Friday, March 09, 2018

A FANTASTIC WOMAN: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at an indie art theatre near me:

A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Dir. Sebastián Lelio, 2017) 

Sebastián Lelio’s (GLORIA) fifth feature starts out pleasantly enough with a night between two lovers. 

Orlando Onetto (Francisco Reyes), a successful printing company owner in his late 50s, has a romantic evening with his girlfriend Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), who is a transgender woman. 

They are celebrating her birthday, and he surprises her with plans for them to go to Iguazu Falls in South America. Orlando and Marina have a night of passion at his posh apartment in Santiago, but the tone takes a turn when he wakes up in pain in the middle of the night, and Marina takes Orlando to the hospital.

Orlando in the night dies from a brain aneurysum, and a shaken Marina leaves the hospital, and calls Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco) to tell him. She is picked up on the street by the police and questioned back at the hospital. Everyone appears to hold her under suspicion, and she undergoes a demeaning interrogation where she has to strip down in front of the investigators. 

Things get worse when she deals with Orlando’s angry, disapproving ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), who Marina has to give his car back to, and Gabo who forces her to move out of Orlando’s apartment telling her cruely, “I don’t know what you are!” Worse still, Sonia tells Marina not to come to the funeral.

Through this series of indignities, Marina, who moonlights as a nightclub singer, has sessions with her vocal coach (Néstor Cantillana), works as a waitress, and tries to get on with her life despite being haunted by images of Orlando. 

A FANTASTIC WOMEN gets surreal at times with visuals like Marina walking against wind so strong it puts her at an almost impossible angle, and a stunning fantasy of a glittery dance set piece that thrusts her upwards into a confident close-up.

It can be a sad, hard-to-endure experience at times, but Lelio’s film, which he co-wrote with Gonzalo Maza, is ultimately uplifting, and it made a strong emotional impression on me. This has a lot to do with Vega, who puts in a fearlessly convincing performance. 

This moving movie opens today in my area, and my fear is that audience may be resistant to seeing a Spanish language film about a trans woman’s grief, but there’s a reason this won the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars earlier this week - its depiction of the resilience and perseverance of Vega’s Marina in the face of such prejudice is simply fantastic.

More later...

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

FACES PLACES & THE INSULT: They Lost At The Oscars But Shouldn't Lose Their Audiences

These two films, now playing at a indie art house near me, lost their respective categories at the Oscars last Sunday, but that doesnt mean they aren’t worth your time:

(Dirs. Agnès Varda & JR, ) 

This lovely film, which is nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar this year, could have been titled FACES ON PLACES as it concerns a couple of artists pasting large pictures of faces on buildings. The artists, Belgian filmmaker Agnès Varda and French street artist JR, don’t only do faces as they paste huge pictures of fish on a water tank at one point, but it’s mostly the faces of local villagers, farmers, and other various folks they meet on their journey that they photograph, reproduce in large prints and affix to the side of what they deem appropriate structures.

Agnès Varda and JR are shown traveling across the French country side to brighten up farms, ruins of old houses, and most stunningly a concrete German blockhouse from World War II, on the Normandy coast, in Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer. 

Varda and JR’s film is loose and rambling at times, but never boring as its filled with such vivid eye candy. Throughout their pasting adventures, Varda tries in vain to get JR to take off his sunglasses. His refusal to not be seen without them reminds her of her old New Wave filmmaking friend Jean-Luc Godard, whose house they make their way to at the movie’s conclusion.

The warmth the unlikely duo of Varda and JR exude is felt in every frame, though it’s easy to see why FACES PLACES didn’t get enough votes to win last Sunday as it could be seen as fluffy compared to its more serious competition. Its lightness shouldn
t be mistaken for insubstantiality though as it carries a lot of weight, as well as considerable charm, but, most importantly, its a visual treat through and through.

THE INSULT (Dir. Ziad Doueiri, 2017) 

There’s no way this film, the sixth feature by Lebanese-born filmmaker Zias Doueiri (THE ATTACK), had much of a chance up against the power of Sebastián Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN for the prize of Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, but it still is well worth moviegoers’ attention.

The film concerns a crude incident between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee that escalates into a national threat. It begins with a Beirut street scene in which construction crew worker Yasser (Kamel El Basha) asks Tony (Adel Karam) a tenant of a building they’re working on, if they can fix the drainpipe illegally sticking out of his apartment balcony. When the Palestinians-hating Tony refuses Yasser and his men’s entry into his place, they fix the pipe anyway but Tony smashes it and a heated exchange results.

Yasser’s boss tries to arrange a truce between the men, but it becomes violent when Tony says “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out!” and Yassar loses it and punches him in the guts, breaking Tony’s ribs. Before long they are fighting in court over the argument, with the extra added twist of their opposing lawyers (Diamond Bou Abboud and Camille Salameh) being father and daughter.

If that engrossing courtroom drama narrative isn’t enough, there’s Tony’s pregnant wife (Christine Choueiri), and both men’s dark back stories involving the roots of the Christian/Palestinian conflicts. Doueiri, whose worked on several of Quentin Tarantio’s films, sheds light on the humanity of both sides of its argument, and gives us a fair, unbiased look at how deep seeded hatred can wreck all kinds of havoc if triggered.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN definitely deserved the Oscar, but THE INSULT definitely deserves a big audience too.

More later...

Monday, March 05, 2018

Oscars® 2018 Recap: My Best Score Since 2015

For those who say we're all out-of-touch Hollywood elites - Ill have you know that each of the 45 million Swarovski crystals on this stage tonight represents humility. 

I spent last night at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh watching the 90th Academy Awards broadcast and enjoyed the show a lot more than the last several years. 

It felt like there was more of a purpose to the proceedings this time largely via moments like Frances McDormand’s impassioned speech, Emma Stone saying that four males and Greta Gerwig were up for Best Director, Daniela Vega being the first openly trans actress, Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph joking about #oscarsowhite controversy from a few years back, and rapper Common calling out President Trump: A president that chose with hate/He don’t control our fate/Because god is great/ When they go low we stay in the heights/I stand for peace, love and women’s rights.

Jimmy Kimmel did a good job as host touching on some of the same topics, and I liked his bit about giving away a jet ski to the Osacr winner who makes the shortest speech (see Helen Mirren showing it off above). 

Anyway, I had my best score in years as I bested the last two Oscars (at least by one) with a tally of 17 out of 24. Here's the ones I got wrong:


While I got wrong that Jordan Peels excellent film would win the big one, I was right that hed win for Best Screenplay - another great moment as hes the first African American to do so.



My prediction: BABY DRIVER / What won: DUNKIRK

My prediction: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES / What won: BLADE RUNNER 2049

I really didnt expect BLADE RUNNER 2049 to win more than one Oscar (it won for Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography). I predicted Roger Deakins would win for his masterful work on BR 2049, and was happy that after over a dozen nominations over the years that it finally happened.

ORIGINAL SONG: My prediction:
“This Is Me” from THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Justin Paul & Benj Pasek) / What won: “Remember Me” from COCO


Lastly I was disappointed that the In Memorium segment left out John Mahoney, Robert Guillaume, Tobe Hooper, Powers Boothe, Adam West, and Tom Petty (sure Eddie Vedder covering Petty’s “A Room at the Top” worked as a tribute, but I would’ve loved seeing a clip of Petty in THE POSTMAN in the montage).

Okay! That’s it for this year. As I’ve said before, now back to watching movies for fun and not for sport.

More later...