Films of the month: May + UK holiday

 

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My trip to the UK went well, though the journey out was unintentionally stressful as power in my house decided to malfunction, a thunder storm switched off the electricity, so I had to rush to the airport once I had cleaned up the water from the freezer and figured out the issue.

Very lucky with the weather as was dry and 20 degrees for all four days in England. The UK is known for rainy weather and there wasn’t any! On our first day we saw the historical Roman Villa in Bignor, West Sussex. Very quiet place in the middle of nowhere. The main attraction was a well-preserved mosaic floor. You can see the long hall in the image below. A small part of the flooring looked as if it had reacted badly to the air and humidity. The woman in the ticket office said they were aware of this and were protecting the rest with some kind of special detergent. The four heads (below) represent the four seasons, around a head of Medusa. The third image depicts winter. The area offered good conditions for agriculture for the Romans.

 

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After lunch, drove to the south coast to Bognor Regis. We played crazy golf near the Pier and walked by the sea. At the end of the Pier there were a bunch of love locks/padlocks attached, a sweet tradition. Bognor is a seaside town that has stayed almost the same for decades and frozen in time. Near the mini-golf course, there was a fortune teller in a small hut, I felt sorry for her as nobody looked interested in her business.

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Next day, I had planned a trip to London. Decided to go at non-peak times (arriving 11am and leaving after 7.30pm) to save on the price of the train ticket. My companion and I decided on a day travel card which besides the train allows unlimited use of the underground and buses in the city.

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We had booked a guided tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. There wasn’t a whole lot to “tour” but the guide was friendly, well-informed, and had a sense of humor. The most surprising was her informal clothes as she looked like a punk in her spare time. We concluded the Globe visit by sitting in on a rehearsal of The Merry Wives of Windsor with the actors pulling a heavy basket down some steps. Good acting as the basket was likely empty.

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Heading over the Millennium Bridge, took the tube from St Paul’s Underground to Notting Hill Gate. From there, a short tube ride to Kensington where I had booked tickets for the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum. Unexpectedly, the layout was thematic and non-chronological. You view the exhibits and there are audio and video clips. Not the most inventive or interactive exhibition. I expected a bit more considering the 5 star reviews, but I did get to see my first Oscar statuette in person which was cool. The only Academy Award Kubrick won was for special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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concept drawings for A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
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masks from Eyes Wide Shut
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costumes from Barry Lyndon
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Hal 9000 computer

 

 

Other exhibits included the maze, typewriter and Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s The Shining with notes. The milk bar and orange vehicle from Clockwork Orange, futuristic chairs, an ape suit, and Kubrick’s letter to Arthur C. Clarke where he airs his enthusiasm for collaborating on an upcoming 1968 space movie.

Interestingly, also included was material about Kubrick’s unfinished films (Napoleon, Aryan Papers). In the upstairs area of the museum there were photos from Kubrick’s pre-movie days when he was a street photographer. The gift shop in the Design Museum was every Kubrick fan’s wet dream! I bought a pin with a Hal9000 quote for £1.

I didn’t learn a ton but fun to see these movie props up close. The concept art was the most fascinating to me. What I took away from the exhibition is how Kubrick managed to collaborate with some very talented people such as Ken Adam. His war room design is an amazing set which is displayed in miniature (see below) while the likes of Roy Carnon, Harry Lange, and Richard McKenna were responsible for concept drawings on 2001: A Space Odyssey, the circular space ship, ape landscape (see both below) . These talented men don’t always get the credit they deserve so was nice they got to have their concepts displayed with their names attached. Sure, Kubrick is the director, but he needed a team.

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By the time we finished our legs were pretty tired from standing, so went to a restaurant nearby on Kensington High St called Nandos (a South African chain). Known for their chicken, I bought a veggie burger. I like their special chilli sauce which you could add yourself from a bottle.
A number of London bookshops stay open until 9 or 10 in the evening so that gave us time to visit Foyles though I thought the Book & Comic Exchange in Notting Hill had more charm with second hand items and dust balls on the floor. Foyles is great for selection and was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest bookshop. There wasn’t time to visit Fopp but hopefully next time. On this holiday, I only had a day in London. Below are the books/dvds/magazines I bought. Apropos the blog banner image, I was tempted to go for an Abbey Road Beatles T-shirt in a shop window.

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The following day, a trip to Battle (yes a town called Battle), near Hastings. Allegedly the site of the famous battle of Hastings in 1066. The museum is pretty small but you can see the Abby ruins which William the Conqueror constructed. Apparently William also was responsible for having the Tower of London built, and these structures helped cement his legacy. The battle field in Battle (there is dispute as to where it actually is) sometimes features mock reenactments.

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The battle field by the Abby ruins

Also visited Box Hill (named after the boxwood plant) and Denbies Wine Estate. They use heaters in the winter to keep the vineyard from becoming too cold. Bought a bottle of Zigzag red wine costing £11. Wasn’t super impressed by the taste and maybe I’m hard to please. You probably need to spend double or triple for quality wine. The zig zag name is (as said on the bottle) derived from the winding road at nearby Box Hill, used by cyclists during the 2012 Olympics. I became slightly car sick driving up! Took time to see the graveyard where my grandparents are buried, and drove to Beachy Head and saw the impressive view of the sea. I did take pictures of people as well, I just prefer to keep those private and not have them turn up in google searches.

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Films:

 

 

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Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Rewatch. Based on the Italian director’s own life, a love letter to the old movie houses, and the joy of watching cinema with an audience, before the era of TV. A touching story with an ending that can bring a tear to your eye. The parts set during childhood are very charming, especially the unforgettable warm friendship between the boy and his substitute father. The shorter version makes a bigger impact emotionally. It’s sentimental but not in an off-putting way.
9/10

 

 

 

 

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Django (1966) (Sergio Corbucci)

Rewatch. Sergio Corbucci’s westerns inspired Tarantino. The death count is pretty high and the violence extreme, but you keep watching, to find out what will happen next. The suspenseful story contains striking visuals, an enigmatic lead character, and the main theme is fantastic. There’s a sense of danger in that anyone could die at any moment. Everything is so on point that I barely noticed the iffy dubbing.
9/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Me and My Kid Brother (aka Mig og Min Lillebror) (1967)

Goofy yet sweet. Lovable characters with Dirch Passer perfectly cast as the clumsy younger brother. I wouldn’t be surprised if the role was written specifically with him in mind. The parts filmed in Copenhagen were the funniest where the duo are out of their depth, stumbling around. The sort of Danish comedy that doesn’t get made anymore. There’s also a sadness, intended or not, about the ending on the fictional island of Bomø. Two sequels exist, continuing the adventures of the brothers.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: April + holiday plans

 

 

 

The Cannes film festival runs 14-25 May and the 2019 line-up was announced. As usual there are a bunch of filmmakers I’ve never heard of. My most anticipated films (so far) are, in no particular order:

 

Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan)
Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch)
A Hidden Life (previously titled “Radegund”) (Terrence Malick)
Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach)
Le jeune Ahmed (Dardenne’s)
Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

 

 

 

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In other (more personal) news, I am off to the UK on a few days holiday soon and will be in the London area. Have seen many of the big attractions but want to try things I’ve not done. Despite my love of movies, I’ll probably skip the London Film Museum as you can basically look at most of the Bond in Motion tour via YouTube. Besides, I have seen a few of the cars already at the now defunct Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick.
Was hoping to see Houses of Parliament this time but is only open on Saturdays at the moment while Buckingham Palace is closed with tours for tourists between July-September. Speakers Corner in Hyde Park sounds fun on weekends but I’m not able to go on a Saturday. I was surprised to discover St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey both have an entrance fee now of approx £20 but the bigger museums are still free of charge.
Considering the image in the header of my blog, I should seek out 
Abby Road which the Beatles famously walked across. Are there any music museums in London?
My plan is to visit the Stanley Kubrick exhibition (image above) at the Design Museum in Kensington, which opened in late April. Other ideas include seeing Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a trip to the south coast for the 1066 museum in Battle, near Hastings. Might also go to Churchill’s war rooms near Downing Street, although, again, you can see much on YouTube. Last but not least Denis’ new sci-fi film High Life is playing in cinemas so I’ll attempt to catch that when I’m over.  If you have any other suggestions of interesting things to visit in the London area, let me know! I’m still reading guide books out of a fear of missing out! 

 

 

On to the spoiler-free mini-reviews:

 

 

 

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Us (2019) (Jordan Peele)
The ‘us and them’ aspect is clever and ambiguous, tapping into division, inequality in society, and the fear of invasion. The title Us could mean U.S. as in United States. I just wish Peele did more with his idea. Lupita Nyong’o’s creepy voice( there has been backlash as she was inspired by a vocal disability), the red outfits, and the scissors are memorable. The weakness is the plot. Not as entertaining and well-told as Get Out. I liked the score and music choices but the concept is underdeveloped. The situation we find ourselves in stagnates by not escalating beyond the battle of the two sides. Large chucks of the film take place in near darkness which made it hard to follow at times. The use of Good Vibrations can’t have been what The Beach Boys envisioned yet nevertheless an effective scene. There are a few laughs, mostly spoken by Winston Duke’s character.
I didn’t find it scary because it was so far from real life. Granted is an allegorical horror so wasn’t going for realism per se. You have to suspend your disbelief to buy into the story and I wasn’t quite able to go there. The twist (which I won’t go into) somewhat saves the movie.
Director/writer Jordan Peele is quoted: ”There’s a presumption in the industry that if black people are the leads in a film it has to be in some way about race. I wanted to show that we can push past that.”
6-7/10

 

 

 

 

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Queen of Hearts (2019) (May el-Toukhy)
The best film of 2019 so far. A Danish drama which won the Audience Award at Sundance. A female director to keep an eye on for the future. Very well-acted by the entire cast and especially by Trine Dyrholm. A realistic #MeToo story that humanizes a family and shows how an inappropriate relationship gradually develops. Not a spoiler to say there’s tragedy in what’s done cannot be undone. The world needed a #MeToo film with a female as the perpetrator even though isn’t the only time it’s been done as we also have Notes on a Scandal (2006) and A Horrible Woman (2017). However these films are very different. As a Danish reviewer wrote, Queen of Hearts is harsh yet gripping.
8.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Never Look Away (2018) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Nominated for an Academy Award for foreign language film at the recent Oscars. A German romantic historical drama. Loosely based on Gerhard Richter’s student life, one of the 20th century’s most admired visual artists. I did not know of him beforehand. You can tell there is a desire to create a national epic with a timeline running from the 1930s until the 1960s. The film is impressive to look at and was nominated for its cinematography. A shout out to Saskia Rosendahl who despite a supporting role manages to outshine the two leads. The story works on an educational level, I didn’t know how the Nazi’s treated the handicapped and the mentally ill. Also, the censorship issue for artists during the era is explored. As an NPR podcast noted, the film asks: Why make art? Who is it for?
However the storytelling isn’t as confident or focused as the director’s previous The Lives of Others (2006). We follow the young artist and his relationship but I sometimes felt there wasn’t enough conflict, especially in the second half. My biggest gripe is the underwritten female character Ellie Seeband. Granted the film is set in the past when women were not as liberated but for a three hour film you would expect her to have a personality and not just be a sex object. I also felt the director didn’t know how to end the film as the last scene was unsatisfying considering I’d just invested 189 minutes. The comedy aspects were a surprise, the Germans aren’t know for their sense of humor. Particularly amusing was the eccentric teacher at the art school. Never Look Away wants to be a masterpiece yet the story is lacking something, resulting in a good but not great watch.
6.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Stan and Ollie (2019) (Jon S. Baird)
About the final years of comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as we follow them when they are no longer as popular and trying to secure a movie deal while touring the UK performing live gigs at theatres. Perhaps not the most interesting story to tell but that is what the filmmakers decided on.
The make-up department did some great work here transforming the actors yet John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are still able to deliver emotive performances that don’t cross over into caricature. The supporting character Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda) has some funny dialogue as well.
An affectionate tribute that is not as inventive as the Laurel and Hardy classics from the past but worth a watch to see behind the mask of who they were as people. Sometimes reality was not far from fiction such as the scene when they arrive at the hotel entrance. Although I don’t know how accurate the depicted events are.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Chimes at Midnight (1965) (Orson Welles)

The cowardly yet boastful drunkard Falstaff (Orson Welles) has many amusing lines, and the character reminded me a little of The Other of the Wind’s attention-seeking yet sad Jake Hannaford. While Falstaff dominates the film with his wit, it’s really Prince Hal’s journey which is the most interesting, as he faces a tough decision. The Battle of Shrewsbury sequence is impressively staged. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with the story as much as I had hoped. Fair play to Welles for putting his own spin on Shakespeare. Many admire the film, but the speed at which the lines are delivered made for a frustrating watch. Difficult to follow, even with subtitles. I found it too dense,  I suspect I’d have liked it better as a book. Also, you need to be familiar with the Shakespeare works the screenplay is based on to fully appreciate Welles’ film. Probably deserves a higher rating as there is rewatch value but I’m scoring it on my enjoyment.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Battle of Britain (1969) (Guy Hamilton)

By the director of Bond movie Goldfinger. Worth a look for the all-star cast and spectacular air warfare involving spitfires and the German equivalent. An important piece of history but the movie lacks variation and heart.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: March

 

Hope you are all well. My movie watching was pretty limited in March. Under ten films is a low amount for me, party because I decided to watch a few Danish stand-up specials by Anders “Anden” Matthesen (Tal For Dig Selv), (Shhh) and Jan Gintberg Redder Verden. I have no idea if you can watch them with English subtitles.
I read a Danish book on the environment that cleared up for me a moderate level of radon inside your home is in fact not dangerous and shouldn’t give you lung cancer, unless you are a smoker, which I am not.
I joined a couple of evening classes. One of them is about Rome, I’m hoping to visit the Italian capital which is on my bucket list. The other class is about 20th Century philosophers which I learnt about some years ago but wanted to refresh my memory on. Both informative courses with a nice variation of lecturers.
I’ve also become involved with a small three-day film festival and have suggested some titles for their program.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (George P. Cosmatos)

For whatever reason I never watched the Rambo sequels and with a new installment,  Rambo V: Last Blood (2019), out later this year, I thought it was a good time to catch up. Rambo is a man of action and few words. Part 2 lacks the deeper emotion of the 1982 original, and Stallone’s performance is weaker, but a suspenseful action adventure. The problem with these serialized characters, like James Bond, is you know they will return, so can’t die. Still, there’s a sense of danger as he gets himself into dicey situations. The movie has aged alright in that a female character plays an important role in the mission. We don’t really get under the skin of Rambo aside from a few one-liners such as “to survive a war, you’ve got to become war” and of course the stirring ending. The movie goes for action rather than character study as he lets his knife, rifle and cross-bow do the talking. There’s a bit of commentary on American POWs left over in Vietnam(which is where Rambo is sent). The most implausible parts (same with Rambo 3) are the over the top scenes when he takes on 50 men. Gives you an origin story for the red sweatband. Rambo tying the band with his back turned to the camera has become canon. If you didn’t think there was enough shoot-em-up in First Blood (1982), part 2 makes up for it in spades.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Rambo III (1988) (Peter MacDonald)
Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) is given a bigger role and is not just a concerned onlooker this time. The story is fun and quotable yet very predictable. The dialogue goes for tongue-in-cheek which can be entertaining but is it really appropriate for such a violent film? The enemy is too stupid. If you just want an actioner where you can turn your brain off, worth a look. Is it a coincidence or a calculated decision that the two most iconic Stallone characters Rocky and Rambo each have five letters and start with an R?
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heathers (1988) (Michael Lehmann)

(spoilery mini-review) Has some implausible aspects but I liked the movie better on rewatch. Very quotable black comedy. Star making performances by Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. An eerie score. Odd that Veronica doesn’t go to the cops about JD but maybe she was afraid she would be found out as well. Even today, school shooters write diaries and so did the Veronica character, instead of hatred towards her I was able to empathize because of the circumstances. Surprisingly, the finger prints on the suicide notes didn’t play a part. What is realistic is how she got pulled into the misdeeds due to infatuation and insecurity and that JD was angry because of a dysfunctional family.
Memorable quotes:
“ -I just killed my best friend.
-And your worst enemy.
-Same difference”
“Are we going to the prom or to hell?”
8/10

 

 

 

 

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Modern Romance (1981) (Albert Brooks)

Explores Robert’s (Albert Brooks) neurotic, self-obsessed behaviour and possessive jealousy towards his girlfriend Mary. This is what works best in the film.
The subplot about editing a science fiction movie functions as a backdrop and at times felt like padding. Robert could have had any job for the jealousy to occur so the fact he was an editor and she worked for a bank didn’t seem to be of vital importance. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a movie where the main character is on the phone so many times. The story is charming and isn’t as dark as it could have been. But it still feel realistic. The comedy had a restraint and a humanity which you rarely see in movies.
The funniest moments are in the first half: salespeople exploiting Robert by trying to sell him stuff, exercising for 3 seconds and heading straight to the nearest pay phone, his mother constantly calling, pretending to write a phone number down. The best line in the (more serious) second half is the “god strikes me dead” quote in the restaurant exchange. Another reviewer amusingly pointed out how similar Albert Brooks’ face is to Steve Guttenberg’s.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Green Book (2018) (Peter Farrelly)
The 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner. A memorable interracial buddy comedy-drama, based on a true story. I’m a sucker for a heart-warming feel-good movie and I was able to accept the oscar baity aspects even if some of the plot developments were predictable. An important movie because encourages you to be kind towards other people.
Mahershala Ali’s performance as Donald Shirley is believable as a musician though he is very stoic and handing him an Oscar seems a bit of a stretch. Viggo Mortensen, who plays bouncer Tony Vallelonga is fun to watch and rarely has someone in a mainstream Hollywood production eaten as much as he does. You could argue Mortensen’s Italian/American character is stereotypical and Robert de Niro rehash, but entertaining what he brought.
Set in the 1960s, a number of the inequality issues are dated. A period film but with truths that are still relevant. I couldn’t figure out why Don needed a driver when he could easily have travelled with the two other musicians of the trio in their car? I get that he had to sleep at green book hotels and eat at specific restaurants yet his playing buddies could have helped with that surely? Maybe I missed something but I just failed to understand the logic of him spending money on a driver and extra car. It’s not like he had a lot of luggage to bring along.
There has been some criticism. For example that the film is a a dated, oversimplified racial reconciliation fantasy. According to an article on realitytitbit there is no imbalance with the two lead characters helping each other equally. For film critic Mike Sargent, it’s a problem that it isn’t the Donald Shirley story with a lot of attention given to Tony Vallelonga. He believes Green Book is a film for white folks, and that it spoon feeds racism to those who don’t see it in their daily lives.
Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times called Green Book the worst Best Picture winner since Crash and a “can’t-we-all-just-get-along bromide”. Comparing the two films, he writes they reduce “the long, barbaric and ongoing history of American racism to a problem, a formula, a dramatic equation that can be balanced and solved”.
Chang complains further “Ali was pushed as a supporting actor to Mortensen’s lead campaign is telling in all the wrong ways. But there isn’t a single scene that feels authentically like the character’s own, that speaks to Shirley’s experience and no one else’s”.
Relatives of Donald Shirley spoke up, claiming the film exaggerates the extent of the buddy relationship, making it seem like a close friendship when it was more of an acquaintance.
Shirley’s family have also accused Green Book as a film that misrepresents him. Unlike in the film, Dr. Shirley was not estranged from his family or the black community, and he had eaten fried chicken before.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sorry to Bother You (2018) (Boots Riley)

Out on dvd/streaming in my country. Hits dvd in the UK in April. I won’t go into the divisive twist as that is best experienced without spoiling it. The film is a surreal Glengarry Glen Ross turned up to 11.
Didn’t like the bad language or occasional bathroom humor. The telemarketing visual flourishes, earrings, and use of voices are fun and inventive. The dial in the elevator was the funniest moment. I loved the dialogue in the confrontation scene on the street when he’s just been promoted.
Armie Hammer’s party is nuts and a candidate for best scene of the year and the movie would arguably have been stronger if that had been the ending. Instead Boots Riley overexplains things in the last 15 minutes.
The imaginative presentation is original while there are structurally some narrative tropes that are conventional. The movie doesn’t point to how capitalism can be solved, it just says there is a problem. There is some truth to a quote from another review: “Society just sells us the American Dream to get us to keep working”. The end credits song OYAHYTT by The Coup is pretty catchy.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shoplifters (2018) (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Dvd region 2 release in March. Japanese family drama. Winner of the Palme d’Or and nominated for foreign language film at the 91st Academy Awards. A loving, compassionate depiction of parenting. Although also makes the viewer feel uncomfortable about good people doing wrong things due to financial hardship. Basing the conflicts on real life cases of people resorting to pension fraud and shoplifting in order to get by. A social commentary on poverty in Japan, while also shedding light on the legal but creepy “JK” (Joshi Kosei) business.
Well-made and draws you in with its gentle warmth. The bus scene is especially moving, as is the visit to the ocean, and the scene with the oranges. Apparently Japan’s PM hates this movie because it’s just too true. The filmmakers certainly have a political agenda but can also just be watched as a story about family and the ramshackle yet charming place they call home. The movie poses the question: what really makes a family? Is the family we choose more important than the one we are born with?
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Climax (2018) (Gaspar Noé)

Now available on region 2 dvd in Europe. Starts off with a group of dancers talking about why they dance which is interesting. Followed by an impressive dance sequence all done in one take set to some danceable 90s music. If you want to learn some new moves you could watch but don’t expect a story or depth. A group movie and not really any character you get to know other than on a surface level.
Promising beginning, boring middle focusing on horny locker-room chit-chat. The last 35-40 minutes is intense and nightmarish where Gaspar Noe indulges in his bag of tricks. Could all happen in real life which makes it scarier than supernatural horror.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Time With Alan Partridge (2019) (Episode 3-6)
I reviewed episode 1 last month. Allegedly a spoof of The One Show and based on Piers’ interactions with Susanna on Good Morning Britain.
This Time concluded on a cliffhanger as to Alan’s future. Instead of summarizing the episodes, which seems pointless, I’ll instead share the moments I found the funniest:

Episode 3: The parent talking about unemployment in Scotland who grunts when he stops talking.
Simon’s no files found image resulting in Alan looking through his own eccentric pictures via his iPad.
The demonstration of corporal punishment on a dummy with a shoe.
The closing mind puzzle about cigarettes in a holiday home.


Episode 4:
The 100 year old lady talking about her houseboy.
The Scottish Alan impersonator.
The CPR with music was good yet too similar to a clip from The Office


Episode 5:
Lacking in laughs. Focuses on MeToo

 

Episode 6: The SAS anti-interrogation technique where Alan can’t remember his own name.
Nigel Mansell praising him for driving 500 yards
Pronouncing “sherry”

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

February recap: films, the Oscars, and Alan Partridge is back on TV

 


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Thoughts on the 91st Academy Awards
I enjoy the Oscars even though I don’t love oscar baity films that lecture me, and the endless thank yous to collaborators is monotonous. As perceptively noted by Sean Chandler Talks About, the Best Picture category appeared to be calculated with the selections appealing to different groups so the Oscars could boost its television ratings. A decision that makes the Academy look a bit desperate.
Films that reflect diversity have good odds of getting nominated. Be it a female cast and LGBT issues in The Favourite and Bohemian Rhapsody, African-American culture in Green Book, Black Panther,  BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk , or indigenous people in Roma.
The lack of a host went fine but hosting is far from dead which Aubrey Plaza proved with her entertaining opening monologue at the Independent Spirit Awards the day before.
The “Wayne’s World” reunion was a nice idea albeit not that memorable. Melissa McCarthy’s bunny costume was funnier, especially when she opened the envelope. Olivia Colman winning Best Actress was surprising and her speech very sweet, but maybe an even bigger surprise was The Favourite going 1/10 on the night. Lady Gaga gave one of the most inspiring speeches when accepting for Best Original song, saying it’s not about winning but never giving up. Shallow was in my top 10 songs of the year and I was pleased it won. Fully deserved.
Green Book shocked with its wins for Original Screenplay and Best Picture, especially as it wasn’t tipped to go all the way. The various controversies that have plagued the film during the last few months apparently weren’t a deciding factor. That said, it is the kind of movie the Academy loves for its inclusive message. It looked as if Samuel L Jackson and Spike Lee behaved disrespectfully towards Green Book. Lee (you could call him an ungracious loser) admitted Green Book was “not his cup of tea” and that the movie was Driving Miss Daisy with changed seating arrangements. Yet Jackson and Lee also had one of the best moments on-stage when they enthusiastically hugged when Spike Lee won adapted screenplay. I guess those two veterans of the industry just do what they want. A low moment was Spike Lee swearing in front of millions (“do not turn the motherfucking clock on”) to start his speech although I’m happy for him for finally winning an overdue Oscar.
You could argue the Academy tried to make amends for Eighth Grade’s lack of nominations by having Fisher as a presenter, she looked happy to be there. Emily Blunt was also snubbed but declined to attend which meant Bette Midler stepped in to perform the nominated song from Mary Poppins Returns.
The highlight of the evening was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper took the stage and gave fans something to cheer about with their intimate duet and prompted new speculation about an off-screen romance.
A fan created an in memoriam montage recognizing those ignored by the Oscars, including Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen and Full Metal Jacket’s R. Lee Ermey.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This Time With Alan Partridge (2019) (Episode 1)
He’s back on TV! In episode 1, the awkwardness of Alan saying the wrong thing is similar to his earlier stuff from the 90s, and in that regard the new series plays it safe. You may feel you’ve seen this type of comedy from Steve Coogan before, but he’s still fun to watch. The writing and joke telling is equally as effective as classic Partridge. It wasn’t believable Alan was on TV back then and it still isn’t that believable.  This Time is a spoof on BBC’s The One Show, tackling current affairs such as seals, hygiene and hacktivism. Alan co-hosts with a female presenter which adds some tension. In contrast to Partridge’s chat show Knowing Me Knowing You, we see what happen in the studio, off air. Whether the next episodes will be just as entertaining remains to be seen, I’ll be watching.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Free Solo (2018) (documentary) (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi)

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature documentary. The last 30 minutes when he attempts the dangerous climb at El Capitan Wall is is some of the most thrilling non-fiction you’ll ever see, especially when viewed on the big screen as it’s very visual and cinematic. But if you watch a film about free solo climbing without a safety harness then you know you are in for a nerve-racking experience. The first hour of the documentary however is less essential as doesn’t go into much detail about Alex Honnold’s life. I struggle to comprehend why someone would date a rock climber as must be very stressful that their partner could die at any time.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) (documentary) (Mark Hartley)

Tends to showcase the best moments of these low budget Aussie gems so approach the documentary with caution. Despite that, fun to watch what is essentially a highlight reel of Australian exploitation (Ozploitation) cinema from the 70s and 80s. Tarantino is a fan of these films and talks about them. The filmmakers who got the projects made back in the day tell their stories. In hindsight, they are aware their films are for the most part lacking deeper meaning, emphasizing the work had an audience who were just looking for a good time.
I had already seen some of the more prominent titles such as Mad Max, Walkabout, Wake in Fright and Long Weekend. But I found (or was reminded of) a bunch to watch: Patrick (1978), Dead End Drive-In (1986), Next of Kin (1982), Road Games (1981), Razorback (1984), Dark Age (1987), Fair Game (1986), Fortress (1985).

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Bad Genius (2017) (Nattawut Poonpiriya)

wow, what a great discovery. Thanks to Film4Fan for pointing me towards this Thai heist thriller. A Horrible Woman will have to move into second place as Bad Genius is now my favorite foreign film of 2017.
A great premise and the storytelling matches the idea. I love how mobile phones are an active part of the story and the sequence of the STIC exam is nail-biting stuff. The characters are well-defined and the actors do a good job, especially the female lead. Currently has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score.
9/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holiday (2018) (Isabella Eklöf)

A cold, dark tale set on the picturesque Turkish island of Bodrum. An interesting fact to take into account is Holiday is directed by a woman which makes the violence feel less exploitative than if a man had sat in the director’s chair. Honestly, was hard to care about these people. The group of Danes on holiday are shallow (probably intentionally) and have ties to gangsters and the drug trade.
There’s a disturbing scene about 45 minutes into the film that is getting attention and the violence going on while the kids are watching TV was also unsettling. Slowly builds to an unpredictable finale. The tensest part is in the last half hour as you don’t know what will happen next. The ending is one of 2018’s best and elevates the film by allowing the viewer to re-evaluate everything you have just seen. I just wish the first half of the film was better as I almost turned it off after 30 minutes due to indifference. In hindsight, I now realize there was an agenda with some of the early scenes. An uneven watch, but I can’t shake that ending. Holiday probably requires a second viewing to grasp the nuances.
6-7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pity (aka Oiktos) (2018) (Babis Makridis)

By the screenwriter of Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.  The central premise of this Greek weird wave drama is one of 2018’s most original. We follow someone who becomes addicted to pity and negative feelings. Satirizes our unhealthy obsession with attention and selfishness. A thought-provoking watch, though it probably needed to be funnier to reach a bigger audience. A story that maybe could have been told in less time.  The lead actor plays it well albeit the characterization was rather vague which may frustrate some viewers. A bit more back story could have made it easier to care about the characters. Despite some weaknesses, worth a look if you like weird, inventive films that are outside the mainstream. Shubhajit is back from a hiatus and writing reviews at his blog Cinemascope again. He also reviewed Pity.
6-7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) (Barry Jenkins)
A good watch with a touching story though I’m not the biggest fan of preachy message movies. As Alissa Evans wrote in her review, the characters’ personalities feel secondary to their circumstance. The lead Stephan James has kind, gentle eyes which might be the reason he was picked. KiKi Layne is likeable as well while Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry shine in supporting roles. The jazz score is accomplished and is incorporated well.
Important and competently made yet didn’t quite manage to rock me to the core in the way Moonlight did. The characters lacked the deeper, emotional weight of Jenkins’ 2016 film. A sense of wretchedness was missing. Perhaps better captured in Baldwin’s book.
Full review
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: January

 

 

Scandinavia lived up to its cold, wintry reputation in January by delivering snow to us and as I type will last a few more days or even weeks. On the bright side, this time of year we have the annual books sales in Denmark and I have my eye on a few. Books are normally very expensive here because the population is only 5 million and the authors, book shops, publishers and translators all have to make a living. Looks like Brexit could be an issue in terms of export, especially the big amount of products we ship to the UK which may be in jeopardy if England decide to import from commonwealth countries in the future. Worrying times.
Anyway, on to January’s films. What have I been watching?

 

 

 

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The Stranger (1946) (Orson Welles)

Orson Welles is a good actor yet a pity he doesn’t sound German at all. There’s a four minute-long take between Kindler and Meinike in the woods which is surprisingly longer than A Touch Of Evil’s famous opening sequence (three minutes and twenty seconds). The climax is over the top but mostly a well told noir. Always reliable Edward G. Robinson co-stars. Oscar nominee for Best Writing, Original Story.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alice in the Cities (1974) (Wim Wenders)

Has been compared to 1973’s Paper Moon. A road trip movie with a melancholic Leonard Cohen-look-alike (Rüdiger Vogler), a writer/journalist faced with new circumstances. Searching for inspiration, Philip’s America trip led to cynicism and loneliness. He doesn’t belong and as mentioned at review site Monumental Pictures, Philip’s journey has a very contemporary feel, foreshadowing today’s obsession with documenting everything. The encounter with the little 9-year-old girl allows him to get out of his head and go on a different path than he had expected, looking after an abandoned child and the responsibility that entails. The scene in the bathroom when he reads all the German city names is funny and sweet.  An innocent, heartwarming movie that probably would not get made in our hypersensitive times because of the friendship between an adult and child. As in Wim Wender’s later film Wings of Desire (1987), there’s a music interlude, on this occasion with Chuck Berry in concert. The first chapter of Wenders’ “Road Movie trilogy”. The film was scored by the German band Can.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Muriel’s Wedding (1994) (P.J. Hogan)

An Australian comedy-drama with a heart. About a young, unemployed social outcast. The story has lots of charm and lots of ABBA. Toni Collette’s lead performance is brilliant.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Star Is Born (2018) (Bradley Cooper)
Nominated for 8 Academy Awards. The powerful performance by Lady Gaga is probably what this movie will be remembered by. She has good chemistry with Cooper on screen. Gaga put a portion of her own rise to fame into the role, especially about not wanting to lose herself when making the music. However, the singer has admitted she is very different to Alley in terms of confidence. Shallow is a great song though the film feels designed to win awards while having not much new on its mind. As has been said by a few reviewers, the films “inability to practice what it preached and actually say something” is problematic. My favorite scene is when the two of them just hang out together in the parking lot.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Favourite (2018) (Yorgos Lanthimos)
I prefer the screenplays Lanthimos co-wrote with Efthymis Filippou which I find more inventive, though The Favourite is entertaining, well-acted and everything you could want from a period-comedy. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards.
Full review
7/10
On a side note, I read about Filippou’s new Greek weird wave film Pity (2018) (also known as Oiktos) available to stream on Mubi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Custody (2017) (Xavier Legrand)
Watched via the free streaming service my library provides. Check this one out if you are a fan of the films by the Dardenne brothers. Realistic psychological French drama/thriller that is almost a horror film. Starts off quite ambiguous as to who is to blame for the break-up and I had empathy for both sides. Tough for the kids to have to deal with, not just the parents. The last act is probably the most memorable sequence from a visual standpoint though I did feel was not tonally consistent with the aforementioned ambiguity. Would have been subtler if had maintained the vagueness. I was waiting for the side story about the daughter to be resolved but didn’t happen.
Still, a promising debut by writer/director Xavier Legrand. The acting and camera work is top notch so I felt I was in the shoes of the characters. The build-up of tension also works well.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Studio 54 (2018) (documentary) (Matt Tyrnauer)

Studio 54 was considered New York’s definitive disco nightclub in the late 1970s. Broke down barriers between provider and consumer, every guest was a performer in the show. Although not easy to get in, once you were inside, the club was a place of freedom, decadence, and non-prejudice. But the two managers didn’t have it all their own way with the lack of a liquor license, drug raids, and visits by the IRS for tax evasion.
While the documentary is never boring, the number of new celebrity interviews is a bit limited. Strengthened by having Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager open up although he doesn’t remember everything as it’s so long ago. Maybe a more fitting title would have been: The life and times of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell.
6-7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold War (2018) (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Nominated for best Foreign language film and Best Director at the upcoming Academy Awards. Well shot but forgettable. An autobiographical love story about the director’s parents on-off relationship. The lead actress is beautiful and looks like a young Kim Basinger but with lots of scenes that didn’t go anywhere the film became a chore. The ending is powerful yet isn’t enough to safe a film I found quite boring.
Wiktor is supposedly old enough to be Zula’s father and that may have been what held me back from rooting for the relationship. The age difference between the actors playing the leads is much smaller. Joanna Kulig is surprisingly thirty-six, only five years younger than Tomasz Kot. I don’t know how they managed to make a woman in her mid 30s look like a teenager. I’m naming 2018 the year of self-indulgent films and this one belongs on that list. Evidently many others love Ida (2013) and Cold War (2018). Pawlikowski’s storytelling just isn’t for me.
4-5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) (Bryan Singer)

While there are wild parties and we also see in-band arguments, I’ve heard this biopic is a sanitized version of the Queen story. The scene standing in the rain was the most moving and of course the Live Aid show is an epic moment. That ending gave me chills though doesn’t beat the performance by the real Freddie. A lot of the movie feels a bit tv-movie-ish. Oscar hopeful Rami Malek is convincing as Freddie Mercury and impressed me with how he spoke, though the lip-syncing seemed off in the final concert. Mike Myers is unrecognizable as their manager. A good-but-not-great movie with an award worthy performance by Malek. Alright for a one time watch.
5-6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018) (David Slade)
About a young programmer who starts to question reality. Takes place in 1984, I liked the 80s music and retro aspects. Tonally the story is all over the place and has the production value of a tv-movie. I admire the effort that went into the innovative interactive multiple choice. I didn’t have that option available so just saw as a standard watch. Most memorable is the “joint” sequence when Colin talks to Stefan about pacman. New Order isn’t on the soundtrack although their 1983 flower-themed album sleeve plays a part.
Not a great film, the concept is more interesting than the story. But may turn out to be a look into the future of movie making. Reminded me of Famous Five adventure game books where you choose for yourself step by step how the mystery goes. Apparently I’m not the only one who noticed similarities as Netflix has been sued for trademark infringement by Chooseco LLC, the book publisher that owns the rights to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lean on Pete (2017) (Andrew Haigh)
Very different to the director’s previous work 45 Years (2015). Are films getting longer in general? Lean on Pete is another recent film that could do with some trimming. A simple yet gripping story which allows the audience to empathize with an isolated boy who goes on a journey with a washed-up race horse. It’s evident the film is making points about the treatment of race horses, youth unemployment and poverty. At first, the lead actor Charlie Plummer annoyingly reminded me of Hayden Christensen (the voice) but I was won over by Plummer’s performance as the film progressed. Chloë Sevigny does her best in a supporting role as a female jockey but unfortunately her character is too one-note in the script. Steve Buscemi is good as the seasoned trainer whom the boy works for. A movie that reminds viewers other people have it worse than you and makes you thankful to have a family. A contemporary tale but in line with storytelling from long ago.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roma (2018) (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards. Roma is a slow-paced, self-indulgent project based on the director’s past. Follows the life of a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family in 1970’s Mexico. I’m fine with personal, memory-based filmmaking, as it allows you to see the world through the eyes of others. But you can’t just do it for yourself and has to have value to the viewer. I was won over by the framing, lighting and cinematography, domestic tasks such as driving a car into a narrow driveway or taking a shower are elevated. Arguably the beautification of everyday events has to do with Alfonso Cuarón fondly remembering rather than how these times actually were. I was confused by Cuarón’s agenda as the aesthetic distracts from and lessens the suffering. Obviously if you hated this era you could make a film that is totally different visually. The director chooses to present both the good times and hard times in exactly the same visual style. Despite the hype, awards and critical praise, a polarizing arthouse film that won’t have a wide appeal due to the languid pacing and limited plot. Roma isn’t among my favorites of 2018, and I think would have a bigger appeal to nostalgic Mexicans. The cinematography is the reason to watch. Stand outs scenes include a forest fire, sitting in the back of a cinema, and going to the ocean. Probably needs to be watched on the big screen for maximum impact. I watched on the small screen.
6-7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Under the Silver Lake (2018) (David Robert Mitchell)
Isn’t out until the spring in the US and UK. For a change they have to wait and we got it early here in Denmark.
From the director of It Follows. Very unfocused and trippy, Neo noirish story involving animals, chasing girls and going to parties, a billionaire who has been kidnapped, references to music and old movies such as 7th Heaven (1927).
Starts promisingly, but drags in the second hour. Without spoiling, the main character is so messed up that he becomes annoying in his pursuit of unimportant things and conspiracy theories. Could be the film’s agenda, to show a man who has lost his way, doesn’t know what he wants, and just goes with the flow. Looking for answers and meaning in all the wrong places, neglecting priorities.
The question about “how’s work” is pretty funny. Although the skunk joke is overused. The supporting characters are rather forgettable and thinly defined and I don’t understand why Andrew Garfield is naked so often. Has been written the film is a look at the lack of mystery in modern times and the need for it. Also how pop culture references are used in our society and whether they have value.
Despite not loving the film, it did hold my interest. We should embrace and support these type of experimental, polarizing films which are becoming rarer each year, as the big corporations continue to bombard us with mindless blockbusters.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. My top 10 of 2018 will be posted soon.