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Posts tagged “Best Actor nominee

The Golden Age: About Schmidt


The Shiningph. Alliance

Alexander Payne‘s About Schmidt is, to my knowledge, Jack Nicholson‘s third foray into the road trip movie, strangely enough because his earlier two road trip movies went so well for his characters. In the first one, Easy Rider, his character visits American landmarks while in the second one, , makes his character Jack Torrance delve into familial dysfunction in the remnants of native and pioneer civilizations. And we can say that this relatively newer movie has a bit of both.

Payne punctuates the film through Nicholson’s protagonist Warren Schmidt’s epistolary narration to his World Vision-styled adopted Tanzanian 6-year-old Ndugu. Ndugu’s probably has no use of the knowledge of Warren’s woefully mundane life since we assume that he’s evading famine, but at least Warren’s not complaining about being too rich, famous or some other insufferable first world problem. What he writes and what really happens sometimes syncs up, like his retirement forcing him to notice his vehement lack of attraction to his unglamorous wife who is the same age to his devastated state when said dowdy wife dies.

But he’s mostly  an unreliable narrator when it comes to his treatment of his wife when she was still alive, keeping the household in shape after her passing to the conditions and sights on the road. Sometimes he’s in between, telling Ndugu that he’s driving on a Winnebago from his residence in Omaha to Colorado to stop his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) from making a terrible decision that she’s regret for the rest of her life. That decision, which he doesn’t tell Ndugu, is her marrying some pyramid scamming schmuck with mulletted gray hair. There’s finally some things that anyone would try to block from memory, like his sexually charged encounters with two women (Kathy Bates) close to his age.

I don’t blame Warren for his lies, equivocations and omissions, since he’s thrust to become a new person and find his new fit into this new age, vulgar, overtly commercialized world, which is hard to do at his age. He wakes and behaves as if disoriented. All he has to do is watch, and it’s for us to find out whether he accepts the inevitable world in which he might not leave a trace. And despite the film’s conventionally sentimental end, the film’s results, along with the four menacing notes on its soundtrack, are deliciously symphonic.


Black Masks: Lee’s Malcolm X


ph. Warner

Disgusting Muslim terrorist Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) was once Malcolm ‘Red’ Little, actor. He was Bogart to Shorty’s (Spike Lee) Cagney, the two occasionally switching roles. He’s also Burt Lancaster to a pure woman’s Deborah Kerr.

“Have you ever met one white man who wasn’t evil?” Yes, Sophia (Kate Vernon) was bitchy to Molly Ringwald, but evil? I’ve gone both ways on whether Malcolm X depicts white people as evil. Sophia loves Malcolm because he gives her freedom, but yes, she does treat him like a pet while he waits for their relationship to self-destruct. Although, in lame-evoking Frantz Fanon, we look at the outer ugliness of the ‘black man’ instead of the inner ugliness of the ‘white woman’ seducing him, intentionally or otherwise. ‘Inhuman’ as a word fits better, the child services officer behaving out of  hearsay, but with no desire to see Malcolm and his siblings stay together or have a decent home. Speaking of decent home, Sophia marries a white man for money, these white persons as much slaves as their black counterparts.

This scene is everything, their anger beautifully clashing like the third act of a Puccini opera.

I first saw this for the Islam section of our Grade 11 World Religions class. The film, Lee’s direction and Washington’ performance to me was the Angry Black Man, pushing eggs in front on the white sailor’s face on the train (in his mind anyway), reciting inflammatory sermons against the white devil, insulting the white beatnik in the university he is giving a speech to. That scene, by the way, can be a subtle and possibly inadvertent reference to “King Lear,” the beatnik’s question as Lear’s search for validation while Malcolm, as a dissenting Cordelia, gives her the painful answer she needs. Nonetheless he changes with his separation from the Nation of Islam, removing racism from his mind.

Many things have happened between then and now, including a “Mad Men” episode where those characters don’t even bat an eye at this influential man’s death. This rewatch gives the man, the film and those behind it more dimension. We’re not supposed to like him in those ugly moments, pondering, say, that young woman whom Malcolm brushes aside, her face lingering towards the camera for one more second to see the slow emotional damage he might have done to her. But there’s also Washington’s youthful grin while he’s around Sophia, working the train or when he’s learning something new. His narration like a man reaching enlightenment even when remembering Malcolm’s painful memories. Hesitating to raise his voice in times of conflict. That’s also Lee’s purpose in the epilogue. Yes, the director is comparing himself with his subject, showing the world that he, just like Mr. X, isn’t always angry. Lee shows Mr. X smiling, laughing and becoming, to more people around him, a compassionate person.


Best. Opening Credits. Ever.


‘My purpose in coming here tonight was twofold. Firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves.’

Burn. Gregory La Cava‘s My Man Godfrey takes satire over slapstick. The patriarch of the Bullock’s frustration with his family’s antics and lavish spending is delivered with sincerity. The titular dumpster hobo Godfrey’s (William Powell) mixed in with this craziness that always crosses the line, like Cordelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) trying to destroy whoever she doesn’t like. She especially finds Godfrey as a target, but not the same way we do – there’s eloquence in stinging the rich that makes us question his gruff demeanor. Cordelia, nonetheless, comments on the age difference between him and his love interest – her sister Irene (Carole Lombard). Often looking glamorous and elegant, like a blond Joan Crawford, Lombard kind of looks like a gangly woman-child in an expensive gown. It’s the curls. At least she is the reason this movie’s funny.

Cordelia picks Godfrey out of the dump near the Hudson river, she hides pearls under his bed accuses him of stealing, pearls go missing because he ends up stealing and hiding the pearls better than she can. He uses the pearls to turn the dump into a place that can accommodate both a night club and housing apartments, two institutions that won’t mix today. Godfrey, thus, invents gentrification avant la lettre, but unlike today’s version, he incorporates the poor into is urban vision by giving them work instead of simply turning them away.


The Spy Who Came In…


ph. Paramount

Adapted from the John le Carre novel of the same name, the first five minutes of Martin Ritt‘s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold will convince us that it’s not like any other ‘caper’ spy films, giving us melancholy piano and woodwind music hovering above the barbed Berlin Wall in the mid 60’s. Protagonist Alec Leamas (Richard Burton), an agent does a lot of waiting, needing coffee to stay up watching the border. The film lets us watch Alec and lets us into his head, only hearing his footsteps in the night. His conversations with soldiers aren’t racked up with tense music. In a few seconds, an Allied spy gets shot while trying to bike across the border. We see Alec for a half second as he watches his colleague die, but the film won’t let us see his eyes well up or glimmer in anger and vengeance.

Like any spy, Alec embarks on some method acting. Control pulls him away from Berlin back into London, is assigned to act like an alcoholic delinquent – I can hear some of you snarking that that’s not a stretch for Burton, but hold on. The goal is to make the Socialist agents in London think that he wants to defect, and he then plants false information that would implicate the higher powers of East Berlin to destroy each other. While working at a library that no one suspiciously visits, Alec meets a Communist woman named Nan Perry (Claire Bloom) and he grows fond of someone whose belief system is the target of his operation. I liked watching him challenge her. It shocked me to see an atheist character given a sympathetic, nuanced light in 1965, imagining that her character would be portrayed in a radically different way had this been a more American production.

The film also lets us into the more mundane parts of espionage life, letting us into tedious, unglamorous instructions by a head librarian which is subtly funny. Or detailed conversations between agents and double agents, Alec’s lies are a hazy prop compared to what’s really happening. He maneuvers his way within characters who refreshingly don’t look like movie stars.

I’m not sure if it’s the hair and make-up department who does the wonders here, but Oskar Werner, who plays Alec’s target Fiedler, has such a confident presence in the film compared to his wimpier turns in his collaborations with Francois Truffaut like Jules et Jim and Fahrenheit 451. he’s masculine yet subtle, commanding even for someone heading to a trap. Burton isn’t perfect in this movie. He can’t punch, and his last soliloquy in the end relies of his staccato delivery that might as well be his crutch. Other than that, this is his most subtle which makes it his career best in his movies that I’ve seen. It’s in his quietest moments when we can see him in his most vulnerable place, conveying the most emotion while just sitting there listening to another person. He deserves that Oscar nomination, showing us the human side of secret agents.


Good Night and Good Luck


Clooney’s directorial piece Good Night and Good Luck begins, the stars of this film as glamorous as they would be on an awards show in reality, the saxophone playing in the background. A man introduces 1950’s television news anchor Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn). He makes a speech towards his colleagues and people who work in the television industry, but when the camera cuts to them, it doesn’t look like he’s preaching to the choir. But that’s not such a bad thing.

And fine, while we’re at it, I’ll admit that my first encounter of the film is through the “Simpsons” parody, Kent Brockman becoming our century’s Murrow as Lisa eggs him on. This is probably how we first experienced other movies, knowingly or otherwise.

ph. Warner Independent Pictures

Did you know that the real Edward Murrow looks less Strathairn, and more like Harry Dean Stanton. Murrow would have been a perfect role for Stanton in the 70’s. But surprisingly, I don’t remember any anti-McCarthyism in films, not even with Hollywood class president and lefty extraordinaire Warren Beatty making controversial films like Reds.

The double threat taking Beatty’s place is George Clooney, and don’t worry guys, I’m heading somewhere with this tangent/segue. There was this CINNSU/ Bloor Cinema alum who once told me that Clooney wanted to direct a remake of Network. The word ‘remake’ seems like a pariah even to people who aren’t film geeks, but as the alum said something like, ‘Paddy Chayefsky’s like Shakespeare, why not?’ I wish the rules of cinema bent like that too. I suppose the closest we can come to seeing a remake of Network is Good Night and Good Luck, the story of Murrow combating McCarthyism and its abuses through televised journalism. And we’re back!

There are many differences between this film and its predecessor. The man in front of the camera is sane even if the world or the institution controlling it isn’t. Howard Beale is a deluded puppet while Murrow is a leader who still writes his pieces. Strathairn, in his best role yet, delivers perfectly, mastering the elocution that the real Murrow and gentlemen of his time might have had. Here, the fictional Murrow goes head-to-head against the real Joseph McCarthy, the menacing figure on the upper left side of the screen, the latter’s own words and pictures used to defame him. He gets criticized by some newspapers as ‘selective,’ but Murrow’s integrity stands strong.

In this scene, both Murrow and McCarthy quote “Julius Caesar” like many do with the Bible, choosing lines to further their cause. The Shakespearean play is about an unnatural shift in power, deceit and constancy, that latter quality being something that McCarthy doesn’t have.

CBS begins an investigation piece on the firing of US Air Force Officer Milo Radulovic – who is Irish, apparently – because of his father’s suspected Communist affiliations. The film uses authentic newsreels of the accuser and the accused, this one being rough looking but eloquent. Murrow, then, and CBS seems to have chickened out by doing celebrity profiles. An insipid few minutes with Liberace becomes subversive once we remember that ‘he doesn’t intend to marry soon.’

But don’t worry, the Air Force will retain Radulovic.

‘I’ve got my eyes on you/I’ll set my spies on you/Keep your eyes on me.’ As if she’s agitating the enemy, whispering sweet aggression to his ear.

The racial politics in Good Night and Good Luck are muted, the black woman doing her numbers in between the skirmishes where the white men fight for her constitutional rights. The actors doing the fighting, however, seem to be suppressing the outrage they would normally have if their names and the names of their friends are stained by Cold War paranoia. This film’s tone is less bombastic and more quiet. No dramatic music, no hammy speeches, nothing. But instead of a breathtaking experience that most great films should give its audience, its tone is its own, feeling like a last slow dance in the middle of the night.


The Heart is a Lonely Hunter


The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on Carson McCullers’ novel, shows how the characters’ time together, despite of their reliance on its permanence, is fleeting. Mr. Singer (Alan Arkin) has to move from a smaller town as Antonapoulos’ (Chuck McCann) guardian, being confined at a facility in Jefferson, Georgia, a place wher he isn’t supposed to be. In Jefferson, he boards with the Kellys and works for an Afro-Caribbean doctor, dealing with the latter’s family troubles.

ph. Warner

I like the Kelly’s daughter Mick (Sandra Locke), supposedly being more refined than her respectfully working class family is and will allow. There’s a scene when she hosts a party for the other neighborhood adolescents and they end up using her brother’s fireworks. She wants happiness and acceptance but will not compromise herself to get that from her peers – as they play with fireworks, she kicks them out of her property I would have let them play with the fireworks while moping.

Singer is the perfect friend for an ‘individual’ like Mick as he is with the doctor or a recovering alcoholic (Stacy Keach). He’s shunned by Mick but she changes change her mind when he starts buying her classical records even if he can’t enjoy them. Arkin is perfectly cast as Singer, even if it’s in the level of physical appearance. His dark features, making him look biracial, contributes in his role as a shamanistic mediator between the whites and blacks. He wears a suit and walks around, his silence read as pensive, altrustic and even happy.

Yes, there are ridiculous points in the film, like when the doctor’s son-in-law Willie stabs a racist man with his own knife instead of throwing it away. Or McCullers piling on departures and rejections and violence on Singer to drive him to his end. Was Singer not strong enough? Mick says that he was there for her and for everyone, and I wonder if anyone can withstand constantly being that person.


Oscar Hangover: A Single Man


Chandler Levack called A Single Man an ‘interesting failure.’ I agreed with her to a certain extent, reminding me of its disappointments, all but one are the film’s fault. A mix of diaspora story and American Gothic, I devoured the book about a day in George’s (Colin Firth) life and it devastated me (that’s a good thing). I found flaws within the casting, since George is ten years older than Firth when the film was released, or that they turned Asian Lois into white, or that all the actors are good-looking except for a Jewish bit part. I’m also going to back sell that despite Firth being theoretically miscast, he should have won the Oscar for this role.

The heading for this film indicates that I saw this again eight hours after I passed out while watching the Oscars. Sure it’s not a great condition to watch and write, but I retained a few things:

Director Tom Ford has given more attention to the film’s surfaces than any of the other film’s aspects, but I finally concede that George and his house, described as a constraining home across a bridge, can look stylish since every self-respecting middle class gay man in the early 1960’s should be dressed or living with class. Charley’s house actually has a better description in the book. But everyone else? And turning gruff Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) into a twink? I suppose the style adds a fictionality within the film, and you can decide whether the latter is a good thing.

George and Jim’s (Matthew Goode) couch scene also makes me think that he has taken Jim for granted when the latter was alive. There’s a power dynamic between them that heteronormative or fictional homosexual relationships have, their book choices show how one is supposedly more masculine or intelligent than the other. This dynamic is subverted by Kenny’s entrance into George’s life, Kenny being more game than George, the latter submissively lusting over the former. Anyway, I actually appreciate how the script and Goode characterizes Jim with sunny optimism, despite seeing him through George’s nostalgic goggles. Goode has always been my second MVP in the movie, but too bad he’s such a jerk.

Emily Watson could have been a great Charley (Julianne Moore) since she’s the right age and nationality. I’m however warming up to Moore’s performance now, and for some reason, it’s because of her dancing. Despite the beautiful exterior that she’s grown into, she dances like she’s trying too hard, making me think of someone who wasn’t loved in her younger years, who certainly isn’t loved by George in the same level that she does.