Good not good. Films reviewed: Bombshell, A Hidden Life, Cats

Posted in 2000s, Acting, Animals, Austria, Dance, Farming, Journalism, Movies, Musical, Nazi, Religion, Sexual Harassment, Theatre, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on December 20, 2019

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Ever watch something that’s bad, but still has good parts? Or a beautifully rendered piece of art that doesn’t live up to its potential? This week, I’m looking at three new films, that I liked but didn’t like, or hated but still enjoyed. There’s one farmer in wartime Austria, three women at Fox News, and a hundred cats in London.

Bombshell

Dir: Jay Roach

It’s Fox News studios in New York City. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is a top TV journalist and news anchor, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is co-host of Fox & Friends, Donald Trump’s favourite show, and newcomer Kayla Pospisal (Margot Robbie) is a committed conservative evangelical, trying to advance her career. What do these three women have in common? Theyre all smart, conservative and attractive (Carlson is a former Miss Minnesota.) And they were all hired by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Ailes is the highly profitable Fox News CEO, the man who singlehandedly shifted cable journalism from neutral news-source to a font of blatantly partisan right-wing talking points, leaving CNN in its dust. He’s also paranoid and hideously ugly, called Jabba the Hut behind his back.

The Fox News he runs is a place where cameras are positioned to show off female newscasters’ legs. Male employees advance because of their work. Female employees are also judged on looks, and work in a blatantly sexist office culture. And Ailes is the centre of it all, using his position power to exploit, harass and sexually assault young women. Kelly shares her concerns with her husband and Pospisal with her lesbian lover and Fox News staffer (Kate McKinnon) who says she doesn’t want to hear about it. But Carlson refuses to take this lying down. She launches a lawsuit against Ailes and Fox News. But will other journalists, like Kelly and Pospisal (a composite character based on real people) join her struggle, or stay loyal to Ailes?

Bombshell is a fast-paced news drama based on recent real-life events. It’s told in a light, punchy and easy-to-digest format, which makes the few dramatic scenes showing sexual harassment all the more powerful. Theron, Kidman and Robbie are all terrific and believable in their roles. On the ther hand, the movie barely touches on the awfulness and deceit of Fox News itself. And while it skewers Ailes it leaves the notorious Rupert Murdoch strangely untouched. Bombshell tells a great story, as seen by three strong women, around sexual harassment, but doesn’t concern itself with other political matters.

A Hidden Life

Wri/Dir: Terrence Malick

It’s WWII in Austria. Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) is a simple farmer deeply in love with his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner). They live with his mother, her sister and their three little girls inthefoothills of a dramatic mountain range. Together with their neighbours they till the fields, harvest the grain and carry it, on the back of a donkey, to the miller. They go to church on Sunday and dress up in masks and costumes to honour the harvest. Their life is idyllic until… Franz gets drafted for army duty a second time. Enough, he says. I’m not going. No more Heil Hitler’s, no more military uniforms, no more separation from my wife and kids. Enough! Neighbours and government officials try to convince him to sign a loyalty oath, but he refuses. He is sent to prison, leaving his wife and sister-in-law to plow the fields among neighbours who aren’t friendly anymore. Only their constant letters keep them sane and I love. Will Franz sign the oath, or will he stay steadfast to his beliefs, even at risk of death?

A Hidden Life is a lush and beautiful rendering of a simple act of resistance in wartime anschluss Austria. It’s directed by Terrance Mallick, and is instantly recognizable by its swirling images, breathy voiceovers, lush music and stunning camerawork. People clutch earth in their fingers, and reap fields with scythes. Good passionate acting, featuring cameo performances by Matthias Schoenaerts, Franz Rogowski, and the late, great Bruno Ganz.

On the other hand… it’s three hours long. Three hours!  Why does it take so long to tell such a simple story? Why? It’s not exactly boring or tedious since it’s done so beautifully, but similar stories have already been told (and in a more dramatic fashion, like Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes/Elser – Er hätte die Welt verändert). As a movie critic, I try to avoid terms like “self-indulgent”, but this movie is strictly for fans of Terrence Mallick.

Cats

Dir: Tom Hooper

It’s nighttime in a fantastical, pre-gentrified London, where abandoned alley cats rule the streets. The Jellicle Cats are gathered for their annual meeting, presided over by Old Deuteronomy (Judy Dench), who will choose one cat to be reborn. Each contestant performs before the queen: There are dancers (Francesca Hayward, Steven McRae) singers (Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson), comics (Rebel Wilson, James Corden), a magician dressed in black and white (Laurie Davidson) and even an old theatre cat (Ian McKellen). But the age-old ceremony is challenged by the evil Macavity (Idris Elba) who is kidnapping each cat after their performance. Who will be chosen to ascend to the skies? Will peace and order return to the Jellicle cats? And can newbie Victoria join the gang?

Cats is a strange hybrid of theatre, and movie special effects. Each act is performed on a vast soundstage, keeping close to how it would look before a live audience. The cat people’s faces and bodies are human, but augmented, using CGI, with cat ears, moving tails and furry bodies. Some of them wear elaborate costumes, while others run around “naked”, covered in sleek fur. But they’ve all been digitally neutered, with no sign of breasts or genitals anywhere. The script is abysmally bad, almost babyish, with “jokes” like cat got your tongue? and relentless fat jokes. Fat jokes? Really?

Music ranges from torch songs to chorus lines. There are a few great scenes, like cockroaches doing elaborate Busby Berkeley formations as Rebel Wilson eats them, one by one; and impressive dance routines, along with some good songs… but I can’t figure out who the movie is trying to appeal to? Small children? Theatre buffs? Taylor Swift fans? I don’t think it knows, either.

Still… I kinda liked it, if just for the spectacle of it all. It’s bad, but it’s watchable and loaded with great singers dancers and prize-winning actors all of whom are far, far more talented than the material they’ve been given.

And I think these weird cat people will haunt my sexual nightmares for years to come.

Bombshell, A Hidden Life and Cats all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

European movies without subtitles. Films Reviewed: Every Thing Will Be Fine, The Danish Girl, Youth

Posted in 1920s, Canada, Cultural Mining, Denial, Denmark, Depression, Drama, Subtitles, Switzerland, Trans by CulturalMining.com on December 11, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

If you want to see a European movie, but can’t stand reading subtitles, have I got some movies for you! This week I’m reviewing three movies by famous European directors with multinational casts but only using English dialogue. There’s a Quebec writer trying to forget a terrible accident, a Danish painter who moves to Paris trying to escape her gender, and some artists at a Swiss spa who just want to while away the hours.

937bf644-3b7d-46c3-afbe-2a31f9fc5010Every Thing Will be Fine

Dir: Wim Wenders

Tomas (James Franco) is a novelist in Quebec. He’s gone ice fishing to clear his mind, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. He has writers’ block, severe depression and marital problems. And his elderly father (Patrick Bauchau) is even worse. Tomas’s partner Sara (Rachel McAdams) really wants to help him, 84ae3573-1ae0-47b2-8096-2f80afa9120fbut he doesn’t seem to want to be helped. And then disaster strikes: driving home in a blizzard he doesn’t see two kids tobogganing down a hill right in front of him. After the accident he brings the older boy, Christopher, home to his mom Kate’s home (Charlotte Gainsbourg). It wasn’t Tomas’s fault but it messed up his life, Sara’s, Kate’s and even little Christopher’s. He hits rock bottom and tries to kill himself. It doesn’t work. But things do get better. Gradually.

His sorrows provide new material for his next book, and at 514025f3-9433-4f89-8c51-d373855a4ddea meeting at his publisher he encounters Ann (Marie-Josée Croze) a woman with a young daughter. And over the next dozen or so years, things really do become fine for Tomas. But what has become of the other people affected by the accident?

This is a movie about relationships, guilt and memory. It’s also about writing and the ownership of eba43d3e-47f0-4377-8f51-60673f8c9c2aevents and ideas. Who controls the way a story is told? The writer or the subjects? And it’s shot in beautiful Quebec locations. But is it a good movie? For the first half hour at least, Wim Wenders’ film is almost unbearably slow. Slow as molasses on a cold winter’s day. Slow as sap dripping out of a maple tree. Pauses between each line so long you could step outside for a break and not miss a thing. That kind of depressing slowness. But everything becomes much better as the movie goes on until, by the end, it’s actually a very interesting movie.

The second half redeems the first.

pgLRWV_danishgirl_01_o3_8707307_1441409186-1The Danish Girl

Dir: Tom Hooper

Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) is a young, successful landscape artist 100 years ago, in turn-of-the-century Copenhagen. He’s married to another artist a portrait painter named Gerda (Alicia Vikander: Ex Machina). Gerda is a feminist and an artist, but can’t reach the fame of her husband. Probably because she’s a woman. One day Gerda has him pose with his legs together, wearing stockings and high heels, as a stand-in when her female model can’t Eddie Redmayne The Danish Girlcome. Something clicks on deep inside him, and the “Danish girl” of the title is born. She names herself Lili Elbe. Gerda is a bit surprised but takes it in stride. But for Lili this means big changes. She ventures out-of-doors and encounters a man named Henrik (Ben Whishaw). But Lili is distressed to discover he’s gay and desires her as a man, not as a woman.

x900 copyLater Lili takes a break as Einer moves with Gerda to Paris. He consults doctors and psychiatrists there; he’s worried he may be going crazy. Lili comes back into their lives. Suddenly Gerda becomes the talk of the town with her unusual paintings and their enigmatic subject. Who is that woman in her portraits? Lili of course. Einer is more and more sublimated as Lili comes to the surface. His childhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) appears in their lives again. He is very sympathetic to Lili’s plight but at the same time helps Gerda with their marital difficulties. Which one is he closest The Danish Girlto now? Lili suffers attacks on the street by thugs and even more terrible treatment by cruel doctors and psychiatrists. Will she ever meet a doctor who believes her? One that can transform her body to match her gender?

The Danish Girl is a visually beautiful, highly emotional historical drama, based on Lili Elbe’s memoirs as one the first famous, transgendered women. But it doesn’t work as a movie. It’s overwrought, melodramatic, even operatic in parts. It feels dated and stiff.

Redmayne’s performance is totally believable both as Einer and as Lili. And I understand that movies like this are made with potential Oscars and ticket sales in mind. But with the flood of big-budget movies and TV shows — Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club, The Danish Girl — aren’t they ever going to cast a trans actor in the lead role?

image-5586e5b5-a28e-42df-9115-006940b63cd5Youth

Dir: Paolo Sorentino

Fred and Mick (Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel) are two old friends spending some time at a luxury spa in Switzerland. They’ve known each other for 60-odd years and are so close that Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weiss) is married Mick’s son. They’re family now.

Fred is an English composer and conductor who, though retired, still has melodies bouncing around his brain. He sounds them out using a candy wrapper between two fingers. He’s being pursued by a representative of the Queen, who wants him to conduct, in her presence, his most famous composition known simply as a Simple Song. He refuses.

Mick is a famous Hollywood director. He’s at the spa with his writers and image-abbd6cc0-ab01-4225-8103-55f195eec116actors, hammering out his latest, and perhaps last, film script. He’s waiting to hear from Brenda, an over-the-hill Hollywood diva (Jane Fonda) about appearing in this movie.

But they are far from alone at this exclusive resort. There’s also a young actor (Paul Dano) rehearsing a part in a German movie; an overweight soccer star, a mountain climber, a beautiful Italian model, and a Tibetan lama.

This is a great movie. The film is a series of vignettes, ostensibly about two old guys assessing their whole lives,

YOUTHdiscussing what they should have done, and what to do next.

But more than that, it’s also an incredibly beautiful movie to watch and listen to. It’s funny, surprising, a bit bombastic, and occasionally predictable. But above all it’s subtle. It’s not a high-concept movie, just a beautiful montage.

The director, Paolo Sorentino, is famous for his last film, A Great Beauty. But I like this one much better, because it’s not as plotty as that one, heading toward some supposedly profound ending.

This one just is.

Youth, The Danish Girl, and Every Thing Will be Fine all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And if subtitles don’t bother you, be sure to catch the a free screening at Innis Town Hall of the classic Kurosawa movie Ikiru, playing for free (Dec 15, at 6:30), courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

%d bloggers like this: