This movie made me cry.
This movie made my friend Angela turn to me and say, “This is the saddest movie of all time.”
This movie made me respond with, “This movie is sadder than the film that J picked the night before.”
This movie made me relive all of the time that I spent with my grandmother at her assisted living facility, and later, hospice.
But in many ways, this movie wasn’t sad. You know from the outset that if a old woman has a stroke and goes into a nursing home, she’s not going to last to the end of the movie, so death doesn’t come as a shock. Instead, this was a movie about respecting one’s elders. A movie a about human dignity. In so many ways, this movie was the opposite of The Help. After the family maid, Ah Tao, becomes ill and has to retire, she’s not forgotten. Instead, her longtime employer, Roger, who she raised from birth, becomes her god son and visits her at her nursing home and makes her his red carpet date to a film premier. Both Roger and Ah Tao are two of the humblest characters ever. Roger is played by Andy Lau, who is Hong Kong’s equivalent to George Clooney, and his character is a film producer, but he dresses so casually that he’s mistaken for an air conditioning repairman. Likewise, Ah Tao winds up in the nursing home not because Roger wants to put her there, but because she wants to go there, as to not burden him.
This wasn’t a spectacular film (even though it swept Hong Kong’s Film Awards this week), but it was an honest film.* I don’t think that a similar project could get green lighted in the States, since American audiences don’t like to dwell on one’s possible decline from limping about to being strapped into a wheelchair. But for anyone who doesn’t flinch from aging or caring for aging parents or grandparents, I’d recommend this film.
*”Honest” deserves some qualification here. Angela did remark that this movie made its main characters too saintly, too perfect.
Rounding out the full-length screenings for me were Animal Kingdom, a modern film noir from Australia and Boy, a half-comedy, half-tragedy from New Zealand. One thing linking both films is that they involve kids who must deal with grown-up problems because the grown ups around them haven’t quite grown-up.
My first thought regarding Animal Kingdom was that it was an Australian version of the Departed (or Infernal Affairs), where the young protagonist, “J” (played by a newcomer, James Frecheville*), is forced to move in with his grandmother and bank-robbing uncles after his mother O.D.’s on heroin. As his uncles and the cops engage in an extended game of cat and mouse and murder, J is put in the middle, with his sociopathic Uncle Pope and Oedipally-charged grandmother on one end, and a sympathetic cop played by Guy Pierce on the other. (Throughout the movie, I thought how much I enjoy Pierce’s performances when he plays cops. It’s interesting to see him in middle-age, instead of that fresh face in L.A. Confidential). The settings are seedy, everyone related to J is creepy, and the suspense properly unfurls as we try to guess whether little J makes it out alive.
As for the second film, Boy, this was the one that Kenners and I drove all the way out to Ogden to watch. The movie, set in 1984, is told from the point of view of Boy, an 11-year-old in an idyllic, albeit poor, town some where on New Zealand’s coast. Like J, Boy and his adorably cute and sad-eyed brother Rocky are practically orphans; their mother is dead, their pop is in jail, and they live in a run-down little house with their grandmother. Boy has an aunt, but she’s got her hands full occupying every job in town (school bus driver, post woman, convenience shop keeper). These initial details unfold in a cartoonish (animated crayon drawings), fun(ny) (three of Boy’s friends are named Dynasty, Dallas, and Falcon Crest), popping way, that had my hopes up for the movie, but when their father, Alamein (played by the movie’s director Taika Waititi, the same guy behind Eagle vs. Shark), shows up on the scene, the audience is left to deal with the true kid, the absent father, who tries to connect with his two sons, but is an eternal man-boy. There was something about the scenes between Boy and Alamein that struck a personal cord with me. When Alamein first re-encounters Boy, he tells him that E.T. was a great film that he’s scene four times, but he doesn’t take his own sons to see a movie, clearly designed for children. This parental selfishness reminded me of own self-centered father when I was Rocky’s age (my father took me to movies, but thought Rambo, First Blood Part 2 was appropriate for a 7-year-old). Much of the humor in Boy is used to cover up the somber tone that results from the absence that the two kids feel from their missing mum, and for Alamein, from his dead wife. In the end, this shared absence is what unifies the three.
*As an aside, Frecheville was at the premier, and in person had the looks of a Ralph Lauren casual winter ad.
Separate from these films, I also saw a collection of shorts. While we selected the series of shorts because one was directed by James Franco, his short, Herbert White (based on this graphic poem), left us very disturbed (all that I will say is that Franco’s work makes the joke about his relationship with Kimiko, the body pillow seem plausible and normal). The one short in our set that was the most entertaining and that garnered the most applause was Pablo Larcuen’s Mi Amigo Invisible, a very geeky, cute little film that Larcuen made for a class. Thanks to Larcuen’s sense of the wacky and absurd, I hope to see a full-length work from Larcuen in the years to come.
Thanks to Kenner’s enthusiasm for skiing, I spent more time on the slopes (The Canyons and the Park City Mountain Resort) than on Main Street, but I did manage to get five screenings in (The Company Men, Red Chapel, Boy, Animal Kingdom, and some shorts). I don’t have time to put up all of my reviews at the moment, but here’s a review or two:
Red Chapel – This was a documentary that I was only “meh” about going in (it was 11:30 p.m. at night, after a full day of boarding, and a drive out to Ogden to see another screening), but it had enough dark humor, ghostly shots of Pyongyang, and bad renditions of Wonderwall to keep me awake and very entertained. The director, Mads Brugger, covertly shot this documentary about the North Korea regime under the guise of arranging for two Danish-Korean comedians, Simon and Jacob, to perform in North Korea as part of a cultural exchange. The director’s idea (with references to Nazi Germany) was that “Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships.”
Brugger shot and edited this documentary in the style of Michael Moore (i.e. he was very manipulative), but he was extremely candid during the film about creating a “good” propaganda film as a counterpoint to the immersive propaganda that North Koreans are forced to live through every day. At one point, however, the three Danes are sucked into the NK propaganda machine. Throughout their stay, they are accompanied by Mrs. Pak, a middle-aged representative from the regime, who is their translator (she speaks to them in “interrogation-style” English) and arranges for their visits to monuments of the Dear Leader and to performances of well-fed, beautiful North Korean kids singing nationalistic anthems. Although Brugger wants to put on a Theatre of the Absurd piece, featuring fart jokes, Oasis, the Beatles, and a skit featuring a Dame Edna-esque tranny character, Mrs. Pak and the NK cultural representative re-work Simon and Jacob’s performance so that it celebrates the regime and the idea of “One Korea” (one where the North conquers the South of course). One of the comedians, Jacob is physically handicapped (though very intelligent – during the Q&A it came out that he was fond of Habermas), and is used both by the NK regime to demonstrate their acceptance of the disabled and by Brugger to emphasize the point that the regime kills or sends the disabled to concentration camps (at one point, Brugger goads Jacob into asking Mrs. Pak to show him other disabled people like him to prove the point that they are “disappeared). Jacob is the moral center of the film, who is bombarded with discomfort on all sides, discomfort with Brugger’s project, with the false images of smiling, healthy children that the NK regime presents to him, and with how he is reduced to his handicap while in NK. Fittingly, the film ends with Jacob karaoking Lennon’s Imagine.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the big star vehicle film that I saw was The Company Men, a sort of Good Will Hunting in reverse, starring Ben Affleck as a downsized sales guy who is forced to trade in his power ties and Porsche for a toolbelt. The lovely Rosemarie DeWitt plays Affleck’s unflinchingly patient wife, and while she has her acting chops, she was quite miscast (DeWitt is just too cool to play a boring housewife in the Boston suburbs, and her Boston accent comes and goes). The director, John Wells (of the recently deceased TV show, ER) also manages to monopolize every macho, All American actor between 55-65 in assembling the rest of the ensemble cast (Tommy Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Costner, and Chris Cooper), and they each represent different iterations of what Affleck’s character could become in 15 to 20 years (the executive who views himself as a leader for his people, the CEO who puts his shareholders first, the small businessman, and the downsized mid-level sales guy with nowhere else to go). While these four actors put in effortless, decent performances, in the end, The Company Men was a middle-brow movie that failed to move me, but then again, I don’t think that I am its target audience.
I watched The Wrestler this weekend, and my immediate reaction to it was two-fold: (1) it didn’t seem like too big of a stretch for Mickey Rourke; and (2) Mickey Rourke is almost grotesquely ugly now.
One of the reasons why I didn’t like the film more is that it addresses a very sizable and real chunk of American society that I have no curiosity to explore. As a washed-up former “Hulk Hogan” like pro-wrestler, Rourke’s character Randy the Ram, struggles to pay his rent, blows his money on strippers and booze, and has to make “investments” (steroids, tanning salon fees, hair bleaching) to keep his flagging wrestling career going. His presence as a character in an old school Nintendo video game signals that he once made bank, but after years of excess, he’s now expendable, and has nothing to show for it except for a corroded van and a trailer, whose rent payments he can barely cover. This template of the American existence is something that I can’t appreciate (and sometimes draws out this social Darwinistic reaction in me), but with these bleak economic and social times, I have a feeling that this may be a revisited theme in film for the next few years, and I look forward to watching all of its iterations.
Despite not having seen a good chunk of Oscar-nominated movies (The Wrestler and Rachel Getting Married have been on my list for ages now), the foul weather put me in the mood for something mindless and stupid this weekend. So, without knowing anything about The International, except that it was a thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, I agreed to see it after the girlpack’s plans to watch HJNIY* were further postponed.
After watching The International, I thought that it’s so much easier to review a bad movie, than a good movie. My main complaint with the film is that it was humorless and as cold as the modern architecture that dotted the film. The sinister villian in this film was an arms dealing international bank, the Luxemborgian I.B.B.C. When this plot point was revealed, I thought, “What an investment bank as villian? The credit crunch is far scarier and destabiling than arms dealing.”
And therein lies the film’s problem; it felt extremely dated. Had it come out before the end of our neo-gilded age, then the bank would have been a plausible villian, now it was just laughable. Our current brain eating, er, I mean Treasury plundering Zombie Banks, are far more evil, even without hired assassins.
As for the cast, Naomi Watts’ character, a Manhattan D.A., was a throwaway role, and really wasn’t plausible (what local D.A.’s office would let an attorney run off to Italy to find out intel on an arms deal outside of N.Y.C.’s jurisdiction?) Clive Owen was Clive Owen, only without any good lines.
Action wise, I perked up during shoot out in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim (and was very impressed that they built a full replica of the Guggenheim Rotunda). But lack of heft in the script made me want to rewatch the Bourne trilogy as a palate cleanser.
*Yes, even though I can’t bring myself to type out the full title of this Rom Com, I will admit that I want to see it.
I had planned to catch two more films last weekend, You Won’t Miss Me and 500 Days of Summer, but due to multiple snafus, I didn’t get to catch the latter film, so I ended my festival screenings on an extremely bad note.
You Won’t Miss Me was simply an ANNOYING film about Shelly, a certain type of self-absorbed, not-too-bright, young, Williamsburg (or Mission) hipster that you find smoking outside next to a fixed gear bike. I will admit that I liked the presence of The Virgins in the movie and on the soundtrack, but this was not enough to make the film watchable. Halfway into the film, I looked up the run time of the film on my iPhone, and gave a sigh of relief when it was only 81 minutes. 81 minutes was way too long for two of my friends, who joined the steady exodus of viewers who walked out of the film partway. After the movie, they asked [SPOILER ALERT: STOP READING NOW], the three of us who stayed, “Did she [Shelly] die?” and a stranger interjected herself into our conversation with, “I wish she had.”
So, if you do one nice thing for yourself this year, follow my advice, and DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE.
Oscar nominations are out, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button somehow received 13 nominations? Why? How?
These are my preliminary thoughts:
Wall-E wasn’t nominated for Best Picture? 😦 And even though, it wasn’t one of my faves, I’m surprised that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated in this category (and that Nolan was snubbed in the Best Director category).
Sean Penn as Best Actor for Milk, please.
Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress for the Reader, and not Revolutionary Road. Surprising. I hope she takes home a statue soon. She’s replaced Emma Thompson as my favorite British actress.
I was very happy to see that Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Tropic Thunder. I think Heath Ledger will definitely win it, but the Downey nod made me chuckle.
Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress! Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress! She held her own against Meryl Streep in Doubt.
Addendum: Took me a second to realize, that other than Angelina Jolie’s nomination for the Changeling, the lack of Clint Eastwood love from the Academy is conspicuous this year. Nothing for Gran Torino? A shock.
Before everything starts to blur together, here are my capsule thoughts on what I’ve seen over the past couple of days at Sundance:
Mary and Max (written and directed by Adam Elliot): this is an animated film that Sundance chose as its opener. While introducing the film, the director said that it was loosely based on his correspondence with a pen pal, and it took him 5 years to complete the movie (It’s all claymation, a process which the director described as, “Like having sex while being stabbed to death”).
While I found the craft of claymation itself to be amazing (each time a fly buzzed, I said wow, and was impressed by falling drops of rain on windows), I don’t know if I would see this movie in wide release. It was simply TOO DARK. Then again, Philip Seymour Hoffman was the voice of Max, so this isn’t all too surprising.*
Thriller in Manila (Director: John Dower): Ever since When We Were Kings, I have loved boxing documentaries (even though I’m currently skipping the afternoon screening of Tyson, about everyone’s favorite ear biter). This is the perfect companion documentary to When We Were Kings, because it operates as a revisionist retelling of the Mohammed Ali myth. It focused on the third and final fight in 1975 between Ali and Fighting Joe Frazier, and is told from Frazier’s point of view. These following parts struck me the most:
- I’m not sure which interviewee put out the following thought, but I think it was Ali’s doctor, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco (who was the most colorful interviewee by far). He said that dictators needed boxing matches to distract the world from the fighting, and abuses, and the poor, and general chaos of their countries. This explains why Mugabe paid to have Ali fight Foreman in Zaire and 1974, and why the Marcos’ regime paid $10 million for this fight in 1975.
- It was striking to see the contrast between how Frazier’s fortune$ fared compared to Ali and Foreman. Frazier now lives in a studio, which he dubbed “the dungeon,” behind his boxing studio, in a poor neighborhood in Philly. Because Ali licensed out his name and likeness to everything and Foreman has his grill, it’s interesting to see an old boxer who hasn’t sold out in the same way.
- Imelda Marcos still had jokes about her legendary shoe collection, “They looked in my closet for skeletons, but all they found were shoes…and art…and beauty.”
This will be shown on HBO in April, and I highly recommend it as a double feature with When We Were Kings.
Lulu and Jimi (Oskar Roehler): This was the most fun of the movies that I have watched so far, but at moments to veered into being so cheesy, I can see how it could turn some of the audience off (I just decided that the cheesiness went far enough to veer into the camp zone). I went in thinking that it would be a serious drama about an interracial couple (Lulu is the the daughter of rich industrialists, Jimi is an orphan of a Black American GI and a German woman) in late 50’s Germany, but instead, it was a candy colored comedy, with surprising moments of B-movie Tarantino type violence. One of things that added to the B-movie quality of Lulu and Jimi was the fact that they chose a French actress to play Lulu and both her German and English lines were dubbed into English.
*Post on PSH to follow sometime shortly since I’ve unintentionally seen all of his new stuff lately (Doubt and Synecdoche New York)
**I don’t care about celeb spottings, but I will say, this is the highest concentration of attractive people that I’ve seen in one place in a long time.
***I watched a set of shorts too, but I don’t have the energy to blog about them now, if, ever.