Short Film Saturday: Love Is All You Need?

I recently saw a PSA entitled “What if Straight Were Gay?” However, a piece that short doesn’t have the time to take the facts and reverse the players. This 20-minute short does and it thinks of virtually everything.

This film is not rated by the MPAA or any other body so far as I know. Viewer discretion is advised.

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Year-End Dash: The World’s End

The tremendously fun thing in retrospect about the first two installments of the now-referred-to-as The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz being the first two) is not just the fact that they start fairly parodist but metamorphose to the parodied (sub)genre rather brilliantly. That and upon re-viewing the films you can see how brilliantly it all holds up together. I didn’t get to see this film until now so obviously I don’t have the benefit of a revisit yet, but there are some odd things in good ways and not-so-good ways about this film. The humor, the performances and the kinetic editing are there. Gary (Simon Pegg’s) character has an arc setting up for him right away, and that’s also good. I’ve commented this year on how I like a weird sequel and the thing is you never know what to expect with this combination of stars and director so it’s not like expectation is a huge stumbling block.

There’s good and apparent commentary on lots of things like nostalgia, aging, alcoholism, technology and the eternal “At what price progress?” questions; however, the fenestration which matters less here than in prior films is where it gets muddy. Things are found out and some pieces are picked up nicely and some pay-offs are brilliant, but some of the necessary exposition is rushed and doesn’t quite compute. There’s something newer in the offing and how omnipresent the parody element is here is a bit lost on me. However, what they’re creating in the end, is always new and there’s a point where I felt I was chasing it a bit too much; not such that I didn’t get it or like it, but that I felt I could’ve absorbed and liked it more with a bit more time in acts two and three.

6/10

Year-End Dash: The Book Thief

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not read The Book Thief. Now usually the read/unread status of book only bears mentioning when I have read it and am insulating myself from either some comments on fanboy-dom or adding a grain of salt. Here I mention it because this seems as if it was a tricky adaptation to pull of. I say that because there are some rather literary traits to the story that are far easier to execute in prose than onscreen. However, the film while not avoiding missteps in the adaptation of said traits does put it forth immediately. While that same approach is part of what gets in the way of the final impact of the film there is much felt throughout that is worth noting, and, ultimately recommending.

First and most noteworthy in the story are the five principal figures. I used that diction specifically to discuss both character and performance. For the engaging part of The Book Thief is the humanity it finds and expresses in its characters. Its signature piece of dialogue alludes to to that underlying truth. The zeitgeist in World War II films is to explore the gray area. Not that this film is specifically gray, but it does go somewhere many films don’t which is to deal with Germans who didn’t quite follow the party line in a number of small and significant ways.

To bring those thoughts and emotions to life, and to show them truly (even to show them in a conflicted manner and still engender empathy) is the grand task of this fine cast. Perhaps it’s symbolically apropos that they each call a different nation home and portray German characters (US, Canada, Australia, England and Germany respectively). Taking that fact into consideration they also blend seamlessly well with one another and handle the anglicized German dialect they’re given superbly. Sophie Nélisse in my estimation had her breakout role with Monsieur Lazhar; here however her role is larger still, more dialogue-driven and in accented English such that her feat is perhaps even more impressive and she’s well on her way to becoming a household name. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson play two diametrically opposed types and parents, but the end result and the emotions the engender and exude in the end must be the same making their characters fairly ideal dramatic foils if those inhabiting the roles deliver, which they do. Ben Schnetzer as Max has the task of being sickly much of the time, believably and naturally poetic and philosophical in the face of, and in tandem with his emotions. His performance is such that his presence lingers even when his image does not grace the screen. Last but not least there’s Nico Liersch who stands out as the revelation of this film for his well-rounded and sensitive portrayal of Rudy a character who pines for Liesel from the moment he is introduced but never comes across as a doormat in that or any other situation, as characters with that affectation can at times.

The Book Thief does eventually come through with very moving moments, and while doing so in a very populist manner does cause people to think and reflect on the varied reactions and actions of people during that era in history.

7/10

Year-End Dash 2013

It’s that time of year again wherein I will be on full-on blitz to try and cram as many eligible viewings at the end of the year as I possibly can. Anything I see from here until 12/31 will have at least some mention here be it a short “capsule” review or a link to a fuller post. This post will update daily.

Enjoy the dash. Lists and awards to follow.

More specifically:

The shortlists will be announced on 12/24/2013 but viewings from that day to 12/31 are still eligible.

Nominees will be announced on 1/2/2014.

Winners on 1/9/2014.

To see what my ratings mean go here.

    Late November

11/29

The Book Thief

The Book Thief (2013, 20th Century Fox)

I rated this film 7/10. For a full review go here.

The World’s End

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I rated this film 6/10. For a full review please go here.

Philomena

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This film came as a great surprise and, once again, is a case of knowing very little about it going in. Based on the commercials you knew the basic premise: an elderly woman seeks to discover the fate of the child she put up for adoption 50 years prior. It plays it up like it’s going to be all giggles and a heartwarming “human interest story” as Steve Coogan’s character would’ve derisively put it at the beginning of the film. But much like that journalist we are treated to, yes, some laughs, quite a few surprises (both good an bad) and some tears. The film has some touches to it like its montages of home video that foreshadow the child’s life being learned about and the weaving through time Philomena’s memory occasionally does. Judi Dench is positively marvelous, as is Steve Coogan who plays against type and wore many hats to help make this film happen.

9/10

Frozen

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I actually saw this film for the first time before this post went up. I saw it a second time during the Year-End Dash therefore I just wanted that noted and to state that Frozen is, no matter how you slice it, one of the best Disney films in years. I will elaborate more further down the line.

10/10

    December

12/1

The Wall

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If you’ll forgive the simplistic analogy the way I can best express my feelings and thoughts about this film are via comparison to an analogous title. This film tells the tale of a woman going on a vacation in an alpine cabin who suddenly finds herself surrounded and isolated by an invisible barrier, a wall. In that regard it reminds me of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, more so the book than what I saw of the series. Therefore, it’s a tale not so much about the how and why but what occurs under the “dome,” or inside the wall while it’s up. There’s much exploratory voice over, nearly incessant amounts and not much by way of findings in the report that is being written; subtly surreal additions and interactions with new animals that through a lot of inner-monologue reveal less than something like Bestiaire. A well-acted and shot narrative, but not a very compelling one.

5/10

12/2

Maniac

Maniac (2012, IFC Midnight)

This is another case of my having seen a remake prior to the original. I attempted to watch the original once but Netflix had a very weird audio glitch that made it impossible to progress past the thirty minute mark. In that version I was marginally engaged at that point and things were starting to pick up. Here the film dives in headfirst taking much POV, a lot of talking to himself. This in a similar but far more intriguing and artfully shot way we’re in the mind of this madman. That and due to the way Elijah Wood portrays Frank there’s a disconcerting sense of understanding if not empathy that makes it a far more engaging tale. The score is a hypnotic as the images are lush and the film has a fairly good thrust as it scales through anonymous victims building a protagonist slowly on the side.

9/10

Only God Forgives

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The fairly quick reaction here is that after many months and many reactions heard I was glad to come in fairly down the middle on this film. I understand but don’t agree with the frustrated, negative reviews, and if I take a look at the good ones I’m sure I’d center myself anew. This is a film that is unquestionably beautifully shot, and based on Drive unquestionably Winding Refn just not in as engaging and universally palatable way. One needs to be prepared for the violence, but I didn’t find it to be excessively out of place based on the narrative.

6/10

12/3

The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer (2012, CBS Films)

The Kings of Summer has within it some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen all year, but also within it there is some great truth. In a new wave we’re seeing of insightful coming-of-age-dramas, or at least the element in films; this is a parents on the side story. What’s refreshing is that in a film where the kids voluntarily run off for a better part of the summer the parent-child conflicts are fairly normal and the exploration of character is first and foremost in the lead characters (excellently played by Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias) and their dynamic. It’s a very related unsentimental film that is very much worth discovering.

8/10

Headlong (a.k.a Corps perdu)

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Typically in January when the release calendar is light of things really worth taking too long and hard a look at I get to browsing the IMDb for upcoming releases from the previous year’s standouts. That’s how I came to learn of the existence of this short film which stars Young Actor nominee Jelle Florizoone and co-stars Thomas Coumans, who worked with him in North Sea Texas.

Now being a short of about 17 minute I don’t want to discuss it too closely, but I can share two thoughts; one of my own and one from the film’s director. My biggest takeaway from Headlong is that it’s a lovely portrait not just of a fleeting encounter, but also of how a souvenir earns significance in a person’s life. The second is from the film’s director, Lukas Dhont, in an interview:

The main thing I tried was to make a film that could be interpreted as a love story but just as easily as something else. This tension between characters and openness in interpretation is the thing I’m still most happy with. I don’t really like gay shorts that evolve just around the gay eroticism.

Headlong is included on this DVD collection.

8/10

Blackfish

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I heard of this film quite some time ago as it featured prominently on My Radar. I recorded the CNN airing a while ago but was reticent to watch it. In the end I’m glad I did. There are a few graphic and disturbing images but the takeaway from the film is far more profound than that. The scariest, most stomach-turning thing is the pervasiveness of lies documented that Sea World spews as facts. Lies that I as a child believed to be true and still recalled learning there. What this film shows is not only that these massive mammals are smarter and more complex that we can yet understand, but also that there are dangers inherent to the people who attempt to keep them in captivity as glorified circus performers.

9/10

12/4

Extracted

Extracted

This is a film with a lot of good ideas aside from just the basic premise of being able to access people’s memories. The issues are mainly that all the kinks aren’t ironed out yet and the film’s reach exceeds its grasp in terms of production value. I staunchly avoid discussing budget most of the time. Budget does not dictate quality, unless you’re doing something outside the reality of your allowance. This film falls into that realm on occasion but it is clever and resourceful enough most of the time to avoid those issues, it’s really the finer points being corrected that would’ve brought it up some. It’s an entertaining enough watch, but doesn’t follow through on its promise.

5/10

12/5

In The House

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This film deals with a fascinating premise of what occurs when a high school student is seemingly drawing from real-life experience about his insinuating himself in another family, and what his French teacher, a frustrated writer, does or does not do to encourage his talent. I sat with this film for a while because I knew I greatly enjoyed it. I loved it for most of the way through, however, I didn’t know how much I liked it in the end mostly because of how it concluded. A lot of that decision to me boiled down to how well I felt the film followed its self-prescribed rule about endings. I concluded that I think it did well. Essentially, you have to keep in mind that there’s a very self-aware narrative being told. There are times when the story may seem a little lost, but, of course, Germain, the teacher, says that very thing to Claude often. And who is molding the narrative ultimately but him? Sure, we’re not always witnessing a dramatization of his writing, but it tends to revolve around him, and he is manipulating those around him in one way or another. The film writes Claude intelligently and he’s acted deftly by Ernst Umhauer such that he’s an interesting character, one that you could at least understand may have a way of wrapping people around his finger, even if you don’t particularly care for him you’re engaged.

On the strength of a majority of the film, and my reconsideration of the end I give it 8/10; your take may have you rate it higher or lower, but it is worth seeing and judging for yourself.

12/7

Homefront

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It’s rather poetic justice that in a year when the old guard of the action film, namely Stallone and Schwarzenegger, would have some hard times opening films like they once did; or just providing serviceable action vehicles, that it would be Jason Statham in a script adapted by Stallone that would be in a film I could really get behind. It’s almost a symbolic passing of the torch. Statham has been around for a bit, and I’ve been tough on him; action stars need not be thespians but the films I’d seen were also not that great. This one, if you can get past a silly wig and a fairly clichéd set-up, delivers the goods. There’s of course the family man angle that helps give it some emotional pull. The fact that young Izabela Vidovic is fantastic and that Statham interacts well with her helps. However, another boon is that the inciting incident leads the aggrieved sister to call on her brother Gator (James Franco) who becomes the antagonist. He’s a really great in this film because there are a few facets to him, and his performance is magnetic, locked-in. All the build, even things that don’t seem like they’ll matter, follow through and the finale is really exciting. I tweeted that it may make a Statham fan of me, see his unseen projects, and just maybe revisit some. The first may happen if he has more upcoming like this because this movie really works and put him in a position to succeed.

8/10

12/9

Spring Breakers

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I first mentioned Spring Breakers on my site when I wrote a post about a Facebook actor game I partook in. This was my selection as a film of James Franco’s I’d not seen but wanted to I believe. And sure enough when the Dash started it was a fairly high priority.

Oddly enough after so long, and hearing so many things and, I was pleased by the film in some ways and terribly annoyed by it in other ways. Most were ways in which I was not expecting. Sure enough it’s not completely exploitative and devoid of any content. However, there’s a tremendous miscalculation inasmuch as it feels like that without fragmenting scenes, excess of montage and repetitive dialogue either spoken onscreen and in voice over, there would not be a feature film here. However, even omitting that and taking the film as is making more aesthetic statements than societal ones. The score and the montage do have an effect of washing over you, which would be nice if not for the incessant earworms: “This is not what I signed up for.” “I want to go home.” “Look at all my shit!” “Spring break fo’ever.”

4/10

12/10

Berberian Sound Studio

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I can’t say that there’s not a spark of creativity and ingenuity in the concept of this film and with some of the shots. There is a metamorphosis, however, it’s one you have to wait for and sit through many of the same kinds of scenes over and over again. In fact, I’m surprised I even saw it because I had quite nearly given up on the film. Even granting it that, after so much ennui, that payoff, too, failed, and angered me. It’s a film that quite honestly barely ever progresses past its initial concept, and when it does, does too little with it.

3/10

12/11

Side Effects

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This film plays the part of a thriller well and even includes some intriguing professional ethics conundrums. It’s well acted and well-shot. Where it implodes for me, at least in the largest and most disastrous way, is in the motivation of one of the characters. The plot that’s weaved is a bit hard to swallow to begin with, assuming you stick it out past that point, the film delves into the why such an orchestration occurs and comes up with an idea so sophomoric that it reads like something rejected as a mid-’90s Joe Eszterhas/Sharon Stone project.

5/10

Broken

Broken (2012, Film Movement)

On this day I also revisited Broken. You can see my thoughts on it here.

12/13

The Playroom

ThePlayroom

I will say that this is a film that requires just a touch of stick-to-it-ness. It builds a worlds of these siblings first, one where their parents seem to be at least on the periphery, if not absent altogether. It fractures chronology and starts the kids making up a story that you know will reflect on their life just not how. Then the parents are introduced, how they interact with the kids, then what’s beneath the facade it takes a bit. However, the film would have lesser or no impact, and would be cheap, underdeveloped melodrama otherwise.

The performances by parents and kids alike are quite strong and its a great chamber drama worth searching out.

8/10

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

CT  CTH THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

When I discussed The Hobbit last year I spent a few too many words on the High Frame Rate because it was new. This time around suffice it to say I found the experience a bit better, however, still awkward at times. I don’t know if skipping on IMAX and sitting closer to the screen played a factor but it may have.

There’s an impressive thing that this one does is that even at quite close to three hours it does leave you wanting to continue. Sure, that has to do with where the “cliff” drops off, but no one was happy when The Devil Inside ended (save for the fact that it was finally over). There’s less filler here, which the first had a bit of but this one is unquestionably better, even to someone like myself who happened to like the first one just fine, and who still hasn’t read the book.

9/10

12/14

The Short Game

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Netflix has been making waves this year in good ways, after a string of PR nightmares with its core services. Its role as distributor of original content to streaming platforms, first in television-formats, has been groundbreaking. However, it’s also dipping its toes in the film world picking up a few documentaries. This one debuted in theaters first and is now available to stream.

Perhaps what’s most important in a sports documentary centered on prodigious young athletes is having an interesting cross-section of personalities. Even if one is not familiar with, or a big fan of, a sport (golf, in this case) narrative and cinematic conventions and approaches should keep you engaged. The editing and scoring of this film, as well as the structural approach to the tournament that serves as the climax, is great. What keeps you interested and involved in the build-up is that while they all have golf in common they’re still kids at the core of it and quite different: Jed (A Filipino boy with autism), Alexa (a wunderkind who lives with her dad), Amari (A girl emulating Tiger Woods), Kuang (a Chinese boy who happened on the game by chance as an infant), Allan (A whiz kid who’s Anna Kournikova’s younger brother), Augustin (An intellectual French player of literary pedigree) Zama (A South African boy growing up in a different world than his father seeking a breakthrough) Sky (A Texan girl with a large stuffed bunny collection).

Combining all that, the unexpected twists and turns golf can take, and the volatility of a child’s emotions makes it an engaging, funny, suspenseful and at time even moving film.

10/10

Out of the Furnace

This is a film that almost seems as if it was adhering to some edict that it needed to run two-hours in length in order to be taken “seriously.” When taking a narrative as straight forward as this one waters it down tremendously. The interstitial montages only build so much ambiance and character, and the over-inclusion of fact and de-minimization of mystery makes it an exercise in the obvious. Some really good scoring, moments of empathy don’t pull it through.

4/10

12/15

The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Tribeca Film)

There has been the occasional resurgence of bluegrass music into popular culture via cinema over the past decade or so. Many of those instances, while they are films where I’ve heard the music, they are movies I did not happen to see.

Perhaps what’s most interesting here is that The Broken Circle Breakdown is a film that’s not even ostensibly about the music. The music is there, it plays a role, it functions as a part of the characters, it underscores the emotions of the story (usually counter-intuitively) but it’s only a musical quantitatively. The film is a fractured chronology of a couple’s relationship. It begins in a present where their six-year-old is battling cancer. The film then backtracks, and goes back and forth to tell the story of these two and where they head as new challenges face them.

The toe-tapping heart of the film is its pair portrayed by Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh. Through their earnest performances, and the music, you’re left on a tightrope walking through the end of this sad tail without spinning completely into despair yet completely absorbed within it.

9/10

12/16

Frances Ha

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What you have here is a tale of female arrested development wherein the protagonist Frances (Greta Gerwig) watches the world (i.e. her friends) grow up and move on around her, and she has to shape up or ship out in order to not be left miserable and alone. Shot in black-and-white, located in and around New York, save for some of her aimless soul-searching; it tries to hearken to Woody Allen in the ’70s but forgets to include the comedy, acerbic wit or insight. The protagonist isn’t even as dubiously engaging as an obviously-flawed Allen creation, merely annoying.

Mind you I’ve seen an even more immature man-child in The Almost Man. However, Henrik needs to be beaten over the head less often before snapping out of his fantasy life and starting his soul-searching and latter-life maturation; with Frances she’s not humorous, engagingly rendering, intriguingly portrayed or more complex, yet she takes more prodding and is more bothersome. “You’re bullshit,” Frances’ bestie snaps at her. Indeed she is, and it takes her far too long to agree and get her shit together, and even if that was excusable it’s not an engaging watch before then.

2/10

Electrick Children

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Certainly when the premise of a film is such as this: a Mormon girl listens to a cassette tape with forbidden rock music and has an immaculate conception; you’re wandering into a tale that will likely not tell its tale, or resolve itself conventionally. That would all be fine if there wasn’t a preponderance of coincidence later on that made it seem as if there would be a tidied, more clear conclusion.

Instead what you have is a journey that is is not completely devoid of enjoyment for the open-minded viewer but rather one that just feels like a beginning;it doesn’t feel like an opening ending but rather a not-quite-complete tale that reaches what it considers its ending a bit too easily.

5/10

Rest of December

Europa Report

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Found footage as a technique is one that has been talked about ad nauseum, by myself included. Usually, it is the shortcomings that make us take more notice. However, we should not turn a blind eye to those films that do implement the technique well. This is one of those films. This is a film that has minimalist chills and scares that isn’t the slickest space-bound story this year, but has its strong points, moments of terror, moments of character and a very good ensemble at its disposal. It also takes a sci-fi tale just slightly beyond the current limits of science, but not that far into the distant future.

8/10

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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Anchorman 2 has been perhaps one of the more unrealistically anticipated sequels in recent years. What I mean by that, and I don’t claim to be not among them; is that over the years the reputation of Anchorman grew such that perhaps the bar started being raised a bit much.

My own experience with the first Anchorman was not love-at-first-sight. Sure, I laughed. I laughed a lot. However, I felt that the feminist theme while appreciated was handled clumsily and overtly. Yes, it’s a silly movie but the rest of it felt far more assured. My appreciation of it grew over time.

Fast-forward to this Anchorman and one thing that stood out before I saw it was the extra running time. Then you see Judd Apatow’s name attached and you wonder if it might be tremendously bloated. At nearly two hours as opposed to just scraping past 90 minutes last time. I don’t think it did feel extraneous, just a touch too much perhaps. I also think the commentary on corporate synergy and news media, while very on the head is more neatly folded in. Thankfully, there were also many new gags, and a lot more weirdness, as the riffs on the old jokes that worked because they were new didn’t really hit it.

To be brief, I didn’t expect a second coming of Ron Burgundy, he’s a character so perfectly buffoonish you can’t manufacture the surprise of first meeting him all over again; but I did think I’d be glad to see him again in a new story. I was and the fact that this story had point to make loudly that had more do with the modern day than the era it was set in is fine by me too.

8/10

I Killed My Mother

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At long last Xavier Dolan’s debut feature came to the US this year. While you can take your pick between either of his first two films, I preferred this one. As someone who does like to dabble in a bit of auteurist critique I would’ve preferred to have seen this film before Heartbeats. There is a bit of Dolan’s visual flair and editing sensibility on display, and a certain lack of orthodoxy in his approach, at least to start that tells and introspective, interesting tale of a combative mother-son relationship that avoid facile resolutions, or even conflicts; and furthermore doesn’t make either really in a hero mold but rather antagonistic to one another.

8/10

The Hunt

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Mad Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten teach who has been falsely accused via misunderstanding (when you watch you’ll quickly see how) of molesting a student. That’s established early on. There’s not cat-and-mouse mystery about that much because that’s not the point. The film’s really about the snowball effect of a misunderstood notion being repeated, how assumptions are made, hysteria spreads and a witch-hunt begins, and how it affects all those involved.

Mikkelsen turns in a marvelous performance (not that he’s alone in that regard) and the film ends on the right note, as opposed to one that might feel untrue. It’s chillingly, unnervingly realistic portrait of how such a thing can escalate, even without any basis in fact, and takes a naturalistic progression.

10/10

Saving Mr. Banks

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Saving Mr. Banks does have its surprises in it, especially if you look closely enough. First of all, without getting too spoiler-y I do not think it paints an overly generous picture of Walt Disney. Sure, it’s a Disney film about the man himself, in part, and one of the studio’s classic films, so it may not be the most impartial but there are certain plot points that come up that you would’ve expected would be sanitized that aren’t quite as much as expected.

Perhaps the film’s most surprising aspect is really its bifurcated structure splitting its time between the story meetings between P.L. Travers and the Disney staff and reminiscences of her childhood.

The film tells the Travers’ story, and it’s one that’s a harrowing, tragic one that is rather un-Disney-like. In light of that, and Disney’s persistence and insistence, it’s not a wonder she’s a stickler even with a personal connection notwithstanding. The film avoids Disney understanding her in the end, and in some ways I think too avoids portraying Travers as being at peace with her decision, but rather willing to move on.

8/10

Stuck in Love

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While the cast is talented and the characters are ultimately likable Stuck in Love unfortunately relies a bit too much on convenient plot devices. The kids have been raised to be writers and they all succeed at exceedingly early ages and with seeming ease. The conflicts are there and the characters arcs are there, but the big moments are bit too simply achieved, that and there was a generalized sense of predictability. Despite the characters’ quirks nothing too surprising occurs. Lastly, on the production end the selection of source music is rather invasive, annoying and a bit too on the head more than once.

5/10

Thankful for World Cinema: The Color of the Chameleon (2012)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

The Color of the Chameleon (2012)

At the crossroads of science and alchemy is cinema, amongst other things. What I mean by that is that as much as we may try to define rules there are always exceptions and things that challenge our notions. The particular reason this comes to mind when discussing The Color of the Chameleon is because of the way, much like the animal its title is inspired by, changes its complexion at varied points in the narrative.

The film begins with a scene establishing some of the basics wherein a Mother (Svetlana Yancheva) is talking to a headmaster concerned about her son Batko (played in his younger incarnation by Dennis Andreev) specifically about his obsession with onanism. This is a theme that ties much of the seemingly disconnected pastiche together, as foreshadowing and inference indicate this habit may have had something to do with his being unfit for military service. Following that we meet with him in college and see him recruited to the secret police by an agent (Roussy Chanev) and the thrust of the film, such as it is, is introduced.

About midway through is when the film makes an interesting structural and tonal change. There comes a turning point wherein you see a now-mature Batko (Ruscen Vidinliev) in a series of interrogations that are very funny but don’t seemingly connect. The closest kin to such a sequence I thought of is a “Bad audition montage.” However, this is more extended, and while you do have to wait for it, there is later follow-through and narrative impact from this sequence.

The structural oddities are always introduced with flair and style such that even if you’re not quite on board with the new direction the film has taken you will be entertained along the way. However, I would suggest your bearing with it and keeping everything in mind as seemingly small elements influence later jokes and stylistic choices. There is a visual transformation late in the tale that’s making commentary more so than any dialogue in the film. However, when thought of in conjunction with lines previously uttered underscores the absurdist, farcical critiques of communism, secret police, transition to democracy and politics in general. Criticisms that while being very specific to the Bulgarian experience can also be ascribed and understood by those in other nations.

The Color of the Chameleon 2

When Batko’s seemingly convoluted plan comes to fruition the film, despite its jumps in style and time, which are brave and commended; really does click in the end. Anything seemingly out of place is well incorporated including the aforementioned late-film stylistic departure. Aside from visuals there are also genre conventions that are familiar to many viewers borrowed and incorporated here in unique and quirky ways that add to the beauteous, hilarious chaos.

Perhaps the best part of this film is that it doesn’t just come up with a way of making some very scary mechanisms like totalitarian communism and secret police bodies farcically inept, but also uses the personality of the protagonist to help subvert these entities which is humorously adding salt to the wound. In this regard a lot of the first half of the story in essence functions like a heist film in hindsight as the mechanics and tactics of surveillance are learned and we later on see them implemented in a twisted way.

There needs to be grounding and a center to a film attempting things as zany such as these. The interviewees and peripheral characters aside from delivering laughs also lend an air of believability to the tale based on how they react to given situations. However, the tone of the film with regards to the actors’ interpretation all starts with the lead. Ruscen Vindiliev may have differing overtones but his motivations and convictions always remain the same. For as manic as in his need for acceptance, individuation and revenge as he becomes there is always a quite, intense diligence of seeking to accomplish the task before him and find some cursory acceptance and peace. Even when playing all ends to the middle there is a cool veneer that helps make the outlandish plausible and he helps communicate a clarity of motivations that makes the tones make sense, and make him an identifiable lead even if his methods may get Machiavellian.

Out of all the films I’ve viewed this month to fit in this theme, quite a few have been different than what the average viewer may be used to. However, the biggest break from the humdrum I found was The Color of the Chameleon. It’s a film you should be on the look out for and view if you should have the chance.

7/10

Thankful for World Cinema: Child’s Pose (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

Child’s Pose (2013)

As Thankful for World Cinema comes to a close I must say it had a bit of a different focus than I initially anticipated it to have. I say that as a very good thing indeed. I had a bunch of posts lined up that have not yet debuted on this site though they had previously appeared on The Site That Must Not Be Named. They have now shuffled off to further down the line and maybe they will appear next year. The reason for this is that I was able to track down and view not only many contemporary foreign films I wanted to see, but many that are Oscar contenders for their respective nations.

Aside from that honor for Romania Child’s Pose also boasts the Golden Bear from the 2013 Berlinale making it a top-prize winner from one of the small handful of the most influential film festivals in the world. When pairing that with some reviews I’d seen that makes it perhaps one of the more anticipated viewings I had in this block.

Child’s Pose takes a few minutes at the start to introduce Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) talking to her sister (Natasa Raab) , lamenting the way her son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), has been treating her and indicating some of her overbearing nature. The inciting incident is when she learns her son has been involved in an car accident where he has killed a child crossing a street. Prior to having met Barbu there’s an indicator and we then proceed to see how she interacts with him, her husband, the police and the victim’s family.

What’s impressive throughout the course of the film is that aside from the beginning where she is being established and getting some reasonable advice from her sister, there really isn’t vocalized judgment of Cornelia, but rather an understanding both of her and all characters involved that allows the drama to unfold in a very palpable way throughout ever ascending to the film’s finale.

In my Twitter reaction, which is admittedly usually more of a knee-jerk, I advised perspective viewers of this film to hold on. It’s not that the film is ever slow or disengaging but the dramatic engine does take a bit of time revving up, but when it does in three consecutive dialogue-driven setpieces with a witness to the crime, Barbu’s wife, Carmen (Ilinca Goia), and lastly with the victim’s family the full gamut of the situation is examined; as well as the multiple facets of her character with nearly Bergmanesque precision. It also bears mentioning going in that you’re in for a character study and not a procedural thriller and thus you’ll be far less ambivalent about how things play out.

Luminita Gheorghiu in this film delivers one of the powerhouse performances of the year, which perhaps more than anything underscores my lament of not yet having caught up with the Romanian New Wave going on at current, as she features in many of the notable titles in the past few years.

Another joy to discover in this film is when a strong supporting performance comes to the fore later in the game and makes a strong statement, and Ilinca Goia in her extended scene does just that.

Child’s Pose is a morality play unconcerned about legalistic outcomes but rather about how different people with disparate agendas behave to escape culpability or deal with the gravity of what they’ve done. It’s about Cornelia, yes, as she is insistent most everything concerns her in one way or another, but in their struggles to state their case and separate themselves it does manage to be about the other characters and the situation as well.

8/10

Dubbing Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Brazilian Version)

One thing I thought would be interesting to include in a Thankful for World Cinema-themed post would be a closer look at dubbing. I have written about dubbing prior. However, in this instance I figured a suitable follow-up to the initial discussion of dubbing as a practice would be to take a closer look at a film by focusing on its dubbed track.

To be able to do this more easily I chose a film I was very familiar with (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as well as choosing a foreign version I could analyze well (The Portuguese voice cast from Brazil).

Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

Here are my thoughts on the dub of the film:

Firstly, I think (and I may experiment to see if this holds true) that understanding key for viewer and casting. From a viewer’s perspective who does not speak the language they are then listening to it’ll play out like that scene in Home Alone where the kids are in Paris watching a dubbed version of It’s a Wonderful life and are befuddled by it. In cinematic terms, I think the dub, on closer inspection, does tamper a bit the the integrity of the soundtrack. At least with this film the voices were more isolated and separated from the rest of the audio mix. I’ll grant my set-up may have some to do with it, and perhaps disc settings.

However, I found that listening to this film in Portuguese was a very enjoyable experience in spite of some of these minor quibbles. There were, of course, necessary dialogue adjustments and changes of syntax in deference to making the sync match better, but more often than not the new line was analogous enough that the sacrifice of exactitude was acceptable. One example of these changes would be:

When Malfoy says to Goyle “I didn’t know you could read” the Portuguese translates back as “I didn’t think you could read.”

That’s a minor example, especially compared to what happened to Let the Right One In‘s subtitles on home video. In a lot of cases it’s rewording as opposed to rewriting. More often than not things are done beautifully in this dub actors have the proper inflections and are cast impeccably nailing so many characters dead-on; one small example would be Vernon. There is some word play beautifully adjusted so it still works in Portuguese. Some of the few lamentable things are ones that really don’t make sense and you think would be mandated like the Dr. Strangelove reference in Cornish Pixie scene is out and the Parseltongue is no longer jumbled.

When you know the script fairly well it really gives you more insight to technique. Examples being that stiff-lipped actors help such that the audience is easier to sell on a match of lip movement because of it. There are some more liberties taken with the precise wording when a line is delivered by a character whose mouth does not appear onscreen (whether in voice over or over-the-shoulder). Some lines, in the interest of matching, are accelerated or decelerated as necessary. The trick then becomes for the actors to keep the same intentions of the original while performing a very technical task and in this particular film that usually happened. At times this is not quite by design, every so often an actor would feel a bit too rushed, but considering some of the bad dubs I’ve subjected myself to it’s hardly worth belaboring.

]Charles Emmanuel in the studio for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Charles Emmanuel/Warner Bros.)

Watching the film in a different way you’re also on the lookout for different sections; one of the sequences that is absolutely nailed is the Dark Forest sequence. There are many standouts but perhaps the most prominent being Charles Emmanuel, with him it’s almost as if Rupert Grint had learned to speak Portuguese. The interpretation of the character was so in sync. Ana Lucia Grangeiro as Hermione is also excellent. She apparently was, if she no longer is, an incarnation of Monica.

Perhaps the biggest thing I realized in this viewing is that dubs themselves are productions, not unlike films. Some get it right, others do not. The Harry Potter series was a first class production in English, as well as in (Brazilian) Portuguese. Dubs also have the unenviable task of recreating the reality of the film for a new audience. I’ve not yet seen it, but my cousin told me how Darth Vader in Portuguese had a more robotic quality to his voice; and that it was almost a letdown when he saw it in English for the first time. Granted much of it has to to do with what you experience first, but that’s the point: a kid who’s still mastering reading, or can’t yet, will not be able to deal with subtitles. With the quality of dubs that Harry Potter received in Brazil it seems that many kids there got a fairly similar experience to the ones here.

Film score: 10/10
Dub score: 9/10

Thankful for World Cinema: The Golden Dream (La Jaula de Oro) (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

The Golden Dream (2013)

La Jaula de Oro is a film that I was completely unaware of until one of my more dedicated readers saw an article written about it in light of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and sent it my way. The film then ended up on My Radar and one I wanted to see not only based on the story but based on the director’s work with non-professional young actors in this film.

La Jaula de Oro follows three Guatemalan teenagers Juan (Brandon López) , Sarah (Karen Martínez) and Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez) as they try to get through Mexico and ultimately across the US border.

This is a film that has very little reliance on dialogue and few conversations of any consequence. It’s a story that’s told with visuals at the forefront, focusing on the landscapes around the characters and how they interact with them and each other non-verbally.

The film sets this tone early on as we watch Juan and Sarah each make their own preparation for their first attempt to leave. Some of the maneuvers made may seem curious but as events play out they will become clear. Other occurrences that are wordless are the way the characters change in the way they look at each other. This quietude is almost by necessity inasmuch as Chauk is a Guatemalan native and does not speak Spanish; therefore nonverbal cues are key.

López, Martínez and Domínguez all perform admirably in this film and based on the direction, and the work they all put in together, you’d never guess that this was their first venture. López has perhaps the most challenging role before him not just being the lead, but also taking a seemingly simple arch through several one-note iterations and slowly progressing. However, the progression does come through. Martínez has a persistent duality to her role as the has to have a gentle nature but also be tough enough to be believable as a boy, as she is traveling as such. She achieves both these tasks with ease. Lastly, Domínguez through all his close-mouthed stolid persona has to emote wordlessly with few single reaction shots and manages to.

In an interesting decision that I’ve seen a few times, but never as persistently as in this film, when Chauk does speak his native tongue it is not subtitled. His companions don’t understand exactly what he said so neither do we, but in most cases we get the gist.

The film does illuminate many situations and facts about the northward migration that most either don’t know or never considered. Firstly, that it’s not just Mexican citizens trying to cross the border but also some of the realities on the road, which is really the focus. For the film eschews the MacGuffin of illuminating what is exactly that’s prompting these teenagers to make their attempts solo. It cares about the journey instead.

La Jaula de Oro puts its characters before any overarching messages. Sure, they are there if you look for them based on how certain situations play out but they are never vocalized. It’s a depiction rather than soap-boxing and it’s one of the more compelling dramatizations of this journey that’s been rendered in the past several years.

8/10

Thankful for World Cinema: You and the Night (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

You and the Night (2013)

I have a theory about this film. I put that forward from the start to immediately plant the seed that it’s the kind of film that one might develop theories about. Now, the cynical view would be that any film that requires theories about it is being far too abstruse for its own good. However, there are a number of affectations within this film that I believe make theorizing not only necessary but welcome.

The set-up, on the surface, is a simple one. Round about midnight a couple and their live-in transvestite maid are in preparations for an orgy. The guests at said orgy are all “labeled.” And I mean labeled such that they are hardly if ever referred to by name but rather as a label: The Slut, The Star, The Stud and The Teen. Even the maid, who can be argued to be one of the more central figures in the narrative, is usually referred to as just that, The Maid.

That’s just one thing that lends some credence to theory-bearing. The hints flow into the story slowly. There is a deftly not-much-commented on futuristic music player, there are sudden theatrical infiltrations of negative fill in the apartment during story telling by many of the players. When there are intrusions of seeming reality (such as the police in search of a missing person) the interaction is odd, stylized and over-the-top, but decidedly so and not accidentally. All this and more contribute to a notion that the film is fact an utter fantasy fashioned as such to examine as many sexual quirks and avenues in singular psyches as possible.

The lack of convention can be plainly seen in the third act as fantasies dissolve back into a reality that more closely borders the surreal than ever before in the film. These are the more secondary intimations that have less bearing on the plot, the more obvious hints that I interpreted this way cannot be discussed lest they give away too much of the film’s action.

There are many subgenres and approaches to film that require more out of actors and this film certainly gets plenty from its ensemble. The central triad is played by Kate Moran, Niels Schneider, whom I recognized from Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats, here he is equally as evocative if not more so; and lastly Daniel Maury as the maid. For as absurd as the interactions of this trio may be they pull it off, and more importantly, behave as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Flanking them are footballer-turned-actor Eric Cantona who has a similarly unenviable task of not only saying his monologues straight-faced but selling them and succeeds. Fabienne Babe astutely plays the star-in-hiding with skeletons in her closet. Alain Fabien Delon, son of legendary French leading man Alain Delon, brings a perfect ingenue-like quality to this film and effectively plays a fought-over prize. Perhaps the most enigmatic, and in some ways most lacking character is that of The Slut, however, this is no fault of Julie Bremond’s. There is an attempt to plumb a profundity beneath a pornographic façade of all of these characters. The results with her character just don’t prove as conclusive as they do with the others.

There is an odd kind of mysterious magic that keeps You and the Night engaging throughout. It’s tale is a curve rather than a straight line and thus the end is a bit of an ellipsis. However, ultimately the journey is an intriguing one which plays out a bit like Pirandello writing an exploration of human sexuality for a different medium in a different century.

6/10

Thankful for World Cinema: In the Fog (2012)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

In the Fog (2012)

In the Fog goes about its narrative in a few ways that are a bit outside the norm. By norm I mean standard three-act formatting and forward-moving chronological narrative. What this film does is persistently but languidly pushes its narrative forward about twenty to thirty minutes at a time then at a necessary crossroads backtracks to fill-in any blanks that may have been left by the previous passage. However, the reason this method works for the most part is that you get a bare minimum of information as you need to be able to follow the plot. What the backtracks do is illuminate the shock, but what had occurred prior is engaging because of the basic drama, and in part some of the disorientation being felt.

Another aspect that makes this structural decision adept is as you follow the tale of this man who has been wrongly accused of collaborating with the Nazis who are occupying Belarus at this time is that the end of his, and the film’s, story are not that difficult to figure out. However, the structuring of the tale is such that impact of most plot points and twists is heightened and made more profound by information you glean after the fact.

Nearly all the drama in this story centers around three soldiers: Sushenya, the accused (Vladimir Svisky), Burov, sent to capture him (Vladislav Abashin) and his partner Voitik (Sergei Kolesov). It is largely thanks to these three performers that you stay as engaged in this tale as you do. Much of the time these three are interacting, either recounting what has occurred or engaging when only stakes and not details are yet understood and its their commitment and clarity that is communicating what the details omit.

Another aspect of this film that is worth noting is that the framing is usually rather loose and withdrawn, leaning toward wide shots that are fairly static. It plays into the more storytelling nature rather than a battle tale. The film is a human tale amidst a war not a war film amidst humanity.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film is the psychological. Both the psychology of the characters that is examined throughout, but also the psychology of the Nazi nemesis in this film, which is very accurately portrayed and seemingly well-adapted from the source material.

The only things that really holds this film back are that slight bit of lag, and the fairly clear endgame in sight. However, those are not the be and all and end all of this film, thus, those facts are not ruinous to this film and it does manage to engage well enough.

7/10