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.
I’ve posted images and plugging the movie’s last screening at the Bloor Cinema. Finally saw it, and this is what I think of the movie.
The film’s about sexual fantasy. Really. The longer version is that the film’s about sexual fantasy and the male gaze in the context of a small Italian town in 1939 – I know it’s 1939 because of the “Beau Geste” references, but anyway. The film does start with the town’s air full of puffballs, a sign of springtime, which is itself a sign of youth and sex. I make it sound so dry. Don’t worry, boys, there’s a lot of well proportioned women in this movie, and there’s lots for the men to choose from. One of those women is Gradisca, the hairdresser in red. There’s Gina, a servant who gets touched in the behind by one of her old bosses. There’s the well stacked lady who own the tobacco shop. There’s Volpina, a prototype of the town crack whore, yet the men don’t reject her because she has the same energy as them. Not even the women are blatantly shown in telling her to slow down.
As Andrew O’Hehir writes, the film’s obviously sexist. It has the same, shallow comedian’s understanding of gender – men want sex and most women just wanna settle down and have children even if they have to entertain a million toads to find a prince. I know I’m gonna sound like an apologist by writing this, but the women come out better than the men because of Gradisca’s monologue.
Besides, promoting these sex-driven thinking also mean that there’s no guilt involved. Sexual fantasy is a communal experience, and a boy’s allowed to share his feelings to his peer group and to trusted elders, like a priest. By confessing to a priest, the boy technically feels like a sinner, but he doesn’t try to make the label stick and there’s no judgment nor hellfire. It’s in the typical Southern Catholic attitude when the average person has to do penance but he can totally party the night before. Conversely, Uncle Teo’s the only one who seems more perverse while shouting for his need for a woman atop a tree in a farm. The audience can blame his depravity to his isolation.
Speaking of fantasy and community, there’s also scattered twenty-five minutes worth of the film spent on portraying fascism. The film shows most of the town’s citizenry as optimistic under Fascist Italy, a country of hope and idolatry. Even Gradisca succumbs to fainting orgasms when talking about Il Duce. This lack of guilt nor remorse shown in the townsfolk is refreshing and realistic compared to other texts tackling the material. It is possible that the citizens of a country under dictatorship do not know about the oppression and cruelty that its government enacts towards minorities or outsiders until a later time. Sounds familiar. It’s something that they believed in even though they knew nothing about it. The depiction of the fascist element adds to the complexity and surprising maturity in Fellini’s later work.
Amacord has been showing at the Bloor Cinema since yesterday, and since I’m bored and procrastinating, I’ve posted screen caps of the movie.
Anyway, kinda wish I didn’t catch screen caps before watching the movie because it ruined the surprise. Thank God I can’t understand Italian. I’m actually watching it today at 7. See you there!
So I decided to mix things around by seeing a non-festival thing, although “Rumble in the Bronx was part of the opening weekend for the Underground.
I don’t know why I always compare martial arts movie stars to their earlier dancing counterparts. It’s been said before, and if anything Jackie Chan’s the danci-est, most flamboyant, boyish martial arts guy. The most fascinating parts of his performance in “Rumble in the Bronx,” just like any post-classical work of any genre, has the spirit of being showy and the performer’s ambition to outdo himself.
“Rumble”shows all of physical challenges the same way later Fred Astaire numbers would. There’s a constrained space between him and his opponents that Keung (Jackie Chan) has to work with, an aspect that will be diminished later on. In the first fight scene, he and the urban motorcycle gang hit each other while tugging at each other’s clothes and bags. Sometimes the enemy gets too close. It’s interesting to watch how he survives while being surrounded, and claustrophobic circumstances make way for really precise moves. There’s also the feeling like that of any first fight, when relative peace exists and the protagonist doesn’t wanna leave a mess yet.
Later on he passes through small hallways and spaces between walls and trucks, little interludes between him leaping and flipping all over big parking lots where another fight happens. And of course, the playing field gets larger. I really like the detailed and mise-en-scene, with alleyways, random playground rails, refrigerators and even grocery carts. The whole movie is slightly reminiscent of the Technicolor faux urban stage of 1950’s musicals. Or, a comparison more fitting because of the claustrophobia in some scenes, a grungy, more colourful yet less trippy version of the Bruce Lee hall of mirrors. Every space and object is an opportunity to escape and attack.
This despite the super dated pop culture references. This came out in China in 1995 and it might as well have been out half a decade earlier. I’m a forgiving person.
(The heading’s pretty self-explanatory.)
The first few minutes of “Greenberg” play like a lost Hal Ashby, watching Florence (Greta Gerwig) walking with a dog. It isn’t said if she’s a born Angeleno or if she moved from somewhere else. She straddles the line between smart and ditzy, having the same, almost drowsy voice that girls in their mid-20’s have. She’d be a full ditz if she didn’t have the indie girl look. She has a decent nightlife and sometimes has gigs in bars, crooning about the prairies. I live in Canada and I’m up to here with prairie shit and I didn’t know white girls sang about the prairies down there too.
Then Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes in to house sit and dog sit for her brother and the mood of the film changes into a portrayal of one bad date into another between Florence and Roger. “Do you remember they played Albert Hammond when it’s raining.” “You like old stuff?” For some frustrating reason she still comes back to him despite warnings from her best friend, who knows from Florence that he’s been in a mental institution, saying “If you see him again, I’ll stop talking to you.” Most of us would say the same thing.
For a while the movie veers into unwatchable territory. Some people have to be prepared for this kind of movie. I wasn’t – this is my first Baumbach. But at the same time, there’s an integrity in showing Roger mistreating people and accusing people of parental issues and people having awkward conversations and having really awkward sex.
The romance between Florence and Roger isn’t cookie cutter at all and it delivers a message that there’s probably no right person for anyone. Metaphorically, the two of them are different pieces of the puzzle. One thing they have in common except for their disfranchisement, which we don’t often remember because they clash so much. But in finding each other, they have to make it work.
There’s also honesty in the multitude of voices in this movie. There’s Florence, there’s Roger’s acerbic humour, there’s Roger’s college age niece and her friend calling other girls sluts. All of these portraits are brutal but not denigrating. When these voices clash, it could be excruciating but it’s, again, honest enough not to have the distance to make those characters hilarious – we empathize with them instead of being entertained by them. Most of the time we’re stuck with Roger’s, but despite how infuriating his personality could be, he is right about a few things and right about calling them out. His best friend (Rhys Ifans) shouldn’t go back to his marriage to a racist woman, it is annoying when people treat public spaces as their living rooms, and what is up with Florence’s ironic Girls Gone Wild story?
P.s. Saw this at the Varsity. I had to change seats because some old guy kept dropping sunflower seed shells on the floor, people kept their iPhones on to navigate through the dark theatre for their friends. Two fratboys in white T’s kept whispering to each other (I couldn’t hear him but a guy with a girlfriend yelled at them at one point), and finally walked out telling everyone in the theatre that the movie was fucking boring (they may have a point, but they didn’t stay ’till the end). These fuckers should have been filtered out after the second week but there they are at week 5. It’s both strange and comforting that Ben Stiller + Artsy movie join forces together and are still standing after a month. But again, apparently not everyone’s cup of tea.
P.s. Speaking of not everyone’s cup of tea, here’s a review from my friend’s friend, Julien.
I’m taking everyone I know to see this movie.
The movie, portraying Argentine detective Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) trying to write a novel about a rape-murder case he’s had a twenty-five year obsession with, could have been a “baffling masterpiece” if I left it alone. But like every great film, I can’t, and it becomes more cohesive the more I think of it.
The movie, comfortably jumping from 1974 to 2000, has everything. Class conscious banter. The Hitchcockian theme wherein a man acting out on his impulses reminds another of his repressed desires and romances. A portrayal of human stupidity by Esposito and his partner Sandoval, whom, despite its intentions, prove that they’re neither cunning nor untouchable as they think. All of that in a slow marinade that is neither sleepy nor frustrating.
Then it has a climax like the seamless, much talked about chase scene in a full capacity soccer stadium.
The second half is, forgive me, a series of what-the-fucks. It’s one of those movies that can end in so many places, with slow dramatic volleys from one possible scenario to its exact opposite. One of those possible endings transports us to the year 2000, when both Esposito and his love interest, Irene Menendez Hastings, are older. She examines the novel and becomes dissatisfied where and how the rough draft ends, her way of encouraging him to find real answers and truths that both the characters and the audience deserve. This second half isn’t jolting but is nonetheless disturbing. Saying ‘that was the most fucking up thing I’ve ever seen’ was a gauge learned to judge great movies in high school viewership, and it’s still just as effective. The real ending that the characters and audience do deserve took a lot of buildup, and it’s believable and nonetheless human made by a director who can make great films.
The movie’s about how people treat each other, how people punish each other, a desire for vindication. It’s about a new cinematic language to articulate an idealism that hasn’t vanished in the personal nor national level, although it’s easy for that ideal to slip away.
Now that’s done, I’ll reintroduce Nathaniel R’s discovery of Natalie Portman’s three block rule, a rule that the Cumberland audience is notorious for breaking. And it’s funnier when middle-aged bourgeois feys break this rule.
“I thought the movie was so horrible.”
“Have you read the New Yorker review? I think you’re alone in this.”
“Just everything was set up. The female judge just happens to have her shirt a bit open when the suspect was there. And the elevator…”
“That’s like every other movie. It wasn’t as bad as the movie yesterday.” (Please don’t tell me these idiots didn’t see J.Lo)
“And the judge closing the case just like that.”
“Well, you don’t know what the Argentinian (ARGENTINE!) justice system was like. And it was the 70’s. It was a dictatorship.”
And so forth. I’m pretty sure I’m a loser for forestalking them (walking in front of the person you’re actually following). I just thought the dialogue was gold.