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The Last Dalai Lama? (2016)
Flimsy doc that fails to do justice to a great man
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the subject of this documentary which is so messy and poorly put together that it feels almost like a waste of time to watch it.
First off this isn't really a great primer on His Holiness and is actually a loose sequel of sorts to a documentary filmmaker Mickey Lemle made 25 years earlier. Secondly the film lacks any kind of structure, it peters out around the 60 minute mark, comes back for a ten minute sequence on George W. Bush, fades out again and then comes back for some more talking heads and then finally mercifully ends.
It's very disappointing work from Lemle who has great access both to his Holiness and to several members of his inner circle and family.
The best parts by far are the parts where His Holiness talks a bit about his view of the world and also the politics of his life in exile are talked about a bit (only a very little, the movie assumes familiarity with his situation).
It's really too bad but the film comes across as a little stale and cold, completely unlike the man at the centre of the story.
Bigelow gets it wrong
I'm a huge fan of director Kathryn Bigelow and when I heard that she was making this film and when rumours leaked out that it was going to primarily be focused on the Algiers motel murders I was more excited than ever. It seemed like the perfect project for Bigelow to tackle.
Unfortunately the result is a messy, gloopy, half-committed mess and Bigelow never quite succeeds at bringing to life a half-baked script.
Now to start off the film is not solely focused on the Algiers Motel incident. It's a film in three parts, the first dealing with the start of the riots in Detroit, the second zeroing in on the terror at the Algiers, and the third showing the trial that happened as a result of the Algiers murders.
Right away Bigelow gets it wrong. The rioting that took place is poorly explained and she and writer Mark Boal actually mostly shows the start of the riots from the perspective of the police, bizarrely making it seem like rioters were just interested in looting despite the fact that there were multiple reasons why they were angry and lashing out. As a result the first third of the movie is just like a noxious clash of violence and terror as Bigelow introduces and obliterates so many characters, the violence seeming random and unending and not in a good way. The final third of the movie is similarly sloppy; I've seen court room dramas handled with more grace, and subtlety on Law & Order.
However the middle section, at the Algiers, is where most of the pieces come together. If there's one thing to trust Bigelow on it's scenes of torture and she spares nothing when it comes to these scenes. Now I've heard criticism saying that these scenes amount to torture porn and I disagree, the violence in this section is necessary to show just how brutal what happened was. Bigelow isn't glorying in the moment but she isn't flinching away from it either. This happened and she wants her audiences to know it and understand it and feel angry and hurt and ashamed because of it.
Unfortunately the rest of the movie just doesn't rise to the level of the middle section leaving the film as a half-baked mess. Only because Bigelow is such a talent is the film still somewhat worthwhile to watch because despite everything there is much to criticize and some to admire.
The best parts of the movie are the cast (almost uniformly stellar but Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, John Boyega and Jacob Latimore are standouts) and the costumes. There may not be many speaking roles for women in the film but there were a lot of women extras and the clothes they wear are FANTASTIC.
A missed opportunity from Bigelow.
Mañana a esta hora (2016)
Slow moving drama with little payoff
I was reminded while watching this movie of 35 Shots of Rum, the quiet meditative film by french filmmaker Claire Denis, about a father and daughter who have struck a loving perfect balance as they live together.
Unfortunately This Time Tomorrow suffers from the comparison. Filmmaker Lina Rodriguez has made one of those minimal dialogue- static shot films which are incredibly poignant and touching when they work and a great slog to get through when they don't. And unfortunately this one doesn't work. The film is a diptych that focuses on a Colombian family of three (mother-father-teenage daughter). The first half focuses on their lives as a family and the ways in which they function and the ways in which they don't. The second focuses on what happens when a member of this family is removed and the other two must adjust to life without that person. Unfortunately the first half of the film doesn't do a great job of establishing who these people are or making us fall in love with them in a discernible way. Filmmakers like Denis or Ozu or Akerman make it seem like small-scale films about domestic life are easy to make, Rodriguez shows us how hard it is to make one that's successful.
It's too bad because Rodriguez IS a good director, you can see it in her total command of the tone of the film, but the actual scenes don't offer much in terms of building up the emotional value of the film (possibly because she allowed them to improv their dialogue based on scenes she provided). The result is naturalistic sure, but also disappointing and the 80 minutes I spent with the film felt a lot longer.
Lady Macbeth (2016)
Despite being filmed mostly in staid long-takes Lady Macbeth is incredibly riveting, a neo-Victorian film that gets just about everything right.
We first meet Katherine (played by Florence Pugh, the "Macbeth" of the title) at her wedding to a man about twice her age. On their wedding night, instead of sleeping with her, he looks at her naked body and then goes straight to sleep. Katherine's husband, despite being twice her age, is somewhat of a meek man, kept under the thumb of his even bullying father who likes to bully Katherine as well. Eventually these two men leave, one because he has no sexual interest in Katherine, the other to punish her with isolation, but left to her own devices Katherine finds life in the remote manor serves her quite well: she is free to sleep, walk and eat when she wants, and most importantly she also has the freedom to strike up an affair with an insolent serving man.
Despite the staid nature of the piece filled with corsets and repression the movie has plenty of sex and violence, used to great effect. Every actor among the small cast is also incredibly fantastic here.
It's hard to believe this is director William Oldroyd's first feature film because he has such a controlled and beautiful vision. One of the details I especially appreciated is that he includes more than one black character in the film, something that adds depth and subtext to what happens later in the film as it goes from a mediation on feminism to a meditation on racism and all without the film overplaying its hand or becoming didactic.
A must see.
To the Bone (2017)
Even before it was released to general audiences the think pieces started coming out about Marti Noxon's directorial debut To the Bone. So many think pieces argued over whether the movie had a right to exist and the potential triggers it might have for anyone currently suffering through an eating disorder (and warning, despite Noxon's claim that she was careful not to include anything that might trigger someone with an eating disorder the film does have a few moments that feel gratuitous).
Unfortunately, on every level, it's just not a very good film. Lily Collins plays Ellen, a 20 year old wise-cracking artist with a dark sense of humour who happens to be anorexic. We first meet her as she is coming out of her latest inpatient program weighing even less than she did when she came in. Appalled, Ellen's stepmother pulls some strings and manages to get her to see Dr. Beckham whose unconventional methods are supposed to cure Ellen. He insists on yet another inpatient program which Ellen initially tries to resist, only to succumb when her younger sister pleads with her to go.
The problem is this movie isn't as interesting as it thinks it is. Anorexia is a serious subject worthy of study in fiction and in film, but even though writer/director Noxon and star Lily Collins are both in recovery from the disease their approach feels as clichéd as your average TV movie. Everything from the way that Ellen wears layered dark clothes and makes sarcastic "witty" comments that are supposed to show how great she is and wise beyond her years, to the fact that Beckham's unconventional methods seem to be the pretty conventional method of showing off things of beauty, engaging in therapy and not talking down to his patient are incredibly cringe worthy. The frustrating thing is that there are some interesting moments in the film, like how the supposedly happy go lucky model recovery patient Luke turns out to have a bit of a dark side, but even this is barely covered.
Collins is great and rises far above the material, but it's unfortunate that this passion project, which does take a couple of interesting turns, seems more committed to staying with the paint by numbers typical approach than in offering us anything truly unusual.
A star making performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw
If actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw becomes a full fledged Hollywood star, and I sincerely hope she does, it can be traced back to this film, her first leading role and one she handles with grace and beauty.
The movie Belle itself is a somewhat mediocre film that white washes a lot of unpleasant history. The purpose of this is actually pretty nobel. As the movie itself points out a lot of historical depictions of black people involve them secondary, suffering or in pain. Belle shows a young black woman as fully romanticized and loved as any Austen heroine. To wit: Belle is about Dido Elizabeth Belle the daughter of an unnamed black slave mother and a captain of noble birth. We first meet Dido as a child when her mother is dead and her father has appeared to rescue her. Despite the fact that the two are estranged he reassures her that he loves her very much as he did her mother and takes her from the hovel where she is living to the luxurious estate belonging to his uncle. Despite some objections from his aunt and uncle, Dido is reluctantly welcomed into the bosom of the family estate as a companion for her cousin Elizabeth, another unfortunate cast off family member (albeit one who is white). The movie rejoins Dido again over a decade later when she is a young woman ready to be courted and full of questions as to how she can live in a world where she is privileged over other young ladies and yet discriminated against on the basis of her skin colour.
The script doesn't always flow when making these points but it is saved by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (utterly charming). Sam Reid makes for a handsome and passionate hero. The film is also incredibly luxurious and gorgeous though the editing can't hide the fact some awkward moments that seem to imply that certain scenes didn't get all the coverage they needed.
Still a must see for fans of historical romances.
Night Moves (2013)
Kelly Reichardt isn't a filmmaker for everyone but I like her slow moving contemplative dramas which often give audiences something to really reflect on. Not so with Night Moves her most boring preachy film to date. The film follows Josh and Dena, a young couple who also happen to be passionate environmentalists. Their plan is to hook up with a connection of Josh's who will help them put their beliefs into practice by blowing up a dam.
The acting is good and the film is beautiful as befits a Reichardt movie. The dialogue and plot however are godawful. It's not that I don't believe in what the characters are saying, but they're some pretty awful unpleasant preachy people to spent a couple of hours with. The whole thing is a joke and will only appeal to the kind of granola hipsters that appear in the film.
You're honestly better off watching a documentary on climate change.
Stalker is my favourite type of science fiction: the kind that asks many questions, gives few answers and in which a lot of the magic is based on the imagination and not what is presented on screen.
The film follows a Stalker i.e. a man who works illegally as a kind of sherpa, taking people into the "zone" a site that was hit by a meteor and has since been abandoned. On this visit that we accompany him on, the Stalker has chosen to usher in two men, one a writer, the other a scientist professor. Because what they are doing is highly illegal and dangerous the Stalker insists that they refer to themselves only by their professions. As they enter the zone we learn more about the journey, including why it is considered so dangerous and why so many are willing to take the risk to go there.
The movie is not for the faint of heart. The short summary proffered above takes over an hour to explain in terms of the movie. Furthermore the shots are incredibly long, often lasting several minutes as we follow these men on their journey. But is it ever worth the ride. Shot mostly in long abandoned locations the film is brutally gorgeous. And the questions, when they come, are fascinating and interesting asking the most of what it means to be human and how that manifests itself in our desires.
The Beguiled (2017)
When women strike back...
Sofia Coppola's latest is a period piece set during the American civil war in Virginia. While wandering through the forest scavenging for food, a young school girl comes across a Yankee soldier. Seeing that the man is severely wounded and thus no danger to her, she brings him back to the private girls school where only a handful of pupils, the headmistress, and one teacher, have settled down to wait out the war. The girls and women, having been left alone for so long without male attention, are quick to throw themselves in the path of such a devilishly handsome romantic man, while the man himself, John McBurney, is all too willing to seduce and be seduced in the hopes that he can wait out the war in this cushy harem of white cotton clad ladies.
Though she has an Oscar for writing I've always found Coppola to be at her best with her directing and that's very true of The Beguiled. You can tell she had a blast with the time period and the costumes because she luxuriates in the atmosphere. No shots are wasted and all are beautiful. The soundscape in the movie also plays an incredible role. There are a lot of things happening off screen (the war for one) but we hear it in the sound of the booming canons that disrupt the girls as they set about their work.
The film is also an ensemble piece, but while there isn't a weak member among the cast, Coppola favourite Kirsten Dunst stands out as a fragile and repressed teacher whose youth is quickly wilting away, and Nicole Kidman is hilarious as the commanding no-nonsense headmistress.
The trailers for this give away too much of the plot in my opinion. If possible it's best to see this blind and let Coppola's slow atmospheric's and dark humour take over.
A short sharp piece, well made and worth seeing.
A beautiful fairytale for adults
Okja is a sort of scifi fairytale, one that is explicit with its very simple messaging but is nevertheless beautiful and heart wrenching.
Bong Joon-ho begins the film in 2007 when the CEO of a food corporation that is heavily invested with GMO's tries to revamp their corporate image by announcing a competition between 26 of their best super piglets. The super piglets are sent across the world to be raised by farmers and in ten years one lucky pig will win the title of Best Super Pig (and then apparently be consumed). Fast forward to 10 years later when a thirteen year old Mija, a country girl living in near isolation with her grandfather, is raising her super pig in the idyllic landscape where they play, forage for apples, and fish together. Things go awry however when she discovers that Okja (her pig) does not belong to her and will be carted off to America. From here on the movie turns into an adventure story as Mija must brave the world in order to be reunited with Okja.
The film is wildly cartoonish in tone, but if you go along with it and let yourself be enchanted by this world you'll find yourself on a wonderful emotional journey. Some cheap CGI made me at first scoff at Okja, but as the movie goes on she seems more and more real till by the end I was near tears watching the film. Great performances by known and unknown actors alike. Just a great movie through and through.