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Moving pictures 2019, #18

I still have a bunch of these before I’m up to date. These films are from early June.

A Date for Mad Mary, Darren Thornton (2016, Ireland). Mary has just been released from prison and returns to her home in Drogheda. Her best friend Charlene is about to be married and Mary is one of the bridesmaids. And she needs a date. She also has to run a number of errands for the bride-to-be, such as arranging a hen party. And sorting out the wedding photographer. But Charlene’s friends, and the other bridesmaids, were never really Mary’s friends, and though Charlene insists nothing changed while Mary was inside they are clearly drifting apart. So Mary tries to find herself a boyfriend for the wedding, while trying to ignore that things have changed in Drogheda. Mary bumps into the wedding photographer, the two begin seeing each other, despite neither considering themselves gay. But it’s the wedding photographer Mary takes the wedding. I didn’t know what to expect when I started watching A Date for Mad Mary, but it turned out to be a well-played girl-meets-girl movie, with a good cast, a plausibly story and a realistic setting. Worth seeing.

Captain Marvel, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (2019, USA). This has been one of the most divisive films of the year, if not the most divisive film so far in the MCU. And, typically, all the fuss had nothing to do with its quality. There is a type of fan out there, of comics and of films, who simply can’t accept a story in which a woman is the hero. They are of course male. And intellectually-challenged and immature. Not only upset with a tentpole MCU movie being about a female superhero, they flew into a frenzy when they saw a deleted scene from the sell-through release showed Captain Marvel subduing a biker who’d made a sexist advance to her. It’s not a good scene, and adds little to the film (which is probably why it was cut), but what Marvel did is trivial when you consider that fridging is so prevalent in movies it’s an actual trope. That’s fucked up. I am, as I’ve said before many times, not a fan of the MCU films, or indeed of superheroes in general. One or two of the films I’ve found entertaining, but they’re only really impressive as showcases of the state of the art in CGI, and not always then. Captain Marvel made some odd story choices, likely a result of a difficult production, with far too many throwaways that added little or nothing. The use of de-ageing on Samuel R Jackson and Clark Gregg was weird and distracting. And the plot jumped around all over the place, with the final big reveal being obvious from about ten minutes in and so it pretty much fizzled. But there was a lot to like. Marvel is the most interesting superhero to carry a film, and as an origin story Captain Marvel beats being bitten by a radioactive spider, but the power Marvel has by the end of the film… Why are there zillions of superheroes when you have one that’s so powerful no one can stand against her? It’s like everyone has sticks and there’s one person walking around with a chain-gun. Star Trek used to do it all the time, with its god-like aliens like Q. Despite all that, Captain Marvel was one of the better MCU movies I’ve seen.

The Nugget, Bill Bennett (2002, Australia). Like most of the films in this post, I stumbled across The Nugget on Amazon Prime. It’s a low-budget Australian movie, although star Eric Bana has appeared in several Hollywood movies and even played a memorable villain in the first of the execrable Star Trek reboots. I say “memorable” but just about the only things that were memorable in that film were its egregious ignorance of the laws of physics and lack of rigour. Oh, and its plot, which didn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Happily, none of those are accusations that can be levelled at The Nugget. Three layabout road workers own a plot of land in the bush where they hope to find gold. And then, purely by accident, they discover a massive nugget, the biggest ever found. The story then follows a typical path – it was also used in Ousmane Sembène’s Mandabi (see here) – in which the three men and their wives spend they money they will get from the nugget before they’ve even sold. And they don’t even know how to sell it. And then it goes missing, but they figure out who has stolen it. You can pretty much guess the ending. A fun light comedy. And very Australian.

Images, Robert Altman (1972, UK). This is one of those films that reminds you of other films. The obvious reference is Don’t Look Now, although that was released a year after this one. But critics at the time thought it resembled Polanski’s Repulsion from 1965. A successful author of children’s books, Susannah York, is told her husband is having an affair, although she finds no evidence of it. Every now and again, however, her husband appears to be an entirely different man. So they move to a small cottage in the Irish countryside, in the hopes York will have the peace and quiet to work and recover. But her husband still keeps on changing into that stranger, and she even spots a doppelganger of herself at various times. Little in this film made sense, but I don’t think it was intended to. Perhaps it was supposed to represent York’s decaying mental state, but the ending scotches that reading. When you finish watching a film, you like to think it was worth the two hours it took. Not just the quality, but also the story. And that’s where Images failed. It seemed relatively straightforward, but by the end you had no idea what it was supposed to be about. Avoidable.

Aladdin, Ron Clements & John Musker (1992, USA). I’ve been slowly working my way through the Disney animated films, not to any plan or timetable it must be said, and it’s often surprises me how few of them I’ve seen. Especially those originally released in the 1980s and 1990s. Which includes Aladdin. I know the story, of course – I’ve read 1001 Nights (various versions), but I knew it even before then, from… the pantomime? I’ve no idea – and I had some sort of vague recollection of some details of the film from back when it was released… Aladdin is a humble, but attractive, street urchin. An evil vizier uses him to break into a cave of riches (this part of the film didn’t seem to follow the original story much) but leaves him trapped inside. He manages to escape, thanks to a genie (voiced by Robin Williams). He returns to the city, disguised as a rich prince, and woos the sultan’s daughter. But the evil vizier plans to marry Princess Jasmine himself and so take the throne. The rest of the story was pretty much by the numbers. With songs. The chief draw here is Williams as the genie, and that’s going to totally depend on how much you enjoy Williams doing the Williams shtick. Which, for me, is not that much. The animation was clean, the character designs were, well, nice, and it all seemed a bit, well, bland. It felt like Disney Product. Meh.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs*, David Hand (1937, USA). I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before, although it must have been when I was a kid because I have no specific recollection of it. But, like a lot of early Disney films, much if its contents have become cultural memory, so it’s hard to know what’s personal memory and what’s learned second-hand.  It’s even harder when you have a story as well-known as Snow White. You know how it goes. Evil queen is told Snow White will eclipse her in beauty, so she has the huntsman take Snow White into the forest and kill her. Which is what you would totally do if someone a couple of decades younger than you turned out to be prettier. The huntsman does not kill Snow White, who runs away and stumbles across a cute cottage occupied seven dwarfs. And so on. It’s all very 1930s, but then classic Disney films were very much products of the decade in which they were made… and I suppose that might also hold true for more recent Disney animated movies, except everything the studio does these seems way more productivised. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is generally considered one of Disney’s best films, if not its absolute best one. It’s definitely top ten, perhaps even top five. Unlike Aladdin (see above), it has bags of charm so it seem churlish to complain Snow White herself is completely insipid. But the dwarfs, happily, are anything but. Still, I wanted to put it at number one, or perhaps even in the top three. It’s very good. But there are a few that are better.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 940


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Moving pictures 2017, #49

Six films, six different countries. Much as I try to spread my viewing, it doesn’t always work out so well. A good mix of films too. And some pretty good films too.

Les rendez-vous de Paris, Éric Rohmer (1995, France). I’m still slowly working my way through Rohmer’s oeuvre, although I’ve no plans to “accidentally” buy a collection of his films one night after a glass or two of wine – and there are several available… although I have been tempted. But, while Rohmer’s films are very well made, none – except perhaps Love in the Afternoon – has especially taken my fancy. Les rendez-vous de Paris – one day I will have to decided on a standard for non-Anglophone films, either using the English translated title or the original language title – contains three stories based on the title. In one, a young woman arranges to meet a stranger, who she thinks might be the pickpocket who robbed her at a streetmarket, at a brasserie, only to discover her boyfriend there with another woman. In another, a woman meets with her literature teacher in a park. And in the third, an artist meets a young woman and pursues her, abandoning his date. The first story is most memorable, perhaps because of its ludicrous coincidences, but none of it really adds up to a memorable movie. One for Rohmer fans.

The Virgin Spring, Ingmar Bergman (1960, Sweden). And I’m still slowly working my way through Bergman’s oeuvre, although unlike Rohmer I’m buying Bergman’s films rather than renting them. It has got to the point now, however, as a friend pointed out, that each new Bergman film I watch is starting feel like a Bergman pastiche. In The Virgin Spring, a man in  mediæval Sweden sends his beautiful daughter to the nearest church with candles, accompanied by the daughter’s pregnant servant. En route, the two are separated, and the servant witnesses three herdsmen rape and kill the daughter but does nothing. The herdsmen then seek shelter, unknowingly, in the father’s house, but their crime is revealed when they try to sell the daughter’s clothes to the mother. This is grim stiff, and nods at Norse mythology do little to justify the grimness. Bergman favourites Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg and Gunnel Lindblom all appear – as father, mother and servant girl – and the scenes set in the Swedish forests – ie, the ride to the church – look more like the sort of woods you’d expect in a Shakespearean play on stage. Bergman has a body of work second-to-none, and it’s certainly worth working your way through it; but there are only a few stand-outs, and the rest do have a tendency to blur into a cheerless morass of Nordic grimness. One for Bergman fans.

Moana, Ron Clements & John Musker (2016, USA). I’ve no desire to completely ignore Hollywood, although I do ignore much of its output – and I often wonder why I don’t ignore more. But Moana seemed to have generally positive reviews, and despite being a kids’ animated film, the story appeared to be a little bit different. So I bunged it on the rental list, and in due time it popped through the letter box. And… well, I enjoyed it. The story is based on Polynesian mythology. Apparently, there was a period of about a thousand years when they stopped sailing across the sea. According to the film, this is because demigod Maui stole the heart of goddess Te Fiti, creating demon Te Ka in the process. But one thousand years later, chieftain’s daughter Moana is drawn to the ocean, and feels a need to sail beyond the reef. Which is how she ends up tracking down Maui and enlisting his help to find and return Te Fiti’s heart. Everyone who provided voices for the film is of Polynesian extraction – except for Alan Tudyk, who played the, er, chicken – and efforts were made to be as sensitive as possible to Polynesian culture. Moana still came under fire, however, for basing its ship designs on those of an existing island culture. I think the fact Disney made an effort, which would have been unthinkable ten years ago, is laudable. It seems churlish to criticise them for not getting it 100% right, but since I’m not one of the affected parties I guess it’s not my call. I did find the film entertaining, and the animation well done. Major animated films in the twenty-first century so far have proven a bit of a mixed bag, but Moana is definitely one of the better ones.

Accused, Jacob Thuesen (2005, Denmark). So the night before flying out to Copenhagen for Fantasticon, I decided to watch a Danish film. I could perhaps have chosen a more cheerful one. Er, had I more cheerful one on hand, that is. Although the DVD cover prominently features the phrase “Nordic noir”, Accused, well, isn’t. A happily-married couple have a troubled teenage daughter. Who claims her father sexually abused her several years before. He’s arrested and his daughter’s claims are investigated. But they can find no proof, and the daughter’s past history of lying tells against her. Of course, this is an area fraught with moral conundrums. Do you believe the victim, despite the lack of evidence, because of the power dynamics in the relationship? Or should there be a rigorous requirement for proof, and innocence assumed if it doesn’t exist? Because these are not crimes – especially when committed years before – that are likely to generate anything more than the most circumstantial of evidence, and much of that is going to be the psychological damage of the victims. Accused never makes it clear whether the father is guilty or not – the court returns a verdict of innocent because of insufficient evidence. But even that too exacts a toll no one can walk away from such an accusation unscathed even if they are completely innocent. Accused sits in the shadow of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, and comes close to it, despite having more the feel of a teleplay than a feature film.

Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2006, Thailand). This was the second Weerasethakul film I’ve watched – I’d previously seen Tropical Malady (see here), and had been in two minds about it. But I’d forgotten I had Syndromes and a Century on my rental list… at least I did until it arrived. Tropical Malady hadn’t quite worked for me – its two stories didn’t quite join up. Syndromes and a Century is more traditional narrative, although even then it’s not entirely traditional as it doesn’t have much in the way of a plot, if indeed any. The film is split into two parts – the first takes place in a rural clinic, the second in a Bangkok medical centre. Someone recently described Weerasethakul’s films to me as “very you”, and I assume they were referring to the fact they’re “slow cinema” and often light on plot. I’m not sure I’m entirely in tune with Weerasethakul’s artistic sensibilities yet, although I do find what I’ve seen so far intriguing. There’s a documentary feel to Syndromes and a Century, making it one of those movies that blurs the distinction between fact and fiction (much like Ben Rivers’s The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are not Brothers, which actually depicts Oliver Laxe making a film that was later released as Mimosas). Of course, I’ve done the same in my own fiction, which is why it’s a boundary that interests me  – crossing fiction genre boundaries is boring, and people these days do it so uncritically, they’ve no fucking idea where the boundaries lie. But facts, everyone knows what facts are. Or at least, they used to. Until Trump and Brexit and moronic right-wingers with all the critical faculties of sea slugs, which breath through their anuses, not to mention the right-wing press… We need a better appreciation of facts, and fiction, ironically, is a good place to develop that appreciation.

Hera Pheri, Priyadarshan (2000, India). The DVD cover art is a bit misleading, although the film does revolve around three people – but it doesn’t involve them singing and dancing while playing a bizarre game of Twister. Although there were some very bizarre musical numbers… . Shyam has moved to the city to join a bank – he feels they owe him a job since his father died in a fire while working at the bank. But the job instead goes to a female candidate, Anuradha. Shyam goes to look for somewhere to live, has his pocket picked, and chases the man he thinks is responsible… Which he wasn’t. Later, he discovers that same man, Raju, a con man, is staying in the same house in which Shyam rents a room. Shyam tries various schemes to get the bank job, while Raju tells Anuradhu he will make sure she keeps it. Then the trio, plus landlord Baburao, stumble across a kidnapping plot when they get a wrong number. So they decide to insert themselves as middlemen, bump up the demanded ransom, and so make themselves millions of rupees. It does not go well. I’ve been doing quite well with my Bollywood choices so far, and while Hera Pheri was certainly entertaining, it wasn’t all that good – the comedy was too broad and repetitive, the whole kidnapping thing was ridiculous – and the fight scenes when the trio battle the kidnappers completely jumped the shark – and the two main male characters weren’t especially nice: boorishly entitled and whiny Shyam and lazy dishonest Raju. One for fans, I suspect.

1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die count: 880