Let me begin by apologizing because I’ll be talking about Julianne Moore’s (vote for her here on Andrew’s Showdown) physicality, especially that in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. But I can’t help but comment on her look, preceding the Jem doll a decade later, evoking the sexuality missing from early Michael Mann LA heist movies. She is a product of her time, Amber is, when women could be pastel glamour without slinking into being tawdry. She can evoke that era in a snapshot.
Or maybe she’s classy in our standards, a quality that only Moore can bring to a character on the other side of the fence. Moore never overacts even in situations where it would call for it, her character being in an industry of exaggeration and reputation, but even then she sells any situation she’s in. She’s sexual but she also understands the banality of her own objectification, allowing distance even from the men she loves. Even if we’re hearing a voiceover of her in that high timbre we can feel the body from where she comes.
Moore’s characters in the 90’s always have been volatile yet caring, active as an actress in a decade of unconventional matriarchs. She’s the mother and the whore and makes a case for the latter. And she is quick in her actions and towards her surrogate children (e.g. Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler), a swift word or nod delivering her inner cognitive dissonance, unknowingly doing harm to the people she loves or dismissing the idea that what she does could be harmful. But she still has good intentions, we sympathize with her when she’s hurt and we cheer as she quietly heals.
I’m writing about these two movies because of Andrew Parker’s Indefensible series, as he presents films that respected Toronto film critics will publicly defend. Among the trailers they showed before showing Alien Resurrection are the worst uses of a recent Oscar winner, a trailer of a vehicle for a guy who’s winning now, and another of the Chad (Tom Green).
Alien Resurrection falls within the wrong hands, with the writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the director of Amelie. I asked critic John Semley about ‘race,’ which is the wrong word to describe the relationship between Ripley Clone #8 (Sigourney Weaver), the aliens, the crew, the space pirates (including Gary Dourdan and Ron Perlman) and a robot (Winona Ryder). Three of those groups work against the aliens and get out of the mother ship. Every alien or monster movie is practically a metaphor for race. The proper word is the ‘other.’ I didn’t want to be that guy in the theatre bringing up film jargon and taking a genre movie too seriously.
Anyway, Alien is a perfect movie because of its evocation of a style and simplicity, making the aliens mere intruders. The token mad scientist (Brad Dourif) disciplines the bred and captured aliens makes an even relationship between human and alien. Both perform unjustified violence against each other instead of only one side doing it to the other. The first scene of the film shows the scientists perversely fawning at her, calling her perfect. Watching Ripley eventually look at botched clones and imperfect versions of herself, and having to kill those clones out of disgust on what the scientist have done to them, and how perfection is achieved, and how people draw lines against each other.
Old adage says that Weaver hasn’t been good since The Ice Storm (released in the festival circuit earlier that year) an opinion she shuts down by elevating the film through moments within her performance. Half of the movie is ridiculous, culminating in a confrontation inside a smaller spaceship between Ripley and an alien who is also technically her son. John Semley made fun of the alien son being made of oatmeal, and watching the crappy special effects of his innards being splattered throughout outer space, but we go back to Ripley’s face, and Weaver’s sincerity and mourning doesn’t seem laughable nor out-of-place.
So what do the movies have in common? Well, viscera, inter-species relationships, parental relationships and the name Betty. The name of the pirate ship in Alien Resurrection is Betty and Freddy Got Fingered‘s protagonist Gord (Green) has a girlfriend named Betty (Marisa Coughlan). Trailers before Freddy Got Fingered include Arnold making fun of himself and a reason why I respect Chris Evans and Jamie Pressley.
Show two gross things, put one random image or plot point after another and 51% of us will be laughing. Every shock comedian probably knows this. It’s like the animation company’s CEO’s (I still don’t understand when Anthony Michael Hall became sexy) reaction to Gord’s father (Rip Torn), the absurdity of the violence is so physical that it seems measured and entertaining. What does a girl on a wheelchair who likes forced fellatio have to do with the Eiffel Tower? And why does Tom Green play a piano sausage and be called crass and excessive, yet when Dali and Bunuel put dead donkeys on top of a piano they’re called avant-garde? Well, even some critics looking at this film from retrospect have referred to it as a Dadist experiment. Its pacing is different. Neither does it compromise to make Gord cheesy and sympathetic like most gross out comedies end up doing to its protagonists.
I also love how Coughlan is the love interest instead of Green’s ex-wife Drew Barrymore, who instead plays a crazy receptionist. Drew’s sunk to a lot of depths but she wasn’t gonna permanently sabotage herself with this one. Well played. Coughlans’ the MVP of this movie. I’ll always have respect for Tom Green as with any guy who pronounces his T’s (I’m starting to notice that comedians and comic actors today have better enunciation than dramatic ones). Everyone else plays one note that go well together in this skull-beating symphony that is Freddy Got Fingered.
Oh, and after the movie, Mr. Wilner started impersonating Tom Green impersonation as if he’s fighting for the film’s final cut. That was great.
Andrew and Sasha James e-mailed me this press release, brightening up my day.
Andrew Parker and Toronto Underground Cinema proudly present the DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE film series starting MARCH 4, 2011.
Film criticism is a strange business these days. In years prior to the rise of the Internet, it seemed like only a select few knowledgeable film critics held sway over the fickle viewing public. Now, it seems as if everyone is entitled to voicing their opinions no matter how strange or unpopular they might be. These conversations have lead to more heated arguments about films that in many cases, might not even be worth talking about. Even the most marginal of films can inspire passionate arguments amongst defenders and detractors. With that in mind Toronto blogger Andrew Parker devised the idea for the DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE film series: a monthly exploration of films that time has either been unkind to or overlooked (or possibly should never be seen again) hosted by local film scholars, writers, and bloggers and designed to better educate the public that film criticism still matters even at it’s silliest.
After lengthy correspondence with several local film writers and various local film buffs, Andrew cultivated a list of suggestions of films that were liked by very few, but could be defended by one singular person very well. From this new list of films Andrew went back to the same writers and asked which of the films the other writers hated the most. Each screening will have a pair of local critics squaring off one on one in a discussion of some of the most divisive films in recent memory.
How it works:
-The evening will be hosted by an emcee that cannot stand the film screening that evening. This person will come on stage first to explain just why the film the audience is about to see is terrible and why the evening’s main presenter is wrong to defend it. This is all in good-natured fun and it will be dealt with in both a humourous and analytical fashion. The evenings should be thought of as a film school version of Fight Club crossed with the bravado of a professional wrestling match with a dash of old school Siskel and Ebert.
-Following the introduction by the evening’s host, our defender will take the stage and explain why the film about to be screened is a good film. This is an uphill battle not only because they are following someone who just blasted the movie about to be screened, but also because simply saying a film is entertaining is not a good explanation. All defenses must be grounded in some sort of close viewing of the film or in some sort of film theory. All defenses must be based somewhat in fact and no one can coast on the entertainment value of a film alone.
-The film will then be screened (in 35mm whenever possible and applicable) and following the film, the emcee and defender will once again take the stage for a brief recap of their arguments before turning over questioning to the audience that just viewed the film. For one of the first times ever in a public forum, a film writer will have to defend an unpopular viewpoint to the very public they have been writing for in the first place. Knowing that some people do not want to sit through these films for a second time, a special offer will be made to those who want to join in the discussion to come in after the film has screened to ask questions for a reduced admission price of $2 (all of which will be given to charity).
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE will be held once a month (on Fridays) at the TORONTO UNDERGROUND CINEMA(186 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario). Admission is $10 per screening with a portion of the proceeds to go to charities agreed upon by the evening’s emcee and defender. Much like Celebrity Jeopardy these people have been gracious enough to donate their time and energy for some truly great causes. People wishing to join the discussion, but not watch the film will be admitted at the end of the film for $2 to join in the Q&A session, all of which will be donated to the charities being represented that evening. All tickets available at the door with no advanced ticketing. Some films will also include special guests involved with the making of the films being screened and some screenings will also include bonus auctions for various charities.
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE SCHEDULE
(Films to be shown on 35mm when available. Films and Guests are subject to change.)
March 4th: Special Series Opening Double Bill ($15 double bill)
7pm: Alien Resurrection, Defended by Norman Wilner (Now, MSN). Hosted by John Semley (Torontoist, amongst others)
9:30pm: Freddy Got Fingered, Defended by John Semley. Hosted by Norman Wilner
Let me interject here. Through their Twitters, John Semley and Norman Wilner were warming up their snarky knuckles for this night. Their passive aggressive banter is already awesome online and I can’t wait to see in person.
And now, a sentence or three that will result in me never getting hired in any major publication in Toronto: You guys are both kinda cute, one of you is a marry and the other’s a boff, but keep the shirts on. No one wants to see that. And yes, that’s in the context of seeing them both before and after seeing ‘horsecock’ on a big screen.
April 1st: Special April Fool’s Day Critic Battle Royale
7pm MacGruber, Featuring Will Sloan (The Varsity, Exclaim), Adam Nayman (Eye Weekly), Norman Wilner, and many more. Special guests and prizes!
April 15th: One of Our Own Night
7pm Speed Racer Defended by Toronto Underground Cinema’s Animation Series coordinator Peter Kuplowsky. Hosted by Adam Nayman
May 20th: The Tag Team Title Match
7pm Observe and Report Defended by Will Sloan and series creator Andrew Parker. Hosted by John Semley and Adam Nayman
June 24th: Ashton Kutcher Appreciation Night
7pm The Butterfly Effect Defended by Adam Nayman. Hosted by Norman Wilner.
And so forth. To my Toronto readers, come! To my readers who don’t live in Toronto, still come. I’ll write about further dates and movies as written in the press release and updates.
Noir’s style to me is its ink-like darkness and shadows. The colourful L.A. Confidential doesn’t necessarily give you that mood, even the music isn’t as bombastic. When it comes to the visuals, its characters don’t come out like figures in a diorama like it does in classic noir. The rustic colours bring the past image of L.A. infrastructure and fashion to the present, and sometimes red pops out either on a female character’s lips or on her dress, or both male and female characters bled to death, reminiscent of the crime tabloids like the fictional ‘Hush-Hush’ featured in the film. It’s Christmas in Los Angeles after all, and everybody’s neon Christmas lights are up.
The film introduces us to main characters, the letters of their names appearing obviously like it would on typewritten paper. Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) ‘has a thing for helping women,’ is a guy who gets attention through his tough demeanour, relegated through errands. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a detective adviser for a TV show, ‘Badge of Honour,’ with swagger of a narcissistic cop. Sgt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), is a young cop whose father has also been in the business whose superiors think is too clean-cut to be detective. There’s a fourth character who doesn’t get captions – Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), groomed to look like Veronica Lake.
Their lives are getting more intertwined as two criminal cases come up. The first is a beat-down by multiple officers including White and his partner Bud Stensland against six Mexicans – some racist cops call them ‘spics’ or ‘Poncho’ – probably wrongly jailed for killing a fellow officer and injuring another. The second is a shooting in the Nite Owl that leads to more deaths, more crimes revealed and more tarnished reputations.
The interesting visuals come up fifteen or twenty minutes after the film begins. Crime lord Mickey Cohen’s henchmen and potential successors slowly get mowed down, like Deuce Perkins. Smoke and dust clouds appear occasionally on the screen. When Perkins gets slain, the glass in his house shatters and smoke builds and thins out, two men in the background walk away. A vehicle on the outskirts of the city drives further away. Little trails as White sneaks into a suspect’s house. Police cars approach Exley after a deadly final shootout.
While Vincennes reluctantly agrees to snitching Stensland about the ‘Bloody Christmas’ incident, Exley watches from the adjacent room, his reflection on the screen like an omnipresent reminder. More mirrors appear in this film. One where Vincennes looks at himself before going to a motel to find a young actor murdered. There’s another mirror again between Exley and those observing him after the big shoot out, Exley only able to see his own reflection. The observer’s reflections are bigger, but he’s able to bridge the gap, telling them his conditions.
Lynn – a threatening figure who becomes White’s girlfriend – and other women’s looks have symbolic attachments. She belongs to network of prostitutes groomed, cut and dyed like the era’s movie stars, and tells White that this at least lets them act. Exley mistakes Lana Turner for a prostitute cut to look like the actress. White sees a woman with a bandaged nose, assuming abuse on a woman who has undertaken plastic surgery, commenting on the practice itself. The bandaged woman becomes a Nite Owl victims, a cop comments that she looked like Rita Hayworth, funny since a Margarita Cansino underwent operations to become Hayworth. The film ends with Lynn voluntarily changing herself to look like Marilyn Monroe, the latter herself is a dyed and cut creation of Norma Jean and Hollywood. Prostitutes are actresses are girlfriends, their physical changes mark the times their and their society’s attitude change from urban mystery to an optimistic, domestic retreat.
Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) fools around in his basement with Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), but he hears footsteps approaching. Like young people, they expected to be told that this behaviour isn’t correct, as her father Ben (Kevin Kline) does publicly. We the audience have expectations too, that punishment follows sin, and the sinners will all be drowning in tears in the end of every exposure of wrongdoing. But what if the punishers, in this case the parents, take part in the same kind of behaviour? That sort of is the problem here in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1973.
I also just realized days after watching this that the characters also like punishing each other. Although punishment isn’t their prime motives nor they have fully decided to do this for the 48 hours that the film portrays. Mikey’s mom Janey (Sigourney Weaver), irritated by her workaholic husband, has an affair with Ben, which is how the latter fortunately finds the two kids fooling around in the Carver basement. Ben’s wife Elena (Joan Allen) slowly finds out about this affair, and forcibly joins her and Ben to a ‘key party’ – where the husbands put their keys in a bowl and the wives pick a key, their husband’s or not. Yes, some of those actions are vengeful, but their unreliable spouses adds to these characters’ loneliness.
Period object time – The Jesus Christ Superstar poster on the train from New York City to New Canaan, the fashions and pastor’s hair as we hear Harry Nilsson in the background, the action figure of the American soldier whose genitals the Viet Cong has stolen, Ben’s son (Tobey Maguire) reading the Fantastic Four (?). Your turn.
Is this Kevin Kline’s movie? Joan Allen and the others steal the movie from him but the water-bed is his.
Ang Lee likes nature, from the torrential rain in the countryside hills in Sense and Sensibility to the bamboo trees in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here in this film we see Ben leave Janey’s postmodern house to his own by walking through some nicely arranged wooded areas that start from her backyard. When Ben busts Wendy, they share the same route and he gives her advice. The area’s multi-purpose, where Janey’s younger son blows up his toys for God knows why, sexual repression or aggression? Lee chooses to adapt a film with a suburban setting, since it’s where man meets nature and both compromise, nature is where humans hide. The only person who can’t really reconnect is Elena, who follows Wendy’s example by biking through the off-roads of the suburbs. She deviates by shoplifting in the pharmacy like her daughter and gets caught, making a big scene.
The film’s title The Ice Storm is also a natural phenomenon, a thing greeted with warning by the weather specialists on TV, making it difficult for cars and trains to go around, an indirect challenge to the characters. Mikey sees it another way, enjoying the harshness and the beauty it produces. For a while his loneliness, as well as the other characters, isn’t as bad. The storm gives us a tragic end, and we can see those factors as something only God would inflict on the film’s characters. It doesn’t feel like anything will change, and no, I’m not saying key parties will still happen in this town. The film actually makes us feel like this tragedy is as bombastic as other directors might convey through their possible versions of the film. Lee’s tone is constant, solid and makes us feel as if the dysfunctional Hood family will be together after the event.
This movie to me is epic poetry in cinematic form. No, not ‘epic’ in the Lawrence of Arabia definition, nor the Scott Pilgrim definition. It’s ‘epic’ in a way that it has a heroine and that it portrays an action that changes both the heroine and the nation she belongs to. Director James Cameron’s last films, Titanic and Avatar, shows main events both real and fictional. A ship sinks. A tree is toppled. Yet Cameron chooses a daunting historical event and can extract so much human drama and detail from those deceivingly simplest of plots. It’s what Milton would have done with a camera.
Even the voices screaming out of the ocean and the icicles building in the hair of the dead floating haunts by every viewing of the film. As with the epic and the poem, Titanic captivates its viewer its images. The pre-Raphaelite references when we see both women floating inside the ship, of our heroine Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) waiting for rescue, of the red-headed Winslet’s casting itself, of Jack sinking down or when we see the elder Rose (Gloria Stuart) walking in the end of the film. Or images reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch when the remaning working class passengers try to hold on to the ship as it sinks. Or Fritz Laing’s flood scenes in Metropolis. There are also images that Cameron can call his own, as the ship becomes a soulless leviathan china float on the water, luxury deemed insignificant while facing harsh nature.
I suppose arguments against Titanic‘s epic style can be derived from the romance in the main plot, shrinking the thousands of stories into one or two. That Rose and Jack Dawson (Leonardo di Caprio) are conveniently there when the iceberg strikes. Or that, on a Tolstoyan tradition, supporting characters either die or disappear in order of importance. But I watched this every three months or so for the past two years, at a time of my life when I view mortality seriously. The film’s third act is its strongest, when my attention goes to the priest saying prayers, or the people who speak different languages stuck in the third class levels who are unable to get out to safety, or anyone else falling to their deaths. Cameron dedicates a lot of time to distract us from the main romance and does his best to allow us to contemplate each person’s death without making them inhumanly excessive.
Another problem with this film belonging to the epic genre is that is doesn’t allow gray areas for the characters. Rose Dewitt-Bukater (Kate Winslet), this film’s Scarlett O’Hara, always hates her gilded cage, is always decided on who she likes and dislikes. The film then strikes a clear line, the people she likes are always good like Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) or Mr. Andrews (Victor Garber) and the ones she dislikes always treat her terribly, like her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and her fiancée Cal (the underrated Billy Zane). The ship’s sinking also delineates those lines, the characters acting consistently to which side they’re on and making mostly new heroes and some villains out of the bit players. With the exception of Jack, but her love-hate feelings towards him are really feelings of love repressed because of class differences.
Repeated viewings also make me honour diCaprio’s performance. When I saw it in its original theatrical release, I saw him as an annoyingly boisterous boy. But now I can see how altruistic his character is. His career is full of characters who would go places no one would dare to, often acting as our tour guide. It makes sense that the same actor who would climb a water tower in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and the actor mentoring the audience through the dream worlds of Inception is the same actor who can make a safer thrill ride out of a sinking ship. Jack assuring Rose everything’s all right, even making jokes while he’s freezing on the ocean. The elder Rose tells a younger generation that she doesn’t even have a picture of Jack, because it was unnecessary, at the time thinking that their future was for them to live together.
What also, to my opinion, makes the film more poignant than Avatar is that this is about the small victories that characters try to claim in times of defeat, that the survivors will still dwarf compared to the mankind’s failed infrastructure. Despite the little love story, the film doesn’t try to lie to us, not trying to convince us that they’ll fully regain their romance. That in reality, a lover’s sacrifice is a bit painful for both parties.
This movie won Best Picture between 1995 and 2001, arguably the Academy’s most misguided era. Nonetheless, the horde of mostly girls and some boys who will watch this movie, can quote it, will drop whatever they’re doing to rewatch the movie, and can even remember the names of Jack’s friends. There are also other, slightly more ‘observant’ minds who see the humanity in this film will say that it still holds up.
Mina (Mina Mohammed-Khani), a little Persian girl with a broken arm, isn’t one of the school girls running across the pedestrians, on their way home. She’s left alone, waiting for her pregnant mother in front of her school gate. The Mirror doesn’t tell us how long she’s been waiting, the child’s anxiety of being left alone in a city warps her and the audience’s understanding of time. She clings on to an unknown woman’s black burqa to cross a street without stop lights. She tries to use a payphone and succeeds by having to climb the phone booth’s sides. This is just the first of her challenges, and when she goes out further into the city to go back home, the film proves how inhospitable Tehran could be especially to a second class citizen like her.
Then, while riding a bus, a man off-screen tells Mina to stop looking at the camera, making Mina react and yell that she doesn’t wanna act anymore, leaves the set, and crosses through Tehran to go home. She eventually runs into an old woman who was an extra in the film, telling the latter that she didn’t like her character, that she doesn’t like the crying because her classmates might think she’s too whiny. She doesn’t like the arm cast making her look clumsy. She doesn’t want being cast as a first grader. The camera then follows her as she asks for directions home, while trucks occasionally blocking our view of her.
In a way, Mina’s escape from the film set is her disavowal of limiting third world stereotypes. Her critiques of the crying, the arm cast and her youth are symbols of a supposedly debilitated Iran. It’s like Margo Channing fighting with Lloyd Richards. Of course, I still think this is all planned out, remembering that I did hear the director’s off-camera voice as the first break from the original storyline. The rest of the film can thus be seen as a set of disavowals and unintentional acknowledgments. The camera following her, latently to make sure she’s safely home, feels like a safety net to acknowledge that a person might not really be safe. Mina’s no longer acting but she’s performing independence. You can hear her voice through the mike attached to her body, but she might be far away, She no longer wants to be an actress, but she’s nonetheless a part of Iranian cinema.
- Iranian film maker goes on trial, rejects charges (omg.yahoo.com)