THE SCARS OF OSCARS
by Nikki Finke @ Deadline Hollywood, LA Weekly
There’s so much to say about Tuesday’s 79th Academy Award nods. But first, recognize that to understand this Oscar process, you have to think like a voter. Which means being cruel, quirky and daft. Now let’s begin:
Everything in Hollywood is agenda driven. That’s why, when it comes to its biggest awards, what’s important are the scars, not the Oscars. The negatives, not positives, will decide this year’s Academy Awards. That’s par for the course in Hollywood, where nastiness rules and niceness gets rolled. So, if you want to handicap the Oscars, just figure out who is envied most by the Academy voters and bet that those names probably won’t get called onstage at Kodak Theater.
Take Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima), who scored Best Director and Best Picture noms. He deserves both, and the geriatrics who still make up the majority of Oscar balloters love the guy cuz he’s still got a prostate and balls. But Hollywood is also jealous of him because he’s won too many times. His Best Picture nominee Letters wasn’t anointed by any of the four major guilds (DGA, PGA, SAG and WGA). That hasn’t happened for eons. Give him more Golden Boys and the awards might as well be renamed the Clints (and remade with a big swingin’ dick besides). Problem is, this worshiped and wrinkly auteur won’t retire. So the Academy pries the viewfinder from his liver-spotted hands and picks from younger generations to make that walk to the podium. Yes, Marty Scorsese qualifies, even at age 64. Since he’s never won for Best Director, the envy factor in his case is null and void.
Dreamgirls' Oscar nightmare
Following my reasoning, David Geffen’s Dreamgirls was snubbed because Hollywood is jealous of him. So what that the Motown musical led with eight Oscar nominations (three of them for Best Song). That tally may be a promotional wet dream, but trust me, DreamWorks and Paramount, who’ve been pimping this pic since those disgusting $25 movie tickets during the first 10 days of its theatrical run, are having dry-hump nightmares. Shut out for Best Picture. Shut out for Best Director. Shut out for Best Actor/Actress. Among the big nominations, it made do with only Best Supporting Actor and Actress. There was too much hype and it came too early for this musical to survive even the shortened awards season without the inevitable backlash. So it was bitch-slapped by the Academy’s nominating formula, which gives the advantage to films with a small but passionate following vs. films with broad lukewarm support. Clearly, those spiteful Academy members are sending the message to Geffen that no matter how rich and powerful he is, they will deny him what he most desires: to exit the movie industry accompanied by Oscar. Individually, none of the Oscar voters would dare take on David. But there’s safety in numbers, so they figure, what the hell.
Not that Dreamgirls is even in the same league with my own favorite, The Departed. I was floored that this tour de force from a major studio received less nominations than Pan’s Labyrinth from minor Picturehouse. Then I remembered that Warner Bros. is lousy at mounting Oscar campaigns (a huge handicap that only a legend like Clint seems able to overcome). The Industry buzz has been that Dreamgirls wasn’t that good despite the media’s multiple orgasms over it. (Among them, The New York Times’ David Carr, who I said at the time would eat his words for declaring the Oscar season over in November because Dreamgirls would win Best Picture and Best Director.) Geffen is taking the high road and acting all “I don’t care” when you know he really wants to be kicking butt and taking names.
No way the critically heralded United 93 was going to get a Best Picture nomination, because this critics’ short lister had no stars in it, and the elitist Screen Actors Guild members also make up the largest segment of Academy voters. They don’t like it when somebody with a good script makes a great movie with mostly unknown actors. It’s bad for their celebrity biz (that biz, of course, consisting of implausibly padded perks combined with pain-in-the-ass behavior all aimed at needlessly inflating production costs). There was also the content problem: Given this town’s anti-Bush fervor, no one in Hollywood wanted to nominate a drama that could be perceived as even remotely jingoistic. Not when this year’s seven-times nominated Babel was to global sociopolitical-multilingual bleakness what last year’s Crash was to Los Angeles’ sociopolitical-multilingual bleakness. (The Academy’s a sucker for pseudo-profound bleakness of any sort: witness other Best Picture winners of recent vintage like The English Patient, American Beauty, Million Dollar Baby and even Gladiator.) So the punishment they meted out was to nominate Paul Greengrass for Best Director, which means he’s forced to sit through that interminable broadcast with an outside chance of winning.
As for other Best Picture nominees, while Little Miss Sunshine is the lighthearted darling, Oscar voters always seem to require intellectual heft, however half-baked, in their BP winners, which is why even the most deserving comedies almost never get nominated — like Borat, for example. Letters is lucky just to get noticed, while The Queen is too subtle and too Brit. (Especially since Mexicans have replaced Brits as the new toast of Hollywood. Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo Arriaga and Guillermo del Toro all received screenplay nods, Alejandro González Iñárritu for directing, and Adriana Barraza for supporting actress.) Internet blather is calling this The Year When the Academy Got Sick of Being Told What Their Favorite Movie of the Year Should Be while bitching about how so many films — including Children of Men, Little Children, Volver and even Apocalypto— were as good as if not better than the nominees.
Helen Mirren ready to take the Dame
So which pic will win? Hell if I know. It will be decided by PR. Oscar voters don’t want to seem out of touch with the public, which would favor The Departed, but they also pride themselves on not being prisoner to convention, which would favor Babel.
The Best Actress category pits Notes on a Scandal’s too-oft-honored Dame Judi Dench against winless Queen Helen Mirren. Even though Dench’s performance is more multilayered, Mirren wins as the object of least envy. This is the first year since 1927 that none of the Best Picture nominees were represented in the Best Actor category. There’s an outside chance that Leo (Blood Diamond) could score if his role in The Departed is factored in, but the Academy deems him too young and too infamous to win an Oscar — yet. So the contest comes down to sentimental favorite Peter O’Toole and shoo-in Forest Whitaker.
Now, for the dark horse. There’s always a “What the fuck” moment when the Oscar nominations come out, and this year’s was the nod to Ryan Gosling for Best Actor in Half Nelson, a miniscule movie shown in only 106 theaters and grossing just $2.7 mil. (That’s about what fellow nominee Will Smith spends on hair product.) Its plot consists of a schoolteacher with a drug habit and a white-man’s-burden complex finding common ground with a bright but at-risk black student. Does it get more treacly than that? (Nothing about this movie shouted “For your consideration.”) Yet, Gosling won the nod over Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Jamie Foxx, Ken Watanabe and, oh yes, Sacha Baron Cohen (who, by the way, inexplicably scored a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Adapted from what? Apparently, his HBO show.) Turns out ThinkFilm was savvy enough to get that Half Nelson screener out early to voters — the lazy sons of bitches who only screen a couple dozen of the 306 eligible pictures — and then ran a smart word-of-mouth campaign about Ryan’s rep as a pretty-boy type more interested in his craft than the covers of US magazine. (Those who’s-he-dating-now features have killed the careers of so many, like Ben Affleck, who should have been nommed for Hollywoodland but wasn’t). Still, I would not be surprised if Ryan’s father works for the accounting firm who counts the ballots.
For Best Supporting Actress, always the novelty-act category, it’s hard for the Academy to be jealous of four one-hit wonders (a little girl, the two Babel babes that aren’t Cate Blanchett, and an American Idol loser). Though they could muster some envy of previous winner Cate Blanchett, who seems to be in everything these days. The voters will want to save Little Miss Abigail Breslin from a Tatum O’Neal–like future of heroin addiction, so it’ll be Jennifer Hudson.
Best Supporting Actor won’t be Eddie Murphy because the town hates him. Not just because he squandered that megadeal he had for eons at Paramount, but also because he crapped on them during it. (This town never forgets that stuff. Two words: Lauren Bacall.) Besides, those Norbit trailers running now will ruin it for him. Mark Wahlberg should get the Oscar for The Departed, but the Academy’s jealous of his upward career trajectory. Alan Arkin has a shot. But the least enviable guy has to be comeback kid (literally) Jackie Earle Haley, not just for his creepy portrayal of a pedophile in Little Children but more for this Bad News Bears child actor’s back story.
With so much Oscar uncertainty, this year’s broadcast may actually reverse the recent trend of declining ratings. Then all the other networks will be jealous of ABC, whose primetime already is enviably strong. And so on, and so on, in the town fueled by the green-eyed monster.
| 0 comments |
One of his most beautiful soundtracks lately is that of The New World. Unfortunately he was screwed over by the director Terrence Malick and his score was virtually all thrown out of the finished film. What happened was that Malick (always known to be a perfectionist in the manner of Wong Kar Wai, which means he's capable of changing his mind anytime) decided that the 150 min cut of the movie didn't quite work, so he cut ... 15 mins off from the movie. One week after the release of the film. As a result, much of Horner's score couldn't be cut around the material, so Malick resorted to using Mozart to score some of the scenes. The film worked just as well with those music - though from what I hear the 135 min version isn't all that different from the 150 min version.
As a result, what would have been a shoo-in nomination for Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture was not even heard except by the film score-collecting public. This is beautiful music, harkens back to nature (you'll hear why, an innovative use of sound effects in a score) and very soothing and relaxing, not a negative note in the soul of it. Close the windows, shut the door, use your headphones and close your eyes when you listen to these two tracks here ... and you will sense 'it'.
The New World
Of The Forest
| 0 comments |
| 1 comments |
As for the score, it is definitely a solid effort from powerhouse composer Hans Zimmer. Most people seem to be crazy over the Chevaliers De Sangreal track, but I wasn't. In fact, I was most crazy over these two, the first one which was not even used in the film but was quite awe-inducing chorally ('salvete virgines' meaning something like greeting the virgin), and the second one insanely beautiful and haunting.
Rose Of Arimathea
| 0 comments |
The Banquet. This particular track has two parts - first is the male vocal singing 越人歌, unlike anything you've ever heard before, the chorus which goes thus:-
The second part is a very melodic, very romantic instrumental rendition of the song. The soundtrack definitely deserves a listen.
Longing In Silence
| 0 comments |
Stay With Me
| 0 comments |
Anyways, one huge reason why the movie works - asides from the brilliant casting choices - is the music by Hans Zimmer, mellow when it needs to be, and excitingly joyful when it needs to be. Here are two tracks from the soundtrack album that I really liked.
| 0 comments |
Alexandre Desplat, who scored the movie, has just earned himself a Golden Globe award by doing that. Previously he has also scored Syriana, which I liked, as well as Hostage and The Queen. His trademark are the low pulsing bass underscores.
The Painted Veil
| 0 comments |
Film scores are important - extremely important. They are the reason good films become great - without them a film is almost certainly going to remain in obscurity. Many of the really good films that we still remember and still watch nowadays have amazing scores that are also so appropriate to the film they are inseparable - Gladiator, American Beauty, and especially Titanic.
The way I see it, film scores are the classical music of the contemporary world. While in the past people listen to Bach and Mozart and Chopin, today people listen to scores (for instrumental, non-lyrical music). In fact, the composers who developed the style that would eventually evolve to the scores of today were esteemed classical music composers such as, most famously, Stravinsky, whose use of dissonants and inconsistent rhythms are the reason why scores work - scores don't have to be symmetrical, but instead, are scored to the required emotion or a supplemental abstract thing that is needed to add to a scene. Films which contain no score to them do themselves a huge disservice - films which have music over scenes that don't need them are not good either.
When asked to name a film score composer, the only name most laypersons could pull out of their (hare-)brains will no doubt be John Williams. I don't give a damn about John Williams - before my time. Nowdays, the top three composers on my list are:
Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Da Vinci Code, The Thin Red Line, The Rock, The Last Samurai, Beyond Rangoon)
James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Troy, The Mask Of Zorro, The Four Feathers, Legends Of The Fall)
Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Finding Nemo, Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events, Cinderella Man, The Shawshank Redemption)
However, I have to say that my current favourite composer is John Powell. If I make it to big time Hollywood one day, he will be on the top of my list of composers to work for.
John Powell (The Bourne Supremacy, X-Men: The Last Stand, United 93, Mr And Mrs Smith, Forces Of Nature, Face/Off, Shrek)
In fact, I thought the best soundtrack in 2006 was that of Happy Feet, with the songs arranged and score composed by John Powell. The following track from the soundtrack album is such a joy - the most deliriously energetic and positive piece of music I've heard, ever.
| 0 comments |
Pre-production was done before Christmas. I was on the crew as a Unit Production Manager or UPM, which according to Wikipedia is in charge of the below-the-line crew (referring to those who aren't big shots like the director, director of photography, producer, etc), prepares the budget and keeps a tab on the cashflow of the production, assists in obtaining equipment and locations, and just generally making sure the production is moving ahead.
Instead, I was doing lunch and craft services. Craft services refers to coffee, beverages and snacks and tidbits. A surprising fact (to laypersons) is the amount of importance placed on food on sets. I didn't have to do all of those listed above coz the producer has pretty much taken care of everything - plus we shot the short film on a set.
Now on to the set. Building the set took place in four days (Jan 7-10), which I guess is fairly average, but pretty fast for a student shoot. We had to tear down a previous set (took 45 mins, much quicker than it looked initially), and then build a 1-bedroom apartment (living room, kitchen, bedroom), the hallway parallel to the apartment, and a separate set of overlooking bathrooms. Walls are put up using flats - 2 x 10 flat wooden surfaces propped up and screwed together to make walls, and held up by jacks (three long pieces of wood arranged in a triangle) so that they dont fall apart. After putting up the flats, we caulk it (fill in the gaps between flats with a plaster-like material), then we paint the walls and try and make it look old (as if it's lived in for decades), and then comes the process known as set decoration, when lots of furniture, collected in the previous week, are arranged so to give the apartment a certain atmosphere - in this case, the living space of an old man who has lived there for a long time. Four days. We did it in good time - credit goes to our production designer, who was really nice and friendly and, mind you, these sorts of jobs don't pay much. I don't know anything about production design, much less about screwing and sanding and painting and stuff, but I did learn quite a lot by participating in it and not thinking about the fact that I didn't know what I was doing.
Then comes the shoot. Shoot takes place over six days (Jan 11-16). During that time the set is a beehive, with people walking all over the places, getting something, or issuing commands, or asking questions. I still remember the first time we shot something. The 1st AD (first assistant director) goes through a certain procedure to log down the scene and take number on camera and quieten the set down, before the director gets to yell 'Action!'. And once the 1st AD yells 'quiet on the set', the level of noise went straight down to zero ... and nobody moves. That was quite a feeling - this is a real set! Of course, over time people began to gauge that it's possible to move slowly and not generate noise loud enough to be picked up through the mics - and those things are really sensitive. In fact, one of our major problems was that the sound stage was not perfectly built so we often hear sirens and helicopters passing by outside.
Major problems. We have virtually none - I was lucky enough to be on a set that had no significant problems - if there had been one it would have fallen on me to find a solution, and I was half-prepared for something to go wrong, as Murphy's Law applies very consistently on film shoots. (In which case, my first action would be to ... call the producer.) But, to everyone's surprise, the crew functioned well, the cast did not give us any problems - a couple of them were AMAZING - and no one got hurt, no one got sick, no one screwed up badly, nothing got broken, no snafus on the schedule. It helps that Ty isn't a demanding director, rather he just makes his intentions known and then lets things be, and is flexible enough to improvise or throw out scenes. Now, this contrasts with all the other student productions going on at the moment - we hear horror stories of conflicts on set, schedules falling apart, SERIOUSLY overworked crew, confused crew who are told to do something without being told exactly what, lots of time wasting, and so on. My producer tells me that I should thank my lucky stars I'm working on this set - I absolutely agree.
So as it turns out, I had nothing to do, except to arrive early and get the coffee going and arrange the snacks and stuff, and by lunchtime grab a couple of PAs (production assistants, the slaves of a film set) to go out and grab the food which the producer has arranged for delivery by a catering company. The food was not bad at all (though some among the crew complained ... only one real vegetarian to contend with, luckily), and the best part is, people don't seem to finish the food so I get to take it home. I haven't cooked or spent any money on food in the past week, and will have enough food to last me the rest of this week.
In the meantime, I got to talk to some of the professionals, like Carmen the Script Supervisor (sometimes called the continuity person, the crew member sitting next to the director making sure that the way shots are set up don't confuse the audience and that continuity between scenes in terms of props and clothings and so on are maintained), who has worked on such sets as Mr And Mrs Smith and Terminator 3; Richard Mercado, the production sound consultant, who gave us a class on how to record sound for a film (much more complicated than the average person would expect); Zsolt, a Production Sound Mixer (who is in charge of setting up the recording devices and controlling the levels so that the recorded sound doesn't peak out, making sure we have clean dialogue); and of course, Dan Whilfer the Production Designer. Carmen and Zsolt are Hungarians, which adds another dimension to what I learnt on set ... like how to count from 1 to 10 in Hungarian, and how to say hello ("Jonapot kivanok!").
It's a tiring process though. Our film production is nowhere nearly as physically demanding as other sets - we worked on average about ten hours a day, whereas for virtually every other production, whether independent or big budget, that figure is more like fourteen hours. But for some reason - and this for someone who didn't do much - before the day ended my feet were so tired they hurt. I don't know how the other crew members did it - like the grips who have to run around rigging cables and setting up lights non-stop. I got used to it by the final day ... on the other hand I sat down a lot too.
So it ended today - was so happy to see it wrapped, and I certainly learnt quite a lot simply by doing, though I wouldn't say I learnt too much about the technical stuff, as I was never near the camera. Being a 'UPM' does give me the freedom to roam around the set to see what the various departments are doing (broadly, art, camera and sound), but you can't really learn by observing.
Immediately after the shoot wrapped, I got dragged in to help out with this music video. Can't remember how the band got invited, but basically the set was so nicely built that it completely fit the purpose - so we just had the band come in for a few hours and did some light redressing of the set, and I think they liked it. I didn't really want to stay, but on the other hand I have not seen how music videos are shot. The nice part about shooting music videos is that we don't have to worry about sound (which usually means people discussing stuff by whispering, cellphones, people walking through the door, external distractions, clumsy tripping overs ... etc). They just have the band play out the song many times, shot through different angles, different sets. Maybe I'll get to edit it, play around with it, we'll see.
Overall, it was a good experience - couldn't have been lovelier.
Which is probably not true for most professional sets.
Still, I thought it's time to go watch a proper movie at the cinema but I've ran out of movies to watch - while the rest of the (film-going) world has really only watched perhaps half of the Oscar films I've done almost all of them now. The only thing left to watch is Dreamgirls.
I chose to borrow more DVDs instead. Coz word is that Dreamgirls is one of the most overhyped movie (over and above its inherent quality, that is), ever. Interestingly all three DVDs are European, and all I borrowed on a whim without knowing much about them.
The first film I watched was Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss ... I was a bit surprised to see that it is directed by Ken Loach, coz, well, he's old, and the film is about an inter-racial romance. Wait a sec, you say, that sounds familiar. (If you're Malaysian, that is.) Yes, the set-up is similar to Sepet. But somehow, I liked this more than Sepet (I'm sure Yasmin Ahmad won't mind me saying that ... Ken Loach is one of her favourite directors after all). I find it interesting that the scenes often don't do what I expect or want them to do, yet remaining true to the scene. I also observed that not much time is spent on the Pakistani family. It's almost as if the audience is expected to know the basics of Pakistani Muslim culture - and of course, if you live in Britain chances are you do. So rather than showing us redundant scenes of a domestic Pakistani household being torn apart by the young Pakistani man's decision to go after the Irish girl, it just shows us the young man talking about it and trying to explain it to the girl, who doesn't really understand - perhaps could never. I suppose for me, straddling the worlds of East and West, I can understand both sides' way of seeing the world and so the film engages me that much more. I don't think that the Pakistani parents are bad or inconsiderate, and I don't think the girl is being bitchy about the circumstances either. Things just are the way they are - and of course, that causes conflict which the couple have to solve.
Unfortunately, the film falters in the ending. I was really looking forward to see how they'd end it. In Sepet, they had the boy die, sort of, but we're not sure - thus making it not about concluding the movie but having the audience think about the movie weeks after they saw the film asking, "Seriously, did he ...?" Smart ploy. In here, they just ... ended it ... with a happy-ending, no less. It rang completely false. I mean, it's not that all loose ends should be tied up in a movie - that's one of the problems of Hollywood cinema of course - but it doesn't mean the audience shouldn't be given at least a direction in which that strand of the story could go after the movie ends. Unless the director wanted to suggest that bigoted, xenophobic foreigners deserve to suffer ... nah.
The next movie I saw I havent even heard before. Titled Lacombe, Lucien and directed by Louis Malle, a name I vaguely heard before but know nothing of, it's the story of a young man, who at the age of 17 is really still just a boy, and his misadventures as he leaves home to join the French Resistance but accidentally ends up with the Nazi Gestapo. Which doesn't matter to him, after all, as the fellow is devoid of a conscience. It's a slow movie, and it lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes, and yet somehow I was engaged throughout the whole thing, which, let me remind you, is a rare occasion indeed (for slow-moving movies ... that was the reason I keep throwing out the DVDs I borrowed at ten minutes of viewing).
I can't explain why I liked this one. I guess one thing is that I thought the main actor. Pierre Blaise, was pretty good in the role, simply by what he doesn't show on his face. (Note: Blaise had a very short-lived career. This movie was his first major role, and not more than a year after making this movie he died in a car accident.) Also the way the characters interacted - it's almost emotionless, the way they react to stuff that would have made today's people frightened and sent our hearts pumping. Lucien himself, being without a developed conscience, does things that are monstrous, but somehow we don't hate him. We understand him - shooting people is just like shooting rabbits. And in the end, when his innocence is allowed to come out again, he actually smiles and laughs, and that felt good. The movie is often quiet - not a lot of dialogue. In fact, it's almost as if they purposely cut out dialogue and replaced it with looks and stares.
The last movie I saw is L'Ultimo Bacio (The Last Kiss), by the Italian director of The Pursuit Of Happyness. As it turns out, it is just as ineffective as that Will Smith film, very monotonous. Only reason I got it was because it was marketed as 'sex and the city with men' ... which, in fact, made me think it was American to begin with. Sigh.
| 0 comments |
This is the nineteenth film I saw at the Hollywood Arclight Cinemas.
Sometimes (and this is quite rarely, I might add) a movie might sneak up on me and I never even suspect it, despite my broad knowledge of individual films, knowing quite a lot of details about them before the film even opens and anyone even sees it. My friends keep insisting that it is unfair for me to judge a film purely by its synopsis and buzz and secondary opinions about it, but I find that it works well enough for me that I can pretty much select only films that I know I will like to watch. As a result, if you notice the ratings of the films I've reviewed here, they're almost always around 7 or 8 out of 10. For example, if I watch The Departed, it might have gotten something like 4. Which is why I didn't bother. I might be wrong - I might actually think it's worth watching if I do watch it ... but honestly, life is too short to ponder over things like that. I have enough movies to watch as it is. (Good thing I'm not a film critic and forced to watch everything, where 90% of what one sees belong to the <5 ratings. That's the sole reason film critics are paid.)
The best thing that could happen to me when watching a film, is to see it far surpass expectations I had. This happens most often for movies that I thought would be interesting but am on the fence as to whether I really want to watch it. Perfume lies in this category.
Just to clarify, it didn't strike me particularly as REALLY, REALLY, WONDERFULLY GOOD. However, I left the cinema feeling like I saw a good film, one that is masterfully directed and acted, and none of the departments failed the movie. I went into the cinema feeling like the movie might be too long - I read of some critics complaining of that. I came out feeling that those critics should have their heads shoved into European cinema the way they torture people by shoving their heads into a bucket of water. They won't like it - that's why it's torture.
The story itself is interesting enough, with that tinge of fairy-tale symmetry and some dark, morbid stuff that is a few feet shy of black comedy (meaning it's not enough to induce laughter ... which is the intention). I had thought Tom Tykwer is an okay director - Run Lola Run doesn't really prove all that much. Here, we can see shades of his style here, but nothing overt, which is good - more importantly, he seems to have grasp the direction well, and the visuals and sounds are all well balanced in telling the story.
In fact, audio plays an important part here, just as important as the visuals. This is a fact worth mentioning simply because the film deals with a subject that it is, for all its worth, is unable to portray: smell. And so it does it with music, sound effects, and close-ups of the camera. It is all well-handled, and masterfully done that the audience probably will feel like they are smelling along with the main character, who is onscreen virtually all the time, always smelling. And, the voiceover narration (by John Hurt, brilliant choice ... Morgan Freeman wouldn't have worked here, as good as he is) actually helps to bring the audience into the mind of the character, Jean Baptiste Grenouille.
In fact, they did it so well that while Jean Baptiste is really a villain ... he isn't. The audience is manipulated such that they want Jean Baptiste to succeed. So much so that when he fails, we are brought back into our senses and remembered that the fellow is a murderer after all ... but Jean Baptiste is such a character that he doesn't see failure as failure the way we do - he is supremely confident. He can't help but be so, because he is one of the most singular-minded characters to appear onscreen. All Jean Baptiste wanted to do - all he knew that he could do and only him - was to distil the most fragrant smell possible. It's unfortunate that the method he thought out, partly due to the lecture given to him by the Dustin Hoffman character, involves murder.
I'll tell you who won't like this movie - those who are stupid. Stupid meaning those who can't suspend disbelief (because they were not told to). They might ask, how is that possible? (The same people would have asked the same thing in The Prestige.) They forgot that the story really is a bit fairy-tale like ... the right word, I guess, is legend. Oh wait, the same idiots were told that Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy-tale, and so it is and hence it's ... brilliant? However do they think.
The film reminded me of Martin McDonagh's play, The Pillowman, which I saw while I was still in the UK. (Martin McDonagh is an Irish playwright who directed a short called Six Shooter and subsequently won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Watch it.) The Pillowman is one of the best piece of theatre I've ever seen - I still want to watch it again - and it's also morbid and dark and yet deals with fairy tale. Only difference is that it is an outright black comedy, whereas Perfume isn't.
Instead, Perfume is on the one hand a character drama, on the other hand aims to awe the audience. And awe-inspiring it is - the ending is entirely unforeseen (great job on the trailer, guys) and when it happens ... just watch it.
This movie deserves a Best Picture nomination. I'd throw out Little Miss Sunshine just to accommodate this.
The score is also well-done. It doesn't appeal to me thematically - it's very choral - but I thought that the composer realised that a lot of the film depended on the score in helping us understand how is it that Jean Baptiste feels as well as the emotions that are drawn out from the smells he receives, and indeed the music matches in every scene the sort of smell that Jean Baptiste smells.
Also, unknown Ben Whishaw did a very consistent job in portraying the central character, earning our sympathy and never once letting us think of him as a monster. Not once.
Looking at the visuals and the amount of extras they had to pick (casting must have been a bitch), I would have thought the movie cost a bomb ... hey, it only cost 50 million euros. Take that, Hollywood!
How Good The Film Is: 9/10
How Much I Like It: 8.5/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 15 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ben Whishaw), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Hair & Make-up, Best Sound Mixing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score
I was thinking about it - when I was still in Malaysia, I couldn't wait to leave. When I'm in the UK, I often think Malaysia is a better place. Now that I'm here, I keep missing the UK, as well as Malaysia.
Similarly, I like stories about ancient times, or even just the early 20th century would do. I love stories about the future. I love stories about far away places, places that I won't normally have a chance to go to (which I would if I were making movies set in those places).
| 0 comments |
2 - THE QUEEN
3 - CHILDREN OF MEN
4 - MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3
5 - UNITED 93
6 - THE HISTORY BOYS
7 - PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER
8 - X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
9 - THE PRESTIGE
10 - THE INSIDE MAN
And yes, both Clive Owen and Hugh Jackman have two movies each on the list, with Michael Caine having two supporting roles in one of either's films. (If you add Jackman's voicework in Happy Feet, that makes three.)
This is the first movie I saw at the Pacific Theaters located at The Grove, a shopping mall. It's a really nice shopping mall in fact - I wish I brought along my camera.
The cinemas are even more grand and luxurious. The whole place is set up like a hotel - the front area where you buy your ticket looks like a grand hotel lobby, with high ceilings and chandeliers, nice carpets, cashiers dressed up as porters, the reception dressed up like a hotel reception desk, marbles for walls, etc. Trendy - I wish this place was nearer. Instead, it takes nearly half an hour by bus for me to get to this place ... and for a while I was thinking it wasn't worth it. In fact, I waited for the bus for half an hour, and just as I was about to give up and just go back, the bus arrives ... and I hesitated ... and I decided to get on board anyway. It's New Year's Day.
Boy, was it worth it.
Children Of Men is exactly the sort of action thriller I would want to make, and on top of that Alfonso Cuaron shares the same philosophy as I do when it comes to making action movies. Now, that sound presumptuous ... what I'm saying is that I would have made the film this way (I won't say exactly this way). Let me explain.
When it comes to making action movies, I'm tired of those that try to make it clear to the audience what the story is, and then compartmenting the action sequences; like saying, ooh, here's the exposition, now we go into the action, then more melodrama ... everything nicely segregated.
I like action films that present a realistic world, which usually means that it is complex, that it is not entirely scientific and not entirely emotional either, but combinations of both, the proportions of which are random and entirely up to the filmmaker, as long as it makes sense. In other words, make it feel as real as a drama would, rather than dumbing down the relationships and character build-up, etc just because it is an action film. Children Of Men has an added layer of complexity in that it presents the future world. Now, the filmmaker should impress his vision of what that future should be based on the context of the story.
Okay, now that you have the complex background - DON'T tell the audience. Don't reveal it outright. Just let the audience figure it out themselves, via the dialogue (when the characters are ALWAYS talking about something else, something personal and implicit between them), via newspaper clippings or billboards and stuff. And don't do that for every fact either. Just let the audience know the important stuff. The audience will never figure it out completely at the first viewing - and they know it.
And then, ADD to the confusion using shakycam.
And, oh, I really admire the use of long continuous shots. Was Breaking News (HK) the first movie to do it like that?
Here, the future world ain't that future, even though it's about twenty years from now. That's because the lack of newborns has removed hope from the world - and what is the point of technology if the human race doesn't survive? People are generally in despair, emotionally depressed ... and imagine that if you were depressed, your room would be in a mess. You just wouldn't bother. Same here in this story. People do enough just to survive. So almost the most advanced innovation you see here are the moving image ads.
The usage of long continuous shots really helped to up the tension and suspense of the action scenes, because you know you're watching it on real time. Added to that the virtual absence of a score. I was frequently on the edge of my seat - an expression so often used, but not by me, coz I was almost never on the edge of my seat. Most action films keep me in awe, and no more - this one manages awe and edge-of-seat.
There is no melodrama here, which I like. People die, so people die. The characters have to move on ... but it isn't inconsequential either, that they die.
I also liked that I didn't understand everything about the movie. Heck, I didn't understand a lot, like what happened to the rest of the world, and what are the causes of the activist-terrorists, facts which clearly the characters do understand. No matter - I got the most important points, that it is a story of a pregnant girl in a world where women no longer have children, and that people are trying to kill her and Clive Owen has to get her out. That is the gist of it. In most movies, the gist is all they have. (How pathetic.)
I did notice, however, the London 2012 hoodie (nice touch), the headline "Charles Should Be Throne Out" (probably from a tabloid, but it indicates that Queen Elizabeth II is dead and Charles is King, naturally) ... and the pig blimp flying outside the glass window, which for some reason reminds me of Orwell and Animal Farm. And of course, if it feels like the story of Jesus, it's inevitable and the film knows enough to reference that without being too cheeky about it.
There are just so many things that I like about the film that I can't mention everything. Suffice to say that it is one of the best movies of the year, along with The Queen and Happy Feet, each and every one of them great in their own way. This one is good because it is as effective an action thriller as it can be, and yet it is also an intelligent one.
Which explains why it is released later than the rest of the world (a rarity in US film releases) and is starting with a limited release (as opposed to wide). Too smart for the average American audience?
How Good I Think It Is: 8.5/10
How Much I Like It: 9/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 25 mins
Oscar Noms That It Deserves: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
PS - Of the three Mexican directors' films I would say this is my favourite; Babel is admirable but engages me less because it falls off the field of my bias, whereas Pan's Labyrinth is downright awful.
This is the second film I saw at the Sunset Laemmle 5 cinemas - the first time I had to pay there. Cheapest ticket so far.
Again, I'll be biased because this film is set in England - and on top of that, features the beautiful scenery of the Lake District.
It's scarcely a significant movie - just a simple tale, a biography of this woman artist/author's life in early 20th century England. There's nothing particularly great about her story - by most standards it's downright routine, not the depressing depths of Rubin Carter, nor the emotionally-unstable world of Johnny Cash, nor the difficult obstacles of John Nash's life.
However, the film moves along well, due to great attention placed on its pacing and writing to engage the audience. It helps that the actors were up to task (adequate for the roles), and the direction was solid. And the animations were cute of course - nowhere more so than when Jemima Puddleduck winks at Ewan McGregor and wags her tail mischievously.
How Good The Movie Is: 8/10
How Much I Like It: 7.5/10
At What Point Did I First Look At My Watch: 30 mins