Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Badassery of Wolverine

Sometimes it blows my mind when I try to imagine how iconic roles could have been played by someone else entirely. Would Indian Jones have been as heroic if Tom Selleck filled out the fedora instead? Would Julia Roberts have had the career she has if Molly Ringwald had played the hooker with a heart of gold in Pretty Woman? And every time Hugh Jackman shows up as Wolverine (which is pretty damn often), I think about poor Dougray Scott and wonder if he still kicks himself for having to dropout of the first X-Men movie. (And all because of Mission Impossible II...I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.) The role has become so synonymous with Jackman (he's been playing it for 14 years now!), giving him a career in film (Oscar-nominated!), and pretty much making him an international star.  In honor of Jackman's latest outing as everyone's favorite mutant in this Friday's X-Men: Days of Future Past (does that title make sense to anyone?), this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience looks back at our first encounter with the clawed-one (and company) in Bryan Singer's X-Men (2000).

My only knowledge of the X-Men is based solely on the 90's Fox Saturday morning cartoon (does anyone have the theme song stuck in their head now?). I have never read any of the comics and can't say that I was necessarily looking forward to a film version as eagerly as others. I remember when first seeing the film that I was not that impressed with it. (I didn't even see it in the movie theater. Actually the only X-Men movie I've seen in the theater is the forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine.) But watching it again this weekend, it wasn't as unsatisfying as I remember it being. Sure, the special effects seem cheap (Toad's tongue is laughably bad, but the final film had to be rushed 6 months early–maybe they just ran out of time...and money). Halle Berry still barely registers as fan favorite Storm (that wig!).  And don't even try making sense out of the convoluted plot line. But some things are actually kinda fun. Rebecca Romijn (no Stamos) looks amazing as the shape-shifting, blue-scaled Mystique. And there's nice touches like this clever blink-and-you'll-miss-it dissolve at the very beginning when the X from 20th Century Fox lingers for just a little bit before fading to black:

But what still holds up the most, for me, is Jackman's charismatic performance. It really is hard to imagine anyone else taking on the role (sorry, Dougray...). Although it's probably fair to say that whomever took on the character would have equally excelled because it's the type of role that just wins over fans. He's a total badass. I mean, he's basically indestructible since his body is capable of healing so quickly. He's got a crazy feathered haircut that makes it look like he has horns (a look not so easy to pull of as it may seem. And I've seen guys try). And, most importantly, he has fucking retractable claws that pop out of his knuckles! Which is what I inevitably had to pick for my Best Shot. Wolverine proving his coolness by just how much he doesn't give a fuck. A little too on the nose, yes. But still pretty fucking awesome:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World

Despite its place as one of the most influential films of the 60s, I have never gotten into or particularly enjoyed Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow-Up. I watched it years ago when I was trying to self-educate myself with film history, feeling that the film was required viewing. But as it dragged on and my mind began to drift further and further away from the film (how do you make a murder plot seem dull?!), I was completely unimpressed. And by the time the pantomime tennis game closed out the film (which, honestly, that scene feels like a SNL parody of an art house film), I was overcome with a relief that it was finally over. But also glad that I could say I had seen it. My roommate turned to me when it finished asking, "Why did we just watch that?"

The film feels very much like a snapshot of Swinging London in the 60s (insert your Austin Powers impression here) and I'm sure felt very revolutionary for its day. And compared to the academically-stuffy Best Picture winner that year, A Man For All Seasons, I'm sure it felt like they were seeing Spring Breakers. I've read a theory that the reason it was so popular was because of the promise of nudity and (more importantly) there were no subtitles to sit through to see them. I guess before the internet made boobs just a google search away, you had to find them any which way you could.

So when Nathaniel at The Film Experience chose it for this week's movie for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, I saw it as an opportunity to re-examine it. I was willing to give the film another shot. After all, I was so much younger then. What did I really know about what makes a great film anyway? Going in with an open mind, I quickly found that my opinion on the film has not changed. It still feels tedious, meandering, and the unengaging photographer character at its center is misogynistic and so over it all, that why should we even bother ourselves? I know there's more lurking beneath its surface, but I just can't seem to bring myself to see it for more than its face value.

Which is a little ironic considering the thing makes the biggest impression on me are the crazy Mod fashions and glossy photo shoots. With the success and style of Mad Men over the past couple years, it seems we've been having a bit of a 60s fashion love-in again. And the clothes in this movie do not disappoint. They're certainly a lot more high-fashion than anything that Peggy would dare to wear to the office.

The film also co-stars a genuine fashion icon, Jane Birkin, as one of the two girls infatuated with David Hemmings' photographer character. (She's the blonde one.) Jane would later become  famous when she married French singer Serge Gainsbourg and she's also the mother of actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. But her greatest contribution to the fashion world is as the namesake of one fashion's most coveted items, the Hermès Birkin bag. A handbag so exclusive in its status-symboldom, that there's a years-long waiting list to purchase it.

So of course my Best Shot had to be this beautifully composed shot that captures my favorite element of the film: the period's outlandish high-fashion looks.

Although it is more than just a simple glamor shot. As the models are staggered further and further away with the pane of glass between each of them, it begins to mimic later in the film when the photographer begins to repeatedly blowup some photos he took. Copies of copies as they become closer and closer and more unique and distinct. The dividers also show how he looks at the world through a glass, giving him a distance between discovering the reality right in front of him. And with the camera in the shot, which is almost a character in the film itself, it's as if we as the audience are looking through his lens. Seeing what he sees.

Like that fabulously tasty striped number...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What Dreams Are Made Of

The story goes that the concept for 1977’s 3 Women appeared to director Robert Altman in its entirety within a dream. And the ethereal finished film with its trippy plot (complete with an ending that is entirely up to interpretation) and dreamscape visuals (the creepy murals that cover the bottoms of pools and walls are not soon forgotten) seem to evoke the cerebral source. To be honest, the film is pretty bizarre. Even when the plot doesn’t entirely make sense, the tone and mood of the film are enough to sustain interest. You just have to let the whole experience wash over you and give yourself over to the head-trip. It really found a way to wriggle into my brain. Days later I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. Luckily, the weekly film collective known as Hit Me WithYour Best Shot from Nathaniel at The Film Experience is examining Altman’s 3 Women. Perhaps analyzing the film’s visual aesthetics will bring more clarity. At the very least, it’s a chance to share our thoughts about the film, which begs for discussion.

Shelley Duvall (in a role that won her a Best Actress award at Cannes), Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule play the trio of women in question, Millie, Willie, and Pinky (which makes them sound like a Three Stooges-like comedic group or the long-lost nephews of Donald Duck). Pinky (Spacek), socially inept and perhaps a little mentally handicapped, takes a job at a spa for senior citizens and quickly becomes infatuated with her co-worker, Millie (Duvall). It seems that Pinky may actually be the only person to show interest in her at all as the talkative Millie is virtually ignored by everyone else around her. Millie is also delusional about her own sway over men and place among her peers. She is constantly on the hunt for men that seem repulsed by her (in a cringe-worthy scene, the men she has lunch with literally talk right through her) or endlessly throwing dinner parties for non-existent company. The women become roommates (AWKWARD) and become entangled in the life of their landlord and his pregnant artist wife, Willie (Rule).

Like most Altman films, the plot is mercurial and doesn’t exist in a traditional storytelling setting. It’s merely a device to frame fascinating character studies and dreamlike symbolism. Which leads me to my choice for Best Shot from the film. It combines some of the film’s themes and imagery into a single shot.

Water is used throughout the film to mirror the fluidity of dreams and shifting nature of the film’s characters. A reoccurring effect is a wave that makes the screen appear as if it is half submerged in water, mimicking the way our mind feels as we sleep. A lot of the film’s action even takes place in and around swimming pools as both the women’s home and job prominently feature the body of water. The still waters of the pool also reflect back images but fractured and distorted. With that in mind, a pool happens to be the setting for my chosen shot.

Pinky seems almost as obsessed with a pair of twins that also work at the spa as she is with Millie. The twins, who walk in unison and dress identically, seem to be collectively one person split into two. Neither is given an individual personality and they float about as a pair throughout the film as creepily as those cinematic twins in another Shelley Duvall classic. At one point in the film, Pinky wonders aloud if the twins even know which one is which. As the film progresses, Pinky and Millie’s power dynamic switch and the two women start to meld together to form aspects of the same person.  We even learn that Pinky’s real name is actually Mildred and that in a bit of identity theft, she used Millie’s Social Security Number for her spa paperwork.

The duplicity yet singularity of the twin’s presence in the water is like an omen of what is later to befall the women. The camera zooms in on them eerily gazing at Millie and Pinky from the pool, unsettling us as viewers and foreshadowing the women’s own unification. The film may have been a creation of the stuff that dreams are made of, but the harmless seeming shot is almost nightmarish.