…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “romance

Valentine’s Hangover: Intolerable Cruelty


The Coen Brothers offer in Intolerable Cruelty characters who like to deceive except in the scenes when they’re introduced. We first see Miles Massey (George Clooney) talking on the phone to get messages from his assistant, the cutthroat lawyer that he is. There’s another scene shortly after when he talks to his colleague about the intricacies of the legal system and the real functions of marriage, a conversation they should have had years before but exists in the film for purposes of another introduction. Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta Jones) is sad but has great resolve while watching surveillance video of her husband Rex cheating on her, and we know that she’ll survive and probably has ulterior motives. Both eventually meet – Miles becomes the lawyer representing Rex – and fall in love and try to, as private dick Gus Fetch (Cedric the Entertainer) says, nail each other’s ass.

ph. Universal

Cinematographer Roger Deakins find ways to play around with colours and images in a supposedly light comedy like this. The blues – the light while Miles is getting his teeth whitened, Gus’s aquarium, the swimming pools, Vegas at dusk – standing out in within the browns and reds of the res t of the film. The white lights, both the ceilings of the court scene and the lamps used both in Miles and Marilyn’s first date and at Miles’ boss’ office, are echoed in more prestigious films.

This is probably the second film of Zeta-Jones’s that features a courtroom when a woman feigns innocence to a scandal devouring public. This time around, it’s Jones’s Marilyn that does the pretending, in pink. I didn’t know Bill Blass designed in pink.

The doesn’t prepare its audience to its own style of humour, but there are some scenes that work because of its surreal comic style, the writing for the film is both tight, sprawling and wordy at the same time. One is the scene when Miles tells his client a defense story that helps her even if it’s absurdly untrue. There’s also Marilyn’s second marriage to a Dallas oil heir named Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), officiated by a priest marching down the aisle playing Simon and Garfunkel in his acoustic guitar. The third scene is Marilyn’s court scene with its many movements.  Rex being in contempt, Miles and Marilyn throwing Shakespeare at each other to try and fail to admit the other’s guilt, the scandalous Baron von Espy testimony.

Miles is the best role I’ve seen Clooney do. He strikes that note to evince a charming but slimy regular person. The Coen Brothers always allows him to be kooky, culminating in a scene near the end that’s hilarious in an old school sense. Jones allows herself to go through the inconsistencies of female characters but she’s very lively here. Her character’s consummation with Miles happens late – less than an hour into the 95 minute film – but she’s the stronger end of the romance department.  In the stage of her character being a ‘sitting duck, ‘ she shows great passion and vulnerability


Valentine’s Post: Blue Sky


The story of Blue Sky is set in the late 1950’s but it’s set under the lens of the early 1990’s aesthetic principles, with its electric guitar and synthesizer music accompanying female eroticism. Does that sound like I have preconceived notions and biases against the movie? Because unfortunately, I do, with all the assumptions that this film is gonna seem dated.

Another disadvantage against the film is its two plot lines combined because they couldn’t stand on their own. First is the erotic wildness of Carly Marshall (Jessica Lange), a problem that’s going to get violently fixed or will bring her to her own doom. The second concerns her husband, military man Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), an insubordinate sane voice against the nuclear testing in the two bases he’s assigned in – Hawaii and Mercury, Nevada. This second plot line is the less cringe worthy yet the less interesting one.

Because Hank encourages her to do so, Alex finds a friend with Glenn (Chris O’Donnell!), Johnson’s son. She tells him about ‘noment,’ moments when nothing’s happening, and ‘slowments,’ moments when people are too lazy. I gotta bring those back. He kisses her, which is funny because I would have laughed at those dorky words, being born in the generations when I was. Their kisses are interrupted by Hank and Carly ‘kiss and make up’ after the dance, a heightened, more sexualized version of the adolescent’s innocent love.

Alex and Glenn hang out later at the ‘off-limits,’ area. They talk about the Manhattan Project and marriage in a way that they’re not seriously talking about it. Alex tells Glenn her fears of marrying a military man because marrying one might turn her into her mother. Alex hands Glenn an old grenade, he throws out the window, the grenade explodes. Glenn’s dad, army in tow, finds the two, and Alex’s hair is dishevelled and all. Her mom then throws her all these accusations, the mother sublimating her own guilty past to her daughter.

Carly supposed to be the insane one who has to be cured, but Hank actually steps on a few delicate toes. Instead of confronting his boss about the latter’s indiscretions with his own wife, actually faces him about the nuclear testing that has irradiated two people. This leads to a physical argument that gets him to prison and then to a mental hospital where he is drugged. Nonetheless, its’ her duty now in the film’s third act to defend her husband from all the lies, while I wonder how her husband would defend her if this movie took the usual path of making her the insane one.

The only ray of optimism comes from Jessica Lange’s Oscar win, and if you’re a latent completist just like I am, this film is a must watch. But is her performance perfect? There’s something performatively cunning about her pretending that her father works for the New York Times, as if she’s winking to us,blatantly pointing to her character’s delusions. There are moments, however, where Lange doesn’t use clichés. Instead of being spiteful because Hank won’t dance with her, she dances with his boss not out of spite but with a human insanity all her own.

It’s also interesting to watch Carly’s ability to make her own fictions with her frustrated life. As she tells the Johnson’s wife that ‘a woman’s charm is mostly illusion.’ She puts red cloth over the lamps and suddenly an army base living room is now a cabaret room, a place where she can teach her girls to dance. An important theme in this film is Carly dressing like movie stars because that’s apparently that’s the only way for the audience to tell eras. The film ends with Carly putting away her vulnerably sexy Monroe-Bardot-Charisse hybrid to looking like Elizabeth Taylor, to looking like a survivor.


Riso Amaro, or Bitter Rice


Francesca (Doris Dowling) and Silvana (Silvana Mangano, Dino de Laurentis’ then wife) are rivals. The former is an illegal and the latter is more conventionally beautiful, supposedly naive and has a union contract. Silvana, in working an Italian convent’s rice fields – What? Those exist? – will face moral ambiguities and questions, mostly about a rival that becomes her friend once in a while.

Silvana asks Francesca about working for a rich family and for hotels. See, they’re two of a handful of woman  Nonetheless, she gets fired for stealing jewellery that she provides for her sleaze of a boyfriend Walter (Vittorio Gassmann) and now she’s in this dump. Silvana is jealous that Francesca actually experienced what it’s like to serve and see riches, Francesca disagrees and is jealous of Silvana’s innocence. There are no flashbacks in this section of the film.

How very Neorealist, I suppose, of the film, to show the bitter realities of its present and not dwell on the fantasies of its glorious past. The film doesn’t idealize Italy, Silvana’s boyfriend Marco (Raf Vallone) thinking about moving to South America, even if Silvana mentions North America as a suitable place to move as well. Later on, Walter talks about jail and house crises, the most obvious political commentary in the film. Otherwise, it’s all about these four characters, trying to survive either legitimately or otherwise.

The only evidence of glamour and richness in the film is the said heavy diamond necklace that Francesca supposedly steals, causing a public scandal. It goes through a change of hands from Francesca to Silvana,the latter showing it off to remind the former of her crime. The revelation that the necklace is a fake is a metaphor but not a heavy-handed one.

I’m not sure if I can call these women tough or overdependent, I suppose they’re a bit of both. They’ll work even if it’s raining. It’s not like they’re secluded from the world by working inside a convent neither, receiving love letters from their men who for some reason know where they are. They sometimes escape from the convent and dance. Some mention finding bushes to be alone on.

The film ends, and tell one of my friends that it wasn’t so bad. He disagrees and tells me it’s a lesser Neorealist film, and the fact that it mixes the gangster and the melodrama within the style makes it a less pure example of the genre, even if it did popularize it outside Italian markets. And don’t worry about me, I have a litany of complaints about this movie as well. Like why does the poor Silvana, and sometimes Francesca, have nice, form-fitting clean clothes and hair, everyone else looking crappier and frizzier? Why are these women leaning over so beautifully as they’re supposedly working hard to plant rice in these fields? Why does everyone’s singing voices sound the same? Why is sexy jazz music playing in sad or rapey moments? Why do guys force their mouths on the women’s mouths? Why do the bad guys always have to dress like pre-Godard antiheroes?

There are great moments of filmmaking here like the dance scene, always cutting back and forth from wide shots of the dance and close-ups of the necklace, keeping it as tense as possible. Or shot contershots when Walter looks a bigger man than he should be.

The acting’s not perfect neither, but there’s something commendable about the four leads. Dowling, despite telling the sexiest abortion story in this history of cinema, has moments in a more psychologically complex character than she normally would have gotten in her Hollywood years. Or more complex than Blue Dahlia, anyway. Vallone can make a clichéd move like wipe-clapping his  wrists after knocking a man out seem like an instinct. And Gassman’s campy, an adjective I refuse to give as a compliment.

The best actor here is Mangano. There has always been something vulnerable about Silvana, going after Francesca and turning the workers against her like David fighting a giant. Or going insane after finding out about a coworker’s miscarriage. Finding out that she’s been lied to, that all her fantasies about getting out rich have been squashed. She realizes so many things in the last few scenes of the film that she turns catatonic. It’s probably one of the greatest cries I’ve seen an actress do, Mangano shaking to the bone. She’s the reason the dated film stands out.


No Strings Attached


So the new Natalie Portman film No Strings Attached, her first outing after her probably Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan, is facing mediocre reviews. ‘It’s predictable!’ ‘All romantic comedies are predictable!’ ‘You’re a terrible person, Paolo!’ Ah, shut up. Yes, I concede that the movie gets crappier the more I think about it. For example, to my future children reading this – if you don’t cry or show emotion at my husband/your father’s ‘stupid thing’ of a funeral, but you cry for a guy, I will disown you. Nonetheless, I will give this movie a bone or four.

The cheerleaders in Adam’s (Ashton Kutcher) “High School Musical” esque show actually did high kicks. Like real cheerleader stuff. I can’t remember if they did stunts or flipping though.

There was a total of one realistic sex scene. I agree with Ebert that the multiple lead-ups to Adam and Emma’s (Natalie Portman) first consummation was pathetically ‘code era,’ and that their hair never fully get messy, but when they got there…Oh God, talking about realism in sex scenes in ‘film criticism’ is harder than anything else I’ve ever had to write. The aggression and the connection and hand-held camera capturing a long take and Emma’s (Portman) head practically buried in those pillows. Also, is that Kutcher with a normal person’s body? Congratulations to him. I imagine any other actor working out to the hilt if he was cast in this movie.

Natalie Portman’s relationships with male characters in her other movies aren’t necessarily romantic, and you can’t even say that about older, more respected actresses. She allows herself to be coupled in this film, and I’m one voice who believes that Kutcher and Portman make a decent onscreen couple. Also, her calling Joy and Lisa (Vedette Lim) ‘pumpkins’ is classic.

There’s also one scene with Adam and Lucy (Lake Bell) who bump heads while trying to kiss. I can’t remember the last time I saw that.

The supporting characters. They’re really letting Abby Elliott as Joy nail a Drew Barrymore impersonation? When the trailer was out around Christmastime (someone correct me on this), I thought that the movie was built around Adam’s line ‘You fight like a hipster.’ The film now seems like a free-for-all for the comediennes and actresses with or without comedy films under their belt. We probably have Portman to thank for the girl power, whose project includes producing female stoner movies and has Executive Producer credits to this film. Mindy Kaling’s trash talking humour, her character Shira telling Emma that she’s going to avoid her for being so depressing. We have Greta Gerwig successfully convincing us that her character Patrice is more sexually desirable than the then awkward Emma at one point in their lives. Other actresses include Talia Balsam, Olivia Thirlby, Lake Bell (playing neurotic middle management) and Olivia Lovibond, the latter two’s comedic talent were probably aided by the fact that this movie is my introductions to them.

There’s also Kevin Kline, playing ‘Great Scott’ Alvin or Adam’sfamous TV star dad, who almost steals the show through both the physical and delivery aspects of the comedy. 3/5.


Titanic


This movie to me is epic poetry in cinematic form. No, not ‘epic’ in the Lawrence of Arabia definition, nor the Scott Pilgrim definition. It’s ‘epic’ in a way that it has a heroine and that it portrays an action that changes both the heroine and the nation she belongs to. Director James Cameron’s last films, Titanic and Avatar, shows main events both real and fictional. A ship sinks. A tree is toppled. Yet Cameron chooses a daunting historical event and can extract so much human drama and detail from those deceivingly simplest of plots. It’s what Milton would have done with a camera.

Even the voices screaming out of the ocean and the icicles building in the hair of the dead floating haunts by every viewing of the film. As with the epic and the poem, Titanic captivates its viewer its images. The pre-Raphaelite references when we see both women floating inside the ship, of our heroine Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) waiting for rescue, of the red-headed Winslet’s casting itself, of Jack sinking down or when we see the elder Rose (Gloria Stuart) walking in the end of the film. Or images reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch when the remaning working class passengers try to hold on to the ship as it sinks. Or Fritz Laing’s flood scenes in Metropolis. There are also images that Cameron can call his own, as the ship becomes a soulless leviathan china float on the water, luxury deemed insignificant while facing harsh nature.

ph. Paramount

I suppose arguments against Titanic‘s epic style can be derived from the romance in the main plot, shrinking the thousands of stories into one or two. That Rose and  Jack Dawson (Leonardo di Caprio) are conveniently there when the iceberg strikes. Or that, on a Tolstoyan tradition, supporting characters either die or disappear in order of importance. But I watched this every three months or so for the past two years, at a time of my life when I view mortality seriously. The film’s third act is its strongest, when my attention goes to the priest saying prayers, or the people who speak different languages stuck in the third class levels who are unable to get out to safety, or anyone else falling to their deaths. Cameron dedicates a lot of time to distract us from the main romance and does his best to allow us to contemplate each person’s death without making them inhumanly excessive.

Another problem with this film belonging to the epic genre is that is doesn’t allow gray areas for the characters. Rose Dewitt-Bukater (Kate Winslet), this film’s Scarlett O’Hara, always hates her gilded cage, is always decided on who she likes and dislikes. The film then strikes a clear line, the people she likes are always good like Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) or Mr. Andrews (Victor Garber) and the ones she dislikes always treat her terribly, like her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and her fiancée Cal (the underrated Billy Zane). The ship’s sinking also delineates those lines, the characters acting consistently to which side they’re on and making mostly new heroes and some villains out of the bit players. With the exception of Jack, but her love-hate feelings towards him are really feelings of love repressed because of class differences.

Repeated viewings also make me honour diCaprio’s performance. When I saw it in its original theatrical release, I saw him as an annoyingly boisterous boy. But now I can see how altruistic his character is. His career is full of characters who would go places no one would dare to, often acting as our tour guide. It makes sense that the same actor who would climb a water tower in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and the actor mentoring the audience through the dream worlds of Inception is the same actor who can make a safer thrill ride out of a sinking ship. Jack assuring Rose everything’s all right, even making jokes while he’s freezing on the ocean. The elder Rose tells a younger generation that she doesn’t even have a picture of Jack, because it was unnecessary, at the time thinking that their future was for them to live together.

What also, to my opinion, makes the film more poignant than Avatar is that this is about the small victories that characters try to claim in times of defeat, that the survivors will still dwarf compared to the mankind’s failed infrastructure. Despite the little love story, the film doesn’t try to lie to us, not trying to convince us that they’ll fully regain their romance. That in reality, a lover’s sacrifice is a bit painful for both parties.

This movie won Best Picture between 1995 and 2001, arguably the Academy’s most misguided era. Nonetheless, the horde of mostly girls and some boys who will watch this movie, can quote it, will drop whatever they’re doing to rewatch the movie, and can even remember the names of Jack’s friends. There are also other, slightly more ‘observant’ minds who see the humanity in this film will say that it still holds up.


Oh my God! Oh my God!


“Viagra is not a drug, it’s a revolution,” says Jake Gyllenhaal as Jamie Randall, besting Vincent Karthesier’s trademark shit-eating grin. Brad Brevet thought this movie was terrible, but I’m a sucker for Spin Doctors-esque music. And both Gyllenhaal and co-star/ love interest Anne Hathaway get naked in this movie. Love and Other Drugs came out yesterday. Enjoy! 3/5.


Ali – Fear Eats the Soul


ph. Criterion

‘I pass by here every evening and hear the foreign music.’ These words are from an old, unassuming Emmi (Brigitte Mira) tells a hostile, word-down Brigitte Bardot copycat of a barmaid inthe first scene of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali – Fear Eats the Soul. These first words set the film portraying Berlin as a city at odds with each other. Berlin has traces of multiculturalism, a pan-Islamic enclave in the city attracting Emmi, a Polish man’s widow. Emmi, a cleaning lady, dances with Ali, a 35ish Moroccan man who’s just as lonely in a big city as he is.

Then there’s the Berlin and Germany that works against this multiculturalism, that coincides with its reputation. The Hitler references aren’t here for nothing. As Emmi and Ali’s romance blossom, gossipy neighbors, coworkers, family members and others around them talk about the couple negatively. These characters also don’t shy away from using their races and non-Germanness against them. The other cleaning ladies talk about other women who have been in relationships like hers, giving the audience an impression that this is more prevalent and apparently, looked down upon. Emmi’s daughter Krista (Irm Hermann) calls her a pig, a slur she also fittingly calls her own lazy husband, Eugen (Fassbinder). It’s also jarring to watch these people call a 60-year-old woman a whore. The racist characters can also be harsher version of the audience, making the latter wonder about their own reactions and possible objections to the couple being together. Yes, they marry for the wrong reasons and their relationship is based on completing each other instead of complementing each other, but I can only imagine other couples getting married the same way or worse.

Fassbinder visual style has been described as opulent, reflecting the multicultural subject matter of this film as well as the colour choices seen in his ouevre. The camera angles in this film also interest me. Emmi and Ali’s first dance looks like it’s shot from the back of a chair. The gossipy neighbour’s head maliciously popping out of her window. Sometimes scenes between the couple are shot while slightly obscured by a corner of a hallway, or from far away. Or stairway railings between Emmi or Ali or Emmi’s eldest son and the camera. Sometimes the main characters are seen through mirrors instead of directly by the camera. It’s as if, like the neighbor, we’re watching this story unfold, peeping at the characters intimate revelations.

There’s also this ‘Twilight Zone’ effect when the other characters decide, with a few words, to accept this unlikely couple. I also felt said effect when no one apologizes for their past actions except for Emmi’s eldest. Perhaps I’m overreading, but the change is all the more jarring since it seems like these other characters will do the same routine to another couple. Nonetheless, the pain they have caused, as well as other emotions within the couple, help cause a strain in the relationship. Ali realizes that this marriage didn’t make him less lonely nor objectified, Emmi slightly adapts the racist attitudes of her peers and treats her trophy husband as a body instead of a living soul. They work through their problems, Ali remembering his devotion for her, she realizes she hasn’t been a saint all the time. They go through more hurdles, reminding them that the happiness, although impossible through separation, is still difficult to achieve in a loving partnership.