…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2007

Seminal Video: Bjork


Everyone who watches Stephen Colbert knows about “Biophilia” and how “Cosmogony” kind of sucks. At least, that I wasn’t in the mood for it. If anything “Cosmogony” didn’t make me cry as “Unison” did. And I don’t want to make my readers cry so here’s “Earth Intruders” instead, Michel Ocelot’s tribal imagery being kind of literal for Bjork. Writing about music videos are so easy compared to movies. Anyway, two thoughts about Bjork: First, what if she was in the music videos for the dance remixes to her songs like this or “Hyperballad?” The closes we’ll get to that is the dance-y “Violently Happy.” Second: I have a copy of Dancing in the Dark or I had until I lost it. Vanity Fair already ruined the ending for me and I missed my chance to see it at TIFF but one day. It might even be my deathbed movie, replacing The Piano. Third: Bjork’s evolving better than Radiohead, still.


Dear Sam Raimi, I forgot…


ph. Columbia

…how cringe-inducing Spider-Man 3 was, as Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) strut around the streets of Gotham City looking like Hipster Hitler. The girls he hits on know better, but the fictional superhero has still become less human. Peter becomes his own super villain,  less sympathetic than the son (James Franco) avenging his father’s (Willem Dafoe) death or a new journalistic photographer (Topher Grace) younger than Peter. Why are all these people dudes?

I understand you were trying to be zeitgeist-y, with references to emo culture or the The Pick-Up Artist or to more serious, generational anxieties. Two of the villains’ names are Venom and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), both names could be read as Middle Eastern references. Or that there were many buildings falling down in this movie. Six years after 9/11, it didn’t seem too shocking or too soon, but I already mentioned this bloated, rough film’s other flaws.



Black Book


ph. SPC

I downloaded Black Book, watching the first five minutes, a meditative look on a couple on a docked sailboat looking out to their doom. Four years later, Adam Nayman introduced the movie at the Free Friday Films, accurately calling it ‘tasteless and irreverent,’ making me give him a look that I hope didn’t seem disrespectful.

Director Paul Verhoeven was talking about this film on TV, mentioning Franken (Waldemar Kobus), the ruthless SS, a character apparently softened because he’s also a voracious lover who plays the piano. No, not really.

Carice van Houten isn’t the world’s most beautiful woman, although I thought she was between the time I saw Valkyrie and the time I saw this film. In Valkyrie her eyes pop like a German Vivien Leigh, leaving an immeasurable impression despite that bit part. This movie hides her real beauty behind different hair colours, which makes sense with the disguises used by her Jewish character Rachel/Ellis, a singer turned spy for the Dutch Resistance. Her face looks skinnier here too. And why would I be looking at her face if she’s naked for a few scenes?

She and Verhoeven make interesting choices with Ellis, who isn’t trying to hide her disgust or aloofness within the presence of the SS she eventually pretends to work for, funny because those same SS have a hand in shooting down her family. She’s not your typical heroine who has a poker face until the last minute. She occasionally throws up, yells and cries. She tells the truth to her mission subject turned boss turned lover Muntze (Sebastian Koch), and pulls herself together.

This movie is full of ambushes and escapes in a war on an occupied home front, with so many plot twists that I worried for Ellis’ well-being. Is she strong enough to withstand the forces against her? It also makes us wonder about but believe the characters’ changing allegiances, especially with Ellis’ chemistry with Muntze. It also covers, although obscenely, the hypocrisies, sadism and racism of people fighting on both sides. Every character has a sin, and with the solidly flowing revelations and plot twists, I couldn’t look away.


Neverending Christmas: Shreks


I already complained about watching the Shrek trilogy on twitter and did it anyway. The sharp comedy that turned itself into a cliché simply by existing again and again and again. We watched the first one in Grade 9 religion class, I think.

ph. Dreamworks

One thing about lobbing off one gag on top of another is that one will eventually make you laugh. Or that on repeated viewings, you’ll actually laugh about the one you forgot about. Such as when the recently rescued Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) opens the new morning with a series of vocalizations. She sings with a beautiful blue bird. We know what’s coming. She intentionally sings with such pitch and volume that the bird explodes. She takes the bird’s eggs, and there’s a mixture of solemnity instead of pushing the gag. And you know, Fiona the 0rge cancels out how this movie’s supposed to be about couples who don’t look good together.

The best in show/scene for the second installment goes to British comedy queen Jennifer Saunders, who plays Fiona’s fairy god mother. In order to get Fiona to marry her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), she locks Shrek up on Fiona’s childhood bedroom. She mocks his cries out for her. Great delivery.

Ooh, Shrek the human’s (Mike Myers) kinda hot. Looking back two paragraphs ago, yes, it’s a sad North American staple for a hot woman to be paired with Kevin James . That got my weird brain to thinking about what my former prof said about masculinity being the absence of performance. Both in ogre and broad-shouldered human form, Shrek is more acceptable as a masculine figure. Especially than his arch nemesis Charming, one of the gags involve the latter whipping his hair, feminizing the character. Even Fiona sees something wrong with Charming, pretending to be the transformed Shrek, mugging for the citizens’ attention at her royal wedding.

The theme of the masculine duality between Shrek and Charming rides on up to the third installment. It makes sense that Charming’s in a fairy tale version of a dive bar until you really think about it. He thus tries to rectify that wrong by getting the other bar patrons, fairy tale villains, to sign up to invade Far Far Away. I mean, what’s stopping him? It’s not like Shrek can function in his royal duties anyway.

I like the first half of the third movie. It was my first time seeing it, so the gags feel fresh. There’s a feminist spin to it – as Charming rounds up the villains, Fiona rallies her fairy tale princess BFF’s, who are normally passive and wait for a…prince charming. This came out when I was in summer school. For a class I was watching some old movie either about the Algerian resistance or one about a depressed Senegalese maid. Yes, I could have rebelliously written an essay about either of those movies AND Shrek 3.


To Maybe Watch Sweeney Todd


Jayne Wisener‘s Johanna is probably my reason if I was ever gonna rewatch Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Wisener wasn’t the next Kate Winslet, but she’s well-directed here no matter what her acting capabilities are. There’s something in the way she moves her head. June Thomas from Slate Magazine hasn’t been too kind on her rendition of the Sondheim-penned ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ but it’s my favourite rendition of the song, while most of the other renditions I’ve heard sing it with too much operatic force. Maybe I’m being cruel and that the other singers need to boom the song to the back of the audience, but I like Wisener’s softness.

ph. DreamWorks

There’s also something in the way she’s photographed here. High angle shot from the view of the birds. Through the window. My favourite POV of her is through the peep-hole from where the corrupt judge looks (Alan Rickman). The black spaces on the screen like that of silent cinema.

Should I watch a film just for two-minute intervals of a character watered down from the original source material and listen to her sing maybe twice? I don’t know why the film never fully connected to me the first time. Maybe I got bored by the ‘arterial spray?’ Or Helena Bonham Carter didn’t project her voice enough? Otherwise the film does look better on video. The thing about Sweeney Todd, and I can say this about at least one movie released every year, is that it’s either great in memory or in parts. There’s a reason why I was bored through half of the film, as if the scenes felt like the could have been played out better.

And those who know me will know that despite of 50-ish movies that I love – list coming up in never – I would rather get punched in the gut than watch a good or ok movie again.

There was also a small group of college-age kids near the front of the theatre who laughed at every other line of ‘A Little Priest.’ Like, we get it. You’re the biggest Sondheim fan ever. You’re so smart, you get all the jokes. I hated the Cumberland then. I said that I regretted not watching The Savages instead, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.

I might be going job hunting with my sister this afternoon. This movie’s gonna be at the Bell Lightbox at 9:30. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing at the Bloor. Black Christmas is playing at the Underground. I have time to think this through.


Evening With Stephen Sondheim


ph. DreamWorks

The Mirvish company hosted An Evening With Stephen Sondheim at the Princess of Wales Theatre. He was introduced by Des McAnuff, who among many things, said something really nice about “Sweeney Todd.” Something along the lines of how effectively emotive or haunting the Johanna song is. I can’t remember for sure.

Sondheim’s not an island. McAnuff in his introduction talked about the composer’s trusty collaborations with his longtime collaborator/choreographer/director Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and many more later in his career. Sondheim’s let us in that Robbins scared him but the final results of working with him were worth it.

He’s very open about his flaws even within his well-loved works. He talked about how the words of “Forum” don’t match well with the music, and accuses himself of creating high music for a low comedy. As he said, it takes as much work to write a good song but a wrong song as it it to write the right one. He also talked about the enormous help that his mentor/surrogate father Oscar Hammerstein II has given him. Hammerstein helped especially on the first musical he penned when he was 15, which is, as he remembers Hammersten saying, is the worst thing the mentor has ever read.

ph. MGM

He also talked about the mentor as an experimental composer in capturing the vernacular in the songs. He said that Hammerstein was better in mirroring the colloquialism in period pieces than with the contemporary-set musicals. That said from the man who brought us the lyrics of “West Side Story,” and I know. I’m actually one of the few people who think that the Jets and the Sharks are tough. Because this is often my angle in the movies I see, and that it’s a topic I can’t really bring up in person, but accents aside, there’s little difference between how the two groups talk. Which is good and that the differences between they aren’t overplayed. Besides, they’re all in Hell’s Kitchen, right? This led to critic Robert Cushman talking about theatre evolving to mimic real-life conversation. Sondheim corrected him about the limitations of theatre mirroring naturalism, that the audience makes a pact as they go into the theatre to believe mostly what the stage delivers. That no one really breaks out into song. Well, not really. The passive aggressiveness was fun to watch.

I was such an embarrassing n00b. The only knowledge I have of him are about two film adaptations of his work. He’s alive? That’s what he looks like? He’s in his 80‘s? And when “Into the Woods” was mentioned, a musical that I’ve never heard, clap away. My friend must have been embarrassed, me being such a poseur like that.

I wasn’t looking at my watch the entire time, but the last ten or twenty minutes of the conversation involved question cards either from probably mailed or e-mailed in. Sondheim was asked about the popularity of the song ‘Send in the Clowns,’ probably one of the last songs from a musical to enter the Billboard charts. It took two years and at least four singers who switched hands in singing the song as their own. Apparently those singers had different interpretations. Frank Sinatra’s (Belated Happy Birthday, by the way!) was ‘You go with a chick. It doesn’t work out. Send in the clowns.’

I can’t remember the question, but the differences between the stage and film of “West Side Story” – He wrote that? That just made him more approachable, not that listening to him talk wasn’t approachable enough, which it is – was discussed. The Broadway recordings always have the song ‘America’ only sung by female cast members while I had to refresh my memory and that the film version makes it a boys vs. girls song. Sondheim clarified that Robbins insisted that the stage version have the song only be sung and danced by girls. He also joked, hopefully, that Robbins had death rights to the choreography that will make future stage productions of “West Side Story” be unchanged. And you know what, Robbins is right.

Another one of the last few questions was about “Sweeney Todd,” the more Sondheimian musical in my understanding of the man because of the elegant words and intricate structures of the songs. Although Burton’s version is better on video, by the way. I might see it in the theatres again. The question was about a translation on “Sweeney Todd” in Korean, and how he felt about foreign translations. He said that he only knew rudimentary French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Four out of those five. He said he was grateful that other countries perform his work. The people performing his work send a rough translation of the translation, and if it’s in the spirit of the original, it’s ok. Can you imagine how ‘a politician cake would run’ in Korean, though, or what Asian Angela Lansbury might look like?

Oh, and if I had a flask, I would have taken a swing every time either McAnuff, Cushmann and even Sondheim said ‘Shakespeare.’ In the end, the night taught me a lot about the intelligent man, insightful about the specifics and science of his craft, how characters work with their songs and within the body of a musical.


Juno


ph. Fox Searchlight DVD

Juno, its eponymous hero and the actress who plays her, Ellen Page, probably have slightly maligned reputations by now. The movie and character would be seen as aloof and jokey despite of her pregnancy, and the actress almost got typecast as the leading star of the indie pack. My ‘job’ is to tell you the readers that there’s much more to the film. I caught this movie four minutes in, and Juno’s in real distress, convincingly telling her best friend (Olivia Thirlby) on the other side of the hamburger phone that she’s a ‘suicide case,’ revealing her situation. But yes, she does deliver on the humour, so relax. It’s eight minutes in and she’s already covered pop culture references and ironic ebonics, and sells her lines efficiently. She understand exactly what she’s experiencing, by this part of the movie anyway. And there’s her and the movie’s conundrum during unexpected pregnancies – the slightly depoliticized choices of keep, adopt and abort. When she chooses to give up her child for adoption, she has to deal with the new characters as well as ones already in her life.

And no, the characters in Juno don’t all talk alike, with their different rages of old, conservative – both gentrified and not – Americana and new, snarky Americana. Even bit parts have their own ticks, just like every human being in a fictional universe like this one we live in. A lone pro-life protester who shouts that all babies want to get ‘bornd,’ or a goth, sexually active receptionist.

Speaking of quirky, there’s a bit of focus on the characters’ material possessions and moments of privacy. I already mentioned the hamburger phone. There’s the discarded living room set, the picture of prince Charles in Juno’s cheerleader best friend Leah’s room, love interest Paulie Bleeker’s (Michael Cera) maroon and yellow outfit combination while he’s putting deodorant between his thighs. While we’re at Paulie’s shorts, by the way, let me just say that yes, cinematographer Eric Steelberg isn’t Wally Pfister nor Roger Deakins, but correct me if I’m wrong, he did bring the most eye-popping movie in an otherwise sepia tone year. Brenda’s (Allison Janney) obsession with dogs, adopting prospective Mark Loring’s guitar. Again, my fascination with these objects root from my boring decor. Mark’s wife Vanessa’s (Jennifer Garner) contradiction of bourgeois chrysanthemums and Alice in Chains tee are given the same light of individuality as the possessions of the working class characters on the other exit on the highway.

Yes, Bleeker’s a nerdy jock anti-stereotype and Leah encourages her best friend’s new sexuality yet still cool enough to join a rock band. However, the movie has clichés. Product placements. Juno’s short body trying to walk opposite everyone else’s direction. Juno’s stepmom Brenda warning of something that’s gonna happen and being right. Speaking of which, I would like to congratulate the internet for not ruining the movie.

Despite her wit, thank God she isn’t always the smartest person in the film, where the adults also show her things that are as she says ‘beyond her maturity level.’ She has her flaws. She crosses the line with the people in her life, using the word ‘gay’ – Leah does too. Page is nonetheless amazing in this, giving more than expected for the role. There’s something even in the way Juno runs up the stairs to the bathroom that shows how inventive and physical she is in a role that’s more script-based. If there is a flaw to her performance, it’s her voice that usually isn’t this nasal. She also ends most of her snarky lines with a lower tone, reminding me of how a younger Jorja Fox would speak.

And who says the women’s picture is dead? Diablo Cody sprinkles her script with well-written female characters. As Leah, Thirlby supports her and moves furniture for her. She also does the best readings of the word ‘pants’ and ‘I know, right’ in the history of cinema. Vanessa’s slightly frosty demeanour ventures for need to have a child with sane amounts of caution. Janney plays Brenda as a sap with a Kristen Wiig outfit yet knows how to eviscerate anyone like she does in “The West Wing” in probably the film’s best scene. All three equally convince the audience that they’re the best parts of this movie in their moments onscreen.

The male supporting cast does wonders in this film too. J.K. Simmons as Juno’s dad Mac reinvents himself as the balanced, supportive parental cool from whom she gets her sense of humour from. Bateman as Mark Loring tries his best both to support his wife’s wishes to adopt while holding on to the youthfulness that Juno’s sparked within him. Cera knows how to convey anxiety only through his eyes – his face doesn’t move but it doesn’t need to. And despite seeing her at her worst, Cera’s Bleeker gives her the moment of tenderness when she needs it.

The trailers on the DVD include 27 Dresses who co-stars Jonathan from “30 Rock,” The Savages which I should have seen instead of Sweeney Todd and a digital copy promotion thing that ties-in with promoting Live Free and Die Hard.