Lists like this for me happens in accident, or two years later when the movie comes up on TV and say ‘Hey, that was crap.’ I trust critics. If I read a terrible review, it means I won’t pay 12 bucks for it. There are exceptions. Seven or so of these were movies selected by film festivals in either 2009 or 2010. Making fun of festival movies is like kicking a dead dog, but sometimes I have no choice. Sorry for the grumpiness.
Alice in Wonderland
Les Amours Imaginaires
Enter the Void
Jayne Wisener‘s Johanna is probably my reason if I was ever gonna rewatch Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Wisener wasn’t the next Kate Winslet, but she’s well-directed here no matter what her acting capabilities are. There’s something in the way she moves her head. June Thomas from Slate Magazine hasn’t been too kind on her rendition of the Sondheim-penned ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird,’ but it’s my favourite rendition of the song, while most of the other renditions I’ve heard sing it with too much operatic force. Maybe I’m being cruel and that the other singers need to boom the song to the back of the audience, but I like Wisener’s softness.
There’s also something in the way she’s photographed here. High angle shot from the view of the birds. Through the window. My favourite POV of her is through the peep-hole from where the corrupt judge looks (Alan Rickman). The black spaces on the screen like that of silent cinema.
Should I watch a film just for two-minute intervals of a character watered down from the original source material and listen to her sing maybe twice? I don’t know why the film never fully connected to me the first time. Maybe I got bored by the ‘arterial spray?’ Or Helena Bonham Carter didn’t project her voice enough? Otherwise the film does look better on video. The thing about Sweeney Todd, and I can say this about at least one movie released every year, is that it’s either great in memory or in parts. There’s a reason why I was bored through half of the film, as if the scenes felt like the could have been played out better.
And those who know me will know that despite of 50-ish movies that I love – list coming up in never – I would rather get punched in the gut than watch a good or ok movie again.
There was also a small group of college-age kids near the front of the theatre who laughed at every other line of ‘A Little Priest.’ Like, we get it. You’re the biggest Sondheim fan ever. You’re so smart, you get all the jokes. I hated the Cumberland then. I said that I regretted not watching The Savages instead, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.
I might be going job hunting with my sister this afternoon. This movie’s gonna be at the Bell Lightbox at 9:30. It’s a Wonderful Life is playing at the Bloor. Black Christmas is playing at the Underground. I have time to think this through.
The Mirvish company hosted An Evening With Stephen Sondheim at the Princess of Wales Theatre. He was introduced by Des McAnuff, who among many things, said something really nice about “Sweeney Todd.” Something along the lines of how effectively emotive or haunting the Johanna song is. I can’t remember for sure.
Sondheim’s not an island. McAnuff in his introduction talked about the composer’s trusty collaborations with his longtime collaborator/choreographer/director Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and many more later in his career. Sondheim’s let us in that Robbins scared him but the final results of working with him were worth it.
He’s very open about his flaws even within his well-loved works. He talked about how the words of “Forum” don’t match well with the music, and accuses himself of creating high music for a low comedy. As he said, it takes as much work to write a good song but a wrong song as it it to write the right one. He also talked about the enormous help that his mentor/surrogate father Oscar Hammerstein II has given him. Hammerstein helped especially on the first musical he penned when he was 15, which is, as he remembers Hammersten saying, is the worst thing the mentor has ever read.
He also talked about the mentor as an experimental composer in capturing the vernacular in the songs. He said that Hammerstein was better in mirroring the colloquialism in period pieces than with the contemporary-set musicals. That said from the man who brought us the lyrics of “West Side Story,” and I know. I’m actually one of the few people who think that the Jets and the Sharks are tough. Because this is often my angle in the movies I see, and that it’s a topic I can’t really bring up in person, but accents aside, there’s little difference between how the two groups talk. Which is good and that the differences between they aren’t overplayed. Besides, they’re all in Hell’s Kitchen, right? This led to critic Robert Cushman talking about theatre evolving to mimic real-life conversation. Sondheim corrected him about the limitations of theatre mirroring naturalism, that the audience makes a pact as they go into the theatre to believe mostly what the stage delivers. That no one really breaks out into song. Well, not really. The passive aggressiveness was fun to watch.
I was such an embarrassing n00b. The only knowledge I have of him are about two film adaptations of his work. He’s alive? That’s what he looks like? He’s in his 80‘s? And when “Into the Woods” was mentioned, a musical that I’ve never heard, clap away. My friend must have been embarrassed, me being such a poseur like that.
I wasn’t looking at my watch the entire time, but the last ten or twenty minutes of the conversation involved question cards either from probably mailed or e-mailed in. Sondheim was asked about the popularity of the song ‘Send in the Clowns,’ probably one of the last songs from a musical to enter the Billboard charts. It took two years and at least four singers who switched hands in singing the song as their own. Apparently those singers had different interpretations. Frank Sinatra’s (Belated Happy Birthday, by the way!) was ‘You go with a chick. It doesn’t work out. Send in the clowns.’
I can’t remember the question, but the differences between the stage and film of “West Side Story” – He wrote that? That just made him more approachable, not that listening to him talk wasn’t approachable enough, which it is – was discussed. The Broadway recordings always have the song ‘America’ only sung by female cast members while I had to refresh my memory and that the film version makes it a boys vs. girls song. Sondheim clarified that Robbins insisted that the stage version have the song only be sung and danced by girls. He also joked, hopefully, that Robbins had death rights to the choreography that will make future stage productions of “West Side Story” be unchanged. And you know what, Robbins is right.
Another one of the last few questions was about “Sweeney Todd,” the more Sondheimian musical in my understanding of the man because of the elegant words and intricate structures of the songs. Although Burton’s version is better on video, by the way. I might see it in the theatres again. The question was about a translation on “Sweeney Todd” in Korean, and how he felt about foreign translations. He said that he only knew rudimentary French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Four out of those five. He said he was grateful that other countries perform his work. The people performing his work send a rough translation of the translation, and if it’s in the spirit of the original, it’s ok. Can you imagine how ‘a politician cake would run’ in Korean, though, or what Asian Angela Lansbury might look like?
Oh, and if I had a flask, I would have taken a swing every time either McAnuff, Cushmann and even Sondheim said ‘Shakespeare.’ In the end, the night taught me a lot about the intelligent man, insightful about the specifics and science of his craft, how characters work with their songs and within the body of a musical.
I’ve seen the infamously hilarious water-bed scene in Edward Scissorhands in the 90’s, the rest of the film is just waiting. A decade later, the Box is showing Burton films. Yay!
Scissorhands. Willing suspension of disbelief. Opposites. Those two themes merging together. An old woman starts a fable about the origins of snow with Peg ‘Avon’ Boggs (Dianne Wiest), who gets turned away by all the housewives in her pastel painted 1950’s neighborhood. Remember when Burton films contained the vernacular? She turns to another house to for a prospective client, and I’m thinking, why would any real estate whatchamacallit build a suburban development at the foot of a haunted Gothic mansion? Not a hater here. I’m not sure how aware Burton and his team were of how implausible this is but Bo Welch’s set direction makes the juxtaposition of the old and the new jarring and noticeable.
Of course Burton makes sure that Peg’s just as weird as Edward (Johnny Depp), telling him that she can give him astringent for his scars. Now, we’re looking for Edward’s double, and Peg at this stage of the story is a decent candidate because she’s just as much of an outsider as he is, and inviting Edward home will highlight the tensions between her and the neighborhood. The rest of the film are comprised of either Edward being looked at or looking, but it’s more interesting is when both the observer and the subject are closer.
The rest of the film is the neighbors fawning over Edward and his talents that the audience knows and waits for him to do something and for the neighborhood to hate him, the characters thus bowing to the oldest story in the book. Instead of montage-y progression from love to hate, Burton lets Edward interact with the family and with the housewives, showing us humanity before and during hard times.
Let’s go back earlier where the camera moves through a miniature version of the neighborhood – I like it too, kids, don’t accuse me of snarking – at night, covered in snow to eventually show the mansion. Here the difference between the two areas are less striking. Edward has created something to remind himself and beloved Kim (Winona Ryder) that the two worlds can look the same, even if those two worlds, or the two of them, can’t be together.
Today is probably the last day to catch Edward Scissorhands at the Box at 4:15, 6:50 and 9:30.
A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Ronald Neame, 1969)
Salo (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
Saw this at NFB as part of the LuminaTO festival. Most of these reasons are Tim Burton related.
It’s pre-“Big Fish” Tim Burton. Nothing wrong with that movie, but what’s wrong is what comes after that.
It’s light and colourful, the exact opposite of his moodier films.
Tim Burton actually uses real mise-en-scene instead of CGI, the latter devoid of humanity.
The art director and the director of photography worked hard, especially for Pee Wee’s house. I want that house now.
Because Rube Goldbergs are awesome.
Because Danny Elfman emulates Bernard Hermann (no relation?) in this movie, of all places.
Because as much as it makes fun of childhood’s absurdities, it’s very honest about its fears and losses.
I love children’s movies with dirty jokes. However, don’t bring your child to watch this movie.
Because bikes are environmentally friendly.
It shows Paul Reubens in drag at least twice. And he wears said dresses on top of a suit and never breaks a sweat.
I don’t know exactly what Paul Reubens does in this movie, but it’s acting.
It changed my opinion about white men doing excellent impressions of Mr. T.
And I’ve run out of good reasons. Some parts of the movie were surprisingly tedious. And why does he have all this cool stuff and not have a job?
My English teacher in high school pretty much said that you can write a unifying topic about any two texts. I’ve used that spirit in this blog, and it’s been useful while watching both “The Young Victoria, out on DVD last Tuesday, and “Alice in Wonderland.” My focus is not on how good they are. “Young Victoria” is passable and “Alice in Wonderland” sucks donkey. I thought at first that the Queen Mother documentary and my kooky mind was the only thing both movies had in common but boy was I wrong.
On the surface, both movies are about girl power. My basic knowledge of the titular “Young Victoria” was her older self, she was the most powerful woman in the world but is crippled by mourning her husband’s death. What the film shows is a girl (Emily Blunt) who, like many renowned rulers, have no or have lost her siblings and cousins. It also shows her fighting off her stepfather Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) who wants her to sign her regency away to him in what could have been her deathbed. It’s a typical female royal narrative about having to deal with the men who try to influence her, the movie thankfully incorporating treaties and negotiations and letter writing culture that Royal history was full of. Nonetheless, the men break down either through her own strength or through fortunate circumstances. She forges political partnerships with men like William IV (Jim Broadbent), Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and her husband Prince Albert (Rupert Friend, our generation’s Omar Sharif).
Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” goes through the same things as Queen Victoria. She’s the daughter of a businessman who’s imaginative as he is – he wants to venture into other continents, she dreams of fantasy lands. Growing up (Mia Wasikowska, groomed as a pallid Gwyneth Paltrow), her mother and sister thinks of her good enough to marry into blue blooded English snots. If she even thinks about not marrying the aristocratic Hamish, her peers remind her of the delusional old maid Aunt Imogen. She storms out of her engagement party not defiantly but to chase a rabbit she can only see, hence out of a compulsion to regress into her childhood dreams. Going into the rabbit hole she falls on hard surfaces, gets scratched up by huge animals and gain the courage to meet her destiny and kill the Jabberwock.
The most interesting parts for me for both films were the last acts, since the emancipation of one results into the slavery of many.* We feel her empowerment when she snips at Prime Minister Peel about her ladies-in-waiting, but a bit uncomfortable when she has a shouting match with her husband about her ladies-in-waiting. Sure, both sides have their faults, but she asserts herself to him many times that she’s her Queen and he can only leave a room when he’s dismissed. They kiss and make up, and the title cards in the end show that Victoria births nine children who will rule the crowns of Britain, Germany, Russia, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Serbia, Greece and they forgot Denmark. Ironically, at least half of those monarchies still stand.
In “Alice in Wonderland” Alice stays true to her father’s mercantile leanings but now uses aristocratic influence to do something profitable. She refuses Hamish’s hand in marriage but has a business proposition in store for his father, Lord Ascot. Her father and Lord Ascot’s business has posts in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, but she presents the opportunity to tap into China and its products. Ambition wins him over, and she gets her ships. In a way China becomes her wonderland – they do have tea after all. And as we historically know, China really loved every minute of that.
We can’t, however, show our disdain towards womanhood for heralding English political and economic imperialism, since men just have a hand in shaping both characters. “Young Victoria” implies that Victoria’s uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, takes credit for making many crowns in Europe bear the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Victoria and Albert can be either lying to themselves or actually have made an honest, loving relationship out of a marriage strategized by those above her. “Alice in Wonderland” has a bit sinister – some may call it honest – portrayal of a man behind the great woman. Alice maybe seen as her father’s daughter. Lord Ascot notices the look in her eyes that eerily reminds him of her father, but goes ahead and follows her whims anyway. Both women are figureheads in both an active or passive definition still makes me uncomfortable for a few seconds.
*I know that I’m treading murky waters here, and I’m blaming my red-eye working habits and thumping headache/sinuses if I get un-PC).