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.

 

 

 

Films and TV of the month: December

 

Happy New Year to those who read this blog! Christmas was hectic. Made a little easier with great food, light entertainment thanks to Peter Sellers, and a few presents. I was given new quilt covers, a movie quiz game, and the collected works by the celebrated Danish poet Michael Strunge (he’s not well known outside of Scandinavia)
I also received Five Go Gluten Free (from 2016) with text by Bruno Vincent. In the sleeve, says the book is ”Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups”. Other titles in the spoof series include Five on Brexit Island and Five Give Up the Booze. Blyton must be rolling in her grave! I presume has been endorsed by her estate.

I’m omitting a few new film releases in this post as those will feature in my upcoming top 10 films of 2018. To be published later this month. I’m waiting for The Favourite (2018) which is out January 24 in my country.

 

 

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I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
With the music score, Scottish dialect, and stormy weather, actually deciphering the dialogue is at times quite the challenge. See it with subtitles. The scenery is beautifully captured and you get to witness customs such as a highland song and dance party. There’s an affection for Scotland in how it’s depicted on screen though not shying away from the dangers of the violent sea (and there can be beauty in nature’s extremes). The journey to find your place feels timeless and a film that probably grows on you on repeat viewings.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Pink Panther (1963) (Blake Edwards)

Great music and the sequence when two men are hiding in the bedroom is a highlight. The animated intro and surprising ending are pretty iconic though the film feels a little long and the slapstick is only mildly amusing. Has charm in abundance thanks to actors like David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Claudia Cardinale as the Princess.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) (Blake Edwards)

A farcical 1975 sequel and 4th film in the long running Pink Panther series. The story isn’t particularly believable and the plot occasionally feels like rehash of the original, yet funnier than the 1963 film with many scenes designed for Sellers to get into trouble. The comedy becomes a bit predictable and forced after a while though does have its moments with the monkey/musician scene a stand out. As with the superior sequel A Shot in the Dark (1964), Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) steals the show. Christopher Plummer lacks the charm of David Niven whom he replaced in the role of Sir Charles Litton (spelled differently for some reason)
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Harakiri (1962) (Masaki Kobayashi)

Set in the 1600s in Japan, I’m sure this classic has historical significance as a document of seppuku (harakiri) and the hypocrisy of honor. The critics admire it, but I found the characters hard to care about and the dialogue tended to repeat things. Told in a non-linear fashion, many scenes are dull and feature men facing each other, talking formally. The action in the opening hour consists of a man stabbing himself which displays the samurai honor aspect yet is painful to watch. An important, but tiresome film.
4/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Apparition (2018) (Xavier Giannoli)

Great central idea about a journalist investigating a woman who claims to have seen the virgin Mary. The story is too slow and long albeit the actors are good. Visually, it’s pretty drab and not easily remembered. The film’s strength is in raising a number of questions about the church, faith, and worship. The subplot about Jacques’s hearing was neglected. The ending lessens the importance of what came before. Resulting in a frustrating watch, as the movie is over, just when it starts getting interesting.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Hal (2018) (Amy Scott)

A documentary about the life of beloved film director Hal Ashby who peaked in the 1970s with films such as Being There (1979).
There’s a bit of Hal within his films. I didn’t know his dad killed himself when Hal was only 12, and that could explain the fascination with suicide in Harold and Maude (1971).
Ashby has high praise for screenwriter Robert Towne who scripted The Last Detail (1973). Hal’s rebellous and anti-authority side comes across in those characters.
He lost control of 8 Million Ways to Die (1986) which was botched in the editing room. Very sad the way Ashby’s life and career ended. A bright light who became a bitter man, clashing with the film studio. But a wonderful run of films in the 70s.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Leave No Trace (2018) (Debra Granik)

The most overrated film of 2018. All the critics on Rotten Tomatoes think it’s praiseworthy yet to me a mediocre, flavorless drama. A more realistic take on that Viggo Mortensen movie in the forest Captain Fantastic, but I had forgotten the movie soon after. So Leave No Trace is an appropriate title! Winter’s Bone (by the same writer/director) is a better film and more impactful.
4/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rider (2017) (Chloé Zhao)
I applaud a western that tries something different and delves into contemporary masculinity through the eyes of a female writer/director. I really wanted to like this film, but the narrative just didn’t hold my attention. Nothing much happens, a situation rather than a story. I found the lead actor dull to watch and this is accentuated by the slow pacing. I expected more based on the 97% Rotten Tomatoes score. A low-key work that I appreciate for its concept/idea yet found slightly underwhelming as a viewing experience. The last 10-15 minutes had some emotion.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

 

Films and TV of the month: November

 

 

 

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First Reformed (2017) (Paul Schrader)
Now out on dvd. A wordy, low-key, thinking person’s drama. About a priest who writes a diary and we hear his inner monologue. He has doubts about himself and his actions, questioning his professionalism. Uncomfortableness about “wanting to be liked”, drawing on his own personal life when helping a man in trouble. For those couples considering having a child, the film may provide the answers they need to make the decision.
The film has a slow, boring middle, but the beginning and ending are really well done, especially the extended conversation between Mary’s husband, Michael, and the priest Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke). Overall though, I expected more based on the critical reception. A film with a lot of potential and much wisdom sprinkled in. Unfortunately, it has pacing issues (in the middle part) and I wasn’t as absorbed in the story as I hoped I would be.
Schrader appears to be critical of the Iraq war, alcohol consumption, global warming, the ethical aspects of big business church funding, social media, etc. But it does feel like a grumpy old director complaining about the world through his screenplay.
Life is taking its toll on Toller in more ways than one, and the film shows that even a righteous, intelligent priest can lose sight of what is right and wrong. As another reviewer wrote: “He’s a good man who has lost his way”
While the story addresses contemporary issues, and features a great performance by Ethan Hawke, I can’t rate the film higher than 7, as it follows the Taxi Driver playbook quite closely, just with a new set of characters. Hopefully will grow on me on rewatch. I liked it, but hard work, as I had to watch in stages. Too heavy to sit through the entire thing in one sitting.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Other Side of the Wind (2018) (Orson Welles)

I’ve watched a handful of Orson Welles’ best known films, some of which he directed (Citizen Kane, The Trail, The Magnificent Ambersons) others in which he acted (The Third Man, Touch of Evil). I liked many of them.
His final work The Other Side of the Wind went through production hell and was for a long time regarded as “the greatest movie never released”. (Although I’d put Jodorowsky’s Dune right up there at the top of the list as well). Having now seen “Wind”, I have to admit the history of this project is more interesting than the film itself. I wish Orson Welles had finished editing while he was alive from the alleged many hours of footage, as it really was his baby. The Netflix version is almost unwatchable with its exhausting, restless camera and semi-autobiographical, loose narrative. An experimental, chaotic mess. According to the documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) the shoot was difficult: ”Everything had to happen right away even if we (the crew) didn’t understand what we were doing” ”There was no script” ”He (Welles) was constantly writing it as he was going along” ”The rule of thumb is, Orson Welles knows what he’s doing, don’t question anything”.
The main character Jake Hannaford (played by the late John Huston) is a revered director but also a prejudiced drunk with disdain for Indians and gays. Huston’s performance holds the film together and he may even receive a posthumous oscar nomination. I’m sure there are hidden depths I missed, the 70th birthday party sequence contains many random one-liners, but I just didn’t care much about anyone or anything on screen for large parts of the running time. Apparently all the different kinds of stock: super 8, color, black and white is the idea that various media people are following Hannaford around. It’s possible the dizziness and confusion of the party was intentional.
Some of the best scenes in The Other Side of the Wind depict Hannaford as somewhat of a lonely, attention-seeking figure, keen to remain relevant and liked yet his behavior pushes people away. He has a lot of admirers and people eager to benefit from his name but does he have any genuine friends? Welles’ final film is described in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) as ”in a sense a bookend to Citizen Kane, about the tragic end to someone who had become great and then had lost his place in America”.
It’s been said the 35mm, wordless, psychedelic erotic film-within-a-film is a spoof of European arthouse cinema typified by Antonioni. The music choice of Fruit and Icebergs by Blue Cheer works well in the opening of that sequence.
There’s a nice instrumental soundtrack by jazz pianist Michel Legrand (who had previously composed the score for Welles’ 1973 film F for Fake). As talked about in A Final Cut For Orson: 40 Years in The Making (2018), Legrand’s music has a double function as entertainment for the party guests and a soundtrack for us the viewers.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suspiria (2018) (Luca Guadagnino)
Not a remake but a  “re-imagining” or “cover version”. Tonally inconsistent, shifting between gruesome, philosophical and emotional. Resists the temptation to be a mere retread by adding depth and meaning to the admittedly weak storyline of Argento’s 1977 classic.
(spoiler free full review)
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House That Jack Built
The House That Jack Built (2018) (Lars von Trier)
Serial killers (like filmmakers) display their creativity through their acts, and the film has unforgettable visuals. Is this a masterpiece by Lars von Trier or a pretentious ego trip? Hard to say, and I haven’t really decided how I feel about it. Important to discuss murder in society through art, although I felt he went too far in some places. Despite the disturbing subject matter, this is one of the director’s funniest screenplays.
(Spoiler free full review)
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Columbus (2017) (Kogonada)

Finally out on region 2 dvd. A soft spoken, moving story. Nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. A film that is most alive when Jin and Casy are just conversing. They both have personal problems. Like Lost in Translation, two strangers make an unlikely connection. Set in Columbus, Indiana, apparently known for its modernist architecture, there are many references to building aesthetic in the dialogue and cinematography. Could be a parallel between the architecture and the characters but I didn’t quick pick up on it. A simple, unhurried, old-fashioned story about dreams, hometowns, and loneliness. Haley Lu Richardson shines in one of the most underrated performances of 2017 as the confused librarian. Doesn’t provide massive surprises, but the story really doesn’t need that. The ”attention span” quote is bang on the money, kids have attention span for video games for hours, while bookish people might not have attention for games. So it’s about interest, not attention. But do we have interest in what matters?
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bloodsport (1988) (Newt Arnold)
Martial arts drama. Mostly clichéd, yet still drew me in with its energy and daft-but-fun storytelling. The fight sequences are well done even though Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting is terrible in the scenes outside the ring. I’d never heard of a Kumite tournament or the name Frank Dux so I did learn a couple of things. Despite its 33% rotten tomatoes rating, an entertaining watch, which the 74% audience score indicates. The soundtrack is very 80s, but also inspiring, such as Fight to Survive by Stan Bush or the instrumental Triumph by Paul Hertzog.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creepshow (1982) (George A. Romero)
Dark comedy horror anthology film directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King. I’ll share my thoughts on each of the short films:

Prologue: I think most can relate to getting told off by our dad.

“Father’s Day”: Starts off promisingly with a family talking about a damaged woman and her troubled relationship with her father but ultimately becomes too silly.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”: Stephen King’s goofy overacting is ridiculous yet fun. I’ll forever be ill at ease from now on about going near a meteorite. Probably my favorite of these stories.

“Something to Tide You Over”: I love how the story sets the stage with an intriguing what-if situation. Visually is unforgettable. The ending has a bit of depth about guilt despite feeling familiar to another anthology story here.

“The Crate”: Tales about a domineering wife and an old crate are cleverly mixed. In spite of the dated special effects pretty creepy.

“They’re Creeping Up on You”: I was surprised by the ending. On reflection it was what you could expect to go wrong. There’s too much exposition of little importance.

Despite having issues with King’s acting, the special effects, and a couple of the endings, an entertaining horror anthology. It isn’t super scary and is quite tongue-in-cheek yet did make me feel uneasy at times. It’s just fun to watch!
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
The twist is surprising yet the way the characters are connected felt too scripted. The scene when the dad finds the pictures was hilarious. The Marisa Tomei and Carell scenes are funny as well, especially the bar scene and the meeting at the school.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018) (Stand Up Special)
Available on Netflix. Apparently this 70 min one woman show is one of the most talked about stand-up specials in ages. I respect Hannah Gadsby’s honest approach but unfortunately the jokes fell flat. Perhaps if you are Australian/Tasmanian or part of the LGBT community you will understand the nuances of the comedy better than I did. The most memorable jokes involve caution about Mr Right and the section about the color blue. She does have wise words, for example about tension and sensitivity, and talks about celebrity, linking it to her art history education and the #MeToo movement. Gadsby attempts to show us the lesbian experience through her eyes but I felt she didn’t bring much new in that regard as was mainly prejudice reactions towards her choice.
As the show progresses, she talks about her problems and in the second half becomes more serious. She’s right that “difference is a teacher” and you can understand why she has trouble trusting men.
Nostra at myfilmviews rated the special 10/10 in his review and wrote it is a “deconstruction of the genre”. I would agree with the latter. An odd mix of comedy and emotional confession as she debates quitting stand-up during the show because it feels self-deprecating and humiliating. The serious, heartfelt parts are moving and the special’s strength. If you are “different” in some way, you will probably be empowered by her. The anti-comedy stance is bold and original, and defies expectations. I just wish the first 30 minutes was actually funny. You can’t dismiss this special though, if you have a heart.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: October

 

 

 

 

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Mandy (2018) (Panos Cosmatos)
A wild, nightmarish, and visually dazzling horror revenge thriller set in 1983. Nicolas Cage delivers an intense, over the top performance that is a return to form. The weakness is you can sum up the plot in a few words and the second half is quite by-the-numbers. But very entertaining due to the stylized approach and extravagant use of sound and image. The storytelling is very visual and almost cartoonish. Johann Johannsson’s final score fits well with the retro 80s neon colors. The laughing scene is especially creepy and was scarier to me than the violence.
There appears to be social commentary on the misuse of religion and abusive men (the #MeToo connection is coincidental as the writer/director had been working on the script for about 6 years). Might be too crazy and extreme for some viewers but if you are in the mood for blood-splattered insanity it’s worth a look.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Stepford Wives (1975) (Bryan Forbes)

Thought-provoking and original. The social commentary about control is disturbing, and the last third is chilling. The mystery (which I won’t spoil here) takes its time and may test your patience as it’s about a sense of unease rather than jump scares. The build towards the reveal maybe was a bit too long and the movie could have been 20 minutes shorter.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lykke Per (aka A Fortunate Man) (2018) (Bille August)

It was one of three films shortlisted to be the Danish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. Among the most expensive films ever made in Denmark. Definitely a career high point for director Bille August, his filmography also counts the oscar winning Pelle the Conqueror (1987), which is not too dissimilar as both are based on Scandinavian literary classics set in the early 1900s.
I was emotionally captivated by the characters throughout despite an epic running time. Based on Nobel Prize winning author Henrik Pontoppidan’s Lykke-Per, a long book so I can understand why needed to be 2h 42 min. To be honest, I could happily have watched another 30 minutes. A story about ambition, family, and life choices. A lot of care has been put into recreating the past with costumes, sets, but the acting impresses just as much. For me, the first truly great film of 2018 so far and the upcoming extended made-for-TV mini series might be even better.
9/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gräns (aka Border) (2018) (Ali Abbasi)
Swedish entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2019 Academy Awards. Won the Un Certain Regard award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
I expected more from the story which is rather slight, but the makeup work is exceptional. Encourages us to think about outsiders and how they fit into society. There are some good ideas here but it’s lacking something to be a great film. The credits say it’s based on a short story and it definitely feels like a smallish narrative extended to feature length. A unique watch by making the audience both uncomfortable and curious at the same time, observing these troll-like characters in a realistic setting. The door is open for a sequel.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978) (Eric Idle, Gary Weis)

I’m a fan of Monty Python but for some reason I had never even heard of the Beatles mockumentary The Rutles. Eric Idle is co-writer and managed to secure a bigger budget by having it made in the US as a TV movie (instead of at the BBC). The funniest parts are Idle’s comments and scenes as a reporter, for example the opening monologue when he runs after the camera, the rats segment (7 minutes in), and when he talks about the burning of the albums at about the 37 min mark.
They managed to secure a bunch of celebrity interviews including Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and George Harrison who play it straight faced and are all in on the joke. Even Harrison!
The tongue-in-cheek songs are done with great skill and have that unmistakable Beatles sound, even if the lyrics are not laugh out loud funny. The best might be Love Life (a parody of the Beatles’ own “All You Need Is Love”), With A Girl Like You (a parody of “If I Fell”) and Get Up and Go (a parody of “Get Back”). If you didn’t know otherwise you could take some of the music seriously. The worst is the Thousand Feet Of Film song for the horrible vocal. Although you could argue it’s intentionally cringeworthy! There’s also an accomplished animated sequence, created by the makers of the 1968 Yellow Submarine movie. Controversial to depict Yoko Ono as a Nazi and makes fun of the fab fours choice in women. A sequel exists called The Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch (2002).
Favorite quotes: “Their first album was made in 20 minutes, their second took even longer” “who created a musical legend that will last a lunchtime”.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Show Me Love (aka Fucking Åmal) (1998) (Lukas Moodysson)
A 90s coming of age classic. Moodyson has earned a reputation as a Swedish John Hughes and this story about teenage angst and love is believable, sweet, and well told. The two leads shine in particular, the lonely Agnes and the popular Elin.
As with Moodyson’s Tillsammans (2000) (reviewed below), the weakness is it fails to leave you with much conflict or food for thought. The ending is simplistic but in reality far from straightforward.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Together (2000) (Lukas Moodysson)
A good soundtrack with some Swedish music (Turid, Ted Gärdestad ) I didn’t know.  Also ABBA. Strong acting, and feels authentic in terms of a 1970s commune. The story is most involving when focusing on the drunk (Michael Nyqvist) and his family. The way it all wraps up is a bit too tidy though.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome