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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)?

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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.

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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.