“”This is NOT funny!” Or…
Jocky Mark Wahlberg as Tommy, a student straying from existentialism and going into nihilism? Is he showing his intellect through his scruffy beard? He deserves the criticism that Brad Pitt gets when either of them get to speak big words and political pontifications, and I guess it isn’t fair that both men get that kind of flack. Well, at least he nice to look at especially when he’s beating people up. I always wondered why he keeps coming back to be work with one of the most vilified directors to ever live. It’s like the Skarsgard-von Trier collaborations but with mixed results. In David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees Tommy’s a de facto big brother to Albert Markovsky (Jason Schwartzman), a role reminiscent of the one he’ll altruistically take in The Fighter.
Meet Jonah Hill, whose father is played by Richard Jenkins. Half a decade or so ago they were pre-fame and pre-Oscar nominations. These shots belong to a sequence that will get their family into a verbal argument with Tommy, which ends in breaking Godwin’s law. There are too many beards in this movie.
Naomi Watts, the pretty cheerleader with problems.
I never understood the vitriol against David O. Russell‘s I Heart Huckabees. I still like how subtly minimal the art decoration is reminiscent of Magritte – Dustin Hoffman‘s character even name drops him! His partner is played by Lily Tomlin and anyone who has ever been on Youtube has seen her spats with the equally short fused director. I understand, ‘philosophical comedy’ is a hard sell. It’s a lesser version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both satirizing our notions of therapy. It mistakes philosophy with its little brother in psychology and psychiatry, although I guess you’ll be healed mentally if you newly subscribed to an extreme way of thinking. And in that sense it doesn’t necessarily bring in the ‘philosophy,’ assigning lines of thought like existentialism or Catherine le Bon’s (Isabelle Huppert, in the few and delightful times that she’s glammed up and has her own way of following her clients) nihilism to groups of characters and instead making them fight on different sides of corporate dominance. But I didn’t mind that because I equated everything quirky into funny when I was younger. That until I rewatched it and saw the dream/therapy sequence with Jude Law‘s character having long, stringy hair, letting Albert suckle on him. The camera tilts but I’m not going down there with it!
Parent Relationships: Hugo
Any other seventeen year old can see that the paternal figures in Hugo represent a cultural fatherhood as it does with a biological one. That our eponymous hero Hugo’s (Asa Butterfield) status as an orphan living in a train station is a break from that said culture and identity. And his self-appointed mission to fix the automaton that his father (Jude Law) has brought home from the museum where the latter works is symbolic of him repatriating himself. The he in convinced that the automaton has a message for him that stems from the belief that the objects our forbears leave us says a lot about them and ourselves.
John Logan, screenwriter and Martin Scorsese, director adapted this movie from Brian Selznick’s children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” And as a necessary evil, Hugo’s life is full of coincidences, his notebook of the drawings of the automatons catches the eye and anger of a man named Papa Georges (Shutter Island alum Ben Kingsley), who owns the top shop from which Hugo steals. That Hugo can’t even utter why he has the notebook points to how stunted he is. Papa Georges takes the notebook, a part of Hugo’s journey then being to recover it, going to the former’s through a cemetery, a setting so visualized out that it inescapably became overt symbolism.
Anyway, Papa Georges is actually acclaimed silent filmmaker George Melies, almost lost in movie history until Hugo and Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) rediscover him in the early 1930’s (I imagine a more boring story, Tabard or some twenty-something assistant finding Melies through records or whatnot, but we like this story better for reasons of our own). Pointing out Papa Georges is a case example shows how loss doesn’t only occur through accidents but through adult self-will. He almost shuns movies because he believes that his contributions are no longer wanted, because he’ll never have a comeback because those things aren’t supposed to happen.
Speaking of which, the movie, being from a children’s lit source material, only shows the development and evolution of a child through its connections with the father. But whatever is missing through the Hugo-father-Georges story lines is shown through other story lines and connections within the characters. There’s the limitation or lack of Hugo’s adolescent phase, the loss he experiences or his survivalist induced kleptomania don’t count as that. His adolescent phase is shown through the world falling out of Georges’ movies the same way a person outgrows movies or cultural pieces they used to love as children. ‘Films have the power to capture dreams,’ as Hugo quotes his father describing a movie the latter has seen as a child.
But that fantastical quality is also George’s biggest disadvantage, as most of the children who have seen and loved his films have experienced the war and other misfortunes and have wanted other movies if none at all. The lightest genres they can tolerate are social commentaries disguised as comedies, as evinced by Harold Lloyds and Charlie Chaplins. And time moves on, as sound in movies demand that even those slapstick silent movies have to become relics. Thankfully, not everyone grows into adolescence or adulthood, that Hugo and Rene, instead of sporting battle scars and limps, use their first childhood encounters with beauty and magic to continue into great artistry. Their much derided interests can show the other grown-ups that dreams can come true in a big screen. They even have to remind Georges that.
The second thing missing directly from Hugo as a character but is well and alive through traces around him is the female presence. The only thing we know from his mother is his father’s words of her English provenance. There are slightly stronger examples. Hugo’s love interest Isabelle (Chloë Moretz, her grating accent scaring me of what Les Miserables might be like this year) instinctively chooses to dig up her godfather Georges’ past with Hugo – both calling it an adventure – her precociousness disregards that she can possibly hurt Georges’ feelings and instead views this as her right to know about his past or about anything. She probably chooses this as punishment for her godfather banning her to watch movies.
She lacks the protective instincts that her godmother Mama Jeanne has, but she still has a stake on the resurfacing of Georges’ work, her role as his actress and muse being a great contribution to his work. Rene’s compliments confirm her share within early cinema. There’s also the woman selling flowers in the train station (Shutter Island co-alum Emily Mortimer) revealing to the Station Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen) that her brother died in the same war that has gotten him injured. I resent giving masculine-dominated movies brownie points for writing one line for each female character or something (which is an exaggeration I admit but come on, why give Emily Mortimer such a small role?). But these women and men surprise each other with their shared history, and these revelations support and cement the connections that these characters have.
There are a few silver linings to being an orphan (or yes, fan girls and boys, to Jude Law dying. The movie visualizes his death forgettably, as paper-thin fires consume a museum, one of equally paper-thin looking sets. Anyway….). First is the connections that these grownups forge under his voyeuristic eye, that these workers and shopkeepers and regulars organically create a familial rapport. That these are older versions of his lonely self, and that they can cure their anomie.
Second is that Hugo’s orphan-hood allows him to dig twice as hard and in many different directions to discover himself. Let’s think about his direct provenance – he’s a son and nephew of repairmen and he would have stayed that way had these elder men lived. I don’t want to romanticize him living in a train station by himself. The other train station orphan shows what hygienic state Hugo could have been in. But the station also represents multifaceted urban stimuli and he could also have followed the examples of those around him. A cafe owner, a flower sales rep, a station inspector (Gustave also being an orphan), a librarian, an Indian Chief, you know how the Imperial nursery rhyme goes. For a person who belongs nowhere, like an apprentice in Confucius’ world, the choices are endless. And as much as there are people like Gustave who wants to lock him up or the characters who think he’s invisible but there are others like Georges and Rene who give him a chance.
Lastly, I don’t want to sound like I’m belittling repairmen. If anything Georges just saw himself as a box cranker and a vaudeville act – a man with a bigger sense of entitlement would have probably died instead of reducing himself as a toy shop keeper. But as Hugo’s father saw potential in an automaton that the museum didn’t want to display, these stray young characters’ constant search has great results. As much as this movie is about the characters’ returning home, it’s also about appreciating the utilitarian craft, a 20th century fight and attitude towards unappreciated art forms. The other characters have thought as a rickety few hours of escapism, Hugo and Rene’s mission was to convince everyone that they have experienced movies as magic.
Chick Flick Remix: Cold Mountain
In order to get a newer perspective in a repeated viewing of the Civil War romance film, Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain – dubbed in French, for some reason – I decided to read the book. So if you read any of my poetic tweets that was author Charles Frazier and not me. The time span between my rewatch of the film and the time when I read the book’s last word was less than six weeks, so remind me never to do such a thing again.
This film adaptation sticks to the story’s general idea but there are inevitable scenes and themes in the film that aren’t in the novel, which doesn’t lessen the film, mind you. I noticed that twice in the film, Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger) and Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) turn away men like Strobrod (Brendan Gleeson) and Inman and tell them to go back where they came from, those men coincidentally are ones closest to them.
If anyone out there does screenings of older movies and sets them to different soundtracks, someone should use this film while playing Fleet Foxes‘ first songs. It’s better than the Enya-like OST. It somehow goes well with the film’s enthralling cinematography that takes advantage of nature’s changing deep and bright colours, from green to brown to white, adding to the film’s region-specific lyricism.
Bringing up a band who became famous half a decade after a movie with, theoretically, the same qualities reinforces my strange feeling that Weinstein made this movie too early, that other actors could have played Ada and Ruby (arguably interchangeable), Inman and Sara (Natalie Portman) competently. This strange feeling also weaves into the biggest criticism against the film, that the Miramax’s star casting got talent from the four corners of the English-speaking world, only for the inconsistencies in some of those actors’ Southern accents to stick out like sore thumbs.
But this casting still works, as Kidman brings her signature cold-hot self-imposed repression perfectly describes Ada – both are age-appropriate as ‘spinsters’ and romantic leading ladies. Law is small and exhausted as Inman would be. I imagined for Ruby as someone with a deeper voice than Zellweger, but she portrays Ruby as childlike, working for the character’s stunted younger years. This movie is also my introduction to Gleeson and Ray Winstone, playing the villanous Teague, the two will play mirrored opposites of each other or even fighting brothers, if there isn’t already a movie just like that hiding between my gaps of movie knowledge.
Late Thoughts on Contagion’s Trailer
Minutes before watching Crazy, Stupid, Love, I saw the trailer for Contagion, a trailer that, at first viewing, was for your typical Oscar season blockbuster. But I guess seeing it on the big screen made me see stuff more like oh hai, Bryan Cranston, playing Haggerty, a suave man in uniform again beside Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne). Other actors appearing in this film are John Hawkes and Enrico Colantoni, an uncredited Soderbergh alum who’s known here in Canada for being the lead in the cop show “Flashpoint.”
I also really like this shot well, because of the flowers. Seeing the daisies I assumed that it was a child bringing it to someone’s grave, but then it’s obviously someone working on the mass burial grounds. It’s a mix of the personal and professional an adult, possibly jaded because of the recent events, trying to bring an innocent time back. Over-read!
Now, the stars! It sounds sadistic but I’m relieved Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) dies early instead of the disease being the wedge between her and her healthy husband Thomas’ (Matt Damon) marriage. But Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) will analyze Beth throughout the movie, being the first to fall to the disease. How is there even an HD camera surveying her before her death, anyway? Here’s Jude Law, meh. There’s also Dr. Erin Mears’ (Kate Winslet) voice dominating the trailer, but why is her nose red? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Talented Mr. Ripley
ph. Paramount Vantage and Miramax
The Talented Mr Ripley is playing at the Toronto Underground Cinema today at 6:45, followed by Amadeus at 9:30. This part of their Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival. Today we get to the fourth sin, Envy.
Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith – the same author who wrote “Strangers on a Train”- the centre of class-based resentment and guilt resides within our anti-hero, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon). He wears a Princeton blazer for a performance for rich folks on a rooftop facing Central Park. He is mistaken for a rich boy’s college friend, the rich boy being Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Dickie’s parents then ask Tom to get Dickie home from the latter’s self-exile in Montebello, Italy.
Tom’s a quick study, as Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) would say. He is an all American boy who’s always wanted things he could never have. He can crack jokes that can amuse Dickie and his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). He tells Dickie that his talents include ‘telling lies, making forgeries.’ He tries to like the same things and live the same lifestyle as Dickie, a premise as dangerous as it sounds. Tom a classical fan, sees Dickie, a jazz fan. He wants to like the same things Dickie likes and to become Dickie. And he can charm women like Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) and convince her that he is Dickie.
Anthony Minghella is probably the closest our generation will get to a golden age Hitchcock. The movie doesn’t oscillate with valleys of Hitch’s thriller side nor the peaks of his surprisingly cheerful Grace Kelly side. We get both fear and harmless beauty at the same, evenly mixed concoction. Minghella here is trying to beautify and exoticize the Italian beach country as well as the diasporic upper class Americans living there. Minghella dresses the gang in New Look outfits and summer whites. There’s a lot for Tom and for the audience to covet, and the coveting is what helps the cloud of intrigue to come in.
Despite of the embarrassment of riches that the characters have, the actors playing them give unflashy performances. I’ve applauded Blachett’s interpretation of her character in a previous post. There’s also Damon, whom Courtney Young praised for standing up to the same levels as Jude Law. This movie was my introduction to Hoffman, who plays someone opposite his characters. Gwyneth Paltrow also amazes in her final scenes, although some critics like Amy Taubin don’t like her performance here.