16 June 2008

73. amadeus

"why would god choose an obscene child to be his instrument?" -- salieri

the movie is about a man obsessed. not mozart. he is shown to work extremely hard at his music, but he is also shown to have his vices -- chasing women around when we first see him, but also trying on wigs, holding court at parties, and drinking, always drinking.

the man obsessed is salieri, and he is obsessed almost exclusively because he has no vices as mozart does. he see salieri doing nothing except music. he lives music, breathes music, loves music. the tragedy of his character is that he is merely mediocre at it, and therefore hates that mozart is a genius and that it comes so easily to him.

titles are important! and the title here gives an insight into what the movie is really about. "amadeus" is loosely translated as "god's love", and, in salieri's opinion, mozart has indeed received god's love, while he, salieri, was foresaken. and he is jealous. salieri feels that god has given up on him, so he tries his best to get back at god by giving up on religion, burning his cross, tempting mozart's wife to commit adultery. of course, all these schemes fail, just as his final plan to steal mozart's deathbed requiem, and later, his attempt to kill himself. and in the end, mozart has (literally) the last laugh.

"forgive me, your majesty. i'm a vulgar man, but my music is not." -- mozart

the acting in the movie is remarkable. the main thing this movie does well is that it creates a realistic period piece, and uses casting to make it seem contemporary and to humanize the characters. certainly we see this in the writing (mozart's scatological word games), but tom hulce makes mozart a living, breathing man with faults and charms, money problems and social foibles, and a ridiculous laugh. in other words, he was a man in the flesh before he became a legend in the memory.

f. murray abraham also gives a remarkable performance as salieri. he makes us understand, if not empathize, with a man teeming with jealousy and envy. after all, who hasn't done something we love but been bad at it? in salieri we have yet another character who is utterly reprehensible, butwe indentify. and abraham's acting is a model in restraint. his choices in making the character largely reactive were smart -- we see him squirm at almost every interaction with mozart while he silently seethes underneath the surface. and we see him shatter at the end when mozart forgives him on his deathbed, and then shatter ever more when his scheme to steal the work is locked up shut. even in his final looney-bin absolving, he plays the character small. many actors these days should take note to not always go over-the-top.

"is it modern?" -- emperor joseph

it is also directed so well. for one thing, since the movie is from salieri's perspective and the narrative is from his memory, everything is shown in either medium or long shots. we get almost no close-ups to speak of, and are always kept at a distance. salieri wants to get close to mozart's greatness, but he's always at arms' length. we also have graceful use of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. always cut with great sound design and music placement, never jarring.

and most wonderfully, we see, in purely filmic terms from a juxtaposition of images and sound, how the creative process works, from inspiration to realization. watch as mozart is berated about his treatment of his wife, and how with two simple zooms and an audio mix, followed by a quick cut, we see a nagging lady's words turn into an opera singer's stagework. and in the deathbed requiem scene, we hear mozart dictate and hum the words and notes as the soundtrack plays what follows. all economical ways to show this process of making great music, a process salieri comes close to, but never quite understands.

"all men are equal in God's eyes." - father volger

as salieri responds, are they?

05 June 2008

short cuts: iron man, forgetting sarah marshall, forty guns, all that heavens allows, young american bodies

iron man

if you're going to make big hollywood blockbuster, make it like this. start with a good cast, including a star who takes character roles like robert downey jr. does. pepper it with other talent, such as paltrow, howard and bridges. give them a structure for the story, but let them improvise a lot of the dialogue, often to comic effect (paltrow after their dance: "that was weird"). make sure the storyline actually makes sense and is grounded in reality, and tie it in to current world events and concerns (weapons proliferation, terrorism). geek out with the technology and computer graphics (tony stark's lab), but don't let it overload the story. have great set pieces (flying into the clouds). and make sure everyone knows there will be a sequel (wait through the credits).

those are some of the things jon favreau did with this movie, and that is why it was so successful.

forgetting sarah marshall

how fun is it that judd apatow ushers through smart comedies starring largely unknown folks? this is a good, fun summer movie with a grounding in pain, which gives it heart. they rope us in with a twist on an old premise (dude gets dumped, becomes depressed -- but he's naked!) and then send us into sunny hawaii. normally that's a paradise and is always seen as such on film, but we get hawaii from the perspective of a man depressed -- weird locals, whacked-out surf instructors, drinking all day out of anger instead of joy.

i know certain people think the apatow formula is getting old. i don't. i will take a smart hollywood comedy with legit emotions and sketched-out characters before i'll take a lowest-common-demoninator comedy from mike myers. i also disagree with charges that its a sexist, scumbag's fantasy: pretty girls with scuzzy good-for-nothing dudes. in the case of "knocked up", she was STUCK with her man because of her pregnancy, and she old got with him because she was drunk and he was funny. in the case of this movie, our main character is a bit of lay-about, but he's also successful at his music work, and their relationship before the movie starts works because he serves to ground her. we see this in the scene directly after sarah marshall finds out her show got cancelled, and she goes into a monologue about how she "happy to move into features." he tells her: "you're not on the view, you can talk to me." the scene is great, because it shows how their relationship worked (she needed him to keep her in check from becoming too much of a hollywood asshole) and we see her, perhaps for the first time, as a real human with real concerns about her life and career. it reminds me of leslie mann's scene after she finds paul rudd playing fantasy baseball in "knocked up": "just because you're not yelling doesn't mean you aren't being mean."

not every comedy is as generous to its females.

forty guns

forty guns = forty dicks. this is a hollywood picture at its most subversive to the code. we see stanwick riding through the plains with men behind her -- they could be chasing her, but they really are stuck on her like glue.

what struck me most about the movie beyond the double entendres ("may i feel your gun?" "it might go off in your face.") is the technical mastery. fuller stages amazing tracking shots -- dollies down a table to see all forty guns, a crane from inside a building, across a town, and panning over to see horses galloping. that's why the french loved it.

all that heavens allows

another 1950's subversive one. this is a model of the auteur theory's posit that you can plant a personal tone on any picture, even a hollywood studio genre picture. this movie is scathing social commentary on the mob mentality that led to conformity in the 50's that dictated how you could live, who you could see, how you should dress, who you should love. its a thinly-veiled reference to rock hudson's homosexuality (wyman's character's name "cary scott" is a reference to two of hudson's lovers, including cary grant), mccarthyism, television's influence on society (and the film business, natch), and the fact that conformity can shape even the most strong of individuals -- after all, ron slowly transforms his rustic old mill into a virtual reproduction of cary's suburban house.

again, the production is glorious. the production design and costumes are period-perfect, the music is just right, and the color and lighting are beautiful and thematically exact right.

young american bodies

i'm a guest star in season 3 of joe swanberg's web series young american bodies, from ifc and nerve. check it out!