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.
America: The Ides of March
“I’m YELLING because of a SCANDAL!”
“I’m yelling BACK because YOU are yelling and the scandal is BS!”
“I’m crying because everyone around me is yelling and the world that I know is deteriorating.”
That’s pretty much how the TV spots advertise George Clooney‘s new film The Ides of March, making it look like your yearly typical awards bait. It’s better than that.
Despite trying to resist temptation, assistant campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) takes a phone call from rival Democrat campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). This makes his supervisor Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) unmercifully fire him from the campaign of boss, Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Morris’ (Clooney).
Hoffman, by the way is an alumnus of this kind of movie and I would have it any other way. This, by the way, is based on the play “Farragut North.” The Ides of March is a more dramatic title but the original feels more right, showing that businessmen like Stephen and Paul control and groom the politicians who are supposedly running a country.
Clooney as a director always hints on style but never fully delivers mostly because they echo previous decades, this film particularly relying on political and urban paranoia from the sixties and seventies. Stephen’s silhouette stains a large, draped American flag, symbolic of him partially desecrating American politics. A scene when he makes a call through a pay phone, noticing a man taking a photograph in his direction. Or another when Paul enters Mike’s SUV and the camera stays outside for a minute or so. Other earlier and better films have tackled these images but they’re still competently unsettling today.
The film’s number of flaws seemingly grow when I think about them – the most minor and crass one being that night with Stephen is so sensual that his new lover, intern/daughter of the DNC Chairman/teenager Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) looks like she just got out of the salon the morning after. And that she as well as Mike are Catholics west of Boston, those characters by the way going against the doctrine more than twice. Anyway, it biggest yet easily refuted flaw is Stephen’s supposedly unshakable morality. Throughout the film, he says that he doesn’t have play dirty anymore because he has Morris or that he believes “in the cause.” He also boasts that at thirty years of age, he has worked more campaigns than anyone ten years his senior so why would he make such a rookie mistake? But then again, lesser scandals have disgraced older politicians.
Anyway, he recites his words about Morris like a mantra that’s learned as opposed to felt. And he’s not as much the idealist that he wishes. In the first scene, we get to know a bit about Stephen. He mockingly rehearses for his boss’ speech (‘Don’t vote for me if I’m not tall enough. Don’t vote for me.’) and refers to the latter as a hobbit – God forbid, he found a flaw within George Clooney! From then on, I can imagine the audience realizing that it would be a waste of emotion to sympathize with him. He does a lot of slimy things especially when his affair with Molly gets out of hand. His career in jeopardy, he does desperate things to keep his career afloat, in turn harming the people he’s supposed to worship or love.
His eyes look like an angered anime character in the film’s final scenes and I’m probably not alone in saying that his expressions are just like that of the Driver. Which means that yes, we can joke that the similarities between the two characters mean that Gosling’s comic turn in Crazy, Stupid Love is him stretching. The problem with ubiquity like Gosling’s is that we can see the same mannerisms in different films but at least his tics are less distracting than the actor who is supposed to play his role – Leonardo di Caprio. Gosling is the film’s pivot, capably bringing across the arc that his interesting character takes. 3.5/5
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.
The idea of revisiting Cameron Crowe‘s Almost Famous, like revisiting films I’ve seen in my childhood and adolescence, seems like an anxious and difficult one. My taste in movies have changed. Besides, this movie spends its reputation being the two words before a punchline about Kate Hudson‘s wasted career. It also seems like the movie’s opening song is cruel foresight to Jason Lee in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Where is Fairuza Balk and her mixture of sharp and round features and her dated Got spunk, the comic relief, one of the four band-aids or anti-muses distracting 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) from writing his Rolling Stones cover about the fictional band Stillwater, one of the misfits reassuring William’s mother Elanie (Frances McDormand) that she properly raised her son? I want to live in a world where Fairuza Balk is more famous than Zooey Deschanel. And where is Fugit?
The film features people I recognize when I first saw this in 2001-ish, actors who didn’t make a great impression then but do now or other actors who made an impression but whose names I didn’t know. But I’m naturally fascinated by those I couldn’t have known then. The outwardly anxious band manager is Noah Taylor, who also plays the inwardly anxious father in Submarine. Ben Fong-Torres’ (Terry Chen) right hand man is Rainn Wilson. One of the characters I don’t vividly remember Lester Bangs is, the actor who played him (Philip Seymour Hoffman), nor the way he mourns after post-Altamira rock music where everyone just wants to be cool. The 1973 I knew is the year after “American Pie” and the year before punk. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were the bands everyone listened to and still do today. This movie and Dazed and Confused might make a decent double bill, tackling and deconstructing the cynicism prevalent in the 1970’s. I also remember watching this when I was thirteen or fourteen, when William goes to his first Black Sabbath concert, watching the crowd of cool kids, and I was thinking that that was the last time that kids of all races listened to the same music. I obviously know that I’m wrong about that now.
But while races are united under the music, the film also shows how rock relegates unfair gender roles. How does William fit into all of this? Does that he has a male with a tape recorder mean that he’s above these ‘groupies? He equally idolizes Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) like they do. But Russell isn’t just a figure for William’s idolatry, as the film makes room for him to doubt William’s innocence – which the band only does – as well as confide in him, telling him to just make the band look cool. He in a way embodies a human who’s ambivalent about rock’s inherent contradictions without confusing the audience or breaking William’s soul. Meanwhile, some regard Hudson’s Penny Lane as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl avant la lettre but the airplane scene shows how the men neglected what she wanted from them. Yes, she does help men fences between William and Russell, but the last thing she does is treat herself.
Elaine is obviously the exact opposite of these ‘band-aids,’ being a stricter character, the natural yin to rock ‘n’ roll’s yang. I didn’t remember hearing what her possibly logical arguments have been about rock except that she objected to it. That makes her the film’s frumpy-faced villain, whose phone conversations with her son reinforce her conservative anxieties, the one referred to as a ‘handful’ by a desk clerk (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet). Rewatching made me see her as someone knowledgeable and therefore forging a new and flawed path in new parenting. But in her methods, such as partly homeschooling William, she won’t be right all the time. When she corrects a man for painting the word Xmas – X is Greek so be quiet! Despite her strong reservations about the new music, she’s more liberal than I remember, letting her daughter Anita (Zooey Deschanel) be an independent 18-year-old woman and allowing William to tour with the band instead of the latter two run away. These prodigal children’s eventual return and her understanding of them – as well as Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) – seem more organic instead of looking like a hurried third act finish.
The film is definitely not fast paced, letting its magical moments grow without meditating about them. The film is like walking down a dirty, seedy, big city main street and understandably calling it vibrant. Despite the subject, it’s innocent without being insipid. The film ends with Doris, Stillwater’s tour bus, riding out into the sepia tone sunlight, reminding us that we’re watching a happy nostalgia.
- Daily Dialogue — May 12, 2011 (gointothestory.com)
Canadian Movie: Owning Mahowny
Owning Mahowny is austere minimalist cleanliness in cinema. This approach is surprising since it tackles gambling addiction, and addiction of any kind is usually portrayed with either evil, grit or glamour. The titular Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) walks around in beige-painted halls of banks, hotel rooms and airports or visit Atlantic City casinos that aren’t as loud nor distractingly colourful as other gambling places in other films. There’s also spectatorship at work here, as casino employees and patrons both feel greed and pity towards him. Hoffmann’s performance, accordingly, is unsettlingly stoic either when he’s working or sitting on the blackjack tables, losing millions of dollars in one sitting. He barely blinks nor breaks a sweat, his only way to know how to stopp is to endure a spectacular loss. With him is a great supporting cast including Minnie Driver and John Hurt, encapsulating Ontario and New Jersey cadences.
A contrarian’s 2010 movie couples
Five of the movie couples here will appear ad nauseam in my other lists. I’m really worried and sorry about that, being derivative and all. I just have a compulsion to make these lists. Then in like, three days, I’ll tell you what I really think of the new Harry Potter movie. Not on this list.
Noah Baumbach creates two characters so real and on the surface, kinda boring. Florence and Greenberg (Greta Gerwig and Ben Stiller) are half a generation apart, and they come to blows sometimes with that. Florence sometimes talks and acts with irony that she doesn’t make a good impression on Greenberg. He’s an impulsive slacker but he blows his lid when her immature side pops up. Nonetheless they’re there for each other in times of need, belonging in Noah Baumbach’s world of under-dramatic characters. Thankfully, they don’t need speeches to reconcile neither!
The hero of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Michael Cera) and his heart eventually sets itself for the almost unattainable Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but I really thought Scott and Knives (Ellen Wong) could have worked it out. They’d go to the arcade or Sonic Boom and it doesn’t even feel like she’s dragging him. Then peer pressure kicks in, understandably because it isn’t cool for a twenty year old to date high school girls. They end their relationship with Knives complementing Scott’s hair, a perfect Annie Hall ending. They can be good friends after all.
The obligatory LGBT couple could have either been Cherie and Joan, Eames and Arthur (I can see you write the gay fan fiction now, LJ) or the ployamorous relationships in Heartbeats or FUBAR, but it goes to Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) from the Kids are All Right. Marriage is hard, as Jules says. Despite some flaws in the film, writer/director Lisa Cholodenko creates people, not symbolic entities, who have their own quirks and desires. Sleeping under a big comforter, ridiculous in LA standards, you can feel them snuggle in. Please adopt me!
They’re on this list because I felt really bad omitting Rabbit Hole on my top ten – the ‘revelation scene’ was kinda weird – but Becca and Howie (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) make for a great couple. Yes, most of the film equally captures Becca’s relationship with her family, and Howie’s questionable friendships, but underneath that grief, anger and resentment is repressed passion and a will to reintroduce themselves into the Yonkers community where they normally belong. They help each other move on despite of the tragedy that kills the other marriages in the movie.
Representing puppy love are Lina and Leco from Modra, where the first time actors improvise their way into Lina’s titular home town in Slovakia. Instead of barraging each other with questions, they walk around the bucolic town. Leco jumps on top of Lina at least once. They find out the nice and not so nice things about them. Will this summer decide if they’re gonna stay together, even if the town elders bet that they will? This is showing at the Lightbox as the better parts of the apparently stupid best Canadian movie list. This movie’s so cool and obscure, it doesn’t have an IMDb page!
Some of you might think that the least conflicted part of Easy A is Olive (Emma Stone) getting swept off her feet by a Prince Woodchuck (Penn Badgely), which is true. So we’ll go for the bets parents ever (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci), and I remind myself that they were part of the me generation, as the mother intimately reveals, which is why they can give such great advice for their own daughter coming to terms with her sexuality. Again, Clarkson and Tucci have such great chemistry and humour, making jokes when they’re actually worried about their children’s well-being.
Here comes another odd, unattractive couple from another indie movie. It’s mean, I know. Jack and Connie (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan) in Jack Goes Boating decide to embark on love despite of cynicism they receive from their married friends. They’re learning the physical taps of love, not lust, as Connie tells him to overpower her without sound like she’s over-directing. In the end, while Fleet Foxes’ pastoral folk music is playing strangely on a New York City backdrop, the only thing more fitting is to see these two put their arms on each other’s shoulders.
I’d be sadistic enough if I put Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) on this list with either of his first two wives (Rachelle LeFevre and Minnie Driver), but author Mordecai Richler is sadistic enough to let Barney meet his third wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike) in his first wedding. In Barney’s Version, he tries to work it out with this Myrna Loy-esque image of perfection they try to work it out and do for almost twenty years, then he cheats on her. He tries to win her back, prankster that he is, by giving her new husband (Bruce Greenwood) a heart attack. But they’ve remained good friends.
‘You’re used to getting women drunk, aren’t you?’ Carlos and Madga (Edgar Ramirez and Nora von Waldstatten) are the definition of the sexy couple. In their first meeting, both test each other and that goes for the rest of their relationship when they have children and both have to go on terrorist missions. Nonetheless, they get on each other’s nerves, she does everything for him while he calls her a ‘petit bourgeoisie’ to his mistress. Like most of the women in the miniseries, she’s attracted to the man who makes things explode, but she can’t love the man who loves himself.
The reason this list even exists is because of Micky Ward and Charlene (Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams) from The Fighter. From their first date you can hear the rhythm of their banter already, might as well sounding like a couple twice their age. Micky admits later that they’re going in a nice part of town to hide, but only will he show this uptown side of his with a girl he really trusts. Director David O. Russell helps create that picture, showing Micky’s new support system as both, with little good reputation under their names, try something new and something with a great payoff.
Jack Goes Boating
For the most part, the characters of Jack Goes Boating are passive to each other and to the events that happen to them. Our titular limo driver Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also directs) gets set up with mortuary secretary Connie (Amy Ryan) because his best friend Clyde (John Ortiz) is married to her co-worker Lucy. Jack’s first date with Connie happens in Clyde and Lucy’s shabby apartment, where she talks about being sexually harassed while her father’s in a coma. Her sexual misadventures are exposed to Jack just as she is aware of his inexperience. Jack misses a chance to get an application for a job at the MTA. This baby step towards a better job and life feels unambitious but nonetheless realistic. For some reason, after these short introductions out of the way, the first act of the film doesn’t feel neither like an introduction nor a build-up. It’s one awkward situation piled on top of another.
The final act of the film shows its off-Broadway roots, that everything else before it is just fluff, yet what we see is also an intense payoff. Clyde reveals secrets, which makes the other characters open up. Again, Jack uses Clyde and Lucy’s apartment, show off his newly acquired culinary skills, but instead people and things get smashed because of hashish. We see Jack’s compromises in becoming the perfect person and mate for Connie. Connie, in watching Clyde and Lucy’s relationship crumble, doesn’t have a eureka moment but does something with her life to survive and be sane, as if by common sense. Clyde realises his altruism goes hand in hand with being life support for other people instead of being a man of his own, which doesn’t seem like a consequence but simply a terrible fate for a man. Jack Goes Boating is not the most original tragedy, but its downward spiral is very effective.
Random Thoughts: Charlie Wilson’s War
Adapting the late award-winning CBS producer George Crile’s book, Aaron Sorkin wrote Charlie Wilson’s War and probably had a play in mind, since most of the scenes consist of place, characters and their lines electrically ricochet. There’s little visual manipulation or tricks from director Mike Nichols. He’s the best director for these kind of ‘play’ movies, winning for Tony’s and all. We’ll jump to a scene where our hero, Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) and American spy Gust Avrikotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) pay a visit to Zvi, an Israeli arms dealer.
Zvi: Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t recognize our right to exist, we just got done fighting a war against Egypt, and everyone who has ever tried to kill me or my family has been trained in Saudi Arabia!
Gust: That’s not true, Zvi. Some of them were trained by us.
A few minutes later, Charlie reveals a pending coke charge against him, And Zvi replies with ‘I love you Charlie, but you are a grown man who still hasn’t learned to look both ways before crossing the facking street!’
In many scenes of the movie, Hanks plays the straight guy and takes the back seat for Hoffman and Julia Roberts’ Joanne Herring. It’s wonderful to see Hanks as a part of an all-cast ensemble, but then again, when Julia Roberts is in the room, everyone else is a bag lady.
Speaking of her, Julia Roberts is both overrated and underrated. She dominated the box office in the 90’s yet people wanted to throw something at her when she won an Oscar against Ellen Burstyn. Charlie Wilson’s War is her second movie with Mike Nichols, the first being a happy woman with a dubious past. She’s also a mainstay in Steven Soderbergh’s movies as well as two early movies by disgraced director Joel Schumacher. Her hook up with directors isn’t as edgy as if she worked with Michael Haneke or Lars von Trier, but Nichols and Soderbergh give her great work she deserves.
Charlie Wilson’s War is a satire of Washignton’s lack of foresight, the Orwellian ‘Eurasia and Eastasia’ insanity that America has adopted, like a superpower that by its own fault has enemies and war zones change by the decade. One can see US imperialism, as shown in the film, as a parasite doing its mission in one country and leaving it devastated after the mission is accomplished.
But it’s not just the Americans who are at fault here. A young Afghan tells Charlie, ‘Don’t send us rice and bandages. Give us guns.’
It’s still fun and witty, Although a movie can never be perfect if it could be summarized in its last ten minutes.
Charlie Wilson’s War is gonna be on AMC again tonight and tomorrow afternoon. It’s a good laugh, or six.
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.