Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ammonite: a speculative same sex romance

Greetings, commies! 

It's Pride month, so I thought it would be fitting to review a film featuring a same sex love story. If you are in a mood for a beautifully shot slow burner, check out Ammonite, starring my two favorite actresses, Kate Winslet and Saiorse Ronan. 

Synopsis:

1840s England, acclaimed fossil hunter Mary Anning and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.

My thoughts:

I said it before about the French film "Portrait of a Lady On Fire", and the same idea applies to this review. A same sex love story should not be used as an excuse for lazy writing. Imagine if this was a heterosexual love story. Would you feel cheated out of a richer, more engaging plotline and character development? Some writers think that just because the story is about two women, that alone should carry the weight of the film. 

First things first, the social context. Some may not realize, but in Victorian England, two women in love could get away with much more than their male counterparts. It was not uncommon for women to form romantic friendships, live together for periods of time, and not be suspected of "immoral behavior". A spinster and a young wife spending a lot of time in each other's company would probably not raise any eyebrows. Public hand-holding, embraces and kisses were regarded as tokens of tender affection. Women were believed to be "too pure" for any kind of deviant behavior. So the two lovers in "Ammonite" were not exactly endangering themselves. 

Yes, the cinematography is sublime. The ambience is moody and brooding. But there is only so much the finest of actresses can do with a dull, unimaginative script. There are too many narrative gaps, too many proverbial guns that were never fired. One of such guns is the infamous Mr. Murchison. He is not even two-dimensional - he is an empty shell, a sketch of a character. I can certainly appreciate leaving to the viewer's imagination, but his character was just left in its embryonic form, and that's a shame. He is reduced to a cold, patriarchal talking head. There could've been so much more to him. Why is he so reluctant to engage with his wife in intimacy? Could he be struggling with some same sex attractions as well? I wish he had been developed more. 

Now, the much-anticipated love scenes. I found them a little too ... "expert"? These two women are supposedly unversed in the art of same sex love. It must be new and awkward for both of them. Yet they seem to know what to do right off the bat. 

Nobody expected a happy ending, but its bitterness was a little unconvincing. The main character pretty much throws away her chance at happiness. There is really nothing standing in their way, no harsh conventions. We have Mr. Murchison, who is immersed in his newly found hobby, who has no interest in his wife. Yet Mary harshly rejects her young lover's attempts at building a future together. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Home: a compilation of religious stereotypes

Greetings, commies!

Glory to Ukraine! (First and foremost). If you want to take a break from the horrific news in the real world, consider killing 90 minutes of your time on Home, a supernatural horror flick from 2016.

Synopsis:

Carrie, a young religious fundamentalist, must learn to overcome her own fears and believes to save her little sister from a haunted house.

My thoughts:

The makers of this C-list clearly had a crude, blatant liberal agenda. It's clear that whoever wrote the screenplay had not bothered to research contemporary Christian beliefs and practices. The protagonist, Carrie, is billed as "fundamentalist", yet she wears a cross and makes a sign of the cross - both practices more in line with Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. It's a shame that the character is portrayed as a series of Christian cliches, including her self-righteous homophobia. At the same time, her mother and her new wife are depicted as atheists. Newsflash: not all gay couples reject religion altogether. The writing could have been much more sophisticated and nuanced, if not for those stereotypes. The manifestations of the malevolent demonic force are also rather cartoonish. A few times I caught myself laughing instead of gasping with terror. Not to spoil the ending, but the writers took away a few elements from "The Sixth Sense". If you are a film student looking for an example of lazily executed horror movie, give "Home" a go.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Ulster Lament: an Irish tune ... sung by the English

Greetings, chaps!

The situation in Ukraine and the various humanitarian missions have kept me so busy, I somehow missed the release of my own novel. It's not quite as bad as locking your dog in a hot car, but still. Ulster Lament touches upon many topics that are perpetually relevant and near and dear to my heart: nationalism, imperialism, perverted loyalty. 


Ulster, Co. Antrim, 1903


Born with a limp, unsuitable for military service, Peter Greenwood knows that he is an embarrassment to his father, an officer in the British army. At seventeen the youth travels to Belfast to study journalism. New friends help Peter find a job at a conservative newspaper The Empire.

His first assignment is to publish the memoirs of a retired captain Evan Pryce, a veteran of the Transvaal campaign. At the very first meeting Peter recognizes a broken, bitter man, who is not proud of his past. Molly, the captain's feral and uncouth daughter, takes a liking to Peter and shares a few family secrets that do not quite tie with the patriotic spirit of the newspaper.

The Pryce family has a sworn enemy, an Irish nationalist hungry for vengeance, to which Peter becomes a witness. Even though his own life is spared, it now belongs to the rebels. He must use his literary skills to cover up their crimes.

Ulster Lament, a bewitching folk melody sung by the ringleader, infects Peter's thoughts and makes him question his loyalty to the crown. He starts sympathizing with the rebels and believing that their rage is justified. Will he turn against everything he was taught to hold sacred?

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Titane: a winsome mix of sickness and sweetness


Synopsis:

Alexia suffers a terrible skull injury and has a titanium plate fitted into her head. When she gets out of the hospital, she rejects her parents and embraces passionately the car that almost killed her. The coming years she has problems with her sexuality and meets Vincent. Vincent is a tortured man who tries to preserve his strength by injecting steroids into his aging body. Will they find a way to deal with their emotional problems?

My thoughts:

We saw this movie on a big screen when it came out in the fall of 2021. "Titane" is sick in a sweet way, and sweet in a sick way. Agathe Rousselle really puts herself through hell to play the role. This actress is no great beauty - but the roll doesn't call for it. Her androgynous angular features really lend themselves to creating this creature beyond gender or flesh. Rousselle creates a whole twisted universe inside herself - and around herself. The film features a whole slew of unique, grotesque, memorable faces. Wounded, twisted, emotionally disfigured people have a way of finding solace in each other, and that's the message of this film.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

1944: a small nation caught in a global war

Greetings, commies!

Leave it up to me to find some obscure but stellar WWII film. Today's feature gem is 1944 about the events that took place in Estonia towards the end of WWII.  

Synopsis:

In the year 1944, Estonia faces advances from both the Russian Red Army and Nazi forces. Families are torn apart across enemy lines and soldiers are forced to make difficult choices to preserve a small nation caught in the middle of a global war. Estonia's Official Submission for the Academy Awards.

My thoughts:

I really hope this gem gets more exposure, because it's so though provoking. Rarely do you get a WWII film filled with such empathy.  Estonia is a small country in northern Europe (no, it's NOT a part of Russia!) so you are not likely to read about it in most high-school history textbooks, namely what was going on there during WWII, how the population was divided politically and ideologically. Some fought on the side of the Red Army, believing the alliance with the Soviet Union to be more beneficial, and some fought on the side of Hitler. The latter was a sort of "hold your nose" type of alliance. They ridiculed Hitler openly and harbored no illusions about his promises to "grandfather" the Estonians into the Aryan race. You cannot help but feel empathy for this small unique country trapped between two toxic giants. You see these young people forced to choose sides and realize that they cannot win, regardless of whose side they take. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Evil Boy - weaving Slavic folklore, religion and philosophy

Greetings, commies!

Another foreign horror film to get your blood pumping (or chilling). Evil Boy capitalizes on every parent's greatest nightmare - the unexplained disappearance of a child. How far would you go to bring back the kid you lost? What lies are you willing to tell yourself?

Synopsis:

Several years after their son's disappearance, a grieving couple adopts a feral boy, who begins to eerily resemble their child more with each passing day. While the mother believes they have found their son, her husband is certain he died. As strange accidents begin happening around the boy, the pair soon wonders whether they've adopted something not entirely...human.

My thoughts:

Russian generally doesn't generate a ton of horror movies, but the ones that do come out tend to be potent and well-plotted. I wish the original title had been kept -  it translates like "spawn" or "castaway". "Evil Boy" just sounds too campy, almost grindhouse. The movie is anything but grindhouse. It weaves the elements of Slavic folklore, Eastern Orthodox mysticism, sci-fi and psychology. Of course, most horror movies employ the same universal message: don't mess with nature, don't try to bring back the dead, accept loss/defeat. The theme is not necessarily unique, but the execution is extremely effective. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Bremen Town Musicians: a Soviet hippie adaptation of a Brothers Grimm tale

Greetings, commies!

Today you are in for a special treat - a Soviet version of "Yellow Submarine". I cannot think of a better way to describe The Bremen Town Musicians. You can see it on YouTube with subtitles. Loosely based on a Brothers Grimm tale, the story features four anthropomorphic farm animals - a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster - under the leadership of a handsome troubadour. The adaptation downplays the grisly backstory of the animals - all four were elderly, abused and/or prepared for slaughter by their heartless owners. It was a classic case of outcasts finding solace in each other - a staple of many timeless tales. The cartoon opens with the quintet traveling to perform at a king's palace. 

This cartoon, produced in 1969, is culturally significant and groundbreaking, because it showcases some unabashedly western elements - in contrast with the somber Soviet ideology. The score is rooted in rock-n-roll. The opening song could have been straight out of swingin' London. If you listen to it, you will understand why the score, released on a vinyl, became an instant bestseller. They lyrics were so memorable, and the tune was so hummable! The wild popularity of the cartoon and the soundtrack was met with resistance from the reactionary, anti-West fraction. Some were scandalized by the mod inspired outfit of the Princess and lamented the "toxic influences of the west". 

Clearly, the resistance from the reactionary wing did not prevent the sequel from coming out in 1973 - On the Trail of the Bremen Town Musicians. That one actually flirts with the musical tradition of Broadway!