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El ministerio del tiempo (2015)
A magical gem of a series
There is a huge number of television series dealing with time travel. Some are more action-oriented, some are comedies, some are dramas. Most of them are sci-fi, with a minority being more of a fantasy story. The choice is really big and yet it is hard to find a series that would be truly enticing from the very first episode right to the show finale. And then there is The Ministry of Time, which does just that.
The premise is quite simple: Spain has a secret Ministry of Time, which guards the country's history by using special doors leading to different places in different eras (but always only within whatever Spanish borders were in a particular era). Whenever history is in peril, the Ministry sends a group of agents to protect it. We follow the adventures of one such group, consisting of a 16th century warrior, a 19th century feminist (and Spain's first female university student), and a 21st century paramedic.
The stories told in the series are a perfect mix of all the ingredients I mentioned before. We get a lot of adventure, some mystery and intrigue, some comedy and some drama. Some episodes are more comedic in nature, while others are more dramatic and focus on characters' development and relationships. The acting is always wonderful, whether we are following a man dealing with the loss of his wife, a boss trying to do his best in the most dramatic situations or a nosy secretary who serves as the series' comic relief. In the later seasons new characters are introduced and they are always distinct and interesting, with their own motivations and personality.
Another aspect worth mentioning - and one of the things I liked the most about the show - is that it allows the viewer to learn a lot about Spanish history. We witness a diverse collection of historical events, sometimes touching painful moments in the country's history (e.g. the Spain's involvement in the slave trade of Franco's fascist rule). It is truly refreshing to see things from a perspective that is not American or British.
To sum up, I would recommend The Ministry of Time to anyone who enjoys good TV. It is a rollercoaster of emotions, often going from funny to dramatic in mere minutes, with great characters and intriguing plots. And it is also a brilliant history lesson, told from a less known perspective of a non-English speaking country.
A touching portrait of an amazing artist
Howard is a biography of Howard Ashman, telling the story of his life from his childhood telling stories to his baby sister to his acting days to finding huge success writing lyrics for Disney animations to his death from AIDS at the age of 40. Having seen a number of biographical documentaries I was expecting another pretty boring piece presenting a collection of facts concerning one man's life (especially considering the fact that lately I don't have the best opinion about Disney). What I got was a pretty extraordinary portrait of an incredible artist.
The thing that first comes to mind when I think about my feelings after watching the movie is how tender it was in talking about Ashman. We see him as a talented actor, a gifted storyteller, a genius lirycist, and later as a man hiding his disease and trying to reconcile the fact that he is dying, but even when his most diva-like moments are discussed, it is always in a caring tone. It is really moving seeing how many people where touched by Ashman's life and work.
Secondly, the movie is a great treat for any fan of musical theatre. A lot of insight into Ashman's creative process is given, both when looking at his early career writing for theatre, and at his later work on Disney movies. A number of people who worked with him talk about their experiences, discussing different issues connected with creation process of both theatre and movies. We also see how Disney animation classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin came to be, which should interest any fan of both musicals and cinema in general.
Thirdly, it is impossible to talk about Howard without talking about the AIDS crisis. It's like a dark, ominous presence haunting the viewer throughout the whole movie, as during the first three minutes we are made aware of how the story ends. In this respect Howard can be seen as a document of the dark times when AIDS was claiming thousands of lives every month and bigotry and homophobia were so rampant that Ashman felt it necessary to hide the fact that he was sick untill the last possible moment.
To sum up, the movie is beautifully tender and deeply touching. It is in a big part about Ashman's tragic premature death and the feeling of emptiness and loss it created for many people, but most of all it is a celebration of his life and work. I would recommend watching it to anyone who likes good and moving movies.
A comedy that didn't really make me laugh
G.O.R.A. is a movie which I haven't heard about before watching it on Netflix. I had no idea that it is one of the most famous Turkish movies ever, I just knew that it is a Turkish sci-fi, something I've never seen before.
Now, this may be the source of my issues with G.O.R.A. I know virtually nothing about the Turkish culture, so it's possible that I didn't understand some of the jokes intended for the local audience. Still, a good comedy should have at least some jokes that everyone will find funny, no matter their background. For me, G.O.R.A. doesn't have this. Yes, there are numerous references to the classics such as Star Wars, The Fifth Element, and the Matrix, and they are all fine, but I wouldn't call them funny as such. Then there are jokes about farting and poor sexual double entendres, which I found cringeworthy.
What I liked about the movie was the general design of the world. The aliens costumes were really interesting and I felt they really helped to build the characters which otherwise may have been pretty flat. The special effects may not be the best in the world, but for this type of movie they were enough. I can't really say anything about the acting, as I felt like the actors weren't given much to work with. Almost all characters are one-dimensional and none of them has much character. This made the watching of the movie even more difficult for me, as I couldn't force myself to care about any of them.
I realize that the movie is commonly loved and that my opinion is a dissent, but unfortunately I found G.O.R.A. unfunny and pretty boring.
Not bad at all
Ares is a movie falling into the category of dystopian stories, which seem to be quite popular lately. In it, we find all traditional elements of a dystopia: super rich elite and starving, homeless masses, evil corporations willing to do whatever it takes to increase profits, violent entertainment - here in the shape of a particularly violent type of boxing in which everything goes - drugs, and general hopelessness. The protagonist is an ex-boxer, who helps the regime until he is forced to go back in the ring.
Right up to this point I was certain this was going to be yet another movie about a brave individual beating the regime by taking part in its sick entertainment. And just when I was starting to feel truly bored, the movie became much grittier and much darker than I expected. This second part of the story is really well crafted and it is able to say a few important things about our modern society.
The acting is really good and I would say it is one of the best aspects of the movie. I especially liked Ola Rapace as Ares, as he was able to convey both the character's love for his family and his violent nature. Also, it is quite refreshing to see actors who aren't Hollywood stars once in a while.
Special effects, cinematography and editing may not be the best in the world, but they are quite good, especially for a European movie. The brightly-colored CGI generated skyscrapers not only look pretty good, but they also add a lot to the general atmosphere of the movie.
To sum up, Ares may not be the best dystopian movie in the world, but it is a solid production nonetheless. It's quite ambitious and may surprise a viewer expecting another bloody and violent action movie. I know I was surprised by how good the movie is.
Surprisingly complex and very well-crafted
I'm always a bit sceptical when watching a biographical movie or series. It's easy to portray the subject as one-dimensional, either as a monster or as a saint, depending who the subject is and who is telling the story. This fear is even stronger when the story concerns a controversial figure, and Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the October revolution is nothing if not controversial.
So imagine my surprise when instead of the expected propaganda piece about how great Trotsky was I got a fascinating multi-faceted portray of a very complex man. This for me is the best thing about the mini-series. Trotsky is presented as a firm believer in a world-wide revolution, but that doesn't make him innocent or even good. He says he wants to save people, and yet he is willing to sacrifice anyone for the revolution. He is both ruthless and empathetic. He claims he doesn't regret anything - and seems to believe that when saying it - and yet he is quite literally haunted by the ghosts of the people his actions got killed. It's very rare that a biopic is that compelling.
This of course wouldn't be possible without the proper acting. Konstantin Khabenskiy is - as could be expected from such a talented actor - simply brilliant as Trotsky, conveying the character's complexity with ease. Everyone else does a great job as well, but Khabenskiy is clearly the star here.
Another thing that I really liked was the clever use of special effects. The scenes exploring Trotsky's emotions often present him as having vivid hallucinations, which are beautifully animated. Some transitions between scenes are among the best I've ever seen in any movie or series. The only moments when the show doesn't look splendid are the scenes showing historical sites or Trotsky's armored train, when CGI isn't the best. Luckily, these scenes are few and far between.
All in all, Trotsky is a very well-crafted piece of television. Everything from writing to acting to special effects is really good. It's a compelling story about a fascinating (if controversial) man. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys biographical or historical dramas. Or to people who are just looking for a solid tv series.
The ABC Murders (2018)
A much, much darker Poirot. Definitely not for everyone.
One thing needs to be said at the beginning: the mini-series is not for everyone. It's a kind of production one either loves or hates, and even though I'm in the former group, I completely understand people from the latter.
The thing that divides the viewers is the way Poirot was portrayed in the series, which is very different from what we are used to. Here we get a much darker and grittier version of this beloved character, and the whole world of the show is much more brutal as well. This is not the cozy, quite light story shown in the classic vesion with David Suchet.
I really enjoyed this new approach to the classic character. Otherwise it would be the same story with different actors, and I don't see the point in doing that, especially considering how good the Suchet version is.
The actors fit perfectly into this new "dark Poirot". John Malkovich is brilliant as the shunned, half-forgotten detective dealing with past trauma, Eamon Farren is perfect as the confused Cust, I even liked Rupert Grint even though I wasn't sure about him at the beginning, The sets and cinematography help build the dark, gritty atmosphere. It feels quite heavy and oppressive, which I really liked.
To sum up, the series is not for everyone. It's definitely not for the purists, who want the adaptations to stay truthful to the novels. It's not for people looking for a cozy show to watch for pure entertainment. But for people like me, who enjoy new tales about classic characters and who love dark and gritty stories, it is perfect.
Strange, but intriguing exploration of gender and sexual identity
Girls Lost is a movie about identity. It follows the story of three teenage girls - Kim, Momo, and Bella - who get bullied at school and pretty much keep to themselves. Everything changes when they find a plant with unique magic powers - it allows them to transform into boys.
From the synopsis one would assume the movie is a fantasy story about the girls (now boys) and their adventures. This is not true. The magical element is simply a plot device used for exploration of both gender - when the girls discover they get treated very differently when they are boys - and sexual identity - when characters experiment with their feelings in all possible configurations, be it girl/girl, boy/boy or girl/boy. This is taken even further when each of them has to answer who they really are and what is important to them when Kim realises she is really a boy on the inside.
The movie is very good at building a unique climate, with cinematography, lighting and music working together very well. The acting is also really good, as even though the girls are played by different actors after they turn into boys, I had no problem believing they are still the same people.
The only issue I have with this movie the fact that sometimes it asks the viewer to suspend their disbelief a bit too much, like when no one notices that two of the girls use their real names when they are boys. However, I can forgive that, as I believe the movie is meant to be treated as a metaphor rather than anything else. And when seen as such, it is quite moving and memorable.
O gios tis Sofias (2017)
Peculiar, but interesting
Son of Sofia is quite an unusual movie taking place at the intersection of two unique cultures. The protagonist is a young Russian boy Misha, who comes to Athens to live with his mother and her employer. Soon he discovers that the old man is something more than just a boss to his mother. The boy is forced to deal with the demanding man while learning to exist in a foreign environment at the same time.
The movie is a perfect example of the slice of life genre. Rather than show a few huge events in the lives of the characters, it follows their daily lives as each of them tries their best to deal with this new situation they found themselves in. The dialogue is minimal, and the emotions of the characters are conveyed by their actions rather than words. The pacing is slow, giving the viewer time to fully consider the events.
The acting is really good and every person in the cast managed to create a believable complex character. Thanasis Papageorgiou' Mr. Nikos is demanding, controlling, and sure that the Greek culture is much better than the Russian. Valery Tscheplanowa's Sofia is willing to do anything she has to in order to give her son the best possible life. Victor Khomut's Misha is quite lost in this new situation, and his performance was the biggest surprise for me, as I don't usually like movies with child protagonists.
As a whole the movie is quite peculiar, but I found it quite refreshing to watch something this unusual. I would recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting picture of everyday life in an untraditional family.
Beyond Skyline (2017)
I really struggled to finish watching it
Let's be totally honest from the very beginning. Beyond Skyline is yet another boring, derivative movie about alien invasion. It offers nothing new and seems like a project completed just for money.
The plot of the movie is the same one we've seen a million times already: humanity goes about its business until a sudden alien attack. People of the Earth are decimated, as the aliens have far superior technology and are much stronger. A few misfits manage to stay alive and fight the aliens back. Yawn. The ending can be pretty much predicted from the very beginning by anyone who have seen even one similar movie.
The pacing is insane, going from one fight scene to another, from one explosion to the next. This means the characters are constantly running, shooting and fighting and we don't learn anything about their personalities. In result, I found it impossible to care about any of them. The actors' performances reflect that as well, as they are all really shallow and uninteresting.
I really struggled to finish watching this movie, as there was nothing in it that interested me, even though I'm a big fan of sci-fi and aliens. The only decent thing is the design of the spaceships, but other than that it is painfully obvious that no one among the people involved in the creation of Beyond Skyline cared about the quality of their product.
Venus is one of the increasing number of transgender-related movies being produced recently. It's one of smaller movies, having neither a huge production budget nor a big promotion. It uses a pretty popular trope of a transitioning person discovering they have a child and being forced to deal with that fact. Sadly, it is also one of the more mediocre movies in this category.
The story being told is nothing new. It has been told many times already, in many different variations and with various results. Unfortunately, while some of these other movies deal with deep and complex relationships between the characters, as well as complicated issues of gender and parenthood, in Venus everything seems pretty shallow. The characters stumble through the events, displaying a minimum of emotion. The dialogues are quite wooden and the plot is completely predictable.
This weakneses influences the acting, which is also mediocre. I don't believe it to be the actors' fault, it seems mre like they were given very little to work with. In result, their performances seem quite unemotional, which doesn't suit the plot that was supposed to tell an emotional story.
There is one more thing which I found truly irritating, and that is the music. I do realize that in a low budget movie I can't expect the biggest pop hits, because buying the rights to them is expensive, but even with less-known songs it is possible to choose those, which fit the atmosphere. Here the songs chosen for particular scenes seem to be quite random and often it made me lose focus and think about the music itself, which shouldn't be the point.
In general, Venus is not a bad movie, but it's not a good one either. The best word to describe it is mediocre. It simply doesn't offer anything new.
Classy. Insightful. Wise. And truly remarkable.
Having read one book of his and watched a few movie adaptations of his writing, I knew that John le Carre is both very intelligent and very wise. I expected his speech/lecture to be really interesting, but I still wasn't prepared for what I got in An Evening with George Smiley.
In the first, longest part of the show, le Carre gives a speech about his most famous character, George Smiley. It is built around the character's creation and personality, and contains fragments of le Carre's newest book A Legacy of Spies. What could have been a dry speech is in fact a compelling and fascinating story of a remarkable man and the character he created. We hear deliberations on what makes people choose the career in the secret service. We get a touching feeling of nostalgia or old, much simpler time, when spies were nonviolent people. We see how freedom can be found in creating art, which in le Carre's case means writing novels. We get a feeling that the world's history is a history of constant turmoil, when he talks about the fall of the Berlin wall or the Cuba crisis. In case all of this got too dark, we also get a good measure of hilarious anecdotes about the actors le Carre worked with throughout the years when his books were being made into movies.
In the second part, a number of people involved in various movie and television projects based on le Carre's books talk about the man. Actors, screenwriters, and directors recall their meetings with le Carre, shedding light on this remarkable man and sharing their thoughts - sometimes really insightful ones - and feelings about his writing. We also get a handful of quite interesting behind-the-scenes stories from various sets, something which should interest any cinema fan.
The final part is le Carre talking with Jon Snow and answering questions asked by fans on Twitter and Facebook. Here again he discusses both his political views, his many adventures both as a spy and as a writer travelling around the world in order to gather material for his books, and his writing process. His every answer is deep and truly insightful and all of them give the viewer a feeling that he is fighting for what he believes in: a better, more humane world without the human suffering which moves him so deeply.
I was truly moved by the whole "show" and found le Carre to be a very charismatic man. It is clear that he believes in a better world. He is a fascinating person, a true British gentleman and listening to him is a pure pleasure. And I feel like I learned a thing or two along the way.
Unfreedom means to tackle pressing issues of the modern society. It seems like it was supposed to be quite an ambitious movie, and when one looks at its description it really seems so. The picture tells two separate stories: one is about a Muslim terrorist who comes to New York City to kill a controversial Muslim scholar, the other is about a Hindu woman, who is supposed to marry a man chosen by her father, but who is actually a lesbian.
What could have been a moving story, very quickly turns out to be increasingly annoying and very poorly made. The storytelling is quite incoherent, taking leaps without any explanation. This robs the characters of emotional depth, as the movie never stops to explore their feelings. Even the most violent and bloody scenes weren't able to move me, as they seem like something out of a cheap exploitation movie and not what I believe was meant to be a moving drama. This blandness of the characters is also reflected in the acting, which in most cases is wooden even when it should be full of emotion. The only exception is Preeti Gupta as Leela, who is terribly overacting instead.
Almost every other aspect of the movie is similarly poor. The camera is often so shaky it may make the viewer dizzy and there is really no need for this here. The editing is super fast, cutting every 10 or 15 seconds, even in the scenes which are meant to be calm. The music is often too apparent, which is quite annoying. At first I found it sad that the movie could have been really good, but turned out very poor, but then I realised that a picture which is so bad in every possible way never had a chance of being good, even if it tackles really important issues.
Many important issues in one story
At the first glance The Wound looks like a movie about the Xhosa tradition concerning initiating boys into manhood: they go into the mountains to experience genital cutting. And while it is and interesting look into this custom which I knew very little about and which I found both fascinating and deeply disturbing. it is also much more.
The movie touches on a number of important issues. We see a taboo homosexual relationship in a deeply homophobic environment and the way that gay people deal with living in such a culture. We see the conflict between the old ways represented by people insisting on carrying on the traditional initiation and the new ways of city life and assimilation into white culture. We see a story about growing up and becoming a man, even if the notion of manhood isn't understood in a traditional way.
The story is carried mostly visually as there isn't a lot of dialogue in the movie. In my opinion, this fits the story perfectly, as men traditionally aren't meant to talk about their feelings. It also means that the actors must convey the character's emotions through facial expressions and gestures, and they do a really good job, creating completely believable character.
All in all, I would say that The Wound is a solid piece of filmmaking, touching important contemporary problems. It may be too slow for some, but for me the pacing and the limited amount of dialogue are perfect of such a story.
Calm and quiet contemplation of faith and love
One thing needs to be said at the very beginning: Disobedience isn't a movie for everybody. I don't mean that in reference to the story, which in itself may be seen as quite controversial, as I think anyone deciding to watch the movie more or less knows what it is about. I'm talking about the pacing of the movie and the style in which it is shot. I've seen that this in a divisive issue and I can see why.
To put it plainly: the movie is slow. Really slow. In a different movie with a different director the same story could have probably been told in an hour instead of two hours. For an audience used to the quick pace of modern cinema this can be a problem, but I found it wonderfully refreshing. Because the movie takes its time telling the story and building the characters, the feeling I got while watching it was that of calm and quiet. It's all the more interesting seeing that similar stories of forbidden love and faith versus sexuality are often told in a very dramatic way. In Disobedience no one shouts or even talks about their feelings and yet these feelings are still perfectly clear. This shows that with good actors, there is no need to state certain things overtly.
Which leads me to acting. I really liked every single performance in the movie. Rachel Weisz is perfect as an outsider in a community that was once her own and a freethinker ready to fight for her love and freedom. Rachel McAdams is brilliant as a wife trying to both love her husband and follow the laws of her religion, and be herself and love a woman. But my favorite performance in the movie is Alessandro Nivola as a deeply hurt husband of a woman who may not really love him. All the characters are fully believable and psychologically complex, and each performance is moving in its own way.
The music and the cinematography fit the story perfectly. They underline the calm feeling and add a touch of melancholy to what is quite a sad story. The coloring is quite subdued, which is perfect, as anything bright would go against the spirit of the movie.
Lastly, I have to add that the movie is also a fascinating picture of the Jewish culture. I know very little about Judaism or Jewish traditions, so the opportunity to see what is looks like "from the inside" is really interesting, even if there are some aspects I don't fully understand.
All in all, the movie is a very solid piece of cinema. It tells a complex story with using quite a minimalist technique and in my opinion the effect is very good. I would recommend it to anyone who isn't scared of a slow pace and having to read the emotions of the characters instead being told about them.
Tantsy nasmert (2017)
Derivative and completely predictable
The trouble with a movie becoming a blockbuster is that it gets copied and copied and copied ad nauseam. This happened with The Hunger Games and Dance to Death is one such copy. Yes, it's set in Moscow and the deadly tournament takes the form of a dancing competition, but the connection is clear: yet again we see a group of young people forced to fight each other to death, yet again two of them fall in love, yet again there is a corrupt government... Nothing we see here is new. Except for the dancing, which can hardly be called a bright new idea, as it makes the premise of the movie even more absurd.
The plot is of course totally predictable for anyone who has seen even a couple dystopian movies. The big plot twist didn't surprise me at all. Political fights between the people in power are presented in quite an interesting way, but it's the only part of the plot that isn't boring, absurd, and full of highly unlikely events. Everything else is shallow and uninteresting.
The acting is also pretty poor, especially when it comes to the main characters. Ivan Zhvakin as Kostya is flat and seemingly incapable of showing any emotion and Lukerya Ilyashenko as Anya is overacting pretty much all the time. The only performance I really liked is Denis Shvedov as a champion plotting to overthrow the current ruler and take the power for himself. Sadly, one good performance can't save the movie.
CGI is quite good and nice to look at and the music fits the story. However, neither of these things makes Dance to Death a good movie. It's derivative, shallow, predictable, and full of plot holes.
Night Is Short, Walk On Girl tells the story of the many adventures a girl has during one night in Kyoto. What starts looking as a typical story about a young girl drinking in a bar, soon becomes a crazy roller coaster of unlikely events. It's impossible to get bored while watching the movie, as there is a constant feeling that virtually anything can happen: we see a drinking competition, a used book sale, a guerilla theatre performance, even some magic happens. The characters are all over the top, which suits the story perfectly. At the same time, the movie touches a number of important issues, such as love, loneliness, and greed.
The animation in the movie is just beautiful. It's colorful and very pleasant to the eye. It is perfect for this kind of story, with the more realistic parts animated more traditionally and the more absurdist parts looking pretty much like an acid trip. Watching the movie is a really interesting experience and I'm sure I won't forget it.
Ideal Home (2018)
Predictable, but quite charming
Ideal Home is a movie about a (quite troubled) gay couple, whose life is turned upside down, when a ten-year-old appears in their home, claiming to be a grandson of one of them. This concept of gay men being forced to take care of a child is nothing new in the cinema. And so, as can be expected, the movie is quite predictable. This doesn't mean, however, that is doesn't have a certain charm.
Yes, the characters are absolutely typical for this type of movie: one is a huge child, emotional and easily angered, while the other is the responsible one, taking care both of his partner and the child that appeared in their lives. Yes, at the beginning child has a difficulty accepting his guardians being gay. Yes, every single thing happens just as one would expect. Still, the story is quite uplifting and says something about the power of love.
The acting in the movie is uneven. Paul Rudd is quite good and believable as the responsible partner, showing a range of emotions as the story progresses. Jack Gore is nice and even though I usually really don't like children as movie characters, his Bill was completely fine. My biggest problem was Steve Coogan, who is really overacting in most scenes. I don't know if this is actually his fault or if the character was written that way, but I found him really annoying.
Hello Again (2017)
Really nice idea, poor execution
Hello Again was advertised as a musical about many shades and faces of love told from the point of view of ten people living in various time periods. Each actor plays two roles and the movie is constructed like a chain with one actor from a couple changing each time. This idea is not new, but it isn't widely used, so it could lead to the creation of a truly great movie. It could if only the stories weren't so bland. I had a feeling I never learned anything about the vast majority of the characters other than they want to have sex. I do understand that is an important part of a relationship, but in a movie consisting of ten stories one would expect a bigger variety of themes. The only story I really liked was the one with Audra McDonald and Martha Plimpton, as it was the only one in which the characters had plans, dreams and ambitions. Sadly, in most of the stories this is not the case and the characters are completely one-dimensional.
Another thing that was poorly done is the songs. As someone who loves musicals I'm used to singing instead of talking and I really like the convention. However, this doesn't mean that making the characters sing dialogues without any metre is the same as writing songs. The songs in Hello Again sound just like that: as if someone just composed any music that would fit what the characters were meant to say without paying any attention to music patterns. In result the majority of the songs is flat and unremarkable, and it gets more and more annoying as the movie goes on. It's definitely not the type of music I'd re-listen, unlike many other musical soundtracks. In the result, it was quite difficult for me to even finish the movie.
From This Day Forward (2015)
An interesting picture of an unusual family
Over the years I have seen a few dozen transgender-related documentaries. I would say I have seen so many of them that I can easily recognize patterns present in most of them. Uncertainty about one's identity, struggle to keep said identity a secret, depression, family problems, transphobia. These elements appear in virtually all trans documentaries, as these things are all a part of the sad reality we live in. The problem is that more often than not this makes the documentaries less interesting, as sometimes I feel like watching the same story with different characters. And although I know that these stories are the very lives of the people concerned, many of the movies seem very similar to each other.
From This Day Forward is an exception to this rule. Yes, the story is pretty much the same as in a dozen similar pictures, but the way of telling this story is quite unusual. Because it is told by a daughter of a transgender parent, its focus is not only the person who would typically be the center of attention, but rather the whole family. It is a beautiful exploration of the meaning of true love, marriage, parent-child relationship and the price of being true to oneself. It is a warm, uplifting picture of a family which manages to overcome all of their - sometimes quite unusual - problems and stay together because of the love they have for one another.
No wonder it was cancelled
I can't imagine there being a single person able to tell how many TV shows about lawyers have been made. It seems there is always a few of them on at any given moment. Some focus more on the courtroom, while others tell more personal stories of the lawyers. Most of them fall somewhere in the middle, combining court proceedings with private lives of the characters. Doubt is one of these series and, sadly, it is simply yet another legal drama.
My main issue with the series is that it is the same as any other mediocre show about lawyers. We see the same old boring cases and even when the show touches upon important issues such as racism, police violence or transphobia, it is done in the exact same way we've already seen on a million other shows. The main story arc might have been interesting if it wasn't totally predictible right down to the last plot twist in the show finale.
To make things worse, virtually all characters seem one-dimensional, like they have one characteristic that defines them. Sadie is brilliant, Nick is a reformed ex-con, Tiffany is full of energy, Billy is charming, Isaiah is anti-establishment, etc. It's really hard to find one fully fleshed out, complicated - and therefore believable - character. The fact that all the lawyers talk in wisecracks pretty much all the time makes them seem even more similar to one another and quickly becomes insufferable.
All in all, I'm not surprised that Doubt was cancelled so soon after its premiere. It's not the worst tv show ever, but it's just too bland and too similar to other legal dramas to be interesting. It just doesn't offer anything we haven't seen a thousand times already and at times it can be really annoying with the constant wisecracks and a good measure of overacting.
In the Cloud (2018)
Incoherent and shallow
Science-fiction is the one genre of movies with the an unique ability to ask questions about technology, its influence on the human condition and the future in general. Some sci-fi movies do that brilliantly while being really entertaining at the same time. In the Cloud sounded as one of these movies, especially considering the cast which includes Gabriel Byrne, who I've always associated with good cinema.
Sadly, my assumptions were completely wrong. In the Cloud is not a good movie. It's not even a decent movie, which is quite surprising seeing that it has a pretty strong cast. The actors are good, but they simply didn't have a lot to work with. The beginning of the plot is quite promising: a genius scientist claims he's found a way to map a human brain and preserve people's memories forever. Unfortunately, soon a million things start to happen at once: terrorist attacks, CIA wanting to take over the project, a mysterious organisation, drug-filled trips into the sicentist's memories, etc. It would be okay in a series, but in a movie with a running time of 1.5 hour it's too much. It is really hard to follow the plot and its super-fast pacing means that the characters don't really have any personality and in result I found it impossible to care about any of them.
I also have to mention special effects, as they are truly awful. I know that the movie isn't a blockbuster, so I wasn't expecting too much, but they were still able to disappoint me. They look like something out of a 1990s movie. In 2018 even small productions can afford decent CGI. To make things worse, often the special effects are really distracting, especially in the scenes exploring memories. If anything they make a bad movie even worse. I wouldn't recommend In the Cloud to anyone.
The Pearl of Africa (2016)
An intimate portrait of a remarkable woman
The Pearl of Africa is an inspiring documentary movie about a transgender woman from Uganda, following her daily life as well as documenting her gender transition. It also needs to be mentioned that the movie really has two main characters: Cleo and her partner, who is always by her side, making the story even more touching.
In comparison to other transgender-related documentaries, The Pearl of Africa seems smaller, as unlike many other such pictures, it doesn't try to tackle any big issues or even present a community. This is not a fault, but a nice change, as instead of yet another movie about the larger LGBT community, we get an intimate portrait of one remarkable woman. Some broader context is presented in clips from news programs, depicting the political situation in Uganda, but it only serves the purpose of stressing how brave Cleo is for being true to herself.
The pacing of the movie is quite slow, which many long scenes in which Cleo and Nelson talk to each other or do some mundane things. For people used to the fast pace of current blockbusters this may be a problem, but I found it perfect for the story the movie tells, as it gives us the opportunity to really focus on the couple. All in all, the picture may not be the best transgender-related documentary ever made, but it is definitely worth watching.
Live from Lincoln Center: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - In Concert with the New York Philharmonic (2014)
Lincoln Center is known for its brilliant concerts, including the American Songbook series, classical music concerts and performances by musical theatre stars. From time to time a musical also gets staged, and as can be expected, they are always high quality. Knowing that, I was still surprised by how marvelous this production of Sweeney Todd is.
The cast gathered for the show brings together people from various backgrounds: Emma Thompson is an internationally recognized movie star, Bryn Terfel is a famous opera singer, Audra McDonald and Philip Quast are legends of musical theatre, Christian Borle is a brilliant Broadway actor, etc. This was a really good decision, and although I'm usually against casting people who are not musical theatre actors in musicals, here it seems the best people were chosen for each role even if musicals are not their main occupation. Bryn Terfel is a perfect Sweeney, making the character's need for vengeance fully believable, while being really funny in the comic scenes. Emma Thompson is absolutely hilarious as Mrs. Lovett and I would count her performance as one of the best in the history of this musical. The rest of the cast is equally perfect in their respective roles.
This brilliant group of performers isn't the only thing making this production so amazing. The director's choices are fascinating: what begins as a traditional concert performance with the actors standing side by side and singing their lines from their books, very quickly changes into a crazy show when the books are thrown away and the cast utilizes all of the available space. The fact that the orchestra is seated in the middle of the stage is used a number of times as characters "borrow" things from the musicians, which is hilarious every time it happens. Certain aspects are purely make-belive with people gesturing towards and "using" objects which are not there and without scenography each new place of action is announced by a new poster being put on a wall. In a traditional staging this would be a fault, but here is fits perfectly, as the concert style of the show allows for more imaginative techniques. As someone who has always been fascinated with stagecraft, seeing the solutions the crew came up with was a truly memorable experience.
I can't find one aspect of the show that is not absolutely perfect. From Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics making Sweeney Todd the gem that it is, to every single performance, to the staging and the fun the creators obviously had breaking conventions of concert performances. Watching the musical is pure pleasure and I'd recommend it to every musical theatre fan.
Fascinating story, pretty mediocre movie
Stories about the lives of transgender people - both real and fictional - are more and more popular as the LGBT movement becomes more and more prominent. What once was a curiosity now takes its rightful place in the world as trans people refuse to be marginalized any longer. Carlotta fits this trend, telling the real story of an Australian transsexual performer Carol Spencer, also known under the stage name Carlotta.
The story itself may be called a "typical" trans story: from denial, through inner struggle, to becoming true to oneself. This quality is by no means a fault, on the contrary, it shows something that is pretty universal not only for transgender individuals, but for many people not fitting "the norm" for one reason or another. Jessica Marais is really good as Carol/Carlotta, showing both vulnerability and inner strength of this incredible woman. It's a shame that such complexities of Carol's character aren't fully explored and her story is presented more as a series of events and less as an emotional journey of a person evolving and becoming true to herself.
Sadly, no matter how inspiring and fascinating Carlotta's life was, the movie does not capture that. The narration is mediocre at best, often taking big leaps and treating most of the supporting characters as one-dimensional additions to Carlotta's story. The cinematography is typical for a television movie and at times I found it annoyingly similar to the mass-produced Hallmark movies. I was left with the feeling of disappointment at the production value of the movie, as Carlotta's story could have been a really good piece of cinema instead of a pretty mediocre tv production.
A magnificent spectacle with an uneven cast
Seeing its never-ending popularity and its influence on the musical theatre, the 25th anniversary of Les Misérables had to be spectacular. Of course, it can always be argued that staging the show as a concert will never fully do it justice, but in my opinion, such a decision helps to appreciate the scale of what Les Mis has become. Seeing the crowds filling the O2 arena is also a part of the experience of watching the anniversary. The spectacle that was created is truly epic and I found with pleasure that this time (unlike with the 10th anniversary concert) the musical wasn't really abridged, as only a few parts were cut.
The cast gathered for the celebration is quite uneven. Some performances are deeply moving while others are mediocre. Alfie Boe as Valjean does a great job underlining the solemnity of the character and his version of "Bring Him Home" is the best performance of the whole show. Lea Salonga as Fantine is as moving as can be expected from the musical legend that she is. Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras is super charismatic and absolutely believable as a leader of an uprising. Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway as Thenardiers are hilarious. Norm Lewis as Javert may not be the best ever, but his performance is really solid nonetheless and he does a great job conveying the character's firm belief in the law. My biggest problem is the youngest cast members: Katie Hall, Samantha Barks, and Nick Jonas, whose performances lack the necessary spark. They are alright, but it isn't the quality one would expect to see on such a great occasion. Sadly, in Nick Jonas' case it is visible that he isn't really an actor and that he was probably cast because of his name rather than his skills.
All in all, the show is a great spectacle that is a pleasure to watch. Some of the cast members may not be the best in the world, but their faults are less visible thanks to the rest of the actors doing a truly magnificent job. It also has to be mentioned that at the end there is a short surprise performance, which adds to the feeling of celebration of this great musical. This is a must-see for any Les Mis fan.