Cavemen and Kristen Stewart

27 03 2017

My twin obsessions this week, oddly, were Kristen Stewart in the strangely luminous “Clouds of Sils-Maria” and prehistoric man, courtesy of the surprise hit book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

My curiosity for Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of…” was piqued by the rave reviews for his upcoming “Personal Shopper” (for which I had snagged tickets at the Hong Kong International Film Festival) and which also starred his (rather unlikely) new muse, Kristen Stewart.

The formerly much-derided Twilight star has been amassing accolades. I have seen her variously described as “the greatest actress of her generation” and “a star for our times.” I didn’t get it. What was the buzz about? But halfway through this movie, which I had originally found slight and rather dull before it totally sucked me in, I twigged. Stewart is a naturalistic actress par excellence. She doesn’t look like she is acting. So at first I took her for granted – where were the virtuoso emoting I associated with “great acting”? Where was the transformation?  She looked like she always does, shaggy dark hair, stumbling over her words, willowy frame in clothed in grungy lesbian-chic. But then I realised that despite that, this character isn’t HER. She is a multimillionaire, not Julian Binoche’s ambitious assistant in the Alps, and the fact that I had forgotten that shows what a great performance it was.

“Sapiens” was also something of a revelation. The book, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, traces humanity from its origins to the present day. Powerfully written, Yuval kicks off with the sensational reminder that although today there is only one human species, used to thinking of itself as the pinnacle of all evolution, we know that once we shared the world with at least six other human “species” – the homo erectus and Cave of the Red Deer people in China, the dwarf-like homo floresiensis of Nusa Tenggara, the Denisovans in Sibeia. the neaderthals in Europe…. The book claims that humanity’s “original sin” was perhaps the genocide of our brothers and sisters, leaving us alone as the sole surviving humans on the planet.

 





Stars of Neon Bull

6 03 2017

What a strange, strange movie this is. Neon Bull is set, like the other Brazilian movie I watched recently, Aquarius, in the Northeastern state of Pernambuco. And like that movie it is a meandering, understated story – more a character study than a traditional narrative. It offers a documentary-like slice of life view on an outrageously sexy rodeo worker, his friend (or sister or ex-girlfriend?) played by my new favourite actress, Maeve Jinkings, and her pre-teen daughter.

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The film doesn’t play by the usual rules of independent cinema. Although the story centres around an itinerant group of cowboys and cowgirls in the parched sertao badlands of the Northeast, don’t expect poverty porn. The film downplays the characters’ lack of economic prosperity to show a (generally) happy family (of sorts) striving gently for their own little dreams – with occasional flashes of surrealist imagery.  Maeve Jinkings dances in a strip club in a horse costume and argues with her stroppy daughter while sweet (and very heterosexual) cowboy Juliano Cezarre dreams of becoming a fashion designer. This is interspersed with many scenes of life on the farm, some dreamy interludes and a pretty noteworthy sex scene.

I’m really not sure what to make of Neon Bull. While watching it, I veered towards being bored several times – as well as confused – but afterwards it has lingered in my mind…and  star Juliano Cezarre exudes cinematic pheromones in every scene. He is simply sexy, even eclipsing  Maeve Jinkings, the wonderfully expressive actress I had originally wanted to see, and star of both Aquarius and Neighbouring Sounds (below).

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Here Maeve talks (in Portuguese only) about her role in Neighbouring Sounds:





Age of Aquarius

28 02 2017

Kleber Mendonça Filho’s “Neighbouring Sounds” was a strange, understated tale of deeply submerged injustice played out on the sunny streets of an upper-middle class beach-side suburb of Recife.

The same theme and setting is explored again in “Aquarius.” This time though the director’s trademark light touch, so powerful in his last film, underwhelms. It is all so subtly and slowly unwound that I found myself wondering where the story was in endless scenes of Sonia Braga letting her hair down and listening to 1970s Brazilian records in her lovely oceanside apartment. There are also rambling flashbacks and passing mentions of unexplored plot points, metaphors for cancer and gay sons, flutteringly light social commentary and surprising sex scenes. But what there is not is any sense of tension or excitement, or – in the end – meaning.

It did have one powerful and unexpected side effect though. The boyfriend was inspired to go out and buy a vinyl record player!





Moonlight orchestra

23 02 2017

This track, The Middle of the World, is a highlight of the sumptuous classical score of Moonlight. The much-heralded black gay arthouse sensation also incorporates a performance by Janelle Monae, a song by Caetano Veloso and a flurry of references to Wong Kar Wai, to name just three of this blog’s favourite people.

 





La La Land at the Lido

31 12 2016

 

I went to see La La Land (which I loved) at the refrbished Lido theatre in Hawthorn, an eight screen arthouse complex above an inner-suburban arcade, complete with rooftop gardens screen and jazz bar.





Weekend report

12 12 2016

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It was a weekend of perfect Winter weather and aimless wandering. I spent a clear-skied Saturday walking, first from Central to Sai Ying Pun, via streets selling dried seafood and a stop in Winston’s, the inexplicably annoying expat hipster cafe by Sai Ying Pun station, where I waited an ill-tempered eternity for a flat white. Then I hopped on the train to Mongkok and wandered over to Sham Shui Po, shopping at street markets for knick-knacks on the way. This was followed by a lunch of eggplant and fish at the Kam Mong robot restaurant in Mongkok.

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On Sunday, again glorious, I hopped on the ferry to Lamma for a party at an islander’s apartment, before heading home for some movies, one French (Girlhood, disappointing) and one Spanish (Julieta, better if not perfect. I loved the tiled kitchens and the scene of the deer by the train, Rossy de Palma’s frumpy cleaning lady, the Hitchockian score and Miquel Navarro’s savagely primal sculptures.)

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Rage

21 11 2016

On the night of the “supermoon” I went to see director Lee Sang-il’s new movie “Rage,” featuring an all-star Japanese cast and an intriguing premise. After a grisly murder, the story cuts to three separate stories. In each strand, a mysterious stranger has arrived into a community. Gradually, all manner of repressed anger and anguish is revealed. In one segment, a Tokyo gay party boy finds a new boyfriend with an obscure past. In another, a quiet drifter turns up in a Chiba fishing village. And in Okinawa, a girl finds a backpacker camping out on an isolated beach. Which of these three men is the killer?

It is a grippingly well-executed film, largely keeping melodrama at bay (despite the weepy trailer) and Satoshi Tsumabuki’s all-out gay role was something of a revelation – he just got a hell of a lot sexier in my opinion.

There are also impressive turns from Ken Watanabe, Aoi Miyazaki, Kenichi Matsuyama and music by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Recommended.