31 October 2011

25 Oct - "I thought you were planning to stay awhile, but perhaps my sense of smell deceives me"

Mary Reilly (1996)
dir. Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things, 2002)

Julia Roberts (Hook, 1991)
John Malkovitch (Burn After Reading, 2008)
Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, 2010)
Glenn Close (The Big Chill, 1983)
Michael Sheen (Timeline, 2003)
Bronagh Gallagher (The Commitments, 1991)
CiarĂ¡n Hinds (There Will be Blood, 2007)

Here's another spooky movie I watched before Halloween. It's about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from the perspective of the good doctor's maid, the title character. The twist is that it's also sort of a love story. Jekyll/Hyde loves Mary because of her innocence, and Mary loves Dr. Jekyll as well as his evil incarnation. The big question is why, and how is Mary able to love Dr. Hyde even when she knows that he is a vicious heartless killer. Part of it must have something to do with her abusive father. A connection is established when Mary describes him as having a peculiar way of walking, not quite a limp, and later the housekeeper uses almost the same words to describe the gait of Mr. Hyde. At the end of the movie, however, Mary is unable to forgive her father for his sins, but she has no hesitancy in forgiving Dr. Jekyll. I haven't quite figured that out yet.

I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I remember that no symbolism was more salient than the description of the architecture. Luckily, the filmmakers behind Mary Reilly acknowledged this importance and even amped it up a little. Dr. Jekyll's main house is separated from the laboratory by a small courtyard. The laboratory represents the cruelly analytical and mysterious person of Mr. Hyde. However, in the movie the courtyard space itself takes on a symbolic form. Mary Reilly asks if she can plant some flowers in that area, to brighten it up a little. When the flowers finally show up, they are terribly depressing little colorful things barely penetrating the heavy gloom that seems to hang perpetually over Victorian Era England. Thus Mary herself assumes the role of the bridge that connects Jekyll and Hyde int one man.

What I never figured out, or forgot, about the story is whether Dr. Jekyll was attempting to isolate his dark side in order to attain pure morality in his actual person, or whether he was seeking a release from the enforced sociality of his culture. Either way, I do remember that he is seduced by the apparent freedom of Mr. Hyde and his lack of conscience, but as Mary points to the good doctor, there are no actions without consequences and the burden of Mr. Hyde's crimes, combined with Dr. Jekyll's even weakening resolve to remain his true self, ultimately destroys the man.

30 October 2011

24 Oct - "No means no. Don't you guys get that?"

Devil in the Flesh (video, 1998)
dir. Steve Cohen

Rose McGowan (Encino Man, 1992)
Alex McArthur (Conspiracy Theory, 1997)
J.C. Brandy (What Lies Beneath, 2000)
Phil Morris (Wag the Dog, 1997)

There seems to be a lot of movies that are about beautiful girls who go batshit crazy, contrive a romance with a totally innocent male victim, and almost ruin everything for anybody before their sexy conniving ways are revealed and the girl either dies or is brought to justice.

This is one of those movies.

What's frustrating is that this one was a little different in that it focused on McGowan's character, Debbie, instead of centering the narrative on her romantic interest and English teacher, Peter. This kind of turned Debbie into an anti-hero, she was just playing the odds! Unfortunately, as Debbie gets crazier and crazier, we get less and less insight into her mind as the story turns toward Peter trying to convince his virtuous fiance that all this is just in Debbie's head. But it's not! Peter plays into it, giving Debbie special attention in class and feeding her fantasy.

But I'm appealed by this idea of crazy-bitch-as-hero and I think it should have been explored more. In one scene, her grandmother hits her with a cane when she discovers that Debbie's been hiding her own clothes instead of wearing the outdated, conservative duds that granny provided for her. So Debbie rips the cane out of her hand and fights back with prejudice. The grandma begs for mercy, and in a vicious moment of self awareness Debbie says, "Fuck mercy! You don't have any mercy. My mother never had it, my father didn't have it, and I don't have it. It's a family thing!"

I found myself wanting Debbie to succeed in her escapist fantasy, until she started murdering people, and I find myself reflecting on that essential feminist critique, "how would this story be different with a male protagonist?"

23 October 2011

Oct 19: "I didn't mean to call you meatloaf, Jack"

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
dir. John Landis (Three Amigos!, 1986)

David Naughton
Jenny Agutter

Griffin Dunne (My Girl, 1991)
David Schofield (The Wolfman, 2010)
Rik Mayall (Drop Dead Fred, 1991)
Frank Oz (Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (voice), 1980)
Alan Ford (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 1998)
John Landis (Spiderman 2, 2004)

Oh, man! It's October and were are counting down the days until Halloween. Because it's relevant to a movie I've posted about on here, I think I'll post a picture of myself in costume. It's sort of in that trite theme of a "sexy" something, but hopefully you'll see that I've made it my own. Plus, you all know I wouldn't wear something truly indecent.

So! My first horror movie is a classic that I've been meaning to watch for a while, An American Werewolf in London. Let me tell you, it's not quite what I expected, but it was still some quality stuff.

It's about these two American guys who are backpacking across Europe, except they run afoul of a deadly beast. Jack gets killed, but David is far less lucky (drama!). The transformation scene is quite gruesome. but my favorite parts are when Jack returns to talk to David as a member of the cursed undead. Everytime appearing more and more decayed. Jack keeps pushing David to kill himself, because the victims of the wolf are trapped in Limbo until the wolf's bloodline is severed. Jack is joined by more and more of David's victims, but of course David can't quite bring himself to suicide, because he has someone to live for, Nurse Alex.

And so he runs amok in London. Including through the tubes, as in this particularly well shot scene:
you know I don't usually notice things like camerawork, I'm more about the stories. But this shot was so good I had to rewind a little to look again. You see the wolf just slightly creeping in from the top of the frame, and the victim has fallen down on the escalator and he's frozen in fear. It was very scary. But there are funny parts too, like when David wakes up in the zoo after his rampage:
In the 80s a little bit of public hair wasn't such a big deal. A few times you can sort of see what my little brother calls the tenders, but just quick. That would never happen in a modern movie. No winkies (this is why I don't have a boyfriend) at all, only breasts and butts. I remember the first time I saw a dude's tenders in a movie, it was What Alice Found (2003) which was playing on the Independent Film Channel. I was shocked! I didn't know that was allowed. The first time I saw lady-tenders in a movie was, I think, Animal House (1978, also John Landis), but I don't remember how old I was when I watched that (not old enough!). But in both of those movie the purpose of the nudity was blatantly sexual, and that's not the case here. That's my point: nudity doesn't have to be sexy.

I guess I won't spoil the ending but I will say that it's stark and abrupt. It seems like only modern movies feel that it's necessary to ease you out of the storyworld by letting you know that all the characters are going to be OK.

19 October 2011

12 Oct - "What money I have is about eleven years old"

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
dir. Clint Eastwood

John Cusack (Must Love Dogs, 2005)
Kevin Spacey (The Ref, 1994)
Irma P. Hall (Patch Adams, 1998)
Jude Law (Gattaca, 1997)
Paul Hipp (Face/Off, 1997)
Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes, 1968)
Geoffrey Lewis (Maverick, 1994)
Leon Rippy (The Patriot, 2000)
Bob Gunton (Glory, 1989)
J. Patrick McCormack (Wag the Dog, 1997)
Rhoda Griffis (Road Trip, 2000)
Michael Rosenbaum (Sorority Boys, 2002)
Ted Manson (Elizabethtown, 2005)
Ann Cusack (A League of Their Own, 1992)
James Gandolfini (True Romance, 1993)

As a northern in the South, I empathize with John Cusak in this movie, because I feel like we're both working on uphill battles. The glory, of course, is that in the end the status quo hasn't changed a bit, because it never does here.

Everybody says exactly what they don't mean.

The movie is about a murder. Kevin Spacey's character, whose one of those elite Southern mansion types who walks around with Ugga, the UGA school mascot, shoots his young lover, played by Jude Law trying his best at a real low Southern accent. Over the course of the trial, Spacey's homosexuality is revealed, but the grand revelation, which should have ruptured the community, doesn't ruffle any feathers because everybody already knew he was gay, so they just shuffle side to side and bury their heads a little deeper in the sand.

They all know what they say they don't know.

Adding a little flavor to the mystery are the colorful side characters including my favorite, the Lady Chablis, a transvestite showgirl, and a voodoo priestess. All the glitz and distractions only remind you that Cusak isn't meant to solve the mystery, because in this place the party never stops and everyone just keeps smiling and smiling as the world around them crumbles. Savannah reminds me of decay and ruined lost cities like those in Mexico. One day tourists will be walking around those Southern mansions and wondering what kind of people lived in places like these.

The movie seems to jump mostly between various parties and courtroom scenes. Even as Cusak is trying to solve the mystery he has to respect social custom and play nice. Another difference between Northerners and Southerners: Northerners get about the business at hand while Southerners are always playing at niceties, but at least when a Northerner gets around to being nice you can be sure that it's genuine. I watched this movie a week ago so I'm not sure what else I wanted to talk about but I liked it. I think I might try to read the book.

12 October 2011

8 Oct- "He's five-nine, which is kind of short, but he's read The Great Gatsby twice"

The Ugly Truth (2009)
dir. Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, 2001)

Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, 2007)
Gerard Butler (Timeline, 2003)
Bree Turner (Dunston Checks In, 1995)
Nick Searcy (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991)
Jesse D. Goins (WarGames, 1983)
Cheryl Hines (Along Came Polly, 2004)
John Michael Higgins (Blade: Trinity, 2004)
Bonnie Somerville (Bedazzled, 2000)
Yvette Nicole Brown (The Island, 2005)
Nathan Corddry (The Invention of Lying, 2009)
Blake Robbins (The Bling Ring (TV), 2011)
Kevin Connolly (The Beverly Hillbillies, 1993)
Valente Rodriguez (Erin Brockovitch, 2000)
Jamison Yang (Transformers, 2007)

Cora made me watch this but she promised that next time I get to pick the movie and I already know that I'm either going to choose The Last of the Mohicans (Because she's never seen it!) or Beautiful Girls.

This is Judy Greer with a puppy
This movie had some funny lines, all these rom-coms do, but it was terribly predictable, even in the madcap zany scenes where everything goes wrong. The characters were awfully archetypal; she's a workaholic and overbearing and drives away all of her dates, he's lewd and uncaring. Except it's because he's had his heart broken, and she's pretty nice once you get to know her.

What distracted me the most, though, was something about how the assistant/friend played the same character that Judy Greer usually plays and they made her up to look a lot like Judy Greer too, and that was really distracting because I kept trying to confirm that it was not, in fact, Judy Greer.

This is Bree Turner, a younger and prettier Judy Greer?
I don't know what else to discuss here. The only thing that's remarkable about this movie is how unremarkable it was. This is the most straightforward romantic comedy I've ever seen, absolutely no new ground has been broken here. I'm pretty certain that every gag in it already occurred elsewhere.

But I'm trying to be more positive, so let's talk about
solutions, not problems. First of all, Katherine Heigl was way too attractive to play that character. Am I supposed to believe that menfolk will make NO accommodations for an obscenely pretty face? That's ridiculous. All of the other romantic movies I've seen have demonstrated that men will go to great lengths to win the favor of fair ladies, and the guy in this movie won't even tolerate Heigl picking out a restaurant for their first date. Ludicrous.

10 October 2011

10 Oct - "I also got an appetite for greater things"

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
dir. Andrew Dominik

Casey Affleck (Good Will Hunting, 1997)
Brad Pitt (Tree of Life, 2011)
Sam Rockwell (Moon, 2009)
Paul Schneider (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007)

This wasn't quite what I expected! First of all, there was no outlaw-ing, except for one train heist at the beginning. This was clearly about the last days of Jesse James's life. Second, it was less about Jesse James than it was about his buddies, especially Robert Ford, obviously (why on earth was I so surprised about all this?) Ford's character was painfully awkward. He started out a total dork who idolized the James gang, and slowly transitioned into a really sucky adult who was still irritatingly self involved and although he still loved James, he hated him for being the larger-than-life character that Ford himself could never be. I guess the main plot of the movie is that degradation of hero-worship. But through it all, Ford still acts like a petulant teenager, angry that the world doesn't stop to present him with his heart's desire. And in the end, when he makes his desperate grab for fame - he's vilified, and you feel a little bad, but mostly deserves it, because he sucks.

Brad Pitt did a good job playing James as he must have been - a dark and moody man toeing the line of craziness. There's one scene where he's holding two snakes up for Ford to look at, and he says "I name them like my enemies" and then he cuts their heads off and keeps holding them, watching them continue to writhe around. There is no glorifying this character. He's a lousy murderer descending into madness. But he also plays with his children, loves his wife, and in the end, willingly steps up to his own death. It reminded me of a passage from Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, which I keep lying around, about the death of Magua, who was the villain;

"As the weapon passed slowly into his heart he even smiled, as if in joy at having found death less dreadful than he had anticipated, and fell heavily on his face, at the feet of the unyielding form of Uncas."

Not that Jesse James was stabbed, but I still thought of it.

Last point: Sam Rockwell was awesome, he always is :)

08 October 2011

Paris's Favorite Actors redux

The more I think about it, there's some pretty important names I left off my first list, which is, in fact, the most visited of all of my blog posts, mostly from google image searches, unsurprisingly. I hope at least some of those folks take a minute and read for a while.

Antonio Banderas
The 13th Warrior, Shrek 2 (voice), Desperado The Mask of Zorro, 

Antonio Banderas is a bit of an obvious choice, and that's probably why I left him off of the first list. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not going to claim that he's a great actor or anything. This picture here is from The 13th Warrior and I think that movie alone would undermine any argument to that effect. In fact, I didn't even like Desperado that much, after I thought about it for a while. Nevertheless, he's a good looking guy, and chicks are always suckers for the accents.

Gary Oldman
The ProfessionalTrue Romance, Red Riding Hood,  Air Force One

Now, I'm truly surprised that I omitted Gary Oldman from the first list, because he is truly one of the greatest actors, in my opinion. Usually I conceptualized them as a trifecta of Gary Oldman, Edward Norton, and Sam Rockwell. Why haven't these guys ever been in a movie together? It's unclear, but maybe it's for the best because I imagine that such a movie would be so dazzlingly brilliant that there wouldn't be much sense in even having an entertainment industry anymore, because there wouldn't be point.

Adam Beach
Cowboys & Aliens, Smoke Signals

Like Antonio Banderas, Adam Beach isn't that wonderful of an actor either (especially if you've seen him on Law & Order: SVU) but he's really cute and dammit, he's trying! Unfortunately he's fighting an uphill battle because the entertainment-industrial complex hasn't quite gotten the hang of writing non-stereotypical parts for non-white actors yet.

Daniel Day-Lewis
There Will Be Blood, The Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York, My Left Foot

I did not realize this, but Daniel Day-Lewis does not have very many movies on his CV - especially considering that he started in 1971, unless IMDb is remiss in its catalog, but I couldn't think of any other movies that weren't there already. That works for me, though, because too much of this guy and we're all bound to overdose. Not only is DDL a crazy-good actor, but he has this unearthly face which is simultaneously repulsive and yet also too beautiful for this world. I hope I'm not the only one who feels that way. Of course it doesn't hurt that Mohicans is my favoritest movie of all favorites and when I collapse, as I sometimes do, into a dark night of the soul I reflect upon Hawkeye explaining to Cora that this frontier life is rough, but at least we're not "living by anybody's leave"

David Duchovny 
X-Files: Fight the Future, Evolution, Zoolander

I've been trying to get through the X-Files series (I'm on season 6!), so of course I've got a little crush on this notoriously expressionless FBI agent.  Although if I had to pick a favorite character, it would definitely be Agent Scully. Unfortunately David Duchovny's career outisde of Agent Fox Mulder hasn't been entirely commentable. Evolution was pretty funny, and he had that other show, Californication, which I think some people liked. I never watched it because one time this guy asked me if I wanted to go to his room to check it out, but I didn't think he really wanted to watch T.V., and so the program was forever marred by an awkward memory.

William H. Macy 
Fargo, Thank You For Smoking, Magnolia, Pleasantville, Boogie Nights

Last, but not least, I want to add William H. Macy because he is one of my very favorite actors. I really dig that sort of sad-sack working class goombah that he pulls off so well. This picture's kind of because I pulled it from Boogie Nights which I think is the only Macy flick I have on my hard drive. I might have Magnolia, I'm not sure. What I cannot say about any of these other fine actors is that William H. Macy has never disappointed me in a performance. And I include Mystery Men in that assessment.

07 October 2011

3 Oct - "What kind of stupid did you eat for breakfast?"

Girl Fight (TV) (2011)
dir. Stephen Gyllenhaal

Anne Heche (Wag the Dog, 1997)
Jodelle Ferland (Eclipse, 2010)
Dawn Chubai (Eclipse, 2010)
Keith MacKechnie (Christmas Vacation, 1989)
Keely Purvis (X2, 2003)
James Tupper (Joe Dirt, 2001)
Lanette Ware (Music and Lyrics, 2007)

Lifetime movies are more annoying to make blog posts on because they don't have posters or DVD covers that I can easily put at the top of my post. This one is also very new and so there aren't any funny quotes on the internet and I forgot to write one down while I was watching so i had to think really hard and remember one. Like the last Lifetime movie I watched, I think the original source material wasn't really rich enough for an engaging story arc. It was more linear than anything else.

The thing is that this uncool girl becomes buddies with the coolest girls in school, and so drops her old nerdy friend who has glasses and a hat. Unfortunately, the cool girls find out about some ungenerous things the protagonist posted on Facebook and so they lure her to a house and beat the crap out of her for half and hour, and film the whole thing so they can post it on Youtube. Of course, the bloodied girl rats out those bitches right off and her parents get the video and press charges. There's an extended kerfuffle about whether the girl will testify against her assaulters, but I don't really see why that was necessary. It's on video! That's pretty much open and shut. They aren't going to get away with it. There's also some harumphing about what the sentence will be. The mother is in favor of life sentences but they end up getting like a year of probation, each. I think somewhere in the middle would have been more reasonable. I mean, that's some pretty sadistic tendencies they've demonstrated, a terrifying absence of empathy, kind of socio-pathic. They should have gotten some time to cool off, maybe a year? But I guess it's cool, because they'll never get good jobs now.

05 October 2011

2 Oct - "What did you find, Cortes?"

 Monsters (2010)
 dir. Gareth Edwards

Scoot McNairy (Sleepover, 2004)
Whitney Able

I've been meaning to see this movie for a while, and I'm glad I did because it pretty much met all of my expectations. It's slower than you might expect for a movie about aliens. It's much more in the slightly-documentary precedent set by Cloverfield in 2008 and then by District 9 in 2009. Of course, these aliens are even less anthropomorphic than those crawfish-like guys, and until the very end we don't get any insight into what these are like or what they want. They are just scary and far away, is all. This movie reminded me of nothing so much as this song by The Dead Milkmen. It goes:
Big lizard in my backyard
Can't afford to feed it anymore
Big lizard in my backyard
Busting down my neighbor's door
I bought a big lizard
Only a dollar fifty
Well, that's pretty neat
Yeah it's fucking nifty
But I just can't afford to feed it
And you should see the way it shits
I was knocked outta bed
Late last night
I was woken up by the sound of dynamite
I ran downstairs to find an army man
He said, "We gotta blow up those things we don't understand!"

Do you dig it? Has there ever been a better written anthem to xenophobia and the denial of responsibility? I was prepared, going into this movie, to take the easily interpreted metaphor. After all, they built a really big wall to keep the aliens from getting out Mexico. Right? But, NO! There are turtles underneath those turtles.

I talk about the alien metaphor for xenophobia a lot, but I think in this case the aliens represent a much less tangible allegory for the impending threat of global catastrophe. At this period of time, a disproportionate burden of global environmental degradation is borne by developing and underdeveloped nations. In the mean time, the industrialized nations do everything they can to keep the impacts of their lifestyle outside of their borders. It doesn't work, though, because problems like that burst through all sorts of walls. I guess the lesson is that you have to learn to live in the world you live in.