In the Best Shot series The Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers encourages willing participants weekly with a new movie and a particular image (or set of images) within that stand out for us. Every movie has its challenges, this week’s selection being The Royal Tenenbaums being particularly daunting – I imagine any but two Wes Anderson with be equally difficult.
Which one that features a quirkily costumed character or occasional animal, setting or breaking the shot’s symmetry? Which segue shot showing a fictional book written by and/or about one or some of the characters? Which room or façade that Anderson himself meticulously planned and decorated, arguably trapping the movie’s said characters?
One of the rooms depicted is a product of Etheline Tenenbaum’s (Anjelica Huston) worldly education for her sons and daughter. There’s the one with younger Chas in his childhood room, dwarfed while sitting on a table near his shelves filled with monotonous finance books as large as his torso. Even if it’s one of the most monochromatic shots and mises-en-scene within Anderson’s oeuvre, it almost became my favourite shot because it’s the first one to crack me up.
And while we’re at it let me say that I’ve never seen this movie ever. I don’t the do the ‘let’s watch the director’s other movies’ kind of shit that other, better bloggers do before watching Moonrise Kingdom. I don’t subscribe to that time-consuming insanity because I have other time-consuming insanities. I didn’t even know if I was ever going to watch the latter at all, with my shifting mood and schedule.
Anyway! So yes, if you’re paying attention, I watched that before Tenenbaums. And I couldn’t shake what my favourite shot is in the former – Sam piercing Suzy’s earlobe – and I was thinking about how a man’s present work influences and/or mirrors his past, instead of the other way around.
There were many candidates for this Moonrise-like shot, the ones featuring the tent being too obvious. There’s widower Chas (Ben Stiller) dragging his kids Ari and Uzi out to a fire drill. But there are more moments like that when the main conflict surfaces, as the movie belongs to a sub-subgenre of family reunion dramedy. It’s no longer just Chas and his two sons, it’s the three of them and the rest of the family, particularly the dynamic between the three guys and their boor-in-a-suit grandfather Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). The rotten dad suddenly wants to change.
If I kept my Sociology of the the Family texts – ugh – I can tell you exactly what they say about grandfathers and grandparents’ role outside the nuclear family but it could be one of two ways. One is to instill traditional values to the children that the latter’s parents forego or rebel from, which Royal doesn’t do. The other is to be the lax influence in those children’s lives, which is a roundabout way of explaining why my best shots belong within this glorious montage of Royal and the kids making harmless mayhem in Upper West Side.
I don’t participate at this kind of activity but I’m of a child siring age. So when I look at children in the movies I think of the fun times I had as a child that I wouldn’t let my future kids do because they’re dangerous. Or realizing how fucked up these activities were in hindsight, like running across incoming traffic! But it’s this complicit nature within childhood, the bleeding ears and scraped knees and the pain being a temporary part of the fun. Kids egg each other on to this as much as adults do to kids. Even the passive aggressiveness that Chas and Royal inflict on other characters have traces of this behaviour.
Besides, Royal eventually jumps to this regressive state caused by the foresight that time is fleeting, when he no longer gives a fuck and wants to have the same fun as he did as kid. He’s the truth-teller within a family of uptight, stunted intellectuals. And even if they don’t take place within the doll house rooms or 388 Archer Avenue, Anderson unleashing his characters out to the chaos of New York, they still engender the director’s glowing childlike ethos.
- Best Shot: “The Royal Tenenbaums” (thefilmexperience.net)
Five of the movie couples here will appear ad nauseam in my other lists. I’m really worried and sorry about that, being derivative and all. I just have a compulsion to make these lists. Then in like, three days, I’ll tell you what I really think of the new Harry Potter movie. Not on this list.
Noah Baumbach creates two characters so real and on the surface, kinda boring. Florence and Greenberg (Greta Gerwig and Ben Stiller) are half a generation apart, and they come to blows sometimes with that. Florence sometimes talks and acts with irony that she doesn’t make a good impression on Greenberg. He’s an impulsive slacker but he blows his lid when her immature side pops up. Nonetheless they’re there for each other in times of need, belonging in Noah Baumbach’s world of under-dramatic characters. Thankfully, they don’t need speeches to reconcile neither!
The hero of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Michael Cera) and his heart eventually sets itself for the almost unattainable Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but I really thought Scott and Knives (Ellen Wong) could have worked it out. They’d go to the arcade or Sonic Boom and it doesn’t even feel like she’s dragging him. Then peer pressure kicks in, understandably because it isn’t cool for a twenty year old to date high school girls. They end their relationship with Knives complementing Scott’s hair, a perfect Annie Hall ending. They can be good friends after all.
The obligatory LGBT couple could have either been Cherie and Joan, Eames and Arthur (I can see you write the gay fan fiction now, LJ) or the ployamorous relationships in Heartbeats or FUBAR, but it goes to Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) from the Kids are All Right. Marriage is hard, as Jules says. Despite some flaws in the film, writer/director Lisa Cholodenko creates people, not symbolic entities, who have their own quirks and desires. Sleeping under a big comforter, ridiculous in LA standards, you can feel them snuggle in. Please adopt me!
They’re on this list because I felt really bad omitting Rabbit Hole on my top ten – the ‘revelation scene’ was kinda weird – but Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) make for a great couple. Yes, most of the film equally captures Becca’s relationship with her family, and Howie’s questionable friendships, but underneath that grief, anger and resentment is repressed passion and a will to reintroduce themselves into the Yonkers community where they normally belong. They help each other move on despite of the tragedy that kills the other marriages in the movie.
Representing puppy love are Lina and Leco from Modra, where the first time actors improvise their way into Lina’s titular home town in Slovakia. Instead of barraging each other with questions, they walk around the bucolic town. Leco jumps on top of Lina at least once. They find out the nice and not so nice things about them. Will this summer decide if they’re gonna stay together, even if the town elders bet that they will? This is showing at the Lightbox as the better parts of the apparently stupid best Canadian movie list. This movie’s so cool and obscure, it doesn’t have an IMDb page!
Some of you might think that the least conflicted part of Easy A is Olive (Emma Stone) getting swept off her feet by a Prince Woodchuck (Penn Badgely), which is true. So we’ll go for the bets parents ever (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci), and I remind myself that they were part of the me generation, as the mother intimately reveals, which is why they can give such great advice for their own daughter coming to terms with her sexuality. Again, Clarkson and Tucci have such great chemistry and humour, making jokes when they’re actually worried about their children’s well-being.
Here comes another odd, unattractive couple from another indie movie. It’s mean, I know. Jack and Connie (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan) in Jack Goes Boating decide to embark on love despite of cynicism they receive from their married friends. They’re learning the physical taps of love, not lust, as Connie tells him to overpower her without sound like she’s over-directing. In the end, while Fleet Foxes’ pastoral folk music is playing strangely on a New York City backdrop, the only thing more fitting is to see these two put their arms on each other’s shoulders.
I’d be sadistic enough if I put Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) on this list with either of his first two wives (Rachelle LeFevre and Minnie Driver), but author Mordecai Richler is sadistic enough to let Barney meet his third wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike) in his first wedding. In Barney’s Version, he tries to work it out with this Myrna Loy-esque image of perfection they try to work it out and do for almost twenty years, then he cheats on her. He tries to win her back, prankster that he is, by giving her new husband (Bruce Greenwood) a heart attack. But they’ve remained good friends.
‘You’re used to getting women drunk, aren’t you?’ Carlos and Madga (Edgar Ramirez and Nora von Waldstatten) are the definition of the sexy couple. In their first meeting, both test each other and that goes for the rest of their relationship when they have children and both have to go on terrorist missions. Nonetheless, they get on each other’s nerves, she does everything for him while he calls her a ‘petit bourgeoisie’ to his mistress. Like most of the women in the miniseries, she’s attracted to the man who makes things explode, but she can’t love the man who loves himself.
The reason this list even exists is because of Micky Ward and Charlene (Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams) from The Fighter. From their first date you can hear the rhythm of their banter already, might as well sounding like a couple twice their age. Micky admits later that they’re going in a nice part of town to hide, but only will he show this uptown side of his with a girl he really trusts. Director David O. Russell helps create that picture, showing Micky’s new support system as both, with little good reputation under their names, try something new and something with a great payoff.
Making this list is like finding people for the next season of America’s Next Top Model. Great comparison, actually, since like them, I try picking from the fat in a six month period. You wait till the fall to harvest. Metaphors aside, I started watching new releases diligently, partly because of this blog. Then the festivals came in May, then finances, then Cinematheque. The last new movie I saw was “Mid-August Lunch,” and that’s a technically a 2008 release. Yes, I might have to go back as far as 2008 to make this list. Anyway,
Exit Through the Gift Shop – Banksy shows us his colleague’s terrible art. I never realized that being repulsed by something so banal is an experience I’d feel on film. And there are other feeling in the mix as well.
Greenberg – Noah Baumbach is a master of dialogue. He’s capable enough to shoot and direct that dialogue, too. Ben Stiller can still do drama, even if you kinda laugh at his character.
The Secret in the Eyes – A film that seemed endless yet it satisfied me after just satisfying me. The movie broke my heart.
I am Love – Uniting critics and dividing audiences, the sensory delight in this film will make you think of RealD as bland in comparison.
I hope to fill this list with worthy films by the end of the year. I’m counting on you, Christopher Nolan, Lisa Chodolenko, Julian Schnabel (coming into my city in August), Terry Malick!
(The heading’s pretty self-explanatory.)
The first few minutes of “Greenberg” play like a lost Hal Ashby, watching Florence (Greta Gerwig) walking with a dog. It isn’t said if she’s a born Angeleno or if she moved from somewhere else. She straddles the line between smart and ditzy, having the same, almost drowsy voice that girls in their mid-20’s have. She’d be a full ditz if she didn’t have the indie girl look. She has a decent nightlife and sometimes has gigs in bars, crooning about the prairies. I live in Canada and I’m up to here with prairie shit and I didn’t know white girls sang about the prairies down there too.
Then Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes in to house sit and dog sit for her brother and the mood of the film changes into a portrayal of one bad date into another between Florence and Roger. “Do you remember they played Albert Hammond when it’s raining.” “You like old stuff?” For some frustrating reason she still comes back to him despite warnings from her best friend, who knows from Florence that he’s been in a mental institution, saying “If you see him again, I’ll stop talking to you.” Most of us would say the same thing.
For a while the movie veers into unwatchable territory. Some people have to be prepared for this kind of movie. I wasn’t – this is my first Baumbach. But at the same time, there’s an integrity in showing Roger mistreating people and accusing people of parental issues and people having awkward conversations and having really awkward sex.
The romance between Florence and Roger isn’t cookie cutter at all and it delivers a message that there’s probably no right person for anyone. Metaphorically, the two of them are different pieces of the puzzle. One thing they have in common except for their disfranchisement, which we don’t often remember because they clash so much. But in finding each other, they have to make it work.
There’s also honesty in the multitude of voices in this movie. There’s Florence, there’s Roger’s acerbic humour, there’s Roger’s college age niece and her friend calling other girls sluts. All of these portraits are brutal but not denigrating. When these voices clash, it could be excruciating but it’s, again, honest enough not to have the distance to make those characters hilarious – we empathize with them instead of being entertained by them. Most of the time we’re stuck with Roger’s, but despite how infuriating his personality could be, he is right about a few things and right about calling them out. His best friend (Rhys Ifans) shouldn’t go back to his marriage to a racist woman, it is annoying when people treat public spaces as their living rooms, and what is up with Florence’s ironic Girls Gone Wild story?
P.s. Saw this at the Varsity. I had to change seats because some old guy kept dropping sunflower seed shells on the floor, people kept their iPhones on to navigate through the dark theatre for their friends. Two fratboys in white T’s kept whispering to each other (I couldn’t hear him but a guy with a girlfriend yelled at them at one point), and finally walked out telling everyone in the theatre that the movie was fucking boring (they may have a point, but they didn’t stay ’till the end). These fuckers should have been filtered out after the second week but there they are at week 5. It’s both strange and comforting that Ben Stiller + Artsy movie join forces together and are still standing after a month. But again, apparently not everyone’s cup of tea.
P.s. Speaking of not everyone’s cup of tea, here’s a review from my friend’s friend, Julien.