selenak: (Naomie Harris by Lady Turner)
Well, I'm back. (Sorry, had to go there.) And a splendid month it has been, too, though the laundry washing and ironing alone is EPIC, and I despair of ever catching up with all my shows right now.

(Except for Bates Motel & The Americans, which were on Amazon Video in my region. Review to follow.)

If you're in the air for 24 hours in both directions, you do watch movies as well, so, briefly, impressions:

La La Land: Eh. I mean, I like movies that explore their own artifice, Hollywood on Hollywood, and musicals, but I still fell half asleep during that one, and I wasn't THAT tired. Although, the audition scene really was good.

Loving: excellent acting, refusing to go overboard with sentiment despite dire temptation, because after all, how often do you get a rl love-takes-on-institutionalised-racism-and-wins tale?

Arrival: wow. Loved the concept and the execution. Have not read the story it's based on (yet), but this finally was sci fi again with a sense of wonder and true alienness. Also: linguistics!

Moonlight: am glad it got the Oscar, for verily, it deserved it, and then some. Beautifully acted and shot. As part of its story, manages to pull off a concept which in theory should have me annoyed because when this is done in fanfic, I am prone to complain immediately, but here it works beautifully, not least due to the circumstances the central character is in. All three actors playing Chiron (aka Little, aka Black) in the three stages of his life we meet him are excellent, and I can see why both Mahershala Ali (playing Juan, nicest drug dealer on the planet) and Naomi Harris (our hero's mother and a stunning tour de force on Ms. Harris' part) were singled out for particular critical praise and attention. Not coincidentally, the scene where they confront each other is outstanding even in a movie of this quality, especially for how NOT cliché like it goes, and how it starts with one character calling out the other only for the other reversing the calling out in a devastating, undeniable way. Their scenes with Chiron are sublime, too, and no wonder the "learning to swim" scene already gets quoted visually in its poetry. I also love the last scene between Chiron and his mother, and how the emotions are, in a way, echoed in the last scene between Chiron and Kevin.

Suicide Squad: am I ever glad I did not have to pay money for it.
selenak: (First Class by Hidden Colours)
Never having watched one of the Wolverine solo movies before, it was the trailer which made me watch this one, the trailer promising a) Charles Xavier as played by Patrick Stewart, b) Logan & young girl, which is the most appealing aspect of any incarnation of Wolverine, both in comics and on the screen, and c) road trip. Also, X-Men: Days of Future Past had actually made me a bit emotionally invested in the Logan-Charles relationship. So to the cinema I went, after doping myself with every cough and sneeze preventing chemical known to men, and lo, I did not regret it.

No more guns in the valley )
selenak: (Emily by Lotesse)
Directed by Sally Wainwright, broadcast on British tv last month and available on dvd to continental types like yours truly, this movie about the Brontes focuses on the roughly two years in which they wrote their novels (breakout novels, in Charlotte's case, the only one of the siblings to survive a few years longer; all the novels we have, in in Anne's and Emily's), years that were also framed by their brother Branwell's drinking himself to death.

A story about writing and messy intense family relationships? You bet I liked it. )
selenak: (Ashoka Tano by Dasakuryo)
Short version: I liked it, without being in love. Likeable original main characters, lots of callouts to earlier SW movies (and tv shows!) without depending on them, improved on one of The Force Awakens mistakes (imo), made a minor mistake of its own (again imo), did something no SW film has done before but which complete sense in terms of already established continuity, and should be enjoyed by the fandom at large, though what the hypothetical kids who aren't familiar with the rest of the saga will make of the ending, only the Force knows.

In more detail and thus spoilery )

In conclusion: enjoyed watching it, don't feel the need to rewatch it in the cinema, though. I'll wait till it's on tv.
selenak: (Rachel by Naginis)
Amazon Prime put up Legend, the movie in which Tom Hardy stars as both Kray twins, and so I watched it. It has a good cast (Christopher Eccleston as the Krays' arch nemesis copper, Emily Browning as Reggie Kray's wife Frances, Colin Morgan in a minor role as Frances' brother and Reggie Kray's driver), and Hardy manages to play the twins as convincingly distinct characters, but ultimately I wasn't impressed. Probably because I've seen better takes on several aspects of the story:

Co-dependent twins played by the same actor: David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons, remains the gold standard. When Jeremy Irons in the subsequent year got the Oscar not for this but for his role as Claus von Bülow, he made a point of thanking David Cronenberg before the producers of the Sunny von Bülow movie, and no wonder. The twins in Dead Ringers are the far more challenging role, the direction is fabulous, and the result is intense as hell.

East end gangster in the 60s who both appall and fascinate: The Long Firm, the main character of which shares several traits with both Krays (he's got Ronnie's homosexuality and Reggie's ambitions, to name but two), as to his associates with their associates. Granted, there's a difference between what a miniseries and what a movie can do, but I still think The Long Firm did a better job all around - with the social context of the 60s, with keeping the victims of their crime lord real instead of disposable props, in refusing to draw a moral from the story, and also Mark Strong beats Tom Hardy in the acting department.

Nice girl marries gangster despite knowing he's one, life at his side turns out to be far harder than she envisioned, the idea he could quit is abandoned early on, marriage breaks apart in devastating scene where the illusion that his private self is different from his ganster self is shattered: The Godfather II. Also, may I point out that Francis Ford Coppola is no one's idea of a feminist, but he still managed to get the point across without adding spoiler for LEGEND ). (The relevant Michael-Kay scene in The Godfather II is absolutely terrifying in its emotional violence without that.)


What it ultimately comes down to for me might be a matter of personal preference, though: if you advertise a movie about a twin pair of famous gangsters, I want the emotional core to be the twin relationship. Legend instead puts it on the Frances-Reggie Kray relationship, which, fair enough, but it's not what I was expecting going in, plus the few scenes in which the twins do interact on screen don't manage to sell me on the co dependence that Frances as the narrator tells me in her voice narration was there, or in fact on any type of strong relationship. Given Tatiana Maslany manages on Orphan Black to have chemistry with herself and to provide the various clones with complicated relationships with each other, and again, given that decades earlier with far more pimitive technology and the same amount of screen time David Cronenberg and Jeremy Irons also managed to make the Dead Ringer twins believable and their relationship with each other layered (far more so than the book which simply does it as good twin, bad twin) and interesting, I think it's not an unfair criticism to make, though.
selenak: (Erik and Charles by Justcyanide)
Pawn Sacrifice: biopic (of sorts) about chess wonder Bobby Fischer, directed by Edward Zwick, starring Toby McGuire as Fischer and Liev Schreiber as his arch nemesis, Boris Spassky. It shares more than one narrative structural element with Martin Scorcese's The Aviator: while on the one hand the main character gets more and more successful in his chosen field, on the other he also goes from excentric to mentally unstable. The movie's third act starts with a seemingly complete breakdown, luring the audience who probably decades later only knows the main character did lose it entirely into believing this was it, then character rallies and achieves stunning victory in chosen field... but the very last scene reveales he's also well and truly in the land of the insane now.

Mind you, Zwick isn't Scorsese; his movie doesn't offer much in terms of cinematography, and it also trusts the audience less; whereas Howard Hughes' state of mind at the end of The Aviator is signalled by the repetitions of one sentence - "the face of the future", which immediately tells us all there is to say, Pawn Sacrifice gives us the full post credit scrawl plus some footag of real life Bobby Fischer to inform us what happened with him.

On the other hand, while The Aviator featured some of Hughes' darker traits - the control issues, most of all - it pulled back at featuring any antisemitism. Whereas Pawn Sacrifice doesn't pretend Bobby Fischer only believed in the Russians as global conspiracy villains; as he starts to rant about the Jewish global conspiracy as well, his bewildered sister Joan protests in tears "We are Jewish", to no avail. The movie provides the anti-Russian feeling with Cold War context (more about this in a moment), but other than letting Bobby listen to an antisemetic speech on the radio, doesn't try to explain where the antisemitism hails from, except for Bobby's mother issues. What's most interesting to me is the movie's awareness, both on a Watsonian and on a Doylist level, that characters play out a story trope which however the reality of them chafes against. The reason why Bobby Fischer for a short time becomes a national hero isn't just his being a chess genius (grand master at age 14), but that at a point where the Cold War has been going badly for the US ("we've lost China, we're losing Vietnam, we're not going to lose this one, too" says a character re: Fischer versus Spassky) and Watergate has already happened though Nixon is still clinging to power, he provides the ideal counter narrative: the kid from Brooklyn taking on the Evil Empire singlehandedly (reminds you of anyone?).

And it's certainly a story grounded in reality: pre-Fischer, the Soviets did have a lock on the world championship, and he was literally a kid from Brooklyn. And he's not completely imagining things; his lawyer/agent has ties to the US government, while his rival, Boris Spassky, is completely supervised by the KGB and is never alone. But on the other hand, Spassky, far from being the soulless robot type a la Cold War Sylvester Stallone movies, is presented as sympathetic, not solely a brilliant chess player but one with an innate sense of fairness, and capable of the kind of sporting admiration for his opponent's gift which Fischer just isn't. And of course, he's sane. Liev Schreiber at first has a silent cameo role as Spassky is only depicted from afar, but in the last third of the movie becomes a second protagonist. The transition happens when a defeated Bobby Fischer accidentally comes across him on a California beach and explodes into an "I'll destroy you" rant while a bewildered Spassky just stares in "what the hell?" bewilderment. Liev Schreiber also has the major acting to do during their big match in Iceland. Chess doesn't offer a movie any action sequences, so Zwick has to build the drama around two men staring at each other and the chess board, and at this point Bobby Fischer has gone from paranoid to cooly controlled and enigmatic, which means McGuire looks blank, and it's up to Liev Schreiber to signal the transition from Spassky winning to Spassky losing via his face.

The movie only intermittently dares to visualize Bobby Fischer's pov - for the child Bobby, and later during some of the matches and in the hotel room convinced "they" - whoever the "they" du jour are - are everywhere -, but doesn't gamble in terms of visual means to do so, but remains deeply conventional. (Child!Bobby sees numbers across the pawns, adult Bobby gets a few close ups to his eyes and quick cuts.) I'm not a director, so I have no idea how I'd have done it, and maybe it was wise not to attempt it, but at the same time, I can't help but wish someone with a bit more flair and readiness for risk (because of course there's the danger of going over the top and becoming ridiculous when trying to visualize genius and increasing madness ) would have tackled the subject - say, Oliver Stone in high form (talk about someone with a gift for paranoia) or Guillelmo del Torro. Mostly, though you see Bobby Fischer through other people's pov, which allows the movie the balance of pity and being appalled; which is why scenes like the phonecall between Bobby and his sister Joan or Bobby and William Lombardy (Peter Saarskard), the former chess whiz gone Catholic priest who is is coach, who talks Bobby down from another outburst by them talking solely in chess moves, are both necessary and truly effective in selling you on the pity part of the equation. The difference between this and movies following the "jerk genius behaves appalingly to people around him who put up with it because he's just that good" is that the movie quite early on makes clear this isn't merely excentric behavior on the part of the wunderkind but signs of mental illness, which goes untreated and thus escalates. (When Joan asks the lawyer/agent to get her brother treatment she's basically told that a) everything is under control, and b) it would spoil his genius, and who's going to defeat the Russians then?)


By coincidence, the judge of the Spassky-Fischer tournament in Iceland, Lothar Schmidt, was a well known citizen in my hometown, Bamberg. He was a former grandmaster himself but earned his living by publishing Karl May, which his son Bernard does now, and Bernard Schmidt actually met Bobby Fischer, though not in Iceland. (He was deemed too young to go with his father at the time which was v.v. frustrating, because his older brother was allowed to come along and thus witnessed the "match of the century".) Fischer spent a short time hiding in Franconia in the 1990s, courtesy of Lothar Schmidt, which was when Bernard Schmidt met him, so of course I asked about his impression of portrayal versus reality. He deemed it pretty accurate to what he recalls of the man, though he added with a smile that while his father is showing to speak fluent Russian in the movie, he really couldn't in rl, but hey.

As for myself: I wouldn't call the movie a must, but I thought it did interesting things within the biopic formula and also wasn't afraid to depict its main character without prettifying/editing out/glorifying his dark side, in lack of a better term.
selenak: (Katrine und Henne by Goodbyebird)
Courtesy of Amazon Prime, I finally watched the last best picture winner Spotlight, which I had missed in the theatres. In case you have as well: it deals with the Boston Globe's investigation and uncovering of the systematic abuse going on by Catholic priests in the Boston area. (Not that the abuse was limited there, I hasten to add, but that was what the investigation was about.)

In many ways, this felt like an old-fashioned movie to me, and not just because of the obvious parallels to the most famous of "reporters uncover corruption" movies, All the President's Men. There's the technical aspect - the story is set 2001, the internet is around, but hasn't yet taken over the news cycle (for example, when the story finally breaks, the letters to Cardinal Law proving he knew about various abuse cases for decades are put online, but that's an addendum to the story, not a main thing), the reporters are making notes on paper a la Woodward & Bernstein while interviewing sources, and an editor is confident enough to allow his team months of investigation before breaking the story, instead of going for NOW NOW NOW. Indeed, it's pointed out that going after just one or two particular priests would allow the cases to be dismissed as "a few bad apples" and that systematic abuse can only be proven if you allow for a long term investigation.

But it's also an old fashioned (in the best sense) movie because it doesn't try to create artificial suspense by, say, inserting sensational action movie moments (Vatican death squads sent after our heroes the night of the publication? The movie industry would be entirely capable of it, but thankfully this movie's creators abstained). Nor does it set up romances or relationship drama. (Several of the reporters are married or in steady relationship; this is acknowledged in a few lines of dialogue, but no more.) It relies on the enormity of the story it tells, and puts the narrative emphasis on it. We follow the reporters through the story, various of the victims get narrative room so they become individualized and not "just" names as they tell their stories (I should probably add there are no flashbacks to the acts when the victims were children - the quiet and not so quiet agony of the adults is allowed to say it all).

Perhaps the most unusual touch is that the movie painfully avoids glorifying its investigative team. Not only because it depicts the initial reluctance to tackle the story (which happens because a new editor, not from Boston, not a Catholic, asks for some follow up to one particular case), but also because our heroes realise that they could have written this story far earlier, and that several of them were guilty of looking the other way/ignoring/burying it as well. At one point, a character says "if it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse one", which is a red thread through the story - the culpability of various institutions, not solely one, and a lot of people on all levels.

There are a lot of great character actors at work here, and several of them play anti type - Michael Keaton as Walter "Robby" Robinson, for example, very low key instead of the extroverts I've seen him play so far, Live Schreiber as Marty (the outsider editor) Baron ditto in a different way (deeply uncomfortable yet quietly determined), whereas Mark Ruffalo as gabby reporter Mike Rezendes gets the movie's sole big loud explosion into horrified rage. Stanley Tucci as the victims' lawyer is brilliant, and Rachel McAdams as the team's sole female reporter also gets the role of role of the person losing her faith over this, and while not getting the big loud outburst is as effective in her low key reactions, never more so than when to her surprise the priest she's tracked down starts to talk and insists that what he did was just fooling around, not rape, and that he knows the difference because he's been raped himself. It's McAdams' face that sells you on all the layers and enormity of this moment.

Like All the President's Men, the movie ends with the reporters continuing their work, and refuses to give the audience a neat wrapping up. Yes, the story breaks, and more victims come forward, and Cardinal Law resigns, but he's also then just transferred, as he transferred the guilty, and the damage will never heal. I've seen criticism that there are no great cinematic shots and that this could have been a tv movie; it certainly plays out powerfully on my Ipad. I'd argue that its visual low key-ness contributes to its emotional power. Definitely a must.
selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
Back in Munich, I finally had the chance to watch this. A good thing, too, doing it today, because some of the news were stomach-turning. (If you're German and have watched them, you know what I mean. If not, you don't want to know.) I needed cheering up.

Which this film, subtitled "The Touring Years", did. No, it's not an in-depth documentary about the Beatles in totem, or does much in terms of analysis, but then it doesn't pretend to be. It skips, dips and glides on the waves of the ocean that's the phenomenon, and is incredibly charming and a fannish love declaration.

What it does do: give a great sense of both the utter sense of joy the Beatles were able to evoke in their audience at their best, and the increasing madness/claustrophobia/freak show feeling that was a big reason why they stopped touring in 1966. In addition to old interview snippets from George and John and now ones with Paul and Ringo, you get the usual suspects dead and living (even those who rarely went on the record in front of the camera, like Neil Aspinall), plus a couple of very prominent fans who were teenagers then and fully in the grip of Beatlemania, like Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Izzard and Richard "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Curtis. I found it both amusing and touching that Richard Curtis declared his entire career was in a way an attempt to recapture what the Beatles were to his teenage self, friends who know each other really well effortlessly bantering with one or two glasses down already. (Richard Curtis movie characters: all Beatles avatars. You know, it works for me.)

(Ron Howard, btw, is really good with using not just the songs but the banter from various studio outtakes and live performances, so it's not just Curtis et all explaining this as a quintessential part of the Beatles allure but the audience sees/hears it as well.)

Being the avid fan I am, I had seen much of the footage before, but never on the big screen, or with this sound quality, and I fell in love all over again. With the music, but also with the great chemistry and connection they had with each other (I hear you, Richard Curtis). The movie has two endings, since there's a remastered version of the Shea Stadium documentary attached, but the documentary proper ends thusly: decision to stop touring -> off we go to the studio to make Sgt. Pepper -> artistic triumph - > short "and then there were five more albums, but they only played live together one more time" credit explanation -> excerpt from the rooftop concert from "Let it Be", to be specific, "Don't Let Me Down/I've Got a Feeling", which is the final scene of Ron Howard's documentary. This could have been a bit of a gamble, considering we go from moptop Beatles concert excerpts to the 1969 look and music, and it's a bit of a shock how much older they look only three years later if you're not familiar, BUT the gamble pays off because lo and behold, there it is again, that joy of performance, that clicking with each other and the audience. (That, btw, is the marvel of the Let It Be movie this excerpt is from, too - misery misery misery and suddenly! Joy!) It's a great way to wrap things up, and as a bonus through the credits, we get more banter (from the Christmas Record for the fan club from 1963 when fame was still new and wild), going full circle from end to beginning.

There are lots of tributes to Brian Epstein and George Martin (to whom the movie is dedicated), and the credits also single out the late Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans and Derek Taylor for special thaniks (and justly so, given Neil and Mal were the roadies/condidantes since Liverpool and Derek Taylor had to manage the PR madness through the touring years), but one particular name dropping was my favourite: when Paul, referring to how by 1966, they all needed some non-Beatles space and passion in their lives, mentions George found Indian music "and I got involved with a gallery owner, Robert Fraser" - cue photo, thanks, Ron Howard, because there aren't many available other than the famous drug raid one with Mick Jagger. (The Paul and Robert Fraser relationship being something of a special interest of mine.)

Like I said, the movie skips and dips, which means you get due mention of the fact they were stoned throughout "Help!" (obviously), but no more than that, and other than George's comment about ye early Hamburg days ("being 17 in the naughtiest city of the world"), no mention of the part of being a touring musician that includes lots of sex. Otoh you do get an unexpected brief excursion into the 1965 US civil rights state when the fact the Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences (which became an issue in Jackson, Mississippi) comes up. I thought Ron Howard was playing it just right; he doesn't claim they did something major for the cause here, but lets the story speak for itself, by using interviews not from years later but made at the time (by Larry Sanders, in which they all unequivocally say that segregation is nuts, we also see their original contract for the tour which indeed has s a clause saying that the artists won't play in front of segregated audiences ), then lets a black fan describe what it was like.

As mentioned, after the film proper is over, you get the Shea Stadium documentary remix, cut down to thirty minutes (the original documentary of Shea Stadium was 50 minutes and included footage of the other groups playing that night and some interviews), which, seen uninterrupted, not only provides a great sense of what it was like but in fact allows you to do what neither the audience nor the Beatles could at the time due to the scream level - hear the music. (Earlier in Howard's coumentary, Ringo says he could not hear anything and had to focus on John's and Paul's backsides and the rhythm to goes where in the song they were.) Like Elvis Costello said, it's amazing that it sounds as great as it does under these insane conditions - and when two young 'uns behind me expressed (impressed) amazement that the Beatles would finish said concert with "I'm Down" and make that song hilarious instead of depressing, I felt that pang/gratification you do when hearing people experience something you're fannish about for the first time. (Yes, self, there are lots of people who don't know they used to finish their acts with Paul doing one of his Little Richard-like numbers. Resist the temptation to turn around and provide a know-it-all-explanation!) Which is one of the reasons why I'm glad this new movie exists - not just for nostalgia but to introduce newbies to the Beatles. The best kind of fan service.
selenak: (Scarlett by Olde_fashioned)
Some of the loot from my recent London trip:

Effie Gray, which I mostly wanted to watch because Emma Thompson wrote the script. She also plays a supporting role, but given her script for Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility was superb, I was looking forward to this other effort in the writing department. It's a cinematic take on a notoriously bad Victorian marriage, that between our title character, played by Dakota Fanning and John Ruskin, played by Emma Thompsons rl significant other, Greg Wise, in a far cry from his Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. Between ridiculed as a a pretentious fob in Mr. Turner and depicted as an occasionally pitiable and otherwise tyrannical creep here, Ruskin had a bad cinematic 2014, all the since what he was actually famous and beloved for - and the Ruskin-influenced people included artists as diverse as Tolstoy, Wilde and Shaw - is hard to get across in a movie that's not really about him: philosophy and art criticism are hard to dramatize, which means that when Ruskin's suffocatingly overprotective parents keep harping on his genius, an audience not versed in Victoriana is bound to wonder "genius in what?"

No matter. Effie, who, me being a German, inevitably reminded me of fictional Effie Briest, the heroine of Fontane's novel of the same name, marries Ruskin at age 16, has one of the weirdest documented wedding nights when the sight of her naked body ends any attempt at sexual relations before they really start (biographers' speculation as to what exactly put Ruskin off go from the sight of Effie's pubic hair - on the assumption that Ruskin's only familiarity with the female body before this event would have been via paintings, which tend to avoid said hair -, to speculating she was menunstruating to suspecting body odour, finds herself as an ornament in the Ruskin household without anything to do or any companionship to engage in, starts to develop depression and physical ailments and finally, after falling for painter John Millais, gets some legal advice and sues for divorce based on non-consummation and impotence (which is why we know about the wedding night), which is granted, to the scandal of the age. Thompson in her script puts the emphasis on Effie's disintegrating marriage to Ruskin and final escape, not on the romance with Millais (down to the ending, which isn't Effie rushing in Millais' arms but Effie in her getaway chaise at liberty at last -, and on the suffocating, life less atmosphere in the Ruskin household. All of which is depicted sensitively, but also at length, and hard to bear before Effie finally has had enough, good as the actors are. Reminds me of Henry James' novel Portrait of a Lady in that way. Not one that I'll rewatch.

Dickensian: a witty Dickens/Dickens crossover show in 20 episodes, each episode only half an hour long. Basically glorious Dickens prequel fanfiction, with characters from various of his novels resettled to live all in roughly the same London area and crossing paths. This sometimes works perfectly and sometimes feels very forced, as such a premise is wont to do. The actors are clearly having a ball. The main plot threads holding the whole thing together: the "Who killed Jakob Marley?" murder mystery, with Inspector Bucket on the case, Miss Havisham (here given the first name of Amelia) taking on her father's heritage and being schemed against by her brother Arthur and dastardly future Great Expectations villain Compeyson, and the Barbary sisters, Frances and Honoria, whose tortured relationship with each other makes for one of the most compelling subplots. I thought Frances looked familiar in the pilot but not until the credits rolled on did I realise that she was played by Lucy Saxon herself, Alexandra Moen. Then there's the subplot involving Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sikes, which works, and the comic relief one of the Bumbles, which really doesn't (their scenes are easily the most obvious filler element of the show, but then, Dickens wrote lots of filler scenes due to the monthly installment format), not to mention cameo appearances from other worthies.

Like I said, there's some filler stuff, but I marathoned it these last days because it never ceased to hold my interest, and it certainly makes me want to check out Bleak House, the novel Honoria and Frances are from, which is a Dickens novel I haven't read yet. Plus I salute headwriter Tony Jordan and the actors for coming up with a take on Fagin which solves the eternal dilemma that otoh the Dickens original, an unambiguous villain, is hard to render because of the various antisemetic tropes used, but otoh the Oliver! musical version of Fagin as a lovable rogue is white washing and prettifying all the exploitation of children that Dickens was in a genuine rage about and misses the point of the character. Dickensian's Fagin is a hardcore villain and truly exploitative, but he does have some non-exploitative emotions, and is also clever and not be messed with. And the scene where he and pre-Reformation Scrooge encounter each other is a true delight.
selenak: (Hank by Stacyx)
Icon in honor of the other Dr. McCoy, for reasons soon apparant. Overall: benefited from the change of script writing team and director (disclaimer: I actually like J.J. Abrams, mostly due to Alias, and for the same reason, I like Kurtz & Orci, too, but Into Darkness demonstrated they had already reached a dead end). A fun popcorn summer movie on neither end of the bad to great scale as far as Trek movies are concerned.

Virtues: this is finally when Reboot!Bones get stuff to do. The two previous movies arguably had him at No.4 to new the Kirk-Spock-Uhura triad, which since I love Reboot!Uhura (original Uhura, too, of course) wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but also in no way corresponded to the importance of the character in TOS. Here, in addition to his friendship with Kirk getting some good scenes, we finally get the treasured McCoy/Spock relationship as a key feature in the rebootverse as well. Karl Urban takes all the screentime and runs with it.

(Corresponding flaw: otoh, Uhura has less to do than in the two previous reboot movies and what little she has is exposition. Say about Into Darkness what you want - and it does deserve a lot of criticism - but Uhura had some great scenes in it. It seems the Rebootverse can't have both McCoy and Uhura be prominent. Sigh.)

Also, Kirk has finally grown up. In fact, the movie in general doesn't pretend no time has passed since the last one but is set three years into the five years mission, and not only is there not a single Horndog!Kirk scene, but he doesn't indulge in rebel-without-a-cause antics, either. Instead, he's going through almost an early midlife crisis, or rather: questioning where to move with his life next, but in an adult, not in a overgrown teenager manner.

All of the ensemble gets stuff to do, though some more prominently than others, see above; our two prominent new characters are Jaylah (female, alien, has the majority of her scenes with Scotty, but not romantic in nature, falls into the tough and scarred by past female warrior category), and the villain, Krall (Idris Elba, for the majority of the movie about as recognizable as Christpher Ecclestone was in Thor: The Dark World, which is to say, buried under make-up and Evil McEvil - we do find out he's got a backstory and motive in the last reel, but, as I've often said, the ST movies do not live from their villains). The general theme of "better together" and the crew saving the deay through their belief in each other and cooperation with each other is a pleasingly optimistic theme for an anniversary movie, though I have to point out the innate hypocrisy in juxtaposing this to the villain's "conflict is where it's at! Yay fighting!" ethos, because one big problem of the ST movies in genera (i.e. of all Trek casts)l is that they try to fit something that's made for the TV format where you can explore character interaction and do a different type of story - sometimes comedy, sometimes big drama - every week - into the action movie format demanding big fight scenes and a clear cut villain to have a big showdown with, and this is true of this one as well. It feels a bit like Russell Crowe screaming at the Roman audience "is this what you like?" about the bloody spectacle of gladiators when directly Ridley Scott is indulging the movie audiences' fondness for same with this very movie.

Most touching scenes for long time Trekkers: inevitably, not just the tribute to Spock Prime but the entire TOS ensemble. Also, in the credits post movie there are the double dedications to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, which come without any music whatsoever, just as a moment of silence, and it's impossible not to feel the rl sadness there.

Random example of "doing what the last one did, but doing it better": is spoilery. )

All in all: not a must, but enjoyable enough. Now I'm ready for the new tv show!
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Two movies which for some reasons I never caught in the cinema but happened to watch this last week:

Grand Budapest Hotel: is as great as both audience reaction and critics promised. Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedy (well, tragicomedy) role is fabulous and clearly has great fun as the metrosexual Monsieur Gustave, the young actor playing young Zero Mustafa is the perfect deadpan straight man (well, boy) to him, lots of famous actors (sometimes behind tons of make up) in cameos, and I bet Adrien Brody whom I've mostly seen playing soulful sensitive types enjoyed hamming it up as Dimitri the evil nephew. Director Wes Anderson delivers a visual feast, of course, and goes for a novel-istic narrative structure that's almost a parody of same (girl brings classic book to statue of author who in second flashback is shown writing the book narrating how in the third flashback he met the man who told him the story which in the fourth flashback within a flashback turns out to be the gist of the movie - but that structure works with the artificiality/enhanced realism/what have you the movie exudes. It also gleefully ticks of tropes - murder mystery! Caper! Escape from prison! - and between the stylish madness throws in some nostalgia for a lost past that never was, as is verbally acknowledged, and none too subtle arrival of fascism as the not too background threat in the end.

The credits claim this was inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, but to me - and I love some of Zweig's books - this had more of an Ernst Lubitsch feeling, even To be or not to be, honestly. (The writer in the second and third flashback level is made up to look a lot like Zweig, though.) Which is a compliment.

Rush: I'm not a Formula 1 or car racing in general fan, and so I knew only the bare minimum of the incidents portrayed in the movie - to wit, I knew that Niki Lauda - rl spoiler!  ), but no more, and I'd never heard of James Hunt. Otoh I saw that this one was written by Peter Morgan, he of the Blair trilogy and Frost/Nixon fame, specializing in two character stories, and it was starring Chris "Thor" Hemsworth and our own Daniel Brühl, so I thought, why not?

(BTW, this is another movie where the German - or maybe European, I wouldn't know - poster is notably different from the international/US one. The US one I saw online has Hemsworthin the foreground and a blurred version of Brühl in the background. The German one has them both equally clear on the same level. Given that the movie itself treats them both as main characters, with neither being put in the antagonist position, and that Brühl-as-Lauda opens and closes the movie with his narration, so if anyone is a bit more equal than equal, it's him, the prominence of Hemsworth in the international posters is clearly marketing of name value over actual story content.)

Morgan's talent for writing entertaining flawed duos does indeed come through and makes the movie accessible for non-car racing fans like yours truly, together with the acting - Brühl does a great job as Lauda, all focus and disdain for politeness, and Hemsworth does the hedonistic playboy with self destructive streak thing well -, the 1970s setting means 1970s fashion (though thankfully neither main character ever tries that very 70s thing, a Pornstache), and lo and behold, everyone who speaks German actually is a native user of the language, so no weird accent attempts and weirder pronounciation. (If you want to be really nitpicky, Brühl isn't Austrian which Niki Lauda very much is, but I think Brühl does a great job speaking English with an Austrian, not German accent - yes, there's a big difference to our ears! -, and his few lines in German do sound Austrian.) I also can't help but make comparisons to Morgan's earlier efforts in scripting real life duos:

The Deal: Gordon Brown and Tony Blair: both get about the same screentime, but the narrative sympathy is a bit more with Brown, and I'd say he's the pov character, if there's one.

The Queen: Tony Blair and, well, the Queen: same screentime, narrative sympathy given to both main characters, both are also pov characters.

The Special Relationship: Tony Blair and Bill Clinton: Blair gets more screen time and also the main pov, but he's also moving into self deluded character territory by the end of that one, with the narrative giving Clinton, not Blair, the final accurate message.

Frost/Nixon: actually, this one starts with multiple povs - of Frost's staff more than of Frost, because "is tv gadfly Frost up to handling Nixon?" Is part of the suspense, and that works better with Frost as well as Nixon is seen from the outside - but as the story moves on, we're narrowing into Frost's own pov. While Nixon gets ample screentime, I don't think the narrative ever positions us into his pov. Again, "will Frost get Nixon to crack?" Being part of the suspense wouldn't allow that.

Rush: equal screen time and pov to Lauda and Hunt - Hunt gets a few voice overs within the movie as well, just not the opening and closing ones. Neither man is painted as the better racer or person (they're both prone to refer to the other as "asshole", and the audience can see why every time), though I will say in terms of movie heroics, spoiler for aftermath of famous incident ). Since there are no politics involved, the stakes are our characters' lives which they wilfully endanger on a regular basis, so of course the movie asks what type of a person chooses this type of job, and manages to make the audience care for the two results of that question, warts and all.
selenak: (Rani - Kathyh)
And two movies in French:

Nous Trois Our Rien, directed by Kheiron: autobiographical movie about the director's father and mother, in which he also acts and plays his father, Hibat, who first was an activist against the Shah - which got him 7 years in prison and plenty of torture -, and then against Khomeini & Co., at which point he and his wife Fereshteh left the country. They end up in the Parisian Banlieues in which they manage, through a decade of hard social work, turn one of the most dangerous and neglected suburbs into a thriving multicultural community (which posts of the fewest votes for Front National anywhere in the department, as the director told us in the Q & A later.

Despite being set in Persia/Iran for two thirds, the movie is entirely in French, and while I'm shamefully rusty, I got some of the jokes before the subtitles told me. This movie manages to include some deadly serious subjects (oppression in two different regimes, resistance, torture, exile) and yet be a really funny comedy without belittling the enormity of what happens. It's also a family story, and Habit's wife, Fereshtre, is the opposite of the looking-in-fear-at-her-man cliché of wifes of rebels (who aren't depicted as gun-totting warriors). (She also gets a job as a social worker before he does. For that matter, Habit is also the opposite of a lot of clichés about rebels and revolutionaries. He's not angry and ranting and smashing things in frustration, but soft spoken, witty yet unrelenting. When he refuses to eat the cake the prisoners are offered at the Shah's birthday, which gets him months of isolation cell and beatings, he does so without big rethorical fanfares. He just does it. (Incidentally, the Shah shows up in this movie, as a comedy dictator. Khomeini, otoh, is presented via newsclips instead of being played by an actor.) And when Habit and Fereshtre have crossed the mountains from Iran to Turkey and turn around to look at their country for the last time, it's a big moment, but not because there is a speech; Kheiron as an actor trusts himself and his fellow actress Leila Bekhti to get across what they feel.

Because of the anti-immigration, anti-multicultural feeling on the rise in so many countries in and out of Europe right now, such a film - which ends, among other things, as an example of what the papers deem "successful integration"; Habit and Fereshtre have become part of a new community, which itself consists of many immigrants or descendants of same, of Arab and Morrocan origin - is more than timely, as one woman in the audience observed when during the Q & A she stood up to thank the director for this. But even in a better time, it would be a film worth watching. The humor and the affection the characters have for each other pulls you through the hardships, and the result is something I definitely hope will be released soon over here.

La Mort de Louis XIV, directed by Albert Serra: this, otoh, is a movie I probably won't watch again. Not because it was bad, mind: it was superbly photographed and acted, and I get the philosophical point: the process of dying in old age, which hits the most powerful man of his era just the same (only not, as a poor man would not get dozens of doctors and servants), the fantastic palace he built for himself reduced to a chamber that starts to stink of his gangrene leg. Legendary French actor Jean-Pierre Léaud returned to the screen for this movie, and there is that meta dimension you always get when an old man and living legend who could die at any point plays an old man dying (who also was legendary in a different way). But still, this draaaaaaags so much. Which is part of the point, I get it. But it doesn't make it easier to watch for me. I love my share of "slow" movies. This isn't one of them.

Maybe it's also a matter of wrong expectations: after the short summary in the program, I expected to see scheming courtiers while Louis is dying, and scheming courtiers in Versailles usually are very entertaining. But no; you only have some rivalries between doctors (and the main doctor, Fagon, versus the main valet who seems to never get to sleep as he has to be on call for Louis through the agonizingly slow days of dying all the time), but no power plays, and very little verbal fencing. (In fact I can remember only one such exchange. "As for the Doctors of the Sorbonne, I think Monsieur de Moliere has described them perfectly." "This is not the time to quote Molier, Dr. Fagon!") Verbally, it's more a competition between different actors of in how many different intonations - pleading, cajoling, pitying, fearing, etc. - the word "Sire" can be pronounced. Which is great for half an hour, but not two. The one point which got my imagination going was when Louis ordered papers from his father's day burned after having looked at them one last time. Clearly, these were letters between Aramis and his mother proving Louis' paternity.

One more, I get the point about death. But, you know: I Claudius, the tv version, did it more elegantly in five minutes, in the death of Augustus sequence, with Brian Blessed doing probably his finest acting entirely silent, the camera unrelentingly staying on his face while Livia tells him, off screen but very present through her voice, her version of the truth for the first time.

In conclusion: maybe watch it on a long intercontinental flight when you need to fall a sleep in a very cultural way.
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Kästner und der kleine Dienstag (Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday), directed by Wolfgang Murnberger: movie which gets around the biopic conundrum (i.e. if you film the entire life of a person, it usually comes across as a checklist of edited highlights, as worthy and dull or what not) the usual way, by choosing a limited time to cover, and one particular relationship to focus on. In this case, the time is 1929 - 1945, and the relationship is the one that develops between Erich Kästner (self and most of the German reading world would list him among their favourite writers any time; and not just the German reading world, [profile] abigail_n once told me he was the only German author who chose to remain in Germany during the Third Reich who still got published in Israel post WWII and ever after) and Hans Löhr. Who is Hans Löhr? In 1929, he was an eight years old boy who read Emil and the Detectives, wrote an enthusiastic fan letter to the author, then met him, ended up playing Little Tuesday in the movie version the UFA produced in 1931 (early sound movie, scripted by one Billie (sic, he didn't change the spelling until making it to the US) Wilder). Hans Löhr and Kästner remained in contact until Löhr died.

Now, had this relationship happened in any other era, it simply would have been a not quite father and son, mentor/protegé type of story, with the added factor of making one realise it couldn't happen today because an adult man befriending a child immediately invokes suspicion. But it started in the last years of the Weimar Republic, and then took place in the vilest dictatorship we had in this country. And the questions whether you can survive inside the system with your moral integrity, and what it does to you to grow up in such a system, are of course a big part of the story. Erich Kästner during the course of the film goes from young vibrant and successful Weimar Republic era writer, still more famous for his political sharp tongued poetry than anything else (though Emil and the Detectives changes this radically), always ready with a witty come back, to the haunted grey figure at the end of the war who is completely silent in the last scene. The question "why don't you leave?" is asked repeatedly - until 1939, when leaving or not isn't an option any more - and Kästner has different answers: at first he doesn't believe Hitler will last, then he wants to be a witness from the inside (he made lots of notes, some of which survive, for a novel about the Third Reich which was to be his big justirfication for staying, something he said couldn't be written from the outside, but in the end he never wrote it), there's also his mother (Kästner was a proud self declared Mother's Boy whose "Letters to Muttchen" filled whole volumes), and lastly he also names fear and laziness. The movie leaves him this ambiguity, not settling on just one or the other. One of the most important supporting characters, Erich Ohse, a cartoonist who illustrated Kästner's novels and poetry, like him remained in Germany (and was allowed to continue to work under a pseudonym, until he was denounced and arrested for expressing anti Nazi opinions, and committed suicide in his cell), once has a conversation with Kästner where he says, about both of them: "You can't say clean in a pigsty, Erich."

Kästner stays, sees his books burned in front of him - he was probably the only German author whose books were among those burned in 1933 who witnessed it -, isn't allowed to publish anymore officially (inofficiallly, he worked as a script doctor and in one famous case wrote an entire script under a pseudonym - the movie Münchhausen, plus he also lived from the sales of his books outside of Germany). There is a visual running thread from the start of the movie, when an overcrowded café where Kästner often hangs out is bursting with people (signal to audience we're in Weimar Germany: not just the music but also same sex couples in the crowd), and through the movie we keep returning to the café with fewer and fewer people until it's just Kästner and the waiter. If this sounds all very depressing, I'm selling the energy of the movie short. Like I said, it focuses on the relationship between Kästner and Hans Löhr, which means a lot of comedy early on, as Kästner, like many a successful writer of children's books, isn't actually keen on or used to interacting with real children but otoh devoted fan Hans (his initial fan letter even comes with chocolate for his new favourite author!) is so incredibly endearing (and persistent) he gets around that.

The relationship also keeps shifting. At first Kästner is indulgent; directly after the Third Reich has started and Hans' best buddy, being half Jewish, finds himself derided by their teacher while Hans' sister joins the Jungvolk (she's still too young for the BDM at this point), Kästner tries to provide some moral counterpoints; still later, when Hans, who is played by two different actors by virtue of necessity in this movie (and may I say: very well cast, because the boy and young man who plays Hans as a teenager/very young adult really look like one could turn into the other, and both have excellent chemistry with Florian David Fitz who plays Kästner) has grown up some more, it's he who provides the moral challenges - didn't Kästner tell him through his books that standing by and doing nothing is as bad as joining the harm? (It's also, among many other things, a growing up, seeing your idol as a flawed human tale.) It's a getting estranged, finding each other again tale. And one which inevitably ends up in tragedy. As I saidin an earlier entry, all but two of the children playing in the first movie version of Emil and the Detectives died in World War II. Hans gets drafted. In the Q & A afterwards, the producers, asked about reality versus fiction, said they made some changes to the timeline, the most noticable being the point of Hans' death, which in reality already happened in 1942 but in the movie not until 1945 so it can coincide with the end of the war. The very last images of the movie are clips from the 1931 Emil and the Detectives, so we see the real Hans Löhr, and then the image of all the children joyfully running overlaid with the lettering tha tall but two died in the war, which after spending the last one and a half hour with Hans is gut wrenching enough to make cry, and I knew it was coming.

Now, this is a low budget movie. Which means no big sweeping spectacle shots: you get bombed Berlin via people sitting in a bomb shelter and later via Kästner watching the ruins of the house he used to live in, not via the whole city panorma. It also is low key in another fashion, and I suppose you could accuse it of pulling punches, though for me what they did worked, to wit: the fact that we don't see Hans as a soldier other than briefly ducking shots. (As opposed to shooting people.) The reason why I wouldn't agree that it was evading the fact that Hans, as a soldier of the Wehrmacht in the East, couldn't be other than a participant in a genocidal war is that earlier there's a conversation between Kästner and Hans where they talk about the rumors that there are atrocities in the East, and decide on a code sentence Hans is supposed to write to his mother if he finds this to be true. (Because obviously all mail is censored.) And the next time Kästner visits Mrs. Löhr, and she shows him Hans' letter, the sentence is there, underlined three times. Which in all its implication is mirrored on Kästner's face.

Also, the insidiousness of non stop hate propagadanda - a very contemporary topic, alas! - is addressed a lot by the movie; I already mentioned Hans' teacher (and believe me, what he says in class really was every day). One key sequence, for example: Kästner and Hans listen to the first Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling fight (the one Schmeling won) on the radio. To them, being Max Schmeling fans, this is a joyful occasion; he was already 30 and thought to be on the decline, not likely to win against the much younger Louis. The next morning, however, at school, the teacher recontextualizes the fight as Aryan superiority winning over a "negro", and the realisation that there is really no area untouched by hate propaganda now hits home all over again.

I've seen a lot of movies and tv shows include the book burning, but they usually get the books in question wrong (Christopher and his Kind), or they leave it at the point of "this is barbarism having arrived", with the character witnessing the burning usually a concerned foreigner. The way this movie uses it is different, both because they get the books right (and Kästner's adult novel Fabian isn't the first to be burned, either), because Kästner is actually there, and because of the conversation he has with the other Erich, Erich Ohse, later about it. One: he points it it wasn't SS men who threw the books into the fire, it were students. "Our hope for tomorrow." And secondly: "I was there, and I did nothing. I said nothing. This is how it's going to work. Some who act, and the rest of us standing by frozen."

Again: this doesn't just have historical relevance, and more's the pity.

On a more light hearted note: things that would be edited out if this was a US movie: Kästner's chain smoking (he's hardly without a cigarette in this movie, which is true to reality), and his casual sexuality (multiple relationships early on, including one with a married woman). BTW, of course Hans who informes him that "we are divorced" hopes Kästner will marry his mother early on, but Mrs. Löhr refresingly isn't interested (Kästner isn't, either), and is a rounded character who gets to make a lot of good points. (For example, early in the Third Reich, that it's all very well for Kästner to talk to her son about pacifism etc., but Kästner can leave Germany whenever he wants to, whereas they, being a working class family, can't afford it.

Accents: Hans' best friend Wolfi Stern speaks Berliner German like a pro (or a native, which him being a kid I suspect he is, though the teenage actor later also does it), as do most of the other kids. Otoh, Florian David Fitz is doesn't even attempt to have a go at the slight touch of Saxonian Kästner had, and his voice sounds different (he's a tenor, whereas Kästner was a bariton getting only deeper through the years), but he's so good in the part that you don't mind, and this isn't about impersonation anyway.

Allusions to Kästner's works: plenty, obviously: Emil and the Detectives is a touchstone, but also Pünktchen and Anton and Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer. At one point, Kästner has the idea for Das doppelte Lottchen somewhat prematurely and bounces it off Hans, but never mind. The script also found a way to include several of the poems, and put them to great use - Die andere Möglichkeit and Kennst Du das Land, Wo Die Kanonen Blühen? especially.

Movie-wise, two scenes of the 1931 Emil are re-acted so the kid who plays Hans is in them, and like I said, we see the original clips later on at the very end of the film; there's also a clip of Münchhausen, which Kästner watches in the cinema when British bombs arrive. Billy Wilder as a young man shows up only silently during the Emil premiere celebration (you only know it's him if you've seen photographs of Wilder at that age), but he's referred to earlier as the script writer; the movie avoids Wilder and Kästner having had a typical scriptwriter of adaption versus novelist who has never been adapted before clash, since it hasn't got anything to do with the Kästner and Hans Löhr story. We see a lot of Erich Ohse's cartoons, both the Weimar era ones and the later "father and son" series he published under the pseudonym of e.o. plauen. And a great example of how the film uses the comic to set up the tragic: early on, when Emil just got published, Kästner charms a bookseller into putting it in the frontal display of her store's window, replacing the Heinrich Mann (not Thomas!) novel which was there before. Twenty minutes into the movie later, that same Heinrich Mann novel precedes Kästner's in being thrown into the fire.

Where to watch: not at all yet. It's not been released. But the house was packed, and we gave it a tremendous applause. And I think I'll visit Kästner's grave here in Munich again soon.
selenak: (Emily by Lotesse)
Yes, "Slash" as in slash of fanfiction fame. As in, it's an entire movie about two teens who write same and deal with the whole coming of age, discovering their sexuality thing at the same time. This could have gone wrong in so many ways, but I'm happy to report the resulting movie does NOT ridicule fandom, either the writing or the non-writing part of same; instead, it's lilke Galaxy Quest to Sci Fi, specifically Trek fandom, laughing with the fans, not at them, and taking them seriously as characters. And when was the last time you saw a comedy focused on a male teenager who is attracted to both men and women and whom the movie refuses to label or put into a neat category? Or a movie about teenagers that treats writing (and writing fanfiction, not poetry) like genre movies otherwise treat dancing or singing or acting? A movie in which an explanation of what "curtain fic" means receives an adorable emotional pay off by the end?

"Slash" is directed and scripted by Clay Lifford, who was there for the Q & A afterwards and cheerfully confessed to having been in fandom all his life, and it shows. (Doesn't mean EVERY bit of the movie feels dead-on; Lifford said he wrote the quoted fanfiction for the movie, and it shows, too, which isn't a problem early because beginner stories certainly often read like this, but at one point there's a "best of" live reading at a convention, and there the quoted example certainly would never make it that far.) Like I said, the whole thing feels like a love declaration, though not an over the top one; while fandom and the fanfiction writing community by and large are presented as positive and a great space for creative people, there is also the inevitable competitive feeling and the self righteous bully to be found specializing in tearing down fellow fans.

Spoilery observations and descriptions under the cut )

I could go on about how this movie is my favourite of the festival so far for hours, but I won't, and will just include one more running gag: Julia brings up that the Brontes wrote fanfiction early on (the Angria and Gondal tales), and Neil finds that information repeatedly useful, not least when being told off by a girl who says she only reads real literature. (He even gets the Duke of Wellington/Napoleon pairing right, though not the Bronte sister - it was Charlotte - and brother Branwell -, not Emily, who turned Wellington and Napoleon into Zamorna and Northangerland, respectively.) Still, icon chosen in honor of that running gag.

In conclusion: if this movie is shown anywhere near you, go watch! The website is here.
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Still dazed and in misery due to, as EU president of parliament Martin Schulz put it, an entire continent taken hostage by an inner Tory party dispute, I embraced the chance at escapism via the international Munich Film Festival. Via, you know, movies dealing with such uplifiting topics as military dictatorship, paranoia, police violence, and so forth.

Not, but really, the two movies I saw yesterday were certainly compelling.

Orestes: directed by Rodrigo Siqueira: a Brazilian movie that is fiendishly difficult to categorize. The quick summary in the film festival catalogue made it sound like a modern day adaption of the Greek myth of the title, but then the lady introducing the movie called it a documentary. So which was it, I wondered, as the movie started, and as it turned out, it was both. How so?

Rodrigo Siqueira uses as a modern day adaption of the story of Orestes, specifically, the trial that concludes the Oresteia by Aischylos, as a framing device to interview and act out psychodrama/therapy with real victims of violence - violence by the state in the past (a lot of the movie deals with the still unacknowledged murders and torture during the military dictatorship of the 1970s, and n the present (police shooting down people despite having the option not to, otoh school children getting shot by criminal). The modern Orestes does never appear in the movie; he and the trial which is conducted by a real state and a real defense attorney are the only parts that are fictional. (So the director said in the Q & A later.)

Quite how the story of Orestes got adapted tells you immediately something about the focus: modern present day Orestes no longer kiled his mother to avenge his father, he killed his father to avenge his mother. (The gender reversal, of course, immediately also eliminates one of the biggest things to stick in the throat if you're reading or watching The Kindly Ones, i.e. the concluding drama of the Oresteia, to wit, Athena's argument that fathers should count more than mothers in terms of child loyalty.) The context in which his father killed his mother is specifically political and tied to recent Brazilian history: he was a goverment spy, she was an activist/militant in the group he infiltrated. The arguments in the trial are very political, too: for example, the state attorney says there's no way Orestes killling his father was spontanous because Orestes had to dwell on this for 37 years while the state refused to do anything but grant amnesty to all murderers and torturers of the military dictatorship.

But like I said, this is only the framing narration, or if you like the skeleton, and the meant of the movie are the true stories.The one with the most obvious parallel to the adapted myth is that of Nasaindy, whose mother, Soledad, was killed (pregnant) by a government spy in her movement she had an affair with. Because the guy in question already knew her when they were trained in Cuba, when Soledad was with Nasaindy's father, another fellow militant who died, and because no photos of the father exist (at least no complete ones, Nasaindy has one where you can see male hands holding her which she thinks were his), she did/does wonder the inevitable: whether her mother's murderer (currently alive and well, there's a YouTube clip played with him in his blithe "ah well, saved democracy from the domino effect, didn't I?" smugness that's chilling) wasn't also her father.

Then there's Eliana, whose son, a drug addict, was gunned down, despite not having carried a weapon. Eliana is black, and in one of the movie's most uncomfortable, disturbing scenes, she's paired up with another member of the group, Sandra (white), who advocates the return of the death penalty to Brazil and represents the parents of children gunned down by criminals. Sandra going from "I respect your grief as a mother" to "but could your son have had a weapon? And between a criminal and the police, who is supposed to die? What's a cop supposed to do, get shot?" to openly admitting she wants cops to shoot suspected criminals is hair-raising. Another member of the therapy/interview/psychodrama group, btw, is an ex-cop who says that you are trained with alternate, non-lethal methods of dealing with criminals, but because using guns and shooting people is an option not going to have negative repercussions for you afterwards, in 90%, you go for the gun.

And then there's the victim of 1970s police torture, going to the actual cells where he was given electroshocks; he's also the one to find the YouTube clip of the same guy who is responsible with the death of Naisandy's mother. He's almost unbelievable zen when talking about all of this, except in the end, when after discussing the Orestes case, Naisandy, the group therapist and the director enact how they think a confrontation between Naisandy and her mother's killer would go, which is when José Roberto (the torture victim) loses it.

At the start of the movie, the introduction lettering quickly sums up the Oresteia and ends with telling the audience that the end of the Oresteia was possibly the first time in Western Culture when the "eye for an eye" principle was abandoned in favor of mercy, that this was a major step of civilisation. Which the movie also believes, but it also questions the cost if there are no repercussions at all for murder. And of course you don't have to go to Brazil to find a society where victims have to live with the perpetrators thereafter, so this hit home in so many ways for the audience. In the Q & A later, there was repeated praise from audience members for the fact the movie also includes present day violence, instead of exclusively 1970s cases, and the director pessimistically said: "We're going backwards right now. Backwards."

Brazil and so many other states, alas, which brings me to the next movie, the festival's sole Turkish contribution.

Frenzy (original title Abluka), directed by Emin Alper: has nothing to do with the late Hitchcock movie of the same name, though I think he might have liked this one. Here, too, the director was available for a Q & A afterwards, during which he observed that while he got the funding for this movie a few years ago partly from the Turkish cultural ministery back when he applied, he doubts he'd get it now, and concluded after the last question with an appeal: "We are sliding into a horrible dictatorship day by day. Tell Merkel to stop negotiating with Erdogan."

What the movie is about: Kadir is released from prison (what he was in prison for originally, we're never told) upon probation after almost two decades. He's given the task of joining a unit that investigates waste bins in Istanbul for bombs or remains of bomb making. His younger brother Ahmet, whom he last saw when Ahmet was 7, has a job which is just as much a comment on present and future: Ahmet is part of a team that's supposed to shoot wild dogs. Two thirds in, after we've seen lots of dog shooting - not really, btw, we see the guys shoot and we see dead dogs afterwards, we don't see fake dying of dogs) one of the movie's few openly satiric sequences, there is a news clip on tv where a state official goes on about the slander of evil foreign media claiming Turkey deals with its wild dog problem by shooting them, no, they're just tranquilized and then brought to loving animal shelters conforming to EU standards. Cue clip of cheerful animal shelter. (Obvious symbolism is obvious.)

To me, the movie felt a bit Terry Gilliam-esque, but not in a derivative way: it's dark both in the sense that most scenes are set at night and in terms of content, of the dystopia it is set in, but also full of black humor, until it isn't: Ahmet ends up secretly adopting one of the dogs he's supposed to shoot and hinding, hiding it at his house, which is the source of funny scenes but also Ahmet's paranoia spinning out of control (every time Kadir checks on him he thinks it's the police). Same with Kadir's plot: he's earnest in trying to help against the terrorist threat - and there's the occasional bomb explosion heard ever closer to where our heroes live to remind us it's not just the state making this up -, but also check points and soldiers driving throughout the city. Since Kadir is prone to project and imagine, what with having been in prison for years, the couple (friends of Ahmet's) in which house he ends up living quickly go from being objects of fantasy (especially the wife, Meral, whom he suspects of having an affair with Ahmet - she doesn't - mainly because he fancies her himself) to objects of dread (when they disappear and Ahmet, due to the hidden dog plot, never answers the door, Kadir thinks his hosts are really terrorists who have taken Ahmet hostage). And Kadir's paranoia spins out of control, too. In the case of both brothers, the movie makes the cas that it's the direct result of the conditions they live in, the climate of fear. The structur of the film is challenging; it starts linear but then keeps going back and thro as we keep changing perspectives between Kadir and Ahmet, which also means going back and thro in time (first we see what happens with one brother, then we go back and see what happened with the other), and there are increasing fantasy/dream sequences as their fears build up. This contributes to the surreal feeling and the way you're sucked into this world as a watcher, increasingly unable to discern what's real and what isn't as well.

A minor aspect that's different from not just Gilliam or Hitchcock but most "Western" movie storytelling: the way Meral is presented. Because, as I said, Kadir massively projects into her, both desire and fear, I think most movies would dwell on her figure and attractiveness, but while she's played by a pretty actress, this doesn't happen here. The camera doesn't treat her differently than it does her husband. When Kadir has burned his hand and she patches him up because she's nice, this is obviously a major moment for him, but not for Meral, and there's no sense of lingering on the brief physical contact. I suppose the fact that Meral doesn't wear a headscarf and at one point puts her hair in a clip in front of Kadir could be read as erotic if you're from, say, Saudi Arabia, but most Turkish origin women I've met don't wear headscarfs, especially from Istanbul, so.

The movie never specifies an era - could be set in the past (the director said when he first had the idea, around 2005-ish when Turkey was in a relatively peaceful era, he was thinking of the 1990s, but by the time the movie got actually made and finished it looked prophetic/commenting the present), present or future - and it avoids commenting just who the terrorists are. It just shows us a few people who aren't, but by the end of the movie have been classified as such by the state to cover up its collosal blunders, which is a statement by itself.

As with the previous movie: what it depicts is by no means singular to Turkey. Which makes it even more viscerally effective.
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
Back in my university days, I once took a class about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which meant watching a lot of productions, both filmed and on stage. That class had the worst possible placement – Friday afternoon – during the spring-to-summer term, and when I tell you that most of the 15 participants showed up regardless, you may gather we had fun. However, with that kind of overexposure to one particular drama, it took me a while to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream again.

It’s been long enough, I’ve found: the RTD version was eminently watchable to me, with occasional “oh, how Professor Götze would have loved this” asides. Wasn’t surprised my flist was divided, though: Russel T. is that kind of producer.

Read more... )
selenak: (First Class by Hidden Colours)
There's a scene in this movie where young Jean Grey, Scott Summers and Kurt Wagner have just watched Return of the Jedi and are discussing the Star Wars movies (I thought of [personal profile] penknife and [profile] amenirdis's old X-Men stories!), Kurt being pro Empire Strikes Back while Scott champions A New Hope, and Jean then concludes that at least they can agree that "the third one always is the worst". It's an obvious meta moment that just about gets away with it, and its charm embodies why despite this not really being a good movie I was entertained and glad as to where it left the characters.

more spoilery talk beneath the cut )
selenak: (Tony Stark by Runenklinge)
Living in Europe and in a country where this was partially shot totally pays off (again): I've just watched Civil War, movieverse edition.

Generally speaking: the Russos did a great job serving their huge ensemble. Should this have been called Avengers III rather than Captain America? Probably. Not because Steve doesn't get enough screen time, I hasten to add, but not only is it an ensemble movie, but several key characters' motivations are dependent on Age of Ultron, and arguably the character who does the dramatic heavy lifting this time (i.e. who gets the moral dilemmas and the difficult choices to make) is Tony Stark, not Steve Rogers. Steve makes up his mind early on and doesn't change it throughout, which is in character, but means the movie did need a co-lead for whom this isn't the case.

On to spoilery details: )
selenak: (Philip Seymour Hoffman by Mali_Marie)
Aka the other movie made about how Truman Capote researched for and wrote In Cold Blood and emerged with a classic and an inability to finish another book for the rest of his life. It had the bad luck of being simultaneously produced with and then overshadowed by the movie Capote, for which the late great Philip Seymour Hoffmann got his Oscar. Since then, I've come across a few people telling me that Toby Jones was the better Truman Capote and "Infamous" the better movie, so I finally got around to watching it. Overall verdict: it's good, and having both movies at one's disposal makes for an intriguing compare and contrast on how you can approach the same basic material, but if we're comparing, I do think Capote is the better movie. Obviously imo, your mileage will vary, etc. That said, there are a couple of impressive aspects to Infamous, I'm glad to have watched the movie, and I'll talk both about where it scores and overshoots and my personal reasons of preference below the cut.

Read more... )
selenak: (Omar by Monanotlisa)
I'm trying to find the right word here - probably the most nihilistic thing Tarantino has ever done? Or maybe that should be "bleakest"? (But "bleak" to me associates not the violent revelry in death this becomes.) Anyway, he's not kidding with the title. Every single character not appearing solely in a flashback, including Samuel Jackson's, is vile. (Actually, hold that thought: O.B. the coachman never does anything hateful on screen, and several of the other characters are impressed by his decency, but then, spoilery information )).

As to one of the issue I've most seen debated: whether or not the treatment of the sole main female character, Daisy (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), is misogynistic: I'm torn. On the one hand, Daisy is never sexualized. The actress is wearing exactly the same kind of bulky frontier winter gear the male characters do, her figure is never showcased, and at no point does any of the male characters either verbally or physically threaten, let alone execute, sexual violence on her. Nothing happens to her that would not happen if she were a male character. (If she were, you wouldn't get the early scene where one character asks another whether the idea of hanging a woman doesn't bother him, but otherwise, the story would remain the same.) On the other hand: A few remarks on the non-sexual violence Daisy is subjected to versus the one she deals out, and the implication of this for me. )

Another observation: travelling the next for reviews, I've seen several mentioning laughing and cheering at two of the standout sequences, the one immediately preceding the interlude (this is a movie with a break in between), and during the final showdown near the end. Nothing like this happened in the cinema I was in. The audience just sat there in stunned silence in both cases. I'm wondering how much or little depends on cultural context here. Spoilers for the sequence preceding the interlude, one of Tarantino's standout monologues written for Samuel Jackson. ) Both Jackson and Dern (who remains silent throughout and just conveys his reaction with his face and especially his eyes, which Tarantino shows in ever more detailed close up) are outstanding in it. I don't think I'll ever be able to watch it again; same goes for the entire film.

As it turns out, I still have a few squicks or limits left in my capacity for watching fictional violence (both physical and emotional).

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