Tag Archives: cinema

Matt Damon and Chewing Gum

Matt Damon does a lot of gum-chewing in James Mangold‘s newest film Ford v Ferrari (2019). When he’s not dealing with Josh Lucas‘s nonsense or trying to convince Christian Bale to calm down, Damon is chewing gum. In his portrayal of Carroll Shelby alongside Christian Bale’s Ken Miles, Matt Damon proves that he has come a long way from playing a math genius and a killer secret agent.

I did not know much about the film’s premise beyond it being based on real events. The main cast alone was reason enough for me to want to watch it. It’s definitely worth a movie theatre screening, even though it is 2.5 hours long and actually feels it. The chemistry between Matt Damon and Christian Bale keeps the non-racing scenes engrossing. One of my favorite scenes doesn’t involve racing…nor a car. This scene occurs when Matt Damon is telling Christian Bale about Ford’s intentions to build a race car to compete at Le Mans and that he should go to Ford’s new Mustang unveiling the next day.

The two men are in a diner and contrary to most dialogue pieces that take place in this setting, where the characters have just received their food and talk as they eat, this conversation happens after Christian Bale is already done eating and Matt Damon is picking at the last of his meal. He eats a bite of bread and some potato chips. Minimal risk of continuity errors relating to mastication. There’s another great scene where the two wrestle on a patch of grass.  It’s not a long scene but it’s worth the admission price.

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Diner scene; pic cred: IMDB/Twentieth Century Fox

 

In addition to witnessing the strong chemistry between the film’s two leads, I appreciated the way in which Ford v Ferrari presents the speed at which a car can go as both beautiful and destructive.  Outside the context of a proper race, a car that is going too fast is dangerous and not at all desired.  But within the confines of a legitimate race?  Speed is an adrenaline-thumping wonder of physics to behold.

Here’s James Mangold talking about the start of the climactic race.

 

The Ascending Star

In all likelihood, she would not self-identify as a star…or a starlet.  She has never exuded ingenue hues to be that young thing in everything.  Critical and popular opinion may have latched on to the assessment that she only ever portrayed extensions of her introverted, moody, non-conformist persona.  Some may have instantly dismissed her performative abilities because the media text that made her a house-hold name was based on a young adult fiction franchise.  Even when the subtleties of her acting talents were more broadly recognized as a Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016), print and digital publications were arguably more motivated to pay attention to her movements vis-a-vis her paramours than her visual media projects.  As a new decade is right around the corner, though, it would be difficult not to notice the steadily evolving brightness that has been surfacing from within her unconventional artistry.

The first time I knew Kristen Stewart existed was from the film Speak (Jessica Sharzer, 2004), which was adapted from the Laurie Halse Anderson novel of the same name.  There was a quiet determination about her that resonated with me and compelled me to rent that DVD from Blockbuster multiple times until I finally decided to buy it.  From those repeat viewings to now, I’ve seen the majority of her films.  I’ve subjectively enjoyed nearly every one that came out before TwilightAdventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009) and Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010) stood out to me among the films interlaced with the release of those vampire movies.  Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2016), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016), Personal Shopper, and the newest Charlie’s Angels (Elizabeth Banks, 2019) have been the best cinematic experiences to me post-Twilight.

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Kristen Stewart as Melinda Sordino in Speak

 

I haven’t been inspired to write a proper post on this blog for years until after I had just finished watching Charlie’s Angels.  I had forgotten how much fun a movie could be to watch at the theatre [I had a good time at Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho, 2019) a week ago, but it also reminded me of how deeply bittersweet and cynical of a mindset a film can leave a person (and I didn’t want to feel cynical)].  Elizabeth Banks’s Charlie’s Angels is funny, takes itself seriously while also being self-aware, and features Kristen Stewart at her most rambunctiously confident and humorous.  I am fully aware that I am biased because I loved watching her in films from her pre-Hollywood stardom era, so I prioritized emotional investment over critical analysis.

 

3 Films in 2 Days

When I was in college, it wasn’t uncommon for me to watch three movies over the weekend — one on Friday night, one on Saturday, and one Sunday.  Other times, I’d watch two movies on Saturday at different movie theatres.  It’s been many, many years since I’ve done anything similar (film festivals notwithstanding).

I’ve been wanting to watch three films ever since I knew they existed and this weekend, they came out in my fair city.

 

I saw Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2017) Friday night and Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016) and T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) today.  Olivier Assayas’s film stars a Kristen Stewart that resonates with her performances in non-blood-sucking roles (Clouds of Sils Maria, Welcome to the Rileys, The Yellow Handkerchief, and even Fierce People).  She plays Maureen, a woman who can see and sense the dearly departed and yet still doesn’t know what to call them.  The film follows her as she tries to connect with her deceased brother and fulfill her personal shopping job obligations to a high-profile woman.  I didn’t think the film would be genuinely scary (damn sound design and horror film tropes), suspenseful and sad.  It inspired a poem.

Minor spoiler alert — highlight words at your own discretion.  I also wasn’t expecting the film to depict apparitions.  I didn’t think the director would go there narratively, but he did.  And what of the ending, the very last line spoken?  How much of the inexplicable goings-on of the plot were all in the titular character’s head?  As much as I enjoyed the secondary story-line that features onscreen texting with page-turning intrigue, I was much more psychologically invested in whether or not Maureen and her brother ever really connect.

Product placement and branding: Google, Apple, and Cartier.

 

Julia Ducournau’s morbidly erotic examination of repressed appetites focuses on a veterinary school student and the unintended consequences of freshman hazing.  Raised a vegetarian by her vegetarian parents, Justine (Garance Marillier) discovers that not only does she have a taste for animal flesh but her hunger for sustenance is both sexual and cannibalistic.  It’s not suggested, it’s stated.  From a certain angle, she’s more or less a vampire who wouldn’t necessarily let the rest of the kill go to waste.  Raw is reminiscent of Claire Denis‘s Trouble Every Day (2001) in the way it presents the blood/flesh-lust as biological rather than metaphorical to the characters in the story world.  For Justine and her older sister, who is also a veterinary student, sisterly love and hate are taken to a whole new level given certain inherited details.

What bothered me more than watching a vegetarian eat meat (of any kind) was the hazing activities and the periodic representation of enclosed spaces with too many people.  If you don’t like being in small spaces with lots of people, lots of people who are sweating and spilling beverages all over the place, be prepared to close your eyes.

By the time Raw had ended and I was making my way to the other theatre to watch T2 Trainspotting, I was hungry and started making a mental grocery store list.  Danny Boyle’s sequel to his 1996 film was a good way to bring Saturday to an early evening.  I laughed and gasped and went “hmmm” a few times.  I haven’t fully formed my thoughts on it, so I will just say this much: is it ever good to be a tourist in one’s own youth?  Mark Renton was by far my favorite of the group, but was that because he was portrayed by Ewan McGregor?  Considering some of the scenes from the sequel, he’s just as flawed as Sickboy and Begbie.  Is Spud actually the “best” person of the lot?  Be that as it may, I like them still.  All of them.

 

 

Get Out, Get Out, Get Out

It is a daunting endeavor to speak in depth about the brilliance of Jordan Peele‘s directorial debut Get Out (2017) without major spoilers, thus, this post will focus less on plot and more on mise-en-scene and tone.  The trailer sets up the premise quite well, leaving no doubt as to the escalating tension that the audience can expect (but it also includes moments that didn’t make it to the final cut):

When I’d initially read about this film and watched a trailer, I thought it would be scary-and-funny the way the Scary Movies are scary and funny.  I also anticipated a “final girl” motif … except that it would be “final black guy.”  After watching the film today, I realized my assessment wasn’t inaccurate but needed some adjustment.  The events in Get Out take place over a weekend where Rose (Allison Williams) takes her boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her family.  It quickly becomes apparent that something is amiss with the atmosphere around the house and Chris is uncomfortable.

The film is both humorous and horrifying but not due to crude jokes, paranormal activity or extreme body trauma.  The foreboding and psychological terror reminds me of Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) — things appear normal on the surface but something is clearly wrong.

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Tragedy and comedy are frequently cited as two sides of the same coin, and as Get Out suggests, horror is a substantial player in that relationship.  If you’ve seen any of Key and Peele‘s skits or Keanu (Peter Atencio, 2016), you’ll be familiar with the sinister-meets-silly quality of Jordan Peele’s humor.  The laughs come because of genuine comedy as well as the dynamic between horror and comedy.  Within the story world, the actions and beliefs of certain characters is the source of terror.  If read ideologically, one can find a reflection or criticism of society.  It’s not the monsters and the ghosts that are scary — real life is scary.  Ostensibly normal situations with just the right amount of distortion or anachronism generates a sense of dread that no long-haired Asian girl or exploding light fixtures can.

As a cinematic experience, the music and sound design create a visceral reaction akin to watching a monster film or slasher film.  Audible jump scares, dissonant juxtapositions between sight and sound.

Because I don’t want to get into even minor spoilers, I’ll leave you with a list of observations and miscellany:

~ Microsoft and Bing branding.  We got lots of close-ups.
~ So, not all TSA agents are misguided?
~ Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay as well and there was only one close-up that made me think what we see would be important later on…and it wasn’t.  Deleted scene maybe.  Many other visual elements come back together for the big reveal.
~ The film shapes very specifically the viewer’s perception of the characters along the way until such time that the narrative unveils true motives.  You don’t get to “figure things out” necessarily before the characters do.

NFC Divisional: Falcons pluck the Seahawks with Elle

The Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons NFC divisional game started twenty minutes after the 4:10 pm showing of Paul Verhoeven‘s award-winning psychological drama Elle (2016).*  And why would I opt to watch the film over seeing the entire game between Seattle and Atlanta?  Well, I’ve been wanting to watch Elle for several months and I knew the fourth quarter would still be happening after the movie and I could get myself to a TV.

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I have loved Isabelle Huppert since the moment I watched Hal Hartley‘s Amateur (1994).  She played a woman who went from being a nun to writing erotica.  Something about that premise fascinated me.

Likewise, the premise of Elle intrigued me too.  Huppert portrays a woman who is raped in her house while her grey cat watches (and then leaves before the crime is completed), but instead of turning into a shriveling, paranoid victim, she metabolizes the trauma with subversive rationale and emotional/psychological deviance.

Beyond the basic story-line, I was pleasantly surprised to see that her character was  co-owner of a video game publishing company.  She wasn’t a housewife or a teacher or a high end fashion consultant.  Any more discussion will lead to minor spoilers, so highlight the relevant words at your own discretion.  Verhoeven’s adaptation of  Phillipe Dijan‘s novel Oh… could be interpreted to suggest that a rape fantasy is something that women in general would grow to want if she is willing to sleep with her friend and business partner’s husband because he was there and she wanted to get laid.  Or that just because a woman doesn’t become a broken, ruined creature, that physical violation isn’t that big of a deal.  It is tempting to make such an assertion…or to focus on her character’s inability to have a “normal” reaction to being raped (depression, anger, fear, vulnerability) on account of what her dad did when she was ten years-old that got him locked up in prison.

These interpretations are easy to make, but misses the mark of the character’s narrative and thematic arc.  She colors outside the lines and doesn’t behave as expected and whatever motivates her to act as she does or to think as she does throughout the film, she is purposeful and consequential.  Moreover, her reactions present a perspective on how to make sense of (or pervert) the offender-victim dynamic, especially when the film reveals the identity of her rapist.   Either you, the viewer, knew it all along or figured it out based on formal and plot elements.

 

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And, I was right.  The fourth quarter had just begun when I got to a TV after the movie ended.   I started watching the game (broadcast on Fox and narrated by John Lynch and Kevin Burkhardt) about halfway into the fourth quarter and the Falcons had 29 points to the Seahawks’ 13.  Over the next nine minutes, though not in this exact order, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was intercepted twice (the first time directly into the arms of Falcons safety Allen Ricardo, the second time indirectly into the hands of Falcons linebacker Deion Jones) and threw a touchdown pass (caught by wide receiver Doug Baldwin); Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and two 1st and goal complete passes (one of them caught by wide receiver Julio Jones).

The Falcons beat the Seahawks.  36 to 20. Final score.  Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.

*It isn’t drama quite in the way American dramas are drama — 98% seriousness with maybe a laugh or two.  Elle is quite comical throughout the film in dialogue and reality-of-the-situation tone.  I watched the film with at least twenty other people and everyone chuckled and laughed at the intended moments.  The more I think about it, the more I detect a satirical angle.