25 of #52FilmsByWomen: Lolo

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Lolo (2015, directed by Julie Delpy, written by Julie Delpy and Eugénie Grandval)

[25 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Julie Delpy, probably best known for her role as Céline in the Before trilogy(? Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) is also an establish writer/director. Lolo is one of her more recent films about a Violette (Delpy) trying to get her teenage son and her new boyfriend to get along.

The film’s title Lolo refers to the son’s name (Vincent Lacoste), who is an interesting character in that the movie introduces him as an ideal teenage son that most parents would have wanted – friendly, non-rebellious, (mostly) obedient. He even seems open to accepting Violette’s boyfriend Jean-René (Dany Boon) into their lives.

While Lolo appears to be a perfect son, he is secretly scheming to tear the couple apart. That’s where the comedy comes in. Lolo’s various schemes include stuff like itching powder, making Jean drunk at a party with celebrities, getting him into an awkward arm cast, and other stuff like that makes for the many funny scenes throughout the movie.

This might be a straightforward comedy, but a very entertaining one. The story does try to tell us something about being at 40, you’re at the crossroads of life, instead of nearing the end of it. It of encapsulates the saying ’40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 40′ in a way that really makes sense.

24 of #52FilmsByWomen: Austenland

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Austenland (2013, directed by Jerusha Hess, written by Jerusha Hess and Shannon Hale)

[No. 24 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Jane Austen novels are probably the main reason why the Victorian period in England is romanticised by so many people. Despite the fact that most people living in that area are  poor, unemployed and vulnerable to crime and disease. Nevertheless, for the few lucky people who are born among upper-class noble-people as depicted in Austen’s books, their lives are quite fascinating to us today.

So what if there’s a kind of vacation where you transport yourself into such a world? No cellphones, TV or the internet. But you might get to meet your own Mr. Darcy! Kerri Russel plays Jane, a lifelong fan of Jane Austen who goes on a vacation to Austenland.

 

 

Defending the Warcraft Movie

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(There will be in-depth discussion of some elements of the movie, so spoilers alert)

Okay, let’s get this right off the bat: I have never played Warcraft. Not a single minute of it. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was about, other than it being a RPG with battles and possibly different classes of playable characters. The only ‘research’ I did prior to watching the movie is watching the trailer.

Anyway, I watched the movie with low expectations since critics were savagely tearing it apart. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. In my opinion, it was even better than Batman vs. Superman, and I honestly won’t mind watching it a second time.

So why do critics not like it? Granted, it’s not a perfect movie. There are plenty of flaws, but does it deserve a bad rating on Rotten Tomatoes (27% last I checked)? I just don’t get it!

This is when I decided to have a look at what the ‘top critics’ have to say, and why they think Warcraft is a bad movie, most of which never played the game. Here’s a summary and my arguments against their reasoning:

1. Incoherent narrative/a lot to take in.

What part of the story that you do not get? It’s pretty simple. The Orcs lost their own world, so they invade Azeroth under the leadership of Gul’dan the warlock-orc. At the central of the conflict is chieftain Durotan, who is questioning their actions. Meanwhile, on the side of Azeroth, we have commander Lothar who tries to repel the invading orcs, with the help of some mages and some armies. That’s basically the main story; it’s not terribly deep or complicated.

More details? Fel is a dark magic of some sort that uses lives as its fuel. Garona is an outcast among the Orcs because she’s not fully one (it is implied that she’s half human). The orcs uphold honour, and their battle rituals is basically the duel that we’re familiar with, where the winner gets to walk away with his or her life.

The story is not perfect, of course. There are parts that felt forced (probably because they are trying to squeeze hours and hours of gameplay and lore into a two hour movie), like the romance subplot. But as far as storytelling goes, this isn’t a bad effort at all.

Look, if you aren’t going to even try to use a bit of brainpower to piece together stuff, don’t blame the movie. Unless they make this into the next Lord of the Rings, with three movies of three to four hours screentime, there will be things that won’t make sense or are left unexplained. Try paying attention next time.

2. Lack of world building. 

At the start of the movie, we were shown the orcs gathering for war. They had a clan structure, where each clan is led by a chieftain and they answer to calls for war. Azeroth, on the other hand, has a king and a queen, and you can assume that the kingdom is pretty much structured like one of those medieval kingdoms. Lothar is a commander of the army, and Medivh is the consultant mage, who is only summoned when his expertise is required. Basically the story revolves around these two worlds: the Orcs’ and Azeroth. What more world building would you ask for? Do you want them to show trades, their farms? How they make their clothes and the food they eat? Seriously, what other details do you require from the movie?

I agree that the onslaught of names in the first few segments of the movie (I only remember Stormwind, and that’s all that matters, really) can be confusing, but did that ruin the entire movie? No! The important things will be repeated over and over again as the movie goes along. Again, unless they do it the LOTR way, we will have to accept that there will be details left unexplained.

Another complaint that I saw is that the movie never touches on the other races that they showed on screen, like the elves. Really? Look, Star Wars showed aliens species in quite a few of the scenes, but I don’t see people demanding that they flesh out each of those races. Those scenes with elves and dwarves are to establish that there are other races other than humans in Azeroth, but they are in no way essential to the plot, so don’t complain if they leave out the details. The only categories that mattered in this movie are Orcs, Mages and Humans. Do you not know what mages and humans are?

3. Bad acting/underdeveloped characters.

Look, we definitely won’t get Oscar-level of acting here, but really, is great acting what people expect when they come in to see Warcraft? Plus, even the critics can’t seem to agree whose acting is the best. As for character development, as far as the major characters are concerned, they seemed fine to me (except for the forced romance subplot; that was really just weird).

Some of the criticisms were aimed at the mages Medivh (Ben Foster) and Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), who were considered to be boring. I don’t know about the game, but how ‘fun’ are mages supposed to be? For all I care, mages can be dark and brooding and boring, for all I know. Anyway, Medivh was corrupted by the Fel, and it seemed like it took him a lot of effort to keep it under control, which might explain why he appeared so listless and tired sometimes. In my opinion, he seemed to be channeling a lot of Frodo Baggins-under-dark-influence. Given the narrative, that is an understandable choice.

There were also criticisms against Garona, one of which complains that she sounds like she has a mouth full of magic beans. Alright, firstly, I have no problem hearing what she said. Maybe I have special pair of ears or something, but I did not find her speech unintelligible. Secondly, how are orcs supposed to sound like anyway, much less a half-orc? If you want world-building and details, here: with jaws like that, it will be understandable for the Orcs to sound a little mangled, and it is reasonable to assume that they aren’t evolved for human speech. THERE.

Look, is the movie perfect? Not by a long shot. Does it have parts that doesn’t make sense? Definitely. But is it a bad movie by any means? No. There are plenty of things to like about the movie, like complex characters. Yes, I like Lothar’s relationship with his son and his king, I like Durotan as the fierce warrior with a nurturing side, I like Garona and her predicament, trying to earn acceptance. Heck, I even like Khadgar and Medivh; Khadgar with his wide-eyed earnestness, and later the trepidation of having to battle the most powerful mage in the kingdom, Medivh and his struggle against the weight of his responsibilities. Then there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained, with even seemingly major characters dying.

There are things that I dislike, of course. There’s the weird turn that the movie took in order to set up materials for a sequel, which left me feeling dissatisfied. There’s the pointless death of Durotan, which amounted to nothing. There’s the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fight between Lothar and Blackhand that was really disappointing. But all in all, the movie is still entertaining and I don’t see how it can get such bad ratings.

But then again, most of the bad reviews seemed to come from people who are not familiar with RPGs or are looking for the next LOTR here. It is not, and it is never intended to be one.

 

23 of #52FilmsByWomen: What happened, Miss Simone?

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What happened, Miss Simone? (2015, directed by Liz Garbus)

[No 23 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Nina Simone is one of the legendary musical icons whose style is so well-known and distinctive that movies use her music to evoke a certain emotion or theme. It is the same way that music from David Bowie, Bob Dylan or The Rolling Stones are used. That’s actually how I discovered Nina Simone, as her song Sinnerman appeared in the soundtrack for 2006’s Miami Vice. Her other song Blackbird was a significant plot point in Beyond the Lightsand Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood appeared in the closing credits of BBC’s Luther.

Being a legendary musician whose music resonated with people across multiple generations, exploring the person behind the music is almost guaranteed to be an interesting journey. Through the words of her daughter, ex-husband, friends and fellow musician, footage of Nina herself, documentary explores her life starting from her as a four-year old learning classical piano from a white teacher.

Growing up in a time before the Civil Rights movement took hold, African-Americans are still segregated in many parts of American society. We learn the story about how the four-year-old Eunice Waymon (Simone’s birth name) refuses to play in her piano recital unless her parents are allowed to sit in the front row among the other white people. Then we chart her journey as a musician, eventually seeing her being very much a significant part of the Movement, getting to know Martin Luther King Jr. and many other important figures from that era.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such a unique artist and musician does lead a troubled life indeed. There are interviews of Simone where she candidly speaks about her troubles with her husband, (which involves disturbing accounts of domestic violence) and her struggle with depression and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This documentary sums up her life in a clear and concise way, and doesn’t shy away from showing us the bad things done by Nina herself, in addition to other bad and unsavoury things that happened to her. Her daughter was brutally honest in telling stories about her mother. Like everyone else, Nina Simone is a complex person with many facets and desires, and all are presented to us without judgement, which is left to the viewer.

29 of #52FilmsByWomen: Me Before You

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Me Before You (2016, directed by Thea Sharrock, written by Jojo Moyes)

[No. 29 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Emilia Clarke plays Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark, a very un-Daenerys-type character who is cheerful, bubbly, dorky and naive. Without much training or experience, she gets a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who became disabled after a traffic accident.

The big plot point for the movie is about how Will wants to commit suicide via euthanasia, because he doesn’t want to live the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. This aspect of the movie is probably doesn’t work as well, and it seemed to have caused a stir on the internet. I might say more about this in a separate post, but within the framework of the movie and the plot, Will’s motivation for this isn’t fleshed out all that well.

The reason for this is probably due to the fact that the story is told almost completely from Lou’s perspective. So the reason we do not understand why Will wants to die is because  Lou (whose nature is endlessly positive and cheerful) doesn’t.

Will’s motivations aside, the movie is utterly captivating and charming, mostly because of Emilia Clarke’s performance. Lou’s happiness and positivity is potent and infections, and I couldn’t help but grin along when Lou gets excited about something.

It is also noteworthy that Lou’s sister Treena played by Jenna Coleman (Hi! Clara Oswald) is loving and supportive for Lou. It is so rare to see siblings that do not antagonise or hate each other in movies or TV, except maybe for Orphan Black. So in their first scene early in the movietogether assumed their characters are not related. Maybe it’s partly because my mind couldn’t process The Mother of Dragons and Clara Oswald as sisters. But Emilia Clarke is a good actor, and very soon I completely forgotten any associations with Daenerys Targeryn and became fully invested in Lou. She also shared many scenes with another Thrones veteran Charles Dance who plays Will’s father, and is almost like a more compassionate version of Tywin Lannister.

Despite the story dealing with tough emotional issues, it is also funny. Despite the controversy on the internet, the movie does depict the life of a quadriplegic character that is not stereotypical manner, or had any jokes at Will’s expense. At least, that’s as far as I can possibly tell, from the perspective of an able-bodied person.

22 of #52FilmsByWomen: Mon Roi

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Mon Roi (My King) (2015, directed by Maïwenn, written by Etienne Comar and Maïwenn)

[No. 22 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

It seems that almost every story about long term relationships and marriages tell us that they all inevitably end in disaster. The message I seem to get from all this is that it isn’t worth it. That might well be only the surface reading of all these films. The princess and the prince do not live happily ever after. Instead they have kids, argue about money, their parents, and grow resentful. Obviously we are supposed to go for a more positive interpretation, namely that love and relationships isn’t easy. And that we need to work hard at happiness. Whatever that is.

Continue reading 22 of #52FilmsByWomen: Mon Roi

19 of #52FilmsByWomen: Money Monster

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Money Monster (2016, directed by Jodie Foster)

[No. 19 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Money Monster is a movie that mostly takes place in real time, during a hostage situation in a television studio that’s being broadcast live, under the demands of the hostage taker. The hostage taker is Kyle (Jack O’Connell) a down-on-his-luck everyman who had just lost all his money over a bad investment, and he takes on his grievance against Wall Street by hijacking the TV studio and the host Lee Gates (George Clooney). The show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) tries to keep the cameras running while trying to investigate the circumstances behind the gunman and investment at the same time.