…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2003

Fox Thrillers: “Phone Booth”


It’s interesting to hear that Phone Booth‘s screenwriter is Larry Cohen, who was very active in the late 1960’s and 70’s as a TV writer because this movie thinks that it’s about the excitement that can only be found in that earlier era in New York City. Within its boulevards is Colin Farrell‘s character Stuart Shepard, a publicist/professional who wears expensive Italian designer suits but wears them two sizes too big so he still looks like he’s from the other boroughs. His Point A is Times Square, the most ideal place to make business calls while dragging some nerdy-looking assistant named Adam (Keith Nobbs) who’s unknowingly working for free. His Point B, across a strip club on Eighth Avenue, is where he calls Pam (Katie Holmes), using a phone booth so his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) won’t see a record of this courtship. But apparently they’re not the only two who know about this infidelity, as a sniping stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) threatens that if Stu hangs up or doesn’t obey the stranger’s orders, he will die. Then a confrontation happens where the stranger offers to shoot a man assaulting Stu, which the latter accepts, inadvertently making the prostitutes on the street as witnesses on the accusing him as the killer, getting the police’s attention (Forest Whitaker plays police negotiator Captain Ramey). And when both the women in his life come to the scene, the stranger threatens to kill them both.

There’s something lost in translation in its attempt to capture the metropolis’ vibrancy and the few New Yorkers who happen to be annoying, the little screens within a big one and turquoise cinematography making for an ugly aesthetic. The stranger’s purpose in kidnapping Stu is to make the latter confess his sins, having done this earlier to upper-class child molesters and real criminals. With this revelation Stu makes an appeal that he’s not as bad as the stranger’s other victims. I suppose the film is trying to make the point that like most people, Stu tries to justify their little, personal transgressions by telling themselves that their impact isn’t as large. And in confronting Stu’s situation, Farrell shows that he’s in his best when deconstructing the masculinity with which he’s built his stardom and makes way for his weeping, vulnerable self that he’ll bring in later projects like In Bruges. But by inflating his effect towards others it just makes me care less about his character.

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Sofia’s Lost in Translation


Sofia Coppola‘s choice of indie-trance music on Lost in Translation‘s soundtrack probably blinds me but she  lyrically captures a modern, non-European city that might never be topped by a future film (correct me if I’m wrong, obviously). When slightly washed up action star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) or her heroine Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) look out of the window, there’s a reason. The fluorescent-lit signs and flashing posters depicting a calligraphic language that the don’t understand. Charlotte leisurely walks the scramble crossings in Shibuya, Tokyo and travel the city’s subway system, Sofia making both modes of transportation look less like its notoriously hectic reputation. She also visits Buddhist temples and enjoys a nightlife that somehow involves a fake shootout, in both times having fun without having to fully drain her energy.

I’ve forgiven Johansson in misjudged performances she will have after this but hers here is probably the best she’ll ever give. Charlotte uglies herself up, agonizing in moments when she feels alone,  abandoned by her husband or when around B-list movie star Kelly (Anna Faris). And her rapport with Bob, her being childlike and girly, captures the spontaneous air that Sofia tries to capture. It’s easier to watch her boredom and frustration and her spark that help cure those things. Bob is the only person to make her smile, pulling out her effortless glow.

This is probably the second most beautiful movie Woody Allen never made as both writer-directors have, in their movies, bourgeois pseudo-intellectual misanthropic characters. Charlotte has a disdain for Hollywood – embodied by characters like Kelly or her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). She, when the occasion arises, prefers to sing classic 80’s tunes as opposed to the usual Queen-Journey-top 40 often playing in karaoke bars. (Interestingly enough for Sofia to create a character who is also a Yale graduate majoring in Philosophy but is barely, if ever, seen with a book. On vacation.). Although this quiet snobbery doesn’t stop her from befriending Bob, both of them are in Tokyo for showbiz related reasons, both of them bored and wanting to get out although they’re free to do so anytime.

Most Allen films have characters or devices holding up a mirror against their protagonist’s insanity or at least find someone to cure them. But Sofia, in making these two characters meet, encourage each other’s misanthropy even to a racist level (I’m not the first one to say this) specifically on Bob’s character. It’s understandable to feel anomic in the Japanese urban landscape that equally and inadvertently exclude them as ‘foreigners’ but it shouldn’t excuse their language and attitude. “Why do they switch the ls and the rs here?” I don’t trust my interpreter. I refuse to learn the language. These people like eating body parts of white girls like Charlotte. Murray pulls these lines off with his wit and comic timing but I still feel uncomfortable with his and the movie’s xenophobia.


Super Size Me


I first watched Morgan Spurlock‘s Sundance hit Super Size Me some time within my last two years in high school, possibly during my Media Studies class where all we did was watch movies. Or maybe was it in Ethics class. The director has a weird reputation for me now, seeming like some attention-grabbing, condescending liberal to end all condescending liberals. The fact that fellow (and possible rival) liberal Michael Moore is no longer on the spotlight doesn’t help to take any heat off Spurlock. In the film, he goes on this thirty-day experiment of only consuming the foods and drinks is on the McDonalds’ menu, agreeing to be ‘Super Sized’ when asked. But at least, I suppose, he wasn’t drinking or smoking during those thirty days.

He points the camera mostly to himself, renting a car to cut his physical activity and exercise. Being ‘strung out on ham’ and complaining about the diet’s effects which I couldn’t really see. This ‘performance’ part of the movie sticks out in the eight years between the first and second time I’ve seen this, being one of three documentaries that occasionally lifts my willing suspension of disbelief. Super Size Me‘s popularity has also prompted him to do a cable series called “30 Days” where he convinces Americans to place themselves within different shoes for thirty days, like an Islamophobe to Muslim Michigan or himself to prison. I don’t remember anyone else watching this show.

But I can admit that I misread Spurlock as a filmmaker and person. He explains that he was raised in West Virginia and as a tall, athletic man with weird facial hair, he makes sense both as a New Yorker and as a middle American, just like the people he visits and interviews to get the McDonalds experience in different states like California, DC and the fattest state of Texas (I suppose that with the knowledge of the physical state of the latter state, if there was another Civil War the gun-less, pacifist Union might still win).

And it’s not all just him hogging the camera. Yes, the B-roll of ‘fat’ Americans both young and all makes me feel like I have to poke fun of someone as part of experiencing this movie. But as one of many ‘experts’ in this film says, it’s better to convince someone to stop smoking or drinking than to tell someone to go on a diet. A black lung or liver is a state that people get themselves into, as opposed to obesity that might be genetically inherited. But the States has become the world’s fattest country and the proves this by letting these experts speak, whether they be general practitioners (doctors), dietitians, civil litigators, ‘cooks’ in American public schools and surgeons. He also makes statistics about American obesity rates and the dynamics of the food market both fun and scary to look at between watching him get queasy after a Big Mac.

Let’s also look at how the film perceives women. Two thirds of the doctors he consults before and during his experiment are women. There’s also his girlfriend, whose complaints about his sexual worthlessness during those thirty days. She’s also an archetypal vegetarian, attempting to use the experiment as a way of convincing him that meat is hazardous to one’s health even if it’s within or outside the McMenu. She has also planned a detox diet for him after his McDonalds month and I’ll just be bitchy and say that he could have planned his own detox.

Spurlock narrates in the beginning that most of his memories of his mother was her cooking food except for those special occasions when his family would eat out. Which is no longer the case in most families in America and he shows a food court that replaces the dinner table. It’s almost as if there’s a warped mind somewhere thinking that the country’s obesity problem is rooted on mothers who no longer toil for their families’ dinners. That we can return to equilibrium again if we put women back in the kitchen. He thankfully never says that. Instead he goes on for five minutes about an overhaul and regulation of fast food ubiquity, getting rid of many cola vending machines, introducing real food that’s inaccessible to places in the States and cracking down on fast food corporations. Too bad he’s just preaching to the choir.


Chick Flick Remix: Cold Mountain


ph. Miramax

In order to get a newer perspective in a repeated viewing of the Civil War romance film, Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain – dubbed in French, for some reason – I decided to read the book. So if you read any of my poetic tweets that was author Charles Frazier and not me. The time span between my rewatch of the film and the time when I read the book’s last word was less than six weeks, so remind me never to do such a thing again.

This film adaptation sticks to the story’s general idea but there are inevitable scenes and themes in the film that aren’t in the novel, which doesn’t lessen the film, mind you. I noticed that twice in the film, Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger) and Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) turn away men like Strobrod (Brendan Gleeson) and Inman and tell them to go back where they came from, those men coincidentally are ones closest to them.

If anyone out there does screenings of older movies and sets them to different soundtracks, someone should use this film while playing Fleet Foxes‘ first songs. It’s better than the Enya-like OST. It somehow goes well with the film’s enthralling cinematography that takes advantage of nature’s changing deep and bright colours, from green to brown to white, adding to the film’s region-specific lyricism.

Bringing up a band who became famous half a decade after a movie with, theoretically, the same qualities reinforces my strange feeling that Weinstein made this movie too early, that other actors could have played Ada and Ruby (arguably interchangeable), Inman and Sara (Natalie Portman) competently. This strange feeling also weaves into the biggest criticism against the film, that the Miramax’s star casting got talent from the four corners of the English-speaking world, only for the inconsistencies in some of those actors’ Southern accents to stick out like sore thumbs.

But this casting still works, as Kidman brings her signature cold-hot self-imposed repression perfectly describes Ada – both are age-appropriate as ‘spinsters’ and romantic leading ladies. Law is small and exhausted as Inman would be. I imagined for Ruby as someone with a deeper voice than Zellweger, but she portrays Ruby as childlike, working for the character’s stunted younger years. This movie is also my introduction to Gleeson and Ray Winstone, playing the villanous Teague, the two will play mirrored opposites of each other or even fighting brothers, if there isn’t already a movie just like that hiding between my gaps of movie knowledge.


Canadian Movie: Owning Mahowny


ph. Alliance

Owning Mahowny is austere minimalist cleanliness in cinema. This approach is surprising since it tackles gambling addiction, and addiction of any kind is usually portrayed with either evil, grit or glamour. The titular Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) walks around in beige-painted halls of banks, hotel rooms and airports or visit Atlantic City casinos that aren’t as loud nor distractingly colourful as other gambling places in other films. There’s also spectatorship at work here, as casino employees and patrons both feel greed and pity towards him. Hoffmann’s performance, accordingly, is unsettlingly stoic either when he’s working or sitting on the blackjack tables, losing millions of dollars in one sitting. He barely blinks nor breaks a sweat, his only way to know how to stopp is to endure a spectacular loss. With him is a great supporting cast including Minnie Driver and John Hurt, encapsulating Ontario and New Jersey cadences.


Valentine’s Hangover: Intolerable Cruelty


The Coen Brothers offer in Intolerable Cruelty characters who like to deceive except in the scenes when they’re introduced. We first see Miles Massey (George Clooney) talking on the phone to get messages from his assistant, the cutthroat lawyer that he is. There’s another scene shortly after when he talks to his colleague about the intricacies of the legal system and the real functions of marriage, a conversation they should have had years before but exists in the film for purposes of another introduction. Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta Jones) is sad but has great resolve while watching surveillance video of her husband Rex cheating on her, and we know that she’ll survive and probably has ulterior motives. Both eventually meet – Miles becomes the lawyer representing Rex – and fall in love and try to, as private dick Gus Fetch (Cedric the Entertainer) says, nail each other’s ass.

ph. Universal

Cinematographer Roger Deakins find ways to play around with colours and images in a supposedly light comedy like this. The blues – the light while Miles is getting his teeth whitened, Gus’s aquarium, the swimming pools, Vegas at dusk – standing out in within the browns and reds of the res t of the film. The white lights, both the ceilings of the court scene and the lamps used both in Miles and Marilyn’s first date and at Miles’ boss’ office, are echoed in more prestigious films.

This is probably the second film of Zeta-Jones’s that features a courtroom when a woman feigns innocence to a scandal devouring public. This time around, it’s Jones’s Marilyn that does the pretending, in pink. I didn’t know Bill Blass designed in pink.

The doesn’t prepare its audience to its own style of humour, but there are some scenes that work because of its surreal comic style, the writing for the film is both tight, sprawling and wordy at the same time. One is the scene when Miles tells his client a defense story that helps her even if it’s absurdly untrue. There’s also Marilyn’s second marriage to a Dallas oil heir named Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), officiated by a priest marching down the aisle playing Simon and Garfunkel in his acoustic guitar. The third scene is Marilyn’s court scene with its many movements.  Rex being in contempt, Miles and Marilyn throwing Shakespeare at each other to try and fail to admit the other’s guilt, the scandalous Baron von Espy testimony.

Miles is the best role I’ve seen Clooney do. He strikes that note to evince a charming but slimy regular person. The Coen Brothers always allows him to be kooky, culminating in a scene near the end that’s hilarious in an old school sense. Jones allows herself to go through the inconsistencies of female characters but she’s very lively here. Her character’s consummation with Miles happens late – less than an hour into the 95 minute film – but she’s the stronger end of the romance department.  In the stage of her character being a ‘sitting duck, ‘ she shows great passion and vulnerability


Les Innocents (Adult Film)


An open letter to the province of Quebec.

I channel surfed my way into a film called Les Innocents, which turned out to be Bertolucci‘s  The Dreamers. Having seen it before, the French dubbing makes hasn’t changed how this film is a cineaste quiz that, unlike Tarantino films, gives the audience the answers with delight. It is a love letter to cinema after all, and that this second time watching it, I’m getting and remembering more right answers. One of these days I hope to match the trio’s film knowledge, winking at each other’s references after going to the movie theatre. Also, how it has Eva Green‘s character Isabelle instead asking ‘quel film’ and for that matter, that this film introduces us to Eva Green and we still thank it for that. That there is no way Eva Green isn’t or doesn’t speak French. How Michael Pitt‘s body makes me not wanna eat anything. How I will always want to visit Paris because of how they visually capture the city’s energy and anger. How I still vie for and romanticize revolution and that I still think of the joy of watching Michael Pitt’s Matthew as he dresses up like James Dean, walking the streets of Paris, and thinking to myself ‘That’s a real cinema lover,’ and not those snobs polluting universities today. How I wanna run through the Louvre with two people I love in a fraternal way, because I’ve accepted the possibility that no other gay guy loves movies. All because of this movie.

ph. Fox Searchlight

This was my first Bertolucci, a director I know now through his portrayals of flapper girls, threesomes and the dangers of fascism and communism.

And the nudity, which you guys are probably used to more than we are. I don’t remember much nudity – I’d remember such things. Well, aside from Isabelle dressing up as Venus de Milo – real cineastes are well rounded people who know art. Or Isabelle finding her picture on Mathew’s crotch, but not the crotch itself. Or the three young people discovered by Isabelle and Theo’s (Louis Garrel) parents, the former naked and sleeping peacefully like angels. But there’s more. Isabelle Matthew have sex on the kitchen floor while protests are happening outside, As both Matthew and Theo find out that Isabelle loses her virginity that night, Matthew and Isabelle kiss, her blood on Matthew’s hands and on both their faces. When she finds out about her parents discovery, she dresses up and tries to kill herself, but is stopped when something breaks their windows. Here, like in any Bertolucci film, sex and politics clash as they take on their most primal, animalistic and violent forms.

Enough of my pontificating. First. No scaring by putting it on the TV Guide listings as an adult NC-17 film. Although yes, it made me feel cool to finally have seen an NC-17 film.

Second. We English Canadians are generous enough to use subtitles when we put movies with your language and other language on the big or small screen. Do the same, please. During the commercials, you guys renamed that horrific Leighton Meester movie ‘Le Coloc’ and dub it in French! I don’t care if you’re trying to preserve your culture by Frenching everything, we in English Canada do that by watching hockey or something. I know it’s ridiculous if I’m trying to play with my rules on your channels, or that I’m complaining about characters in Paris speaking French. That I’m complaining even if the actors themselves did the dubbing. That I’m complaining about the dubbing of a minor masterpiece and a piece of crap instead of the apparent dubbing of the Marx Brothers. None of this dubbing crap. I’m actually one of those people who wanna remember the conversations between the sex scenes.

Respectfully yours,

Paolo