In a Nutshell Entry: World’s Greatest Dad

This clip is from the end of the film. It encapsulates the film’s message in its entirety: that loneliness is not being alone, that it’s being around people who make you feel alone, and that to survive you must sometimes make difficult choices. It is also the best part of an otherwise heartrending movie.

There is nudity and some language, but it does more in four and a half minutes than some movies do in more than two hours.

The biggest word on this poster should not have been ‘Hilarious’

I was going to do  post on this film, since I watched it recently. If I had watched it in a world where Mr. Williams had not ended his life, I think I would have enjoyed it more. However, this is not that world. It’s impossible to discuss this particular film outside of the context of his suicide; maybe in a few years that will be easier.

Obviously this is kind of  a downer post, but I’m not going to do a full review, just a synopsis and a clip from the film. I am not warning anyone away from this film because it was definitely very good, but if suicide is a trigger for you then definitely give this one a miss.

*****SPOILER******

SYNOPSIS: Williams plays Lance Clayton, a divorced father with dreams of being a famous writer struggling with a thankless job as a teacher and a thankless son as a father. When his spoiled, unappreciative, immature and deeply unpleasant son accidentally kills himself during an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation, Clayton changes the position of the body and makes it look like an intentional suicide, penning a touching and introspective note. When the boy’s death rocks the school, a cult of personality grows up around the boy, and so his father also creates a journal full of intelligent perspectives on life. The journal is a huge hit and Kyle’s father enjoys almost overnight success, but the hollowness of the success wears on him and he begins to struggle with the loneliness he feels as a result. An especially hard-hitting moment in the film occurs when Robin Williams’ character, on a talk show, looks directly into the camera and reminds the audience that ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.’

This clip is from the end of the film. It encapsulates the film’s message in its entirety: that loneliness is not being alone, that it’s being around people who make you feel alone; the unspoken coda is that to survive you must sometimes make difficult choices.

There is nudity and some language, but it does more in four and a half minutes than some movies do in more than two hours. It makes perfect use of that most magnificent of glam teamups, David Bowie and Queen’s immortal “Under Pressure.”

NSFW for nudity and language.

Bruges is Totally Not a Shithole Entry: In Bruges (2008)

It’s a hard movie to pin down – it worked hard to earn its R rating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, either. I’m an atheist, but I still appreciated its message of hope in the face of sorrow, of changing your ways, forgiveness, et cetera.

I can definitely recommend it as a great film, but I would say it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes. But all you can do is try!

In Bruges Poster.jpg
Atmospheric!

*THIS ENTRY WILL NOT CONTAIN SPOILERS*

I will now be absolutely 100% honest and say that it took me so long to see In Bruges because I am not a fan of Colin Ferrell. I don’t know what it is about him, but when I find out he’s in a movie my interest plummets. Which is unfair, because he’s a decent actor and I really found myself liking his character in this film.

In Bruges was nominated for a wagonload of awards after its release in 2008, including both its leads, Ferrell and Brendon Gleeson, being nominated for Golden Globes. Ferrell won, and he did earn it, I have to say.

In Bruges is a few different things:

In Bruges is about two hitmen laying low in an otherwise quiet and beautiful city at the behest of their boss after a  job goes bad. Ken, played by a calm, avuncular Gleeson, is enchanted by the history and architecture and begins sightseeing tout suite. Open-mouthed and bright-eyed, he is overjoyed by the chance to spend sometime in such an old, unpretentious city. Ray, played to the douche-hilt by Ferrell, refers to Bruges loudly and often as a “shithole” and bitches nonstop about their location.

One of the most important qualities a hunter must possess is patience, and I am going to extrapolate that Ken must be the greatest hitman in the history of murder due to the unending patience he has when dealing with Ray. My GOD, does that man know how to FUSS. It’s also a fascinating character study to consider how patiently Ken puts up with such a difficult person, considering he could just off the guy and the world would be the better for it.

A Sample of Ray’s Good Attitude

Ray really is his own worst enemy, as he can barely stay still five minutes without getting into some kind of trouble. He gets into an altercation with a nice American family by making fun of their “robust” build; he whines nonstop about their location and how bored he is; he begs Ken to let them go out and explore the city when they are supposed to wait at the hotel for their boss to call.

It’s all but impossible to avoid spoilers, but I want to say that the main theme of In Bruges is purgatory, or the place where you wait for judgment. AND THAT IS ALL I SHALL SAY. You’re smart, you can probably guess the rest!

Central to the plot is a little person, alternately referred to as a dwarf, a midget, Jimmy, and “that fuck who didn’t wave at me because he was on horse tranquilizers.” He plays a crucial role in a main character’s road to redemption.

It’s a hard movie to pin down – it worked hard to earn its R rating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, either. I’m an atheist, but I still appreciated its message of hope in the face of sorrow, of changing your ways, forgiveness, et cetera.

I can definitely recommend it as a great film, but I would say it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes. But all you can do is try!

In Bruges is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

EDIT: God I am dumb. I did this whole entry and meant to link to my friend Stephen’s blog entry about Bruges! He’s living in Germany and visiting as much of Europe as he can, and his blog is a great read for any travel buffs. Please jump over to his entry on Bruges!

In Bruges 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Back from the Future Entry: Dorian Gray (2009)

In all, I think this adaptation was definitely watchable–as I mentioned, the costumes are great, the supporting cast perfect and Barnes does a marvelous job commanding every frame he’s in, but overall it doesn’t feel terribly imaginative–as a horror film it is far too light, as a thriller it has no suspense, and it’s very dark and violent for a costume drama.

YES HAVE SOME

If you haven’t heard of the most recent adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s best known work, then it’s probably because you aren’t spending your spare time stalking hot British men like Ben Barnes.

Having said that, yes, there is more to the movie than Barnes’s well-dressed hotness.

He gets naked, too.

The Portrait of Dorian Gray is one of those plum stories that I think most actors hope to be a part of–which is a double-edged sword, because only the young, hot actors can hope to even read for the part. And forget poor guys like Ray Winstone–unless there’s a special production aimed only at bears, it’s kind of a restrictive choice.

You need an actor who isn’t just hot, but beautiful. Someone who is both handsome and timeless, who you could imagine springing from a painting by Waterhouse or Caravaggio.

You need someone young. Someone who is on the edge of that perfect balance of beauty and maturity, whose face isn’t yet marred by the mileage of age.

You need someone who is both innocent and cruel.

This last is crucial – many actors excel at doing one or the other, but not both. Especially depending on how the production handles the character of Dorian, who himself is more of a blank canvas than a fleshed-out character: a Dorian who is too cruel is too clearcut a villain, when at least part of the story paints him as victim, too.

I wish Dorian Gray had been a more energetic entry to the canon of adaptations; the costumes and sets are beautiful, and the cast of seasoned veterans (and newcomer Barnes) play the story well, but overall the movie feels a little restricted; as if they hadnt’ quite dared to take more risks than those of the story. Colin Firth as the world-weary, wicked Henry Wotten is perfect,  and Ben Chaplin as Basil Hallward is another bit of inspired casting.

Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?

Of course the whole of the movie is Barnes’s performance as Gray–a young man whose childhood was marred by abuse and tragedy, and who has only just come to London after inheriting his Grandfather’s estate upon the old man’s death.

Immediately he is taken in and groomed by Wotten to be a high society type, and begins down a road of guilt and excess that would have put  Iggy Pop and most of the Rolling Stones to shame.

The eponymous portrait, painted by Basil and unwittingly cursed by Wotten, bears the marks of this life of excess, depicting both the physical damage of so much sadistic partying, and the mental damage of Gray’s cruelty.

What’s interesting is that the filmmakers made a massive mistake in interpreting Gray’s motivations, here– they assumed that because he bears no indications of his life of excess on his body, he is ‘free of consequence.’ He’s described in their making-of featurette as a kind of proto-American Psycho, a sociopath in the making.

Barnes, however, doesn’t really play Gray that way. He plays him more as someone who doesn’t realize his impact on others, rather than someone who doesn’t care about them. He’s young and naive, and as he becomes more and more evil certainly more selfish and sadistic, but it never seems as if he’s intentionally setting out to ruin other people’s lives. In a more capable filmmaker’s hands, he might have recalled John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons, the definitive object when it comes to depicting Rolling Whoremongery, but he comes off as more like a very young version of same, and then later creates his own character as an arch, jaded libertine with the face of an angel. Towards the end of the film he’s very much aware of the ruinous effect he’s had on others, and even attempts to steer people away from himself to preserve them.

In all, I think this adaptation was definitely watchable–as I mentioned, the costumes are great, the supporting cast perfect and Barnes does a marvelous job commanding every frame he’s in, but overall it doesn’t feel terribly imaginative–as a horror film it is far too light, as a thriller it has no suspense, and it’s very dark and violent for a costume drama.

Seriously, how could they just change his eyes like that? They're so striking!

I can’t help imagining what this might have been in the hands of Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) or even Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge), or maybe someone like Danny Boyle; there’s a lot of gay subtext that was barely touched on, and my overall impression of the film was that it was very dimly-lit and nobody had too good a time.

Which, you know, the whole point was to make his languid life of pleasure look COOL.

 

‘My God, Someone Paid For this To Be Made’ Entry — GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

GI Joe starts out in France in 1611. I know, because despite the fact taht I was drunk, I took copious notes. They are stained and festooned with question marks and mad scribblings, but overall still valid.

What kind of bullshit is that? FRANCE? WHAT?

Asinine. Who gives a shit about the historical heritage of Cobra. Please raise your hands if you were demanding historical significance from a movie based on toys that you played with in the sandbox or bathtub.

Once upon a time, I had a vision.

A glorious vision, the sort of vision that got people burned as heretics in the Dark Ages, yet was no less true for its ostentatiousness.

I dreamed I stood on a cliff, staring out at a roiling sea. Clouds skirted the horizon, the sun burned like a vengeful eye, and below me the cliffs were alive with plumes and torrents as the sea crashed and raged.

A sea of absolute bullshit.

 

And don't tell me, 'Oh, it was based on toys, what do you expect?' You know what else was based on toys and won buttloads of awards? 'TOYS.'

 

It’s possible I was biased against the GI Joe movie from the very start. Watching the trailers gave me a horrifying clarity, a window into what it must be like to be an epileptic who habitually gets trapped inside a washing machine full of neon lights, pleather, airborne vehicles and shitty laser effects.

Now, I played with Joes as a child, albeit I didnt’ play by the rules. For some reason I was stuck on monsters and aliens mode, so the only Joes I had were ones that had animal sidekicks, or some kind of weird mutation. I had Spirit Wind, the Military MP guy (his German Shepherd was a werewolf to my Lego people), Killer Croc, Outback (warthog accessory! BOSS!) Some kind of guy with a Cobra as a hat, and Big Boa, because he came with removable and adorable boxing gloves. I didn’t give a shit about patriotism, vehicles (Except that crazy ass Cobra Commander flying skiff, that was amazing) robots, guns, or tanks. It was also common for GI Joes to go to war with the mutants of Outworld, which were comprised of my He-Man and Ninja Turtles figures.

I went into the GI: Joe movie thinking ‘Well, I’ve had like nine beers, and even folding laundry has usually become fun by then. Therefore, this will be fun.’ Ipso, facto.

My fake Latin philosophy math was wrong.

Watching GI: Joe – The Rise of Cobra was incredibly similar to being in a car accident, and I’ve been in no less than 5 in my life so I know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of shit suddenly moves around, your whole perspective on life has changed but you aren’t sure why, you just know SOMETHING HAPPENED.

Which is what watching the film was like.

Usually, I pull my punches with hating on a movie, but By God and Sunny Jesus, I will NOT do so today. This movie was way, way too expensive to get the kid glove treatment.

 

This movie is also unforgiveable for wasting Adewale Akinouye -Agbage's time. I refuse to believe he doesn't have better things to do than this.

 

GI Joe starts out in France in 1611. I know, because despite the fact taht I was drunk, I took copious notes. They are stained and festooned with question marks and mad scribblings, but overall still valid.

What kind of bullshit is that? FRANCE? WHAT?

Asinine. Who gives a shit about the historical heritage of Cobra. Please raise your hands if you were demanding historical significance from a movie based on toys that you played with in the sandbox or bathtub.

Other scribblings from my note:

‘why is the military using a civilian H2?’ Nathan pointed that one out.

This observation was closely followed by ‘why are you questioning the logic of the GI:Joe movie?’

‘Duke- Dude can’t talk right. Sounds like he’s going blublubblubblub.’

Seriously. Channing Tatum, from his IMDB entry, seems sort of respected as an actor, and yet I could barely follow his dialogue because of his weird novocaine mumbly-mouth. Plus, the man’s eyes were so dead and glassy I could clearly see his paycheck reflected in their surface, because no other thoughts animated his corpus.

‘Science says emotions don’t exist? WHAT?’

Scarlett, that most cartoonish of hotties (and played by some girl with red hair and boobs, it’s totally not worth it to look her name up), makes this weird assertion as to why she won’t date Marlon Wayans (who MUST have better things to do than this movie, for christ’s sake, he was in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) when he makes his move on her. This is not only story bullshit, it’s scientific bullshit. Science has no problem quantifying emotions–they’re caused by subtle synaptic shifts in hormones, by adrenaline, by all kinds of math and numbers and chemicals and things that ARE REAL. So being attracted to a dude is totally valid. She’s just a racist.

 

I was also enraged by the Baroness character.

Spies are also known for being inconspicuous, which involves wearing costumes rejected from the Underworld series as too cheap-looking and giant belt buckles.

A brief digression:

In the Preacher books, the villain, a scarred German psycho named Herr Starr, is teaching a course on how to deal with terrorists to some soldiers in an elite anti-terrorist recruitment facility. He begins his lesson with the words:

‘Shoot the women first.’

He goes on to explain that any woman who has worked her way up to the top of a terrorist organization has worked at least FIVE TIMES as hard as her male compatriots in order to have her skills and dedication recognized. In short, in any terrorist situation, you had best kill the va-jay-jays because THEY would pose the greatest threat to you, and kill you five times harder than a dude. Anything a dude can do, a woman has already done, alphabetized, collated, and buried in the backyard before he even thought of it.

GI:Joe posits that Cobra allows someone to totally half-ass their way to the top of the organization. In an elite, worldwide terrorist group, how does someone FAKE enthusiasm? HOW? Baroness’s residual love for Duke leads to the Cobra organization’s fall, suggesting that women can’t be trusted in these situations because they get all emotion-y and fall in love with men and shit. God forbid they handle firearms, their estrogen might gum up the firing pin.

Someone looked at this pic and said 'Yes! Cover one third of his face in burn makeup, the other half in a breathing apparatus, dress him in a shitty wig and hire him!'

 

Which  brings me to my next point:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is adorable.

Just look at that face! So much spunk, so much character! You wouldn’t just have a beer with him, you’d want to take him home and show him your band trophies from high school.

He was the most fun thing about Rise of Cobra, and brought a much-needed feel of pseudo-camp to the shenanigans. After awhile, I realized I was patiently waiting for the ridiculous action setpieces to end so I could get back to the much more interesting story of Destro or whatever he was.

Dick move, Hollywood: if your film’s basically a multi-million dollar recruitment product for the armed forces, don’t make the villain more interesting than anything else happening onscreen. I even stopped giving a shit about Christopher Eccleston when Gordon-Levitt was onscreen. ECCLESTON.

Every few moments in GI:Joe, I found myself whistling or humming the main song from Team America: World Police. It’s a little ditty that goes something like ‘America…FUCK YEAH! Coming again to save the motherfucking day YEAH!’ What’s tragic is that movie, starring puppets and a metric ton of sarcasm, was a much more fun movie than this one, and it was much more honest about what was going on. It also got me a lot more excited about blowing shit up.

So in short–I know I watched the GI Joe movie, and I have all these residual flashbacks and strange images burned into my mind, but I just don’t know what actually HAPPENED. There was a desert and the Eiffle tower and an underwater city and some kind of nano tech mask or something. The sad thing is that I am smart enough to understand all this stuff–unlike a car accident, I can go back and relive the experience, articulating complex emotional ideas and pieceing together what actually happened.

I just don’t give a shit, though.

Coraline and the color palette of childhood

Here’s the short version of this entry: I just love Coraline.

Look out, world!

There haven’t been a lot of movies made in the last ten years that I can watch over and over again and still enjoy, that offer a really escapist feeling, that I’m not distracted by overblown production values or weak performances; Coraline definitely falls into that category.

There’s something beyond reproach about it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws, but when you’re completely engrossed in the liquid grace of the stop motion puppetry, the textures of the world, sharp writing, brilliant characterizations, and beautiful music,  it’s easy to forgive.

There’s also the beauty of the color palette.

We first meet Coraline as she moves into a depressingly drab house on a gray, late-winter day. Dead trees cluster in the background, and a slate sky drops rain. Her parents are just as drained, with good reason: her beige-sweater sporting Mom was recently in a car accident and also wears a neckbrace, and Coraline’s dad resembles the microwavable version of Adrien Brody.

I shouldn't make fun, I'm only a few steps away from this myself.

From a child’s standpoint, Coraline’s parents might be viewed as selfish and neglectful; an adult looks on their attempt to focus on their desperately-needed work and sympathizes. After all, without the catalogue, the family doesn’t eat, since they’re freelance writers.

There were even a few moments when their plight seemed more serious than Coraline’s, and her whining for their attention made her less sympathetic and seem overly-self centered, even for a child.

It’s a depressing world for anyone, and an intelligent child like Coraline is doubly affected.

Which is where the color palette comes in.

I'd watch this cooking show. Hell, it's less terrifying than anything Paula Deen can come up with.

When the Other Mother builds a world to tempt Coraline, she fills it with lush, warm colors and luxuriant textures. The delicious food, the wallpaper, furniture, clothing, and plants of the Other World radiate color, almost drown the viewer in hues. My DVD came with a 3D version of the movie (and glasses! SO COOL!) and I haven’t given that a spin yet, but I hope it’ll be worth all the kerfuffle.

The color palette of childhood is simple, visceral. We want to wear our straw hats with our green pinafore and orange sweater and blue sock, possibly while wearing fairy wings or a tail, if we’re fairly young. Therein lies the appeal in the colorful mishmash of Coraline’s outfits: her pink dress and green tights, or the green and orange gloves she covets which her mother initially rejects have an individualistic charm to them, but also symbolize the time in our lives when we still did things for ourselves rather than others.

Once in high school a girl in my class was horrified with embarassment when a teacher pointed out the girl was wearing brown shoes with a black belt. I took this lesson to heart and swore never to make the same faux pas; now I could give a shit, although I do tend to shy away from bright colors.

From early high school until just two years ago, I wore black, gray, and if I was feeling saucy, purple or red. That was it. I was terrified of wearing The Wrong Thing together, and those four colors made me feel safe. Somehow, I forgot that wearing clothing had everything to do with what I liked, and nothing to do with what other people wanted. Inch by inch I’ve crept away from that security blanket, and now wear bright greens and blues, as well.

Now, I am seriously covetous of Coraline’s Other Outfit, which the Other Mother has made for her.

Cringing Genius Nerd and Horrific Ghost-child sold separately.

Part of the reason I like it is because the stars remind of me of the character Eleanor from Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House.

You don’t need to know the whole story of Hill House if you don’t already; what you need to know is that Eleanor is a shy, vulnerable woman bullied for years by her mother, who decides to take part in an experiment mostly as a way of asserting herself. As she drives to the house, she imagines a destiny for herself that is extricated from her overbearing mother: she’ll have a house some day, with stone lions guarding the front door, and she’ll drink from a cupful of stars. In short, she’ll do what SHE wants, HOW she wants, WHEN she wants.

The cupful of stars thing has always stuck with me, and when I saw the color and design on Coraline’ shirt it reminded me forcibly of Eleanor’s cupful of stars. It reminded me of those childhood things I’d given up or lost, most of all the intangible ones.

A person can live without their old toys, but not without the imagination that brought them to life.

There’s merit to the putting away of childish things as you become an adult, but finding a balance–neither giving up entirely on childish things nor retreating back into them–is what most people struggle with.

So I’d like to raise a cupful of stars to Coraline, for helping me find some of those things I thought I’d lost.

I actually found a woman on Etsy who’ll make the sweater, and while the child part of me wants it now, NOW, the adult part of me insists I wait until I actually can afford to drop 150 dollars on a sweater.