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The Child in Time (2017)
WTF? A big nothing burger.
OK, I admit I wanted to watch this because of Kelly MacDonald, who I think is incredibly sexy. Other than a few closeups of her face, that's it for her.
This movie lost me from the beginning, then spun me around in circles just to make sure I didn't find my way out. Great....we're shifting time again...no warning...so you spend five minutes figuring out if this scene is before, after, during, in another dimension...??? NO chemistry between Cumberbatch and MacDonald. Sad.
A lot of red herrings. The book about the boy named Fish....?? The new romance with the committee chick....? Why did Kelly disappear "I have to go away...."? (Just pregnancy? Why disappear? This isn't the 1900s...) The mysterious toss-off line the insane friend tells him---something along the lines of "I've done something really bad, you'll find out later..." What? Who knows? It's just one false lead after another, and of course none make any sense. If it makes any sense to you, you're a better man than I am.
Where did it really go, in the end? I don't know, I really don't. Is this about some sort of mysticism or reincarnation? How could Cumberbatch appear as a boy to his pregnant mother? Who is the boy who appears then disappears on the subway? Cumberbatch? His friend? His imagination? No one of significance? Is the new baby a "replacement" for the lost girl? Is it the lost girl? God knows. the business about the PM and the report....what report? The report on the eduction system? Does anyone care? They don't seem to.
What a mess. Where's the continuity girl when you need her?
Lady Bird (2017)
Best movie of the year, by far
I love Greta Gerwig. I admit it. As far as I can see, her movie roles are all a version of herself, which is utterly charming. So obviously I had to go see this.
Yet ANOTHER coming of age film? Yes and no. Yes, the same subject matter. No, not the same approach. It's like saying Lord of the Rings was a movie about talking trees. Greta, who both wrote and directed the movie, sustained the high level throughout. How often do you see this? Usually the first 10-15 minutes are funny, then they run out of ideas. But Greta kept the ideas coming, and the result was (to me anyway) a completely new take on a high school girl coming of age.
For one thing, I was laughing out loud every few minutes. I won't give away the best lines, but they were all fresh and unexpected. Let's just say that the football coach as director of the school play was inspired. But so was the mother. And the father. And the friends. And the boy friends. It was all just brilliant. Time and time again Greta was faced with yet another trite situation that she made fresh and funny. And the acting--except for the lead character, we had journeyman actors. But they all did a great job. Not too little, not over the top. Just right. And Saoirse not only made herself LOOK like Greta (same smile....) she SOUNDED like Greta. A friend we saw the movie with was convinced Greta was playing herself in the movie. We had to convince her it wasn't. Whether this was intentional or not I don't know, but in either case Saorirse did an outstanding job.
The OA (2016)
Why the unnecessary weirdness?
I've been following Brit ever since an article about her appeared in the alumni magazine years ago. Yes, we both went to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. I've also seen her live, and I must say she is even more beautiful than on the screen.
And yes, we all know at this point she writes her own movies (which I've seen and liked), and that they are "quirky" to say the least. But they were internally consistent up until this.
First, in what way or sense can she possibly be "The Original Angel"? Makes no sense.
Second, OK, we are all dying to make a movie about multi-dimensional multiverses. Sure. Why not? But is this the way to do it? with all the mumbo jumbo, captive guinea pigs, mad scientist, etc.? Way too many distractions. Keep the story simple.
Third, Brit is gorgeous. That's a given. But not to the other characters in the move--they all ignore her beauty. Sorry, that's just not realistic, esp. from h.s. boys. Acknowledge the fact you are dazzling. It's OK, we all know it!
So we'll see where this goes in season two, but I'm betting it will be disappointing. Brit needs to find a physicist to collaborate with, or else go the other direction and write about religion / moral choices. But not this New Age mishmash of the two. This is NOT what she learned at Georgetown!
Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)
Excellent message -- deserves to be seen by everyone
My usual disclaimer: I am not Indian. I live near Washington DC. My wife and I have been watching Bollywood movies for over 10 years, and we see probably 20+ a year, + DVDs. I subscribe to Filmfare.
We've noticed a trend in Bollywood--a good trend. Women are shown as more independent and powerful. This is good! The director Maneesh Sharma is a great example of this -- all his movies feature strong, independent women. I met Maneesh several years ago, and he seemed like a great guy.
But there are still movies like Badrinath Ki Dulhania that are painful to watch. It made me cringe throughout at the treatment of women. It was an embarrassment to the Indian film industry, and in terms the director might understand, it brought shame upon him and the entire cast (see below).
So Lipstick under My Burkha was a welcome addition to feminist movies. The Indian censor board had the good sense to approve it, even if it was after an appeal. We saw it yesterday at the DC Film Festival, and the screening was almost sold out -- and Indians were a small minority of the audience.
The movie makes two points I completely agree with. I suspect some people will say that I am culturally biased, etc. etc. but I think this goes beyond that. There are certain things that are simply right and other things that are simply wrong. It doesn't matter what your culture is or where you come from. And things that might have been acceptable in 1300 or 1850 or even 1950 are not acceptable today. They should be condemned.
First, shame. The male characters in the movie use the word "shame" a lot -- "You will bring shame upon the family," etc. No one -- NO ONE -- can bring shame on you except you yourself. If you don't believe this, you need to wake up and change.
Second, human rights. I'm going to be shamelessly (joke) culturally bound and quote from that nice 18th century Enlightenment document, the US Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
They key idea here is that "rights" are NOT given to you by the government, a king, or your husband. They are given to you by God. And they are "unalienable" = they can't be changed or taken away -- by anyone, for any reason. So when a husband talks about "allowing" his wife to work or parents talk about "finding a husband" for their daughter, they are violating human rights. Again, if you don't believe this, you need to wake up and change.
The movie itself has an interwoven plot. Four women of different ages live in a "manzil" or block of buildings in Bhopal. A college student wears a burkha ordinarily, but changes into a T-shirt and jeans every day as soon as she gets to her college. Because she's been repressed so much, she has fantasies about boys. Because she is so inexperienced, she is vulnerable. She comes very close to disaster. The second woman is a wife and mother of three boys. Her husband works in Saudi Arabia and only comes home a few times a year. Somehow he is stupid enough to think that all the children are his. His wife works, secretly, for a department store as a saleswoman, and she is very good at her job. Her husband has a mistress, and the wife discovers this and confronts the mistress. The husband's reaction: "Why are you trying to embarrass me?" Again, let me repeat: his own actions should embarrass him. Not something his wife does. But he doesn't understand this. A third women is "modern" and fairly independent, but she is about to be married to a man she doesn't like. He wants her to live the rest of her life at home with his large family. That's her idea of Hell. She has a boyfriend, and together they try to earn money by photographing weddings. Eventually the finance finds out about the boyfriend, and again the idea that she has "shamed" him comes up. She walks away. Good for her! The fourth woman is a 52-year-old widow who lives with relatives in the manzil that she (they?) own. She reads racy romance novels and has fantasies about a young swimming coach. She gets up enough nerve to take swimming lessons from him, and after several unsuccessful attempts she gets him to have phone sex with her--but of course he doesn't know who she is. Eventually she is exposed, her family throws her into the street, and of course they say that she has "shamed" them.
What makes it a good movie, apart from the social message, is that each character is described in enough detail that you feel that you know them. They are not just stock characters, as in many movies: "the widow," "the slut," etc. The acting is first rate. And there are spots of humor scattered along the way. It's not all doom and gloom. It should be required watching -- and not just in India.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)
You don't love someone who puts you in the boot of a car
You can call me culturally biased if you like, but I cringed all the way through this. I understand the positive message the director said he was trying to send, but this is not the way to do it.
How can you love someone who threatens to kill you and puts you in the boot of his car to take you back to India to kill you there? And the constant fighting...? I simply couldn't put all that out of my mind. And the weighing of a pregnant woman? This may be an old custom, but it certainly treats the woman like an object. And the idea that a woman can't make choices because her father is going to run her life....sorry, it just makes me sick. Just the portrayal of these idea--even it's to criticize them--was too much for me. Sorry.
Leaving that aside, there was no real plot, the first half was much better than the second half, and the "humorous" sidekick was just an annoying distraction. What plot there was was simply a repeat of hundreds of other Hindi films. Not a good effort.
On the other hand, Alia is radiant, and I look forward to seeing more of her.
Silent Nights (2016)
This is just sad, but it seems to be what's happening nowadays.
A Danish girl works at the Salvation Army as a volunteer to help black African refugees. One of them supports himself (?) by collecting empty cans to turn in at local stores. He's turned away from the shelter when it's full. Instead of accepting it, he yell's "F... you" at the volunteers. We see him again the next day, when he's at least smart enough to come a bit early to get a place. He smiles at the Danish girl, she smiles back...she befriends him. Meanwhile we see him making periodic calls to his family in Ghana, where a woman (later we learn it's his wife) keeps urging him to send money home. He can't, of course.
Well, things move along. Before you know it he's helping the Danish girl at the shelter. Now he knows where the cash is kept and where the key is. So he steals the money (which is money to be spent on the other refugees, remember). The girl confronts him after seeing the CCTV footage. He says it was for his father's operation (a lie). She forgives him. Then she lets him move in with her. She offers to marry him so he can stay in Denmark. Then one day when he's taking a shower, his phone rings. She answers, and it's a woman, who hangs up. Then she looks at photos on the phone (this part doesn't hang together, since he had his original phone stolen- -so where did he get the photos? the cloud???) and clearly he's married with three children. She confronts him and tosses him out.
It's over, right? Not at all. She hunts him down and tells him he'd be better off in Ghana. He agrees, but doesn't have the money to fly back, and besides that there is the shame of arriving back a failure without money. He can't do it. So she gives him 50,000 kroner (she got 35,000 from her mother when she died). Before this she has explained she has had a hard life too-- which you can see she did. She's far from rich. So he goes home to his family, and she discovers she's pregnant with his child. She's overjoyed.
Now this get political. I can see where very, very, very liberal people would say, "Oh, she's a saint, she helped the poor guy." But the "poor guy" abandoned his family in Ghana, doesn't appear to be looking for a job, stole money from the shelter, lied about why he did it, took advantage of the girl by living with her and having sex with her, and of course was happy to take her 50,000.
Excuse me, she's an idiot. Worse than an idiot. (Why worse? Because she's now given a wonderful example to other refugees: lie, steal, abandon your family, screw the local women. She has put other women who don't feel as magnanimous as she does in danger. Good work!) But astoundingly you can look up similar stories (real) online of German, Swedish, and Finnish women who have "felt sorry" for refugees, taken them into their homes/apartments, and then--shocker!!--were surprised when the refugees raped them. At the trials ALL of these women said they felt guilty because the poor refugees couldn't help themselves, and the women felt obligated to help them, including offering their bodies. Poor Europe.
Paradies: Liebe (2012)
Slutty European Women as Sex Tourists in Kenya
I watched this for a very particular reason: last year I began researching conversions to Islam among Westerners. I found that 75% are women between 15-24. That seemed a bit odd to me...then I read a French report on Islamic extremists--most were, surprisingly, women converts! Then I began thinking about cults...the Manson Family...mostly women...Branch Davidians....mostly women....and so on. Then there is the phenomenon of the kidnapped girls, some of whom had the freedom to run away but refused to do so (Elizabeth Smart, et al.). While watching "Beatles: Eight Days a Week," which is mainly about the concerts the Beatles gave, it struck me that virtually the entire audience was young girls, all hysterical. Why???? Then, when thinking one day about Obama's mother (married a Kenyan student when she was very young, then married an Indonesian), I stumbled across this sub-culture of women who search out exotic locales for sex tourism. It's not a new phenomenon, but I'm not sure when it began-- "Heading South," about female sex tourism is supposedly set in 1979. "Bezness as Usual" is set in Tunisia in present day--but it concerns what happened almost 30 years ago--so c. 1986 or so. "Paradise: Love" is present day, so 2012. I am curious when this phenomenon began--when women as well as men began taking sex holidays. Maybe the sexual revolution of the 1960s unleashed something??? What's up with all these women? If anyone has a clue, please answer in FAQ comments.
As for "exploitation," it is not an easy issue. Clearly the power is in the hands of the European/American women. They have the money, they have passports to leave when they're ready, and they seem to be relatively safe. One movie said something like "Tourists don't die." The beach boys on the other hand know exactly what they're getting into. Yeah, you could say they "don't have a choice" but as Sartre said, "There is always a choice." And they do have power too--the women get emotionally attached to them; they never, ever get emotionally attached to the women--even if they marry them. They manipulate the women, as "Paradise: Love" shows so well. The hero of this particular movie is Joseph (or something like that) the bartender. At the end of the movie he says he "wants" to have sex with her but "is not used to" doing such things. In the end, his reluctance gets him kicked out of the room. But he is the moral force, such as it is, of the movie.
If this is the face that the West presents in these countries, it's no wonder the West is hated and despised. But the women--in all these movies--don't give a second's thought to that. It's all about them personally, and the larger picture is not even on the horizon.
This is a good movie in the sense that it at least tries to take a stab at explaining the women's motivations. A second movie, Dutch, 2016, is "Benzess as Usual," where the son of one of these vacation idylls returns to meet his father. In this case, it's Tunisia. But exactly the same thing is going on--older women using younger, poor men for sex. And, as hinted at in "Headed South" in this case the beach boy is taken to the Netherlands and then Switzerland (by different women!). He marries both, but of course it ends badly. A third movie in this genre is "Heading South." In this case, it's French and American women in Haiti. (But it happens throughout the Caribbean, esp. Jamaica). The location changes, the story is the same. There are also numerous youtube videos on this theme. And then of course there are books like "The White Masai" about a young (!) Swiss woman who marries a Masai--and not an educated, Westernized one, but a native from a village living in a mud hut. It's beyond bizarre. She is "shocked" when things don't work out. I am simply speechless.
Vers le sud (2005)
Sex Tourism for Women
I watched this for a very particular reason: last year I began researching conversions to Islam among Westerners. I found that 75% are women between 15-24. That seemed a bit odd to me...then I read a French report on Islamic extremists--most were, surprisingly, women converts! Then I began thinking about cults...the Manson Family...mostly women...Branch Davidians....mostly women....and so on. Then there is the phenomenon of the kidnapped girls, some of whom had the freedom to run away but refused to do so (Elizabeth Smart, et al.). While watching "Beatles: Eight Days a Week," which is mainly about the concerts the Beatles gave, it struck me that virtually the entire audience was young girls, all hysterical. Why???? Then, when thinking one day about Obama's mother (married a Kenyan student when she was very young, then married an Indonesian), I stumbled across this sub-culture of women who search out exotic locales for sex tourism. It's not a new phenomenon, but I'm not sure when it began-- "Heading South" is supposedly set in 1979. Maybe the sexual revolution of the 1960s unleashed something???
This is a good movie in the sense that it at least tries to take a stab at explaining the women's motivations. A second movie, Dutch, 2016, is "Benzess as Usual," where the son of one of these vacation idylls returns to meet his father. In this case, it's Tunisia. But exactly the same thing is going on--older women using younger, poor men for sex. And, as hinted at in "Headed South" in this case the beach boy is taken to the Netherlands and then Switzerland (by different women!). He marries both, but of course it ends badly. A third movie in this genre is "Paradise Love." In this case, it's German women on the beaches of Mombasa. The location changes, the story is the same. There are also numerous youtube videos on this theme. And then of course there are books like "The White Masai" about a young (!) Swiss woman who marries a Masai--and not an educated, Westernized one, but a native from a village living in a mud hut. It's beyond bizarre.
Little Men (2016)
What on earth was this about? And whatever it was, does there need to be a movie about it?
I'll give it an extra point for the acting, so it gets a 2 instead of a 1.
Just before the final couple minutes of the movie, the screen goes black, and I leaned over and said to my wife "If this is the end, I want my money back." Well, it had a little epilogue, but that simply served to put the nail in the coffin.
Many say this movie was from the boys' point of view. No. It wasn't. A lot of the action centers on them, but they are almost always interacting with teachers, parents, other students, etc. and there is nothing that indicates the boys' point of view is being given. That's pure pretentious fantasy.
Since we are subjected to several scenes from "The Seagull," where Greg K. is playing an actor in the play, we might expect some relevance to the action in the movie. Maybe I'm just not smart enough, but it drew a blank for me. I even looked up "The Seagull" in Wikipedia to see if I missed something. Nope. Nothing.
Similarly, Greg K. gives a little father-son talk at the end of the movie. You would think this would also sum up the point of the movie. He gave some long story about a childhood acquaintance who wanted to be a dancer but keep practicing so hard she was constantly injured and never became a dancer at all. The moral of his story--as he explicitly said--was that you achieve success not by hard work, but by knowing when to pull back and simply go with what you've got. Great. Nice moral. But...what did it have to do with the movie I just saw? Nothing.
Then we've got the main conflict in the movie: the dressmaker who occupies the store had a great relationship (sexual? maybe, but there's no real hint of that) with Greg K's father, who never raised the rent in eight years. Greg and his sister inherit the building; Greg and his family move into his father's old apartment, and Greg and his sister want to raise the rent on the dressmaker. They justify this by saying "the neighborhood is changing" and, as with many families, although Greg's family has gotten an apartment to live in, the sister wants her share of the inheritance. (Now you'd think that the obvious way to solve this is to do what most people do: buy the sister out. In other words, instead of a "free" apartment, Greg K. should be paying his sister a monthly "rent" until she has gotten her half of the inheritance. But no, that seems not to have occurred to anyone. And of course Greg had been paying rent before, so....) The dressmaker simply doesn't have enough money. And by the end of the movie, she's gone. Probably to some Booklyn sweatshop to end her days in misery. Terrific.
Throughout the movies we are told about Greg's faults: he doesn't contribute enough money to household expenses--although his wife doesn't seem to mind. He has a hard time making friends. Yup, that's pretty clear from his relationship with the dressmaker. But how all this fits together and how it makes sense of the movie is a mystery.
The boys become friends quickly. They seem to part just as quickly at the end. Is this what the movie is trying (unsuccessfully) to say? That friendship is fleeting? That it's rare? Who knows.
To me, a movie should start at point A, go to point B, and along the way you should have some internally logical action. Here we have a movie that starts at point A--the death of the father-- but then meanders all over the place. None of the action is fantastic, it's all logically possible, but it's random. There's no discernible point to it all.
So if you like movie that ramble all over the place and make you leave the theater saying "What was that all about?" this is the movie for you.
One of the funniest movies in years
I admit it: I am a Julie Delpy fan. I think she's a genius. This movie proves it.
The movie begins with a Julie-Delpy-like barrage of witty talk. (Much like Woody Allen.) Throw in a tuna fish, and you've got a good introduction to what's coming.
Throughout the movie she throws in little mini-jokes: some verbal, some visual. If you blink, you missed one. For me, they're the best part of the movie. And for me, this is where she shows her genius: it's relatively easy to come up with some extended routine--lots of movie do that. But to see the latent humor in an everyday action and to make you laugh with a word, a gesture, or an expression, that's amazing and rare.
I'm not sure that we need to look for involved psychological analysis here. There may be an opinion about the younger generation, or children, but that's not what this is about. It's about love, and how to find and keep it. And along the way, yes, it's extreme. If it weren't, it would be boring. This is anything but boring.
And unlike many movies lately, it has an ending. Extra points for that.
The Promise (2016)
Excellent movie--romance, action, it has it all
I also saw this in Toronto during the film festival. The director and main actors (except Christian Bale) were present and answered questions.
The first question was the Turkish reaction--you can see that for yourselves: 84,000 ratings (low!) on IMDb BEFORE the premier of the film! Magic, right? Clearly the Turks are organized and out to sabotage this movie. 84,000 ratings don't appear without some organization, so I assume some government interference. Not very subtle.
Like Dr. Zhivago (to which the director gladly admitted similarities), it is a love triangle set amid WW I. In this case, our hero is from a small town in eastern Turkey, an Armenian. He's about to leave for medical school in Istanbul, and gets engaged to another Armenian woman. Her dowry gives him the money necessary to pay for medical school. He befriends a Turk whose father is in the upper echelons of government, and he falls in love with another Armenian woman he meets at his uncle's house, where he is staying. His uncle is a rich merchant, and the woman is the nanny. But she is also having an affair with Christian Bale, who plays an American war correspondent.
The Ottomans begin rounding up Armenians after they enter the war, sending the men to work battalions to construct railways and exiling the old men, women, and children to Syria. Our hero escapes and goes back to his native town, which so far has avoided problems. His parents want him to marry his fiancée, and he's in no position to say no, so he does, despite his love for the other woman, who is now supposedly out of the picture. But of course she comes back, along with Christian Bale. His wife is killed along with other villagers, and he flees to another village. They decide to fight rather than trek across the desert to Aleppo, where the Ottomans want to exile them. This leads to the famous siege of Musa Dagh, the rescue by a French fleet, and the drowning of the girl as they are about to reach the French battleship.
So basically that's the story. It's plausible, well acted, and serves as an emotional entry to the horrors unfolding around them. As in Dr. Zhivago, the love story is necessary to tell the story-- otherwise you would have something like a boring fictionalized documentary. The historical facts seem accurate, despite our Turkish friends' protests. It's well worth your time and money.
Is there a point, and should we care???
We had seen the same director's "Eden" two years ago, and frankly, if we had noticed that she directed this, we would have given it a miss. We saw it at the Toronto Film Festival.
Like "Eden," this is one of those movies that simply shows a person's life over some period of time. There is no moral, no point to the story (as far as I can see), very little humor (Isabelle Huppert was at the screening and said she tried to inject a bit of humor with her acting), and more than a bit pretentious (the director seemed to be in love with the final scene, although it left me cold).
I have a feeling this was, like "Eden," fairly autobiographical. The director's parents were both philosophy teachers, and I would have liked them to have commented on the movie--was this really about them? Is the director simply making a movie in the same way other people might talk about their parents to a therapist? I don't know.
My objection is that nothing much happens--either in terms of plot or in terms of involvement in the movie. Yes, her husband leaves her for another woman. Yes, she likes her former student, but there is not much passion in either situation. She doesn't seem to care, and neither did I. There are occasional long quotations from philosophers, and maybe this would have made everything more comprehensible, but the quotations were quite long, and hard to follow with subtitles. Even so, you shouldn't need a quotation to make sense of a movie.
Le ciel attendra (2016)
French Girls Become Jihadis
I just saw this at the Toronto Film Festival, where the director and two stars also talked about the movie.
They apparently started shooting this movie (bad choice of words) a day or two after the Bataclan attack. This gives it added relevance and inspired the actresses in their performances.
Let me preface the review by saying that I have studied Arabic for nine years, have a near-PhD in Islamic Studies, have taught at universities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt for seven years, and for the last two yeas have been immersed in the world of Da'ish and Islamic terrorism. In other words, I know something (!) about the subject.
The director was spot on. Every nuance was absolutely true. There is nothing that could be improved on. If you want a movie to explain why girls (including French girls who are converts) turn into Jihadis, this is THE movie. The director spent months doing research, including talking with girls who had been radicalized, the families, and an Arab de-programmer (Dounia Bouzar) who plays herself in the movie. The research paid off--this will be THE definitive movie on the subject.
The story follows two girls. One has an Arab father and a French mother. She was raised Muslim. The other girl is simply a 15-year-old French girl who is filled with radical ideas. She is groomed by online recruiters, and soon she is an Islamic extremist who leaves for Syria to join her "family." Chilling.
It also follows the parents of the girls, and their guilt and depression. Where did they fail??? And, in fact, they DID fail. Esp. in the case of the French girl, the mother didn't see the signs, because what it led to was unthinkable. But it happened, as it does happen to hundreds of girls.
Apparently the Minister of Education in France has seen the movie twice. Every politician in the West should watch this movie. As well as all high school teachers, parents, and high school students. And if you have any curiosity about the subject at all, this is the best movie out there.
If you spend time on youtube, you will find literally thousands of extremists and Jihadi videos. The opposite point of view is almost completely absent. There are about six pathetic State Dept. videos that are laughable. There are very good (and funny) videos by the evangelical David Woods. But that's it. Mainstream churches--including Catholics--have abandoned the field of battle to the Islamists. There is not even an attempt at apologetics. This makes this movie even more special since it is almost unique.
Even if it weren't acted well, it would be essential watching. But the actresses are brilliant, the story is dramatic and captivating, and leaving the subject material aside, it is a suspenseful and dramatic movie. So on every level it succeeds. This is one of the best movies I have seen in many years (and I see over 75 movies in theaters every year). I can't praise it enough.
boring, unfocused, just plain bad
I saw this today at the Toronto Film Festival. The director spent a year and a half on this? Are you kidding?
If the following makes for fascinating filmmaking in your opinion, this is the movie for you:
-a woman making a bed
-a boy looking at a bird in a tree
-2 boys carving faces in cactuses
-5-6 brief shots of a radio DJ playing songs
-a woman getting a sonogram
-a boy getting an eye exam
-and much more of the same!!!!
It took real inspiration to take a topic with built-in drama and turn it into a mish-mash of pretentious "artistic" nothing. Virtually nothing on the refugees, and no interviews with them at all. The only moving part was the shot of the dead refugees in the hold of the boat. Other than that, it is empty of both content and emotion.
This is, sadly, one of the worst movies I have ever seen and a colossal waste of two hours.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Another great American film with no American stars
So we have the quintessential LA crime drama, starring two Australians and a Canadian...at this point, why don't we just admit that whole 1776 thing was just a fit of temper?
Here's a riddle: Who is 15 and steals every scene from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling? A: Angourie Rice. Who? Yeah, the kid who plays Ryan's daughter. Yet another Australian with a perfect American accent, this time only 15 years old. To say that she is perfect in the role is to understate things wildly. Unless she self-destructs, I think we're getting a preview of the premier actress of the next 20-30 years.
As for the plot, it's a throwaway, so no point in wasting brain cells on it. But the interplay between Crowe and Gosling--and yes, also Rice--is excellent. They left the door open for a sequel, and as long as Rice is along for the ride, I'm in.
Darbareye Elly (2009)
Stupid people lying is this entertainment?
I believe that in ancient Persia telling the truth was the central virtue. Obviously Iran has come a long way since then.
I thought this came out in 2015, since that's when it hit theaters in the US, but I see it's 2009. Why a 6-year wait? Because the director's other two films, "Separation" (which I loved) and "The Past" (liked, but not loved) came out later, and someone is looking for a big payday?
Let me talk about the press conference at the Berlin Film Festival, which is on the DVD, first. Farhadi, the director, acted like a politician--he didn't answer one question directly or truthfully. Not only was he evasive, he even gave answers that had nothing to do with the questions. When the actresses were asked directly if Farhadi "imposed his vision" on them, they sucked up big time and talked about how collaborative it all was. Right. I need to sell them a bridge. There were no fewer than three questions about the film having a "problem" in Iran. What the problem was is never discussed. The director denied there was "a problem." I can see why he directed a movie where everyone lies! He wouldn't know the truth if he fell over it.
At one point the director talks about trying to make the movie "universal." Really? Constant lying? Treating women like dogs? That's not universal. And the first scene--some slot with something being put in at intervals. "What the hell is that?" I said to myself. In the Q&A in the press conference, Farhadi explained it was an alms box that travelers put money in before a trip to ask for a safe trip, and yes, there was some dialog about Elly putting money in an alms box, but I never connected it to the opening scene. How can it be "universal" if the opening scene is a strictly Iranian custom that no one else knows about????
Also, I see that Golshifteh Farahani ("Sepidah") was exiled (i.e., threatened with bodily harm) from Iran in 2012 and now lives in Paris. She's going to be in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean, so obviously it's hurt her career (more sarcasm). Good for her.
OK, now the movie. You know those horror movies where all the people do really, really stupid things? And you yell at the screen, "Don't go into that room!" That's exactly what happens here. Everyone--yes, everyone--tells lies constantly. Why? Is this some sort of metaphor for Iran? A country where you have to lie constantly to get along? I don't know. The woman are treated like crap: "Get the salt." "Get the tea." "Watch the children." "Clean the house." At least in the subtitles there are no "Pleases" or "Thank yous." Then there's the scene where Amir throws his wife Sepideh to the ground and starts beating her. Charming. And then when thing start to go wrong, everyone blames everyone else in an infinite chain. Lovely. Gosh, I want these people as my friends!! (more sarcasm.) Then they talk about the "honor" of Elly what, because she bundled up in a ton of clothes and went for a day at the seaside with friends? And of course the women plunge into the ocean with all their clothes on. They would drown in less than a minute--the wet clothes would drag them down. Then there were the multitude of "holes" in the movie--they're covered on the message board threads, so I won't list them all, but there were lots and lots. Stuff that didn't make sense, stuff that had no meaning but just "happened" to be in the shot. This is supposed to be "art"--everything's supposed to be there for a reason. Again, see the message boards. And if you notice, at the end of the movie all the adults are in the house discussing what to do, what their next lie should be, etc., and where are the children who almost drowned the previous day? Oh, they're playing in the ocean. What kind of parents ARE these? The final scene: everyone trying to push the car that's stuck in the sand. This does sum up the movie--why pull the car out with the 4-wheel drive vehicle or jack up the rear wheels and put something under them? No, that's too easy. Let's all push. Dumb and dumber.
I will say the acting was excellent. However, they deserve to be in a better movie.
Getting Straight (1970)
No wonder I don't want to remember the 60s
I was overseas in 1970 when this came out, so I missed it. When I got the DVD, my wife, who had seen it in 1970, said "That's awful, you won't like it." But I persevered.
When I got the movie, I thought "Early Candace Bergen, Elliott Gould, Harrison Ford...cool." No.
It sounds like everyone (yes! everyone!) is reading their lines for the first time, not acting. In other words, don't expect actual acting. Candace, either through bad makeup or bad color restoration, looks orange--I expect she is supposed to look suntanned. She doesn't. The script sounds like a way way off Broadway drama, with all sorts of speeches and clichés. The protest and riot scenes are more like Keystone Kops than 1970s reality. Too many people are smiling, and protests--according to the movie--are just to turn chicks on. There is no exploration of why all this is going on--which I thought surprising. Maybe they thought in 1970 it didn't need explanation. Who knows. But nothing. Poor Candace, and by inference, all women, comes across as just a vapid piece of meat who wants to get married. Pre-women's lib indeed. I bet Candace would slit her throat if she watched this now. I was surprised to see "suck" used in its current meaning in 1970. Otherwise, not much--if anything--to gain in watching this. If you want to re-live the era, watch "Woodstock" or other documentaries.
Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)
Disappointing and incomprehensible
As always, I start my reviews by explaining I am not Indian. But my wife and I have watched Bollywood movies for over 10 years--a LOT of them.
I honestly don't understand why other people liked this so much--maybe it's cultural somehow? The movie is a very negative view of marriage--and women. I think it was actually meant to be a positive view of both, so more's the pity.
First, we never saw the first Tanu and Manu. So that may explain some of the problems.
Why open the movie with the scene of "marriage counseling" in an insane asylum? Is that a none-too-subtle way of saying that all marriages are insane? In that scene Tanu comes off as someone you would hate to be married to, and Manu is exactly what Tanu accuses him of: boring and inconsiderate. For Manu to be committed to the insane asylum in that scene is like showing him fly out the window like a bird--both are equally realistic. So now the scene is set: this will be a ridiculous unrealistic movie.
So we see various scenes of Manu flirting with a rickshaw driver, the random lawyer who's living in her parents' house, a former suitor, etc. But she never seems particularly interested in them, and neither is the director. The scenes are very short compared with the story of Manu.
So Manu goes off and sees Wusum at a track meet and falls instantly in love. Somehow we are supposed to see that Wusum looks like Tanu. She doesn't. My wife and I were actually arguing during the movie about this. Neither of us realized Kangana was playing both roles--so Kangana gets extra points for doing a great job of making them separate characters.
Is the idea that Wusum looks like Tanu but without all the annoying habits and nagging? Why is she attracted to this over-weight boring older man at all? Just because he noticed her? None of that made any sense. Manu shows no signs of being interesting, exciting, or lovable. Tanu's complaints of the opening scene are confirmed.
Doesn't Manu understand at some point that he's really only interested in Wusum because she looks like (to him I guess, not to me) Tanu?
Then we have the usual business about everyone being afraid to speak the truth, go along with what's happening, etc. This, in fact, is my least favorite part of Hindi movies. Do their brains go to sleep???
Finally we have the divorce and the new marriage, where Tanu decides she really loves Manu. But why??? Manu is exactly the same. He hasn't changed or learned anything. Why would Tanu suddenly decide she loves him again? We didn't understand the logic. It made Tanu look like some stereotype of a woman who doesn't think for herself. And this was out of nowhere--the rest of the movie makes her the opposite, a woman who values her own worth. And this is why the movie REALLY comes down on the side of anti-feminism. It suggests that a good woman will stick with a marriage--even an arranged marriage--no matter what. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)
Excellent on many levels
As always when I write these reviews, let me say up front that I am not Indian and don't speak Hindi (or Bengali!). But my wife and I have watched a lot of Indian movies in the last 10 years.
We went to see this because my wife likes detective stories, and the Bengali movies we have seen in the past (Raincoat, Choker Bali) were excellent. We were not disappointed.
First--remember this is from a non-Indian's point of view--I was pleased to see that somewhere in India the director was able to find an Englishman who could actually act. In 99% of the Bollywood films, the non-Indian actors are awful. But the police commissioner here was great--just the right amount of arrogance and sympathy. Secondly, in contrast to virtually all the Hindi films I've seen, the British were not portrayed as evil demons or fools. To portray every British person in India as a devil or a fool just makes the movie into a cartoon. But here, the police commissioner spoke the native language (you judge how well, I can't), was respectful to the Indians, and was clearly just trying to do his job the best he could. Good job.
Next, the atmosphere of the movie. To me it successfully created the noir atmosphere of the 40s mystery movies perfectly. If there were any mistakes, I didn't see them.
Acting: Terrific all around. There were a lot of characters, and each one was clearly defined. In some Bollywood movies characters come and go quickly--someone will show up in the first five minutes, then disappear for two hours, and then re-appear at the climax and you're supposed to remember who they are. Not here. Each character was followed throughout the movie--even the little servant who served tea. You cared about each character, and enough was left unsaid to make you wonder if they were who they said they were.
Involvement: This is an extremely important point, and it's where a lot of Bollywood movies fail. All too often there are 5-6 fight scenes, or love scenes, or whatever, and you think "Why do we have to see this again and again?" But here there was no repetition--everything was fresh, and I was completely involved in the movie from beginning to end. I personally think this must be one of the hardest things to accomplish, and this movie did it beautifully.
Story: A bit over the top (a Japanese invasion of Calcutta? Really?) and maybe with some unrealistic touches (would Japanese really have been allowed to wander around India in 1943?), but overall restrained and logical.
Obviously there will be a sequel, and I look forward to it. I'm just sorry the books aren't translated into English--I think that's an opportunity waiting for some enterprising translator.
Sometimes you just do what you have to do...
First, let me say I am NOT Indian, but I have watched Bollywood movies for over 10 years--a lot of them. Next, let me say that last year I saw 92 (yes, 92) movies in the cinema--that's not counting movies on DVD or on TV.
Now NH10 is the BEST movie I have seen of all the movies I saw last year and so far this year.
I think the comments about it being copied from Eden Lake (which I've not seen) or other movies in this genre might be true to some extent, but that's not fair. Shakespeare copied a lot of his plots from Boccaccio's Decameron. So what? So there have been a lot of other movies about a gang terrorizing a couple? So what? It's how you do it that counts. It's like a football play (American!)--you can have 100 teams run the same play, but one team does it best, and they win. NH10 wins.
Yes, you knew something bad was going to happen but when? How? To whom? And the false leads at the beginning of the film kept me in suspense. Of COURSE Arjun was an idiot-- that's the formula of these types of movies. If everyone were alert and smart, you wouldn't have a good horror movie! But I have to say I almost yelled at the screen, "No, you idiot, don't leave your gun in the car!" It's all in the execution.
Anushka is one of my favorites, I have to admit. She always plays the strong woman, and Meera was certainly a strong woman. To be the center of the movie and on screen for almost every minute is quite an achievement, and she did it beautifully. It took a lot of skill to keep the suspense up throughout the movie, but it succeeded. There was really no way to tell until the last few minutes how it would all end--it could have gone several different directions.
Also I have to applaud the director--and Anushka the producer--for leaving the studio and going out into real world. The Italians discovered this c. 1960, and Indian films would be much better if more of them did it. I know there are difficulties in filming in a crowded city, but there are ways
Madame Bovary (2014)
Excellent, straight-forward story
We saw this at the Toronto Film Festival in Sept. 2014. Sophie Barthes, the director, was there, and she was able to answer some questions. First, let me say I thought it was a great movie for three main reasons:
First, the story itself. It was very straight forward, without side stories, without a bunch of equivocation and nuances. You didn't have to guess why characters did this or that, it was clear. Especially in a period piece, I think clarity of the story line is essential because you can't read current customs, etc. into it. So I think that was terrific.
Second, the costumes and the village were perfect. I can't imagine either of these being improved.
Third, the acting. Everyone played their part to perfection, and no one was over the top, which would have been easy to do. The marquis was haughty and aristocratic. Emma was bored, self-centered, and ambitious for her husband. Her husband was content to stay in his place in society. The cloth merchant/money lender was unctuous and unfeeling. All great stuff.
But One thing bothered me, and when I asked other people later what they thought of the movie, they all mentioned it. It was Mia's accent. Mia is Australian, with a nice Australian accent. But in this movie, she inexplicably assumes an American (!) accent. If all the other actors were Americans, this would make sense. But they were all British (except for Paul Giamatti in a small role--and even he attempted something of a British--or maybe a John Adams--accent). I think another person I talked to described it best: Mia's accent was "incongruous." It drew attention to her. At first I though this was deliberate--a way to make Mia/Emma stand out among all the townsfolk. But no Sophie the director said they were aiming (if they were aiming for anything at all) at a "neutral" accent. If that was the aim, it didn't succeed. Everyone I talked to brought it up. Sophie's English is fine, although with a delightful French accent. She said she's lived 13 years in NY. But I suspect she might be tone deaf to the sound of various English accents. English is English, right? No, Sophie, it's not. Now my question is really for Mia: Surely she could have assumed a nice British accent more easily than an American one. And surely she realized she stood out among her British colleagues. So why didn't she speak up and say, "Hey, Sophie, talking like an American in a British movie seems weird. Don't you think I should have a British accent like everyone else?"
And if you are asking yourself why a French director made an English-language version of a classic of French literature, Sophie had a very good answer: She felt Claude Chabrol's version c. 1990s with Isabelle Huppert was, if not definitive, so good that she didn't feel she wanted to be seen to be competing against it. Fair enough. But I think this new Madame Bovary could hold its own with any other version.
Ma'a al-Fidda (2014)
a lost opportunity
I lived in Egypt and Saudi Arabia for 7 years, have completed the course work for a PhD in Islamic Studies, and have visited Damascus twice, and driven through the southern part of the country. So I have a definite interest in the region.
We saw this at the Toronto Film Festival in Sept. 2014.
What I expected was an insider view (literally) of the Syrian civil war. Now I'm not sure what the directors intended. If they were trying to get support for the anti-Assad forces, this was a miserable failure. If they were trying to produce some sort of arty Andy Warhol flick, I'm not sure they did that either. The film is divided into two halves: the first half was done by a Syrian guy living in Paris. A lot of clips from Youtube, etc. Not much--if anything--new. A lot of repetition of the same images. No coherent story. Just isolated images. Now in their defense, there was something about "1001 Images" in the captions. So if that was the intent, to show a lot of random images, they nailed it. But it doesn't make a compelling movie.
The second half switches to some poor woman besieged in Homs (I forget her name, and she does not seem to be listed in the credits under the name used in the film). She has a small camera, and she films deserted, bombed out streets, maimed cats (a LOT of cats), and every once in a while some children. I think there was an interview with a former government soldier, and a brief comment from an old woman. Otherwise, it was just random shots of this and that. Why should anyone care about random shots of this and that? And of course, over an over, the "silvered water" of the title--arty shots of water in a puddle and drops of water running down a window. They didn't belong here. The woman somehow got out of Homs and turned up in Toronto--she didn't explain how she did that (and by-passed the refugee camps). She seems to have a death wish and wants to go back to teach children. I admire her bravery but question her sanity.
What this movie could have been (and was NOT): a rallying cry to gather support for the anti- Assad forces. It could have begun with a brief overview of the totalitarianism from the late 60s on, including a quick look at the Aleppo massacre of about 10,000 people about 20 years ago. Then the reasons for the current demonstrations. The demographic and religious breakdown of the country--with maps. It would need to answer this question: If people were aware of the massacre 20 years ago, what made them think they would be able to demonstrate without violent opposition now? Were there any leaders in the early days? Who? What were their goals? How did they organize? How did actual fighting start? Interviews with a cross-section of people about their experience. How can British-educated Assad and his British-born wife justify all this in their own minds? And most important of all--some sort of thread running through the whole movie that would make you care for particular people or for Syria in general.
To get excited about something you need to get emotionally involved. Incredibly, the movie that they produced left me indifferent. A wasted opportunity and a shame.
Bird People (2014)
Saw this tonight at TIFF. Piers gave his usual pretentious introduction. I guess my reaction is WTF? It starts off fine, with interesting scenes of the airport
but are we supposed to follow one of these people we see? No. Is there a point to the long introduction? I think not. Then it switches to Audrey on the subway and bus, but a much shorter segment. So then we launch into this big story about Gary Newman (name has no significance according to the director-- she just chose a name that sounded common). Gary quits his job, marriage, children, house, etc. after thinking it over in a sleepless night. No real reason, just that he "feels like a melting sugar cube." Don't we all? So then there is a series of telephone calls with Gary's partners, lawyer, etc. Will this go anywhere in terms of advancing the story? No. Then a much, much longer Skype talk with his wife, Radha Mitchell (one of my favorites). Does this advance the story? No. Then all of a sudden we drop Gary and we focus on Audrey the maid. We know we're switching since "Audrey" appears in a heading on the screen. Subtle. So she gets some overtime, is invited to a party she doesn't go to, tells her father she spent the day at the university when she spent it being a maid at the hotel, and finally we are treated to watching her clean a couple rooms. Suddenly the power goes out, she goes up to the roof, feels that she is falling, and poof, she has turned into a sparrow. Then the sparrow flies around talking to itself and having various adventures. Then the bird turns back into Audrey, she gets on the elevator with Gary, and they have a conversation about "Personne" meaning both "no one" and "a person"--opposite meanings in the same word. Gary asks her what the opposite of this word would be in French. "Pareil" (the same) she says. (If this is the key to the movie, then I don't know how to turn it.) Then they shake hands. Fin.
Maybe I missed everything about this movie, maybe not. Yeah, sure, it was technology vs. magic dream state. Sort of. But you know what? Audrey uses modern technology too. A lot of stuff about open windows which means? Freedom? The best I can come up with is that they are both searching for a better life and looking for freedom. Otherwise, they seem to be random stories that have nothing to do with each other. And if there is an "ending" it eludes me. I'm adding this to my growing list of French films I find incomprehensible. I will say that Anais (Audrey) is cute, so she makes it watchable when she's on screen.
Finally, you could also make the case that this whole movie is an extended ad for Marlboros. Everyone smokes--everyone. At every chance they get. They borrow cigarettes. The buy cigarettes. Every time they hold the cigarette box or put it down, we're treated to a closeup of the box and brand name. I guess my question here is how much money did Marlboro pay to get this sort of exposure? Why do we pay to see an ad?
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014)
Not perfect, but very good--some issues
I saw this today in Gaithersburg Maryland. I am not Indian, but I have been watching Hindi movies for 10 years. Probably a third of the movies I see are Hindi, and I see a LOT of movies--almost 100 a year, plus TV and DVDs.
I saw Alia in "Highway," and she plays much the same type of character here. There seems to be a movement in Bollywood to have feisty female characters, and I'm all for it. I think she's adorable, and I'm sure we'll see a lot more of her.
Some of the ideas were new, and some of the jokes made me laugh. But it's like a lot of movies: the ideas ran out by the second half of the movie. The writers (were there any?) should be aware of this and spread the jokes out.
But: I agree with most other reviewers. The storyline of girl engaged in an arranged marriage, meets someone else, they fall in love, father disapproves, father eventually gives in and lovers get married is a plot that deserves to be retired for at least 20 years. Maybe more. How many upper class marriages are arranged nowadays? I have no idea, but movies like this perpetuate the "father knows best" idea even though it argues against it in places. We don't really need to see yet another Punjabi wedding. Why is it always Punjab? Don't they have weddings in Hyderabad or Lucknow? Why does there HAVE to be a wedding at all?
Violence: In the land of Gandhi, the movies are in love with purposeless violence. Even here. Why would the father have the guy and his friends beaten up? Why have the fight in the restaurant? Angad is right: pay the bill and leave. Ignore the drunken fools. But violence goes further: the ex-husband of Alia's sister used to beat her. Alia slaps her boyfriend--yes, it's all in fun, but still is slapping in a society where wife beating seems to be the norm a "fun" topic? Here's an idea: a Bollywood movie with no violence at all. If there really is concern about the rape epidemic in India, start with portraying violence (especially against women) as a cowardly, bad thing, not a heroic, good thing. (and yes, yes, there's violence outside of India too--why not set a good example?)
Obvious Child (2014)
Was there a point?
I see only one woman has reviewed this, so that partially redeems women, who seem largely responsible for this mess. This story seems to have been told and re-told lately, and I'd like a new one, please. Late 20s-something female in the Big City is adrift, playing at "comedy" (although neither my wife nor I saw anything to laugh at), rejected (quite rightly) by her boyfriend, and has a nothing job in a bookstore that's going out of business. New guy inexplicably falls for her, they have sex, she gets pregnant, decides to have an abortion, eventually tells him, he says nothing but supports her by going with her to the clinic, and then they start to watch Gone With the Wind (although where are the bells in the opening soundtrack of GWTW?). Sadly, the Jenny Slate character doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities. Self-pity is not a redeeming quality. There is no indication whatsoever as to why the guy falls for her, other than the fact that she seems to be available and drunk. And I have to say the abrupt ending threw me.
So after spending almost two hours of my life, what's my takeaway here? Abortion good, hard work bad? Some guys will date almost anyone? What's the point in trying because I can't be as good as my mother? If this was indeed about abortion, as some seem to think, it doesn't get much air time Jenny says "I thought about it" and leaves it at that. We have no indication as to what thoughts entered her mind. The guy has no say. Really? The only likable character was her mother: was this to remind us that that "Thirty-Something" (where the actress gained fame and fortune) was actually a far superior show about young people? And I'm sorry, but why the title? "Obvious Child"? Who's the child? Jenny? If it's the aborted baby, why on earth is he/she obvious? And if it's Jenny, are we supposed to celebrate that fact that she's 28 or so and totally clueless? Is that a good thing? Sorry, thumbs way down from me.