Facebook Movie Preparation!
This wasn’t intentional, but on separate days before I watched a film where Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher teamed up, I watched two movies where both men create their own utopias.
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)
“Empress” Double Bill
(Poor little rich girl ph. secret)
My English teacher in high school pretty much said that you can write a unifying topic about any two texts. I’ve used that spirit in this blog, and it’s been useful while watching both “The Young Victoria, out on DVD last Tuesday, and “Alice in Wonderland.” My focus is not on how good they are. “Young Victoria” is passable and “Alice in Wonderland” sucks donkey. I thought at first that the Queen Mother documentary and my kooky mind was the only thing both movies had in common but boy was I wrong.
On the surface, both movies are about girl power. My basic knowledge of the titular “Young Victoria” was her older self, she was the most powerful woman in the world but is crippled by mourning her husband’s death. What the film shows is a girl (Emily Blunt) who, like many renowned rulers, have no or have lost her siblings and cousins. It also shows her fighting off her stepfather Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) who wants her to sign her regency away to him in what could have been her deathbed. It’s a typical female royal narrative about having to deal with the men who try to influence her, the movie thankfully incorporating treaties and negotiations and letter writing culture that Royal history was full of. Nonetheless, the men break down either through her own strength or through fortunate circumstances. She forges political partnerships with men like William IV (Jim Broadbent), Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and her husband Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, our generation’s Omar Sharif).
Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” goes through the same things as Queen Victoria. She’s the daughter of a businessman who’s imaginative as he is – he wants to venture into other continents, she dreams of fantasy lands. Growing up (Mia Wasikowska, groomed as a pallid Gwyneth Paltrow), her mother and sister thinks of her good enough to marry into blue blooded English snots. If she even thinks about not marrying the aristocratic Hamish, her peers remind her of the delusional old maid Aunt Imogen. She storms out of her engagement party not defiantly but to chase a rabbit she can only see, hence out of a compulsion to regress into her childhood dreams. Going into the rabbit hole she falls on hard surfaces, gets scratched up by huge animals and gain the courage to meet her destiny and kill the Jabberwock.
The most interesting parts for me for both films were the last acts, since the emancipation of one results into the slavery of many.* We feel her empowerment when she snips at Prime Minister Peel about her ladies-in-waiting, but a bit uncomfortable when she has a shouting match with her husband about her ladies-in-waiting. Sure, both sides have their faults, but she asserts herself to him many times that she’s her Queen and he can only leave a room when he’s dismissed. They kiss and make up, and the title cards in the end show that Victoria births nine children who will rule the crowns of Britain, Germany, Russia, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Serbia, Greece and they forgot Denmark. Ironically, at least half of those monarchies still stand.
In “Alice in Wonderland” Alice stays true to her father’s mercantile leanings but now uses aristocratic influence to do something profitable. She refuses Hamish’s hand in marriage but has a business proposition in store for his father, Lord Ascot. Her father and Lord Ascot’s business has posts in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, but she presents the opportunity to tap into China and its products. Ambition wins him over, and she gets her ships. In a way China becomes her wonderland – they do have tea after all. And as we historically know, China really loved every minute of that.
We can’t, however, show our disdain towards womanhood for heralding English political and economic imperialism, since men just have a hand in shaping both characters. “Young Victoria” implies that Victoria’s uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, takes credit for making many crowns in Europe bear the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Victoria and Albert can be either lying to themselves or actually have made an honest, loving relationship out of a marriage strategized by those above her. “Alice in Wonderland” has a bit sinister – some may call it honest – portrayal of a man behind the great woman. Alice maybe seen as her father’s daughter. Lord Ascot notices the look in her eyes that eerily reminds him of her father, but goes ahead and follows her whims anyway. Both women are figureheads in both an active or passive definition still makes me uncomfortable for a few seconds.
*I know that I’m treading murky waters here, and I’m blaming my red-eye working habits and thumping headache/sinuses if I get un-PC).
A Prophet and Love Songs
(Warning: post contains violent images, written content sexual innuendo and stuff like that.)
I first saw “Un Prophete” at TIFF. I didn’t start my blog sooner and I paid 12 more dollars to see the film again, bringing a total of paying 52 dollars to see the movie.
My love for the film is less than unconditional at this second screening. First of all, we have to consider the prison as a national metaphor. That said, Malik El-Djebena’s (Tahar Rahim) is a likeable character but not sympathetic. Instead of being rehabilitated, the prison turns him into a wiser, slightly more determined criminal. However, a typical prisoner becoming a non-criminal after a six-year term is highly unlikely, and that is a Hollywood thing to portray.
Then I also overlooked that the Corsican prisoners step on Malik and he must abide by the rules of the other prisoners and bribed jail guards to get what he wants. Despite the possible metaphor in the film, his actions are mostly motivated on a personal level. He avenges when someone wrongs him, and thankfully at the right time. Knowing when to strike is one of the unpolished skills that he has entering the prison, and as the years go, he begins to think strategically. There is a scene when he helps his Corsican ‘boss’ Cesar Luciani (Niels Aestrup) deal with the new Muslim inmates, his advice thus surprises Cesar. You sympathize with him when he’s down, when he’s getting himself back up, and even when he’s killing a few people.
Brad Brevet from RopeofSilicon wrote about Malik’s prison education. Interestingly enough, this is a story of a man who learns from his enemies, a theme relegated to the sidelines in other crime films. Cesar and the Corsicans inadvertently teaches Malik strategy and ruthlessness and their native dialect. Another prisoner, Reyeb, tells him to come out of prison a little smarter. Malik becomes part of the cycle by advising – instead of using a rousing speech – the Muslims who had shunned him to fight for their rights in the prison. All actions are tough to pull off.
All in all, a very cinematic and enjoyable film. Those two adjectives fit even if the film features a guy cutting up his own moth with a razor, another guy having blood erupting out of his jugular, and a third guy putting a spoon inside the first guy’s eyelid. And that French prison food is awesome.
(French Robert Pattinson and French Haley Joel Osment make out)
Three hours before that I saw “Les Chansons D’Amour.” Ismael (Louis Garrel) is romantically pursued by a gay guy after his girlfriend (Ludivigne Sagnier) dies. I am proud that the gay one can sing the best in the movie, but I am very protective of gay characters. I like them flawed, but I do not like them fucked in the head. I do not wanna see them stalk straight people, I do not want to see them snivel, I do not want to see them get the straight guy that easily.
I do like Ismael’s nuanced world before tragedy happens. I also like how the film tackles the girlfiend’s death like a sledgehammer instead of a dramatic device. Deaths like this happen unexpectedly, and I feel that in the movie. Ismael does not deal with grief perfectly but the film does not paint him as a man whore or a sad little boy needing a shoulder to cry on.
Lastly, with the exception of Piaf and Josephine Baker, hearing French sung by these people in their twenties is as awkward as watching my mother get drunk.
Christopher Plummer Double Bill
(Always been partial to model-actresses. ph. secret)
During the first half of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, I asked myself “Where was this going,” “When is it gonna end.” Terry Gilliam films promise you a lot of fantasy but the first half shows in the aughties’ version of grunge – alcohol, London traffic, tattered costumes, all three revolving around the travelling circus, especially the immortal Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), the film’s troubled storyteller. He has lost control of his show, the world has lost interest in his stories. Add Tony (Heath Ledger) to the mix and his presence and suggestions add conflict to the other members of the cast-in-wagon (Andrew Garfield, for instance).
A part of ‘Parnassus” also feels like a perfume ad, Valentina (Lily Cole) floating in the air, her dress swirling, her arms reaching towards the oversized flowers and high-heeled shoes while Imaginarium Tony (Johnny Depp) dances with an elderly woman. That doesn’t mean I have a prejudice against this former model, it’s the other way around. Nonetheless, the occasionally frustrating glimpses in the imaginarium are a bit distant and CGI for me to look at it with wonder.
The Imaginarium Tonys (also Jude Law and Colin Farrell), despite being a part of the fantasy world, actually grounds the film. The most emotionally gripping parts of the film are when Tonys personal troubles follow him in the imaginarium. It would have been nice to see Heath in these parts because they’re the meatier part of the role, but the incorporation of four actors in one role is well done.
The film ends with Plummer being another beggar, the fantasy world gone. His old friend Percy (Verne Toryer, not a cameo) wonders if the beggar is the Great Doctor Parnassus. Is greatness compromised when life drags on?
I also caught “The Last Station” this past Wednesday, which was a little more even. The peaks and valleys of each character are charted in placed where you will know to find them. If I did not end up watching the film, it would be immortalised in my mind as the one where Countess Sofya Tolstaya (Helen Mirren) breaks plates and shoots a gun as shown in the trailers. It’s more than that, but there’s still some genre conventions within it. Got a problem with melodrama?
I wanna talk about the nuances in James MacAvoy as Valentin Bulgakov, the way MacAvoy is the best male crier in the industry, this time keeping himself still yet making the moment raw. How the film does not take his away from a shot when he goes from one emotion to another. How the other characters does not allow him to evolve from a spineless intellectual. How a beard does not make a man.
Helen Mirren also makes me doubt my choice as putting Gabourey Sidibe as my Oscar choice, although Sidibe is still number one. Sofya makes the characters around her listen to every word without making it look wink-wink nudge-nudge. You sympathize with her as extremist Tolstoyans like Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) try to take away her influence from her husband. Yet her last request to her husband to come home with her still sounds duplicitous.
We see the film in Bulgakov’s eyes. However, as much as all these characters tugging at each other is sometimes fun to watch, but I still wonder who is the centre in all this intrigue.
If and Elephant
“If” and “Elephant” aired at TVO last Saturday midnight. Someone out there probably thinks both movies deserve a post of their own, but since the channel aired them back to back, I couldn’t write about one and not the other.
I just wanna first talk about the gay angle, since both movies present that theme, and that some gay characters bring out violent acts in both movies. Furthermore the gay thing is usually seen as a scapegoat – they’re gay and they’ll find the second most phallic thing to act out their repressed desires. I will say that causality between homosexuality and violence is blurrier in both movies, but both still show that homosexuality is the result of how the respective fictional societies molds these youths.
“If” has a more traditional view of homosexuality as it does in every relationship – one person is masculine than the other. There’s the senior boy and the junior boy, a relationship built on foundations of “smugging” or serving the older student, which is a part of the masculine patriarchy set in college culture. For example, the junior boy Bobby Phillips cooks for the senior boy and packs up Wallace’s things, while Wallace is desirable for being more athletic. Although the smugs are interchangeable, the Phillips still has loyalties to the one he is infatuated with, as expected. But Phillips gets points as well, being the first one in the relationship to use his gaze towards Wallace, as well as calling himself more goal-oriented.
“Elephant” is different when depicting homosexuality, specifically that the film denotes its elusiveness. We get a look inside a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting, where they try to list things that would make someone look gay. And they can’t because indicators like that are arbitrary. Van Sant also rotates the camera so we can see the group, again not being able to tell who’s gay.
There is also the case of Alex and Eric. I don’t fall for the apologetic “they’re not gay” argument because they do kiss. Yes, their homosexual act does not define them just like many boys who kiss other boys end up being with girls and they’re still underage so their sexuality’s not defined. That does not mean that we can invalidate their affection for each other. And unlike the prescribed roles in “If,” one plays the piano while the other one has blonde hair, but we can’t tell which one’s more masculine or feminine.
The movies are also an observation of schools as institutions where they try to give you everything like gymnasiums and microscopes yet they try to take your individuality away.
I like “Elephant” more than I like “If” since you can hear the screams in the former instead of the gunshots. But then again “Elephant” is part of my generation. Sure I wasn’t in high school yet when Columbine happened but the next two or three years after Columbine was the culmination of teen angst that has been hidden and ignored since Cobain died. Kids today are too busy looking at LOLCats to even muster up hatred against each other. And whoever made LOLCats should get a Nobel Prize, but in my time I felt angry and that there was so much violence around.