I’m Finished! Cunningham’s The Hours
I’ve seen Stephen Daldry‘s The Hours yea ago.
A movie that has an imprint on my brain. Its deep vibrancy and visuals to show the spark within its three protagonists, all of them connected with Virginia Woolf and her novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” I remember the dialogue and arguments that the characters have with each other, the camera’s close-ups towards these women and the object that surround them.
The parks where Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) strolls to after discovering her first sentence to “Dalloway.” Laura Brown’s (Julianne Moore) colourful suburbs and one-time hotel room that she rents before she resumes her duty as housewife for her husband Dan’s (John C. Reilly) birthday. How Clarissa ‘Dalloway’ Vaughn (Meryl Streep) taps her chin with her finger before doing her chores, walking all over the cold and polished grit of Manhattan to prepare for the party she’s throwing for her poet ex-boyfriend Richard (Ed Harris), starting with deciding to but the flowers herself.
And there’s the other common element among the main characters – their female love interests, unrequited and fleeting for both Virginia and Laura. Vanessa (Miranda Richardson), who has three young children and is a better and more benevolent head of the household than her sister Virginia. Kitty (Toni Collette), the well-built yet childless and possibly cancer-stricken housewife next door to Laura with a husband grosser than Dan. And Sally (Alison Janney) who gets to go to dinners with a recently outed action star named Oliver St. Ives. The three having this aura and presence when they walk into a room even if they’re arguably less beautiful than the women who pine for them. It was the early 2000’s and despite the lamented decline of queer content then, this is one of the instances when queer cinema was becoming mainstream.
One of the entries in the trivia section of the movie’s iMDb page: “Although the widely perceived notion was that Michael Cunningham‘s original novel was felt to be unfilmable, adapter David Hare actually thought it was effortlessly cinematic.”After seeing the movie, I read the book to find out.
Hare and Daldry make subtle changes to the story, setting Laura and Clarissa’s story lines two years later than they are in the novel. Clarissa’s Manhattan feels more autumn than June. The movie excises characters like St. Ives and Mary Krull. And sure I had reservations about casting like Moore who is older than Laura. Reilly, despite being well-groomed, is on the schlubby end instead of being in the middle ground of schlub and war veteran as the novel suggests. Clarissa’s competition Louis who is seemingly smaller than Jeff Daniels. Claire Danes has to wear chunky sweaters to remind us that she’s Julia, Clarissa’s Viking-like daughter. But they bring such effortless life and well-rounded nature to these characters.
The novel stays with each protagonist for a longer section of time while we see each women reluctantly start their days. The movie is otherwise loyal with the book’s interwoven time lines, such as portraying what happens to Clarissa before showing how Laura has caused them.
Sentence structures look simple until Cunningham’s urban sense kicks in. He describes the places where the characters live, putting his reader into each world and making us shift our eyes from one building into another, into the sky, making us hear the loud sounds or the silences. The writing evokes the few morsels of Virginia Woolf’s prose that I’ve read both in this novel and in college readings. He pulls out from detail to a bigger picture, these transitions within the paragraph read as easy as Woolf would push in the other way.
It’s also very object-oriented, especially in the novel’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ sections. There, he explains the bourgeois exoticism and how Clarissa likes things like her flowers to appear wild, even if everything is clean and arranged. Equally he writes how detached she is with things like her dishes that feel like her girlfriend Sally’s instead of hers, the same way the other main characters feel dissatisfied and awkward with their own relative comforts and successes. There are still traces of unhappiness in Clarissa’s life even though she’s supposedly the symbol of progress that feels so fleeting that the fictional Virginia and Laura couldn’t grasp it in their minds.
There is also less dialogue in the novel, as if it wants Virginia and Laura to share a kiss and a love for a woman or for Clarissa to successfully negotiate the power dynamic between her and her few guests. I like that the movie lets the characters air their stuff out with each other and let their pathos be more visceral and verbal. Of course that’s the only choice since two people staring or firing short sentences at each other in a room seems anti-cinematic. That makes me sound like a Philistine, right?
- Michael Cunningham discusses The Hours (guardian.co.uk)
Princess Mononoke’s Voices
It feels somehow mean that instead of writing about the aesthetic principles of an anime film like Hayao Miyazaki‘s Princess Mononoke, I talk about the voice acting. And it’s not the Japanese voice-acting too, which apparently can only be obtained through a year’s negotiations and waiting and that would have been too expensive. Yet, here I am. Not an expert here, but there is some Noh theatricality bleeding into the Japanese style of film acting down to Kurosawa. Having new, English-language voices then means starting from scratch.
I saw this movie with a friend who told me that Bill Bob Thornton plays a monk. Otherwise I knew nothing about the cast, so throughout the movie I keep trying to figure that out. Was that Tom Cruise as Ashitaka? Angelina Jolie as Lady Eboshi? Drew Barrymore as Princess Mononoke? Julianne Moore as Moro (actually Gillian Anderson)? Is my hearing that bad?
Growing up in Manila, I’m normally greeted at home by anime cartoons, most would have the typical character interpretations, the raspy angry voices of the old and the chipper sounds of the young. Not in the English-language dubbing of this film. At the same time, it’s hard to show the flexibility of facial expressions in animation, and the main characters aren’t drawn to move with large gestures neither. For example, Billy Bob Thornton‘s Jigo is raspy too, but looking like an old fat man he sounds neither. He instead makes Jigo sound like a cynic instead of a uniformly bad person I would have imagines in the supposed evil Western lands where Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) is traveling. Jigo’s humourous even at the film’s most nerve-wracking moments. His realistic worldview makes Ashitaka realize that his quest as just gotten more complex than he might have expected.
And then there’s Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi. She yells in her first scene. Otherwise, she doesn’t need to raise her voice in front of even the male soldiers. They just have her full attention. Despite laughing at Ashitaka’s face, she spends her night with him by explaining her herself without having to prove herself. She’s like a mother to the residents of her Irontown, later attempting to show her men how to kill a god. ‘The trick is not to fear him.’ Her calm demeanor makes us confident that she knows what she’s doing throughout the film.
Driver and Thornton’s characterizations stand out because they seem for the most part the exception to the rules that I forget that there are two performances that are. And I don’t want this to come across as scorn with praise. Anyway, there’s Claire Danes‘ Princess Mononoke/San, and it makes sense for her to yell through half of the film. San is Eboshi’s enemy. She’s more confused and angry about Ashitaka’s ambivalent allegiances, because of her feelings for him. The deaths of her allies and the destruction of her world don’t help neither. The change of environment brings the worst out of her identity crisis, a human desperately wanting to fit in with her wolf family. Danes also interprets San as someone stuck in girlhood, that even her calmest line reads are filled with misanthropy and rage.
Ok, so maybe the older characters are calmer while the younger ones are more spirited. Which explains Crudup’s Ashitaka, but he comes across more as gallant yet commanding. Which doesn’t explain Jada Pinkett-Smith‘s Toki, a passionate character, loyal to Eboshi. She’s left alone with the other prostitutes to defend Irontown. She takes on herself as the character who leads the women out into safety, becoming as maternal as her role model. Pinkett-Smith as well as the other actors add a universality to this movie.
p.s. I know what I want for Christmas.
There’s nothing real about this movie. As Wesley Morris wrote of the spin and sweep and woosh of the camera, trying to depict a vast magical world, it’s all CGI. When the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) fails to kill literally fallen star Yvaine (Claire Danes) and belts that big scream, the camera didn’t need to zoom and fly up. The movie turned a human moment – for a witch – into a technical exercise.
Fine, maybe a few things and real. First is the iceberg-laden beach scene with Prince Septimus (Mark Strong). This movie’s a great outing for him. His line read of ‘Do your work for my brother,’ is amazing, just evoking ruthlessness. Evil doesn’t break a sweat. He also fights out teenage hero Tristan while his body’s supposed to be dead, and I bought his physicality.
Then this scene where Tristan and Yvaine are just walking. There are other scenes like floating ships and craters that need CGI, or the latter just being shot in a set or something and again, no need to zoom out till later. Actual locations. Too much to ask? Just tone the CGI down, please.
I also totally didn’t get the Claire Danes hate until this movie. While she’s confessing her love to Tristan in the form of a mouse, she oversells it. Her face uncontrollably twists and she produces little bumps on her face that I never thought was humanly possible.
Other than the one scene and one b-roll, the movie had finer moments in Captain Shakespeare (Robert de Niro). His performance and hammy yet adorable. However, for British movie with a half-American cast, the accents aren’t that bad. Thank God for the generation of Carey Mullgan though, when British characters can be played by British actresses again.
I changed the channel 15 minutes before the end of the movie, and frankly, I can probably guess how it ends.
And oh hai, Ricky Gervais. I guess Andy Millman’s meeting with Robert de Niro worked out fine.