Category Archives: Movies

The Skin I Live In

*Have done my best to avoid spoilers. No easy task with this movie – for realz.

One of the central characters of this film is skin. It’s featured prominently in every scene, with close-ups that reveal every line and pore, or in the case of the beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya), a complexion that is almost inhumanly perfect. Her skin is so stunning it shames the rest of us for not having our dermatologist on speed dial. But we quickly learn that her unblemished, milky skin looks a little TOO perfect for good reason. And the reason is the mad scientist, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonia Banderas), the brilliant plastic surgeon who keeps her locked up in his incredible mansion. She is both his prisoner and his love. She makes for a very beautiful and adoring lab rat.

Skin. La pielPedro Almodovar‘s latest work, The Skin I Live In, would be nothing without it. The weathered, dark, handsome Ledgard is a stark contrast to Vera’s porcelain-like face and body, so perfect that she wears a full body suit for protection, a “second skin” prescribed to her by her somewhat over-attentive doctor.

Scars, bullet wounds, knife punctures, and even tattoos and wrinkles are jarring and unwelcome for the viewer after setting site on Vera. Tattoos are ubiquitous these days, and with a small, understated one, most of us wouldn’t glance twice. But the black, inky scrawl tattooed on the dark skin of the songstress during the party scene is the first we see in the film and therefore captivating in that context. The faceless nudes in the artwork on Dr. Ledgard’s wall carry a darker, more sinister significance as the story develops. The mass of chalky, mutilated flesh of a severe burn victim is the root of all the films problems.

Sure, it’s what’s inside that counts, but this suspense thriller proves that the outside counts for an awful lot, too. Maintaining inner peace and mental health is hard to do when we don’t recognize our own face. Vera uses yoga and meditation to stay centered and to protect her inner self. With Dr. Plastic playing experiment-of-the-week on her, she has only the deepest parts of herself to remind her where she came from. By the end of the film, her pristine face has lost some of its allure because the viewer is too aware of the troubled soul beneath it.

This is not the first time Almodovar’s collaborated with Banderas, and hopefully it won’t be the last because this pair make Johnny Depp and Tim Burton look like Ernie and Burt. The last time these two teamed up was the 1990 film Tie me up! Tie me down! that explores the same Stockholm Syndrome issues of love and imprisonment that we see in The Skin I Live In.

Almodovar tackles age-old themes, including identity, gender, guilt, revenge and voyeurism. But the execution feels somehow different, giving the audience a fresh and twisted viewpoint. He turns the rape revenge genre upside down, casts a jarring perspective on sexuality and identity, and fuses realism and sci-fi without skimping on emotional intensity.

Much of the style choices and plot devices seem straight out of a Hitchcock movie – the pace and the arc, the wide-eyed close-ups and claustrophobic spaces, not to mention the many hidden revolvers, in drawers, in purses, and under bedsheets. He uses these classic tropes but he’s made them his own. The gift of the auteur.

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Bill Cunningham New York

“I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses. I’m interested in clothes.” ~Bill Cunningham

This documentary was a real pleasure to watch. Here is a man who doesn’t seem to have a hint of vanity, and yet he’s fascinated by clothing and style. For most of his adult life, he has had two columns in The New York Times and in recent years he’s had a very cool audio blog.

His first rule: “If you don’t take money they can’t tell you what to do.” And so he doesn’t accept any money for his work. Not any. He scrapes by living like a true bohemian. For decades, his crammed studio in Carnegie Hall was also his home, though it had no kitchen or bathroom and he slept on a cot amid his dozens of filing cabinets.

He pioneered street style photography, paving the way for the likes of The Sartorialist, my personal favourite. What’s most inspiring though is that he seems to really, truly love what he does.

“Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of every day life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.”

You can check out Bill Cunningham’s blog on the Times website here. His latest post is about the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Fashion Institute at MoMA in New York. It’s a great way to view his photos but it’s also worth listening to his endearing voice and appreciating his wonderful way with words. He says the “kids” (as he calls everyone under 40 years old) viewing the exhibit look like they’re “drunk on fashion,” dressed head to heel in gothic, McQueenesque flare. The entire collection on display is like “falling into Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole,” says Cunningham.

What a charmer.

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Tom Ford’s Directorial Debut – Heart!

A Single Man

Directed By: Tom Ford

Screenplay By: Tom Ford

Based on the Novel by: Christopher Isherwood

MANY spoiler alerts, heads up.

George has decided to die today (I warned you!). The protagonist of this film, George (Colin Firth), is a handsome, polished and dapper man whose romantic soul has been mortally wounded by the death of his beloved Jim.

I absolutely loved Tom Ford’s directorial debut for its aesthetic genius – the style and art direction are understated and minimalist but executed so perfectly and with such a clear, consistent voice that they manage to pack a very solid punch. Tom Ford invites his audience to see the world through the crisp lines of George’s flawlessly tailored suits and the heavy, rich wood that covers every wall of his mod, 1960’s home.

But this movie accomplishes a lot more than being merely beautifully stylized (which of course is no mean feat), it also ambitiously tackles the prejudices against gay relationships that plagued the middle of the 20th century, and let’s face it, still persist today. George is unlike the stereotypical flaky, dotting, effeminate gay man that we’ve all grown so fond of on T.V. sitcoms. He is a romantic, witty, masculine and quiet man who had a very sincere, deep and mature connection with the lover he lost. Despite his committed, 16-year relationship with Jim, George doesn’t have the privileges that others take for granted: he isn’t invited to grieve with Jim’s family at the funeral; his redneck neighbours despise him and even his best friend Charlotte (Julianne Moore) calls his relationship with Jim a sham. But George puts on a brave face. Colin Firth’s portrayal of this tortured, thoughtful man, who despite everything has a great sense of humour and a strong mind, is refreshing after seeing the actor in one-too-many rom coms.

The film is set over the course of one day, which just so happens to be George’s last. Like any other day, George wakes up and goes to work. He’s an English professor and today he and his class are discussing prejudice and minorities in a Huxley novel. He tells his class that hatred towards minorities develops when people believe that a minority poses a threat. That threat may be real, but it is often an imagined threat. And if the minority group is an invisible minority, the fear people develop can become that much stronger. This poignant speech is very telling of American culture in that era – between communists and gay people, the average American had invisible enemies all over the place. Not unlike today.

This movie is stark and haunting, yet compellingly beautiful. In once scene, George looks out at a very pink sunset that he says is the result of smog, and the man he’s with says “sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty”. And though Tom Ford’s film is beautiful in each and every frame, George only finds vitality and beauty in a few special moments. Ford let’s his audience see the world as George does by using a grayish brown filter in most of the film except for a few select shots that are rich in saturated colour. These are the brief moments when George is inspired by the sight of something lovely – the red lips of his secretary, the orange trees and roses growing in Charlotte’s house, the tanned and perfectly sculpted naked upper-bodies of a pair of tennis players, and the bright patent leather shoes and cotton dresses of the adorable little girl across the street.

This powerful movie is a pleasure to watch, and will hopefully make headway in dispelling the ignorant, widespread fears of invisible minorities.

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