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Recent Movies: Pride; Force Majeure; Citizenfour; Old Movies: The Wars; 2001: A Space Odyssey

December 14, 2014

Recent Movies

 

Pride

In 1984, a group of gay and lesbian London activists raises funds to give financial support to striking miners in Wales .  At the beginning, there are serious tensions between these two very disparate groups until they realize they have common enemies:  the government of Margaret Thatcher and slanderous right-wing tabloids.  This film is based on a true story.

“Pride” does a fine job in its portrayal of the struggles of the gay/lesbian movements in many countries in the 1980s:  while there was progress, it was at a great price due to the massively collective homophobia of the time.  This interesting recent history might have been better portrayed if the film had been longer than its two hours.  There are many interesting characters and we only get to see glimpses of them.  More time might have allowed the viewer to know more of the characters.

Some characterizations did work well though.  One is a gay Welshman who left rural Wales to escape homophobia.  Actor Andrew Scott makes much of his brief scenes by conveying deep emotion in his face.  Another interesting story is of a young, closeted gay man who has recently moved to London .  His journey into adulthood is finely told.

The directing by Matthew Warchus is competent but conventional.  More flair and style might have had more impact.  There are also times it’s difficult (at least to those of us English-speakers outside England and Wales) to understand the accents and colloquial terms.  This is unfortunate as many in-jokes are missed.

The film can be praised for its relatively balanced gender casting – a rarity in many movies.  The number of female characters is not grossly outnumbered as the number of males.  Also, as the women are relatively ordinary folks, they are portrayed by regular-looking actresses who do not look like supermodels, contradicting a trend not just in Hollywood films but in independent and international films as well, including  French cinema (see http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/comment/equalizers)

“Pride” is a fine film worth seeing especially for its hopeful and moving finale.  I was pleased but not surprised to read that a musical stage version of this film is already in the works.  Bring it on!

RATING  (out of four stars):   * * *

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Force Majeure

A Swedish couple ( Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) are on a week’s skiing vacation in the French Alps with their children.  At the beginning of the trip, a frightening incident brings out the worst impulses in one of the family members.  The remainder of the film is the fallout of this incident.

Director Ruben Ostlund does a great job with a fine cast in displaying tension below and above the surface.  The beginning is the proverbial “dinosaur in the living room” situation where everyone pretends that nothing happened while trying in vain to hide their feelings.  When feelings can’t be hidden any more, things get really interesting.

Kuhnke and Kongsli are great in their roles especially Kuhnke during a major meltdown scene.

“Force Majeure” shows that we may never know what our true instincts are until a major event happens.  The pivotal event at the film’s beginning ripples into how it affects another couple who are informed of the situation and how one member’s instincts are also brought to the surface.

There were two events near the end of the film that might not have been necessary (or at least could have been shortened) though they still do add interesting information to the equation.  The second last scene seems contrived at times; the last scene seemed to add unnecessary drama though a small crowd scene strongly shows the fate of two secondary characters.

But these complaints don’t stop “Force Majeure” from being one of the best movies of 2014.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

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Citizenfour

The subject of this documentary is Edward Snowden and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)  spy scandals that were exposed in 2013.

This film is like a mystery being unfolded even if we know the outcome.  What adds to the tension is that many one of us are potentially part of this drama:  the NSA was found to have collected data from private conversations exchanged by telephone and computers in the U.S. and in other countries.  “Citizenfour” also reveals information that is difficult for the many who had hoped that a Barack Obama presidency was going to be much better than that of George W. Bush.

The subject alone should make this film mandatory viewing.  Sadly, the style of the film is dull for various reasons.

Much of it is in talking-head style, keeping the camera almost constantly on Snowden as he exposes government secrets.  Snowden is heroic in what he has done but he is not able to sustain full audience attention during his interviews.  Few people could achieve such a task although investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald (another contributor to this film) seems to have more camera-savvy.

Another problem is that most of the information given is from technical experts speaking on subjects such as data encryption and devices.  For most viewers, this level of detail is difficult to follow.

“Citizenfour” might have benefited by using similar techniques used in “Inside Job” (2010), another documentary that dealt with complex information that affected most citizens – how corporate America ripped off average citizens leading to the financial crisis of 2008.  “Inside Job” took occasional time away from interviews to break down the complex information to make it more understandable to average viewers.  Such a technique would have made “Citizenfour” more effective.

RATING:   * * 1/2

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Great Old Films Seen for the First Time

 

The Wars  (1983 – Canada)

In a wealthy Toronto household in 1914, teen-aged Robert Ross (Brent Carver) escapes his family troubles by enlisting in the Canadian military for World War I.  The movie is based on the novel by Timothy Findlay.

This film is praiseworthy for various reasons.  Firstly, it is great to see a movie about Canadian history on a relatively big budget – at least in Canadian terms.  Secondly, the cast includes many of the best actors renowned at the Stratford (Ontario) Theatre Festival and the Toronto theatre scene.  In addition to Carver, the cast includes Martha Henry, William Hutt, Jackie Burroughs, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Susan Wright.

The Canadian perspective of World War I is welcome as it is so rarely portrayed in film.  This fact is amplified in the story when an upper-class Englishwoman makes many stupid remarks about Canada.

Director Robin Phillips (also a great stage director) is at his best in some very powerful scenes:  1) an awkward scene when Robert is with a kind prostitute (Wright) for the first time and shows his awkwardness (the two actors are brilliant in this scene);  2)   Robert leading a small group of men when a gas attack occurs;  3) two battle scenes near which show a shocking twist of character.

Carver leads a fine cast though with a few exceptions.  Henry, a rightly renowned actress, is rather stiff in her role as Carver’s role though this might have been intended.  As an English nurse, Barbara Budd is rather weak.  But these flaws are small compared to the movie’s strengths.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT:   Directing by Robin Phillips

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Great Old Movies Seen Again

 

2001: A Space Odyssey  (1968 – U.S / U.K)

This science-fiction classic has four sequences all of which include a mysterious black monolith that has special powers:  1) a pre-historic story of a group of apes trying to survive;  2) a future in which humans occupy space stations and there is a concern of an epidemic at one of those stations;  3) a space mission to Jupiter in which two astronauts are at work with a computer, HAL 9000, who is supposedly perfect but maybe not so; 4) a truly “spacey” sequence to follow #3.

Like many films, this one is to be judged on both style and substance.  For substance, only the third sequence is clear and brilliantly made.  The subtle conflicts between HAL and the astronauts has the tension of a horror movie.  It is also worth noting that HAL seems to have more emotion than the humans.  This is especially notable in a scene where one astronaut is indifferent and emotionless while receiving a recorded video message from his parents.  The scene in which HAL suspects a conspiracy is one of film history’s greatest.

The other three sequences are still interesting but often unclear.  It is debatable as to whether clarity is necessary as the intention was to get to the viewers’ subconscious minds.  While this works well, more clarity might have been more preferable to close at least a few links in the mystery.

The style in all four sequences can easily be described and sublime.  It’s no wonder so many consider this film to be a masterpiece.  Director Stanley Kubrick’s use of visuals, and special effects with classical music is heavenly.  The imaginative set designs of the space stations and vehicles are also amazing.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is almost half a century old.  While technology and special effects have advanced greatly since its time, the film’s effect remains so strong that it is still the benchmark science-fiction film to which all others must be compared.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS:

1)  Directing by Stanley Kubrick

2)  Technical and Craft Team:  Special Effects, Cinematography, Sound, Set Design, Musical Score Adaptation

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