Sunday, May 31, 2009

While Watching "The Class"...

I thought it would be a good idea to review the film in the selfportrait style Mr. Marin (François Bégaudeau) requests of his students. Only this would't be self because I'm not involved, or am I? The film's no-plot really gets your mind working on how much involvement you have in things you think you have no influence in...but this is getting complicated.
So without further ado:
I liked,
- Bégaudeau's committed performance. I could've sworn he was a professional actor and was very surprised to find this was his debut film! (Same goes for the whole ensemble).
- The plot-less approach. It was about nothing, but said so much.
- How it stayed so true to its title ("Entre les murs").
- How it didn't bother with silly backstories but still said so much about each character.
- The un-pretentiousness of its ideas.
- It never tries to be "inspirational".
-Its celebratory feeling; everything and everyone feels so damn alive!
- The fact that it feels so director-less, but actually leaves you craving for more of Laurent Cantet's work.
- The kids' names.
- Its ability to be so multicultural without stressing this out and squeezing the Benetton factor to the ultimate level.
- The feeling of utter frustration it leaves you with.
I didn't like,
- The feeling of utter frustration it leaves you with.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

To Kristin, on her 49th Birthday...

I could've sworn she was older than that. Not because of her looks (that's the lovely Ms. Thomas a few days ago at the Cannes Film Festival) but because of the timeless quality she always brings to the screen.
She wasn't always in my grace, but now I can't get enough of her. May the movie gods bless her, and us, with more wonderful roles. She's the definition of a classic.

Because he Cannes, Cannes, Cannes...

Lars von Trier defied expectations, and sparked even more controversy, when his "Antichrist" leading lady, the very lovely, Balenciaga muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg was awarded the Best Actress trophy at the Cannes Film Festival.
Crazy and weird as he might be, very few living directors push actresses to the lengths he takes them to. The stories about how he tortured Bjork in "Dancer in the Dark" are legendary, but she got Best Actress at Cannes too (and was robbed of an Oscar nomination), Nicole Kidman was never better than in "Dogville", and the seriously underrated Bryce Dallas Howard was phenomenal in "Manderlay".
Other winners at the festival included Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" which was awarded the Palme d'Or and Christoph Waltz as Best Actor for Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds".
Rest of winners at the festival's website.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Getting on the "Glee" Bandwagon.

Given that we don't get FOX down here and even if we did I'm not a fan of "American Idol", I obviously missed the very discussed premiere of "Glee" a few nights ago.
With that said, I got to see it and count me in as one of those excited with the promise it showed.
As far as pop culture goes, this is the best thing I've seen this year (if it was a movie it'd get a four star review!).
The cast is spectacular, I loved Jayma Mays germ-phobic teacher, Jane Lynch's viciously charming cheerleading trainer, Lea Michele's snotty, overachieving diva and Amber Riley's delicious girl with an attitude ("I'm Beyoncé!").
The show is filled with archetypes, not clichés, and feels refreshigly original even if deep inside you know you've seen this before a million times.
What makes "Glee" different is something we never see much of anymore: its spirit. I had never felt so excited watching a TV pilot before in my life and once it was over I just wanted more and more (not to mention I wanted to burst out into song and dance...I also listened to my "Back To Black" album completely).
The best compliment I can think of to give this show is that it's so damn good I'm already fearing its cancellation...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angels & Demons **1/2

Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer
Stellan Skarsgård, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl,
Pierfrancesco Favino, Thure Lindhart, David Pasquesi

"Angels & Demons" is like being served a historical conspiracy with your Big Mac.
It knows it doesn't have the background and facts to sustain the implications of the things it has to say about the Catholic church and science.
But it also knows that its real purpose was exclusively to be entertaining. And how it succeeds in that.
Unlike its 2006 predecessor, "The DaVinci Code", this adaptation of Dan Brown's eponymous novel doesn't take itself so seriously. Instead it squeezes every drop out of Brown's pseudo-erudite theories, the Indiana Jones qualities of its hero and the exquisite production values at the director's hands. Call it Catho-exploitation if you like.
Hanks repirses his role as Professor Robert Langdon, Harvard's expert in symbology, who is asked by the Vatican to assist them after four cardinals are kidnapped in the middle of a papal conclave.
The kidnappers have identified themselves as members of the Illuminati, a secret society once persecuted by the church, who have come back to take revenge for crimes committed against their group by the Vatican.
They announce they will kill one cardinal every hour up until midnight in one of the altars of science spread through Rome.
Added to this, the Illuminati have also stolen a vial of antimatter which they plan to use as an explosive device to eradicate the entire Vatican city.
Langdon teams up with sexy scientist Vittoria Vetra (Zurer) to stop them before it's too late. Why the Illuminati don't just nuke the thing to begin with is never fully explained, nor questioned, because it would leave us without any dramatic situations, and no popcorn movie, to begin with.
This is one of the many things you will have to forgive "Angels & Demons" for in advance, otherwise you won't be able to delight in its excesses.
Those not willing to leave their "brains" at the door will see this as an insufferable attempt to feed previously digested intellectual material to the masses.
However, those who fully comprehend the grasp of Ron Howard's successes at achieving any sort of intellectual stimulation in the past, will know that this time obviously won't be any different and are propense to enjoy it while munching on their snacks.
They will however be surprised to see that Howard doesn't completely screw up this time. He obviously has a talent for creating suspenseful situations (even if he reccurs too much to quick cuts and flashy editing as if to hide any possible errors) and there isn't a single sequence in the film that doesn't at least get your heart pulse racing.
Sadly the film works mostly as a series of thrilling individual sequences that never come together as a whole. It feels as if every scene was directed by a different person, but you'll be immersed into the plot before you even begin to notice this.
If there is something Howard still fails to achieve is subtlety and the first half hour of the film represents this perfectly. Langdon is often made to state the obvious ("Illuminati" means enlightened, "sede vacante" means empty seat, which paired with the image of an empty chair feels just plain insulting) and his character sometimes becomes obnoxious in his need to teach.
It doesn't help that he's played by Hanks with a disturbing smugness he tries to pass off as charming cockiness.
But despite Langdon's didactism, Howard actually puts less of himself into this film than he did in "The DaVinci Code" (which arguably had one of the worst finales in memory as it tried to please everyone), therefore we have one of his only films where the ending doesn't suck!
It certainly helps that his ensemble is grounded by some fantastic actors including McGregor who plays the late Pope's Camerlengo and who somehow makes his preachy discourses work.
Skarsgård who is always a joy to watch, here playing the Swiss Guard's commander and does some satisfying job playing someone whose faith is committed to his job.
Mueller-Stahl brings gravitas to his role as an elderly Cardinal who we immediately suspect as a villain (those who haven't read the book will have a fine time trying to solve the mystery) if only because of his strict dedication.
And it's pleasing to see that the film belongs to several less famous actors who make every scene worthy, including Lindhart as a reluctant Vatican officer, Favino as a police detective and the fantastic Kaas who creates a Hassassin you can't take your eyes away from. It would have been interesting to see him portrayed as the sexual beast of the book, but the screenplay completely removes that element, as if Howard was trying to keep away from more controversy. The actor however brings this lust to life with his movements and eyes.
As usual, any sort of controversy spiked by the film is merely an exaggeration. One that should be expected from anything that brings religion and science face to face.
Howard tries his best to balance the two of them and avoid trouble and it's true that audience members will decide on their own on which "team" they belong. This is highlighted splendidly in the very last scene of the film that sends everyone with a smile on their face.
Howard however forgot that film being above all a visual medium, plot machinations sometimes come to mean less than what we see and most definitely the story sometimes becomes obsolete under the weight of images.
Therefore "Angels & Demons" might have chosen a position without even trying to as it features some breathtaking work in order to recreate the Vatican (Howard was denied permission to shoot there for obvious reasons).
The art direction is stunning, but what results more haunting is the work of CGI which sometimes makes your jaw drop in terms of its precision, realness and beauty.
If computers can easily reproduce spiritual temples who needs to actually go to the Vatican? And what does this say about religion in the face of technology? Without meaning to, Howard's film gives a nod to the power of evolution and technological advancement, which pardon the pun, are nothing short of miraculous.

(Un)Broken Embraces.

I'd give anything to be standing between those two...
and in Cannes for that matter.

While Watching "Intermezzo"...

Many things caught my attention, including the fact that it's a remake made only three years after the original one was made in Sweden.
"Intermezzo" has Lesliw Howard play Holger Brandt a world famous violinist who falls in love with his daughter's (Ann Todd) piano teacher Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman)
Apparently Hollywood loved the remakes even back then. Fortunately though that isn't what makes the film memorable, among other things it has...

A superb, almost vanguardist, use of editing.
During one key scene the ice floating on the river announcing the end of winter suddenly turns into a sky filled with clouds (spring).
The interplay of sounds, dialogues and the striking beauty of the images would've made any Russian film theorist feel proud of Hollywood.

It features the American debut of the incredible Ingrid Bergman, who was only 24 back then and was reprising her role from the Swedish version of the film.
For being her first English speaking role she is fantastic (watch how she created her classy accent in this film) and throughout the whole movie she looks stunning.

The costumes by Irene and Travis Banton are perhaps some of the best ever created for Ms. Bergman. The column dress she wears above is stunning and made her look incredibly sexy while remaining elegant and appropriate for a concert pianist.
The belts become a leitmotif in her wardrobe (constricting guilt perhaps?) that flatter her figure and make her even more goddess-y.

She is also aided by cinematographer Gregg Toland who according to Hollywood lore was reprimanded by producer David O. Selznick who asked him why did Bergman appear so "ghastly" in his version, when she looked so beautiful in the Swedish one.
Toland replied how in Sweden she wasn't forced to wear so much makeup and Selznick obviously made them redo all her scenes with a more natural look.
The result is what became Bergman's signature look: a sort of divine aura made enigmatic by the fact that her divinity looks attainable.
Leslie Howard's character tells Bergman "you don't look real in this light".
It's as if the line was made to compliment Toland's breathtaking work.

Bergman and Howard learned how to play their instruments for the film, but of course them being geniuses in the screenplay their thespian abilities limited them to learn basic techniques to make them appear convincing onscreen.
Bergman is all fire and passion (even when the velocity camera tricks become too obvious some times).

Howard, who wasn't as good an actor as he thought, had a little more work done. His difficult violin scenes involved two professional players holding and playing the instrument for him. This is why they're made in closeups.

"Intermezzo" is a rather short feature length film, even for the era. It's only about seventy minutes long and one would wonder how they make the emotional impact work in such limited time.
The answer lies in its wonderful use of symbolism, metaphors and altogether visual economy.
The image above conveys the moment when the leads realize they have fallen in love and without a single obvious line of dialogue we come to understand it, as we do with many other situations in the film.

Upon watching her touch her husband's instrument (read that as you wish) Holger's wife (Edna Best) understand Anita's role in his life.

A romantic scene gives way to a wonderfully realized, melancholic goodbye. Notice how we only see their faces reflected in the antique shop, as if their love was also some sort of luxury only to be contemplated through a glass.

Holger's daughter listens to her father play on the radio. He has left their house and his presence (as noted by the picture) has left a great emptiness in his little girl.
The juxtaposition of the radio and the picture (both representations of parenthood gone missing) are only the more heartbreaking after seeing how the characters move around them.
Todd and Best are fantastic in these scenes.

And if there is something of particular notice about "Intermezzo" is how perhaps it's not only the weepy, melodramatic story many seem to think of, but is in fact an ode to masculinity.
When the film begins and we meet Holger's son Eric (Douglas Scott) his father first tells him that he can no longer kiss him (like he did his wife and daughter) and proceeds to shake his hand, establishing a distance between them that reaffirms their roles as males in society, but completely forgets their emotional (blood?) bonds.
Later his daughter calls her brother "stupid" to which Anita replies "he's a boy" as if to negate the preceding statement. Can men do no wrong in this society?
Eric disappears throughout most of the film as it's obvious that Holger's devotion is towards women. When he leaves his house and goes to France he befriends a little girl (Marie Flynn) who reminds him of his own daughter.

It is only upon his return to Sweden, and after tragedy strikes, that Holger finally reaches out to his son confessing "it is I who needs you now".
Can it be that all along Eric has been a representation of Holger himself? Was his rejection of his son a symbol of how he chose to deal with his midlife crisis without any responsibilites towards his role as a "man"?
By acknowledging that he needs his son, perhpas he's saying that he needs to become what others expected him to be (his son still is "fresh" and has made no wrong turns or big mistake sin his life, one can assume).
This notion of Eric's importance to the plot and to Holger's catharsis is suggested during one of his short scenes where he asks his father if he can go watch a movie.
He had asked his mother to interced for him offscreen and when he reminds her she tells him she'd forgotten all about it.
It's as if the movie is denying itself its actual central theme as well and trying to pass off as just another romantic drama.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past **1/2

Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Matthew McCounaghey, Jennifer Garner
Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Daniel Sunjata, Emma Stone
Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Michael Douglas

"Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is the kind of movie that spoils itself from the trailer. Inspired by Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" it turns Scrooge into Connor Mead (McCounaghey) a Vanity Fair photographer who has made a reputation on account of his "tripod".
He beds every model he shoots and is a firm disbeliever of monogamy and love. When he goes to his young brother's (Meyer) wedding he is visited by the ghost of his uncle Wayne (Douglas), the man who trained him in his player ways.
He announces to him that he will be visited by three ghosts (past, know how it goes) who all will point out to him what an ass he was by dumping the love of his life: Jenny Perotti (Garner).
Lucky for him she's maid of honor at the wedding, but before the inevitable happy ending arrives, the ghosts will unleash some actually funny situations involving alternate realities, Bridezilla tantrums (courtesy of Chabert) and that never ending source of laughs known as bad 80's fashion choices.
McCounaghey does his eternal "pecs on legs" routine (surprisingly he's never shirtless in this film) and his lecherous qualities make for some heartbreaking moments especially when the wrinkles on his face begin to show and both his characters, and the actor, learn that they might not be able to pull this off forever.
Garner can do no wrong, and she's no exception here, bringing Jenny equal parts sass and sensibility (very few actresses out there can put a lump in your throat by getting watery eyes like Jen does).
Her scenes with McCounaghey bring up the sort of flirtation that heats up a room, but we know will never be consummated, which is why the film sometimes falls flat on its face.
The supporting players are rather good; especially Forster as a tough father of the bride, Archer (can you believe she's in her sixties already?) as her foxy mom and Douglas who brings a Dino quality to uncle Wayne that makes his chauvinism somehow irresistible.
"Women are like horses" he says, cockily flashing the pearly whites and working the ascot. You will be surprised to see even your girlfriend will let out a spontaneous chuckle and then probably be pissed about it.
That's the thing with this movie, it doesn't contain life changing wisdom and knows it. It's crass, predictable, extremely cheesy sometimes, but still has some parts that work (Stone as Connor's first girlfriend is hilarious) some that are cringe worthy and some that will send you out of the theater with a huge grin on your face.

How to Achieve Multiple Orgasms in 2:30.

While Watching "The Wrong Man"...

...I couldn't stop thinking how this is perhaps the worst film to watch in the middle of the recession.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek ***1/2

Director: J.J Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto
Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Bruce Greenwood
John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy

Coming straight from planet Camp, the original "Star Trek" series exploded upon the world, and its living rooms, in the year 1966. More than forty years after its release it has spawned ten feature films, several multi-season TV incarnations, countless books and toys as well as a dedicated legion of fans for whom the Vulcan salute is nothing if not sacred.
The effects of the phenomenon are such, that even if you're not a Trekkie, you will at least know of the existence of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Nimoy) and the USS Enterprise.
You also probably will have been subject to one of the many incarnations of "Star Trek" at least once in your life.
If none of the franchise's many options have sparked your interest in it, then director J.J. Abrams' glorious reinvention might just as well do it.
Setting his story years before the original series (although time traveling and positioning is something of a malleable element here) he takes us to discover the origins of Kirk, Spock and how they came together for the Enterprise's maiden voyage.
James Tiberius Kirk (Pine) is a young rebel who enrolls in the Starfleet to solve some daddy issues. His father died in the thrilling sequence before the credits, serving as a premonitory basis for the rest of the feature, while injecting you with an adrenaline rush the film will try to maintain throughout its running time.
Spock (Quinto) is a half human-half Vulcan genius who gave up emotions as part of his academic training and has battled all his life with keeping a balance between his both sides.
Upong meeting Kirk at Starfleet Academy they both dislike each other (one's volatile, the other's a Vulcan...) but have no time to work out their differences when Earth comes under the menace of Captain Nero (Bana); a psychotic Romulan who's set on destroying every planet in the Federation (the "United Nations" of sorts in the Trek universe).
Before you can say "beam me up", they find themselves aboard the Enterprise along with fellow cadets Dr. Leonard McCoy (Urban), communications officer Uhura (Saldana), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (Cho), navigator Pavel Chekov (Yelchin) and engineer Montgomery Scott (Pegg) all under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (a splendid Greenwood).
The masterful screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman then focuses on the central mission while establishing personalities and backstories for all the characters.
Those familiar with the series (who don't fall into conservative devotion and purism) will perhaps think "oh, so that's how this and this happened...", while people who have never seen a single episode will be engaged by what is essentially an adventure story where you give a damn about the people.
Great part of this is owed to one of the most inspiringly casted ensembles in recent film history. Most of them (like the original series' actors) are recognizable enough to be familiar, but not flashy as to take away from the plot being established.
Pine's Kirk is a wonderfully seductive combination of Han Solo and James Bond. He's capable of kicking enemy ass, while throwing around insultingly charming one liners (that would make Shatner proud) and he's got some serious chops as well (his anger and stamina scream "movie star").
Quinto is a revelation as Spock. Counting on more than his bone structure to fill his character's suit, he stands at a very difficult place in terms of how far to push (or not to push) his acting.
Spock is emotion-less and most of the time Quinto's work reminds us that it was a decision of his own making. The actor then suggests what might've taken someone to make this choice and in one particularly moving scene we see him restrain all signs of feeling, mixed with the quiet pride of thinking he made what's best for everyone else.
Saldana is sexy and bold, Urban is terribly magnetic, while Yelchin, Cho and particularly Pegg are bona fide scene stealers.
Bana, behind heavy makeup and tattoos makes for a fascinating villain mixing brutal violence with some sort of coherent purpose and Nimoy who makes an unexpected apperance brings gravitas and serenity (not to mention, ironically, a powerful sense of humanity) to something that might've been ridiculously cheesy.
For all the refreshing sense in this "Star Trek" there is also a very respectful approach that never borders on idolatry and is seen in every aspect of the production.
The costume design is simple and elegant, while Scott Chambliss' production design is breathtaking. His Enterprise is one part Ikea (think cool, approachable streamline) two parts futuristic airline.
Daniel Mindel's cinematography is highly efficient and evocative (despite an overuse of flare). His work in the action sequences (combined with Michael Giacchino's utterly majestic score) puts you right in the middle of the events and his smooth travelings in grounded scenes remind us of the ebbs and flows of time which is a recurrent theme in the plot.
And as usual it's perhaps Abrams' who makes the best impression of all. His devotion to every project he gets into is remarkable and "Star Trek" is no exception.
Abrams seems to live in the universe he's (re)-creating and maximum attention is put on every level. There are inside references for Trekkies (who will no doubt recite along in the electrifying conclusion) and enough fun sights (Gasps! Is that Winona Ryder?) for those who came to accompany them.
But what makes his film so marvelous is that he taps into what made "Star Trek" so popular to begin with. Abrams knows that the places and people here were never part of our universe. The events may be happening near or in planet Earth, but this one isn't in the Milky Way, it belongs in the universe of pop culture.
Therefore, like what will be the most controversial element of his reboot, Abrams travels back in time to make us feel exactly like the first people who saw "Star Trek" in the 60s; where despite the starting war, social revolutions and uncertainty there was hope.
Whether it was the possibility of setting foot on other planets or just getting this one in its place, there was a sense of unity and wonder that's very needed right now.
Abrams could've grounded himself on the premise of "realism" (and delivered some dark political message concentrating more on the fate of the planet Vulcan), but his particular brand of reality comes in the fact that he reminds us of the power for change that lies within each of us.
The twists and turns may not make physicists happy, but they remind us that both science and media entertainment were originally intended to make our lives better.
Who needs real science when there is so much fun to be had in this fiction?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pink Champagne and Skyscrapers.

"It's the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York"
- Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) referring to the Empire State

What's the measure of a great movie? Perhaps the fact that after a million viewings it still has a huge effect on the viewer.
If so, then Leo McCarey's "Love Affair" can be counted among the greats. The story is quite known; French playboy Michel (Charles Boyer) meets American singer Terry (Dunne) on a cruise ship. They are both in relationships but end up falling in love.
Before docking in New York City they agree to tie up their affairs and meet six months later atop the Empire State.
They never do.
The film was later remade by McCarey in 1957 starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, by Warren Beatty in 1994 (in what happened to be Katharine Hepburn's last film role) and served as inspiration for 1993's "Sleepless in Seattle". Which is why even if you haven't seen the original one, there's at least some measure in which the story will seem very familiar.
And it's this very element that makes the 1939 version the more vulnerable in terms of believability.
It's easy to see how the film moves contrivedly, working towards a melodramatic crescendo, almost as if the first hour or so had been merely a McGuffin of sorts.
It's also quite clear how McCarey threw in every element that would guarantee the film would move the audience in some way or another (cute little singing orphans, a wise foreign widow living in a French paradise, catchy songs...).
Watching the film it's impossible not to notice these things, especially if you know your film history and genres well.
What isn't as obvious is that regardless of these things, the film's eventual melodramatic finale works; more than that, it will put a lump in your throat you never saw coming.
Much is owed to the charming lead actors. Boyer, who more often than not came off as smarmy and odd (the "Gaslight" effect maybe?) is absolutely enchanting here, his scenes with his grandmother (played by Maria Ouspenskaya who with one scene got herself an Academy Award nomination) are magical and tender.
Dunne, practically steals the show with her poised dignity and seducing pride. As an audience member you'll wonder why her character makes some of the choices she does, but Dunne makes her best effort to make even the craziest decisions seem like the best.
But 70 years after it was made perhaps what makes this film, and its subsequent incarnations classic, is how it subverts stereotypical genre expectations.
"Love Affair" is considered by many to be one of the ultimate chick flicks ever made and it might be so, but as history has proved, "chick flick" is almost a derogative term most of the time.
Upon hearing those words we're expected to see women (both on and off the screen) crying for no reason, going after ridiculous promises of love, suffering out of some sort of pleasure and overall being puppets of a chauvinistic play where they don't make any choices.
A strong headed feminist would say that pictures like this only serve to subjugate the role of woman in society, but if they bothered to look closer they would be in awe of how in fact it's the importance of women that drives the entire film.
Not just in terms of plot twists and turns (although that might be a case as well) but as a more subtle underscore, like some sort of Freudian ghost.
Here we come to realize that Michel's life for example has become absolutely dependant on the place of the women in his life.
He comes to his grandmother after having his heart broken and upon not finding her there goes straight to her chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
It's also the women who give the man a purpose in life. His love for Terry forces him to leave his old ways and look for a real profession to make him worthy of her.
They work like the muses in Greek mythology pushing the hero forward in his journey. It might be that he's the one taking advantage out of them, but once the curtain falls who do we remember the most?

- This begins a series of posts dedicated to celebrating 1939.
I'd decided to start it at the beginning of the year, but then managed to procrastinate and was inspired by Oscar to do so again.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"What seems to be the trouble, Captain?"

Watching "The Trouble With Harry" and the disinterested way Shirley McLaine's character acts towards her deceased husband I wondered if the reason why she acts like that is because there is some sort of homosexual subtext in the whole thing?
She says how he didn't show up for their honeymoon and Hitchcock never stayed shy from gay backgrounds.
Anyone else think the same, or is it my flu making me see weird things?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is that a fox-squirrel in your pocket?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine *

Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston
Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Monaghan, Lynn Collins, Daniel Henney, Kevin Durand, Taylor Kitsch

This prequel to the "X-Men" series commits the cardinal sin of action film/comic book/summer blockbusters: it's terribly un-entertaining.
Wolverine/Logan as played by Hugh Jackman was consistently one of the best elements in the ensemble of the previous trilogy; combining raw power, a dark sense of humor and animalistic sexuality.
Once you leave him on his own though, he's just not that interesting. The film begins in 1845 where we learn about Logan's birthplace and his power to regenerate as well as his relationship with his older brother Victor (played by Schreiber). Through the credits sequence (which perhaps would've made a better film) we follow the siblings through most of the wars in the twentieth century finishing in Vietnam where they are approached by William Stryker (Huston) who asks him to joing a special team he's putting together.
The group is made out of other mutants including the invulnerable Fred Dukes (Durand), teleportating Kestrel (, Bolt who manipulates electricity (Monaghan), expert gunsman Agent Zero (Henney) and sword fighter Wade Wilson (Reynolds).
Stryker uses them as mercenaries who commit vicious crimes to get what they want. Logan becomes disgusted by this and leaves the group, retiring peacefully to Canada where he lives with his girlfriend Kayla (Collins).
Years later his brother Victor tracks him down and kills his girlfriend setting Logan on a search for revenge. He is approached by Stryker who offers to help him become invincible in order to fulfill his mission. Logan accepts and undergoes a procedure where his skeleton is reinforced with the indestructible metal adamantium.
Logan later learns that Stryker has been in league with Victor all along and escapes, taking on the name of Wolverine in search of vengeance.
Then there's a rescue mission, more mutant cameos than you can shake a stick at and the eventual finale which neatly ties up events so that the first "X-Men" movie makes more sense.
One would assume that the purpose of a prequel would be to establish things otherwise we wouldn't have way of knowing or that at least in some way influenced the behavior of the characters when we met them.
The people involved in making this film however only saw in it the opportunity to make a buck and Wolverine becomes but a puppet in a constant sequence of events and action sequences trying to top the previous one in terms of grandiosity.
As much as Jackman tries to invest something into his character, the screenplay provides him with some ridiculous scenes (not to mention cringe-worthy one liners, which they probably are using for the tie-in video game) that lack a flashy comic book feel and certainly never achieve some sort of hyperrealism.
In the same way the action sequences often come close to turning into selfparodies (unlike the cheesy glory of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" series) that make us believe that the characters are actually doing them just because the actors playing them are getting paid.
When the film tries to humanize Logan it does so with the subtlety of a nuclear bomb, throwing in ridiculous flashbacks and an even dumber story his girlfriend tells him straight out of the "chick flick book of mythology".
When "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is over you too will have grown claws from boredom and will wish to tear the screen down.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fear of Commitment in "Psycho".

While watching the opening scene the other day something became quite obvious to me: Sam Loomis (John Gavin) perhaps doesn't want to be with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh).
As they share a post coital conversation (with sex so good that she didn't even have time to eat as Hitch suggests by showing us a wrapped sandwich) he tells her all the reasons why they can't be together.
Most of them concerning money and his ex-wife. Marion rolls on the bed like a kitten as she confesses she can't be without him and is tired of the secretive life they're leading.
As she gets dressed, and he remains shirtless, the idea that she might break up with him becomes tangible (while they're naked she's still his'?) and he says "I want to see you under any circumstances, even respectability".
Anyone who's seen the film knows that he never will see her again, which led me to question if in fact everything that happens to Marion afterwards isn't in fact a manifestation of Sam's fear of commitment with her.
She steals the money because of him and it's this event that gets her killed (that the money becomes irrelevant to the plot perhaps suggests that this wasn't going to solve their life as a couple as he said).
In the opening scene Marion also mentions that ideally she'd like Sam to eat with her in her family house with her mother's portrait on the mantel.
By specifying the mantel she seems to be putting her mom into a sort of immovable pedestal.
And what scares off a heterosexual male more than meeting his girlfriend's mother or his own in any case? Maybe he isn't as scared of her mom as to the idea of what his own mom would think of the way he's leading his life and the thought of disappointing her.
This piece of dialogue is a sort of premonition of what will happen to Marion later on. She is, technically, killed by someone's mother.
It's as if Sam's fantasy of guilt reversal is realized.
This all might be dismissed by the fact that when Marion disappears Sam helps in the investigation. But this might as well be one part guilt, one part need to fulfill his role in the equation and embrace responsibility (is he making sure she won't come back to have his way with her sister or any other woman?).
Or maybe, just maybe, Sam really did love Marion Crane.