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An improvement over the first, still outclassed by LOTR
17 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film in 3D high-frame-rate, which is I think the only way 3D should be seen. It does have a bit of that soap-opera look to it as a result, but I think that's far preferable to the choppy flip-book effect that marred other recent 3D flicks like Gravity. Why aren't other films done this way?

Bad stuff first. Let's be honest, that's why were all here.

Let's complain about the cinematography for a while. (1) Even in HFR, there are some scenes where motion blur is required, and it needs to be painted in if it doesn't happen naturally. For example, the scene where it is snowing, and you see the snow in front of actors' faces, would have greatly benefited from motion blur on the snow. It's very chunky snow, and snow that big shouldn't just pop into and out of existence. Similarly, some of the rapid fight scenes should also have been blurred. The vast majority of motion in the film is luxuriously smooth, and it's jarring to see the strobe effect when things start getting fast. (2) The cinematographers & directors just don't understand how a 3D film should feel to an audience. Quick cuts, hand-held cameras (or equivalent CG effects), and crazy swooping camera positions DO NOT MAKE SENSE in 3D, and make even less sense with HFR. It's almost nauseating. (Almost). With this level of realism, you need to return to stage ideas. Take a cue from Les Misérables (the stage musical). The stage can move, but there better be a reason for it. It needs to make sense. This team may be filming in 3D, but they're directing for 2D. Stop it. Stop it! (3) Some of the close-ups looked perfectly flat, or worse yet, projected onto a tilted flat surface. I have no idea what to say about that, except that I'm glad I only noticed it twice. It's almost like it wasn't finished.

My other major gripe about this film is the writing and acting (and directing), which SHOULD combine to produce characters you care about, because you understand them and their lives. I know the source material for The Hobbit doesn't really lend itself to that. I don't care. It's not my problem. They should have made it work, but instead they clearly said "f--- it". There are a grand total of zero interesting characters in this film, including the two title characters, although they are slightly closer to being interesting than the rest. Ultimately most are merely cogs fit into a machine that produces a defeated dragon in the upcoming 3rd film. We all know what's going to happen. We want to feel it. Where is the feeling?

And the credits, which I sat through, just sucked. Bad. Really, Peter?


The good stuff.

This film is not just a middle film, and it does deliver the goods you were looking for. Fortunately, The Hobbit's "middle film" was got over with first (Sorry, Gollum). This is really the first film that matters in The Hobbit trilogy. You don't even need to see the first one to understand it.

Some of the images on screen were really, really beautiful. They remind you what the artists of cinema can do (like in Avatar). One of many shots that I found remarkable was just after Legolas leaves his home to search for Tauriel, and finds her. It's just an amazing image of the two of them there in the landscape (and to be clear, I am speaking of the landscape, not them).

Once again, cinema has crowned a new dragon. It happens every once in a while, and we've come such a long way since Dragonslayer (1981). If you do not actually feel the heat on your face from this one, you're not breathing. I'm going to miss him when he's gone. I know he's "the bad guy" but honestly almost nobody has good motives in this film anyway (and I think that's the point of the story). He just wanted to sleep with his (admittedly stolen) trinkets and now people have come to kill him.

As thrilling as it is when it happens, I am surprised that we see Sauron in this film. True, we sort of saw Sauron in LOTR prior to his ring-finger getting lopped off, but we never really saw Sauron in all his fiery glory. This time we do, in a stunning battle with Gandalf the Grey. I'm not sure what to think of it, but it was spectacular to see. Also somewhat interesting is the not-subtle suggestion that Smaug and Sauron are more than simply on the same team, evidenced by their near-identical eyes, and use of the same voice actor.

And the first song during the end credits was very good. I wish I could have heard it over the bustle of people heading for the exit... (Peter, this is why you need to make credits INTERESTING again).

In summary, I am very glad I saw this film, but it should have been better. I am expecting better from the final film in the trilogy. And I hate that you're making me wait a year to see it.
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You can't say you aren't interested.
7 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This film takes as inspiration the 1980 film Cruising, which I've only seen clips of (e.g. in documentaries about film), and the idea that there's 40 minutes or so that was destroyed in order to achieve a more favourable rating. (I'll assume you know all about Cruising because you can look it up here on IMDb).

Yet this film is not a replacement of those supposed 40 minutes, nor is it a documentary about how Franco and Mathews attempted to re-imagine them. Instead, they play fictional versions of themselves, so doing. So they get two shots at re-imagining those 40 minutes.

On the simplest level, there is the scene of actor Val playing Al Pacino's character Steve from the film Cruising, which to me seemed entirely believable, and could have fit into the original film. Then there are more sexual scenes, including scenes of oral sex between men. Together, these form a vivid re-imagining of what might have been shot and destroyed. Maybe.

But the story is where the actual re-imagining is. Val (the character) is straight, like Steve in Cruising. Through his work, he is put into an in-your-face gay sexual environment, and overcomes initial hesitation, to become comfortable with the people in that environment. (I can't compare further with Cruising, not having seen it).

I think there's a third layer, which is the audience who is also taken to a place cinema doesn't usually go to. The film doesn't interact back with us, but it's a sense of what Val and Steve experienced.

In the film, James makes some interesting points regarding the explicit sex, and there's no doubt that's the big discussion topic for this film. I think he might be just a year too late to be correct about what audiences watch, but still his point that intimate love and sex should be shown without timidity in film, including same-sex, is correct.

An earlier film that I really liked was 9 Songs (2004). A large portion of that film is the leading man and leading woman making love together. But it told a story about the course of that couple's relationship, and I don't think it could have been done any other way. There should be room for this kind of film in cinema, so these stories can be told without being dumped in with the porn, and then overlooked.

But specifically regarding explicit gay sex in the telling of a story, it's already happened, via Shortbus (2006). Other audiences have seen I Want Your Love, a short and then a feature-length film by director Mathews (of this film) and including explicit sex between men. And the recent Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, I'm told, includes explicit sex between women. So this film is a bit late to break truly new ground.

But more generally (and in stark contrast to television) cinema, and even this film oddly, has been afraid to show much in the way of male couples having the anal sex everyone thinks they're having. I don't think since Brokeback Mountain (2005) there has been a major male film star do this until this year's Kill Your Darlings. Hollywood ought to be able to do a lot better than that. Everyone is already thinking it, so just show something appropriate to the film.

On the theme of missing same-sex film scenes, a (much, much tamer) scene from the film 54 (1998) was recently leaked online showing a kiss filmed between its stars Ryan Phillippe and Breckin Meyer. So apparently old footage does sometimes find its way to audiences.

Part of the experience of seeing this film, I think, is the locale in which you see it. Much as I never expected to see a Bruce LaBruce film series at a mainstream festival in the middle of 1999 Dallas, I wouldn't have expected to see this in Windsor, Ontario. That's how it should be seen.
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An average film, if we're being honest
14 October 2013
I was looking forward to seeing this film, both for the IMAX 3D format, and for the Monarch butterflies which are in news recently for declining population.

Cons first: This film doesn't really make much use of the 3D format. Those things which have the most 3D effect appear to be CGI, rather than actual butterflies. I don't know whether they are, but the fact they look like they might be is disappointing. Peter Jackson is right when he switched to High Frame Rate for 3D, to reduce motion blur or snapshot effect, and look more life-like. Also, the IMAX at the Henry Ford Museum seems to have some trouble holding 3D together. Sometimes there's 3D, and sometimes (particularly toward the edges of the screen) there's just two flat 2D images next to each other. I attribute that to the theatre, rather than the film. But viewers should be aware that it can happen.

Pros: This is more on the monarchs than I've seen before. But it's presented at a level that kids can understand. And it does seem to do a good job of covering the story of the discovery of the migration route between places like Toronto, ON, and a forest in Mexico. Actors portray Urquhart and his wife, and two other in Mexico (Wikipedia says Brugger and Aguado, but I'm unsure if that's who they identified in the film). It is thrilling when the migration route is discovered, even though we all know it's coming.

I'd recommend the film, but probably not in 3D, and maybe not in IMAX either. The content doesn't justify extra expense.
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A piece of its time, but I liked it
14 October 2013
Despite being nearly two decades old, this is a film I liked. It's certainly US-centric (and I'm not) but who cares? Using the Blue Angels to hold the film together, it touches on a few aspects of flight history, leading up to a thrilling aerobatic display concluding the film. You want to see this in a true IMAX theatre.

At first I was annoyed that much of the film was not shot in IMAX, using only a small fraction of the screen, but it does really emphasize what you're seeing when it opens up to the full giant IMAX size. The looping and spinning as you ride along is so immersive that you may feel just a bit nauseous (but it's so worth it).

I'd like to see an updated version of this film that doesn't pretend to be a history of flight, and just focuses on the Blue Angels, and other aerobatic acts.

Fun fact: the film attributes lift to the Bernoulli principle. While the principle is correct, it is NOT what keeps planes in the air, or they obviously would not be able to fly vertically or upside-down. And we've all seen stealth planes with perfectly flat wings. This part should be edited out.
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Gravity (2013)
A good movie, but not a great one
8 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I guess I should be clear about which Gravity I saw. I saw the "IMAX Experience" 3D version.

(I wish the cinema had been as clear about which IMAX I would be seeing. In the rust-belt Canadian city of Windsor, IMAX apparently means "standard movie theatre plus reclining seats and oversize goggles". I'll try not to let my disappointment with this Cineplex "IMAX" theatre affect my review of the film.)

I'm told the film was shot in 3D, but not in IMAX. I was not wowed by the 3D in this film. It's no Avatar, and even the up-converted Titanic had superior 3D feel. If you see this at home in 2D, you will not be missing anything.

I think the film is appropriately named Gravity, even though it's not really about physical gravity (until the final scene). Sometimes popular astrophysicist Tyson takes things a little literally. It's also about life and death, and the meaninglessness of life's struggle, which are pretty serious (i.e. grave) concepts.

I wish more time had been spent introducing the characters. It seemed a shortcut to just start in space. I wanted to meet these people (and the others) as they were on Earth, and ride up with them. Budget cuts, I guess.

But I think the film is probably the most realistic (for what it's worth) depiction of low-earth-orbit space that has been shown to large audiences in North America. Nevertheless, when I compare it with 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicted a journey from Earth to Jupiter, with no CG effects at all, I'm left with more admiration for 2001, and a disappointment in Hollywood for making accuracy such an unexpected thing that people comment on it. But at least we have this.

There are some obvious problems, most notably the locations of various space stations relative to each other and to other satellites. I figured that was BS during the film, and confirmed it by reading a Tyson tweet. Yet, I don't know how else you could have a story like this. We should note that there is no space shuttle program any more, nor is there "Explorer", so maybe this film happens in a universe where things are a bit different.

The first half of the film is about Batman trying to save Robin... I mean Ryan, after their shuttle is catastrophically hit by debris. I found the first half to be fairly average, and I blame Clooney. I just can't take him seriously any more. They should have gone with a non-Hollywood actor.

The second half is about Ryan escaping ever-more-desperate situations on her trip back to Earth. The film gets significantly better in this half, so it's worth it. For atmosphere, I draw your attention to Le salaire de la peur (1953) (The Wages of Fear). These movies both patiently build a tension that have you gripping the arms of your seat.

In terms of effects, I'm going to assume that almost everything that wasn't fixed in place in front of an actor was CG. That's a lot of work, and it was mostly good. But I was disappointed with the fire. The fire was good for 1999. For 2013, it was pathetic. Unless fire in space looks like poorly-animated CG fire, in which case it was spot-on. At least there wasn't a lot of it.

The ending was somewhat of a let-down (see what I did there?). Here we have a person who has just been through an experience that no gods cared to help her survive, and that will render Earth orbit unusable for humanity, and she both thanks gods, and tells Matt to say hi to her dead daughter. How cheap. How predictable. If this film wanted to make a statement about religion, her capsule should have crash-landed in an Islamic republic, where should would have been sentenced to whipping for being discovered improperly covered at the beach. All the knowledge, all the heroism, all the humanity embodied by this character would be instantly irrelevant, reduced to an object at the whim of religious nuts. Now THAT would be a statement worth making, if anyone would dare.

I really disliked the music. How many times do we have to suffer the cliché of crescendo orchestra followed by silence? I think I noticed three, and three more during the credits, because they are such suspense!

Was the frog at the end an homage to launch-frog? I'm going to take it that way.

In any case, this is certainly one of the better films of 2013, and is probably in the top three 3D films of 2013. I just wanted it to live up to the hype, and it does not.
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Japan's War in Colour (2005 TV Movie)
10 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
For most, WWII has been something visually learned about through black-and-white video in the dimensions of the 4:3 screen (unless they're teaching it via Hollywood fiction these days... which wouldn't surprise me). There is a distance, marking that era as something that doesn't really apply to us. We're colour people. It's a new world.

Well, here we have a collection of colour film, mostly relating to Japan, covering the lead-up, through to the aftermath, of WWII (which for Japan lasted 8 years, starting with their invasion of China). I doubt it was all shot in widescreen, but it's presented in the widescreen format, without distortion. Suddenly, it's not so far away any more.

I've seen two notable features relating to Japan in WWII in whole or in part from the Japanese characters' perspective in recent years: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) and Nanjing! Nanjing! (2009). They are both interesting, are filmed excellently, and move the viewer (and you won't forget the latter of the two).

In comparison, this documentary pieced together from a variety of found film sources, plus readings from diaries and journals, packs a punch you don't see coming. How much colour film could there be, and what would be on it? There's quite a lot, and it gets more and more difficult to watch as it proceeds.

The senseless loss of life, in a war based in large part on religion, is just staggering. And the "god"-man who could have stopped it all walks out of it with impunity, to cheers.

Nobody comes out of this looking good. Carpet bombing of civilians, culminating in reckless nuclear destruction and the slaughter of children by radiation poisoning are war crimes the US has never been held to account for.

You won't learn much about the strategies of the war, or the politics of it, but a surprising number of key events in the war are presented, and they are in chronological order, so you can get a sense of the times and the progression of it. And you will certainly be reminded again about the barbarity that people are ever-willing to inflict on each other, and you'll see and hear the results inside Japan.

I think every person should see this documentary, to learn something important about humans.
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You must see this film.
11 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Indonesia is stinking of vomit today.

I'm not sure it's possible to write a coherent review after seeing this film. Actually, no. I'm sure that is isn't possible. So here's this.

The film is about the mass murders of 1-2 million Chinese, communists, intellectuals, and farmers in Indonesia in 1965-66, as re-enacted and retold by some of the people who actually did it. Incredibly, Indonesia celebrates this past.

I saw the theatrical (i.e. shorter 2-hour) version of the film, with a one-minute recorded introduction by the director. The director asked us to stay to see a scene through the credits, but while the credits began over a scene, there was nothing additional that stood out to me, so I have no idea what he meant. Perhaps he was drawing our attention to the seemingly endless credits for "anonymous" (individuals, not the internet mob).

The fact that this movie exists at all simply blows my mind. If you made it up, you couldn't come up with anything more strange, more disturbing. That many of the actions of these criminals were inspired directly by John Wayne cowboy movies and Hollywood gangster movies makes it unsurprising that references to a film from another Hollywood genre, Apocalypse Now, come so easily. They could not have yet (or perhaps ever) seen the Italian film Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, but it seemed they lived in a similar way, with near-complete disdain for human life. It is as if the society depicted in the Star Trek episode A Piece of the Action actually existed, but a million times worse. Yes, it seems you have to go to science fiction to find a story like this one.

Did I mention one of the thugs is a cross-dresser? I guess anyone could be, but it puts a really, really strange spin on this. The same US right wing that cheered these guys on in the 1960s will now point to this as a sign of their moral depravity.

I want these mass murderers and child rapers, still celebrated in Indonesia, held accountable for their crimes, admitted on film, before they die of old age. Regret and self-loathing is not accountability. I would be furious about this, but this film hits so hard ... I am numb.

Only briefly alluded to in the film, the so-called "religion of peace" also has much to answer for, given its complicity and silence regarding the atrocities committed in securing its power.

Utterly horrifying.
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Don't take my word for it
7 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Why are there no reviews of this film? I'm terrible at reviews. But if nobody else is going to do it, then it's me.

This is a good film, and I'm always delighted when someone makes a good English-language Canadian film. This one is not ashamed to be matter-of-factly set in Toronto, Ontario (or some suburb thereof), rather than pretending to be some nameless US city. The acting is realistic (partly due to the way it was shot in story order) and the story remains suspenseful throughout. There are times when the film feels Nordic to me, perhaps due to the colour scheme and the possibility of things taking a very dark turn, but also the naturalness in the acting. There were times when the story could have morphed into a preachy movie-of-the-week sort of thing, but it wisely avoided falling into that trap.

On the negative side, which wasn't all that negative, there were two things that took away from the naturalness and realism that otherwise permeated the story. I think the use of text was supposed to make me feel drawn into Nicole's experience with this, or caught up in the romantic aspect of it, but it didn't work, particularly when combined with the shaky camera. I also thought that there were sometimes too many tight shots and quick cuts.

Fans of this film's red room scene may also like Sleeping Beauty (2011), which is a completely different take on a similar problem. Also, I haven't seen it myself, as it is still on my to-see list, but the documentary webseries "Often Awesome" deals with a person's life and death with ALS.
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The Manor (2013)
Not the Bada Bing
26 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This film is probably not what anyone expects, and it's captivating throughout. This could have gone another way, but we've seen similar things before (the series Family Business, for example). This film benefits by editing away the business, to reveal the family behind it.

The director's family owns a strip club/hotel in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The family's two sons grew up there, and now are beginning to share day-to-day management of their father's business. There is some brief female nudity, but this documentary is not really about the strippers.

The father has made some odd choices. He's added a violent (and I think dishonest) man to the situation as a sort of adopted son. And he's also eaten himself to obesity, requiring surgery to address. At the same time, he's failed to pay the right kind of attention to his wife, who is withering herself away via anorexia (and we can't really know the reasons for this, though it is tempting to jump to an easy conclusion).

There aren't many documentary features shot from within a family, by a member. The very different Tarnation is the only other one I've actually seen that comes to mind. So this is worth seeing even for that aspect alone.

Part of what is going to be interesting to people about this film is the family's reaction to it, so hopefully that can be included as a DVD extra or short, or maybe even added to create an extended cut.
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A good start
26 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I came to this film not knowing much about boxing. What I know basically comes from Rocky films and Tyson and Ali documentaries. I think people who already know more about Mary and Ariane or boxing will probably have a more favourable reaction to it.

For me this documentary's flaws mostly have to do with me wanting more information, because the picture itself is absorbing for the full time. There should just be more, which is kind of a nice flaw to have, because it means it's interesting, and time keeps moving so there's going to be more which can be filmed.

So, I still have my ignorance about boxing, and women's boxing in particular. I was hoping to learn about it, since the film is about a rivalry to get a coveted spot in the first Olympic women's boxing competition. Beyond the history of the female version of the sport, its scoring system, how boxers fight in the ring, what the effect of having a particular set of weight classes is, and the road-map to the Olympics, I'm also still interested in what would draw these two particular women to it.

But one thing I did enjoy learning is that there's a refreshing level of good sportsmanship from everyone involved, in the ring, and out. When you compare these top athletes with what we sometimes see in the world of men's boxing, it's admirable and unexpected. There is a respect that you might more readily associate with Asian martial arts (at least as portrayed in cinema).

The film is best at illustrating the harshness of a system that permitted only one female boxer to represent Canada at the 2012 Olympics, when potentially two could fight at that level. Canada can have two entrants into other events, so why not women's boxing? The absurdity seems most highlighted early when a decision is made to fund only Mary, even though she was apparently not yet the person guaranteed to represent Canada. I'm left thinking that it would be nice if Olympic-level sport was just about excellence, rather than flags and quotas.

I wanted the filmmakers to delve more into the development of the friendship between the two rival boxers. That background seems to go by so quickly, and suddenly they are opponents, so I don't feel as a viewer that I care perhaps as much as I'm meant to. I didn't really feel the tension in having to defeat a friend in the ring, but I know it's a key part of the story because that rivalry was the fuel for the Olympic competition. Although it's a documentary, I think there's some room to use more techniques from dramatic features here to make us feel it.

And I also wish they had delved more into the coaches' stories. These men are surely interesting people, and I'm sure they are well-known in the sport, but as a viewer, I don't know them, and I want to.

At the Olympics itself, I wonder whether scoring was an issue. Earlier in the film, Ariane had challenged some scoring when she lost, and I wonder if Mary considered that option at the Olympics, because I do recall the London men's event was notoriously marred by poor refereeing and judging. (If even I heard of it, it must have been bad.)

Fortunately, we know from the film's ending that the story itself is not ended, and that one or both of these boxers will fight in 2016 in Rio. I hope that the filmmakers will continue with this story to create a sequel.
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The Story of God (2005– )
Two fairly good episodes. Stop there.
24 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This series is mis-titled, as it is not the story of God (either as described in the Bible, or as evolved in the history of Judaism and Christianity), but rather the story of believers in their various gods, and an attempt to accommodate religion and science.

I enjoyed the first episode. It touches on some of the older religions, and how the way old societies were organized might have led to the way their religions were also organized. They start in caves, then farms, and introduce writing's impact. Three related religions Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism are briefly introduced. While each of these could certainly fill a full episode, I still liked learning how these three relate to one another.

The second episode was fairly good too, up to a point. Naturally it's a bit more boring, because most English speakers are already familiar with Judaism and Christianity, and even Islam since 2001. But the evolution of Judaism into these others, and their slightly different takes on things between them, and also within each one, was interesting to take in a single episode. I wish it had ended when the host stated, taking note of the slaughters this god has caused, that maybe (paraphrasing) "one god is one too many". However, the host is a believer in this god, so he can't help himself but try to justify it. Feel free to stop the series here, if you think he's on the wrong track, or the third episode will have you shouting at the screen.

The third episode is a train wreck, and that's putting it gently. Being a believer, the host refuses to accept that religion is not a different way of seeing the universe, but indeed is a way of NOT seeing it, NOT knowing it. We're introduced to the notoriously flawed Pascal's Wager, but no counterarguments to it are given. As if the previous episodes never even happened, it's assumed that the choice is between God and nothing, rather than as it actually is: God, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Thor, Xenu, Mithras, Venus, ..., 100th named god, ... 1000th named god, ..., future named god, ..., never-contemplated but still possible god, .... , all the gods ever considered by any alien species ever, and nothing. If you pick God, you've just made the wrong choice in almost all cases, as wrong and dangerous a choice as picking atheism, or any competing religion, by this test. This scientist also misrepresents introductory probability, by describing P(G|E) (Probability that God exists, given E) as P(G)/E (Probability that God exists, divided by E) which doesn't even make sense. (That's OK because E is never defined, and none of the equation makes any sense anyway, which is why they don't dwell on it ... it amounts to god probably exists if you believe god exists. I wish the cash in my bank account worked that way). Much is made about the fact that Newton was religious and also learned a lot about the world. Apparently this is supposed to mean that he was right about everything. Too bad, of course, that not only did Einstein prove Newton wrong about gravity (in the way that 3.14 is more wrong than 3.14159 is about Pi), but classical Newtonian physics, like gods, continues to be chipped away as larger and larger objects are shown to actually be quantum objects, not classical. The host complains about "scientific fundamentalism", and later admits that uncertainty is in fact baked into everything science does. Really, the whole episode is a giant mess, as it has to be when you try to convince yourself that there's a way of knowing that isn't based on reality.
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A justification of gender violence due to paranoia
23 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a music video. The song is sung in falsetto, seeming to be the inner voice of a woman, employee of some male executive. But she's not on a low rung, because she has her own office, with window.

Nevertheless, her thoughts are paranoid. Without any evidence at all, not even a foggy flashback, she believes that her boss has a desire to harm her. And she believes that her femininity, rather than common sense or justice, is what is holding her back from striking out at this man.

And so, wishing to "cut the world", she kills him by slicing his neck, and creepily crying directly into his eye. I'm not sure what to make of that tear, but my best explanation is that it expresses regret at thinking she had no other choice but to harm this person. She knows her lunacy has driven her to do a terribly wrong thing.

Shortly after, we learn a more horrifying truth, that this is not isolated. Women in the same and surrounding buildings have been doing this to their (presumably male) bosses, in a planned and coordinated attack.

The murderers seem stunned, empty, and lost, perhaps a little in awe of themselves. We don't see any other person. Then it's over.

Unfortunately the overall message is one of both misogynist and misandrist bigotry -- the coordinated and presumably unpunished murder of perhaps 100 men by 100 women, something the women just had to do ... to escape the paranoia in their minds. It's inhuman.

I give this such a low score because regardless of its good technical qualities (excluding the poorly-done tear drop), it's too readily used to glorify violence against men.
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Less than half
23 June 2013
I came to this film not knowing much of La Traviata, nor of opera generally. I was expecting to learn something of both, and of the people involved.

Barring that, I would have liked to see and hear the actual performance filmed in front of a live audience. It seems that is available, but not in this film.

Unfortunately, I got less than half of those options.

I learned next to nothing about any of the people on the stage, in the pit, or directing, despite this appearing to be a "behind the scenes" or "making of" sort of film.

And although my guess is that the story of La Traviata is presented sequentially in the film, we're deprived of the actual performance itself, visually. Worse, the audio is often punctuated with direction and other comments; disgusted with the film, you can't even close your eyes to escape into the music. And sometimes, the audio and video are completely unrelated.

Ultimately, this film is an ad for an event that you cannot attend, because it's over. But you can pay yet more money to get the DVD of that event.

I feel like a moron having paid to see this.
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Vicious (2013–2016)
Delightfully funny
22 June 2013
After reading the hyper-sensitive and depressed reviews of this show, I was expecting to hate it, but I decided to give it a chance for Ian McKellan.

I'm glad I did. It is laugh-out-loud funny.

Unfortunately, it seems we're only getting six episodes this year (until Christmas). I wanted it to continue, because each episode seems to be better than the one before.

I haven't seen the shows that others are comparing it to, so it is fresh for me. Maybe you have to know a few couples like Freddie and Stuart for it to make sense. They are in no way out of date or homophobic.

Violet is also a character for our times. And who doesn't have a Penelope in their life?

Ash fills out the ... uh, yes, cast. His optimism is a great contrast to the rest of the jaded characters.
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Not up to my expectations
5 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This was originally going to be a response to bighalsy, but I thought since I had a lot to say, it might work better as a review, so here it is. In relation to bighalsy's mention of Food Network, I doubt anyone who likes the Food Network (and I do not) would enjoy this film any more than I did. While my review is largely negative, the film did not put me to sleep, and I did get to see some interesting food, so that's why I gave it a 6.

This film conveys next to nothing about designing recipes, running a kitchen, or indeed running a whole restaurant. Don't get me wrong, there are a few brief minutes of interesting footage of concoctions you will never see anywhere else. But that's it, unless you are really, really, really interested in peeling back the skin from heated milk and other such liquids. They nailed that, so you'll be a pro after watching this. But if someone tries to tell me that's a metaphor for the handing off of the restaurant, ... please just don't.

Worse, the film conveys next to nothing about the Bras family, unless they truly are that dull and boring and 2-dimensional. I don't believe it.

There are some moments where you can tell the filmmakers are really trying to make an emotional climax, like when the elder Bras is at the beach, again in denial about the end of his career, but it just doesn't work. It feels fake, because after that scene, everything just keeps going on.

Nobody changes or grows in this film. Seasons pass. It means nothing.

It's so infuriating, because the opportunity to make a great film was right there. Forget the family, but the food would have made a wonderful film. How do they create some of these unusual foods from scratch? How do they select the placement on the plate? How do they select the ingredients, as freshness varies throughout the year? How are reservations made? Who sits at which table? What is the layout of the restaurant, and how is it used? Opportunities to discover and learn are endless.

There are some people who are named by printing their names at the bottom centre of the screen. Whoever decided this was a good idea neglected to consider what would happen when subtitles need to use that space. To avoid overlap, sometimes the subtitles became supertitles. In my theatre that meant they weren't visible at all, because the top portion of the film was off the top of the screen. It was a trifecta of poor planning on the part of filmmakers, subtitler, and projectionist.

Now, for those who want to see a film about father and son chefs, I recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011). That film is exciting, and packed with information about the food, the restaurants, and the men running each. I didn't even like them, but I like the film about them. That's one way to know it's a good film.
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Don't be fooled. It's not that good.
15 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a film that shows a night and day in the life of one particular Japanese call girl and her customer. (But to be clear, there are no sexual situations.)

As some of the other reviewers have noted, there is a wonderful immersion into the moments of the characters in this film, with each act seemingly shown in real time. I compare this aspect of it to things like Elephant (2003) or Bir zamanlar Anadolu'da (2011) (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia), both superior films that made this approach work.

That is why I am disappointed that this film wasn't actually any good. There's a worthwhile film here, if only they'd filmed it.

At the end of the film, reasonable audiences reasonably expect an ending. There is no end to this film. The filmmakers simply ran out of ... what? script? cash? patience? ideas? ... and simply started the end credits. If this was Lord of the Rings, I'd know to expect the next third of the story in the sequel. But it's not.

The end is one of those moments in film when you realize the writer-director is telling audiences to f--- off, just to see who tolerates it. From the looks of it, quite a few did.
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First a Girl (1935)
The second-best filmed version of this story
13 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I wanted to like this film more than I did. I had seen three other versions: Viktor und Viktoria (1933) which I thought was boring, Victor Victoria (1982) which I think is the best version but could be better, and Victor/Victoria (1995) which is the filmed stage musical that I thought was miscast.

And I did like this one a lot. Much of the story made more sense to me. Things just felt natural. And the musical dance numbers were actually good, and had purpose (mostly). Although this is not my favourite version, I do think fans of the other ones should see it. Not nearly enough people are seeing it, and there are some amazing scenes.

Two things ruined it for me.

First, you have to believe that Victoria looks like a man. I could suspend disbelief in the '82 film, but the other two productions I simply could not buy that anyone thought Victoria was a man. And in this film, not only is the chest not flat, but you actually get to see her breasts when she bows (not completely, of course, but plenty). She's just a woman with a haircut. I was hoping that the bald guy picked up on that, because he seemed to (removing his hat when she removed her wig). But they didn't take that idea anywhere.

Second, when Victor takes over the act at the end, suddenly he's a buffoon? This is his act. It doesn't make any sense that he wouldn't know how to perform it. I was expecting a great and believable performance, but it just fell flat. Maybe this is a result of the Hays Code.

I want someone to remake any of these films, using one androgynous countertenor (Victor/Toddy/Viktor) (body like Jaye Davidson or Andrej Pejic) and one androgynous contralto (Elizabeth/Victoria/Susanne) (body like Casey Legler) singer-actor-dancer. I don't believe they don't exist. Someone find them and make the film right.
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Victor/Victoria (1995 TV Movie)
A mistake
9 May 2013
I generally agree with the commenter who left a comment titled "TRAVESTY", with the exception of their final few sentences.

The hotel spy-caper farce was idiotic and insulting, but the role of Toddy was cast well.

A filmed stage play or musical can be a wonderful thing. But this one failed before the cameras ever arrived, because it wasn't a good stage experience to begin with.

Similar to the 1933 film, nobody was ever going to mistake this Victoria for a man or boy. They should have found an actor who actually could pass for either sex. Breast-binding probably isn't possible if you're supposed to belt out songs, but that doesn't mean you give up and cast Dolly Parton.

I did like the plot tweaks of the stage version, compared to the 1982 film. Things seemed to be clearer, with a positive message that must have been thrilling for some in the audience. But at the same time, so much was wasted on pointless dance numbers, and songs about nothing. Then instead of acting a scene, too much exposition had to be sung as if reading from a book.

Don't waste you time. Watch the 1982 film.
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Well, that didn't age well (or "Phones Bloody Phones")
24 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I get that this is an important film for its time. But I can't let that justify the ineptitude of filmmaking it represents.

Actually, no, let's go back to that time. It presents one of cinema's few seriously-treated (and therefore politically viewed) bisexual characters as not simply compatible with a man and a woman, but inflicting painful half-relationships on both simultaneously. It's not a true love triangle, but a love vampire's V. Some people cannot commit, but it's not because they are bisexual. It's a shame that the film's then-refreshing portrayal of a gay man came at the expense of a stereotyped bisexual.

But back to now. It's annoying watching two people who have no interest in each other try to share the same self-centred third person romantically, knowing full well what the end result is going to be. I just couldn't care about any of them.

Then, those kids. They were straight out of a horror movie. The less said about them, the better. Except: that scene with the dog... it's both gratuitous and laughably-executed.

I did feel that the filmmaker at least made an attempt to place our two doomed lovers into current and past context, but these scenes just jumped out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. They didn't really help explain the characters at all.

The picture itself, the colours that ended up on film, ... just dreary.

But at least we have footage of period phone technology. Where would we be without that?!

What would I recommend instead? I don't think I know of any with a plot like this. But some dealing with bisexuality or love triangles are: Les chansons d'amour (2007), The Dreamers (2003), both starring Louis Garrel. Y tu mamá también (2001).
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Not to be seen once. Or twice.
21 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film once when it was originally released. And I remember that I found it utterly boring, and of shoddy quality generally.

It was recommended to me again, so I watched it again with 15-years-older eyes. It still sucks.

We're given almost no back-story on any of the characters. The two guys we start with have a broken relationship, and it pretty much stays that way throughout. I've seen others refer to this as repeated a "abuse, breakup, reconcile" cycle, but I don't see it. They never really do get back together. There's always distance. Further, Ho has been been slut-shamed in comments, but although we do see in the film that he loves Lai intensely regardless of his (Ho's) actions, the story uses him as prop to tell Lai's story, rather than treating him as a human. Speaking of props: Chang.

A lot of scenes just seemed to be inserted, or extended with no action, for no particular reason. A good 15 minutes could be cut from this film without losing anything at all. And more people would be awake at the end.

I do think a better English title should have been chosen, rather than trying to rationalize some nonsense about reconciling oneself to one's past.
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Fall to Grace (2013)
Plays like a McGreevey campaign ad
28 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Here's a film about a man who had an extramarital affair. But even that is brushed under the rug, as his offence is presented (repeatedly) as coming out as gay, as if there's something wrong with that, beyond its novelty at the time.

But those of us who lived through those very recent times know that being gay was not the offence. It was twofold: being unfaithful to his wife, and giving his lover or victim or extortionist perks he was not entitled to. But he must have been having sex with a ghost, because this person is given neither a face nor a name in this film. That's simply bizarre, and I can think of no justification. (Wikipedia says his name is Golan Cipel, and you can Google images of him with McGreevey).

Here's a film about a man who interferes in the lives of prisoners by peddling religion to this captive audience. He calls it "pure" and "good". Let's address "pure". Which of the hundreds of denominations of Christianity is the "pure" one, and why? McGreevey seems to think it's Episcopal. That will certainly be disputed by Baptists and Mormons. I contend none of them are pure. But worse, none of them are good. They offer only fantasy and false hope. But even if there was some "good" to religion in prison, it's outweighed by the costs to society. Studies as recent as this year have shown that religion, rather than helping prisoners as claimed, more often provides them a rationale for their continued criminal behavior. Last, had McGreevey spent his time learning something useful, like social work, he would have a better chance at making real positive change in the lives of prisoners before and after release.

It's been a long time since I've had to complain about focus/blurriness in a film, but this was pretty bad in spots. I know a prison is a controlled environment, but good grief even my PHONE can take a better video than that.

Perhaps the most notable theme in this film is addiction and relapse. As the prisoners inevitably relapse into active addiction upon release, so did McGreevey relapse into near-Catholicism after his outing, despite that painfully-evident damage that Catholicism did to his life to that point. He's still trying to apologize for his existence, even though he should know better.

The ending, for me, was infuriating. Not only does McGreevy compare being gay to being a drug addict or criminal, but then just after describing his political career as something that is gone forever, his story is about second chances. But he didn't get a second chance. He's hiding in a ministry.

I come away from this film with a much lower opinion of not just McGreevey, but his fanbase which apparently includes the makers of this unquestioning film.
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An inhuman film
9 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Rather than comedy (it has few laughs) this film is more correctly labeled religious.

The film is based on a sort of hippie perspective that all we need to do is throw away the efforts of the last few centuries and we'll just naturally be healthier, live longer, and even gain telepathy.

It's of course fairy tale nonsense, and destructive to our future. Any human society living as depicted on the all-white-people planet would soon succumb to disease and population loss. It would be especially hard on women, who would have to have more children to offset the increased infant mortality. The rest of the universe doesn't care what you think. You're just food, or an obstacle.

It's telling that the connection of one mind to another, to control its behavior is called "disconnection". This is the language of propaganda.

In the end, I felt a little bit like I was seeing more Cirque du Soleil nonsense, but without the production values, where some idiot acting the fool claims to reveal deep truths about ourselves by jumping on things.
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A short that tells a story, and delivers feeling
10 February 2013
I won't say much about the details of the short, because it should be seen fresh.

But without giving too much away, the story is an inventive exploration of the relationship between a husband and wife who have grown apart.

This short does what it should do, which is tell a story that isn't boring. And it does it far better than the other Oscar-nominated animated shorts this year. It's no contest.

Although it's a different style, if you liked Pete Docter's Up from 2009, you'll like this. The setting is similarly absurd, floating (sort of) is involved, and it's about long love.
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Adam and Dog (2012)
A missed opportunity
10 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
As you might guess from the title "Adam and Dog" is a retelling of the Adam and Eve origins story, focusing on a dog.

As is typical with such stories, it doesn't look good for you if you're a woman, and if you know any women, you can't really respect this. Dog meets boy. Dog befriends boy. Then, even though she's barely more than a prop, girl manages to steal boy, turn him into a creep, and get everyone kicked out of Eden. Yay! Not.

And here's a protip for the animators. (I'm not a pro, but obviously they need the help). If you're going to animate a nude male, then animate a nude male. The animators here are clearly embarrassed at actually having to draw penis. They do just about everything they can to avoid doing it (inexplicably dark shading, unnatural poses, convenient view angles, blurry motion, vague shapes) but as time progresses, they realize they can't avoid it and half-heartedly splotch it in. It's so silly and uncomfortable that it distracts from the story, and is ironically inconsistent with the Adam and Eve story they base this on.

The first half of the story isn't that bad. A cute dog is alone in the forest, but one day emerges onto a plain where he or she meets a naked man, Adam. They grow to become great friends, playing and barking together.

But then it abruptly turns from dog to dogma. One dark day, the dog notices Adam has a new friend, a woman (presumably Eve). If the interest is sexual in any way, it doesn't show in the obvious unclothed place, which is pretty strange. Maybe he's impotent. But whatever the interest is, the man hurls a stick far away, the dog chases it, and when the dog returns, the humans have vanished. Eventually the humans are located, but the man turns around in a vicious snarl. At the end, dog and now-clothed humans make up on the plains, as they head off. This story doesn't really make much sense, and doesn't fully satisfy, unless you already buy into Adam and Eve, something fewer and fewer of us are doing every day.

If we're being honest with the evidence, our genetic Adam lived about 150,000 years ago, and genetic Eve lived about 200,000 years ago. They never met, obviously. The current domestic dog was domesticated from the grey wolf, roughly 15,000 years ago. Neither Adam nor Eve ever met these dogs. But there's still room for a good animated story here about early domesticated wolves and their humans. I guess I'll be waiting a while for that one, as I'm ill-equipped to do it myself.

All that said, there are worse ways to spend your time. Generally, the animation is good, and the ability to tell a tale without words is always something I look for. Hopefully this team will choose a clothed subject next time, something they can commit themselves fully to.
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Inside the Milky Way (2010 TV Movie)
A good documentary, but not what it could have been
13 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This narrator will always be Querns to me. When you play a memorable character, that happens.

This is a good documentary, but its main flaw is that it is not what it claims to be about. It is only tangentially about the Milky Way. It's more about the universe in general. I had expected something that would map our view of the Milky Way onto a 3D model of it. I had expected that we'd pick out many interesting features. I wasn't so much interested in how they got there or where they are going (for this documentary). Given the completeness of the Milky Way we are shown, I suspect it's largely an artist's conception, rather than a model.

Some further nits to pick:

If you think the terms "star city" and "miraculous" should be used repeatedly in a science documentary, then this may be for you. But the dumbing-down of content in this manner started to irritate me.

Dark matter, of course, has not been discovered. That's why we call it "dark matter". It's expected, but it has never been discovered. It's also possible that our understanding of gravity is inaccurate (as if that hasn't happened many times before).

Also, the picture of the early universe was presented as if it were visible light, but that's a radio telescope picture. If they went to lengths (see what I did there?) to explain infrared, visible, and X-ray images, why not this?

And I was disappointed that the computer-simulated universe which "perfectly" matches our own was not actually overlaid so we could see how perfect the match was with our own eyes. It's bizarre they would just make the claim without showing it.

But generally it's a good overview of the universe, touching on a wide variety of topics including the life cycle of stars, types of stars, life cycle of galaxies, history of the universe, life, astronomical techniques, globular clusters, ultra-faint dwarf galaxies, and Andromeda. It's unusual to have all of this pulled together into a single presentation, and it does earn 7/10.
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