2012: “Sick of What?”
One of the trappings of sci-fi is its fetishization of metal or uncanny surfaces. The characters of Alien and its sequels float around in spaceships. The buildings of Blade Runner almost disallows us to see the ground they’re built on. The rock formations in Aliens seem uncanny in the violent way that they seem to have been forged. However, the most majestic images within Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, are the planets where they’re set. And it’s in the same sort of beautiful treatment that makes Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) curious as to how the Earth and its populations have come into existence. I was at first disappointed by Prometheus being an Alien prequel, but it does bring, to a certain extent, the promise that its title has. This molten creation mythology and the lofty, almost unachievable ambitions that come with telling a story that touches on such a large scope.
There are many areas of knowledge that I haven’t delved into that won’t let me answer or comment on the ramifications of life creation as depicted in this movie. So what interests me more is its characters and their diverse outlooks as we see in the crew of the titular Prometheus, a spaceship that’s leading a couple dozen crew members to a desert planet called LV-223. Elizabeth and her skinny hipster boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are driven by curiosity and believe that the new planet has information about Earth and humanity’s conception. The mission director, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and her boss, the recently deceased Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) just wants to set up a human colony in the new planet regardless of alien presence in that planet. And there’s a creepy android named David (Michael Fassbender) who, well, we’re not sure if he has deliberate intentions.
And those motivations transform as they discover new things on the planet, this voyage letting these characters face their gods and playing gods themselves in their many acts of creation and destruction. Theron, fresh from her acting hiatus, returns with unsympathetic roles in Mavis Gary in Young Adult and an evil queen in SWATH, and adds her rendition of Meredith Vickers to complete a hat trick. Here’s why. After learning that Charlie develops a mysterious illness, Meredith replies with the greatest line reading of ‘Sick of what?’ What a sociopath. Meredith is the third role in which Theron combines her beauty with narcissism. It’s a formula that I’m not sick of yet.
Rapace, however, seems to have been cast in the leading role because of two things. Being a buzzy actress coming off the Swedish version of the Millennium trilogy probably helped her land plum roles. And playing strong woman like Lisbeth Salander, she’s expected to add something to a role who is the predecessor to the equally iconic Ellen Ripley. But here’s the problem. The script, written by Damon Lindelof’s, puts Charlie’s sickness in the same chain of events as Elizabeth’s abortion, the latter of which seems to be the scene which the moviemakers think is Elizabeth’s key scene. Yes, she pulls that scene off. But my key scene isn’t that one but the one where she confronts one of the Engineers, and that’s where her lines fall flat.
As I said earlier, the script is very eventful and Scott’s direction makes me believe everything it puts forth i.e., Elizabeth’s abortion, Michael Fassbender’s animated severed head. And maybe that’s one of the things I didn’t like about this – its many plot points and contrivances taking away from the simplicity, the horror and the humanity of the other movies set in Alien’s universe.
- Prometheus Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland) (entertainmentmaven.com)
Playerhaters from Outer Space!
Guy Pearce is a punching bag. He is a man without a past, able to negotiate with or win against authority. This lanky figure, under the shadows of independent cinema, portrays movies’ masculine myths, sleuth, cowboy, king, explorer, diver, fishing on both good and evil. He says your insecurities loud enough for you to hear. I referenced at least five of his movies but he relives them all in the Luc Besson-incepted and Stephen St. Leger and James Mather–directed sci-fi Lockout, a movie set in 2079, while wearing a women’s sized medium graphic tee to expose his veiny biceps, telling audiences he’s not too old to play the Hollywood game of Commonwealth actors working out on the gym to get leading roles. He’s passable as a sellout but let’s be honest, he bagged this role because Hugh Jackman was busy and Pearce wants to buy a condo and put kids through college.
This movie has a plot. Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is on a humanitarian mission to a detention centre on outer space – I feel so stoned typing that – where the prisoners are cryogenically frozen to keep them from assaulting each other. Somehow the American government taxes the rich in this sci-fi. She’s there to check whether the detainees are treated fairly but all goes awry when one escaped prisoner (Brit TV actor Joseph Gilgun) helps lead the hundreds of others into taking the scientists controlling the complex as hostages, including Emilie. The secret service’s (led by Peter Stromare) mission is to rescue the hostages, bringing in maligned rogue CIA agent Snow (Pearce) to rescue Emilie and to hope that the prisoners don’t discover that she’s the president’s. Daughter!
The performances here is interesting, where the supporting cast either flaunt or hide their European accents (Besson by the way has occasionally portrayed America through his European lens), one of the prisoners, suffering from the dementia caused by the freezing, is acting like a Scottish gargoyle. Grace is painfully deadpan as a blonde-tressed damsel with sleepy eyes but all she needs was an impromptu haircut from Snow for her face to open and show her second note, shooting off the script’s witty banter to counter his remarks against her that are so sexist that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Pearce’s performance here is lazy but it’s also admirable to watch him play devil’s advocate without trying. Together Grace and Pearce play off each other like middle school kids who punch each other as a shorthand for affection, Emilie learning the ropes even though Snow doesn’t readily give them to her.
There are some contrivances in this fictional world that the characters aren’t smart enough to grasp, like when Emilie doesn’t realize that Snow’s friend helps her cause. The movie’s technology is also questionable. But those shortcomings are compensated with its honest execution. Its tone is just like Snow’s philosophy that despite being surrounded by concepts, these characters speak and act as snarky yet competently forceful. It has its share of quotables, referring to kin-hood and character flaws delivered ridiculously. And sometimes a movie not caring about how good it is makes the actors and the set pieces seem like they’re going all out. I’m not the kind who predicts on a movie’s success – and keep in mind that I wouldn’t pay to see this movie – but if this ends up being a cult favourite or a franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d actually be happy. Image via THR. 3/5
A Woman’s Scene: The Proposition
Then comes a scene inThe Proposition when Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is haunted by his titular…proposition. I know he’s right but he doesn’t successfully convince two people, his boss and his wife, Martha (Emily Watson), who is listening next door. Now I know what’s she’s thinking, being mad at Stanley for releasing one of the men who allegedly has raped her friend. She later voices out ‘What if she had been me,’ giving us Lars flashbacks. In both senses, I can’t fault her. Maybe Watson’s superbly visceral portrayal of Martha’s engender the emotional distance between her and me, the viewer, and Stanley. Between opposing definitions of justice and retribution. That moment definitely made me want to reach out and try to fully understand.
- The Road – 2009 | Con Đường Hy Vọng (pittari.wordpress.com)
Best Shot Redux: Memento
This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit me with your best shot series.
That’s fortunate since this season of the series requires me to rewatch movies that I’ve either seen before, or like Memento, four times. Twice, when the movie had its run on Showcase in Canada, when it still showed turn of the twenty-first century American independent film that began a new chapter of my love for cinema, unlike the less challenging cable programming and box office movies it shows today. The third time in Cinema and Modernity class, part of the Film Noir section, the first time I saw the beginning of the movie – or is it the end?
ph. Newmarket/Summit/Columbia TriStar/Alliance
Where was I? Rewatching any film means noticing things that I haven’t before. The first series of shots I’m going to talk about are what I thought my best shots were going to be. The bullet casing, animating itself through the film’s first scene playing in reverse, reminding me of Cobb’s totem in Inception. I started looking for other images here that reminded me of the other Nolan films. The birds in Natalie’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) room are less glamorous versions of the birds in The Prestige. Lenny’s (Guy Pearce) fire like the one that burned Bruce Wayne’s house down in Batman Begins. I’ll go for a stretch for The Dark Knight and talk about how both hero and villain mutilate their bodies and how both have unknown pasts.
But all roads lead to Inception, the connection between that magnum opus of a movie and this one are stronger than with Nolan’s other films. Like Cobb, the film shows Lenny remembering his wife through second long shots of her, the objects she used, of the things broken when she was attacked. Instead of the vivid feel of Mal’s flashbacks, Lenny’s wife’s seem fleeting and poetic, like how the only army wife in Malick’s The Thin Red Line is depicted. It’s also strange watching Jorja Fox be the prototype to Marion Cotillard, or is Cotillard Fox’s photocopy?
Second. The elusive Natalie, going from ordinarily shady character to foul-mouthed villain to everything in between. The audience sees minor characters like her through Lenny’s eyes and encounters. She’s the exception to the rule. Lenny leaves Natalie’s bedroom, leaving her three seconds to herself, making me wonder about the film’s subjectivity, or if subjectivity is what Nolan is aiming for. She touches Lenny’s side of the bed. Who is she yearning for, Lenny or Jimmy, her drug-dealing boyfriend that Lenny has killed? Is she finding a kindred spirit with her boyfriend’s murderer, since they both have lost loves? Falling in love with him and falling into the trap that she has originally set out for him? The film repeats this moment but instead Lenny acts it out, his reactions to the half-empty bed in his motel room feel less genuine.
I tried avoiding the ‘beautiful woman’ shot I’m always tempted to use, but I couldn’t resist with Carrie-Anne Moss here. What kind of performances she would have given if she wasn’t relegated to being Trinity from the Matrix trilogy? She makes my favourite shot of the film. Also, a few bloggers, including me at one point, have accused Nolan of writing terrible female roles, but it takes him three seconds to turn a seemingly bipolar femme fatale into a nuanced, complex character. And he really likes his brunettes. Whether you think that’s enough is up to you.
Third. In which Nolan gives us the film’s twist, making me wonder why I haven’t noticed this in earlier viewings, or if Nolan just hid this well. And do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get this screen cap? Ten minutes, seven times. Sammy Jankis (Sephen Tobolowsky) turns into Lenny. I am proud of this shot.
Smoke, Mirrors and Dames – L.A. Confidential
Noir’s style to me is its ink-like darkness and shadows. The colourful L.A. Confidential doesn’t necessarily give you that mood, even the music isn’t as bombastic. When it comes to the visuals, its characters don’t come out like figures in a diorama like it does in classic noir. The rustic colours bring the past image of L.A. infrastructure and fashion to the present, and sometimes red pops out either on a female character’s lips or on her dress, or both male and female characters bled to death, reminiscent of the crime tabloids like the fictional ‘Hush-Hush’ featured in the film. It’s Christmas in Los Angeles after all, and everybody’s neon Christmas lights are up.
The film introduces us to main characters, the letters of their names appearing obviously like it would on typewritten paper. Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe) ‘has a thing for helping women,’ is a guy who gets attention through his tough demeanour, relegated through errands. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a detective adviser for a TV show, ‘Badge of Honour,’ with swagger of a narcissistic cop. Sgt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), is a young cop whose father has also been in the business whose superiors think is too clean-cut to be detective. There’s a fourth character who doesn’t get captions – Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), groomed to look like Veronica Lake.
Their lives are getting more intertwined as two criminal cases come up. The first is a beat-down by multiple officers including White and his partner Bud Stensland against six Mexicans – some racist cops call them ‘spics’ or ‘Poncho’ – probably wrongly jailed for killing a fellow officer and injuring another. The second is a shooting in the Nite Owl that leads to more deaths, more crimes revealed and more tarnished reputations.
The interesting visuals come up fifteen or twenty minutes after the film begins. Crime lord Mickey Cohen’s henchmen and potential successors slowly get mowed down, like Deuce Perkins. Smoke and dust clouds appear occasionally on the screen. When Perkins gets slain, the glass in his house shatters and smoke builds and thins out, two men in the background walk away. A vehicle on the outskirts of the city drives further away. Little trails as White sneaks into a suspect’s house. Police cars approach Exley after a deadly final shootout.
While Vincennes reluctantly agrees to snitching Stensland about the ‘Bloody Christmas’ incident, Exley watches from the adjacent room, his reflection on the screen like an omnipresent reminder. More mirrors appear in this film. One where Vincennes looks at himself before going to a motel to find a young actor murdered. There’s another mirror again between Exley and those observing him after the big shoot out, Exley only able to see his own reflection. The observer’s reflections are bigger, but he’s able to bridge the gap, telling them his conditions.
Lynn – a threatening figure who becomes White’s girlfriend – and other women’s looks have symbolic attachments. She belongs to network of prostitutes groomed, cut and dyed like the era’s movie stars, and tells White that this at least lets them act. Exley mistakes Lana Turner for a prostitute cut to look like the actress. White sees a woman with a bandaged nose, assuming abuse on a woman who has undertaken plastic surgery, commenting on the practice itself. The bandaged woman becomes a Nite Owl victims, a cop comments that she looked like Rita Hayworth, funny since a Margarita Cansino underwent operations to become Hayworth. The film ends with Lynn voluntarily changing herself to look like Marilyn Monroe, the latter herself is a dyed and cut creation of Norma Jean and Hollywood. Prostitutes are actresses are girlfriends, their physical changes mark the times their and their society’s attitude change from urban mystery to an optimistic, domestic retreat.
J or Josh Cody’s (introducing James Frecheville) mother OD’s beside him. He calls maternal grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), her little, meek voice telling him to move in with her and her sons, family man Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), ‘don’t call me uncle’ Darren Cody (Luke Ford) – only two years older than J, and fast-moving shirtless Craig. These men are bank robbers. No biggie.
I assumed toughness from these men, and they do exude that on scene and through grainy footage screenshots of them sporting balaclavas and guns. What destroys their bravado is the decline of the bank robbers, as it goes in many films of the same genre. J also confides that they have fear and feel a familial dread, and looking at the brothers supports that assessment. Barry for example looks like he’s holding in a sigh before talking to the detectives staking out near his front door. Or Craig struggling while play fighting on the couch. Or Darren unable to interfere while someone murders a girl in front of him. There is a little part of me that doubts that fear because the narration technically filters our understand of the characters. However, at least it directs into looking at these men’s eyes at quiet moments within the film.
Then the big brother Andrew ‘Pope,’ (Ben Mendelsohn) pops out of hiding. Pervy and destructive even towards his family, he sets off the crucial events within the film. Pope’s to blame for making things worse – I see it, J sees it, but it’s never fully established whether the other characters do too.
In his misdeeds, the audience watches out for two characters. There’s Janine who seems complicit and J, whose estrangement from the family makes him wired differently from them. He can either be part of the fold or snitch to a detective (unrecognizable Guy Pearce). Their performances are underacted, naturalistic. Weaver as Janine surprises by ordering a hit, slyly dangling the reasons why that hit is beneficial to her henchmen while still keeping her motherly cool. Frecheville as J starts out as a silent wallflower but shines in a scene by himself and in another when he maturely wards off Janine’s empty promises of comfort.
However, what I like best about Animal Kingdom is how it treats these subjects and characters with deft and sympathy, while others could have seen them – watching game shows, smoking indoors, going at each other – as crass human beings.
- Movie review: ‘Animal Kingdom’ a wild thriller (sfgate.com)
- Dan Persons: Mighty Movie Podcast: David Michod on Animal Kingdom (huffingtonpost.com)