The old woman and the Sea

aquarius1There is an apartment house on the beachfront of Recife, Brazil. It’s from a time when houses still had names, and this one is called the Aquarius. Throughout the years, towering hotels have been built around it; tenants move out until there is only Clara left. Developers turn up, friendly but smarmy, but Clara does not want to sell. For Clara, home is a place. That is why the movie is called by the name of the house, Aquarius. It’s impossible to separate the woman and the house, but the developers don’t realize that yet. We all have something outside ourselves that defines us. With Clara, it’s the place she lives in. In Clara’s living room, there is a wooden chest of drawers on which Auntie Lucia, a family legend, once made love to her lover and future husband. That is not a source of ridicule, but a way to fondly remember the past. Continue reading

The young woman and the Sea

julieta5Pedro Almodóvar’s latest Movie Julieta is a Homeric family biography, bookended with Hitchcockian disquiet. I am not sure if those two moods go easy together; the story is loosely based on three Alice Munro short stories, so maybe this is what kept me watching. The movie starts when the older Julieta (played by Emma Suárez) gets word that her long-lost daughter Antía is alive and well and a mother of three, living in Switzerland. Julieta leaves her lover and moves back into the flat where she and Antía used to live so that the daughter can find the mother at the old adress – if she wants to. This and the brooding score made me expect some long-simmering family conflict. Continue reading

Has the mirror cracked?

I was a big fan of the first two series of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi/horror satire of how modern technology and media act to reflect our darkest impulses right back at us. I didn’t love every single episode, though while I found series 2’s “The Waldo Moment” possibly the weakest instalment, 2016 has proven it depressingly prescient. When Netflix announced that they were financing a third, longer series, I was definitely interested – though then it came out to, let’s say, uneven reviews. Many still loved it, and some thought the new series was simply uneven but still largely good – but eminent internet essayist Film Crit Hulk (if you don’t already know him, be warned: while he is usually insightful and well-reasoned, he does have his quirks and affectations) published a pretty damning post. Its title didn’t exactly promise a differentiated look at the series: “Why BLACK MIRROR Is Kinda Bullshit”. Ironically, FCH’s post increased my optimism about the new series; while usually get a lot out of his essays, even when I disagree, what he wrote about some of my favourite episodes of Black Mirror, such as series 2’s “White Bear”, made me think that he’d misunderstood several fundamental things, mainly this: in its first two series, Black Mirror wasn’t about how technology was evil, it was about how technology acts as an amplifier and accelerant for some of our worst impulses. The metaphor’s not subtle, but it’s effective: new technology and media acts as a dark, distorted reflection of ourselves, they’re (all together now!) a black mirror to mankind.

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So, having dismissed FCH’s argument, I got started on the third series of Black Mirror – and found that, yeah, it was kinda bullshit. Continue reading

Giving us some song and dance

la-lalandDamien Chazelle’s La La Land harks back to another era of moviemaking, but it stands entirely on its own two feet. Sometimes those feet jig and hoof and skip and jump, but they are also able to stand completely still while the head looks at someone else across a crowded jazz bar. It’s a musical, but it is much more. It starts as an exuberant fantasy, and when the romantic bits or the musical numbers run the danger of getting too much, real life comes crashing in, rooting the whole dream in firm ground, only to take off again later. It’s over two hours long, but there are no boring bits. There is funk, soul, jazz, tap-dance and waltz, there are vinyl records and live bands, there is beer and coffee. There is love, and there are kisses, and there are fights. Continue reading

Bring me the head of 2016

rogueoneoldstyleposterIn a lot of ways, 2016 was the year to get suspicious about a lot of things, most of all about the future, and maybe some of us even got superstitious a little bit. As far as my movies are concerned, I think I detect a pattern: the two movies I liked best in 2015, Whiplash and Birdman, ran here in January, and 2016 began with Carol and The Big Short, another couple of great movies. Superstition? Coincidence? Perhaps. I can’t quite shake the feeling that this year, you had to dig slightly deeper to find a really good movie. I wrote about The Assassin and American Honey, which are far from light entertainment, but are immensely rewarding and beautiful to look at. I also highly recommend Sing Street for its youthful irreverence and its music; Arrival, for its use of the sci-fi genre to learn a lot more about us humans than about the extraterrestrials (if you haven’t read thirithch’s excellent review, you should do so). And Rogue One, which tried hard not to be a blockbuster and was all the more successful because of it. Continue reading

We must love one another or die

You know how this story ends. It ends the same way as every story does, if we’re being honest. “Happily ever after” sounds nice, but it is really only a comforting fiction. All stories move towards the same end, mine, yours, everyone’s. Does that make them bad stories? Is every story that’s honest also depressing?

Then again, what choice do we have? And, if we admit to ourselves – not just occasionally, with a start, but with every breath – that every story ends the same way, would we still choose to live those stories? Could we even, without our hearts breaking constantly?

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Fan service, nostalgia and storytelling

When I first heard about Warner Bros. Pictures’ plans to bring the Potterverse back to the big screen with Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them, I pretty much dismissed those plans as them going back to their favourite cash cow: a decision based primarily on monetary interests. Rowling’s book, published in between the fourth and fifth Harry Potter novels, was more of a sourcebook for the fans, so why turn this into a film – or, indeed, a series of films? For the many shiny sickles and galleons the producers would add to their hoard at Gringotts, obviously.

this_clever_fan_tried_to_calculate_how_much_money_harry_potter_has_in_his_gringotts_vault Continue reading