A review of the films I've seen this past week.
WE CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS (2015)
I was very touched by this short animated film about two men in cosmonaut training. In just 16 minutes, director Konstantin Bronzit gets across the excitement and wonder and beauty of reaching for the stars, but also captures the tragedy and the grief and the loss that sometimes comes hand in hand with it. But what really moved me the most was how the film was really about a friendship and the power of shared dreams. This is the only one of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts I saw this year (The New Yorker is hosting it, I recommend watching it), and I'm glad that it was recognized with a nomination. ****
SAN ANDREAS (2015)
The Rock and Carla Gugino as separated parents who come together in a tragedy to save their daughter (Alexandra Daddario), as the San Andreas fault line basically explodes or something. The three leads are all likable (of course, because they always are), but the movie itself is technically proficient disaster porn. Everything you're seeing is so obviously a special effect, with the disaster nearly taking out our leads at every turn, that it's really hard to feel anything. (It's so relentless it'll just make you numb, anyway.) It's like watching someone else play a video game after a while. Still, the constant danger and the way it manipulates the audience are just kind of mean-spirited. There's a sense of cruelty behind it that really turned me off. I can't believe the same people who were upset by the carnage in Man of Steel were the same people telling me San Andreas was some kind of fun summer romp. But, yeah, if you want to see a bunch of competent special effects, pseudoscience, and a lot of people being murdered by some kind of angry nature (complete with patriotic masturbating), yeah, fun. I'll note that I also liked Paul Giamatti as the seismologist, who just goes so far over the top, because he knows exactly what kind of exploitation movie he's in. Tiring. **
This is the first one of the Disney-remakes-animated-classics-in-live-action movies that makes me think it's not a terrible idea. I really loved this movie and found it very involving. Kenneth Branagh, as director, has made something that reminds me, oddly, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez as much as it reminds me of Italian fantasy films. There's a sort of magic realism to it, with Cinderella's friendship with the mice and the glass slippers and the beautiful ball gown that I can't believe was passed over for an Oscar. It also recalls Branagh's own Hamlet, with its sumptuous palace and its luxurious costumes. Lily James makes a beautiful (and more importantly, kind and sympathetic) Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett is like a glamorous monster from a 40s movie. I really only didn't like Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, in another one of her sub-Johnny Depp whimsical nuisance performances, but she's not in the movie enough to do real damage to it, and besides, the coach and the gown are wonderful, It's just the right amount of... it's not cartoonish so much as just sort of arch and heightened, but the tone is just right. I respect this film for just sort of saying "This is a fairy tale, let's just be adults and accept it for what it is and let it be twee in some places and not shy away from anything silly." What's important is the sincerity of emotion, which it carries well. I consider that a lot more of a grown-up attitude than some of these things. ****
I AM DIVINE (2013)
Great documentary about a great personality, the late, wonderful Divine. I'm inspired by people like Divine, who have the courage to be who they want to be. I don't have much more to say about it, but this was a touching portrait. A pure pleasure. ****
BLACK GIRL (1972)
I seem to have liked this movie more than its contemporary critics, and in large part for the things they held against it, namely that it sometimes feels like the film sacrifices clarity in favor of emotional confusion. But I think that's key to the story. I'm not sure where to start describing this family drama, but the Black girl of the title is Billie Jean (Peggy Pettitt), who has dropped out of high school but has dreams of being a ballet dancer. She lives with her mother and grandmother, and her two older half-sisters, Norma and Ruth Ann, and they all tend to mock her ambition. There is so much self-loathing in the family that for Billie Jean to succeed it would throw their own failures into stark relief. There's a lot of resentment, and the film is overflowing with the complexity of emotion that comes with being in a family that is always on top of each other.
For me, her mother, Mama Rosie, is the most interesting character in the film. Louise Stubbs does a very affecting job with a very complicated character. She's basically good-hearted, but she's vain and doesn't really know what's going on with her children; she doesn't have very much regard for them, putting all of her hopes on Netta, a foster daughter (played by Leslie Uggams) who has gone to college and whom Rosie seems to think is going to single-handedly raise the family up from poverty and into respectability. The other three girls despise Netta because of this; they're constantly having their own failures and lack of ambition brought up as Mama Rosie thoughtlessly uses Netta as an example. Everyone wants Billie Jean to get a job and find a man as soon as possible; when she says she wants to go to college and study dance, everyone, without thinking about it, ridicules her and slaps her down. So even as Netta is supposed to be the divine example, Mama Rosie seems to think Billie Jean following in her footsteps is impossible.
Adding to Mama Rosie's complexity is that she's clearly still in love with her first husband Earl (Brock Peters); the entire household fawns on him when he visits, as throws his money and success around. She loves him, but she can't bring herself to be with him. Everyone has these contradictions in their personality that they grapple with, making themselves (and even the concept of family expectations) their worst enemies. Even Netta is more complex than she seems, not fitting into the role Mama Rosie has tried to force her into, and the resentment of Norma, Ruth Ann and Billie Jean really comes into focus in a charged, well-acted scene of uncomfortable confrontation (Gloria Edwards as Norma is powerful here), where Billie Jean discovers that as much as she resents Netta, her older sisters resent her as well, misleading her into doing their bidding when Netta comes to visit for Mother's Day. It's a messy movie, but life is messy. The film is emotional, immediate, and powerful; it's also funny and warm and has all the contradictions of family itself. ****
Thursday, March 03, 2016
A review of the films I've seen this past week.