Monday, 6 March 2017

The Danish Girl.




Tom Hooper’s return to form after the dreadfully disappointing film version of Les Miserables (2012) is a fictionalised retelling of the story of a very brave and courageous human being. Based on David Ebershoff's novel of the same name, The Danish Girl (2015) is the story of Lille Elbe who was credited as one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery.


Lilli Elbe.

Born Einar Magnus Andreas Wagener in Venice, Denmark in 1882 as a male, met his future wife at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and married in 1904. Einar specialised in landscape painting while he wife Gerda illustrated books and fashion magazines. Einar love of dressing as a woman started when he was asked to wear stockings and heels so he could fill in for the ‘legs and feet’ of Gerda's absentee model Anna Larssen. Following this one simple incident he stared dressing, and in time identifying as a woman. He became the beautiful female model featured in his wife's best known paintings and accompanied her to many social functions in Paris where they moved in 1912. It was after this period in 1930 that this transgender pioneer Lilli Elbe went to Germany for what was at that time experimental sex reassignment surgery which would involve four operations over two years.
 
Gerda Wegener's portrait of her husband.
Gerda's self portrait.
The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegerer/Lilli Elbe who was nominated for Best Actor in the 2016 Academy Awards and Swedish actress Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegenar/Gottlieb for which she quite rightly won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Also included in the cast is Ben Whishaw as Claude Lejeune Lilli Elbe's lover, Sebastian Koch as Doctor Kurt Warnekros who performed the ground breaking surgery and Amber Heard as Anna Larssen Gerda's model and friend.
 
Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegenar. 

There was some criticism for casting a cis actor in the main role but I believe Redmayne pulled it off but there certainly more to the story than was portrayed in Ebershoff’s book. Although it has been opined that Lucinda Coxen's screenplay allows a more truthful reflection of the story it still does not tell the whole story including the fact that Gerda Gottlieb had lesbian lovers leading to some critics accusing the film of being LGBT sanitised. A well-intentioned film that in my opinion does not go far enough.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Commune.


Thomas Vinterberg latest cinema release The Commune (2016) is set in Copenhagen in the mid 1970’s where we discover that Erik, a teacher of ‘rational architect’, has inherited a large manor house that belonged to his father. Eric financial circumstances will not allow for its upkeep and he thinks its best if he sell’s the house, but his wife Anna, a popular TV newscaster and his teenage daughter Freja want to keep it. Anna convinces Eric to set up the huge property as a commune and share the upkeep between the occupants. Invitations are issued and interviews take place. At first it all works out very amicably with every one getting on well, taking part in the many kitchen table meetings, the dinners and the parties. That is until Eric falls for one of his female students and moves her into the commune. At first Anna accepts the fact that her husband no longer wishes to sleep with her but is happy for Emma to stay at the commune. But this utopia doesn’t continue and the repercussions from Eric’s actions affect everyone.  
 
The kitchen table meetings.

Based on a play called Kollektivet written by Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov, which was inspired by the directors own childhood experiences. It’s a ‘family’ drama with a difference, emotionally moving but at times very funny, the film has a star cast that portray exceptionally well this touching portrait of a generation of idealists who have never quite fulfilled their dreams. 
 
Will Anna except the new comer?

Emma gets to know Erik. 

The Danish director and Dogme 95 co-founder is best known for the brilliant Festen (1998) another family drama, this time involving a family gathering to celebrate their fathers 60th birthday during which long buried secrets resurface, and The Hunt (2012) which stars Mads Mikkelsen as a teacher whose accused of sexually abusing a young child in his care. Erik is played by Ulrich Thomsen, who has appeared in some remarkable World Cinema outings including Festen, Brodre (2004), the award winning In a Better World (2010) the German thriller The Silence (2010) and the Danish police procedural A Second Chance (2014). The Danish actress and singer Trine Dyrholm plays Anna who was also in Festen and In a Better World as well as the historical drama A Royal Affair (2012). It also features Vinterberg’s wife Helene Reingaard Neurmann as Emma, along with Lebanon born Fares Fares and Danish TV and film actor Lars Ranthe as members of the commune.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Jackie.

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Lorrain has made some very good movies including Tony Manero in 2008, Post Mortem in 2010 and No in 2012 but his latest movie, his first in the English language, is certainly not up to the standard of these three and to my mind nowhere near as good as the hype would have you believe. Jackie (2016) has been nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and a Best Actress Nomination for Natalie Portman, if this years BAFTA's is anything to go by, will probably manage to win Best Costume Design and certainly not Best Actress for Portman who mumbled her way through the talky role making it very difficult to understand what she was saying.

This biographical drama, originally conceived as a HBO miniseries, basically deals with the week between John F Kennedy assassination on the 22nd November 1963, his burial and when his wife and two children Caroline and John Jnr, who died in a plane crash in 1999 at the age of 38, leave the White House for the last time. Noah Oppenheim's lack lustre screenplay is partly based on Theodore H White's Life magazine interview with Jackie Kennedy a week after her husband’s death. It was during this interview that inappropriately the delusional ex First Lady compared the Kennedy years with King Arthur's mythical Camelot - the first American president to encompass the celebrity culture and to spend $2 million on the restoration of the White House, not quite the Knights of the Round Table.
 
The fatal last journey.
Larrain's movie is a rather hollow look at the period and at times minds numbingly boring not helped by the Journalist (Billy Crudup) interview that adds nothing to the film and would have been better without it. The drama is non-existent only the scene in Dallas when JFK gets shot during the motorcade shows any pretence of the story coming to life.
 
The infamous blood stained pink suit.
The film also stars Peter Sarsgaard as Robert F Kennedy with whom Jackie seems to have a rather intimate relationship, although who can blame her when her husband spent a minimal amount of time sharing her marital bed and John Hurt as Jackie's father confessor, this was his final film release before his death in January 2017and shows why he will be missed and to be quite honest the only actor in this charade to earn his salary.



Sunday, 19 February 2017

Paris is Burning.


On director Jennie Livingston’s web site she describes her controversial 1991 movie Paris is Burning as ‘depicting a New York fashion subculture’. This documentary, she goes on to explain, was shot in the late 1980s, and examines how a community of Black and Latino gay and transgender New Yorkers build sustenance, creativity, and family. The film sets out to explore ballroom culture; re-defines words like house, mother, shade, voguing and Realness and draw’s a series of incisive character portraits about the people involved in what is a vibrant time capsule of New York’s ballroom subculture in the 80s.
 
The "Balls" culture.
Livingston’s documentary was seven years in the making and followed African American and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women as they compete in “Balls” which are fierce and fun competitions involving fashion runways and vogue dancing battles, while sporting various styles that include Butch Queen, Town and Country and Luscious Body. Many of the contestants taking part represent “Houses” which serve them as surrogate families and social groups for a predominantly youthful community largely ostracized from mainstream society. But what the movie really does is that it explores the complex issues of class, race, identity, and the transformative powers of both dance and performance. 
 
Venus Xtravaganza.
The most interesting parts of the film are the interviews with key members of the community who take part in the Balls, which helps unlock our understanding of this colourful and entertaining culture. The saddest story is that of Venus Xtravaganza who is heavily featured in the documentary and was a transgender performer and an aspiring model who was saving money for her sex reassignment surgery before she was murdered at the age of 23.
This highly regarded documentary won several awards including a Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Teddy Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Last year (2016), the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Monday, 13 February 2017

Manchester by the Sea.


The story of Lee Chandler is a study of a mans decent into depression brought about by an accident that leads to a terrible tragedy for which he blames himself. In Kenneth Lonergan’s movie Manchester by the Sea (2016), which he wrote and directed, we learn how a simple mistake can alter the lives of the people directly involved as well as people on the periphery of the incident.
Its brother Joe's death that brings Lee back home.
 
Lee with nephew Patrick.
When we first meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) we quickly relies that he is a bitter and lonely man who works as a janitor in a private block of apartments in Boston. On receiving the news that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died from a pre-existing congenital heart condition Lee returns to his home town of Manchester by the Sea a fishing village in Massachusetts where he was born and raised. Lee not only realises that he is going to have to confront the events that drove him away in the first place, revealed in an extended flashback, but he then finds out that Joe has made him the sole guardian of his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a role he knows he is incapable of fulfilling.  
 
Lee's ex-wife Randi.
This is an authentic and stunning character study from Lonergan whose writing along with Douglas Aibel skill at casting really makes this poignant tale of grief and guilt a must see movie.  This critically acclaimed film that quite rightly been nominated for six awards at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director Best Supporting Actor (Hedges) Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams who plays Lee Chandlers wife Randi) and Best Actor for Affleck and Best Original Screenplay for Lonergan, two nominations it must surly must win and did at last nights BAFTA’s in London. 


Friday, 10 February 2017

T2 Trainspotting.


Twenty years have passed since Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) run off with the proceeds of a drug deal that was meant to be divvied up between himself, Spud Murphy (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and hard man Begbie (Robert Carlyle). The only person who did receive his share was Spud who wasted no time in shooting-up £4K of heroin. Now Renton has returned from Amsterdam where he has been living since leaving Edinburgh. His first task is saving Spud from suicide and then he teams back up with his best friend Simon repaying the 4K he owed him and offering to help him, and his beautiful East European girlfriend Veronica (Angela Nedyalkova), convert the pub his aunt left him into a brothel. Although his relationship with Simon is still not what it was before he left it’s when Begbie escapes from prison and discovers that he is back that his life expectancy starts to deteriorate.
 
Mark and Simon celebrate setting up a business with Veronica.
Reuniting the original cast with another great screenplay from John Hodge and with most of the filming taking place in Edinburgh, Boyle has succeeded in obtaining a believable 20-year gap between the two films. Scotland has changed since the time of the first film, with a diluted form devolution arriving since the original films release and a close run independence referendum taking place in 2014 (and another about to be announced). Its not the same country it was when Rent Boy and the others ran down Princes Street, even the movies premier took place in Edinburgh and not Leicester Square. But both the characters and Scotland are still victims of a system that neither like nor respect but both are working hard to change this. Even more so that we are being forced out of Europe against our will and being informed that we have to be grateful for scrapes from the table of a man that is the political version of Begbie.
 
Still as fit as ever - or are they?

This sequel to Danny Boyle's 1996 movie is absolutely cracking piece of adult entertainment and a credit to its predecessor. How anybody can fail to enjoy T2 Trainspotting (2017) is beyond me.