Les endroits imaginaires

A slightly less successful location scout than previous times, but one that I had been waiting to do for a while.

If you’ve mooched around the menu of this blog, or if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Québecois director Xavier Dolan, and as I was heading for Montréal last year, I just had to have a look around.

From his 2010 film Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) what I really wanted to find was something from the sequences where Marie and Francis walk down the street in the Mile End area of Montréal to the brilliant song sung by Dalida. Here’s the sequence:

I was all set to put my hair up and do a slo-mo walk past the blue wall (which you can see at 2:02 in the video above).

I found where I thought it was, I could see something blue in the distance, but when I got there …

Not exactly glamourous.

But it is definitely the right place – Google Maps has it looking like this in August 2016:

Anyway, by chance I also recognised this flower shop along the same street, which appears in this sequence (starting at 0:34):

Here’s the flower shop , which I did do a walk-by of!

 

Justice League (2017)

This just in – I didn’t hate Justice League, and I am delighted.

I mean, there’s a long way to go before it reaches Marvel levels of enjoyment, but it didn’t make me angry, and the plot seemed to make sense so that’s a huge step up.

Obviously it’s great to see Wonder Woman back again, and Ezra Miller’s Flash brought a slice of much-needed levity – particularly as Ben Affleck clearly didn’t want to be there, which seeped through his cowl and cape every time he was on-screen. And Cavill does absolutely nothing for me. I find him a total charisma vacuum.

I’m not convinced that what we got of The Flash’s history would have made sense had I not been watching the TV series about this character though. He’s so fast and the dialogue so snappy that I think a viewer with no knowledge at all would not have understood too much about his situation. Same goes for one of the characters who appears in the post-credits scene.

By the way director dudes, Patty Jenkins managed to make a whole movie without looking up Wonder Woman’s skirt, and I’m pretty sure you could have done the same thing too if you had wanted to. No need, boys, no need at all.

Aquabro is a different type of character for me and I’m looking forward to learning more about him – ideally we should have had this in advance of Justice League, but DC didn’t create a timeline of movie releases which would allow that, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how he works. (Particularly as they can’t spend the whole film inside a bubble so everyone can talk to each other.)

Cyborg is a much better character than I expected, and Ray Fisher did a great job in making him interesting and nuanced.

And I have to ask – what is DC’s problem with mothers? Not content with the whole Batman v Superman Martha situation, we have Aquabro, Flash and Cyborg all with missing mamas; Diana viewing the gang as children that she’s been put in charge of, and then … we have … MOTHERboxes!

Surely it can’t be a coincidence?

Also – guys, don’t leave the box lying around unattended you idiots! Anyone could pick it up. Sheesh.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Sooooo much good in this sequel, and yet so much troublesome stuff too.

Let’s start with the good, shall we?

Blade Runner 2049 is an excellent sequel. It picks up, runs with, and explores further the themes raised in its predecessor; what does it mean to be human?, what are memories?, even issues of slavery and the destruction of the environment. It weaves in characters from the original film just when they are needed, and, as with the original, it leaves some questions mercifully unanswered.

It is absolutely beautiful. Roger Deakins’ cinematography coupled with Denis Villeneuve’s vision and direction are a perfect match here. I splashed out and saw this in IMAX and it was worth it – sweeping cityscapes, never-ending dust storms; the scale is immense and all-consuming. The scene where two women merge into one was exquisite (more about that later).

There are some interesting characters and performances too – some of whom stick around longer than others. It would have been great for Robin Wright and Dave Bautista to have had a few more scenes. Gosling is fine as the Blade Runner who doesn’t quite know where he fits in to the world, and of course there’s Harrison Ford. I generally find him a bit same-y in everything, but he’s solid here.

As a premise, and as a sequel, this film is good.

I have a few niggles. I honestly can’t remember a single thing Jared Leto said and I think people should probably stop casting him in stuff like this now. He gets in the way of every character he’s played recently so that I switch off when he’s around.

I am getting a tiny bit fed up with Hans Zimmer’s honking scores, too.

But you don’t have to go too far to work out that my biggest gripe has to do with the female characters. (Potential spoilers coming up).

The aforementioned scene with the two women – looks good, yes, but we end up with one woman ‘becoming’ another, and the second woman being irrelevant apart from her physical body. Women are frequently treated violently and the only reason seemed to be Jared Leto. In this world, women appear to be there only to be the recipients of either violence or sex, ie to be subservient, and it’s just getting a little wearisome these days.

Here’s a question. Would it have been too much of a stretch to have Ryan Gosling’s character be female? I can’t see why there couldn’t be female Blade Runners, and then a lot of things in the film could have been different without changing the actual story one little bit. Win-win.

Juste la fin du monde – It’s Only the End of the World

This was the film I had built my entire (if short) London Film Festival experience around. As soon as I knew I was going to be in town on the evening of the UK premiere, I booked my ticket.

Director Xavier Dolan is currently one of my favourite directors. His films aren’t always easy to watch, but they are often daring, always intense, and highly emotional.

I’m also fascinated by him when he’s interviewed – he speaks so eloquently, passionately and confidently about his own film-making, rarely referencing other directors or films. It genuinely doesn’t appear to matter to him what others are doing. He’s also quick to speak out if he feels he or his work is being attacked, which has provoked some backlash and personal criticism as a result. I have always forgiven him thus far, yet his latest, Juste la fin du monde, was extremely divisive at Cannes this year – winning the Grand Prix (second jury choice), yes, but the announcement of this was booed by journalists – and Dolan had much to say about this. Several reviews effectively trashed it, yet others were full of praise. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

dolan-cropped
Léa Seydoux and Xavier Dolan at the BFI London Film Festival screening

Turns out, it was superb!

Dolan has assembled a stellar cast who are all on top form, even if not in roles you would imagine for them. Returning home after a 12 year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is waiting for the right time to share his news with his mother, brother and sister. Also there is his brother’s wife, whom he has never met but who seems to instantly understand him. They are both quiet outsiders among the quarrelsome family members.

Nathalie Baye’s mother, in her exaggerated make-up, cheerily tries to maintain a façade of familial togetherness, while Antoine (a magnificent Vincent Cassel) belligerently provokes both his wife and his brother across the dining table. He’s so obnoxious, and it’s only later that we get an inkling as to what’s been eating him for the last 12 years. Only an inkling though; it’s never totally spelled out. Léa Seydoux as the baby sister is eagerly awaiting the chance to have a mature relationship with the brother she’s missed for so long. And Marion Cotillard is the dowdiest you will ever see her – bullied and humiliated by her husband Antoine, her nervous speech patterns are excruciating, yet she shares a couple of extended moments with Louis where so much is conveyed between them without a word being spoken. For a film which is verbose, to say the least, these moments are the most powerful.

And this for me is the centre of the film. Louis is a playwright, he makes his living in words for thousands to hear, but for the duration of his visit he says very little. When the moments come to express himself, he backs down, chooses to say nothing, apologises. The rest of the family is also unable to express their true feelings, and so hide behind aggressive, defensive language which is the exact opposite of what they want to say. They are flawed human beings, difficult to spend time with, yet very real.

When it is fully released in the UK next year, I’ll be first in the queue for a re-watch, no doubt about it.

After the screening, Dolan was interviewed on stage by BFI’s Clare Stewart and it was such a treat to hear him speak about his film in person. He talked about transforming the script from stage to screen play, how this affected his decision to make use of the close up, and the lighting choices he made for the final scene. I wanted to sit for another hour and listen to him. Dolan is human, and he is not perfect. Neither are his films. But they are remarkable nevertheless, and I am an unapologetic admirer of both the man and his work.

 

Despite the Falling Snow

I wonder if Sam Reid will ever grow up to play himself? He’s been a young Peter Firth in Spooks, a young Stellan Skarsgård in The Railway Man, and here he’s a young Charles Dance.

But this cold war/thaw film, which jumps around quite a bit in the first third between the early 1960s and the 1990s, actually revolves around Rebecca Ferguson in a dual performance, with one foot in each time frame.

In the 1960s scenes she has a look of Ingrid Bergman, and carries herself in a reserved and understated manner as she steals state secrets from the government. She was less successful in the 1990s scenes, where she plays an artist in search of information about her aunt, and I put this down to her struggling with accents, and a slightly annoying character. The American characters have American accents, and Ferguson’s slipped quite a bit – but then, she is Swedish; the Russians mostly have plummy English accents which which she was fine.

The stand-out performance was Anthony Head – his vodka-soaked Mikhail oozes self-loathing and demands our sympathy.

And for anyone on the #52filmsbywomen trail, this is directed by Shamim Sarif, so add it to the list.

Deadpool

What I like about this is that everyone I know who loves the character seems to love this film – it has undeniably done its job in that respect. I also like that it pokes fun without being a spoof, it’s funny (though funnier in some places than others), and the action sequences are great, particularly the highway chase. It operates within the wider cinematic universe without having to be part of it, and it is not bloated or overlong. There are a couple of really interesting supporting characters (Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus) who I liked a lot and hope to see again somewhere, and the clever editing-in of flashback sequences kept the pace moving along and made what is essentially a very slight storyline feel a little weightier.

The self-referentiality did become a little tiresome after a while though. I got some of the ‘in’ jokes but missed several more I’m sure. And although I chuckled quite a lot, some of the humour was just a little juvenile.

The fuss around the 15/R rating is an interesting one. I understood the violence aspect – in this film it’s more realistic and splattertastic than other ‘superhero’ films, and the strong language is presumably the type of vocabulary that mercenaries use when they’re hanging out in their local bar swigging beer. I’m happy to think that other superheroes swear too, just not in the films. But at times I could almost hear the filmmakers thinking “well, we’re going to get a 15/R rating anyway for the violence, why not throw in some sex and nudity while we’re here”. It’s not that I have a problem with these things in films, but in my view, it just wasn’t necessary. We didn’t need to see it to enhance the story.

And on that note, the women in this film seem poorly served. So much potential with Negasonic Teenage Warhead was squandered. Gina Carano was horrendously underused (Steven Soderbergh knew what to do – c/f Haywire). And Morena Baccarin … well. The opening credits say it all – she’s billed as ‘A Hot Chick’ and, although she certainly is, surely there’s more to her than that? Did her character really have to work in a strip club? Could she not have just worked in a bar? Worn a few more clothes? Did she need to be naked?

I liked this though I didn’t love it – but if it can provoke that response from someone who probably isn’t the primary target audience, then it’s clearly a job well done.

Mommy

Do not go and see this film if you have a headache – it is VERY SHOUTY. Inside director Xavier Dolan’s head must be a difficult place to be. What he manages to create with this film is challenging to watch, but full of outstanding performances from the three main actors. It’s not without flaws – some unnecessary scenes just drag out what we already know about Steve, while I wanted to know more about Kayla. I also felt the law mentioned at the very beginning was a totally unnecessary device, almost like Dolan didn’t know how he was going to end the story and so he invented this ‘law’ to get him out of a mess. But while some have been critical of his use of ‘unusual’ aspect ratio, I loved it. It brings a few moments of fresh air and free-spiritedness to an otherwise claustrophobic life for all of the characters. The language geek in me was also intrigued to see a film in French-Canadian. My French isn’t too bad, but I honestly didn’t ‘t understand more than a couple of sentences! I certainly think this is a powerful piece of filmmaking, but I’m not sure I ever want to watch this movie again.

Enemy

I love a film that has me wondering what the hell is happening from the very start, and this just does that. And because it doesn’t directly answer all the questions it prompts, I’m still thinking about it, which is a good thing.

Not one but two Jake Gyllenhaals find themselves face to face with each other, trying to work out how and why they are both identical. Tension obviously ensues. What’s brilliant though is that we’re never in any doubt as to which ‘Jake’ we’re with at any one time: even when one is impersonating the other. He is, as usual, outstanding.

For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I’m now actually going to read the book which inspired the film.

Horns

I wish people would give Daniel Radcliffe a break. OK, so maybe some of the role choices he’s made haven’t worked out, but if his first role hadn’t have been Harry Potter, then he would probably have made the same number of bum choices as most young actors. It’s just that we all know who he is.

The problem in this film isn’t Radcliffe at all; I think he’s OK, in fact. The problem is the director hadn’t quite decided what type of film this is, and so it kept lurching from black comedy to romance to horror. The flashback scenes were way too long and I think the film ended at least twice. It was just too out of balance tonally, and even Radcliffe and Juno Temple couldn’t rescue it.

Not all bad, but as a whole, not coherent.