Archive for film review

a journal of the plague year² [reopenings]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to some face-to-face teaching at Université Paris Dauphine for the new semester. With the students having to be frequently reminded of keeping face masks on (yes, the nose is part of the face and need be covered!). I do not understand why the COVID pass did not apply to universities as well. I also continued an on-line undergrad lecture in mathematical statistics, as I found that the amount of information provided to students this way was superior to black-board teaching. (I actually gave some of these lectures in a uni amphitheatre, to leave the students free to chose, but less than 20% showed up.)

Read the very last volume of the Witcher. With a sense of relief that it was over, even though the plot and the writing were altogether pleasant… And Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, with a permanent feeling of amazement at this novel been praised or awarded anything. Once more, I had missed that it was a YA [but not too young!] novel. Still, so many things go wrong, from the overly obtuse main character to the transparent plot, the highly questionable romantic affair between the 100⁺ year old wizard and the 17 year old teenager he more than less ravished from friends and family, to the poor construct of the magic system, and to the (spoiler alert!) rosy ending. As I read the book over two sleepless nights, not much time was lost. And it had some page-turning qualities. But I’d rather have slept better!

Watched Kate, thinking it was a Japanese film, but quickly found to my sorrow it was not. Not Japanese in the least, except for taking place in Tokyo and involving cartoonesque yakuza. To quote the NYT, “as cheap as a whiff of a green tea and musk cologne called Tokyo wafting over a department store counter”. Simply terrible, even lacking the pretense of story distanciation found in Kill Bill… And then came by chance on Time and Tide, a 2000 Hong Kong film, a much better distanced action picture, with enough ellipses and plenty second-degree dialogues, some mixing Cantonese and Portuguese, plus highly original central male and female characters. I am wondering if the same could be filmed today, given the chokehold of the PCC on the Hong Kongese society and the growing censorship of films there.

Had a great month with our garden tomatoes, as we ate most of them. With a dry spell that stopped the spread of mildew and the aggression of slugs. And had a steady flow of strawberries, a second harvest that is not yet over. And more recently (late) figs, although I bring most of them to the department. The fig harvest seems to be less plentiful than last year…  The last and final product of the garden will be a collection of huge butternuts that spontaneously grew out of last year seeds.

the last duel [not a film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2021 by xi'an

The incoming film, The last duel, directed by Ridley Scott, is about one of the last trials by combat (ordalie) in France, in 1386 under the mad king Charles VI. Where the Norman knight Jehan de Carrouges fought a Norman squire, Jacques Le Gris, who stood accused of the rape of Marguerite de Carrouges, Jehan’s second wife. It is inspired from Eric Jager’s book on this story and I found it of some personal interest in that the original events take place in Normandy, near my wife’s hometown… Although the film was shot in completely different locations, including Ireland and the south of France! The rape story is presented there from three perspectives, as in Kurosawa’s (immense) Rashomon, but without the ambiguity of the later,

nomadland

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2021 by xi'an

I went to the cinema last week, for the first time since 1917!, and with my daughter (in a sort of ritual of going to see a film the day before a major exam, and this was the majorest of all major exams!). And she selected Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. I had little a priori on the contents of the film, apart from the main theme, and it had not yet been discussed on my favourite France Inter weekly critical show. And I got very impressed by a unique film, staying away from cheap miserabilism, crude ideology or voyeurism. Maybe due to our sitting quite close to the screen, I was stuck by the way the characters were shot at their closest and how this would bring them to a higher level of reality, again without any form of caricature or judgemental detachment. The humanity of the film is purely staggering, with portraits of people with a complex and rich life. And Frances McDormand is fabulous, as she merges with the non-professional actors so seamlessly she shares their ethereal, transient attitude. There is no idealisation of the van life either, from the hardship of living with no toilet to the need to grab a tough living from temporary jobs all across the Western US. (The closest to a conflictual situation is when the main character, Fern, has to listen to much wealthier relatives droning about the ideal life of these nomads!) This being a movie about a van, there are also numerous (too many?) great shots of the Western USA, between Nevada, the Badlands [with a very brief historical reminder that this was the land of Lakota people, via the forefront of a 1906 saloon], some redwoods, and the (northern?) California coast. Which reveals a strong contrast with the places where Fern needs to work and live, like the Amazon warehouses, the beet processing plant, the soulless and exchangeable gas stations and laundromats along the road, the dirty camping toilets she cleans as a National Park worker… But again without delivering a message or adhering to an agenda. After watching the film, while biking home, I was reflecting that this was both a form of post-Trumpian film, since demonstrating the complexity and fundamental goodness of the people captured by the camera, away from binary statements and vociferation,  and a post-Bernie film as well as these people are not actively engaged against a harsh social system that does not provide basic help during their retirement years and let them with no further horizon than the next payslip. It is more complicated…

Mission implausible

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2021 by xi'an

I watched two movies with the same starting point, namely an old man being forced to take care of an unknown girl, despite his lack of fatherhood experience and no initial inclination to do so, while later defying odds and surviving together… One is News of the World (absurdly translated as The Mission in French, hence my poor pun) with Tom Hanks and (fabulous!) Helena Zengel, the other is Midnight Sky, with the improved French title of Midnight in the Universe, with George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall. The first one is a (modern) Western, set in Texas right after the Civil War and sometimes presented as a modern (and over-washed) version of Ford’s The Searchers, while the second one is an ecological science-fiction film, set in 2049, as the Earth is collapsing under an unspecified but all encompassing disaster. The first is passable if implausible, the second one is a disaster at all levels.

In News of the World Tom Hanks is again doing his Jimmy Stewart impersonation, always doing the “right” thing even when this is rather implausible. The fact that no-one seems to care that a stranger goes away with a young girl may be plausible in the late 1800’s Texas, although I am surprised none of the very few women in the story, one of them the girl’s own aunt, does even object. On the other hand, the motive for the compulsory gun duel sounds very weak if darker than the rest of the story (and is there any chance a shotgun cartridge filled by coins (of the right diameter!) can fly true to its target?!) The choice of depicting Kiowa Indians as silent spectres walking away may be artistically motivated but it does not carry much weight, just like Hank in the movie is not making much progress in denunciation of slavery and genocide, besides keeping his own decency.

In Midnight Sky, George Clooney is a grumpy old scientist stuck in a Far North observatory, in terminal phase of a blood disease and who is gradually revealed as having always failed on the personal relation side. [Anyone wondering at the scientific pertinence of the presence of a most traditional observatory [incl. manual orienteering] at this latitude? Although I found that Canada has recently set an observatory on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.] As Earth is collapsing under deadly radiation, Clooney finds himself alone until he discovers a little girl conveniently left behind during the evacuation of the station. As a space ship is returning to Earth, unaware of the disaster, the pair sets on an impossible mission to reach a better communication station. first on a snowmobile, then on foot!, with no goggles and a woolen hat in a snow storm!, just to make sure we can recognise Clooney!, while the disaster that see the pair stranded with only their clothes on a frozen tundra makes no sense. For instance, falling into Arctic water has a very low survival probability, esp. for a a sick and old man. And the part taking place on the very-low-tech space ship is light-years away from anything remotely realistic. Ending up (spoiler!) with the ship turning back to this habitable moon of Jupiter as if this would make any difference… Have a safe trip!

a journal of the plague year [are we there yet?!]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2021 by xi'an

Read the next volume of the Witcher series, Baptism of Fire, with even less enthusiasm than for the previous one, as the momentum of the series seems to have stalled… (Despite reading some highly positive reviews.) Some dialogues are funny enough, along with progressive views not particularly common in fantasy, like the support of reproductive rights, incl. abortion (and even less supported in the home country of the author, Andrzej Sapkowski!). But overall, not much happening and too much infodump!

Baked Ethiopian lentils & spinach mix, to get along with a slow cooking Ethiopian beef stew. And cooked more Venetian dishes. And had a great Korean streetfood dinner at (or from) MamiBaba by Quinsou, near Montparnasse, with pajeon (the cousin to okonomiyaki!) and kimchee. Accompanied by a first attempt at baking a chocolate pie.

Watched a few episodes of Alice in Borderland, vaguely suggested as hearsay by my daughter, but despite the fascinating scenes of an empty Tokyo, the plot is not particularly engaging, the tricks towards solving the game often lame, and the characters are not developed at all. Then watched Kurosawa’s Creepy, a gripping if not particularly realist psychological thriller that was premiered at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival. And reminded me of the much more disturbing Losey’s The Servant

Read two further volumes of John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick, in a random order, volumes that I found in and returned to the exchange section in front of our library as usual. And which I found almost as good as the first one, with its insistence on the humanity of each of the characters rather than indulging in manicheism. References to jazz pieces got a wee bit annoying by the third volume… And there is a maximal number of rye bread sandwiches with Polish pastrami I can swallow!

Watched also for the first time the fascinating The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会 which translates as A Rendez-Vous at a Station in the South), by Diao Yinan, a 2019 Cannes Festival selection, a psychological and violent noir film taking place in Wuhan among local gangs, when a gang boss kills by mistake a policeman after a very gory episode. The classical story line of the chase à la A bout de souffle is both tenuous and gripping, with an painful attention to colour and lightings, most scenes taking place at night with ghastly lights, with an intentional confusion between gangs of criminals and groups of cops, the final scene in full daylight making everything else sounding like a bad dream. The two main characters are striking, with an outlandish swan-like actress Gwei Lun-Mei. This also led me to watch the earlier Black Coal Thin Ice, which I also found impressive in terms of filming [that makes the cold and snow in this Northern city almost perceptible!] and definition of characters, once again involving Gwei Lun-Mei as the central, almost mute, and doomed, woman, but puzzling in terms of psychology and scenarios. (The shootout in the gallery is plain ridiculous imho.)

%d bloggers like this: