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12 Years a Slave (2013)
A tough watch that's worth watching
Just returned home from seeing 12 Years a Slave with a friend, and this is one of those powerful movies that has me thinking about the film, the real story on which it was based, as though it were an event in my own life. If Steve McQueen directed no other film but this one his reputation as a director would be notable (I'm not familiar with his other films.)
The hook of the story is that Solomon is not just "another" slavehe's a kidnapped free man from the North, shipped to southern plantation life to line someone's pocket. By the time the film is over, you realize, it's a horror for human society that it takes a special case to draw us to this story and to witnessing the wretched immorality of slavery, when every case is equally wretched and hellaciousregardless of the birth or status of those made slaves. The moral wasting of those who enslave them is a full element of the piece.
12 Years has the effect of making the audience feel as though we have been made captive along with Solomon. It's never prettified or softened and the ugly self-serving rationalizing of slave economies, slave masters and mistresses is omnipresent in the film. The horrors are bearable because we know Solomon must survive or his book of the same title as the film wouldn't have been written and his story told.
Brad Pitt as producer cast himself in an unglamourous but positive role in the filmone of the few white characters to act honourably.
See it with company, not alone. Just as with Solomon, we want a little less solitude to go through this.
Liv & Ingmar (2012)
Taking moonbeams home
Loved this film this evening at Vancouver International Film Festival, while my partner says it's okay, he wouldn't mind if he hadn't seen it. What planet are (emotionally repressed) men from? Please don't say Mars Martians would be more moved than he was by this gem of a documentary.
A different film than I was expecting: I didn't know anything about Ullman and Bergman's personal past, and was expecting something more focused on their long (almost 50 years) of collaboration in making extraordinary films. This was only partly about their shared film history together and dwelt more on their relationship, the account rendered extraordinary by Ullman's candour and towering spirit. I would look for more films from this director, though, without another such woman of character, as comfortable before the camera as Ullman, could such touching and real stuff be served up? But the film's capture has warmth and sparkle, like that old song that asks if we want to carry moonbeams home in a jaran apt metaphor, I think, for the trick which the most artful films pull off.
Just as Bergman has bewitched and bedevilled us with his films, one's jaw drops hearing what he was like as a lover and husband in her wordsboth dreadful and also Ullman's gloriously prized treasure of a human connection, delivered to us in lovely to watch and listen to footage. Bravo.
Il futuro (2013)
More than just a strongly acted heroine
Would like to give to have given this film a 7.5 if it was available. Neither the positive review from our local arts newspaper, or the one fairly negative user review already on IMDb "Downbeat Erotica"capture my experience of 'The Future,' seen with a friend at the Vancouver International Film Festival yesterday. Perhaps I was disposed to find value in the film as I had to rearrange my normal Sunday to see it, and I had picked it on the strength of its synopsis, the few available reviews and the role that Rutger Hauer has in it (he is forever associated, for me, with the role of the replicant "Roy" in Blade Runner.) My companion liked it less than me, saying for her, there was something missing in this film. I wouldn't call it my most memorable film ever, but I was very engaged with the main character's journey and several features of this picture intrigued me: the essential ugliness of the slice of Italy depicted (playing against tourism clichés) especially as it seems to be richly tied to the main character, Bianca's psychological state; as Bianca's mental state changes she remarks on her surroundings reshaping themselves like the magic realism of the sun that never sets, there is a close relationship in the film between what we see in a supposedly realistic lens, and what is going on for Bianca and to some extent, for her younger brother. It's like a film demonstration of Freudian "projection" I enjoyed that an inversion between stereotypes of light and dark occur in the thrown-out-of-kilter world of the two orphaned teenagers. Rather than a descent of darkness into their lives in the wake of their parents' sudden death, Bianca and Tomas are beset with insomnia inducing daylight. the villains are venal, petty, and better housekeepers and cooks than the heroine and her sidekick brother; while they bring a moral mess into the lives of the teens, rather like the serpent offering the apple to Eve, they have quirky traits such as excelling at crosswords and knowledge-based game shows, and are decidedly deficient in the quality of menace there was a point (no doubt, partially due to Rutger Hauer's appearance in the film) when I thought this film was paying some tribute to Blade Runner's soundtrack, with its pulled-inside-out gongs and weird sounds, and in certain scenes, with the Blade Runner look, with the sudden plunge into chiaroscuro darkness in the apartment of the former Mr. Universe Maciste, played by Hauer. I think the eroticism the other IMDb reviewer touched on should be qualified as very cinematographic and not especially pornographic. Bianca becomes as beautiful and exotic as an oiled, living sculpture in the setting of the blind man's dark mansionwhich bears some resemblance to the rambling, toy-filled apartment of J.F. Sebastian in Blade Runner.
Still, I was quite uneasy with being asked to accept Maciste as a good guy when he has apparently been buying teen prostitutes for some time, because he treats Bianca nicely and feeds her. It also felt like the final reel fell off the truck on the way to the editing studios; suddenly we wrap up, with one brief sequence, perhaps, supporting why the Bianca of "The Future" has labelled herself as a criminal at this time in her life. We don't get to know what happened to blind Maciste when he followed her out of his refuge of many decades. What? Either an art house ending or maybe the money ran out.
Armed and dangerous
The genius of this film, for me, is its exposé of righteousnesshow ugly people get when we not only hate, but revel in it, fortified by a sense of being justified, when the hated one is known to be utterly evil, really deserves it. You can really go to town, excoriating a monster. The hastening to judgement, the pell-mell, giddy rush toward it is so well depicted because the film keeps us in the perspective of the one judged and condemned, a chance target for an apparent ready supply of vitriol. That's what's really frightening about the scenario in The Hunt; not that Lucas is accused or who accuses him, but how easily forces are marshalled against him. It's the fearsome eagerness to hate, punish and ostracize that is horrifying.
The macho, man's man scenes at the opening of the film and its closing bracket this theme with a sense of a culture quick to pull triggers and confident in its right to pull them. Solid cinematography, fine acting, even on the part of the central child figure, and tight editing all contribute to an exceptional drama and a thought-provoking work of art.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Star Trek hijacked by Hollywood terrorists
An old WWII movie on TV just now had the lines, "Just think about the peaceful past," "I've almost forgotten it." Right.
Went to see a Star Trek movie and a sequel to the last one, which I recollect as alright. Hollywood, though has not only forgotten the peaceful past, the Rodenberry vision that set Trek part from any other space operas. They've deliberately hijacked the characters, made them into a terrorist sleeper cell now activated in our midst to bring us explosions, Star Fleet on steroids, Spock jumping from the roof of one in-flight vehicle to another to show us he's not really that intellectual wuss Hollywoood hates-- he's a tough street fighter--get ,im, Spock!
All 3D and action clichés, no ideas or vision, cartoon characters not worth...no wait, this is no accident or lazy business. The terrorists are on the bridge and they're going to land this ship where they damn well planned to--straight down the lowest common denominator path, shearing off the tops of buildings, sucking the wallets out of the pockets of customers satisfied with overpriced popcorn special effects, and landing right in the money. Kaboom.
If you want big popcorn, go get it.
Ruby Sparks (2012)
A good watch with a little warning
Ruby Sparks is a "good watch" because Hollywood (and the rest of filmdom) seldom makes romantic comedies with enough unpredictability to satisfy anyone wanting something beyond formula and feel good.
The ending of RS succumbs to the requisite happy ending but still, we can happily go with the flow, unable to predict every bend in this little river of Zoe Kazan's making. Could this have to do with her being a female screenwriter and her having the title rolehowever MAN-ipulated? Dunno, but my man friend who hates romantic comedy conceded this one "wasn't that bad" and at times, laughed aloud (usually only cult films get that accolade from him.)
Main character actor Paul Dano looks so much like James Spader, in this film, and Chris Messina as his brother, a lot like Peter Gallagher when they played together in "Sex, Lies and Videotape" in the '80s. If there is any common ground between the two films, it could be a sub-textual warning against narcissism, especially in matters of the heart.
Marigold feels good, looks good
Marigold Hotel is a bit of a feel good movie, and did, actually, make me feel better than I felt earlier in the day, visiting my mother in hospital and wondering how many good days she has ahead of her. At age 60 I feel very much like the market Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is pitching to. The film skillfully pushes the right buttons for those who appreciate a blend of humour, pathos and the work of veteran actors like Wilkinson, Dench, Smith, and others.
One of the nice things about Marigold is a scenario in which the incomes of those who are aging are not keeping pace with the style of living they had hoped to enjoy. Popular entertainment endlessly subjects us to depictions of the over-privileged, living in the world's mega centres. Wilkinson's character's story--a man on a quest into his past--falls outside the penny-pinching story line, which could otherwise have been too confining. Some side stories among the Indian characters add variety--albeit formulaic variety, when it comes to that of the young lovers.
The Iron Lady (2011)
Less of the Iron and more of the Lady
I was visiting Britain in '83, one of the rioting years depicted in the film, and though I saw the absolute rift between north and south, poorer and richer, I struggled to fully understand my in-laws' remarks about the hatred borne for Thatcher among working people. In the years since, I've always thought of Thatcher as a less diplomatic Ronald Reagan (lacking his Hollywood training) in skirts with a grating, condescending voice. In my estimation, she was one more puppet figurehead in the global push towards a New Feudalism (the social-economic direction that only this year has stirred fresh citizen protest in the streets.)
This film threw my preconceptions of the Iron Lady out the window from the first frame and forced me to look at things from the perspective of the grocer's daughter who believed, more than anything, in upward mobility, who feared compromise the way many would fear a serial killer battering down the door. What makes this film an artistic triumph is that the story progresses from a Thatcher we can relate to, to a Thatcher who can make us cry for human frailty. Thatcher's inflexible strength morphs into her weakness and hubris, like the flaws of all tragic figures. We see her haunted by her personal and political history, in a remarkable performance by Streep, from a script deliberately focused on what was human about this public figure.
Numerous user reviews here complain they wanted a different film, detailing more of Thatcher's politics, more focused on her as a female vanguard. I had expected something more along those lines, too, but I'm not in the least disappointed in this accomplished film.
The D in 3D stands for dimensions
What Martin Scorcese has managed to do is add story dimensionality to a family film that has 3D technology. Some of the dimensions he's included which don't always make into Hollywood blockbusters are an imaginative and original concept, thematic unity and resonance and deft homage to film itself, in the story of Georges Méliès, French film pioneer.
Saw the film in an advance screening and we were among the many there who were obviously not standard family film consumers. This being a Scorcese film is likely to bring lots of adults to Hugo and I would think many of them, like me, will feel the film stands up as entertainment for all age groups.
I especially enjoyed the resonance and intricacy of the theme of clocks, clockworks, animatronics and "the ghost in the machine"--our fear, in the post industrial age that perhaps we are just a rather complex machine, rather than a divine creation. This is all beautifully rendered cinematically. I doubt the little ones will be bewildered while older viewers can pick out levels and layers in the film.
Good fun and visually interesting throughout. The 3D is used in service of the story. I hope Hollywood is watching and notices that special effects are only special when they get the heart of the machine working, like Hugo's little man.
Lifted me to a different awareness of movement
Pina makes me wish I knew more about dance, though I suspect not all dance and dancers are so accessible or emotionally charged, by choice. At moments I was moved nearly to tears, I wanted to answer the question Pina reportedly put often to her dancers, "what do you long for," with the answer "beautyand this could serve for now." I saw this tonight at Vancouver International Film Festival in 3D on the strength of its description and Wenders being the director and I'm very glad I did. One of the hallmarks of strong cinema, for me, is an altered perception of the world when I leave the film, which sometimes lasts for a considerable time: the vision of the film awakening me to what is around me. I found tonight not only a visual but a kinaesthetic carryover as I walked to the car, drove my friend to the subway, and then drove home through streets light in traffic. Though normally I don't care for cars or driving, in the wake of the dance spirit invoked in this film, I revelled in freedom of movementin movement itselfat first hand in my own body and at a remove, in the things around me. This is good stuff.
I will think about scenes such as the woman straining at the end of a rope, about the driven and frenetic movements as well as the lyrical moments and the tributes to Pina, for a while, I think.