Fox Thrillers: “Phone Booth”
It’s interesting to hear that Phone Booth‘s screenwriter is Larry Cohen, who was very active in the late 1960’s and 70’s as a TV writer because this movie thinks that it’s about the excitement that can only be found in that earlier era in New York City. Within its boulevards is Colin Farrell‘s character Stuart Shepard, a publicist/professional who wears expensive Italian designer suits but wears them two sizes too big so he still looks like he’s from the other boroughs. His Point A is Times Square, the most ideal place to make business calls while dragging some nerdy-looking assistant named Adam (Keith Nobbs) who’s unknowingly working for free. His Point B, across a strip club on Eighth Avenue, is where he calls Pam (Katie Holmes), using a phone booth so his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) won’t see a record of this courtship. But apparently they’re not the only two who know about this infidelity, as a sniping stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) threatens that if Stu hangs up or doesn’t obey the stranger’s orders, he will die. Then a confrontation happens where the stranger offers to shoot a man assaulting Stu, which the latter accepts, inadvertently making the prostitutes on the street as witnesses on the accusing him as the killer, getting the police’s attention (Forest Whitaker plays police negotiator Captain Ramey). And when both the women in his life come to the scene, the stranger threatens to kill them both.
There’s something lost in translation in its attempt to capture the metropolis’ vibrancy and the few New Yorkers who happen to be annoying, the little screens within a big one and turquoise cinematography making for an ugly aesthetic. The stranger’s purpose in kidnapping Stu is to make the latter confess his sins, having done this earlier to upper-class child molesters and real criminals. With this revelation Stu makes an appeal that he’s not as bad as the stranger’s other victims. I suppose the film is trying to make the point that like most people, Stu tries to justify their little, personal transgressions by telling themselves that their impact isn’t as large. And in confronting Stu’s situation, Farrell shows that he’s in his best when deconstructing the masculinity with which he’s built his stardom and makes way for his weeping, vulnerable self that he’ll bring in later projects like In Bruges. But by inflating his effect towards others it just makes me care less about his character.
Because of Breaking the Waves, every time I hear Lars von Trier‘s name I remember this Bowie song. Let’s play it, shall we?
Her’s my write-up of Lars’ new movie Melancholia at Yourkloset. Within this movie I can see Lars’ earlier work, like the wedding in Breaking the Waves, the mob mentality in Dogville and the depression in Antichrist. It operates like a contest – whoever has the most complex and human approach to depression wins. There’s Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a disastrous bride and a vessel of depression who somehow marvels and is relieved that a planet, also called Melancholia, dangerously approaches to evaporate the Earth. She’s the one most of my friends can relate to either because of personal reason. Or because of Dunst, arguably giving her best performance within a career unfolding just as me and my friends were growing up. There’s also her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland), the most blindly optimistic character who steadfastly holds on to a rational belief system.
Justine is sympathetic enough but I wouldn’t pick her or John as someone I can relate to. That honour belongs to Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). She’s the one who’s probably read all the books about psychological health and help and thinks that she’s sent on this earth to help her sister even if the latter doesn’t want to be helped. The one worried with real problems, the maternal instinct to both coddle and abscond her sister when she thinks she needs to do so.
She’s also the false image of normalcy that I assume many people with depression learn to act out, that layer vulnerable to anxieties outside and underneath. So which character here do you relate to the most?
Bad-ish Movie: Schumacher’s Flatliners
I remember my aunt talking about Joel Schumacher‘s Flatliners, its characters facing the consequences of questioning God, as if the latter is the worst and most grave thing anyone can ever do.
Let me introduce you to the characters.
Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) is the ringleader and mad scientist, having a Satanic flair in convincing some of his fellow students into his racket or trying to find out what’s after death, arguing not for a religious but a scientific approach to truth and knowledge even though he’s equally about fame. Dave, (Kevin Bacon) reckless yet brilliant, reluctantly joins Nelson’s experiments only because he’s good at saving other people’s lives. Hurley (William Baldwin), despite his fiancee (Hope Davis), is the token lothario, has an effortless grasp on the human anatomy and is assigned to document the proceedings. Rachel (Julia Roberts), curious about her patients’ brushes with the afterlife and seen by the other characters as frigid because that’s what everyone thinks of driven female characters. Her femininity also makes the other students protect her from the experiment. And Oliver Platt, snarky yet poetic, exists here so that the audience already believes that most medical students aren’t hot youngsters with head shots.
I can still hear the Atlanta in Roberts’ speech. Bacon has been luckier, while Platt and Sutherland will eventually get roles that sort of echo the ones that they play here. Say what you will about Schumacher but the guy knows how to cast the movie.
Leave it up to Schumacher to create some garish images. Aided by his director of photography Jan de Bont, this movie is in the middle ground of ugly between his Batmans and his later work with Colin Farrell that I have yet to see, with his obsession with altitude as well as depicting some jumbled urban landscape. Hospital wings appropriately enough are littered with dead bodies for medical students to study but what are the red neon bars doing there? The exterior, however, is decorated with friezes depicting Medieval images of life and death flanking different sides of Hippocrates’ symbol.
Every structure is crumbling. Student housing where young kids play or abandoned buildings downtown. Nelson and Hurley’s lofts are minimally furnished where the latter videotapes his sexual experiences. There’s a church with a high ceiling surrounded by yellow tape and under renovation where the students irreverently do their experiments. And every time they enter a space or a scene begins we hear the jangle of an electric guitar or a synthesizer, making the movie’s aesthetics look way more dated than it already is.
Let’s talk about the afterlife sequences. Nelson’s seamless changes from a bucolic, all-American grassland to a forest with twined trees and other Gothic imagery like a paralyzed dog. Hurley’s is what would happen in Fritz Lang directed a Calvin Klein underwear commercial. Nelson’s afterlife blends into his real one is when Schumacher’s signature of neon pastel graffiti lights up and spooks his audience. Too bad that this kind of flashiness distracts from a truly compelling stories and set of characters, eventually loses my interest.
- Flatliners Remake on Its Way from Source Code Scribe for Sony (dreadcentral.com)
Bad Movie: Taking Lives
Despite my moods, I have to consider that Ethan Hawke is a great Broadway actor. That Angelina Jolie has knocked it out of the park at least twice. The latter, my favourite performance of hers, is in black face – and yes, I just willed this sentence to existence. That the Patton Oswalt quasi-apology for bad movies exist. The first shot I’ve seen of Taking Lives and with Jolie’s super-dark hair I thought, wait, why is Salt already on TV? My sister is a big Angelina fan for some reason, and she’ll watch any movie of hers, despite being very well aware that it’s crap.
That Gena Rowlands, who plays Mrs. Asher, is awesome, touches anything she wants and ain’t scared. And she dies. After watching KST getting killed off in a movie, there should be a law against icing great actresses.
Olivier Martinez is also in this mess, because they’re using a Frenchman to convince America that this movie’s set in Quebec.
And Kiefer Sutherland, Canadian, in pictures.
Then Costa (Hawke) befriends a random guy and kills him.
Here’s how it ends. Context – Ileana (Jolie) and Costa has sex without the former knowing that the latter is a killer. He’s pretty gross about the sex too.There’s actually decent acting going on here, Jolie’s cry groaning and Hawke’s creepy soft talk surprisingly the right notes for the scene. But they can’t save this movie at all. Ileana gets fired, moves to some winter yokel town to be alone and bear a child, then whoa, Costa’s back! Yeah, assault that pregnant woman!
Stab her in the stomach!
She stabs him in the heart, and reveals that she’s not really pregnant. I’m not an ob-gyn, but she should be swimming in blood had he put his second or third hand on her. The violence, however, is shocking and ridiculous enough to fasten my willing suspension of disbelief.
And U2’s playing, convincing me that my father is wrong and my friends are right about U2.