Month: June 2016

Gods of Egypt (Alex Proyas, US, 2016)

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Gods of Egypt

On the evidence of Gods of Egypt, Gerald Butler might have found his calling playing villains. He’s terrific and so is the movie. It’s like the very best ‘Sword and Sandal’ films of the 50s — lots of gorgeous semi-naked people cursing fate and doing graceful things with their bodies they call ‘combat’ –but with more interesting and sophisticated visuals. The film shows us Gods twice the size of mortals in the same frame throughout. It’s visually extraordinary i.e. like he major spectacular moments of films like Ant-Man but treated nonchalantly, not really drawn attention to, just part of this magical world conjured up by Alex Proyas. It’s a look that becomes gobsmacking upon reflection and in retrospect — and that’s just one aspect of this gloriously imaginative film. Some of the acting, however, is still at moments bad enough to bring out a camp response. So, all in all, rather perfect.

 

I was surprised to see that the reviews have been so bad. It seems performances are all professional critics pay attention and performances are a problem in Gods of Egypt . However, Butler has never been better. Rufus Sewell, who was so memorable in Proyas’ classic Dark City is still looking very handsome and is very good as a cold and conniving architect. Some have expressed surprise he’s never quite become a star but he’s had lots of chances. People can’t seem to identify with him, one of the many reasons he’s so effective in this. There are a few duff performances, but not offensively so (Nicolaj Coster-Waldeau is no different in Game of Thrones and no one seems to mind; and except for the final speech he makes at the end, I thought he was fine); and I think the story is an interesting one (the origin of the kings of Egypt), well told, and timely (it’s partly about the need of the 1% to listen to the 99%).

I think Proyas is a master at constructing arresting and meaningful visuals. The film is tons of fun, with superb set-pieces, action that genuinely engages and thrills and is visually pretty breathtaking at times. I know there’s been a brouhaha about the casting. But no one’s wearing blackface; how exactly were Egyptian Gods supposed to look like at the Dawn of Creation? And even if we admit that there’s a tinge of racism to the casting of this film, why is this more the case here than in any other big budget spectacle film? Gods of Eguypt will undoubtedly become a staple of television schedules for year to come but there may not be too many opportunities to see it in its full glory. If you can, go for the full IMAX 3-D treatment. It’s worth it.

 

José Arroyo

Love and Friendship (Whit Stillman, USA, 2016)

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Based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Love and Friendship won me over in the end. But I did wonder if it wasn’t too slight, derivative and possibly better as a play. It’s a stupid think to say — and wrong also –but for lack of a better way of putting it: I at first didn’t think it was cinematic enough (except for the explanatory subtitles at the beginning and in the letter -reading/writing scenes which structure the narrative). I thought it too talky. But then the film’s languid rhythms, its classic but slightly askew compositions and it’s tone – which a friend described as on the right side of arch – won me over. I did end up loving it. But I wasn’t sure I would until it ended.

Adrien Garvey has described Love and Friendship as a sketched-in heritage film, which I think describes it beautifully. It doesn’t offer the visual pleasures of the traditional heritage films such as A Room with a View (James Ivory, UK, 1985) or other Jane Austin adaptations: the sumptuousness of place (here the stately home is slightly run-down), costume (modest for the period, slightly worn, like the best clothes of those who can’t quite afford them) or setting: none of this is used as spectacle here. But then, to its credit, it also eschews the nostalgic tone of heritage in favour of a smarter, slightly more worldly and wittily cynical flavour. Unlike Chlōe Sevigny, who’s every appearance as Alicia Johnson seems to leap off the screen, Kate Beckinsale seems to lack charisma in the first scenes. But then her performance wins you over on merit: Her Lady Susan takes no relish in her wickedness; she doesn’t underline or make a show of it; all Beckinsale does simply becomes who the character is. It’s a shrewd, witty and understated performance. And then there’s James Fleet who steals every scene he’s in with mere intonation.

Love and Friendship is an elegant chamber piece that feels slight, echoey, thin and empty at the beginning but fills out, gets richer, more resonant, and more enjoyable as it unfolds. Very typical and very good Whit Stillman.

 

José Arroyo

Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2015)

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Extraordinary work from cinematographer Peter Suchitzky in Tale of Tales: the whole film looks like Renaissance painting at its best, with gorgeous décor and the most sumptuous costumes as a perfect setting for the fantastical, otherworldly, frightful and harsh. I liked the film also, and I’ve never seen Selma Hayek better: she’s become like a great silent film actress, both astonishingly beautiful and hauntingly expressive. The film’s a bit dark and gory, as fairy tales should be. And all the surprises are told in the most matter of fact way. The horror, both bodily and fantastical is shown as if from a culture that teaches one to simply expect the worst and bear it. There is gore but much less so than in your average horror film, actually practically nothing. There’s a scene where a princess slashes a troll’s head (which is delightful) and that’s about the worst of it. I can see why it would leave some people slightly cold: the different intertwined narratives are morality tales meant to be pondered over, and with intelligence; and they’re not told at the pace of Gods of Egypt. It’s not for children; it’s not quite a genre film; it’s not gory enough to satisfy horror fans. It must be murder to market. Yet, all the more reason to make an effort to see it.   I think it’s one of the most beautiful, haunting and resonant films of the last few years.

It is available to see as a VOD on Curzon Home Cinema here: https://www.curzonhomecinema.com/#!/film/CRZ_TALE_OF_TALES

 

José Arroyo

Independence Day: Resurgence (Ronald Emmerich, USA, 2016)

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Independence Day: Resurgence is filmmaking-by-focus-group: dumb, ugly and deserving of the contempt with which it treats its audience. I haven’t snorted this much at a movie since Oliver’s Story (John Korti, USA, 1978). Some of the cast of the 1996 Independence Day (Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum) returns, looking 20 years more tired and 20 years less attractive; others are sentimentalised in their prime as tacky oil paintings (Will Smith). Liam Hemsworth is meant to be the current eye candy: he is a pretty face, an ineffectual talent and lacks the threat of danger or surprise that could make him sexy. The film can’t decide whether to jingo it up for America’s 4th of July or to more directly address the Chinese market. The special effects look like two-dimensional cartoons. It’s so dispiriting you can’t even take pleasure in your own jeering; it left me too sad and tired to even walk out before the end; it’s Ronald Emmerich’s fault.

 

José Arroyo

 

Seeing Films in Athens

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A lovely byproducts of visiting Athens was its open air cinemas. I now see that it’s famous for them, with over sixty still remaining. But I had not known. I’d gone to Athens for the Parthenon, classical sculpture, Melina Mercouri and sunshine. Once made aware, however, I had to go, and we went every night of the short long weekend we were there. Each time was special: magical, incantatory, hypnotic. Each time was also different. All were a reminder that filmgoing was always about so much more than the movie being screened: it was a bout courtship and friendship, leisure and rest, a ritual taste of the luxurious; a context for engaging more senses than just sight and sound.

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The first cinema we went to was the Thysion. As you can see above, the view of the Parthenon is marvellous and, as the evening progresses, you might find your head wavering as in a tennis match between it and the movie. It has a very friendly staff, with a bar in which every nook and cranny seems pasted with film posters from the Fifties; Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida feature prominently. Wine is cheap enough to guzzle. And you can sit in one of the dozens of tables printed with iconic photographs of movie stars of yore, bask in the sights, smell the bougainvillea,  delight in the cool wine on a hot day and just feel grateful you’re alive.

The movie playing was Truth. It had something to do with Dan Rather, and news being clamped down in the US by the Bush administration and corporate interests. Cate Blanchett looked very chic being very worthy and I thought Robert Redford rather good as Rather.  I enjoyed it very much but I really couldn’t tell you if it was any good. It was definitely secondary to the cinema itself, one of the earliest Open Air ones, which opened in 1935.

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Cine Paris

The second evening, we went to the Cine Paris, with an equally spectacular view, this time, as you can see above, of the back of the Acropolis. Here drinks were a bit more expensive but they do cocktails and it’s worth it. The film was better too, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys. The cinema is upstairs from a fantastic poster shop where you can get Greek posters of your favourite films, Hollywood and International Art House. It has several levels and it’s worth exploring them as the higher up you go, the better the view. The Cine Paris also overlooks a central square in Plaka, teeming with a range of dining options which we made full use of.

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Zephyr

On our third evening we went to the Zephyr. This one offered classic programming instead of a view. We arrived early and ate in a restaurant just opposite that fulfilled every fantasy of Mediterranean communities: A baby passed around for everyone to kiss. The waiters seemed to be part of the same family: they’d serve and then go off across the street to  chat with the lady from the cinema’s box office or other merchants from across the street but were quick to return should you need anything. Every so often a car would drive by, stop, the driver would shake hands with one of the waiters, chat for a while and move on. Those in the cars behind didn’t seem to mind waiting.  Everyone seemed to know each other.

The film we saw was Bringing Up Baby; all the films we saw were in original version. Baby was in a 16mm print that had seen better days but on a lovely big screen. Seeing Grant and Hepburn at their best, on a balmy night, with an audience that got every joke and appreciated every nuance was a thrill.

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The Dexamini

 

We also went to the Dexamini, which ostensibly has the very best view of the Acropolis. But here they were also showing Truth, and we had already seen Truth and….well…it was a reminder that whilst cinema-going has traditionally been about so much more than just the movie; the movie’s still the central component of filmgoing. We ended up not going into The Dexamini and opted instead for sitting in a terrace outside, guzzling more wine, and taking full advantage of the calamari.

 

José Arroyo

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