Kirsten Dunst in Dick (1999): Dick has two leads – Michelle Williams using her doe-eyed delivery with a comic flair that she barely shows, and Kirsten Dunst in her prolonged Torrance Chapman phase. Dunst is so thorough in her sunniness, her delivery of dick jokes quick, matter-of-fact yet hilarious. She also exposes the ridiculousness of the movie’s conceit in unabashedly girly but cunning ways. And if you don’t believe me, the movie is available on YouTube, you guys!
Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love (1998): Despite recommending expensive shit on her website, we should still honour Paltrow for being one of the few contemporary American actresses who can play British. That can’t be said enough. She also conveys a Renaissance styled warmth – her curly blond locks helping very much to bring this forth – both during her post-coital mornings with a fictional William Shakespeare, telling a man that she knows every word of Juliet and playing multiple levels of the role she was meant to play.
Marie Gignac in Tectonic Plates (1992): To conjure up Gignac’s is admittedly trolly. I serendipitously watched it, yet to confirm or deny that she’s a worthy entry on this list is something you can’t even do through illegal torrents. And trust me, I checked! You have to go a library in Canada to know if I’m not fucking with you. It’s the kind of entry on a list that makes its reader seek out instead of sleepwalkingly confirm what you think you already know, an entry that makes this list personal. And yes, if you get to watch her, the wig she wears to show herself in her college years is kind of ridiculous. But it eventually…grew on me and helped with suspending disbelief. Her performance is meditative, making sense with the movie’s title. That like tectonic plates, her life, whether portrayed in the black cube of a studio or the colourful world of Venice, is full of loss that takes time to heal and sublimate. I’ll also never forget her surprising youthful smile in her character’s older years, where all the pieces of her life come together.
Patricia Arquette in True Romance (1993): I probably don’t hate the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl so much because I see versions of her in creative and sometimes gritty films. Arquette in True Romance is a great example, her bubbliness making even racism palatable. She also makes one half of a great movie couple who should always be together until the end.
Sigourney Weaver in Alien: Resurrection (1997): is one of the most divisive sequels ever, and there’s Weaver’s basketball game among other ridiculous set pieces within the space ship, but she probably works the hardest here more than in any of the Alien franchise movies, having to be compassionate with the alien race to whom she once was deathly afraid.
Gong Li in Raise the Red Lantern (1991): She conveys eroticism through the foot massages she receives, her own adult moment. But Li’s character in Raise the Red Lantern is forever a child, her seemingly Western petulance and moodiness, brought forth by oppression and competition from both the men and women within her archaic household, is endlessly fascinating. This has other levels of performance I have yet to discover.
Angelina Jolie in Girl: Interrupted (1999): There are three Angelina Jolies, one is the enemy of the gossip reading bachelorettes who will staunchly be on Team Jennifer. The second is the one with the impenetrable gaze, the grown-up Jolie dressed up by Vogue for red carpets, occasionally appearing in glamorous yet terrible movies. The third one lunged at the screen like a feral child in Girl Interrupted, the one we miss. The one who knows the word attack and uses it to her advantage, who knows the dangerous side of liberation from experience.
Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut (1999): Rewatching Eyes Wide Shut I will now remember that scene when Kidman is wearing glasses sitting with the actor playing her child, looking at Tom Cruise, smiling while he remembers her sexual dream. It’s not necessarily her acting chops that bring the message of her character’s insidious deviant deception across but Kidman is a great collaborator here. She oscillates between vulnerable girly girl and bourgeois wife at a time in her career when she could.
Tomorrow: Many for the price of six.
Things aren’t as solid as they seem, pardon the expression, in James Cameron‘s Aliens, although we’ve been taught that lesson in the first film, Alien. In Ridley Scott’s masterpiece we get the breakdown of facades, each crew member suspecting each other of harboring the alien inside of them. When he finally get to see the alien that everyone is afraid of, it doesn’t look as gooey with its shiny exoskeleton.
Running opposite to the impervious behemoth of the spaceship in the original film, Cameron takes this lesson further by making the inanimate featured in the film more flexible, as if they have a life of their own. We see this in the beginning, when Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) pod thing docks into this Metropolis like port, although there’s something fluid about the pipes, or the way that mechanic arm moves as it frees Ripley from her pod. The colony planet’s suspicious too. Would you set up a colony where rock formations look like arms? Even if I was the CEO of a greedy, careless, callous company, I’d say EFF NOO!
My ‘best shot,’ or the one that captivates me the most, is the one above when the new, militaristic crew enters the colony’s gates. Metal and wires jut out of the ceiling like tentacles. You’d expect a cheap scare to come out after, that’s how eerie this place looks. This animistic structure that this depopulated colony has become foreshadows the gooey tentacles insulating the underground levels for alien egg-laying purposes. Or when the aliens are actually crawling in the ceiling on top of the soldiers. You’d think that Cameron had a termite problem while writing this script in the 80’s. Did he?
An inanimate yet uncanny object of note is also Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan’s (Carrie Hehn) decapitated doll head, her most prized possession. A series of attacks and escapes leads Newt and the team to some water-filled sewage area where one of the aliens kidnap her. Since she can’t holler out her ‘final’ ‘Help me, Ripley!’ in her British accent, here’s the doll doing it for her. That doll and her fake eyelashes is the second greatest actor in the history of cinema.
The humans, in turn, become more machine-like. A close-up of Ripley that make her seem uncanny, Bishop who actually is uncanny, the muscular body types of the soldiers – speaking of which, it’s strange seeing guns, installed binoculars and exposed skin on these soldiers at the same time. On that shot above, Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) isn’t ‘fully covered’ as soldiers would be in other movies about planets in outer space. And of course, the forklift Transformers-like machine that Ripley hops into that is really useful for her in one of the film’s most gratifying scenes.
Apocryphal information: my first Weaver film is not the Alien movies. Maybe it was Dave but it was most likely her turn as Lady Claudia Hoffman in that Hallmark movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Do you guys know what I’m talking about? This TV movie was awesome. It also had “Dawson’s Creek’s” Monica Keena as our Snow White Liliana Hoffman and Sam Neill is the oblivious father. It’s strange seeing Keena as the good girl and Weaver as the bad woman, but that TV movie cemented Weaver as an icy villain/anti-hero in other movies where I’ll watch her. Also, one of the ‘dwarves’ was a tall guy with a scar who’s also hot.
Digression! I remembered my introduction to Weaver because of the first scene, where she is Snow White. The frost covers her pod and everything. I’m not the only one who sees this, Vasquez points that out too, using the comparison to point out how ladylike she in comparison to the soldiers. I’m not sure if and how the metaphor sticks, since the original story is about a young woman’s blossoming sexuality and Freudian issues avant la lettre. Here instead, Ripley has both lost her status as a mother and is an exile. The mother alien is thus her evil mother/stepmother?
Lastly, Newt reminds me of the screaming child in The Bad and the Beautiful, both of whom remind me of young Cossette. I won’t be making more allusions.
This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers’ Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.
- Daily Dialogue — May 11, 2011 (gointothestory.com)
I’m writing about these two movies because of Andrew Parker’s Indefensible series, as he presents films that respected Toronto film critics will publicly defend. Among the trailers they showed before showing Alien Resurrection are the worst uses of a recent Oscar winner, a trailer of a vehicle for a guy who’s winning now, and another of the Chad (Tom Green).
Alien Resurrection falls within the wrong hands, with the writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the director of Amelie. I asked critic John Semley about ‘race,’ which is the wrong word to describe the relationship between Ripley Clone #8 (Sigourney Weaver), the aliens, the crew, the space pirates (including Gary Dourdan and Ron Perlman) and a robot (Winona Ryder). Three of those groups work against the aliens and get out of the mother ship. Every alien or monster movie is practically a metaphor for race. The proper word is the ‘other.’ I didn’t want to be that guy in the theatre bringing up film jargon and taking a genre movie too seriously.
Anyway, Alien is a perfect movie because of its evocation of a style and simplicity, making the aliens mere intruders. The token mad scientist (Brad Dourif) disciplines the bred and captured aliens makes an even relationship between human and alien. Both perform unjustified violence against each other instead of only one side doing it to the other. The first scene of the film shows the scientists perversely fawning at her, calling her perfect. Watching Ripley eventually look at botched clones and imperfect versions of herself, and having to kill those clones out of disgust on what the scientist have done to them, and how perfection is achieved, and how people draw lines against each other.
Old adage says that Weaver hasn’t been good since The Ice Storm (released in the festival circuit earlier that year) an opinion she shuts down by elevating the film through moments within her performance. Half of the movie is ridiculous, culminating in a confrontation inside a smaller spaceship between Ripley and an alien who is also technically her son. John Semley made fun of the alien son being made of oatmeal, and watching the crappy special effects of his innards being splattered throughout outer space, but we go back to Ripley’s face, and Weaver’s sincerity and mourning doesn’t seem laughable nor out-of-place.
So what do the movies have in common? Well, viscera, inter-species relationships, parental relationships and the name Betty. The name of the pirate ship in Alien Resurrection is Betty and Freddy Got Fingered‘s protagonist Gord (Green) has a girlfriend named Betty (Marisa Coughlan). Trailers before Freddy Got Fingered include Arnold making fun of himself and a reason why I respect Chris Evans and Jamie Pressley.
Show two gross things, put one random image or plot point after another and 51% of us will be laughing. Every shock comedian probably knows this. It’s like the animation company’s CEO’s (I still don’t understand when Anthony Michael Hall became sexy) reaction to Gord’s father (Rip Torn), the absurdity of the violence is so physical that it seems measured and entertaining. What does a girl on a wheelchair who likes forced fellatio have to do with the Eiffel Tower? And why does Tom Green play a piano sausage and be called crass and excessive, yet when Dali and Bunuel put dead donkeys on top of a piano they’re called avant-garde? Well, even some critics looking at this film from retrospect have referred to it as a Dadist experiment. Its pacing is different. Neither does it compromise to make Gord cheesy and sympathetic like most gross out comedies end up doing to its protagonists.
I also love how Coughlan is the love interest instead of Green’s ex-wife Drew Barrymore, who instead plays a crazy receptionist. Drew’s sunk to a lot of depths but she wasn’t gonna permanently sabotage herself with this one. Well played. Coughlans’ the MVP of this movie. I’ll always have respect for Tom Green as with any guy who pronounces his T’s (I’m starting to notice that comedians and comic actors today have better enunciation than dramatic ones). Everyone else plays one note that go well together in this skull-beating symphony that is Freddy Got Fingered.
Oh, and after the movie, Mr. Wilner started impersonating Tom Green impersonation as if he’s fighting for the film’s final cut. That was great.
Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) fools around in his basement with Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), but he hears footsteps approaching. Like young people, they expected to be told that this behaviour isn’t correct, as her father Ben (Kevin Kline) does publicly. We the audience have expectations too, that punishment follows sin, and the sinners will all be drowning in tears in the end of every exposure of wrongdoing. But what if the punishers, in this case the parents, take part in the same kind of behaviour? That sort of is the problem here in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1973.
I also just realized days after watching this that the characters also like punishing each other. Although punishment isn’t their prime motives nor they have fully decided to do this for the 48 hours that the film portrays. Mikey’s mom Janey (Sigourney Weaver), irritated by her workaholic husband, has an affair with Ben, which is how the latter fortunately finds the two kids fooling around in the Carver basement. Ben’s wife Elena (Joan Allen) slowly finds out about this affair, and forcibly joins her and Ben to a ‘key party’ – where the husbands put their keys in a bowl and the wives pick a key, their husband’s or not. Yes, some of those actions are vengeful, but their unreliable spouses adds to these characters’ loneliness.
Period object time – The Jesus Christ Superstar poster on the train from New York City to New Canaan, the fashions and pastor’s hair as we hear Harry Nilsson in the background, the action figure of the American soldier whose genitals the Viet Cong has stolen, Ben’s son (Tobey Maguire) reading the Fantastic Four (?). Your turn.
Is this Kevin Kline’s movie? Joan Allen and the others steal the movie from him but the water-bed is his.
Ang Lee likes nature, from the torrential rain in the countryside hills in Sense and Sensibility to the bamboo trees in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here in this film we see Ben leave Janey’s postmodern house to his own by walking through some nicely arranged wooded areas that start from her backyard. When Ben busts Wendy, they share the same route and he gives her advice. The area’s multi-purpose, where Janey’s younger son blows up his toys for God knows why, sexual repression or aggression? Lee chooses to adapt a film with a suburban setting, since it’s where man meets nature and both compromise, nature is where humans hide. The only person who can’t really reconnect is Elena, who follows Wendy’s example by biking through the off-roads of the suburbs. She deviates by shoplifting in the pharmacy like her daughter and gets caught, making a big scene.
The film’s title The Ice Storm is also a natural phenomenon, a thing greeted with warning by the weather specialists on TV, making it difficult for cars and trains to go around, an indirect challenge to the characters. Mikey sees it another way, enjoying the harshness and the beauty it produces. For a while his loneliness, as well as the other characters, isn’t as bad. The storm gives us a tragic end, and we can see those factors as something only God would inflict on the film’s characters. It doesn’t feel like anything will change, and no, I’m not saying key parties will still happen in this town. The film actually makes us feel like this tragedy is as bombastic as other directors might convey through their possible versions of the film. Lee’s tone is constant, solid and makes us feel as if the dysfunctional Hood family will be together after the event.