Motifs in 2012 Cinema: Luck and Fate
I feel privileged that for the second year in a row, my friend Andrew (Encore Entertainment) has asked me to come out of my chemically induced hibernation and take part in this:
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilized by different artists.
I suppose the point of this exercise is to objectively write about both luck and fate as equally represented in this year’s cinema. I’ll start with three movies that I thought profess the powers of fate over luck. It seems that heroes can’t escape their fates, the latter manifesting in their respective villains, buy you can also argue that these protagonists are unlucky to have such grugdge-fueled antagonists. Les Miserables is an epic spanning many decades, kings, republics, revolutions and tragic female deaths. But there’s a notoriously succinct spoiler on the doorstop – adapted by Tom Hooper – where, spoilers, it’s all about Javert chasing Jean Valjean into a river. It matters less to me whether a hero wins over his villain and more that fate – and the rules of drama – forces them meet. It doesn’t matter, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne mopes for almost a decade – he has to face Ra’s al Ghul’s dysfunctional family, including the latter’s daughter Talia and her lover, Bane. Elizabeth Shaw, with her quest to know life’s origins, is bound to meet the titular Prometheus, as she herself contributes to creating different monstrous life forms. In Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, James Bond helps M hide in Scotland but she will eventually face her persistent prodigal son, Raoul Silva, into a Pyrrhic victory.
There are some situations where the protagonists don’t have other characters as villains but instead their fighting concepts, societal oppression, injustice. Fate has its hand in helping these protagonists in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Yes, free will factors into the decisions of the characters within the book’s cinematic adaptation by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis but only as a part of a chain reaction from another character’s actions. And to show the effect of this chain reaction we get to see at least four centuries when six different protagonists live, each of them living their own revolution as inspired by each other.
But I’ve been itching to write about luck and fate around the release of Moonrise Kingdom. On the surface level, I can talk about what forces has let Sam and Suzy’s puppy love survive both a storm and a group of meddling adults. Three factors are enough to derail a master plan that will either keep the young couple together or tear them apart. But I want, instead, to recall a discussion I have about this movie with a critic, who pointed out Sam’s age. If we do some basic math,
Sam will be of draft age when Vietnam’s at its worst.
Wes Anderson’s been known to show the heartbreaking interior within movies that otherwise would have been maligned for its twee surfaces and Moonrise is no exception. Even the smallest and harmless looking institutions – like the Boy Scouts and Social Services – in an otherwise insular island like the fictional New Penzance are militaristic and preparing its young recruits for the slaughter. This perspective on Moonrise Kingdom is new to me and it opens up a way of looking at movies. These movies only serve as snippets of their lives, segments that would be weaved into a larger, even national story. It reminds me of what someone tweeted about The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson showing these characters slowly paving – or slow boating – the way toward the Sexual Revolution. Both movies show America is different stages of adolescence, a decade or less before its many destinies.
This year’s movies shows us many characters exploring different eras and territories which become problematic for the characters who explore them. In Argo, what happens to Sahar, the woman who helped save the Americans in hiding during the Iran Hostage Crisis? It’s established that it’s not a good idea for her to leave Iran, America’s enemy, for Iraq, America’s former enemy. Is it also enough that Broomhilda, and her titular hero Django in Django Unchained blew up Candieland? Will the other Plantation owners hunt the people responsible for Calvin Candie’s death? Will the West be as hostile to the couple as the South has been? I pose the same questions for Cid from Rian Johnson’s Looper, a movie that plays with the notion of fate by showing different alternate universes. When Joe kills himself while saving Cid and his mother Sara, has Joe really stopped Cid from becoming the destructive super-villain whom the latter is meant to become? Sahar, Django and Cid are contemporary versions of Antoine Doinel, leaving troubled lands and histories for frontiers, the latter symbolizing the troubling uncertainty of their fates. And it’s good to question these things, an activity that this year’s filmmakers openly encourage, knowing that great contemporary storytellers don’t wrap their creations in neat little bows.
2012: Three Months Later
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival ended like what, three months ago exactly, and I’ve written reviews for Entertainment Maven, and I still haven’t linked it in my spaces yet? Well I Facebooked and Tweeted them. And yes, I’m still trying to recover from it while adding more local festivals and more movies to include in my backlog. Jesus. I should make my job easier and link my profile within the Entertainment Maven space, which I’m doing right now, but I’ll write two more paragraphs although I haven’t slept, my mind can’t articulate shit anymore and my laptop is whizzing like a motherfucker. Put the fan close to the…no, laptop close to the fan.
There’s one movie that encapsulates the festival’s line-up and that is Dial M For Murder, still playing at the Lightbox. It’s an envelope-pushing movie about a dysfunctional romance. But I didn’t end up seeing that because I saw it twice already, once in 3D. So I had to ‘settle’ with two movies from the Cinematheque line-up that encompasses as least one of two of what Dial M’s stands for in this fest. Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is the envelope pusher, Roman Polanski’s Tess is the visually crystalline dysfunctional romance. Sometimes I’m cynical about the movies I’ve seen, my schedule only allowing me to watch slim pickings but sometimes those are the ones with the most surprising merit.
You know what, sometimes both intersect for me. Rust and Bone‘s realist-styled frayed frames is reminiscent of Brakhage while depicting a romance between a boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard). That one was my favourite of the fest. Joe Wright goes Baz to show the choreographed nature of the contemptible white Russian society in Anna Karenina, where Keira Knightley plays the titular role and actors like Domhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander idealize each other. The approachable Like Someone in Love is a triangle between a Tokyo-area prostitute (Rin Takanashi), her client and her boyfriend and just like Abbas Kiarostami’s movies, it mostly takes place in a car. Michael Winterbottom, however, has a more expansive canvas in depicting five years of a life of a prisoner (John Simm) and his family (including Shirley Henderson) in…Everyday…by actually taking five years to film the movie.
Sometimes, I only see one theme or the other. Like Sans Soleil, differently Molussia warps the world that we have and exposes its emptiness, but instead Nicolas Rey (not to be confused with the Rebel director) chooses 16mm reels that should be shown in random order. Ernest and Celestine, a story about a mouse and a bear, is a bit scary but nothing a child couldn’t handle, an animated movie that balances itself out by bringing the pastel-y synesthede in all of us. And then we’re back in the adult world Berberian Sound Studio, its neons intentionally reminiscent of the Giallo era. It’s visuals are as sharp as the knives slashing up produce for foley effects. Sound is equally important in Kazik Radwanski’s Tower, a locally made movie that is 90% a close-up of the protagonist Derek’s face, this relying on sound to convey the myopic claustrophobia within his experiences. Speaking of experiences, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel presents a relaxed and impressionistic perspective of humanity but that’s until he fragments them, casting doubt on Western ideas of personhood by reminding us of Buddhist reincarnations.
There are movies that show Polanski’s verdant visuals in Tess as they tell stories of love, nature and self preservation. The digitally shot Bwakaw has an elder person (Eddie Garcia), only having a dog with the same name as the title to comfort him. The bleached or washed colours around him change as he (re)discovers (new) friends. Fly with the Crane, again, has an elderly person in the bucolic Chinese countryside, the childlike vibrancy around him countering the tensions between his traditionalism and the next generation’s government bureaucracy. Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car has two families (with Robert Duvall in its head) ironing out decades of disagreements in arid, mustard-like Alabama. But there are movies that focus less on its visuals and concentrate on telling a story like A Few Hours of Spring, which is about an ex-con, his girlfriend (Emmanuelle Seigner aka. Mrs. Roman Polanski) and his ailing mother (Helene Vincent). Edward Burns’ The Fitzgerald Family Christmas takes the same ethos, finding the balance of telling the story between one torubled sibling from another during the holidays.
And TIFF doesn’t end. Like, half of the movies I saw after the festival wrapped are selections from it, and so will it be until…August even. I started out with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which does its best to sustain its tone as a glistening 1950’s love song, it subject Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) drifting in and out of sanity. Also, watch out for my reviews for Argo, Therese Desqueyroux, Post Tenebras Lux, and Hannah Arendt, which I’ll write when I feel like it. Leave me alone.
- TIFF 2012: Sans Soleil and Tess Reviews (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
- TIFF 2012: differently, Molussia Review (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
- TIFF 2012 – Jayne Mansfield’s Car Review (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
- TIFF 2012: Anna Karenina and The Brass Teapot Reviews (Paolo Kagaoan) (entertainmentmaven.com)
90s Showdown: Julianne ”Maggie” Moore
Let me begin by apologizing because I’ll be talking about Julianne Moore’s (vote for her here on Andrew’s Showdown) physicality, especially that in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. But I can’t help but comment on her look, preceding the Jem doll a decade later, evoking the sexuality missing from early Michael Mann LA heist movies. She is a product of her time, Amber is, when women could be pastel glamour without slinking into being tawdry. She can evoke that era in a snapshot.
Or maybe she’s classy in our standards, a quality that only Moore can bring to a character on the other side of the fence. Moore never overacts even in situations where it would call for it, her character being in an industry of exaggeration and reputation, but even then she sells any situation she’s in. She’s sexual but she also understands the banality of her own objectification, allowing distance even from the men she loves. Even if we’re hearing a voiceover of her in that high timbre we can feel the body from where she comes.
Moore’s characters in the 90’s always have been volatile yet caring, active as an actress in a decade of unconventional matriarchs. She’s the mother and the whore and makes a case for the latter. And she is quick in her actions and towards her surrogate children (e.g. Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler), a swift word or nod delivering her inner cognitive dissonance, unknowingly doing harm to the people she loves or dismissing the idea that what she does could be harmful. But she still has good intentions, we sympathize with her when she’s hurt and we cheer as she quietly heals.
90’s Showdown: Tom Cruise.
Today in Andrew’s 90’s showdown Tom Cruise goes up against one of the performances I vetted for originally but I still have words for his showiest yetmost unconventional work. He has his share of haters or doubters, one of is a passively indifferent co-worker who says that he was lucky enough to land his character in Magnolia, Frank T.J. Mackey, and that the character’s success has more to do with Paul Thomas Anderson’s writing more than it does with him.
But every other money-making star for the late 90’s is too old, Middle American or blatant with their comedy. He hits the right spots, actually reminding me of the way cartoon characters like the ones in Home Movies or, to a lesser extent, Bob’s Burgers do. He bends and extends and moves and bounces elastically for his masculine audience until they disappear and he gets winded out.
Cruise makes Frank look a bit physically ridiculous under the spotlight he makes for himself, accepting the comedy that comes with a modern-day preacher of sex. He pulls off what he claims he is – a charming womanizer. No one can ever say the word ‘cock’ the same way he does, ensuring that those aggressive consonants stand out. His physical acting makes every word he says quotable. His face is still as intense but he gets to cut his regular histrionic tics. There’s also a bareness or coldness to his words – he doesn’t want Frank to seem too cocky. Besides, this appearance of candour won’t let us question that his affable nature, with or without his audience, is a mask itself.
But of course there’s a sad back story to Frank’s life and early years, leading to two confrontations. He tries to charm his way out of the first one, deflecting with some fake wisdom, but the story makes Frank fail eventually. The last seconds of his interview, taking place in the movie’s climax, is him being afraid of how violent he is when being ‘accused.’ He confronts the latter like an adult, which is hard when characters meet their estranged fathers. It eventually making him succumb, with tears that make us cry with him as well. In a movie about a city full of sad, unloved people, Cruise makes Frank’s plight stand out. And if you agree with me, vote for him here on Andrew’s 90s Showdown.