Saturday, December 24, 2011

Films About Writers: Love Actually

I could not find a film that showed a writer writing a Christmas-themed story for my December entry. Also, I am not a Charles Dickens fan, so I wasn’t going to touch A Christmas Carol. (Besides, TheTop10films does a lovely job of listing the best film versions). Luckily for me, my favorite Christmas film, Love Actually, features a writer as one of the many characters. Colin Firth plays Jaime Bennett, a crime novelist who discovers that his girlfriend is cheating on him four weeks before Christmas. He goes to a cottage to write his latest novel to escape his misery.

I always found it interesting that he uses a typewriter instead of a computer to write since this film takes place in the present. Perhaps, he feels that writing with a typewriter matches the rustic scenery. Then again, maybe when he dreamt of being a writer, he had this romantic notion of a serious writer writing on typewriter. Or maybe writing takes longer with a typewriter, so he can stay focused on writing instead of his loneliness. However, he is not alone. He has a Portuguese housekeeper who he can only communicate with using gestures since Aurelia does not understand English and he does not speak Portuguese.

Yet, it is his writing that brings them together. He is writing outside and she switches out his mug. The papers underneath the mug fly out into the lake. When she starts chasing after them, he tries to convince her to leave them alone because he feels that his writing is not important or spectacular. He may feel that way due to his general state of low self-esteem caused by his girlfriend’s infidelity. Then again, perhaps he has a self-deprecating view of his writing like so many writers do in the beginning of the writing stage. However, when he sees that she is going to jump into the lake to retrieve the pages, he goes after her. When they return to the cottage, she asks him about his writing.

Unfortunately the scene is not available for embedding, but here’s the link: Jaime and Aurelia - Sweet Scene

People are naturally curious to know why writers write the subjects that they chose. Yet, we do not know why Jaime chooses to write crime novels. Perhaps, he liked reading crime novels and decided he wanted to write his own. It may be a superfluous detail, but I find myself sometimes wondering about those details. Although the main message of his segment is love as universal language, I think it shows how writing can help form a bond between people.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Films About Writers: Becoming Jane

As a lover of both books and film, I decided to write a post dedicated to films about writers each month. For the first post of the series, I picked a film about one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen. Becoming Jane is based on Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence which reveals a secret romance between Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) and a young law student, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), and the influence of that experience on Jane Austen’s writing.

This scene shows Jane Austen’s basic philosophy on writing. For Jane Austen, writing is an escape from the mundane aspects of her life. However, as Tom points out, she lacks the experience outside her sphere, so the mundane aspects of her everyday life provide the source material for her novels. She finds humor and irony to make the mundane into entertaining. The film shows this in the beginning montage where we see country life in England intercut with Jane writing a humorous letter to her sister about her wedding day.

The film also shows how writing gives Jane a reason to keep her from marrying out of convenience. Jane will not live without love, be it from a love of writing or the love of a good man. Ideally, she would rather have both. But she has to choose and she chooses to refuse two proposals from Mr. Wisley and Mr. Warren, two men who have the financial stability but not the qualities that Jane wants in a husband. In her writing, Jane shows female characters who marry for convenience (i.e. Charlotte Lucas) and for love (i.e. Elizabeth Bennett).

Also, any Jane Austen fan can see parallels in the plot points in Becoming Jane to Austen’s novels. For example, Lady Gresham in Becoming Jane serves as the inspiration for Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice . In the montage of the writing of First Impressions, we can see how the bad boy aspects of Tom inspired the character of Wickham and the good man aspects of Tom inspired the character of Mr. Darcy, as Jane is writing this first draft while waiting for Tom to get his uncle’s approval to marry her.

This scene also exposes the sobering reality of Jane’s dreams. In an oblique reference to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Jane visits Mrs. Radcliffe, the author of The Mysteries of Uldopho. Mrs. Radcliffe points out the irony of being financially independent yet having a scandalous reputation as a novelist. Although Jane Austen is shown at the end having the respect of her audience, she is also unmarried. The film ends with Jane and Tom meeting again after many years. His daughter is among her many fans and asks her to read from Pride and Prejudice. Jane reads from Chapter 50 when the Bennets find out that Lydia and Wickham are going to be married and her uncle paid off all Wickham’s debts. Knowing that Lydia’s marriage to Wickham will lower Mr. Darcy’s opinion on her family even further, Elizabeth laments on losing Mr. Darcy’s love:

“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both. By her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was."

Jane looks up at Tom while reading this, thus telling him that he not only inspired the character of Mr. Darcy but also acknowledging her regret for leaving him. Even though she imagined their fate to be similar to Lydia and Wickham if they had carried on with the elopement, this scene shows that perhaps she could have imagined them beating the odds. Like Mrs. Radcliffe pointed out, “But even if [time] fails, that's what the imagination is for.” Jane Austen may not have known everlasting love, but in this film she takes her small experience with it and uses her imagination to write six novels about the joys, sorrows, and intricacies of love.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Houdini's Magic Ticket Blog-a-thon

Dan at Top10films have asked film bloggers which films we would like to be transported into if we had the Houdini’s Magic Ticket from Last Action Hero. He asked us some questions and here are my answers:

What character would you most like to be sat next to on a plane?

For some reason, this question reminds me of the scene in French Kiss when Kate (Meg Ryan), a nervous flyer, sings, “I hate Paris in the springtime/I hate Paris in the fall/I hate Paris in the summer when it sizzles/I hate Paris in the winter when it drizzles/I hate Paris, oh why oh why do I hate Paris?/Because my love is there... with his SLUT girlfriend” and Luc (Kevin Kline) tries to distract her. Being a nervous flyer myself, I would want someone to distract me although I would not want that person to start arguing with me on purpose the way that Luc does with Kate. So, I would want someone who was funny like Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger)from Bridget Jones’s Diary.

As Mark Darcy says, she rarely censors what she is thinking, so she would be fun to listen to whatever she wanted to talk about, especially if we chat about Colin Firth’s wet shirt scene in Pride and Prejudice. Plus, I would steal her diary as she was sleeping just to keep myself entertained.

What character would you most want to enjoy a passionate romance with?

Ralph Fiennes’s Maurice Bendrix personifies all-consuming passion and heartbreak in this adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, The End of the Affair. The way Maurice says “I’m jealous of the rain” and the way he looks at Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore) would make me forget that I’m married or that I made a promise to God that if Maurice lives I would give up the affair.

If you were a cop who would you want as your partner?

I know he would prefer to work alone, but I would love to have Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as a partner. I would be more of the Pamela Landy character and he could protect me and provide me with backup. He knows how to make weapons out of ordinary objects like a book or a towel and how to adapt to various situations.

What animated feature would you love to walk around in?

Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney film. I would raid that library with Belle as well as sing along with her in “Belle”.

Plus, I will get to hang with the enchanted objects in the Enchanted Castle. And perhaps I could be part of the “Be Our Guest” number. Or I could witness Belle and the Beast slowly falling in love.

What adventure based on earth would you most like to go on / OR / What adventure based in an otherworldly, fantasy-based location would you most like to go on? I.e. Would you like to join the Goonies on their treasure-finding mission, or Luke Skywalker in his search for his family’s murderer?

I almost put The Da Vinci Code as an answer because I would go to Paris and London and go on an intellectual journey. But I would not want to spend my time there trying to clear my name for murder. So, I do not have an answer for this one because I would love to travel around Europe. But “the travelling around Europe” films that I can remember revolve around solving a murder, which is something I would not want to do. So if anyone has any suggestions, I would greatly appreciate it.

What movie gadget would you love to try out (or steal)?

I tend to covet characters’ wardrobe rather than gadgets, but I always wanted James Bond’s latest fully-equipped Aston Martin. I would not have to worry about a flat tire or running out of gas or losing the car. It has a killer (pun intended) GPS system and can maneuver tight curves at high speeds easily.

What film's plot would you alter and how would you do it?

Even though I have great amount of respect for those who feel that the religious life is their calling, I really wanted Sister Angela to give up her vow to be a nun and accept Mr. Allison’s proposal. I blame Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr’s amazing chemistry. In my version of Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Sister Angela realizes after her breakdown that she is in love with Mr. Allison. When they are rescued off the island, Mr. Allison lives and retires from Marine life. They get married singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and live happily ever after.

What one film would you most want to be transported into, simply to be a part of that world?

I would like to go into Inception. Even though the dream world looks realistic, I like the fact that it mimics people’s perception of their reality. I would love to change people’s thoughts through the construction of their dreams. I would want to be the Forger because I would get to pretend to be another person. Plus, I love Tom Hardy’s line, “You’ve got to dream bigger, darling.”

So, does anyone have Houdini's Magic Ticket? And if so, how much do you want for it?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cool Off With The Classics Blog-a-thon

For the month of August, Marc at Go, See, Talk invited film bloggers to pick their Top 10 classic black & white films that will makes us stay indoors on a hot summer’s day.

I will begin with a mini-Hitchcock film festival. Whenever Turner Classic Movies has one especially on a weekend, I am not moving from my bed.

1) Notorious (1946)

This is the first film I remember watching on Turner Classic Movies and forever sealed my love for Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman. Alfred Hitchcock’s direction is pitch perfect particularly the crane shot into the close-up of the wine cellar key in Alicia’s hand. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as T.R Devlin and Alicia Huberman have the perfect chemistry whether they are bantering about her mission to woo a Nazi sympathizer or stealing a few moments of being in love. Their kissing scene is one of the sexiest ones on black & white film and they are fully clothed and nibbling at each other.

2) Spellbound (1945)

Ingrid Bergman is seriously one of the luckiest actress ever because she works with the handsomest men in Hollywood. In this film, she plays opposite Gregory Peck as a psychiatrist who tries to help an amnesiac man. Having a psychology degree, I think this film does a good job at portraying how psychiatrists used Freud’s dream analysis at that time. My favorite sequence is the famous Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence.

3) Suspicion (1941)

This film is the first of four Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock collaborations. I love the dark undertones that Hitchcock brought out of Grant as Johnnie in this film. Never has a glass has looked so menacing to me than when Johnnie carried it on a tray. Whenever I watch this film, I am never quite sure of Johnnie’s intentions toward Lina (Joan Fontaine). Even the ending still makes me wonder.

4) Rebecca (1940)

I do not know why I enjoy watching Joan Fontaine play a tortured heroine, but she does it so well. The source of her torment is the specter of the beloved Rebecca, the first wife of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Judith Anderson gives an amazing performance as Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s extremely loyal maid, who quickly reminds the second Mrs. de Winter that she cannot compare to Rebecca. I think I enjoy this film more for the acting than Hitchcock’s direction.

5) Strangers on a Train (1951)

Robert Walker’s performance as Bruno Anthony is mesmerizing as he shifts from charming to threatening. I can see how Farley Granger’s Guy Haines could be easily charmed by Bruno that he does not realize that he has agreed to commit a murder. Being a tennis fan, my favorite sequence is the tennis sequence when everyone else follows the ball except for Bruno whose focus is on Guy.

And now for my non-Hitchcock choices:

6) All This and Heaven Too (1940)

This is the only Bette Davis film that I have seen where she gives a subtle and contained performance. As a governess who falls in love with her employer, Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer), and his children, Davis uses her eyes beautifully to convey the emotions that Henriette cannot express. Boyer shines in the few stolen romantic moments that the Duc de Praslin and Henriette share.

7) Love in the Afternoon (1957)

I love the chemistry between Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn. I will be bold in saying that I like Hepburn better in this film than in Roman Holiday. My favorite scene is when Ariane gives a report of all of her lovers into Frank’s Dictaphone trying to prove that she is just as sophisticated as Frank.

8) Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Jennifer Jones gives a mesmerizing performance as Jennie. She “ages” from a young girl to a woman through vocal performance and body language. I can see why Eben (Joseph Cotten) is so taken with her. Although the film might be known for the few moments in color such as the completed portrait, it does have great black & white cinematography.

9) Holiday Affair (1949)

What’s more cooling than thoughts of Christmas? Or how about Robert Mitchum simply being adorable? I know that Mitchum and adorable do not go together for most people, but they do for me especially in this film. Mitchum plays Steve Mason who tries to win the affections of Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) and her son. There is just something about Mitchum in moments where his characters falls in love with a woman that gets to me.

10) The Story of Esther Costello (1957)

Frankly, I am including this film because I just saw it on Joan Crawford day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. I started in the middle of it and I watched it till the end. But I was captivated by Crawford’s performance as a lonely woman who takes a blind girl under her wing. Also, I thought the scene where Esther gets her sight back was well done. I would like to see it again just to get the total film experience.

Since Marc stated that we had to stay in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, I could not include Love with a Proper Stranger (1963) although it is in black and white. But I wanted to mention it because I would want to watch it in my black & white film festival because Natalie Wood is so adorably neurotic in it as she tries to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. My favorite scene is when Angela invites Rocky (Steve McQueen) over to her new apartment and rants about her feelings toward him.

Sigh. If only I could win a chance to be a guest programmer on TCM, then I can truly make this black & white festival a reality.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Commenting on Commentary

As a film fan, after I watch a film, I listen to the audio commentary if it is available to enhance my viewing of the film. When I watched Chloe (2009) and Charade (1963) last week with the commentary, I notice that I tend to evaluate the commentary as well as the film. When I see that the writer/director/producer/actor will comment, I expect to learn about the process of making the film. My main criterion in evaluating the quality of the writer/director/producer/actor commentary is the balance between anecdotes and the technical and creative aspects of making the film. When there is more than one person doing the commentary, I want to listen to a good conversation with minimal crosstalk.

With Chloe, Amanda Seyfried, who plays the titular character, barely contributes to the commentary while director Atom Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson discuss their process in adapting Nathalie (2003), the French film that Chloe is based on. Usually an actor’s commentary involves what his or her process was in creating the role. However, I feel that Chloe is an ambiguous character that we are not supposed to know. Therefore, Seyfried should have been left out of the commentary completely. Egoyan and Wilson have a pleasant rapport with each other that reminds me of two friends discussing their favorite film in a cafĂ©. I enjoy listening to Wilson explaining how she had to choose words and phrases that will turn everyone on as well as Egoyan explaining his use of mirrors. The one thing I learned in the commentary that slightly sours my viewing experience is Egoyan’s explanation for deleting the scenes where we learn why Michael is so angry at his mother Catherine. According to Egoyan, those scenes made the film too heavy and dragged it down. However, in watching the deleted scenes, Michael’s anger is justified. In the film itself, his anger seems too over the top for teenage boy angst.

Unlike Chloe, I had already seen Charade multiple times before. So I just decided to watch with the commentary. Oddly, Charade is my first experience with a Criterion Collection DVD that contains commentary from the writer and director as opposed to a film scholar. So for me, listening to commentary that did not involve some form of academic insight that I have come to know from watching a Criterion Collection DVD is a strange experience even though I am used to listening to writer and director commentary in contemporary films. Listening to screenwriter Peter Stone and director Stanley Donen is like listening to two guys at a bar reminiscing about a particular moment in their lives. Although there was some information that I already knew (i.e. Cary Grant insisting that Audrey Hepburn’s character pursue his character), I enjoy learning about Charade’s origins as a screenplay, then a novel, and back to a screenplay. Although I appreciate the academic essay, I would have appreciated another track of commentary from a film scholar to understand why Charade deserves the Criterion treatment.

While I am having trouble deciding which film has the best commentary, I can tell you that my most miserable commentary listening experience comes from Ric Meyers, Jeff Rovin, and Frank Djeng commenting on Perhaps Love (2005). This trio of film scholars constantly complains about the flaws they find in the film and repeats their ignorance on the production of the film giving them no credibility in my eyes. I am sure that there are other film scholars who specialize in Asian films that would have jumped at the chance at sharing their professional yet enthusiastic thoughts on this film. If you ever watch this film, just watch the film and skip the commentary.

Do you listen to the audio commentary? Do you find that it enhances your viewing experience or hinders it? Do you find yourself judging the quality of the commentary? If so, how do you define good commentary? Do you prefer commentary from a film scholar or writer/director/producer/actor commentary? Or both? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Split I Screen

In X-Men: First Class, the typical rookie training montage has an added stylistic element: the spilt screen. Normally, the montage is used to condense the weeks of training in “real” time into minutes in film time. While a montage alone can be used to show multiple characters training at the same time, the split screen depicts this more effectively. So we see Beast trying to outrun Professor X on one side of the screen while we see Banshee trying to use his supersonic voice to propel himself to fly on the other side of the screen. Not only does the split screen effect gives the training montage a fresh visual perspective but also gives a nod to the comic book layout.

Other films have used split screens to give the audience the experience of viewing simultaneous events. Here are my favorite uses of the split screen:

Pillow Talk

The split screens used in this film visually depict Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) and Jan Morrow (Doris Day) sharing their telephone line. Jan hates the fact that she has to share a telephone line with a womanizer like Brad. In this still image, she interrupts one of the many calls that Brad makes to one of his many lovers. Note that Jan Morrow is at the center of the frame placing her in the dominant position as the main female protagonist as well as Brad Allen’s main love interest.

(For the Da Vinci Code fans out there, notice that Jan’s section is in the shape of the chalice which further suggests that she is the dominant female in the film.)

Down With Love

This film is a tribute to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies. However, the film puts a modern-day twist by making the sexual innuendos more overt. Here the split screen takes two innocuous activities, Catcher (Ewan McGregor) drying himself with a towel and Barbara (Renee Zellweger) cleaning her sunglasses, and puts them together to make it look like she is giving him a blow job while they are discussing their date plans.

(500) Days of Summer

This film uses the split screen effect towards the end of the film. The left side of the screen shows what Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) expects to happen when he arrives at Summer’s (Zooey Deschanel) apartment while the right side shows what actually happens. Sometimes the expectations and the reality are the same but other times they differ. In the still image, we see Tom expecting that he and Summer will blissfully reunite and we see him alone in reality. Then reality literally wipes away the fantasy when Tom discovers that Summer is now engaged.

At first I was confused by the placement of the expectation side. I remembered that the left side of the brain is the logical side while the right side is the creative side, so I would think that Tom would be creating the expectations. However, upon further reflection, in Tom’s mind, the expectations follow a linear logic that is associated with the left side of the brain. He feels that he and Summer reignited a spark at Millie’s wedding. When Summer invites him to her place for a party, Tom logically expects that Summer is single and feels that spark as well.

Run Lola Run

The split screen reminds us that Lola is racing against the clock as she tries to get the money in order to save her boyfriend, Manny. When I studied this film in film theory class, I learned to think of it as a video game in which Lola learns from her previous experiences what she has to do in order to rescue Manny. Most video games have a timer somewhere on the screen. Also, most video games show multiple characters doing different things simultaneously on the same screen. This split screen show that Lola and Manny will not be defeated by time with the clock at the bottom of the frame.

These are my favorite uses of the split screen effect in films. Are there other films that use the split screen that you like? If so, feel free to share in the comments section. Also, check out Split Screen: a weblog dedicated to the art of the split screen and multi-layered visuals to see more media that uses the split screen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is Bridesmaids really "The Hangover for Women"

Bridesmaids: “The Hangover for Women.” That is the description used mostly by mainstream media to market the film. But why? As a woman, I like The Hangover and not because I fondly remember fantasizing about Bradley Cooper’s Will Tippin from Alias. I enjoy it for the same reason men enjoy it: watching three ridiculous guys go through ridiculous obstacles to get the groom to his wedding. Is it to reassure people that Bridesmaids will be so funny that they will be glad to fork over $12 to see it? Released at the beginning of wedding season, the film has a built-in audience with the female population who has dealt with the craziness of being in a wedding at some point in her life. Plus, there are women who will drag their boyfriends/husbands to see it as entertainment blackmail for making them sit through the NBA playoffs/NHL playoffs/MLB game/French Open matches. Then there are the Saturday Night Live fans who either love Kristen Wiig or just curious to see her play another character other than her annoying socially-inept, goofy-voiced characters.

If Bridesmaids is truly meant to be “The Hangover for Women,” then the film should have focused on the bachelorette party to prove that women can party just as hard if not harder than the guys. After all, the bachelorette party in Bridesmaids is supposed to take place in Las Vegas just like in The Hangover. However, the women never make it to the bachelorette party thanks to Annie (Kristen Wiig). Due to her fear of flying, she gets drunk after taking a sedative which causes her to panic and to throw a tantrum getting the bridesmaids thrown off the plane. No losing the bride. No Mike Tyson cameo. No mad dash to get ransom money. No quickie Vegas marriage for anyone. Perhaps a moment of toilet humor in a bridal boutique and a brief girl-on-girl kiss will appeal to the male audience but that does not make Bridesmaids comparable to The Hangover.

What Bridesmaids has in common with The Hangover is that it humorously reflects the wedding party experience with the pre-wedding parties. These pre-wedding parties have a way of bringing people together who may know the bride or the groom but may not know each other. The groomsmen plan the bachelor party while the bridesmaids plan the wedding shower and the bachelorette party. The male version of party planning is drinking beer and deciding between a sports bar or a strip club as the perfect location to get the groom to an amnestic level of drunk. The bachelor party is the sole reason why men are willing to sit through a wedding in a tuxedo. Even though the groom is absent for most of the film, the bachelor party experience strengthens the bond between Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis). No matter what happens they accept that they are stuck together and try to help each other out. The film shows male bonding before the wedding at its finest.

However, Bridesmaids shows female bonding before the wedding at its most awkward. In this film, the awkwardness comes from Lillian (Maya Rudolph) bringing together her childhood friend Annie and her fiancĂ©’s boss’s wife Helen (Rose Byrne). When they meet, Annie and Helen size each other up in a passive-aggressive manner speaking clipped tones under the guise of politeness. The engagement party devolves into a game of “Who knows Lillian best.” When they try to bond while playing tennis, they “accidently” hurt each other while trying to prove they’re Lillian’s best friend.

The other awkwardly funny moments come when one of them tries to control the party planning. Wedding showers are notoriously difficult to plan even with the most laid-back bride because you have to decide on a theme, party favors, and games. Any woman who has had the responsibility of planning the wedding shower has at least one member of the bridal party who bombards you with well-meaning suggestions with that tone of “I can do this better than you. Why the hell did the bride ask you to do this?” which makes you automatically defensive constantly justifying your choices. In the film, Annie suggests having a Paris theme for the wedding shower which Helen rejects initially undermining Annie’s position as the maid of honor. However, when Helen takes over the wedding shower planning, not only does she use Annie’s suggestion but also she goes over the top with it (i.e. puppies as party favors) which causes Annie to freak out. Lillian tells Annie not to come to the wedding. The film shows how easily two well-meaning bridesmaids lose sight of what the bride wants.

Based on story alone, Bridesmaids is not “The Hangover for Women.” While Annie does act ridiculous throughout the film, her ridiculousness is a reaction based on insecurity. The guys act ridiculous as reaction to the ridiculous circumstances. The only way that Bridesmaids can be called “The Hangover for Women” is through making us laugh as we relate to the pre-wedding bonding experience.

(Note to aspiring female producers/directors/screenwriters: If you’re looking for ideas, how about a film featuring a bachelorette party that focuses on the bonding between women making it a true “The Hangover for Women”? Please do not make it about finding the right man.)