…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “crime

Violent Rich People: Sexy Beast


I was passively watching Sexy Beast the weekend when I had Hot Docs going on and had a lot of backlog, but why not? This movie’s reputation will always be Gandhi Gone Wild, even though Ben Kingsley hasn’t been Gandhi in awhile. He character Don Logan eventually disappears between Spain and Heathrow turns heads in his gangster circle. As the movie’s odd thumb, not perfecting the working class in a ‘tacky suit’ (gangster class?) accent but he makes us pay attention when he puts belligerent on top of belligerent, gauging the right kind of distance between him and the camera and letting his bellows do the job. He brings the ‘David Mamet screenplay’ comparison to fruition, even though it’s reductive and only covers a certain portion of the latter playwright’s work in the 1990’s.

Being the odd link – being too strong might do that, you know – the movie surprisingly loses its energy without him. It all becomes just Ray Winstone‘s character Gal moping, even though he looks too tan, nouveau riche and dare I say attractive to do so. He gets flashbacks about his involvement in Don’s disappearance. In theory both actors are interchangeable for either character, but of course Kingsley has star power and Winstone’s bad boys can be boorish, toothy and one-dimensional for him to carry. It’s all for the relative best.

And again, despite of Kingsley contributing his energy and marquee billing, Winstone’s Gal fights for his right to control the movie’s tone. He’s not necessarily bored with the affluent life, stylistically shown within the movie, yet he and most of his colleagues too old to glamourize it. They’re simply comfortable with it. You can see it by the way he and most of the people interact with each other as opposed to connecting more with their spaces. I suppose that’s what class really means – indifference and being blase about the shiny objects and treasures while knowing that one has earned it.

I also can’t make certain of what I think of the ending, subverting previous expectations – which is probably Gal’s too – that it of it being a movie that belongs within a nihilistic genre. It’s equal parts lounge-y and angry, guilt being the final leg in the movie’s tonal triumvirate. He’s afraid that the gangster honour code would haunt him. Although one positive thing I can say about it is that it breaks the cycle of violence and revenge, which is something most these characters have wanted to do when they’ve reached a certain point. And Don never gets to that point, which is telling of how he ends up.


Scene: Le Cercle Rouge


Jean-Pierre Melville slowly worked himself up to become a master of the cinematic frame in his heist films, culminating to Le Cercle Rouge where he attains a balance between the visual and the narrative. There are many memorable images here, like the police doing a search of rural grounds or leggy nightclub dancers but my favourite will be the one where we’re introduced to Yves Montand‘s character. A secret door opens in his bedroom and animals make their way to his bed, these reptiles and other creepy crawlies symbolic of something haunting this ex-police officer. It’s style and terror within the same scene, making its audience sweat. That or maybe I like that shade of blue.


Scenes: John Singleton’s Shaft


Search ‘cluster fuck’ in the dictionary and you will find John Singleton’s ‘re-imagination’ of the 70’s classic Shaft. The movie tries to deliver an all-star cast into a violent pool of bullets, beatings and stabbings. Ryan G. Helms was just talking about this. This is especially true around the movie’s sixty-five minute mark with a scene portraying Shaft’s botched rescue of mysterious star witness Diane Palmieri (Toni Collette). She lives in a pier, for some reason. Anyway, I also love how she’s wearing a leather jacket at home, coincidentally well-prepared for any time like now when she has to escape. When she does, all she does is react to the violence around her, as anyone else in the same situation would.

The swift close up zoom on her is reminiscent of the 70’s camera work and aesthetic. We the audience also get the earlier decade’s vibe from the amentioned leather jackets and the music but it feels as if the movie just tacks on these motifs. Calling this movie Shaft sort of elevates this movie. Without the title it would look like a directionless action/crime movie that came a year too late.

“Yo get the BROAD in the fucking car in!” Ok, Busta Rhymes as Rasaan, a second generation Trinidadian or an American with Trini affectations. You’re such a worry wort.

Hey look! There’s also Peoples Hernandez played by Geoffrey Wright. In both the actor’s incarnations as the gangster and the nerd, he will always be the poor man’s Laurence Fishburne. But only Wright had the body and the audacity to pull off a white outfit like that, with histrionic wailing and self-stabbing, reacting to his brother’s accidental and instant death.

See?

“It’s fucked,” Dan Hedaya weighs in with unintentional hilarity. The most exciting four minutes of those people’s lives, thirty seconds of which is Diane and Shaft crossing a street.

And the thing is Christian Bale isn’t even in this scene. He is in others where his character deals with Peoples and his drugs and a memorable one that stuck out when I was younger. The one in the beginning taking place in a lounge/restaurant, playing Walter Wade Jr., a pompous, rich yet crass character that a younger James Marsden would have played. He throws remarks across the room to where Trey Howard (Mekhi Phifer) is sitting, his racism seeming both out of the decade’s context yet timeless, like many tensions between groups of people in any fictional world. Blame the third world child of my past for that skewed perspective.

When Shaft enters the crime scene, he sees blood on Diane’s chin. She doesn’t talk because she seems like she’s also hiding things on her own.


Daughter: Leon The Professional


Luc Besson‘s Leon: The Professional is part of the ‘wave’ of crime movies from the mid-to-late 90’s that I’m hesitant to (re)visit because of its violent fan boy reputation. Though it’s respectably well-shot in the beginning, especially in its first cleaning – or assassination – scene perpetrated by its quick eponymous hero (Jean Reno). Although he’s a physically trained man in his forties, he’s also meek, childlike and his self-imposed isolation – in New York City nonetheless – doesn’t help in ironing out his quirks. And you know he’s lonely because there’s nondiagetic European accordion music in the background trying to get empathy out of the audience, exposing how dated and uneven this film’s tone could be.

Next door to Leon’s apartment is Mathilda (Natalie Portman, living with an abusive family situation. Buying groceries for herself and volunteering to buy Leon’s two quarts of milk, she arrives too late for her family’s massacre by the corrupt DEA officer Stansfield (campy Gary Oldman). The street-smart girl ignores the thugs bringing the bloodshed walks forward to Leon’s apartment, persistently asking to be let in while ringing the doorbell and crying. Leon finally relents, white light shining on her face, bringing the film’s first redeemable moment. This is one of the moments in the film that remind us of the way her face strongly evinces emotion in her future movies as an adult. She’s also intense when she attacks her violent or sexual lines with determination, smoothness and an uncanny maturity.

After opening the door for her, Mathilda gives Leon an ultimatum to let her live with him teach her how to clean, threatening him with her alternative – death in the hands of Stansfield. But in a way, entering his apartment is equally an ultimatum for her, feeling a nix of Freudian resentment towards her new father figure and his closed-up, workaholic, machine-like nature. Fortunately, she elbows her own version of childhood naiveté, allocating some well-needed play-time in their routine. They squirt each other with water or impersonating pop-culture icons, finally makes us understand that this movie is like what would happen if Jacques Tati directed an action film. And then the guns go satisfying blazing.


The Lovers: Malick’s “Badlands”


ph. Warner

My dad thinks he’s cool. He’d tell me about how his dad was too cheap to buy him the disco suits all the other teenagers wore so he had to settle with and rock the white T-shirt and jeans like Martin Sheen in the 1970’s. They showed a Martin Sheen movie on TV in the Philippines, the actor strutting down a back street, squinting his way into nonchalant cool. His working-class anti-fashion fitting his body properly like it only does with the young. I didn’t know back then that Dad was introducing me to one of the most revered auteurs of all time, tackling a subject I shouldn’t be watching. I’m not sure he knew neither. His hair’s as long and parts the same way like my dad too.

Matt Zoller Seitz, in a video essay about Terrence Malick‘s Days of Heaven, said that it was ‘like the greatest novel James M. Cain never wrote.’ Those words seem more fitting with his earlier film Badlands, with Kit as a good old boy who has his own set of ethics that makes sense even in its contradictions. Sheen, harking back to James Dean, presents a different, naturalistic version of old-school. He’s masculine in his rebellion while childlike in thinking over the rules and consequences of his crimes. He arbitrarily knows when to stop playing and doesn’t feel remorse about being caught.

If Kit, in his simplicity, is consistent, Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) is the opposite and constantly changes. Although she’s never convinced me as an infantile 15-year-old, she’ not so mature nor womanly neither. We’d think that by the time they run away, she’d ditch her Southern princess behaviour, but instead of a linear evolution, her outlook has different waves. Sometimes she’d be like his female counterpart or wear a bandanna on her head, looking like a 1950’s housewife. At other times she’s a stubborn doll, enacting her unrefined yet legitimate rebellion against Kit.

I didn’t realize that a Malick film was used as sartorial inspiration, but it’s genius. This is also his most narrative film so far. There’s the traditional landscape imagery, using more textures and colour palettes than his other, later films do. But nonetheless the two young rebels stand out within the backgrounds as well the exciting shoot-up scenes that most crime films would have. Badlands is showing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at June 14 at 9:30 PM as part of the venue’s retrospective on the director.


Shots of Fantasy: Heavenly Creatures


ph. Miramax

This post is for Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.

The second time I saw Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was on the big screen, brought by CINSSU in the winter of 2008. Peter Kuplowsky introduced it, saying that this movie never gets shown in its proper format and getting it on 35 and screening it will do the film justice. Which makes my best shot above gloriously majestic. Peter Jackson doesn’t need to go the extra mile to show the girls’ fantasy world. This shot, instead, is all about inclusion, Jackson including Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Yvonne (Melanie Lynskey), making them as small as the unicorns on the right hand side. They’re immersed into the fantasy instead of being its voyeur, legitimizing the [ETA] Fourth World’s tangibility.

It’s a self-imposed challenge that if I haven’t written about the movie on my blog, I have to rewatch it. By 7:06 PM of the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I would have seen this movie a whopping four times. On Facebook, Chris D. Mischs called it an ‘ugly’ movie. This is the first time I have heard the movie being called that, and it let me cloud my mind. But I guess it’s a marvel that it took that fourth time for me to see its flaws, like the pans or zooms ending with either Juliet or Paul of them turning around to face the camera that makes the film less naturalistic. Or when Juliet exclaims ‘That’s great!’ while finding out that Pauline can break into the latter’s dad’s safe for their fare money. Which leads us to how this movie is about two hormonal teenagers who act without hesitation, and the queer politics involving them and their crime.

the Kurosawa shot

I did see positive aspects of the film. Its cinematic references, despite the obvious one from The Third Man to the subtle homages to Throne of Blood and the Sound of Music. How Winslet, although imperfect in this film, can seamlessly switch from one emotion to another. Or that yes, Lynskey and Sarah Peirse look the same but I never realized how much the actress who plays Juliet’s mom looks much like Winslet herself.

My second and third viewings made me assume that Juliet is the dominant person in the relationship, the one with the nice big mansion. Paul hangs on to her every word, subscribing to Juliet’s fantasies and crushes, but she does get to hold the reins too, like when she tells Juliet that her breath smells like onions. Juliet couldn’t have suggested to kill Paul’s mom (Peirse), Paul did. There’s even the moment when Juliet hesitates in the act but Paul looks at her as if to do her part. It’s the same ambivalence when I watched it those second and third times. My focus then was on Paul’s relationship with her mom. The second time, I sided with Mom, the third with Paul.

I first saw this film when I was ten or eleven, airing on a local channel. Winslet became more recognizable worldwide because of Titanic, and for some reason I remember her movies being played a lot back in the Philippines. The opening scene just shocked me. Kate wasn’t just the girl in Titanic, she was an actress.

I can’t remember any other time I’ve felt that in between then and now. I guess that means I’m easy to impress, put a little blood and screaming and I’m captivated. I’ve noticed that except for two movies, she’s always made great entrances. Whether she adds scenes that top the first one or not, I’d still remember how her character is introduced and rely on either the pathos or enthusiasm there. And good God can the girl cry.

How did this movie slip through the cracks of the Philippine censorship board? Back then I thought that everything in Hollywood spoon-fed me was great, but movies like this gave me a new criterion for what makes a great film, a criterion that I stood by until my second year in University – the more fucked up a movie is, the better. Which is obviously reductive, since I needed the few more viewing to appreciate its cinematography, pacing, acting and all of that.

It also felt rebellious as a boy who has yet to discover his sexuality to have seen two characters who cross the line without blatantly calling themselves that. I distinctly implanted the close-up of the psychiatrist’s teeth as he diagnoses Juliet and Paul with the condemning word ‘homosexuality,’ and back then I defended them as not homosexuals because I thought their intense and pure friendship shouldn’t bear that denigrating title, which reflects my innocence or ignorance on the subject itself and that they weren’t homosexuals because they didn’t look the part.

On Ingrid Randoja’s seminar last year because I’m so cool, she noted this as one of canonical lesbian films in the gay 90’s. This and the one with Jennifer Tilly where she and her girlfriend kills someone too. Which again subverts my recent reading that it’s one of those ‘gays who KILL’ movies. I still don’t know how to feel about a movie that packages a stereotype differently. Despite the little flaws that I see now, watching this film is like the girls seeing the Fourth World. It’s something radical and I hope it’s not too much to thank Jackson and the actors for making a movie that shook my world.


The Sting


ph. Universal

Mixing golden age filmmaking techniques and new Hollywood’s colourful realism, The Sting is more form conscious than director George Roy Hill’s earlier films. Meaning that this film also has enough wipes and page wipes for ten Kurosawa films. Both wipe montage overloads portray Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) getting makeovers and a new apartment. The latter montage also depicts Hooker’s new partner Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) gathering people for a con. Each of these people are like chapters in a book that we skip to see the exciting part of them performing their sleight of hand. Their mark is a gangster named Doyle Lonegan (Robert Shaw). These montages are accompanied by a ragtime score, the conflicts given a lighter mood.

There’s also a lot of running in this movie, mostly from Johnny’s part, having to leave Joliet, Illinois for Chicago to avenge the death of his former partner. He’s being chased by authorities and hitmen who have been on him since he has moved. There are guns involved and the clicking sound of Johnny’s shoes eerily makes the audience a little afraid for him. The camera follows Johnny enough for us to see Redford’s athleticism. There are also quick zoom outs from the gunmen, whether they’re on top of a subway platform or within hallways or back alleys behind a diner. Even if they’re looming they can never catch up to Johnny.

I started to understand why this won over Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers for Best Picture in 1973. There’s little quips from Johnny’s girlfriend, blaming her wasted training on her orchestra instead of her trip numbers. That could be overread as a satire on class boundaries in Depression-era America, but we can accept it as an incidental humour that’s as real because it’s delivered in little strokes. It’s a very masculine film, honestly portraying man in its different stages, from Lonegan’s bravado at the poker table to Gondorff wasting away before he and Johnny can get their acts together. There are red herrings before the winners bring out their Hollywood smiles, and most of us won’t have it any other way.