…and the quest to see everything


This Woman’s Work. Motifs in Cinema 2013: Work and the Workplace

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2013 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.

Warning: this post contains spoilers that everyone should already know about.

I’ve kind of wanted to talk about my topic since I saw J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek: Into Darkness, especially while watching Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) verbally prove to the one-track mind of Jame Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) her weapons expertise and doing so with a bright, unshakeable confidence, eager to hide her true identity and anything else to investigate missing torpedoes and her father’s (Peter Weller) involvement with that kind of discrepancy. Let’s not forget Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) reminding her captain that she was put on the Enterprise partly for her knowledge of the Klingon language and that he should let her use her skills instead of adopting a more hostile approach towards the bellicose alien race. It’s strange that a genre that features technological progress still doesn’t realize the full potential of half of its population. The female characters of Star Trek: Into Darkness – full of initiative, charming, underused, outnumbered.

Many of those descriptions can be attributed to the women of Spike Jonze’s Her. Catherine, a writer exposes her baffling ‘narrow-mindedness’ about operating systems to her ex-husband Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix). Another of his exes, Amy (Amy Adams), juggles two jobs – a documentarian and a video game programmer – and is still, in the back of her mind, are her husband’s criticisms about her documentary’s subject matter and approach. However I really want to talk about Samantha (Scarlett Johannson/Samantha Morton). The movie frames her relationship with Theodore as a romantic one, a problematic relationship because, as some friends of mine have pointed out, he kind of decides her personhood and her gender. And think about the first few things she does for him – she sorts out his hard drive, proof reads his work, reads his e-mails for him. She’s basically a replacement for his operating system that can’t pick a proper melancholy song for him, or what would happen if the NSA fell in love with you. She’s as quick as someone with a body, realizing her full emotional potential, and if we see their relationship as a workplace romance, her last act of defiance of leaving him, leaving with the other OS’s kinda makes sense now.

Yes, I’m aware that seeing Samantha as an ’employee’ might be a stretch, but my attempts to apply a broad mind and perspective about this previous year’s characters reflects that, despite the similar struggles they face, the definition of ‘work’ and ‘workplace’ is more exciting than they used to be. And sci-fi shows that being a woman in the workplace will be hard but there’s a lot of frontiers to explore.

Samantha’s journey into selfhood and career success have its parallels with Make Mori in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. As usual, a man tries to a hinder a woman’s progress, but I can’t fully begrudge the conflict she’s facing because it’s between her and her adopted father, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). Controlling jaegers, the job that both have, is a family business, since a jaeger requires to be manned – sorry – by two people whose brains can compatibly synchronize. I guess Stacker – what a name – is just doing the logical thing and not wanting to drag his adopted daughter within a dangerous practice. Succeeding has its price since part of the brain synchronization requires her to delve into her painful memories, the jaeger controllers offering body, soul and mind into their work.

As sci-fis should, Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shows the different ways that  characters make a living or find their place in society. Like the characters in Pacific Rim, the ones Catching Fire make sacrifices, their past experiences and coping habits affecting their futures. Previous winner Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and a few others like him have self-medicated after their victories. The perfect metaphor for the victors’ existence after being in the arena is the one-year PR tour that they’re in – and Haymitch explaining to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) that she doesn’t get off this train. She suddenly discovers that she has a public self, different set of clothes and different boyfriends (not as good of a scenario as you think, as the movie clearly shows). She reluctantly accepts it to protect her family and her poverty-stricken district. Even after a revolutionary coup that Haymitch, Plutarch (RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman), and Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin) have orchestrated, they decide to make Katniss their figurehead because of how the citizens of Panem have gravitated to her during her time as a combatant and victor. It never ends for her, since she has to give up Peeta in the process.

In Despicable Me 2, Lucy (Kristen Wiig) is a kooky yet skilled member of an Anti-Villain League who gets to travel all around the world, but like Lauren Conrad, she forsakes villain-scouring in Australia and chooses a domestic life with Gru (Steve Carrell). Kristen Wiig deserves so much better than this. But it happens to the best of us. For doing something so audacious, her reward is being strung up to a nuclear warhead by her and Gru’s new-found enemy El Guapo (Benjamin Bratt).  At least Lucy should have struggled in that situation instead of the script highlighting her quirks. I’m suddenly reminded of her first scene, where she shows Gru that she’s quicker on the draw, careful not to show the weapon she would have used against him to physically stun him. To think that had Lucy faced Gru during the first movie, the would be obliterated in seconds. Sure, it shows that the difference between enemies and colleagues/lovers is relative what year two characters meet, but I’m not sure whether I forgive the movie’s oversight because of that nuance.

Applying conflict theory to another sci-fi movie, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, is not as easy as doing so with the movies I’ve discussed before. Who could possible be Ryan Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) enemy? How space programs that are neglected are run by governments run by…men? (Cuaron’s movies like Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men have this running theme of protagonists embarking on journeys and passing through places where past communities have scattered their remnants. I’m wondering if I can see that same thing in A Little Princess, which I’ve previously seen, or Azkaban.) Besides, George Clooney isn’t that annoying. I guess now I want to focus on how Ryan handles herself during this ninety minutes of doom, hearing from some who wonder how someone so ‘incompetent’ ended up on the other side of the stratosphere. Ryan, I assume, is an equipment technician who has re-purposed her technology from hospitals to space exploration, and has had to undergo six months of NASA training to apply herself in her new field. Watching her in her most distressed makes me realize that nothing can ever prepare anyone for full dysfunction, that doing the smartest thing isn’t the most human thing to do, that people who makes mistakes can still; survive the worst of times.

Maybe I’m being cynical about how most of these movies portray female characters and their work. Whether or not she’s in the foreground or background, how skilled and smart she is, how she can outwit or be outwitted, why she does her work, the career woman’s relationship with men, how she speaks. Or  maybe my concessions in how movies depict career women are baffling compared to the concessions I’ve given towards others. It’s all right to never be satisfied and to keep an eye out for flaws, but it’s equally satisfying to watch these women thrive and survive and grow into their work.

Hot Docs: Sex Saves World

I’ve written about this year’s Hot Docs selections. Two of them are about the future in their own way – I Am Breathing and Future My Love, both of which I’ve written about in Entertainment Maven. The Other two are about how their subjects are trying to save the world. The first in the latter group is James Franco and Travis Mathews’ Interior: Leather Bar, which I wrote about for The Film Experience (link below).


The second is Michal Marczak’s Fuck For Forest. I totally forgot that doc’s third Canadian connection. In the movie we see the titular group’s clashes against some of the people during the Berlin SlutWalk, a global movement that started when two Toronto police officers held a seminar in York University telling the co-eds not to dress slutty to avoid rape. Some of SlutWalk’s 2.5th feminist movement marchers sees FFF’s aggressively pro-sexual recruitment tendencies as anti-women, which is a totally understandable angle in seeing the former group. Click here to read my post on Entertainment Maven and judge for yourself if the doc – or my writing :S – gives these misunderstood idealists any justice.


Derek Cianfrance and Sam Mendes

Is it just me or do I see a similarity between Derek Cianfrance and Sam Mendes’ CVs? Both directors like sledgehammering the family as an institution, and I’m not saying that as an insult.

For sake of argument, let’s say that Cianfrance’s first movie, Brother Tied, isn’t his début. Has any of you even seen that? With this in mind, Blue Valentine is Cianfrance’s prettier version of American Beauty (the former, of course, has less braying), both movies being about families with slacker husbands (Ryan Gosling and Kevin Spacey), an ambitious but trapped wife (Michelle Williams and Annette Bening), and a daughter (Faith Wladyka and Thora Birch).


The Place Beyond the Pines, then, is Cianfrance’s Road to Perdition, both being literary (like) epics about criminal fathers (Ryan Gosling and Tom Hanks) and their ambivalent sons (Tyler Hoechlin and Dane DeHaan).

I shouldn’t share my crackpots fantasies but this is the Internet and I can do whatever I want. These similarities make me wonder what’s next for Cianfrance. I kind of want to see him tackle a war movie, an action movie, an Ian McEwan adaptation. Or theatre. We always like it when movie directors have their hand in theatre, right?

Anyway, read what else I’ve written on The Place Beyond the Pines here and there’s another link below.

Spring Breakers

While talking Josh Brunsting on Twitter, who compared Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers to Jean-Luc Godard and Terrence Malick’s work, I had to chime in that it also reminded me of the work of two opposing Germans – Leni Riefenstahl (as I said in my REVIEW) and Rainier Werner Fassbinder. The reason I brought up Fassbinder is because of his début in Love is Colder than Death where, SPOILER, a couple drives off after killing a man or more. To a lesser extent, his work like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Berlin Alexanderplatz are about people who aren’t perfectly redeemable but struggle with the consequences of their amoral actions.

I figured that the character arcs in Love is Colder than Death would have shocked a world that’s still trying to recover from the Hays code’s repealing, and that thankfully us Millenials have gotten over this sort of moral conservatism. The polarizing reaction towards this movie might bring up two questions about its contemporary audience’s viewpoints – do we still have the ethical hangups like we did forty or so years ago, or is it because Korine can’t/won’t sell this characters with any absolution?

With Your Best Shot: Shorts

How many times do I have to say “I’m back” for it to be real? This week in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, we are doing shorts courtesy of a site called Short of the Week, a site that might just be my new fix.  Let us have some good, weird, black and white fun, shall we? First is Mikey Please’s The Eagleman Stag. Let me just begin by saying that it’s either my anxiety or my incoming sleep deprivation but I have no idea what this short is about.

One. Here, the protagonist says “This half pint makes my hands look…huge.” This reminds me of every time I try to take a long shot picture of something, hoping that the camera focuses on the one thing within a huge canvas. And then the lens shut and I see the image I took and everything flattens, my focus being one of many objects instead of THE object. An amalgamation of elements – the dimensional nature of stop motion animation and the protagonists monologue – bridges that connection between our selective eyes and a supposed flat surface.


Two. The protagonist inserts a serum in his brain, leading to a chaos of unpredictable personal consequences. What ensues is a Borzage-eque montage starting with this.


Next is from Ray Tintori, who was the effects guy at Beasts of the Southern Wild and directed music videos for MGMT and the Cool Kids. But let’s talk about Death to the Tin Man. One. The Psycho shot, depicting the silhouette of a man named Bill whose soul now inhabits a Tin Man version of him.


My two best shots for these shorts are companion shots, the first is one of Tin Man’s ways of wooing back his beloved, the hammered in expression surprisingly conveying emotion. I am pairing it with a shot of the beloved trying to paint eyes on zombie-Bill, preferring the soulless body to the heart-equipped human. These characters live in a quirkily-framed bleak world, comparable to Chaplin’s movies about how modernity isolates.


They are driven to obsessive desperation, with no reliable moral centres to guide them to the right path or people. They’re slowly realizing that the characters around them value romanticized appearances over the truth. These shots explore our discomfort with uncanny human ugliness, these characters inadvertently vandalising the human form, trying to recover the original, trying to play God towards the ones we love.


Movie Pitches: Beautiful Creatures

Movie Pitch will be an occasional and crappy column. Here I will conjure up alternate universes where better movies exist instead of the ones that are unleashed onto the viewing public. The first movie I will be talking about is my second official 2013 movie (the first being On the Road).


So. I don’t necessarily dislike Beautiful Creatures. It’s The Twilight Saga meets Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Why the Scott Pilgrim reference? The movie’s protagonist, a Southern bookish jock unicorn named Ethan Wate, is played by Alden Ehrenreich, whose comic expressions would have made him the overlord of Studio-era screwballs. I really need to watch Tetro. Anyway, he finds himself dreaming the perfect girl into existence. She’s Lena Ducahnnes (Alice Englert), who is moody and inflicts her Natural talents and change the weather, occasionally making rain fall on the very spot where her boyfriend Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) stands. Basically she’s inflicting her angst onto a submissive guy. She can do this not because she’s a vampire but because she’s a witch or a ‘caster,’ the movie’s supernatural race who dress like Alexander McQueen was still alive (sigh). And instead of abstinence we have a heterosexual white couple who can’t get their hands off each other, expressing their intimacy in a health way and without creeping out audience members who are older that the book/movie’s target market.

But I don’t care if Lena Duchannes, and Ethan Wate or Hannah Horvath and JoshUA exist, no matter what the latter looks like. I just don’t like watching people fall in love with selfish people.

So instead, here are movies that can occur within Beautiful Creatures’ universe that I would rather have seen.

a) A movie where Lena’s mysterious uncle Macon Ravenwood, played by Jeremy Irons, narrates the movie. His voice should have put him in every movie ever made, Hollywood.

b) The second half of the movie reveals Lena’s evil mother Sarafine, who has possessed Lena’s boyfriend’s best friend’s mother Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson), Sarafine turning the latter from a dowdy ‘church lady’ into the kind of woman who lingers at an uptown bar during last call – no judgment. I know there isn’t going to a franchise out of the book series because this movie landed at a pathetic 5th place at the box office during Valentine’s Day. It even feels like the movie was preparing for franchise failure by what happens between Lena and Sarafine. The book’s real ending is that Sarafine retreats but promises to come back – within different bodies. As much as I don’t want to rob Emma Thompson of work can you imagine a movie series where a villain was a different veteran actress? Think of the possibilities. Anyone from Harry Potter. Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Joely Richardson, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Pfeiffer. Female Glengarry Glenross. Sophie Okinedo.

c) This is the most important one. Unhappy caster families are unhappy in their own way. Aside from a ghostly uncle and an evil mother, Lena also has a quasi-evil cousin named Ridley (Emmy Rossum). The movie dedicates a whopping minute or two telling Ridley’s back story, showing a good caster turning bad. That back story could have been its own legitimate novel and French Extremity film. And Shameless aside, it’s time for Rossum to play a compelling lead role in a film.

Now let your imaginations run wild.

Motifs in 2012 Cinema: Luck and Fate

I feel privileged that for the second year in a row, my friend Andrew (Encore Entertainment) has asked me to come out of my chemically induced hibernation and take part in this:

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilized by different artists.


I suppose the point of this exercise is to objectively write about both luck and fate as equally represented in this year’s cinema. I’ll start with three movies that I thought profess the powers of fate over luck.  It seems that heroes can’t escape their fates, the latter manifesting in their respective villains, buy you can also argue that these protagonists are unlucky to have such grugdge-fueled antagonists. Les Miserables is an epic spanning many decades, kings, republics, revolutions and tragic female deaths. But there’s a notoriously succinct spoiler on the doorstop adapted by Tom Hooper – where, spoilers, it’s all about Javert chasing Jean Valjean into a river. It matters less to me whether a hero wins over his villain and more that fate – and the rules of drama – forces them meet. It doesn’t matter, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne mopes for almost a decade – he has to face Ra’s al Ghul’s dysfunctional family, including the latter’s daughter Talia and her lover, Bane. Elizabeth Shaw, with her quest to know life’s origins, is bound to meet the titular Prometheus, as she herself contributes to creating different monstrous life forms. In Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, James Bond helps M hide in Scotland but she will eventually face her persistent prodigal son, Raoul Silva, into a Pyrrhic victory.


There are some situations where the protagonists don’t have other characters as villains but instead their fighting concepts, societal oppression, injustice. Fate has its hand in helping these protagonists in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Yes, free will factors into the decisions of the characters within the book’s cinematic adaptation by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis but only as a part of a chain reaction from another character’s actions. And to show the effect of this chain reaction we get to see at least four centuries when six different protagonists live, each of them living their own revolution as inspired by each other.

But I’ve been itching to write about luck and fate around the release of Moonrise Kingdom. On the surface level, I can talk about what forces has let Sam and Suzy’s puppy love survive both a storm and a group of meddling adults. Three factors are enough to derail a master plan that will either keep the young couple together or tear them apart. But I want, instead, to recall a discussion I have about this movie with a critic, who pointed out Sam’s age. If we do some basic math,


Sam will be of draft age when Vietnam’s at its worst.

Wes Anderson’s been known to show the heartbreaking interior within movies that otherwise would have been maligned for its twee surfaces and Moonrise is no exception. Even the smallest and harmless looking institutions – like the Boy Scouts and Social Services – in an otherwise insular island like the fictional New Penzance are militaristic and preparing its young recruits for the slaughter. This perspective on Moonrise Kingdom is new to me and it opens up a way of looking at movies. These movies only serve as snippets of their lives, segments that would be weaved into a larger, even national story. It reminds me of what someone tweeted about The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson showing these characters slowly paving – or slow boating – the way toward the Sexual Revolution. Both movies show America is different stages of adolescence, a decade or less before its many destinies.


This year’s movies shows us many characters exploring different eras and territories which become problematic for the characters who explore them. In Argo, what happens to Sahar, the woman who helped save the Americans in hiding during the Iran Hostage Crisis? It’s established that it’s not a good idea for her to leave Iran, America’s enemy, for Iraq, America’s former enemy. Is it also enough that Broomhilda, and her titular hero Django in Django Unchained blew up Candieland? Will the other Plantation owners hunt the people responsible for Calvin Candie’s death? Will the West be as hostile to the couple as the South has been? I pose the same questions for Cid from Rian Johnson’s Looper, a movie that plays with the notion of fate by showing different alternate universes. When Joe kills himself while saving Cid and his mother Sara, has Joe really stopped Cid from becoming the destructive super-villain whom the latter is meant to become? Sahar, Django and Cid are contemporary versions of Antoine Doinel, leaving troubled lands and histories for frontiers, the latter symbolizing the troubling uncertainty of their fates. And it’s good to question these things, an activity that this year’s filmmakers openly encourage, knowing that great contemporary storytellers don’t wrap their creations in neat little bows.

The Family That Plays…

…together, stays together, as the great Khloe Kardashian has said before.

If Leni Riefenstahl directed FDR, Hyde Park on Hudson would be that movie. I wrote about it on Entertainment Maven. The link is below. Anyway, that is the closest I’ll get to referencing Adolf Voldemort because God forbid, I write his real name and I’m breaking some ineffective, Regeanite internet rule.

Hyde Park on Hudson omits a lot historically, making it seem like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray), the greatest one from the Democratic Party, look like a guy who got the job through nepotism – he’s probably related to Theodore, the crazy one who likes hunting bears – and spends his time in his summer mansion like a Manchurian aristocrat. The movie show a dumber version of his affair with his sixth cousin, Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley (Laura Linney), who lived next farm to him. With a last name like that, how in hell did this woman survive middle school? Anyway, I am not cool or rich to know my sixth cousins. I can only trace my family five generations back from my father’s side and I only know my second cousins and their cousins by affinity, none of whom I’ve had affairs with. I used to live with my first cousin, while the second cousins would visit. It is not legal in most of the western world to marry your siblings which is why no one south of Dixie is allowed to live here. However, it is legal in most of the western world to marry your first cousin, which is great because again, even if Suckley is Roosevelt’s sixth cousin, his wife Eleanor (Olvia Williams), is his fifth cousin whom he apparently met an another relative’s wedding or something.

Also, there’s been a recent interest in cinematically depicting the British Royal Family. Previously we had the quippy bromance known as The King’s Speech, a movie that some film writers want to redirect and is the movie of choice of high school football players, beary gay bartenders and old people. We also had the W.E., which has the best scene of a woman getting slapped by another dead woman. Hyde Park on Hudson is the third that confirms the trend in the official sense, a movie that wastes all five of its great cast members. But I’ll be nice and cast the British Royal Family Supermovie. Paul Bettany, Olivia Colman, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy. And fine, let’s invite the Americans with Murray and fake American Williams, the latter by the way, was better as Vronskaya in Anna Karenina and is entitled to a Katharine Hepburn biopic that will never be made. Speaking of which, instead of comic book adaptations that are pitched before even a script is made why not biopics? Oh, because there would be more movies like this one, that’s why.

Christmas Movie: Serendipity

While Christmas shopping in New York, Sara (Kate Beckinsale) and Jonathan (John Cusack) meet and seem to really like each other. But she’s making him play a game, making each other leave their numbers randomly in NYC. She says that they’re meant to be together if they find each other with these little signs. If I was in Jonathan’s place I would just surrender and assume that she doesn’t like me as much as she appears he does, or that she has baggage that I probably shouldn’t deal with, despite of how beautiful and charming he is. The latter is the most plausible theory but for some reason “Serendipity” doesn’t address that.

Seven years later we see both not as close to each other as they want to, because it’s their fault. They revel in their fake happiness, surprisingly engaged and soon to be married with other people (John Corbett). But they’re thinking about the one who got away because they were meant for each other, although one of them could have had the power to stop their mental torture and for this movie to have stopped happening. Why do romantic comedies not make sense? Why am I such a guy? I should just crank one of these things out. I’ve ‘fallen in love’ like this but without subsequent meetings built bridges it’s difficult to sustain such emotional connections. Although I’m considering the truth within that statement in a pre-Facebook era, and wondering about the ramifications of separations like this had this movie been made earlier.

And despite of being his bread and butter I never understood why Cusack starred in these things or in any movie. Besides, he seems to go through these informal five-ish year hiatuses. I don’t know anything he’s done between “Bullets over Broadway” and “High Fidelity” and between “Identity” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” I have amateur porn star CV’s to complete that seem more urgent than going through all his movies. And he’s paired up with all these younger women like Beckinsale and Lizzy Caplan and Alice Eve that I’m numb to it now. I used to stalk the Top Ten Money Making Stars list all time and he’s never appeared once. People who make money should only be getting away with stuff like this. Why is he getting away with this? Is it because of Lloyd Dobbler? I’m sorry to ruin everyone’s teenhoods but he’s not Lloyd Dobbler. Lloyd Dobbler only happened once. And why is his sister less famous than him?

But I’m not so ignorant about Cusack’s CV to know that every other movie of his has Jeremy Piven in it. He moves up from stoner friend or doped sailor to a NYT obituarist who helps Jonathan find clues to who Sara is. Piven, known as a terrible person, does have the chops to show empathy for Jonathan. Sara is equally equipped with a BFF in Molly Shannon, as the former gives the latter a trip to NYC as a birthday gift but with her own hidden motives. Basically, at the heart of these movie are two useful people who suffer under the weight of their love struck and manipulative friends.

Dystopia Countodwn: Vampires and Girls

I wrote about “The Twilight Saga” on Entertainment Maven because I fucking watched all the movies in one sitting a few weeks ago. And it’s probably the Kraken vodka speaking but I didn’t hate the experience, despite my drunken howlings of ‘what the fuck’ to the screen.

And here’s a crazy theory that is aided by my rudimentary math skills. The first Twilight book came out in 2005, when its fans are at the sad age of fourteen or something. It is now 2012, when all those girls are now 21. Half of those girls graduated from Twilight into “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Girls,” while the other half are still fans of Twilight but see it as the silly thing they still like. They have healthy laughs about the production, the campiness and the shitty supernatural laws that don’t make sense. And I don’t know if it’s my quasi-masculine perspective but to me, the saga doesn’t just give a poorly constructed love story. The saga is also schizophrenic in a way that one movie would have a ‘romantic’ story and another would have a bloodbath with lost of decapitated heads. It’s introducing girls to violence and the necessarily the kind that they would use inwardly.

Since there are impressionable girls around, they need a role model and they have found an unlikely one in Kristen Stewart. Stephanie Meyer’s first choice to play Bella was Emily Browning, and I imagine that actress to have brought the same awkwardness of a contemporary art painting, palatable in her awkwardness, the kind of person who falls down gracefully. Stewart, however, is defiantly awkward with her blunt edges, only capable of beauty when she’s being photographed in a fashion spread. Whether the unformed person we’re seeing is Bella or Kristen is up for debate, really.

She also reminds me of a less rewarded Rooney Mara, or the kind of actress whose honesty in engendering a desexualized female would have flourished on cable television a decade later. And that’s not necessarily an insult because I love TV. And again she works capably with other actors even if she can’t carry a movie herself. I’m probably writing these words after being misled by all my ‘research’ on the series, which include People and EW’s puff pieces about the saga, but they don’t necessarily make my words less true. Basically, I just wasted four hundred or so words in saying that the girls who read Twilight and the girls acting out Twilight will be fine. I’m not so sure about Meyer, who apparently is going through a writer’s block now.

As I said before, the soundtracks are better than the movies. Who would have thought that indie-tronica would be the unlikely accompaniment of the vampire-action saga? This juxtaposition has good intentions, like a sage trying to sway their younger sister from Justin Bieber to Feist. The soundtrack then implies that the people behind the movies are cooler than the one who wrote the books. But this still remind me of the syndrome that late 90’s alternative music that become devalued once they ally themselves to movies/TV shows about teen romances/angst. Alas. But once again, IT’S OVER!

The Seventh Seal

Before even seeing Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” we’re probably already aware of the iconic images of Death (Bengt Ekerot) extended, cloaked right arm and his game of chess with a knight named Antonius Block (Max von Sydow). These are the kind of scenes you save from the ending of a movie but Bergman makes the momentous meeting between Death and his challenger in the beginning. Like what can Bergman possibly give us for the rest of his movie’s 92-minute running time? How many times will Death and Antonius meet again, and how is it going to involve a coast village full of actors (Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe) and the occasional blacksmith (Aki Fridell)  and witch (Maud Hansson)?


I must say that I’m more of a Bergman fan when his work was grounded in more recent settings as well as more contemporary emotional and psychological concerns. Although I’m not saying that his work before “Persona” had no merits. “The Virgin Spring” hit me hard but like it, “The Seventh Seal” have the same primitive, storybook-like air and pacing to it, the characters having the same abstract dimensions within a unique yet helplessly dated environment.

But while it might lack the kind of articulation of character that I’m used to in his work or in other works, it does show all of them within this cultural fabric that’s obsessed with death. It is the medieval Europe after all, after all, when people equally feared God and the Bubonic plague. And with the actors and fresco painters as characters in this movie we can see art making these zeitgeist-y questions more permanent for future generations to see and remember. Maybe it’s this distance between my culture and the one I’m watching, a distance I lamented at one point, comes to the movies benefits because contemporary eyes will always see something fresh with the time capsule what Bergman puts on-screen.

A Plague-filled country isn’t the best one that anyone could return to, especially Antonius who has just fought valiantly during the Crusades and has thus seen his own share of multiple deaths. One can read his return and his meeting with death with suspicion, the seemingly noble, well-intentioned man inadvertently bringing death wherever he goes. But we don’t necessarily have to blame colonialism or other countries for bringing death home. Death is inescapable.

Since we’re on the topic of culture and widespread death, notice Bergman’s sober perspective on how the characters form quick grudges and bonds. Men switch territories, actors change visions, women cheat on their lovers. Yes, sometimes, people and their trust for each other are their worst enemies, as Death consistently tricks Antonius with his disguises. And yes, it’s easy for other storytellers to blame other humans or the necessary evil of interpersonal relations on the deaths occurring during the movie’s time frame. But despite of its implications of human passiveness, Bergman lets these characters bond and forgive each other, setting necessary boundaries to keep the really bad people out. The movie also stars a younger, rougher Gunnar Bjornstrand as Antonius’ squire, belonging to a set of actors whom Bergman will continue to use.



Dystopia Countdown: Indian Boot(y) Camps

The last scenes of the documentary The World Before Her show the supervisors for the Durga Vahini camp for girls, giving out sashes for their young graduates, telling them to wear then like the contestants in Miss India. It echoes the conceit that it already and blatantly shows in earlier parts of the movie, that armed Indian nationalism and Bollywood glamour are their own warped schools of fundamentalism. The movie intercuts scenes where both groups of young women undergo physical training. The Durga Vahini girls doing one two punch combinations while the pageant contestants have to do thigh raises, both being instructed by women who tell them either to be strong or graceful. The difference of these routines, however, can’t – or aren’t trying to – hide the fact that these women are used as bodies, those bodies used to sacrifice for a greater cause. In that sense both ideologies are modern in that they allow women out of the house. For a while. But they have to get married and have children unless they’re either rich or dead.

Showing ninety minutes of these same differences never gets boring because of the shock value – not as gratuitous as the phrase implies – of what we’re seeing from both sides. The interview subjects from the Durga Vahini camp extol the place’s virtues and tell them how training has changed them, and that seems innocent enough until we remember the misinformation that the camp is contributing to. Prachi, who doubles as a student and a counselor, talk about factual inaccuracies about other races while kids younger than her are taking the place’s anti-Christian and Islamophobic teachings to heart. Without giving too much away, the same goes for the pageant, who don’t necessarily teach their contestants anything  but instead gives the latter platforms to speak about their uneducated views on sexuality and then talk about how much smarter they are compared to pageant contestants from other countries. This movie unites and gets a good reaction from their audiences especially about the latter’s inanity.

I do have a strange affinity for ‘freedom fighters’ while being hard on the beauty contestants. But despite of the icky sexuality of the pageant I do prefer what it represents. By a hair. If I had to choose. My love for ‘modernity’ and contemporary values is what I’ll take away from the documentary. The tipping point from me for my decision is Prachi’s father, who’s countless sins include being shirtless all the time while deploring the supposedly vulgar fashions that the contestants are wearing. His worst sins of all are the different ways that he physically abuses his daughter and complaining that she cries, without thinking that she’s crying because he punches her. He also makes her grateful that she’s alive, because, as the movie shows us through inter-titles, second daughters are often aborted or killed in India. He reminds me of my favourite tenet of modernity that has dismantled Western civilization for the better. It’s that some people shouldn’t have children, and it’s something that ever civilization should learn.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

Stacy Perata begins his documentary Bones Brigade: An Autobiography with the title card that says something like “This movie takes place in the 1980’s.” Yes, it shows archive photos from the 80’s but the setting is somehow the least true thing about it, but I won’t say that he’s misleading his audience. Let me explain. It’s obviously a necessary thing for documentaries about the past to have interview subjects decades or so older than they used to be. And in other movies, those subjects seem ageless, or worse, pathetically holding on to their past glories. It’s not the same here, when I can see Tony Hawk both younger and older than the image of him in my consciousness or more generally, I’m watching normal forty-somethings and the willowy thrill-seekers whom they used to be. I see the well-balanced adulthood of these skateboarders, who are living in the present day, guiding the shoulders of their younger selves as well as speaking for the latter because they obviously can’t. Peralta uses his subjects and the different parts of their lives and weaving an interesting structure for the autobiography of his skateboarding team.

This is about Peralta, the founder of the Brigade, and the then younger members of his team. His documentary benefits from erudite and diverse subjects like Hawk, Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain. The movie also aims for a more comprehensive scope since the Brigade were a driving force in the 1980’s (sub)culture. Peralta understands that the most novice members of his audience (i.e. me) have to know the businessmen who helped the skaters with money, the other skaters who antagonized the lanky boy scouts of the sport, etc., and the movie is richer for it. Sections about skating team rivalries makes me feel like the Brigade and the skating culture are the basis behind the characters in the Karate Kid series. But seriously, Peralta sees the culture as a singular entity, and with this perspective he helps his audience relearn something about other people’s lives. Specifically, instead of just one breakdown and its corresponding comeback, people go through many ups and downs.

Occassionally, Bones Brigade does have tendencies to talk about skating tricks like transcendental apparitions, but at least it shows the culture as more multifaceted than teenage boys saying ‘whoa’ with a Californian inflection. The movie is a gateway to a multifaceted culture as well as making me understand other people’s love for the sport. ‘Ollie,’ as it turns out, is not just a word that my stoner friends have made up while skating through east-end streets, it’s named after a person who invented the move. But since I can’t pick up a board because I’m too old for that, the doc at least invigorates the art and movie lover in me. It shows the Brigade’s elite members not just being good at their sport or floating above the edges on empty pools but also posing for Craig Stecyk’s conceptual advertisements. It also introduces its audience to the skater sub-genre of movies, influencing future generations of athletes and enthusiasts, including Fred Durst. This doc includes archive footage of those movies, including one called The Search for Animal Chin. Peralta winces at the mention of this movie, but talking about how bad it is only encourages people like me to go see it.

2012: The Links Don’t Write…

Here are other 2012 movies I reviewed for Entertainment Maven.

Richard Gere puts his ass on the line in Arbitrage. Just let the self0importance of that title sink in. It has two ridiculous (sub)-plots. the first one involves Gere’s character cheating on his wife, played by Susan Sarandon. I don’t care if he’s diddling some French model playing a French artist, you just don’t cheat of Susan Sarandon. The second ridiculous plot point is their dumb son, but I actually got a kick out of that. I only sympathize with half of the rich characters I watch and this is one of the many cases where I wouldn’t mind if they died in a fire. The cast is aces however, including Brit Marling as the smart daughter who unfolds Gere’s lies and Tim Roth who has the same goals as I do if I was in the movie.

The Raven is one of two movies where a de-glam John Cusack partners himself with a beautiful damsel in distress with questionable taste in men. The damsel is Alice Eve, who got unjustly lambasted for her apparently lacklustre performance in Men in Black 3D. It’s hard keeping up with three great actors, even if it is a 3D blockbuster. This time around, Alice Eve was just lovely.

Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On is a movie that reminds me that like Thure Lindhart’s character, I’m accidentally hilarious when I’m trying too hard to be sexy. And that yes, I am sleeping with too many men who smoke crystal meth without having partaken in the drug myself. I already have insomnia to make me seem slurry and haggard, I’m not taking an illegal substance to speed up those processes. But just like the protagonist, it’s hard to just stay away. The gay world is a world of rejected human beings and we don’t want to inflict that on people we love. We also don’t choose the people we love, anyway.

I also watched the random movie at a few of Toronto’s many local film festivals. For the Planet in Focus film festival, screening movies that bring attention to our environmental problems, I saw two movies, Dead Ducks and Keep in Rolling, that both tackle oil consumption.The former is about how the Alberta oil sands are killing ducks from both sides of the border while the latter is about the outrageous car culture in Europe. I seriously thought that only North America and Asia had this problem.

For the imagiNATIVE Film Festival I mostly saw short films, like Alexus Young’s anecdotal Where We Were Not, a poetic animated movie about the director experiencing police brutality in the Prairies. The festival’s Witching Hour Shorts program, the closest thing I got to TAD this year,  featured many genres like science fiction and horror, my favourite one being The 6th World. The thing about these small, local film festivals is that the urban elite are the only people who catch these obscure titles. Thankfully The 6th World is in some specialty internet channel or something.

Oh and I also watched new shit like Life of Pi And I kinda don’t feel like spending money now so movies will all be enjoyed in my bedroom.

2012: Who Is Bartholomew Cubbins?

A few notes about Bartholomew Cubbins’ Artifact, a documentary about Jared Leto’s divisive band 30 Seconds to Mars. I reviewed the documentary here on Entertainment Maven as part of my shitty TIFF coverage. As you can see,

a) A friend of mine told me that Leto is a germophobe which is half-true (he later confided in me that the rock star does shake hands on occasion). And obviously it’s strange to watch him walk around New York City, the dirtiest city in the world where half of the teenagers mob celebrities like him. How gentrified is New York for him to feel safe to walk around in?

b) There’s also this assumption that Leto’s foray into music is some misguided thing to avoid the matinee-idol fame brought on my his TV and movie career. But he’s starring and directing a movie, this movie, so he’s probably more comfortable within the movie-making world than I was led to believe. If anything, I have a new theory now that he only got into acting (he’s back at that industry again, by the way) to pay for the music which, as the documentary reveals, is not as lucrative even for big name bands such as his.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing all of this is to explain that in one of the scenes in Artifact, a quasi-movie star walking around the streets of New York was mobbed by a little group of teenage girls. One girl tells him that she’s his biggest fan, yadda, telling him about her favourite movie in the world. A brief guessing game ensues, ending quickly when she says ‘the one with the crazy lady.’ He correctly figured that the movie she was talking about was Requiem for a Dream, but without saying that the ‘crazy lady’ is Ellen Burstyn. Young people have no respect.

b) During the end credits, director Bartholomew Cubbins and the band thanks Olivia de Haviland. de Haviland, back in the day, fought for the rights of actors against restrictive contracts that the studios were signing them up for. Here’s to hoping that Leto, his band, and musicians under record labels, who apparently have little chance of making money in their music careers, will get the same freedom that actors do.


2012: Anna Karenina

I had an interesting conversation about Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” both of us complaining that while reading it, we’ve complained that we learned so much about agriculture and geography and horses but not about the anti-heroine herself. Like why title the book about a character who isn’t really your book’s subject? Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of the doorstop ‘tightens’ the material he has by turning quasi-fictional 19th century into a stage. Because symbolically, the characters have deeply involved themselves into affectation so much that they might as well be acting. Mind you, I liked the movie, but choosing more claustrophobic mises en scene also gives a disservice to the expansive landscapes that Tolstoy articulates. The aristocratic Russian culture of vacations, country life and hunting are all gone! I had the same problems with the film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,”  the Southern fields of my imagination squashed within a cramped studio.

But this also means, and this would be the case with other as well as most big-screen adaptations I assume, are as focused, inadvertently making the material they have to be a character study/actress vehicle. Again, the movie is the opposite of the book. In the novel, we read about the work of Dolly (Kelly MacDonald) her husband Stiva (Matthew McFayden), his brother-in-law Levin (Domhall Gleeson) and his wife Kitty (Alicia Vikander), Anna becoming this ghostly figure of gossip. In the film, these supporting characters are yes, sadly, gender stereotypes, but while they are forced to retreat the ghost comes full centre, as well as the underrated actress who plays her.

Read my fresher thoughts on Anna Karenina here on Entertainment Maven.


Why Can’t Kristen Stewart Speak?

Again, I write this from some imaginary parental perspective. “Speak,” writer/director Jessica Sharzer’s adaptation of the Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel of the same name, shows that if your child is being obtusely silent, it’s not because they hate you. Yes, they might hate you but they might also have experienced something, and they won’t tell you what it is because they’ve gotten in trouble for telling or trying to tell people what happened to them. It’s this thing that adolescents do that I probably talked about here before that seems like an honour code but is more of a shaming strategy.

The shamed young person, Melinda Sordino, is played by Kristen Stewart, who isn’t as silent as the book’s protagonist. It’s the voice-over. I was at first malicious about the voice-over, much-needed to express Melinda’s contemptuous snark, yet the device shows the cracks within what should have been a deafening wall between her and everybody else. She also comes with clichéd hair and costume combinations. During the present she wears cool colours and has occasionally frizzy hair, which means that she’s angsty, while during the flashbacks she’s one of the girls, has a perm and wears orange which, as we know, is a chiller version of pink. Her orange self goes to a party, knows how to kiss a guy, calls the police, and gets called a squealer by a student body who thinks she was just snitching on her fellow underaged drinkers.


The voice-over and the soundtrack are reminiscent of a Lifetime movie, but it’s understandably a more sombre affair because a louder, more fashion conscious and zeitgeist conscious movie, like many teen movies, would have blasted over Melinda’s universal trauma.

The name Kristen Stewart might sound all-too familiar to you but this is a different Kristen Stewart, before she was handed to jaded directors-for-hire. She’s now known for her mouth twitch acting but in 2004, there’s an intensity in her eyes. There’s also that primal scream that has the mature timbre that we also hear in “New Moon.” What more could we want from a young actor trying to extend her physical capabilities and still looks like she’s surviving? She’s also surrounded by actors like Michael Angarano, Elizabeth Perkins and Steve Zahn whose supporting presences don’t diminish their characters’ own problems.


And I can actually relate to this. I don’t tell my parents things and I’ve gotten trouble for having told and not told. The solution in breaking her silence comes in slivers. It could easily have been artistic expression, fostered by her teacher (Zahn). Just because she doesn’t speak or looks like she’s listening doesn’t mean that she’s not learning. Or that eventually the silence, the ostracizing stigmatization or any inward violence just builds anger. For better or for worse, there isn’t a clicking moment that makes her decide to tell her ex-best friend about why she called the police – it’s the natural; order of things for her to start speaking. It is the right thing to do and no one else can make this happen other than the person enduring an unspeakable horror. I just pray that there are more people who break their silences than those who don’t.


2012: Happy Iranians Are All Alike

I already reviewed Argo here but below are some thoughts.

If you follow me on Twitter, you would have noticed that I was making fun of Ben Affleck’s Argo even before I saw it. But sitting in the theatre, its first few images are storyboards just like the ones in the fictional science fiction film that was never going to get made. And those boards reminded me of Persepolis. If you’re a smug liberal with an HBA in English Lit, you’ve probably breezed through Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about the early years of the Islamic Revolution. And I find myself saying shit like “Obama, Bibi and Harper shouldn’t put sanctions on Iran because nobody understand Iran like I do!” Ah, to have been rich enough to visit pre-Revolution Iran, or Afghanistan before the Soviets came, or Iraq before Saddam sold out and turned his country into a Terry Gilliam movie (Also, looking up Baghdad on Wikipedia makes me want to visit it). Nobody understands the Middle East like I do. (Also, can someone hook me up with the sequel, please?)

(the Sofia Coppola shot)

Persepolis and Argo have two major differences. Unlike Persepolis, Argo has a clearer outline of the power transitions within Iran decades before the Revolution. I’m not faulting Satrapi for this. Yes, there are references to Iran’s general history of conquests and a fictionalized account of the Pahlavis’ rise to power, but it’s more naturalistic that a fictional version of her ten-year old self not to have known who Mossadegh was. he second major difference is that Persepolis shows the perspective of a young Zoroastrian girl. Argo, however, just assumes that there are two kinds of people in Iran – the people of indeterminate faith who want to leave and the crazy Muslims beating on the American embassy’s doorstep.

Argo is a clown car of character actors but for me it has four MVPs. The first is Clea Duvall, who plays Cora Lijek. Duvall is an alterna-teen post riot-grrl sensation and is my spirit animal. In other words, a poor man’s Chloe Sevigny, but better. In one of the dinner conversations in the Canadian embassy (why did Canada have to shut that down? I smell fish) she actually defends the Revolution’s perspective in a way that Pahlavi shouldn’t be granted asylum in the States and should face a trial in the country he oppressed. The second is Sheila Vand, who plays Sahar. I mistakenly thought as a ‘ethnic girl,’ this was her acting debut and that she’ll never get a role like this again. Actually, she has played de facto Iranian intepreters in a pre-Homeland Damien Lewis show in NBC, a soft-core porn model and a pot smoking rebellious teenager. The third is Scoot McNairy, a mane that David Foster Wallace would have had fin with he the latter was still alive. Yes, he was a whiny little bitch for most of the movie but he redeems himself in the airport. Of course, my choices of MVPs imply that I prefer the Tehran storyline over the Langley/Hollywood ones, despite of how good John Goodman is, my fourth MVP.


2012: Three Months Later

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival ended like what, three months ago exactly, and I’ve written reviews for Entertainment Maven, and I still haven’t linked it in my spaces yet? Well I Facebooked and Tweeted them. And yes, I’m still trying to recover from it while adding more local festivals and more movies to include in my backlog. Jesus. I should make my job easier and link my profile within the Entertainment Maven space, which I’m doing right now, but I’ll write two more paragraphs although I haven’t slept, my mind can’t articulate shit anymore and my laptop is whizzing like a motherfucker. Put the fan close to the…no, laptop close to the fan.

There’s one movie that encapsulates the festival’s line-up and that is Dial M For Murder, still playing at the Lightbox. It’s an envelope-pushing movie about a dysfunctional romance. But I didn’t end up seeing that because I saw it twice already, once in 3D. So I had to ‘settle’ with two movies from the Cinematheque line-up that encompasses as least one of two of what Dial M’s stands for in this fest. Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is the envelope pusher, Roman Polanski’s Tess is the visually crystalline dysfunctional romance. Sometimes I’m cynical about the movies I’ve seen, my schedule only allowing me to watch slim pickings but sometimes those are the ones with the most surprising merit.

You know what, sometimes both intersect for me. Rust and Bone‘s realist-styled frayed frames is reminiscent of Brakhage while depicting a romance between a boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard). That one was my favourite of the fest. Joe Wright goes Baz to show the choreographed nature of the contemptible white Russian society in Anna Karenina, where Keira Knightley plays the titular role and actors like Domhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander idealize each other. The approachable Like Someone in Love is a triangle between a Tokyo-area prostitute (Rin Takanashi), her client and her boyfriend and just like Abbas Kiarostami’s movies, it mostly takes place in a car. Michael Winterbottom, however, has a more expansive canvas in depicting five years of a life of a prisoner (John Simm) and his family (including Shirley Henderson) in…Everyday…by actually taking five years to film the movie.

Sometimes, I only see one theme or the other. Like Sans Soleil, differently Molussia warps the world that we have and exposes its emptiness, but instead Nicolas Rey (not to be confused with the Rebel director) chooses 16mm reels that should be shown in random order. Ernest and Celestine, a story about a mouse and a bear, is a bit scary but nothing a child couldn’t handle, an animated movie that balances itself out by bringing the pastel-y synesthede in all of us. And then we’re back in the adult world Berberian Sound Studio, its neons intentionally reminiscent of the Giallo era. It’s visuals are as sharp as the knives slashing up produce for foley effects. Sound is equally important in Kazik Radwanski’s Tower, a locally made movie that is 90% a close-up of the protagonist Derek’s face, this relying on sound to convey the myopic claustrophobia within his experiences. Speaking of experiences, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel presents a relaxed and impressionistic perspective of humanity but that’s until he fragments them, casting doubt on Western ideas of personhood by reminding us of Buddhist reincarnations.

There are movies that show Polanski’s verdant visuals in Tess as they tell stories of love, nature and self preservation. The digitally shot Bwakaw has an elder person (Eddie Garcia), only having a dog with the same name as the title to comfort him. The bleached or washed colours around him change as he (re)discovers (new) friends. Fly with the Crane, again, has an elderly person in the bucolic Chinese countryside, the childlike vibrancy around him countering the tensions between his traditionalism and the next generation’s government bureaucracy. Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car has two families (with Robert Duvall in its head) ironing out decades of disagreements in arid, mustard-like Alabama. But there are movies that focus less on its visuals and concentrate on telling a story like A Few Hours of Spring, which is about an ex-con, his girlfriend (Emmanuelle Seigner aka. Mrs. Roman Polanski) and his ailing mother (Helene Vincent). Edward Burns’ The Fitzgerald Family Christmas takes the same ethos, finding the balance of telling the story between one torubled sibling from another during the holidays.

And TIFF doesn’t end. Like, half of the movies I saw after the festival wrapped are selections from it, and so will it be until…August even. I started out with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which does its best to sustain its tone as a glistening 1950’s love song, it subject Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) drifting in and out of sanity.  Also, watch out for my reviews for Argo, Therese Desqueyroux, Post Tenebras Lux, and Hannah Arendt, which I’ll write when I feel like it. Leave me alone.

2012: Hipster Spidey High School

Previously on the Spiderman franchise, Emo Spidey. And like all emo kids turn into hipsters when they grow up, Emo Spidey is rebooted into hipster Spidey. I’ll explain later. But first, let me take you to a journey about my pre-conceptions about The Amazing Spiderman! The first preview clip looked like CGI crap! More preview clips showed that he’s funny! Then where were the blog entries about Spidey/Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) essence that were divisive. He’s a jerk! He’s Jewish! He’s a Jewish jerk, or for political correctness’ sake, a jerk who happens to be Jewish!

I can’t necessarily account for his relation to the biblical Jacob (or Rachel, to be more technical), but he’s probably not a jerk. I regretfully can’t remember how the Raimi Spiderman began, but director Marc Webb begins his with a sensitive portrayal of a boy who grows up too early. Cue a soundtrack that’s half Titanic and half Inception. Mad About You is playing in the background, so we must be in 1997. As much as young Peter wants to play hide and seek with his parents (his mother is played by fake British person Embeth Davidtz), they’re trying to scurry away and hiding him away from danger, leaving him with his Uncle Ben (Garfield’s fellow Sorkin alum Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). His father is one of the few paternal figures who will be unfortunately excised during the duration of this movie, helping Peter on his way from being an unlucky teenager into a morally centred young superhero. The high school scenes firmly sets the movie’s ambivalence towards labeling their characters as good or evil, because despite one bully, the schoolmates who piss Peter off inadvertently aren’t necessarily out to get him.

His transformation is rocky, even calling out the dated, if not troubled notions of being one. Let’s talk about the light stuff first. He clings to his hipster wardrobe until he gets inspiration from a lucha libre poster that came out of nowhere. He later notices that many athletes are wearing spandex and reluctantly embraces it. Spandex was never fashionable, and at one point I’m thinking that if new superheroes were being created today, none of them would be donning the skin-hugging material, despite the flexibility it can offer.

Now on to the heavier stuff. He first decides to become a superhero as a way to avenge Uncle Ben’s death caused by some stringy haired blonde dated version of a grunge villain. Mr. Stacy even calls him out on this personal vendetta, despite of how much Peter defends Spidey’s position as someone trying to help. If the original Spiderman movies were accounts on our collective adolescence fresh of the 9-11 era, this reboot is four our Tea Party/Occupy times, both movements quickly becoming relics of our time. Just like his real world counterparts, their status in the binary of good and evil are more shaded than he thinks, due to his early disregard for due process. The paternal figures, as ghost figures, run the risk of having their de facto descendant – Peter/Spidey – and his vigilante-ism running amok without and strategy. And despite of him being barely at home to be under May’s guidance, his father figures’ advice hopes to be impactful enough not to let him astray.

I was also wrong about the movie’s visual effects, because the movie is gorgeous, if not a little manicured. Every long shot is a nighttime version of a New York City postcard. Every dark room is a chance for dusty light to beautifully funnel itself in. Every visit to Oscorp, where his late father the latter’s very alive colleague, geneticist Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), is a neon trip that leads Peter to knowledge or danger or both. The CGI is CGI, often successful at taking a dip into the uncanny valley, but it’s not that distracting anymore as a technology. And that I was watching this with my laptop and was still floored by its compositions is a feat in itself. I can only imagine the 3D lessening its aesthetic impact.

Speaking of manicured, and I guess I should be used to this by now, but TAS’ version of New York City is a bit whitewashed. The private school in Gossip Girl is more diverse than what I assume is Peter’s public high school, where everyone’s dressed like an H&M model and goes home to places arranged gay interior decorators. Peter’s classmate Gwen Stacy (model Emma Stone) is wearing a cream coloured wool trench and woolen thigh highs God. And everybody knows each other. Gwen becomes Peter’s love interest and is the police chief’s daughter and Curt’s intern. Mr. Stacy’s New York Police Force is equally white. There are people of colour peppered around the movie’s fringes. The interns at Oscorp, with Asians to the front and a Hispanic guy struggling because of Peter’s temporary identity switch – thank God I’m not over-thinking that. Peter’s F train ride turned fight club to Coney Island (there is no way the F train is that clean, by the way). The crane workers who help Spiderman get to Oscorp (speaking of workers, Aunt May wears a Bridgeworkers shirt, a close enough reference to Field’s Norma Rae). It’s curious that Peter adapts into a more New York accent as he turns into Spiderman, but I like that he sees himself as one of the people, giving the story a bit of locality. And despite of my nitpicks, the movie’s central figure is compelling and authentic enough to anchor its fantastical plot, making both enjoyable.

2012: “Sick of What?”

One of the trappings of sci-fi is its fetishization of metal or uncanny surfaces. The characters of Alien and its sequels float around in spaceships. The buildings of Blade Runner almost disallows us to see the ground they’re built on. The rock formations in Aliens seem uncanny in the violent way that they seem to have been forged. However, the most majestic images within Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, are the planets where they’re set. And it’s in the same sort of beautiful treatment that makes Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) curious as to how the Earth and its populations have come into existence. I was at first disappointed by Prometheus being an Alien prequel, but it does bring, to a certain extent, the promise that its title has. This molten creation mythology and the lofty, almost unachievable ambitions that come with telling a story that touches on such a large scope.


There are many areas of knowledge that I haven’t delved into that won’t let me answer or comment on the ramifications of life creation as depicted in this movie. So what interests me more is its characters and their diverse outlooks as we see in the crew of the titular Prometheus, a spaceship that’s leading a couple dozen crew members to a desert planet called LV-223. Elizabeth and her skinny hipster boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are driven by curiosity and believe that the new planet has information about Earth and humanity’s conception. The mission director, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and her boss, the recently deceased Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) just wants to set up a human colony in the new planet regardless of alien presence in that planet. And there’s a creepy android named David (Michael Fassbender) who, well, we’re not sure if he has deliberate intentions.

And those motivations transform as they discover new things on the planet, this voyage letting these characters face their gods and playing gods themselves in their many acts of creation and destruction. Theron, fresh from her acting hiatus, returns with unsympathetic roles in Mavis Gary in Young Adult and an evil queen in SWATH, and adds her rendition of Meredith Vickers to complete a hat trick. Here’s why. After learning that Charlie develops a mysterious illness, Meredith replies with the greatest line reading of ‘Sick of what?’ What a sociopath. Meredith is the third role in which Theron combines her beauty with narcissism. It’s a formula that I’m not sick of yet.


Rapace, however, seems to have been cast in the leading role because of two things. Being a buzzy actress coming off the Swedish version of the Millennium trilogy probably helped her land plum roles. And playing strong woman like Lisbeth Salander, she’s expected to add something to a role who is the predecessor to the equally iconic Ellen Ripley. But here’s the problem. The script, written by Damon Lindelof’s, puts Charlie’s sickness in the same chain of events as Elizabeth’s abortion, the latter of which seems to be the scene which the moviemakers think is Elizabeth’s key scene. Yes, she pulls that scene off. But my key scene isn’t that one but the one where she confronts one of the Engineers, and that’s where her lines fall flat.

As I said earlier, the script is very eventful and Scott’s direction makes me believe everything it puts forth i.e., Elizabeth’s abortion, Michael Fassbender’s animated severed head. And maybe that’s one of the things I didn’t like about this – its many plot points and contrivances taking away from the simplicity, the horror and the humanity of the other movies set in Alien’s universe.


2012: Dane DeHaan pre-Spiderman

When I say that Dane DeHaan is cute, it doesn’t make sense since people who don’t go to film festivals might only know him from In Treatment (pardon the elitism). But I first saw him in Amigo, with his wide-blue eyes and blonde hair and as a young man, this time named Andrew, who still doesn’t know how to talk to girls. John Hughes would have made a star out of him, although it’s arguable whether Hughes has done that for anyone.


He stars in Josh Trank’s Chronicle, which I saw in two sittings. It’s better than The Craft by the way, as it gambles by depicting teenage boys who – higher stakes here – have magical powers. How to depict these phenomena? Well, they do so by making baseballs and Lego pieces and cameras float in the air. These seem like antics that any group of teenage boys would do if they had powers. And so I could have reacted like an old person watching juvenile activity or actually enjoy myself and be like one of the them. I reacted like the latter, having the same fun as if I was up in the clouds  with my new friends. The movie definitely taps into that sense of relatable boyhood that I never had but wanted to have. Even the handheld cam and the CGI as conceits don’t hinder me from liking the second childhood that he and his two Seattle-area friends are genuinely experiencing. In a deeper sense we’re also watching adolescents, trying to figure out their bodies and abilities. Andrew’s even tells his friends how to make things float the same way we pretend to be armchair experts on any new physical activity we’re watching or doing. But of course, the metaphor of physical rediscovery is that the three get magical – no, telekinesis through some glowing rocks underground a stone’s throw away from a rave they all just went to. There’s also an effortless yet dangerous poetry to the camera movements, no matter how self-aware they are, as the depict the push and pull of Andrew’s sad and happy moments.


The second sitting was a month later, starting at the fifty minute mark when I turned off the movie. The scenes steer towards a direction more certain than the movie’s first half. We’re sure that Andrew’s going to be a more destructive character, not abiding by the rules that his friends have given him. The conflicts are as high as a rollercoaster and need the CGI to depict them, and thus the jump between the quiet moments and the louder fight scenes are widely distracting. The lightfootedness of the magical moments of the first half are replaced by something I’m not necessarily comfortable with. It makes me realize how much I’m watching too much TV. I expected a movie and its scenes to be as parceled as TV is, and some movies from the past two years are adapting to the same impressionistic approach. You can call this movie impressionistic but only within the few moments when it’s lulling before its valley-like arcs. It’s always wanted to be big and tried to to use the smaller moments to ease us into its ambitions, which it does achieve, although not without flaw.

2012: Watch Out For Wolves

In Joe Carnaghan’s The Grey, John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a rifleman watching out for wolves who might trespass the wire fences of a pipeline. He’s part of a mixed bag cast of mostly men who prefer to work in Alaska, its industrial setting evoking the same Blade Runner-styled dystopia. I can never hate the movie for the tone it evokes despite my few yet glaring objections towards it. His life isn’t worth living after his wife/daughter has died. He contemplates suicide but doesn’t go through with it. He boards on a flight out of Alaska, which now makes me think of what would have happened if this was a normal flight. John stares at the walls of his apartment, lots of crying, the works. But since that’s boring, so the plane crashes, and Ottway and six other tough guys, who are almost indistinguishable from each other, contend with wintry condition and a pack of wolves hungry for human flesh. What ensues is a tightrope walk between an art movie and exploitation, coming as well with the best ‘waking up from a dream’ reaction sequence I’ve seen recently.


This movie adds itself into a list of movies with an all-male cast that come up once or twice a year. I supposedly can’t point fingers about the movie’s sexist exclusion since these characters are excluded themselves. That by having two Hispanic men and one black guy they’re making concessions towards inclusion as it is. Or that Neeson has personal experience on the loss of a woman in his life that reflects this movie’s plot. But by saying that ‘these men live on the fringes’ it’s also saying that ‘only men are allowed to be on the fringes,’ only visiting their wives and daughters once a year or something at the comfort of the latter’s home where they belong. Or worse, they’re relegated as ghostly presences that drive their men into fatalistic behaviour. Ottway’s ghost, by the way, is old enough to be his daughter. Anyway, women are treated as symbols or metaphors instead of characters. And hey, there’s a female flight attendant in the plane. Give her a chance to be eaten by a wolf or have her manicure fall off due to frostbite or something. It’s so annoying.


And speaking of being eaten by a wolf, one of the men die because he turned his back from his watch duty to pee. Animals use scent i.e. pee to mark their territory. Canadian teachers tell us these things in high school if we have to go to the Arctic or because the Arctic is part of our heritage or something. So these wolves don’t respect the pee rule? I’m so offended on the wolves’ behalf that a movie makes them look so uncivilized. And I know that I’m watching a Liam Neeson movie and not a pre-Gold Rush Discovery Channel, but the behavioural patterns of the wolves, in general, are questionable at best. It might be implied that the wolves were cannibalistic, which they could be in reality, but the movie makes them seem too predatory as opposed to hunting their meat by necessity. The wolves, you say, are a metaphor, you say, that the desperate, all-consuming hunger that people in the fringes experience that only makes them gang up on each other and eventually kill them inside. Meh.

2012: Megan Fox with/out Kids

Megan Fox is known to play unsympathetic characters who hate children. We all know the irony in this because she’s actually nice, if not a little batty, who just gave birth this year.

A Manhattanite woman Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) wakes up her best friend Jason Fryman (Adam Scott), who keeps his iPhone on top of his nightstand along with a hardcover copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Gross. Well, at least it’s not a Christopher Hitchens book.

Westefeldt, at first glance is a boring presence on-screen but that has its benefits. I can only imagine another actress screwing up the role by seeming too needy or exaggerating any aspect of a character who happens to be a single woman in her forties who wants to take advantage of the last drops of her biological clock. The line reading of her first sentence – ‘Death by Shark or Alligator?’ -says that she has endured a miserable date instead of the morbid, random curiosity of that line. See, dimension! And I buy that someone with great cheekbones as she does has low self-esteem, perpetually comparing herself to the busty Broadway dancers (Megan Fox) who Jason dates.

As I said in a previous, there are two ways in which I receive urban rich/upper middle class/middle class characters and their milieu. Either I want them to die in a fire or I buy into this dream, this middle ground between fantasy and reality. Another reaction between ‘That’s life’ and ‘That’s ridiculously awesome’ is ‘How much is the rent in that apartment?’ Anyway, what fantasy and urban spaces have in common are the ability to transform. Not only can Julie have a job so good that you can afford a spacious apartment in Manhattan and have beautiful friends at their sexual peak, she also lives in Manhattan where she can raise a kid!

But despite having it all, the wish for a kid, or kids themselves, trigger this awareness of discontent within the characters. It’s easy to compare Westfeldt with other female directors, since this movie has the well-earned serendipity of a Nora Ephron movie or the bourgeois technophilia that we see in Nancy Meyers movies. And because, you know, sexism. But the opening showed that Mike Nichols was one of its executive producers and I kept seeing the movie as a Nichols film, a part of a CV full of conflict despite or because of the characters’ idealized situations.

This conflict’s highest point takes place in a dinner table at a cabin during a ski trip, which shows as much missed chances as it does its accomplishments. There’s Jason’s revealing speech about loving Julie which last for like eighty seconds. He probably takes the centre of that frame for aesthetic reasons, but I wouldn’t have  minded to see what that scene would look like if we saw more of Mary Jane’s reactions while he was giving that monologue. Was she too static or distracting? I want to know.

The cast itself feels sporadically used, especially Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm. Wiig was great if not bipolar in Bridesmaids, but here she’s reduced to the gape-mouth facial reactions that she must have taught herself during her SNL tenure. And Hamm is forced to rely on the bearded alcoholic routine that he’s used in Mad Men. Strangely enough Westfeldt, who wrote and directed this movie, inadvertently contributes to the typecasting of her own husband. God. And it doesn’t sell me that Julie or anyone attracted to men would dump a guy who looks like Edward Burns.

Either way, pointing out these flaws seem like I’m nitpicking since it still holds on to the dream of having it all and letting most of its characters keep the said dream. The script’s structure and its characters might be clichéd but the nuances of the dialogue isn’t.