…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “2012

Spring Breakers


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?


With Your Best Shot: Shorts


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Motifs in 2012 Cinema: Luck and Fate


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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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.


The Family That Plays…


…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.


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!


Dystopia Countdown: Indian Boot(y) Camps


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.


Bones Brigade: An Autobiography


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.