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)
Channing Tatum brings the first great quotable of 2012. As privately contracted secret agent Aaron in Haywire, he says “I’m hungover…and you’re really starting to cut on my vacation time so can we go,” being straightforward about the state of mind that he says he’s in.
In short he’s there to propose that his former colleague Mallory Tate (Gina Carano) to surrender herself. That’s a contrast from the flashbacks – she narrates the events to some bloke name Scott (Michael Angarano) – they seemed to get along like a perfect couple. He looks good for someone who might talk with his mouth full, she sounds like a robot trying to hug me after my father died.
They’re assigned on a rescue mission in Barcelona and cross professional boundaries when they finish the job. Days and oceans later, they kick each other’s butts, letting us know that this isn’t a love story. It’s one of professional betrayal, as each man in the field tries to kill her while she uses her training for self-defence.
Steven Soderbergh here employs the same drained digital color schemes as he did in Contagion. I forgive directors who ‘improve’ on themselves but he’s more ubiquitous, inadvertently letting his audience see him as derivative of himself. Two years might make us look at four movies conflated into a phase instead of each one being able to stand up on their own.
The choreography of the fight scenes are also noticeable. Punch, unfurl, weapon, punch, kick, wall, unfurl, repeat, choke hold, death (I actually don’t mind how he films fight scenes, as wide shots and no sound make limbs do all the good work).
Despite of Soderbergh holding on to a list of obsessions, a few end up working. If Contagion felt like the angel of death with a coach ticket, Haywire finds the B-spy action (sub)genre perfect for cinematic globe-trotting. A chase scene in Barcelona is exhilarating partly because we’re going through strange city streets.
The action also brings out the sadist within all of us, the audience with whom I watched the film laughing when Carano injures her sparring partner. Soderbergh as usual finds humour within confrontations between professionals.
Haywire also plays around with the feminine action hero. Unlike others, it lets Carano – a MMA fighter in her movie debut – be a lover, eye candy or the cool-headed avenger. She softens up during dialogue or when she’s with her father (Bill Paxton) but becomes intimidating when she needs to.
The other male actors including Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor – I love his bunny-like grin as he asks Paul (Fassbender) if ‘the divorce is final’ – and Antonio Banderas, who plays a philanderer, eventually cower under her fists. Just the way we like her. 3.5/5
- Grizzly Review: Haywire (grizzlybomb.com)
2011: A Dangerous Method
The title and trailer of David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method made me assume that Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) endures histrionic mental states and transforms into a seductress going after her psychiatrist-turned-lover Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), making him unfaithful against his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) and destroying his friendship with his colleague Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Fortunately it’s a more intelligent movie than that.
Cronenberg as usual tells the story of subconscious sexuality that the real Freud and Jung obsessed about. But this is mostly playwright-turned-screenwriter Christopher Hampton‘s movie, adapted from “The Talking Cure,” which is in itself a condensed version of “A Most Dangerous Method” by John Kerr. Hampton is in his comfort zone with another period piece about the restrained, yearning, upper class. I’m not usually a Hampton fan, but the project landing on Cronenberg’s hands has just as much to do with the way he tackles the story. Yes, there’s some lust here but the characters also converse with each other with erudition. Working in psychology, they’re tailor-made into observing each other’s flaws, deceitfulness and slips of the tongue. Sometimes they’re in the verbal combat I’ve been waiting to watch on-screen, resisting while the other person imposes their viewpoints towards them. Subverting assumptions this film’s sexual context feels genius, Hampton and Cronenberg siding with Carl, questioning Freud’s insistence in the sexual.
Knightley’s performance was always going to be imperfect, burdened in early scenes with a younger Sabina’s schizophrenia. Name me an actress who can go from laughing to crying to yelling within seconds while making us get used to a Russian accent, I’m sure you can. There’s bravery in her physical portraying Sabina, protruding her chin and bending her body, as if taunting her detractors who make fun of her face, posture and weight even when she’s looked her best. She’s an animal in the movie’s first scenes. But what’s fascinating is her great work after her spells, transforming herself as the dependent lover and intelligent student. And even if she shows Sabina’s insecurities and paranoia about relapses, when she’s in a room with intimidating men like Fassbender and Mortensen and forming and verbalizing theory, she commands these men’s respect as an intellectual equal and has enough stature in her frail body to get it.
Mortensen has great supporting work as Sigmund, showing the character as confident about his theories and flippant about the anti-Semitism that both he and, he assumes, Sabina faces. Vincent Cassel appears as himself under the name of psychoanalyst Otto Gross. But keeping Sabina in mind, and knowing that this sounds reductive, all she has to do is climb down towards relative convalescence. Carl, thus, is the most difficult character to play, Fassbender embodying the struggle between repression and sublimation that Jung struggles with within the decade-long time period. He also gives us the theoretical and emotional heart of the movie even if he makes us work for it a little.
I also sense the characters’ ambivalence towards sensing a bigger – that is the war – conflict that will arise out of smaller ones like the ones Jung serve in and his growing rift with Freud. The movie’s goodbye doesn’t have the same feeling of dread, but separating these three different persons – they haven’t been happy together anyway – signals how they are never going to be complete without each other. And that Sabina has made peace with that but Carl, who has perceived her, among many things, as his theoretical muse, hasn’t.
- ‘Dangerous Method’ probes men of psychoanalysis (mysanantonio.com)
TIFF Hangover: Fish Tank.
Sleep deprivation in 2009 would probably have made me wonder ‘What is this HORSE doing in Fish Tank?!’ But the day before this year’s festival’s kickoff might be the perfect time to watch this to prepare for Michael Fassbender and Andrea Arnold‘s new works. This movie also has the funniest one liners and might be the only Criterion that features a Cassie song.
Nick wrote that Katie Jarvis should have been nominated for an Oscar, which my friends doubted because she was playing ‘herself’ here. I’ll never know what ‘herself’ is, but it’s probably the only time I’ll see an actress convey emotion even when her back is towards the camera. Her performance, the imagery and even the horse adds to its novelistic feel.
‘Gothic’ as a film genre
Did you know that I’ve seen three Michael Fassbender movies in the same room? Jane Eyre – my poorly written review here – is playing now at the Varsity 8, possibly the biggest screening room in Toronto (if you don’t count the repertory and TIFF theatres). I also saw Hunger and Inglorious Basterds at the same screening room. That’s one hell of a coincidence.
This post exists because Anthony Oliveira retweeted A.L. Day’s mini review: ‘Jane Eyre: solid “meh.” tried to be Austen; suffered for it. go gothic or go home.’
Then I thought about the difficulties of perfecting Gothic literature into cinema in the age of colour, the grainy textures of the walls of a grand old house pale in comparison against the shadows of black and white films?
Gothic cinema to me are movies released in the 1940’s or 50’s. Rebecca, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, but those movies are also called ‘noirs,’ referring either to genre or style. I looked up Gothic cinema on Google but the films that the pages listed belong to more genres – German Expressionism, Hammer horror, giallo and new Spanish cinema. Maybe ‘Gothic’ is too big and elastic of a bracket to have ever been considered a genre in the first place?
Anthony actually brought up Shutter Island as Gothic film’s ‘truest recent inheritor,’ which makes sense since the film checks off things on the list, scary men, haunted architecture, jagged rocks, insanity, damsels in distress. The film’s sensory overload, with the blaring bass of the soundtrack to the white screen flashbacks, also matches the descriptive prose of the Bronte sisters and Byron.
Jane Eyre has a slightly faster pace and is more plot-centred than the impressionistic feel of Emma Thompson’s Austen adaptations. The visuals are Campion-esque. I looked for Gothic references through the artwork featured in the film. The pictures within books that the young Jane (Amelia Clarkson) reads are minuscule, mature Jane’s (Mia Wasikowska) drawings more ethereal than ghostly, the paintings in Rochester’s (Fassbender) walls are French academy. I’m sure he has a Goya or a late Rembrandt tucked behind the walls somewhere, like ‘Grace Poole.’
The film has harsh close-ups under candlelight, foggy moors with barren trees, claustrophobic dark rooms and hallways but those images together don’t a Gothic movie make. I blame Dario Marianelli‘s score, its violins playing at a slightly slower pace than the faster piano footsteps in Atonement, although I’m not saying that those scores aren’t great.
Shutter Island embraces its campy insanity, as Anthony said it’s more Poe than Romantic. Fukunaga and crew, however, didn’t want Jane Eyre to associate too closely with genre, hoping it would bring the film some quality (it succeeds in doing so). I’m also hesitant in Gothic cinema’s campy tendencies, especially in its manifestations in Hammer or giallo. Is it scary if I’m laughing at the cheesy organ music? The visuals might be seen as gags if they veered closer into genre film, and Fukunaga then seems to tone it down.
Rochester should also be scary, my father’s girlfriend distinctively calling him a monster. But Fassbender gives the character heart, talking about horrific things with concern instead of disgust. Sally Hawkins‘ Mrs. Reed also seems more misguided than fiercely cruel. These sympathetic villains outweigh the abuses of Mrs. Reed’s son John, the Lowell headmaster and the force behind the terrors within Rochester’s home. One is underage, another is insane, all are bit parts. The movie decides to absolve those characters’ sins despite their actions. The wise forgiveness of an adult governs this film instead of the fears of a biased, oppressed child.
But in the end, do I care if Jane Eyre didn’t meet nor revive a genre’s expectations? Not yet, still swooning.