Geek done good Martin Scorsese is like a pre-Tarantino in his depth in film knowledge. The master, however, exceeds the extra mile by referencing both film and art in his 90’s film Casino, and make those references fit into the 1970’s and 1980’s when the movie was set. Scorsese’s always been visual but it was his work in the 90’s showcased this talent, with movies like Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, and arguably Cape Fear.
Edward Hopper – although this is a little bit of a stretch
Edvard Munch – SPOILERS!
The male characters in the Southern small-town setting of Sling Blade are different yet the same. Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow-witted man who’s out from the ‘nervous hospital’ after being there for twenty-five years. His friend Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) is just a boy – he reads books but we never see him go to school in most of the film. Their friend Vaughn is an owner of a stable dollar store, his homosexuality an open secret to the small community that is ambivalent in accepting him. Frank’s mother’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) is an abusive alcoholic who has aspirations in the music business.
Frank’s mother defends Doyle by saying that ‘he’s had a hard life,’ a statement that applies to all four guys. Specifically, in the first three examples, they have shitty father figures. With the ‘same difference’ that these four guys have, the film paints a social pattern. This movie is only a public service announcement for those who will see most movies that way. What separates this fictional community from lesser movies is that it doesn’t ask for outside help and takes care of its own problems.
Or that Thornton, also the movie’s director, didn’t choose to portray the plot points by changing the tone of the movie through non-diagetic music or heavy editing. What happens in the movie gets normalized through long takes, etc. It’s strange when Karl and Frank talk about something that is bound to happen again. I’m not sure if that prepares me as an audience. What happens, nonetheless, is still shocking when I finally see it.
The performances of the two leads, Thornton and Black, are an acquired taste, arguably dated, but I got used to them eventually. For Thornton’s Karl, there’s mannerisms, check. Catch phrase, check. And we’ve had a lot of ‘special’ male characters in that decade. Forrest Gump, Leo in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Geoffrey Rush in Shine. With any character like Karl, it takes a lot of commitment to be entrenched in a character like that and it’s hard to judge choices like his. And Black at first seems less animated for an abused child, but the one scene in the climax proved that I spoke against him too early. He was just getting warmed up.
Because of this, and because The Thin Red Line will be at the Revue at 3 as the first film they’re screening on their Cinematography series. Or on the History Television at 9. I couldn’t exclude Saving Private Ryan, Road to Perdition and There Will be Blood, all three in the ASC list, because I’m not a dick.
Road to Perdition Conrad L. Hall, ASC (2002)
First of all, I just wanna say that FIRST BLOG ENTRY IN THREE DAYS!
RopeofSilicon asked its readers what their first movie going experience was. “Forrest Gump.” I was seven. I remember my paternal grandmother taking me, my sister and my two cousins to see the movie. I remember the bus stop, young Forrest’s foot getting stuck in the gutter, Forrest (Tom Hanks) in the rain, Forrest meeting Jenny (Robin Wright) and giving her some box and I remmeber the meeting being really happy and I guess it’s more bittersweet.
Everything else was a blur. For some reason, I don’t remember Jenny being a coke addicted stripper trying to jump off a building and eventually getting AIDS. Or Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) being homeless and getting hookers for him and Forrest and eventually kicking him out because one of the hookers called Forrest a retard or something. And how it’s a one in a million chance for a special needs person to have a rockin’ body like that. And somebody investing Forrest’s money on Apple, because advertising within a film existed back then too. And that this is probably Haley Joel Osment’s first movie. Hookers and suicide and cocaine and the stock market in a family movie.
I blame my lack of memory first to the draconian censorship board in the Philippines. Maybe I slept while watching the movie, or we left the theatre when the shocking parts happened. The last scenario seems impossible since my grandma was also a cultural person who would probably have wanted us to see the terrible side of life. But then she didn’t allow me to have toy guns.
There’s also a part of me that’s a bit surprised how this movie hasn’t aged well. All we have to do is look at Jenny’s storyline which, by the way, is probably the most ridiculous sentence I’ve ever written. And I haven’t even said everything that happens to her. All those things can happen to a real person, but going through time with a timely addiction to a timely disease makes someone look more like a time capsule or a metaphor instead of a fleshed out character. Jenny, however, exists both as a foil for Forrest as a way to remind contemporary critics that this movie ain’t cookie cutter.
Tom Hanks’s performance divides critics and movie writers moreso today than when it was released. I guess if a movie fails to shock at repeat viewings, it fails. I can’t watch it in its duration when it’s being aired on TV. I like it despite its flaws, but there are too many movie I like better that came out the same year.
I also wanna say that my mom absolutely hates Tom Hanks for some reason. I don’t know when else would I have the opportunity to expand on that.
Because I am a masochist, I followed up the sobbing in “Secrets and Lies” last Saturday night with the elegies of “The Thin Red Line.” I saw it in parts for the first time, its entirety at UofT for the second time, so this third time is for the emotional experience.
The images that caught me the first time are the bayonets puncturing both the American and the Japanese as the former attacks the latter’s hilltop base at Guadalcanal. The film mixes these close-ups with shot where young privates and corporals run towards the camera or the faceless Japanese soldiers running across the screen. Despite of the grand scale that war films have, most deaths in them are still shown on the personal level, although quickly done so. The close-up on the men’s uniformed bodies stress that, and we as the audience feel the pain there even if we don’t see their faces’ anguish. If we do see their faces, as we did in the first act of the film, it’s like watching a eulogy instead of seeing a special effects cadaver with a bomb attached to it.
There are also Pvt. Bell’s (Ben Chaplin) flashbacks of his wife (Miranda Otto), handled with such intimacy. She looks towards the ocean with a breeze surrounding her, she sensual when they’re together, her memory keeps him sane. Their marriage seems less familial and more romantic, as she’s alone or with him in public spaces. When she’s outside, she barely speaks but is smiling and laughing. The breeze in the scenes featuring her has the same touch as that on the grassy war zone. The similarities between home territory and the island remind us that she’s still far away.
I blogged about “Days of Heaven” and said that it’s a lighter precursor to “The Thin Red Line” when it comes to its depiction of nature. Nature’s screen time equals that of the cast, but the former does take a passive role in the film, being affected by human actions instead of nature affecting human lives the way it did in “Days of Heaven.” Director Terry Malick does not show craters like there would have been on Dieppe, although there are forest fires in the island as the American have come. What we see are little birds blackened with oil as well as other creatures and plants damaged within the island’s ecosystem, their pain more poignant than human ones.
And with the talk of nature, the problematic symbolism in race in the movie comes in as well. To be honest I haven’t figured out the nuances in this symbolism or if the film has deeper strategies in its definition of “blackness.” The natives act like nature, innocent characters whose lives and attitudes will change after the battle fought on their home soil. Pvt. Witt (Jim Caviezel) idealized the Natives and their children’s communal spirit, as he points out that the same children never fight. After the American takeover, conflict becomes an occurrence into these people’s lives.
Strangely enough the Japanese, who had the stronghold in the island, do not have the same negative effect on the Natives. In fact, there’s the same kind of depiction given to both races. In the “close to nature” aspect, the Japanese wear leaves on top of their uniforms, a tactic the Americans never use. And like the Natives’ innocence, younger, skinnier actors play the Japanese soldiers. Some of the Japanese look like infants when the Americans capture them in their underwear. The Americans, while talking to them, do not try to make themselves understood to the Japanese. While speaking, the Japanese aren’t subtitled, unable to communicate with us.
The film portrays Americans as military strategists like Bell and Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte). The dissenters within the group are Witt and Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas), the latter being more of a paternal figure who would rather not see his men killed. Witt is a special case, creolized by his idealization and his short stay with the Natives. Had he lived to the end of his mission in Guadalcanal, he might not have been unfit to return to America or to stay with the Natives. These notions of race within the film aren’t 100% perfect, but it still has a lot of realism and nuance to them.
One last thing about this film is that it kind of reminded me of “Avatar.” Both celebrated beauty and condemned violence, although “The Thin Red Line” uses real animal and plant life and is more dazzling and more complex in its depiction of race relations.
You know Marianne Jean-Baptiste from “Without a Trace” but before that, she has played Hortense Cumberbatch in this great Mike Leigh film “Secrets and Lies.” There are drastic events thrown at her character’s life in the past two months. At one point she almost turns up as the depressed, obsessed girl who alienates her old friend, but she seems well-balanced and even cheerful for that. She’s pretty much the equivalent of Sally Hawkins’ Poppy in “Happy Go Lucky.”
Her smiles and goofy faces even pull up everyone around her, like Cynthia Purley, the screechy and mentally fragile woman who we’d find out is Hortense’s white mother. Played by Brenda Blethyn, she has her flaws but thankfully she’s more verbose than Imelda Staunton’s eponymous Vera Drake. She reluctantly meets the daughter she has given away, but her week nights with Hortense made her rise from her fragility to become an older woman of class.
The story culminates in a birthday celebration in the suburbs, and yes, it did feel awkward watching one secret pour after another, where one person sobbing triggers another, which made the scene seem both stage-like and real in one stroke.
There’s so many interesting things about this movie – how Cynthia’s rank bitch of a daughter Roxanne becomes strangely beautiful while she’s being vulnerable for the first time, how whoever cast Timothy Spall as the schlubby voice of sanity that he’ll be in half of his movies is a genius, how long takes are enjoyable with truthful dialogue, how it did work out that Hortense must be lost and regained than to never have been lost at all, how we realize that the portraits of the multicultural Britain get perfectly merged into a family after twenty or so years of struggle.
And there’s something glorious about this last shot. The sun shines on Cynthia. You can see Hortense’s face smiling even from that height. The backyard’s a little untamed but it’s the perfect place for a banal teatime.
And big digression here but just seeing this ultimate dysfunctional family, I just know that Mike Leigh should direct August: Osage County with a fuck off British cast.
I’m so emotionally exhausted from that movie now.