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Posts tagged “1996

Seduction and Jerry Maguire

The titular Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) wears two shirts two sizes too big to a Mexican restaurant. Afterwards, he walks his single mother of a date (Renée Zellweger) up her porch and hands her the leftovers. He meekly and respectfully pecks her on the lips but she reaches for his neck and returns the favour. They try to tell each other good night, trying to set each other’s boundaries. But they do things on that porch what they could do in a place that has four walls.

This is what sex could look like in movies. Director Cameron Crowe and his chooses to show kisses and close-ups of the two fully clothed lovers’ faces together. A director could plop a tripod near a wall of a dimly lit bedroom but there’s something in the implicit and romantic that makes two people falling in love look like an art form. This reminds me one of the earlier scenes in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It with You, Cruise and Zellweger whispering to each other like Jimmy Stewart and Ann Sh…Jean Arthur, both couples basking in stylized warmth.

Another great aspect of their romance is that they’re surrounded by people who love each other, including Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for his role here and Regina King, who plays Gooding Jr.’s wife.

I remember seeing this movie when I was younger but not this scene. I just remember the first part and another one with Zellweger and a then young and nerdy-looking Jonathan Lipnicki, who plays her son in a car. Or maybe he was in the car with Cruise. Anyway, the scene I’m describing in the past two paragraphs feel like something I would have seen as a child. God knows which movie couples whom kids are watching and learning from these days. I also don’t remember – and correct me if I’m wrong – Cruise doing anything further than this despite of his Hollywood crush object status. His character in Eyes Wide Shut was probably the most sexually frustrated one.

And the joke is that I can’t even stand these two people. Couldn’t then, couldn’t now. But still, I really like how effective this scene is.

Once Upon a Time, Larry…

…Flynt (Woody Harrelson) discovers God. An old woman named Ruth wearing pastel-coloured suits leads him to this path. He gets baptized in a river, accompanied by stereotypical black gospel singers, robes and all. He misinterprets the word of God or our traditional understandings of it. He tells his editorial staff that he wants to show hardcore depictions in his magazine or have a golden plaque that says Jesus H. Christ on his office table. The older woman drives a wedge between Larry and his ex-stripper wife Althea (Courtney Love).

There’s musicality in the scenes’ speedy montages in Milos Forman‘s The People Vs. Larry Flynt, reminding us that he’s the same guy who directed Hair and Amadeus. Nothing is impossible, not ‘surprise ending’ impossible or ‘special effects’ impossible in 1996 but 1970’s impossible, when anyone can make a big budget film about a man who made an empire out of prurience. Imagine what Orson Welles and Michael Cimino would do if they collaborated, without the indulgences and the meticulous crazy. Who else but Milos Forman, who makes out with Catherine Deneuve in movies now instead of making films as ambitious this.

Even the decline of Larry’s Jesus years play like trumpet notes in the wind. After facing another obscenity trial in some Southern town he gets shot, paralyzed. The older woman comes to him and he laments that he can’t make love to his wife again. Despite her comforting words and his paralysis he says something that shocks the non-practicing Catholic in me. ‘There is no God.’ Powerful stuff.

Then Althea says ‘We are porn again’ with such executive delivery, as if it isn’t Love’s post-Hole acting.

I first saw this film in Media Class in Grade 11. It was my semi-formal initiation into art house films, a class that taught me about the appearances in the media and how they fool their demographics. The People vs. Larry Flynt is one of the movies my teacher showed us. And it was a perk because I worshipped Love because she was skinny and had the right amount of crazy. Because we were in a Catholic school, he told us to promise not to tell anyone that he’s showing us this movie. That makes my guitar teacher who taught us heavy metal riffs look way innocent by comparison.

This movie tells a story about a slightly incapacitated Goliath slinging stones at his own demons, from a poor country boy to starting Hustler magazine. Since the magazine’s foundation he’s been trying to reclaim his control of his publications despite of enemies from without and within. He knows exactly what he wants in his magazine, which forbidden body pats these women will be showing, what or who the women will be with and how it is going to look on the magazine’s matted paper. And will not apologize because of it.

In 1996 this is another male character paralyzed because of his job while his devoted and altruistic wife inflicts harm upon herself. In Althea’s case she keeps taking opiates way after her husband has quit taking them. Their physical challenges intertwined like a bittersweet tragedy, this time playing out within the tacky opulence we expect from an adult entertainment mogul.

I think it difficult for Love to play a drug addict or easy, depending on what you think and/or know about her. And if Harrelson, who got an well-earned Academy Award nomination for this role, loses the physical charm that he gives Larry in the movie’s first half, he becomes one of many actors playing physically challenged roles excellently, using his face to deliver emotion, compassion and affection. His eyes go to and fro before the words slowly leave his tense jaw, talking with the direct authority and a cultivated deep slur that the real Larry Flynt still has. His blue eyes mark the traces of handsomeness, coming out through the unkempt hair. And he gets to play around with the wheelchair quite a bit too.

Larry Flynt offended middle America both with pornography and irreverence towards sex, politics and religion. What ensues are many courtroom scenes where, among his many troubles with the law, he and Jerry Falwell challenge each other. Falwell sues because of a satirical Campari ad claiming that he had committed incest while Larry counter-sues because Falwell restrains on his right to satire. These litigations are taking place while Larry’s lawyer (Edward Norton) is babysitting him, even getting a laugh from the Supreme Court. The movie should have some credit for America giving Flynt respectful indifference while Falwell, revered in Reagan’s years is now one of the most hated men in America.

Overreading Colour! Shine!

This is stupid. Let’s begin.

Red is used in Shine, denoting public arenas where adolescent David Helfgott (Noah Taylor), well…shines. The curtains of a stage where he plays and is hailed a prodigy. He meets Isaac Stern. He’s supposed to tell Stern, through his stage dad Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl)’s coaching, that he’ll give anything for success. Surprisingly Daddy wants to thwart David’s education, offered to him by Stern himself. The colour is also used in a library scene, meeting a girl but leaves her out of obligation. Red marks the boy’s desires, repressed yet encouraged.

Humour me as I try to combine both pink and orange in symbolism, the two complementing each other, used on different times in young David’s life. The former, as you can see in the still, is the girl’s room where he can bond with his sisters and tell him about others who encourage his dreams of studying in America. The latter in a more minor moment, as he wakes up after a drunken night out in the town, wearing an orange boa feathered scarf, one eye-opening to his new world in England. Those colours mark freedom for David.

There’s a lot of green around Peter. The vegetation in his shack’s front porch, tall to protect his family from being taken by the outside world and the backyard grass, where he can watch over them. Except for the girl’s room, most of the house has green wallpaper, including the piano room where he teaches David, in the bathroom and in David’s bedroom. In the still, he’s telling David that hating one’s own father is the worst thing in the world. The colour in the interior scenes feel masculine, less of a stabilizing sense but more drab, weathered and gloomy.

White has its double meanings. We see it’s strongest manifestations around David’s music professor Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud), the latter’s collection of marble representations of body parts of the greatest musicians including Rachmaninoff’s beautiful hands. The piano keys themselves suggest the classicism that the music suggests and requires for the people who love it and want it. It’s an intellectual, genius’ colour. As the cliché goes, genius borders with insanity, the same colour of David’s hospital gowns.

Black. An internal colour, where David remembers the music and simultaneously forgets it. His hair that’s perfectly combed only to be dishevelled with sweat. His enlarged pupils. Cecil warns him not to let the music engulf him. This shot at first didn’t make sense, David’s head being vertical makes me feel like he never falls. Maybe that’s the point, or that this way we can see that there’s more air space above him. How much he’s lost into the space of the music.

Gold and yellow are closer relatives than pink and orange. The first pair, for both young and old David (Geoffrey Rush), mark domestic spaces outside his home, places where women dominate. The first belongs to David’s intellectual mentor. She’s the first person he tells about any scholarship, the golden brown effect coming from her eclectic possessions and personality. The yellow comes in as wallpaper on one of the institutions where David is admitted, a freer space where mentally challenged people can relax.

Lastly, there’s blue, shining through the windows of the lounge where he starts playing again. And with his sheet music floating his wife Gillian’s (Lynn Regdrave) pool, having to fetch him and sheet music from the pool. Blue spaces seem controlled, even modern. They represent his second birth towards performing music and the support he needs to do so, and again he gets that support from female characters. But unlike his younger self, he’s ready this time.

100: Breaking the Waves

Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) petitions to an all-male Christian council to be married to an outsider, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard). She tells them that the outsiders are good because of their music, her eyes telling the camera that she isn’t talking about music at all. It’s already been established that her community’s very patriarchal, that even in the beginning, a beloved member of a community and her family will be addressed with the words ‘Hold your tongue, woman.’ Or that women in her community are not allowed to discuss questions during church like men. Or that this society relegates women to waiting for their men for long periods of time as they go to work on the rigs. These first scenes already denote the film’s themes – a young woman’s blossoming sexuality clashing with patriarchal suffocation. In no way do these scenes prepare us for the film’s second half, putting Bess in an emotional roller coaster on earth previously unimaginable.

Women are forbidden to go to funerals. Antony Dod Mantle (not pictured, not that I know) will rise again to win an Oscar.

Bess has put a heart on November 26 on her calendar, marking Jan’s scheduled return. She lets out a childlike outburst when she finds out that her sister Dodo has ripped and hidden the calendar. She wrestles with God (Watson in a deeper voice, don’t ask) for her husband to return ten days before he’s supposed to come. God tells her that she’s changed but nonetheless grants her wish. I watched the movie on November 27,  thirty something years and a day after Jan’s supposed to come back.

I’ve had at least a week to think about the film’s ending. Sure she didn’t plan for her husband’s debilitating injury. Nonetheless, Bess got the best possible escape to her situation. I wish I can have someone to politely argue against this film with me. I’m usually good to subscribe to feminist, politically correct readings that speak out against auteur’s misogyny. Yes, showing a woman being oppressed isn’t enough to be the equivalent of a statement that women shouldn’t be oppressed, as many aueturs and apologist critics and film writers have lazily tried to argue. von Trier, from the only other movie I’ve seen of his, gives his women 150 seconds of victory to erase 150 minutes of degradation. It’s up to you the audience to buy that, which I do. Yes, change is the only way to combat a patriarchal society. Yes, Bess is still dead. However, it’s not as if Bess can move to New York City and burn her bra. Yet her sacrifices ensured her husband’s convalescence who in turn can defend her right for a proper burial. Dodo eviscerating the men at Bess’ funeral seems satisfying. Lastly, von Trier successfully makes his audience believe that Bess did go to heaven. I know I should have a problem with the material, but I don’t.

Mission Impossible

ph. Paramount

Did you know that Kristin Scott Thomas is in this movie? You’d almost forget because they kill her off at the first twenty-five minutes. Killing off Emilio Estevez is fine, but killing off KST is unforgivable. As Nathaniel R wrote, she has to put up with so much shit. With all due respect, she can serve this movie better than Emmanuelle Beart can.

Director Brian de Palma long takes, putting us inside Ethan’s (Tom Cruise) POV during a mission. He also likes canted angles. He uses it when Ethan when his team dies in Prague and contacts someone higher up at the IMF (not the real IMF). This guy here is accusing Ethan of supplying money from the IMF to add to the bank account that his father’s illness would have bankrupted. Ethan knows nothing about this money. He’s also accusing him of betraying the agency for a certain Max. Who the h is this Max?

You know what, Cruise is a pretty good-looking guy. I don’t know why I never got it, except for the fact that he oversells half of all the scenes that he’s in. And when stuff explodes, his arms flail. If I ever saw flailing arms on an actor, I would never consider casting him in any action film. Which is probably why I’m not a casting director.

This is obviously the best installment on the Mission Impossible series, having the class, panache, clean finish, glamour and sex while the others are too focused on the action-y, physical aspect of the action film. But yes, I am still looking forward to the new sequel because of Jeremy Renner, who’ll at least bring the sex part into the equation.

Sling Blade

ph. Miramax

The male characters in the Southern small-town setting of Sling Blade are different yet the same. Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow-witted man who’s out from the ‘nervous hospital’ after being there for twenty-five years. His friend Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) is just a boy – he reads books but we never see him go to school in most of the film. Their friend Vaughn is an owner of a stable dollar store, his homosexuality an open secret to the small community that is ambivalent in accepting him. Frank’s mother’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) is an abusive alcoholic who has aspirations in the music business.

Frank’s mother defends Doyle by saying that ‘he’s had a hard life,’ a statement that applies to all four guys. Specifically, in the first three examples, they have shitty father figures. With the ‘same difference’ that these four guys have, the film paints a social pattern. This movie is only a public service announcement for those who will see most movies that way. What separates this fictional community from lesser movies is that it doesn’t ask for outside help and takes care of its own problems.

Or that Thornton, also the movie’s director, didn’t choose to portray the plot points by changing the tone of the movie through non-diagetic music or heavy editing. What happens in the movie gets normalized through long takes, etc. It’s strange when Karl and Frank talk about something that is bound to happen again. I’m not sure if that prepares me as an audience. What happens, nonetheless, is still shocking when I finally see it.

The performances of the two leads, Thornton and Black, are an acquired taste, arguably dated, but I got used to them eventually. For Thornton’s Karl, there’s mannerisms, check. Catch phrase, check. And we’ve had a lot of ‘special’ male characters in that decade. Forrest Gump, Leo in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Geoffrey Rush in Shine. With any character like Karl, it takes a lot of commitment to be entrenched in a character like that and it’s hard to judge choices like his. And Black at first seems less animated for an abused child, but the one scene in the climax proved that I spoke against him too early. He was just getting warmed up.

Image: My Fellow Americans

(ph. Warner)

Random Thoughts on Secrets and Lies

You know Marianne Jean-Baptiste from “Without a Trace” but before that, she has played Hortense Cumberbatch in this great Mike Leigh film “Secrets and Lies.” There are drastic events thrown at her character’s life in the past two months. At one point she almost turns up as the depressed, obsessed girl who alienates her old friend, but she seems well-balanced and even cheerful for that. She’s pretty much the equivalent of Sally Hawkins’ Poppy in “Happy Go Lucky.”

Her smiles and goofy faces even pull up everyone around her, like Cynthia Purley, the screechy and mentally fragile woman who we’d find out is Hortense’s white mother. Played by Brenda Blethyn, she has her flaws but thankfully she’s more verbose than Imelda Staunton’s eponymous Vera Drake. She reluctantly meets the daughter she has given away, but her  week nights with Hortense made her rise from her fragility to become an older woman of class.

(Roxanne learns everything for the first time. ph. secret)

The story culminates in a birthday celebration in the suburbs, and yes, it did feel awkward watching one secret pour after another, where one person sobbing triggers another, which made the scene seem both stage-like and real in one stroke.

There’s so many interesting things about this movie – how Cynthia’s rank bitch of a daughter Roxanne becomes strangely beautiful while she’s being vulnerable for the first time, how whoever cast Timothy Spall as the schlubby voice of sanity that he’ll be in half of his movies is a genius,  how long takes are enjoyable with truthful dialogue, how it did work out that Hortense must be lost and regained than to never have been lost at all, how we realize that the portraits of the multicultural Britain get perfectly merged into a family after twenty or so years of struggle.

(The sun in London. ph. secret)

And there’s something glorious about this last shot. The sun shines on Cynthia. You can see Hortense’s face smiling even from that height. The backyard’s a little untamed but it’s the perfect place for a banal teatime.

And big digression here but just seeing this ultimate dysfunctional family, I just know that Mike Leigh should direct August: Osage County with a fuck off British cast.

I’m so emotionally exhausted from that movie now.