Laura (1944)

Impression: A  very good one from the film noir catalogue, which I had not seen before. A lot of witty 1940’s movie banter, and a lot of vitriol between the main characters is thrown around. Some of the twists are quite original, if over the top. Most characters faults are over-exaggerated, and no one is exactly likable (except maybe Laura herself). This plot device makes it easy to either suspect everyone of being the murderer, or not find it difficult to accept any of them as such. The most intriguing relationship is between Laura and Waldo. He is an older successful man, and somewhat of a mentor to her, but there is plenty of old Hollywood hints that he is not really into women. Their relationship somewhat reminds of that between Eve and Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, although that one is a lot more sexually charged.  And this film came out a few years before the story of All About Eve was either written or filmed. In Laura, the friendship is platonic, but with a lot of strange power play between the two.  Not really sure what to make of it. The other strange character is her fiance, Shelby (played by Vincent Price), who is basically a gold digger, who is unknowingly to her, also a boy-toy for her aunt. So much nonconformity in this one, especially for a 1940’s movie! But of course it is all neatly packaged within the genre conventions. The big twist  is definitely one I had not encountered before, and I highly doubt it is one anyone would see coming.   But it is a clever one, and definitely makes for a lot of suspense.

Facts: A very successful and beautiful socialite is found dead in her apartment, and everyone seems suspicious to the detective who is trying to solve it, but instead slowly falls for the idea of Laura.

Wind River (2017)

Impression: Wyoming is cold. Damn cold! I remember. I lived there. This film takes place in Wyoming in the midst of the cold and snow. It’s a murder mystery set on an Indian Reservation. The setting is crucial to the plot as it uses it to hint at issues of poverty and hopelessness and violence. As it is presented in the movie, the prospects are bleak on the reservation and the only escape is either running far away from it or heavy drug use. People are bitter, and forgotten: the area the size of Rhode Island is covered by only 6 police officers. And the conditions are harsh, roads are often impassable in snowstorms and population is sparse. In the midst of all this a completely unequipped female FBI agent from Florida by the way of Las Vegas is sent to solve the crime. Alone.

She engages a local tracker to help her solve the case. Hints in dialogue, slowly reveal that he is emotionally closer to the murder than was apparent at first with his very scientific and detached way of analyzing all the clues.  In general, the dialogues is kind of sparse, and does not explicitly serve to move the plot forward.  In a couple of places, the dialogue borders on too heavy handed or preachy, with its meta-discussions of grief. But mostly the events are presented in a very detached manner, with minimal emotion. As befits a place as cold and frozen as the Wind River reservation.

The acting is good, the cinematograph is breathtaking. The only thing that I really have complaints about is the over-the-top violence. Yes, it’s a violent topic and some violence is bound to happen in resolving it, but I think the big shoot-out in which the entire Wind River police force dies as well as equal number of people on the other side, seemed a little unnecessary. And I know people flying across rooms when shot with a single bullet looks really cool, and it works for John Woo, but Taylor Sheridan is not John Woo.  The highly stylized, and choreographed bullet play, really feels out of place in a movie that is trying to be starkly realistic.  Plus, you know, conservation of momentum and all. But it’s just one scene. The rest of the movie is really quite engaging and well placed, and well filmed.

Facts: A girl is found dead in the snow on the Wind River Reservation and the plot  to solve her murder touches on issues of opportunity, jurisdiction and law enforcement on the reservation.

Extra: Saw this at the opening night of the Indy Film Fest.

Blue Jay (2016)

Impression: I love the Duplass brothers! So even if a description of  one of their movies doesn’t sound like something I would normally watch, I watch it, because I have yet to be let down. And this one sounded like something that would have been a Lifetime Special in the 90s. And I am not saying that I am above Lifetime Specials, or that I didn’t watch my share of them in the 90s, it’s just not the type of thing I seek out at this point in my life. But of course, it was so much more than a 90s special: incredibly well acted, and well written, and that’s what made it worthwhile. It’s still a lot of emotion, so if that’s not your thing, this may not be a movie for you. But it’s basically just the two leads almost the entire time. There is the old man at the liquor store who has 2 lines, but it’s all them the entire rest of the time. Many years, later on visits to their home town, Jim and Amanda run into each other at the grocery store. At first they are awkward, the conversation is halting, and they almost leave each other without exchanging more than a few words, a couple of times. Eventually we discover that they were once very close and in love. They spend the whole night talking and reminiscing of the past and re-enacting some of it. Some scenes are cute, some are even a little too uncomfortable and awkward. But it is not until the end that we find out what caused them to separate. And nothing about this story is something that hasn’t been told before, it’s all in the acting and how the two leads relate to each other, the pauses and looks, and how realistic their characters are. One thing that I found a little odd is that it was shot in black and white. Since it’s not cheaper to do that anymore, and I am not sure that it added much to the film stylistically, I am not sure why they picked to do that. In any case, it’s not an amazing film, but it’s worth watching. Especially if you are a sucker for love stories not meant to be.

Facts: Jim and Amanda unexpectedly reunite on chance visits back to their home town… in black and white.

The White Helmets (2016)

Impression: One of the reasons I don’t own a TV or why I self-curate the little news I read is that I can’t deal with the 24-hour-news cycle, and the reality-TV style in which war can now be portrayed in real-time. Other than occasionally at airports, I actually have no idea what news channels show these days, but I assume with the fast internet connections and everyone owning cell phones that they have first person narratives of any traumatic event anywhere in the world, and that they play it over and over again. It’s possible I am wrong, but I really don’t want to watch it to find out. In the early 90s when the all-news-all-the-time channels were just starting, I had just moved from a country that was about to plunge into a civil war. The personal connection to what I was seeing on screen sucked me in: I watched more hours of CNN Headline News than I can count. I don’t know if this has changed, but the amount of new information updated each half hour was miniscule, and anything worth knowing for a whole day could have been summarized in 1-2 minutes. But instead, the willing audiences were constantly bombarded by the same footage and same images.

It’s hard for me to rate documentaries in general, but specifically this one as a film, since it’s more about its importance in documenting a place and time. And it IS an important place and time to document. There are scenes where the camera goes out of focus, because it’s the only way to capture what’s going on when people are running out of an exploding building. But there are also artsy shots of raindrops on boots. The White Helmets, pull people out of rubble: some are shown being found dead, a few days old baby is being shown found alive after a 14 hour search. The men go to a training in Turkey to learn about techniques and more advanced technology for their rescue missions, but also presumably to recharge. While not in the training, they are constantly on their cellphones communicating with family back home or watching the news. The psychological toll is massive.

All I take away from this movie is: war is horrible. Real people dying and getting maimed is horrible, I don’t care what your ideology is. But apparently having the ability to watch other people suffer in real time, has done nothing for our ability as humans to empathize. Because we still fight wars, we still wave flags and we still glorify war heros and minimize casualties. You would think if the books or movies showing war as horrible have not done it, having it all brought into your living room in real-time would have changed things, but no. Maybe because we have seen so many fake versions of it? Maybe because it’s just too much and we can’t really handle it and process it as real?  Maybe in the 100+ years of cinema we have moved so far past Lumière’s train, that now everything on screen is easily dismissed as “not real” or “not really happening” or “nothing I can do anything about.”

Facts: The White Helmets are a group of civilians in Syria who rush to dig people out of rubble after each of the many bombing raids, this is a documentary showing some of what they do.

Extra: This was the 2017 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

Impression: I was a huge fan of the AbFab series in the 90s. I have watched each episode more times than I care to admit. It is completely silly and ridiculous, and over the top. And it makes me laugh each and every time. Patsy and Edina say and do ridiculous things, and get away with it. They take some basic truths of celebrity culture, mother-daughter relationships, friendships, etc. and and then go wild creating the most out-there version of it they can imagine. A few months on, there is very little I remember about the plot of this movie, other than Eddy now has a grown granddaughter which somehow leads to her pushing Kate Moss into the Thames, and having to go into hiding in the south of France, where Patsy has to pretend to be a man with a ridiculous fake moustache. That may be more than enough!

I just don’t understand reviews of this movie from people who claim to be fans of the original series, but say that this just didn’t live up to the standards.  What standards? This show has never had any standards, and that was the point. I had brunch with a friend, we had mimosas, poured leftovers into paper coffee cups and walked into the movie. Maybe it was because it was Sunday matinee, but we were at least 30 years younger than the next youngest member of the audience. I laughed so hard, that my jaw hurt at the end of the movie. And that’s the highest praise you can give a comedy! Do I need to see it again? Not particularly, but I wouldn’t turn it down.

Facts:  Ridiculous adventures of Patsy and Eddy continue as  Eddy manages to push Kate Moss into the Thames, then has to hide in the south of France, where Patsy pretends to be a man with a ridiculous fake moustache in order to marry a rich old lady to continue financing their lifestyle.

The Conformist (1970)

Impression: The cinematography and locations/set design are beautiful in this film. The vast empty spaces in giant buildings with only one or two characters inside each frame, the very stark architecture, the black and white colors and the very clean lines are the main  settings in the first part of the movie. While it is set during the fascist era in Italy, the film is more than just a commentary on political conformism; it tackles conformism in general. In the beginning, there is a scene where it is explained that the main character’s reasons for joining the fascists are not typical: it is usually done for money, but he just wants to belong. It is particularly strange, because unlike his wife, who is blissfully unaware of alternatives, he is fully aware that it is possible to not conform in political views,  in sexuality, etc, but he actively rejects those options in favor of fitting in. The plot constantly jumps through time, that it is almost dizzying to keep track of where in the story you land from shot to shot. But the flashbacks to his childhood and the scenes with his family, convey that he had grown up feeling disconnected from the rest of society, by the virtue of his family’s wealth and position. As a result, his wish to conform is strong. He forgoes his interest in studying philosophy and any wish to find a genuine love interest, in order to serve the system and marry the most mediocre woman he can find, so he can feel ‘normal.’ He eventually develops strong feelings for another woman, but when faced with a choice that would jeopardize his belonging, he chooses belonging over her. At the end of the film, when the regime changes, he is not so much afraid of the political retribution or even for his life, as he is that he will no longer be ‘normal.’ His instinct is to denounce his friend.  In a way, The Lobster which was made 45 years later is a complementary piece to this film. While this film explores, the need of one person to conform, the Lobster explores how a society, even one formed by people who did not want to conform to mainstream rules, enforces its own strict rules, and essentially demands conformism.

Facts: A man in fascist Italy actively makes choices that conform with what is expected of him, in choosing what to pursue in love and work.

Daytime Drinking (2008)

Impression: A very low budget Korean movie which follows a guy who recently broke up with his girlfriend through a slew of very unfortunate misunderstandings.  The comedy is very understated. First his friends ditch him during their planned vacation to cheer him up, so he ends up vacationing  (and drinking) on his own. Then, he ends up at the wrong cabin and meets a crazy girl who he tries to impress. But, her boyfriend keeps showing up. Eventually the lead character ends up without any clothes in the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere, and has to hitchhike his way out. I feel like if this movie had been in english it would have long ago become a slacker cult classic. There is not much talking, but a lot of shots of him looking miserable and waiting, or walking, and any interaction with people just leaves him feeling worse. As the title suggests, there is also a lot of drinking, which also doesn’t end up making him feel any better. I really liked the feel of this film, very low key and unassuming, but also very funny and relatable.

Facts: A guy tries to get over a break-up with his girlfriend, with a road trip and a lot of drinking, gets himself into a lot of funny situations.