Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two Directors: Akira Kurosawa Festival (Sept. 15 - 30, CCP and UP Film Center) and Claude Chabrol, 1930 - 2010

Starting this week at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Dream Theater and continuing from September 22 onwards in the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute is a massive retrospective on the Emperor of Japanese Cinema, Akira Kurosawa--twenty-one of his thirty feature films, on the occasion of his 100th birth anniversary, the only such festival to be held in Southeast Asia.

Not many of us non-Japanese realize that the nickname "The Emperor" was not meant as a compliment. Kurosawa was criticized for being a perfectionist, for always trying to gethis own way all the time on the tiniest of details. He reportedly had an entire medieval set rebuilt for Throne of Blood (1957) because a nail head was partially visible in one shot; he had expert archers shoot real arrows at Toshiro Mifune for the same film's climax, a scene re-created with bullets instead of arrows in Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983); he is famous for making his cast and crew wait weeks to capture on film the perfect cloud formation.

Kurosawa was also criticized for his extravagant budgets and old-fashioned sensibility--by the '60s Japanese cinema had seen the arrival of young mavericks like Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Seijun Suzuki among others, and while his Red Beard (1965) was a big hit, its overt moralism was already seen as dated, its director out-of-touch with the distinctly younger, more radical, less ethically obsessed moviegoers.

That would be the last money-maker Kurosawa would direct for decades. He made a recovery of sorts with Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) but it's really with his films of the late '40s and '50s that his reputation rests--and what films! Kurosawa is possibly the easiest of great directors to love--his action films are filled with breathtaking movement and whirling violence, his dramas are intensely felt collisions of outrage, grief, despair. His camera is rarely static, and he will often cut only at the last minute, to capture as much of the motion as possible. When he does cut, it's often to expressive effect: to punctuate a moment, fragment a movement (doing the opposite of his long tracking shots), or piece together a giddy concatenation of images--in Seven Samurai (1954) when the alarm is sounded, the warriors run out to defend the village, and Kurosawa gives us seven brief shots of each warrior in quick succession. The gesture does little to advance the narrative, but the moment--a sort of salute to each as he rushes out to possibly die in battle--never fails to quicken one's pulse.

If I wanted to be facetious, I'd say Kurosawa was the precursor to Hollywood's James Cameron--both made big-budgeted productions, both had a dictatorial directing style, both liked to create elaborately shot and edited action sequences. Unlike Cameron Kurosawa knows how to cut coherently, to maintain spatial clarity--in Seven Samurai you always knew where you were in the village (thanks to Kurosawa's use of maps, spatially consistent shots, elaborate tours of the locations prior to battle). Unlike Cameron, when the cutting got hot and heavy Kurosawa always knew how to time the duration of a shot: short enough to eliminate fat and create urgency, long enough to inform the eye what's going on.

Moreover, Kurosawa's films were always about something--in Ikiru (1952) the meaning of a man's life in the world; in Rashomon (1950) the terrifying relativity of truth; in Yojimbo (1961) the bitter embrace of nihilism as the only valid response in a world gone mad. Cameron dabbles in relevance--Avatar is reportedly about the survival of indigenous natives and the preservation of the environment--but Cameron's message feels more like window dressing draped on expensive action sequences to give them dignity. With Kurosawa the action--and every other element in the picture including the acting, the intricate photography, the often massive production design, the at times magnificent weather--swirl and shudder and gather about to bow in total submission to his overarching theme. Said this before and I'll say it again: Cameron is basically Kurosawa after a Jarvik 7 implantation and prefrontal lobotomy.

I'd recommend watching every one of the films but if you can't I recommend watching the more difficult-to-find works--Sanshiro Sugata (1943) for one, his first directorial feature, which at first glance is Japanese propaganda thinly disguised as a judo sports film, on second glance reveals Kurosawa already exercising his muscular visual style (jump cuts, radical angles, expressive use of light, shadow, weather) to tell the story of a man's conquest not just of an external foe (staged in a raging windstorm) but of his inner self (staged in a still lotus pond at night). The Most Beautiful (1944) is Kurosawa doing his best with an imposed assignment--a patriotic propaganda piece about women working hard in an optics factory (Kurosawa turns it into an acting triumph for the workers, particularly Yoko Yaguchi, who eventually became his wife). Sanshiro Sugata 2 (1945) is the first of only two sequels in Kurosawa's career; here he pits Sanshiro against an American boxer, then against an opponent in heavy snow. They Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945) is fascinating for its poverty-row production values (it was made at the end of the war, when Japan was short on every resource), its single set, and its director's use of that one set, shot mostly in long takes with Noh music and distinctive Noh acting style.

No Regrets for Our Youth (1947) should be seen for two reasons: to disprove the notion that Kurosawa is exclusively an action director, interested only in matters male and macho; and to view a Setsuko Hara you've never seen before--not the unfailingly cheerful daughter of Ozu films, but a passionate young woman determined to express her idealism and love for her politically active husband no matter what the cost. One Wonderful Sunday (1947)--well, not a big fan, but if you insist, sit and watch out for the uninhibited Peter Pan ending (Kurosawa is almost always intense and this can sometimes be a mixed blessing).

Of the better-known works--what more can one add to what has already been said, except to say Seven Samurai is war in a single massive volume, from inception to preparation to actual execution; Rashomon is the enigma of human existence wrapped in a mystery thriller; Yojimbo is the apocalypse achieved through fire and samurai blade, and Ikiru is the single clearest expression of Kurosawa's personal philosophy--Dostoevsky neat, no chaser (though if you want Dostoevsky done literally, as a straight adaptation, you should seek out his much underrated The Idiot (1951), with a jaw-dropping performance (again) from Setsuko Hara).
I won't even bother to tell you to enjoy yourself; that's a given. This is a feast beyond anything you're likely to see this year, a festival of pleasures that can only end in disappointment once the last screening is done and gone, and you're left with a lost weekend of a hangover. So what are you waiting for?

Claude Chabrol, 1930 - 2010 

A little something I wrote about one of his late films:

Claude Chabrol's La fille coupee en deux (A Girl Cut in Two, 2007) invites, as usual, comparisons to Hitchcock, but from where I'm sitting the most distinctive quality the two share, at least at this stage in Chabrol's career, is elegance in storytelling, elegance in all elements of storytelling, from characterization to dialogue to mis-en-scene to soundtrack (the opening credits roll to the strains of Puccini's Turandot, the plot of which suggests interesting sidelights to the plot of Chabrol's film). Even the title works overtime to raise questions in the viewer's mind--just why is the eponymous girl (local TV weather girl Gabrielle, played by Ludivine Sagnier) cut in two? Because she's of two minds? Because she's desired by two men? Because a whirling blade literally cuts her in half?

One often thinks when thinking of Hitchcock of visual challenges solved with brilliantly, sometimes breathtakingly elegant solutions (the problems of confined space in Lifeboat or Rope or Rear Window; of a shower-stall murder in Psycho; of wide-open spaces and sustaining tension through a cross-country odyssey in North by Northwest). Chabrol in this case solves one kind of challenge: the suggestion of perverse sexual appetites with the least amount of fuss (a head sinks below a table; a girl crawls on all fours in shadow; a private club is visited, and one member asks another a pointed question: "does she know what goes on here?").The story is loosely based on the killing of architect Stanford White by Harry K. Thaw, for a long-ago affair White had with Thaw's wife Evelyn Nesbit, updated with a bit of class rivalry.

Central to the film is the mystery of Gabrielle: is she corrupted innocent or cruel sadist? Middle-class victim or social-climbing instigator? In Turandot, the two main female characters are the eponymous princess and the slave girl, Liu, and Gabrielle seems to embody qualities of both women--she is by turns loyal and loving to her elderly lover, cruel and distant to her young husband. By combining the two in one woman, does Chabrol make his heroine more or less convincing, more or less complex--both, maybe? Sagnier plays her as a cool blonde in the best Hitchcockian tradition (I have to take back I suppose what I said earlier about Chabrol's resemblance or lack of to Hitchcock). Towards the end she's revealed as more innocent and less guileful than she seems--or is she instead completely at the mercy of her own inner demons? She's the lure, the McGuffin, the enigma that draws both men--and herself--to their irrevocably entangled dooms.

An Education (Lone Sherfig, 2009)

Wake up, li'l Susie

"What did you come here for anyway?" "I love old things. They make me feel sad." "What's good about sad?" "It's happy for deep people."

That's Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, talking to her best friend Kathy Nightingale (don't ask) in the 2007 season episode of Dr. Who called "Blink." "Blink" was special; as written by Steven Moffat, it's the tautly told thirty-minute story of a young girl forced to deal with The Weeping Angels, a particularly sinister Whovian foe--stare at them steadily and they're nothing, can do nothing, they're just stone figures. Look away or--God forbid--blink for even a second and they have you.

Or at least Sally had you. As played by Mulligan, she was a spunky young girl with enormous, immediate appeal. When a police officer asks her out for a drink, she challenges him "Why?" "Because life is short and you are hot." Oh yeah.

It's not just that she was drop-dead gorgeous and had a smile punctuated with dimples to die for; she could also handle Moffat's at times intricate lines with razor-sharp wit and precision ("People don't understand time; it's not what you think it is." "Then what is it?" "Complicated." "Tell me." "Very complicated." "I'm clever and I'm listening. Now don't patronise me 'cause people have died, and I'm not happy. Tell me"). Tell the truth Moffat's lines can make almost anyone seem witty and precise, but on Sparrow's--sorry, Mulligan's--lips they have a specially thrilling sparkle, like iced champagne. It's the dimples, too, I suspect; wish he could have worked with her more.

As it is, we have to make do with Lone Scherfig's An Education (2009), a fairly well-budgeted British production with a Nick Hornby script based on a short memoir by journalist Lynn Barber. Mulligan plays Jenny, a sixteen year old middle-class girl dying of boredom in one of London's suburbia, in the '60s. Jenny has ambitions--she goes to a girl's school, and she's hoping to read English in Oxford someday. Then she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard).

The film's finest moments--the core and reason, I suspect, Scherfig wanted to make this picture--are its early scenes, when Jenny is being wooed by David and she allows herself to be wooed. David is dashing, funny, handsome, sophisticated, everything a girl could want; Jenny is ambitious and greedy but in the way young people often are, less repulsive than remarkable--you want to just sit back and watch them go at it with their boundless enthusiasm. She has moments when she looks at David with skepticism--"are you for real?" is her unspoken question. Then she jumps in the car, or skips out of school, or finagles her way past her semi-watchful parents into David's arms.

We mostly have Mulligan's performance to suggest this intelligence, this knowingness; Sherfig and Hornby have reworked Jenny to be a far more innocent creature than the girl Lynn Barber wrote about in her memoirs--Lynn knew, for instance, long before her parents did or before she ever had concrete proof, that there was something fishy about her older boyfriend, but goes with him anyway. We do see some hint of this in the picture: when David proposes something outrageous--a weekend in Oxford, or a trip to Paris--Jenny doesn't so much pressure her parents as she does pressure David to try persuade them to let her go; later, when something happens in the countryside and Jenny confronts David about it she's angry, but also willing to be mollified by David's not-quite-sufficient explanations. 

The general outline of Jenny's onscreen fall is fairly straightforward, however--when the turd hits the fan she's as stunned as any helpless cow, and weeps in self-pity. In Lynn's memoirs she was always in the driver's seat; if she didn't always have full control of the course of her life, she could at least see the general outlines of the curves and hairpin turns--a difficult quality to dramatize on the big screen, but one that could have made the film that much more complex, that much more memorable.

It's crucial to the whole project that we don't think of Jenny as being incurably stupid; casting bright-eyed Mulligan in the role goes a long way in preventing that. She's bored, she wants excitement, she's willing to do something risky to inject some fun in her life--ce'st les jeunes! She doesn't lose us just because she's being foolish; if anything, we hope against hope that she comes out all right (if, for instance, they had cast a younger Kiera Knightly, I would have personally shoved her in front of David's speeding Bristol).

As David, Sarsgaard is a charmer; he has a few soft-sell techniques stuffed up his sleeve that he tries on Jenny's father and mother (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour, both terrific), but his most potent weapon is his sincerity--he really loves Jenny and even manages to sell her on the idea (Jenny's father he won over long ago). That's the film's real sting--not that Jenny is so invested in their dreams, but that David believes in them, too. His conviction is even more touching than hers, mainly because he knows more about the whole situation (and still believes). Arrayed against the lovers is Emma Thompson's principal (complacent, vindictive, and surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) anti-Semtic) and Olivia Williams' teacher (severe yet idealistic), an unlikely if somewhat Quixotic pair to champion a girl's school education.

The film's concluding scenes (please skip this paragraph if you plan to watch) are a bit of a letdown after Scherfig's carefully calibrated opening tone of cheerful corruption. Worse is the sudden wrap-up, leaving Jenny pretty much where she wants to be, as if nothing more serious happened than a yeast infection. Learning is a more painful process than that (unspoken implication: if you haven't suffered enough, you probably haven't learned enough). Even Lynn's memoirs included a bit more by way of complications, including a scene where her present boyfriend meets her former--and, comically, the cycle of charmed and charmer begins again. At the very least, they could have kept the 'comically'--the final twenty minutes are dreary.

The film's title is An Education after all, and that's what we witness--a girl's education, not just on Latin and literature, but on life, the perils of self-delusion, the cost of indulgence. And I don't mean this just in a cliched "don't drop out or this'll happen" manner--as Barber points out and we see for ourselves, Jenny walks into her fate bright eyes wide open. She gets almost as much out of David as he gets out of her, and David is almost as devastated as she is when things eventually go wrong. She wants to live life to the fullest, make her own mistakes, and life obliges her. All we--and her parents--can do is watch, hope, maybe pray a little.

First published in Businessworld, 9.9.10

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud)


Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's Despicable Me (2010) walks the delicate line between standard-issue computer-animated 3-D kiddie-caper flick and, well, yet another variation on George Eliot's classic Silas Marner (that old chestnut about a miser whose cold heart is thawed by a golden-haired orphan), neither element exactly the freshest or most exciting, and--whaddaya know?--it works.

Hard to say why; villainous protagonists seem to be enjoying some kind of mini-fad nowadays, which probably helps. Shrek was the adventures of a putative villain--an ogre with a heart of gold he insists on hiding beneath layers of sensitive, sulfurous onionskin--and the franchise is well into its fourth installment (not critically well-received, but I liked it just the same). Cartoon Network has League of Super-Evil; Robert Zemeckis did yet another version of A Christmas Carol (one must remember that Scrooge is a probable model for Eliot's miser). Coming is Dreamworks' Megamind, a Superman parody about two aliens who land on Earth and battle each other (this time it's the Lex Luthor-like figure that gets top billing).

So--there is an interest in bad guys; to be fair, there has always been an interest in bad guys. I love seeing Daleks in British uniform, serving up tea; I love it when Klingons claim "you should read Macbeth in the original Klingon!" I love it when Darth Vader stretches an arm to shattered, one-handed Luke Skywalker and growls "Join me!" (it's the only Star Wars film--the only single work to come out of George Lucas' epically self-deluded mind--that I can actually respect, even love). Truth to tell, my taste in villains tend to the grim and irredeemable ("You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything." "Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?"). But I can appreciate the lovable villains: bad guys with a human side just waiting to be discovered, feeling an unspoken need for a hug and a kiss, for a signal--a sign of any kind--that it's all right for them to come over and join the winning side.

That's what Scrooge--and Marner--represent; that's what Gru (Steve Carell) represents as well, basically. The pull of sentiment, of giving in to the story's gooey heart, is counterbalanced by Yarrow Cheney's witty production design details (Gru has his orphans sleep in dismantled bomb casings; Vector's living room furniture sits atop a gigantic shark tank; Gru's land vehicle looks as if an X-1 rocket plane had mated with a clothes iron; and the Bank of Evil (the financial institution of choice for cash-strapped supervillains) is "formerly known as Lehman Brothers"). There's a Spy vs. Spy feel to Gru's battles with Vector (Jason Segel) and like Prohias' strip, a sense of escalating inventiveness to the ways in which they outwit each other's gadgets (another influence is possibly Chuck Jones' classic animated short Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century). Best gadget of all are the minions, a multilimbed, multiheaded mass of miraculously individualized yellow creatures Gru had enlisted (Bred? Created? One wonders) to do his bidding, and who speak a particularized working language of their own (not a fan of toy tie-ins as a rule, but for this picture there is an app you can download that will translate what the minions are saying).

I rarely care about voice performances in an animated picture, but Carrell's voice coming out of Gru helps his character no end--that loopy intonation with the Borscht Belt accent gives you just the right self-pitying, self-obsessed tone of an unappreciated supergenius. I especially like the moment when he has to read a children's book to the kids, and his asides drip with contempt ("This is literature? A two-year-old could have written this")--no need for fancy digital effects to make the moment funny.

Hard to say why and I don't expect anyone to agree with me on this, but I much prefer this to Pixar's more elaborate efforts, the latest Toy Story included. Why? Why, because it does what it sets out to do, and sets out to do what it can do well. Pixar has always harbored this love for Miyazaki films (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo) that you see practically in every frame; in an attempt to imitate Miyazaki they have pushed nuance and character as far as possible in an American animated feature and as an unintended consequence shown the limitations--their pictures feel precious and not a little sticky, out not just to entertain but wring tears. The opening sequences of everything from Wall-E to Up seem designed to leap out of the screen, straddle your neck with musclebound thighs, and squeeze till the juice starts squirting.

I dislike that; I dislike being coerced to do--or feel--anything in a movie. Pixar hasn't learned Miyazaki's most basic trick--to tell a story honestly, in as unsentimental and straightforward a way as possible, so that you're blindsided into being moved.

Ironically, Coffin and Renaud seem to have realized what it is American animation excels at most: humor, plain and simple. Coffin in an interview cites the usual suspects as influences (Pixar, of course), but along with Renaud mention a crucial name: Blake Edwards. That most American of comic directors betrays his fingerprints throughout the picture--the gags explode with perfect comic timing, add to the characterization, are borderline sadistic (there's a gentleness to Pixar, I might add, that I find very hard to take seriously) and endlessly inventive. With no great need to create a great film or tell a heartbreaking story, the filmmakers are left free to make the picture as funny as they want it to be--selling the Silas Marner storyline far more effectively than if they had done otherwise, and concentrated on the pathos. Excellent fun.

First published in Businessworld, 9.2.10

Monday, September 06, 2010

Summer of '42 (Robert Mulligan, 1971)

(Warning: story discussed in close detail)

Can't remember the last time I saw Summer of '42--I was all of five years old when it first came out, so it must have been a rerun over the television, or some kind of special screening we managed somehow to see, sometime over the weekend. I do remember details, images, that damned music--it was all over the place, you couldn't escape it; like the stylings of Dan Fogelberg or Chuck Mangione, it was the kind of openly emotional romantic melody Filipinos loved to listen to, over and over again, endlessly, on their radios and portable tapedecks. Watching the film again on TCM was an experience similar to peering into Charles Foster Kane's crystal-ball snowscape--as if you were watching a moment out of time, a moment out of childhood that seems oddly, fascinatingly out of synch with the overall flow of things. 

Not an easy condition to describe--we're talking about screenwriter Herman Raucher's vividly realized memories of the summer he lost his virginity and my barely remembered memories of watching his recollections. I do remember dimly sensing the strength, the intensity of the feelings involved (I could have been five, but I swear I must have been closer to ten or twelve--I had developed a devastating crush on Jennifer O'Neill).

And with a shock, I realized just how half-assed the first half of the film seems to me, now. The adventures of Hermie (Gary Grimes) and his friends seem shrill and unfunny in their forced hilarity; when Hermie's told that he was fondling an arm and not a breast in the cinema house you want to slap him upside of his head; it's not only ignorant, it's inept. Yes, they're Raucher's memories, and I assume they actually happened, but Mulligan seems to have failed to stage any of this with any sense of verisimilitude. You only have to see Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart (1971) to see how sophisticated youths (and films about youths) can be about sex, even sex with an older woman (even sex, one might add, between the youth and the youth's own mother--a detail that goes far and beyond anything Mulligan's boxoffice hit might ever dare deal with). 

Difficult to say what rings so false--partly, I think, it's the younger actors playing up their ignorance and awkwardness with what I feel is a touch too much enthusiasm; partly it's the indulgent view (which I suspect Raucher holds, and Mulligan accepts and translates to the screen) that this is all innocent fun, unlikely to come back and bite them--most of them, anyway--in the ass. Whatever it is, I find the movie-theater scene (where Hermie and friend double-date and attempt to feel up a pair of girls) and the beach scene (where Hermie sits with one girl by the beach fire roasting marshmallows--roasting them badly, I couldn't help but notice--while his friend makes out with the girl's partner)--I find both scenes where the primary players are all under the age of twenty awkward and unconvincing. Which is a bit of a mystery, I thought; Mulligan's handling of children in his best-known work, To Kill  a Mockingbird, is nothing short of masterful, the single finest element in that film (not so crazy about his handling of race--but those problems stem, I think, more from Harper Lee's book than from anything the director did).

And when all is said and done I suspect it's mostly the young actors at fault, or at least the director's in failing to rein in and modulate their performances. When Grimes plays against a more seasoned veteran--Lou Frizzell, as a druggist--suddenly Grimes is perfect, and perfectly funny. His slapstick shenanigans, his constant mugging in his quest to buy a condom, seem perfectly encapsulated in the concept of a clumsy liar playing before a hidden audience (Jerry Houser as his best friend, peering into the pharmacy's window). Frizzell helps by meeting Grimes half-way, concocting his own explanation as to why the boy would need a condom ("you fill them with water, tie them off, then use them as water balloons, right?"). The scene does give us one pithy observation--how adults, faced with the possibility that their children are no longer children, are perfectly willing to steps back into their invincibly clad ignorance to put off that inevitable moment of reckoning. I'm not as happy with Hermie's scenes with Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill), possibly because O'Neill is younger and less experienced than Frizell. Hermie's use of big words to show off to her for example ("you drink coffee, don't you?" "I consume a couple of cups a day") is fairly funny, but O'Neill seems oblivious to the incongruity and comes off as being more clueless than tactful.

When Hermie visits Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neill) the next evening, however, all awkwardness and slapstick is gone. Hermie knocks on the door, realizes it's open, walks inside. He's quiet, puzzled; a lit cigarette lies in the ashtray, but no one answers to his calls. He sees a telegram on the table, picks it up; the message is just the kind of melodramatic masterstroke that helps convince me Raucher's story is true--he wouldn't have the wild imagination or the courage to make such a message up.

Here O'Neill plays Dorothy just right--a light patina of casual cheer covering unguessable emotions roiling away underneath. When she finally faces Hermie Mulligan cloaks her in shadow, a mysterious figure representing the boy's unknown future. She walks into the light, takes his hand, dances with him. Mulligan picks up details while they dance: Dorothy clutching an ashtray behind her back, the camera panning down to reveal Hermie wearing shoes, Dorothy barefoot. The details seem unaccountably real, lifelike--somehow it seems right that Dorothy didn't have the presence of mind to put away the ashtray; somehow it seems right that Hermie, who has been preparing for this moment, should be well dressed and shod, while Dorothy, who has just been blindsided, should dance on naked soles. Later Dorothy takes Hermie's jacket and puts it away and that seems right too--she's playing up the illusion that she's with her husband, or at least a grown man, and Hermie, whose night this indubitably is, has the incredible luck to be wearing a coat at the right time.

The next morning Hermie wakes up, and Dorothy says "Goodbye, Hermie" and he just walks out. That seems right too; he's discovered a measure of sensitivity in a matter of a few hours, and he's developed enough tact to know--his finest moment, in my book--that any words would be useless, or worse, wrong. I like Mulligan's work--like most of Kill a Mockingbird and would assert that it's the best version of Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn yet put onscreen (think about it)--but for me this was the first time I saw just how good he can be: to take a wordless climactic sequence in an otherwise flawed movie and not just lyricize or romanticize it, but make it psychologically truthful, at least to some extent.      


Sunday, September 05, 2010

Vampires Suck (Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, 2010)

Movie suck

(Edward, Jacob, and Bella step out of the multiplex)

Bella: What do you think?

Edward: That movie is so bogus, man. I'm not that pale and my hair is not that thick (tosses his head; Bella has to step back as his 'do wooshes past). Jacob?

Jacob: Totally agree with you, bro. My pecs aren't that big (flexes his chest; looks down). Oh, look--popcorn (Picks out the kernel caught between two abs, pops it into his mouth). Mm!

Bella: What do you think of how they did me? Do I really do all that?

Edward: Do what, babe?

Bella: That.

Jacob: What you talking 'bout?

Bella: You know, how that actress, whatshername uh--Jenn Proske--does me? All that looking down, biting my lips, muttering? Am I that bad? Huh?

Edward: Worse, babe.

Jacob: She was being nice.

Bella: What? You're kidding!

Jacob: Did I mutter?

Edward: Did I bite my lips?

Bella: But I--I mean, is that right? (Edward and Jacob stop at their tracks, cock their heads, give her a "Come on!" look). Forget it (shoves her way past the two).

Jacob: What's the matter with her today?

Edward: I don't know, maybe it's her time of the month.

Bella: Shut up! Edward, if you think you're going to see me later you, you can--forget it! (Stomps away).

Jacob: Did she just leave us?

Edward: I don't care, do you?

Jacob: Not if I can wash your hair.

Edward: Not a chance! I'm setting a record--eighteen months without shampooing. Look--(swings his head around; a small breeze rises).

Jacob: (Pinching his nose) Ew! It's a wonder you don't have any head lice (Scratching behind his ear) Ow.

Edward: Do you want to shop for a pair of extra-tight jeans?

Jacob: Love it. (The two walk away arm in arm. Victoria and Laurent exit the theater)

Laurent: You liked it?

Victoria: Wouldn't know, was too busy draining my seatmate.

Laurent: Sucks worse than you do.

Victoria: Bitch.

Laurent: Slut.

Victoria: Love it when you talk dirty.

Laurent: Let's stalk Bella.

Victoria: Boring. Let's get hot curlered.

Laurent: Sounds like a plan (Bella steps out of a corner).

Bella: But what about me?

Victoria: What about you?

Bella: I'm your mortal enemy. My boyfriend dismembered your boyfriend. You should be plotting to make my life a living hell.

Laurent: My. Do you smell something, Vicky?

Victoria: It's the stench of desperation, Laurie.

Laurent: Life's too short, Bella. Get a life. Us, we're getting permed! (They saunter away. The Volturis Jane and Aro come out of the theater)

Aro: But see, comedy need not be so shoddily done; think Keaton, think Chaplin--

Jane: I don't care, I had fun.

Aro: Enjoyment does not guarantee quality; filmmakers Freidberg and Seltzer are counting on your dislike of Stephanie Meyer to draw you to their work--

Jane: I laughed my ass off.

Aro: You were also blinded to the film's many flaws--

Jane: I laughed so hard I farted.

Aro: I noticed. Have you been drinking the blood of an alcoholic?

Jane: I peed on my self a little.

Aro: I did not have to know that.

Bella (stepping up): Aro! (They stop and stare) Look at me! I'm still human. Edward has failed to convert me. By the rules you yourself have set, you should destroy me.

(Awkward silence)

Aro: What is disturbing you, my child?

Bella: Huh?

Jane: Who stuffed the bug up your ass?

Bella: No one did. I mean--

Aro: You are obviously upset; otherwise, you would not have put yourself in this position. (Aro whispers in Jane's ear; Jane nods. To Bella) Do you really wish to be punished?

Bella: Yes! Jacob and Edward, they just--left me! They left holding hands.

Aro: Oh, my.

Bella: Life isn't worth living anymore. Tear my throat out, snap my neck, do what you want.

Aro: Very well. (Takes his large drink, dumps it on Bella's head. As he walks away with Jane, he talks over his shoulder) I apologize, any other day I would oblige, but today I really am in a hurry. We have reservations for two at Momofuku Ko, which take at least a week to procure, are randomly selected by computer, and Michael who I used to count on as a friend simply refuses to lift a finger to help me. Refuses! (Stops, spreads out his arms) Tell me, is life unfair? Is it? No--don't answer that. (He turns and disappears).

(Bella gapes. She sits on the street curb and begins to cry. Jason and Aaron walk out of the theater)

Aaron: I'm telling you, Jaze, the movie rocks! The audience loved Edward's spinning bling--

Jason: Not as much as the hairy nipples all over Jacob--

Aaron: Nuh-uh, Becca's underwear scene is way hotter--

Bella (stepping out in front of the two, her hand held up like a traffic cop): Stop! (The two stop and stare) You two--you're the directors of this movie?

Jason: Yep. Why?

Bella: It's a piece of garbage. It blows chunks and reeks of week-dead cat. (Shrieks at the top of her voice) It sucks!

(Awkward silence)

Aaron (shrugging his shoulders): Hey--guilty as charged. But it's still way better than the Twilight movies, right? (To Jason) I still think we should have cut out at least ten minutes, made it run even faster--

(Bella's shoulders slump. She shuffles out on to the street and lies down on the middle of the road)

First published in Businessworld, 8.26.10