Nie yin niang – The Assassin 

Lives up to all the reports of looking beautiful.

And all the reports of sparse/incomprehensible plot.

On balance, I was OK with the latter because of the former while I was watching it, but don’t feel like I could sit through it again.

The slower pace allows time for some beautiful cinematography, so the best thing is just to relax into it and let it wash over you.

Krigen – A War

The first two-thirds of this story try (and to a large extent succeed) in putting the viewer very definitely in a war, or at least our protagonists’ portion of a war. It’s dangerous, loud, confusing – we don’t know who we can trust, who’s being used, how safe it is to put one foot in front of another. There’s a real sense of the soldiers being ordinary guys who didn’t expect it to be quite like this when they signed up. The fact that occasional scenes from the family at home are interspersed underlines this, and also raise tensions of a different, more personal kind.

Then something happens which drags us back to Denmark, where things are calmer but no less fraught. The film becomes a courtroom drama (though there is little actual drama, it’s all very matter of fact) – and a total contrast to the previous hour and a bit. We’re asked to reflect in calmness on actions taken under extreme pressure, and forced to reach a conclusion.

I was with this almost all the way to the end, struggling to understand how I felt about what I had experienced along with the soldiers. I say almost to the end, because the conclusion (not the final scene, but the conclusion to the courtroom section) seemed to want to tie everything up neatly. Yet the film had shown us very definitely that things aren’t perhaps so clear-cut, and I can’t help but feel it might have been better left without a definite conclusion. That we should have been left to make up our own minds.

Nevertheless, the subject matter makes good debate for the Oscar season.

The Hateful Eight

This is one of the first Tarantino films I have liked in a very long time. I’m not generally a fan, and I went to see this not because I really wanted to but because I felt I ought to, I found it very entertaining, though not without flaws. With the exception of the odd snowy landscape, this plays more like a chamber piece, and I could really imagine going to the theatre to see it performed by an ensemble or repertory cast. And this is great as – although perhaps a tad too long – the first half sets everything up and had pulled me in entirely by the time the ‘intermission’ came around (although my screening didn’t actually pause and I wish it had, as it would have underlined the theatricality). And because the setting is locked in to more or less one location, the storytelling really comes to the fore – not just the overall story, which gradually uncovers the mystery of who these people are and why they are there, but also the couple of other stories that people tell each other – a snowy walk, a letter, for example.

There are some good performances too: Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth’s layered character, and above all Kurt Russell actually made me forget I was watching a Tarantino film, which can only be a good thing.

I totally get that if I’m going to see a QT film then I should expect splatter violence, and this is no exception. But on this occasion, I managed to get beyond this – usually I can’t. It still does seem a little excessive though. To the point of immaturity – hasn’t he got over that yet? He’s also a provocateur; I think he is now deliberately courting controversy with his use of racist language, and for me there’s still an impasse between how he views the use of this language and how it is received by portions of his audience.

I’m also still considering the treatment of women in this film. Yes, it is made clear that Daisy’s crimes are no different than if a man had committed them, and therefore her treatment should be exactly the same. But the violence doled out to her seems worse because it is so sudden, it’s with actual male force rather than a gun or other implement, and she’s in chains all the time it is being administered. Add into this the way the other three female characters are treated (yep, just three, yet a dozen men) and I’m not convinced that this isn’t actually an issue.

I was disappointed that Tarantino saw the need to insert himself into the narrative just when I was looking forward to seeing how things played out. It was entirely unnecessary, and took me out of the film.

But overall, a very pleasant surprise.

Manchester Film Festival

Here’s something exciting – Manchester is having its own film festival!To be honest there was one last year, but it was on at the same time as the Manchester International Festival and I fear it didn’t get the coverage it needed. Let’s just say that as an avid film-goer, I was totally oblivious to its existence until two days before it happened and I have no idea why.

Anyway, enough of the past – today the official selection for this year’s festival was announced, and it has a huge number of things which interest me already – check out the trailer below to see what I mean!

Once I’ve had chance to look in more detail, I’ll be back to update on what I’m going to see.

Hashtag excited!

The Danish Girl

Very mixed opinion about this.

On the one hand, Alicia Vikander turns in yet another great performance as the wife of the eponymous Danish Girl. And it is always a pleasure to see Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts and Sebastian Koch on screen.

And there are times when Eddie Redmayne is very good indeed. But there are other times when it’s almost like he wants you to *see* how very good he is, and at those points all I could see was the actor not the character(s).

I’m also a little concerned about the view of femininity on display. [Note – perhaps don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the film].

The initial indications the audience receives about Einar’s gender dysphoria are more fetishistic than anything else – the touch of silk or fur, running fingers over a rail of women’s delicate clothing – as if enjoying the feel of a silk scarf is enough to make any man question his gender. Redmayne is shown attempting to learn more feminine ways of moving and sitting, which ends up being a combination of simpering vogueing and copying a woman he pays to see in a peep-show striptease. Most women don’t spent their daily lives posing like burlesque performers or touching their faces with such regularity – we all know that dislodges your make up and leads to spots.

So my concerns are, I suppose, that it’s all about a man’s view of what femininity looks like, and not enough about what Einar/Lili *feels* like in her struggle to understand herself. For which I guess we have to blame the director.

Lili Elbe’s is a serious story which deserves telling, but everything seemed to focus on outward style and none of the true substance of Lili’s traumatic journey.