It’s Roberta Guaspari’s (Meryl Streep) second day at her new job at an East Harlem alternative elementary school teaching violin. Her class is half as large as it has been the first day. They’re still rambunctious with the exception of Naim, who actually pays attention to her. She notices her competition, DeSean, talking about basketball, when she asks him a question on that day’s lesson, about the parts of the violin’s bow. He feigns indifference in not knowing then she replies ‘Yes you were [here], buy you weren’t paying attention. Do you want people to think you’re stupid.’ She turns to her star student, saying ‘Tell him, Naim.’
As the expression goes, her words with the kids are like a confident tightrope walk, and as expected she doesn’t come off as any hurtful. Neither does she look like the naif who miraculously comes up with a quick rebuttal to hurl on the person she’s talking to. Well, she does raise a few alarms from a parent, but that gets ironed out by the urban ‘stop snitching’ code.
The movie also typically shows the difficulties in running and staying in a class related to the arts. The children have to be whipped out of their ADD, which all but one of them apparently have. They have to regard the class as if no other exists. And Roberta deals with her own marital issues and its effects on her own children, having to let them ride a plane on their own on Christmas.
Also cast and crew notes: Directed by horror director Wes Craven, trying something new. Aidan Quinn plays Roberta’s boyfriend. Gloria Estefan plays a teacher/parent who also sang the film’s theme song. The grown-up version of Roberta’s kids are Abe from Mad Men and Kieran Culkin. Don’t pretend you don’t know who that is.
The Marcoses have supported the arts including, shockingly, subversive B-films that put his dictatorship in question. One of the first voices we hear in Mark Hartley’s documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! is director John Landis, poking light fun at the taglines that got people in the drive-ins screening those B films. The film is the story of American B film-making in the Philippines. B directors, American and Filipino ones mostly under Roger Corman reminisce about the golden age of the B film, talking about large breasts as selling points for these films. Touchy, off-putting conversation, but hang in there.
The film also paints Corman as someone who goes through phases of genres lasting a year. It’s hard to find differences between genres because the cast looks the same, but there are war films to horror to jungle prison films where the Stanislavsky trained Pam Grier got her start.The female leads feel ambivalent towards their work, from Grier’s humourous take on it to others shocked at how DVD’s will put their past into permanence to one who points out how these films gave more decent work to black actresses in the 70’s.
I also wanna point out how little interference Hartley has with the tone, keeping it groovy even if the subject is exploitation or violent conditions in the Philippines. He doesn’t force a bleeding heart over the death of a stuntman. The ones interviewed have honest reactions of maturity about the films’ accident prone shooting conditions. I call it refreshingly educational. 4/5.
- Fantastic Fest 2010 Honors ROGER And JULIE CORMAN! (geektyrant.com)
(Repeat viewing, again I didn’t blog at TIFF ’09)
One of my favourite scenes in “Mother” is the abandoned amusement park scene. There’s awesomeness in the closeups of Jin-tae’s boots as he willfully beats the shit out of the horny, gossipy teenage schoolboys . But what I’m here to talk about is when Jin-tae’s best friend’s Mother (Hye-ja Kim) interacts with the same boys. She lights a cigarette and plays good cop to Jin-tae’s bad cop. She asks where the murdered schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung’s cellphone is. The previously fragile mother now looks tougher and sharper than nails, easily she gets the answers she needs.
That’s one of the hurdles that the titular Mother has to go through to prove that her slow-developed son is not the murderer of a girl. She tears up, she bravely ventures to places like the victim’s funeral and a sleazy Karaoke bar, she lies through her teeth. She’s technically a supporting character in her son’s life, their view of each other both Freudian and furious. But we later realize that it’s all about maintaining her world order as much as it is about getting her son out of jail. Hye-ja Kim also fills this character’s highs and lows, giving the best female performances of the past year.
This is the second Joon-ho Bong film I’ve seen (the first one was “The Host”). He explores known terrain/archetypes like schoolgirl innocence, low functioning emasculated men and according to Rick Groen, incompetent government officials, but he twists them in “Mother.” I’m not an expert in South Korean history and culture – cellphone culture and interconnectedness and other Asia-na is assumed as a part of a depiction of the said culture. But this movie’s so character driven anyway that it doesn’t get pigeonholed as a ‘film as national metaphor.’
Almost every frame in this movie is beautiful. From the close-ups to the natural landscapes of a Korean city to the valley-like cemeteries and streets to its attention to water and rain to its willingness to explore darkness. Blue hues are neo-noir’s best friend.
Sure the movie’s a bit slow and even the shocking twists (they’re the best ones in about a decade) don’t give it the punch that “The Host” did, but “Mother” is becoming more enigmatic the more I think of it.