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…
…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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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, 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.
Random Thoughts: Charlie Wilson’s War
Adapting the late award-winning CBS producer George Crile’s book, Aaron Sorkin wrote Charlie Wilson’s War and probably had a play in mind, since most of the scenes consist of place, characters and their lines electrically ricochet. There’s little visual manipulation or tricks from director Mike Nichols. He’s the best director for these kind of ‘play’ movies, winning for Tony’s and all. We’ll jump to a scene where our hero, Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) and American spy Gust Avrikotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) pay a visit to Zvi, an Israeli arms dealer.
Zvi: Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t recognize our right to exist, we just got done fighting a war against Egypt, and everyone who has ever tried to kill me or my family has been trained in Saudi Arabia!
Gust: That’s not true, Zvi. Some of them were trained by us.
A few minutes later, Charlie reveals a pending coke charge against him, And Zvi replies with ‘I love you Charlie, but you are a grown man who still hasn’t learned to look both ways before crossing the facking street!’
In many scenes of the movie, Hanks plays the straight guy and takes the back seat for Hoffman and Julia Roberts’ Joanne Herring. It’s wonderful to see Hanks as a part of an all-cast ensemble, but then again, when Julia Roberts is in the room, everyone else is a bag lady.
Speaking of her, Julia Roberts is both overrated and underrated. She dominated the box office in the 90’s yet people wanted to throw something at her when she won an Oscar against Ellen Burstyn. Charlie Wilson’s War is her second movie with Mike Nichols, the first being a happy woman with a dubious past. She’s also a mainstay in Steven Soderbergh’s movies as well as two early movies by disgraced director Joel Schumacher. Her hook up with directors isn’t as edgy as if she worked with Michael Haneke or Lars von Trier, but Nichols and Soderbergh give her great work she deserves.
Charlie Wilson’s War is a satire of Washignton’s lack of foresight, the Orwellian ‘Eurasia and Eastasia’ insanity that America has adopted, like a superpower that by its own fault has enemies and war zones change by the decade. One can see US imperialism, as shown in the film, as a parasite doing its mission in one country and leaving it devastated after the mission is accomplished.
But it’s not just the Americans who are at fault here. A young Afghan tells Charlie, ‘Don’t send us rice and bandages. Give us guns.’
It’s still fun and witty, Although a movie can never be perfect if it could be summarized in its last ten minutes.
Charlie Wilson’s War is gonna be on AMC again tonight and tomorrow afternoon. It’s a good laugh, or six.
Waitress shows pie maker Jenna’s (Keri Russell) unhappy, unique life and family through filters of both comedy and tragedy. I understand that the decision to portray such a life might repel some viewers, but both can coexist is life and it makes sense for both to harmoniously coexist within the same film. The kooky cast of characters entering and exiting Jenna’s hospital room, no matter how set-up it is, has the same emotional gravity as the scene when Jenna’s husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto), hits her in his car, discovering her plan to run away from him.
The little sociologist within me has seen within this movie the trials of a woman in her situation. The long times in rural areas to wait for a bus to either get to or from work – in so-obvious studio set pieces, nonetheless – or to get away from an abusive husband. Possibilities that a double-income partnership may still be in danger of the man controlling the money and the woman having to hide money all over the house. Resenting her unborn child. Justifications in being disloyal in loveless marriages and having affairs clumsy guys like Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Too real for some people who will be watching this movie.
The film also shows the beginning of the cycle through Jenna’s coworker, Dawn (Adrienne Shelley) and the latter’s persistent admirer, Ogie. He courts her through phone calls and visits to the pie place where they work, and declares that he won’t stop until she says yes. I don’t know if I’m the only one who did a face-palm when she relents. Ogie’s presented in the movie as a gentle soul with his terrible poetry, and pardon the meanness, but he looks more like a beggar than a chooser, so we know he’ll be forever grateful. However, Jenna also talks about how Earl has changed, which makes Dawn and Ogie’s early stages of love seem more suspect.
Don’t, however, forget the comedy. This movie depicts people – as a T.S. Eliot expert on my iPod has said – who either don’t write or can’t write or won’t write. They deal with their neurotic doctors and business owners their own way. Not every abused wife lives like a LifeTime TV movie nor centres her life on her husband. Women like her may have other people in their lives. Adrienne Shelley, who also wrote and directed the film, must have dug into a nice place in conjuring these characters. Sadly, we’ll never know where.
I know this Slavic girl in college whom I like making fun of behind her back. I don’t know if it’s more insulting that everyone thought she was stupid or that I didn’t see her as stupid but instead, a person with a tragically clinical view of academia. We had a conversation on the bus once about David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, a movie that just came out at the TIFF 2007 and the first movie from that crop to be released in theatres. She said the rapes made her uncomfortable, for reasons more basic than what I can deduce from other things I know about her. Once in a while she reveals a point of vulnerability and closes back up again, in a way telling me either that I’ll never find out her secret or that she doesn’t have a wound in the first place.
Roger Ebert and Carina Chocano separately compared this movie to The Godfather, and they’re right in that both movies are about the second generation of gangsters and not the first, a typical focus point in post-classical gangster films. It’s been said about The Godfather that it’s about the sons or the daughters paying for their father’s sins, despite of how much the parents try to shield them, or how much the children try to legitimize themselves, and no matter how much the latter presents themselves as products of nurture, or society, instead of nature, of family. In Eastern Promises, however, the children ‘stray from the path I’ve set out for [them],’ as the patriarch Semyon says in dismay. The half-English Anna Ivanova (Naomi Watts) will not adopt her Uncle Stefan’s negrophobic, anti-miscegenation viewpoints. Semyon’s son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel) is a hotheaded SPOILER, closeted homosexual, doing away with those who whisper that truth. Kirill’s driver/undertaker Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is a clawing his way to the top of the Russian mafia. The movie never lets us conclusively know how their different rebellions will help or hinder their characters, especially with Nikolai and his double life.
Speaking of double lives, the homoeroticism in the film, as shown specifically through Nikolai makes me think that Kirill couldn’t help it. Cronenberg depicts the gangster lifestyle itself as homoerotic. Kirill orders Nikolai to have sex with one of the prostitutes to prove his heterosexuality. The elders examine Nikolai and his symbolic tattoos, standing in front of them wearing only his underwear. The bathhouse death match. Kirill and Nikolai’s faces so close to each other, reminiscent of Viggo’s closeness to William Hurt in Cronenberg’s earlier work A History of Violence. I wonder if Nikolai is bisexual, or using himself to get to Kirill’s confidence, or if it’s compassion bursting through the hard surface he has to keep up for his job. It’s a fragmented interpretation of the character that doesn’t answer all the questions, and that actually makes him a more memorable character.
Yes, the movie had rapes and babies and a death match at the bathhouse, but there’s something anticlimactic about the movie, especially in the film’s denouement. And most of this is gonna sound like I’m shitting on Kirill/Vincent Cassel here. As a character who’s behind Semyon’s shadow, he’d be resentful and would hesitate in acting out his father’s orders. What does it say about me if I’m unconvinced that Kirill wouldn’t readily do to the baby Christine what Semyon has told him to do, or that I expected Christine to have a harder time than she did? Or that the sexual tension between Nikolai and Anna should have been left alone where it was before the last scenes? Or that I expected absolute evil from Nikolai?
Old Brad Pitt is Hot
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.
Gone Baby Gone and Genre
Last Saturday, TCM was showing “The Searchers,” the king of all westerns that I can’t blog about for my own neurotic reasons. Fortunately I can tie it into a movie that was on Bravo Canada the night/morning after – Gone Baby Gone. It did come out in a year that overflowed with proper Western films. And both have missing children and gun-toting!
So is Gone Baby Gone a western? It’s not a noir because there are hardly if ever any child abductions in that genre. Noir’s a very adult genre, focusing on an underworld that only seeps into the domestic areas in one or two instances. Dorchester’s both an underbelly and a residential neighborhood, on the other than there’s a separation between those two worlds that the precedent in both genres show. And there’s not enough shadow in the movie. Conversely, There has been a school of thought that believes that the 1970’s urban landscape, particularly New York City, was the new frontier (There’s also a documentary about the post-1967 depiction of police in cinema which I can’t find that talks about this too. It was on AMC.). Our hero Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) introduces the film by narrating about what that the people of Dorchester believe in, patriotism and family values, just like the old West. Dorchester in the 2000’s is a multicultural environment that’s a bit like the West. The film also has two bar fight scenes that involve guns, another thing it has in common with the genre. Yet it doesn’t have the newness nor the relatively hospitable feel nor the desire for purgation that the Western genre evokes. “It’s the things that you don’t choose that make you who you are, ” Patrick says, and he continues with “I’ve lived in this block my whole life, most of these people have.” The neighborhood can either only not change or decay, and we can say the same about its inhabitants.
And it’s easy enough to compare the characters of Gone Baby Gone‘s with that of “The Searchers.” Patrick is the Martin Pawley, our dutiful moral compass. Both are hybrid characters – they are despised in one society and is a stranger to another. Both are men infiltrating a seedy environment, believe in an idealized world with order, and can pistol-whip their enemies even though they don’t look it. Patrick’s more level-headed than Martin, but both are equally capable of making tactical mistakes with dangerous strangers. And Patrick’s more hesitant in killing criminals than Martin is.
His girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) is the domestic, moral yet brainwashed Laurie Jorgensen. Both represent the mainstream morality of their time. Both are equally prone to saying ruthlessly horrific things about the other characters and unhesitatingly condemn to those whom they think are beneath them. But obviously, Laurie will never jump into a quarry to try to save another woman’s child.
Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) is Ethan Edwards, both of whom are psychopaths who have suspicious origins and histories and are constantly abusing their powers under a badge. Both also have skewered worldviews – children might forgive, Mr. Bressant, but they don’t forget. Both also know their enemies like experts. Amanda MacCready is Debbie Edwards, both of whom fit better with those who have abducted them, who fit better in an idealized world that the protagonists are willing to destroy. Their return to their homes are open-ended, at least more so with Amanda’s. And Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman)? Spoiler, but he’s a dop-pel-gang-er!
Helene MacCready (Amy Ryan, nominated for an Academy Award for the role) is a different animal, or at least someone who belongs to the Noir tradition. The scene where she recalls her daughter’s supposed last words has revolting implications. She’s irredeemable. The most horrifying thing about her character is that she’s only capable of promising change in times of crisis. When Patrick restores order for her benefit, she can’t even fake joy for this reunion, not even for the cameras. She leaves her daughter like she does every day, returns to her old, drug addled ways.
Also, both “The Searchers” and Gone Baby Gone tend towards deluded ethics based on wobbly rhetoric. The denouement of Gone Baby Gone, when Patrick finally confronts Amanda’s real kidnapper, he prattles on with a speech about that what’s better for the child is not right for the child. Both Patrick and the kidnapper try to speak on the child’s behalf, a dangerous thing to do. Patrick even speaks like this in front of Angie. In most of the film, I felt that its grit outweighs it sentimentality, but this scene makes both influences present, for better or worse. Both the kidnapper’s words and delivery seem more sane that Patrick’s idealism, or maybe Affleck (director or star) might be misguided during this particular stage of the character.
Lars just told me that Gone Baby Gone is the last of a series of four books in a series by pulp writer Dennis Lehane. Explains the speeches. And don’t mistake me, I like the movie. I would have loved it would those few scenes.
There’s nothing real about this movie. As Wesley Morris wrote of the spin and sweep and woosh of the camera, trying to depict a vast magical world, it’s all CGI. When the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) fails to kill literally fallen star Yvaine (Claire Danes) and belts that big scream, the camera didn’t need to zoom and fly up. The movie turned a human moment – for a witch – into a technical exercise.
Fine, maybe a few things and real. First is the iceberg-laden beach scene with Prince Septimus (Mark Strong). This movie’s a great outing for him. His line read of ‘Do your work for my brother,’ is amazing, just evoking ruthlessness. Evil doesn’t break a sweat. He also fights out teenage hero Tristan while his body’s supposed to be dead, and I bought his physicality.
Then this scene where Tristan and Yvaine are just walking. There are other scenes like floating ships and craters that need CGI, or the latter just being shot in a set or something and again, no need to zoom out till later. Actual locations. Too much to ask? Just tone the CGI down, please.
I also totally didn’t get the Claire Danes hate until this movie. While she’s confessing her love to Tristan in the form of a mouse, she oversells it. Her face uncontrollably twists and she produces little bumps on her face that I never thought was humanly possible.
Other than the one scene and one b-roll, the movie had finer moments in Captain Shakespeare (Robert de Niro). His performance and hammy yet adorable. However, for British movie with a half-American cast, the accents aren’t that bad. Thank God for the generation of Carey Mullgan though, when British characters can be played by British actresses again.
I changed the channel 15 minutes before the end of the movie, and frankly, I can probably guess how it ends.
And oh hai, Ricky Gervais. I guess Andy Millman’s meeting with Robert de Niro worked out fine.
Blood, this time around
The first thing the movie makes me remember is Daniel Day Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview. He’s all you see for the first fifteen minutes, even more. It’s funny that a performance mostly known for Day Lewis speaking through the roof of his mouth begins with silence. When he injures himself falling down his little oil well and has to go to a makeshift smelting office place thingy to give them his chunk of silver. He is lying down on the dusty field and seconds later we cut to the office and he’s still lying down, and the audience believes that he slithered his way there.
He asks about HW’s friend/future wife Mary. He then plays around with Mary and tells her that there will be no more hitting. Yet he can’t get no love from her since she feels so uncomfortable.
Also, is that Daniel’s feeling being hurt? He has feelings? He conveys the feeling knowing how distant he is from his real family without the gaping mouth that any amateur would. This scene also subverts Daniel’s image of a family man, an image that he tries to present in his business dealings and one that his competitors have eventually debunked. Yet he stitches his wounds and moves on.
There is subtlety and naturalism to Day Lewis’ work here. His reading of ‘why don’t I own that,’ for example. He makes business talk within a business themed film to be more interesting than it should. There’s also the first time he talks to the realtor, more hilarious since I know what he’s up to.
The movie frames him as a nicer, insecure yet misunderstood guy this time around, although the denouement makes the audience realize that he unfortunately just doesn’t know how to convey his niceness to other people.
I’ve always contended that Brad Pitt gave the best performance that year. The only other nominees I’ve seen are Depp and Viggo, who are worthy adversaries. I always believe in apples and oranges, but there’s something physical and direct about his Day-Lewis’ role and performance. He had a lot to do, did it, won an Oscar for it.
Speaking of performances, adult HW’s closeups are just as effective.
O hai Ciaran Hinds! In all honesty, I didn’t know who Ciaran Hinds was til last year. Oh, that makes it worse!
The movie operates in large strokes, Instead of plot revelations where one thing happens one minute after another, the film focuses on one main action that percolates within five to ten minutes. We see one thing and we see the consequences for the rest of an allotted time. Sometimes, like Daniels’ scene with adult HW, it develops through dialogue, while in others, when a derrick explodes, the film lets nature take control.
Some of its audience might be reductive their perception of a movie by saying it’s two and a half hours of fields or business talk. But the personalities within the movie, specifically Daniel and Eli (Paul Dano) makes it accessible. They declare instead of whisper. And so quotable!
A movie is funnier if you watch it with more people. ‘Just give me the water, Eli’ and ‘That was a hell of a show’ in that straightforward delivery was funnier, as well as every scene where Eli gets owned. I wasn’t laughing the first time I saw those violent moments, I felt Kubrickian shock. I first saw the movie at the VIP section. One of the employees asked me if what kind of food/drinks I wanted, but it was such an ascetic experience that I had to take seriously. This was in March 2008, or February, before the Oscars. This was the most important movie of all time and I couldn’t laugh at anything. This time, I was starving yet I could laugh.
I remember the blues and the warm colours. I should smack myself for forgetting the foliage depicted within the movie. I also don’t remember the movie being this dark looking. And how menacing the first shot is of the mountains. And the symmetry, of course.
And the music. The only ones I’ve retained are the ones in the beginning and its beehive effect and the Cormac-esque fiddle in the end, the latter I haven’t been able to find. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a lot, it gets me through winter. I tried to keep a mental note on which tracks were playing in which scenes.
I am also one of the few people who will defend Paul Dano’s performance, his Eli building on the foundations that Burt Lancaster has in “Elmer Gantry.” He’s supposed to be annoying and over the top. He’s also the reason we have such a bad impression of Daniel, popping up at the wrong time to ask for the money that Daniel already paid to Eli’s brother Paul (Paul Dano). He sermons like Elvis.
I waited two years to rewatch this movie, and it is the best way to rewatch is to let it gather dust instead of watching it to death. Although the movie still fails the Bechdel test.
Milkshake Time at Underground!
Bechdel test failure “There Will Be Blood” is gonna be on at the Underground today at 9ish. This will be the second time for me to watch what critics acclaim as the greatest movie of the past decade. And there’s something subtle about that last picture that I can’t believe I forget that for the other things that happened. And honestly, I wasn’t gonna watch this, but Elmer Gantry just inspired me to do so. Besides, unlike movies from that banner year like “No Country for Old Men” (better on TV) and “Zodiac,” it’s never on television. Come if you can, and hope I or we have fun this time around!
Away From Her
In one the first scenes of “Away From Her,” Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie) puts a pan on a freezer. There’s no music to put this action in context. Fiona’s obliviousness and her husband Grant’s (Gordon Pinsent, voice of God) confusion add to the mix of what I felt as an audience. Do I react in shock? Burst in inappropriate laughter?
After that scene in the kitchen and other after that she is aware of being hit by Alzheimer’s and its consequences and warns Grant about the latter. At times she walks within a room like a ghost, mourning lost memory without crying over it. There is a repeated shot of her looking lost in her vast snowy backyard. The minimal use of the film score, the lack of overwrought crying scenes. Mostly, this movie’s approach is about what’s not being given nor shown nor heard, letting the audience react in their personal way.
I’m thinking of other actresses that might be able to pull of the character, Canadian ones. Mary Walsh would rock the skiing scene. But Julie Christie is a solid statue as Fiona and doesn’t let go, as they say. No one can do elegance like the kind she puts into her character.
That sounds a little dreary to many of you, but there’s some verbally aggressive yet sometimes comic anger from the characters, especially the women. Fiona gives Grant the worst goodbye ever. Miss Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) condescends to him. Kristy gives him a torrential speech about the obliviousness of men, out of character for archetypal customer service characters. Marian’s (Olympia Dukakis) is just rough yet likable. The men get in on the action too. Grant comments on seeing his wife in the aged home, and Fiona’s new boyfriend Aubrey (Michael Murphy) can do so much with a look.
You can look at the film as Grant’s world crumbling just as much as its implied gender dynamics. He’s learning about women and female anger and unwritten institutions of womanhood that he’s been oblivious to. Through Fiona’s degenerative condition, Fiona, Grant and the supporting characters in their lives are feeling the end, and therefore things must be said and revealed.
It’s also a ‘Canadian story for Americans’ narrative, which shows especially in Marion’s words like ‘Kamloops, BC’ ‘Canadian Tire.’ The whole room knew where Kamloops is. There’s also the retired hockey commentator who gives some of the best moments of the film.
The only flaw of this movie is when Grant uses a metaphor to describe Alzheimer’s, like light switches in the house turning off one at a time. Then the film shows their house and the lights turn off the way Grant has described. I believe in showing or telling by not both. The rest of it is a story about loss with comic relief, surprising for director Sarah Polley’s reputation.
(Make me wanna holler. ph. Paramount)
Maybe “Zodiac” is trying to show an alternative system in solving crime. There are always gonna be cold cases and the police cannot fully dedicate themselves to every unsolved crime. They’ll just find some seemingly altruistic nerd like Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) to ponder over dusty evidence. I was gonna call this transfer system perfect if it didn’t ruin families and if it didn’t end in a staring contest instead of an actual arrest and conviction.
The movie starts with a high angle wide shot of San Francisco in the Fourth of July while a croony male version “Easy To Be Hard,” a Broadway song about civil rights is playing, making the scene and the rest of the movie seem dangerous in a romantic way. We see the Transamerica Tower being built. “Zodiac” glides for a 160 minute movie about a serial killer, showing the passage of time with the same artistic hand used with depicting a man stuck in the past.
This is the best David Fincher movie I’ve seen so far. It doesn’t have the blatant dialogue about morality in “Se7en,” an element that can make a movie age like fish (but don’t mistake me, I like a lot of it). It doesn’t have the ‘shut up, Brad Pitt’ of “Fight Club,” although I like Brad Pitt everywhere else. “Zodiac” doesn’t declare itself as a great film like the other two, but watching this after two and a half or so years makes me feel like I found a hidden jewel.
(A better stalker than Edward Cullen)
Graysmith’s obsession is still seductive because it attempts to shatter impartiality, especially that of police work. He tries to get into police stations and detective’s homes and yes, that’s annoying. But the typical police officer isn’t sadistic enough to say no. In his last conversation with David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), he knows how to spin a tale and has done a lot of research on the suspect’s time line coinciding with the killings. Toschi tells him he can’t prove any of his speculations. He bravely replies that ‘Just because we can’t prove it doesn’t mean it’s not true.’
Lastly, why is John Carroll Lynch playing douche-y roles? He’s amazing here as Arthur Leigh Allen, and he’s serviceable as one of the guards in “Shutter Island.” I just miss the loveable husband from “Fargo.”
A Prophet and Love Songs
(Warning: post contains violent images, written content sexual innuendo and stuff like that.)
I first saw “Un Prophete” at TIFF. I didn’t start my blog sooner and I paid 12 more dollars to see the film again, bringing a total of paying 52 dollars to see the movie.
My love for the film is less than unconditional at this second screening. First of all, we have to consider the prison as a national metaphor. That said, Malik El-Djebena’s (Tahar Rahim) is a likeable character but not sympathetic. Instead of being rehabilitated, the prison turns him into a wiser, slightly more determined criminal. However, a typical prisoner becoming a non-criminal after a six-year term is highly unlikely, and that is a Hollywood thing to portray.
Then I also overlooked that the Corsican prisoners step on Malik and he must abide by the rules of the other prisoners and bribed jail guards to get what he wants. Despite the possible metaphor in the film, his actions are mostly motivated on a personal level. He avenges when someone wrongs him, and thankfully at the right time. Knowing when to strike is one of the unpolished skills that he has entering the prison, and as the years go, he begins to think strategically. There is a scene when he helps his Corsican ‘boss’ Cesar Luciani (Niels Aestrup) deal with the new Muslim inmates, his advice thus surprises Cesar. You sympathize with him when he’s down, when he’s getting himself back up, and even when he’s killing a few people.
Brad Brevet from RopeofSilicon wrote about Malik’s prison education. Interestingly enough, this is a story of a man who learns from his enemies, a theme relegated to the sidelines in other crime films. Cesar and the Corsicans inadvertently teaches Malik strategy and ruthlessness and their native dialect. Another prisoner, Reyeb, tells him to come out of prison a little smarter. Malik becomes part of the cycle by advising – instead of using a rousing speech – the Muslims who had shunned him to fight for their rights in the prison. All actions are tough to pull off.
All in all, a very cinematic and enjoyable film. Those two adjectives fit even if the film features a guy cutting up his own moth with a razor, another guy having blood erupting out of his jugular, and a third guy putting a spoon inside the first guy’s eyelid. And that French prison food is awesome.
(French Robert Pattinson and French Haley Joel Osment make out)
Three hours before that I saw “Les Chansons D’Amour.” Ismael (Louis Garrel) is romantically pursued by a gay guy after his girlfriend (Ludivigne Sagnier) dies. I am proud that the gay one can sing the best in the movie, but I am very protective of gay characters. I like them flawed, but I do not like them fucked in the head. I do not wanna see them stalk straight people, I do not want to see them snivel, I do not want to see them get the straight guy that easily.
I do like Ismael’s nuanced world before tragedy happens. I also like how the film tackles the girlfiend’s death like a sledgehammer instead of a dramatic device. Deaths like this happen unexpectedly, and I feel that in the movie. Ismael does not deal with grief perfectly but the film does not paint him as a man whore or a sad little boy needing a shoulder to cry on.
Lastly, with the exception of Piaf and Josephine Baker, hearing French sung by these people in their twenties is as awkward as watching my mother get drunk.
While we’re at it
Nathaniel R from The Film Experience listed his take on his best Oscar grade performances of the decade. I’ll be a bad student and not fully understand the assignment, but my list:
2000: Maggie Chung – In The Mood For Love. Snubbed
2001: Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive. Snubbed
2002: Meryl Streep – The Hours. In wrong category. She’s here by default because I haven’t seen far From Heaven or Adaptation in entirety.
2003: Nicole Kidman – Dogville. Snubbed.
2004: Uma Thurman – Kill Bill 2. Snubbed.
2005: Maria Bello – A History of Violence. Snubbed.
2006: Kate Winslet – Little Children. Nominated.
2007. Marion Cotilliard – La Mome.
2008. Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married. Nominated.
2009. Abbie Cornish – Bright Star. Snubbed.
I can’t decide between Winslet and Watts right now. Winslet’s first scene in Little Children just breaks your heart and she keeps you in the ups and downs of that movie, but Watts’ performance is a classic that I end up missing her when the credits roll. My favourite actress who actually won, well there’s only one.
And while we’re at it, an incomplete list of Best Supporting Actresses if I had 3000 votes at my disposal.
2001. Helen Mirren – Gosford Park. Nominated.
2004. Natalie Portman – Closer. Nominated.
2007. Kelly Macdonald – No Country for Old Men. Snubbed.
2008. Viola Davis – Doubt. Nominated.
2009. Mo’Nique – Precious: Based on the…. Won.
My Winner: Natalie Portman by a millimeter. Visceral, sexy, cool, she can hold her own with her co-stars.
Shortlist for the guys:
2000: Javier Bardem – Before Night Falls. Nominated.
2004: Gael Garcia Bernal – Bad Education. Snubbed.
2004: Joseph Gordon Levitt – Mysterious Skin. Snubbed.
2005: Viggo Mortensen- A History of Violence. Snubbed.
2007: Brad Pitt – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Snubbed
2008: Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler. Nominated.
2009: Colin Firth – A Single Man. Nominated.
My winner for the who: Bernal did a lot with the range of things he had to do. I guess Daniel Day Lewis winning in 2007 is great but Brad Pitt’s performance wins a place for me.