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La Vénus à la fourrure (2013)
All that can be said...
There is a lot in the book that is never said or explored. Perhaps the repressed nature of the time and place, of the characters, of the situation is what makes it such compelling material. The play, and the film, bring out all that can be said, and more. The blurring between the modern day actress auditioning for the play as the director/writer reads the male part and the actual play based on the book is done exquisitely. Seigner is an excellent Jackal and Hyde; she basically plays three different women, and a fourth hidden one that comes out in the end. Amalric is a superb choice for this role with his mousy, intellectual temperament a perfect complement to Seigner's looks and physique. Both actors deliver a mesmerizing performance.
What was most surprising for me is how much we laughed during the film. It was really hilarious, and the whole theater laughed throughout the film. The contrast between the modern day woman and the character in the book/play, the helplessness of the director against the force of the exquisitely lower class actress, the phone conversations with his "fiancée," and the list goes on... Of course, the film is not without its serious moments. In fact, I'd say it is the see-saw nature of the whole thing that really captivates, where one moment you are laughing at the name of the fiancée's dog, and the next you witness the director reading lines on his knees asking to be enslaved unconditionally and the next the actress and the director are having a yelling match about the sexist nature of the book/play.
Recommended for those who are not afraid of the intellectual analysis of art combined with the absurd and ridiculous juxtaposition of the modern and the outdated, the philistine and the intellectual, male and female.
Could be better
The main problem with the plot of Snowpiercer is what some people have pointed out already: if this train is to be the only place where the last humans survive, why keep the caste/class system? At times, I thought the narrative tried to explain this (rather, explain this away), which was not adequate. Plus, it irritates me when half-baked explanations are based on "scientific" stuff, which just makes science sound wrong (I'm a scientist!) So the whole "this is a closed ecosystem, and we have to be careful how the balance is kept, and everyone has their place" kind of explanation makes no sense. It does not explain why there are the oppressed people at the back of the train. At some point, I thought Tilda Swinton's character eludes to them being freeloaders, so I thought that some people paid to be on the train, so they get first class, and some had no money, so they go at the back... OK, but why? If you pay to be on the train, why do you want the people in the back? What are they there for? There does not seem to be a need for labor. They don't eat their babies, or fondle the children from the poor parts. There are a few examples of people form the back being used for things in the front, but not in a way that makes you conclude "ah, so there is demand for these poor idiots in the back, which is why they have them on the train to begin with"
So then the big revelation is supposed to be that they have the oppressed masses in the back so they can revolt now and then to keep the population down? Makes no sense, as it would be just much more effective to kill a certain portion of the population. You could even randomize it, why not? So, why are the poor people on the train again?
The second most irritation point about the plot was that there is only ONE person, repeat ONE person, who has noticed that it is getting warmer outside... You would think, if you are stuck in a train in a frozen world, you would have a whole branch dedicated just to monitoring the climate and see if things are getting better to be able to go back outside. But no, they are all a bit crazy, I suppose, and don't care about going back outside. Ever.
In the end, one needs suspension of disbelief, but perhaps what the film demanded was a bit too much of it. At times I felt that there must a book somewhere, and the book must have explained these things better than the film.
It is an exciting, noisy adventure with lots of bloodshed, most of which was delivered with good flair and big chunks of dark humor. Tilda Swinton really stole the show with her character. The lead was weak (I wondered if this is to be the next Nicholas Cage, with one expression for all emotions), but the Korean actors and the supporting actors shone in all scenes.
Overall, a 6.5/10, mostly thanks to good acting by Swinton and the other supporting cast, and great special effects.
The Foxy Merkins (2013)
We saw this at the BAM Cinemafest, and the crowd really enjoyed it overall. The adventures, or more like the misadventures of Margaret and her wise streetwalker "mentor" were hilarious, touching, and at times, disturbing. There is a good amount of New York in the film, not just that it was shot in the city, but also that it really captured the people of the city very well (I am not going to say in an evenly distributed, all-inclusive manner, since this is not possible due to the subject matter). Margaret's persistent naiveté severely contrasts the wise, cunning, and criminal attitude of the city and its residents, but perhaps it brings out the best in the people she meets and befriends, too. No NY film is complete without making fun of New Jersey, and The Foxy Merkins does this exceptionally well, too.
Overall, a very fun, adult comedy about serious matters. At its heart, a story of friendship and adulthood.
Wild Canaries (2014)
A great comedy!
Just saw Wild Canaries at the BAM Cinemafest, and what a great thing that we did! A great indie film with lots of laughs, many great moments, well developed characters, a thrilling nosy-lady- thinks-someone-murdered-someone plot, awesome yelling matches between boyfriend and girlfriend... An all around excellent example of the genre. After a slow start, where the plot and characters are set up, the screwball comedy takes off and never looks back. Probably best enjoyed in a cinema or with a large crowd (as it is the case with most comedies), but could be a good date film, as well. Lots of couple moments where the main characters have some very realistic, sometimes hilarious, arguments. Very Brooklyn, very sexually fluid (and conscious of these facts), and very indie.
Don't miss it!
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Great fictional work from Hollywood
This is one of those films that will make the smart consumer think about what it means to "like" a piece of art work (if you can call Hollywood filmmaking that). Is the film glorifying the horrible crimes that Belfort and his cronies committed, and if so, can one still judge the film and the actors based on their performance and not on the morality of its subject matter? It's difficult, and I respect both types of opinions.
Just looking at the film as a fictional story (which I am sure it is, mostly, since Belfort seems to have a knack for embellishing the truth and making a seemingly uninteresting thing the most exciting thing in the world to sell it as best as he can), the plot is rather formulaic for Hollywood standards. Character development is not the main point here, as the characters are larger than life caricatures, even down to the "boy scout" FBI guy who has it in for the bad guy (whose motives and story are almost entirely unknown to us, since the story is narrated by Belfort). DiCaprio is in top form, but the rest of the actors and actresses take the prize in genuinely thrilling performances. The acting is probably the best aspect of the film (apart from the glimmer and shine), as every single main and supporting role is played to full potential and perfectly to fit the caricature written out for it.
Perhaps the most interesting character is Belfort's number 1, Donnie. We see more character development here, where the nerdy and greedy guy rises to the top and lives a very large life. His morals seem even more lacking than Belfort's, but this is perhaps because Belfort is telling the story.
The other interesting, though not novel, part of the story is the role of drugs in Wall Street. Drugs and inevitably sex. It is perhaps alarming that the markets that can ruin our lives by crashing, etc. are run by people who abuse drugs all the time. Belfort is not the one to say this first, and I am sure he won't be the last, either.
All in all, the film is "entertaining," if not cringe-worthy. Some moments that are absolutely hilarious in their absurdity can make you cry if you lost a lot of money in the market or lost your job in the recent economic crisis, because in reality, they are not funny. That a company can make billions within hours of a launch, well, that is just sickening no matter what your world view is, unless you are the guy who is making all the money (in which case it is kind of sickening, still, but in a different way).
Moralistically, the film is like any art work that deals with humans who commit crimes. I did not find it more glorifying than mafia films where the godfather orders people's deaths "for the family." The truth is most humans have a moral understanding and ways to justify their actions according to some moral structure, no matter how twisted or unorthodox the rest of the people might think their structure is. Belfort justified his actions in some ways, and his actions hurt people (including his family), like any other criminal. I did not come away with a message from the film that said "What Belfort did was awesome!" It was certainly something more like "Belfort was successful. His success hurt other people and helped some others. In general, he was an asshole, who did not care much about anyone, but himself and for anything, but getting rich."
The real message is: don't invest your money in the stock market unless you are filthy rich. And even then, don't invest too much of it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Fun and whimsical, but not as entertaining as I had hoped
I saw the trailer for this film several times in other movie outings. Trailer was great. Now, one hopes that they did not put all the great bits in the trailer, that they held some stuff back. But no. So when we saw the film, we thought it was fun and whimsical, but nothing too special or funny. All the really potentially funny parts were already revealed in the trailer. Perhaps that's why we were underwhelmed by the film in the end.
The costumes, colors, and decor are great. The scenery, the whimsical gadgets and characters were also great. But, like some people mentioned, there wasn't really anyone that we cared for. We cared a little about the young lovers, maybe. But the main character was not someone we really rooted for, because, well, we knew things would go his way for the most part. The audience was shocked at the few violent scenes, which are a departure from the usual Anderson fare. Strangely, we liked the only really violent character in the film (Dafoe), perhaps because he seemed less whimsical and was not trying to be funny and failing at it.
In the end, the film is entertaining and a feast for the eyes. But do not expect to laugh hard or be moved much. Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums still remain Anderson's best.
Like being in the Amazons
Amazonia follows a little monkey, which was raised entirely in captivity, as it discovers its native habitat and eventually joins a band of monkeys. There is no narration. Most of the film has the natural sounds of the Amazon forest and some parts have "exciting" music, perhaps to alert younger viewers that something bad might happen. There is no grand plot or Meerkat Manor-like personages here. Just pure and simple nature, animals, insects, lots of rain, a snaking river, and many many trees. The visuals are breathtaking. Sunsets and sun rises are phenomenal. The diversity of the flora and fauna is truly humbling.
If there is a plot, it is very loose. Basically little monkey survives a place crash, is rescued by curious animals form its cage, and sets out to wander around the forest. It gets stuck on a piece of floating dead trees for a while and travels downstream the river. And eventually it meets monkeys that look just like it. Of course, we do not know if it understand them, but it joins them and becomes a part of their little group.
Scary things happen all the time, and there are two instances that are truly scary (plane crash and the death of a baby monkey). However, the children in the audience did not seem too upset by all this. i think most of them actually missed the hunt of the baby monkey. And since our friend survived the plane crash (and so did the human pilot), that wasn't too upsetting either. Several children did say "This is scary." out loud in a few instances. But none cried.
The film is an hour and a half, which was perfect for us. But it is mostly silent, and with lots of scenes of forest and sun rays and river running through without much happening. So some adults and children found it too long. One kid was telling his mom in the bathroom afterwords that he liked it, but it was "like a billion minutes!"
Highly recommended for nature lovers and nature documentary fans.
Fantastic and creative animation, infantile and undeveloped plot
The animation, the attention to detail, the dream sequences... What a treat! The squeaky, porcelain flesh animation of the human characters is not ideal, but the rest of the film is full of exquisite detail and various styles of animation that really make this a visual treat.
However, the plot leaves much to be desired. Perhaps some dialog and song lyrics fall short in translation. But this is not really the main issue. The real problem here is the lack of a proper story arc and character development. Except for Jack, and maybe his adoptive mother, characters are completely flat. They have no dimension, no motive, no real driving force. Sure, there is plenty of brooding mood and dark clouds and Gothic humor (of sorts), but these cannot substitute for story elements and development. At any given point in the "story," one is never sure why any character does what they do, really. Why is the bad guy, Joe, so against Jack to begin with? Sure, OK, he is a bully. And Jack hurts him. And he seeks revenge? How? A duel of wits? What? And why does the love interest leave with Joe? I know, she is upset that Jack didn't tell her that his heart will give out if he falls in love, oh, but wait, he did, and well, she kind of knew that, so what is exactly is the problem? And even if she is upset at Jack, there is NO reason she would leave, like leave leave with Joe... No reason. She seems completely indifferent to Joe.
In the end, the only truly impressive parts of the film are the dream sequences, where there is no real plot anyway. These excel and give a glimpse of the true potential of the film, and perhaps the vision of the creator.
On top of the lack of story arc that makes any sense and the lack of character development, the characters break into song rather randomly. Here, the awkward lyric translations really made us raise eye brows and look at each other quizzically.
In the end, we liked the dream sequences and the misfit family (+ the cat!) from Jack's childhood. I still would recommend the film for animation fans just for the visuals and the whimsical circus stuff, but do not expect anything deeper than a 12-year-old boy's fantasy of a love affair.
ps. Is she really supposed to be a flamenco dancer? Uhm, maybe check out some real flamenco, or not call her that. One or the other, because really, otherwise, it is an insult to flamenco and flamenco dancers to call her a flamenco dancer.
Le dernier métro (1980)
Good acting, not so great script?
The acting was good, not only by the two main leads, but by the supporting cast as well. The atmosphere is also done well. Except... so why is the film named "The Last Metro?" Except for the voice-over explanation at the beginning of the film about Paris under occupation, curfews, and the last metro, etc. what was the significance of the last metro exactly for the plot of the film? And the two main characters, they fell in love? Really? When? How? There didn't seem to be anything between the two, until they had to say, actually say, that they were in love. Clearly, acting wasn't bringing it out... What's more confusing is that Mrs. Steiner seems in love, utterly in love, with her husband. Well, she is a rather "cold" woman, the implication being that she is repressing her feelings (which is supposed to make it OK later when she declares love for Gerard D.), but in her coldness scale she is very very warm to her husband, and her husband alone. And then she is in love with someone else?
Well, I think I missed something. All in all, I am glad I saw the film for the atmosphere and the acting, but I can't say that I got it.
Pacific Rim (2013)
As a mindless action film with robots and creatures, sure, it's OK. Probably better off watching some anime series than this. At least they tend to develop the characters and have more plot. I could not help but sing "Voltron Voltron Voltron!" in my head.
The acting was, well, at times horrendous. The lead character was played horribly, and this was not just due to a bad script. Idris Elba did what he could with the script. Some other characters, like the scientists and the black market guy, are similarly well acted as the cold, predictable script allows. The female character was so horribly developed, so weak, such a drag, such a liability to all the good guys, that no matter what the actress did, I don't think I would have liked her.
All in all, a good time waster, but there are better, more fun time wasters out there. So if you have seen all of those, sure, you may want to give this one a try too. But do not expect to be blown off.
Voltron was much much much better (and weirder!)