Thursday, March 21

The Life in Between

When I was putting together the Django post, I happened to dig up this old interview with Quentin Tarantino. He's not known as a prolific film maker, like the way Woody Allen or Steven Soderbergh average a movie a year. Tarantino takes at least three years in between movies, or seven years between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. And it's not because he's lazy: 
"I want to make movies. I have to make movies. The reason I don't make more movies is that I want to live life in between. I give it all to the movies, and it's like I'm climbing Mount Everest every time. When I get off the mountain then I want to be able to enjoy some time in the chalet at the bottom.
When I make a movie it's an adventure, but when I get through with it then I get back to my friends I've put on hold for a year. The opposite sex, adventurous travel, sleeping late, watching mindless television, reading a novel, trying to go to sleep at night - they all become very appealing again.
But the real, real reason I don't make more movies is that I'm a writer, and I always have to start with the blank page and that's hard. You are starting from scratch every single time. Nothing you've done before means a damn when you've got to start all over again."

Tarantino acknowledges the difficulty in trying to balance work life with real life. Whenever one is involved in a project, it takes up all your time and everything else takes a backseat until it's done. With movies, from concept to writing to production and roll out, it's a year and a half. With television, it's at least 3-5 months in preparations and another 3-5 months or however long it is on air. 
Then when you're done, it's the only time you get to breathe, hang out with your friends. And only then, it's only borrowed time until the next project comes along and you disappear again. In the interview, an unnamed friend of Tarantino's is quoted: "It takes a pretty special kind of girl to give up her life to watch kung fu movies with him for a year and a half." I think I was actually more surprised that he dated Margaret Cho than the revelation how difficult it is to carve a life when one is in the middle of a project. So I guess this means either you find someone who understands the grind or just date Margaret Cho. 

Tuesday, March 19

Tarantino, Unchained

Poster by Federico Mancosu.

Django Unchained reminded me why we should watch movies in theaters, in the company of friends or strangers, where the distractions of real life melt away in the dark. 

It's the most fun I've had at the movies all year. To be fair, I've only seen  4 of 23 movies in a theater*, and the rest at home on a television or computer screen. I had the option to watch Django during that rush before the Oscars, when bets were being hedged and screeners ran aplenty. But something told me to wait for the theatrical run, and I am very pleased that I didn't give in to instant gratification. Because Quentin Tarantino created a visual spectacle, and it's the only way to appreciate it is to see it 
the way it was intended.

Django Unchained is part spaghetti western, only set in the American deep south. In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, he talks about his plans to make a "southern":
I want to explore something that really hasn't been done. I want to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to. But I can deal with it all right, and I'm the guy to do it. So maybe that's the next mountain waiting for me.

It's also a road movie that involves the unlikely journey of two men on a mission. It's a revenge fantasy that takes on something that about a country's past that is so shameful, it could only be talked about in a big, sweeping serious historical epic. *coughLincolncough* 

But Tarantino was never interested in an historically accurate depiction of the slave trade or racism in the Midwest or the deep south. This is the guy who made an alternate universe where a Jewish girl and a band of basterds separately plotted to take down possibly history's greatest villain. Of course, it's going to be funny, it's going to shoot people in the knees and then poke in the wounds repeatedly, and there will be blood--lots of it. For every sweeping mountain vista, with our guys making off like Marlboro men, we get a scene where Schultz teaches Django how to be a good mark by shooting a snowman. 

The movie's trailer bandied around Leonardo diCaprio's participation, yet his Calvin J. Candie only showed up halfway through the movie. I didn't mind. The most interesting relationship was between Schultz and Django. Why does a white man, a bounty hunter at that, take interest in what becomes of a freed slave? 

Christoph Waltz's character Dr. Schultz** could have parted ways with Django after they had successfully hunted the Speck Brothers down. Schultz replies that he has never handed anyone his freedom before, and because of that, he has become invested and interested in how things turn out. Schultz rode with Django side by side, reminding everyone they encountered that Django was a free man, and must be treated as such. He taught Django his trade, trained him to shoot, and said nothing when Django picked a bright blue suit as his outfit. Let a man wear what he wants. 

So when Django told him he wanted to get his wife back, Schultz could not let him do it alone. Django couldn't just waltz in a southern plantation and get her back, could he? Or maybe they could, but they needed a ruse, an elaborate one that was hinged on the flattery of a greedy plantation owner, a francophile who couldn't speak French but loved his slave girls in French maid's uniforms. 

While watching the movie, I was actually surprised that except for the exaggerated blood spurts from shoot outs, it was relatively tame for a Tarantino movie. But I spoke too soon. He saved the bloodbath and the big boom for the finale. When Candieland went up in flames and Django and Hildy rode off into the horizon on their horses, you got a sense of fulfillment. Their story was the exception. In reality, it would be a few more years before the American Civil War and slaves are granted their freedom. It would be a hundred more years before the color of one's skin stopped dictating what one could do. 

If this is how Tarantino takes on the questions of history, first with Inglourious Basterds which I loved to bits*** and then this, I want to see what he does next. Perhaps an irreverent take on the Revolution, or chicken pox, the Mayflower, a ship crossing the ocean to the New World? Or maybe he would jump ahead a few years, decades, centuries and worlds into the future. Whatever journey it is, wherever he's headed, I want to go to there. Just make sure the blood doesn't get on my popcorn. 

*2 of 4 movies involved Nicholas Hoult wearing hoodies and one involved torture by live singing and being forced to stare at Anne Hathaway's pores. Surely, there are better reasons to watch movies. I need to get out more. 

**Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter in Django + his Jew Hunter in Basterds = evidence he can pull off the mercenary who grows a conscience role swimmingly. 

***True, I had a moment of doubt somewhere between Kill Bill Pt. 2 and Death Proof, but Basterds restored my faith in Tarantino. 

Wednesday, March 13

Kilig Theory: How to Open the Stone Cold Heart

We know that figure well: The One Who Keeps to Herself, The Ice Queen, aloof and mysterious, doesn't say too many words, and when she does talk it's in a voice that's usually small, and then commences an even more  more awkward silence.

In theory and in story, it's the distance and silence that makes her alluring. This is why she is pursued, and for every step forward that allows a glimpse of What Goes On Inside That Head, where we see the slight shadow of a past hurt, we are forced to take two steps back. There might be whispers of What Went Down: a spectacular breakdown uploaded on YouTube, the beloved who met an untimely end, a heartbreak so devastating that the only response is to build a fortress and not let anyone in.

Sometimes the hurt is shaded by Words and Acts of Cruelty, a General Meanness that is sometimes viewed as a quirk, ie, if her feet are hurt by uncomfortable shoes, then she forces the boy to switch shoes with her. And then have him march around in public, with an escalation of humiliation. But we are told to see this awful treatment of other human beings as adorable. That is she is merely a sassy girl or a shrew who can be tamed into possession later on, or perhaps he's a sparkly vampire boy who is only avoiding you because he doesn't want you to be his next meal.

The only way to get through The Armor of False Strength is by wearing her down with your Constant Badgering Presence. If meanness is shown, accept it. Endure it all the cruelties. If she asks you to go away and leave her the fuck alone, do it. But keep her in your mind. Learn new skills that will impress her later on. Or you can annoy her with your own quirk: a passionate assertion that music will heal the soul, or that John Hughes' entire ouvre can be summed in that last scene where Judd Nelson raises his fist at the end of The Breakfast Club.

In real life, the mystery of the silent one can only be endured for so long. It will most likely annoy and frustrate you to no end. Why don't you call? Why won't you text me to tell me you will be late instead of making me wait for the better part of the day? Disappearing will no longer be a quirk but a dangerous fault. Camels burying their heads in the sand are charming only if done by camels or if accompanied by an ironic statement in 42 point text.  Like Beca in Pitch Perfect, the shutting out is a passive-aggressive tactic: a blanket offensive, a defensive move to protect oneself and not targeted at a specific person. 

It is never easy to open up to anyone, ever. It doesn't matter if Madonna offers to "give you love if you turn the key." Nobody wants to display their vulnerability out in the front lawn. Badgering can only make things worse. But at the same time, it is only by persistence that one can get used to someone else's presence.

Someday, after she has succeeded in shoving out everyone who ever cared for her, she will remember that annoying assertion and watch all the movies and listen to all the songs. Only then, when she has processed it all by herself will she be convinced that somehow, you were right. This is the start of The Conversion.

She will begin to reach out and open a shutter to her locked out heart. A sliver of light will creep in and the thawing of her cold, cold heart will begin. The cause of the hurt that drove her to be mean will be revealed, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

She will reciprocate your feelings by echoing your formerly annoying assertion in song, by mashing up that song in the end credits in the middle of a playlist made for public singing. Or the crowd will part in a crowded train station and the two of you will be reunited. And it will be revealed that you were meant to be together all along.

You can never force open a broken heart that's been sewn shut. The sutures will bleed if it has not healed yet. The ice will be smashed to pieces with the use of force. One can only wait. And thus, if one wants to pursue The One With the Stone Cold Heart, the One Who Keeps to Herself, the one requires extreme amounts of patience. It will be difficult and frustrating to keep up with this one step forward, two steps back. But if one endures, when trust is earned, it is only a matter of time before the ice begins to thaw, before a word is said and war wounds would have healed. Then all that's left is the scar and the story behind it that begs to be told. And so we hope that this will be proven to be true in real life as in story.

Tuesday, February 19

The Dangers of Public Fangirling: Fire Away, Fire Away

So I was quietly doing my business in the mall bathroom after a last full show when I suddenly heard a girl's voice singing, "I'm bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away."

That other girl probably thought she was alone.

It's not the first time that I've heard that song sung whether consciously or not in public. It's part of the Pitch Perfect fever all over town. In jeepneys, that girl with a backpack and bright pink earphones. On the train, this young woman with the messy bun. I have yet to hear guys hum "Right Round" in public, and it's always "Titanium," so maybe this is a girl thing.  I mean, even my fourteen year old cousin sings it inside their shower, and I seriously doubt she even knows what "lady jam"meant.

But that girl in the mall is a different matter.

I choked back the giggle, and I channeled all my energy into composing myself.  I was trying to be proper.  It was a very thin line between fangirling with a complete stranger and then being a creeper in a public bathroom. On one hand, acting out Beca and Chloe's shower scene could end in a meet cute with another fangirl. Or I could suffer getting arrested or extreme humiliation in the very least. So I hightailed it out of there.

Now I kind of regret not giving in to the moment. When obviously the appropriate response should have been to answer the call and sing back to her and harmonize: "Ricochet, you take your aim. Fire away, fire away. Shoot me down, but I won't fall. I am titanium."

Monday, February 18

Scamming Senior Citizens

I'm putting this out as a Public Service Announcement because we have to protect ourselves and the ones we love.

"Don't talk to strangers" is one of the things we are told as children. Bad things can happen to you. If a conversation is necessary, like meter readers or delivery people, talk to them through the gate. Never ever tell them that you are alone in the house. Don't ever let them into the house.  

These days, I think it's also necessary to advise the elder members of the household the same thing. Warn the househelp to never unlock the gates for anyone, even those who claim to be surveyors from an office. Because people with bad intentions are glib and slick and will manage to wangle their way in. 

Earlier today, at around lunchtime, They asked if there were senior citizens in the house. The help called out to my aunt, who is seventy, who said yes, there are two of them here. But my mother who just turned sixty was out buying lunch, I was in another part of the yard with ear plugs on, my other cousin had taken her bike out for pizza. The help thought it was okay for my elderly aunt to unlock the gate and let in three strangers. After all, they had very official looking clipboards. She stood by idly texting her friends. 

Meanwhile, three people claiming to be survey takers from an Ortigas office were lead to my aunt's upstairs apartment. They asked where "Lolo" was, and she said there is none. She's an old maid. She lives alone. Everyone is out at work or in school. That's when they told her a few magic words: "You won something in a raffle!" Then they told her that she needed to give them some money first before she can claim said winnings. Fortunately enough, my aunt told them that if she had indeed won anything, then couldn't they just substract it off her prize? They didn't get anything from her. By the time that everyone else in the household had returned, the surveyors had left the house. My mother was just dropping by to give my aunt the vacation photos when she learned of the strange visit. "Why did you let them in? You could have been hurt!" That's when my mom roused the entire household. 

Why we think this is a scam: First, they didn't even know who to look for. They cast a generic fishing statement: "Are there senior citizens in the house?" Next, they determined relative isolation. There's only a maid and an elderly person. Then they got a solid in, as it was the owner of the house who had opened the gates. It was fortunate that my aunt had locked the gates again. Which somehow prevented them from just running out. Sure, the walls can be climbed, but two women and one gay men can't just climb over the walls unnoticed. Also, telling someone they won a prize and then ask for a "collateral" is right there in the book of scams. If you are gullible enough, you would believe it. But come on. Even the government makes it difficult to claim one's official benefits. You have to bring the actual elderly person to claim money that is rightfully yours. Also, "We are from an office in Ortigas" is vague enough to suggest something is "business-like." Offices would not go around giving out "raffle prizes." Or as my mother put it: "How can you win something if you never bought a ticket?" 

We have all received text messages like that, and this is just a door-to-door version of it, casting a wide net for vulnerable people in relative isolation. Targeting senior citizens is just another variation. They are generally nicer people. They make small talk with the couriers and the delivery people. If push comes to shove, it will be easier to beat them in a fight. Or there are always drugs to put down even the strongest, able bodied person. 

My aunt tried to downplay the dangers: that she was taller and seemed stronger than the strangers she let in. They seemed official with forms and a checklist that they had her sign. That she didn't give them any money. But they could just as easily drug her, or hammer her to death or--Really, it could have been worse. 

Now we are worried that these people would come back, knowing that they had easily been let into the house by an elderly person and the help. They should have known better. That this is clearly a variation of a scam style that's been in the news. We've seen it. We just never thought it would knock on our doors and invite themselves in.

We can never be too vigilant. Tell your children. Tell your beloved elderly relatives. Tell your househelp. Do not talk to strangers. Don't let them into the house. Don't accept candy. Just don't. The doors and gates are locked because the world is a dangerous place, and it is up to ourselves to keep the ones we love safe. 

(500) Days of Summer

The movie in a nutshell.
I don't know how we came around to talking about heartbreak when we had spent a lot of time discussing zombies and martial arts, but this guy was insisting that (500) Days of Summer was *the* movie to talk about the frailties of modern relationships. Something to do with the rude awakenings between reality and expectation, and I said that's been overly done. Hell, Woody Allen did it better, subtitles and all. Don't care, he said. But that moment at the rooftop party. It's the best movie ever. WTH is this guy talking about? 
Surely, it's an exaggeration. But nearly a month later, and I decided to watch (500) Days of Summer again. I've seen it maybe 3 or 4 times, a really long time ago--it's the sort of movie that requires a certain state of mind. The first time I saw it was on the last full show of its first day local screening. I could have seen it weeks or months ahead, but I had avoided other ways of seeing it. It had to be in a theater. The circumstances were different then, but by the time I saw it, I was coming from a meeting that had run a little too late, and one that involved having to down the better part of a beer bucket. Some people wouldn't complain about that kind of job, but well… By the time I managed to haul my half-drunk self from Metrowalk to the nearest mall, the last screening had already started at The Podium. Not wanting to go home defeated, I raced to Megamall, where I promptly bumped into someone I knew who wanted to small talk, and I practically ran away and caught the very last screening just when the disclaimer about everything being a work of fiction were starting to roll.  I was alone in my row in a near empty theater, half drunk and heartbroken. "That bitch," the credits said.  
This was how I probably looked like while watching the movie in the theater. 
Of course I loved the movie. I was Tom frakking Hansen and all the Summer Finns of the world could just suck it. 
There's nothing original with a story of a boy meets girl, but which the film completely insists is *not* a love story. And there lies the key to appreciating this movie. It's about definitions and denials. If it's not, then how come Joseph Gordon-Levitt is breaking plates on account of a non-relationship that should not matter and the dissolution of which should not hurt one teeny tiny bit? The negation is a confirmation. Not a love story? Hell, yeah, it totally is. 
One where the tensions come from the insistence on not defining anything. Humans are strange creatures with a constant need for order and naming things. Perhaps the most dreaded sentence sequence ever in any language: "We have to talk. What exactly are we doing? What am I to you?"  Here, there is only one correct answer: an affirmation. "Yes, we are in a relationship. I love you, too." Anything short of it will lead to heartbreak, mayhem and maybe a few broken bones--or muscles. The heart is a muscle, yes? But nobody talks about how a heart is torn like ligaments or hamstrings that can be pulled. It can only be broken in a million pieces, as fragile as glass that met a baseball bat careening from behind the bed of a pickup careening down the bridge at 120mph. 
Here is where hindsight and distance are your friends. The first time around, I was as self-absorbed in Tom's plight that I could only see one thing: How dare this Summer person refuse the affection and feelings that I have for her? Everything was going swimmingly well. Tom and Summer hung out in Ikea, making out on the display bed while a Chinese family stared at them from the bathroom. They are perfectly at ease in make believe: the wife makes meatloaf to serve the husband at the end of a workday. Strangely enough, all their faucets do not work. It doesn't matter because they have a second kitchen. For all the perfection of their 50s style domesticity, they are not bothered by the fact that something as basic as the sink not working is going to cause all sorts of problems down the road. 
Early in the movie, after that bold insistence that this is not a love story, we were shown a splitscreen montage of Tom and Summer as children growing up. There's this one moment where young Summer, in a yard in Michigan, blows at a dandelion, the petals carried by the wind to the other half of the screen, where young Tom, in New Jersey, tries to catch and burst as many bubbles blown his way. It's the perfect dichotomy: Summer, perhaps making a wish before blowing away the petals, optimistically pinning her heart's desires on petals in the wind; and Tom swatting away at the perfect orbs, obliterating wonder and wishes at the same time. How little did they know that years later, they would be at opposite ends, playing opposite roles in how they approach reality? 
I missed this little contrast in world views the first time--it is easy to get lulled by a montage about the leads growing up. It's too early in the movie. Besides, it's just a (very) cute way of showing us how they came to be who they are in the present. But it is important because the imprint has been there all along. We have been told that Tom is prone to misreading cues--he totally misread the ending of The Graduate as romantic optimism. He believed in The One. No matter if his precocious younger sister breaks the myth of compatibility for him: "Just because some cute girl likes the bizarro crap you like, that doesn't make them your soul mate." But no, when Summer hums him back the lyrics to a Smiths song in the elevator, Tom had the realization that, by god, Summer was The One. Not even when Summer herself told him that she's never been in love. "There's no such thing as love," she told him. "It's a fantasy." 

Her name is Summer, not Fate.

But Tom is sold on the fantasy. Summer was pretty much up front about it. She's young, she wants to have fun. "I'm not looking for anything serious," she tells Tom. "Is that okay?" Tom says yes, he's fine with it. Later it becomes very obvious that he isn't. He wasn't.  He will never be the sort of guy who would be fine with Ikea roleplaying with someone who is not his girlfriend, shower sex notwithstanding. And that's the crux of the problem. Tom probably liked Summer so much that he said yes. Even when he said so, what he really wanted was to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Summer herself was clear about it. Later, she would say that "she just knew" that Tom wasn't the one. But as far as Tom was concerned, he was offering his heart and his love on a silver platter. Isn't that what girls want? But Summer is not just any girl. 
We're more used to seeing girls acting this way, wanting to know where things are headed before jumping right in. You know that story: the girl sleeps with the boy of her dreams. He's not her boyfriend yet, but she has so many feels about him and her and how good they are together. One day, she would ask him: Just what are we doing? Who am I to you? 
Girls are compelled to define the relationship. Girls always want something more, to know where they stand in the order of things. But to be fair, boys do fall in love and make love on Saturday night. Then later ask the girls they're with to DTR* in the middle of pancakes for dinner. At this point Summer realizes that she and Tom are not on the same page. Tom is the boy with all the feels, and Summer does not share them. They break up. It is Day (281) or something like that. 
Considering that the movie is called (500) Days of Summer, the break up occurs at (just a little bit to the right of the) story's midpoint. Which also means that Tom spends nearly half the same amount of time to get over the failed (non)relationship with Summer. 
Summer wants to be friends, but Tom simply is not equipped to handle that kind of closeness without thinking that she must still be interested in him. She disappears from the greeting card company. Tom also quits his job after it becomes obvious that he can't channel his heartbreak into making grief sound witty and polite enough to put on cardboard. He pursues architecture again, something which Summer convinced him he's actually good at and should pursue instead of rotting in greeting card hell. They have a run in at a colleague's wedding, and Tom becomes convinced he still has a shot at winning her back when she invites him to a party. He goes in with all sorts of expectations that end up dashed when he realizes that the party was to celebrate Summer's engagement.  And he was too dense to ever realize it. 
Later, he even runs into Summer again at that spot with too many parking lots overlooking the city. He still couldn't believe that Summer was married now to some guy she met in a deli. Where Tom thinks that the universe has forsaken him, Summer believes that Tom has been right all along: that there is someone for her all this time. Someone she wasn't just willing to call boyfriend, but even commit to him as her husband. It just happened that it wasn't Tom. 
Surely, this is difficult to accept for Tom: Why not me? Why not let me make you happy? Summer has made herself clear from the very beginning. Tom's sister even tells him that perhaps the relationship wasn't all that perfect in the first place, that's he's only remembering the good things. The warning signs have all been there all along, Tom was only too willing to turn a blind eye so much that the breakup over pancakes came as a surprise. Which shouldn't be, according to Summer, since they've been like Sid and Nancy for months by then. But Tom was oblivious to it. 
Just to be clear: He's Nancy. 

If you think about it, there wouldn't be a problem had Tom been sincere in his reply to Summer, who did not want a relationship in the first place. But Tom wanted to be with her, and perhaps thought that surely, Summer would change her mind. She did, but not in the way he thought she would. And that upset Tom big time. And it was also why I was so upset during all my previous viewings of (500) Days of Summer. I, like Tom, refused to see Summer's line of reasoning. 
Distance and repeat viewings bring fresh eyes to a subject. Watching (500) Days now, I could appreciate Summer more. My empathy has shifted away from Tom Hansen and I found myself saying, "How could Tom not see what Summer meant?" People objected then that Zooey Deschanel brought nothing to the table but big, bright eyes and her patent Manic Pixie Dream Girl charm. It wasn't her fault. Summer was meant to be a cipher. She was the obscure object of Tom Hansen's desire because that's all he would let her be. She tried not to be--she was upfront about her intentions, but Tom would have nothing of it. It was necessary for the story. It would be different if we made a movie from her POV. As it is, Summer (and the girl cited in the film's disclaimer) is the fuel to the creative fire. She's meant to be the muse, to stir the imagination. Or as McKenzie, Tom's best friend in the movie said, "The best way to get over girls to turn them into literature." Like Henry Miller did, though that dude slept with a whole lot more of women. Other than that, Summer's affair with Tom was like a pit stop, a minor story arc on the long haul of Summer's "How I Met This Guy Tom Who is Definitely Not Your Father." 
Tom's world may have been upended when Summer left, but the loss of faith on love and the universe was only temporary. The dichotomy has been set, reversed and reset to status quo: Young Tom who gleefully burst bubbles became absorbed in his own bubble of romantic fantasies. When those bubbles were burst by Summer, who once believed in wishes, who later became an utter realist, and who dumped him over pancakes. But all would be right again. The key lies in Tom's acceptance on what Summer said: he's pining after the wrong girl. Which implies that there is a "right" one--The One. Something as inevitable as the seasons turning, like Summer turning into Autumn.
*See My So-Called Life. But will credit MTV's Awkward for using the term "DTR" as shorthand for "Defining The Relationship," i.e., "the uncomfortable talk no one wants to have about their dating status." 

Monday, February 4

Crazy in Love

People always say that falling in love makes one a little crazy. But what happens when it involves two people with legitimate mental health issues? I'm crazy. You're crazy. Let's be nutcases together. And while the film is no PSA, it does hope that in the end, it gets better. 

Silver Linings Playbook has mostly been sold on the media as the romantic comedy dark horse at the Oscars. All four of its lead actors have been nominated for awards. And I loved Katniss Everdeen Jennifer Lawrence. So I thought I would give this movie a shot. 

The thing was, the first few minutes were kind of slow going and I was afraid that the movie was going to be this year's The Help, ie, awards hype, lead actress whose work I liked, and yet the movie bored the hell out of me that it was abandoned by the way side. To be fair, it mostly had to do with Bradley Cooper settling in after coming out of an asylum in Baltimore. He apparently beat the shit out of his wife's lover after catching them in the act. 

The screen lit up when Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffany was introduced. People usually avoid uncomfortable topics out of politeness and propriety, and this movie's way of telling us that Pat (Cooper) and Tiffany are not "ordinary" is by not letting them have any social filter. Thus, it's okay for Pat to ask Tiffany how her husband died, or how many people she slept with to cope with the loss, or what it's like to sit on a woman's lap. Or for Tiffany to weasel out of Pat the very traumatic incident of walking in on your wife having sex with another man in the shower of very own home, while your wedding song is playing in the background. I totally understand his meltdown.

The scene that sold me on this movie was when they were out in the streets and then Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" plays and Pat freaks out. Tiffany talks him out of going batshit crazy right then and there. "Are you going to spend the rest of your life scared of that song? It's a song. Not a monster. Come on, breathe. There is no song." Bradley Cooper is mostly hyper in this movie, and I like that Jennifer Lawrence plays it subtle rather than match him with the high octane acting.

It's mostly a by-the-numbers movie. Sure, her Tiffany has issues, but she's still the female character in the romantic comedy who slowly walks the male lead through the path of calmness and sanity--and hopefully, romantic feeling are returned. Tiffany teaches Pat the value of equal trade--I am loathe to say it's unselfishness, because the girl has her own motives--he must do something in return if she's to sneak in a letter to his wife, who has a restraining order against him. I'm not quite sure when Tiffany falls in love with Pat. I'd like to think it's that "There is no song" moment. Otherwise, that moment when she walks out when Pat finally encounters Nikki in the ballroom is just way too late. 

Bradley Cooper does have his own subtle moment. I like that scene where he gets a response to his letter to Nikki, who says she might show up at the dance competition. Pat stands outside, reading that (computer printed) letter, and gets a big bright flame of hope that maybe, just maybe, his wife might also still be carrying a torch for him, too. 

Random thoughts about this movie: 

1. Raising the stakes by participating in a dance competition and then (maybe) fall in love during rehearsals has been done before. My favorite incarnations: Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom (1992) and the 1996 Japanese movie Shall We Dance

2. Even then, I want all of Jennifer Lawrence's dance studio outfits. For this leotard obssession, I blame Cassandra July. 

3. I want to know what Pat whispered to Nikki. It was an awfully long moment. (In my head, he probably said, You don't deserve me, you cheating female dog.) Thought not that long that Tiffany was still within a block or two of the dance competition venue. But that camera pulling out after the kiss? I cringe. 

4. I probably need to watch it again in the future, if I have time. Otherwise, this was just an okay movie and I don't get all the hype. For all I care, Pat could have been played by Gerard Butler--the role is certainly his territory. But the movie won't be as incandescent without Jennifer Lawrence. She makes it liveable--especially for a movie that is clearly following Bradley Cooper's point of view. I certainly will understand if she wins. I probably won't be as forgiving if Anne "One take, bitches!" Hathaway wins.

Saturday, January 26

Adventures in Jodie Fostering, Part 2: The Silence of the Lambs

I have a confession to make: I have never watched the full movie before. I had been too young to see it in the theaters. I've seen bits and pieces on television, but could never stay with it long enough because Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter scared the bejeezus out of me. 

Then there's the part that's been shown over and over in film and writing classes since then: Clarice Starling pacing outside Hannibal Lecter's cell, unease written all over her, the prisoner stands calmly. It's a role reversal that leads us to the real reason why Agent Starling is intent on capturing Buffalo Bill. It's more than proving herself worthy and better than the men in her world or saving the senator's daughter. All Clarice wants is a good night's sleep. For the lambs to stop crying. 

When I finished the movie, aside from being scared sh*tless, my first thought was: Godammit, I should have watched this sooner. 

Hannibal Lecter is a master at perceiving characters. Starling has not even graduated yet from the FBI training camp, but she's at the top of her class and is given this special assignment to talk to Lecter. She's been warned never to tell him anything personal. Yet all it takes is a single eye to toe look ("Your good bag and cheap shoes."), a couple of seemingly innocent questions (Undergrad at the University of Virginia) and he has Starling's number. 

The movie is more than two decades old, came out three years before The X-Files and Dana Scully, at least 6 years before David Fincher's Se7en and a good ten years before CSI numbed us to the specifics of forensic investigations. (Odds are ten to one that Gil Grissom's insect geekiness owes a lot to the insect geeks in this movie. Anyway...) It's not really the grizzly details, the blood and gore and even the microscopic DNA whatever that matters. It's how the mind works, the wheels turning and memories unlocking. And yet, The Silence of the Lambs is still arguably better at providing psychological insight as to why serial killers/criminals do the things that they do. 

The most interesting parts of The Silence of the Lambs isn't the gore, it's the trust slowly building between Lecter and Starling, the quid pro quo, and that slow dread of waiting whether Lecter, who has developed a mild obsession for his student, would hunt her down and have a new friend over for dinner. And when Starling descends into that basement and the lights go out, you think back to that early scene during FBI bootcamp, that fake raid that ends with Starling with a gun on her head. It's not just a blind spot, it's a goddamn blackout, and dammit if Buffalo Bill gets to her first. 

But what I like the most about Jodie Foster's Agent Starling is that she gets the right mix of vulnerability and courage. She *is* better than everyone in class. And as Amy Taubin points out in her essay in the Criterion Collection: "Clarice's mission is not to marry the prince but to rescue the maiden." Whether by smarts ("Your anagrams are showing.") or with the aid of a gun, Agent Starling gets things done. 

You breathe a small sigh of relief when it's over. And yet it's not really over. Lecter is still out there, having dinner with an old friend and phones his new one during FBI graduation. Lecter has one question: Have the lambs stopped crying? Perhaps the more apt question is this: Will it ever stop? 

The Silence of the Lambs has quite the afterlife: There are many attempts to clone the movie's success and parlay it into television. (The movies are another matter.) There is a spinoff under development, a crime procedure that follows Starling after she graduates from the FBI academy. There's also a prequel that follows Lecter in his early days as a psychiatrist who occasionally eats his patients and the police. Or as the AV Club jokes, to complete this cottage industry mindset, all we need is a show that comes from Buffalo Bill's dog's point of view. 

Tuesday, January 22

Adventures in Jodie Fostering: Panic Room

I have been thinking a lot about Panic Room and Zodiac, so this has more to do with David Fincher, and less to do with Jodie Foster. Although I might admit that the "I am single" speech at the Golden Globes gave the viewing that extra push. 

I had first seen Panic Room in a theater it in its first run in 2002, and I'm glad to say that it does hold up to scrutiny and remains terribly scary even when watching on a smaller screen. Perhaps the more contained dimension helps in cramping up the space even more than the 6x14 feet of the titular safe room. 

All we need to know happens in the first few minutes: a recently divorced mother checks out new dwellings with her young daughter. On their first night, three burglars break in looking for the millions allegedly stashed in the safe room. The contained location becomes the crucible for all the action. Everything happens in one night, in that house, and mostly inside and the immediate environs of the panic room. 

What's interesting to watch in Panic Room is how David Fincher and the script by David Koepp were able to negotiate the balances of power between the intruders and the homeowners, managing it mostly by who is inside or outside that three feet thick steel door, and then having it escalate to matters of life and death. 

I also love it that the entire movie is summed up in a couple of exchanges. The first one was when Meg realized there were other people in the house and makes a run for her daughter's room. "What's happening?" The barely awake Sarah asks while they race to the panic room. "Pinball, in a house," Meg says. Which is true. A core of five (or six, or eight) people bouncing around the house, trying to force each other to open or slam doors. 

Then there's conversation waged over the security camera monitors. Jared Leto's Junior holds up a series of handwritten signs to tell Meg what their intentions are: "What we want is in that room." Junior figures out that women crave security, so he adds: "We will let you go." Even young Sarah knows this was a total lie, so she tells her mother to tell the invaders off. "We're not coming out. We're not letting you in." It's still not tough enough for Sarah so she tells Meg, "Say 'fuck'." Meg swears, but in the right way, so she has to repeat it for emphasis. "Get the fuck out of my house." That is the entire movie in a nutshell: Shit is going to go down if they don't do as she says. 

Also interesting for me this time around is the relationship between Jodie Foster's divorcee mother and daughter, a really young Kristen Stewart, several lifetimes before she became Bella Swan or became known as KStew. Hell, the first time around, I didn't even know Kristen Stewart was the kid in the picture. Her Sarah is pretty much a tomboy, with her androgynous haircut and even advising her mother to swear to let the burglars know she means business. Yet, Sarah is pretty much the vulnerable child, spurring her mother to abandon the safety of the panic room so she could get her child's medication.  

Then I read elsewhere that Nicole Kidman was originally cast to play the mother, and Stewart was cast to play off her: the daughter as antithesis to the helpless, glamourous mother. But Kidman had a knee injury from Moulin Rouge and had to leave. When Foster came on board, the role of Meg was rewritten to make her tougher, and more similar to her daughter. What even complicated the shoot more was that Foster found out she was pregnant five weeks into the shooting. But I have to say there is sheer joy in watching mother and daughter interact. 

Although some people might say that the story is pretty thin, I think it just can't get any tighter than that. I would even venture to say that Panic Room is way better than similar movies during its time (Phonebooth with Colin Farrell comes to mind) or even later--I'm thinking of Liam Neeson's Taken movies, but that "Harm my family and I swear to hell you'll pay for it" revenge theme comparison might be better suited to later Jodie Foster movies like Flightplan and The Brave One, which I totally intend to watch because it promises to be sheer good fun. I have a feeling that Jodie Foster makes for a better action star than Tom Cruise or even Angelina Jolie. We'll see.