Unlike the troglodytes of 1980’s American Cinema and their more stoic, brooding heirs in the past decade, the 1990’s leading man in American cinema is annoying, boisterous, or whatever adjective you’d like to call them. But there’s also a steak of conscientiousness within these character actors. Brad Pitt is one, making up the holy four of Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, and Pitt’s co-star Edward Norton in Fight Club. But in that movie Pitt lets Norton’s character – his name is Rupert – do all the slapstick comic relief, since Pitt’s Tyler Durden is already outlandish as it is with his funky outfit and spiky hair, his look of running opposite of his anti-capitalistic stance. Despite some yelling fits Pitt, in the younger part of his career, puts some restraint in his character, recognizing that cool is the opposite of overexertion, although he seems to do both and gets away with looking like the latter.
And no, cool doesn’t always mean flattering, Pitt being humble enough to ugly himself up with out without blood on his face. Anyway, sometimes he punches hard but he can also just hit people in swift movements while smoking a cigarette, as if violence, in Pitt’s characterization of Tyler, is a trivial chore, a part of his bigger plan. He’s fraternal with his co-stars, never seeming bossy when he gives a handful of orders to his disciples in Project Mayhem. We the audience can also see this restraint when he preaches to his Project Mayhem members. I keep trying to mourn the lack of elocution in post-studio cinema, or look for traces of it in New Hollywood actors or after, but Pitt has it, declaring Tyler’s political beliefs not with belligerent anger but with the strength to make it enough of unquestionable truth. For a while.
That time when you show your kid appropriate, child-friendly films and then ten years later, he or she decides to dive into art house cinema and admits years after that “Hey Mom/Dad, some of the effects in Terry Malick’s The Tree of Life remind me of the marine life scenes in George Miller‘s Happy Feet 2!” and you shake your head in dismay because you have brought up a Philistine, spreading his mashed potato cultural knowledge into this God-forsaken world.
Yes, I’m stupid enough, comparing those movies not because of some overlapping aesthetics but also because they share the same themes. Childhood, resentment, self-reflection. Both films star Brad Pitt. Instead having a wife or eldest son to reach out to the universe beyond them, his character, Antarctic-residing Will the Krill does all the questioning. He’s resentful of being second to the bottom of the food chain, he’s frustrated by the limits of the swarm, he’s not your regular krill. And instead of stasis, he takes his questions to a further level and explores life outside the swarm. His intelligence is proactive instead of an introvert’s tendency to just contemplate. He decides to live with the motto of “I want to eat something that has a FACE!” which Pitt says with his comically Southern bravado. His friend Bill the Krill (Matt Damon) reluctantly joins him in his voyage.
And it’s with his adventurous eyes that we see this movie’s depiction of the lush marine life, the krill transparent, the jellyfish luminescent, the ice shards glinting. These scenes show the greatest use for the 3D medium, letting us go deep into what’s on the screen instead of it splashing on to us. I can imagine some of the younger members of the audience sympathizing with these krill, the discovery more magical because they’re so little and the world so large it envelopes them. It’s a bit scary but it’s also a lot of fun. Pitt and Damon play second-fiddle in an all-star voice cast,working as intermission acts to what’s happening to the larger land birds. But these scenes makes us almost forget that there’s another world above them, a world with the titular happy feet.
Over sea level, things are more inconsistent when in comes to tone. The movie actually begins with a crystal-like green iceberg, menacingly drifting from one section of the Antarctic coast going eastward to the Emperor penguin land, where Mumble (Elijah Wood) and the rest of his song-and-dance colony live. This movie is one of the few instances where I preferred a simpler arc from peace to a disequilibrium. I didn’t need the iceberg prologue. It was enough to see the penguins behaving erratically when their coastline – and therefore, their food supply – gets blocked. The second half of the movie containing these troubled scenes also involves penguins from other colonies/different species coming towards the crisis zone, most of these new characters leaving the scene because they’re found to be quite useless.
But what counts here are the characters, the movie’s saving grace. For some reason, Mumble and his wife Gloria’s (Pink) kid Erik (Ava Acres) do his own exploring where he inadvertently sees older penguins try to mate, the movie incorporating that adult subject into a universal theme of belonging that the young penguins yearn. As Mumble, Wood adds his eternal youthfulness, brave as a young father who’s perpetually learning and making unconventional friends along the way. Pink, replacing Brittany Murphy as Gloria is a more mature and altruistic presence in the colony, encouraging her family – and the young audience – to persevere in hard times. These characters teach kid-sized lessons but if that doesn’t satisfy you, at least it’s still a visual treat on the big screen.
- Happy Feet Two – review (guardian.co.uk)
Series idea via Tomas Sutpen. Yes, I should get tumblr but I just got a gmail this week. Baby steps. Yes, I am a copycat. Yes, I may have just helped you write a thesis. And yes, these shots summarize half of the movies they come from Check out the other half next week.
The Tree of Life is a film more expansive than director Terrence Malick‘s previous work. A quote from the Book of Job. A nebulous entity with an adult Jack O’Brien’s (Sean Penn) voice. The O’Briens losing their 19-year-old middle son R.L. to an unnamed war. Jack’s voice accompanying fast, neon lights. Urbanite Jack living his architect life, having a tense phone conversation with his father, lighting a candle to commemorate his brother’s death. Jack and his mother’s (Jessica Chastain) voices on a quest for answers as we see the world’s biological prehistory. Short moments of Jack’s mother as a child. Jack’s mother becoming Mrs. O’Brien because of a dashing man in a white navy uniform (Brad Pitt) and starting a family in Waco, Texas. Giving birth and being there as Jack, as a toddler, learns and experiences things for the first time.
I do stand by one thing about this movie – Jack’s father is an asshole, for some reason the scenes that feature him having more personal importance than others. Given the film’s length, it’s generous enough to show its audience a diverse set of moments including Mr. O’Brien’s, starting us off with his seemingly innocent sternness. But he inadvertently indoctrinates them in this world of machismo and class angst, strangely enough since it looks like they have nothing to complain about property-wise. The film also uses one scene for its audience to distrust and hate that character, to show that his relationship with his family might never be mended, despite keeping up appearances.
Mr. O’Brien is a monster but thanks to Pitt building a great character, he is not a violent caricature. Eventually, young Jack’s (Hunter McCracken) anger towards his father surfaces, and the latter’s reactions vary. It’s his human moments that make Mr. O’Brien more fearsome. We see Jack’s father through his eldest son’s flashbacks, a strong balance of a detailed, mature understanding and a childlike/adolescent fear. It’s more difficult for someone to be hurt a few times by someone who they love, knowing that a person is inseparable from the ones who cause them pain.
Mr. O’Brien isn’t the only character subjected through this impressionistic depiction. Mrs. O’Brien, her disgusted face at her mother(-in-law?)’s (Fiona Shaw) terrible advice showing us that she would blossom more if she was born ten years later and/or read Simone de Beauvoir. To her sons, she’s a playmate, and especially to Jack, she’s a teacher, an inadvertent target of Freudian tension, disciplinarian, a Saint Veronica and a terrible cook. Or young, cherubic R.L. (Laramie Eppler), trusting of Jack and doesn’t treat his older brother as a competitor. The two, with the neighourhood boys, play like they want to win Darwin Awards. They add subtle humour to the film’s spiritual and philosophical film, mixed with both a childhood and an inarticulate yet poetically working-class experience.
This voluminous film turns its audience into lucid viewers, observant of its every detail as well as making us ask why Jack doesn’t talk to his wife or father about these issues, why in such a big house would the three sons room together or why the youngest son is treated like a prop. Devoid of obvious musical cues or other director tricks, these stories are intertwined, devastating moments seamlessly mixed in with more idyllic ones, letting its audience judge what Jack’s life and inner thoughts are like, if the part about the world’s biological prehistory influences the way we look at the O’Briens as they love and hurt each other, and if the ending provides closure or not. 4.5/5
- Review: The Tree of Life (thestar.com)
I first saw Thelma and Louise in its entirety on AMC. Rape scenes should make the most of us uncomfortable, but what makes this one so unsettling is how its choereographed and lit. Medium close-up of Thelma (Geena Davis), medium close-up of salivating skeevy rapist Harlan, close-up of Thelma’s bum, close-up of feet as the two go on an unconsented paso doble, all of them back-lit. The third thing on the list got to my nerves because we’re watching the light fabric of her dress caressing her body, if you know what I mean. I haven’t watched the channel in a long time, but it has a glare-y finish than other channels, this scene is bright and for that matter the desert scenes are more arid. The second time I watched this was in CTV, and this time there’s less lighting in that scene and I notice the lighthing elsewhere.
Oh, and that Thelma’s body is depicted in the same objectified way when she makes love to a hitchhiker JD (Brad Pitt). Both men exploit her. I’m not sure how aware director Ridley Scott is of the similarities between the two scenes.
Jonathan Rosenbaum talked about the unpredictable verve that Davis and Susan Sarandon being in their nuanced performances, which matches the film’s electric unpredictability. The average shot length of the film is slightly more than six seconds and we can actually hear the dialogue, so the film is THAT set up. But the film produces a documentary tone with the cars and trucks along the road, like when the titular Thelma and Louise (Sarandon) make a pit stop while escaping the crime scene. On the interstate, their conversations with JD get interrupted by the trucks honking while they’re passing by.
Speaking of their first pit stop, there’s a lot of abject in this movie. Salivating men, vomit, the women’s faces bloodied or with stained make-up or dirty since they haven’t had a proper shower in forever, Thelma’s husband stepping on his pizza. Which also reminds me of their two transformations. One, that Thelma goes from being the one who has to hand over the money and dependence to Louise to being the gun-brandishing store robber. Two, that they came from dress-and-headscarf wearing Southern belles to women you’ve avoid if you happen to walk in to a Lynrd Skynrd concert, not that the latter is a bad thing, mind you.
I also noticed while screen capping the movie that the characters spend a lot of time talking on the phone, the women mostly talking to men (Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen). Unfortunately the women don’t hang up on time.
Everybody knows how the yuppie from the coffee shop died, and that as Joe Black, Brad Pitt can do a Jamaican accent. I started tuning into this movie when Joe’s fiending for peanut butter in Bill’s (Anthony Hopkins) kitchen, and slept before the end. And how is Joe the angel of death yet Bill has to tell him what’s right from wrong? This is mid-career Pitt, where most of his movies centred on how he looked. It was the 90’s when for some reason, everyone got away with ridiculous pre-Justin Bieber hair like that. Claire Forlani’s terrible and wooden which means, yes, I disagree with Mick LaSalle. Marcia Gay Harden’s character is the only redemption in this film, yet she still can’t convince me that she doesn’t mind being the favourite. This is a terrible movie, just take my word for it.
My childhood memories of The American President and its run on late 90’s HBO Asia was that Annette Bening as Sydney Wade is the most beautiful woman on earth, her glow of sanity here is unforgettable. Crazier roles almost made me forget, but rewatching is remembering. She cuddles to President Andrew Shephard (Michael Douglas) in the couch, the country loves her, they get all the votes they need. The perfect couple. I honestly didn’t remember how hostile the movie was.
And I don’t remember Sorkin writing the typical second act of a romance movie where the lovers are driven apart. Their differences are more political, as Shepherd’s Crime Bill conflicts with Wade’s fossil fuel bill. Let me remind you guys that this is 1995, when people still cared about the environment. Then people stopped caring, then Al Gore made people care again. The film’s a product of its left-leaning time. Another conflict within the film is how the Republican men labels Wade a ‘whore.’ How dare they! And she had red hair? And everyone else in this film has red hair?
Michael J. Fox is awesome here too. I never thought he could play an adult, but there you go. Aaron Sorkin is a great but with his characters-as-symbolic ideologies method, he’s not the best writer of TV and film. He does, however, know how to write explosive, eloquent dialogue. His America sounds more true than we think, one that doesn’t pay attention to sexual gossip of the Clinton era nor the Tea Party insanity of today. I just hope my country catches up. Also, Samantha Mathis and Anne Hathaway’s stepmother in Rachel Getting Married is in this movie.
Also, I never watched The West Wing“. I know Peggy’s in it, but I was 11. I liked stuff like Buffy and MTV. Give me a break.
Now to Fincher. I’m not the biggest fan of ubermasculinity and Fight Club is the cinematic version of a hockey bag. Yes, I’m turning down shirtless guys with that sentence. At the same time, I also resent that Project Mayhem promised so much but didn’t really happen, or that it kinda did but people turned away and instead defended the institutions that oppress them. But then again, if I ever joined a radical group like Project Mayhem, I’d cry if they took away my iPod. My whole life is in there!
I’ve had, however, fantasies about this scene, as an Asian who hates his job and secretly wants out.
Fight Club, not The Social Network, is Fincher’s most Wellesian film. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) inherits an empire and wants a newer, more radical, destructive, oppressive one of his own making. It’s liberating to blow up buildings of credit card companies, but a leader taking away individuality casts doubts. Yes, this movie was in my Imperialist Cinema class. This film also fits into my unorthodox education, corporate sculpture and bauhaus bourgeois being shoved away by performance art, performed by Project Mayhem.
And the shot composition, finding unconventional ways to light every shot, and often times there’s symmetry despite its baroque angles. And the colour, just like Se7en.
My mom has harped about how ugly Pitt is, an unfathomable concept to me until I rewatched this movie. As Tyler he’s both sexy and bruised, letting himself go as he sees fit. Speaking of Brad Pitt, this was a date movie. That’s as much as I’ll share.
Thinking this out, Fight Club might become my favourite Fincher instead of Zodiac all along. Also, I need to read Palahniuk’s book.
- Modern Maestros: David Fincher (filmexperience.blogspot.com)