Shame | Drive

shame  drive

After hearing a whole bunch of good things about Steve McQueen’s Shame, I finally came to terms to give it a try. It was a good surprise. It’s interesting, at least to me, to realize how the best films of 2011, in my opinion, were completely obscured during Award season. I wouldn’t say “surprised” because it often happens, but I can’t understand the need of an industry to obscure its best material. The other 2011 gem was Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Its cinematography, by Newton Thomas Sigel, is so superb that not seeing at least a nomination for it gives me the creeps.

I’m combining these two films because they reminded me of each other, although per se they’re not that interrelated. Perhaps it was a matter of quality and independent feeling that made me think of Drive while I was watching Shame. They’re both kids of the same time: one made in Britain (still funded by the National Lottery Fund), and the other in America. Both performances are incredible. Ryan Gosling gives us an obscure man; so stiff he barely speaks. He reminds me of Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver. As a matter of fact, I think that if they had tried to postpone Taxi Driver to 2011, it would have come out as DriveShame also presents us a very introspective character, amazingly played by Michael Fassbender, but in this case deeply in pain, mainly caused by his sex addiction and inability to connect with another human being (which Gosling’s character isn’t very good at either, except with the kid). In both cases tough, they don’t know how to externalize: one we almost can’t see anything, and it’s in the “also” that everything lies; in the other, it seems he is about to rupture. 

Shame starts by shocking us. There are no problems. Mr. McQueen shows us everything, and the first shots of the films show us the character’s penis without any conservatisms (the way Michael Fassbender lets himself being exposed is also amazing). By this we will know that organ will lead the other one, the brain, throughout the entire piece. In fact, the first will harm the latter. And in Drive we have the shock in violence, although the really violent shots are given to us just by the right amount of frames to shock us and leave. It’s all emotional. It’s all loneliness.

And in both films we have Carey Mulligan playing the secondary role. In Shame, she plays the sister, and in Drive the love affair, who never really is. She manages to play both characters, so different from each other, brilliantly. One is sad, pained, uptight. The other is open, happy, artistic, single. I don’t know who manages the actress’s career, but he or she is doing a hell of a good job.

If I had to pick one tough, I certainly would go for Drive

Director: Steve McQueen | Screenplay: Abi Morgan & Steve McQueen | Actors: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan | Country: UK | Year: 2011

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn | Screenplay: Hossen Amini | Actors: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Brian Cranston, Christina Hendricks | Country: USA | Year: 2011



Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.
Ingmar Bergman

Moonrise Kingdom

MR

Okay, I loved this one. It goes beyond the simple act of liking. When the film began with those tracking shots, of coming and going and following, and going back to the same place, in a difficult simplicity…I fell for it. I just needed to be taken from there. And I was taken.

Perhaps writing this I’ve already adjectified the entire piece: “difficult simplicity,” because it looks so clean and pretty and perfect but we see the difficulty of achieving it, the attention to detail, not only in terms of acting and directing, but in a superb art direction. And even the credits honor us summing this up, decorated with a beautiful font and pictures, paced to the an amazing score, narrated by the main character, and once again, a simple music containing innumerous instruments and notes.

Story-wise, it is a sweet film, and the premise is simple: a love story, set in the mid-60s, between two kids, who run away to be together and to free themselves from their realities. It is very well told and very well written. Now, all the rest is super, super interesting.

It’s terrific how the narrative mocks adults. All the adult characters think those two children, Suzy and Sam Shakusky (the hero of our story) are a girl barely into her teens who can’t control herself and is always sad, and a highly traumatized 12 year-old orphan boy. But it’s in fact upon the adults that all the traumas are: a deeply lonely Scout Master who walks and talks like a boy (maybe he was like Sam when he was 12, but failed to overcome his problems), a couple in distress, a wife having an affair with a policeman, who in turn is a lonely and sad man. This film, as it gives complexity to children, it makes them simple and simplifiers of situations and emotions. They are genuine in their ingenuity. They don’t give that big a deal as long as they feel loved. Not that kids are perfect at all, but adults seem to be what all those children will end up to be eventually. In other words, what we all end up to be. 

It is comical, sad, but I was so focused on the beauty of the picture that was in front of me. Because if there is one think Moonrise Kingdom is, is stunning. Some scenes are so simple in being over the top, you don’t notice the “over-the-topness.” 

As I say this I can imagine many people not enjoying it at all and not understanding the point. As for my part, I think you only need to have been a child and to be an adult to understand the entire thing. 

You’ll lose many beautiful things by not watching this one on the big screen.

Moonrise Kingdom opened the 65th Cannes Film Festival competing for the Palme d’Or

Director: Wes Anderson | Screenplay: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola | Actors: Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swindon | Country: USA | Year: 2012


Dark Shadows

bc

Based on a TV show from 1996 I’ve never seen, Tim Burton’s newest flick, Dark Shadows, left me in that profound confusion between saying it’s good or that it could be better, but without me knowing which side to take on. I liked it, I know that, but I can’t say why, or find a reasonable explanation except really personal things that, although the basis for any review, aren’t good enough to support it to other viewers.  It was not what I expected. I was expecting for some Addam’s Family-esque, darker maybe, which in a sense it’s good since we’re looking for something beyond that. Something different. But also something “Tim-Burton-would-do.”

The plot is easily told: a family moves from Liverpool to Colonial America, they help and build a great enterprise and a mansion (the town is named after the Collins family). Their son loves the dark sides and a woman falls in love with him, since it’s not corresponded, she kills the man’s parents and lover, and curses him to be a vampire. When he becomes the town’s freak they lock in up in a coffin and bury him (a vampire doesn’t die, so…) and he’s then found by construction worker 196 years later, in 1972. From here, he goes to his family, all with their quirks and back to building their family’s enterprise to what it used to be. Ah, and of course, the woman in love with him that turned him into a vampire is also still around, keeping herself alive by turning into a walking porcelain doll. There’s also a nanny, equally cursed with the ghost of Barnabas dead lover, who is the character that introduced the “present” time. The rest I leave up to you. So, it is not such about the plot in itself, it’s how Tim Burton tells it. Shows it. He has this very particular way of telling stories, and everyone knows, but vampires and the 1970s are so apart that makes it incredibly fun.

I loved Depp’s performance. His huge of an English accent with terminologies, words and grammar no longer in use, give the film a great vibe and a gap between generations even greater (once again, 196 years apart). His utterly white silicone face remembered me of his Edwards Scissorhands. Both Edward and Barnabas Collins are characters craving for normalcy and love. The difference is Dark Shadows is less dark; it actually has this comedic feeling and dialogs that won’t take you to the scary side of vampire storytelling – maybe the first 10 minutes only. We know vampires have been all around in the last three years for the worst of reasons, but don’t think about that when you go inside the movie theater.

I can leave you the moral of the story though. It is said several times during the film actually: fear of getting old and dying, difference between love (which we all crave) and possession, children looking up to their parents and being let down… and no one wants to be different, even if you get not to die after spending 196 years buried alive.

Director: Tim Burton | Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith | Story: John August, Seth Grahame-Smith, Dan Curtis | Actors: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter,  Bella Heathcote | Country: USA | Year: 2012


And because we are in a visual medium, to complete my previous post, I leave you with one video from Mad Men. It’s from the episode “The Carousel” (Season 1, Episode 13). It sums up what this show is also all about: Nostalgia.  

 


Mad Men

I know that talking about Mad Men has become sort of a cliché. But after reaching the latest episode two days ago, after a couple of months of watching the entire four seasons plus 8 episodes of the 5th, I felt I should write a post about it because I do like it. A lot. And it fits this blog.

Like with most great series, such as Seven Feet Under, I was a late bloomer. I always take a step back when things are massively popular, I mean, hey, shows like America’s Got Talent have huge popularity, but they suck big time and are everything but talented. I was afraid Mad Men was about pretty faces, but it’s not. And I’m human, if you know what I mean. I didn’t want to fall into that trap. They work well, they make it interesting and pleasing to the eye, but what I like about this show is its the characters, the way it is shot, the story, of course, set design and art direction.

My favorite characters, both in film and TV, have been lonely. Let’s forget Seinfeld for a moment and focus on TV drama. The (scary?) fact that I always relate to them on an intrinsic level, makes me carry on following them. So far it has, of course, unlike Don Draper (who has apparently become a verb all of a sudden, and why I don’t like to discuss TV series that much), I haven’t been to an actual war, or lost my parents in odd ways, or even lived on a farm, or been poor. But good narrative and screenwriting is all about it – or any piece of good writing for that matter – you can make a story universal by the emotions you give your characters. There are many reasons for loneliness and pain, but in the end loneliness shall be loneliness, and pain shall be pain. He is a pained man, and if we are, even if a little, we will relate. In fact, all characters, despite those who people call “jackasses” and so on, are good. People would say otherwise only because they refuse to read the characters that are presented to them once a week as human beings; they are intricate. No one is entirely bad, there’s a reason for every behavior, and if you pay attention to all they say and all their reactions, you’ll see the “mommy issues”, “daddy issues”, war traumas, and all that comes with life.

I was checking some videos on YouTube about this show, and I found this interesting video, which I shall post on the blog, about some technical/artistic sides of Mad Men. The fact that they chose not to use steadycam or handheld camera shots is fantastic. If the show is set in the early-60s (now mid), why use technologies that didn’t exist at the time? It works so well and gives the show an identity. Of course, some people may think shots on tripods and tracks are easy and simple, and this is a TV show. Well, first try to lay a track, and then things do not need to be oversophisticated to create the best effect. I also love how you manage to perceive, despite the following of the whole aesthetics of the show and certain rules that prevail to make it an entire piece, the different directors’ styles as they change from episode to episode. You see the cuts, the angles, suddenly a voiceover. I like that, it gives some value from a filmmaking point of view. It also makes us agree that, as far as mainstream American drama goes, much more is being made by the Hollywood Television industry, if such a thing exists, than by its film counterpart. The other point is, it doesn’t feel mainstream, and that’s important. It makes you think, if you want, of course.   

Maybe because I was born during a crossover between times, I’m neither digital nor analogue. I don’t find the differences portrayed on Mad Men that appalling or hearthbreaking. I find them, like most people, endearing. It is different, and it’s interesting to realize how people are becoming retro because of a TV show, that perhaps they don’t even watch. It’s a level of sophistication, and when suddenly, after a decade of putting men on creams and trying to get them to shave and become metrosexuals, women are craving for what was the men who look like men, and men for women who look like women. I don’t find it right or wrong, but curious. And I would like to know how many people don’t feel like grabbing that cigarette pack and smoke one, free of any guilt, and if you’re a woman, holding it between your fingers, with style and red painted nails. Now, more interesting, as we reach 1966 and the start of the social movements that occurred, and culture spinning, how audiences will react as well. Will brands start creating clothes like those of the counterculture time? Will we be wearing Sgt. Pepper coats in two years? If I were 15, at the height of my Beatlemania, I would find it superb. It seems to me that, at times when everything is getting dispersed, we are craving for some old stability, or reassurance that stuff is possible. At a time when America’s place in the world is changing, we are looking back to when the eagle was flying at its highest. It’s like that syndrome that Woody Allen portrayed so well in Midnight in Paris, that despite all the things we disagree (women earning less, being treated in an inferior manner, blacks not having the same rights, etc.) or find politically incorrect to disagree (such as tobacco), there’s some aura about that past that is comfortable and we see as better. In a way, and being the 60s a past way too close to us that we think we can touch and feel it, we look at those characters and all the glamour surrounding them and we feel “that was us”. At the same time, music was happening, people were moving and things were happening, without computers, social media or even cell phones. I wonder, had we had all these tools, would the events of the 60s happened? I don’t know. I’m diverging from the point of this blog, I know. But all these questions… it’s what good drama does, and I don’t want to go to all the meanings and questions Mad Men creates. It would be another blog, a thesis, and I bet several people around the world are having a ball doing their MAs or PhDs about this show.

Last point: set design and art direction. It is so, so important to this show, that it becomes almost ridiculous to mention it. One of the scenes I noticed it the most, in an odd, and unimportant way, was when the British fella is run over by the John Deere lawn mower and goes to the hospital. As they’re waiting to hear some news about him, they decide to have a coke (or Pepsi-Cola actually) and use the vendor machine. That vendor machine set me in a time and place; it made me go “awww-why-didn’t-I-ever-use-one-of-those” (and here we go to the previous paragraph). The glass bottles, the opener inserted in the machine…magical. And it all goes with stationary, magazines, appliances, every detail of those sets, and they start changing as time passes by, but not too abruptly because most people do not have decorators. It’s interesting to see that we are basically assisting to an entire decade passing by again through a show.

It is also a show pretty much contained on sets. It’s in a sense “walled” the entire time, sometimes claustrophobic, and while it’s all shot in LA, we really feel like we’re on Madison Avenue, or in a house in the suburbs. We feel as stiff as Don Draper feels inside his own head.   

Let’s wait for the next episode and see where it takes us.



Cidade de Deus (City of God) trailer [2002]


The Artist | The Iron Lady

I had the pleasure of watching these two films in three days, in a theater room as one should watch pictures.

As for The Artist, I will admit I became a fan. Of course, it’s not the best film of my life, but I loved the concept of its simple collage of already existing things. People don’t need to have spectacular ideas to become geniuses or make good things. They just need to have them. Who has the ideas? Those need to be regarded with great respect. I enjoyed how the audience is invited, in 2011, to watch a movie in black and white and practically silent. We live in a world where everything has to be as colorful and shiny as possible, and yet I didn’t see a single person complaining when the film ended. What made the film special, apart from the intertextuality to the classics of the 30s and 40s, was the fact that, by it being silent, we were drawn to the character and to his suffering on a whole other level. Had it been a talkie, and it would have lost all of its magic. The same with color; when we don’t have it, we have the detail of the emotions and it seems to go directly into the soul of the characters. I ask myself if the fact that the sound appears mildly in the middle of the film as a nightmare (and by sound I mean, objects doing their traditional clicking sounds) isn’t a metaphor for a society where there is noise coming from everywhere, people talking whatever comes to their minds, and everything becomes nothing else but a cataclysm of empty sound. What happened to the important sound? To the important things that must be said and heard? 

Perhaps the actor playing George, Jean Dujardin, overacted a bit, but the way he overacted was in the same manner actors of the time of his character acted.

As a joke: considering it is a “world” movie (French), good for the cast and crew it was silent, so they have better chances on the global market and, who knows, of winning an Oscar for having that excuse to not being a “foreign language” film.

Now, The Iron Lady. Sincerely, what is the fuss around this film that seems to drive everyone mad? This not coming from a Thatcher supporter at all but, if we’re going to watch a film to have our political ideas and ideals affirmed, or portrayed according to our own reality and perspective, then we should not even watch the news! This is fiction, not an analysis of how good or bad Mrs. Thatcher was as a Prime Minister. I think the film circulates around who she was as a woman with character, and how she dealt at situations. This is also, obviously, fiction. The scenes with her deceased husband, I admit were a bit farfetched at some points. But as I watched the movie, and connected those same scenes with the others of the young woman and important politician, I could but not think of ourselves as human beings: that no matter how far we get or what we do in life, we always end up in the same spot - old, fragile. I also have to admit that, as a woman, it touched a chord. We spend our lives watching films about important male politicians or Queens. Those Queens are either mean, or way too fragile, or frigid (spare-their-eyes-of-the-sight-of-a-male-body kind of frigid), and in The Iron Lady we are given another vision about someone who is still alive and everyone remembers. Considering my date of birth, I am a Thatcher baby, and she did way too many things I disagree with. But, when I was watching the film, I simply didn’t care.

I would have structured the story slightly different, perhaps with less repeated flashbacks or voice-overs of flashbacks we had already seen. But, hey, it’s me. I loved the cinematography and make-up.

I’ve read many things about this film. Conservatives, who were, and are Margaret Thatcher’s hardcore fans, either feel offended (because she is portrayed as an hallucinatory old lady - it’s a film!), or over the moon for a very positive portrayal of her heroine (not so much, because the way the Falklands War is approached is of someone who is so eager to defend something, that she ends up killing hundreds of soldiers, including many British soldiers, and one of the things she cares about is sending condolescing letters to their families, as if it would solve anything). As for the anti-Thatcherians, they feel offended because she’s portrayed as a very nice person, and the historical facts are not covered as they occurred - to which view I could agree with were it a documentary on her political career. 

One thing is sure, though. Had this film been made without Meryl Streep as the main character and it would be bad. She makes us not care about the character as the politician and the powerful woman, but simply as the woman who managed to bee them, despite our opinion of her views. What an amazing actress.

Let’s see what other films are meant for me to see. The BAFTAs are coming soon!


Gorgeous piece of French animation: Trois Petits Points. Worth watching. 


1
Nov 18
Film. Super 16.

Film. Super 16.