…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2008

Dystopia Countodwn: Vampires and Girls


I wrote about “The Twilight Saga” on Entertainment Maven because I fucking watched all the movies in one sitting a few weeks ago. And it’s probably the Kraken vodka speaking but I didn’t hate the experience, despite my drunken howlings of ‘what the fuck’ to the screen.

And here’s a crazy theory that is aided by my rudimentary math skills. The first Twilight book came out in 2005, when its fans are at the sad age of fourteen or something. It is now 2012, when all those girls are now 21. Half of those girls graduated from Twilight into “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Girls,” while the other half are still fans of Twilight but see it as the silly thing they still like. They have healthy laughs about the production, the campiness and the shitty supernatural laws that don’t make sense. And I don’t know if it’s my quasi-masculine perspective but to me, the saga doesn’t just give a poorly constructed love story. The saga is also schizophrenic in a way that one movie would have a ‘romantic’ story and another would have a bloodbath with lost of decapitated heads. It’s introducing girls to violence and the necessarily the kind that they would use inwardly.

Since there are impressionable girls around, they need a role model and they have found an unlikely one in Kristen Stewart. Stephanie Meyer’s first choice to play Bella was Emily Browning, and I imagine that actress to have brought the same awkwardness of a contemporary art painting, palatable in her awkwardness, the kind of person who falls down gracefully. Stewart, however, is defiantly awkward with her blunt edges, only capable of beauty when she’s being photographed in a fashion spread. Whether the unformed person we’re seeing is Bella or Kristen is up for debate, really.

She also reminds me of a less rewarded Rooney Mara, or the kind of actress whose honesty in engendering a desexualized female would have flourished on cable television a decade later. And that’s not necessarily an insult because I love TV. And again she works capably with other actors even if she can’t carry a movie herself. I’m probably writing these words after being misled by all my ‘research’ on the series, which include People and EW’s puff pieces about the saga, but they don’t necessarily make my words less true. Basically, I just wasted four hundred or so words in saying that the girls who read Twilight and the girls acting out Twilight will be fine. I’m not so sure about Meyer, who apparently is going through a writer’s block now.

As I said before, the soundtracks are better than the movies. Who would have thought that indie-tronica would be the unlikely accompaniment of the vampire-action saga? This juxtaposition has good intentions, like a sage trying to sway their younger sister from Justin Bieber to Feist. The soundtrack then implies that the people behind the movies are cooler than the one who wrote the books. But this still remind me of the syndrome that late 90’s alternative music that become devalued once they ally themselves to movies/TV shows about teen romances/angst. Alas. But once again, IT’S OVER!


The House Bunny


The House Bunny is the only movie that allows Anna Faris and Emma Stone to share the same screen and since the movie views women to Faris’ standard, Stone will probably never get this naked and Mean Girls-y again. Shelley Darlingson (Faris), being last out in the orphanage (the movie pays lip service to this part of Shelley’s character which, to be honest, is all it needs), always thinks of herself as an outsider even though she has one of the most coveted jobs that conventionally beautiful women have, a job that some of those women use to stab each other with. She’s grateful and has a sunny perception – she says something like “It’s like being naked in the centre of a magazine and people unfold you!” – about her precarious place within the mansion, as a 27-year-old she sees herself as 59 in Bunny years. After being schemed out of the Playboy mansion, Shelley becomes house-mother to Stone’s sorority house – the Zetas – although both mentor each other, the former with knowledge about how to attract men to help them save their sorority house and the latter knowing how to attract a man who isn’t superficial (Colin Hanks, obviously son of Tom). One of the movie’s funniest montages involve her trying to smarten herself by reading many books at once in a library and going to senior level classes in which she’s not enrolled. It reminds me of one of the movie’s earlier scenes where she asks one of the girls from a rival house where all the desks are. Both scenes are, to my limited knowledge of the subgenre of frat/sorority movies, the biggest indictment of college culture in cinema.

Stone, like her other housemates (Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee and Rumer Willis) go through two makeovers. The first, through Shelley’s guiding hand, takes too long to set up. The second is when one of the Zetas tell the other that they’ve become as superficial as their rivals. Stone’s character soberly advertising Zeta’s mission statement as being about acceptance is how we’ll see her onscreen persona in future rules.

Even if Faris and Stone are regarded as underrated comic gems stuck in a cinematic era that treats them like shit, the former, a secret national treasure and a celebrity impression that some cheerleaders have in their comic arsenal – is good but not enough to elevate this movie. There is absolutely no reason for everyone to watch this movie or to call this as a comedy – but then I read a lot of complaints that contemporary mainstream comedy isn’t funny so I guess this movie’s first few scenes might fit in with that description – and I felt the same way until I heard Faris’ voice get deeper and more guttural because that’s the way Shelley remembers names. I’m immature and get amused by stuff like that – it’s actually the first thing I’ll remember with this movie, the ‘erythromycin/meteor’ soliloquy in the end being the second. OHLIVEHR! That voice, simply enough, makes Faris’ Shelley a physically straining, full-bodied performance. You can call it as Faris putting the wool under our eyes but I still like it.

Aside from those two leads the movie also boasts a cast that sounds useless on paper but are awesome together. I tweeted earlier that McPhee acts and sings more here than in all of “Smash” and I stand by that. And who knew that Willis, whose character is stuck in a body brace for most of the movie, ends up having the best body in a cast of many beautiful women? Dennings in her most sarcastic yet most restrained, surprisingly. I love the scene where the sorority girls take out their fake eyelashes and tell each other that despite of Shelley’s inadvertent bad influence the latter still has style. Anyway, back to the cast, Beverly D’Angelo’s villain reminds us that, despite not necessarily deserving a lead role in anything, she’s a competent and more preserved Faye Dunaway. This is an ensemble picture in, as many would see it, its worst and most embarrassing way bot I can’t knock it because of its entertainment value and that I keep rooting for these actresses in their future projects.


Vimy Week Movie: Passchendaele


This is the second installment of Vimy Week and the first movie of the series that I saw on the big screen that is not a new release and therefore fits into John’s Big Screen Challenge. I promised to watch a safe number of 26 non-new release movies on the big screen but since I’m almost halfway I know I can totes do more than that. Come join us!

As a 1.5 generation Canadian the country’s curriculum exposed me of its generation rift. Its youth, though increasingly becoming centre-right, still look like multicultural pot-smoking passive hippies to our old teachers so they’re trying to educate us that when this country was still full of just integrated Europeans, we were the world’s fourth biggest military. We educated of the former glory that is the Great War and the Franco-Germanic names where our troops have fallen and risen again, Ypres, the Somme. The movie is cyclical in nature, beginning and ending with Michael Dunne (Paul Gross, who also wrote and directed) in European battlefields, the first time in Vimy and the second in the titular Passchendaele.

That title is a misnomer since its first half takes place in Michael’s home town of Calgary, where he finds himself being treated by a nurse named Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas), these characters expressing their love through drug withdrawals and battlefield sex, scenes of which are automatically ridiculously awesome. Not by intention she poses problems for him because her German father fought for the other side. The movie magnifies race and ethnicity, as Sarah gets fired from her job. Her brother David (Joe Dinicol), ridden with Daddy issues and too effete for a barely legal lower middle class boy, is guilt-tripped into signing up for the war by a English-descended Canadian to be his bride. Neighbours vandalise the Mann home with red paint spelling ‘HUN’ – the movie intermittently shows drawn Asiatic caricatures of Huns, curiously enough. This anti-Germanic plot line’s similarities to the one in East of Eden which would be distracting if it didn’t have roots in reality. The front lines eradicate those issues – the Englishman, First Nations and Québécois have their archetypal one-liners before they get painted in with the rest of the Canadians, all of them muddy due to days on the trenches. And the enemy, which they kill in glorious hand-to-hand combat, look just as dirty as they do! But despite of how many bodies get flung in the air or close-ups of decent looking men one second before dying by gunshot, this still feels a bit shiny and CGI’d for a war movie. Image via Guardian.


“You don’t scare me”


The aristocratically named Gina Prince-Bythewood directed her well-intentioned magnum opus The Secret Life of Bees, adapting it six years after Sue Monk Kidd released her novel of the same name. After being interested, with apprehensions of course, to seeing it in that interesting movie year of 2008 when it was released, I finally got around to watching it in the same weekend as The Wicker Man. Which got me confused. What was I supposed to think of bees and women and America and men now? This strangest of double bills made me realize that I wish movies work in such an interactive way so that the casts of these two movies could switch around. Both movies have the same character archetypes anyway.

I again understand the sexism attack against The Wicker Man and that the script labels them all as duplicitous but the actors execute their performances in shades as opposed to delineated borders. The class differences between them isn’t as plain because we see them through Edward’s perspective, and that they don’t out-yell Cage because no one should. The characters in Bees, however, don’t exude that same surprise, no matter what kind of dark secrets they have in their histories. We know the purpose they serve in the story and each other when the movie introduces them to us. They are stereotypes and their flaccid character arcs don’t change and deepen our understanding of them.

Basically T. Ray Owens is the entitled, emotionally stunted and volatile white man (Paul Bettany). His sense of entitlement eventually motivates him to chase his daughter, Lily (Dakota Fanning) out and find where she is and ‘rescue’ her for her own good. Lily (Dakota Fanning), instead of T. Ray, is the perspective with whom we see the narrative. She’s between the close-minded world of her dad’s and the matriarchal world that is tolerated and more secretly powerful. She eventually knows how to gain this power over her father. Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson, this movie shamefully under-utilizing an Oscar winner), the distraught one, is also between two worlds as Lily’s companion. They leave for a Pepto-Bismol coloured house in Tiburon, South Carolina where Lily’s mother once stayed. Her race is one of the factors that make us assume that unlike Lily, her bond with the women in that manor is easier to meet.

These new friends live in one of whom is the mansion’s owner, August Boatwright, (Belated Happy Birthday, Queen Latifah!). Latifah plays the maternal and soft one, only showing her edge and she and Lily talk about the latter’s mother who happens to be one of the children August took care of as a former black maid. August has a sister named June (Alicia Keys). We know she’s the mean one because she’s the mean one because she’s hostile to the newcomers as well as wearing the most make-up and the most tailored clothes in an already sartorially sharp family.

If this is going to fail in aspects of writing and directing, it also doesn’t succeed as an acting exercise with the exception of the third Boatwright sister May, the simple one (Sophie Okonedo). There are things about Okonedo’s performance that elevates it from two-dimensionality, the lower timbre in her voice stopping us from thinking that she’s just an overgrown child. But when something, like a gash on Rosaleen’s forehead or any mention of a sad or traumatic thing, the ticks and the mannerisms come out. There are no transition between these two spheres of her personality but that doesn’t mean that she makes it look jarring – she makes the attacks look seamlessly beautiful. This makes her the MVP in this flawed movie.


Guilty Pleasure? 27 Dresses


I’m sorry for inflicting this movie unto you, which began Katherine Heigl‘s reign of terror of  romantic comedies, making films more sexist that the ‘sexist’ Knocked Up. I tuned into 27 Dresses just when the impossibly altruistic Jane (Heigl) juggles two weddings during the same night. The Brooklyn Bridge backdrop during a montage makes it obvious that the studio didn’t want to pay real money for an on location shooting if this queen of box office flops follows her tradition.

Jane’s tricks a handful of people except for one man, Kyle Doyle (James Marsden), a marriage hater who writes for the style section of a minor league newspaper. Which, by the way, what other kind of newspapers are there in the Big Apple between the New York Times and tampon wrappers? Maulik Pancholy and Michael Scott’s girlfriend, by the way, costar as Kyle’s co-staffers. Anyway, Jane’s idealistic, he’s cynical, they bicker until the hour mark where he relents and they fall down the fuck in love.

Movies like this sets up glamorous stars like Heigl into ‘best friend’ types. Let’s dye her hair to a honey brunette so she’ll look frumpier compared to her hotter blonde sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), the latter falling in love with Jane’s boss (Edward Burns, Christy Turlington’s husband)! And what kind of person goes to the club and wears a top that makes her look like a Regency-era woman? Although I do admit that there are parts of this characterization that I believe. Heigl morphs her slender bone structure into showing us herself in her younger years, the kind of girl-turned ingenue with puffy cheeks and wore braces as a child. And there’s something about her line deliveries, a little husk in her alto voice, effectively playing a woman that’s frazzled yet witty.

And you know what? I also don’t mind the script, making its main gimmick to make Heigl look like a loser. It also allows its ensemble of B-list actors to talk on top of each other. This is the kind of movie that would be deemed a ‘classic’ had it been released in the 80’s or earlier. James Marsden’s charisma willfully distracts us from how Kyle is Jane’s terribly written foil.

Again, it’s ridiculous to have Katherine Heigl as the ‘always the bridesmaid’ type but it’s equally unfair for the talented Judy Greer to keep holding the ‘slutty best friend’ torch. She thanklessly gives the movie its dirty tongue colour – watch out for some daddy issues and sexual references from other characters too – and she slaps Heigl here, which is something, I assume, that you also want to do.


Chick Flick Remix: The Women


ph. Alliance

In Dianne English’s re-adaptation of The Women, Meg Ryan comes out of obscurity and plays Mary Haines. Mary is praised by her circle of rich, Long Island housewives even if her hair looks like that of a drowned rat and she dresses like her window curtains. Her husband, Stephen, is cheating on her and her friends Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith) are all so surprised. Cue a more forced character arc than the original, her ‘I’ll change myself in hopes of getting him back’ is implicitly placing blame on Mary for Stephen’s indiscretion with a girl behind the perfume counter, Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes). This material has already been remade before with the 1956 film The Opposite Sex starring the insufferable June Allyson. Films about the rich were both a fantasy and a target for satire but today it just seems out of touch, upper-class snobbery falling flat in front of contemporary, more cynical audiences.

Despite my strong words above, I can see some things where this remake excels. The original has Mary’s declaration along the words of ‘In [her mother’s generation], women were chattel. Today we’re equals.’ She stays a trophy wife from beginning to end. It would be easy to fall towards Crystal’s methods by pretending to learn how to bake like a fetishized housewife, but in the remake, Mary is her own woman, actually getting her own career, her seduction is independence instead of subservience. Speaking of careers, this film also makes a bigger deal about the falling out between Mary and her best friend Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening). It allows us to see Sylvia’s side as well as her clichéd struggle between her friendship and career, betraying the former to keep the latter intact. Slyvia inadvertently hijacks the story and even gets Mary’s daughter’s friendship because of her more realistic take on life.

Bette Midler is also in this movie. I’ve always been on her side in the Bette versus Barbra debate, although that changed in recent years with discovering Barbra’s work in Funny Girl and her winning streak in the 70’s while Bette is doing indie films with Helen Hunt that I nor many people have not seen. But all it needs to take me back is watching her character smoke pot with Mary. She looks good and she doesn’t overdo her lines, saying them like she’s experienced love and loss without them scarring her. If only the movie was two hours of female stoners, I would have paid to see that.


Vacay Series: Richard Jenkins…


ph. Columbia

…has been in ‘terrible’ movies.

(Sorry for the hiatus, by the way.)

Adam McKay‘s Step Brothers came out in 2008. In the same year Jenkins, not to be mistaken with the guy from Third Eye Blind, had movies out like The Tale of Desperaux and was nominated for an Oscar in The Visitor. Despite the many “Six Feet Under” episodes he’s been in, Adam McKay’s Step Brothers is actually on the upper half of the movies that have better votes on his long CV on iMDb. someone out there who would call Hall Pass his Norbit, but I imagine more people think that his movie choices are getting better because of the Oscar boost.

But you know what, I actually enjoyed this movie that I saw for Easter with my family, flipping between this and the Game 4 between the Lakers and the Hornets. Jenkins plays a step/father to the titular step brothers, played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. This movie falls in the same sutured structure as Anchorman – although Anchorman does it better. Ferrell’s character clashes with person who takes things more seriously, a random epic back/side street fight involving Ferrell and secondary/tertiary antagonists, amicable dénouement between Ferrell and his foil. I do enjoy their antics, the two of them wearing Chewbacca masks, crashing their father’s boat, wearing racist costumes to detract a douche of a Realtor (Adam Scott) from making a sale and burying each other alive. Watching a comically rendered sex scene with my younger cousins was awkward.

This is the third movie for the past week that I’ve seen that involved dog poop, and the second involving eating it.  I’m not sure if this dog poop marathon is better or worse than the movies I’ve seen earlier this year that had many close-ups of genitalia.

The Vacay Series is intended for AnomalousMaterial.com. I’ll continue the series there for movies with which I can actually say something about, unlike Step Brothers. The first on the series, is here.

[ETA: I’ve lately been obsessed with the Feller-Gasteyer-Gellar dinner sketch on SNL in 1997. Here he reminds me of Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I wish Ferrell would do a movie where he’s the straight man to someone else’s goof, but that’ll never happen.

Supporting roles also include Ken Jeong before The Hangover, Rob Riggle, Seth Rogen and Mary Steenburgen.