Sunday, May 10, 2015

Seen in April 

Duke of Burgundy, image via The New York Times

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One
The first third of this film has some of the worst dialogue and melodrama that you’ll ever see. Then at some point the story pivots to the action and big effects bits and it settles into its natural and entertaining rhythm. I still can’t figure any of it out and I find everyone’s motivations and the world which this tale is set a completely incoherent and confused jumble of possibilities but hey, J-law, right?

Horrible Bosses 2
If you liked the first one, this is for you. That’s not to say you need to see the first one to follow the second. I suppose they could’ve just named this Another Horrible Bosses Movie. Or More Horrible Bosses. Remember the Carry On movies? It’s like that. They weren’t sequels and no one cared. If you’ve never heard of this film before then I suggest you just continue on your uncontaminated way of life and remain pure and innocent.

Black Narcissus
A movie classic about a group of nuns who have set up a convent in remote, mountainous Nepal. It’s sort of up in the air if they’ve all planned to do good or if they were just running from a life they turned their backs on. It’s a little like “The Mission” for ladies. “There’s something about this place” is a refrain that excuses nutty and hysterical behaviour as the sisters slowly lose their resolve to the vistas and mountain air. I will say this, a couple of these Mothers of Mercy are sweet sweet honeys. There are several striking sequences that you will not forget for their beauty and tension. Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron stand out as does Sabu as a dandy of a bejewelled prince (or something) and let’s not forget Jean Simmons in “brown face” makeup as a rather intense local girl of unrivalled beauty. I thought this 1947 film would bore me to a deep sleep, but there was something brewing that keeps you watching.

Netflix’s new series based on the Marvel hero Matt Murdoch, the unnaturally gifted blind vigilante and lawyer of Hell’s Kitchen is less a Marvel Comic than “Frank Miller meets David Fincher”. The series has a certain cable-drama edgy maturity to it. There is much moodiness, extreme violence, blue language and just a little bit of sexuality that would make this rated M for Mature if it were a video game or R if it were a film. That’s sort of new. Despite all of the super-hero fantasy films and television, none of them are quite cut from the same cloth as Daredevil. There’s a reason for that. This is not really Stan Lee’s Daredevil. It’s much more Frank Miller’s vision of the Man Without Fear. Miller’s Daredevil was an unrepentant bastard, who had a rule to not kill assailants but somehow people died anyway. He lived in a crummy part of town, and was far more Ninja/Samurai than thug. The look of this series is grimy but not in the sort of sexy, wet pavement kind of way. It reminds me of Fincher’s Seven. New York, the un-Disney version, is soaked in water from dumpsters, and lit with green, phosphorous yellow and red neon. Interiors are poorly lit and even daytime street scenes are grey and cold. The heavy-on-strings score is atmospheric and omnipresent and I think might be the one thing that separates some scenes from shows like the Wire or Sopranos – it’s more melodramatic, which makes sense but sometimes the show walks a fine line between gritty reality and super-hero fantasy. So far they’ve been able to have their cake and eat it too. Yet, for me this is a lot more palatable than the bubblegum of televised series based on The Flash and Arrow. This is a departure for Marvel. There is still the trademark humour of recent Marvel productions but this is different than the operatic computer generated violent epics of the big budget movies. This is personal. Oh and it has a remarkable cast with stand outs like Vincent D'Onofrio (playing the Kingpin as he was meant to be played), Vondie Curtis-Hall as a grizzled journalist, Rosario Dawson as a streetwise nurse, and recently Scott Glenn appearing to do a great David Carradine impression as a ruthless mentor.

Duke of Burgundy
In the opening scene we see a cleaning woman being cruelly treated by her mistress, only to slowly discover, this is a scenario created by and for the pleasure of the cleaning woman, Evelyn. The employer, Cynthia, is an expert on moths (I’m sure there’s an innuendo I’m not getting here) who is her lover, and they play out similar mise en scènes pushing further and further than Cynthia seems comfortable with. The entire film seems like a bit of a formal exercise in creating Hitchcock-like tension in a film that is basically a relationship movie. There are also several uncomfortably erotic scenes which are fascinating in that no sex act is really being depicted. Or did I just reveal something about myself? The play acting is a strange layer over the characters real love for each other. At times Cynthia seems to just want the games to be just that, bedroom games, but Evelyn grows to need the role-play more and more, and seeks to create ever more intricate scenarios to achieve satisfaction. It’s a strikingly quiet, awkward, beautiful film that is more than a bit haunting and sad. I’ve heard it also makes 50 Shades of Grey look like a Saturday morning cartoon. The movie also seems to exist in its own world, without a known period (though it looks and feels like the 60s), without any real indication of the real world outside of the relationship - oh and no men whatsoever. I’ve also read that the film began as an homage to 70s “sexploitation” films of Jess Franco but grew to be something more. Despite the humiliation fetish, the movie seems more like the microcosm of the problems of any long term relationship in which two people either change or don’t.

While We're Young
Are you afraid of growing old? Then don’t see this film. Are you older but think you’re aging really well? Don’t see this film. Do you think you understand and can hold your own with 20-somethings? Don’t see this film. Are you over 40 and think you look good in a fedora? Don’t see this film. Are you over 40? You should probably see this film. Cornella and Josh are an established well-connected couple in their 40s, whose childless marriage is on cruise control. Enter the vibrant and ambitious 20-something couple of hipsters, Jamie and Darby. They take whatever lemons life hands them and make artisanal bitter lemon sorbet. They draw Cornella and Josh into their helter-skelter ad-hoc, hipster realm with street beach parties, Peruvian drug ceremonies and chickens as pets. The younger couple seemingly have few filters and are as accepting of anything and everything as cool and beautiful. Cornella and Josh find themselves briefly energized by the younger but eventually it all goes pear shaped when Jamie’s true ambitions are revealed. Noah Baumbach is etching his small, unassuming but incisive films into the American canon one frame at a time. I suppose he might be the “new” Woody Allen. I disagree. But he is making stories that for a certain generation and demographic will be as important as Easy Rider and The Graduate was for a previous generation. I can’t shake the feeling that Baumbach is like the other hemisphere of a brain shared with Wes Anderson. Their films are becoming more and more different but they do seem to come from a similar place (maybe it’s just a “New Yorkiness” to them - you could also and Spike Jonze, and Kelly Reichardt and maybe Nicole Holofcener to this group). Clearly I can’t articulate this but their movies are both parallel and divergent at the same time.

I Thought I Told You To Shut Up
A documentary short about Dave Boswell and his popular independent comic Reid Fleming, The World’s Toughest Milkman. This is a story of an independent artist’s success and failure and the wide spreading influence of a little comic from Vancouver.

Seth's Dominion
A NFB documentary about Canadian comic book icon Seth (née Gregory Gallant), his work and his process. Seth’s comic books are more than individual stories but are only part of his greater invention, the small invented city of Dominion, Ontario. The film is made up equally of interviews with Seth and his peers and animated versions of Seth’s stories. If you only know super-hero comics then Seth’s work will be a revelation and you should know his work.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
After Frank Miller’s influence on the Netflix of Marvel’s Daredevil and the upcoming Batman vs Superman film I thought I would check out Miller’s own film version of his Sin City comics. It’s a strange thing these Sin City films. They are a strange cross of animation, comic and film with every violent act or emotion played larger than imaginable. In a way, it reminded me of Stephen King who reportedly loathed Kubrick’s version of the Shining and made his own which was terrible. It revealed his lack of understanding of film. Miller reveals his misunderstanding of film. The short chaotic scenes, the operatic violence, the over-the-top voice-over borrowed from a hundred pulp novels all provide brief entertainment but makes for a flat, joyless movie.

Clouds of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche is a veteran film star revisiting the play that had been her breakthrough role 20 years before. Though this time she’s playing the older woman across from her original role played by the latest starlet, played with bratty brilliance by Chloe Grace Morenz . Kristen Stewart plays Binoche’s smart but frustrated personal assistant. Something that becomes apparent is how both actors are playing roles that, in many ways, reflect themselves in real life at their current stage of life and career. I can’t really decide what the film is about because it seems to be about many things. Challenging yourself, facing your fears, how the threads that connect us also bind and tear us apart and worst of all, the dizzying self-awareness you reach when you stop believing your own hype. I think.

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