Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Away We Go: An Advertisement

Away We Go
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring: Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels
Grade: C -


Are you worried about having to take responsibility? Are you struggling to decide where the best place to bring up your kid is?

Look no further than the "Away We Go" tour.

We'll show you all the sights. Provide you with a couple of narrow-minded 'extreme' examples of parenthood. Make you think we're leaving you to your own devices while we clearly have an opinion of what "good" and "bad" parenting is. Scatter some retro prints and designs around to accentuate your bewilderment.

Take you to Phoenix, Arizona and show you a mother who derides her kids and throws herself at every man that isn't her husband. Whisk you off to Wisconsin to meet a woman that's so "liberal-minded" she doesn't believe in strollers. (IMAGINE a world where people didn't feel the need for strollers. Where would our children sit for crying out loud? What awful re-percussions would occur in the baby accessory market?). You'll reject these people for being laughable stereotypes and have learned very little other than you need to praise your child and buy it a stroller.

Before we resume the tour we'll conjure up a member of your family. Get them to discuss with you the benefits of having a stable childhood, make you confront that childhood, make you cry in the process. And just so you don't forget we'll get you to climb into a bathtub while this discussion takes place. Implant it in your memory so that it plays a significant role in your thought-process once the tour is over.

In Miami it's time to be grateful you're in a loving relationship. Meet a man that's been deserted, deemed a *gasp* single parent. See his misery. See his pain. Thank god you're not like him. Go to Montreal, Canada and meet the perfect family. This family is so perfect they sing The Sound of Music, god damn it! They live to smile. But here's the catch: this family isn't traditional. It's flawed. These parents can't conceive for long enough. You'll find this out during an absurd, drunken pole dance and wake up thankful that you're fertile.

*The tour will then expect you to have a clearer head about parenthood. It will expect you to believe that home is what you make it. It will expect you to remember your conversation with the designated family member in the bathtub and implement this into your approximation of 'home'. It hopes that you have an epiphany and rest on a solution that in some way ties in with your journey. It expects too much.

*Entry into the institution of marriage is not compulsory but if you refuse this option we strongly suggest that you buy a house with a white picket fence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

[Anti] Christ! What a Poster!

Just saw this via InContention and well, what can one say? I likely won't ever be able to get myself into the kind of mode to discuss the merits of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, which is perhaps the most provocative film I've ever seen, and I'm not sure I'll be able to brave another screening of it for a while yet. This poster, however, highlights much of what I liked about the film visually; it's earthy, ornate, solemn and completely over-the-top. Love it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Venice Reviews: White Material

White Material
Directed by Claire Denis
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Nicholas Duvauchelle, Isaach De Bankolé
Grade: B

M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" is seemingly doing the rounds on film soundtracks, gracing the back cover of Pineapple Express and Slumdog Millionaire since it first bowed on her 2007 album Kala. In actuality, it doesn't really fit those films, and would be much better suited to something like White Material, which is set amidst civil war in French-speaking Africa and contains a lot of themes in M.I.A's song, such as greed, possession, and social constraint.

As Maria, a white coffee farmer living with her husband and son, Isabelle Huppert is expectantly stellar as a woman who defies warnings from the military and protestations from her family to preserve her life in what is increasingly becoming a war zone. As countless locals desert the area as if it were a sinking ship, Maria refuses to leave, but as with Beau Travail Denis's characters (particularly Maria) lack sufficient backstory, and though Huppert gets as much out of the woman as she can, the reason for her stubbornness and resistance to change is something relatively unexplored. This is also true of the family dynamic, which is a disinteresting and shady area of the narrative.

Throughout, White Material offers sparse, thoughtful perspectives of conflict and freedom, and whether either or both is a necessity. It struck me yesterday, while watching Andrea Arnold's problematic Fish Tank, how comparatively well Denis manages to convey different ideological views of liberty. The visual richness of colour that engulfs the characters, and the polarised extremes of proximity that render them either trapped or staring into unending desolation, are a very rewarding element of White Material. So too the moody score, and collection of Reggae songs which help to create an Eastern vibe to the film and extend its sense of scope.

Particularly towards the beginning the film is edited very briskly, cutting between community warfare and Maria on board a bus. Despite only a couple of references back to the bus, in the later stages it eventually becomes clear that the journey is the most present event in the film, and the prelude to the conclusion of events. This probably serves as the biggest problem of White Material, in that you're never really sure where you're at with it. The decisions with regard to the narrative structure, and the escalation of Maria's son's mental state, feel sudden and done for effect, and Denis seems generally unsure of how to tell the story, however competent she is at addressing the themes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fly On The Wall

The Collector (1965)
Directed by William Wyler
Starring: Terrence Stamp, Samantha Eggar
Grade: B

Does it matter if a victim is a powerless woman in a shower, a frantic, headless teenager, or simply Neve Campbell? I found William Wyler's The Collector a difficult film to like because of its victim, rather than the mentally unhinged kidnapper who places her in a position of vulnerability. Terrence Stamp's kidnapping of Miranda Grey, an arty bit-of-stuff student livened by Samantha Eggar, begins with the meagre pedestrianism of the film's Kent Countryside setting. Bad things can't possibly happen from inherently "good" intentions? Stamp, as the suggestively harmless Freddie Clegg, is head-over-heels for Miranda, his abduction of her treated little more than a natural piece of foreplay. As she wakes up from her chloroform-enduced stupor her actions are understandably inconsistent, but one feels that the initial exchange between Miranda and Freddie is a little stagy and stilted. Debate occurs. The tea and biscuits come out. But should we expect anything of a filmic victim? Is rationality too unforseeable? After all, nobody knows how they would react to this predicament, should it occur.

What is for sure is that as characters they exhibit directly opposing ideologies, of which we are constantly reminded. The Collector menacingly draws attention to their differing demeanors and viewpoints, the uptight stingy loner heaping all of the tension into the court of Miranda, who must defend everything that she is about. The Collector's chief mistake is making us too aware of what each of the characters is about, or at least trying to demonstrate this through silly, lazy means. Miranda's favourite book, The Catcher in the Rye, is dissected by Freddie in truly philestine fashion, and their essential differences are brought to the forefront in disappointingly plain terms: this man is all about himself, this woman is eager to explore. It's not to say that The Collector doesn't benefit from politics but the extent to which the two are at war with each other feels primarily mechanical and extracts from some of the unsettling confrontation. Terrence Stamp's dark, studious eyes contribute much more to his character than the narrative devices that accompany them. Particularly blatant is his coveted collection of dead butterflies (hence the film's title) which horrifies Miranda to the extent to which she later interrogates him about whether he intends to "collect" her. The reaction is rather terrifying, and does elevate the tension somewhat, but forms part of my main qualm with The Collector's tendency to demonstrate the sinister through rationale and mediation.

And yet, Wyler eeks so much out of a dull, stagnant setting, emphasising the power relations with menacing angles, boxing Eggar into dark corners and charting her fall from grace with monstrous precision. One gets the impression that Wyler extracts a lot from Eggar herself, and is at his most Hitchcockian in that Freddie in part feels like an authorial vessel, or at least a part-'victim'/faux-'villain' in the piece. Eggar, who conveys the defiance and panic of a fleety woman to whom 'repression' would undoubtedly exist in much more complex ways in the outside world, feels trained in the more explosive scenes, but in confronting Miranda's exasperation at the starvation of culture and concentrated banality of her new setting, she is at worst empathetic and at best a paladin.

I once met a psychologist who'd interviewed Fred West. Wyler's attempts to delve into the motivation behind abduction and obsession is rather like an evaluation of someone similarly beyond rationale. The Collector is a hell of a brave film for confronting the relatively unrelatable with what is, essentially, a battle of logic. It's a technique that's bound to deter people from fully committing to this film's ideas about obsession and practicality (I doubt Wyler would want that anyway) but deserves attention for portraying both Freddie and Miranda in a way that transcends traditional ideas about criminals and victims, and still managing to make its final point so utterly lucid.

Like To Tell You 'Bout My Baby

In a Lonely Place (1950)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Martha Stewart, Frank Lovejoy
Grade: B+

Joan Fontaine's Best Actress vehicle, Suspicion, bowed nine years before Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, a film that articulates much the same feeling in its leading lady. Gloria Grahame is Laurel, that wary female protagonist, who after meeting and falling for screenwriter Dix (Bogart) gives him a false alibi when suspected of the murder of hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson. As she gets to know him more, however, she begins to see underlying darker aspects to his character that makes murder seem well within his capabilities.

In a Lonely Place is mainly a succcess because of its honest development of a very impulsively formed relationship between two people who wrongly believe what they're going to get from each other. In their first meeting a rather daring Dix proposes that Laurel accompany him to his house, on the false pretense of reading a script to him. This is foreplay at its finest for the fifties; she 'reluctantly' agrees to the exchange knowing his intentions and then proceeds to bow out early, delaying the inevitable climax of attraction. In this way Laurel shows her esteem and sexual power, and as the two eventually form a relationship Grahame charts the incremental abandonment of an initially self-effacing figure in favour of her true desire to take control of her man with the kind of stringent, wildfire sexuality that makes Rita Hayworth's flirting with Glenn Ford in Gilda seem comparatively tame. When it becomes clear that Dix cannot be controlled, and could even threaten her in a physical sense, Grahame retreats into the old damsel routine with such convincing nuance that you could almost feel sorry for her complete lack of faith in a man she thought she had sussed.

I had heard from many people that this was one of Bogart's best performances. It's a very different turn from the "on his game" nature of The Big Sleep and Key Largo as he doesn't have the sustained self-assurance and bravado of Marlowe et al. To see Bogey as mentally weak is strange to say the least, yet (and this is not largely down to him) the question of whether this man is a killer is a lingering but rather limp one. The anti-climactic nature of In a Lonely Place is by far its weakest element, but like the standard modern biopic there are often gems to be found elsewhere. Rather like Walk the Line the reason to see this is not for the character study but for the central relationship, and the Humphrey/Gloria partnership is one of those steamy pairings that leaves you itching to discover if their rocky romance can have a tender resolution. Rent it and see.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Venice Reviews: Io Sono L'Amore (I Am Love)

Io Sono L'Amore (I Am Love)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti
Grade: C

Tilda Swinton speaks Italian.
Tilda Swinton speaks Russian.

Tilda Swinton has sex.
Tilda Swinton makes soup.
Tilda Swinton laughs.
Tilda Swinton cries.

Tilda Swinton is lust.
Tilda Swinton is sorrow.
Tilda Swinton is grief.
Tilda Swinton is love.

Io Sono L'Amore = stunned murmurs
Io Sono L'Amore = mild applause
Io Sono L'Amore = mild boos

Io Sono L'Amore n'est pas L'Amore
I Am Love = C

Venice Reviews: The Informant!

The Informant!
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey
Grade: C+

Matt Damon's unsightly moustache is the only ugly thing about his performance in The Informant!, a film in which he's required to deceive for nigh-on all of the 109-minute running time. As Marc Whitacre, an executive of a corn manufacturing company, he seeks to expose the illegal price-fixing of his bosses by working with the FBI, but also has his own interests at heart.

It's difficult to believe that The Informant! has turned out far from how Soderbergh envisioned it. A livened, jazzy score accompanies a ferocious onslaught of office politics and satirical jibes at the corrupt corporate world. There's teasing fun to be had here. And still, the monotony of the film's succession of deceit is neither conquered nor enhanced by the playful, obtrusive accompinament (way too much 007 going on in there) and The Informant! is eventually found out for not being modest enough with its style (Brass: yes, Flair: no). Ocean's Eleven, with its slick breed of stars and effortlessly fresh vibe, had the character network and meandering interplay to justify its self-importance. The Informant!'s similarly single-minded approach has the kind of faux-plumage that screams 'mutton dressed as lamb'.

The prime steak in the piece comes in the form of Damon, who I doubted could play someone as funny and manipulative as Whitacre, but grows into the role majestically. Full of bravado he rattles off responses to interrogation with fervent, stern, desperate sincerity, and as we are privvy to his motivations for much of the film the minute cracks he displays in his character are smirk-enducingly accurate, and often hysterical to watch.

The comparisons to Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley aren't difficult to detect. While Tom Ripley was a figure to study, be wary of, admire, feel sorry for, Mark Whitacre is a much softer anti-hero -- eminently rootable a liar, but someone we mostly laugh at rather than with. The Informant! works better in the latter half, when Whitacre becomes more of an individual than representative of a cut-throat breed, and it's largely down to Damon.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Bound For Film Overload

I'm flying to Venice this afternoon for the film festival. I don't know what to make of Venice, having only really seen it in films like Summertime, Don't Look Now, and the bleak Death in Venice. All three are very different films and yet come to the conclusion that the city is a bit of a maze or puzzle.

The only films that I know I will see (at this point) are:

Up -- Pixar!!
Io Sono L'Amore (I Am Love) -- Tilda Swinton!!
White Material -- Isabelle Huppert!!


36 Vues Du Pic Saint Loup
The Informant


Mr. Nobody

There will be more, and I hope to keep a diary, or at least have a couple of updates about what I've seen and my opinion. That's all for now. Stay tuned!