Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

There is so much going on in this film I actually don’t know where to start.

Perhaps by saying that I liked it, though I didn’t love it. Then, I’m not generally one for animations so it must have been doing something good.

I liked the way that it acknowledged what even peripheral audiences know about Spider-Man, and so zipped happily through the back-story where necessary to keep thing moving along. I liked the way it captured the feeling of a comic book, with panels, sound effects and dots in the images. I liked that it did make me laugh.

Perhaps there were one (or two) too many Spider-people, as I felt that the little Japanese girl and her spider robot(?) got a bit sidelined towards the end, and the pig didn’t seem to have that much to do. (By the way, there’s a pig?) And I think if you are a big fan of the comic books then you will obviously recognise many more of the characters than I did. Also, even though I was definitely watching the 2D version, I sometimes felt like I had forgotten to put my 3D glasses on. I’ve read that the filmmakers deliberately did this to focus on the character at the centre of the screen, but it did make me squint and feel like I was missing something.

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is getting huge praise for his work in this film. Rightly so, as it can’t be easy to deliver any kind of a performance through the prosthetics required for his transformation into Winston Churchill. Director Joe Wright spends a lot of time with the camera very close up to Churchill’s face, and you cannot see the join.

Aside from that though, Darkest Hour is all a bit half-baked from my point of view and I left the cinema feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

I felt shades of the enormity of the political situation facing the government, but not the full terror. I saw glimpses of a fascinating woman with clearly a lot of history to tell, yet Winston’s wife Clementine was brushed to the edges leaving Kristin Scott Thomas with very little to do. In a strange yet successful piece of casting I saw an inexplicable change of heart from King George VI (by Ben Mendelsohn) which didn’t make sense. And I watched an oddly underused Lily James typing a lot.

Perhaps it fits so snugly into the Sunday evening TV period drama landscape that I found the cinematic experience lacking.

Umi yori mo mada fukaku – After the Storm

Another slice of domestic Japanese life seen through the lens of director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

In many ways this is nothing new from the Japanese director, yet at the same time it is a different domestic arrangement which provides the backdrop for the narrative.

Uncontrollable natural elements force together a broken family and we end up completely understanding every single person’s point of view by the end.

The two stand out performances for me were the father (Hiroshi Abe) and his elderly mother (Kirin Kiki). He is a loveable, shambolic failure – his career and marriage floundering, he is out of place everywhere both emotionally and physically; he is unusually tall and appears squashed in the doorways of his mother’s apartment.

His mother is perhaps one of the most authentic characters you will see on screen – physically ageing but with the wisdom of longevity, she reminded me so much of my own grandmother, who died before I was advanced enough in years to begin to understand what it is like to get old.

And this is the essence of Kore-eda. His films return repeatedly to every day life, to situations and people who we can instantly recognise. It’s a shame that only those with the patience to allow him into our lives benefit from his observations. 

Lion

A quite incredible story which brought a tear to my eye towards the end.

And yet I have the feeling that without the warmth and emotion of Dev Patel, and the raw natural presence of Sunny Pawar as Patel’s younger incarnation, this would have been little more than a Hallmark movie – which would have been completely unfair to Saroo’s story.

I was fascinated, but only because Dev rescued this from being Nicole Kidman in a bad wig.

El Sur – The South

Fascinating in many ways.

Released in 1983, this is half of what director Víctor Erice  (The Spirit of the Beehive) originally envisaged. It would appear that financial issues prevented filming the full script, and the director was left to make what he could from what had been filmed.

And while, at the end, there is a definite feeling that there is more to come, the film which exists is exquisite in its simplicity and lacks nothing.

The focus of the story is Estrella, a young girl observing the unhappiness in her parents’ marriage without truly understanding the depths of the situation. Things happen elsewhere, or in the past, and both we and Estrella only understand them through what is told to us, never seen by us. It captures beautifully the innocence and semi-understanding of youth, against the backdrop of domesticity and the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

The colour palette is drab, reflecting a very different Spain from the one we perhaps expect – the Spain of the South (El Sur). Estrella also has dreams of what the South (her father’s birthplace) is like, and we have glimpses of this through visits from relatives with their strange accent, and picture postcards of flamenco dancing and flowers. We have none of that in the cold, wet, constantly autumnal north, which sits so perfectly with Estrella’s attempts to understand her father’s unhappiness.

Estrella is played in her teenage years by Icíar Bollaín, whose work as director of También la Lluvia I’ve admired since first seeing it; I hadn’t realised she was also an actress!

Jag är Ingrid – Ingrid Bergmann in Her Own Words

I’m not sure why I went to see this – I tend to avoid my favourite actors on chat shows, in interviews or just being themselves because I’m so often disappointed, and the myth has been shattered. I’d rather just see their work on the screen, which is why I like them in the first place.

I guess I was hoping to learn more about the Hollywood background or the making of her films, but as her daughter Isabella Rossellini comments, her personal letters, diaries and home video are all about her family. And one of the main things we learn is that she was hardly ever with her children, preferring instead to do precisely what she wanted – take whichever job she wanted, marry the men she wanted, move to the country she wanted – without appearing to realise that, as the mother of four, sometimes you can’t do exactly what you want when there are young lives reliant on you.

And this may be heresy, but Alicia Vikander didn’t do the film any favours. She was ‘playing’ Bergman, in that she was reading the letters the actress had written to narrate the events depicted. But her delivery was so monotone and without emotion that I was starting to yawn.

Had this been on BBC4 on a Saturday evening, I would have been OK with it, but I’m not convinced it deserved a theatrical release.

A version of this post appeared on http://www.filmdispenser.com/

An – Sweet Bean

An excellent example of why I enjoy watching films from other cultures so much.

The story starts in a conventional manner, then takes a turn which reveals things about Japanese history (recent at that) of which I was not aware. It also throws in some interesting culinary information too.

The lives of a solitary chef, an elderly woman and a school girl intersect at a small shop selling dorayaki – sweet bean paste-filled pancakes – and while their meeting may be conventional, their histories gradually reveal more than would normally be imagined.

It’s a very gentle-paced film, with lots of listening – to the wind in the trees, a bird singing, beans cooking – but it doesn’t drag in the slightest. Kirin Kiki is outstanding as the elderly woman, and Masatoshi Nagase delivers an excellent performance as the solitary ‘Boss’. Interesting to note that the young girl is played by Kyara Uchida, who is actually Kirin Kiki’s granddaughter.

I have to admit to having seen none of director Naomi Kawase’s previous films, so I will definitely rectify that – and am open to advice on where to start.

 

Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary)

Subtle, gentle, delightful and insightful – Kore-eda Hirokazu manages to present the delicate intricacies of family life in which on the surface not much happens, but beneath that, each family member learns something about herself and her sisters, without huge revelations or tantrums.

Kore-eda’s last two films, I Wish and Like Father, Like Son focussed on sons in the families. This time, it is four daughters who take centre stage, and they are older than the previous protagonists, making an interesting contrast.

Kore-eda is often mentioned in the same breath as Ozu Yasujiro and while the family scenario connection is obvious, this is the first time that I’ve been put in mind of a specific Ozu film – in this case Late Spring. I attribute this to the female focus, certain shots of the oldest daughter reminding me of the framing of Ozu’s Noriko, and the coastal setting.

But in any case, this story is absolutely beautiful, and reveals events and feelings from the characters’ pasts – and of people no longer present in their lives – subtly and poignantly.

It examines how death touches our lives, and how the legacy of a person’s life and our memory of them can alter over time and affect our own self-perception.

It’s also the first time I’ve ever noticed that a film mentions its own Food Stylist in the credits. Preparing, cooking and eating food is the centrepiece of family interaction, so if you go to see this film, make sure you have a table booked for the moment you emerge – you’ll be hungry!

Deliciously beautiful.

Soshite Chichi Ni Nara – Like Father, Like Son

Two Kore-eda films in one year is a bit of treat! – (see here for the other).

Again this features children, but this time the adults are much more present than in I Wish. Essentially, two sets of very different parents discover that their sons were swapped in hospital just after they were born, and the decision must be made as to how the situation should best be resolved.

It examines parenthood, family and blood ties, and I enjoyed it very much.

Having said that, I actually think there’s a huge amount more that remains to be explored with this subject – which is not to say that Kore-eda failed at all, just that he chose to follow one thread, when there are so many others still dangling.

Wadjda

An absolutely delightful yet thought-provoking story of a strong-minded and resourceful young girl growing up with her mother in Riyadh.

Constrained by society, she nevertheless sets out to make a dream become reality.

Presenting interesting insights into family life in this slice of Arabic culture, this film is highly recommended.