…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2010

Marwencol


So this guy Mark Hogencamp of Kingston, NY get ‘queer-bashed,’ leaving him brain-damaged, but comes out of it with the best revenge – better artistic skills and penmanship than me? I’m not saying with schadenfreude that his skills as an artist should be as stalled as mine, but not fair, world.

Hogencamp is as multifaceted as the aesthetic of the fictional town he has created with his two hands, Marwencol, a portmanteau of his name and the two most important women in her life, Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The film, as much as it is dedicated towards his fictional world, also focuses on the man who has created it. He talks normally except for stressing the words ‘angry’ and ‘drink,’ two of his past vices. He’s honest about the porno tape that an old VCR has eaten up or other revelations about his views and practices on sexuality as revealed through the real world and his fictional one. The film lets us watch the man evolve.

Significant portions of the film is devoted to showing storyboard stills of Mark’s stills of the WWII dolls placed in both the town he’s physically constructed, both within 1/6th scale, and seamlessly within natural settings. I’m gonna nitpick and say the the zippers seem larger than scale, but that’s about it. His friends say that he expresses his anger through the dolls, an admirable action because of how he does it. He carefully paints the scars and bullet holes into the body of these dolls instead of attacking them. At first this feels like he’s staining those dolls until we see the effect he successfully conveys, making the violence look like the dolls have inflicted them on each other, as certain plot points of Marwencol’s story go.

Those stills are more colorful than the less glamourous people like Mark and certain townspeople of Kingston, NY from whom some of the characters in Marwencol are based on. No human Barbie dolls and war hunks in Mark’s real world, which make them more special since the film lets us see the beauty that Mark sees in them. These people are interviewed one by one, their reactions to his art as unabashedly honest as the fiction Mark creates. His best friend says that he’s ‘partaken in battles and come out on top,’  Marwencol then becoming a balance between communal fantasy and a symbol for the wars Mark endures to be healed.


The Way Back


The first scene involves dried blood in Janusz’s (Jim Sturgess) face. His interrogators bring out the witness against him – his own teary-eyed wife – with the same viscera, and  I remember the only bone that the Academy has thrown towards this movie. There’s more of that as we follow Janusz’s story as he gets in and escapes from a Siberian prison camp, taking six other men with him, most of whom have invited themselves to the grueling journey. There are these male movie stars efficiently worn down and their skin dried from the cold weather to mix with and placed behind the extras playing prisoners.

The make-up goes with the harsh conditions the men meet when they do escape, the snow on their beards while crossing the snows of Siberia and the Himalayas, the bites of cheeks in their stop at a  mosquito-plagued lake or the sores on their faces as they walk the desert. The back and forth between the rugged terrain and the rougher faces and bodies of the characters make a balance between the two aspects of the film. The frozen and mummified corpse of a blind boy who escapes with them but doesn’t even get out of the Siberian forests, flaky skin and chapped lips a la Sergio Leone, swollen feet when they try to cross the Gobi. The effects are realistic, seamless but not too gruesome. Even if it is make-up, it complements the pathos that the characters face during this epic journey.

The film actually begins with title cards indicating three people making it to India. Not having read the source material, which other three won’t make it? You’d think the top billed cast members would, but it’s more complicated than that. I also like how the film handles its ‘Survivor’ like inevitability, as some who do not make it get elegies and close-ups, some just get a cross and are left, and one person, afraid, just chooses not to move on.

The film switches languages, although the story justifies it. Ed Harris‘ Mr. Smith is American so he doesn’t have to hide,  even if he does speak some Russian to Mongolian horsemen they meet in the desert, but the film’s top billed stars are Anglophones who sometimes speak a Slavic language. I wonder if the language aspect of the film will be more constant if , say, Bela Tarr directed it. Colin Farrell‘s Valka does the most heavy lifting with the accent work, making the language bullying and threatening. He stabs a prisoner in the stomach for not giving him the latter’s sweater. Saoirse Ronan‘s mysterious Irena is the weakest link with her accent, at first sounding like a mix between Teutonic and her native Irish. However, she saves it by singing in Russian with Valka, finally her secret as a street urchin revealed. Other cast members are known in their homelands, the film’s casting then serves as a way to introduce world-class talent and faces outside Hollywood.

The film shows the vast, almost impenetrable landscapes, even if they’re sometimes bordered by the figures of the people escaping. Nature is depicted as a hardship, sometimes unknowingly marked by political forces. The group crosses Mongolia only to find a big hammer and sickle on a free-standing structure, and now they have to change their plans, asking each other, as Irena does, whether other faraway countries like India are ‘free.’ The visuals of the landscapes are accompanied with bombastic and percussion-y music, making the audience feel like these men just want to get through without meditating nature’s beauty.

The beauty they see instead is in each other, as Tomasz the artist (Alexandru Potocean), draws his companions. The other members get ahold of these drawings and take time to complement its resemblance to photography. They remember, for instance, if he has captured Irena’s smile. Zoran (Dragos Bucur) promises to get them published. The film’s editing and structure consist of landscape, expository dialogue, cut to different landscape, the edges between scenes aren’t smooth.

The characters don’t seem to want to know about each other. During the first half hour, the prisoners are divided into cliques and are discouraged from talking to each other, a trait they have learned to practice during their escape. That’s until Irena comes along to ask them questions about themselves. In doing this Irena treads troubled waters, as she helps the audience find out which one still has allegiances to the Party that imprisons him, which innocent looking face has killed someone, or why in general did they get to Eastern Europe and therefore prison. There are signs on the ravaged areas they pass that inevitably remind them of their pasts.

Their character developments aren’t on the surface neither. Janusz, whose kindness Smith calls a weakness, makes him unlikely to become the leader of a group of men tougher and sometimes older than him. However, his kindness goes hand in hand with his perseverance that helps, through words and actions, him and the others go on walking. Zoran, who doesn’t cook nor hunt, eventually becomes useful as he tries to help build camps, but this evolution isn’t screamed out on the script and neither are their differences. Their search for freedom reveals their intelligence and the survival skills they’ve gained during and before their escape. Nonetheless, this film isn’t devoid of clear humane actions. Kindness finds ways into little actions, leading to Voss (Gustaf Skarsgård) carrying Irena even if she slows them down. Their histories full of betrayal and cruelty would not allow them to leave anyone behind until their last breath.

The film’s ending, just like the way it begins, with what seems like unnecessary exposition and feels flat and unfeeling, Janusz’ feet going halfway across the screen as it plays a montage of the dates of the rise and fall of Communism. I’d call this film impressionistic if it wasn’t glossy and beautiful. 3.5/5


The High Cost of Living


The film’s first scene intercuts between polar opposite people within a city we can assume is Montreal. It isn’t long until drug dealing Anglo-American Henry Welles (Zach Braff) is driving drunk into the posh neighborhood’s narrow streets and pregnant French Canadian Nathalie Beauchamp (Isabelle Blais) is trying to get to the hospital by herself that we know that he’s going to run her over and their lives will forever change. He tries to find out through his friend who she is, if she’s all right, his conscience suddenly appearing.

ph. Collider

She impulsively leaves her husband and moves in with him. His successful attempts in accommodating her and her willingness to befriend a stranger shows how malleable these characters are written. It’s part of the urban condition for them to find each other, as many movies have told before. Nathalie discovers Henry’s version of her city before his secret is revealed. The story’s recycled, but Deboarh Chow extracts raw performances from the leads, reminding us that Braff is a capable actor, and now I have to watch his CV.


20:10: Make yourself at home


Original idea from Nathaniel Rogers and The Film Experience,  I’ll screen cap the twentieth minute and tenth second of random movies. ‘But shouldn’t it be 20:11?’ Shut up. Also, these films are from my laptop.

The couple looks at each other. This is the most human Vincent Gallo will look.

[The image that should be between these two contains nudity and will not be posted.]

“Make yourself at home.” She fakes a smile, the start of a grueling proecess.

‘Closer,’ the magician implores and successfully gets the child’s attention.

Looking behind him. He knows he’s being followed, putting his brother in danger.

After she gets bad news. Her oblivious daughter watches the television. She keeps silent.

‘As a side note…’

Her daughter looking for old records of mommy’…A girl for you, a boy for me…’

‘…Bob Peterson…’

A woman tells them to take off their clothes and hat. “He’s doing well, eh, Itzhak?”

‘Terrible.’ As she enters, feeling the constraints of costume.

‘Thanks, Cooter.’ She kisses the man on the lips.

Telling her plan to the other girls, fitting in with the unionized workers.


Casino Jack


Background – Passes for Casino Jack came with the package I bought at TIFF. I skipped it for Modra, a Canadian film with hip reviews and hipper people giving out flyers for it. I felt bad about missing Casino Jack since director George Hickenlooper‘s untimely death. My intuition failed, choosing a movie that came to theatres four days before this one, thinking this had better distribution chances. I’m watching Casino Jack in January instead of The Mechanic, ditching a friend in the process :(. I’m a Metacritic slave I so might never see The Mechanic.

On Casino Jack. I have faint recollections of people belonging to the footnotes of history, and the film’s subject, Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), is supposedly a monstrous figure. Instead we get an ex-movie producer quoting movies a lot, with delusions of grandeur and a warped perception of competitive capitalism. The film’s first scene shows him claiming, in front of a mirror, that he works hard so that his family doesn’t have to walk or ride the subway, juxtaposed by him getting stuck in traffic with his daughter, hearing bad news from his partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), hiding from FBI for frauding left and right. Affluence doesn’t mean convenience, especially if your means are illegitimate.

Jack tries to convince us that he’s in the right while the film tries to convince us that he’s either deluded or caught up. He says that his job, lobbying helps congressmen to decide the laws for America. The film knows that it’s audience is smart enough to know that if congressmen wanted to write effective laws, they’d visit their constituents. Almost every character tainted hands in this fictional yet probably accurate portrayal of Washington. Jack uses his laundered money to build restaurants or Jewish schools, our devil’s advocate. We see the embarrassment of riches that he and these usurpers dip themselves into, the trinkets they need to feel accomplished, taking down enemies without knowing the consequences.

Nothing interesting visually in this film. Most of the camera work hides, for example, the blue sky, photoshopping the CN Tower between or behind those condos in ‘Florida’ that I’ve been in, hiding Senator ‘John McCain’ between those Manchurian Candidate-esque TV screens. There’s Spacey transforming himself into Jack in the photos of him, his skin droopier. There are also low angle shots of Jack as he’s being fired and/or interrogated.

Spacey’s never convinced me as a lead actor, and it takes a while for Pepper to settle within a suit-and-tie role, but they’re wonderful to watch in quieter scenes. They’re also a great part of an ensemble, illuminating a script full of pas de deux between characters. Michael’s girlfriend is played by Rachelle Lefevre, making memorable entrances and exits, doing wordplay as efficiently as the men, the film’s Cressida. Adam Kidan is played by Jon Lovitz, complementing the film through ccomic timing. These four are worth a matinée, including Jack’s description of Imelda Marcos, the strangest one I’ve  heard.


20:10: The imitators edition


I stole this idea from Nathaniel Rogers. These are screen caps of the twentieth minute and tenth second of movies, many of which I can’t really expand on as he eloquently does. But really, this is posted because My VLC shuffle played The Kids are All Right and Shutter Island, which are already taken. [ETA; Also, I have not and will not put the names of the movies where these screen capscome from, for guessing reasons]

A rival painter observes, praises master yet talking behind the protagonist’s back.

“Excusez moi, numero two!” “HEY!”

“What happened?” “Oh, you didn’t hear…”

It’s not high school anymore. Friends dirty dancing in public…

He feels the pains of ‘adult sizing’ in a self-aware amusement park.

“…children, heaven bless them, they will look up to me and mind me…”

Los Angeles, night-time. The vandals rise and fall.

Traffic. No dialogue, obviously.

“Yeah, well, where is he? How come he takes a lousy stinkin’ job?”

At 3AM, a careless nursemaid tells the truth to a budding actor.


Somewhere


Somewhere is an interesting look at movie star Johnny’s Marco’s (Stephen Dorff) busy schedule. He’s promoting his latest movie while being the target of snide remarks from his costar (Michelle Monaghan), getting a make and make-up for his next role as an older man, going to Milan where he’s revered and where we learn that his CV includes Pacino and Streep films. With the good comes the bad, breaking his arm at the Cheateau Marmont while wasting his money renting a hotel room there, his many exploits, looking like crap – impractical yet fabulous taste in footwear aside – and not even dressing properly at press conferences and photo shoots. In other words, looking at an actor’s precarious career and lifestyle.

It’s interesting to see Cleo (Elle Fanning) behave towards his Johnny. She gets visitation rights with him during weekends, he doesn’t know that she has been ice skating for three years (although that could be mom’s fault), she has to tell him what “Twilight” is, he sneaks girls into his hotel suite in Milan even if she’s sleeping in the suite’s bedroom. Later on, in a teary scene, we discover that Cleo’s mom is going away and the latter hasn’t revealed when she’s coming back. Her parental situation and upbringing is just as precarious as Johnny’s career, thus the film’s title, Somewhere.

Let’s go back to Milan scene, shall we, as it develops to the morning after Johnny’s tryst with the Italian woman. The woman tries to open up to Cleo, asking her questions about boyfriends and telling Cleo stories about her young love with a scooter. Johnny finally joins the two on a breakfast table, Cleo darting looks of anger towards her father. That one moment is the angriest she gets because she doesn’t seem to harbour ill will against him for the rest of the movie. Well, he does hang out with her a lot. The film also makes it seem that despite the lack of time normally spent between the two, they don’t seem the need to reacquaint each other of their new activities. They communicate instead through playing Guitar Hero or playing tea-time at the bottom of the Marmont swimming pool, the two then having an esoteric language to themselves. Her treatment of him is a mature decision for an 11-year-old to make.

The film brags cameos from actors like Louis Garrel and Benicio del Toro, but I’m more interested in the models. Erin Wasson, Angela Lindvall, Maryna Linchuk, Meghan Collison, Jessica Miller (who?) Nicole Trunfio (the brunette woman with the red biniki staying below his Marmont suite). I couldn’t recognize them until looking at iMDb, and it’s sad that I haven’t been connected to the fashion model world.

This is getting…somewhere. The first half of the film especially shows writer/director Sofia Coppola channel the male gaze through Johnny in his (spatial) relationship with these women. There are exceptions to the gaze and gender divide, when Johnny watches a documentary about Gandhi without feeling a slight tinge of empathy towards the great man. Nonetheless, he lights up like a little boy when he watches the twin strippers’ second number (I didn’t know the Foo Fighters and Amerie were stripping music. I also didn’t know that Coppola’s taste in music got more populist/terrible and I do like Amerie). He ignores the three models with black couture gowns, the models then like ghosts in the Marmont hallway. Someone ‘sexy’ pops by now and then while Cleo’s around and we as an audience is anxious that he’ll be seduced away from his daughter’s attention. He watches Cleo’s ice skate routine as an obligation, but marvels at her classic, fragile beauty when she comes out in the gown for the Italian awards event.

Watching him enact the male gaze is interesting since he is an actor, and his job description means people looking at him. He worries when the gaze is shifted back towards him, asking his daughter to watch out for black SUV’s – she tells him that there are lots of those cars in LA, which is weird because as an actor, he’s supposed to know those things. At a party, a younger actor asks him for advice while only half of the girls there give him any attention. He goes on stage in Milan for the awards event but is quickly pushed out to make way for a dance number led by the Italian girlfriend.

Somewhere is like watching someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with the spotlight, which come to think of it, is a recurring theme in Sofia Coppola’s films. Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation, Kirsten Dunst’s titular Marie Antoinette and Johnny are similar in this respect, where the gaze goes both ways between protagonist in a distinct civilization and said civilization’s distant and hostile habitants.

Hostile, however, seems to strong of a word to associate with Sofia Coppola’s slow pace and minimalist narration. The characters, even with Cleo’s warm influence, still feel cold and distant. It also feels laughable, because of the film’s content, that Somewhere‘s getting comparisons to other auteurs. The themes aren’t deep enough or are engendered too literally in the film, but I’ll feel obtuse if I ignored these themes since they take a bit to ferment and talk about. 3/5.

I saw this film at the Varsity, where two of the films are sold out for the later screening times and for the 7 PM screening times, all the movies were sold out with the exception of The King’s Speech. And shut up, I liked The King’s Speech.