11 April 2012

The Rules of Attraction

The last time I saw any portion of The Rules of Attraction was years ago at the house of a friend who was 'obsessed' with the fast-edited Victor's European Trip portion of the movie. And rightly so, it still astonishes me.

What surprised me, rewatching the movie last night, was how I was sucked into the rest of this aggressively creative movie, adapted and directed by Roger Avary -- the typical Avary qualifier is that he was an early QT collaborator and shared an Academy Award for the Pulp Fiction screenplay, but I prefer ex-con on manslaughter charges. It's more sensational. Like that chapter in Avary's real life, Rules of Attraction is both intensely tragic and fascinating. It's the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation the writer has called his fav from his own work, and he says comes closest to capturing cinematically his literary tone.

The movie's texture is very human, and there's an effort to limit the amount of sentiment. Take for example the character Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon), a virgin college freshman who browses the VD section of a medical book before parties, as a way of discouraging herself from hooking up, and is torn between wanting to give it up to Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) or Victor (Kip Pardue). She's a sweetie character, easy to love. What happens to her we know, we experience at the film's beginning, and it's a sad thing. I think other movies might have emphasized the ultimate sadness of her story by plucking those strings continuously through the movie, but this one doesn't, and I like this method because in my life I don't know when I'm involved in a complex and nuanced tragedy until later when I have the answers and encase the event in a narrative. The effect of Rules of Attraction's method is I the audience feel closer to Lauren's experience because it resembles the tragedies of my life (for reasons given) and my experiences being young and in dumb blind love. Not every moment leading to a sad moment is another sad moment, and the texture of a sad moment in real life is often more complex than purely sad.

Depictions of harmful attributes within protagonists are often criticized when they appear in a movie, if there isn't some device that levels the scales, some element that allows us to sympathize with the protagonist. Imperfect characters are judged, often, just as in real life, and the character possessing destructive or dangerous qualities is labeled flawed, maybe deplorable or vile. Ellis and Avary created characters that have narcissistic and antisocial qualities, vacuous tendencies, and fractured morals. I the audience was sometimes shocked by the creativity of their selfishness. Whether people should be this way or not is a separate conversation from the one about people being this way, including us sometimes (if not these negative qualities than others), and the people around us whom we interact with and form relationships with while we cross fingers behind our backs. Sometimes I think moviemakers needlessly punish characters for being themselves or for being in the movie of the moviemaker. I don't think Avary is punishing anyone for being in his movie.

Avary and Ellis know that those with ruined hearts suffer still, and continue to drift from their dreams of happiness. It shouldn't be overlooked that the characters in this movie are each in search of some form of togetherness or something like romance.

As a piece of cinema there's much to admire. One Saturday morning sequence begins with Lauren and Sean waking up, in their respective rooms and in split-screen, and follows their rituals and routines as they make their way to a class. They meet in the hallway, in split-screen, and have a conversation while I the audience make eye contact with both of them.

Culminating twin tracking shot to make single shot

Another time Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) imagines himself doing something to Sean and the screen splits to show both the imagining and Paul's actions during the imagining. I like this use of split-screen. The movie's camera is smart, sharp, and fast all throughout, and there's a high number of stylized shots and well-constructed sequences.

The performances feel authentic. Avary did an impressive job at coaxing these professional actors away from their safe zones. These characters feel more like 'people' than 'actors,' and you don't always get that, especially in a movie populated with younger stars. They sometimes go all the way and expose themselves in daring ways, but in a way that feels pure and unaffected, so if I the audience feel embarrassed it's for the character, not the actor.

Great script, great camera, great performances. This is a triple-threat great movie.

09 April 2012

Yes, Madam

Take your pick
Yes Madam aka In the Line of Duty II aka The Super Cops aka Police Assassins is the second feature directed by Peking Opera School attendee Cory Yuen (director of my fav martial arts movie, The Legend: Fong Sai-yuk). Released in 1985, the movie was the first starring role for Michelle Yeoh.
Undercover at the bookstore
Yeoh plays Senior Inspector Ng. She's in charge of a lot of male officers who tell her she is 'on the rag' and should 'go back to the kitchen.' She's a total badass and kicks ass at her job and ignores all the meanies.
Yeoh channels Eastwood
Plot = a microfilm conspiracy involving a fake contract and sums of money. Those things weren't very interesting to me, but I loved the stylistic touches from Yuen and the performances by the spectacular cast.
I expected movie director Tsui Hark to have a cameo, was then surprised by his substantial part (w/dramatic payoff).
Tsui Hark as Panadol (left)
I have trouble not romanticizing Hong Kong cinema, especially during its fertile periods, like in the mid-80s, when a number of great movies were being made and people were working on each other's movies; and these movies are electric, fast, fun, and cinematic. Sigh. Is there already a movie about making movies in this time/place? I'd like to write that movie, fill in the gaps with my imagination (which method would be harmonious with the movies of the time/place).

Scotland Yard sends Senior Inspector Carrie Morris (Cynthia Rothrock) to help with the case. Inspector Ng doesn't appreciate this fact at first, probably because Morris is a threat to her own authority, maybe also because she doesn't like to share the spotlight.
'Getting to know you' interrogation scene
But eventually they realize they're both kickass and independent women in roles of authority. Why not get along and kick ass together?
Dance club scene!
A series of escalating events occur -- and things do get properly dramatic -- culminating in a multifaceted showdown at the bad guy's house, with a lot of fights, a lot of Yeoh and Rothrock getting their asses kicked and kicking ass in return.
In a sort of really cool 80s way. Several 'modern' touches surprised me, like when the bad guy himself referred to all the laughing he was doing:
Next line: "I just can't help laughing because I'm so happy."
Funny. More than that, the ending is a kind of anti-hero twist that put a lump in my throat. Seriously. Don't want to give it away, but what happened made me think 'daaaaang.'

08 April 2012

Wheels on Meals

Motorcycling hoodlums
Hong Kong cinema, Barcelona, Peking Opera School, 80s fashion, comedy, romance, detective mystery, action, etc. Wheels on Meals is host to so many things I love that my fingers are trembling while I type. The 1984 movie was shot in Barcelona, directed by Sammo Hung, stars Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, and was co-written by Edward Tang.

Thomas (Chan) and David (Biao) are co-owners of a traveling kitchen. David cooks while Thomas takes and delivers orders on his skateboard. Moby (Hung) is a friend of theirs who is a recently promoted private eye, and his first case is to locate and identify a long-lost daughter, who turns out to be the current romantic interest of Thomas and David, Slyvia (Lola Forner, former Miss Spain). Sylvia poses as a hooker but is actually a pickpocket.

Thomas: Take a break, I'll ask her. David would really like to know, did you steal our money?
Sylvia: Yes.
Thomas: And those men's, too?
Sylvia: Yes.
David: Hey, don't be so rude.
Thomas: You do the asking, then.
David: You're so pretty, you can --
Thomas: What he means is, you can do well just being a hooker.
Neighbor's angry wife
Dance club scene!

The movie's merriment is its riches. It's not about shocking violence -- a quality increasingly requisite for contemporary action movies, even comedies -- it's about wild adventures and relatable characters. The action is joyous, the fights are inventive, surprising, and skillful. The comedy dialogue pops. The characters are loveably flawed and humorously clueless.

There's a moment when Moby questions a guy named Fatso and reminds him, straight to the fact, "You were Mr. Pimp on Hooker Street 18 years ago."

There's a castle, David dresses as Robin Hood, and the Three Musketeers are referenced during a fencing scene.
Skateboarding montage

Even the car chases are funny.
An elderly lady drives this grey Mitsubishi

Can't explain a joke, can't explain Wheels on Meals. It's the type of movie some people apologize for liking and blush when describing its plot. Its cheeriness infected me, and something about its characters' resilient optimism genuinely touched me. I feel like the 'plot' of my life doesn't make sense, not a big deal, and though these characters get themselves into messes, they never sink into hopelessness, but instead allow their circumstances to inspire them to find creative or daring avenues of escape. That's cool. And I like how they tease each other without judging, like in the end they're great friends to each other.

As for the title, from IMDb:
The reason that the film is titled "Wheels on Meals" instead of "Meals on Wheels" is because of superstition. Golden Harvest had produced two films beginning with "M",Megaforce and a film titled Menage a Trois, both of which were major flops. So the company's executives changed the title hoping this film would avoid the same problems, which it did. 

05 April 2012

Undressing Richard Ayoade's Submarine

On March 18, 2011, when Richard Ayoade was thirty-three years old, Optimum opened the writer/director's first theatrical movie, Submarine, in sixty UK theaters. Ayoade had already established himself as a comedic actor, writer, and director in the UK television industry, starting with Garth Marenghi's Darkplace in early 2004.

From Wikipedia:
Following on from Garth Marenghi's Netherhead, which won the 2001 Perrier Awards, the show revolves around fictional horror author Garth Marenghi (played by Holness) and his publisher Dean Learner (played by Ayoade).
Darkplace is presented as a lost classic: a television series produced in the 1980s, though never broadcast at the time. The presentation features commentary from many of the "original" cast, where characters such as "Marenghi" and "Learner" reflect on making the show. Darkplace parodies numerous aspects of '80s low-budget television, including fashion, special effects, production gaffs, and music, as well as the widespread practice of including commentary tracks on DVD releases of old films and television shows.
Ayoade had a supporting role in six episodes of Nathan Barley (a show directed and co-written by Four Lions filmmaker Christopher Morris), co-created another television show, Man to Man with Dean Learner (playing titular Dean Leaner, host of a fictitious chat show), and co-starred in the Graham Linehan written The IT Crowd, a well-known and well-received show that lasted four seasons. Beginning with The Mighty Boosh pilot episode in 2003, Ayoade appeared on the show five times through its 2007 season, co-wrote episode 3.6, and had a supporting role in frequent Mighty Boosh director Paul King's first theatrical movie, Bunny and the Bull.

His television credits demonstrated his talent for comedy, and his music videos showcased his keen eye for dramatic composition and visual range:
Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma
Super Furry Animals - Run Away

Arctic Monkeys - Crying Lightning
Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Kasabian - Vlad the Impaler
Kasabian - Vlad the Impaler
Ayoade has stated that Louis Malle's Zazie dans le m├ętro is the movie he's seen the most ("probably forty times") and acknowledges Taxi Driver and Badlands as influences on Submarine, for having "a character who sees the world very differently to everyone else."

The Submarine screenplay is an adaptation of a Joe Dunthorne novel. Gifted young actors Craig Roberts (Oliver Tate) and Yasmin Paige (Jordana Bevan) play the protagonists. The adult cast is slam-dunk great: Noah Taylor as Oliver's father, Sally Hawkins as his mother, and Paddy Considine as his father's sexual rival, Graham Purvis. ("It seems pretty clear that mum is having an affair. Why else would she be at the hairdresser's with Graham the ninja?") The crew is mostly composed of proven UK industry professionals, at approximately the same point in their careers as Ayoade, and it'll be exciting to follow them as their careers no-doubt continue.

"Most people think of themselves as individuals, that there's no one on the planet like them. This thought motivates them to get out of bed, eat food, and walk around like nothing's wrong. My name is Oliver Tate."
Film begins: pan around his bedroom concludes with snap zoom onto Oliver, who looks into the camera

It's easy to become fascinated by the tastes of Ayoade when considering Submarine. His taste in: production design, graphic design, romantic beach scenery, camera movements and compositions, edits, character attitudes and behaviors, etc. The film is full of wonderful particulars that enrich the narrative experience - and because the particulars are enriching, and because they fit with each other and lock the film into a perspective, their values seem interconnected as well, and everything in the movie feels like it has a purpose and a value. Everything feels selected, considered, cherished.

For example, I enjoy the way Ayoade uses different visual textures for different purposes. At one point he refers to the "Super 8 of memory."

The main movie is 1.85:1 and 35mm, but Ayoade switches this on occasion.
Fantasy sequence mimics tv newscamera
When Ayoade changes visual textures he adopts the logic of the perspective, which enhances the effect of the texture. During this tv newscamera fantasy sequence the camera behaves like a tv newscamera, distinguishing it from the behavior of the moviecamera. A new texture is chosen if a desired shot would violate a texture's logic. For example, this news-anchor scene with tv newscamera perspective is cut into by a moviecamera perspective for a dolly shot:
It's during this death fantasy sequence that love interest Jordana is introduced. She's the girl he daydreams about:
Ayoade cinematically expands the emotional or personal value of an experience through the structure of a scene:
Jordana and Oliver pass in the hall
Ayoade actively uses cinema grammar, in a breathing, stimulating way that amplifies the subjective experience of the protagonist. He focuses the movie's emotions through cinema - and why not, it's a movie. One advantage to this technique is that while otherwise I might drift from Oliver and his perspective and emotions, the use of cinema tethers me to him, and always I feel like I'm experiencing what Oliver is feeling. I become Oliver, as much as I can, through cinema.

The camera moves a lot. There's frequent use of OTS tracking shots, hand-held camera, whip-pans, dollies, and zooms. This gives the film - which is about teenage emotions - liveliness and kinetic energy.

Ayoade forms mini-montages for transitional moments, cuts on actions to give mundane tasks narrative gravitas and cinematic meaning:
The movie's aesthetics communicate themes of romance and passion:
Running with fireworks
Conversely, Ayoade's gifts of deliberate cinema can weigh the movie down. Life, simply, is not this focused.

How much does Ayoade keep from us, and what isn't revealed about Oliver? Between the cinematic clarity and copious v.o., the second time I watched the movie I felt slightly less captivated during story elements, which could feel merely transitional. I discovered jokes I missed the first time, but there was little new to discover about the characters. The harmony of the narrative components felt sometimes suffocating. Everything felt decided for me.

The CUT TO: punch-line jokes, e.g. the school fight and the classroom reading of the letter, are obvious examples of Ayoade's preference for slicing into life to get to what he wants.

Simply, in matters of taste, some opinions I share with Ayoade, and some I don't. That's the risk a moviemaker takes when imprinting a personality. And, bottom line, I'd rather a moviemaker take risks than not take risks.

Sometimes I feel moments exist needlessly in a movie-reality (how much does Ayoade love lights?):
Sometimes I feel what I'm seeing perfectly reflects reality or a sense of realness:
Sometimes I can't tell/don't care why/what is working (because I am feeling):
But sometimes, and these are my favorite times, and Ayoade is good at them, the moment exists in a movie-reality, but ALSO reflects a sense of realness, AND I can't tell/don't care why/what is working (because I am feeling):
When it comes to emotions, Ayoade has a great mixture of earnestness and amusement. I think Submarine is best when it deals with emotions. Ayoade's time as a music video director helped him find ways to condense emotions into visual stamps, to convert emotions into images:
Fantasy is used to express emotional states:
And dreams too:

I think the ending of Submarine is pitch-perfect and well-earned, and maybe the ending wouldn't have the same impact if Ayoade hadn't guided me along the way. It's a challenging and thin line between giving too much and not giving enough, but if in the end it pays off, and I care about the characters and have feelings and want to go outside and pick a flower and give it to a girl, than who cares about the line, the line isn't very important, not that important, not as important as sharing a feeling with the audience. I wouldn't say the movie discovers new territory, but I do think it nicely updates and pushes along techniques and themes that needn't die.