While talking Josh Brunsting on Twitter, who compared Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers to Jean-Luc Godard and Terrence Malick’s work, I had to chime in that it also reminded me of the work of two opposing Germans – Leni Riefenstahl (as I said in my REVIEW) and Rainier Werner Fassbinder. The reason I brought up Fassbinder is because of his début in Love is Colder than Death where, SPOILER, a couple drives off after killing a man or more. To a lesser extent, his work like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Berlin Alexanderplatz are about people who aren’t perfectly redeemable but struggle with the consequences of their amoral actions.
I figured that the character arcs in Love is Colder than Death would have shocked a world that’s still trying to recover from the Hays code’s repealing, and that thankfully us Millenials have gotten over this sort of moral conservatism. The polarizing reaction towards this movie might bring up two questions about its contemporary audience’s viewpoints – do we still have the ethical hangups like we did forty or so years ago, or is it because Korine can’t/won’t sell this characters with any absolution?
How many times do I have to say “I’m back” for it to be real? This week in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, we are doing shorts courtesy of a site called Short of the Week, a site that might just be my new fix. Let us have some good, weird, black and white fun, shall we? First is Mikey Please’s The Eagleman Stag. Let me just begin by saying that it’s either my anxiety or my incoming sleep deprivation but I have no idea what this short is about.
One. Here, the protagonist says “This half pint makes my hands look…huge.” This reminds me of every time I try to take a long shot picture of something, hoping that the camera focuses on the one thing within a huge canvas. And then the lens shut and I see the image I took and everything flattens, my focus being one of many objects instead of THE object. An amalgamation of elements – the dimensional nature of stop motion animation and the protagonists monologue – bridges that connection between our selective eyes and a supposed flat surface.
Two. The protagonist inserts a serum in his brain, leading to a chaos of unpredictable personal consequences. What ensues is a Borzage-eque montage starting with this.
Next is from Ray Tintori, who was the effects guy at Beasts of the Southern Wild and directed music videos for MGMT and the Cool Kids. But let’s talk about Death to the Tin Man. One. The Psycho shot, depicting the silhouette of a man named Bill whose soul now inhabits a Tin Man version of him.
My two best shots for these shorts are companion shots, the first is one of Tin Man’s ways of wooing back his beloved, the hammered in expression surprisingly conveying emotion. I am pairing it with a shot of the beloved trying to paint eyes on zombie-Bill, preferring the soulless body to the heart-equipped human. These characters live in a quirkily-framed bleak world, comparable to Chaplin’s movies about how modernity isolates.
They are driven to obsessive desperation, with no reliable moral centres to guide them to the right path or people. They’re slowly realizing that the characters around them value romanticized appearances over the truth. These shots explore our discomfort with uncanny human ugliness, these characters inadvertently vandalising the human form, trying to recover the original, trying to play God towards the ones we love.
I feel privileged that for the second year in a row, my friend Andrew (Encore Entertainment) has asked me to come out of my chemically induced hibernation and take part in this:
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilized by different artists.
I suppose the point of this exercise is to objectively write about both luck and fate as equally represented in this year’s cinema. I’ll start with three movies that I thought profess the powers of fate over luck. It seems that heroes can’t escape their fates, the latter manifesting in their respective villains, buy you can also argue that these protagonists are unlucky to have such grugdge-fueled antagonists. Les Miserables is an epic spanning many decades, kings, republics, revolutions and tragic female deaths. But there’s a notoriously succinct spoiler on the doorstop – adapted by Tom Hooper – where, spoilers, it’s all about Javert chasing Jean Valjean into a river. It matters less to me whether a hero wins over his villain and more that fate – and the rules of drama – forces them meet. It doesn’t matter, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne mopes for almost a decade – he has to face Ra’s al Ghul’s dysfunctional family, including the latter’s daughter Talia and her lover, Bane. Elizabeth Shaw, with her quest to know life’s origins, is bound to meet the titular Prometheus, as she herself contributes to creating different monstrous life forms. In Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, James Bond helps M hide in Scotland but she will eventually face her persistent prodigal son, Raoul Silva, into a Pyrrhic victory.
There are some situations where the protagonists don’t have other characters as villains but instead their fighting concepts, societal oppression, injustice. Fate has its hand in helping these protagonists in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Yes, free will factors into the decisions of the characters within the book’s cinematic adaptation by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis but only as a part of a chain reaction from another character’s actions. And to show the effect of this chain reaction we get to see at least four centuries when six different protagonists live, each of them living their own revolution as inspired by each other.
But I’ve been itching to write about luck and fate around the release of Moonrise Kingdom. On the surface level, I can talk about what forces has let Sam and Suzy’s puppy love survive both a storm and a group of meddling adults. Three factors are enough to derail a master plan that will either keep the young couple together or tear them apart. But I want, instead, to recall a discussion I have about this movie with a critic, who pointed out Sam’s age. If we do some basic math,
Sam will be of draft age when Vietnam’s at its worst.
Wes Anderson’s been known to show the heartbreaking interior within movies that otherwise would have been maligned for its twee surfaces and Moonrise is no exception. Even the smallest and harmless looking institutions – like the Boy Scouts and Social Services – in an otherwise insular island like the fictional New Penzance are militaristic and preparing its young recruits for the slaughter. This perspective on Moonrise Kingdom is new to me and it opens up a way of looking at movies. These movies only serve as snippets of their lives, segments that would be weaved into a larger, even national story. It reminds me of what someone tweeted about The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson showing these characters slowly paving – or slow boating – the way toward the Sexual Revolution. Both movies show America is different stages of adolescence, a decade or less before its many destinies.
This year’s movies shows us many characters exploring different eras and territories which become problematic for the characters who explore them. In Argo, what happens to Sahar, the woman who helped save the Americans in hiding during the Iran Hostage Crisis? It’s established that it’s not a good idea for her to leave Iran, America’s enemy, for Iraq, America’s former enemy. Is it also enough that Broomhilda, and her titular hero Django in Django Unchained blew up Candieland? Will the other Plantation owners hunt the people responsible for Calvin Candie’s death? Will the West be as hostile to the couple as the South has been? I pose the same questions for Cid from Rian Johnson’s Looper, a movie that plays with the notion of fate by showing different alternate universes. When Joe kills himself while saving Cid and his mother Sara, has Joe really stopped Cid from becoming the destructive super-villain whom the latter is meant to become? Sahar, Django and Cid are contemporary versions of Antoine Doinel, leaving troubled lands and histories for frontiers, the latter symbolizing the troubling uncertainty of their fates. And it’s good to question these things, an activity that this year’s filmmakers openly encourage, knowing that great contemporary storytellers don’t wrap their creations in neat little bows.
…together, stays together, as the great Khloe Kardashian has said before.
If Leni Riefenstahl directed FDR, Hyde Park on Hudson would be that movie. I wrote about it on Entertainment Maven. The link is below. Anyway, that is the closest I’ll get to referencing Adolf Voldemort because God forbid, I write his real name and I’m breaking some ineffective, Regeanite internet rule.
Hyde Park on Hudson omits a lot historically, making it seem like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray), the greatest one from the Democratic Party, look like a guy who got the job through nepotism – he’s probably related to Theodore, the crazy one who likes hunting bears – and spends his time in his summer mansion like a Manchurian aristocrat. The movie show a dumber version of his affair with his sixth cousin, Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley (Laura Linney), who lived next farm to him. With a last name like that, how in hell did this woman survive middle school? Anyway, I am not cool or rich to know my sixth cousins. I can only trace my family five generations back from my father’s side and I only know my second cousins and their cousins by affinity, none of whom I’ve had affairs with. I used to live with my first cousin, while the second cousins would visit. It is not legal in most of the western world to marry your siblings which is why no one south of Dixie is allowed to live here. However, it is legal in most of the western world to marry your first cousin, which is great because again, even if Suckley is Roosevelt’s sixth cousin, his wife Eleanor (Olvia Williams), is his fifth cousin whom he apparently met an another relative’s wedding or something.
Also, there’s been a recent interest in cinematically depicting the British Royal Family. Previously we had the quippy bromance known as The King’s Speech, a movie that some film writers want to redirect and is the movie of choice of high school football players, beary gay bartenders and old people. We also had the W.E., which has the best scene of a woman getting slapped by another dead woman. Hyde Park on Hudson is the third that confirms the trend in the official sense, a movie that wastes all five of its great cast members. But I’ll be nice and cast the British Royal Family Supermovie. Paul Bettany, Olivia Colman, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy. And fine, let’s invite the Americans with Murray and fake American Williams, the latter by the way, was better as Vronskaya in Anna Karenina and is entitled to a Katharine Hepburn biopic that will never be made. Speaking of which, instead of comic book adaptations that are pitched before even a script is made why not biopics? Oh, because there would be more movies like this one, that’s why.
- Hyde Park on Hudson Review (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
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 Twilight Saga (Paolo Kagaoan and Nadia Sandhu) (entertainmentmaven.com)
The last scenes of the documentary The World Before Her show the supervisors for the Durga Vahini camp for girls, giving out sashes for their young graduates, telling them to wear then like the contestants in Miss India. It echoes the conceit that it already and blatantly shows in earlier parts of the movie, that armed Indian nationalism and Bollywood glamour are their own warped schools of fundamentalism. The movie intercuts scenes where both groups of young women undergo physical training. The Durga Vahini girls doing one two punch combinations while the pageant contestants have to do thigh raises, both being instructed by women who tell them either to be strong or graceful. The difference of these routines, however, can’t – or aren’t trying to – hide the fact that these women are used as bodies, those bodies used to sacrifice for a greater cause. In that sense both ideologies are modern in that they allow women out of the house. For a while. But they have to get married and have children unless they’re either rich or dead.
Showing ninety minutes of these same differences never gets boring because of the shock value – not as gratuitous as the phrase implies – of what we’re seeing from both sides. The interview subjects from the Durga Vahini camp extol the place’s virtues and tell them how training has changed them, and that seems innocent enough until we remember the misinformation that the camp is contributing to. Prachi, who doubles as a student and a counselor, talk about factual inaccuracies about other races while kids younger than her are taking the place’s anti-Christian and Islamophobic teachings to heart. Without giving too much away, the same goes for the pageant, who don’t necessarily teach their contestants anything but instead gives the latter platforms to speak about their uneducated views on sexuality and then talk about how much smarter they are compared to pageant contestants from other countries. This movie unites and gets a good reaction from their audiences especially about the latter’s inanity.
I do have a strange affinity for ‘freedom fighters’ while being hard on the beauty contestants. But despite of the icky sexuality of the pageant I do prefer what it represents. By a hair. If I had to choose. My love for ‘modernity’ and contemporary values is what I’ll take away from the documentary. The tipping point from me for my decision is Prachi’s father, who’s countless sins include being shirtless all the time while deploring the supposedly vulgar fashions that the contestants are wearing. His worst sins of all are the different ways that he physically abuses his daughter and complaining that she cries, without thinking that she’s crying because he punches her. He also makes her grateful that she’s alive, because, as the movie shows us through inter-titles, second daughters are often aborted or killed in India. He reminds me of my favourite tenet of modernity that has dismantled Western civilization for the better. It’s that some people shouldn’t have children, and it’s something that ever civilization should learn.
Stacy Perata begins his documentary Bones Brigade: An Autobiography with the title card that says something like “This movie takes place in the 1980’s.” Yes, it shows archive photos from the 80’s but the setting is somehow the least true thing about it, but I won’t say that he’s misleading his audience. Let me explain. It’s obviously a necessary thing for documentaries about the past to have interview subjects decades or so older than they used to be. And in other movies, those subjects seem ageless, or worse, pathetically holding on to their past glories. It’s not the same here, when I can see Tony Hawk both younger and older than the image of him in my consciousness or more generally, I’m watching normal forty-somethings and the willowy thrill-seekers whom they used to be. I see the well-balanced adulthood of these skateboarders, who are living in the present day, guiding the shoulders of their younger selves as well as speaking for the latter because they obviously can’t. Peralta uses his subjects and the different parts of their lives and weaving an interesting structure for the autobiography of his skateboarding team.
This is about Peralta, the founder of the Brigade, and the then younger members of his team. His documentary benefits from erudite and diverse subjects like Hawk, Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain. The movie also aims for a more comprehensive scope since the Brigade were a driving force in the 1980’s (sub)culture. Peralta understands that the most novice members of his audience (i.e. me) have to know the businessmen who helped the skaters with money, the other skaters who antagonized the lanky boy scouts of the sport, etc., and the movie is richer for it. Sections about skating team rivalries makes me feel like the Brigade and the skating culture are the basis behind the characters in the Karate Kid series. But seriously, Peralta sees the culture as a singular entity, and with this perspective he helps his audience relearn something about other people’s lives. Specifically, instead of just one breakdown and its corresponding comeback, people go through many ups and downs.
Occassionally, Bones Brigade does have tendencies to talk about skating tricks like transcendental apparitions, but at least it shows the culture as more multifaceted than teenage boys saying ‘whoa’ with a Californian inflection. The movie is a gateway to a multifaceted culture as well as making me understand other people’s love for the sport. ‘Ollie,’ as it turns out, is not just a word that my stoner friends have made up while skating through east-end streets, it’s named after a person who invented the move. But since I can’t pick up a board because I’m too old for that, the doc at least invigorates the art and movie lover in me. It shows the Brigade’s elite members not just being good at their sport or floating above the edges on empty pools but also posing for Craig Stecyk’s conceptual advertisements. It also introduces its audience to the skater sub-genre of movies, influencing future generations of athletes and enthusiasts, including Fred Durst. This doc includes archive footage of those movies, including one called The Search for Animal Chin. Peralta winces at the mention of this movie, but talking about how bad it is only encourages people like me to go see it.
Here are other 2012 movies I reviewed for Entertainment Maven.
Richard Gere puts his ass on the line in Arbitrage. Just let the self0importance of that title sink in. It has two ridiculous (sub)-plots. the first one involves Gere’s character cheating on his wife, played by Susan Sarandon. I don’t care if he’s diddling some French model playing a French artist, you just don’t cheat of Susan Sarandon. The second ridiculous plot point is their dumb son, but I actually got a kick out of that. I only sympathize with half of the rich characters I watch and this is one of the many cases where I wouldn’t mind if they died in a fire. The cast is aces however, including Brit Marling as the smart daughter who unfolds Gere’s lies and Tim Roth who has the same goals as I do if I was in the movie.
The Raven is one of two movies where a de-glam John Cusack partners himself with a beautiful damsel in distress with questionable taste in men. The damsel is Alice Eve, who got unjustly lambasted for her apparently lacklustre performance in Men in Black 3D. It’s hard keeping up with three great actors, even if it is a 3D blockbuster. This time around, Alice Eve was just lovely.
Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On is a movie that reminds me that like Thure Lindhart’s character, I’m accidentally hilarious when I’m trying too hard to be sexy. And that yes, I am sleeping with too many men who smoke crystal meth without having partaken in the drug myself. I already have insomnia to make me seem slurry and haggard, I’m not taking an illegal substance to speed up those processes. But just like the protagonist, it’s hard to just stay away. The gay world is a world of rejected human beings and we don’t want to inflict that on people we love. We also don’t choose the people we love, anyway.
I also watched the random movie at a few of Toronto’s many local film festivals. For the Planet in Focus film festival, screening movies that bring attention to our environmental problems, I saw two movies, Dead Ducks and Keep in Rolling, that both tackle oil consumption.The former is about how the Alberta oil sands are killing ducks from both sides of the border while the latter is about the outrageous car culture in Europe. I seriously thought that only North America and Asia had this problem.
For the imagiNATIVE Film Festival I mostly saw short films, like Alexus Young’s anecdotal Where We Were Not, a poetic animated movie about the director experiencing police brutality in the Prairies. The festival’s Witching Hour Shorts program, the closest thing I got to TAD this year, featured many genres like science fiction and horror, my favourite one being The 6th World. The thing about these small, local film festivals is that the urban elite are the only people who catch these obscure titles. Thankfully The 6th World is in some specialty internet channel or something.
Oh and I also watched new shit like Life of Pi And I kinda don’t feel like spending money now so movies will all be enjoyed in my bedroom.
A few notes about Bartholomew Cubbins’ Artifact, a documentary about Jared Leto’s divisive band 30 Seconds to Mars. I reviewed the documentary here on Entertainment Maven as part of my shitty TIFF coverage. As you can see,
a) A friend of mine told me that Leto is a germophobe which is half-true (he later confided in me that the rock star does shake hands on occasion). And obviously it’s strange to watch him walk around New York City, the dirtiest city in the world where half of the teenagers mob celebrities like him. How gentrified is New York for him to feel safe to walk around in?
b) There’s also this assumption that Leto’s foray into music is some misguided thing to avoid the matinee-idol fame brought on my his TV and movie career. But he’s starring and directing a movie, this movie, so he’s probably more comfortable within the movie-making world than I was led to believe. If anything, I have a new theory now that he only got into acting (he’s back at that industry again, by the way) to pay for the music which, as the documentary reveals, is not as lucrative even for big name bands such as his.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing all of this is to explain that in one of the scenes in Artifact, a quasi-movie star walking around the streets of New York was mobbed by a little group of teenage girls. One girl tells him that she’s his biggest fan, yadda, telling him about her favourite movie in the world. A brief guessing game ensues, ending quickly when she says ‘the one with the crazy lady.’ He correctly figured that the movie she was talking about was Requiem for a Dream, but without saying that the ‘crazy lady’ is Ellen Burstyn. Young people have no respect.
b) During the end credits, director Bartholomew Cubbins and the band thanks Olivia de Haviland. de Haviland, back in the day, fought for the rights of actors against restrictive contracts that the studios were signing them up for. Here’s to hoping that Leto, his band, and musicians under record labels, who apparently have little chance of making money in their music careers, will get the same freedom that actors do.
I already reviewed Argo here but below are some thoughts.
If you follow me on Twitter, you would have noticed that I was making fun of Ben Affleck’s Argo even before I saw it. But sitting in the theatre, its first few images are storyboards just like the ones in the fictional science fiction film that was never going to get made. And those boards reminded me of Persepolis. If you’re a smug liberal with an HBA in English Lit, you’ve probably breezed through Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about the early years of the Islamic Revolution. And I find myself saying shit like “Obama, Bibi and Harper shouldn’t put sanctions on Iran because nobody understand Iran like I do!” Ah, to have been rich enough to visit pre-Revolution Iran, or Afghanistan before the Soviets came, or Iraq before Saddam sold out and turned his country into a Terry Gilliam movie (Also, looking up Baghdad on Wikipedia makes me want to visit it). Nobody understands the Middle East like I do. (Also, can someone hook me up with the sequel, please?)
(the Sofia Coppola shot)
Persepolis and Argo have two major differences. Unlike Persepolis, Argo has a clearer outline of the power transitions within Iran decades before the Revolution. I’m not faulting Satrapi for this. Yes, there are references to Iran’s general history of conquests and a fictionalized account of the Pahlavis’ rise to power, but it’s more naturalistic that a fictional version of her ten-year old self not to have known who Mossadegh was. he second major difference is that Persepolis shows the perspective of a young Zoroastrian girl. Argo, however, just assumes that there are two kinds of people in Iran – the people of indeterminate faith who want to leave and the crazy Muslims beating on the American embassy’s doorstep.
Argo is a clown car of character actors but for me it has four MVPs. The first is Clea Duvall, who plays Cora Lijek. Duvall is an alterna-teen post riot-grrl sensation and is my spirit animal. In other words, a poor man’s Chloe Sevigny, but better. In one of the dinner conversations in the Canadian embassy (why did Canada have to shut that down? I smell fish) she actually defends the Revolution’s perspective in a way that Pahlavi shouldn’t be granted asylum in the States and should face a trial in the country he oppressed. The second is Sheila Vand, who plays Sahar. I mistakenly thought as a ‘ethnic girl,’ this was her acting debut and that she’ll never get a role like this again. Actually, she has played de facto Iranian intepreters in a pre-Homeland Damien Lewis show in NBC, a soft-core porn model and a pot smoking rebellious teenager. The third is Scoot McNairy, a mane that David Foster Wallace would have had fin with he the latter was still alive. Yes, he was a whiny little bitch for most of the movie but he redeems himself in the airport. Of course, my choices of MVPs imply that I prefer the Tehran storyline over the Langley/Hollywood ones, despite of how good John Goodman is, my fourth MVP.
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival ended like what, three months ago exactly, and I’ve written reviews for Entertainment Maven, and I still haven’t linked it in my spaces yet? Well I Facebooked and Tweeted them. And yes, I’m still trying to recover from it while adding more local festivals and more movies to include in my backlog. Jesus. I should make my job easier and link my profile within the Entertainment Maven space, which I’m doing right now, but I’ll write two more paragraphs although I haven’t slept, my mind can’t articulate shit anymore and my laptop is whizzing like a motherfucker. Put the fan close to the…no, laptop close to the fan.
There’s one movie that encapsulates the festival’s line-up and that is Dial M For Murder, still playing at the Lightbox. It’s an envelope-pushing movie about a dysfunctional romance. But I didn’t end up seeing that because I saw it twice already, once in 3D. So I had to ‘settle’ with two movies from the Cinematheque line-up that encompasses as least one of two of what Dial M’s stands for in this fest. Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is the envelope pusher, Roman Polanski’s Tess is the visually crystalline dysfunctional romance. Sometimes I’m cynical about the movies I’ve seen, my schedule only allowing me to watch slim pickings but sometimes those are the ones with the most surprising merit.
You know what, sometimes both intersect for me. Rust and Bone‘s realist-styled frayed frames is reminiscent of Brakhage while depicting a romance between a boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard). That one was my favourite of the fest. Joe Wright goes Baz to show the choreographed nature of the contemptible white Russian society in Anna Karenina, where Keira Knightley plays the titular role and actors like Domhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander idealize each other. The approachable Like Someone in Love is a triangle between a Tokyo-area prostitute (Rin Takanashi), her client and her boyfriend and just like Abbas Kiarostami’s movies, it mostly takes place in a car. Michael Winterbottom, however, has a more expansive canvas in depicting five years of a life of a prisoner (John Simm) and his family (including Shirley Henderson) in…Everyday…by actually taking five years to film the movie.
Sometimes, I only see one theme or the other. Like Sans Soleil, differently Molussia warps the world that we have and exposes its emptiness, but instead Nicolas Rey (not to be confused with the Rebel director) chooses 16mm reels that should be shown in random order. Ernest and Celestine, a story about a mouse and a bear, is a bit scary but nothing a child couldn’t handle, an animated movie that balances itself out by bringing the pastel-y synesthede in all of us. And then we’re back in the adult world Berberian Sound Studio, its neons intentionally reminiscent of the Giallo era. It’s visuals are as sharp as the knives slashing up produce for foley effects. Sound is equally important in Kazik Radwanski’s Tower, a locally made movie that is 90% a close-up of the protagonist Derek’s face, this relying on sound to convey the myopic claustrophobia within his experiences. Speaking of experiences, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel presents a relaxed and impressionistic perspective of humanity but that’s until he fragments them, casting doubt on Western ideas of personhood by reminding us of Buddhist reincarnations.
There are movies that show Polanski’s verdant visuals in Tess as they tell stories of love, nature and self preservation. The digitally shot Bwakaw has an elder person (Eddie Garcia), only having a dog with the same name as the title to comfort him. The bleached or washed colours around him change as he (re)discovers (new) friends. Fly with the Crane, again, has an elderly person in the bucolic Chinese countryside, the childlike vibrancy around him countering the tensions between his traditionalism and the next generation’s government bureaucracy. Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car has two families (with Robert Duvall in its head) ironing out decades of disagreements in arid, mustard-like Alabama. But there are movies that focus less on its visuals and concentrate on telling a story like A Few Hours of Spring, which is about an ex-con, his girlfriend (Emmanuelle Seigner aka. Mrs. Roman Polanski) and his ailing mother (Helene Vincent). Edward Burns’ The Fitzgerald Family Christmas takes the same ethos, finding the balance of telling the story between one torubled sibling from another during the holidays.
And TIFF doesn’t end. Like, half of the movies I saw after the festival wrapped are selections from it, and so will it be until…August even. I started out with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which does its best to sustain its tone as a glistening 1950’s love song, it subject Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) drifting in and out of sanity. Also, watch out for my reviews for Argo, Therese Desqueyroux, Post Tenebras Lux, and Hannah Arendt, which I’ll write when I feel like it. Leave me alone.
- TIFF 2012: Sans Soleil and Tess Reviews (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
- TIFF 2012: differently, Molussia Review (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
- TIFF 2012 – Jayne Mansfield’s Car Review (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
- TIFF 2012: Anna Karenina and The Brass Teapot Reviews (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
Previously on the Spiderman franchise, Emo Spidey. And like all emo kids turn into hipsters when they grow up, Emo Spidey is rebooted into hipster Spidey. I’ll explain later. But first, let me take you to a journey about my pre-conceptions about The Amazing Spiderman! The first preview clip looked like CGI crap! More preview clips showed that he’s funny! Then where were the blog entries about Spidey/Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) essence that were divisive. He’s a jerk! He’s Jewish! He’s a Jewish jerk, or for political correctness’ sake, a jerk who happens to be Jewish!
I can’t necessarily account for his relation to the biblical Jacob (or Rachel, to be more technical), but he’s probably not a jerk. I regretfully can’t remember how the Raimi Spiderman began, but director Marc Webb begins his with a sensitive portrayal of a boy who grows up too early. Cue a soundtrack that’s half Titanic and half Inception. Mad About You is playing in the background, so we must be in 1997. As much as young Peter wants to play hide and seek with his parents (his mother is played by fake British person Embeth Davidtz), they’re trying to scurry away and hiding him away from danger, leaving him with his Uncle Ben (Garfield’s fellow Sorkin alum Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). His father is one of the few paternal figures who will be unfortunately excised during the duration of this movie, helping Peter on his way from being an unlucky teenager into a morally centred young superhero. The high school scenes firmly sets the movie’s ambivalence towards labeling their characters as good or evil, because despite one bully, the schoolmates who piss Peter off inadvertently aren’t necessarily out to get him.
His transformation is rocky, even calling out the dated, if not troubled notions of being one. Let’s talk about the light stuff first. He clings to his hipster wardrobe until he gets inspiration from a lucha libre poster that came out of nowhere. He later notices that many athletes are wearing spandex and reluctantly embraces it. Spandex was never fashionable, and at one point I’m thinking that if new superheroes were being created today, none of them would be donning the skin-hugging material, despite the flexibility it can offer.
Now on to the heavier stuff. He first decides to become a superhero as a way to avenge Uncle Ben’s death caused by some stringy haired blonde dated version of a grunge villain. Mr. Stacy even calls him out on this personal vendetta, despite of how much Peter defends Spidey’s position as someone trying to help. If the original Spiderman movies were accounts on our collective adolescence fresh of the 9-11 era, this reboot is four our Tea Party/Occupy times, both movements quickly becoming relics of our time. Just like his real world counterparts, their status in the binary of good and evil are more shaded than he thinks, due to his early disregard for due process. The paternal figures, as ghost figures, run the risk of having their de facto descendant – Peter/Spidey – and his vigilante-ism running amok without and strategy. And despite of him being barely at home to be under May’s guidance, his father figures’ advice hopes to be impactful enough not to let him astray.
I was also wrong about the movie’s visual effects, because the movie is gorgeous, if not a little manicured. Every long shot is a nighttime version of a New York City postcard. Every dark room is a chance for dusty light to beautifully funnel itself in. Every visit to Oscorp, where his late father the latter’s very alive colleague, geneticist Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), is a neon trip that leads Peter to knowledge or danger or both. The CGI is CGI, often successful at taking a dip into the uncanny valley, but it’s not that distracting anymore as a technology. And that I was watching this with my laptop and was still floored by its compositions is a feat in itself. I can only imagine the 3D lessening its aesthetic impact.
Speaking of manicured, and I guess I should be used to this by now, but TAS’ version of New York City is a bit whitewashed. The private school in Gossip Girl is more diverse than what I assume is Peter’s public high school, where everyone’s dressed like an H&M model and goes home to places arranged gay interior decorators. Peter’s classmate Gwen Stacy (model Emma Stone) is wearing a cream coloured wool trench and woolen thigh highs God. And everybody knows each other. Gwen becomes Peter’s love interest and is the police chief’s daughter and Curt’s intern. Mr. Stacy’s New York Police Force is equally white. There are people of colour peppered around the movie’s fringes. The interns at Oscorp, with Asians to the front and a Hispanic guy struggling because of Peter’s temporary identity switch – thank God I’m not over-thinking that. Peter’s F train ride turned fight club to Coney Island (there is no way the F train is that clean, by the way). The crane workers who help Spiderman get to Oscorp (speaking of workers, Aunt May wears a Bridgeworkers shirt, a close enough reference to Field’s Norma Rae). It’s curious that Peter adapts into a more New York accent as he turns into Spiderman, but I like that he sees himself as one of the people, giving the story a bit of locality. And despite of my nitpicks, the movie’s central figure is compelling and authentic enough to anchor its fantastical plot, making both enjoyable.
One of the trappings of sci-fi is its fetishization of metal or uncanny surfaces. The characters of Alien and its sequels float around in spaceships. The buildings of Blade Runner almost disallows us to see the ground they’re built on. The rock formations in Aliens seem uncanny in the violent way that they seem to have been forged. However, the most majestic images within Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, are the planets where they’re set. And it’s in the same sort of beautiful treatment that makes Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) curious as to how the Earth and its populations have come into existence. I was at first disappointed by Prometheus being an Alien prequel, but it does bring, to a certain extent, the promise that its title has. This molten creation mythology and the lofty, almost unachievable ambitions that come with telling a story that touches on such a large scope.
There are many areas of knowledge that I haven’t delved into that won’t let me answer or comment on the ramifications of life creation as depicted in this movie. So what interests me more is its characters and their diverse outlooks as we see in the crew of the titular Prometheus, a spaceship that’s leading a couple dozen crew members to a desert planet called LV-223. Elizabeth and her skinny hipster boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are driven by curiosity and believe that the new planet has information about Earth and humanity’s conception. The mission director, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and her boss, the recently deceased Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) just wants to set up a human colony in the new planet regardless of alien presence in that planet. And there’s a creepy android named David (Michael Fassbender) who, well, we’re not sure if he has deliberate intentions.
And those motivations transform as they discover new things on the planet, this voyage letting these characters face their gods and playing gods themselves in their many acts of creation and destruction. Theron, fresh from her acting hiatus, returns with unsympathetic roles in Mavis Gary in Young Adult and an evil queen in SWATH, and adds her rendition of Meredith Vickers to complete a hat trick. Here’s why. After learning that Charlie develops a mysterious illness, Meredith replies with the greatest line reading of ‘Sick of what?’ What a sociopath. Meredith is the third role in which Theron combines her beauty with narcissism. It’s a formula that I’m not sick of yet.
Rapace, however, seems to have been cast in the leading role because of two things. Being a buzzy actress coming off the Swedish version of the Millennium trilogy probably helped her land plum roles. And playing strong woman like Lisbeth Salander, she’s expected to add something to a role who is the predecessor to the equally iconic Ellen Ripley. But here’s the problem. The script, written by Damon Lindelof’s, puts Charlie’s sickness in the same chain of events as Elizabeth’s abortion, the latter of which seems to be the scene which the moviemakers think is Elizabeth’s key scene. Yes, she pulls that scene off. But my key scene isn’t that one but the one where she confronts one of the Engineers, and that’s where her lines fall flat.
As I said earlier, the script is very eventful and Scott’s direction makes me believe everything it puts forth i.e., Elizabeth’s abortion, Michael Fassbender’s animated severed head. And maybe that’s one of the things I didn’t like about this – its many plot points and contrivances taking away from the simplicity, the horror and the humanity of the other movies set in Alien’s universe.
- Prometheus Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland) (entertainmentmaven.com)
When I say that Dane DeHaan is cute, it doesn’t make sense since people who don’t go to film festivals might only know him from In Treatment (pardon the elitism). But I first saw him in Amigo, with his wide-blue eyes and blonde hair and as a young man, this time named Andrew, who still doesn’t know how to talk to girls. John Hughes would have made a star out of him, although it’s arguable whether Hughes has done that for anyone.
He stars in Josh Trank’s Chronicle, which I saw in two sittings. It’s better than The Craft by the way, as it gambles by depicting teenage boys who – higher stakes here – have magical powers. How to depict these phenomena? Well, they do so by making baseballs and Lego pieces and cameras float in the air. These seem like antics that any group of teenage boys would do if they had powers. And so I could have reacted like an old person watching juvenile activity or actually enjoy myself and be like one of the them. I reacted like the latter, having the same fun as if I was up in the clouds with my new friends. The movie definitely taps into that sense of relatable boyhood that I never had but wanted to have. Even the handheld cam and the CGI as conceits don’t hinder me from liking the second childhood that he and his two Seattle-area friends are genuinely experiencing. In a deeper sense we’re also watching adolescents, trying to figure out their bodies and abilities. Andrew’s even tells his friends how to make things float the same way we pretend to be armchair experts on any new physical activity we’re watching or doing. But of course, the metaphor of physical rediscovery is that the three get magical – no, telekinesis through some glowing rocks underground a stone’s throw away from a rave they all just went to. There’s also an effortless yet dangerous poetry to the camera movements, no matter how self-aware they are, as the depict the push and pull of Andrew’s sad and happy moments.
The second sitting was a month later, starting at the fifty minute mark when I turned off the movie. The scenes steer towards a direction more certain than the movie’s first half. We’re sure that Andrew’s going to be a more destructive character, not abiding by the rules that his friends have given him. The conflicts are as high as a rollercoaster and need the CGI to depict them, and thus the jump between the quiet moments and the louder fight scenes are widely distracting. The lightfootedness of the magical moments of the first half are replaced by something I’m not necessarily comfortable with. It makes me realize how much I’m watching too much TV. I expected a movie and its scenes to be as parceled as TV is, and some movies from the past two years are adapting to the same impressionistic approach. You can call this movie impressionistic but only within the few moments when it’s lulling before its valley-like arcs. It’s always wanted to be big and tried to to use the smaller moments to ease us into its ambitions, which it does achieve, although not without flaw.
In Joe Carnaghan’s The Grey, John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a rifleman watching out for wolves who might trespass the wire fences of a pipeline. He’s part of a mixed bag cast of mostly men who prefer to work in Alaska, its industrial setting evoking the same Blade Runner-styled dystopia. I can never hate the movie for the tone it evokes despite my few yet glaring objections towards it. His life isn’t worth living after his wife/daughter has died. He contemplates suicide but doesn’t go through with it. He boards on a flight out of Alaska, which now makes me think of what would have happened if this was a normal flight. John stares at the walls of his apartment, lots of crying, the works. But since that’s boring, so the plane crashes, and Ottway and six other tough guys, who are almost indistinguishable from each other, contend with wintry condition and a pack of wolves hungry for human flesh. What ensues is a tightrope walk between an art movie and exploitation, coming as well with the best ‘waking up from a dream’ reaction sequence I’ve seen recently.
This movie adds itself into a list of movies with an all-male cast that come up once or twice a year. I supposedly can’t point fingers about the movie’s sexist exclusion since these characters are excluded themselves. That by having two Hispanic men and one black guy they’re making concessions towards inclusion as it is. Or that Neeson has personal experience on the loss of a woman in his life that reflects this movie’s plot. But by saying that ‘these men live on the fringes’ it’s also saying that ‘only men are allowed to be on the fringes,’ only visiting their wives and daughters once a year or something at the comfort of the latter’s home where they belong. Or worse, they’re relegated as ghostly presences that drive their men into fatalistic behaviour. Ottway’s ghost, by the way, is old enough to be his daughter. Anyway, women are treated as symbols or metaphors instead of characters. And hey, there’s a female flight attendant in the plane. Give her a chance to be eaten by a wolf or have her manicure fall off due to frostbite or something. It’s so annoying.
And speaking of being eaten by a wolf, one of the men die because he turned his back from his watch duty to pee. Animals use scent i.e. pee to mark their territory. Canadian teachers tell us these things in high school if we have to go to the Arctic or because the Arctic is part of our heritage or something. So these wolves don’t respect the pee rule? I’m so offended on the wolves’ behalf that a movie makes them look so uncivilized. And I know that I’m watching a Liam Neeson movie and not a pre-Gold Rush Discovery Channel, but the behavioural patterns of the wolves, in general, are questionable at best. It might be implied that the wolves were cannibalistic, which they could be in reality, but the movie makes them seem too predatory as opposed to hunting their meat by necessity. The wolves, you say, are a metaphor, you say, that the desperate, all-consuming hunger that people in the fringes experience that only makes them gang up on each other and eventually kill them inside. Meh.
Megan Fox is known to play unsympathetic characters who hate children. We all know the irony in this because she’s actually nice, if not a little batty, who just gave birth this year.
A Manhattanite woman Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) wakes up her best friend Jason Fryman (Adam Scott), who keeps his iPhone on top of his nightstand along with a hardcover copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Gross. Well, at least it’s not a Christopher Hitchens book.
Westefeldt, at first glance is a boring presence on-screen but that has its benefits. I can only imagine another actress screwing up the role by seeming too needy or exaggerating any aspect of a character who happens to be a single woman in her forties who wants to take advantage of the last drops of her biological clock. The line reading of her first sentence – ‘Death by Shark or Alligator?’ -says that she has endured a miserable date instead of the morbid, random curiosity of that line. See, dimension! And I buy that someone with great cheekbones as she does has low self-esteem, perpetually comparing herself to the busty Broadway dancers (Megan Fox) who Jason dates.
As I said in a previous, there are two ways in which I receive urban rich/upper middle class/middle class characters and their milieu. Either I want them to die in a fire or I buy into this dream, this middle ground between fantasy and reality. Another reaction between ‘That’s life’ and ‘That’s ridiculously awesome’ is ‘How much is the rent in that apartment?’ Anyway, what fantasy and urban spaces have in common are the ability to transform. Not only can Julie have a job so good that you can afford a spacious apartment in Manhattan and have beautiful friends at their sexual peak, she also lives in Manhattan where she can raise a kid!
But despite having it all, the wish for a kid, or kids themselves, trigger this awareness of discontent within the characters. It’s easy to compare Westfeldt with other female directors, since this movie has the well-earned serendipity of a Nora Ephron movie or the bourgeois technophilia that we see in Nancy Meyers movies. And because, you know, sexism. But the opening showed that Mike Nichols was one of its executive producers and I kept seeing the movie as a Nichols film, a part of a CV full of conflict despite or because of the characters’ idealized situations.
This conflict’s highest point takes place in a dinner table at a cabin during a ski trip, which shows as much missed chances as it does its accomplishments. There’s Jason’s revealing speech about loving Julie which last for like eighty seconds. He probably takes the centre of that frame for aesthetic reasons, but I wouldn’t have minded to see what that scene would look like if we saw more of Mary Jane’s reactions while he was giving that monologue. Was she too static or distracting? I want to know.
The cast itself feels sporadically used, especially Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm. Wiig was great if not bipolar in Bridesmaids, but here she’s reduced to the gape-mouth facial reactions that she must have taught herself during her SNL tenure. And Hamm is forced to rely on the bearded alcoholic routine that he’s used in Mad Men. Strangely enough Westfeldt, who wrote and directed this movie, inadvertently contributes to the typecasting of her own husband. God. And it doesn’t sell me that Julie or anyone attracted to men would dump a guy who looks like Edward Burns.
Either way, pointing out these flaws seem like I’m nitpicking since it still holds on to the dream of having it all and letting most of its characters keep the said dream. The script’s structure and its characters might be clichéd but the nuances of the dialogue isn’t.
I’m probably breaking some privacy honour code by telling everyone that me and Andrew Kendall have an electronic correspondence. He revealed just as much before. Anyway, in these e-mails he revealed that he has seen movies that he hasn’t bothered to write about or to publish. I intended to write the next few posts to encourage him to start on those posts or press enter on others, but I think that I needed that motivation myself. I’ve actually finished writing these like six weeks ago but I haven’t pressed enter myself, or vowed not to until the number of posts I had on Tumblr has threatened to exceed the ones I had here. Well, that day has fucking come.
After he has sent the e-mail, which was in August, by the way, he already reviewed a few on his list, including Bachelorette and The Five Year Engagement. I haven’t seen both even if I’m pretending to like the former and I’ve downloaded the latter. He’s also seen Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, Josh Trank’s Chronicle, and Jennifer Westfeld’s Friends with Kids. Chronicleis also a 2012 favourite of another Andrew who is close to my mind, Andrew Parker. Check both people’s reviews out! So anyway,
I missed Damsels in Distress during TIFF and its theatrical release. The dialogue here is infuriating yet familiarly hilarious, especially since it’s coming from Greta Gerwig, who is both sunny and robotic as this myopic overachiever. Her performance as Violet easily comes in as one of the best…forty performances in the past two years. A leader of a suicide prevention group in a college, Gerwig’s character Violet recruits Analeigh Tiptoninto the former’s fold. Stillman’s dialogue leads to some good laughs, mostly derived from Violet being unable to grasp regular American colloquialism. One of my favourites again reminding me of Dogville, when Tipton asks Gerwig whether the latter was being arrogant. The sun perfectly hits the two characters as they walk down campus, ironically and intentionally brightening what could be a passive aggressive conversation. One of this year’s great acting moments come from her when she defends her group to that smarmy guy from In the Loop/”The Office” sounding both like an affected fool and a wounded puppy.
After being awkward in Crazy, Stupid Love, it’s also nice to see Tipton playing a normal girl. She tiptoes the lines of condescension although that doesn’t stop Violet of accusing her of that anyway. Her supposed normalcy eventually disappears as she hangs out with Violet too many times and adopts the latter’s unshaped ideology. Tipton’s character, however, isn’t the only one who changes since both she and Violet meet a ‘playboy’ (Brody) in a college bar that looks nicer than most college bars I’ve been to. The movie’s quirky tone doesn’t hide the fact that it’s probably just about which girl will the playboy hook up with. The movie also stars Audrey Plaza and Heather BurnsViolet’s projects, the latter more enthusiastic and malleable than the other.
- Damsels in Distress (halfsigma.com)
Adapted from Don Winslow’s acclaimed pulp novel of the same name, Savages’ occasionally changes from black and white to glaring, grainy 8mm-like colour, worrying me that it is as visually schizophrenic as his better movies. And I understand why Stone chose this reliable technique in depicting the ocean’s waves slapping the rocky shore and the character watching the waves, Ophelia or O (Blake Lively), the latter venerating closeups as the epitome of the blonde Californian bombshell.
O has the same amount of passport stamps, credit limit and invisibly rich parentage as Lively other famous character, Serena van der Woodsen, but she attempt on range by playing O, just like her characters in other movies, as trashy as she can. She narrates playfully, that quality mixed with what I assume are director Oliver Stone‘s notes telling her and the younger half of the cast that “You’re stoned. Tone it down a little!” which hampers whatever life they could have injected – oops, wrong drug! – into their characterizations. She is 33% of a business cooperative/bigamous arrangement that also includes Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), all three of them based in Laguna Beach. The two men are similarly passionate with their weed business, O and sharing the same muscular body type.
But as O insists, they’re different and she needs their opposites as a guiding influence for her or something. Ben is a loving botanist, Chon is the no-nonsense payment collector. Chon thinks that Buddha is a ‘fat Chinese guy’ like every tenth grade drop-out does, Ben corrects him and practices Buddha’s teachings. And most importantly, Ben makes love in the spirit of mutuality, Chon fucks while he’s in some vampiric state.
Now here’s my question or set of questions – why is O tolerating this from Chon? Why is Chon having sex with her without eye contact? It’s the hair isn’t it, his buzz cut more aesthetically pleasing and less pungent than Ben’s annoying Rastafarian dreadlocks. Let me tell you, hair is not a good enough reason to have sex with a guy as if he’s some gay for pay prostitute having sex with a man twice his age and weight. And white guys with dreadlocks are the kind of men you avoid in a Bushwick party, but Johnson accomplishes a Samson-esque feat in making them look attractive. During and after sex O looks like she can never smoke enough weed for the pain on the inside part of her belly button piercing to stop. She proves nothing about her love for Chon or Ben for that matter other than her saying it. She should have just friend zoned the guy or at least admit that she sleeps with both of them to keep the peace instead of pretending that she actually loves them equally.
After Ben and Chon’s failed negotiations with Mexican drug lord middle management (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) and a shopping mall scene that tries too hard to make Blake Lively seem like Danielle Darrieux, both call each other the titular savages, reminiscent of that musical segment in the Disney version of Pocahontas. The middle management’s boss, the Reina Elena (Oscar nominee Salma Hayek) decided to use a henchman named Lado (Oscar winner Benicio del Toro) to kidnap O.
This event becomes the turning point where some characters get more compelling. Elena has a daughter, Madgalena, who shares the same mall with O, but Magdalena rolls her eyes while talking to her on the phone while O actually wants to talk to her. She becomes maternal, while her amoral pragmatism calling O’s ‘needing my independence,’ lost rich free love white girl BS. She might make a better evil queen than Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron, playing Elena with enough camp to sustain the comparison to equally veteran actresses.
On the other hand, Ben and Chon use their differences to guide them. Chon has had tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and uses that experience to help get O back from Elena’s cartel. Strangely, Chon speaks as if he is a jihadist instead of fighting them. Ben’s Eastern ethos loses to Chon’s urgings to become just like latter’s past and present enemies, and watching the former transform from altruist to criminal is seamless. But let’s look at it this way, this is a story burdening Elena with the onus to prove that she is compassionate while giving Ben and Chon as much leeway into ruthlessness. As if stooping down to her level is punishment enough for both.
This all adds up to a double standard but there’s something fascinating with these characterizations, or enough to latch on to, even if the ending comes too late and too terribly. John Travolta and Emile Hirsch also appear in supporting roles. 2.5/5.
- Chris Jancelewicz: Review: ‘Savages’ Overdoses On Itself (news.moviefone.ca)
Edited from its original form. This was intended to be my observations of the movie’s first few scenes with some criticism here and there.
Reviews of The Cabin in the Woods have been generally positive, although there have been voices of dissent here and there. Whichever side of the fence they’re on, they don’t write about its plot except for a basic premise. There were the few I’ve read and the many that have advertised themselves as spoiler-free. I’ll do my best for this to not be that kind of post even though I’m the last person ever to see it. But nonetheless, let’s get this party started.
It starts with two women in their college dorm, the scene continuing with one character introduction after another. Jules (Anna Hutchison), recently changing her hair and personality, tells Dana (Kristen Connolly) to ditch her Soviet economics books and get into a weekend getaway mode. Jules’ also takes her boyfriend Curt with a C (Chris Hemsworth), a guy who dresses like jock who’s actually a smart sociology major. Out of this triumvirate, only Hemsworth can pull of the dialogue’s wit. Hemsworth is also able to recommend what books Dana should be reading while sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.
Hutchison and Connolly, however, seem to be too deadpan – Drew Goddard‘s blase direction doesn’t always help with this neither. But those two are interestingly cast, Hutchison’s face and demeanour seemingly too mature, her gaze too penetrating to really be the dumb blond persona that Jules has taken on for the weekend. Just as intended. Connolly is more fresh-faced so we’ll know that she’s last girl, whether she lives or not.
Anyway, apparently they’re the only people awake on campus despite it being a sunny spring day, or that they’re the last people to leave on their breaks. Curt offers his cousin’s cabin for the weekend getaway place and Jules asks him to invite his friend Holden (Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) so that Dana doesn’t feel left out. Marty (Fran Kranz), who looks like he’s going to act like a gargoyle for the rest of the movie, usurps into this otherwise picture perfect group and before they venture out into the titular cabin.
The journey towards the rural hideout is already filled with dread (why do young people in movies still go out in the woods to party even though we all know that most of them are going to die?). Being unable to find it on a GPS, they make a stop at a gas station and its attendant, Mordecai (Tim de Zarn), appears through a perfunctory shock cut. He calls Jules a whore, and a fight between the group and Mordecai almost break out, but they decide to leave him and have their fun as planned. As they drive their Winnebago through a tunnel a CGI bird flies in the sky, only to be stopped and killed by an invisible electric grid, reminding us that there are another set of characters in this story.
The movie actually begins with a mundane shot of a coffee vending machine that two white coats Sitterson (Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Studio 60’s Bradley Whitford) use. Joined by the pencil-pushing Lin (Amy Acker), she worries about the day’s operation, although Sitterson smugly reassures her that they haven’t had a glitch since ’98. The two men leave her stranded, driving out with their cart within a large – public or private? – facility whose operation involves the characters who are cabin bound. We don’t know why they’re doing this or why they choose those kids. The same clunkiness permeate here as well, shot too close and lit too dirtily than I would expect in a scene featuring workplace humour. It also seems like the actors on this side work Whedon’s dialogue better throughout the movie…just like Curt does….and it is his cousin’s cabin. Despite of the imperfections here, Whedon and Goddard do start dropping pieces of the puzzle this early on.
It has the usual setup of young people discovering things hidden beyond the borders of civilization or revealing a character’s family secret. But what I like is that these characters challenge each other, the ones in the facility wondering, just like we do, how these kids will slip into which mess. The characters in the cabin, however, test each other on whether they’ll advance on each other sexually or be more modest towards each other like Dana and Holden does.
The movie is enigmatic and works its way into being character based but it didn’t really win me over until two of the characters find their way to fight back. When a certain scene happens the sounds of it make me feel like Whedon and Goddard had smiles on their faces while writing and making it. But that defining moment, coming in so late, and the movie’s hype itself, makes me cautious on whether to embrace it. Either way, the movie’s second hour makes the rest more bonkers and fun. 4/5
- The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011) (faircomments.wordpress.com)
This is self-explanatory. I’ve been that hopeless guy. Not Jesus, that is. Many people have taken the role as my life coach (Hi, Tim’s girlfriend!) but if John Waters appeared to me because of some alcoholic/drug haze and tells me not to give up my dreams, I might just do it.
- After 35 Years, Werner Herzog Figures Out John Waters Is Gay (newsfeed.time.com)
I’m linking and recommending you to two websites that have Hot Docs coverage, because I write for both. The first is Nathaniel R’s The Film Experience (link below), where I write my first impressions on the Hot Docs line-up, intimidated by a few stand out movies that have too serious of subjects. Or at least that is true with some of the festivals’ opening movies such as The Invisible War and Outing. The former captures talking heads who have firsthand experience of the rape within the military while the latter is about a man who, at fifteen, discovers his sexual attraction to children. But there is a silver lining to the festival’s programs as I’ve discovered other, fringe-y subjects who look at the bright side of their imperfect circumstances.
The second is Entertainment Maven, where our friend Kirk Haviland has written a preview of the festival. He starts his coverage by reviewing Brett Whitcomb’s Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I share reviewing duties with him, starting with the Ross Brothers’ Tchoupitoulas, a movie sharing a name with a bustling street in New Orleans’ French Quartier. I’ve also seen Najeeb Mirza’s Buzkashi, about a traditional Tajik sport that’s raising Western eyebrows. I also have pending tickets about Tajikistan’s powerful neighbours in The Boxing Girls of Kabul. I’m sensing that my coverage is more international than I previously thought. I’m also looking forward to our co-reviewer Nadia Sue Sandhu who is bravely facing the James Franco doc, among others. This week will be tiring, as most scary fun things are.
- Hot Docs: Paolo’s Opening Reactions (thefilmexperience.net)
Guy Pearce is a punching bag. He is a man without a past, able to negotiate with or win against authority. This lanky figure, under the shadows of independent cinema, portrays movies’ masculine myths, sleuth, cowboy, king, explorer, diver, fishing on both good and evil. He says your insecurities loud enough for you to hear. I referenced at least five of his movies but he relives them all in the Luc Besson-incepted and Stephen St. Leger and James Mather–directed sci-fi Lockout, a movie set in 2079, while wearing a women’s sized medium graphic tee to expose his veiny biceps, telling audiences he’s not too old to play the Hollywood game of Commonwealth actors working out on the gym to get leading roles. He’s passable as a sellout but let’s be honest, he bagged this role because Hugh Jackman was busy and Pearce wants to buy a condo and put kids through college.
This movie has a plot. Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is on a humanitarian mission to a detention centre on outer space – I feel so stoned typing that – where the prisoners are cryogenically frozen to keep them from assaulting each other. Somehow the American government taxes the rich in this sci-fi. She’s there to check whether the detainees are treated fairly but all goes awry when one escaped prisoner (Brit TV actor Joseph Gilgun) helps lead the hundreds of others into taking the scientists controlling the complex as hostages, including Emilie. The secret service’s (led by Peter Stromare) mission is to rescue the hostages, bringing in maligned rogue CIA agent Snow (Pearce) to rescue Emilie and to hope that the prisoners don’t discover that she’s the president’s. Daughter!
The performances here is interesting, where the supporting cast either flaunt or hide their European accents (Besson by the way has occasionally portrayed America through his European lens), one of the prisoners, suffering from the dementia caused by the freezing, is acting like a Scottish gargoyle. Grace is painfully deadpan as a blonde-tressed damsel with sleepy eyes but all she needs was an impromptu haircut from Snow for her face to open and show her second note, shooting off the script’s witty banter to counter his remarks against her that are so sexist that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Pearce’s performance here is lazy but it’s also admirable to watch him play devil’s advocate without trying. Together Grace and Pearce play off each other like middle school kids who punch each other as a shorthand for affection, Emilie learning the ropes even though Snow doesn’t readily give them to her.
There are some contrivances in this fictional world that the characters aren’t smart enough to grasp, like when Emilie doesn’t realize that Snow’s friend helps her cause. The movie’s technology is also questionable. But those shortcomings are compensated with its honest execution. Its tone is just like Snow’s philosophy that despite being surrounded by concepts, these characters speak and act as snarky yet competently forceful. It has its share of quotables, referring to kin-hood and character flaws delivered ridiculously. And sometimes a movie not caring about how good it is makes the actors and the set pieces seem like they’re going all out. I’m not the kind who predicts on a movie’s success – and keep in mind that I wouldn’t pay to see this movie – but if this ends up being a cult favourite or a franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d actually be happy. Image via THR. 3/5
That’s who representative Effie Trinket chooses out of a glass bowl to see who will play in the futuristic, titular 74th annual Hunger Games. It’s the nightmare scenario for the girl bearing that name (Willow Shields), as well as for her sister, our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), because the former will be too young to survive the bloodbath that comes with these games. Imagine if the neon lights of “American Idol” have younger and more homicidal contestants. But let’s get back to the real issue – this representative looks so ridiculous that I didn’t even know that Elizabeth Banks was playing her. It’s as if Nicki Minaj apparently is the face of the future, one of the adults from Panem’s Capitol – the seat of power of a futuristic version of North America – who all look like anime villains. And I haven’t run out of metaphors and references – as if Zac Posen and the now-defunct Heatherettes’ palettes puked on Stefano Pilati and Viktor and Rolf’s otherwise perfect tailoring, these futuristic designs fitting within the uber-capitalistic society, the latter’s flag looking like an Aryan bastardization of Rome built in the Rockies. It reminds me of what Walter Benjamin said about how France under Napoleon emulates Rome. And it’s not just because science fiction stories, by nature, are pretty much ideas and fashions and designs from the present day set in titanium. Present and future societies will always repeat their past. And these games are a reminder of the past, Effie repeating the words of the video she shows to the district about how the games are the Capitol’s way of giving peace and fear, indoctrinated that her messed up world is perfect.
I also noticed the differences between the people in the Capitol and Katniss’ peasant-like District 12, where pastel and steel are separated from earthier tones. She’s her family’s provider but when she volunteers as the district’s female tribute to replace Prim, she transforms. Her earlier ‘masculine’ habits of hunting are still intact. I never imagine her in a beautiful dress, as I’m supposed to, but there she is wearing a red number in her publicity tour as one of the tributes. She even twirls and shows off her ‘fire’ for the audiences. I saw this as a change from awkward, unsightly adolescence to full-blossomed adulthood but that binary is complicated that she’s one of twenty-four chosen while the rest of the people in many districts are stuck without ‘growing.’ But then again that seems more realistic, that the glamourous adulthood of our imaginations can’t come true for everyone. And even with being chosen she still has to compete with twenty-three other youths to ‘have it all.’ It’s like what Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says to the man presiding the games (Wes Bentley), that this kind of entertainment brings false hope to the masses. Dystopic sci-fis are really great in bringing up these issues in exaggerating present day conundrums and it’s really to Suzanne Collins’ – who wrote the original novels and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Billy Ray and the movie’s director Gary Ross – credit to have created such a detailed world.
And Lawrence, playing a younger version of her Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, is one of the foundations that make this world more solid, especially with the contradictions within her character. Her full cheeks masks her eyes’ rage and curiosity. She’s awkward – during athletic/publicity training she asks her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) how she can make people like her. Effie criticizes her for being ill-mannered after many conflicts against the sponsors and her co-tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). But this young woman eventually finds and protects her new family, inadvertently becomes the face of a new rebellion and rides out a semi-fabricated story that she and Peeta are the games’ star-crossed lovers. That the characters, Collins and Ross’ final and cynical word on their love feels subversive for a young adult narrative. Although at least some of their love is real, Katniss bringing him medicine and both saving each other’s lives during the games.
If there’s anything I’ll strongly say against this movie, it’s that Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern bring their camera too close and fast, especially in its opening sequences. As much as I would like to be acquainted with these characters – the shaky cam replicating her perspective as she walks and runs through her journey – I also want to see the world where they belong. The Bourne-style quick-cutting also doesn’t help with the violent scenes. Seeing those deaths, admittedly, was part of the sadistic fun and it kind of sucks that the audience doesn’t get to fully experience this. The cast also includes Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Alexander Ludwig. Image via Villagevoice.
This movie, by the way, takes advantage of its source material, an 80’s TV show of the same name starring Johnny Depp and Holly Robinson (now Peete). Had it been released in an alternate universe as its own concept, audiences would think it’s ludicrous. The screenwriters adapting this material to the 21st century, Jonah Hill, Scott Pilgrim writer Michael Bacall, director Phil Lord and Puss in Boots director Christopher Miller perceive this as a hurdle that they cross beautifully.
A personal note about the subject of this movie. Like junior policemen Jenko, played by Channing Tatum and Schmidt, by Hill, I also belong to the class of 2005 (The blue and red all caps inter-titles also probably makes this the greatest American movie to ever reference Jean-Luc Godard. I’m half serious.). In this America, Jenko and Schmidt fall on opposite sides of the polarized jock/nerd dividing old high schools of reality and fiction. I’m not going to take this as a point against the movie, but I saw the tides turn in that year or ones before. I remember a jock (specifically the most coveted male student who had the face/abs/nipple piercings) telling me that he found it weird yet enjoyed that a goth, a Polish girl who listened to gangster music and me accidentally joined his pot circle. Despite being the voice of a generation, Eminem and the other aggressive angsty figures are replaced by dancey stuff.
I even suspect that our generation has something to do with it and yes I’m being cocky here. The elder classes held on to the binary but dissatisfied with these earlier models we took our different perspective and repressed resentments into making new moulds of chic in college and afterwards and I’m pretty sure the younger kids saw that and thought it was awesome. And now kids, or middle class kids at least, are sophisticated, dinnering in midtown restaurants, shopping for clothes that would have gotten me beat up seven years ago, impressing their teachers and being blase about doing so many kinds of drugs that I would run out of digits to count them, if I tried.
The movie deals with these cultural waves but in an extreme execution. After graduating high school and the police academy, becoming unlikely friends and bungling a drug bust, their Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) re-assigns our protagonists into the titular 21 Jump Street, a program where younger looking cops (including Rye Rye) return to high school and infiltrate juvenile crime.
Just like my unreliable old man observations about today’s youth, they return to an environment giving them clue after subtle clue. Despite of Jenko’s predictions, kids don’t carry their backpacks singe strap and the parking lot is populated by geeks, one group more colourful and uninhibited than the previous one. The nerds have become popular and the jocks are semi-awkward track kids. Jenko, the only jock left in the traditional sense, is the fading noble viking conquered by his intellectual superiors, some of whom work out just as much as he does. In a way, this main plot structure is a retelling of Rip van Winkle, already making this movie an American institution. I’m half serious.
Like my eclectic pot circle, a drug is the secret invisible force that unites and corrupts Jenko and Schmidt’s assigned school, Sagen High. This time it’s called HFS which is short for Holy Fucking Shit, a synthetic drug that lives up to its name (I’ve also been watching a lot of NatGeo lately, adding to my armchair knowledge of the misinformation about these designer drugs and complicates the movie’s dénouement but who cares). We see a student, Billiam Winningham (Johnny Simmons, who plays Young Neil in Scott Pilgrim) post a Youtube video of himself taking the drug and recording its four stages, the effects on young Billiam is exemplary physical comedy to both the policemen and to us until their new boss Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, playing cop again after Rampart) reveals that the kid has died of an overdose.
Their mission, as Dickson shouts in a mantra, is something like ‘infiltrate the dealers, find the suppliers,’ which should be easy if the two gun-toting, hand-to-hand fighting chaser cops didn’t dip into hilarious human error, including Schmidt’s friendship with yearbook committee member/dealer (Dave Franco) and the latter’s open relationship girlfriend Molly (Brie Larson). These forbidden partnerships ruins the dynamic between the two cops and the movie delicately plays with their own unlikely friendship, as both are haunted by the past and present power dynamics between them.
The rifts between Jenko and Schmidt cause some of the movies surprisingly unforced pathos. There’s something interesting about these supposed sentimental moments, that the camera constantly moves – or has the semblance of movement – in those sequences so we don’t lose that comedy-action momentum while showing the drama. Those sections, in other words, have a cartoony aesthetic that complement the comic-book effect on the hilarious drug phase scenes (Bacall and Miller’s animation CV’s help with this.
The other source of comedy is the protagonists’ one-upmanship, both causing a lot of falling gags, dick jokes, relentless montages and ‘I rule and you suck!’ barbs. Those methods of comedy shouldn’t work but they do, just because Hill, Tatum and the rest of the cast deliver their jokes with a straight face and Miller directs these scenes without telling his actors to overt and slowing down the jokes, which surprisingly and disappointingly happens too much in recent comedies. There are brilliant scenes with Ellie Kemper’s – who I’m always partial to – conflicting Mary Kay Letourneau lust towards Jenko (ironically because it’s Jenko as an undercover who’s forbidden to fraternize with students and teachers) and she just says opposing words and phrases given life by her delivery. Her character could have been a histrionic one but she makes it just kooky and makes you listen to how hilarious her conflict is.
Also in the cast are Rob Riggle, Jake M. Johnson, many more familiar young faces and Depp is in a surprising cameo. This brew of crudity didn’t necessarily make me love it unconditionally for the movie’s first half but it’s underplayed, straightforward approach refreshingly went down easily, and I dismissed any possible objection as the laughs kept coming. 4/5. Image via hollywood.com