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Posts tagged “British actresses

What things do you like?


‘Christmas,’ exclaims Louisa. “My Favourite Things,” a song from the infamously jolly movie musical The Sound of Music, reflects the bucolic existences of the nun turned governess Maria Rainer (Julie Andrews), and the kids get this too, Marta naming pussy willow (?) as one of her favourite things. She’d fit in well in Berlin. Liesl (Charmian Carr) names ‘telegrams,’ not just indicating Rolf, the creepy boy who sends them, but she also breaks the pastoral spell and naming something modern and technological. She’s becoming a modern woman, a potential improvement on Maria herself.

ph. Fox

Kurt names ‘snakes,’ reminding Maria of his earlier pranks with her and showing that the kids aren’t devoid of personality after all. I’ve been watching movies where the main/’supporting’ characters listen to others to understand them, simply enough. Later in the film, a wet Maria shows her master Captain Georg (Christopher Plummer) that she’s been doing her homework with the kids and that she’s one step ahead of him.

This movie’s very much maligned, a friend of mine actually saying that if William Wyler directed the thing, the film would be more veracious with its time. And he’s not alone.  But this movie is set in 1938. It accurately portrays an antebellum, when characters declare war through whispers, speculations and accusations, when the rich worry about their trifles and of what’s to come. Georg spanking his children is potentially as frightening as the Nazi ‘spider’ banners. It’s just as human to see joy in frightful times, while it’s insulting if a movie about say, our times is full of characters who are constantly depressed. A movie, like a nation, is allowed to reimagine its Arcadian past while anticipating is future, right?

Lastly, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the reprise for “The Sound of Music” sounds like it could fit well within a Summer of Love setting or concert. But then Captain had to ruin it, but not as much as these guys did.

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Neverending Christmas: Shreks


I already complained about watching the Shrek trilogy on twitter and did it anyway. The sharp comedy that turned itself into a cliché simply by existing again and again and again. We watched the first one in Grade 9 religion class, I think.

ph. Dreamworks

One thing about lobbing off one gag on top of another is that one will eventually make you laugh. Or that on repeated viewings, you’ll actually laugh about the one you forgot about. Such as when the recently rescued Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) opens the new morning with a series of vocalizations. She sings with a beautiful blue bird. We know what’s coming. She intentionally sings with such pitch and volume that the bird explodes. She takes the bird’s eggs, and there’s a mixture of solemnity instead of pushing the gag. And you know, Fiona the 0rge cancels out how this movie’s supposed to be about couples who don’t look good together.

The best in show/scene for the second installment goes to British comedy queen Jennifer Saunders, who plays Fiona’s fairy god mother. In order to get Fiona to marry her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), she locks Shrek up on Fiona’s childhood bedroom. She mocks his cries out for her. Great delivery.

Ooh, Shrek the human’s (Mike Myers) kinda hot. Looking back two paragraphs ago, yes, it’s a sad North American staple for a hot woman to be paired with Kevin James . That got my weird brain to thinking about what my former prof said about masculinity being the absence of performance. Both in ogre and broad-shouldered human form, Shrek is more acceptable as a masculine figure. Especially than his arch nemesis Charming, one of the gags involve the latter whipping his hair, feminizing the character. Even Fiona sees something wrong with Charming, pretending to be the transformed Shrek, mugging for the citizens’ attention at her royal wedding.

The theme of the masculine duality between Shrek and Charming rides on up to the third installment. It makes sense that Charming’s in a fairy tale version of a dive bar until you really think about it. He thus tries to rectify that wrong by getting the other bar patrons, fairy tale villains, to sign up to invade Far Far Away. I mean, what’s stopping him? It’s not like Shrek can function in his royal duties anyway.

I like the first half of the third movie. It was my first time seeing it, so the gags feel fresh. There’s a feminist spin to it – as Charming rounds up the villains, Fiona rallies her fairy tale princess BFF’s, who are normally passive and wait for a…prince charming. This came out when I was in summer school. For a class I was watching some old movie either about the Algerian resistance or one about a depressed Senegalese maid. Yes, I could have rebelliously written an essay about either of those movies AND Shrek 3.


Pikes on Bikes


Director Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham owes John de Borman’s creamy, pastel cinematography and balanced lighting that eases the transition from the fictional film to the 1960’s newsreel-like footage in both colour and black and white.

ph. Sony Pictures Classics

The first scene shows protagonist Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) riding a bicycle to her job at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England. I remember those bicycle scenes when an American senior at Ford threatens labour minister Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) to withdraw, I recall 40,000 jobs that Ford gives to the United Kingdom. The only character I remember having a car is upper-class Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike). Rita’s coworker Brenda (Andrea Riseborough) also as a quick scene in a Ford, although the car’s ownership isn’t explicitly revealed. I assumed that the company at the time wouldn’t give cars to their workers either for free or for cheaper like they would in Detroit. The company has thus treated the British more as labourers than consumers, and I wonder whether Barbara has caught into this. That or the English and just weird and prefer bikes. The cars don’t fit within the housing apartments in the London suburb anyway.

Hawkins, Riseborough and the other actresses make for good activists. I expect some of the audience to wonder how a meek wife like Hawkins’ Rita to become a loud mouthed expert demagogue. From experience, having a working class job and pointing their eyes and ears in the right directions turn these women from just workers to masters of knowing union rights. The film portray these women at the tail end of their patience, rapidly having the courage to demand equal pay. Rita beautifully portrays the workers’ voice, a character who has experience at the factory and years of pent-up personal anger – e.g. having to deal with her son’s condescending school teacher – to be able to speak up to union presidents and even Barbara without hesitating.

Another way of looking at this feminist courage is looking at the actresses’ CV’s, both Hawkins being busy playing another woman going against the grain and Pike playing another not-your-average perfect wife. How do they do the same things, fail in other movies yet excel here? Is this because the constraints of ‘unique’ storytelling from the other films isn’t found here, surprisingly freeing both actresses to do more? Or because they’re in the driver’s seat, letting the audience see the characters react from one situation to another instead of male actors reacting to them?

Hearing the word ‘feminist’ in describing a film might turn audiences away, fearing that a movie like this will be about the female characters against the men. The men are mostly ‘icky,’ but there are defectors from both sides. There’s Rita’s husband (Daniel Mays) who needed a little convincing and Lisa who was suspected of fighting with her husband, who happens to be a superior at Ford. Thankfully, the characterizations are more subtle and they don’t behave like they have jerseys or labels behind their backs.


Nowhere Boy


Normally in films the audience has to wait five minutes to suck us in, but instead Nowhere Boy ‘wows’ us in the beginning with its cinematography, and we have director Sam Taylor-Wood and cinematographer Seamus McGravey to thank for that. This is the fifties, after all. I also kept imagining the film in black and white because of the photographic quality of the shots. Yet colour fits better in capturing the bright, breezy energy of a much younger John Lennon (Aaron Johnson). The film depicts beauty without making its contemplation necessary, since the audience follows a rebellious schoolboy around his hometown at the same time.

Then comes characters with emotional resonance and dimension. John is funny, selfish and gives and gets love unconventionally. The darkness within his cheery mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) appears within her first real encounter of her son in years, as Duff’s  impresses with her characterization of Julia as a broken vessel of repression. John’s aunt and guardian Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) is stern while trying to please a teenager who sometimes takes her for granted. All three powerfully contend with changing allegiances, portraying human irrationality brought on by love without making their characters seem inconsistent.

I also like how they can sometimes miss other characters’ cues. When John’s new friend and band mate Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) talks about how the latter’s mother ‘would have loved’ his music, he doesn’t at first understand what he’s hinting at. Or when Paul plays the banjo in a solemn gathering at Julia’s house. The script perfectly captures the fragmented relationships. The young (and young at heart like Julia) who have strong feeling and angry impulses, innocent, sometimes ignorant about others which, thankfully, doesn’t stop them from trying to connect with each other.

Lastly, this movie is secretly about the 80’s, or what might have influenced English-speaking culture decades later from the film’s setting, although I don’t really have enough space here to explain that. Of course, it was interesting to watch John dressing up like Elvis or Buddy Holly. The British borrow from American rock ‘n’ roll icons, and as we watch this film we remember that it shows the first stop to John and Paul’s evolution, their sound and look changing within and after their seminal band’s run.


Albert, the Modern King


I found two brilliant starting points in The King’s Speech, both marking many of the film’s themes without overselling them. The first is the microphone, modernity, technology, what Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome. On the surface, the radio is another way to scrutinize the volatile monarchy, especially with Albert who has a stammer. His father George V would say that the wireless means that they have to ‘invade people’s homes with our voice.’ George’s words also imply that the king’s job now needs interpersonal skills. Connecting with the commoners.

The royal court doesn’t realize that modernity is Albert’s best friend. Speaking to the microphone with his ears covered in headphones, his stammer’s gone. The phonograph is a mirror-like device, making him see his potential. There’s another modern innovation that helps him – psychiatry. His wife Queen Elizabeth (the charming Helena Bonham-Carter) hires a speech instructor, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who actually asks why he has a stammer instead of yelling at him or making fun of him. That’s what he needs to overcome his impediment and helping him out of being an ‘incompetent’ king, or worse, being self-destructive.

Leading me to Firth’s performance. His Albert has a temper and the things he yells might make him sound like a spoiled brat. He even puts a heart at moments when he can be unsympathetic, like telling Lionel he’s a nobody. Instead he reacts to Lionel and to the other characters like a person constantly prodded, a man with a secret world where he’s funny, personable, a good king.

My second favourite moment is when Lionel walks on the stage to audition for “Richard III.” This shows an improvement on Hooper’s earlier work, where a male friendship has main and supporting roles. Her he has his own failures, which is why they relate to each other. Instead of Albert predictably hilariously talking Lionel’s ear off, Lionel equally reveals his own pathos, thus helping each other to be stronger.

The Richard III audition thematically brings about  the ‘monster’ who wants the spotlight. Like the Shakespearean character, the characters here openly discuss how wrong it feels for Bertie to be kingly. His brother David, or King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) finds something malicious in his speech therapy and even antagonizes him for it, leading him to regress. Lionel also brings up the possibility, which leads to the most devastating argument they would have in the film. Nonetheless, they know it’s  inevitable and they have to accept him despite his imperfections.

Nonetheless, Bertie’s doubts creep on him. In one of those scenes, he argues that he has no power yet he has to do all this publicity work. The film had to make a stance, either lying to the audience that the king was the most influential, politically powerful figure in the war or stick to self-improvement and make that Bertie’s outlook, no matter the ramifications. That final self-doubt scene adds either ambivalence or ambiguity. I’m picking the latter even if it’s still a minor problem.

Kudos to the acting, hair and make-up because I didn’t realize until the final credits that Michael Gambon plays George V and Timothy Spall plays Churchill, both of whom add subtle performances of a solidly acted, layered and funny film that humanizes the royal figure. While everyone else is quoting Black Swan, I’m quoting this movie. 4.5/5.


100: Breaking the Waves


Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) petitions to an all-male Christian council to be married to an outsider, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard). She tells them that the outsiders are good because of their music, her eyes telling the camera that she isn’t talking about music at all. It’s already been established that her community’s very patriarchal, that even in the beginning, a beloved member of a community and her family will be addressed with the words ‘Hold your tongue, woman.’ Or that women in her community are not allowed to discuss questions during church like men. Or that this society relegates women to waiting for their men for long periods of time as they go to work on the rigs. These first scenes already denote the film’s themes – a young woman’s blossoming sexuality clashing with patriarchal suffocation. In no way do these scenes prepare us for the film’s second half, putting Bess in an emotional roller coaster on earth previously unimaginable.

Women are forbidden to go to funerals. Antony Dod Mantle (not pictured, not that I know) will rise again to win an Oscar.

Bess has put a heart on November 26 on her calendar, marking Jan’s scheduled return. She lets out a childlike outburst when she finds out that her sister Dodo has ripped and hidden the calendar. She wrestles with God (Watson in a deeper voice, don’t ask) for her husband to return ten days before he’s supposed to come. God tells her that she’s changed but nonetheless grants her wish. I watched the movie on November 27,  thirty something years and a day after Jan’s supposed to come back.

I’ve had at least a week to think about the film’s ending. Sure she didn’t plan for her husband’s debilitating injury. Nonetheless, Bess got the best possible escape to her situation. I wish I can have someone to politely argue against this film with me. I’m usually good to subscribe to feminist, politically correct readings that speak out against auteur’s misogyny. Yes, showing a woman being oppressed isn’t enough to be the equivalent of a statement that women shouldn’t be oppressed, as many aueturs and apologist critics and film writers have lazily tried to argue. von Trier, from the only other movie I’ve seen of his, gives his women 150 seconds of victory to erase 150 minutes of degradation. It’s up to you the audience to buy that, which I do. Yes, change is the only way to combat a patriarchal society. Yes, Bess is still dead. However, it’s not as if Bess can move to New York City and burn her bra. Yet her sacrifices ensured her husband’s convalescence who in turn can defend her right for a proper burial. Dodo eviscerating the men at Bess’ funeral seems satisfying. Lastly, von Trier successfully makes his audience believe that Bess did go to heaven. I know I should have a problem with the material, but I don’t.


Tamara Drewe


Loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,” ‘Tamara Drewe’ isn’t that visually interesting. The blue-tinted flashbacks compared to present day warm hues, the non-split screen between characters. Those two things don’t seem groundbreaking at all. The film’s first thirty-five minutes merely introduces the characters. The titular character (Gemma Arterton), a swan of a journalist back in town with a new nose job. She also owns a house that is originally owned by the working class Andy (Luke Evans). Two teenagers, Jody (Jessica Barden) and the other one, read gossip magazines. A mix of novelists, Glen (Bill Camp) and Nicholas (Roger Allam) stay at a country house and rock stars like Ben (Dominic Cooper) and muscular help. Like the source material, Tamara scandalously has relationships between two men who are wrong for her while the right, gruff one, in the case Andy, is waiting to become the third.

ph. OutNow

Before we get to that inevitable end, there are a lot of subplots and minor characters colouring the film. Jody spies on Tamara and disapproves of the latter’s relationship with Ben, hilariously saying ‘She can’t love him. I’ve loved him since March.’ That’s when the film really begins. The film’s style of comedy isn’t selling Britishness and is more universal. We have campy adolescent humour. We have Nicholas, an otherwise successful crime novelist and his physical output on the frustration of his old life and a new life he can’t have. Glen also has a few quips delivered so subtly that it took me fourteen hours to realize that they were poop jokes.

I do feel ambivalent about the film’s understanding of love –  I hinted about this already in the first paragraph. On one perspective, love is a step higher than friendship. One’s words of approval sparks the other’s love even if this other person isn’t filmed to have that eureka ‘I love her’ moment. Tamara trusts Andy on what to do with ‘her’ house. Nicholas’ wife Beth (Tamsin Grieg) tells the dejected Glen that if he writes the way he talks about Thomas Hardy, it makes the man more interesting. Another thing about those encounters is that the women ave the upper hand without purposely asserting it, and their words are given more attention to than the men’s reactions. On the other hand, the film lets the characters end up with their true loves and wants the audience to believe this should work because they have been badly matched with others.

Nonetheless, the films’ funny and engaging, moreso than the ‘epic’ Julie Christie film in the 60’s. Although Alan Bates‘ character seems more like a realistic cute-enough working class man than Andy, who looks like less embarrassing version of Fabio. I take the lot of good with the bad.