Monday, December 12, 2011

The Majesty of Melancholia

When the opening sequence of a film is reminiscent of a series of Surrealist painting you know you are set for both a aesthetically and intellectually challenging ride.

"I'm trudging through this grey wholly yarn.  It's clinging to my legs.  It's really heavy to drag along."

These days Lars von Trier is more infamous for his strange Nazi outburst at Cannes this past summer, which is a shame because that has overshadowed what he has achieved with Melancholia and will inevitably damage the film's chances at future award ceremonies, though it is one of the cinematic stand-outs of the year.

Both visually and thematically, von Trier re-imagines the genre of the apocolyptic film.  The all consuming nature of depression has been given the an allegory as a new planet dubbed Melancholia that is veering towards the earth, threatening existence.  Compared to previous work, von Trier describes Melancholia as the moment when a deer wanders in to listen to Jiminy Cricket at the end of a Disney Christmas special. It is just about as comforting as the cruel manner in which Disney films lure you into a false sense of security only to then reveal a horrible reality.  Melancholia deals with the horror of existence and fear of non-existence.

Part One focuses on the perspective of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and sees her public facade crumble on the night of her wedding.  Those around her personify the underlined tension, which magnifies each time Justine disappears from the party.

We not only experience Justine's disintegration due to the overwhelming gravitas of the wedding reception organised by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her "filthy-rich" husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), but also the effect that Justine's illness and erratic manner have on the various members of her family.  Her guileless husband (Alexander Skarsgard), her oblivious father (the exquisite John Hurt), and a mother (Charlotte Rampling) who has no filter.

The film becomes disconcerting because at first Justine has a vivacious energy, then comes her mental descent, as the stifling ritual of the wedding etches away at her vulnerable psyche.  Though Claire sees Justine's behaviour as disrespectful, there is a sense that Justine is desperately trying to fight and repair herself before the evening is ruined.  When she goes AWOL to take a bath, this is a healing action, an effort to cleanse away what is perceived as mental impurities.

Melancholia will be appreciated because of its refusal to depict unnecessary hysterics to communicate Justine's experience.  The indeterminacy her mentality in contained in an authentic and relatable mode of communication.

Throughout Part One, though an underlying resentment does emerge between Justine and Claire, yet Claire still remains loyal to her sister through her suffering.  In Part Two this theme is extended, though in reverse perspective.

We witness Claire battles her own neuroses, and the threat of Melancholia's ever-nearing presence reassigns the position of the sisters.  Justine is acquiescent and calm of impending events while Claire is frantic.  Call it her maternal instinct in wishing to protect her son, but Claire is unable to accept the forthcoming doom.  Her pragmatism unravels in the face of looming threat.

Dunst and Gainsbourg achieve a great symbiosis on screen.  They flesh out these sisters, their relationship and history, meanwhile never detracting focus from one another.  

Those familiar with Trier's older work, and Dogme '95 will see glints of the original guidelines within Melancholia's makeup. The manifesto included rules that emphasis the use of handheld camera, the work to be filmed in colour, and no superficial action (aka murder).  While the aforementioned aspects are noticeable here, von Trier has largely abandoned the restricting methods of Dogme.  

 The most impressive element of Melancholia is that it is able to maintain engaging momentum throughout its meditative exposition.  As surreal and disjointed as proceedings are, the emotion is relatable as it never veers in to the overblown territory that Hollywood would have taken it. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Something's Fishy

Finally starting playing around with my fisheye camera

Will post the (hopefully decent) results up whenever I develop the film.

To progress I have decided to take a step back in technology.

Next stop, my own film developing hut. 

Image via 

Femme Power #1 - The Huston Collection

It feels like our society is depriving women of strong females to whom we can aspire to.  When I say this I am obviously negating the likes of Lady Gaga, Madonna, and the like.  This is not to take away from their achievement or creative genius, nor to discredit the empires which they have built.  I aim more to comment on the fact that it is gimmick and ostentatious flare that has catapulted these into the annals of our history.  Justified, but for the right reasons?

Because I endeavour writing on film to be my ultimate forte, I think it would be fun to begin a series that looks at specific women on film, or in the film industry, whom I admire, along with a selection of their projects, and the reasons for such choices.

What with it recently being October, breast cancer awareness month, and my own life has spiraled into a period of reflection in my postgraduate state of limbo, I feel it is important that as I enter in the abyss of adulthood that I celebrate my fellow females, and recognise their humility, hilarity, empathy, strength, and fearlessness.

And so the Femme Power series begins with - Anjelica Huston.

To begin, I must introduce this legend.  She was the Hollywood seductress with a humanitarian heart before Angelina Jolie was of age.  She tamed Jack Nicholson intermittently over a sixteen year period.  She is Wes Anderson's on-screen mother of choice.   She has never been afraid to play the dominant female.  She never gave in to commodity pressure to be a rom-com Queen.  In saying that she has also, in her older age, not been afraid to participate in cinematic flavours of a lighter fare, and she owns the screen in doing so (she rocked those six-inch heels while working as a lollipop lady in Daddy Day Care.)

The site Nowness published an editiorial on Huston last year, and proposed that looking through her life and work is a study in elegance.  This is what Huston contributes to each character she inhabits.  It is not an elegance that manifests through the procurement of luxury, but rather the complete self-possession and sheer confidence she commands.  On top of all that it remains neither intimidating or off-putting.

50/50 served to reawaken me to what a complete powerhouse this woman is.

The following offers a snippet of evidence of why the world needs Huston.

This is Spinal Tap
As Polly Deutsch 

She cameos in one of the greatest comedies of all time.  This was the mockumentary that launched a thousand like it.  This is the mid-eighties and when you think back to the era now, 80s film history is weighted by the Brat Pack, Spielberg, and James Cameron's fledgling steps into cinema.  Christopher Guest's social satire broke the mold paved the way for a more wry, calculative comedy and Huston's brief role is not to be overlooked.  Ever minor role in film such is this is the sum of its part, and turns this bitch up to 11.  Huston chose wisely when signing onto Tap, after all who else could have handled the portrayal of an irate designer commissioned to craft a scale, replica Stonehenge.  She got her order from a napkin blueprint and she was not going to concede to Nigel's flakiness.  Being part of an independent project such as this obviously reinforced her indie-cred, a superficial observation, but true.  An early role for Huston, it ultimately provides a glimpse to the comedic versatility that she will demonstrate throughout her career. 

The Addams Family
As Morticia Addams

"They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and kooky..."
Not only do this lyrics describe the Addams Family collectively, but they encompass the entrancing beauty of Morticia, and the actress who brought her life on the big screen.  Here I emphasis the life.  Huston refused to simply hone a caricature of, well, the character.  With Huston at the helm, you don't focus on the macabre elements.  Morticia becomes first and foremost a mother.  She's protective of her little angels, to a certain extent, by protecting their integrity as individuals and their creative aspirations.  
Found this quote of perfection within the article at this link where Huston discusses Morticia
Whimsy, thy name Anjelica:
"She's optimistic, and she's a wild dancer."

The Wes Anderson Series

The Royal Tenenbaums
As Etheline Tenenbaum

As the matriarch of an abundantly dysfunctional dynasty, Etheline is a beacon of comfort to her estranged husband and troubled children.  Etheline is the sole Tenenbaum to whom progression in appealing.  Royal and the children are burdened with past glories as well as being reluctant to let them go.  Huston begins her work with Anderson by continuing a trend of choosing strong female characters.  Etheline has a command of herself as well as others, and Huston bring the right balance of quietude, empathy, and maternal compassion to reflect a woman aging gracefully in the midst of familial chaos.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
As Eleanor Zissou

Eleanor is the muse to Steve Zissou's successful oceanographer, but as their relationship dissolves, his career wanes.  The central arc the film revolves around Anderson's own quirky interpretation of the revenge film, as Zissou seeks to avenge his fellow oceanographer who was killed by a mythical Jaguar shark.  Zissou's credibility is already suffering, and this vengeful expedition incites further pressure.  The true source of Zissou's lethargy is the estrangement he and Eleanor are experiencing.  Huston resembles a heroine suffering in the abyss of existential uncertainty.  She has command over Zissou, but reflects vulnerability in her uncertainty while caught in an uninitiated love triangle. So while Huston can seemlessly inhabit women of strength and fortitude, so too can she explore the darker, insecure vestiges of the human character.

The Darjeeling Limited
As Patricia

In this Anderson tale, the mother is curiously an absent figure.  It is with trepidation that her three sons, Francis, Peter, and Jack, meet her.  Even when profiling a mother who is essentially indifferent to her sons' lives and crises, Anderson illustrates a pragmatic and ambitious woman who emerges from her portrait fairly unscathed.  The woman of strong will has always been a source of intense scrutiny, in film we saw the femme fatale, while in literature these independent women often become catalysts of disaster, a la The Great Gatsby.  This is hinted here with Patricia too, as the tension and distance between her and her sons is palpable.  Huston pursuit of strong females brings her to a the onscreen territory of un-likability, where the non-maternal mother is the most taboo of all.  She carries it off with enviable aplomb. 

Agnes Browne 
The Eponymous Character

Huston's second foray into directing.  Here her source material located in the milieu of working class Dublin.
Brendan O'Carroll's narrative follows the misfortunes of an Irish mammy, left widowed with seven children and little money.  While it may not have been received well in America - unfortunately texts that are so class specific tend to not translate well when out of home ground - there was no fear of Huston Americana sensibilities whitewashing the authenticity of the impoverished 60s Dublin.  This may even be Huston homage to her own Irish youth, where she spent most of her childhood in Galway.  Be it a love story to Ireland who knows, but as director and star she controls proceedings with a steady hand, developing each character's, even the numerous children, personal dimensions, and evoking the survival instinct of Agnes.  She evades the  tragedy and instead focuses on the spirit and humility that has become hallmark of quintessential Irishness.


Another reason why she's become a personal hero of mine, while viewing the WB Yeats Collection at the National Library last year, she spoke of her desire to make a film about the unconventional tale of Yeats and Maud Gonne's love story, one of unrequited love on Yeats's part.  I have literally had this idea in my head for years, but as I am not a filmmaker, nor have any plans to become one in the near future, I will depend on Huston to fulfill this venture, because let's face it, Yeats's genius was spurred on by the passion that nestled within him because of the effects of Gonne, what could be more romantic or compelling?  Hollywood, pay attention to Huston and get this done.

On the To-See List
Prizzi's Honor

Her father, John Huston, directed her to Academy Award glory in this black comedy about two assassins who fall in love.
Will review once I get my hands on a copy. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Big C on the Big Screen

Saw 50/50 in a matinee screening (why did I fail throughout my college years to attend these precious five euro matinee screenings?) earlier this week.

This is the first film in quite a while to deal with the implications of cancer so candidly.  Cancer's devastating potential is given more potent arsenal here when 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordan-Levitt) is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer affecting the spine.  The story follows him as he deals with treatment, an indifferent girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), a boisterous friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who sees the romance-scoring potential in Adam's recent trauma, a distraught mother (Anjelica Huston), a Doogie Howser-like psychologist (Anna Kendrick), along with the stoner friends he makes in chemotherapy (Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall).

50/50 finds its strength by not immediately relenting to the stagnant habit of illustrating tragedy in the aftermath of diagnosis.  There is no sense that Adam has received a death sentence.  The events that unfold are even somewhat mundane.  This is the reality, in the face of illness, a majority of people will not endeavour to fulfill grandiose adventures.  Bucket-list sentimentality has been abandoned, instead communication is the main focus.  The story arc of this tale focuses on Adam's struggle with contending with the upheaval of living with illness.

I was expecting Rogen to contribute nothing more than a comic relief to the decidedly depressing material, yet he supplied a surprisingly nuanced performance, and the chemistry between himself and Gordan-Levitt genuinely captured the tension that infiltrates even the most secure of friendships, when conflicts arise and yet remain unacknowledged.  Adam is mired with medical and personal woes while Kyle attempts to steam-roll through and offer uplifting alternatives for his buddy, neglecting Adam's escalating depression.  The old adage of ignorance being bliss can only carry so far, and tensions eventually come to the fore.

Despite my own focus on the heavier material in the film, it is not without its hilarious, poignant, lonely, apprehensive, and euphoric moments.  Those are a lot of adjectives I have just named, simply because 50/50 has that rare quality of contemporary cinema in offering a truly human perspective on events.  There is something for everyone.  You WILL relate to this.  It is mixed and fucked up because this is life.

My favourite moment reminded me of the joys and tribulations of family.  Kendrick's psychologist Katherine meets Kyle and Adam's parents.  Huston's Diane skims over awkward chit-chat, and defending herself states, "I want you to know I smother him because I love him."  By unleashing her bad-ass Mama-Bear, Diane proves what I think the film articulates so well - and that is that even in vulnerability there is strength and resilience.  Every character displays the colours of experience, emotion, and even regret.  And that is what in the end makes it such a resonating work.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's Time to Light the Lights!

While sojourning in the States recently I was very fortunate to get to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.  It was beautiful to step back and journey back and be reminded of that wonderous feeling you get as a child.  The archive of Henson's work, a progression from his work in school up until his work on The Muppets, Seasame Street, and film was obviously arranged in a chronological scope and concluded with a brief short on his television.

My sister made a comment, full of both gratitude and respect for what Henson contributed to the world, that he must have absolutely loved what he did.

He was not just an artist, or creator, but a genius.  Absolutely awe inspiring.

Now and then throughout the exhibit, one of his puppet characters were stood in glass cases. To look at the eyes of Bert, Ernie, Miss Piggy and Kermit was looking not just at Henson's legacy but your own childhood.
A clip from Henson's Oscar-nominated short film Time Piece, who knew the guy who created The Muppets could be so existential?

Also having never even been to the Museum of the Moving Image, exploring that building was an adventure in itself - there are examples of the first type of moving picture, along with prosthetic faces from various films, and other costumes and paraphernalia from some of the infamous images of film history.

I would urge one to see this exhibition if at all possible!  One of the best cultural experiences I have ever had.  A definite mecca for film buffs as well.

For further details CLICK HERE

You Have Crossed Into The Twilight Zone

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... The Twilight Zone."

Ever since studying the basics of postmodern film, every film I now encounter appears to self-consciously either reference itself or the artificiality or its substance.  Just like Fright Night which was visited in yesterday's blogpost, The Twilight Zone: The Movie (nice title) opens with a cheeky nod to both the source material and the present text.  

Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks are buddies on a midnight road trip, although I presume they are not playing themselves so shall henceforth be referred to as Buddy 1 and Buddy 2.  Buddy 1 asks Buddy 2, "Did you ever watch The Twilight Zone,"  thus veering us into a world where we expect the unexpected.  The mere mention of the Twilight Zone has interrupted a ostensibly genial scene.  The tone is now loaded with suspense, now even more heightened than the previous game of chicken that Buddy 2 was playing as the driver of the car.  

Want to see something realllly scary?

When Buddy 1 goes full demonic, it is clear we've entered into the Twilight Zone.

The movie is comprised of four segments, along with the aforementioned prologue and an epilogue, directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller respectively.  

The first two segments are weak in comparison to the crescendo that builds once Joe Dante's segment begins.  

"Time Out" by Landis takes a modern racist and sexist who beliefs are finally compromised and submerges him into another dimension where he is victim of prejudiced thought.  He journeys through Nazi Germany, a KKK ruled South, and American-occupied Vietnam.  The protagonist's patriotic rage critiques American inconsistencies.  Landis's segment is so weighted with political allegory that it forgets to establish the eery tone synonymous with the Twilight Zone series.  

While "Time Out" lost sight of its genre intent, "Kick the Can" by Steven Spielberg appears to have lost the memo completely.  It's classic Spielberg, where sentiment drenches our eyes and ears and hearts.  The score soars as two favourite devices of nostalgia are manipulated for the love of film.  Juxtaposed here are childhood innocence and old-age loneliness.  Children and the elderly are exploited for their seemingly fragile sensibilities.  It takes the poignant blueprint of Peter Pan and rams it off a wall until it is deranged.  It is whimsical and cute but trite in comparison to the fantastical and horror potential that the subsequent segments offer, and inadequate for the Twilight Zone oeuvre. 
Creepy Damien surrogate in "It's a Good Life."

It is a relief to leave the Spielberg hallmark moment behind.  Joe Dante's  "It's a Good Life."  Like "Time Out," it resembles a work of social commentary, in an world eschew where a young boy seems to rule proceedings. Cartoons, where there is a promise that anything can happen, form a motif.  The combination of cartoon imagery and sinister plot make for a macabre experience.  This is Burtonesque before Tim Burton really was.

See.  Burtonesque.
The grand old adage of saving the best for last has never been more accurate.  John Lithgow spiraling into a psychotic panic in George Miller's "Nightmare at 30,00 feet" is what cinema was made for.  Add to that a cramped airplane, a storm, and some goblin of sorts and people, we have a movie!  The epilogue that quickly follows is the perfect bookend to the piece, and redeems the movie.  


It's been described as horror, and while there are horror elements used, this is more of a warped fairytale.  Drama that exams the distortion of mind and society rather than the disintegration of relationships.  


Song - Breaking Dawn

Not unusual
Been listening to Florence's new album on repeat this week
Not only is the music stunning, ephemeral, and haunting
But the album art is gorgeous, it harks to the period of Art Deco but becomes timeless almost because of Florence Pre-Raphaellite beauty.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Frightful Film Nights

Upon seeing Fright Night, the 2011 remake, this past September, I read numerous reviews basically stating that 2011 could not hold a candle to the original.  As a film enthusiast, I will not claim to be a film geek as their is much still much to learn and see, I decided my own investigation would need to be done.

Usually, I would agree with the assertion made by Total Film's Rosie Fletcher that not only do we not need another vampire film (blame the woeful Twilight and its overexposure for ruining it for everyone else) but remakes of classic are pretty much unnecessary anyway.  A classic deserves not to be tarnished by the presence of a film that resembles the desperation of a sorry Gaga-ite on all-Hallow's Eve.

Craig Gillespie's 2011 film takes a more measured approach, and refrains from delving straight into the action as Tom Holland did.  This was not a downfall on Holland's part, as the writer he created a blend of suspense horror with a self-aware comedic undertone.  For instance, Peter Vincent questions the formulaic exposition of horror, and the superficial whim of the genre and audiences at that, "Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either.  All they want is to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins."

Evil Ed meanwhile finds delight and solitude with Jerry's promise of peace in the supernatural, while Charley's quest to find out the truth about Jerry is punctuated intelligibly with cinematic horror images.  How very Blade Runner of them.

The Rear Window and Nosferatu references made me squeal with delight.

This kind of blatant, sarcastic pastiche was missing from Fright Night 2011.  Though the narrative itself was arranged in a more cohesive manner, the self-aware dimension and horror influenced made the characters seemed tired and bored rather than the ironic ease and mischievous as their 80s counterparts.

McLovin, I mean, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Colin Farrell had the most fun Fright Night 2011.  Far from the suggestion that Farrell could not muster the ability to truly intimidate, Farrell's Jerry embraced a far darker character than Chris Sarandon managed to establish.  Jerry a la 2011 is far more calculating, and let's be honest subtle.  Sarandon, next time you help yourself to a bite of naked prostitute, try closing the curtains.  Respect your neighbours.  Especially the horny teenager next door.

Jerry in 2011 is flirtatious, but a man on a mission, without giving away too much, this Jerry has a major evil plan, a character arc all of his own, which lends a dimension lost in Sarandon's suave Yuppie Jerry.

2011, while overall a film of quality entertainment, suffers in the same way that many modern films do, its over-reliance on both modern technology and techniques. The overt product placement, such as when teen Charley uses a handy iPhone app to get tips on how to pick a lock, and the of course the CGI that overwhelms.  Though this movie is no Transformers.  Our eyes are not assaulted with a deluge of stark images.  However the Jerry of 1985 is more impressive in a creative sense, the transformation into full-blown creature of the night is so visceral it is that much more believable.  Jerry of 2011 looks like a deranged Hulk.



Fright Night, both films, are now firmly planted among my favourite of the vampire genre.  For their postmodern awareness of the milieu alone they control the narrative as no other has since Nosferatu, the original and the brilliant.  So go, go have yourself a Frightful Night.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Just finished Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been.
It presents a three-tiered exposition of the life of girl whom the character Alice, of Alice in Wonderland is based.
The story is all the more harrowing because of the truth it is based on.

The narrative in the first section focuses on the relationship between Charles Dodgson and the young Alice Liddell.  The lingering glances and ambiguous physical contact between the author and the infantile muse are palpable.  Sinister undertones erupt from the pages and make for an uncomfortable reading.  This fails to detract from the quality of the book however, it rather brings to light some truths which our childhood nostalgia would have us undoubtedly avoid.

The photography of Lewis Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, which Benjamin discusses in the afterword, is the primary source material that inspired Benjamin to write her fictionalised account of the tension and controversy experienced in Victorian Oxford.  The questionable motive behind Lewis's photo project appears to have been largely eradicated from Carroll's public image.  The principle image that Benjamin attended too was predictably one of the real Alice posed as a beggar girl.  It is both unsettling and distressing to see an image of a child from the Victorian period, one of staunch conservatism, in a virtual state of undress.  Benjamin does specify the speculative nature of much of her narrative, but the fact that the foundation of her story derives from fact makes an image such as this all the more loaded.

Add caption
The irony that haunts Benjamin's story and Alice's life, was that it was her reputation that remained tarnished after the mysterious incident that is not truly revealed until the close of the novel.  Her life was marred by the stigma while Dodgson, with the success of the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland series, sailed through rather unscathed.

Though she is chosen as Benjamin's narrator, that is not to say that Alice occupies the position of the victim. As the narrative progresses, and we meet her as a woman of twenty-three and then finally in her twilight years, it becomes more difficult to feel sympathy for a girl so self-assured and self-possessed.  Though presumably the mature sensibilities of a thirty-something lecturer such as Dodgson should have been more aware of the inappropriateness intimacy of their relationship, the precocious Alice is held accountable too in Benjamin's expert narration.

This is a gripping read due to its anchor in history, and only lags when the superficiality of a lovelorn twenty-three year old Alice overwhelms in the middle-ground of the novel.  Alice and Wonderland has always fascinated me, I have never, unfortunately read the source material, but both Disney movies enchanted me. The comforting ideal of escapism is after all something everyone can undoubtedly relate to.  Alice I Have Been lends a web of meaning to the creation of the escapist Wonderland.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

They Tweeted What?

To ease myself back into the blogging world, I am going to start off simple and share my favourite tweets of the past week-ish.

This Rainn Wilson tweet is particularly significant because I was listening to an old Doug Loves Movies podcast where Doug made a very similar joke.  Made me wonder how original Rainn's tweet was....

Follow Lord Voldemort.  Seriously, it'll be the greatest thing you do today.

This woman is the shit. Can't wait for her HBO show

 Chris Pratt seems like he's just like the lovable goof Andy he plays in Parks and Rec

Chris O'Dowd is all famous in Hollywood and stuff now.  Still funny as fuck.

Made me think of this Family Guy clip, oddly enough

This Bad Muthafucker joined Twitter this week.  I was deliriously happy.

Benson making a fool of the self-righteous pricks on Twitter, love!

<3 this woman

 Paul Scheer is a must for your following list.