…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2011

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!

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What Happens “In Darkness”


I finally started writing about this movie two and a half months after watching it but despite not remembering all but one name, this movie demands attention not just because of its subject but how it handles that and the conflictophile characters within it.

Sophie Ziewatowska gives a bittersweet goodbye with a Southern writer. Rachel Stein commits to a Nazi official, who knows why she’s trying to hide her brunette roots. Hanna Schmitz, in close-ups, teaches an underage kid to be more gentle. Movies in the past thirty years have focused on the woman and her entitlement to her own to encapsulate the victimization that has occurred in the WWII. But here comes In Darkness. We were so scared about it winning and jinxing the chances of ‘better’ movies we liked, as well as the vitriol targeted towards a movie with a subject automatically deemed as Oscar bait and even criticizing it for justifying the Holocaust. That criticism, valid or otherwise, is because the movie has characters whose meanness to each other doesn’t just cross racial lines but there are enough schisms and verbal and physical violence within both groups. It’s not a problem that its protagonist, Polish sewage worker Leopold ‘Poldek’ Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), is a man who happens to be a working-class anti-Semite, hiding Jews under Lvov, Poland’s tunnels. This is war, its more modern incarnations discard honour between the occupier and the colonized. He’s doing it for money but eventually his motives become a mix of honour code to keep what’s secret secret and of, surprisingly, good old benevolence.

We can also put this movie as the latest entry in the ‘sexy, borderline tasteless Holocaust movies’ canon. Well, there is a some of nudity devoid of sexuality, as shown through other Holocaust movies and archive photos. Leopold sees line-ups of running, naked women within a forest, lit as if they’re a dream within the surreal, violent world in which he participates. But eventually nudity would imply sexuality. A scene where a refugee named Mundek (Benno Furmann), after infiltrating and miraculously escaping a concentration camp to find his friend Klara (Agnieszka Grochowska) sister, finds Klara naked under a sewage waterfall and kisses her, which is actually more sweet than anything, and less romantic one where another man Yanek (Marcin Bosak) commits adultery in the same room where his co-refugees are staying, including his wife and child. But the movie’s climax – ahem – that made me decide that this is too much, is a scene days into these characters’ stay within the underground tunnels, where the Yanek and his new girlfriend Chaja (Julia Kijowska) have sex and Klara, as the third woman, quietly masturbates while watching them. Round of applause, everyone! Not even Jolanta Dylewska’s glinty cinematography can disguise these scenes or make them a bit more subtle, showing us what would happen when people have to crap where they and their friends eat and sleep.

But I suppose director Agnieszka Holland has a point in fleshing out their story this way. This movie, adapted by Canadian David Shamoon, is based on Krystyna Chiger’s experiences, written in book form as “The Girl in the Green Sweater,” which I have yet to buy and read even though I do have the money to. So instead, after watching the movie I expertly Googled about the refugees hidden by Socha, which only succinctly hints at Chaja suffocating her own baby and Klara marrying Mundek who was hiding literally underground with her. The former subplot is almost indefensible, but why couldn’t they have violently fallen in love in the sewers? Does showing these characters kissing make them less honourable or more? Are the filmmakers striving for authenticity or are they exploiting the people they’re fictionalizing?

Besides, this movie doesn’t just show the needs of the refugees which, to be honest, has to be attended to somehow. It also shows the lives on the Polish side, as one of the movie’s first scenes have Socha having sex with his wife Wanda (Kinga Preis) while their daughter is sleeping in a different bed in the same room, a scenario that despite its grossness is more probably realistic than the rest of the scenes in this movie. So what, they love each other. Leopold’s coworker spits on a Jewish man who gypped him as if there isn’t a wooden boundary between them, not taking the apartheid and massacre that cones next. Claustrophobia is the norm. The movie suggests this across-the-board crowded arrangement as intolerable, but that’s because I’m seeing it in a North American perspective, one that relishes bounty, privacy, expansion, etc. I can’t necessarily speak for a European perspective and how they deal with the kinds of people with whom they share their land. Again, this movie is one of those cases where I don’t agree with its argument but it’s strong enough to put into consideration.


I Participated in This Thing


The Second CAST Awards were announced like four months ago and I’m only posting about it now because I had to catch up on my 2011 movies. Or more appropriately, I said ‘Eff it, I’m going to list my top ten even if everyone’s clamouring about The Raid and no one cares about 2011 anymore.’

I’m also using this news because I always take advantage of any opportunity to make fun of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s overrated movie Drive. Because the other CAST voters placed it as their top film. Or maybe, give it a second chance, since the hype of the movie is the reason I started listening to Kavinsky and College (both bands’ instrumental songs are better than the ones with lyrics), which got me thinking about how I don’t tolerate the soundtrack’s use in the movie while Sofia Coppola’s use of anachronistic music is more palatable in her movie Marie Antoinette from five years ago. In a way both movies have us as an audience are layered on top of themselves as audience members, skewing the narrative and interpreting it as their own.

Me and my friend Sasha James of That Sasha James internet fame reenact or interpretation of Drive‘s dialogue of us just saying ‘Hey’ to each other. Since I have to play The Driver – boo ho me – I say my ‘lines’ with the Peter Fonzarelli accent that Gosling mysteriously has now (Hossein Amini‘s script is very descriptive by the way, making me wonder why that eloquence wasn’t used for the dialogue). And because I’m crazy I do these acting exercises to College’s music when it finally clicked, the sensitivity that’s difficult to catch when your mind is in the wrong place. But how does an actor express and externalize longing and loneliness through ‘Hey?’ I still think that the movie doesn’t do this successfully and I’ll probably never watch the movie again. I will also promise never to make fun of Drive again, but the terrible movies this year makes it difficult for me to find a movie to mock. I don’t like easy targets.

I also wanted to make my top ten post into some manifesto on what I like about movies, since the list may be that diverse. But then I got lazy. So here goes.

Blue Valentine – Because Grizzly Bear is that perfect dash to make Michelle Williams more beautiful.

Pariah – Because I like co-opting other people’s cultures.

Shame – Because it combines how good sex is and how frustrating it is to look for it.

Rampart – Because crazy cameraman are the best.

Tree of Life – Because understanding a movie emotionally should be enough.

Win Win – Because casts should also clown cars.

Jane Eyre – Because sometimes, the first few images are enough.

Essential Killing – Because dream sequences should always be in pink.

The Mill and the Cross – Because I’m a closet Catholic.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Because violence should always be presented with that sheen.

Now I’m going to wait for some more money, buy Carnage and Chronicle on DVD, watch Cabin in the Woods and whatever else that has a green Metacritic rating, do some laundry, go to the doctor and sleep. This emotionally shitty year is over, thank God!


Short Take: The Hunter


The Hunter, based on director Julia Leigh‘s novel, shows us an Australia that isn’t like the desert-like outback that we’re not used to. Here we have Tasmania’s vast greenery, hiding himself among trees, silver like rock formations and caves. It’s a visual work although it has more to do with what’s in front of the camera instead of how director Daniel Nettheim frames it. Most of the movie is comprised by these sequences where Willem Dafoe‘s titular character, Martin David has two-week stints searching for a Tasmanian tiger, a species thought of as extinct since the 1930’s, because of a toxin that it’s supposed to have. This forest and the town near it are contentious places.  Martin poses as a University professor and in a way he is, the way he walks through the area makes him seem more like a civilized, thorough researcher as opposed to a ‘hunter,’ who sees the animal to feed either his survival or sadism. Outside the forest, his new life is laced with sections of contrivances. He has inadvertently allied himself with the environmentalists with whom he’s living and angering the townsfolk who depend on logging for their economy. One of those environmentalists is his temporary landlady (Frances O’Connor), a woman recovering from a prescription drug addiction. He becomes a de facto partner to her as well as a detective, trying to discover what has happened to her husband who is also missing in the forest. While watching this I’m appreciating Dafoe’s subtle performance, a departure from the crazy roles that he’s known for in mainstream movies. And I understand that Martin is enthusiastically taking on his multiple roles within his new society, but these new-found connections feel like a reach. Not even the climactic ending, great as it is, can make me forget the falsified tensions that came before it. Image via eone. 3/5.


2011: We Need to Talk About…


I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.

But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.

Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.

There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.


Vimy Day Movie: War Horse


Vimy Week Movie is a series of WWI movies. It has three parts that will be doled out within four days, matching the battle’s grueling duration. Instead of doing this series on Armistice Day like a normal person I’m starting  this today on Vimy Day, a holiday that will be recognized if we Westerners feel like it, which we really don’t. But there are mini-events and pins to commemorate the day, since we’re not on the holiday-size yet.

With War Horse Steven Spielberg not only proves himself again as a filmmaker but also as a nightclub promoter. Anytime I entered a multiplex that also showed War Horse there was a tendency that its sound system would overpower the walls, which was totally annoying. But it also invoked jealousy, making me want to enter the screening room despite the mixed reviews. I finally saw it in a smaller sized theatre which didn’t do the sounds any justice.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit to like this movie, especially the second time around when I hear ‘Be brave’ and when Jeremy Irvine says anything. But it’s by its awesome antebellum moments like ducks quacking to make David Thewlis go away and Emily Watson using her yarn needles to make David Thewlis go away. What has David Thewlis done to these characters except for threaten their livelihoods like villains do? There are also great war moments with Joey, the titular war-horse and method actor, and his black beauty of a rival. I also mention ‘antebellum’ and ‘black beauty’ because this movie also references another great war movie Gone With the Wind, Spielberg echoing that American classic’s deep colours and broken, borderline delusional characters. References also include Terrence Malick’s poetic approach to nature – although Spielberg tries and competently success to do in seconds what Malick would do in hour-long sequences – and John Ford’s methodical battle scenes. And of course, he incorporates his own hammering method of portraying violence.

A friend of mine really loves this movie and we like making fun of him. What I also like to do more is to sandbag him because he calls this ‘melodrama’ in the positive sense of the word. Although I don’t feel comfortable with that word because there’s some earnestness in this movie, which begins in the movie’s hour mark, which is, admittedly late but boy does it compensate. It brags stellar actors including David Kross and Niels Aestrup who, despite being German or French, speak English because they want to be in more Hollywood movies. On the English side it stars Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan and Toby Kebbell, the latter somehow aging backwards. There are also some moments where it just looks dirty and muddy as it should, because war is. And when the boy (Jeremy Irvine) comes home, he’s as fractured as his father (Peter Mullan) but is trying to rebuild the family he left temporarily.


BS and Beauty in “The Raid”


The characters’ bodies’ tenacity in Gareth Huw Evans’ The Raid makes me wonder many things, among them, ‘Sure that one guy plays with a punching bag in the morning but does he also eat a healthy breakfast?’ Or maybe what re-energizes the intruding, wounded youngish policemen is the drug room that they eventually reach after elbowing a few gang members and violently losing men of their own. The white sand being kicked up in the air serves as some temporary sustenance. I’m not even sure if their near-invincible physical states can be criticized since the movie just covers an hour and a half of the titular police assignment, although movies apparently are supposed cover a longer time period than the minutes that are used to portray them.

I also found the cinematography to be problematic, reminiscent of wet wood, peeling drywall and spare lighting that, we imagine, are the visual qualities of a run-down urban drug den. There are some digital simulations of bullets coming out of illegal modern rifles. As the cops enter further into the building’s higher floors, they’re depicted through medium shots of their torsos. But I got over that eventually, as the camera gets brighter and moves up and sometimes back to show the combatants’ faces and arms and legs. All that fighting makes the cops lose many men on their team but the thugs make deliberate mistakes that cause the cops to get a Pyrrhic victory but really, would you have it any other way?

Perhaps what’s more irksome to this movie’s detractors is the back story of one of the policemen, Rama (Iko Uwais), the one doing the dawn time boxing preparation. In between sit-ups we also see him kissing his pregnant wife who wakes up to greet him goodbye, optimistic despite risks. Some consider that his wife’s image jolts him as he stumbles through the complex’s hall ways. Eventually I haven’t been as warm towards the film, since it has its detractors and genre films will never be perfect. But here’s how I see it – the other policemen have similar domestic lives, Rama recedes into his police unit and he emerges not because of his pregnant wife but because he’s an excellent martial artist who defeats his hoodlum enemies and happens to have a baby on the way.

Pardon me if I try to find a national metaphor within this movie, a straight up punch-and-kick flick ruined by a ghettoizing lens. It’s in my nature to over-think and be pretentious. But think about it – the cops are indistinguishable from first-world SWAT units except for their faces, also framed by near-bald or crew-cut heads. Their weapons are supposedly state of the art, contained with their deceptively bulky uniforms. Their mission is to civilize a place riddled with drugs and other anti-social behaviour, occasionally impeding on the rights of the decent people who have no other choice.

The gang members on the other hand have longer hair, more colourful and less professional clothes. They brandish mostly homemade swords or large versions of knives reminiscent of traditional weapons. There’s also one henchman who prefers to fight with his bare hands, an excuse to choreograph the greatest martial arts sequences rapidly caught on camera. They protect their fortress not just with this carelessly planned police raid but from rival gangs, like tribal warfare within one side deviating from the law. Both camps aren’t within perfect opposition, though, as the hoodlums’ illegally obtained machine guns, the surveillance technology, the traitor playing both sides, the Traffic-like revelation that the police’s presence is to help another gang’s corruption. What’s also complicating the binary is Rama, a good Muslim and we can interpret his religion as either one that’s victimized or one that conquers.

But that’s all mind fodder for later, what got me while watching the movie are the raiders’ faces. I’m not usually into Asian guys but it’s always good to remember what stimulated me when I was younger. Even now, living in a multicultural country, I still get a glimpse of those kind of faces – a narrow beady eyes giving out a piercing stare that owns the room, that stare of a warrior buried deep inside poverty or civilized repression. Sometimes they have bushy eyebrows like Jaka, a trait from our common ancestors in the mainland before moving further into the islands. At other times, to the audience’s advantage, they have Rama’s near-perfect Roman symmetry, covered in darker than olive skin perceived as perfection in our shared childhood mythologies. It’s probably indulgent of me, and I’ll admit that it’s careless to owe Rama’s survival because he has the looks of the movie star, rising above lesser prototypes. He doesn’t get to make it because of those aspects, it’s also because of his fucking fists. 4/5