Pre-VDay Short Take: Quartier Mozart
Jean-Pierre Bekolo‘s Quartier Mozart begins with a Spike Lee inspired, fourth wall breaking introduction to its attitude-filled characters. It continues into what seems like African folklore coexisting within modern times, where one Cameroonian girl becomes a slender, gender-shifting trickster who wreaks havoc on the other quartier’s citizens. It might be the cultural barriers but eventually I lost track of who’s the girl or boy or who gets emasculated but that lively, authentic music remains.
Guilty Pleasure: Sister Act
Growing up when I did and now knowing any better I watched a lot of guilty pleasure crap from the 90’s. Sister Act was my introduction to This is also my introduction to Harvey Keitel and Bill Nunn. The latter seems to age between three years, from being Spike Lee’s Radio Raheem, the punk that cops shoot to a Lt. Eddie Souther who saves nightclub singer Dolores (Whoopi Goldberg) from Vincent LaRocca (Keitel) by tucking her into some inevitably awkward sitcom-like placement in a San Francisco convent and turning her into a Sister Mary Clarence.
Goldberg and Maggie Smith leave impressions but I didn’t know that both, who squaring off in the film, are EGOTs, Goldberg having a Grammy and Smith having two Golden Globes. It’s not their best work but let them have their fun. But I couldn’t help but compare both to other movie nuns, Clarence being Sister Ruth. I also see a lot of Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) in Smith’s take on the Mother Superior, the northern British inflections highlighting their controlled anger against younger, rebellious nuns symbolizing a world against tradition. Sitting on the pews she looks up to Clarence on the stage instead of looking down on her to supervise her, Clarence’s implicit message of change as helpful yet jarring enough for her not to accept at first.
It’s snobbish to not see this film’s few merits like casting the faces playing other nuns. It’s easy for the film to seem to have been, pardon the expression, cut from the same cloth. Instead the movie actually allows most of them to stick out with personalities, and it must be hard for these actresses to express that through a habit and a square hole where their faces go. There are the more fleshed out characters from the sunshine’ like Sister Mary Patrick (Kathy Najimy, also famous for playing Peggy Hill in “King of the Hill”), sister Mary Robert (Wendy Makkena) who fights her own timidity by being the nun choir’s stand out voice and acerbically hilarious Sister Mary Lazarus, who seems to have had an equally and healthy adult life before taking her vows.
I also want to do some armchair assessments about how films like this perpetuate the image of the urban area. There are cringe-inducing scenes like one when Clarence, Patrick and Robert sneak out from the convent across the street into some dingy biker bar (I swear if I see a leather jacket in a 90’s movie again). And this isn’t a Whoopi movie if there isn’t happy synthesized trumpet music during chase scenes. Was the Haight-Ashbury that bad around the late 80’s and early 90’s? I suppose this movie’s fantasy of the Church revitalizing terrible neighborhoods is better than Starbucks doing the same thing in the real world. And at least this is about Clarence instead of her being a supporting character in the neighbourhood.
“Lethal Weapon” Movie Pitch
I watched Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 3. This is 1992 and the film shows the contradictions within depicting black people in cinema. The threat of Danny Glover’s character’s retirement and old age is ever-present because of Mel Gibson’s trickster of a character, but said threat is heavier against the former because of his son who is suddenly listening to rap music and hanging out within the bad crowd!
I changed the channel half an hour later, and I’m not going to wait to see this film in its entirety before I write about it, because what will probably make a better movie is if fact and fiction mix. If Gibson’s chauvinistic persona and Glover’s super left-wing self were in a movie and wrestled or fought or something. That’s worth ten dollars.
Black Masks: Lee’s Malcolm X
Disgusting Muslim terrorist Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) was once Malcolm ‘Red’ Little, actor. He was Bogart to Shorty’s (Spike Lee) Cagney, the two occasionally switching roles. He’s also Burt Lancaster to a pure woman’s Deborah Kerr.
“Have you ever met one white man who wasn’t evil?” Yes, Sophia (Kate Vernon) was bitchy to Molly Ringwald, but evil? I’ve gone both ways on whether Malcolm X depicts white people as evil. Sophia loves Malcolm because he gives her freedom, but yes, she does treat him like a pet while he waits for their relationship to self-destruct. Although, in lame-evoking Frantz Fanon, we look at the outer ugliness of the ‘black man’ instead of the inner ugliness of the ‘white woman’ seducing him, intentionally or otherwise. ‘Inhuman’ as a word fits better, the child services officer behaving out of hearsay, but with no desire to see Malcolm and his siblings stay together or have a decent home. Speaking of decent home, Sophia marries a white man for money, these white persons as much slaves as their black counterparts.
This scene is everything, their anger beautifully clashing like the third act of a Puccini opera.
I first saw this for the Islam section of our Grade 11 World Religions class. The film, Lee’s direction and Washington’ performance to me was the Angry Black Man, pushing eggs in front on the white sailor’s face on the train (in his mind anyway), reciting inflammatory sermons against the white devil, insulting the white beatnik in the university he is giving a speech to. That scene, by the way, can be a subtle and possibly inadvertent reference to “King Lear,” the beatnik’s question as Lear’s search for validation while Malcolm, as a dissenting Cordelia, gives her the painful answer she needs. Nonetheless he changes with his separation from the Nation of Islam, removing racism from his mind.
Many things have happened between then and now, including a “Mad Men” episode where those characters don’t even bat an eye at this influential man’s death. This rewatch gives the man, the film and those behind it more dimension. We’re not supposed to like him in those ugly moments, pondering, say, that young woman whom Malcolm brushes aside, her face lingering towards the camera for one more second to see the slow emotional damage he might have done to her. But there’s also Washington’s youthful grin while he’s around Sophia, working the train or when he’s learning something new. His narration like a man reaching enlightenment even when remembering Malcolm’s painful memories. Hesitating to raise his voice in times of conflict. That’s also Lee’s purpose in the epilogue. Yes, the director is comparing himself with his subject, showing the world that he, just like Mr. X, isn’t always angry. Lee shows Mr. X smiling, laughing and becoming, to more people around him, a compassionate person.
In the 90′s Part 2
Coming out of the 90’s my lists would have sucked. I was twelve, I grew up on HBO Asia and Kristie Alley. I’ll be harsher towards the pictures than the actresses, because honestly, every woman in this list did some great work, but ten years after the 90’s, I had the chance to see better performances and films. Here’s what my list looks like now. Italics indicate Oscar winners for said categories.
- Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
- Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991)
I don’t understand how James Cameron’s campaign for her failed.
- Irene Jacob (The Double Life of Veronique, 1991)
- Emma Thompson (Howards End, 1992)
- Patricia Arquette (True Romance, 1993)
- Julianne Moore (Safe, 1995)
- Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies, 1996)
- Demi Moore (G.I. Jane, 1996)
- Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, 1997)
- Kate Winslet (Holy Smoke, 1999)
- Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- The Age of Innocence (1993)
- Heavenly Creatures (1994)
There’s a few people in my social circle who thinks this movie is ‘ugly.’ I will one day square off with them.
- Casino (1995)
- La Haine (1995)
Changes yet still romanticizes my perception of Paris.
- Twelve Monkeys (1995)
- Fargo (1996)
- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
If anything, the advantage it would have had against Thin Red Line is how varied the colours are in this film.
- The Thin Red Line (1998)
Then come the lists of what I thought then. This is probably a mix of what you guys think as overrated AND underrated.
Old Best Actress List
- Nicole Kidman (Far and Away, 1992)
The performance is less complex but more lively than her work a decade later.
- Winona Ryder (Little Women, 1994)
- Kate Winslet (Heavently Creatures, 1994)
- Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, 1995)
- Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
Still has the best rendition of the ‘what’s in a name’ soliloquy. Too bad she sucks now, Temple Gradin.
- Madonna (Evita, 1996)
I’m still glad this went to Madonna. It would have been just another notch on Meryl’s belt.
- Demi Moore (G.I. Jane, 1997)
- Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, 1998)
- Sarah Michelle Gellar (Cruel Intentions, 1999)
I don’t understand how she hasn’t made the ‘best evil teen’ list they make once a year.
Old Best Picture List
- Hook (1991)
What? It has Magge Smith, Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts in it.
- Dracula (1992)
- Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Still love it.
- The Lion King (1995)
- Evita (1996)
Still one of the best edited movies.
- Hamlet (1996)
- What Dreams May Come (1996)
- Titanic (1997)
You did too. And again, James Cameron can sink a boat.
- As Good as it Gets (1997)
- Elizabeth (1998)
I kinda think it’s an obscene film now.
The Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End has its Murnauesque tendencies. A drama about property, class, and family, the film’s first four minutes have no dialogue, as Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), owner of the titular house, walks ghostly outside in the garden. She looks in while her husband Henry (Anthony Hopkins), the rest of her family, and a guest, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter) are inside having a party. The film evokes a poetic atmosphere within the English suburbs, with the grass and wisteria and trees and the moon. Helen lightly blames the moonlight for her short engagement with one of the Wilcox son, Paul.
Helen’s poor friend Leonard Bast gets enthralled by his environment as well, and thus gets his silent sequences. They meet after a lecture on Beethoven’s Music and Meaning, showing his intellectual side despite his poverty. She steals his umbrella, he walks in the rain to get it back. He goes on walks because of a book he’s read, much to the chagrin of his wife Jacky. He also has a strange recollection of his first meeting with Helen, the gates close on him but she looks back, smiling.
Howards End is a movie of many tones, but I don’t mean that it’s uneven. There’s the comedy of errors tone, when the other Wilcox son Charles (James Wilby) drives the Schlegel aunt to the house. She confuses him for Paul and a row ensues. Helen and Margaret (Emma Thompson) are pretty funny characters themselves, calling themselves chatterboxes, the Schlegel children critical of their outspoken ways.
Then there’s the elegy, represented by Ruth. If you’ll indulge me in overreading, Ruth is also after a Biblical figure of unwavering loyalty and standing by her family. She was born in Howards End, Howard being a prominent name in some noblemen, a family plagued by tragedy. She’s kind of fragile, most of her children have grown up and married. and her husband tends to leave her in the house for business. She symbolizes permanence, shocked by the notion that Margaret has to move from the house where the latter was born. She has bursts of energy now and then, thanks to Margaret’s friendship, and there’s an implication that Henry and her family bring her down. This role’s part of the roles Redgrave has been getting in her later years, a woman haunted by her past.
There’s also a sense of urgency in the film’s drama, culminating in the forty minute mark, with Margaret becoming the protagonist. She’s like sunshine to this movie, her early moments especially with Ruth, we see her smiling and accommodating. Ruth’s last wish is that Margaret would inherit Howards End, Henry eventually asks Margaret to marry him. In Ruth’s last moments, she inadvertently passes the torch to Margaret, her silence replaced by Margaret’s protestations. Thompson made leading roles out of being the elder sister or friend with the voice of sanity, and her Margaret is still that archetype to Helen. But here in Howards End, she’s stuck between Helen’s idealism and Henry’s ruthless prejudice. Her last fight with Henry is one of the riveting arguments I’ve seen in a British period film and perfectly encapsulates Forster’s liberal stance.
There’s no need to say that Anthony Hopkins is amazing in this film. He plays his character with charm, ruthlessness yet repressed humiliation, opposite yet same from the cannibal that won him the Oscar. It’s reminiscent of other actors doing something different after their Oscar-winning or infamous roles. Like Marlon Brando dabbling in musicals after winning for “On the Waterfront,” or Denzel Washington becoming a sensitive shrink after becoming a psychotic cop, or Jack Nicholson playing a wounded playwright after playing a homicidal novelist, or John Wayne playing fatherly after playing racist.