Films and TV of the month: June & July

 

 

 

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Midsommar (2019) (Ari Aster)
Managed to get under my skin by building an unsettling mood. The subject matter in the pre-credits sequence felt rehashy from Aster’s previous film Hereditary (2018).
Puts you in the shoes of the American guests and I had the feeling I was there at the Swedish camp with them. To be honest, a relief when was finally over, a harrowing watch. A feel-bad folk horror movie, not a personal favorite, though I appreciate when a filmmaker can bring out an impactful reaction. Many modern movies are forgettable but this one hit me hard. Whether I liked that reaction I’m still unsure about. Was I even supposed to enjoy spending time with the pagan cult? I assume the intension was to make an anti-cult movie in the vein of Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011).
A reviewer for USAtoday wrote: “What’s terrifying is how real this film feels” and was certainly more realistic than Hereditary. Florence Pugh is a rising star and delivers the best performance in the film. Not knowing Dani’s sister’s motivation adds to the eeriness and sense of being lost. The most powerful scene is when Dani screams with the group. You can kind of guess where the story is heading yet there are surprises along the way. Has been advertised as a horror movie that scares even though takes place in daylight, and having now seen it that is an accurate assessment.
I must have missed the mention of bipolar disorder when I watched. Apparently a character suffers from this and groups have raised concerns about the link between violence and mental illness.
I wonder how much sleep deprevasion from the daylight plus being in a communal bedroom with crying babies affected the characters’ decision making. Some took sleeping pills, others did not.
?/10

 

 

 

 

 


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Metropolitan (1990) (Whit Stillman)
Debut feature by the American auteur. Set in New York amongst a group of upper-class college friends who are joined by an outsider. The strength of Metropolitan is the witty, rich, rewatchable dialogue. It feels like a labour of love. The performances and vocal deliveries are mostly deadpan, giving the impression of artificiality with the writer/director pulling the strings and the actors as puppets. The music and outfits are posh. The story may be satirizing the lifestyle but if so it’s done tastefully without making them into clowns. A group disbanding is something many experience when they are young.
The deadpan style is not dissimilar to other indie directors such as Hal Hartley, Wes Anderson and Aki Kaurismäki, although Stillman is arguably the most intellectual of these filmmakers.
Now I understand the name of Dan’s blog Public Transportation Snob, a quote from the movie.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Live in Concert: Richard Pryor (1979)
Listed as #1 on Rolling Stone’s top 25 Best Stand-Up Specials. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Not as funny as I had hoped. A few of the sketches, especially about the animals, brought a smile to my face, and the physical comedy is fun. A lot of profanity. Feels very personal as Pryor draws from his own life such as a heart attack, boxing, a funeral, beatings as a child, and so on. I guess it’s therapeutic for him (and the audience) to deal with these issues through comedy. By today’s standards it isn’t a groundbreaking show but back then the style was edgy and new.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An American Tail (1986) (Don Bluth)

Rewatch. The first film I remember watching in the cinema as a child. Was the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. The main characters are mice and cats. Clearly with kids in mind but has plenty of heart and beautiful animation. The song “There are no cats in America” is catchy. The weakness is the predictable story and naiveness of the Mousekewitz family. The title of the film and the names of the characters are sweet. The themes about prejudice, fighting for freedom, and hope are overused in Hollywood yet timeless. My favorite of the characters is probably Tiger voiced vividly by Dom DeLuise. Tiger sings the inspiring “A Duo” with the main character Fievel. Another stand out is “Somewhere Out There” which is sort of a sister song to the Wizard of Oz’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Several images will stay with me such as the devilish ocean, the moon, and the poster walking on the bridge.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Road to Perdition (2002) (Sam Mendes)

Takes place during the Great Depression. Nice cinematography which Conrad L. Hall won an oscar for. A decent watch although the characters are too bland and feel like gangster stereotypes. Based on a graphic novel and has been compared to a Greek tragedy because of the theme of fathers and sons. Basically a warning (see the title) about a life in crime.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Leopard (1963) (Luchino Visconti)

Historical period drama which won the Palme d’Or in 1963. I’ve liked other Visconti films. The Leopard was too slow and lacking a compelling story. I guess I prefer his smaller productions such as White Nights (1957) and Obsession (1943).
Set in Sicily in 1860, we hear about relationship issues, political corruption, and more. The ballroom sequence looks impressive but ultimately overstays its welcome. There’s an attempt to juxtaposition the sadness of Lancaster’s character with the joy of the party but it felt contrived as Lancaster hadn’t looked despondent beforehand. There seemed to be a passing of the torch to the next generation (probably why he was sad) which I found pretty vague. An explanation of the title The Leopard tries to tie things up. I watched the three hour Italian-language version.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Arrival (2016) (Denis Villeneuve)

Isn’t as good as I remembered. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play it well and the language aspects were handled believably. The slow build-up heading to the spacecraft becomes tedious rather than suspenseful, especially when you’ve seen it before and know what to expect. The last act does make you think about your own life but felt under-explored and ends just when it started getting psychologically and philosophically interesting.
On rewatch I knew the twist but the opening scene still made no sense as takes place before she even visits the spacecraft. Perhaps the prologue is not meant to literally happen before the arrival but simply be a teaser of later events in the film. Kind of a modern Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (documentary) (2005) (Martin Scorsese)

There’s a dispute over who discovered Bob Dylan, was it John Hammond at CBS or Artie Mogull who claims he made the singer popular. Albert Grossman is said to have brought Dylan’s music to a wider audience.
A story about Dylan stealing Woody Guthrie records and the owner coming after him has an almost mythical quality.
The funniest scene has Dylan rearranging Pet Shop signs into nonsense and I also realized the opening sequence from the Watchmen movie was ripped off from this documentary.
Joan Baez talks about a night when a motel wouldn’t give Dylan a room because he looked scruffy and she persuaded them to let him stay which Baez argues led that night to him writing “When the Ship Comes In” about an injustice.
Goes into the political relevance of songs like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which some linked to atomic rain and in Dylan’s own words is about something bad is going to happen.
“Only a Pawn in their Game” could be interpreted as a song for the civil rights movement and the killing of Medgar Evers.
Dylan is perceived as a leftwing folk singer in the vein of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie, carrying on their tradition. But he’s a contradictory man in the 1960s, saying in an interview all his songs are protest sings while also a discomfort with being boxed in as a topical political voice in his speech at the Tom Paine award ceremony.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Climate Change – The Facts (2019) (60 min BBC documentary)
Narrated by David Attenborough, the focus is CO2 and global warming. Nearly a third of CO2 admissions are caused by deforestation, fields used for cattle or clearing rainforests to make room for huge palm oil plantations. Palm oil is in many products we buy (margarine, bread, soaps, shampoo, chocolates, ice cream).
Provides disturbing predictions. Methan gas can cause an acceleration of global warming as it’s 21x more powerful than CO2 (this is one of the so-called ”tipping points”). There are tons of frozen lakes in the arctic which could release methan if they melt. But not all bad news, Iceland have one of the world’s first carbon collectors.
Sea level has risen by about 20cm in the last 100 years which so far affects Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Jean Charles, Louisiana in the US which loses a football field every 45 min and citizens become so-called climate refugees. By end of 21st century our planet will potentially be between 3-6 degrees warmer. 600 million live in costal areas that are less than 10m above sea level. If we don’t do anything, we could be looking at 80cm to 1m rise of sea level.
James Hansen warned Congress in 1988 that he was 99% sure the increase in carbondioxid had led to warmer temperatures than any time in measured history. The fossil fuel companies for oil and gas are some of the most profitable businesses in human history and didn’t want a change.
How we can make a difference in our own lives:
-Eat everything we buy, less waste.
-Avoid air-freighted food which is 100x more impactful to climate change than putting it on a boat.
-Insulate our homes which wastes less heat.
-Reduce meat and dairy consumption, especially beef and lamb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stranger Things, season 3 (2019) (Duffer brothers)
Episode 1 started out very dark but the mood soon brightens. The third season has a few of these tonal shifts, in another moment a group are mowed down with a machine gun, the next the teenagers are listening to music in a car.
The bickering between Steve and Robin (you can buy the above outfits) worked so well. New or expanded characters in season 3 include Priah Ferguson(she has a bunch of funny lines) and Maya Hawke (I didn’t know Ethan Hawke and Urma Thurman’s had a daughter, her voice is similar to Thurman’s).
We see the gang sneaking into the cinema and the radio transmission stuff was entertaining. Sweet that Dustin has a girlfriend off screen. Hopper the sheriff I found annoying in the home dispute with Eleven and Mike but once Hopper goes on the adventure with Joyce I was hooked. Will is dealing with his friends maturing while he still enjoys kid’s games, the sadness of leaving your childhood behind is affecting but gets a bit forgotten about by the final episodes. Billy is admired by the pool by the females and he is given a more substantial role than before. Surprised Cary Elwes was the major although the creators have picked actors from iconic 80s movies before such as Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and Sean Astin.
Hopper’s letter in the final episode is really moving and that is my favorite scene. Steve and Dustin reuniting (they became friends in S2) is heart-warming and funny. The quintessential 80s moments are Steve and Dustin spying in the mall with Things Can Only Get Better by Howard Jones (1985) on the loud speaker, and the upbeat/synthy Starcourt and Madonna’s Material Girl used when Eleven and Max have fun in the mall’s shopping area. All in all, season 3 is light-hearted, enjoyable escapism.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Killing Michael Jackson (2019) (
45 min documentary)
Documentary that revisits the final days of the pop singers life, with new interviews of the three detectives who were involved in the initial investigation. The blame for his death is not limited to only the doctor, the singer was secretly taking other drugs while on propofol and crucially did not inform his doctor about this. Doctor Conrad Murray also behaved irresponsibly by not having a defibrillator at the house, not dialling 911 immediately, and using propofol outside a hospital environment. Doesn’t go into the suicide theory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

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 but I’m not able to go on a Sunday. 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