessman. Another cameo is Geoffrey Arend or Mr. Christina Hendricks, who looks taller here because he’s skinnier a playing a teenage partier back a decade ago.

‘Sorry I don’t talk to highway hog.’ Marisa Coughlan, one of the late 90’s smart blonde ingenues, is less embarrassing here than in her two other movies. She’s playing a ‘female cop facing sexism in the workforce’ kind of role, and she crosses bureaucratic lines, performs banter where no one laughs at each other and takes a liking to a titular state highway patrolman (Paul Soter, specifically) living in a small, fictional border town called Spursbury, Vermont. She helps him solve, in her own special way, the big drug case that will save the troopers from being slashed from the state budget. Part of the plot involves Canadians as drug supply enemies which, you know, it’s usually the other way around but we do have product to sell on our side too, admittedly.

I’m not sure whether this movie is ambitious or not so I can’t compare it in that yardstick. But ‘stoner frat boy comedy,’  in its early stages? Chandhrasekhar, with his comedy troupe called Broken Lizard, makes his movie look professional in the cinematographic sense. But he underplays the comedy, the camera too distant and the surreal sequences, which probably looked fantastic in the script, are not paced well. Not even sleep deprivation, which is a drug in its own classification with which I’m addicted, can make this funny. Too many dick jokes, unnecessary cursing and weird-for-weird-sakes kind of costumes. This is an almost deal breaking movie to those involved in making it even if yes, the mixed critical reception for this isn’t as bad as I thought. Broken Lizard also made Beerfest, a movie of which I have a sliver of interest because “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte stars in that one. And they’re making a sequel.

There’s also a subplot involving a trooper named Farva (Kevin Hefferman) who bounces between patrol work, desk and cleaning duty. These switches make him betray his co-troopers and join the real police force. I mention him to warn you guys that there is gross full male nudity here (sorry if the warning is too late). But at least it’s equaled by partial male nudity. Three times. The director takes one for the team.

And this is funny, Brian Cox being the veteran that he is and playing ‘angry drunk’ effortlessly. Although his musical speaking voice is betraying that he has better training than this movie.

“”This is NOT funny!” Or…

Jocky Mark Wahlberg as Tommy, a student straying from existentialism and going into nihilism? Is he showing his intellect through his scruffy beard? He deserves the criticism that Brad Pitt gets when either of them get to speak big words and political pontifications, and I guess it isn’t fair that both men get that kind of flack. Well, at least he nice to look at especially when he’s beating people up. I always wondered why he keeps coming back to be work with one of the most vilified directors to ever live. It’s like the Skarsgard-von Trier collaborations but with mixed results. In David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees Tommy’s a de facto big brother to Albert Markovsky (Jason Schwartzman), a role reminiscent of the one he’ll altruistically take in The Fighter.

Meet Jonah Hill, whose father is played by Richard Jenkins. Half a decade or so ago they were pre-fame and pre-Oscar nominations. These shots belong to a sequence that will get their family into a verbal argument with Tommy, which ends in breaking Godwin’s law. There are too many beards in this movie.

Naomi Watts, the pretty cheerleader with problems.

‘What does this action signify?’

Apparently adapted from an Isaac Asimov story, Alex ProyasI, Robot is either an insipid or cliched. It relies on the old sci-fi adage that technological progress doesn’t live up to the second half of that phrase, and that humans’ reliance on technology and reproducing it in mass amounts will lead to their downfall. Especially if this new innovation means that the machines we have invented are capable to decide whether humans are useful or destructive, as decided by, in the case of this movie, a robotic program named VIKI.

There is a new model of robots replacing the clunky, gray ones in the streets of Chicago of 2035. They’re painted white, a mix of shell and wire skeletons (the whole colour palette of the movie is white to black to brown and the occasional green, making the spaces look liked in and it’s at least being devoid of the neon bluish tint that is in most sci-fis). Their joint movements are smother than the old ones but unlike the latter they can actually move their faces. And when they attack either our protagonist Detective Spooner (Will Smith) or the Chicago’s citizens (including Shia Laboeuf) they seem to be crawling instead of being rigid militaristic beings.

Sonny (Alan Tudyk), a name either given by his master (James Cromwell, now known as Jean Dujardin’s elderly butler in The Artist) or by himself, is a robot accused of murdering the latter, his investigation confirming Spooner’s prejudice against robots. He is aware enough of how advanced he is to want to know what he is capable of. This is some strange casting since Tudyk has a pretty distinct face and voice although it’s a successful collaboration of acting, design and directing that these features of his are tuned down. He asks Spooner what a wink signifies, which to Spooner is rude question but this education becomes useful later on. He ends up being a witty bastard too, catching Spooner when the latter’s prejudiced fences go lower.

Either way, the transitions between wide shots and close-ups of Spooner in these scenes aren’t seamless and make the movie look cheap. These battle scenes also aren’t challenging enough for the humans, the creepy way they move makes them seem less solid also means that the leading characters can easily defeat them. Tthe denouement of every other sci-fi ends in some vertigo-inducing circular-shaped chamber, where pathways to the centre are made of narrow steel beams and the robots come in through the glass windows in intimidating numbers but they don’t look tangible enough for a real fight.

Smith is a grating actor to watch, taking any sci-fi project to compensate for turning down the role of Neo in The Matrix trilogy. Although at least he competently handles a character’s prejudice sparked by a traumatic event involving a robot rescuing him instead of doing the same thing to a little girl – the best part of the movie is his soliloquy which, intentionally or otherwise, questions details of this back story. Of course Spooner is representative of the humanity lost within a logical-driven mindset of a fictional futuristic society. His Spooner gets another cliche by quasi-platonic, opposites-attract love interest (Bidget Moynahan) who is cold and culturally ignorant as he is temperamental and streetwise. His badge being taken away from him for pursuing the Sonny case without authority – how is he going to take it back!? Despite of what happens and of Sonny, he still carries a minor strain of that point of view.

Seminal Television: “Girls”

I first heard about Girls from Barbara Walters on The View of all places, talking about the controversial second episode and its frank sexual content – my sister walked into me while I was watching that. Later that month Ryan McNeil discussed it at a function we were both in, telling me and three other people about how nihilistic it is – I know. Then Spin’s Chandler Levack tweeted about the scene when Elijah (Andrew Rannells) comes out to the show’s protagonist Hannah (Lena Dunham) as well as how Dunham’s split second reactions to it.

From I thought ‘eyeroll into tears’ is humanly impossible and acting marvels make me say ‘I have to see this now.’

Watching that scene now, I though it was not what I expected – I thought the lighting, the setting and the writing would be more bittersweet but it,s nastier than that in a good way. That John Ford shot countershot between them just makes Dunham look like shit. Dunham makes herself seem unattractive and cartoony (her voice particularly fits this description). Hannah is kind of like in a Georgy Girl situation where the person in lead is the best friend type who we feel sorry for because the worst things happen to her.

It’s about sex and messed up, foul-mouthed girls who look too good to say ‘like’ a lot and secretly – or not so secretly – attracted to the rapey stuff spewed by the men around them. How fucking liberating. What Marnie (Allison Williams) tells Hanna in the fourth episode, that ‘you’re smarter than this’ is a mantra that young women and gay men tell each other, as we in our twenties can’t possible learn how not to make sex-based mistakes while getting our BA’s. Although some audiences who can’t relate to the show in a cultural sense will take the step back and call these characters stupid and just turn off their TVs.

I’m not sure if I’m in the place to do that – I know that the dialogue can make a case for the show not being rooted in reality. It’s sort of that trend now in television when characters are sexually sadistic or masochistic and say words like ‘asshole’ and that’s supposed to be funny (in this sense the actors serve the writing as opposed to the writing showcasing them). I thank or blame Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski of 30 Rock for proliferating that trend, or maybe it’s because I saw it in 30 Rock first that makes me prefer that singular tone that I like hearing stays on that one specific show. I’m just cautious when I hear that kind of humour, no matter how fun it might sound.

One thing that does strike me as real is the middle class women walking around a city getting dirtier and dirtier by the day, the latter being just the way I like it. I resent having to do the comparison but I don’t remember Sex and the City dressing down New York and its women like that. I don’t really have the lifestyle to follow television but in many accounts, this show passes for honesty and bravery and vulnerability, and I didn’t waste my time watching these girls.

A Man for All Seasons

I’ve presented my Jesus freak side before or in other words, I’m sure my ambivalence towards my provenance has seeped into my blog especially when discussing religious movies. That important factor in my life makes me hesitant in fully embracing Robert Bolt‘s play A Man for All Seasons. Again, I’m crudely comparing the first cracks of this Renaissance-era schism to its counterpart across the pond. The American Civil War was formally about ‘the power struggle between the federation and its states but really it was about slavery. In that same vein, the play masquerades its main crisis that it’s about the protagonist, English Lord Chancellor Thomas More (Paul Scofield), and that he should be able to pledge allegiance to his religion over his country. But it’s really about calling his king King Henry VIII’s (Robert Shaw) and adulterer and his new seventeen-year-old wife Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave in a silent but nuanced performance) a whore. I read the play as part of my Catholic high school curriculum – I don’t remember our class performing it and in my mind all actors had the right to defend their own stance as the correct one. But Fred Zinneman‘s movie adaptation feels so one-sided. This is especially true in casting Henry and let’s be honest: if a director tells Shaw (charming and handsome as he is and what is wrong with me?) to yell and be a boor it’s not like he’s going to say no. I can only imagine Seth MacFarlane being inspired by Shaw’s performance in portraying Peter Griffin’s real Irish dad.

But I do like the lawyer-like talk in vogue for the movie second half. There’s a subplot about John Hurt’s character where the visuals do the storytelling and another one on More’s daughter’s marriage to a man who is against any religious institution, a postmodern touch to a traditional landscape. Scofield and Wendy Hiller, who plays his wife, are more subtle in the delivery of their flowery lines than I remember, the former earning that Oscar especially in the last scenes, where he has to bellow his last thoughts without overacting. It’s a fascinating look towards the Medieval/Renaissance struggle from a mid-twentieth century lens, the latter grappling with its own changing stances towards morality.

America gone to the dogs

Sure, Jane Lynch is a national treasure but Fred Willard‘s character’s ignorant commentary in Best in Show makes me realize what all the fuss about him is. He keeps comparing Mayflower Kennel Club Show, a fictionalized equivalent of the Westminster Kennel Club, to ‘real’ sports. He even manages to slide in bench press and proctologist jokes. But his character does kind of have a good point – what can anyone say about this tension-free contest? He’s the coffee jolt that’s absent in real-life dog shows.

The only other movies I can compare this with is This is Spinal Tap!, starring Christopher Guest, and Waiting for Guffman, also starring and directed by Guest. Spinal Tap is the masculine version of campy so we don’t take it seriously. But unlike Guffman, providing a softer landing to killing a man’s artistic dreams, this movie is the missing link between the two – it’s ugly yet that quality complements its characters’ less than devastating fates.

What both movies have in common is its spotlight on middle Americana, Guffman having a well-intentioned yet terribly written musical and Best in Show having its animal competition. They prove that yes, middle America does have a culture although let’s face is, they show it a bit negatively. Best in Show’s cast is filled with regular-looking middle-aged people who make a big deal out of its dog shows. Cookie Fleck (Catherine O’Hara) tells her husband Gerry (Eugene Levy) that their little Norwich Terrier has worked two and a half years to be the titular best in show.

The last twenty-five minutes show the characters competing in a national level in the Mayflower. The camerawork portraying this contest is, with its equal slices of wide shots and close-ups, more choreographed than most hand-held ‘documentaries,’ showing off its true mockumentary colours.

Gerry unwittingly is the last-minute entry to the contest, doing it for his wife-with-a-heavy-sexual-history and his terrier. The size metaphoric of his personality chances the same way the other dogs are to their owners. He walks as opposed to running like the other contestants do, but his terrier is the show’s unlikely winner. All but one contestant/supporter are classy about the judges’ decisions but in the movie’s epilogue, a ‘where are they now sequence,’ the other contestants are so nasty to him, the judges and the result, especially Lynch’s character. If they’re not nasty, they’re shown in borderline stereotypes, especially that of the sexual strain. The ‘gay ones’ (John Michael Higgins and Spinal Tap co-alum Michael McKean) are unthreateningly effete and bejewelled and are shooting a tacky calendar that reproduces scenes in classic movies but with dogs, including their own primped up shih tzu! The ‘lesbian couple’ (including Lynch) replicates projections of archetypal dynamics between their heterosexual counterparts, one is angrier, butchier and is more lustful and the other is more feminine and distant. The straight couple (including Parker Posey) need shrinks to analyze their boring sex lives. These characters would be fully offensive if it wasn’t for the decision to depict them in exclamation points. And if they and the actors portraying them weren’t as funny as they constantly are.

Americans love competitions big or small and I realized how strange that tendency is specifically because they’re ‘number one.’ In a way it feels like this strain comes from compensation, creating these arena events and art-craft mediums that are closer to their old world counterparts than they think.

Fox Thrillers: “Phone Booth”

It’s interesting to hear that Phone Booth‘s screenwriter is Larry Cohen, who was very active in the late 1960’s and 70’s as a TV writer because this movie thinks that it’s about the excitement that can only be found in that earlier era in New York City. Within its boulevards is Colin Farrell‘s character Stuart Shepard, a publicist/professional who wears expensive Italian designer suits but wears them two sizes too big so he still looks like he’s from the other boroughs. His Point A is Times Square, the most ideal place to make business calls while dragging some nerdy-looking assistant named Adam (Keith Nobbs) who’s unknowingly working for free. His Point B, across a strip club on Eighth Avenue, is where he calls Pam (Katie Holmes), using a phone booth so his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) won’t see a record of this courtship. But apparently they’re not the only two who know about this infidelity, as a sniping stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) threatens that if Stu hangs up or doesn’t obey the stranger’s orders, he will die. Then a confrontation happens where the stranger offers to shoot a man assaulting Stu, which the latter accepts, inadvertently making the prostitutes on the street as witnesses on the accusing him as the killer, getting the police’s attention (Forest Whitaker plays police negotiator Captain Ramey). And when both the women in his life come to the scene, the stranger threatens to kill them both.

There’s something lost in translation in its attempt to capture the metropolis’ vibrancy and the few New Yorkers who happen to be annoying, the little screens within a big one and turquoise cinematography making for an ugly aesthetic. The stranger’s purpose in kidnapping Stu is to make the latter confess his sins, having done this earlier to upper-class child molesters and real criminals. With this revelation Stu makes an appeal that he’s not as bad as the stranger’s other victims. I suppose the film is trying to make the point that like most people, Stu tries to justify their little, personal transgressions by telling themselves that their impact isn’t as large. And in confronting Stu’s situation, Farrell shows that he’s in his best when deconstructing the masculinity with which he’s built his stardom and makes way for his weeping, vulnerable self that he’ll bring in later projects like In Bruges. But by inflating his effect towards others it just makes me care less about his character.