After some minor health issues that have marked the beginning of my 2018, I am pleased to be able to come back to this blog if not with perfect health, at least with the knowledge that my afflictions are fixable and temporary.
I return with optimism because great changes at a personal level may come in 2018 should everything go well and I stay focused.
On the 90th Academy Awards…
Last week also brought us the 90th edition of the Academy Awards, which were, in my humble opinion, better than usual, both as a television event and as driver of taste in film. Though I did not agree with some of the choices, specially with the Best Picture category, I cannot say I was frustrated with any of the winners, which were all good and worthy films.
My favorite moment of the night goes to Jordan Peele’s victory for his stupendous work writing Get Out’s script. It was not only a historic win for African American filmmaking, but a genuinely moving moment where Peele seemed to be overwhelmed by the impact of his success.
On the #metoo movement…
I must admit, when the allegations began to extend beyond Harvey Weinstein, I recoiled.
As a man it had never occurred to me that women could and should aspire to live in a world where they don’t have to constantly be the subject of unwanted advances or unkind remarks. It was, in all honesty, a total lack of imagination on my part. We must no longer accept the status quo and disregard the point of view of many women who were put in impossible and grotesque situations by unscrupulous men in positions of power.
There are, however, important differences between the cases. While Weinstein is a despicable human by all accounts who used his power to abuse, harass and even rape (allegedly), there are cases like that of Gary Oldman (who won an Oscar this past weekend) who was publicly accused of domestic violence by an ex-wife in the weeks leading to the Academy Awards. Oldman has never had to fight against any other similar allegations, and was never criminally accused by his wife. Now, I’m not saying it did not happen. What I am saying is that I am not sure if the allegations immediately disqualify him from being a recipient of an Oscar, which some people seemed to suggest. Though we want justice and are right to publicly denounce sexual abuse, there is a fine balance between exposure and holding public trials that make it impossible for the accused to exercise their right to work.
Everyone, regardless of the crime they are being accused of, should be able to have their day in court and, in my opinion, it’s not fair to destroy their public image as soon as one person accuses them of any wrongdoing.
I believe most of the allegations leveled at many famous men in Hollywood, but should we really oppose their right to work? Is inappropriate sexual behavior (which is different than assault or rape) enough of a reason to ban them from working ever again? Are convicted felons not granted the same right after they complete their sentences?
Let’s hope that this is only the beginning and that men, including myself, start to fully assume the responsibility to challenge the status quo and declare that “Time is Up!”.
On the last two months of film watching…
As you would expect, my film watching has suffered in 2018. I’ve made space for film, but not as much as I did at the beginning of 2017. Unfortunately, there are many other priorities competing for time and attention, and films will continue to be a privilege in the foreseeable future.
Having said that, January proved to be quite meaningful in that I watched two films, Phantom Thread and Akira, that I loved so much I immediately had to canonize them under the banner of my yet-to-be-published Blog of Big Ideas’ 250 Essential Films. I shall cover the films I watched in February on an upcoming post.
SAVING MR. BANKS (2013) [ 3.5/5 ]
For a film made by Walt Disney Pictures, Saving Mr. Banks pays little deference to the nearly mythical aura that surrounds one of America’s most enduring success stories: the man whose name and signature built the biggest film studio on Earth.
Instead, Saving Mr. Banks is about the writer of the beloved Mary Poppins, played by Emma Thompson. The film explores the difficult and sometimes confrontational relationship between the studio and the artist, which was apparently much worse than portrayed. The film gives us interesting insights about the creative process but, more interestingly, it draws parallels between the writer’s traumatic childhood and the creation of an iconic character.
Ultimately, what I took away was the film’s facile Disney-style sweetness, which came to the fore when the artist behind Mary Poppins finally allowed herself to make the emotional connection to the unlikely genesis of her art: a traumatic childhood.
MACHO (2016) [ 1.5/5 ]
The occasional laughter that is the consequence of such a moronic comedy is quickly erased by Macho’s mishandling of its message of inclusion and acceptance. The film manages to be offensive and reductive from almost its first scene to the last.
The rating could easily be lower, but I don’t think the film was made with bad intentions.
THE FITS (2015) [ 3.5/5 ]
Rather than a feature film, The Fits feels like a surrealist documentary about a little girl who trades the boxing gloves for dancing shoes at her local community center. When she does, each girl in the troupe gets affected by a mysterious affliction, thinning the group away one by one.
Up-and-coming director Ana Rose Holmer gives the film a spectral quality, zeroing on the dark complexions of these teens with the visual tact of films like Moonlight and Mudbound (review below).
AKIRA (1988) [ 4.5/5 ]
Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Essential 250 Films
Back in 1988, a team of visual artists with a budget of approximately 8 million dollars led by Katsuhiro Otomo release a seminal film in the history of anime that has had an influence that extends well beyond the genre. Akira is a statement to the power of forward motion and kinetic energy in animation and film as a whole. Per the great Roger Ebert, Akira “releases the mind” with infinite possibilities, in which every frame is painstakingly detailed, and where the unexpected comes directly from the hands of talented visual artists.
Though Akira can be accused of succumbing to violence, on most occasions the way violence is staged and designed is nothing but awe-inspiring. The music, which is filled with robotic-like sounds, screeches, alarms and machine hums, lends to the visual freneticism, complementing its dystopian and futuristic setting with confidence.
Akira, which I watched at home, “limited” to a 55” UHD television, is a cinematic journey of such force and visual splendor that I look forward to the day in which I will be able to watch it on the big screen.
PHANTOM THREAD (2017) [ 4.5/5 ]
Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Essential 250 Films
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is a crystalline demonstration of his artistry and craft. From the sweeping opening to its devilish ending Phantom Thread flirts with the audience, seducing us into the mystique of its fashionable world until we are willing to participate in and root for the twisted romance between Reynolds Woodcock, an incredible Daniel-Day Lewis, and Alma, the breathtaking Vicky Krieps in a career-making performance.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s characters manage to be both perfect vessels to a story, and individuals that gain dimension and complexity as the film unfolds.
Reynolds as the man-child with mom issues and a taste for beautiful women, and Alma as the seemingly innocent country girl who revels in the artistry of fashion and who is willing to match and surpass Reynolds’ self-delusion.
If that were not enough, Phantom Thread also gives room to the wonderful Leslie Manville in a restrained and mannered performance that ends up being the most grounded and approachable of the bunch; and to composer and virtuous musician Johnny Greenwood who creates a beautiful score that is as accomplished as the one he made for There Will be Blood.
A QUIET PASSION (2016) [ 2.5/5 ]
With this period piece director Terence Davies suffers a similar faith than Stanley Kubrick with Barry Lyndon. Like the great auteur before him, Davies’ made a film so concerned with being a convincing representation of the period that he forgot to give it some life. For most of its running time we witness the degradation of Emily Dickison, whose poetry never gained notoriety while she lived. Often, the film is content enough with conversations that are nothing more than linguistic battles that demonstrate, with increasing tragedy, the inner frustrations of Dickinson as she buries loved ones and lives within the confines of her family home.
The film’s relevance lies almost entirely on technical aspects, no less of which is Cynthia Nixon’s fantastic lead performance.
OUR SOULS AT NIGHT (2017) [ 3/5 ]
Above all else, Our Souls at Night is a chance, perhaps the last, to watch two legendary actors like Robert Redford and Jane Fonda feed off each other on screen and deliver two very solid performances. Without their chemistry and delivery Our Souls at Night would succumb to the pace and modesty of the reality it introduces us to, even if the script is charming and sweet enough to bake a batch of Apple pies.
MUDBOUND (2017) [ 4/5 ]
In the age of #metoo and #oscarssowhite, Mudbound feels like a statement that shows to reluctant film studios that there are infinite stories waiting to be told from the perspective of those whose voices have been marginalized.
African American director Dee Rees presents us with a Mississippi we had not seen in film. Hers is as beautiful as it is unforgiving, relentless with its rain and its mud. The people, white and black, bound by the land, even if the majority resists and fights the need for union and harmony. Dee Rees gives light and humanity to the black and white family in equal measure, highlighting the love and hope of the first, and the selfishness and despair of the second.
Mudbound is also a beautiful story, filled with characters we can empathize and antogonize with, wrapping around you and never letting go. One of the best films of 2017.
More short reviews to come in the next post…