It’s about cats. Singing and dancing cats. You’ll love it.

Years ago, I went to see the stage version of The Lion King in London. As the lights went down and people stopped talking, knowing that the show was about to begin, a kid one or two rows in front of me piped up. “I don’t like lions!” Well, tough, kid, you’re going to get lions, whether you like them or not.

Most people like lions, if they keep their distance and don’t attempt to eat you or your loved ones. What many people don’t like? Musicals. Some people don’t like action films, others aren’t really into horror movies, but I don’t think there’s a single genre that as many people claim not to like as musicals. To be honest, though: until a few years ago, I would have said the same, though I may have qualified it a bit more – I don’t like the Platonic ideal (i.e. the pretentiously formulated stereotype) of a musical that people may think of when the genre comes up. At the same time, some of the films I liked best growing up were musicals, such as Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. I’ve even rewatched some musicals that didn’t click for me when I was growing up, like West Side Story, and I’ve come to greatly enjoy them. Similarly, “Once More With Feeling” is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Killer, and I’d defend its artistic merits as much as I would those of my favourite less jazz-handy episodes.

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How to manipulate time… and people

Richard Curtis, I’ll happily admit: your 2013 film About Time made me smile, laugh and shed a manly tear. Okay, not quite, but I found myself touched and moved. It also made me want to shout obscenities and throw things at the TV, and not in good ways: About Time can be witty in one scene and trite in the next, it has moments of poignancy and others that are saccharine, and it manages to come off both charmingly self-effacing and smug under the disguise of glib humility.

Perhaps it’s difficult to imagine how such an overtly inoffensive film could leave me so angry when I’d actually say that I enjoyed a lot of it. About Time is that most common of genres, the time-travel rom-dram-com, and the way it brings together its outlandish conceit may be one of the things I liked best – like all the men in his bloodline, the main character Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) can travel back in time within the limits of his own life, making changes as he sees fit. Why? Dunno. How? He just needs to go and stand in a dark cupboard, clench his fists and concentrate. In one of many lovely father-and-son scenes, Tim’s dad (Bill Nighy, as charmingly odd as ever) basically gives his son a Curtisian version of Looper’s diagrams-and-straws speech which boils down to this: shh, it’s silly, let’s have some fun with this, okay?

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Personal Ghostbusting

personalshopper5Since I give every movie one chance, sometimes two, let’s call this one an experiment, because me watching Personal Shopper could go either way – I might like it, or I might not. Personal Shopper seems to lend itself particularly well to this experiment because it got booed first and later received rave reviews in Cannes – not a lot of middle ground. I admit I found Clouds of Sils Maria sometimes quite intriguing, sometimes weird and incoherent, and sometimes it dragged along for me. On the whole, Sils Maria was probably not as smart as it thought it was. So here we have the same director, Olivier Assayas, and one of its two stars, Kristen Stewart, in the main role. I know some people have huge problems with her, but I am not one of them. I liked her in The Yellow Handkerchief as well as in Welcome to the Rileys. Continue reading

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