Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whoopi With Your Best Shot: The Color Purple

Typical me, I got a copy of the film in order to do an entry for The Film Experience's beloved (says I) "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series. Typical because it's now 2am the day after participants were meant to get their pieces up and here I am doing it now. Sigh. Sadly, not much commentary for this piece. Isn't that the way of it lately?

I really adore The Color Purple. It's a rarity in Spielberg's filmography for him to make a film so purely focused on women and yet - like magic - it's probably his best acted film. Actresses: we always need more of them. I think Whoopi Goldberg is exceptional here, don't you? And then of course there's Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey making up the trio of fabulous women. They're the core of the film and that's why I didn't choose the below shot as my favourite, even though it probably deserves it...

No, I chose this below shot because, well, just look at it.

This is a film where even in its prettiest sequences - and there are so very many - the ugliness of the world is shining just as bright. The "Miss Celie (Blues)" number, however, is a moment of pure, unbridled joy. A moment for these two women to be beautiful without question. Heaven.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Mary Poppins

I had never seen Mary Poppins before today. This somewhat startling fact had become more or less a running gag with certain friends since they just could not fathom why I hadn't seen it and why I had no desire to do so. I was the same with The Sound of Music until I came across it one day on television and figured "it's now or never." My experience with watching that famous 1965 Julie Andrews musical only made my desire to not watch Mary Poppins from one year earlier even stronger. Still, bite the bullet I did and I watched Robert Stevenson's 1964 musical for the first time for The Film Experience's ongoing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series.

I'll admit that for as much as I struggled to watch the movie its seemingly interminable series of pantomime and cloying wide-eyed quirkiness, I struggled even more to find a shot that I liked enough. I don't feel Mary Poppins is a particularly well-photographed film. Oh, sure, the sets and the costumes and the animation and the visual effects are all working overtime to make this a lively and energetic picture (there is always a lot going on in nearly every frame), but I don't think the cinematography do it any favours with its unimaginative set-ups and framing. I didn't find many of the musical sequences all that involving and only when they really ramped up the artificiality did I actually get invested in them, which is a curious thing to admit but there you go.

I guess that brings me back to why I just flat out did not like this movie. It feels so crushingly old-fashioned. Consider that West Side Story had come out just three years prior and maybe you can see what I mean. That one is so vibrantly constructed and beats with a modern heart. Mary Poppins, for all of its technological advances, just reeks of mothballs. I know many consider the film to be a lighter than air confection, but I found its dottering and fluttering to be nigh on insufferable. I mean, it certainly doesn't help that Julie Andrews is the only one I could stand to listen to - it's undeniable that she has a pretty voice, yes - but I really struggled to watch this movie without sighing every time an unnecessary song that goes on far too long came on. Cutesy kids alert at red, folks. Eep!

The one aspect other than Andrews that I enjoyed was just how very odd the whole enterprise is. I don't just mean in that characters go about doing odd things, but that the film itself finds itself throwing some truly odd stuff out there in what was probably conceived as a rather innocuous children's flick (upcoming Saving Mr Banks will certainly show us what's what, right? Ummm... maybe not). When it came to selecting a shot I considered the moment the flowers become butterflies in the famous animated sequence (above), or something from Dick Van Dyke's rooftop dancing sequence with the fireworks since there was some beautiful matte work there, or his foggy exit, or even one of the ridiculous shots of nanny's flying away down the street (did nobody find that odd?) No, my "best shot" is one actually from the very beginning of the movie as the camera pans across the London skies and spots Mary Poppins sitting atop the clouds. I found it quite odd, but that's a good thing.

It's a moment that genuinely surprised me. And for a film that didn't do all that much surprising to me in its following two hours and twenty minutes, I figured that was worth celebrating. It's just a supremely strange moment that comes unexpectedly and comes rather peacefully, uncluttered by everything including the kitchen sink that the rest of the film seems determined to throw at the screen. Looking at it just now and it's a rather beautiful image in its own right, and one that looks as if it carries a certain sadness without its cheerful chim-chim-cheree on the soundtrack. I wish the rest of the film was able to make me actually feel something other than painful contempt. I am not surprised in the least that the creator of the Mary Poppins character hated the film.

If you ask me, the best thing this film wrought was the infamous "Scary Mary" recut trailer that reposits the film as an suspenceful horror flick about a vengeful nanny with mystical powers. I'd long enjoyed the video, but now having seen the movie it's based on I can guarantee that it'd be a helluva lot more interesting. Especially since, as the video suggests as well as the aforementioned odd moments, there's a completely different movie going on in there and I want to see it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: American Graffiti

George Lucas has been saying he's going to leave big budget movies behind and refocus on the small ones that began his career in the 1970s. Anybody who has paid any attention knows that that is never going to happen, even if he has decided to sell his LucasFilm brand and potentially leave the Star Wars (and Indiana Jones, I guess) franchise behind him. He'll surely never truly leave it behind. I mean, he's hung on to that thing for dear life for decades and even against his better judgement has kept spinning it off into new incarnations at the drop of a hat.

Still, even if Lucas' career is one of unfulfilled promise, derailed by the unparalleled success of a genre flipped space opera, that initial promise will always be unforgettable. His 1973 nostalgic ode to the teenage dream of his early life was his second feature after the stripped down science fiction of THX 1138. He was nominated for writing and directing Oscars, winning neither. It was still a huge deal given its origin as a small-budget virtually independent production. It's hard to imagine teenagers today flocking to a film such as this, although I guess Gary Ross' Pleasantville is the closest I can think of off the top of my head.

The film, a sprawling look at a group of graduating seniors on the verge of a tumultuous world. It's one of my favourite movies. A good looking one, however, is not how I've ever particularly seen it. This series at The Film Experience, that asks readers to select their favourite shot from within a given film, proves otherwise. Furthering how much I adore this film, every time I watch it it reveals something new and rich. The visuals, as I said, have never been something I have gravitated towards, but looking at it now it seems silly to have not noticed them earlier. There are some really vivid colours and beautifully crafted images on display here. 

See? Absolutely gorgeous. I particularly love the film's use of shadow and tightness. So many movies are filmed in close shots these days, but here it truly serves a purpose. The shot I chose - sadly after only a skim, I didn't have time to rewatch the entire film as much as I would love to (also: my blu-ray is back home in Australia) - is this moment, which I think sums up the film really rather nicely. These people occupy a sort of limbo land where they want to be adults - smoking, drinking - but knowing full well that the passing of time means the things they take for granted will fall away. 

This beautiful shot of Oscar-nominated Candy Clark, I feel, echoes those sentiments entirely. An almost mournful pose as the cool purple light of the night sky beams down - they won't have moments like this for much longer, and the melancholy nature of the lighting here adds pangs of sadness to this already thick layer of morose that lingers over the characters. It's a gorgeous shot from a gorgeous moment in a gorgeous film. Just gorgeous. Drink up!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

San Francisco FIPRESCI Review: Nights with Théodore

Nights with Théodore
Dir. Sebastien Betbeder
Country: France
Running Time: 67mins 
Aus Rating: N/A 

At only 67 minutes long, Sébastien Betbeder's captivating genre mash-up Nights with Théodore (Les nuits avec Theodore) could be seen as skimping on the drama. However, it turns out that that is in fact the perfect length, and perhaps more filmmakers could take a lesson or two when it comes to the old-fashioned way of thinking that length equals importance and worth. It is certainly a way of thinking that has taken hold amongst Hollywood with Oscar-winners and box office hit comedies alike stretching their rather innocuous storylines to absurd lengths, diluting their product in the process. The short running time is only one of the strengths of Betbeder's film, but perhaps one of the most noteworthy in a festival scenario. It certainly doesn't outstay its welcome and that is something to be thankful for.

Read the rest at FIPRESCI

Apologies for getting this review up so late, but it's been sitting on the FIPRESCI website since I returned from sitting on the San Francisco jury. You can read about my experiences on the jury at Quickflix as well as a look at all the films in competition at The Film Experience if didn't get to read them at the time.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Talented Mr... Seale

It has admittedly been a few years since I have watched Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley. And yet I remember it so vividly in my mind. So much so that years removed I can still remember invidivual sequences and shots. I seem to remember the camera repeatedly looking up and down, as if the entire film is told from the perspective of where Matt Damon's "Mr Ripley" sees himself being and where he sees everyone else. I didn't rewatch the film to prepare for this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot - a series at Nathaniel Rogers' The Film Experience dedicated to viewers finding their favourite shot amongst a designated title of the year - but I skimmed through and found myself immersed in a treasure trove of gorgeously lensed moments from Mr John Seale.

John Seale is an Australian four-time Oscar nominee, winning for Minghella's earlier picture, The English Patient. I was surprised to find he wasn't nominated for The Talented Mr Ripley. Apart from being a beautiful movie in general, it really is fabulously filmed and all those European locations certainly don't hurt matters. But, then again, The Talented Mr Ripley and the Oscars had a weird relationship that year that had Harvey Weinstein basically jump ship to the (curiously over-performing) The Cider House Rules, leaving Minghella and co to flounder about racking up a (still very respectable) five nominations. The five that were nominated are certainly a stellar bunch, so Seale (nor I) should really be able to complain. Still... I would have expected more than mere Chicago and Las Vegas to stump for the guy.

Okay, so this one's just because Jude Law is so freakin' good looking. I can't. I just can't.

I love the mirror between these two shots from different scenes in the movie. Ripley down front with Dickie in charge at the back, and then vice versa when the tables are turned.

Tom Ripley literally sees himself (or, projects himself as doing so) as so small that he could be crushed under foot.

I greatly enjoy the way that once Jude Law exits the picture - er, spoiler? - everyone begins having to question who they're even conversing with (they should, alas they don't). This moment of Cate Blanchett's return to the picture is divine, almost like a Hitchcock cameo in the beginning. At first the viewer may not notice her in the background, but then neither does Tom.

My favourite shot, however, is this one. Tom has finally risen not only in social standing, but within myself. And at this moment as the potential for all of his lies to become unravelled he stands up the top and, in actual fact, is guiding everything like a puppeteer. Out of sight he plays the characters of Gwyneth and Cate with the skill of a marionette master, laying the foundation for what comes next.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Birth of an Unknown Woman

If I were to be the owner of a grand repertory cinema with the ability to curate and put on double features of my choice, I think I found a perfect evening for my patrons. It would be a double feature dedicated to the greatest of all niche genres, "women who lie to themselves", and would feature Max Ophuls' 1948 tragic romance Letter from an Unknown Woman and Jonathan Glazer's reincarnatory love story Birth. The two films really, truly feel as if they couldn't be more dissimilar to one another, and yet as I sat in the Museum of Modern Art watching a 35mm print of Ophuls' seemingly overlooked drama I couldn't help but think the two films, separated by some 56 years of history, were peas in a pod.

It's a beautiful film, for sure, on a visual and dramatic level. The story of a famous pianist who receives a mysterious letter from a woman who claims to have loved him for her entire life only to have been turned away because he was too blind to see who she was. Of course, the tragedy becomes twofold for reasons that seem rather obvious from the opening scene, but that's neither here nor there. For somebody who is notoriously fickle with the tears they shed, I did get quite a bit misty-eyed of Unknown Woman with its delicately fragile lead performance by Joan Fontaine (we were just have a laugh with her last week!) and her tale of operatic woe. The cinematography of Franz Planer is gorgeous with its beautiful rendering of snow and shadow. My particular favourite shot it that overhead shot of Fontaine's "unknown woman" walking away her body casts a shadow as long as her gloom. Just divine.

But where the connection to Birth comes in is remarkable. The films share so much and yet it was something that I only noticed when Unknown Woman, which I had obviously never seen before, utilised the scene of an opera in a very similar way to Glazer's. As Fontaine's Lisa takes her seat to watch Mozart's The Magic Flute, she has just been confronted with the realisation that her one true love has returned. Whilst not quite in the same mysterious fashion as the situation that confronts Nicole Kidman's character in Birth, but the two characters wrestle with their feelings as the power of the music wash over them. It's remarkable how similar the scenes and the character motivations behind them are. Sadly, we are not treated to a masterful three-minute sequence of beguiling close-up in Letter from the Unknown Woman like we are in Birth - I suppose this very mainstream-leaning romance film wasn't quite the place for such a visual move in 1940s Hollywood - but the effect is one and the same. It works.

Image source, FIPRESCI
From there, the two films felt like nothing less than sisters. The stories of Fontaine's Lisa and Kidman's Anne seemingly etched together as they each emerge out of the intimidating shadow of the men who took their former flame's place and decide to persue something that seems foolhardy and destined for failure, but which neither women can truly come to terms with until it's staring them blankly in the face. Both women go to personally tragic places in order to be with the love of their life, only to have it suggested by the man himself that it wasn't that all along. They mourn very obviously on the inside, harbouring long-gestating pain within them, while putting on an external face of strength. And even though the man at the centre of Unknown Woman is obviously a very dashing, handsome man, and the boy at the centre of Birth is, well, a boy, both stories tell a very salient point on what the idea of an all-encompassing love can do to us in the long term if it is interrupted by the natural order of things. Funnily enough, in Unknown Woman the love is interrupted by a birth, and in Birth it is interrupted by death. Make of that as you wish.

That they also share the aforementioned stunning cinematography, plus great musical scores (Desplat's work on Birth remains one of the greatest things my ears have ever heard), and bona fide immaculate performances by the respective lead actors are just cherries on top. Birth has been said to have been influenced by Kubrick, which I think is definitely on point to a degree, but having now see Ophuls' film I can't separate the two. Nor do I want to, even if my mind is just playing tricks. I now covet both of these films separately and together. I want to soak in their opulence and live in a world where I get to yearn for somebody with the strength and dedication as them. Although, hopefully, my yearning would have a happier ending.

I was thankfully able to view Letter from an Unknown Woman in 35mm print form, which was a wonderful relief. MoMA are screening it again on Monday at 5pm so hopefully I have maybe inspired you to jump on the subway to 53rd street. Coincidentally, Birth will also be screening on 5 June and 12 June at MoMA in a tribute season to cinematographer Harris Savides. I have been told by the MoMA people that it too is screening in 35mm. If somebody would put them together, side-by-side, I think you'd have one hell of devastating double.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Brain and the Body

I've seen two horror films in the last week or so. As I like to describe them, one is of the brain and the other is of the body. One traces the gradual decline of a single individual as he gets deeper and deeper into a situation he can't escape, while the other revels in more traditional horror tropes like gore and the undead. Both are impeccable crafted endeavours that never once feel like anything on screen was unintentioned. Of course, whether they differ is a gulf so wide that chalk and cheese would baulk.

Simon Killer comes from the production house that brought us the stunning directorial debut of Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2011. Director and co-writer Antonio Campos' unnerving, is dramatically too cool for school in many ways, Simon Killer is certainly not the film that I had expected given the rather dark title and creepy (and excellent) poster. Much more than a backpacker Parisian Psycho, it follows a young American tourist in Paris as he digs holes so deep he can't get out. First by pretending to be the recipient of a beating in order to stay at the home of an affectionate prostitute, and then by struggling to keep the darkness within him covered up.

The film's co-writer (I presume there was quite a bit of improvisation in that regard) is star Brady Corbet, one of the most interesting actors working today alone based on the list of directors he's worked with. His filmography isn't extensive, but considering he's worked with Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin), Michael Haneke (Funny Games US), and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia) as well as the aforementioned Sean Durkin on Martha Marcy. He obviously fostered a good working relationship with the team and is now a creative force behind Simon Killer.

Make no mistake, this is purely a horror film in broad psychological terms. There's no blood and not even any thrills despite working within a thriller template. The horror of the piece is in Corbet's performance. He is so good in the role as Simon, mentally unstable and unable to contain it. With him working at such a great level, it's a shame the film didn't pick up to meet him. It's not that the film's first half doesn't work, it's just that characters routinely do things that show such poor judgement. It's hard to be reeled in. Towards the end, however, Campos appears to elevate the material thanks to more abrasive editing and a more hurried pace. Gold stars also for the use of Spectral Display's "It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love" to such unique and unsettling effect. B-

What the psycho-chills of Simon Killer lacks in the blood and gore department are more than made up for with Xan Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned. A film that's as super lush and stylish as it is super ridiculous and, at times, over-the-top. One could almost call it a campire tale given its propensity to be flashy and abundantly into its own colourful aesthetic. The film, Cassavetes' debut feature after her 2004 documentary Z Channel:A Magnificent Obsession, frequently looks like Sofia Coppola directing a Florence + The Machine video (and, surely not coincidentally, Coppola's name appears in the end credit thank yous) with some impeccably rich costume and production design. Shame the actors drown in them, which can make for a slower second act.

I think Jason at My New Plaid Pants put it best: "there's a lot of talk in Kiss of the Damned about the magnetic force of Milo [Ventimiglia]'s presence, and you kinda wanna laugh every time it's spoken of." Vampires are, after all, meant to be compelling creatures and lure with lust, but while Milo - as well as the parade of women that surround him all throughout the film - is a very good looking man (that beard is working all sorts of wonders for him) he doesn't exactly command the screen. The women, too, are mostly airy beings that float about through scenes, although if that was Cassavetes' intentions then at least she cast well and got actors that have some truly captivating voices.

Where the film really succeeds is is the sound work. May sound like a strange observation, but it's true. The sound work in Kiss of the Damned is phenomenal and seeing it in the theatre certainly packed a punch that home entertainment would otherwise lack. The abrupt switches in music styles mixed with copious screams, canny dialogue dubbing, and high-pitched sound effects, not to mention the deep bass that appears to be a constant within the sound mix. The work here is a genuine wonder and was one of the reasons that I remained so focused and alert during the somewhat less exciting (if more gruesome) second half. I found Kiss of the Damned to be a much more intoxicating experiment than, say, Amer, which I think some may compare it to thanks to their pastiche patterns. B

Both Simon Killer and Kiss of the Damned are available on demand in America. Simon is also in limited release now, Damned will be in cinemas from May.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Rite of Spring Breakers

First of all, let me apologise for the lack of updates here. Alas, as most of you would probably be aware I have recently made the move overseas so, naturally, I have been a bit busy. I've been fortunate enough to catch a few films in the brief time that I'm here and one of them - the very first, actually - was Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, which has crashed the multiplex and turned normally intelligent people into blabbers who can't seem to make heads or tails of the whole thing.

 I, however, thought it was great.

A richly textured mood piece of a film that takes its position early and run with it for another 94 minutes, most of which are as hypnotically captivating as one could realistically hope for in a film about this American tradition known as "Spring Break". Seen as a rite of passage for any good looking young American - no seriously, apart from the older drug dealers, everybody in this Florida enclave is apparently really good looking in that indistinguishable way - the film dives headfirst into the story of four particular young women who end up falling down a wormhole of excess and debauchery, much of which is quite clearly illegal. Not that they care.

 Much has been made of the film's casting, which sees three of four girls portrayed by actors known more for wholesome family entertainment than risque, breast-baring arthouse fare. What they were previously known is, I feel, besides the point. They do, however, make for some spot on casting, and alongside James Franco as a drug-dealing skeeze-ball that hands these women a very literal get-out-of-jail-free card, makes for surely one of the most perfectly cast films that we'll get in 2013. While Franco and an emotional Selena Gomez make for the best performances in a film that's filled with all sorts of weird faces that is so typical for a Korine film, it's the technical aspects that turn Spring Breakers into a fluid trip down the rabbit hole.

Benoît Debie's neon-lit cinematography gives the film a bright eyed hue that recalls Miami Vice if focused on the villains in a modern day Spring Break resort. The exotic colours of Heidi Bivens' costume design - all bikinis and Ed Hardy-style brand names - are exquisitely lit and make for a particularly eye-popping final scene. Douglas Crise has been given the responsibility of editing Korine's screenplay into the film that it is and he does a particularly stunning job of it. It's easy to see this going completely wrong - hell, many think it did - with random, overlapping, repetitious, and generally untraditional cuts used throughout. However, the final product is one of an almost swirling grandiosity that made for thrilling hypnosis. One scene in particular set to the tune of Britney Spears' "Every Time" has to be seen to be believed, with its juxtaposition of bikini-clad spring breakers with their phallic guns and hot pink balaclavas.

 Naturally, some people don't see it that way. This article in The Guardian by Heather Long is such a case. Yet again we have people unable to distinguish between a film showing a particularly act and endorsing it. Long's argument that Korine's film endorses "rape culture" and the idea that for young women to have the "time of their life" they must resort to scandalous and scantily-clad behaviour is both misguided and ridiculous. I can't imagine how many people could view Spring Breakers and come out thinking it endorses anything other than the unironic appreciation of Britney Spears. And it certainly doesn't "endorse" anything like rape culture. In fact, not only does the film not feature rape of any kind (certainly none that I remember, but maybe I was transfixed and have forgotten), but the one scene that threatens to do so ends with a "no" (albeit a bare-breasted no.) The film very clearly paints the paths of these girls as dangerous and worrisome, with their actions bringing them more and more pain. So much pain that this so-called "time of their life" will forever be marred by the results they crashed head-first into. Sigh.

 Speaking of rites of passage though, I did enjoy my first ever American cinema experience and "experience" is certainly a perfect word for it. Wow. Not only did a woman bring her (at least I hope it was hers) newborn baby to the cinema and let it crawl around on the ground (!!!), but two girls got up and danced during the Skrillex-soundtracked opening scene. Of course people got up and left and came back at a snail's pace, which I don't quite understand unless you're truly hating the film, which one man in particular made well known. Throughout the final ten minutes of the film one man standing in the theatre entry corridor yelled out "Spring Breakers is a lie!" repeatedly. Maybe it was his ode to the film's own use of repetitious dialogue, but it was nevertheless as bothersome as it was hilarious. Hey, at least it makes a great anecdote.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is my favourite Quentin Tarantino film. Anybody who's listened to me yammer on about it would be aware, and it ranks alongside Death Proof as the most rewatched of Tarantino's films by me. I consider it a staggering achievement in the way that many look at Pulp Fiction or the recent Django Unchained. Whilst those two are indeed varying degrees of quality (Pulp Fiction >> Django Unchained, however, obviously), neither can surpass the pop connoisseur's third film in my eyes. From a visual stand point - the entire purpose of Nathaniel Rogers' "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" feature - it certainly lacks the vivid cinematic brush strokes of Tarantino's collaborations with Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds and the aforementioned Django Unchained), and yet there's probably quite a lot going on that, upon initial inspection, may be missed.

Jackie Brown, more so than any other of Tarantino's films, has a certain workmanlike quality to its visuals and yet also feels imbued with a stylish swagger. Thanks to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, this obviously reflects the character at the heart of Jackie Brown - regular, but projecting an everyday class. The film is full of bold uses of colour amongst drab surroundings right from the very get go as Pam Grier's title character emerges on an airport conveyerbelt against a wall of various hues of blues, greens, and browns as the bright electric blue uniform pops. Blue and brown, it would seem, are recurring colours in the film. From the Ordell Robbie's blue flat cap and pants ensemble, the blue hum of a Los Angeles apartment complex, to the drab beige and brown walls of Max Cherry's bail bonds office, and the coffee-coloured textures of Grier and Jackson themselves. Jackie's blue stewardess uniform is surely as vivid a costume as The Bride's yellow motorcycle suit and that fabulous opening tracking shot is a beautiful inroads into this previously unknown character as she weaves her way through an airport lounge. At first calm and a picture of royal beauty, she becomes flushed and frenzied as the serene colours of her backdrop begin to blur into one another and give way to the hustle and bustle of the world around her/us.

This evolution is repeated once more in the film's standout set piece. A rivetting twist on a traditional heist sequence, the drop off department store scene is a deliciously handled moment that tells the same incident from multiple points of view. A stunning example of editing and music that merge to craft a tense, funny, almost cathartic moment for an audience. From Jackie's initial POV - wherein the "boo yah!" moment occurs, forever destined to be awesome - there lies a long take that follows Grier as Brown as she makes her way out of the department store she was to make the money drop and tries to find the FBI agents trailing her. As the camera watches Grier's every facial tick and flinch, it's hard to tell whether Brown is pretending to be worried and scared so as to make the FBI believe her story, or if she's genuinely worried about what's about to go down. A little from column a and a little from column b, perhaps.

This particular long take is my favourite "shot" of the movie, but the one spot I chose to screencap is, I think, so representative of the film as a whole. Pam Grier's face, etched in desperate verve, front and centre and the world whizzing by around her. She's just trying to make her way through the world "doing whatever [she] has to do to survive" (to quote the Bobby Womack song from the opening credits). The end of Jackie Brown is ambiguous if you choose to think of it that way. She sails off into the sunset and is happily ever after, or Jackie just continues to struggle as she attempts to be as classy as she can be even if the world around her is in chaos.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Exit

Dir. Marek Polgar
Country: Australia
Running Time: 90mins
Aus Rating: N/A

A subculture has emerged within the maze of a modern metropolis in Exit. A city – one that certainly looks like Melbourne (it was shot there), but is perhaps deliberately never named – that is comprised of angular architecture, walls of concrete and glass, and somewhat zombie-like office workers that drift about as if in a fog. This subculture of people live off the grid, squatting in abandoned buildings as they seek out the “exit”, a mythical doorway that will lead whichever lucky soul who discovers it away to (so they suspect) a better life away from all of their worldly troubles. Having dropped out of society, deserted their jobs, families, and friends along the way, they attempt to navigate the so-called maze, trying not to get lost with one mere wrong turn. Oh sure, their bodies exist within the world, but they go by more or less unnoticed as they slink down graffiti-sprayed alleyways, through vacant office skyscrapers, and even through busy streets as they attempt to solve the vague clues (clues that may have conjured up out of thin air) without going the wrong way.

Read the rest at Onya Magazine

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Any Which Way With Laurence

Xavier Dolan is a very young filmmaker. I don't just mean in terms of his age - although at only 23 his ambition is now embarrassing the rest of us - but in terms of his style, too. Emblematic of a lot of young directors, his brief three-deep filmography has veered wildly about through a list of inspirations as he navigates the terrain for a style that feels explicitly his own. His debut, the ferocious I Killed My Mother, was, I felt, very indebted to the American independent movement and directors of the New Queer Cinema movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s like Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes. His follow-up, Heartbeats (or Les Amours Imaginaires because the English title is lame), was like a fractured blending of Wong Kar-wai and the French New Wave. I adored them both, loved them even. For such a young filmmaker to hold such command is admirable to say the least. He wore his inspirations on his sleeve, sure, but the boldness of his storytelling and the captivating way he brandishes his style made for exciting cinema. He embraced overt style in a large-scale more than any director since Baz Luhrmann or Tarsem Singh - at least that I could think of, and as somebody with a penchant for that very type of cinema, it thrilled me to no end.

With Laurence Anyways, Dolan has made perhaps his strongest statement yet for what the rest of his career may hold. A near three-hour boutique epic if you will that charts the relationship between two individuals once the man (Melvil Poupaud in a role that demands a liquid transformative quality) decides to live the rest of his life as a woman, Laurence Anyways was clearly a demanding undertaking for the Canadian director. For the first time Dolan has removed himself from the on-screen equation (except for a brief Hitchcock style cameo during the dazzing "Fade to Grey" musical number) and stuck to a mere three hyphenated role as writer-director-costume co-designer. Still, his inspirations remain front and centre and, perhaps, that's just the way he wants it and perhaps that's his actual signature trait ala Quentin Tarantino. Of course, Dolan's work is more homage than pastiche, as he recreates and recrafts his favourite elements of cinema into something altogether unfamiliar. As he experiences more of the world - and his films imply he's already experienced quite a bit that's worth examining through a lens - I suspect his films will only grow more assured, which is an alarming concept given the impeccable streak he's already on.

With this film, Xavier Dolan has seemingly found a way to blend the exuberant flamboyance of Pedro Almodovar with that of the winsome melancholy of Sofia Coppola. Regarding the former, he all but goes out of his way to reference both What Have I Done to Deserve This? and All About My Mother, whilst allowing many moments of the film to revel in the hyper-textural landscape that the Spaniard is known for. Coppola, on the other hand, is much like Dolan in that she's used her own inspirations to help create her own style that feels both something borrowed and something new at the same time. Laurence's affinity to baroque synth-pop of the 1980s and classical instrumentals can't help but recall Coppola's Marie Antoinette, but the influence is also there in the way Dolan is able to turn a quiet moment of seeming insignificance into a painting of a thousand words. As the final scenes show the transformed Laurence finally recognising her true self and potential, the same may certainly be said for Dolan himself. Laurence Anyways is a messy film at times, but its those loose threads that give it an identity all its own, and with this film the intrepid Canuck may have just found his unique, true path to set out on.

Full of ornate, delicate beauty, Laurence Anyways is such a strong piece of filmmaking that I can't imagine its images and soundscapes escaping my memory any time soon. The billowing purple coat as Laurence's ferry takes him away through the ice, the darkened laser-lit nightclub sequence, the assortment of over-sized jackets worn by Suzanne Clément, the look of gee whiz surprise on her face as she teaches Laurence to apply make-up, the pink brink amongst a wall of white, a broad-shouldered person, whose face we don't see, disappearing into a cloud of white smoke... just remembering them now (and many others) is making me ache. This film is so incredibly beautiful that I could barely stand any more than the 160 minutes we got. Filmed in 1:33 Academy ratio, the film is nevertheless sumptuously crafted with stunning costumes and cinematography that lend the oft-maligned time period a rich decadence. The stand-out scene, a hypnotic ballroom dance sequence set to the classic beats of Visage's "Fade to Grey", is a cavalcade of hypnotic visuals as Clément struts about as if Dolan has decided to recreate a 1980s music video to full anything goes excess. Full to the brim with divine cross-fades and breath-taking camera swoops, zooms, and pans, it's an utterly awe-inspiring moment of pure grandeur and if a moment comes along in 2013 that is as eye-opening and rewatchable as that then 2013 will be a mighty good year.

And as if that scene wasn't enough proof, Suzanne Clément is truly magnificent as Frederique. She has such power in her performance that the film feels as if it's more about her journey than his. Whether breathlessly arguing with a nosy waitress, laughing maniacally along to Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" in a pot-fuelled car trip, or attempting to present a facade of normalcy as she tries to live a suburban life away from the drama of Laurence, Clément gives a performance of fiery range. She's a stunner. I can only hope that Dolan's next film proves as magnetic as Laurence and that he continues to tell queer stories in a completely unabashed way. We need a few more directors like him who are willing to go there and make "gay cinema" that embraces all the facets, both positive and negative, of our lives, whilst also inhabiting the skills to make them technical marvels. A- / A

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Scream to Scream, Scene by Scene: SCENE 15 of Scream 3 (0:55:34-0:59:15)

In this project I attempt to review the entire Scream trilogy scene by scene in chronological order. Heavy spoilers and gore throughout!

SCENE 15 of Scream 3
Length: 3mins 41secs
Primary Characters: Gale Weathers, Jennifer Jolie, Bianca Burnette (Carrie Fisher).
Pop Culture References:
  • Star Wars and George Lucas

Thank god that's over! Now we can move on to what Scream 3 does best: Gale & Gale Investigations. It's like Scooby Doo, but with two narcissistic Hollywood types. Of course, even though the worst scene in Scream franchise history is over, doesn't mean the national nightmare that is Scream 3's costume design is also over. No sir, Courteney Cox's unflattering ensembles are still here to stay.

This movie really did overdo the "boo machine" scare tactic. Like, way way overboard with that. These characters are out in broad daylight surrounded by hundreds of people... I mean, Roman's a dumb serial killer, but he's not that dumb.

"What the hell are you doing?"
"Being Gale Weathers! What the hell are you doing?"
"I am Gale Weathers."

Gale weathers is such a complex character, after all.

"Here's how I see it. I've got no house, no bodyguard, no movie, and I'm being stalked. 'Cause somebody wants to kill me? No. Because somebody wants to kill you. So now, starting now, I go where you go. That way, if somebody wants to kill me, I'll be with you, so if they really want to kill you they won't kill me. They'll kill you. Make sense?"
"You know, in the movies I play as you being much smarter."
"And as a sane person. For you that must be quite a stretch."

You know, Jennifer's reasoning actually makes a lot of sense in a general way, although it also doesn't make sense because if the killer was simply trying to kill off people from the original killings then why kill Sarah after Cotton?

"Need to get in that building?"
"There a story in that building?"
"Gale Weathers would find a way."


I could watch these two all day.

Flawless. And I kinda love that Marco Beltrami's score takes a turn for the Angelo Badalamenti-meets-Clue in this moment all but completing the film's swerve from slasher to old-fashioned whodunnit mystery. Sherlock Holmesy, even.

"Basements give me the creeps!"
"You'd make a fascinating interview."

Ooh, burn!

And, yes, I am very much aware that somewhere along the line I've stopped even attempting to provide thoughtful, probing insights, and have instead resorted simply to quoting Gale and Jennifer, letting you swim through Courteney Cox and Parker Posey's sublime divinity.

Of all the times to not try and give audiences a fake scare, they go for the scene in the studio basement? That makes no sense. They may Heather Matarazzo's entrance into a boo machine testing suite and yet here all we get is a noise off in the distance. No threatening music cues or prolonged sequence of terror? Sigh. But, then again, maybe they thought Randy's sister was enough to terrify people for days on end and that they didn't need any more? (I'll get over that scene eventually, you guys!)

"Hey, are you-"
"But you look just li-"
"Like her? I've been hearing it all my life."
"It's uncanny!"
"I was up for Princess Leia, I was this close. So who gets it? The one who sleeps with George Lucas."

Ignoring the fact that the thought of sleeping with George Lucas is now in my brain and can never be erased, the story flies in the face of history, which tells a story of Carrie Fisher and Sissy Spacek being cast in Carrie and Star Wars respectively. They then swapped for some reason and history played out the way it did. Can you imagine Spacek in Star Wars? No, neither can I? Can you imagine Carrie Fisher having the career that Spacek did? No, neither can I. Funny, that. Although, I think there's a story in the Scream 3 audio commentary about this scene (or at least parts of it) being written by Fisher herself, so who knows...

"I don't work for the cops, I work for the studio."
"Really, well, would you work for... the President?"
"The President... of the studio."

"Fifty dollars? What are you, a reporter for Woodsboro High?"

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm grateful Scream 3 exists. Parker Posey just tears through this part, doesn't she? I would have placed her in my top five supporting actresses of 2000, for sure (alongside this and Best in Show she was quite prolofic at the time, although I'm not quite sure where she's gone too after Superman Returns in 2006). Anyway, I know we give Ehren Kruger a lot of flack for many of the film's biggest faults, but I can't deny that he came up with some zingers and in this instant didn't even fall back on a Nancy Drew joke like he so easily could have. Amazing.

Of course Sidney's mom never made it big in Hollywood if her stage name was Rena Reynolds!

"Rena Reynolds... stage name."
"You should talk, Judy Jergenstern!"

JUDY JERGENSTERN! I want this frame printed and hung on my wall. It fills me with so much joy.


I could quote the expository dialogue that links Sidney mother with Stab producer John Milton and his early horror films like Creatures from the San Andreas Fault, Amazombies, and Space Psycho, but let's just bathe in how incredible those fake movie titles are and imagine how wonderful it'd be if they really existed. Preferably starring Parker Posey. Because you know she'd be aces in them. Also: Maureen (nee Rena) was in a stage play called I Want to Scream. Well, that certainly proved prophetic, no?

Intro, Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10, Scene 11, Scene 12, Scene 13, Scene 14, Scene 15, Scene 16, Scene 17, Scene 18, Scene 19, Scene 20, Scene 21, Scene 22, Scene 23, Scene 24, Scene 25, Scene 26, Scene 27, Scene 28, Scene 29, Scene 30, Scene 31 Scene 32, Scene 33, End Credits

Scream 2
Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10, Scene 11, Scene 12, Scene 13, Scene 14. Scene 15, Scene 16, Scene 17, Scene 18, Scene 19, Scene 20, Scene 21, Scene 22, Scene 23, Scene 24, Scene 25, Scene 26, Scene 27, Scene 28, Scene 29, Scene 30, End Credits

Scream 3
Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10, Scene 11, Scene 12, Scene 13, Scene 14