…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2001

This is NOT Funny 2


‘I realize that it dun sound as funny as I described it.’ You bet, star and director Jay Chandhrasekhar.

‘Cocaine?’ And it’s customary with every thing written about Super Troopers ever to say that the ageless Lynda Carter, also known as Wonder Woman, makes a cameo here as Governor Jessman. Another cameo is Geoffrey Arend or Mr. Christina Hendricks, who looks taller here because he’s skinnier a playing a teenage partier back a decade ago.

‘Sorry I don’t talk to highway hog.’ Marisa Coughlan, one of the late 90’s smart blonde ingenues, is less embarrassing here than in her two other movies. She’s playing a ‘female cop facing sexism in the workforce’ kind of role, and she crosses bureaucratic lines, performs banter where no one laughs at each other and takes a liking to a titular state highway patrolman (Paul Soter, specifically) living in a small, fictional border town called Spursbury, Vermont. She helps him solve, in her own special way, the big drug case that will save the troopers from being slashed from the state budget. Part of the plot involves Canadians as drug supply enemies which, you know, it’s usually the other way around but we do have product to sell on our side too, admittedly.

I’m not sure whether this movie is ambitious or not so I can’t compare it in that yardstick. But ‘stoner frat boy comedy,’  in its early stages? Chandhrasekhar, with his comedy troupe called Broken Lizard, makes his movie look professional in the cinematographic sense. But he underplays the comedy, the camera too distant and the surreal sequences, which probably looked fantastic in the script, are not paced well. Not even sleep deprivation, which is a drug in its own classification with which I’m addicted, can make this funny. Too many dick jokes, unnecessary cursing and weird-for-weird-sakes kind of costumes. This is an almost deal breaking movie to those involved in making it even if yes, the mixed critical reception for this isn’t as bad as I thought. Broken Lizard also made Beerfest, a movie of which I have a sliver of interest because “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte stars in that one. And they’re making a sequel.

There’s also a subplot involving a trooper named Farva (Kevin Hefferman) who bounces between patrol work, desk and cleaning duty. These switches make him betray his co-troopers and join the real police force. I mention him to warn you guys that there is gross full male nudity here (sorry if the warning is too late). But at least it’s equaled by partial male nudity. Three times. The director takes one for the team.

And this is funny, Brian Cox being the veteran that he is and playing ‘angry drunk’ effortlessly. Although his musical speaking voice is betraying that he has better training than this movie.


Ghibli: “Laputa” and “Spirited Away”


It’s difficult for my mind to stray while watching Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, especially the bombastic sound work in Tenko no Shiro Laputa (the English title is Castle in the Sky. Laputa is an unfortunate title if you know a bit of Spanish but we’ll use it for brevity’s sake). I’ll never forget the dimensional feeling of the air crafts. But as the characters started to sink in I realized that I grew up with anime, especially ones that portrayed ‘Western’ narratives. This cross-cultural storytelling is interesting in the visual sense. I know the young arms catching Sheeta from the air, starting their puppy love – are just plain slabs of white meat between penciled borders but somehow I felt the characters’ sinewy qualities on-screen.  I also like its accuracy, capturing how the European build is more muscular, dense and square shaped although that’s probably just my ignorance talking.

Also, older women such as Mama are booby but not in a sexual way. Speaking of which, the sexuality in Laputa is a bit disturbing, as Mama’s crew are metres away from preying on Sheeta although they do blurt out the subtext that the innocent-looking Sheeta might grow up to be a good witch like Mama. But it’s not just about the human characters, the robots and the plot also showing how Miyazaki influences Brad Bird and Chris Miller. Puss in Boots also has the same plot and imaginative spirit but the latter tucks in and lets out. Think about it.

Spirited Away begins with a family uneventfully moving into the smaller suburbs, makes a detour to what looks like an abandoned amusement park and turns into a ‘introduction to work and adulthood and its pitfalls’ metaphor. It also shows more slender Asian bodies in Chihiro and the other cynical bath house servants she joins. It’s a more Japanese narrative but that doesn’t mean that European visual tropes are completely absent. Chichiro’s father has the same stocky European build before he and his wife eat the amusement park food – where are the guests? – and magically turn themselves into pigs. The Mama lookalike of a matriarch, Yubaba, and her overgrown baby almost turn the exception into the rule, as well as the visitors of Yubaba’s resort for the gods, spirits and monsters, most of them looking like characters from Where the Wild Things Are. I’m not saying that Miyazaki relies too heavily on Western influences as he also includes river dragon gods into the mix and actually makes these characters, whatever they look like, into his own.

I’m also probably in the minority that likes the simple structure and the complex characters in Laputa although I do admire the consistent menace of Spirited Away‘s matriarch. I also like Laputa‘s three different visual textures while depicting the landscapes. Spirited Away, however, also marks a digitized aesthetic, especially in depicting objects and characters moving through vegetation. What does make the latter film special, in an Berlin Film Festival and Academy-award winning way, is its unrelenting and inexhaustible imagination, introducing more fantastical creatures and mises-en-scene like the hand lamp greeting them after a trip on a train that crosses an ocean, coming just after me thinking that Miyazaki must have run out of them.

Spirited Away has two screenings at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, on April 1st at 7:00 PM and April 7th at 1:00 PM. You can also catch Laputa one last time on April 7th at 6:30 PM.


LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring


While watching  Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen, my friends, as you, realize that I have never seen it until now. Yeah, it’s really sad.

Movies with people with long hair look more dated than movies with people with short hair. This is the conclusion I got from looking at Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) hair. But I don’t say the word dated as an insult and other elements in the movie that give it that vintage-y vibe. The colors here are deeper as opposed to saturated or drained. The CGI, which is unfortunately becoming director Peter Jackson‘s signature as of late, is almost absent if not beautifully seamless.

And yes, I’m surprised at how Peter Jackson-y this movie is, having fewer similarities with King Kong and more with his earlier and raw work like Heavenly Creatures. He takes shots of Frodo and other characters in a voyeuristic way through windows or  through uncomfortable arm’s-length distances. It’s also close-up heavy, like that of Gandalf the Grey’s (Ian McKellen) who makes us feel like he’s larger than life. Jackson also gives that sense of urgency, telling Frodo, and us the audience, about strange lands from which Hobbits are supposed to stay away. In the same vein, tracking shots and zoom outs, like the one when Gandalf visits Saruman (Christopher Lee), have just enough wobble to let its audience know that a human being is behind the camera.

After a prologue, this trilogy starts with peace, showing the Hobbits living within the greenery of the Shire. Short shot lengths follow the unnamed citizenry of Hobbiton, their images accompanied by the bucolic music. The Hobbits seem immortal and magical but they’re more relatable because their lives aren’t as busy as the other races living miles away. The movie is more famous for its fantasy and its battle scenes, but this beginning shows how the hobbits are beautifully oblivious towards what could be lost. The same short cuts are employed when other races disturb the peace, as Jackson introduces the black riders. His camera bordering on sadomasochistic fetishism as he closes up on their hooded heads and horses’ hooves or mouths – i.e. they might be scary but those armored gloves look shiny and intricate. And when the Uruk-hai assemble their army, the Orcs’ faces crying out for battle.

The same rapid cuts are used when Arwen (Liv Tyler), a female elf, rescues Frodo, a male, and says something in Elvish to wash the black riders away. I mention the genders to obviously point out how the scene subverts expectations towards them. The only other thing I can say about that is that it reminds me of how these horses are weapon as they were used in historical crusades, the riders evoking evil Conquistadors while Arwen rides on with her virtuous looking white horse. It’s an intensely badass scene, transitioning into one of two hallucinatory hazes, the first one involving Frodo convalesces in Rivendell, as he sees other elves comforting him. These white flashes strangely fit into the movie itself.

Ok I lied. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Fellowship, having seen glimpses of it when Teletoon was constantly playing this movie. They go to Mount Doom via the Mines of Moria where the titular fellowship made up of men of random races fight the Orcs. Gandalf and a Balrog have a death match culminating into Gandalf saying ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!,’ that seminal moment in gay history. Gandalf’s loss is one of two blows against the fellowship, but I held back my tears because rangers from the noble race of Men like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean) are on the screen. I had this irrational feeling that if I did cry, those men would have jumped off the screen and made fun of me for being such a wuss. Which says a lot about how it handles that event, these characters gaining control despite Gandalf’s absence.

The rest of this leg of the epic journey is pretty masculine with the well representation of Aragorn and Boromir, but it’s  masculine in a valiant and not in a constricting way. The movie also questions that aspect of themselves, with Aragron’s self loathing doubts and Boromir’s close calls with temptation. It’s a great story about clashes and friendship set in the most luscious of fantasy worlds.


The Golden Age: Gosford Park


The first time I saw this film I thought it was lighter and less stiff upper lip than its reputation. I even tolerated that it used the oldest joke in the book – ‘…deaf in one ear.’ ‘Sorry?’ I also thought that this would end up being one of those movies where ‘nothing ever happens,’ even if it does.

Pardon the socialist reading of the film, but Robert Altman‘s GOSFORD PARK shows the class stratification between the dying British noble class and their servants. The latter is both gossipy best friend and lap dog to the former, this dual role making the relationship more complex, nuanced and multifaceted than any worse ‘camp’ possibilities it might have already had.

This latent function of the servants make them the eyes or the audience stand-ins for the movie, especially Mary MacEchran (Kelly MacDonald), the ‘Miss Trentham’ to Countess Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), Mary being new to the country world as we are. She’s the one finding out things like bringing a small box to store jewels that would be used on the first night. The secrets of the house falls under her lap, and she spends a significant time in the film running around the servants’ level to ask her coworkers why they’ve done certain things she wouldn’t.

What I love about this film are the scenes like Constance throwing a scarf at Mary to pack while leaving the house. It’s simple moments like this that can create a feeling of outrage within an audience, specifically because of how fast they can happen. Constance also does this childlike, as if she’s doing nothing wrong.

Then I realized that Constance, just like the upper classes in most movies set in the first half of the twentieth century, is a child. She needs an allowance that is threatened by Lady Sylvia McCordle’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) husband, businessman William (Michael Gambon), who for some reason has control of the finances that would be passed down from centuries long lines of nobles. It also reminds me of Vera’s condescension towards her own mother in “Mildred Pierce,” a warped and archaic mind-set that income is a birthright.

By earning his, William is threatening the nobility’s old world order, although that doesn’t stop them from depending on him. He is the one to ask for allowances and investment money, having created many businesses that continually exploit the poor in many ways. And they get disgruntled when he ruthlessly takes away.

The movie also shows the characters’ diverse reactions what is happening around them. Constance anticipates the shame in the inevitable event that would lead all of them to confess their grievances about William. Mary grows, although the sills she attains as a novice servant may eventually be useless. Sylvia’s callous, thinking about selling the house as if that is only a minor change.

However, there are characters like Elsie (Emily Watson, who usually plays innocent roles), the first head maid, the woman who teaches Mary about the big and little things about serving in a country house. She’s like the older sister, smoking a cigarette and telling a younger Mary on her lovers and the realities of romance and sex in the upper and middle classes. She wards off Henry Denton’s (Ryan Philippe) come-ons. She gets sacked for speaking to Sylvia out of turn but she bravely says that this even ‘might be the making of me,’ riding off in Hollywood producer Mr. Morris Weissman’s (Bob Balaban) car, a beginning in itself.


The Magdalene Sisters


This movie has some pretty grim stuff. In a scene from The Magdalene Sisters, Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) tells a young woman something like all men are sinners and that women should guard themselves from these sinners. While cutting that girl’s desirable hair. She would also call one of the inmates, Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) ‘the likes of you,’ disregarding the miraculous redemption of her titular patron saint however. She blocks many layers of cognitive dissonance, that women do have sexual desires that aren’t necessarily sinful or that her abuses are more depraved than the sex she’s repressing.

The film is about the order of Irish Catholic nuns who, in the mid to the late 20th century, run a laundry delivery service. In these institutions these girls received physical and sexual abuse and exploitation from the nuns, driving some of these women into suicide attempts, insanity and causing harm towards themselves and others. They denied their rights to emancipation even into adulthood, separated these young women from their families, children, friends and contexts. They’re not even encouraged from socializing with each other and are forced to sleep on mattresses on the attic floor. Although I’m not really sure who’s at fault here. We can’t blame the girls for doing things that they didn’t know were wrong. Nor the community who turns a blind eye like we do on the goods and services we consume. The nuns didn’t really kidnap these girls. It’s also their parents or guardians – Bernadette (Nora-Jean Noone) grew up in an orphanage where the nuns handed her over to the Magdalenes – that refer them to these places.

Bernadette’s origin story isn’t the only one being told in the film’s first five minutes, eventually unfolding the wanted, unwanted pregnancies and sexual indiscretions that these young, single women have had that has led them to be confined within the convent for at least one half of the 1960’s, when Protestant Britain and the rest of the developed world was loosening up.

There’s something matter-of-fact of the film’s cinematography – dominated by the dumpy and even fascist swatches of blue and brown in the costumes – and mood, letting the cruelty do the talking instead of adding any sort of context or directorial indulgences. The shots aren’t as beautiful on the small screen and it takes time to appreciate what’s within the frame, populated by objects, props or the characters faces. It’s like these characters – even the innocent women –  and the institution itself shroud the film in darkness.

Sister Bridget has composure when she’s parading the girls outside, calm even when Crispina (Eileen Walsh, Britain and Ireland’s version of Heather Matarazzo) shouts the fiery “You’re not a man of God” more than forty times. Sometimes, like a scene after Margaret confronts her, she stops to think about herself yet continues on without changing. Nonetheless, she still ruins Miss Marple for everybody.

But the real treat here, or the silver lining in this very dark could, is the younger cast. My money on who would be famous was on Noone, who is skinnier than I remembered and looks like a punk rock girl I hung out with in high school. She has the same big feline spark, from the moment her big dark eyes flirted with the boys across the fence like a young Bettie Page to being the most misanthropic inmate in the laundry. She steals Crispina’s medallion. She also tells one of the oldest inmates (earlier in the film this character is an intermediary between the inmates and nuns, yelling at the younger ones to go back to work)  that the laundry is the only thing that the nuns cared about and that even the most docile inmates didn’t matter to them, breaking that dying woman’s heart.

But it was Duff, now Mrs. James MacAvoy, who moved on to do bigger things. With that hindsight in mind I began to inspect her character and performance in this repeat viewing. She’s not the sluttiest, the most mentally vulnerable nor the insipidly prettiest, because those roles are for Bernadette, Crispina and Rose/Patricia (Dorothy Duffy). She, however, mends and minds the insanity that is brewing within the girls although yes, she gives Bernadette and her brother Eammon some tough love as well. She also serves as the film’s eyes, reacting to the world around her, very much aware of its changes and evolution despite being forcefully cloistered. She overlooks a wide set of hills during spring time and almost gets into a strange man’s car before she returns to the convent without getting caught. She watches her revenge against a priest having effects beyond her control or observant of instances when the girls start picking on each other. She is the film’s conscience and she might never be better than her earlier self in this movie.


Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Apparently Michael Pitt played a young, clean-cut football jock in “Dawson’s Creek,” thus becoming the show’s second most successful alum. I watched the show’s first two seasons but I wouldn’t know. The Michael Pitt that I know is the one who got his rocks off at a tub, as well as other forays into American indie cinema.

ph. Warner

The off-Broadway incarnation of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has its star, writer, and director John Cameron Mitchell plays both the titular East German transsexual rocker and her arch-rival Tommy Gnossis. The film begins with Hedwig singing one of her songs about the origin of love and he might as well be singing about their broken relationship as lovers and mirror images as well as about his disjointed body. In the film, Pitt plays Tommy and we can see the characters in their separate lives when Tommy has become famous and during flashbacks, when Hedwig is still singing in restaurants and Tommy is still a God-fearing 17-year-old. Instead of an off-screen reference, Hedwig now has someone to lust for, to break her heart and to plot revenge against.

Pardon my ignorance on queer trans body politics, but it’s easy to assume that drag is an exterior performance. Camp and sex appeal, essentially. There is some truth to this bravado in the film, as we look at Hedwig’s glazed eyes as he looks into the mirror, looking like one of the deadpan mannequin heads where he places his many wigs. But Mitchell also remarkably infuses interior layers within Hedwig, a confident performer and a vulnerable child. There’s a revelatory scene when he appeals to Tommy that he Tommy loves her, he should also love the front of her. Of course it’s a hard sell. Nonetheless, her drag side is so human that we the audience might be surprised at what she looks like in the end.


The Affair of the Necklace


In which I will use my armchair knowledge of film criticism and French history to write about The Affair of the Necklace.

I’m starting to blame Hollywood less for Americanizing any foreign narrative. If someone’s playing ‘let’s pretend’ in their backyard, they might as well play with the neighborhood kids. Hilary Swank, Adrien Brody, Brian Cox and Christopher freaking Walken are the last people the last people you’ll think about when you say ‘French costume drama,’ since they don’t make a lot of movies under that genre. But there it is, gnawing at the corner of their luck-filled and strangely eclectic CVs. She, playing protagonist Jeanne de la Motte de Valois, leads a cast of two Brits, an Australian and others who are mostly and blatantly too American for their roles, no matter how much they push their affectations to each other.

But I’m a nice, forgiving person and say that those affectations are a part of Hollywood tradition, another convention being the actors’ tight bodies which are a few sizes smaller than wealthy 18th century adult aristocrats. And the slow motion and soundtrack combination when something extremely devious or extremely violent is taking place. And stop trying to make the Illuminati happen, it will never happen!

The film Jeanne into a Scarlett O’Hara figure, she submits to the deceitful and decadent court life, getting herself into a plot to steal from Cardinal Rohan (Jonathan Pryce,as French as he has been before) who thinks is a loan for Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson) to buy a diamond necklace the latter can’t publicly do so. But Jeanne will rationalize that plan, saying ‘I’ll finally get my home back,’ to her gigolo (Simon Baker) to remind us of it once every ten minutes that she’s a good person underneath. And I suppose we all are.

This film also exists to get Milena Canonero adequately employed, two of her three Oscar wins are from her work in movies set in the Rococo period. There’s one scene where de la Motte wears the same pink number that Kirsten Dunst’s Marie Antoinette wears. Canonero also works through fashions with de le Motte’s arc between a dour woman into the perfect yet classy seductress. I also remember mr e hats, veils and head-gear for de la Motte and the other female characters here than in Coppola’s film.

Which brings me to Joely Richardson‘s Marie Antoinette, my first time seeing her in a movie. Her brash force and dismissal reminds me of Cate Blanchett while her naiveté feels like 90’s Uma Thurman. I was wondering if the film considered Joely’s sister Natasha for the role but the latter doesn’t seem as gullible. She also looks slightly closer to the Vigee-Lebun paintings of Antoinette than Norma Shearer on Dunst ever does.

I also actually like how the film portrays Antoinette. I have a hazy recollection of Shearer’s Antoinette, but Coppola kept Dunst’s Antoinette away from the backroom, her most political decision is staying with her King despite the riots getting closer to Versailles. This Antoinette has her hand on the chess board, refuses the titular necklace because it was commissioned for her grandfather-in-law’s mistress Madame du Barry, overseeing the Petit Trianon’s construction, personally vindicates Rohan or decides a public trial about the necklace as if her husband the King isn’t in the same room. Joely’s Antoinette thus has a more active role in politics than the two more famous Hollywood depictions of her. But in compromises by showing the revolution against her and her beheading, just like the film shows everything we already expect in a movie about that era.

The film, choosing more conventional ways instead of going for an auteurial vision of the past, competent in telling its story. But after the credits roll, we can always go to wikipedia and find out that real de la Motte wasn’t a Valois, that she was probably killed by debt collectors instead of royalists and become severely disappointed that she looked less like Swank and more like Karla Homolka.