Posts Tagged ‘Alison Pill’

Freeloaders Revolt

Snowpiercer

snowpiercer_ver27

Director: Bong Joon Ho

Cast: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Ewen Bremner, Kang-ho Song, Alison Pill, Luke Pasqualino, Tomas Lemarquis

South Korean director Joon Ho Bong creates an innovative cinematic allegorical thriller Snowpiercer based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige featuring a truly international cast headed by Captain America star Chris Evans along with Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Kang-ho Song, John Hurt and Ewen Bremner.

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Set in 2031 in a second ice age, a glacial earth has completely frozen over due to an industrial accident in a bid to stop climate change, when industrialists released a chemical CW7 into the planet’s atmosphere. The remaining survivors on earth are bound up and segregated on a fast moving train known as Snowpiercer, a futuristic and brutal version of the Ark, on a circuitous track around frozen waste land.

The train is segregated into first class, economy class and the filthy freeloaders at the tail, squashed into sordid living conditions desperate to survive and are unwittingly fed blocks of protein. Naturally an uprising ensures led by Curtis played by Evans and spurned on by Gilliam to storm the different sections and finally reach the front of the train and confront the enigmatic industrialist Wilford, who built the train prior to the post-apocalyptic freeze.

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Snowpiercer is brutal, truly inventive cinema, a chilling allegory on the nature of unrelenting climate change and a horrifying indictment on the nature and savagery inherent in humanity. As Curtis and his gang of misfits storm various sections of the train from a hermetic aquarium to a bizarre brainwashing kindergarten to a debauched drug fueled rave, each section unravels and the perfect order of the passengers is permanently disrupted.

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The direction by Joon Ho Bong is flawless if somewhat stylized and the sound editing is fantastic, but what really makes Snowpiercer so innovative is its unique conceptualization ably assisted by a strong cast helped by a host of best supporting actors including Swinton as the Scottish accented Mason, Octavia Spencer (The Help) as Tanya and capped off by Ed Harris (The Hours, Pollock) as the chillingly demented industrialist Wilford, who is a perfect foil to Curtis’s plan of insurrection.

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Snowpiercer is unique, violent, bizarre and utterly thought-provoking, a truly original semi apocalyptic thriller with grand Orwellian themes framing the fast speeding narrative. In the tradition of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or more recently the Denzel Washington thriller The Book of Eli, Snowpiercer fits into that strange subgenre of sci-fiction mixed with apocalyptic fantasy. Chris Evans is superb as the brave leader Curtis along with an energetic Jamie Bell as Edgar last seen as an S & M Master in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.

Snowpiercer is riveting, strange and surreal, showing to what bloody depths humans will descend to, when their survival is threatened by a ravaged and inhospitable climate.

Recapturing the Magic

Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson has never been a brilliant actor. Mainly a comic actor and often cast in similar roles in a long series of American comedies from You, Me and Dupree to The Wedding Crashers. Under the right direction and script, Wilson is the type of actor that would shine. This is proven in Woody Allen’s simply delightful nostalgic film Midnight in Paris, which won him the 2012 Oscar for best original screenplay.

Wilson, like Jason Biggs and similar actors including Larry David plays a version of Woody Allen, a young idealistic  and neurotic playwright/author who is on holiday in Paris in the 21st century with his fiancée a wealthy American played by the effervescent Rachel McAdams. Wilson plays starry-eyed Gil who wants to recapture the Paris of the twenties, the enchanting city of lights as the epicentre of literary and artistic culture and bohemian ideas as it was decades ago. The Paris of Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The Paris immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in such novels as Tender is the Night.

Partly to avoid his annoying future in-laws, the hapless Gil strolls the streets of the French capital and by some magical twist at the stroke of midnight is transported back to the late 1920’s where his literary figures come to life. With real interaction with the artists and writers of the 1920’s and also of the earlier more elegant Belle Epoque, Gil is inspired to forgo all the promised commercialism of an America career and remain in gorgeous Paris,  a move that so many of his literary heroes did more than 80 years ago.

Midnight in Paris is a homage to Paris as an inspirational city not just for a whole generation of American literary greats, but Spanish artists such as Dali and Picasso but also filmmakers such as Luis Bruneul. Woody Allen deftly integrates a French and American ensemble cast including Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as Picasso’s muse, Adrien Brody as Dali, Allison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein and even Carla Bruni.

Moving away from his Manhattan obsessions, Woody Allen is clearly enchanted with such European cities as Paris, Barcelona and London completes his European set of films with Midnight in Paris, an equally brilliant companion to Vicky Christina Barcelona and Matchpoint, with each film not just capturing the essence of these cities but also the ambiance and social characteristics of its famed residents, whilst throwing an American hero or heroine into an essentially foreign continental culture.

 

Activism and Martyrdom

Milk

directed by

Gus van Sant

The article below was prepared for a film workshop and discussion of Milk held at the inaugural Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival November 2011.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you”.

 

Political Activist, Martyr and lover of Opera

These words were used at a speech Milk made on the San Francisco City Hall steps as an elected city supervisor at the Gay Freedom Day Parade on the 25th June 1978 four months before being assassinated. This scene in Gus Van Sant’s film is critical to the viewing of Milk as not just as a film about the Gay rights movement in America, but a film about civil rights and the fight for protection against bigotry and the preservation of individual freedoms which should be enshrined in any democracy.
Milk was an activist for Gay rights and for human rights and he galvanized the communities of Castro Street in the Eureka Valley and also the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the protection of civil liberties. Milk was also the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position in a major metropolitan American city. He was a south-African equivalent of an Executive councillor and not merely a ward councillor.

Historically any political movement with a strong base of supporters, martyrdom works. There are examples of martyrs in a range of socio-political movements worldwide from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to Ruth First. Milk knew of the risks he was taking as an openly gay supervisor who was ready to engage in public debate at a time when the gay rights movement was blossoming along the American West Coast.

Milk was ready to die for his beliefs and was already casting himself in the role of a martyr – he persevered in the face of constant death threats. He challenged opposing viewpoints which were mostly grounded in the form of religious bigotry and parochial conservatism crystallized in the form of Florida religion fanatic Anita Bryant and Californian Republican Senator John Briggs.

Milk stood up for what was right at a particular moment in a historical context which reflected the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and followed on from similar social political movements in America most notably the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60s and early 70s (notably about the Vietnam war). Harvey Milk was a skilled political activist and knew how to mobilise his supporters effectively.
Milk’s challenge to gay and lesbian people in America was this – We have to let them know who we are. You have to be open about your sexuality. He was the political version of the current crop of Hollywood stars and singers who are breaking through the glass closet Zachary Quinto and Ricky Martin, David Hyde Pearce, Neil Patrick Harris.

As a film, Milk was hugely successful for 3 reasons –
1) Director Gus van Sant is an openly gay director and has touched on homosexuality in his previous films, My Own Private Idaho and his award winning film Elephant.
2)  The screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay was openly gay.
3) Milk as a film was researched and had the input of surviving members of the Gay rights movement of the 1970s notably the influential Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch in the film, Milk was shot in all the actual locations in and around San Francisco, notably the City Hall and Castro Street neighbourhood. Van Sant encouraged all the actors to improvise in their characters in the authentic locations they were shooting in. Seasoned actor, Sean Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is exceptionally brilliant, notably winning him a 2nd Best Actor Award.

There is a moment in Milk when Harvey is delivering the recruitment speech at Gay Freedom Parade that this biopic transcends the boundaries of being just a film about gay rights, but a film about justifiable civil rights. Ironically the call for recruitment sounds very similar to Uncle Sam calling for new army recruits to the US military. Gay people came to San Francisco from small towns across America and the gay community swelled after the end of World War 2 when many closeted military men disembarked at San Francisco after returning from the Pacific theatre of War and remained in the city, not obviously keen to return to conservative mid-Western towns.

Viewing Milk in a South African context

South Africa is an intensely political society and as a new democracy which has enshrined the rights of every individual by having one of the most liberal constitutions, gay people are protected by the constitution but is there an adequate justice system to enforce the civil liberties of gay people in SA. This point is made in Milk in the 70s when gay men are beaten up and victimised by SF police officers in the film. Even though gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden, does the South African police force adequately uphold these rights in contemporary society? In terms of Gay Pride marches worldwide from Sao Paulo to Warsaw – the role of the police as both protector and persecutor is brilliantly explored in the documentary Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride.

Best line in the film – “I sound like a homosexual with Power” – from being marginalised to being politicized that was the legacy that Harvey Milk gave to the American and the international gay rights movement.
Harvey Milk was a quintessential Gay politician who only served in office for one year but his impact on social change and his symbol as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America and internationally is huge. Milk was 40 years old when he first came out the closet and started living as an openly gay man.
The character of Dan White played by Josh Brolin in Milk represents a complete dichotomy from Harvey Milk. White was also a fellow city supervisor from a strong Irish Catholic neighbourhood who was concerned more with supporting a family on a municipal salary than supporting any of Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone’s liberal city ordinances. Dan White viewed Harvey Milk as a threat and he acted upon that threat, whereas Milk underestimated the danger of Dan White as a potential enemy. The last quarter of the film, there is a sense that Milk had almost become cavalier with his political power despite receiving numerous death threats. Milk was willing to become a martyr and for the cause, often remarking that politics was theatre.

Politics is Theatre

Politics is theatre except the scripts are different, but there remain the stars even they become legends as martyrs.

Van Sant skilfully shows not just the extent of the Milk’s activism but also his passion for the gay rights cause at the immense cost of his personal life and safety. The film beautifully reconstructs the fateful events leading up to Milk’s assassination and the truly poignant ending of Harvey Milk being heralded as a martyr by the community he served and adored. Milk is more about Martyrdom and Activism in a socio-political movement in the 1970s and the call for equal civil rights for gays and all other minorities.

Today in San Francisco there are convention centres, streets and public institutions named after slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Corner of Castro and Market Street in Eureka Valley is now called Harvey Milk Plaza.
The immortalization of martyrs for a cause is not new in any political movement and is especially significant in the current SA political context with conference centres, highways and streets being renamed after struggle heroes against Apartheid more appropriately in cities such as Durban and Johannesburg.

Proposition 6 as put forward by Californian Senator Briggs was legislation that allowed the California state to discriminate against employees in this case teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk’s biggest triumph was getting the gay communities and the broader society to vote against the implementation of proposition 6.
Irony is that Gay Marriage in America as a federal law is still banned. Only several US states have passed legislation allowing gay marriage to date including Vermont.
Proposition 8 (ballot title: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment; called California Marriage Protection Act by proponents) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia source.
Innovative film style of Gus Van Sant –Van Sant’s visual style is unique from extreme close-ups highlighting the intimacy of the characters to showcasing the broad political activism that Milk did to galvanize and protect the gay community in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Political activism involved taking over a block then a neighbourhood and gaining support and credence for specific municipal issues.
Suggested Reading and Viewing: ~
Biography: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Documentary: Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride by Bob Christie

 

A Fine and Fabulous Portrayal

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The brilliant film Milk is recommended not so much for its excellent coverage of political mobilization but more for Sean Penn’s superb and heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk. Of course there are those seventies fashions, James Franco skinny dipping and the wonderfully coy Emile Hirsh. Well worth the viewing.

If viewers loved director Gus Van Sant’s earlier works including My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant, then this film is up there with Gus Van Sant’s original masterpieces.

There is a detailed analysis of Milk under the title Activism and Martyrdom http://www.davidrwalker.co.za/2011/11/milk/ in a comprehensive article praising the merits of this film as a biography and a moving portrait of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

Milk also stars James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill and a fine supporting performance by Josh Brolin as supervisor Dan White.

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