Archive for category Film musings

Lesbian Movie Rant 2 – “The Kids Are All Right” by Lisa Cholodenko

Rating: A!!! & D

Rant not review so expect spoilers. Again a film that annoyed me greatly. I have never believed in “gay propaganda”, I have always thought it was an offensive expression coined by homophobes, and yet it does exist. Seriously, if you do a propaganda film, like this one, no matter what you are promoting(even if it supposedly is tolerance and equality), it is bound to be bad and insulting.

This film starts in a very interesting way. We have a lesbian couple Jules and Nic. They both had a child using the same sperm donor, so their family comprises also of Joni (18yrs old) and Laser (15yrs old). The boy wants to meet the donor, who agrees to see the children The meeting is slightly awkward. but generally positive and they decide to keep in touch. The mothers find out and they decide to meet him too. And so Paul enters into their life causing quite a stir. He commissions Jules to design and arrange his garden. They spend quite a lot of time together, which leads to an affair. Nic finds out and Jules is ostracised by the family, but then she grovels and they mercifully accept her back. Ha… Crappy ending.

Basically, I guess, the propaganda message was: a lesbian family can be very strong and resilient, it will withstand any difficulty, work out any problem. The one I received is: patriarchal family model is still very strong, so strong in fact that even if technically there are two females in a marriage it can still be an oppressive institution, that discriminates women.

You see, we actually have a very traditional patriarchal family in this film. Nic assumed the part of the husband/single breadwinner/controlling master and as it is mentioned in the film she had emotionally blackmailed/ bullied Jules to become the stay at home mother. Jules had  got a degree but never had the chance to have a career. And Nic constantly puts Jules down, that she has no income, no career – she has no fucking right to say these things, to mock Jules about it, but she does. Nic got upset because Jules bought a car to start her gardening business. And when Jules won the car argument, quoting Nic’s own previous condescending comment, Nic was visibly angry that her housewife outsmarted her in that conversation, but she could not think of a good comeback.

Apart from mocking Jules’ for the life choices she had made for her, Nic also ignores Jules and finds her unattractive. Jules has to ask her whether she would like to watch a porn flick with her to try and  have some sex. But Nic is more into the film than into Jules and actually uses the first excuse possible to end that embarrassing moment. I do not mind people watching porn to spice up their sex life, but here porn is a bait to get a tiny amount of very pathetic attention. No wonder she falls for Paul, who show her real attention and desire.

Nic is also controlling, domineering, condescending etc. She set self-righteous rules for the whole family and sees to that they are followed. When Jules asks her once not to overdo with the alcohol, Nic snaps at her: “Stop with the micromanaging”. Miss fucking double standard. And in what universe it is wrong to ask somebody not to drink too much.

Jules is the only one guilty in he end. She is the only one apologising. What the fuck. That was so messed up. She was bullied and put down, made feel unsuccessful and unattractive. But she betrays her wife and master  so she apologizes and everything is fine. The thing is that the affair was not the problem, it was the consequence of an abusive relationship. I was not rooting for Jules to stay with Paul, I mean he is an OK guy, has as many flaws and virtues as anyone. I was rooting for her to leave Nic. But she could not do that.  After all her self-esteem had been gradually undermined for years. She could not even fight for her right to be appreciated for what she had done, for Nic and their mutual family. Ignoring her own ambitions and career is a huge sacrifice, plus being a home-maker is a tough job. Coming back to the job market after so much time is even tougher, one needs encouragement and support, all Nic had to offer was criticism, that Jules was not generating income. None of the underlying problems was resolved, Jules came back to square one. Or maybe her situation even got worse, with the affair being a perfect means to put her down in the future.

This tribute to traditional, patriarchal values – a bad family is better than no family, a woman should be submissive and faithful to her husband, should not want anything for herself – made me sick. Yes, an affair is wrong, hurtful etc, but it was an act of desperation  and Jules did try to improve her marriage, she was the only one that tried. The title is right though. The kids were all right, as in really cool, intelligent people.

More details here.

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Lesbian movie rant 1 – “I can’t think straight” by Shamim Sarif

Rating: A!!!!!!

Again this is a rant, so spoilers ahead, I hated the film and do not recommend it.

This is very sad, because I had such high hopes for this one. A romantic comedy about lesbians, who have middle eastern backgrounds,  written and directed by a gay woman, of South African, Indian descent. And it was so bad, so sexist, so ageist and at one point might have been racist, but it might be just me being already overly outraged with this flick.

The people of the drama:

Leyla and Tala, beautiful, skinny, successful and talented young lesbians.

Leyla’s family rich British  Indian Muslims, living in London in what looks like an at least million  pound suburban house: Mother a primitive, stereotypical, hypocrite; Father successful, friendly, kind, caring, understanding; Sister  progressive, open-minded, caring.

Tala’s super rich family, Palestinian Christians living in Jordan (and other places around the world) in a huge, luxurious house, with a substantial house staff: Mother overbearing, controlling, anti-Semitic, narrow minded; Father elegant, stoic, understanding; Sister 1 (Lamia) stupid, shallow,  homophobic; Husband of Lamia sexist, shallow, anti-Semitic, homophobic; Sister 2 (Zina) kind, understanding, open-minded.

Tala is engaged again (4th time) but meets Leyla and falls in love with her. They cannot be together because Tala is afraid to admit who she is to herself, but eventually on the day of the wedding she decides that she needs to listen to her heart and tries to win Leyla back. There is a happy ending.

Every woman older than 35 is stupid, hypocritical and shallow. They all concentrate exclusively on appearances and consider relationships only as financial deals. They have absolutely no redeeming qualities. With one exception, every man, regardless of his age or background is kind, understanding, open-minded. Fathers accept their lesbian daughters and defend them from their raging mothers. It saddens me greatly to see the proof that women can be the biggest women haters. This film shows the worst stereotypes concerning women. I mean the ones that are noticeable in this film, because Leyla and Tala are rather generic and forgettable.

Tala’s family is originally Palestinian, so the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mentioned. According to the film director, she wanted the film to encourage dialogue, as far as this issue is concerned. If I had not heard it from her I would have never guessed. There is no dialogue, there is shushing it up. Of course Tala’s mother, who brings the subject up does it in an offensive way, so she is instructed by her daughter that she should leave the Israelis alone. It kind of gives the impression that one should not talk about this matter at all. Later on it is suggested that the biggest problem are rich Palestinians, who do not somehow give a new, fruitful life in Jordan to the refugees from the Gaza Strip… Seriously WTF? There is no mention of fanatical attitudes on both sides of the conflict, or of the war crimes on civilians and the silence of the international community. Sarif says that neither her Palestinian girlfriend nor Jewish friend felt offended. Sure they did not. Why, there is nothing controversial in pretending that the issue is not there and in acting as if saying anything critical about the Israelis is instantly anti-Semitic… It would have been better if this subject had been just left out, because the way it had been handled borders on absurd.

And now the bit I felt was racist. We have Nina Tala’s family’s house keeper. She wears a shalvar kameez and is obviously of  East or Central Asian descent. From the very beginning of the film she spits into the drinks she brings for Tala’s mother. I agree that Tala’a mother is a horrible person, I would have hated her instantly if I ever met her, but nowhere in this film she is shown to mistreat her staff, insult them or cheat them on their pay. Still Nina behaved in that peculiar way. My though after watching the film: is the message that a person form that region or culture will disrespect their employer for no apparent reason, just because they do not like them? I was beyond shocked hearing that according to Sarif this behaviour was a response to the mother’s anti-Semitism… The house keeper spits into the beverages she serves from the very beginning. We learn of the anti-Semitic attitude far into the film, and I am not even sure Nina is present when these sentiments are voiced. I might be just overreacting, but for me it felt ridiculous and racist.

In the DVD extras the film director constantly moans about the low budget of this film. Well maybe instead of making the film about ridiculously stereotypical rich people, she could have made a film about simple, normal and realistic people, so she would not need to rent very expensive locations, cars and clothes… And possibly she would have had the money to improve the script with some professional, objective script writer and not some bff, who obviously preferred to be encouraging and supportive, when serious critical approach was required.

Details.

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“J’ai tué ma mère” by Xavier Dolan

Rating: CoDS

Not many films touch me on a deeply personal level. This one does in a very bad way. What was even worse were things my friends said after we had watched it. I am still struggling with this film and with how it is perceived. I’ve already written a review of this film somewhere else, an almost proper one, neat and impersonal. But I feel that I need to write other things as well… this is how much I personally hated this film. Previously I only got this involved in films I had found beautiful. So this is even less of a film review than the other ones here. It will be more of an over-share and a rant. And many a spoiler ahead, you have been forewarned.

The plot in short: Hubert a teenager and his mother have a horrible relationship, they fight constantly and do cruel things to each other. This is it… the film is one huge raw cut into (hardly) digestible pieces with interludes of some redundant sub-plots. I guess the other characters and episodes were put in because otherwise this would have ended up as an unwatchable short and not a feature film. The main focus was on the child-parent conflict and the rest was so underdeveloped that it either seemed pointless (the young teacher’s story) or ridiculous (the boyfriend(boyfriends?) story). I shall not go into the teacher bit, because I am truly clueless what was that all about, but I would like to expand on the boyfriend. My reason  is that Hubert being gay is mentioned in every piece of commentary about this film that I have heard or read. I do not see why is this detail so important, because anyone can have a very pathological relationship with a parent, regardless of their sexuality or gender. But fine, this is supposedly autobiographical and Dolan is a young, gay male, so I will not argue with that. The ridiculous bit is how was Hubert’s homosexuality is portrayed, more precisely his relationship. Either Canadian teenage gay boys are completely different from other teenagers I have seen (live or on film) or this was the least realistic portrayal of a romantic relationship I have seen in a highly realistic movie (oh and this one  does aspire to realism, it even goes as far as naturalism). The teenagers I have encountered were very excited with their relationships, especially when these were very fresh, less than half a year old relationships. They were (even a we could fit in here) constantly in breach of each other’s personal space, even if they were not touching the proximity was high and the affection very obvious in the movements or gazes. Between Hubert and Antonin there is nothing of the sort even when they are alone together in Antonin room (Antonin’s mother knows and approves of their relationship). There is even a scene when they are on the bed just with their underwear on – there was absolutely no sexual tension between them, no affection, if they were two girls instead of boys this scene could have been taken for plain bonding between good friends. If I remember correctly before Antonin’s mother spelled it out I was actually thinking that they are just pals from school and that Hubert is yet to find a boyfriend. And than there was the completely laughable, artsy sex scene, the sole purpose of which was to communicate: “I’m Xavier Dolan, look at me I’m so hot topless!”.

Now to the main event, the acclaimed and hyped mature portrayal of a relationship between mother and son. Well it may have been mature if it not for the super emo monologues in the bathroom, which were trying to sway the viewers to Hubert’s side. He was made to be the bigger victim in the film. That was really cheap and childish, because there was no bigger victim in that pathology… a part of me feels that there was no victim at all. They both seemed to egotistic, completely focused on their own suffering.  There is a form of the narcissistic disorder that basically goes like that: look at me, pithy me, I’m an eternal victim of everyone and everything! I felt that both of them suffered from this. They were like little children incapable of empathy and lacking any form of self-awareness. They say cruel things to each other and act as if there was nothing wrong with that… they love each other so they can say anything. For me there was no other love than self-love, because if you love someone else you take their feelings into account.  There was this laughable scene, when the mother gets a phone call from the principal of the private school she sent Hubert off to. Hubert ran away and the guy says that this has never happened before. Of course he says other stuff as well, sexist things. And the mother thrives, she makes such a victim of herself, her monologue so dramatic, so desperate – I laughed so hard. Seriously, she loved every bit of it, she was separated from her regular oppressor (Hubert) and that suddenly this one came along. Glory be… I  personally know someone like them, someone that needs to be oppressed, is always the victim even if it is her, who uses physical and emotional violence against others. It is also everyone else who has a problem and should seek treatment, not her.  And I grew to hate her, and I know I say hurtful things to her, but I do not pretend to love her, I know what I am saying – after years and years of being put in a position of the bully, even though all I did was backing off and keeping my mouth shut I just got fed up and began to retaliate, but I am fully aware of it!

These two characters live, breath and love their pathology, they can be such perfect victims in it. They need it to assert themselves of their own flawlessness and the cruelty of others.

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Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Jan Kounen

Rating: A

Coco Chanel invites Igor Stravinsky and his whole family to her very modern and fashionable house near Paris. The Stravinsky family had emigrated to Paris running away from the revolution which had been taking place in Russia at that time. The primary reason for Chanel’s gesture is her love for Stravinsky’s music. She wants to offer a fellow artist a quiet place to work. But over time they develop a sexual relationship.

I have to say I found the film rather offensive. My friends found it boring and deprived of well developed characters, and I concur with both these opinions. But as dull as the story was it wasn’t enough for me to fully disengage and ignore the strong sexist undertone of the film. It is very shocking for me that stereotypes can run this deep in a film of this sort. I mean, as depressing as it is cinemas are ridden with half-assed movies filled with sexist and xenophobic stereotypes, but they aspire to nothing more than very cheap entertainment for people, who usually unlearned to read. The Chanel & Stravinsky movie, however, pretends to be something quite different. A beautiful, emotional drama, with art nouveau and classical music in the back ground. Something a hoity toity intellectual might watch together with other members of her/his species.

We have three main characters: Coco – the successful, heartless bitch – seducer; Igor – the weak, pathetic man – adulterer; Katarina – the terminally ill victim – wife. The way the script is written there are no other traits to these characters and the other characters are there just to fill the group shots. There is no reason shown for the passion between Chanel and Stravinsky, apart from her beauty. In best case scenario he views her and her life with patronising amusement, so why would an independent woman like her wish to put up with this kind of attitude – no apparent reason in the film, besides a comment that she collects men. And why does she pursue him in the first place – reason: she loves his music. As much I love the art and craft of certain artists or actors it is not synonyms with: (in a hypothetical situation) I must sleep with them just because we are in the same room.

Katarina bears everything with dignity and mostly in silence, both her physical and emotional pain. Igor is spineless, but has sexual needs. And Coco she takes whatever she wants shamelessly, regardless of the suffering she causes – there is not even a hint of remorse or thought  that what she is doing may be wrong. But Coco is a stereotypical independent and successful woman. She is ruthless and mean. She has no respect for her employees. She acts as if everything she wants is so simple and obvious that only incompetent morons are unable to read her thoughts. I do not think I have recently seen such a pure evil career woman portrayed in film especially in an independent, slightly artsy one.

I do not recommend this film. If you are not fazed by prejudice and sexism than it is still plainly dull. And it is a shame all these truly beautiful clothes, houses and interiors wasted on this story.

More details here. A trailer.

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Film Rating Revision

Recently I have felt that my film rating is somewhat lacking. It was inspired by a program of a particular film festival, the shape of which might have not been as accidental as some critics of that festival claimed. I still like the categories I have, but I would like to introduce a few additional ones. They will act both as main categories – a film could be rated with just one of the new ones; or they will appear in any combination I would feel suits the film best. This will only apply to any future film reviews, I will not revise the already posted ones.

So on to the new categories:

(U)nsettling – for those films that leave me feeling creeped out or disturbed.

(A)nnoying – if the film pushes all the wrong buttons (ex. if I feel that it is sexist or xenophobic etc.)

(C)onfusing – if I don’t understand the film (plotwise in most cases) or am clueless as to the purpose  why it had been made in the first place.

(S)tunning – if the whole film or important/significant parts of it strongly appeal to me aesthetically, I feel I need this category, because  many of my absolutely favorite films I perceive on this very level and consider them simply beautiful.

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Nemo and modern physics

This probably isn’t a proper film review, even though a film inspired this post, more precisely Mr. Nobody by Jaco Van Dormael.

So to keep it all neat  I guess I should firstly introduce the said movie:

Rating: ND (Although I am slightly uncertain how to rate this one, because it was also a tad disturbing – maybe I need a U category for unsettling 😉 )

I will not summarize the plot, because I feel that in the worst case scenario I will spoil the film for someone or it will be just misleading at best.  I suspect that as I write this other internet users create posts on the possible interpretations of this film and their answers to the question what was real and what was… well a fantasy, dream, imagination? Again for me these words are misleading at best. The film is long (over two hours), slow and artsy. There are also moments when it is very beautiful in a way that greatly appeals to me.

I went to see it mostly because of the trailer, one that sadly I cannot find anywhere on line. The trailer had no dialog, just music and left a very strong impression. The other reason was Jared Leto. I had a soft spot for him, as I have for everyone, who played in My So-Called Life. I have not seen him in anything for a while, he rarely plays in films that catch my attention and the last time I had seen him in major role was in the horrid train wreck that Requiem for a Dream is. I did not like him in Mr. Nobody and I kind of feel he should concentrate on his musical career. He had an eternally surprised face, which fitted to some scenes but definitely not to all of them. His performance felt particularly bad, because it so strongly contrasted with of the much more intense and affectionate one by Toby Regbo, who played the 16 year old Nemo.

The film is an artistic take on the M Theory and other problems pursued by modern physics. It inspired me to revise my very stale understanding of physics. The last time I had anything to do with it was over 10 years ago and at that time physics in school did not venture beyond the ideas explored in the 19th century. Here are two films that I found very interesting and easy two follow (they are about an hour each):

PBS NOVA – The Elegant Universe (it has 7 parts on youtube, you can skip about 3 min of the first part, because it is just a lengthy intro)

Parallel Universe (it has 4 parts on youtube)

For me things described in these simple and explanatory films (aimed at ignorant people like me) were both fascinating and disturbing. There is something highly unsettling in considering these infinite or incredibly huge or unbelievably tiny things.

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A Prophet by Jacques Audiard

Rating: P & D at the same time ^^;

A young man, Malik El Djebena, ends up in jail. We can only guess that he was convicted for assaulting a policeman, but whether he really did that or what where the circumstances is never mentioned. He has no family or friends outside. He is illiterate and finished formal school education in his early teens. Even though he speaks both Arabic and French fluently and his name is clearly Arabic, he does not immediately fit in with the Arabic/Muslim clique. He is threatened by the Corsican mob to kill one of the inmates, a witness in a crucial trial. He tries various tricks to avoid killing a complete stranger for no reason of his own, but there is nowhere he can hide from the Corsican and finally survival instinct prevails and he commits the murder. This is a turning point in his life. Protected by the Corsicans and winning the trust of their lieder the young man begins to build relationships with other people, probably for the first time in his life.

The film felt positive, because Malik’s attitude towards life is very positive. He is very intelligent, speaks two languages fluently and only by spending time with the Corsicans learns to speak their language. He goes to school in prison and graduates. And finally he very quickly understands the prison rules and profits from playing by them. He embraces whatever opportunities appear in his life. Being very reliable and trustworthy – he always keeps his word – he is respected and liked.

The depressing thing was how horribly useless the social  security and law enforcement systems are. From a spooked boy Malik transforms into a serious criminal. His undeniable potential is wasted and no one seems to care.

Even though the film is rather long it does not get boring.

More information here. A trailer.

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A Single Man by Tom Ford

Rating: ND

George is a professor of English , who lost his lover in a car accident. We see just one day out of his life, the day he decided to be his last. We see him preparing to take his own life, while ordinary, everyday occurrences and simple objects trigger his memories.

This film is very special to me on a few levels. I simply loved it for the aesthetics, it is a tribute to the human form, everyone was portrayed  in it very tastefully and with passion. I also loved all the interiors in the film, especially  George’s house. The other thing was the way George contemplated suicide and how he prepared to it. The importance of not leaving a mess, I could really relate to that.There was also so much awkward humour, which I simply love. It touched me very deeply, how this film dealt with the problem of loss and longing.

It was one of these very few movies that actually managed to get me completely over excited, I was all tense in the cinema, acting like a  moron. I loved it that is why this is the first film I write about after the break, this is how special it is.

More datails here.

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The Tibetan Book of the Dead (A Way of Life / The Great Liberation) by Barrie McLean

Rating: P

These are two documentary films about death in the Tibetan culture and they were shown together. “A Way of Life” is more about the theoretical approach and the understanding of death, the attitude towards it. There is a simple explanation of the ideas written down in Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Buddhist book, which is read to a dying or already deceased person. To oversimplify it, the book provides guidance to the soul, which is trapped in an intermediate state between death and rebirth. There is a great feeling of calmness and hope surrounding death in the philosophy that can be read in this book. For this reason it is used by a group of people, who try to support people with terminal diseases – unfortunately I do not remember the name of the group.

The Great Liberation is about what happens when a person dies. There is an animation of what is believed to happen to the soul during the ritual. There is a more detailed explanation of the customs and the meaning behind them.

I personally liked the second film more. Not so many things explained in the first film were completely new to me and even the new ones were in no way surprising. I think that the funeral ceremony was very interesting in the first film, but I would prefer if more details were shown. I liked the visualisations in the second film a lot and the fact that it was centred around ritual made it very interesting for me. Tibetan Buddhism is for me a religion with very interesting ceremonies. I think that both films can be interesting for people, who want to expand their basic knowledge about Tibetan Buddhism.

Details about the films: A Way of Life & The Great Liberation. Clips: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi by Ian Olds

Rating: PtN

It was supposed do be a completely different film. The film crew planned to do a documentary about the work of fixers in Afghanistan. But when Ajmal Naqshbandi, one of the fixers that the director befriended during the filming, was killed before they finished making the film the crew suddenly faced a dilemma. Should they finish this film after what happened to Ajmal, should they use the footage with him? The director decided to make the film particularly about Ajmal, about his kidnapping and death. Thus to honour his memory, but also to allow his family’s voice to be heared all over the world.

We first meet Ajmal six months before his death as he helps an American journalist. As a fixer he helps the journalist with almost everything, he organizes the transport and  arranges a place to stay, translates and uses his connections to for instance organise  a meeting with some Taliban members. He also provides some insight into the complicated political and social situation in Afghanistan, without the fixer explaining these things a journalist would probably be unable to see the whole picture. To be quite frank I do not think highly of most journalists these days. Especially about those, who write about “exotic” (from the European reader’s perspective) countries. These journalists usually just repeat one after another,  using as sources just articles in newspapers and doing no proper research.

The film is very well done and easy to understand even for people, who know little about the conflict in Afghanistan, because gives the story of Ajmal a historical and political background. I was very moved by this film and I can recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

More information about the film here. A short trailer.

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