How many times do I have to say “I’m back” for it to be real? This week in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, we are doing shorts courtesy of a site called Short of the Week, a site that might just be my new fix. Let us have some good, weird, black and white fun, shall we? First is Mikey Please’s The Eagleman Stag. Let me just begin by saying that it’s either my anxiety or my incoming sleep deprivation but I have no idea what this short is about.
One. Here, the protagonist says “This half pint makes my hands look…huge.” This reminds me of every time I try to take a long shot picture of something, hoping that the camera focuses on the one thing within a huge canvas. And then the lens shut and I see the image I took and everything flattens, my focus being one of many objects instead of THE object. An amalgamation of elements – the dimensional nature of stop motion animation and the protagonists monologue – bridges that connection between our selective eyes and a supposed flat surface.
Two. The protagonist inserts a serum in his brain, leading to a chaos of unpredictable personal consequences. What ensues is a Borzage-eque montage starting with this.
Next is from Ray Tintori, who was the effects guy at Beasts of the Southern Wild and directed music videos for MGMT and the Cool Kids. But let’s talk about Death to the Tin Man. One. The Psycho shot, depicting the silhouette of a man named Bill whose soul now inhabits a Tin Man version of him.
My two best shots for these shorts are companion shots, the first is one of Tin Man’s ways of wooing back his beloved, the hammered in expression surprisingly conveying emotion. I am pairing it with a shot of the beloved trying to paint eyes on zombie-Bill, preferring the soulless body to the heart-equipped human. These characters live in a quirkily-framed bleak world, comparable to Chaplin’s movies about how modernity isolates.
They are driven to obsessive desperation, with no reliable moral centres to guide them to the right path or people. They’re slowly realizing that the characters around them value romanticized appearances over the truth. These shots explore our discomfort with uncanny human ugliness, these characters inadvertently vandalising the human form, trying to recover the original, trying to play God towards the ones we love.
Before I get to the smarter stuff I just want to share how some of my friends pronounce the title of this movie as ‘VOHLvurr’ when it’s actually ‘vohlVEHR.’ I love North Americans and I especially love any way that I can show that I’m better than I really am.
Volver‘s simplicity probably makes it my favourite out of the measly three Pedro Almodovar movies I’ve seen, the other movies being the morally questionable Hable con Ella and Mala Education, the latter having great performances but being too convoluted for its own good. It has Penelope Cruz in a performance that should have won an Oscar that year, the exported Hollywood star returning to her roots as a believable all around cleaning woman named Raimunda whose chaotic life constantly hangs in the balance. She has to care for a lazy a husband and a blossoming teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), who doesn’t know that – one of the movie’s three spoilery secrets – the man glued to the couch and Canal Plus soccer isn’t her father. Raimunda also surprisingly becomes a restaurateur, feeding a film crew and singing for them. All of this is happening while Almodovar contributes to my belief that Romance-language cinema’s landscape would never be the same without its fart jokes.
The movie begins with Raimunda and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) polishing their mother Irene’s (Carmen Maura) burial plot, foreshadowing the family’s return to the past. Or rather, return of the past as Sole discovers that Irene is alive and has hidden herself for years. Sole plays this game with her, hiding Irene in plain sight as a Russian immigrant assisting her hairdressing business.
Thankfully the movie doesn’t end with the next door neighbour, cancer-stricken Agustina (Bianca Portillo), revealing Irene’s scandalous secret. Instead, Irene privately talks to Raimunda and voices out another cyclical, inter-generational family secret, her method of doing so somehow lessening the shock and elevating Pedro’s material from soap to a high drama about reconciliation. In essence, an improvement on a special Roman Polanski plot twist. After this heart to heart talk Irene goes to Agustina. Irene is supposed to be the ghost but it’s Raimunda who slithers away from the door. In a way this is Raimunda passing the torch back, giving her mother a loving goodbye as the older generation must care for each other as an act of contrition. The only way for all women to move on is to do things and pay their dues properly.
At first I can’t help but think that the Cageists inflates their idol and the god-awful scenes from terrible movies in which he’s starred. This is especially the case in Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man. Okay, so the awkward babysitting sessions with a female partner in his character Edward Malus’ police force after a traumatizing case and the beautiful calligraphy within a letter from a former girlfriend are ridiculous. But are they the unintentionally funniest moments ever captured on camera? Not really. It’s not Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.
From Edward’s rural, arid California post to a strange island off the coast of Washington State where his paramour now lives, the letter summons him to rescue her – or their – daughter, who is missing and presumably dead because ofan evil neighbor. This insular place is called Summer’s Isle, which produces organic produce and stuff like that. After a nightmare/flashback-filled ferry trip he gets into the island after a pilot reluctantly smuggles him in. Even from the first time he meets the handful of townspeople in the isle, he senses that they’re xenophobic and ritualistically homicidal and he has inadvertently put himself and the pilot as these people’s targets.
Speaking of The Room, early reviews for this movie – that is, before it got its cultish acceptance – have criticized its sexism. Summer’s Isle happens to be the namesake of a matriarch (Ellen Burstyn, who probably did this and W to fund those annual indie love labours she stars in every year). She’s descended from the Wiccans of Salem and this sanctuary in this opposite coast is where her ancestors and her emasculate their men into breeders and young daughters into sacrificial lambs. This commune is an alternative to Edward’s badge-pushing patriarchy. That could also mean that women are equally capable of the subjugation that men give women but that still puts Edward in the right.
Cage’s signature freakouts come in spurts, like when he calls little girls liars, flings a woman (LeeLee Sobieski) across the room or punches another. Like these little seizures, maybe this is one piece within a larger puzzle, and I’ll take as many laughs as this film deserves. He approaches Edward’s paranoia, as well as the script’s – also written by LaBute – with admirable earnestness but it’s this same quality that hinders me from fully enjoying this.
Richard Eyre‘s Notes on a Scandal begins with the symbolically named Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) looking out of her classroom window, narrating her low expectations about her pubescent, multiracial students. A lesser actress would read the word ‘progress’ as a racist, but Dench knows to keep the undertones down here and besides, Barbara has taught long enough to see the rough-edged evil within every generation of adolescents and she hates her students equally for that.
The more Barbara gets to know the new art teacher, the symbolically named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the more she thinks she knows what latter wants. She calls Sheba’s affair with the year 10 student Robert Connolly a middle class fetish to mold any poor person and that Sheba needs rescuing from her loveless and impulsive marriage. Robert joins her so, curtly telling Sheba that she wanted to feel like Bob Geldof. They’re not necessarily wrong – Sheba is a lost character but comfortably so because of her financial stability and beauty, making others covet her, and a character shouldn’t feel needy if she’s wanted back. She hasn’t planned on the husband (Bill Nighy) and children (Juno Temple) but she’s grown to love them.
I’m also still ambivalent about how these major characters place themselves on a morality scale. Barbara and to a lesser extent Robert distrust Sheba as the other, a person similarly inwardly dirtier. There’s obviously some class war here. These working class characters dissociate the bourgeoisie as a prison of appearances and consumerism, both thinking about the affair as if she’s had many. The two are easy to condemn if we forget that Sheba is inadvertently a leech, too.
- Notes on a Scandal (shewhoshallremainmentallychallenged.wordpress.com)
Offside reminds me when a friend of mine who visited Saudi Arabia disguised herself as a boy so that she could play tennis. She called herself Muhammad because there is a Muhammad in her name somewhere. Yes, Muslim girls get away with stuff all the time. Restriction always leads to rebellion. This film shows the apartheid between men and women in Iran, but it’s just as much about the joy these girls have in almost having something inches away from their fingertips.
ph. SPC via thecia.com.au
Offside begins with a father looking within crowds watching a qualifying futbol game between Iran and Bahrain in 2006. He doesn’t notice the girls in disguise. This film is translatable to any other about a city, depicted by a film packed with many themes. The frustration of not seeing balanced with the game’s energy emanating through the stadium walls and bars. Soldiers from the country who are outsiders like the women they’re guarding in a makeshift prison. Independent Tehrani girls who come from respectable families, can go to the movies, can go to college and want to cheer for their country that oppresses them even if it means a criminal record.
This is the definition of gonzo, new generation neo-realist film making, having to make it in real-time, a movie about breaking the law while actually breaking the law. And yet there’s time for shot countershots and great amateur actors playing off each other so well. You can’t help but sympathize for all the characters, even the cute, grouchy soldier.
Ruth from FlixChatter responded to being tagged to do a 15 Directors Meme post she did two-ish weeks ago, and I did some proud begging for her to tag me because I like talking about my favourite directors. Or I think I did – it was hard going past 12. I changed the list compared to my pre-list on her comments section. And it took me a while to respond.
What I look for in a director’s work is beautiful cinematography, theatre-like scripts or energy, decent representation of strong female characters. Lastly, a sense of humour, preferably dark, like coffee I would only drink if I was lazy. List.
- Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket)
- Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter)
- Christopher Nolan (Inception)
- Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. II)
- Woody Allen (Sleeper, Another Woman)
- Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line ’98)
- Elia Kazan (East of Eden)
- Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
- Michael Haneke (Code Inconnu)
- Jane Campion (Bright Star)
- George Cukor (A Star is Born ’54)
- Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien)
- Sidney Lumet (Serpico)
- Lars von Trier (Dogville)
- Fritz Laing (Fury)
And now I have to tag ETA: six bloggers who have lives.
Jose, who talks about classics with wicked witches and fugly whores.
Simon, who reminds us that David Bowie played Andy Warhol in a movie.
Andy, who’s going to see Ellen Ripley cut a bitch.
Nick and Nathaniel. One’s very chipper and the other’s a quipper. Both are getting me really excited for the Oscars.
Farran, who reminded me that my birthday was also Constance Bennett Day.
In between watching movies from the Wright Stuff series and watching Scott Pilgrim, I watched another hipster romance movie – Marie Antoinette. Before I get to the meat of this post, I just wanna say that I have to discuss the traces of what I have read or heard about the woman whose life this movie is depicting, and how true this movie is to the life of said murdered queen – if I used the word executed it means she deserved it, which she partly didn’t. Some people believe that the dead are fair game, but then we’re talking about one of the most slandered women in history, so every time Coppola or the film trips, we deduct a point.
I remember the pre-blogging glory days of trying to defend this movie while calling out the royalists who trolled the Marie Antoinette forum on iMDb. That was where I read someone who compared the movie to a series of paintings. And probably where I read someone mistake Marie Antoinette’s (Kirsten Dunst) alleged Swedish boy toy Count Axel von Fersen (Jamie Dornan) as Napoleon. And/or make a comparison between Madame du Barry (Asia Argento) as a Disney evil queen – she did NOT look like that nor act like she was depicted in the film, by the way. There are other directors who make a collage of pop culture references in their work. Those anonymous readings, however, show that Coppola isn’t able to mold those separate images and/or incorporate them into what should be a believable and seamless biopic. I don’t fully believe that it would have been a better decision to invent her own images of these people instead recycling old/different/inaccurate ones, but I’d imagine there’s some who watched this movie who would choose the former over the latter.The movie has always felt like ‘This is what I imagine her life to be,’ which has driven a lot of history nuts crazy.
Need to remind you guys that Coppola’s direction of the character Marie Antoinette evoked Paris Hilton. And being inundated by that comparison by the media, oh my God. Which leads us to Coppola’s apparent aim of turning Marie Antoinette’s story as a satire of the nepotism – biting the hand – and decadence of the government and celebrity culture of Bush-era US. Which is great, but why can’t Marie Antoinette simply be Marie Antoinette?
What is different between 18th century Versailles and 21st century America is the treatment of children’s sexuality. Adults both blue and red-blooded obsessed over Marie Antoinette as a sexual being. It’s tragic how her mother, Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithful) has fought for and keep the crown of the Holy Roman Empire as a woman and became the most powerful woman in Europe after Catherine the Great, only for her daughter to be trampled so easily. Coppola gets it right in this movie by actually showing the ‘people of France’s’ real problem with Marie Antoinette – that it dragged on before she was able to produce an heir. And how full the operating room was when Marie gave birth to, unfortunately, Therese. Also consider the hypocrisy of spying on adolescents’ bedroom action and the Christian notion of not talking about sex and not teaching the poor couple how to have sex.
Marie eventually becomes corrupted by this oversexualized society, having knowledge of her grandfather-in-law King Louis XIV’s (Rip Torn) affair with Du Barry. Marie then derides this fake aristocrat. In Coppola’s film, she unknowingly she becomes just like Du Barry, carrying out her own affair with the Swede.
Today, a 14 year old’s responsibility is his or her homework and some household chore. Marie, turning 14 when she did, has had a quick transition between childhood and adulthood, just like that insufficient carriage ride to the French border. At least two years into adulthood in that day’s standards, she has a responsibility that reminds her that she is still a second class citizen under Salic law. No wonder, as Coppola shows in the film, Marie regresses.
Flaw – The scene when Marie walks with Austrian Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan) and Therese in the gardens. The Princess du Lamballe (Mary Nighy) runs to the three and informs them of the Austrian Empress’s death. How did the Austrian ambassador not know that first?
In Roger Ebert‘s review of this film, his second point called Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette as ‘pitch-perfect casting.’ It’s not Interview with a Vampire, or to compare it to the other performances that year, she’s no Penelope Cruz. It’s wonderful watching Dunst’s face react to her husband King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) wolf down his food, or how her face reaches us through that infamous zoom out, saying a lot while standing still. Having to go across the palace to a private room where she could cry or fawn – a measured release of emotion from one place to another. Worn down after the deaths in her family. Her poised diplomatic voice as she talks to her husband’s cabinet and even to her own brother, the Holy Roman Emperor (Danny Huston). As some blog I used to read has said in defense of her performance, Dunst was obedient to Coppola’s vision.
In next month’s Vanity Fair, Angelia Jolie reveals that “[Acting]’s a luxury…. But I don’t think I’ll do it much longer.” That’s great. I don’t know if I have to take the literacy test again, but there’s either an insinuation or a truncation from other websites that makes me think that because of her influence, Brad will stop acting too.
See this face? This is a face that ages like wine. I’ve always liked him above everyone else in his generation, him and Russell Crowe. Let’s look at his generation. Johnny Depp is permanently in costume while Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage and Russell Crowe are all in different wavelengths of crazy to be stars again. Brad Pitt’s also lucky to have pissed off half of the female populace and live to tell the tale. And he’s just gonna go out like that? Hell no.
Also, it’s surprising how the Pitt-Blanchett movie coupling works out. Would you ever set up a Southern goofball and a regal Aussie together? It’s like a ‘she gives him class and he gives her sex’ kind of dynamic. And $161 million in revenue and four Oscars later (one acting nom for Pitt in Button). Someone put these two in movies forever.