Against The Hype

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The Movies I Love, #50: Adaptation

July 29, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

When I fished a video CD of Adaptation off a videostore bargain shelf circa 2005, I had no idea who Meryl Streep was. (I know, I know.) The cover lodged her squarely between Nicolas Cage, whom I vaguely knew, and Chris Cooper, whom I didn’t. At the time, what drew my eye lay above Streep’s face and name, where it proclaimed, in large font: “Academy Award Winner: Best Supporting Actor – Chris Cooper.” Ooh, I thought. An Oscar-winning performance. Might be interesting. No nominations were mentioned; the rest of the cover gave little else away.

My first Meryl
Adaptation thus holds the lone, eccentric honor of being the first and last Meryl Streep movie I’ve seen where I was not anticipating her performance. And unlike The Devil Wears Prada, which burnishes its own loin-girding introduction to Meryl for many of my generation and younger, Adaptation sneaks Meryl up on those who have yet to grasp her massive cultural chokehold over the ’80s cinema. Our initial glimpses of her typing solitarily in a high-rise office at night, slinking into a courthouse in session, or approaching Cooper’s chip-toothed hick for an interview hardly give off the vibes of a breathtaking role, even if her voiceovers of literary snatches from The Orchid Thief take on a mellifluous tone.


Best Shot: The Royal Tenenbaums

July 26, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

This post was written for the Hit Me with Your Best Shot series over at The Film Experience, graciously hosted by Nathaniel Rogers.

Wes Anderson’s films (of the mere Oscar-nominated two I’ve seen) brim with shots like the above: candy-colored, immaculately designed, and with human props at its center. Can you tell I’m not that huge a fan? Yet I love how the pervasive deadpan that Anderson enforces on his actors leaps out into the image here. The billboard behind Royal (Gene Hackman) and Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) might be the visual equivalent of a racist joke—why does the Indian right-hand man get lumped in with a Spanish translation?—but it’s also blaring the emergency/emergencia in which these two baffled men are waist-deep, but barely able to countenance.

SIFF 2011: Pina Astounds, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is Documentary 101

September 19, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

Drop everything and come to Shaw Lido tonight (Sept 19, Mon, 9.30pm) to see Pina, which I saw two days ago and can’t wait to see again. Here’s why:

It’s a vision of the future of 3D cinema. Even more than James Cameron’s Avatar before it, Pina makes a single-handed, multi-bodied case for what 3D cinema should look like if it is to take pride in being a legitimate art form. The elaborate planning needed to capture famed choreographer Pina Bausch’s dances—ingenious with space, and filmed nonstop before live audiences—even implies that 3D might be the key to restoring lost staging practices and less hyperactive editing styles to the movies. (Ironic that this newfangled “gimmick” should offer itself as a potential messiah to all the ever-lamenting Hollywood classicists.)

It’s the hulking Citizen Kane of dance retrospectives. As if its groundbreaking use of deep cinematic space wasn’t enough of a clue, Pina stakes its claim to being the Citizen Kane of dance retrospectives by revealing Bausch to us through the legacies and people she left behind, in ways that defy easy summary. Instead of filming regular talking heads, Wenders layers the testimonies of the dancers of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal over clips of their faces. More than one reminisces about Bausch’s penetrating gaze, which read them more clearly than they could give voice to, so it’s almost like Wenders is trying to exhume Bausch’s very gaze.

It was almost never made. The attention that Pina accords to the Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers grows even more poignant when you learn that Wenders cancelled plans to make the film after Bausch died unexpectedly, just a few days before filming was initially slated to begin. It was at the behest of these dancers (and Bausch’s fans worldwide) that Wenders decided to press on. “Dance, dance, or we are lost,” cries the movie’s subtitle as the credits end, and I can’t think of a more fitting rallying cry for these people who, through Bausch’s influence and choreography, ask to be found.

Just as Pina feels infused with the spirit of all the dancers that surrounded its making, Cave of Forgotten Dreams has the head and heart of the people that accompanied its making: academics. It isn’t a knock to say that this documentary about the Chauvet Caves, which hold the earliest cave paintings known to man, feels much like the movie an archaeologist or art historian or anthropologist would have made.

I daresay director Werner Herzog is a little bit of all those respectable professions, and he defers even more to the small group of actual professors in his midst who, like his filmmaking team, have been allowed a rare visit to study the caves under limited time and conditions (no touching, no straying from the narrow central walkway, etc). Yet Herzog’s own specific penchant for spelunking for people’s stories and dreams shines through (an archaeologist he interviews turns out to have been a unicycle-and-juggling circus man), even if his inimitable deadpan sometimes makes his meditations on the subject more portentous than his documentary-101 approach otherwise affords.

F***ed: Actress Peak Performance Barometer?

September 14, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Picture Posts

A woman getting pounded into by a man oblivious to her distraction, turmoil, inner life: Any cinema that attends to such an image surely has an eye to that woman’s strengths and vulnerabilities in other ways that surprise and resonate.

Which of these performances do you most admire, or look forward to seeing? Do you know of others like them?

  • Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures (1994)
  • Julianne Moore in Safe (1995)
  • Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • Nicole Kidman in Birth (2004)
  • Tang Wei in Lust, Caution (2007)

“No, No, No!” “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

September 13, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Picture Posts

Lina Lamont as “Yvonne”: Pierre will save me. Pierre!

“Rouge Noir”: Pierre is miles away, you witch!

Lina as “Yvonne”: No, no, no!

“Rouge Noir”: Yes, yes, yes!

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Stromboli: There! This will be your home, where I can find you always!

Pinocchio: No, no, no!

Stromboli: Yes, yes, yes!

Pinocchio (1940)

How do you prefer your “No, no, no” and “Yes, yes, yes”?

  • With Jean Hagen’s helium-frizzed flutiness and an uncredited actor’s mustachioed villainy in Singin’ in the Rain
  • With Dickie Jones’ fear-struck protests and Charles Judels’ hulking malevolence in Pinocchio

Mention your pick in the comments below!