…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Steven Spielberg

90’s Showdown: Ralph Fiennes


I know this is a conflict of interest because I vetted for Juliette Binoche last week, but vote for her or for Ralph Fiennes here as the better performance of the 90’s at Encore’s World. Now to my write-up…

Ralph Fienneslets his audience fill in the blanks to his character in Schindler’s List Amon Goeth, subverting our assumptions about Nazis, despite the latter’s necessarily constrictive place within the movies boundaries of good and evil. At first glance there’s no way he could have gotten his job as an SS captain without nepotism – just look at how incompetently decadent he is. On the other hand, a man who has that posture, with or without riding a horse, cannot possibly belong in the upper levels of old Germany.

The way he looks at entrpreneur and eponymous hero Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), like an older brother who drives him to both jealous admiration and protective fascination can hint to either provenance (Here’s his reaction when Oskar kisses a Jewish girl). Maybe he’s piling on his daddy issues towards him, whether it’s the father who thinks he’s never right or the one he never had.

A sequence in the movie’s second half takes us to three locations within a concentration camp in Plaszow. A Jewish couple gets married. A Polish singer performs and sets her eye on Oskar. But the encounter we’re going to focus on is between Amon and his maid/punching bag/ sex slave Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz, the Princess of Accents, in a performance that should have guaranteed a better career). Amon talks to or talks at her, a logic-defying four-minute monologue.

I keep trying to place him in different contexts, like if both wars didn’t happen. His awkward creepiness with make him barely survive my context. But his flustered way of speech is opposite of his supposed evil nature. It’s easy to prove that he’s evil – he just played target practice on a bunch of Jews. The one-on-one encounters, however, show his humanity.

The sequence’s shot-counter shot relationships shows Amon’s real place within his mangled relationship to Helen. He extends his arm the same way the singer does to Oskar, making him a less successful seducer than the Polish woman. The kissing and the glass breaking symbolize how he cannot consummate his relationship with Helen and deflects his lust to more destructive emotions.

Let’s go back to the monologue, seeming to have of different emotions, conveying waves instead of arcs. A lesser actor would have said his lines quickly and jarringly, it’s the first instinctual conclusion that we might see on paper.

Fiennes, however, delivers the transitions smoothly because he sees just one emotion instead of many. He sees disgust, its many syllables and its many targets. It’s disgust towards himself, towards the world that has both joined him and Helen and has been violently keeping them apart, disgust towards her. Only Fiennes can see not just love as the opposite of hate but within hate.


Vimy Day Movie: War Horse


Vimy Week Movie is a series of WWI movies. It has three parts that will be doled out within four days, matching the battle’s grueling duration. Instead of doing this series on Armistice Day like a normal person I’m starting  this today on Vimy Day, a holiday that will be recognized if we Westerners feel like it, which we really don’t. But there are mini-events and pins to commemorate the day, since we’re not on the holiday-size yet.

With War Horse Steven Spielberg not only proves himself again as a filmmaker but also as a nightclub promoter. Anytime I entered a multiplex that also showed War Horse there was a tendency that its sound system would overpower the walls, which was totally annoying. But it also invoked jealousy, making me want to enter the screening room despite the mixed reviews. I finally saw it in a smaller sized theatre which didn’t do the sounds any justice.

It’s almost embarrassing to admit to like this movie, especially the second time around when I hear ‘Be brave’ and when Jeremy Irvine says anything. But it’s by its awesome antebellum moments like ducks quacking to make David Thewlis go away and Emily Watson using her yarn needles to make David Thewlis go away. What has David Thewlis done to these characters except for threaten their livelihoods like villains do? There are also great war moments with Joey, the titular war-horse and method actor, and his black beauty of a rival. I also mention ‘antebellum’ and ‘black beauty’ because this movie also references another great war movie Gone With the Wind, Spielberg echoing that American classic’s deep colours and broken, borderline delusional characters. References also include Terrence Malick’s poetic approach to nature – although Spielberg tries and competently success to do in seconds what Malick would do in hour-long sequences – and John Ford’s methodical battle scenes. And of course, he incorporates his own hammering method of portraying violence.

A friend of mine really loves this movie and we like making fun of him. What I also like to do more is to sandbag him because he calls this ‘melodrama’ in the positive sense of the word. Although I don’t feel comfortable with that word because there’s some earnestness in this movie, which begins in the movie’s hour mark, which is, admittedly late but boy does it compensate. It brags stellar actors including David Kross and Niels Aestrup who, despite being German or French, speak English because they want to be in more Hollywood movies. On the English side it stars Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan and Toby Kebbell, the latter somehow aging backwards. There are also some moments where it just looks dirty and muddy as it should, because war is. And when the boy (Jeremy Irvine) comes home, he’s as fractured as his father (Peter Mullan) but is trying to rebuild the family he left temporarily.


Recasting: Rebecca Remake


A Variety article announces that Dreamworks is remaking Rebecca. There have been many adaptations of the Daphne DuMaurier novel, the most famous of course being Reese Witherspoon’s favourite movie directed by her favourite director Alfred Hitchcock. If you don’t get the Resse reference, it’s because you weren’t stupid enough to have seen This Means War. This re-adaptation also means that this is the girliest thing Steven Spileberg has ever touched second to “Smash.” Anyway, and despite my questions about such a homophobic movie being remade, or how Walter Hollman has had farts better than my casting posts, let’s begin!

MAXIM DE WINTER – Originally played by Sir Laurence Olivier. My Choice: Michael Fassbender. What? I just want the Jane Eyre crew together. I’d even want Judi Dench to play the Florence Bates role. My second choice would be Orlando Bloom who theoretically would bring in the young female fan base. But seriously Bloom has turned down so many roles from the Dominic Cooper Role in An Education to the Aaron Johnston role in Albert Nobbs. And I know this is just a fantasy list but I still want someone who will actually show up.

THE SECOND MRS. DE WINTER – I mean we’re never going to find someone as glowingly beautiful as Joan Fontaine. Stars before her looked like Betty Boop and the ones after her, even ones more elegant like Grace Kelly, were sun-kissed girls. She hasn’t come out in public since the 80’s but during Rebecca she was blond and alabaster. Infuriatingly lily white yet incomparable. Without considering tanned beach regulars of contemporary Hollywood, my main choice is either ones who look too mousy or one who might grow up too fast (and yes, I resent this girl for being just six months older than me and I know someone who knows something about her that’s not embarrassing yet I can’t print here). I choose beauty over age. I choose Sarah Gadon.

MRS. DANVERS – Originally played by: Dame Judith Anderson. A picture is worth a thousand words. My ‘research’ has already shown me that more American actresses – of difference races to boot – can do this faster than their British or Australian counterparts do. I can also just put up Helena Bonham Carter or Charlotte Gainsbourg who has proven themselves to be able to play matronly. But of course this exercise is about new perspectives so let’s give Olivia Williams, still beautiful yet still beautifully evil in The Ghost Writer, this chance.

JACK FAVELL – Originally played by: George Sanders. British actors of the late 1930’s had smarmy gravitas in their early thirties while actors of the same age these days still look like they came out of a dorm room’s uterus. I almost put Fassbender to fill Favell’s shoes so that someone like, as I previously said, Bloom or pretty boys like Cillian Murphy to take the de Winter role. But then I remembered a man who has given us four and a half years of creepy hot yet play the most human role Sanders has ever played: Benedict Cumberbatch.

MRS. EDYTHE VAN HOPPER – Originally played by Florence Bates. But can she be funny? It’s really the only requirement, as the role and the actress who plays her are somewhat on lower billing. She’s a memorable Hitchcockian caricature like all Hitch caricatures are. But how about actresses today. How about someone humble enough to play bit parts yet have won an Oscar for playing someone who talks too loud in restaurants and make a really bad first impression as well as receive bad first impressions of others? My Choice: Emma Thompson.


Jurassic Park


ph. Universal

I saw Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park for the second time as part of the Toronto Underground Cinema’s first anniversary celebration last Sunday. They celebrated by showing the first twenty minutes about a documentary about their cinema, which featured my ass. That day was also James Mason’s birthday. This is important because Sam Neill looks like James Mason.

Above is Sam Neill with the tail of a CGI dinosaur. Half of the dinosaurs in this movie are real, the rest, excluding the first Brontosaurus, only look real. Correct me, but 90’s was one of those eras where if you wanted a dinosaur, a monster or a natural disaster on-screen, you had to make it and not draw it.

Dennis (Wayne Knight) has a snake-life face. He is hateful and is frustrated by Dr. John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) condescendingly low wages. Even if the latter pushes his employees, his intentions are good. He shuts down all the security systems and runs away from the fortress-like abbey Jurassic Park laboratories to smuggle some priceless Jurassic DNA out of the island, angering Hammond who knows nothing about Dennis’ foul scheme. Dennis runs through the poisonous forests, wearing an alluring yellow raincoat, gasping at any animal he might cross. Dennis tries to return to the fortress, only to be eaten by a dinosaur.


100: Jaws


ph. Universal

The first time I caught Jaws was on TCM in the third act of the film, where it pretty much takes place on a boat and I thought that was the movie. This film, then, became part of the TIFF’s Essential 100 and was introduced by NOW Magazine film critic Norman Wilner. He enthusiastically gave it a lot of superlatives. ‘The greatest accident in the history of cinema.’ ”The greatest American film’ – I disagree but my answer’s really boring. In a write-up of yesterday’s issue of NOW, he also writes, ‘…ask the TIFF people how the hell a film this gripping managed to place 79th on their stupid list.’ Meow.

What I will say is that one of the key elements in this movie is subtlety – there are a lot of scares but not too much. There’s Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gray), the strongest female amidst a groan-worthy male-dominated cast. She comes up behind her husband Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), but the camera’s not on her POV. That would have made the scene into a cheap scare. Later on, her complacent reaction to her son being on his boat changes when she sees Martin’s book with an illustration of a boat being t-boned by a shark, her fear added by the two shark attacks that hits their small town of Amity. She’s not the only one bringing comic relief, however. Martin has his share of calling out bad hat Harrys. Despite of that the shark attacks still put me at the edge of my seat for most of the film.

It’s also a film that has the best shot compositions on film. However, unlike films that take the cake in cinematography, Jaws’ cinematography doesn’t call attention in itself. There is an opening shots of the coral reef, two silhouettes of young adults kissing by a bonfire, another drunk college boy lying by the beach. There’s arguably a lull period in between, then a shot of a typewritten form about a dead young woman’s (Denise Cheshire) body transferred to a ‘CORNER’S OFFICE’ and a long shot of Brody framed by flowers and it’s shot by shot heaven after that, despite of the bloody shots of course. Wilner also said that this film is timeless, and with the exception of red corduroy pants and shots of people smoking indoors, he’s pretty right. It’s in the faces of the characters seemingly drawn or bordered from the background images as well portraying an evolved post-Tennessee Williams, post-Hitchcock Americana that does make it timeless. And yes, I paid attention to the cinematography to distract myself from being scared throughout most of the film, which didn’t work.

Speaking of urban-rural divides, this movie is one of those that came out around 1974 and 1975 that features a character moving away from the city only to find troubles in rural America. Brody is a New York City ex-pat, where ‘the crime rate will kill ‘ya,’ and in Amity his main concerns are boy scouts and mending fences. That’s until the shark came in. With the mysterious shark in the equation, he also has to deal with a mayor and a civic committee who wants the beaches open. When the creature makes Alex Kinder his second victim, Brody’s the one who gets slapped. The second victim does get him the permission to recruit Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), an oceanographer, but the mayor still want the beaches open and he’s the one who has to make sure the waters are safe and litter them with deputies.

Director Steven Spielberg doesn’t shy away from unsympathetic characters, the mayor being the first one. He doesn’t even need to raise an eyebrow when Hooper wants to make sure that the tiger shark caught by fishermen is the real one. He also borders between shock and lucidity when Brody’s eldest son almost became the shark’s fourth victim, this event finally convincing him to approve the closing of the beaches until the shark is captured by Quint (Robert Shaw), a shark hunter. He stutters and justifies his decisions, saying that he’s acting in the town’s best interest, and he’s right in a way. He wants business to flow through Amity and doesn’t want to put people in more shock by closing them. Three dead victims are bad enough without economically crippling the small town.

The second unsympathetic character is Quint himself, who I found off-putting, greedy, crass and doesn’t really come around to getting my sympathy. He’s a war hero to some, he’s a war criminal to me. However,  unlike other ‘working class heroes,’ Quint doesn’t try to seduce us with adventure and neither does he smooth his edges out and sells himself like he’s everybody else. He doesn’t make the labour more difficult for the two men he doesn’t want on his ship, but nonetheless the work comes first. yes, he does talk about a past but doesn’t make that his pathos and he doesn’t really take Hooper’s rich college boy background against him. I don’t like him, but in cabin fever situations like that of the film’s third act, you have to. He also realizes this and mixes up the dynamic between Brody and Hooper – it used to be just the two of them but Quint by default makes Hooper his right hand man and kinda alienates Brody.

Trivia: Peter Benchley, the author of the book also named Jaws, wanted Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen in the cast. Boring. Jaws screened last Sunday at the Lightbox and there was a line-up in front of the 300 seater where it was screened. The Lightbox is showing it for the second time tonight at 11, without an introduction. Still, come.


Cinematography Post


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.

Saving Private Ryan Janusz Kaminski, ASC (1998)

The Thin Red Line John Toll, ASC (1998)

The Royal Tenenbaums Robert D. Yeoman, ASC (2001)

Muholland Drive Peter Deming, ASC (2001)

Road to Perdition Conrad L. Hall, ASC (2002)

Cold Mountain John Seale (2003)

Marie Antoinette Lance Acord, ASC (2006)

The Prestige Wally Pfister, ASC (2006)


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Roger Deakins, ASC (2007)

There Will Be Blood Robert Elswit, ASC (2007)

Revolutionary Road Roger Deakins, ASC (2008)


Saving Private Ryan


(ph Paramount)

While everyone else was watching “Glee” (seriously, fuck that show), I was masochistic and I watched “Saving Private Ryan.”

(Dammit, Spielberg, I wanted to eat dinner tonight!)

I have trouble writing about this since this is turn of the twenty-first century cinema and those have different expectations than I do now. And it’s a bit of  a pejorative but it’s still true that Spielberg has that mainstream feel to all his movies, even the most depressing ones like this. The movie does start with irritating hope music that would eventually be done away with years later.

But the movie quickly earns the right to use that music when it switches to a grueling 30 minute slaughter scene of American soldiers. Spielberg spoon-feeds but his in context to his more recent work, we get a little surprised by what’s…in his stew. The movie shows a man getting killed seconds after seeing someone else getting shot. In moments of relative peace, we forget the sadism that is unfortunately necessary in times of war.

(Bryan Cranston!)

This movie reverses the world view of “The Thin Red Line.” Unlike the Malick film, deaths in “Saving Private Ryan” less elegiac and more guts-y and faceless. Also, the leaders responsible for the myriad of slaughtered young men is faceless. We see generals ordering rescue missions instead of ambitious military attacks, although the movie shows both. The brutality is then seen in the lower level, making ‘the American people’ just as cruel as the enemy.

I don’t know why there are so many women in my pictures. They only show up for five minutes, but they that effect on me. Home front, I guess.

The scene with the mother also starts off how Boschian Spielberg could be. Comes with the territory and subject matter, I guess. I could notice the little details from the TV, it would have been fun watching this in the theatre. But then it wouldn’t have been fun since I was ten at the time.

(War makes women have tea by themselves.)

Anyway, enough of me now, enjoy the rest of the screen caps, if you can even call this enjoying.

(a la The Searchers)

(Boschian)