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Power of good writing.
I am pleasantly surprised when I find a well written film which relies on acting, enhanced by subtle art direction. So I was absorbed in this film from its beginning. The relationships between Maziar, his mother, his sister, his father, his Iranian peers and his persecutors are intertwined beautifully.
Gael Garcia Bernal is probably one of a handful of international stars who could light up this story with consistently excellent acting. Kim Bodnia and Haluk Bilinger are also part of that group. The cast carries the storyline which is rather uncomplicated and well worn. The political, cultural and social issues for Maziar Bahari are not. Bernal's interpretation of the tortured and isolated journalist is painfully realistic. It is not the over-the-top Hollywood version of blood, nudity and brutality. This sets this film apart.
I came away from the interchanges between Bahari and Rosewater with a better understanding of the repressed sexuality in theocratic Iran. Its patriarchy is twisted by its own harsh theology. The relationships between Bahari, his father and Rosewater could represent the core struggle between Iran's past and aspirations for its future. This is definitely a thinking person's film.
The Butler (2013)
Looking at the whole piece.
As someone who took a cookie from the a butler's tray on a White House tour with a Jewish youth group in 1960 and again in 1961, my heart was deeply invested in this story. I was extremely happy to see it told. However, I feel differently about the production values, the performances and the whole production.
The editing, makeup, cinematography and art direction were probably the most disappointing. They took down the overall tone from high-end cinema to TV movie. I found this upsetting due to the significance of the film in modern American culture. I felt these production values placed the film in the category of a classroom documentary enactment, rather than high art.
The performances were generally top notch. Oprah was amazingly true to the time and affective. Forest Whitaker seemed a little less believable to me, given the history of the main character. There didn't seem to be much of an arc from his youth to his old age on an emotional level. The cameos were intriguing. Liev Schreiber nailed the Johnson persona marvelously. Alan Rickman as Reagan was mind-boggling at first. And the irony of Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan made me laugh out loud.
Living much of this history makes me a harsh observer. I was raised in Boston in part by an Irish-American grandfather who had been a traveling salesman in the South during the early 20th century. His hatred for the South, based in his horror at what he saw of Jim Crow, influenced what I saw in the Washington, DC of the early 1960s and The Civil Rights Movement. This film awakened some of that on an emotional level.
I will recommend this film broadly. I hope it becomes a useful teaching tool for future generations. I do wish it had been produced and directed to the level of its magnificent potential.
It is an eyeful, but not much deeper.
It seems possible that Netflix presented the writers with algorithm results from their viewer rating system and said, "OK. Here's the budget. Here's what our viewers in this demographic want. Go write a series." Frankly, I expected better from Tykwer and The Wachowski's.
The star of this series is its cinematography. That earned my vote, which would have been much lower without it. The cast is a mixed bag. Miguel Silvestre, a.k.a. Sex-on-a-Spoon, is not only amazingly photogenic but perhaps the most talented. Aml Amen, Tina Desai, and Max Riemelt carry their weight in that order. Jaime Clayton is in way over her head. It's hard to watch her squeeze out an emotion at times. And who doesn't like watching a skinny girl, played by Doona Bae, kick bully ass? Now that's entertainment.
The plot 1s part "Twin Peaks", part "Twighlight Saga" and part "mishegas". The pseudo-science is really obnoxious at times. The concept of yet another superior subgroup in human society wears badly, especially when these special people blow less special people up or shoot them in the face. But they sure are a sexy bunch, and that's what really propels this series. It's a hedonistic pleasure, like all the recreational drugs that are seemingly admired by the writers.
Perfect Mothers (2013)
I wondered if this would be a women's movie, in a bad way. My admiration for Naomi Watts and Robin Wright drew me to it. I'm glad.
The beauty of the film is notable. I have seldom seen Australia filmed this well. It is a basic element in the film's atmosphere and poignancy. The free ocean. The solid rough raft. The hedonistic sunshine. The view from above it all. Fantastic.
The beauty of the cast is also remarkable. Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville are models of young athletic maleness. Watts and Wright are models of women at their height of mature beauty.
Exposure of the mutual attraction of the beautiful to each other lies at the heart of the film. The undercurrents of homosexual attractions are handled with exquisite subtlety. The juxtaposition of sexual passion among familiars with stale conventional relationships between relative strangers is affectively painful.
The hybrid of French and Australian production is a great success. The best of both worlds. Worth every minute of its suspense, heartbreak and provocation of deep thought about taboo subjects.
Grace and Frankie (2015)
Uneven but OK.
It is great to see Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together. It is great to see Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston together. Their bits are fun, if a little light and inconsistently written. Reminiscent of Neil Simon somewhat. The topics are standards. The hook of the gay closet cases coming out late is handled with a minimum of caricature. Old women and old hippies fare less well at the hands of the writers.
It's just a sitcom with exceptional talent. A decent Netflix experiment, but one I hope they will not repeat without serious upgrades in themes and writing. It is hard for me to write this as a long-time fan of wonderful Lily Tomlin.
The supporting cast ranges from fair to terrible. This is part of the unevenness of the show. June Diane Raphael grows visibly into her role as Brianna. Baron Vaughn as Nwabudike is over-the-top bad. Timothy V. Murphy's short vignettes are remarkable as the dangerous and lusty Byron.
All in all, it's a good break from serious foreign films on Netflix, but it has superior rivals.
Screwed up and boring rich people on display.
I have just finished watching Hogg's three films on Netflix. "Exhibition" is the most recent. I see a progression in her work from "Unrelated" through "Archipelago", but not in this film. Her strong points are setting and character. She obviously has no interest in plot. She uses superficial circumstance as her plot line. Summer in Italy, holiday on the Isles of Scilly, posh house in the city being sold.
The production values are good. The films are all interesting visually. The casts are also good. The scenes form a collage, not a painting or sculpture. The overwhelming mood of all three films is boredom. Boredom of people with too much privilege and not enough personal insight or maturity.
This is perhaps the most annoying aspect of "Exhibition". Two wealthy narcissists bump into each other in a designer manse. D's so-called performance art is simply a channeling of her sexual and emotional dysfunction. H is a classic enabler and codependent. Even the sadomasochistic element of their relationship is boring.
I got something from both "Unrelated" and "Archipelago". I got nothing from "Exhibition" other than a cramp from sitting though it.
Kis uykusu (2014)
Chekhov meets Shakespeare in Turkey.
There were times during this film when I felt I had slipped into a filmed Chekhov play along the lines of Anthony Hopkins' "August"(1996). However, this film has a rhythm and vitality few films of Chekhov have offered. The exotic setting accounts for some of this. Mr. Bilginer's magnetism, conveyed in his husky voice and exquisitely trained eyes, lifts every scene he is in to a high level of tension and engagement.
This is not a moralistic film, in my opinion. It is, as the castrating Necla says while needling her brother, "realistic". It displays human nature with its flaws without harsh commentary. The characters themselves do all the judging and muddling. Nihal feels she is a strangled Desdemona despite her accommodating Othello's (Aydin's) tolerance of her youthful angst. Necla lives off her brother and resents it. Aydin is an enabler and insecure in his own worth.
Aydin is the misunderstood patriarch. He doesn't even understand that he is a patriarch, no matter what good he feels he is doing. He fails to see the real context of his part on the stage of his environment. He is the gentrified landlord, but sees himself as an innocent businessman in a system he did not create. Nihal fails to understand her charity is selfish and lacks human understanding. Necla talks about not resisting evil as a good thing, because she cannot resist her own evil sadism toward those around her.
This is perhaps the first film of this length which I was truly sorry to see end. I was not tired of the characters or the setting. I could not have imagined I would feel this way about a film about winter in Turkey.
The Prince (2014)
Just bad and sad.
Where to begin? What is the worst thing about this film? Well...Is it the writing which is stilted and predictable? Is it the acting which is stilted and reminiscent of a an amateur acting class? Is it the bad young chicks vibe which is an insult to all female college students? Is it the strangely mysterious fall into heroin addiction by the hero's daughter? Is it the Asian martial artist deputy whose English is unintelligible? Is it the bad cinematography which looks like a washed-out home movie at times? Is it the fact it was filmed in New Orleans (again)? Is it all that really bad makeup? Is it Bruce Willis' cheesy villain? Or is it all of the above? The sad part of it all is seeing John Cusack and Jason Patric in something this bad.
Chef's Table (2015)
I liked the format and production values of this Netflix series. Each episode is like getting to know a new friend, who happens to be a culinary genius. The span across the planet is a good idea. It keeps it from feeling too formulaic. The cinematography is excellent and adds a travelogue quality. And, I even liked most of the subjects.
Like the overpriced eating experiences in these restaurants, the series felt like a guilty pleasure. As long as I focused on the artistic aspect of the episodes, I could forget about the insanity of gourmet meals on an ecologically challenged and overpopulated planet where only 10% of the population can afford to eat like this. Niki Nakayama is my favorite chef of the bunch. Ben Shewry's restaurant was my favorite setting. Magnus Nilsson gets my award for the most personable chef.
I hope Netflix has the wisdom to continue this series. Moving away from Michelin and more toward sustainable food genius would be a plus in my book.
The Walking Dead (2010)
Great but spare me the B-movie dialog.
Acting, production values, situations...all good for the most part. Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Loran Cohan, Scott Wilson, David Morrissey are consistently very good. Andrew Lincoln is not always convincing as the main protagonist. This may be due to poor writing. His character, Rick, is sometimes downright thick but often level-headed and smart. Very uneven writing there. I am not a fan of zombie genre generally. Rare exceptions like "28 Days Later" keep my scientifically educated mind occupied enough to keep me from screaming, "Now that's just stupid!" The main objection I have to this show is its use of space-filling dialogs which smack of philosophy and are usually unbelievable in context. For instance, the boring debates about whether to accept or kill intruders, juxtaposed with Rick's blasé ability to simply drive by and ignore a hitchhiker who eventually gets eaten.