selenak: (SixBaltarunreality by Shadowserenity)
Aka the movie I had no intention of watching until two reviews, one in English and one in German, swayed me. Mostly by the promise that it does manage to be both a good movie and a great homage while being its own thing, that most tricky of balances for sequels.

Now Blade Runner is one of my all time favourite movies, and when I heard there was to be a sequel, my immediate thought was "do not want", and until I read those reviews, I had not departed from it. Said reviews, however, were glowing enough for me to say, what the hell, let's watch it, I'll always have the original anyway. (In both director's cut and 80s voice over version. *g*)

So, did it live up to said reviews? Yes and no and yes and no and yes and no... First of all, it certainly lived up to the cinematography praise. Denis Villeneuve, of whom I had last seen Arrival, riffed on the famous iconic original, and came up with new images both gorgeous and disturbing as well. Importantly, he also took his time instead of going for something fast paced. This is a plus in my book. One reason why Blade Runner was a flop back in the day was that a great part of the audience seems to have expected something Star Wars like, an action movie, not least because of Harrison Ford, then at the height of his Han Solo fame. And if Blade Runner was regarded as slow back then, you can imagine what newbies think now. But Villeneuve still chose to give his film breathing room, let events proceed in that dream/nightmarish, slow way, the very rare occasional physical confrontation excluded. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack is Vangelis ventriquolism, so in terms of looks and sounds, we're good. Not to mention that the way the movie styles the actors does a creative remix thing in terms of the roles they play, i.e. the person they echo in looks is not necessarily the role they have in the new narrative. This helps providing the sense that you're in the same universe but at a different point in the symphony where the themes are played in a new variation, so to speak.

Content-wise, we get to why I have a mixed response to this movie. On the one hand, it tries to hit similar emotional beats without providing a mere copy. For example: the director's cut of Blade Runner, though not the original first cinematic release of Blade Runner, introduces ambiguity about whether or not Deckard himself is a Replicant (without being aware). (I can never make up my mind whether I prefer Deckard as human or as an unaware Replicant, but I'm happy to report the new movie doesn't settle this eternal question, either, but keeps the ambiguity.) On the other hand, Ryan Gosling's character, K, is introduced as a Replicant in his very first scene, which is why I don't consider it a spoiler. There is an ambiguity waiting for him to discover as well, but not about whether or not he's a Replicant. (On the other hand, the scriptwriter(s) is/are definitely fond of Kafka jokes, because when K later in the movie is given a name, it's Joe.) The questions of what makes a person a person, the question of memories and what they mean, they're all here as well.

But. And there's a massive but for me. The oddest aspect this movie had was the way its gender politics worked, or didn't. On the one hand, you had several characters as female who back in the 80s probably would have been cast with male actors - for example, K's boss, the harsh and weary LAPD Captain (Robin Wright!), the underground leader of the Replicants, the memory designer (who, like the original movie's J.F. Sebastian - who, remember, designed parts like eyes for the Replicants - , has a life-endangering medical condition. On the other, the design of this particular dystopia does not reflect this at all. For starters, the advertising (famously a big part of the Blade Runner look) seems to be geared towards straight men. (No gay men or women of any persuasion are paying for anything?) Then there's the central m/f relationship. Now the original Blade Runner had two of those: Deckard and Rachel, Pris and Roy. I don't think I'm very far off when stating that the one between the two Replicants, Roy and Pris, was the one that came across as both being between equals and as the more passionate of the two. (Which fit with the movie's attitude towards the Replicants.) Blade Runner 2049, otoh, has the one between K and Joi, a non-physical AI designed as a mass product for those who can't afford Replicants. (Basically, Joi is a hologram capable of adapting.) And while there is pathos there - they're both artificial beings designed as slaves, Joi as a simpler form, who still regard their emotions for each other as real - there's also a strict hierarchy which is never transcended. (Joi is designed to flicker from housewife to erotic fantasy to whatever male wish fulfillment her user wants to have, with him being her entire purpose. While Pris was designed as a "pleasure model" for off world colonists as well, while Roy was designed as a combat model, Blade Runner never gives you the impression they being together was anything but mutual choice, or that Roy is who Pris' entire existence depends on, or her prime motivation in life. (Like the other Replicants in the original movie, she wants more life than the four years the Tyrell Cooperation was given them.)

But okay, let's argue that besides the K/Joi relationship, the one actually proves K to be more than what he was created to be is spoilery ). That still leaves the new movie having almost all of its characters declaring the one key element that separates Replicants from humanity, the one that, if/when it's gained, will ensure the revolution, is a plot twist straight of a tv show I've watched in the last decade )

Not unrelated, two negative observations about the two villains of the movie: one is Wallace, our new Tyrell. Only this movie apparantly doesn't trust its audience to get that rich industrialists benefiting from slave work who confuse themselves with God are the bad guys. No, to prove his villainy, Wallace is introduced via a scene in which something sledgehammery happens ) Then there's Luv, his replicant henchwoman. Spoilery remarks about Luv follow. )

Retro gender politics aside, I think what may come down to is: Blade Runner was courageous in terms of its characters in the way this new movie isn't. The Replicants in Blade Runner get audience sympathy not because the audience is pushed towards it. They're introduced as the antagonists, and the movie trusts its audience to get that their situation is massively unfair while never downplaying that they're also lethally dangerous, and at least on one occasion even towards someone who means them well. The final sequence reverses every action movie cliché in the book in terms of how hero/antagonist confrontations are supposed to go. Blade Runner 2049, otoh, is very clear on who is good and who is bad, whom to sympathize with and whom to despise, and doesn't budge from that. Our protagonist has a learning arc, but the movie is careful not to let him do something non-heroic even before he knows better. More spoilers. ) The one character with claims to moral ambiguity, to not being identifyable as either a villain or a hero, in the new movie is Robin Wright's police captain, and all her scenes with K are excellent. Not coincidentally, she's also the character who owes the least to the original movie. (Deckard's boss was simply an evil racist, and we only see him twice.) The end of her plotline, though, is predictable.

After all those nitpicks, though, I have to return to the powerful cinematography. Dystopian Calfornia, without any natural life left. Las Vegas as an orange-palette fantasy. The rain and water imagery, which in a current movie doesn't just evoke the original but makes a very likely prediction about the climate. Return and change of the small animal figures as signifiers. (Oh, and an E. Olmos cameo, which reminded me that while I hadn't recognized him when starting to watch BSG despite loving Blade Runner, the first time I rewatched Blade Runner after having gotten aquainted with Adama on BSG was odd in that regard.)

Oh, and lastly: Treasure Island quote in unexpected places, and entirely for the win. I'd never have thought of this character as that character, and yet, it totalyl works.

So, in conclusion: if you watch it, try to do it in the cinema, because it's one of those movies really worth watching on a big screen, the bigger, the better. If you don't watch it, you're not missing anything that would either enhance or destroy however you feel about the original.
selenak: (Brian 1963 by Naraht)
This tv movie was shown on BBC2 as part of the BBC's "Queer Britannia" season, to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act (which ended sex between two consenting male adults being regarded as a crime). Directed by Fergus O'Brien, it's a docudrama, with the fictionalized scenes based on the book of the same title by Peter Wildeblood, the only openly gay man to testify before the Wolfenden Comittee in 1955. (The Wolfenden Report was key to the eventual Sexual Offenses Act.) In between Wildeblood's story - he's played by Daniel Mays, whom I've previously seen mostly in villain roles (for example in "Ashes to Ashes", and who is great in this utterly different role), we get interviews with men in their late 60s up men in their 90s who describe what it had been like for them to grow up and live with both the law, society and your own social conditioning being against you. Both drama and interviews are incredibly moving, and compliment each other, especially since the film refuses to give Wildeblood an ahistorical "victory" moment where, say, he's reunited with his boyfriend, or one of his tormentors apologizes. Instead, the victory is in the lives of these men who've all been through hell but lived to see another age, still not ideal, but one where they can be with the partners of their choices.

Spoilers feel like a Mary Renault character ended up in a Ken Burns docu )

In conclusion: excellent film, watch it if you can.
selenak: (Henry Hellrung by Imaginary Alice)
Okay, that's it. As Civil War made me suspect, Tom Holland is my platonic ideal of Peter Parker, at least in his teenage phase. Also, while I had liked the first Raimi/Maguire movie and parts of the rest while increasingly disliking other parts of those films, and liked the first Garfield without thinking it needed to exist while extremly disliking the second one, this latest cinematic go at Spidey was a complete delight to me and I love it.

Ramblings beneath the cut )
selenak: (Orson Welles by Moonxpoints5)
I am not a witch, directed by Rungano Nyoni, lik its director a Welsh-Zambian co-produced effort (with some German producing money added as well). This is a directing debut, half satire, half J'Accuse. Not without flaws, but it gets to you and makes you note the director's name down. Our heroine is a little girl later named "Shula" by one of the other characters (we never find out her original name) whom the village she's ended up in basically accuses of being a witch for silently standing and staring. Since there are actual "witch camps" in Zambia, it means she ends up in one, which is being exploited by the local venal and none too competent politician Mr. Banda. For verily, these witch camps are good business. Among other things, they're used as a dumping ground for unwanted elderlies (every woman other than Shula in the camp is at the very least middle aged, and most are old), they're used as state workers (on fields) and tourist attractions, and you soon want to slap every single tourist who shows up, thinks those white ribbons the women have attached to their backs (so the witches don't fly away) are oh so picturesque and wants their picture taken with little Shula. Margaret Mulubwa, who plays Shula, doesn't speak until at least half an hour into the film, which tries to keep a balance between biting, funny and truly emotional, which doesn't always work out, plus there are some odd directorial choices at the very end. But it's still a really captivating and at times disturbing movie.

The Constitution (Ustav Republike Hrvatske), directed by Rajko Grlic (a Croation-Czech-Slovenian production), was the last new film I watched on the Munich Film Festival, and it made for a rousing finale. A wonderful three characters piece which manages the balance between funny and sad perfectly (and will be released in English speaking countries). Location: current day Croatia. Vieko is a middle aged conservative grammar school teacher who also happens to be a drag queen. (I was wondering whether or not he counts as trans, but while Vieko has a female alter ego, Katarina, when he's in drag, he otherwise seems to define himself as a gay man and has no wish for an operation.) One day after he's been beaten up brutally (of which we see just enough to indicate the seriousness; the violence isn't revelled at), he ends up in the emergency room where his neigbour Maja works as a nurse. Maja and her husband Ante are only a bit younger than Vieko and because Ante is a a Serb, they're mostly shunned in the neighborhood; previously, Vieko, who's a fervent Croation Nationalist, has shunned their overtures. But after Maja helps him out repeatedly, especially with his very old father (who is one big reason why Vieko is a Serb-hating nationalist, the other one having been a child in a war camp) Vieko can't very well decline her plea to help her husband who needs to pass an exam on the constitution if he's to be promoted at all as a cop in Croatia. (In addition to being born a Serb, he also has got against him that he's got dsylexia, which makes learning the constitution by heart really difficult for him.)

All three characters are vividly drawn and three dimensional. Ante is a heavily built guy who adores being dominated by the equally built Maja, does have a zeal for justice and a childlike enthusiasm for many things, but he also, after Vieko has been awful to him, responds with some homophobic slurs. Vieko hides his own prejudices (not very well) behind a cultural veneer and doesn't see any contradiction between being part of a discriminated against minority (and an out part, he's not in the closet with anyone, including his father who makes Genghis Khan look like a leftist) and being a nationalist conservative. Maja is compassionate and funny, but also extremely pragmantic and strategically minded; it's not why she helps him at first, but it does occur to her after a while of learning more about Vieko that since his beloved partner is dead, he only has this very old parent and a very big flat which he might be inclined to share if she and Vieko manage to befriend him, whereas they live in a much smaller, cramped flat.

Despite showing everyone's flaws, the movie is, as far as its characters are concerned, optimistic about human nature, our ability to connect against the odds and learn from each other. This is true for the three lead characters, but also a supporting player like Vieko's stuident who early on started out as an obnoxious teen into name calling and late into the movie reveals he's also gay and desperately in need of advice of how to come out to parents. There is a lot of humor, some of it black (Ante: But why does he think that I am one of those Serbs who beat up Croats? Maja: Well, you do. Ante: ?!???? Maja: You're a cop who lives in Croatia. Of course you beat up Croats.) Sometimes the reaching out is also literal: Maja's matter of fact nursing skills start the contact with Vieko, and they say something about her the same way Vieko later helping her with her make up says something about him. Ante's unabashed love for his dog (a small fluffy number, not a big one) comes with constantly picking it and not living things up. And so forth.

re: violence, the early attack against Vieko, which as mentioned is only shown briefly and in parts to make it clear what happens. Sex: Maja and Ante enjoy sex as much as food; Vieko's long time partner has only been dead a year, and he's still mourning, though it's clear he doesn't want eternal celibacy from now on.

In conclusion: a great final note to leave this year's festival on. And now I'm thoroughly exhausted and my eyes are formed squarely.
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
Parting (Raftan), directed by Navid Mahmoudi, is an Afghan-Iranian drama about a young Afghan couple trying to make it to Europe via Iran. The director himself arrived in Iran as a child, the film is dedicated "To my immigrant parents", most of the cast consists of lay Afghan workers living in Iran - the leading lady was one of the few who had professional actor training, but the leading man in rl is an Afghan worker in Teheran -, and Mahmoudi, who was present for a Q & A after the movie, said he knew he wanted to make the film when he saw the news in 2015.

Our hero and heroine are Nabi and Fereshtre, who fell in love back in Afghanistan, but because her family was against it could not be together. Her father then moved the family to Teheran. The couple remained in contact and made plans which were accelarated when Nabi's brother killed someone, which started a blood feud, which meant Nabi had to get the hell out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later and thus is in Teheran sooner than expected. That's when the movie starts, with Nabi arriving in an overfilled vehicle in Teheran, where Fereshtre wants to join him. She hasn't told her family, but they are planning to go to Europe on the dangerous Turkey-Greece route. Nabi's sister knows, is horrified (news of drowned people being everywhere), and tries to reach them via phone at different points in the film, which takes place during a single day.

As with other Iranian movies I've seen (all at the Munich Film Festival, as it happens), this one sticks to certain censorship rules - no kisses, despite Nabi and Fereshtre being an established couple (he introduces her as his wife to the various people they encounter, but technically she isn't, due to her father's objection), or other physical contact that could be deemed erotic, for example. But the movie doesn't need it, as the longing looks between them and gestures like Nabi covering Fereshtre with his jacket carry all the tender familiarity that is needed to indicate the state between them. That said, later during the Q & A you could see somewhat of a culture clash happening when a German viewer (male) said Fereshtre was such a passive character and didn't decide for herself, and an Afghan viewer (female) protested that Fereshtre by deciding to be with Nabi was already doing something very transgressive because leaving the family is such a strict no. The Afghans in the audience generally voiced much approval; one man said he'd taken the same route to Europe Nabi and Fereshtre want to take in the movie, and the behavior of the smugglers was very much as it had been for him.

This is very much an working immigrant movie - Fereshtre's family seems to be doing okay, but she's still working at a tailor's who doesn't pay his employees their promised salaries, very aware that most of them aren't there legally; Nabi's one friend who is already in Teheran as well as some other contacts work in construction, and are considerably poorer. And most of them either arrived as refugees themselves or have family who is trying to make it further, to Europe. At one point, one of them finds out his brother was on the latest ship that went down and whose passengers drowned, and despite the audience not having spent much time with this character, it's heartrendering. Of Teheran, we see only what the characters see - mostly construction sites, or fragments of a city through the air holes in car boots. The colour palate of the movie is thus mostly brown and sandlike yellow, with the occasional red via the women's headscarves, and some blue and grey inside half finished buildings where there are improvised meals and hot tea sharing. Spoilery observation for the ending. )

Gook, directed by Justin Chon, who also wrote the script and stars as one of the main three characters. The title, as Chon informed his German audience which didn't know that in a short speech before the movie started, is an US-Englsh racial slur against East Asians, while the same word in Korean simply means "country". This movie takes place during the Rodney King riots twenty five years ago, and Chon in the same brief introduction speech mentioned his family's store was looted on that occasion as well, when he'd been 11, so he does have personal memories, but that wasn't the sole reason for making the movie - as important was that their store getting looted was pretty much typical because Korean immigrant shops were a primary target during the riots. Chon first wrote the script and imagined someone else would direct it, but the people in question all wanted at least one white character in the story to give a famous actor the chance of an audience-drawing cameo, preferablyly someone who says "you gotta go, there are looters coming". Whereas, quoth Cho, the cops had left to their fates d during the riots, and besides, another reason why he wanted to make the movie was because Asian Americans stiill don't get many roles in the US media, "and if they show up, they're usually good at match and all go to Harvard, and well - not true for anyone I grew up with!"

The result is a movie featuring solely Korean-American and African-American characters, mainly from two families - the brothers Eli (played by Chon himself) and Daniel (David So), who sell shoes in South Central Los Angeles, eleven-years-old Kamilla (Simone Baker, who is amazing in the part) who loves to hang out there, and, in minor but important supporting roles, her older brother Keith and older sister Regina. Also important: the cranky old Korean shop owner on the other side of the road who exists in a state of mutual loathing re: Eli and Kamilla.

(Kamilla, btw, started out as a boy named Kamal when Justin Chon wrote the first draft, but then, he said in the Q & A after the movie, he realised that black girls were as underrepresented as Asian males, and changed the kid's gender.)

Daniel and Eli have inherited the shoe store from their father (there's a backstory there which is only revealed in the last third of the movie, but it's just one factor in a complex pattern) and are just barely getting by, with some fraternal tension because Daniel would rather do something else; Kamilla and her older siblings are orphans (see also: slowly revealed backstory) and she's not really supposed to be at the store, but has made the brothers into her other family. All of which is put to the test when after the judgment in the Rodney King trial Los Angeles explodes.

Chon spreads the trial news through the early part of the movie, keeps it in the background, and mostly lets the fragments speak for themselves except for one heavy irony scene when one of Keith's pals says that now there are cameras everywhere, cops won't get away with beatiing up people anymore; but when the judgment itself is announced, we see all of the movie's characters react, and it's the big turning point from which the pace accelerates as the situation becomes more and more dangerous. Even before that, though, the racial tensions are ever present, both in blunt form ("Gook" getting sprayed on Eli's car) and more subtly (Kamilla, who helps out Eli and Daniel at the store, makes a joke about being held against her will, and all at once the three (black, female) customers who a moment ago had been chatting with the guys fall silent and narrow their eyes in suspicion, until it becomes clear Kamilla was kidding.

Kamillla is a great character, endearing without being saintly, and sometimes in the wrong (she steals from the cranky Korean shop owner across the street), fierce and joyful, with a temper of her own. Asked how he cast the young actress, Chon said at first he looked at young professoinal Disney actors, but they were already too polished and he wanted someone more raw, and then he found Simone at a community art center. I hope she'll keep acting; she does some amazing stuff in this movie, and is really the heart of it. The film is an ode to friendship across those invisible dividing lines, but be warned: your heart will also be broken.

The movie is shot in black and white, both, as Chon frankly confessed, for budget reasons and to make any anachronisms about South Central Los Angeles that's supposed to look like 25 years ago less obvious. At first it feels a bit odd, especially since I remember Los Angeles at that time, but now I can't imagine the movie in colour. Not least because the black and white really allows for a stark picture of just how poor the neighborhood is. Music wise, it uses both original music and one or two hits of the day. It makes for an intense, captivating whole.
selenak: (Orson Welles by Moonxpoints5)
The Infiltrator was part of the Bryan Cranston retrospective and basically came across as a well-made routine thriller without anything being either bad or having anything innovative going for it. I.e. if you've watched thrillers about undercover cops working to bring a drug cartel down, you can predict all of the story beats. (Other than one spoilerly bit ).) It's entertaining and does what it sets out to do, and needless to say Cranston is reliably good in the part, but I wouldn't say it's a must.

City of Ghosts, otoh, was a fantastic documentary, directed by Matthew Heineman, about the citizen journalist group Raqqa is being slaughtered silently (RBBS). Before I watched it, I was unfamiliar with the phrase "citizen journalist" , but it's really a perfect description, because before the IS came to Raqqa, only one of them was a journalist, the rest had professions like high school math teacher or engineer. Nonetheless, they took incredible risks getting out photos and film evidence of the atrocities the so called Islamic State visited - and still visits upon their city. The surviving founders of the group had to flee but they still have some members in Raqqa, trying their best to continue getting material out. I'm always hesitant to use the phrase "real life heroes", but these people are truly heroic, and one thing that galls me especially is that when they've made it alive to Germany and safety, they promptly run into one anti-refugees march by the godawful AFD in Berlin.

The documentary starts during the "Arab Spring" in 2012, for which the Assad Regime going after Raqqa school children was one of the local triggers, and ends last year. We follow the core group of RBBS; Heineman is an invisible presence, he lets them narrate their stories, and when there's background information/exposition, such the way the IS uses the media for recruitment changed radically from the very early static speech videos to the Hollywood style big production videos that came into use after the fall of Raqqa, the activists are doing the explaining (subtitled, for the most part, everyone talks in Arabic) while the audience sees excerpts of the videos in question. BTW, I'd never seen an IS recruitment video before, and I have to say, the exact copying of action movie gimmicks and aesthetics (complete with following-the-bullet shots, soundtrack, etc.) is nearly as unsettling as the content. It's not much of a comfort that RBBS was able to puncture the IS self image enough by getting videos and photos showing the true state of Raqqa out to counteract the IS claims about it that the IS forbade any satelites in Raqqa and ordered the inhabitants to publically destroy theirs, so they regain control of the imagery. But it's something.

If the excerpts from the IS videos go for action movie gloss on violence, the mobile phone camera made videos of the RBBS are shaky, abruptly cut off, full of (inevitably) strange angles - and shocking in quite a different way. For example, the first time we see executions, the abrupt deaths and the already dead bodies lying around are bad enough, but without either the camera or any narrator pointing this out, what is as gruesome is what you see in the background. Yes, these are heads on pikes on what used to be the town square, not cheap movie props in the latest zombie splatter, but real human heads.

There's a lot of survivors guilt among the activists; one of them had to watch his father being executed in punishment, all of them are directly threatened by the IS who calls for their deaths, one lost his brother who was among the refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean, and when he talks about his dead brother, he says he still sends him messages per Facebook (as the account hasn't been taken down). "I am broken, my brother. Broken." And yet, and yet, they still continue to risk their lives. There's also a lot of comraderie we see, being physically comfortable with each other, and the rare moment of pure joy, such as everyone having a snowball fight in Berlin. You feel for them, and admire them - and hope the movie will be seen by as many people as possible. Maybe it will remind them that 95% of the victims of IS terrorism are Muslims - and said victims won't, shan't be silenced, are doing their best to fight back.

L'Intrusa, directed by Leonardo di Costanzo, is, like The Infiltrator, "based on a true story", with organized crime in the background, but the contrast couldn't be greater. While delivering a tight narration, there's nothing routine or slick about this movie, which is set in Naples and manages to avoid every single cliché. The fact you don't see the Vesuvio or the bay anywhere is just one of them; L'Intrusa is set in one of the poor quarters. The central characteris Giovanna, who has organized a miixture of daycare centre and social centre for kids and teenagers to offer them a life off the streets. When the film starts, the centre is well established and has been running for years, has been embraced by the neighborhood - but then something happens that puts Giovanna in an unsolvable dilemma. One of the small to mid level gangster's wives - Maria - and her two children have come to the centre, claiming refuge. Giovanna, Maria's daughter Rita and Maria are the three main characters; the supporting cast is also individualized, from Giovanna's right hand woman Sabina to the widow of a man Maria's husband has shot to the little daughter whose father was beaten to a pulp by Maria's husband right in front of her.

L'Intrusa never shows on screen violence. It doesn't show the Camorra doing what the Camorra does, but the after effects are present everywhere. This was a deliberate choice by the director, who in the Q & A said that if you depict Mafiosi "from the front", i.e. put them in the centre of the narration, even if you position them as villains, you end up making them in some ways sympathetic or even glorify them. "So, in my films, I only come at them sideways" - i.e. they're not there on screen, but there's no mistaking the terribile effect they have. Now, the centre is a film full of life and joy, with a community acting together, and it's rare and very attractive to see that. But it's not utopia, and in fact the need for it directly grows out of the unseen horrors around it. Not surprisingly, more and more parents object to Maria's presence. Giovanna gets accused of prioritizing the perpretators over their victims. The aunt of the little girl who has seen her father beaten into a pulp demands to know how she should justify to her sister letting her niece interact, let alone play with Rita, what that would do to her niece. Things come to a head when Rita and some of the kids argue, a normal kids' argument, with the parents drawn into, but Maria isn't just any parent, and so when she says "if you touch my daughter again etc.", the awareness that this is the wife of someone who casually kills people, even if he's currently arrested and hopefully won't get out of prison any time soon, makes this a direct threat to the other kids.

Otoh, Giovanna's argument is: if you ever want to break the cycle of violence, you need to make sure that the Marias of the world don't raise their children to follow their fathers' footsteps. That these children learn other values, learn something different. If she turns these children away from the centre, this will not happen.

As I said: it's an unsolvable dilemma, and the movie doesn't simplify it. It even adds to the stakes because Maria at first comes across as arrogant and rude (it's not until well into the film when you see her alone that you realise she's shattered and scared as well). Not to mention that she starts out by deceiving Giovanna, and there's early on not much to justify Giovanna's hope that Maria actually wants a change for herself and her children - nothing but the fact Maria is here instead of being with her rich sister-in-law, who in the movie shows up twice in a big car to retrieve Maria, in vain, and evidently lives the well funded Mafia spouse life. Basically: you understand where everyone is coming from.

Something else I learned in the Q & A was that most of the actors were lay actors, actual Neapolitans whose main job is in social service (though no one played themselves), with Giovanna being played by a woman who is a dancer and dance choreographer. "Because Giovanna doesn't say much, she's so stoic, she expresses herself through her body language," said the director, "I wanted someone who could do that, that's why I picked Raffaela Giordano." Who indeed is able to express much by the way she looks at people, by her movements, and who looks like she's closer to 50 than to 40. Everyone looks "normal", i.e. like people you could meet on the streets, not like well styled actors with a daily workout. But none act amateurishly in the sense that you're taken outside the story or feel they're talking stiltedly; given Rita and the other children are a big part of the story, that's especially amazing.

Favourite detail: one of the projects the kids in the centre work on, and the one Rita falls in love with and participates with, is building a robot they name "Mr. Jones" out of old bicycle parts. You can bet that in most other movies, Rita and her baby brother would have changed placed in age and it would have been a little boy fascinated with the robot.

In conclusion: probably my favourite movie so far, and highly reccomended
selenak: (Breaking Bad by Wicked Signs)
Aka what consumes my days these days, as every year around this time. Of course, every year doesn't have Bryan Cranston as one of the guests of honor, so there was this additional perk.:) (Here's an article about the award ceremony he was there for.)

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(Question: is the young man in one of the photos a fan is holding out to be signed truly Cranston some decades ago? Yikes, I wouldn't have recognized him.)

The director of Wakefield, one of his movies which are shown this year in honor of him (and yes, of course several Breaking Bad episodes are s hown as well), Robin Swicord, joked that both she and Cranston have German grandparents, and: "I don't know why they left, but you know, I think the fun is over. Might be a good idea to come back now, and I think you all know why. So thank you for welcoming political refugees." Former opera director Sir Peter Jonas outed himself as a Breaking Bad fan, complete with Heisenberg t-shirt, and held a speech praising the glories of narrative arc driven television. My only irritation with that one wasn't the series he singled out (other than BB) for being exceptionally good at this - The Sopranos, Oz, The West Wing and The Good Wife - , but the one he didn't mention. Babylon 5 still doesn't get as much credit in breaking ground with its narrative arc tellng format as it deserves.

Anyway, Bryan Cranston's own speech was lovely, mostly about the way being a storyteller is the best vocation (I agree), with both wry humor and sincerity. After the ceremony, Wakefield was shown, but due to an unshakeable real life obligation, I could only watch the first hour. Mind you, I had mixed feelings anyway. Because I could see why Cranston was cast (excelling as he does in playing dislikeable characters whose pettiness isn't air brushed away who are still interesting to watch) , and I enjoyed seeing Jennifer Garner again (playing his wife), and found the concept something of a suburban Hitchcock satire without crime (Howard Wakefield, lawyer, due some circumstances ends up disappearing into his own attic, watching his wife and family carry on without him with the bickering zest of a true voyeur while literally reduced to eating garbage) in a clever way, it still made my skin crawl. Because in the hour I watched, most of Howard Wakefield's voyeurism and assholery was directed against his wife, and while I knew the narrative was absolutely on the same page with me here, it still felt very disturbing to watch, and so it didn't exactly break my heart that I had to leave early. (Otoh I missed the Q & A with Cranston afterwards that way, alas.)

On to movies I could watch completely:

La Familia, a movie from Venezuela, directed by Gustavo Rondón Cordóva, currently stuck in Caracas and thus unable to make it to the festival, though he might make it to the Latin American directors general Q & A on Monday. This was a taut, intense story starting in the poorest quarters of Caracas. Our two main characters are Pedro, a twelve years old boy, and his father Andres, who works several jobs at once to make ends meet and thus hardly sees him. The introduction sequence has Pedro (Reggie Reyes) playing with some other children, and the playing has that edge of violence, those moments when shoving at each other suddenly threatens to become more, which has you sit up already. And sure enough, various scenes later, which establish Pedro's day with best friend Jonny and minus his father (who sleeps like a stone on those rare occasions when he's home), violence does explode, as a child threatens Pedro and Jonny with a gun and Pedro ends up seriously hurting the other child. His father Andres understands the implication at once because the child in question has revenge hungry people, and goes on a run with his estranged son, which is the plot line for the rest of the movie. "Going on a run", however, doesn't mean what it might were this a US film, because Andres still needs that money for Pedro and himself to survive, so he takes Pedro with him to his various jobs on the other ends of the city - they just don't go back to their own quarter, though Pedro urgently wants to because he's worried for Jonny, which makes for a big confllct with his father.

This is a movie which trusts its actors (Giovanni García plays Andres), because the dialogue is terse and rare, and you experience the shifting father and son relationship mostly through physical interaction, looks, gestures. Andres doesn' have a "killing is bad" conversation with his son, or a "how do you feel about what happened?" conversation - that's just not how they interact. And yet you can watch them becoming closer throughout the film, and at the end they truly understand each other, and even in their desperate situation have some hope for the future.

Clair Obscur, a Turkish-German-French-Polish coproduction (yes, these do exist) directed by Yesim Ustaouglu. With a female Turkish director and two female main characters, this movie explores, among other things, various ways of what it means to be a woman in Turkey. Our two heroines live completely different existences - Shendaz is a psychiatrist with a seemingly good relationship with her boyfriend, living in very well off circumstances at the Meditterranean coast, while Elmas is still a teenager imprisoned in a marriage to a much older man who revolts her, serving him and his mother in their small flat in a skyscraper. The two storylines eventually connect when due to various spoilery circumstances Shendaz becomes Elmas' therapist; by that time, the cracks in Shenaz' own life have been revealed, but refreshingly for therapists who tend to be either demonic or incompetent when presented in a fictional story, she's still able to truly help Elmas (especially once she figures out how young Elmas really is), and eventually finds away to escape the mess in her own life as well.

The director and several of the actors were there, though not the two leads. The actress who plays Elmas' mother-in-law said whhen she read the script, she thought that this was the best discussion of female sexuality in a Turkish movie. The sex scenes aren't just surprisingly frank in the case of Shenaz (with Elmas, who does not want to have sex, the camera stays on her agonized face, and later goes with her to the restroom because the aftermath is also very painful to her), but always make a character point. In the Q & A the director was asked whether the movie could be shown like this in Turkey, and she answered she had to cut around two minutes for the general release version (though she was allowed to show the full length in Turkish festivals), which since she knew this would happen in advance she could do without taking away the meaning from the scenes in question. Mostly the general release cuts avoided the full nudity of the complete version. Since the only Muslim women showing up in Western media tend to wear headscarfs and/or hijabs, in short, live Elmas' life, I suspect the fact that Shenaz is sucessful in her profession, has unmarried sex and enjoys wine when dining with her boyfriend (who does the cooking) would be as startling as the sex and the nudity if this movie gets a release in the US or Europe. At the same time, there's the awareness that Erdogan's government and party is doing its best to make Elmas, not Shenaz' life more common again in Turkey, and that subtext is also there if you're sitting in the audience watching this film.

Shenaz is played by Funda Eryigit, Elmas by Ecem Uzm, and they're both delivering terrific performances. In the Q & A, Ms. Ustaoglu mentioned that the incredible scene in which Shenaz gets Elmas to roleplay a dream she has (which finally allows Elmas to vocalize the pain in her life) needed only two takes, one for Elmas, one for Shenaz, that the actresses were that good. And having seen this movie, I believe it.
selenak: (Abigail Brand by Handyhunter)
Wonder Woman was a very enjoyable comic book movie. I haven't read any of the WW comics or any others featuring her, so I had no other versions to compare this Diana to. What immediately struck me, though, was the difference to the other recent DC movies. Because it seems this particular director and scriptwriter (writers?) finally managed to chuck the moroseness that passes for depth out of the window and instead came up with, oh wonder, a heroine who enjoys what and who she is and is an unabashed, heart-on-her-sleeve do-gooder. Also, she's kind. Not many people in the superhero business are, especially after the 80s. She has a learning arc, and I thought the balance between naivete, learning about the darker side of the 'verse and keeping core beliefs regardless was well struck.

The trailers had me a bit worried because of the WWI setting, this war being not one prone to good versus bad stories, and I was concerned that they simply made it I instead of II to avoid the inevitable Captain America comparisons and completely ignore the bloody mess the "Great War" was. Turns out the script actually made WWI story and themes relevant. Mind you, it needed still a great deal of handwavium. DC geography and history is not of our world, clearly. )

The reason why I didn't mind all this is that Diana's big realisation moment could not have happened in WWII and was very WWI specific; to wit: It gets spoilery again. )

Other things: liked the cast and the ensemble, really liked that Diana being a warrior and Diana being kind and compassionate was never presented as paradoxical or in conflict with each other but as one driving the other, wished Snyder's lasting legacy, the slow mo fighting, would finally stop but wasn't bothered enough in this instance to mind, and was grateful that for all the "fish out of water" humor, Diana wasn't presented as childlike or somehow unaware of sexuality just because she hadn't been in contact with a man before.

In conclusion: a deserved hit.

P.S. Now I remember I did encounter Diana in the comics before, in a flashback. In Mike Carey's story about Lyta Hall post Sandman, The Furies, it's revealed Lyta is the daughter of Diana and Steve Trevor. (It's a single panel, a memory that haunts Lyta of her early childhood and her mother.) I suppose that makes Diana the grandmother of one of the Endless?
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: (Default)

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