Oct 262017
 

I more or less randomly watched this movie on Netflix and was happy to discover that it was shot in Montreal and is full of beautiful images of the skyline and the mountain.

The film isn’t great—only a few minutes after watching it, the story is fading, and I don’t remember much from the performances—but scene after scene took place in recognizable places around town and it was great fun to location-spot: the Olympic stadium, the Lachine canal, Old Montreal, Parc Lafontaine and others were on display.

Seeing the city on screen, I suddenly realized how much of its beauty I’ve come to take for granted.

 October 26, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Aug 062017
 

This show has an extraordinarily ugly vision of the world. Cruelty is everywhere and everywhere it bleeds into a sadism enabled and sustained by the production aesthetic. Noble ideals like honour and justice predominate in the dialogue and motivate character action, but in this world they serve rather than counter the cruelty. Despite the noble talk, there is no real notion of “the good” that is not childish or foolish, and so becoming adult means becoming cruel and hard.

It took me awhile to catch on to all of this which made watching the show incredibly painful. I kept being disappointed by characters who I thought were better than they were or caught off guard by violence that unsettled me. Eventually, I reached the point where, I watched for plot rather than people: a gigantic machine is in motion and I want to see how it rumbles along and how it finishes.

In terms of characters, I’m attached to only three.

Tyrion: he has money and a powerful family but he wants the pleasure of love and happiness. Best of all, he doesn’t live as if his world was a zero-sum. He wishes these pleasures for others, offers them when he can, and, in doing so, is the only character who is freely, personally good. That he and Varis—a character I could have added to this list but haven’t because he’s minor—have joined forces makes perfect sense. Given the ironic-mythic mode of the narrative, I continue to hope this fool will end up being king, although I doubt it will happen and just hope he survives to the end.

Arya: she has the misfortune of being a child and a woman in a world that tortures both. Her response is to live in a dream. That dream is a nightmare but it is a nightmare in which having nothing and being no one grants power. Because this story is a fantasy, Arya’s dream is real, and in an admittedly bloodthirsty way, I’m rooting for her.

Cersei: she’s a villain. She destroys too many lives, accepts to easily radically violent means to achieve her goals to be anything else. But with Robert, with Ned, later with her father, she speaks tragically of her situation: she, like Arya, has been born a woman and so has been hobbled from birth despite her obvious and extraordinary talents. Unlike Arya, she has not retreated to a dream. She has chosen the world she was given, set her sights on specific goals (that if she were a man would be admired), and within the possibilities available to her, has set to work making a place for herself and her children. I dislike so much of this world that watching her turn its own cruelty and deceit against its institutions and leaders, watching her beat them at their own game is deeply satisfying (and often funny). Foolish as it sounds, I also yearn for her to redeem herself and to use her talents for good.

Saying all of this, it must sound like I hate the show, but having finally read the first book, I feel confident saying that the show and it’s source are together a major work worth consideration. I dislike this world and its perspective on life. Yet, it’s compelling, powerful and, ultimately, I’m not able to dismiss it as an obviously false vision. Which means that despite everything (and as I said in a previous post), I am all in.

 August 6, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with:
Aug 052017
 

This film was surprisingly boring. The problem? Almost every major plot point turns around arbitrary events that have no basis in what came before or will occur after.

For example, the alien’s caught outside and they’re going to keep it from getting back in by burning the engines. What? No fuel? Oh no!

Or they’re creating a trap and the doctor, for some unknown reason, sees the alien nearby but doesn’t say anything. He just pretends everything’s fine. Oops! Now it’s eating his leg.

Or the tech guy decides to open an airlock. Or there’s high-speed debris. Or there’s a malfunction in the __________. And don’t get me started about the tracker that works for precisely one scene.

In short, the story is confused about what its problem is: a dangerous monster loose on a ship or a fragile and failing shelter adrift in a deadly environment? The film thinks it’s about the first, but it’s organized around the second. That mash-up could work but doesn’t here.

And so by the end rather than being horrified (or even interested), I felt certain that these people were inept enough and their equipment shoddy enough that even if it were just the rat they kept in the lab that got out of its cage (not the alien), they would’ve still wrecked the station trying to catch it.

 August 5, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Aug 012017
 

I first heard about Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name early last winter and have been waiting on pins and needles ever since. And by waiting I mean, hanging on any bit of news or interview that pops up and that I happen to find. The first poster dropped a week or so ago, and it looks great:

And now there’s an official trailer:

Watched alongside the clip, that was released a couple months ago (below), it’s clear that Guadagnino is both respecting the source and making a great movie. Which means I’m more excited than ever.

 August 1, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Jul 252017
 

This film has a great premise, good effects, strong performances and exciting set pieces. Its story presents, on the one hand, a credible account of two people’s experiences (and emerging relationship) in an ethically provocative variation on desert-island scenarios. On the other hand, it creates a large scale (but neither mythical nor apocalyptic) problem that must be solved by two ordinary human beings. The final shots, which leap forward ninety years and offer a backward glance at the traces of their two lives—lives lived in solitude and out of sight but lives lived also, by all appearances, happily—are powerful, moving, and they’ve stuck with me.

Yet the reviews leading up to the film’s release were terrible—so much so that I waited to see it as a rental—and it seems to have done badly at the box office. And yet, this was not a bad movie at all. (Lesson relearned: don’t trust reviews!)

Popular judgments this bad aren’t a canary in the coal mine. They’re you watching with stinging eyes and burning nose as the miner a hundred feet down the shaft keels over.

Because if science fiction storytelling like this isn’t exciting enough to be worth seeing, then Marvel’s colonization of our mind-screens is near complete.

 July 25, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Jul 252017
 

Equals is a Gattica rehash insofar as it uses mid-century (read: old fashioned) modernism to represent a medicalized and bureaucratic dystopian future. Here though, the architecture is more central (and beautiful) and the love story is between seemingly younger characters. (The apparent youthfulness of the protagonists is important in the final act which cleverly cribs the last act of Romeo and Juliette.)

Although there are specifics to the story—it’s a postbellum world in which emotion (and so war) has been eliminated—these details don’t really matter because this is a love story about the allegorical possibilities blankness. Blank walls. Blank faces. Blank narratives. As a result, the movie is self-consciously “about” anything you read into it. Sexuality. AIDS. Depression. ADHD. The psycho-sociology of illness. I’m not sure any of this is very interesting and suspect that to the extent any of it is, it’s because the topic (rather than the movie) is interesting and that the movie therefore serves as a useful example or object for discussion.

As I watched I was caught up primarily in the acting. Blankness is hard to perform in film because, at it’s base, convincing cinematic performance involves creating a mildly blank expression that can be read by the spectator through projection. Yes, there are big scenes and “Moments” where the screen actor plays large and loud and broadcasts a feeling. But most of the time, actors underplay and merely suggest. Making the blankness that they normally use to create an effect visible as the effect itself is clearly difficult, and in the first act, I didn’t find Hoult and Stewart very engaging or convincing. However, once they are allowed to become people, they bloom (beneath the still blank surface of their faces) and things pick up .

As a side-note, Kristen Stewart playing blank and emotionally dull looked like Kristen Stewart playing Bella from the Twilight movies. When suddenly she began to play a person in love and happy, it was like watching a completely different actor. Seeing this film has convinced me she’s a real talent. I’m actually looking forward to seeing her in other movies now.

Jul 172017
 

This past winter I finally sat down and watched through all the available seasons of Game of Thrones. My reactions were intense and complicated and I haven’t yet taken the time to sort them out enough to write about the show after the first season.

(The short version is that the violence directed at some characters and the religious turn got under my skin and upset me badly. Plus characters I had very strong investments in have either met ugly fates or have gone off the rails. The series is amazing and well done—I’m hooked and all in—but damn, I was wrecked from watching it through so quickly.)

Which brings me to the point of my post: I’ll definitely be watching the new season but don’t have HBO. (I know. I know.) So I have to wait to see it. But this means that, if I don’t want spoilers (and I really really don’t), then what I am going to have to do? Stay off the internet for two or three months?

I may have a problem.

 July 17, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Jul 092017
 

This movie refuses to pretend to be anything other than precisely what it is: a camera that stares. In practice that means it risks being mistaken for a beautifully photographed but stuffy exhibit of period costumes and decors.

It’s not. It’s a camera staring with limitless curiosity at the face of Jean-Pierre Léaud.

A good example of this is an extremely long-take from early in the film. The movie sets its gaze upon a moment of Léaud’s performance, shooting him in profile in extreme close-up as he holds a smile for the members of his court attempting to entertain him in his bedroom. At first the smile is natural and pleasant. But then subtly the joy drops out of it, and it becomes a mask for fatigue. Nothing—and yet everything—has changed. And then a tiny muscle lying under the loose skin of Léaud’s cheek begins to twitch, intermittently at first but then insistantly. The smile never drops, the eyes continue to shine, but by the time the courtiers leave, the cost of the performance—the king’s and the actor’s—has registered.

More generally though, the film stares at a face made famous when it was young. The face has aged, but the movie and those of us watching it remember that it once looked like this:

The movie stares at this face, studying how it has changed with age, and searches for what of the youth remains.

The beauty of the film is that as it stares at the aged face, it discovers (and shows) that all of that remembered beauty is still there. Changed but there. And still compelling.

 July 9, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Apr 292017
 

(Photo source here)

The production of Caligula I saw  recently has been on my mind on-and-off for the past few weeks.

In the play, Caligula is always there, always speaking. He acts and defines the actions of the people around him. While I was watching, I focused on what he said, what he thought about, what he discovered and did. How could I not? I also took his preoccupations as if they were synonymous with the play, and as I thought back to the play later, I continued in the same vein.

But I’ve decided Caligula isn’t Caligula.

Caligula gives us a character who achieves a point-of-view and is convinced of its essential rightness as something greater than simply himself. Thanks to his position (as emperor, as protagonist), he has the power to push that view beyond himself and onto his subjects (the Romans, the spectators). Over the course of a performance, we watch as the people around him are slowly erased from their own lives and made less than human. Some become converts (Caligula’s certainty in his vision is not non-religious). Others die. Everyone suffers miserably.

I don’t know what Camus has said about his text, but with time to reflect, I see more clearly its preoccupation with moral certitudes, both religious and secular, and with the suffering they inflict. I also think that the play invites misrecognition of it’s concerns as part of its poetic strategy.

Which obviously brings me back to that set I hated so much in the production I saw—the one that hid all the bit players under a black box or pushed them to the front of the stage where Caligula was pacing and raving—I’ve begun to think it’s an elegant and expressive engagement with the problem I now think this play is presenting to it’s audience. The cheaper your seats and the farther you are away form the stage, the quicker and more often the bit players disappear from view. The people sitting at Caligula’s feet won’t see this at all, even though they probably think they see everything clearly.

A set that makes not seeing visible and then comments on that not seeing in terms of both a spectator’s physical situation within the theatre and their proximity to the protagonist is operating thematically.

 April 29, 2017  Theatre Logs Tagged with: ,