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DS9 (65 episodes) TNG (29 episodes) VOY (28 episodes) ENT (18 episodes) TOS (10 episodes)
VOY (46) TNG (29) DS9 (17) ENT (17) TOS (14)
Ni guang fei xiang (2012)
Touch of the Light is Light but it Touches
This Taiwan treat deals with two protagonists with low self-esteem and limited worlds whose life collide and make the kaleidoscope brighter. Music and dance are their passion and their path to happiness are hampered by handicap, society and family.
Being blind and what it entails is explored, but the film falls rarely into cliché. It rings true, it is simple and has two very likable, real and relatable characters.
The film, editing, acting, directing (and yes music!) are great but never try to be grandiose. Always humble or the right note to employ the music metaphor, this film finds truth, hope and beauty. Even the friendship romance is just right, not forced, cute and light.
See it if you can. At least you can, because blind piano prodigy Huang Yu-Siang who plays himself and compose some of the soundtrack sure wish he had vision. Perhaps he and first feature film director Jung-chi Chang do have vision: artistic vision.
Best Star Wars Yet - to please both virgins and vets
How to please franchise fans old and new while making a good impactful and memorable movie?
My friends, real fans who grew up with the original trilogy and watched this one with me, expressed a physically relief of feeling there was very little to complain about and that "'they' didn't mess it up", but my feeling was even more positive. They exceeded my high expectations, brought me into a mysterious and magical voyage and left me wanting more until the last frame. A real cinematic experience.
Star Trek formula could be deemed to appeal to simplicity (like good vs evil) with a few twists. Fun fact and contingent to the same doctrine, the majority of its meaningful characters name limit themselves to 3 or 4 letters: Han, Luke, Leia, Yoda and now Rey, Poe and Finn. If not letters, we can substitute numbers: R2D2, C3PO or BB8.
Well, we can now focus on 2 letters: JJ. J.J. Abrams directs and co-writes this brilliant instalment in the multi-billion franchise which is about to set some box office ridiculous revenues after a record-breaking first day and not counting merchandise and video sales.
It also comes with favourable critics and is set to start an epic new trilogy as well as side movies we all hope will remain a high level of quality. Rogue One (2016) is set for next year already, but back to this highly anticipated sequel which manages to create nostalgic moments with its characters, settings and story. Every Star Wars Fans will enjoy the scenery of a defunct Star Destroyer in the desert, but overall cinematography and scenery is in fact the best of all the Star Wars by its beauty and diversity. We get sultry desert in Jakku like Tatooine and forest like Endor. We get beautiful snow that surpass Hoth, buildings and water like Naboo and idyllic Irish-like islands. Daniel Mindel is the cinematographer who also did marvels with JJ on the first 2 Star Trek reboots. Every battle scene is sweeping and spectacular with many elements, motion and emotion. Humour is effective and tension is well crafted and augmented by sound, music and editing.
JJ's Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) was a remake of the essence of Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982) and worked well. Here he outdoes himself by creating similar cues from Star Wars themes and storyline, but keeping it crisp with new likable and believable characters, good acting and superb directing to keep everything flowing and fans following. We feel for the characters, old and new, except perhaps BB- 8 which is less lovable than R2-D2. We are intrigued and we do not want it to end. A pretty much perfect movie of the genre and for a new generation, including my 5-year old son and 10-year old brother who loved it, and Rey in particular, missing some deeper subtleties for storyline and character development.
Han and Leia were not only there for older fans, but make it work as very important elements to the story. The writing and directing for them is just right, like the rest of the movie. Kylo Ren (4/3 letters, yes) may be the weakest acting and character development, although not bad by any stretch and some noteworthy moments, but we can assume we will get more on him in the next two episodes.
Award-worthy, action-packed, well-paced, high expectations delivered and then some. Minor flaws in this sweeping tale that does rely on old material, but makes the movie materialize like a transporter in Star Trek. Best Star Wars yet and that is no small feat. One small step for a fan, but a giant leap for longevity and quality.
So in the end we are left with 3 letters: WOW.
I am considering seeing again in theatres soon and I have done this less than 10 times in my life (some for stellar but lesser Star Wars (9/10) as well as Star Trek: First Contact, Contact, Titanic and Braveheart) in over 20 year!
Capable Rian Johnson has some serious shoes to fill for episode VIII, so we wish him the best. May the force be strong with this one...
New Japanese Cinema
Neboke which screened at the Montreal World Film Festival 2015 and which I had the chance to see at a special screening in Montreal is a surprising little gem. It deals with the "Rakugo" century-old oral tradition of storytelling. Filmed in two weeks and with what seemed a limited budget it weaves all the right elements to make one appreciate the beauty around him/her.
This eye-opening movie deals with relationships, family, money, failure, death, art and love. A central theme is alcoholism and it is tied to the performance of a revered "Turning Point" piece both my the master and the main character. It is not overly melodramatic or trying to instill an unrealistic moral compass or code. It is very real, sad and beautiful. Yet there is room for humour, warmth, tenderness, frailty, friendship and dare I say true love. A love that starts from within and radiates.
I hope it does well when it is released in native Japan and can reach people in as many markets and households as possible. See it if you get the opportunity and be witness to some realness and soberness.
La belle noiseuse (1991)
Process and Purpose of Painting
Relationship rich, this story revolves around a young couple who's man, Nicolas, agrees to let his woman, Marianne, be the nude model for a friend's hopeless and hapless attempt to make his long sought masterpiece he was unable to finish 10 years ago. Nicolas' relationships with the painter, the painter's wife (Liz), Marianne and later his sister are affected and deteriorate. Meanwhile the painter and his subject become entranced in an artistic and metaphysical dance.
Relationship with the painter and his wife slowly unravels until it explodes. Will it stabilize or severe their bond? Also the interplay between the painter's wife and Nicolas, the painter's wife and Marianne, Marianne and her sister-in-law, etc. are all exquisitely explored with tense writing, intimate and beautiful cinematography as well as daring directing.
At almost 4 hours and divided into two parts, the first part focuses on process of painting (and can be painful for limited attention-span people) while the second part reveals the fleeting purpose and puts people, art and life in context. The images and words are hard not to remain with you after viewing and sense of increase sensitivities to living. The screenplay is sublime with sparks of genius, genuine life glimpses and poetic prowess. Transfixion, transformation, transgression...
Jacques Rivette has made his masterpiece regardless if his protagonist did or not. The subtext and unanswered questions add to the mystery.
Life naked, complex, like the model or actress. Beautiful. Art is born.
Missing some narrative and purpose
Innonce tries not to take itself too seriously at times and does the opposite at others. It is playful and pretentious but does not reach a balance and does not reach the audience effectively.
Benoit Debie makes beautiful shots but Lucile Hadzihalilovic fails to make any real sense of the innocence and self-discovery motifs by losing audience interest in the narrative and characters. As I was watching, and being a writer myself, I could see many -any!- ways I could enhance a scene that seemed to have absolutely no anchor or aim.
The beginning is long and tedious with a fake air of fairy-tale mystery. The writer/director fails to give focus points and interest and many scenes are rather enjoyable to watch visually but are not linked with any purpose. I just attended a conference with Dennis Villeneue today saying how many directors think music can replace the spark needed in a scene, well here we have that faux pas with imagery. Sure some of the young girls, greenery and choreographed ballet scenes are beautiful... but I can go to the ballet or museum to see Degas if that was my purpose.
Innocence has a decent rating and favourable critics, so may have reach a deep or superficial chord to some but I for one cannot claim to see the magic beyond the patented gimmickry. Imagery does not save story or storytelling, it has to amplify it. Not everyone can attempt to emulate Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for instance, but can make better judgement calls that serve the spectators without spoon- feeding them. Shion Sono's latest, The Whispering Star (2015), succeeded in some level to let imagery speak volumes even with some unevenness overall.
Enter the Void (2009) was missing some of Gaspar Noé's narrative clarity and execution at times and I now see that is it probably Lucile Hadzihalilovic's involvement that dragged some of the film's less engaging scenes too immersed on imagery for its own obscure sake.
Marion Cotillard is cute and not much more as Mademoiselle Eva, but there is little to do with a minimalist mediocre screenplay that stagnates. She would quickly move on to better screenplays and roles.
Innocence falls way short and cannot be redeem by its intent or images. Decidedly disappointing to one who is very open to, even a proponent of, artsy and different films.
Psychological, subtle and profound
This claustrophobic episode focuses on Ezri's adjustment to her new circumstances and everyone else's adjustment to Ezri Dax and the casualties of the war.
The Thrill species can have joined symbiotic relationship where the symbiant outlives the host. Ezri is thus the 9th host and shares the memories and feelings of the 8 previous hosts including Jadzia who was an integral part of the station and the show for the last 6 years and the wife of Worf. This particular situation makes for some great drama trying to figure out how to interact with someone who has the memories and feelings of someone you know but that isn't that person. This is what science-fiction does best and DS9 gets Les Landau to direct actors who are as familiar as they can with their characters in the show's last season and put new wide-eyed and confused Ezri Dax (and new actress Nicole De Boer) to thread the line between this complicated situation.
Add Andrew Robinson as the enigmatic Elim Garak for character development and repartee, quirky Quark for warmth, brash Bashir for flirty friendship and bravado, as well as Avery Brooks' Sisko who not only knew Jadzia Dax but also Curson Dax, the 7th host. We have all the complexities of a great chess match and an episode that is perhaps match by "Duet" as one of the best Thrill episode ever. One of the best and most difficult episode all together when you take into account the 6 year backstory of all the characters culminating into this unspoken conflict (or conflicts).
The dialog and story are strong but the beauty is really in the nonverbal nuances, the tone, the double entendre and deeper interplay. In that sense, the episode may be for DS9 connoisseurs instead of passerby, but it still showcase strong narrative impetus. Also it elevates itself by the quality of questions it raises and the satisfying yet not quite resolved resolution.
Ezri is in search of herself, but we are glad we have found her. A great character and circumstances episodes to make Ezri Dax a solid part of the final chapter of this space saga.
The Martian (2015)
Long Live Science-Fiction
Back from a talk from Astronaut Superstar, book author and musician Chris Hadfield in Jasper, Canada where he mentioned the movie as having some of the science and feel right, I am glad I got to see this in immersive IMAX 3D. Not only did it get that right, but more importantly the love for science and science-fiction back like what Hadfield has been able to do with social media and space.
Ridley Scott pioneered sci-fi movie-making 3 decades ago with Blade Runner (1982) and Alien (1979) both major entries in the genre. I however found he hit his prime as a director in 2001 (not Kubrick's landmark sci-fi adaptation) with action "Black Hawk Down" and thriller/horror "Hannibal" after his Oscar-heavy "Gladiator" hit of 2000. Body of Lies (2008) was his return to form with a twisted tight thriller and to a lesser degree American Gangster (2007) also starring Russell Crowe.
Now "The Martian" may - should!- get Oscar attention with possible acting, directing, visual effects, sound, editing, cinematography, screenplay and best picture nominations. The screenplay is a wonderful, witty, humane and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir's novel by Drew Goddard who wrote sci-fish Cloverfield and some fantasy TV show episodes.
Scott's directing is a great mix of tension, humour, action and crisp narrative. Pietro Scalia made good editing choices that sets this apart from Interstellar's long moments and even if it lacks the vision of Interstellar (2014) it makes it up in ingenuity, laughter and levity making the most of humanity, space and science current frontiers. It exploits the explorer spirit with the human and technical challenges necessary to overcome again and again.
From the brisk bang-for-your-buck beginning to the engaging ending with every twist and turn in between, this is a compelling and moving movie that you don't really want to end. Matt Damon is the perfect marooned man on Mars with positivism and sarcasm. His crew-mates and the ground staff are also great characters and supporting actors. The balanced cast is like the editing, enough to keep your attention, keep you guessing and engaged.
The storytelling has classic elements of recurring themes and jokes coupled with situations that compound difficulties to be surmounted. The triumph is not only in the story but in the importance of facing these improbable odds as individuals and as a species to surmount space's difficulties. We cannot help but go along readily with the ride and follow the fortuitous and fateful out of this world journey.
Early this year I saw the small and smart UK offering Ex Machina (2015) from a nation that is getting good sci-fi out finally. With sublime lesser-known "OXV: The Manual" and "The Machine" also from the UK to US heavy hitters "Gravity" and "Star Trek Into Darkness", 2013 was a great sci-fi year. Now coupled with Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015) as big back-to-back year blockbusters, we can only hope for a revival of the best of this imaginative genre that was made for movies. In fact, I hoped for a movie like this in my Interstellar review almost to the date (release date) last year!
Yesterday announced the go-ahead for a New Star Trek series slated for 2017, on top of the 2016 & 2019 movies. Next month will be the first of the much anticipated Star Wars trilogy with Disney and JJ at the helm. 2017 and 2019 will follow and maybe 2 spin offs. Add awaited Avatar sequel trilogy 2017, 2018 & 2019 from James Cameron. All that aside, most importantly the Blade Runner remake is in pre-production with a finished script as we speak to make sure we are back into the Science-Fiction era!! It will be in the capable hands of none other than other great Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve, currently finishing another sci-fi fare, tentatively titled Story of Your Life (2016).
I haven't felt this good since Deep Space Nine was on the air...
Now if only someone dared to adapt Asimov's Foundation series to screen...
Cheers and happy sci-fi decade
One of the Best of 2015 - Acting (and Directing)
Antoine Fuqua, like Todd Field, knows how to get the best from his actors. He directed a Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role win for Denzel Washington and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role nomination for Ethan Hawke with the landmark Training Day (2001). He directed Hawke again along with Richard Gere and Don Cheadle with the fine Brooklyn's Finest (2009) and now "Southpaw" may be his crown achievement even if slightly formulaic feel good tough boxing movie.
Now, he literally trains with and transforms Jake Gyllenhaal into the fictional boxer Billy Hope. Hope is a high profile boxer who has issues and when his life turns for the worse he is a sad human mess played to perfection by Gyllenhaal who's Oscar Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role nomination for Brokeback Mountain (2005) may be backed by a Leading Role nod for this which he barely missed for Nightcrawler (2014) with more deserving top notch tough competition but was nominated for Golden Globes.
Forest Whitaker who played the Golden Globe Best Actor nominee dejected, drunk and talented Bird (1988) now plays the bruised but wise mentor and coach in "Southpaw". In this subtle supporting role, he hasn't been this good since his momentous Oscar win for The Last King of Scotland (2006).
Rachel McAdams is beyond believable as Hope's wife and may get her first supporting actress nom if the stars are aligned although her part may be overlooked for various reasons. Her acting performance is however crucial to the whole storyline and she pulls it off and then some.
Last but not least, Oona Laurence plays Hope's daughter with depth and takes control of powerful scenes. We haven't seen strong child acting like this for a long time - think Haley Joel Osment in Sixth Sense (1999) not Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Even better than 2015 worthy co-favourite film "Room" performance by Jacob Tremblay. Other current contenders for best of the year I have seen and agree with are Scott's "The Martian" and Villeneuve's "Sicario" sans Gyllenhaal. I haven't seen Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies", Zemickis' "The Walk", Boyle's "Steve Jobs," Crowley's "Brooklyn", or Haynes' "Carol", and I am anticipating "The Revenant" from one of my long time favourite directors like everyone else.
Gyllenhaal who's work with Villeneuve in Enemy and Prisoners proved he is a formidable lead in 2013, garners much attention here and Fuqua and his film will make waves before his Magnificent Seven remake hits the theatres next year... with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.
This movie will have you feeling, thinking and cheering for the growth, not the glory.
PS: look out for Cheadle's directorial debut "Miles Ahead" as well.
Nie yin niang (2015)
See it for Ping Bin Lee's Cinematography
Ping Bin Lee won many awards with fellow cinematographers in beautifully-shot In The Mood for Love (2000) and received praise for filming Japanese Norwegian Wood (2010) and Snowy Love Fall in Spring (2005). He now offers the best of this slow, story-stunned film.
Hsiao-Hsien Hou won best director at Cannes for this but it is hard for many to see why. The story and storytelling are simple and barely interesting, while the action and acting is fleeting. For example, Qi Shu is beautiful but bland. Some critics may argue that the subtlety and peaceful pace make for a thoughtful masterpiece, but I would say that there are many elements missing for that. See Saigo no Chûshingura (2010) - aka The Last Ronin - for a contemplative film with little violence.
However, the costumes and decors are definitely noteworthy and above all the cinematography. There are a few show-stopping scenes including one with the cloudy mist in the marvellous mountains. Many more subtle ones permeate the movie and some must have been linked to director choices which is where I may see the connection. Still, I would say cinematography over directing as the movie soft steady focus loses depth and audience's attention. So see it for its occasional beauty, but do not expect a screenplay or directing achievement to make it a superior film overall.
China 2015 | 107 mins | Festival du Nouveau Cinema | classic Mandarin (English subtitles)
Scorsese, Mathison, Deakins and Glass: Through the looking glass
Kundun is the best movie about Tibet yet, and a towering biopic coming close to Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor (1987)". Scorsese seizes the opportunity to tell a historical tale with profound meaning, menace masqueraded as magnanimous philanthropy, and repercussions that last to this day two decades later.
Scorsese is adapt at his craft, and gets good performance from his actors. He also relies on the strong poetry and beauty of Melissa Mathison's script who scratches the surface of Buddhist teachings. Roger Deakins' masterful cinematography gets the intimate scenes' impact and showcases Tibet's beauty on occasion. Philip Glass's haunting score is the cherry on the Sunday and the movie ends when we are ready to continue the journey.
Great monologues and dialogues including delivery by the chilling and charismatic Chairman Mao are memorable. Kundun's growth as a human being and leader as well as his relationships are coherent and telling. We draw from his inner strengths, his dilemma, his weaknesses and hope for the best.
We feel, we think, we learn. The movie is a slow burn and the writing, cinematography and music all become more intense until the fateful and beautiful final scene. A joy for the senses and a feeling that we do not want to movie to end.
Top notch cinema which puts together the best elements for posterity.