…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2000

Violent Rich People: Sexy Beast


I was passively watching Sexy Beast the weekend when I had Hot Docs going on and had a lot of backlog, but why not? This movie’s reputation will always be Gandhi Gone Wild, even though Ben Kingsley hasn’t been Gandhi in awhile. He character Don Logan eventually disappears between Spain and Heathrow turns heads in his gangster circle. As the movie’s odd thumb, not perfecting the working class in a ‘tacky suit’ (gangster class?) accent but he makes us pay attention when he puts belligerent on top of belligerent, gauging the right kind of distance between him and the camera and letting his bellows do the job. He brings the ‘David Mamet screenplay’ comparison to fruition, even though it’s reductive and only covers a certain portion of the latter playwright’s work in the 1990’s.

Being the odd link – being too strong might do that, you know – the movie surprisingly loses its energy without him. It all becomes just Ray Winstone‘s character Gal moping, even though he looks too tan, nouveau riche and dare I say attractive to do so. He gets flashbacks about his involvement in Don’s disappearance. In theory both actors are interchangeable for either character, but of course Kingsley has star power and Winstone’s bad boys can be boorish, toothy and one-dimensional for him to carry. It’s all for the relative best.

And again, despite of Kingsley contributing his energy and marquee billing, Winstone’s Gal fights for his right to control the movie’s tone. He’s not necessarily bored with the affluent life, stylistically shown within the movie, yet he and most of his colleagues too old to glamourize it. They’re simply comfortable with it. You can see it by the way he and most of the people interact with each other as opposed to connecting more with their spaces. I suppose that’s what class really means – indifference and being blase about the shiny objects and treasures while knowing that one has earned it.

I also can’t make certain of what I think of the ending, subverting previous expectations – which is probably Gal’s too – that it of it being a movie that belongs within a nihilistic genre. It’s equal parts lounge-y and angry, guilt being the final leg in the movie’s tonal triumvirate. He’s afraid that the gangster honour code would haunt him. Although one positive thing I can say about it is that it breaks the cycle of violence and revenge, which is something most these characters have wanted to do when they’ve reached a certain point. And Don never gets to that point, which is telling of how he ends up.

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Scenes: John Singleton’s Shaft


Search ‘cluster fuck’ in the dictionary and you will find John Singleton’s ‘re-imagination’ of the 70’s classic Shaft. The movie tries to deliver an all-star cast into a violent pool of bullets, beatings and stabbings. Ryan G. Helms was just talking about this. This is especially true around the movie’s sixty-five minute mark with a scene portraying Shaft’s botched rescue of mysterious star witness Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette). She lives in a pier, for some reason. Anyway, I also love how she’s wearing a leather jacket at home, coincidentally well-prepared for any time like now when she has to escape. When she does, all she does is react to the violence around her, as anyone else in the same situation would.

The swift close up zoom on her is reminiscent of the 70’s camera work and aesthetic. We the audience also get the earlier decade’s vibe from the amentioned leather jackets and the music but it feels as if the movie just tacks on these motifs. Calling this movie Shaft sort of elevates this movie. Without the title it would look like a directionless action/crime movie that came a year too late.

“Yo get the BROAD in the fucking car in!” Ok, Busta Rhymes as Rasaan, a second generation Trinidadian or an American with Trini affectations. You’re such a worry wort.

Hey look! There’s also Peoples Hernandez played by Geoffrey Wright. In both the actor’s incarnations as the gangster and the nerd, he will always be the poor man’s Laurence Fishburne. But only Wright had the body and the audacity to pull off a white outfit like that, with histrionic wailing and self-stabbing, reacting to his brother’s accidental and instant death.

See?

“It’s fucked,” Dan Hedaya weighs in with unintentional hilarity. The most exciting four minutes of those people’s lives, thirty seconds of which is Diane and Shaft crossing a street.

And the thing is Christian Bale isn’t even in this scene. He is in others where his character deals with Peoples and his drugs and a memorable one that stuck out when I was younger. The one in the beginning taking place in a lounge/restaurant, playing Walter Wade Jr., a pompous, rich yet crass character that a younger James Marsden would have played. He throws remarks across the room to where Trey Howard (Mekhi Phifer) is sitting, his racism seeming both out of the decade’s context yet timeless, like many tensions between groups of people in any fictional world. Blame the third world child of my past for that skewed perspective.

When Shaft enters the crime scene, he sees blood on Diane’s chin. She doesn’t talk because she seems like she’s also hiding things on her own.


Guilty Pleasure: Love’s Labour’s Lost


We’re on Kenneth Branagh‘s adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese presented Miramax production! It’s one of Shakespeare’s comedies that I haven’t read yet, is about the King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) asking three men in his court, Berowne (Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lilliard) and Dumaine (Adrian Lester) to embrace three years of study and shunning love. Unfortunately, Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone) and her ladies-in-waiting including Katherine (Emily Mortimer) and Rosaline (Natahsa McElhone, her Streepian looks having such promise a decade ago) visit their kingdom. Because of the oath the women have to stay in a tent outside the palace gates outside but that doesn’t stop the men from peeking.

Pardon the blasphemy, but listening to the men harmonize to Irving Berlin classics like “Cheek to Cheek” is an equal alternative to Fred Astaire’s seminal version. The movie’s 1930’s setting also allows Branagh and crew to go all out with the musical numbers, the set pieces, the one-time cabaret-style sexuality, the ridiculous newsreels about mobilization and the war. The colourful cinematography and the costumes are a great treat for actors like Mortimer – who would go de-glam in their future roles.

It’s also about actors who shouldn’t be hanging out together. Branagh, Mortimer and McElhone are fine together, his soliloquies here are better than in his own adaptation of Hamlet. Branagh wants to make things interesting, casting 90’s teen movie regulars Lilliard and Silverstone. Lilliard is awesome in SLC Punk, his American delivery of the Bard’s lines can’t be as distracting as Keanu’s. Silverstone, however, might never rub the glee off her even when she’s playing middle-American mommy roles, but that’s what she’s here for, to offer sunshine and girliness fitting to a movie about romance. If you’ve ever read or heard me call Silverstone a ‘Shakespearean actor,’ it’s because of this movie. I don’t know whether Nivola or Lester fits in more with the Brits or the Americans. And hey, this movie is probably the only Shakespearean adaptation where miscegenation is no. Big. Deal.

Nationality and race is no boundary to make it seem like everyone was happy making this movie, despite its overshot ambitions. Oh and veterans like Timothy Spall as the lustful Armando, Nathan Lane as the King’s clown Costard and Geraldine McEwan as the tutor Holofernia are in this too, camping it up singing and dancing with the rest of the cast. This isn’t just any movie, this is a PARTY!


Almost Famous


The idea of revisiting Cameron Crowe‘s Almost Famous, like revisiting films I’ve seen in my childhood and adolescence, seems like an anxious and difficult one. My taste in movies have changed. Besides, this movie spends its reputation being the two words before a punchline about Kate Hudson‘s wasted career. It also seems like the movie’s opening song is cruel foresight to Jason Lee in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Where is Fairuza Balk and her mixture of sharp and round features and her dated Got spunk, the comic relief, one of the four band-aids or anti-muses distracting 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) from writing his Rolling Stones cover about the fictional band Stillwater, one of the misfits reassuring William’s mother Elanie (Frances McDormand) that she properly raised her son? I want to live in a world where Fairuza Balk is more famous than Zooey Deschanel. And where is Fugit?

ph. Dreamworks

The film features people I recognize when I first saw this in 2001-ish, actors who didn’t make a great impression then but do now or other actors who made an impression but whose names I didn’t know. But I’m naturally fascinated by those I couldn’t have known then. The outwardly anxious band manager is Noah Taylor, who also plays the inwardly anxious father in Submarine. Ben Fong-Torres’ (Terry Chen) right hand man is Rainn Wilson. One of the characters I don’t vividly remember Lester Bangs is, the actor who played him (Philip Seymour Hoffman), nor the way he mourns after post-Altamira rock music where everyone just wants to be cool. The 1973 I knew is the year after “American Pie” and the year before punk. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were the bands everyone listened to and still do today. This movie and Dazed and Confused might make a decent double bill, tackling and deconstructing the cynicism prevalent in the 1970’s. I also remember watching this when I was thirteen or fourteen, when William goes to his first Black Sabbath concert, watching the crowd of cool kids, and I was thinking that that was the last time that kids of all races listened to the same music. I obviously know that I’m wrong about that now.

But while races are united under the music, the film also shows how rock relegates unfair gender roles. How does William fit into all of this? Does that he has a male with a tape recorder mean that he’s above these ‘groupies? He equally idolizes Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) like they do. But Russell isn’t just a figure for William’s idolatry, as the film makes room for him to doubt William’s innocence – which the band only does – as well as confide in him, telling him to just make the band look cool. He in a way embodies a human who’s ambivalent about rock’s inherent contradictions without confusing the audience or breaking William’s soul. Meanwhile, some regard Hudson’s Penny Lane as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl avant la lettre but the airplane scene shows how the men neglected what she wanted from them. Yes, she does help men fences between William and Russell, but the last thing she does is treat herself.

Elaine is obviously the exact opposite of these ‘band-aids,’ being a stricter character, the natural yin to rock ‘n’ roll’s yang. I didn’t remember hearing what her possibly logical arguments have been about rock except that she objected to it. That makes her the film’s frumpy-faced villain, whose phone conversations with her son reinforce her conservative anxieties, the one referred to as a ‘handful’ by a desk clerk (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet). Rewatching made me see her as someone knowledgeable and therefore forging a new and flawed path in new parenting. But in her methods, such as partly homeschooling William, she won’t be right all the time. When she corrects a man for painting the word Xmas – X is Greek so be quiet! Despite her strong reservations about the new music, she’s more liberal than I remember, letting her daughter Anita (Zooey Deschanel) be an independent 18-year-old woman and allowing William to tour with the band instead of the latter two run away. These prodigal children’s eventual return and her understanding of them – as well as Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) – seem more organic instead of looking like a hurried third act finish.

The film is definitely not fast paced, letting its magical moments grow without meditating about them. The film is like walking down a dirty, seedy, big city main street and understandably calling it vibrant. Despite the subject, it’s innocent without being insipid. The film ends with Doris, Stillwater’s tour bus, riding out into the sepia tone sunlight, reminding us that we’re watching a happy nostalgia.


Best Shot Redux: Memento


This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit me with your best shot series.

That’s fortunate since this season of the series requires me to rewatch movies that I’ve either seen before, or like Memento, four times. Twice, when the movie had its run on Showcase in Canada, when it still showed turn of the twenty-first century American independent film that began a new chapter of my love for cinema, unlike the less challenging cable programming and box office movies it shows today. The third time in Cinema and Modernity class, part of the Film Noir section, the first time I saw the beginning of the movie – or is it the end?

ph. Newmarket/Summit/Columbia TriStar/Alliance

Where was I? Rewatching any film means noticing things that I haven’t before. The first series of shots I’m going to talk about are what I thought my best shots were going to be. The bullet casing, animating itself through the film’s first scene playing in reverse, reminding me of Cobb’s totem in Inception. I started looking for other images here that reminded me of the other Nolan films. The birds in Natalie’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) room are less glamorous versions of the birds in The Prestige. Lenny’s (Guy Pearce) fire like the one that burned Bruce Wayne’s house down in Batman Begins. I’ll go for a stretch for The Dark Knight and talk about how both hero and villain mutilate their bodies and how both have unknown pasts.

But all roads lead to Inception, the connection between that magnum opus of a movie and this one are stronger than with Nolan’s other films. Like Cobb, the film shows Lenny remembering his wife through second long shots of her, the objects she used, of the things broken when she was attacked. Instead of the vivid feel of Mal’s flashbacks, Lenny’s wife’s seem fleeting and poetic, like how the only army wife in Malick’s The Thin Red Line is depicted. It’s also strange watching Jorja Fox be the prototype to Marion Cotillard, or is Cotillard Fox’s photocopy?

This one.

Second. The elusive Natalie, going from ordinarily shady character to foul-mouthed villain to everything in between. The audience sees minor characters like her through Lenny’s eyes and encounters. She’s the exception to the rule. Lenny leaves Natalie’s bedroom, leaving  her three seconds to herself, making me wonder about the film’s subjectivity, or if subjectivity is what Nolan is aiming for. She touches Lenny’s side of the bed. Who is she yearning for, Lenny or Jimmy, her drug-dealing boyfriend that Lenny has killed? Is she finding a kindred spirit with her boyfriend’s murderer, since they both have lost loves? Falling in love with him and falling into the trap that she has originally set out for him? The film repeats this moment but instead Lenny acts it out, his reactions to the half-empty bed in his motel room feel less genuine.

I tried avoiding the ‘beautiful woman’ shot I’m always tempted to use, but I couldn’t resist with Carrie-Anne Moss here. What kind of performances she would have given if she wasn’t relegated to being Trinity from the Matrix trilogy? She makes my favourite shot of the film. Also, a few bloggers, including me at one point, have accused Nolan of writing terrible female roles, but it takes him three seconds to turn a seemingly bipolar femme fatale into a nuanced, complex character. And he really likes his brunettes. Whether you think that’s enough is up to you.

Third. In which Nolan gives us the film’s twist, making me wonder why I haven’t noticed this in earlier viewings, or if Nolan just hid this well. And do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get this screen cap? Ten minutes, seven times. Sammy Jankis (Sephen Tobolowsky) turns into Lenny. I am proud of this shot.


Charlie’s Angels


ph. Columbia Tristar DVD

Cameron Diaz is born in 1972. Her father is Cuban and her mother is part Cherokee. Her Cherokee heritage is the reason we’re showing her movies here at APTN.’ So says the voice-over. Here she’s paired with Pete (Owen Wilson), because the film would rather pay for martial arts training than pay for the more expensive Wilson brother.

This should be bad movie territory, and of course it’s not perfect. It’s also an excuse to advertise Nokia, and break said Nokia. The film also has a lot of different espionage scenarios that it might as well be written by the manatees who write Family Guy, which isn’t that bad of a thing here. I saw it for the first time was when I was twelve. The film also makes room for comedy that I can still laugh at today. I don’t know where comedy is placed in McG‘s priorities, so I’ll give the cast credit for that. Fact! Lucy Liu was the fifth choice to play Alex. Other actresses slotted to play Alex were Julia Roberts and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who have their own humour. Other actresses Angelina Jolie and Thandie Newton can wear skimpy leather office wear. But I can only see Liu balance sexy, campy and funny, both dominating and empowering the Red Star engineers. Of course, the film needs someone who can bring funny as much as Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Bill Murray, who have a steady hand in comedy work.

And who can turn down Bill Murray who in the film look like he’s almost improvising? ‘May I have some ice water please?’ He then does some pretend crying, talks to a bird, plays catch with a wall, put antenna in his head, makes fun of Cher. Hilarious.

‘Bitch’ is used in the film at a time when, I imagine, it would sting as bad as the c-word did last year. The word is mostly directed to the angels. The frumpy woman at Red Star says it to Alex, Natalie (Diaz) says it to Eric Knox’s associate Vivian Wood. But when a guy says it to Natalie, he gets punished for it. To our delight.

Fact! Although this is the movie that helped Barrymore into a marriage with Tom Green, this movie put her in the arms of another man. Sam Rockwell and her play doomed couple Eric Knox and Dylan. This won’t be the last time Rockwell’s character would hide something from Barrymore’s. They’ll also be paired up two years later in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Their careers have gone on different paths, but someone pair these two people again, in a more serious movie this time.

The sequence is also one of director McG’s Wachowski Brothers references in the action part of the film, Knox shooting Dylan bullet time style and all. Dylan would later do air kicks, destroying four guys at the same time. Dylan is the shorter and more voluptuous of the girls, the others look like ballerinas while they’re fighting. But she throws more punches that the audience can feel.

The Chad (Tom Green) is great. Where is the Chad? I still think he’s funny and it’s weird to see this film showing him as a relic of the past. Well, as long as he isn’t doing damage to movies today. He’s Canadian? Dammit I was looking forward to hating him!

The film also has a well-rounded soundtrack that covered my bipolar music tastes spanning a decade, from Prodigy to Heart. And of course, to the disco music that is the only clear reference to the TV show in which the movie is based. The final act doesn’t show what Charlie looks like but where Charlie lives. I imagined him to be more of an office guy than some old coot with a Hawaiian shirt on a beach house. Strange. Anyway, Hope you had fun as much as I did.


Female Characters – Crouching Tiger, Hidden…


ph. Columbia Tristar DVD

I’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in parts before, watching Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) sharing tea together and talking about their repressed feelings. Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi)reminiscing about her lost years in the desert. They make me feel like I’m watching a story from Regency period in England as it is a story taking place probably in third century China. But then this movie has fights in them so I know what kind of movie I’m watching. These characters have already made an impression on me before finally seeing the film in entirety, in layman’s terms, knowing what they’re already like.

So I don’t know what it is seeing Shu Lien skip towards the common room to greet Li that strikes me, her feelings emanating through her face and posture. I’m not even sure if this image from the film perfectly captures a young lover within someone supposedly more mature and controlled, because she goes back to being more formal within a split second. I’m comparing this introduction to Shu Lien’s character with the way the film introduces Jen, a demure aristocrat in disguise. Shu Lien’s introduction, however, is a revelation. I use that word even if it doesn’t feel like the rest of her character is lying to herself. She isn’t, she’s just disallowing herself that bit of freedom other thinks she deserve.

There are other women in disguise – like Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), who trained Jen masquerading as the latter’s governess and a policeman’s daughter calling herself a circus performer while trying to find Fox, Jen hiding her own talent from Fox and from the rest of the world. The social strata calls for the female characters to go into these disguises, at the same time this game of pretend allows them to act out freedom and aggression. When other characters, male and female, allow them some defiance, they take on the chance. An example would be the scene when the daughter tells an inspector of her certain belief that a murderer is living under Governor Yu’s household, letting her father’s blood on her shoulder seen by Sir Te.

In a way, this story is just about these two leading women as it is about the Green Destiny. One wants what the other has. There’s also some delicious passive aggressiveness between them specifically from Shu Lien’s part. She tells Jen that she’s happy for Jen’s engagement, temporarily killing the latter’s fantasies of becoming a warrior. She also invites Jen and her mother in guise of an engagement party to test the latter, giving her faint praise after damnation. Jen of course gives the results Shu Lien expects, and does so either because of carelessness, vanity or both. The differences between them are constant until the end, when one goes one direction and the other chooses drastically different. One presumably moves on despite of the death around her, while the other can no longer accept happiness because of the past.