Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Endings Blog-A-Thon: The Truman Show

This post is part of the cute little J.D.'s blog-a-thon, The Endings. Head over there to read other fantastic posts from across the blogosphere! [There are, obviously, spoilers from here on.]

Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), unknowingly the star of a massive, continuous television show, is finally making his escape, and, having weathered the rainstorm created by the controllers above, emerges into the light on his battered boat, and the head of it suddenly crashes through what still appears to be distant sky.

This ending obviously plays up the God allegory that is apparent throughout the movie: director Peter Weir emphasizes Christof's (Ed Harris) omnipotent presence by cutting halfway through a couple of his lines here to show how they echo, facelessly over the entirity of Truman's world, accompanied by a shot of the glistening clouds in the perfectly blue sky. So, this ending, ultimately, is about the throwing off blind faith, as Truman, having questioned his acceptance of this world throughout the film, finally decides to use his rebellious thoughts and act. As he says himself, "You never had a camera inside my head!" Weir's not afraid to be ironic, here, though: as she watches Truman on the edge of freedom, his former love interest (and 'Free Truman!' leader) Sylvia (Natascha McElhone) is basically praying to her television, and even says "Please God!" (left) as she wills Truman to step out the door. Perhaps Christof is right when he says that "there's no more truth out there"- there is still blind, unconscious belief in someone who can manipulate our lives.

The film is also, naturally, about television itself. Throughout the film we visit various international viewers of The Truman Show, who are all on tenterhooks as Truman makes his escape, and all celebrate as he leaves. But do the workers at the Truman Bar not realise that this is their livelihood walking out of the door? Do the two old women clutching a Truman cushion not realise that this might be their last connection to any kind of outside world? At least the carpark workers get it right: "Where's the TV guide?" Television, too, is clearly telegraphed as a kind of religion: people sit blindly before it, believing that what they see is true human existance. What Truman realises is that it is not. How will he survive, is an unanswered question, when all he knows is a world that has been shaped to facilitate soap-opera dynamics?

All this is managed to perfection, as Weir creates an ending that asks questions rather than answers them, gives a traditional happy ending while also leaving worrying doubts hanging around. Do I well-up as the music swells over Truman's tearful, angry banging against the wall (right)? Of course. Do I cheer as he makes his bow- "And in case I don't see ya..."- and McElhone ecstatically runs to meet him? Yes. But do I also wonder what happens once Truman leaves the building, and whether he and Sylvia live happily ever after? YES. (But it's also something I never want to know, so don't go making belated sequels.) This is a film that I have always loved, always admired, always championed. And this contradictory, thrilling, poignant ending is just a part of why.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Poetry of War

Contains spoilers.

Should a film try to approximate other arts? Watching The Edge of Love sent me momentarily back to 2005 and the poetry-on-film double-whammy of Sally Potter's Yes- which was literally told via poetry- and Terrence Malick's marvellous The New World, which I said at the time was the closest thing to visual poetry film had ever come. The question of poetry comes up in relation to The Edge of Love because it ostensibly centres around a poet, Dylan Thomas (here played by Matthew Rhys). Director John Maybury doesn't seem to be- unlike Malick and Potter- making this story into any kind of poem, and indeed, the use of Thomas' words is surprisingly sparing and generally aptly-placed. But in the way that poetry- at least in the vein of Thomas' work- uses words and imagery to mean something other, so does Maybury approach the story of Thomas' entwinement with two women: his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and his childhood sweetheart Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley).

What I mean is that this is a story about images and the falsity they create and present. The Edge of Love has four central characters- our additional one being Vera's eventual husband William Killick (Cillian Murphy)- and it ultimately proves not to have a romanticized view of any of them. But their descent into disarray and unhappiness occurs because, in the midst of the panicked, suspended existence that WWII brought, these are four people that don't really know each other at all. The film's first half is full of laughter between bombings, suggestive trios on a bed and cigarettes passed between the women wearing gauzy bohemian clothing. But all this jollity is emblematic of people who are, by necessity of the situation surrounding them (the war), ignoring interpersonal problems. Thomas kind of gets sidelined here because the picture's true 'love story' is actually between the two women- the two characters who, perhaps naturally, understand each other the best, and indeed, it is the breakdown in their trust that spins the two couples away from each other in the end.

The question of who is centralized in this story is both fascinating and perhaps completely irrelevant. Miller and Knightley dominate both press coverage and the posters; but in terms of the thematizing of imagery and poetry, it is perhaps Dylan and Vera's picture. His poetry, when it appears, dominates the soundtrack by blocking out diegetic sound; but this is similar to the repeated occurrences of Vera's underground singing performances, where Maybury focuses his camera close up and square on her, the cinematography misty and gauzy like nowhere else, making her (rather vocally pedestrian) performance central to our understanding of Vera, where otherwise it would have been a momentary distraction. Vera is, if you want, our heroine, and her singing is the way she has forged an identity, which is then squashed by William's insistence on their rushed marriage, and the ultimate requirement of motherhood. The rather damp conclusion is staunchly melancholic- Vera says goodbye to Caitlin across the bonnet of a car, implicitly including Dylan in her goodbye because the Thomas's were her only way to retain her freedom.

All this is to say nothing of how well The Edge of Love achieves these impactful themes. At one point, the thought flashed through my mind that this was kind of like a poem, because the story seemed so loose and the images so translucent that it was not so much a linear narrative as a circulating, elliptical mystery. This is, perhaps, a fitting description for most of the first half, but the move to Wales loses both the visual beauty and the elusivity of the narrative, and becomes more drab and wearing as the characters slip into unhappiness. Knightley, too, gets lost in the second half, her mixture of Vera as pointed yet vulnerable falling into a glut of glum facial expressions and a ripe Welsh accent that basically shouts 'fake' at the top of its voice. Rhys, though, retains the charming arrogance that makes Thomas so hatefully fascinating, and best of all, Miller continues to justify my championing of her by making Caitlin's wilful, acidic personality become slowly eroded by confused, hypocritical misunderstanding. To say little of Maybury- whose direction becomes gradually more unfocused- is perhaps apt, because this is an actor's film that gives its performers the task of unlocking characters trapped behind romanticized or otherwise false images of each other, kept at the edge of love by lack of communication. B-

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stop steering, and start driving.

Speed Racer is really too amazing to describe in words, so, instead, I present my review in pictoral form. (I cheated a little.)

I'll leave you all to figure all that out. (Except that Speed Racer was probably the best summer blockbuster and I'm angry that it all went so awfully wrong.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Boxes ticked by Marjorie Morningstar

Film initially appears to be about girl but is actually about man.

Virginal, beautiful ("The Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen")teenage girl dreams of being on the stage.

Teenage girl is held back by her family's prudish/religious morals and their own ideas for her future.

Girl is made to look virginal even when her family disapproves because she's not as bad as her SLUT of a friend.

Girl falls in love with handsome but caddish older man.

Man changes his usual character and actually falls in love with her ("You're not like the others.").

Man takes girl away from her usual sphere of activity.

Girl gives up dreams for man.

Man's unsuitability is highlighted by more suitable but boring/unattractive male's presence.

Someone's death causes friction within couple.

Man and girl are made to look better because they are in love despite ethnic/religious/class differences, highlighted by use of either family's disapproval.

Girl appears at least once looking like a Scottish Widow (except miserable).

Girl renounces man only to remain passionately in love and return to him almost immediately.

Man conceals his whereabouts to protect girl.

Man fails in his quest for success because he's a Great Artist.

Man fails in his quest for success because he's a drunk.

But Marjorie Morningstar lets the side down by failing to check off the following.

Girl achieves enormous, acclaimed success while man fails.

Couple live happily ever after.

And because it rebels, even if just a little bit, I'll let if off with a C.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Victim's 20 Favourite Actresses of All-Time

I've been tagged! This meme originates from the almighty Nathaniel at The Film Experience, and it is one tailor-made for he and all his actressexual friends: your 20 favourite actresses of all-time. No explanations, no rankings: just pictures. And, as I can't resist the multitude of diva-ish goodness, here are my twenty (in alpha order).

(click to enjoy the enormity)

Joan / Jean / Ingrid / Toni / Olivia
Marlene / Mia / Audrey / Katharine / Holly
Laura / Marilyn / Julianne / Jeanne / Miranda
Rosalind / Barbara / Kathleen / Sigourney / Kate

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Give Me Moore

Ho ho ho and all that jazz, what a brilliant punster I am.

But seriously. It's Julianne Moore's birthday today (48?! Wow.) and I simply can't let this day pass without comment. The woman's been on my mind a lot lately. What with the Blindness trailer forcing us all to think that the film we've come to see is actually starting just because the trailer MUST be seen in all its digital glory, and those Todd Haynes' films that have been haunting my dreams because I just wrote an essay on them (it's over now). I even had a dream last night- this is now very vague- that she was in the credits of Titanic (oh what crazy dreams I have), and the dream-me didn't seem to question the fact of her being in it. Oh, and there's also me finally seeing Savage Grace (um, whoa) thanks to my university course- good taste prevails! (Unfortunately "we"- that is, not me- chose Pan's Labyrinth to do next term, so that didn't last long.) Does Moore's one-two-three hit of I'm Not There., Savage Grace and Blindness mean she's finally back to being the glorious independent muse of the mid-'90s? You don't need money, Julianne. Our respect is more important.

Oh, how I ramble. Anyway. In the vein of My New Plaid Pants, I'm going to celebrate Julianne's special day by informing you of my five favourite performances from the red-headed goddess. (And no, it's not too soon to include Savage Grace. Oops, spoiled that one.)

Amber Waves in Boogie Nights
"That is a giant cock."

Barbara Baekeland in Savage Grace"Will you still love me when my hair is grey and my tits are sagging?"

Carol White in {Safe}"Where am I?"

Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven"We ladies are never what we appear, and every girl has her secrets."

Laura Brown in The Hours"We're baking the cake to show him that we love him."

Those are seriously some brilliant performances. In many cases the best of their respective years. (I wish I'd seen Vanya on 42nd Street, but, alas, it is not to be.) Isn't it just marvellous how she moved from supporting player in rubbish like Body of Evidence (shudder) to being one of the best actresses of her generation- and of all time? She is truly marvellous. And beautiful. I could stare at her freckles all day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old News: A Dubious Honour

I don't normally do my film awards until, well, August, but hark! There is an award I feel sure enough in giving out now. Yes, now.

Because, really, who's going to 'better' Thandie Newton's performance as Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's W.?

I like Thandie. I do. I even tried to love her once (sadly not in that way), but she doesn't half make it difficult. She fluctuated so wildly between superness and awfulness in Crash it was like she was acting in two different universes (is it too mean to blame Terrence Howard? No? Okay. Oh, and good work, Matt Dillon). She tries to imitate Audrey Hepburn (?!?!?) in The Truth About Charlie. She starred in Simon Pegg's vacuous 'comedy' Run Fatboy Run (okay, so I haven't seen it, and hate it for ridiculously silly personal reasons that aren't really related to the film at all, but so what?). She insists on taking vapid roles in things like RocknRolla (okay, I haven't seen that either...) and The Pursuit of Happyiness (harpy alert!). But she did at least spirit Noah Wyle away from ER, so it's not all bad.

But she is the definition of the word awful in W.. The friend I saw it with said that no one had told her it wasn't a comedy, but I think the problem was that somehow had told her that it was (which it is, methinks) and the only way she knew to try the funny was to make Condoleezza a grotesque caricature. For the most part of the film this isn't really a problem because the film barely cares about her existence- in one lengthy boardroom meeting she sits silently observing as all the menfolk talk politics. I'm not sure whether her moments were cut or whether this is a conscious decision on Stone's part- there is a jokey allusion to her being-ignored later when Bush finally remembers to add to his "Gentleman..." a "... and Lady...", but perhaps it's better to think her scenes generally ended up on the cutting room floor. In the opening scene I conjectured to myself that she looked constipated, but as she reappeared it was simply more like someone else had relieved themselves right next to her and it stank. She also appeared to have lead piping in her limbs and spine, because she sat like something had been shoved up her rectum and walked like she had to keep her arms at a certain distance from her body to prevent immediate death. And I haven't even mentioned her voice.

So yes. I have no hesitation in now naming Ms. Thandie Newton the Worst Supporting Actress of 2008! *applause*

Well, at least she's not torn up about it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Scott. Joe Scott.

Here's a question for you. Which self-centered, womanizing, troubled male character was played by Daniel Craig in 2008?

You may think the answer is James Bond. Which would, of course, be true. But this is my blog, and unfortunately that is not the correct answer. No, the answer is actually Joe Scott, Craig's character from the film he made (and made possible) for his friend Baillie Walsh, Flashbacks of a Fool.

Seeing these two films- Flashbacks... and Quantum of Solace- in quick succession makes the Bond film seem more generous towards characters who aren't James Bond than it might otherwise have done. But where Quantum... gives a surprisingly large chunk of itself over to Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and her own quest for revenge, Flashbacks... is all about Joe Scott. Other characters can suffer bereavements, get blown up by mines, get their nose bitten by a dog and it's still all about Joe. Don't believe me? Here is photographic evidence.

Giving away where this scene takes place (both spacially and chronologically) might annoy you (although check out the visual clues if you wish), but still: you aren't even looking at Joe Scott and he still takes up half the frame. Claire Forlani can (not) cry all she wants, but this film doesn't give a damn about her and her tragedies. No. The world revolves around Joe Scott, failing druggy filmstar, who is cared for by housekeeper Ophelia (the rather fantastic Eve) for no good reason as he snorts Emilia Fox's coke and has lesbian orgies. In the past he was played by Harry Eden and has no sexual willpower whatsoever. The only moment where the film actually gives over to another character utilizes the rather superb Roxy Music track I mentioned previously: Joe is forced to take a back seat as love interest Ruth (Felicity Jones, pictured) 'shakes her head with her ponytail' in slow-motion. It is a silver lining in a film that wants- ney demands you admire the craggy lines of Daniel Craig's face and the perfectly-coiffured Harry Eden.

And you wouldn't think you'd ever call James Bond generous, what with all the punching and bedding-of-women and martini-drinking, but maybe sobering up has done good things for the man: when he finally tries to plant one on central Bond girl Camille, it's barely sexual at all; it's just sad, almost pathetic. The man-woman relationship has, as in but differently from predecessor Casino Royale, been built on something other than sex: with Vesper it was love, and here it's the common cause of revenge. Her backstory may be a tad trite but at least they gave her one: when did a Bond girl ever have such suffering of her own, have as much, if not more impetus than Bond himself? The script may not get everything right, but this is, as perhaps Bourne made a requirement, Bond made human. And this can only, surely, be appreciated.

Sure, Marc Forster takes his action cues from Bourne, but there's still humour to be found here: it's just tarter and bitterer than before, the prime example being the oily end to one character than instantly recalls one of the Bond series' most famous images. Sure, the plot is rather vague, but it fills in with well-etched characterizations and excellent casting: Mathieu Amalric suits the slightly reedy magnate to a tee, and Judi Dench is as delicious as ever as M ("I don't give a shit about the CIA or their trumped-up evidence!"). I'm not saying it's perfect by any means- there's too much fuss over things that never come to anything, for one thing- but at the end of the day I'd take this exciting shot to the adrenaline than the preening vainness of Flashbacks of a Fool.

Quantum of Solace: B; Flashbacks of a Fool: D+

Friday, November 07, 2008

Something Good

Let us not focus on the negatives. I may, indeed, come to post something about the abomination that is Flashbacks of a Fool (because, really, the alignment of Craig. Daniel Craig. is just too perfect to pass up), but there is a silver lining: it introduced me to Roxy Music's AMAZING song If There Is Something. And here it is for you to enjoy too.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Blatant False Advertising

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is utterly useless. It doesn't contain any sort of instruction on how to lose friends OR alienate people.

Alright, so I'm joking. But Simon Pegg isn't alienating in the way Toby Young (the basis for Pegg's character, who was actually banned from the set for being so alienating) probably was, and that's the problem. Pegg is just alienating in a kooky, offbeat, lovable-loser kind of way- you know, the way Simon Pegg is in every movie. And the inherent reason given for Pegg's Sidney Young being alienating is that he's British. Because we Brits are, of course, all the same slobbish, aloof, unsubtle idiots. And all New Yorkers (we can separate off areas of America, sure, but you won't get away from those generalizations!) are bastards if they're male, or vacuous if they're female. Kirsten Dunst is alright, though, because she's from some Port or something.

This film fails almost immediately by breaking the cardinal rule of noughties filmmaking: never cast Danny Huston. Indeed, the only cast member apart from Pegg it actually knows how to use effectively is Megan Fox, and since she's basically there to look pretty, that job is hardly taxing. But they have Jeff Bridges! And Gillian Anderson! - Both wasted. (Huston, of course, would be used most effectively by being thrown out of a window.) And Kirsten Dunst! - A dull love interest. This woman has comic timing. Try letting her have some jokes. This is supposed to be a comedy, right?

That's harsh. I did laugh at How to Lose Friends and Alienate People on several occasions. But they're easy, personable laughs, not the sharp, vicious laughs I'd expect of Toby Young. Add to that the fact that the film barely goes anywhere and the short journey it does make is as predictable as a pig wrecking a hotel room, and you have an enjoyable but utterly pointless film that's nowhere near as good as it should be. (And it produces a review that reflects how thin it really is. Or I just can't be bothered. You choose.) C