Archive for movie review

blade runner [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2017 by xi'an

As the new Blade Runner 2049 film is now out, I realised I have never read the original Philip K Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?… So, when I came by it in the wonderful Libreria Marcopolo in Venezia last month, with some time to kill waiting for a free dinner table nearby (and a delicious plate of spaghetti al nero di seppia!), I bought at last the book and read it within a couple evenings. (Plus a trip back from the airport.) While the book is fascinating, both in its construction and in its connection with the first Blade Runner movie, I am somehow disappointed now I have finished it, as I was expecting a somewhat deeper story. [Warning: spoilers to follow!] On the one hand, the post-nuclear California and the hopeless life of those who cannot emigrate to Mars are bleaker and more hopeless than Ridley Scott’s film, with the yearning of Deckard for real animals (rather than his electric sheep) a major focus of the book. And only of the book. For a reason that remains unclear to me, especially because Deckard grows more and more empathic towards androids, and not only towards the ambiguous and fascinating Rachael, while being less and less convinced of his ability to “retire” rogue androids… And of distinguishing between humans and androids. And also because he ends up nurturing a toad he spotted in a deserted location, believing it to be a real animal. The background of the society, its reliance on brainless reality shows and on a religion involving augmented reality, all are great components of the novel, although they feel a bit out-dated fifty years later. (And later than the date the story is supposed to take place.) The human sheltering and helping the fugitive androids is a “chickenhead”, term used in the book for the challenged humans unable to pass the tests for emigrating to Mars. Rather than a robot designer and geek as in the film.

On the other hand, the quasi- or near-humanity of the androids hunted by Deckard is much more better rendered in the film. (Maybe simply because it is a film and hence effortlessly conveys this humanity of actors playing androids. Just like C3PO in Star Wars!) Which connections with expressionisms à la Fritz Lang and noir movies of the 50’s are almost enough to make it a masterpiece. In the book, the androids are much more inconsistent, with repeated hints that they miss some parts of the human experience. There is no lengthy fight between Deckard and the superior (android) Roy. No final existentialist message from the later. And no rescuing of Deckard that makes the android stand ethically (and literally) above Deckard. The only android with some depth is Rachael, albeit with confusing scenes. (If not as confusing as the sequence at the alternative police station that just does not make sense. Unless Deckard himself is an android, a possibility hardly envisioned in the book,.) While Scott’s Blade Runner may seem to hammer its message a wee bit too heavily, it does much better at preserving ambiguity on who is human and who is not, and at the murky moral ground of humans versus androids. In fine, I remain more impacted by the multiple dimensions, perceptions, and uncertainties in Blade Runner.  Than in Philip K Dick’s novel. Still worth reading or re-reading against watching or re-watching these movies…

[Some book covers on this page are taken from a webpage with 23 alternative covers for Do androids dream of electronic sheep?”.]

a ghastly ghost

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2016 by xi'an

My daughter sort of dragged me to watch The Revenant as it just came out in French cinemas and I reluctantly agreed as I had read about magnificent winter and mountain sceneries, shot in an unusually wide format with real light. And indeed the landscape and background of the entire movie are magnificent, mostly shot in the Canadian Rockies, around Kananaskis and Canmore, which is on the way to Banff. (Plus a bit in Squamish rain forest.) The story is however quite a disappointment as it piles up one suspension of disbelief after another. This is a tale of survival (as I presume everyone knows!) but so implausible as to cancel any appreciation of the film. It may be the director Iñárritu is more interested in a sort of new age symbolism than realism, since there are many oniric passages with floating characters and falling meteors, desecrated churches and pyramids of bones, while the soundtrack often brings in surreal sounds, but the impossible survival of Hugh Glass made me focus more and more on the scenery… While the true Hugh Glass did manage to survive on his own, fixing his broken leg, scrawling to a river, and making a raft that brought him to a fort downstream, [warning, potential spoilers ahead!] the central character in the movie takes it to a fantasy level as he escapes hypothermia while swimming in freezing rapids, drowning while wearing a brand new bearskin, toxocariasis while eating raw liver,  bullets when fleeing from both Araka Indians and French (from France, Louisiana, or Québec???) trappers, a 30 meter fall from a cliff with not enough snow at the bottom to make a dent on, subzero temperatures while sleeping inside a horse carcass [and getting out of it next morning when it should be frozen solid], massive festering bone-deep wounds, and the deadly Midwestern winter… Not to mention the ability of make fire out of nothing in the worst possible weather conditions or to fire arrows killing men on the spot or to keep a never ending reserve of bullets. And while I am at it, the ability to understand others: I had trouble even with the French speaking characters, despite their rather modern French accent!

Rams [Hrútar]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by xi'an

After two failed attempts [first time, the movie USB stick had been lost by the Alpine post-office; second time, the Montparnasse cinema was packed by busloads of senior citizens on a New Year afternoon], we managed to get two seats at an afternoon show of Rams, an Icelandic movie about sheep, brothers, and Northern Iceland. Both funny and moving. Mostly moving actually, as the film director does not push the absurdity of the not-talking brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, into a comedy, only allowing a few bursts of hilarious moments. Indeed, the core story is pretty dire as the brothers are ordered (by a Danish veterinarian!) to kill both their flocks of scrapie infected sheep, which constitute the last representatives of a local race.  Obviously, the setting in rural (i.e., deserted) Iceland helps with the story and with getting immersed with the fate of the characters (esp. the sheep!), but this is not a scenery film and the actors convey more by their silence and stares than through the few dialogues. The final scenes are even more dramatic and the film ends up on a question mark… Not to forget, the fairly long credits include the names of a few sheep, as well as an horse and possibly the shepherd dog [but I missed it!]

Everest [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, I saw Everest with my daughter and was less than impressed. In fact, I had read the Karkauer book, Into Thin Air, quite a while ago (actually it had been recommended to me by George Casella, who thought this notion of climbing Everest on a commercial expedition was sheer madness!) and enjoyed it to the point I bought the French translation for my father. The book exposed the contradictions in the commercial approach to climbing Everest (and other mountains). From installing fixed ropes all the way to the top to guiding inexperienced or unfit clients to the top with a fair chance of not bringing them back. (It is not that I opposed guided mountaineering, hiring guides in most cases I am out of my comfort zone, i.e., above scrambling. But hiring a guide means that he or she is making decisions about where and when we can go and that I cannot argue when we have to turn back, as it happens about half the time. Obviously, I often feel we could try at least the next level of difficulty, however I consider I gave up that choice when hiring the guide. Which is most likely wise!) The book also covered how the accompanying guides dealt [or not] with the clients stranded above the highest camps. And the murky issue of the empty oxygen bottles that helped into the final disaster.

The movie did not enter into such details. Nothing revolutionary there, as feelings and hypotheses do not turn up well into a scenario, even though the script writer seemed too careful in depicting everyone in a rather positive light! In my opinion, the film did not do enough to connect the deadly outcome of this Everest climb with the commercial pressure of the success rate advertised by this company. Hence with the competition between companies and guides. It all sounded too much like the old superficial drivel that mountains are dangerous places, the possibility of death is part of the climbing ethos and glory, and so on. Missing the fact that the clients were not taking part in many aspects of climbing, from carrying gear, to reconnoitring, to setting camps, etc. That they were not equal to the task of climbing Everest. Thus ending up as an unconvincing melodrama, with everyone crying, a miraculous resuscitation, and an heroic helicopter rescue. And with surprisingly very little on the climbing itself, which sounded boring in the movie. And, last but not least, with no major role for the Sherpas. Who did partake to the rescue attempts in the real story. And of course laid all the ropes, set the tents and brought oxygen bottles almost to the top. Now that helicopters can theoretically reach all the way to the top and that there are talks of installing a permanent ladder on Hillary’s step, there is little doubt the pressure will grow and similar disasters happen again. Unsurprisingly, Krakauer did not like the movie very much, as he called it ‘a total bull’.

True Detective [review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2015 by xi'an

Even though I wrote before that I do not watch TV series, I made a second exception this year with True Detective. This series was recommended to me by Judith and this was truly a good recommendation!

Contrary to my old-fashioned idea of TV series, where the same group of caricaturesque characters repeatedly meet new settings that are solved within the 50 mn each show lasts, the whole season of True Detective is a single story, much more like a very long movie with a unified plot that smoothly unfolds and gets mostly solved in the last episode. It obviously brings more strength and depth in the characters, the two investigators Rust and Marty, with the side drawback that most of the other characters, except maybe Marty’s wife, get little space.  The opposition between those two investigators is central to the coherence of the story, with Rust being the most intriguing one, very intellectual, almost otherworldly, with a nihilistic discourse, and a self-destructive bent, while Marty sounds more down-to-earth, although he also caters to his own self-destructive demons… Both actors are very impressive in giving a life and an history to their characters. The story takes place in Louisiana, with great landscapes and oppressive swamps where everything seems doomed to vanish, eventually, making detective work almost useless. And where clamminess applies to moral values as much as to the weather. The core of the plot is the search for a serial killer, whose murders of women are incorporated within a pagan cult. Although this sounds rather standard for a US murder story (!), and while there are unnecessary sub-plots and unconvincing developments, the overall storyboard is quite coherent, with a literary feel, even though its writer,  Nic Pizzolatto, never completed the corresponding novel and the unfolding of the plot is anything but conventional, with well-done flashbacks and multi-layered takes on the same events. (With none of the subtlety of Rashômon, where one ends up mistrusting every POV.)  Most of the series takes place in current time, when the two former detectives are interrogated by detectives reopening an unsolved murder case. The transformation of Rust over 15 years is an impressive piece of acting, worth by itself watching the show! The final episode, while impressive from an aesthetic perspective as a descent into darkness, is somewhat disappointing at the story level for not exploring the killer’s perspective much further and for resorting to a fairly conventional (in the Psycho sense!) fighting scene.

The Hobbit (once upon a very long time…)

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2014 by xi'an

“Will you follow me, one last time?”

With my daughter, we completed our Xmas Tolkien cycle by going together to see The battle of the five armies. As several have noted before me, the best thing I can say about this Hobbit series is that it is now… over! Just like the previous two instalments, watching Peter Jackson’s grand finale was mostly enjoyable, but mainly for the same reasons one enjoys visiting a venerable great-aunt once a year around Christmas, namely for bringing back memories of good times and shared laughs. Indeed, Jackson managed to link both sagas through his central character of Gandalf who, while overly fond of raised eyebrows and mischievous eyes, is certainly the most compelling character all over.  While the plot stretched too thinly to keep me enthralled, as I could not remember why the orcs and goblins were converging to Erebor at the same time as the elves and dwarves and men of Dale (unless it was to justify the future name of the battle?!), I soon got battle-weary of the repeated clashes between the various armies which sounded like straight copies from on-line war games and even more of the half-dozen duels, while the rescue of Gandalf from Dol Gurdur is unbearably clumsy, with an apocryphal appearance of the Nazguls. As too often in the story, the giant eagles were so instrumental to victory that one could only wonder why they had not been around from the start.

The comical parts are much sparser here than in the previous movies: hardly any screen time for Radagast’s rabbits, thank Sauron!, or for the jovial Dain with his great Scottish brogue and his war[t]hog opening, or yet for Thranduil’s moose to show its major advantage in battle, a few steps before being shot down, or for the war mountain goats who appeared then vanished at the moment of direst need, or for Bard to find a pre-historical skateboard. I also noted that the [dumb] orgs managed to invent a precursor of Chappe’s telegraph that alas could only transmit one symbol [since it was always taking the same shape!], that Legolas recreated the Matrix by walking on a disintegrating bridge, and that Thorin turned on gravity for a few crucial seconds in a movie where most characters seem to have no issue with falling, jumping or fighting without the slightest consideration for mechanics, with a strong tendency for characters to head-butt into walls…

“What this adaptation of “The Hobbit” can’t avoid by its final instalment is its predictability and hollow foundations.” NYT, Dec. 16, 2014

Other features I did not enjoy much: Thorin sulked way too long, Alferid outlasted its stay on screen by about 144 minutes, only to vanish unexpectedly, Bilbo seemed lost at the margins most of the movie, while the love story between Kili and Tauriel was really one addition too many to Tolkien’s book. The search for variety in the steeds of the various armies made me almost wish for more races on the battle-field as we could then have seen fighters on giant moles or on battle-hens… And everyone could have done without the “Dune moment”, with giant earth-worms breaking tunnels only to return to oblivion. Anyway, we have now been “There and Back Again” and can now settle in our own hobbit-hole to re-read the books and enjoy a certain nostalgia about the days where we could imagine on our own how Bilbo, Gandalf or Thorin would look like, while humming “Song of the Misty Mountains”…

The Hobbit (a Smaug screen)

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2013 by xi'an

In what seems to become a X’mas tradition, I went back to see a Hobbit movie with my kids. (If not in a Norman theatre, which permitted us to hear the original soundtrack.) And once more, we came out of the movie theatre with different reactions. Both my son and I thought it was better than the (very boring) first instalment. My daughter did not buy the dragon part (which is indeed difficult to buy!) and complained about the lack of depth and of this feeling of history and tradition that should come with elves. I completely agree with her analysis on this second part. The movie is too centred on action scenes—the park-ridesque escape from the Halls of Thranduil and the pursuit by the orcs, themselves pursued by the elves Legolas and Tauriel are definitely lacking in subtlety!—to spend time on the history of the land, and on the reasons for the behaviour of the elves towards the dwarves, or on the past glory of Dale… The New-Zealand mountain landscapes are as beautiful as ever, but lack in bringing strength to the story, a band of orgs on wargs against a thin ridge in the rising sun replacing a company of dwarves on a moor against a beautiful sunset in the mountains in the previous film. Smaug is also a delicate topic: it is beautifully played by Cumberbatch, who gave more than his voice to the dragon. (And the irony of having Smaug getting the higher ground in his conversation with Bilbo, just like Holmes getting the better of Watson in the BBC series!) Nonetheless, the last third of the film when the dwarves face him is altogether unconvincing, missing the subtle and hypnotic features of dragons and somehow making Smaug appear more like the dragon in Shrek… The trick of the final scene eventually worked out for me, but the preliminaries were so unconvincing. Having Smaug playing hide and seek with the group of dwarves, while destroying the halls of Erebor, is contradicting the reputation for deep cunning (Μῆτις) of the dragons! The last point I want to make is somehow of lesser importance: Peter Jackson chose to move away from the book in many more ways in this second film, when compared with the first one. This is not an issue in that no movie can reproduce the most notable features of the book, so changes would be welcomed had they brought a more epic tone to the Quest. Alas, this is not the case and the scenes of Gandalf in dol Guldur make him sound like an incompetent beginner, while the inclusions of Tauriel and of the corrupted Master of Laketown branch off the main theme with a superfluous love triangle and with an unnecessary depiction of greed, once again taking some precious time off from setting the journey more safely into its epic dimension. Not too mention the additional tension created by the orcish pursuit. All in all, not an unpleasant film, but much lighter than it could have been…