Archive for film review

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.)

Our Lady of the Van

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on March 14, 2021 by xi'an

As I came across this Lady in the van film on a lazy evening, I gave it a go since it featured Maggie Smith, London, and apparently an eccentric homeless old-lady. Afterwards, since I was somewhat reserved about the story and the plot, if not by Smith’s and Jennings’ acting, and surprised at the highly positive reviews it received. I looked at the background, only to discover that this was a slightly modified version of a real story where the English writer Alan Bennett let Margaret Fairchild live in a van on his property, in Northern London, in the 70’s and 80’s, until she died in 1989. If ignoring the heavy pathos permeating the film throughout to concentrate on the (light) social criticism of the bo-bo Gloucester Crescent residents and on the very British satire behind essentially every character, first and foremost the writer himself, there are some enjoyable aspects.  But I remain perturbed by the somewhat exploitative way Bennett turned this story into a 1989 essay, then a 1990 book, then a 1999 play (already involving Maggie Smith), and a 2009 BBC radio play, before adapting the play for the film. And somewhat shocked that over 15 years Margaret Fairchild was let to live in such conditions. In a rusted van, in the middle of London…

a journal of the plague year [soon to turn one…]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2021 by xi'an

Read in a few Sunday hours Living proof by John Harvey, a 1995 novel that I had found in the book exchange section of our library. A very easy read but rather enjoyable with several stories within stories and books within books. The resolution of the main murder mystery was disappointing but I enjoyed the inclusion of real artists like Ian Rankin and Mark Timlin. With a pastiche of P.D. James. And plenty of jazz references. Plus two characters meeting while studying at Warwick. And some shared glimpses of Nottingham like the statue of Robin Hood and the troglodyte Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. where I was once  invited for a pint… The story takes place during and around Nottingham’s Shots in the Dark festival. I hence grabbed another volume in the library in prevision of another lazy afternoon!

Baked rather decent chapattis for a take-home Bengali dinner but ruined the pan and started the fire alarm! Also tried to bake tortillas but mixed up the proportions of flour and water, ending up with a type of galette or injera instead (which worked as a container for the fajitas!).

Eventually watched the last two episodes of the Queen’s Gambit, but found them somewhat disappointing, between the main characters’ attitude that did not feel in tune with the 1960’s, the French femme fatale who cannot pronounce Jardins du Luxembourg, and the somewhat rosy tale of two orphans achieving financial freedom and professional success before their majority. Also watched the Korean Space Sweepers after an exhausting day, with a very shallow plot and a complete disregard for physics.

Read the duology of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, set in the same universe as the Grisha novels. Which I had read five years ago and somewhat forgotten than these novels were written as young adult books, with a resulting shallow plot, so full of sudden changes of fortune that any worry for the (caricaturesque) characters vanishes (till the one point when one should have) in a definitive suspension of suspense. (The Guardian reviewed Six of Crows in the Children’s book review section, which feels rather inappropriate given the degree of abuse the teens in the novels are submitted to, with two girls surviving sexual enslavement in the local brothels.) Just like the Grisha novels were set in a postcard version of Russia, these novels are taking place in a similarly thin (pannenkoek) version of Amsterdam (with waffles as the only culinary delicacy!). I do realise these series have a huge fan base, to the point of leading to an incoming Netflix series. But I found the more elaborate Ninth House much more enjoyable… (In tune with this series of reviews, the second book includes a plague episode with a modicum of realism, at least in its early stages.)