Hey, it’s a trend! Besides, I promised Norman Wilner over Twitter to make a bazillion stupid lists for 2010 before they stop being cool. This was the dumbest, most shallow and most sexist idea I could come up with, second to ‘Greatest uses of the word ‘fuck’ and other curses in movies in 2010.’ Not that he’ll remember any of this. Anyway, all the women are listed by when the first time I saw them on-screen. All women also get the January Jones/Betty Draper Award nomination for the most violent female character in 2010. You decide the winner.
Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), for redefining vengeance and investigating those who hate women. May your shoes be filled well.
Jenny the Great White Buffalo (Lyndsy Fonseca) stabs Adam (John Cusack) with a plastic fork. That’s what he gets for telling a girl she’s fat.
Mal (Marion Cotilliard), who shoots and stabs you in your subconscious.
Knives Chau, the toughest Canadian. Don’t mess with us Asians, especially actress Ellen Wong with a breakthrough performance.
Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) who, after being dethroned as the prima ballerina, stabs herself in the face screaming ‘I’m perfect!’ ‘I’m perfect!’ ‘I’m perfect!’
Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain), a Mossad Agent sparring with her partners, trying to find the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jasper Christensen).
Abby, in this remake, with a soulful protrayal by young Chloe Moretz, still hungry for her daily subsistence.
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who will tell you that you’re employed by her and she will capture and kill Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
Charlene (Amy Adams), who will rip your hair out if you call her a skank. You’re crazy.
Bellatrix (Helena Bonham-Carter), who makes Hermione (Emma Watson) scream for her oblviated parents.
Now Sally, go play.
I found two brilliant starting points in The King’s Speech, both marking many of the film’s themes without overselling them. The first is the microphone, modernity, technology, what Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome. On the surface, the radio is another way to scrutinize the volatile monarchy, especially with Albert who has a stammer. His father George V would say that the wireless means that they have to ‘invade people’s homes with our voice.’ George’s words also imply that the king’s job now needs interpersonal skills. Connecting with the commoners.
The royal court doesn’t realize that modernity is Albert’s best friend. Speaking to the microphone with his ears covered in headphones, his stammer’s gone. The phonograph is a mirror-like device, making him see his potential. There’s another modern innovation that helps him – psychiatry. His wife Queen Elizabeth (the charming Helena Bonham-Carter) hires a speech instructor, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who actually asks why he has a stammer instead of yelling at him or making fun of him. That’s what he needs to overcome his impediment and helping him out of being an ‘incompetent’ king, or worse, being self-destructive.
Leading me to Firth’s performance. His Albert has a temper and the things he yells might make him sound like a spoiled brat. He even puts a heart at moments when he can be unsympathetic, like telling Lionel he’s a nobody. Instead he reacts to Lionel and to the other characters like a person constantly prodded, a man with a secret world where he’s funny, personable, a good king.
My second favourite moment is when Lionel walks on the stage to audition for “Richard III.” This shows an improvement on Hooper’s earlier work, where a male friendship has main and supporting roles. Her he has his own failures, which is why they relate to each other. Instead of Albert predictably hilariously talking Lionel’s ear off, Lionel equally reveals his own pathos, thus helping each other to be stronger.
The Richard III audition thematically brings about the ‘monster’ who wants the spotlight. Like the Shakespearean character, the characters here openly discuss how wrong it feels for Bertie to be kingly. His brother David, or King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) finds something malicious in his speech therapy and even antagonizes him for it, leading him to regress. Lionel also brings up the possibility, which leads to the most devastating argument they would have in the film. Nonetheless, they know it’s inevitable and they have to accept him despite his imperfections.
Nonetheless, Bertie’s doubts creep on him. In one of those scenes, he argues that he has no power yet he has to do all this publicity work. The film had to make a stance, either lying to the audience that the king was the most influential, politically powerful figure in the war or stick to self-improvement and make that Bertie’s outlook, no matter the ramifications. That final self-doubt scene adds either ambivalence or ambiguity. I’m picking the latter even if it’s still a minor problem.
Kudos to the acting, hair and make-up because I didn’t realize until the final credits that Michael Gambon plays George V and Timothy Spall plays Churchill, both of whom add subtle performances of a solidly acted, layered and funny film that humanizes the royal figure. While everyone else is quoting Black Swan, I’m quoting this movie. 4.5/5.
Jayne Wisener‘s Johanna is probably my reason if I was ever gonna rewatch Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Wisener wasn’t the next Kate Winslet, but she’s well-directed here no matter what her acting capabilities are. There’s something in the way she moves her head. June Thomas from Slate Magazine hasn’t been too kind on her rendition of the Sondheim-penned ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ but it’s my favourite rendition of the song, while most of the other renditions I’ve heard sing it with too much operatic force. Maybe I’m being cruel and that the other singers need to boom the song to the back of the audience, but I like Wisener’s softness.
There’s also something in the way she’s photographed here. High angle shot from the view of the birds. Through the window. My favourite POV of her is through the peep-hole from where the corrupt judge looks (Alan Rickman). The black spaces on the screen like that of silent cinema.
Should I watch a film just for two-minute intervals of a character watered down from the original source material and listen to her sing maybe twice? I don’t know why the film never fully connected to me the first time. Maybe I got bored by the ‘arterial spray?’ Or Helena Bonham Carter didn’t project her voice enough? Otherwise the film does look better on video. The thing about Sweeney Todd, and I can say this about at least one movie released every year, is that it’s either great in memory or in parts. There’s a reason why I was bored through half of the film, as if the scenes felt like the could have been played out better.
And those who know me will know that despite of 50-ish movies that I love – list coming up in never – I would rather get punched in the gut than watch a good or ok movie again.
There was also a small group of college-age kids near the front of the theatre who laughed at every other line of ‘A Little Priest.’ Like, we get it. You’re the biggest Sondheim fan ever. You’re so smart, you get all the jokes. I hated the Cumberland then. I said that I regretted not watching The Savages instead, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.
I might be going job hunting with my sister this afternoon. This movie’s gonna be at the Bell Lightbox at 9:30. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing at the Bloor. Black Christmas is playing at the Underground. I have time to think this through.
The Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End has its Murnauesque tendencies. A drama about property, class, and family, the film’s first four minutes have no dialogue, as Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), owner of the titular house, walks ghostly outside in the garden. She looks in while her husband Henry (Anthony Hopkins), the rest of her family, and a guest, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter) are inside having a party. The film evokes a poetic atmosphere within the English suburbs, with the grass and wisteria and trees and the moon. Helen lightly blames the moonlight for her short engagement with one of the Wilcox son, Paul.
Helen’s poor friend Leonard Bast gets enthralled by his environment as well, and thus gets his silent sequences. They meet after a lecture on Beethoven’s Music and Meaning, showing his intellectual side despite his poverty. She steals his umbrella, he walks in the rain to get it back. He goes on walks because of a book he’s read, much to the chagrin of his wife Jacky. He also has a strange recollection of his first meeting with Helen, the gates close on him but she looks back, smiling.
Howards End is a movie of many tones, but I don’t mean that it’s uneven. There’s the comedy of errors tone, when the other Wilcox son Charles (James Wilby) drives the Schlegel aunt to the house. She confuses him for Paul and a row ensues. Helen and Margaret (Emma Thompson) are pretty funny characters themselves, calling themselves chatterboxes, the Schlegel children critical of their outspoken ways.
Then there’s the elegy, represented by Ruth. If you’ll indulge me in overreading, Ruth is also after a Biblical figure of unwavering loyalty and standing by her family. She was born in Howards End, Howard being a prominent name in some noblemen, a family plagued by tragedy. She’s kind of fragile, most of her children have grown up and married. and her husband tends to leave her in the house for business. She symbolizes permanence, shocked by the notion that Margaret has to move from the house where the latter was born. She has bursts of energy now and then, thanks to Margaret’s friendship, and there’s an implication that Henry and her family bring her down. This role’s part of the roles Redgrave has been getting in her later years, a woman haunted by her past.
There’s also a sense of urgency in the film’s drama, culminating in the forty minute mark, with Margaret becoming the protagonist. She’s like sunshine to this movie, her early moments especially with Ruth, we see her smiling and accommodating. Ruth’s last wish is that Margaret would inherit Howards End, Henry eventually asks Margaret to marry him. In Ruth’s last moments, she inadvertently passes the torch to Margaret, her silence replaced by Margaret’s protestations. Thompson made leading roles out of being the elder sister or friend with the voice of sanity, and her Margaret is still that archetype to Helen. But here in Howards End, she’s stuck between Helen’s idealism and Henry’s ruthless prejudice. Her last fight with Henry is one of the riveting arguments I’ve seen in a British period film and perfectly encapsulates Forster’s liberal stance.
There’s no need to say that Anthony Hopkins is amazing in this film. He plays his character with charm, ruthlessness yet repressed humiliation, opposite yet same from the cannibal that won him the Oscar. It’s reminiscent of other actors doing something different after their Oscar-winning or infamous roles. Like Marlon Brando dabbling in musicals after winning for “On the Waterfront,” or Denzel Washington becoming a sensitive shrink after becoming a psychotic cop, or Jack Nicholson playing a wounded playwright after playing a homicidal novelist, or John Wayne playing fatherly after playing racist.
Inspired by Nick and Antagony via Nathaniel . Se nervous. It took me like a month of listing and can and can’t to do this. How do I even judge a great performance? Physicality? Double or triple threats? Filling the shoes of a memorable literary character? And I combine leading and supporting performances because I’m cool like that. Anyway, here goes –
Vivien Leigh. “Gone with the Wind,” as Scarlett O’Hara. Directed by David O. Selznick & George Cukor, 1939. Oscar winner.
I’m pretty sure I”m gonna be clobbered if I didn’t include her in the list. I tried not to, but I can’t help it. Watching the film means finding another great line that Leigh delivers, considering that she doesn’t have the best lines in the film (the honour would go to Melanie Wilkes). Of course, there’s watching Leigh in four hours going through different stages of Scarlett’s life, in different eras, and both actress and character fit well. She grows into an adult yet her eyes hint of childlike mischief. She’s a character, on paper, that we should love to hate, and yet we still love her.
Hattie McDaniel. “Gone with the Wind,” as Mamie. Directed by David O. Selznick, 1939. Oscar winner.
Writing this, I realized that Mamie’s often brings bad news. Most of the time, she’s the one to tell other characters whether a member in the family has died or is suffering. She’s also there to tell Scarlett if she’s making a mistake. She’s family whether Scarlett thinks otherwise., arguably Scarlett’s surrogate mother, feeding her and clothing her. In “Gone with the Wind, McDaniel puts some subtlety into crucial scenes not permitted to any actress of her race in any other movie at the time. McDaniel took on Mamie character with tragedy and comedy and ambiguity.
Bette Davis. “The Little Foxes,” as Regina Giddens. Directed by William Wyler, 1941. Oscar nominee.
Despite of the performance’s reputation, Davis doesn’t make her character that much of a monster. There’s honesty in Regina’s wish to give her only child Alexandra a better life she couldn’t have in her youth. Yet she’s an anti-Scarlett, or a more ruthless version of the Southern woman. She has the ability to attack after being vulnerable and cheated, has to do certain unspeakable things for her ambition and survival, crushes her family like enemies and in minutes she treat them like friends. All of that done with great finesse.
Moira Shearer. ‘The Red Shoes,” as Victoria Page. Directed by Michael Powell, 1948.
I apologize for the forthcoming use of adjectives and nouns, but who else can show youth and exuberance and pathos. She has this childlike quality, and her ambition for a dance career has thrust her into this adult world where people, sepcifically her boss (Anton Walbrook) and husband, would be pulling and tugging for her. I make it sound like a coming of age story, but Shearer’s performance shows the difference sides youth and the decay of that youth. She goes from rosy to fragile. That and being the quintessential pre-mod British girl holding our attention for at least fifteen minutes in that dance sequence.
Isuzu Yamada. “Throne of Blood,” as Lady Asaji Washizu. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, 1957.
This is Noh and Kabuki at its best. It’s also one of the most interesting interpretations of Lady Macbeth, as well as any royal consort who has to act through her man instead of being free to do so in her own right. The audience sees her sitting down, like in meditation, symbolic of someone so ingrained her own rhetoric and dragging down her devoted husband with her. She is calm as a person who helped her husband kill a man. Yet in public she is a gracious host and tries to behave as if she’s advising her husband and not suffocating him. She shows her as guiltless because those with guilt actually live through the end – she won’t. She spends the final act being tortured on earth. More conventional interpretations of the character shows her as hollowed out, yet Asaji is fully fleshed yet possessed. She’s a monster and not a queen.
Helen Mirren. “Age of Consent,” as Cora Ryan. Directed by Michael Powell, 1969.
Helen Mirren’s trademark is to show off her body, but she uses it in this movie to its fullest potential. When she’s skipping and posing on the beach or in the dirtiest places, trying to hide money from her tyrannic grandmother, she’s that kind of actress that you can tell her what to do or say and she’s game. Her Shakespearean training helps convey this class and strength, surprising for this feral child in the middle of nowhere, yet still make us believe that she’s innocent. No wonder James Mason’s character Bradley was attracted to her and wanted her as a muse. Like and unlike a Galatea-like character she professes her love for her man and she’s so certain of it that Bradley nor the audience can doubt it. Her accent work’s good too. Mirren’s later performances will be that on an ice queen, and we’ll probably never get something as invigorating as this performance from her again.
Faye Dunaway. “Network,” as Diana Christensen. Directed by Sidney Lumet, 1976. Oscar winner.
She knows how to walk into a room. To talk Max Schumacher’s (Billy Holden) ear off and let him just stand there and take it. Being a seductress yet frigid is a hard thing to pull off, and Dunaway does it. Her performance, especially the ending, makes its audience wonder whether she’s a victim or survivor. Max condemns her, that she’s probably gonna jump off from her corner office in a year or two. Yet she placidly and without hesitation plans for an assassination without Max’s words clouding her brain. Also, here and in any other movie, Dunaway is a master of modern American elocution. She doesn’t veer off in a fake British accent like most of her predecessors not does she talk like an accordion like most American actresses. She commands the other person so quickly yet doesn’t get them and the audience lost.
Helena Bonham Carter. “A Room with a View, ” as Lucy Honeychurch. Directed by James Ivory, 1985.
Bonham Carter’s work in this movie can arguably be that on an ingenue’s, but you know the Chinese proverb of an apprentice’s limitless possibilities. As Lucy, she goes on vacation in Italy to learn about art and culture and watch Italians fight, but her stature while absorbing this information that makes her less passive than any other character in that film. She speaks a certain way depending on her situation. She could be ghostly and trapped, childlike in her complaints, or assert to others that her conventional life makes her happy. There’s also that moment when she answers a crucial question and breaks down and becomes free, and is so matter of fact about that answer. Bonham Carter’s recent reputation as Tim Burton’s wife and muse also makes this early performance a discovery of how soft and subtle she could be.
Cate Blanchett. “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” as Meredith Logue. Directed by Anthony Minghella, 1999.
She’s a star even in her many supporting roles like this one. Watch Blanchett’s performance create a back story in a few seconds by a look, by simply flipping her hair and being swept by her surroundings. Meredith is one of the Americans in Venice, yet refreshingly not as jaded as her peers. She doesn’t just use her appearance to shape her role. That insufferable inflection as she calls Tom Ripley ‘Dickie’ is one of the most memorable parts of the film. Fact: Gwyneth Paltrow arguable stole Blanchett’s Oscar, and in return this movie gets Blanchett to steal Paltrow’s boyfriend.
Viola Davis. “Doubt,” as Mrs. Miller. Directed by John Patrick Shanley, 2008.
This wonderfully paced supporting work reveals so much about the shocking words coming from Mrs. Miller. Another way of talking about this scene stealing performance is that of a pressure cooker, a women dogged by Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) until she explodes and tells the truth. She uses the words ‘caught’ and ‘nature’ not like innuendos but a natural part of an oppressive vocabulary. She makes herself understood. Remember that in the film version, their conversation happens in public and Davis doesn’t hush up nor careless go into histrionics. She doesn’t apologize for her presence and makes herself an equal by sharply telling Aloysius that she has to go back to her life, and to defending and loving her son without making the latter nor the audience think that she didn’t ask for him, as many fictional mothers like her do.
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).
I can’t even conjugate a sentence now because:
First item. Two days old news, but the paps got a look at the Kate Winslet vehicle “Mildred Pierce.” Haven’t read the James M. Cain source material and the only knowledge I have of the story is the Joan Crawford movie. This new “Mildred Pierce” miniseries covers the titular character’s struggles in the Depression when she leaves her husband. Ballsy move for the character and Todd Haynes who’s directing the project. I don’t know if I should readily assume things by just looking at paparazzi photos, but this homely Mildred looks like a continent away from the glamorous Mildred of Joan Crawford. And wait, the story’s set in New York instead of LA? We’re probably gonna see more snaps in the future, but I wanna see Kate’s version of Mildred get rich. Ad to see the episodes next month somehow.
I also found my way again to Nick’s Flick Picks, who by the way wanted more from Kate in her career best in “Little Children,” and who’ll have a profile on Kate Winslet coming soon.
Second item. I saw a documentary on TV called “Queen Mother: Her Reign in Colour” about the 16 years when King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth ruled England. The focus is both between the Queen Consort and her subjects, as both have to deal with her brother-in-law’s abdication and the Second World War. With the archive footage we hear about her duty towards her husband and country as well as how she charms people in her foreign tours. That doesn’t mean we don’t get the other viewpoint on royalty, as her lavish lifestyle gets criticism from working class Britons. I’m still surprised how republicanism had its early starts. What I know about her is progressive thinking, quick wit and loving the gays, which makes her probably one of the best historical figures ever.
Which leads us to me getting excited about “The King’s Speech.” Some worry that it’s gonna be another bid for the Weinsteins to get Colin Firth an Oscar, which is a weird yet noble obsession of theirs, by the way. But just like the woman who would become Queen Mother, I really hope Helena Bonham Carter steals the show. Weinsteins, don’t screw this one up!