…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “fantasy

Best Shot: Snow White and…


Walt Disney and crew’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this week’s featured movie in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, doesn’t really suggest images to me but acceleration. There’s this slowness to their movements but there’s this jolt of urgency to them as the movie progresses. The characters are also the only solid blocks of colour, the opposite of their Medieval-styled ornate surroundings. Here are some of my favourite shots.

Ok, this image is more of a static and and I didn’t even feel like including this because it feels like I’m just repeating my Black Narcissus best shot. Springtime is for lovers and Disney’s version puts us smack dab in the middle of the story as opposed to taking us to Snow White’s parents, etc. I know you know the story but the original Grimm Brothers’ tale is about Snow White’s growth as a domestic and sexual being, as well as the Evil Queen being Snow White’s mother and the Prince being the father, if I haven’t ruined your childhood yet. Anyway, this shot reminds me of the movie’s operatic structure, this tenor complementing Snow White’s coloratura. There’s also the Medieval costume’s drapery being very creamy throughout the film, influencing how we see these characters’ movement and posture. He’s not as effete as most of the Disney princes but those shoes look like they can walk on water.

Just like her suitor’s footwear, Snow White represents the daintiness of womanhood that earlier literature – and 1937 counts as ‘early’ – propagates, going through the woods and surviving while wearing pumps. She glides on surfaces instead of touching them like normal humans. She finds refuge from her homicidal (step)mother in the most hopeful of places. However it’s strange how these strangers can carve wood for their houses but find no time to dust heir house. Digging all day is not an excuse. It’s also more infuriating that her ragged state while shining the Queen’s Palace’s front steps is framed as slavery but cleaning for a bunch of dudes is totally ok. But we’ll give her brownie points for venturing into the cottage on her own and leveraging her lodgings and influencing the dwarfs’ eating habits. But that still feels codependent.

But can I really begrudge such people, even if they scare me more now than I did when I was a child? The dwarfs, by the way, probably start the tradition of fairy tale creatures as surrogate husbands, later prototypes of which include the original “Peter Pan.” This shot is my best shot simply because it will begin my quest to decide which dwarf is which. Doc, Dopey and Grumpy are the most constant characters so they’re the easiest to tell but to know the others I had to look into their eyes, which is nearly impossible if they’re moving too fast and freaking out while they’re imagining a monster sleeping in their beds. Thank God I eventually used the pause button. Also, this shot is one of the few examples that show how these characters have no bones in their bodies. They’re swift yet also graceful.

And finally the shot of the Queen. This scene is the Wicked Stepmother’s Lady MacBeth moment, having to take away her own femininity to make herself do the evil deeds that she believes must be done. The hoarseness within the voice actress becomes externalized, her slim figure becoming more brittle. This also baffles me after this recent rewatch because she is getting herself ugly to defeat the young woman more beautiful than her. Eventually she poisons the princess, their only onscreen encounter which is surprisingly not hostile.


LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring


While watching  Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring on the big screen, my friends, as you, realize that I have never seen it until now. Yeah, it’s really sad.

Movies with people with long hair look more dated than movies with people with short hair. This is the conclusion I got from looking at Frodo Baggins’ (Elijah Wood) hair. But I don’t say the word dated as an insult and other elements in the movie that give it that vintage-y vibe. The colors here are deeper as opposed to saturated or drained. The CGI, which is unfortunately becoming director Peter Jackson‘s signature as of late, is almost absent if not beautifully seamless.

And yes, I’m surprised at how Peter Jackson-y this movie is, having fewer similarities with King Kong and more with his earlier and raw work like Heavenly Creatures. He takes shots of Frodo and other characters in a voyeuristic way through windows or  through uncomfortable arm’s-length distances. It’s also close-up heavy, like that of Gandalf the Grey’s (Ian McKellen) who makes us feel like he’s larger than life. Jackson also gives that sense of urgency, telling Frodo, and us the audience, about strange lands from which Hobbits are supposed to stay away. In the same vein, tracking shots and zoom outs, like the one when Gandalf visits Saruman (Christopher Lee), have just enough wobble to let its audience know that a human being is behind the camera.

After a prologue, this trilogy starts with peace, showing the Hobbits living within the greenery of the Shire. Short shot lengths follow the unnamed citizenry of Hobbiton, their images accompanied by the bucolic music. The Hobbits seem immortal and magical but they’re more relatable because their lives aren’t as busy as the other races living miles away. The movie is more famous for its fantasy and its battle scenes, but this beginning shows how the hobbits are beautifully oblivious towards what could be lost. The same short cuts are employed when other races disturb the peace, as Jackson introduces the black riders. His camera bordering on sadomasochistic fetishism as he closes up on their hooded heads and horses’ hooves or mouths – i.e. they might be scary but those armored gloves look shiny and intricate. And when the Uruk-hai assemble their army, the Orcs’ faces crying out for battle.

The same rapid cuts are used when Arwen (Liv Tyler), a female elf, rescues Frodo, a male, and says something in Elvish to wash the black riders away. I mention the genders to obviously point out how the scene subverts expectations towards them. The only other thing I can say about that is that it reminds me of how these horses are weapon as they were used in historical crusades, the riders evoking evil Conquistadors while Arwen rides on with her virtuous looking white horse. It’s an intensely badass scene, transitioning into one of two hallucinatory hazes, the first one involving Frodo convalesces in Rivendell, as he sees other elves comforting him. These white flashes strangely fit into the movie itself.

Ok I lied. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Fellowship, having seen glimpses of it when Teletoon was constantly playing this movie. They go to Mount Doom via the Mines of Moria where the titular fellowship made up of men of random races fight the Orcs. Gandalf and a Balrog have a death match culminating into Gandalf saying ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!,’ that seminal moment in gay history. Gandalf’s loss is one of two blows against the fellowship, but I held back my tears because rangers from the noble race of Men like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean) are on the screen. I had this irrational feeling that if I did cry, those men would have jumped off the screen and made fun of me for being such a wuss. Which says a lot about how it handles that event, these characters gaining control despite Gandalf’s absence.

The rest of this leg of the epic journey is pretty masculine with the well representation of Aragorn and Boromir, but it’s  masculine in a valiant and not in a constricting way. The movie also questions that aspect of themselves, with Aragron’s self loathing doubts and Boromir’s close calls with temptation. It’s a great story about clashes and friendship set in the most luscious of fantasy worlds.


Double: “Outbreak” and “NeverEnding Story”


Preparing for Contagion, I watched Outbreak, since both have the same subject. Col. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and Robby Keough (Rene Russo) – are a divorced couple but they stay amicable, his military status still maintaining her respect, her bravery calling for his devotion. Besides, they’re both in the medical industry and any developments in that field both concern these high-positioned professionals.

ph. Warner

Patrick Dempsey looks less McDreamy and more longer haired, leather jacketed Scott Speedman. His character,  Jimbo Scott, in 1995, is a leftover from the grunge movement. He is one of chains in smuggling a non-indigenous monkey into California and lets her out into the redwood forests. She sneezes on him, making him this film’s Gwyneth Paltrow, and when Robby finds him, he’s too sick to utter a word. He falls victim to the airborne and mutating Motaba virus, its original strain being discovered in Zaire three decades before the film’s time frame. He dies along with his girlfriend, one of a few doctor dying through human error (Kevin Spacey) and more get infected.

After ‘going rogue’ from corrupt higher-ups (Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland), Daniels and Maj. Salt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) find the Motaba carrier, they go on TV and a concerned mother of a rural home call in that the monkey is in their backyard, her daughter christening her as Betsy. Cue the character’s spectator-ship echoing ours in such a tense moment – this happens a bit in many movie so I’m not surprised. Salt points a tranquilizer gun near the girl, the girl’s parents telling Hoffman ‘I can’t stand this.’ I can’t stand it neither. These officers characters get Betsy, then they fly away again.

This film is punctuated by characters flying in and out of America that they might as well call this movie “Army Helicopter.” Personal and worldly issues mix here in the most melodramatic of ways. The world was still reeling from AIDS, which gets a shout out in this movie, but thankfully Twelve Monkeys gets released seven months later, adding surrealism to 1990’s apocalyptic paranoia.

Outbreak‘s director Wolfgang Petersen is also responsible for The NeverEnding Story, about a kid who gets bullied because he reads or something. Again there’s the spectator within the spectacle, for example Bastian telling Atreyu (Noah Hathaway, whose credits include playing a ‘Harry Potter Jr.’ before the books came out) to run. The story engages Bastian so much that he’s reading and staying in school way after closing to find out how it goes. He’s aware that the story isn’t real, but he cares about fictional characters in a way that never stops  after childhood. The film also shows that like him, a great reader bridges those two worlds to learn lessons about himself and the dangerous real world.

This film is pre-CGI so it’s still marvelous how Petersen gets most of the giant creatures and sets on-screen, both of which produce wonderment and fear. The talking creatures don’t look like mere scale sculptures and the sets look painted on to colourful effect. Some of the magical entities, like double sphinxes that kill passerby with their laser eyes, are accurately created to standards of antiquity that won’t ever be depicted the same way. I also get Flash Gordon/Clash of the Titans ’81 flashbacks because of the topless sculptures/violent subject that is still right for a children’s film. And despite the faltering British accent, Hathway’s Atreyu never gets lost within the magnificently designed sets.


The Lovers: Midnight in Paris


Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), visiting Paris for unknown length of time, is so taken by the city that he considers moving in, be a perpetual tourist and write his novel. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) thinks that he should go back to Southern California and stay on as the moderately successful screenwriter that he is. His romanticized view of Paris gets intermittently interrupted by his fiancée’s parents, her older friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and the latter’s yes-woman of a fiancée. After a wine tasting party, Gil takes a rain check when Inez and Paul want to go out dancing. He wants to ingest the city and gets lost. While sitting on some steps, the bells ring midnight, a vintage car stops in front of him and inside are people dressed up for a 1920’s themes costume party. They wave him in, he follows, and they take a ride from one charming, drunken party to another in for real 1920’s Paris.

In his review of Woody Allen‘s new film Midnight in Paris for The New York Times, A.O. Scott says ‘critics…complain when he repeats himself and also when he experiments.’ The same can be said in his version of 1920’s France, the historical characters from that bygone era depicted like Coles Notes. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates, because who else?) saying something quotable and eloquent! Ernest Hemingway saying something equally quotable eloquent on an awesome musky drunken haze! Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) saying something coarse and/or surreal that no one rightfully bothered to write down! It’s a damned if he does or doesn’t scenario. The latter might have made history buffs and literati take their own nails out. But choosing the former makes history seem like pushing a button to reassure Gil, as he tells Inez, that the people in the past are exactly what he thought they would be, and that he might not learn anything new despite going into this different world.

Thankfully, history gets a different narrative through Ariana (Marion Cotilliard), a fashion designer originally from a smaller French city. Conventionally, no one in her time would write about her, the thankless muse and objectified trophy to many artists. She’s smitten by Gil’s writing and befriends him. Instead of the gilded tourist-y, antique shop present day France that Gil experiences in daylight, shot marvellously by Darius Khondji, his midnight strolls in 1920’s Paris with Ariana are gray, mahogany and smoke. She leads him to avenues with a whopping four prostitutes in one block. Four! She tells him about her relatively hard life and her encounters with sleazy people of that time.

Through Cotilliard’s commendable performance, Ariana talks about being these artists’ and writers’ lovers or working under revered couturiers as a measly job or a mere stop to a drifter’s journey instead of an honour that Gil thinks it is. Kindred spirits with differences attract, and it’s very convincing that instead of hanging out and being a sponge to ideas from these great writers, he is more fascinated with ‘some girl.’ Ariana is just one of  the film’s female characters who are counter-subversive to Gil’s subversion, being able to see the cracks within his nostalgia. Gertrude Stein criticizes a painting that would end up in a gallery that Gil revisits in the present day. Inez’ mother questions his lack of taste in furniture.

Woody Allen’s previous takes on the past are more magical, an element greatly missed in this film. Sure, there’s that bit of dust touching the vintage car as they’re going to Cole Porter’s party, but instead of fully embracing the world where Gil finds himself, we instead see his eyes get bigger, the characters introducing themselves with names of people who have been dead for years. But at least he replaces magic with self-awareness.


Malick’s “The Tree of Life”


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


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 Brothers Grimm


ph. MGM

The titular Brothers Grimm (Heath Ledger, Matt Damon) are quack exorcists, redundant as that is, who, by order of a conquering French military official (Jonathan Pryce), have to face a real enchanted forest and risk their lives in the process.

Sure, there are references to the Limbourg Brothers and the pre-Raphaelite movement, but The Brothers Grimm just has too much CGI and there’s nothing real and/or astounding about the film. Sure, that might be too much to ask for in a fantasy film, but director Terry Gilliam usually uses something concrete. Remember when Parnassus has painted cardboard or plywood trees, but even that was awesome? Actual sets in this film are unfortunately given some weird post-production finish. Even the gold lighting doesn’t help. Auteur hunter Damon and Gilliam regular Ledger do great work, settling for a ‘theatrical’ British accent, even if the plot takes them nowhere. And it’s kind of nice to see Gilliam regular Pryce combine his roles in The Age of Innocence and the Pirates series in one movie. Now if only he can do half-Brazil, half Peron. What is he up to, by the way?

I remember this film being advertised as a horror film, taking the Gilliam-esque comedy out of the trailer. It’s not like the comedy worked too well anyway. The most fascinating thing about this film is the strange surge of German nationalism in a Hollywood film. When was the last time that happened? It focuses the country’s folkloric history. The British or cockney-accented Germans are the good guys and the French-accented French are the bad guys. The film risks labeling Germans as hicks, but they’re not hicks if the tales they believe in are true. And the Red Riding Hood sequence was more haunting than the one in the Amanda Seyfried-Catherine Hardwicke movie that I will probably never see. But unfortunately, those are the film’s only redeeming values.