Identities 2017: Other People

Other People
USA 2016
Written by Chris Kelly
Directed by Chris Kelly
Watched on 09.06.2017

“Other People” is a pretty good, albeit somewhat trivial, family drama with a superb cast and a couple of very strong, emotional moments, especially towards the end. It may not have been all that I hoped for – it starts to meander along a little bit during the middle, and by now, I’m really sick and tired of the stylistic device of opening a movie/tv-episode with a later event, only to then double back and tell how they got there – but it’s worth watching nonetheless.

My major disappointment with the movie was that even though at its center is just a regular family tragedy that could happen to everyone, over the course of the movie they went and made quite a big deal of David’s gayness after all. Granted, I’m not the biggest expert when it comes to queer films, but from those that I’ve seen, almost all of them put considerable emphasis on the fact that the main protagonist – be it male or female – is LBGTQ. It’s like, once you’re LBGTQ, your life is dominated by said LBGTQ-ness, marginalizing all other concerns. Here, for a while it seemed like they would go down a different road, showing David as gay without making a lot of fuzz about it – thus seemingly telling its audience “Guess what, queer people lead regular lives too.” (Oh, really?). Which I would have found quite refreshing. Unfortunately, before too long, we learn that David and his dad had a big falling out after he came out to them. He seems to try to do his best to pretend that it never happened, never asking him about his relationship and his boyfriend, never inviting Dennis along, and even declining to visit their shared apartment. Which unfortunately also means that “Other People” ultimately falls trap to the common trope of a family resolving their issues because of a huge tragedy that befalls them, which serves as catalyst for reconciliation. Personally, I really would have preferred it the movie wouldn’t have made such a big deal about David being gay, instead simply telling a common story that everyone can relate too, but whose protagonist just simply happens to be gay, whaddayaknow.

Maybe one day, we’re actually going to get a movie with a LBGTQ protagonist where her/his sexual identity and preference aren’t big issues who dominate the film – thus emphasizing that they are just regular people that lead normal lives, dealing with the same issues that all of us are dealing with. “Other People”, regrettably, may not quite be that film yet – but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
6/10

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Identities 2017: First Girl I Loved

First Girl I Loved
USA 2016
Written by Kerem Sanga
Directed by Kerem Sanga
Watched on 09.06.2017

“First Girl I Loved” is a wonderful, beautiful, sensitive and touching coming-of-age drama about first love. It does a great job capturing what puberty feels like: The insecurity, the inexperience when dealing with such big emotions, but also the kick of really being in love for the first time. It also does a good job depicting that even in our – more liberal – time, it’s just a mite harder to propose your love to someone from your own gender. It’s told in an extremely emotive fashion, is very well acted, and beautifully shot. However, as nice as it was overall, for me it was one very specific scene that stood out, and which made it special.

——————————————– SPOILERS BELOW ——————————————–

See, here’s the deal: A huge part of our society still has this singular image of rape being something that happens in a dark alley, by a stranger with a ski mask, at knife- or gunpoint, and including brutal violence. And of course, that also happens – far too often, in fact. But we as a society seem to refuse to acknowledge the fact that more often than not, rape happens in “our own” four walls. And it’s not a stranger, but someone we know, someone we like, maybe even someone we love. Just like it happens here: After telling her long time (platonic, male) best friend that she’s fallen in love with someone else, he gets extremely jealous, and ultimately forces himself onto her. It’s a scene that made me extremely uncomfortable and was very painful to watch, and I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like for someone who had to go through a very similar experience. But I really think that this is one of the most important scenes that I’ve seen in a contemporary movie recently. There still is that terrible notion in some parts of society that “when she didn’t struggle, she secretly wanted it”. “First Girl I Loved” clearly shows that this is not true. Multiple times, she says no, and urges him to stop. He’s not her type – hell, he’s not even her gender, for fuck’s sake. But she’s also completely in shock, and totally overwhelmed by this situation. She just can’t fathom what’s going on here, and that her best friend would do something like that to her. Ultimately, she feels helpless, and simply doesn’t know what to do. And the movie – thanks to Dylan Gelula’s fantastic performance, and Kerem Sanga’s sensitive direction – captures this perfectly.

Some may criticize that after this horrible act, Clifton is allowed a small amount of redemption, by finally admitting to someone else, and at the same time, also to himself, what he did. Also, at the end, he stands firmly at her side. Personally, that’s another aspect of the movie that I loved. It doesn’t demonize him. He “just” committed a horrible act – thus once again reinforcing this idea that a rapist isn’t necessarily some sort of depraved monster, but that it could be pretty much anyone. Now, obviously, everything that he does afterwards – at least in my book – can never compensate for what he did before, but he’s not a one-dimensional, psychotic monster. Personally, I found this level of ambivalence extremely refreshing – and also important.

Without said scene – and the fallout from it – “First Girl I Loved” would “only” be a nice, sweet, touching and true-to-life coming of age-drama. However that moment made it special for me, since it deals with a difficult and hot topic in a very sensitive way. Thus, if you can stomach this particular scene, I think that “First Girl I Loved” should be very well worth your while.
9/10

IMDB

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Identities 2017: Bar Bahar (In Between)

Bar Bahar (In Between)
Israel/France 2016
Written by Maysaloun Hamoud
Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud
Watched on 08.06.2017

“Bar Bahar” tells the story of three very different Palestinian women who share an apartment in Tel Aviv: Leila, a party girl who falls in love for the first time in a long while. Salma, a closeted lesbian woman who starts working in a bar, where she meets her new flame. And Noor, who adheres to the strict rules religion – and her fiancé – impose on her. On the surface, those three couldn’t be more different from each other; especially Noor stands out from the others. However, over the course of a couple of weeks, they learn to stick together, come hell or high water.

——————————————– SPOILERS BELOW ——————————————–

Before we go on, let me state I think that things over here in Europe are far from perfect. During the nineties and noughties, I actually felt like there was some improvement, but recently, it seems like we take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to women- and LBGTQ-rights. I think it’s inconceivable that conservatives around the world are still blocking marriage equality. It really should be a no-brainer. It doesn’t even take anything away from anyone. It’s fucking 2017, why are we even still discussing this? However, “Bar Bahar”, who seemingly depicts the life of these three Palestinian women in a realistic light, paints an even darker picture. Leila’s boyfriend has a problem with her wilder side, and tries to control her more and more. Salma’s parents don’t know that she’s gay, and when they find out, their reaction is about as terrible and hurtful as one could imagine. And Noor is completely repressed by her fiancé, who on top of everything even ends up raping her. This is a world where men’s control over women is still very strong, and while these three women fight against it and at least win some small victories, don’t expect a movie that will have you pump your fist into the air, feeling empowered, and which gives you the conviction that we’re onto a better future. Every small victory is hard-earned, and comes with a price.

However, “Bar Bahar” is more than just an important political and feminist message. It’s also a really good film which gives an interesting insight into the life of young Palestinian women, and/or Tel Aviv. Its three – divisive – lead characters are played extremely well by their respective actresses, the movie is equally well directed by Maysaloun Hamoud, and on top of that also offers some catchy music. Alternately funny, touching and disturbing, “Bar Bahar” is a great and significant contemporary feature whose importance is only heightened by the reaction it got in parts of the Middle East, thus proving exactly the point Maysaloun Hamoud set out to make with it. If you are even somewhat interested in the topics that are touched upon here, this movie is not to be missed!
8/10

IMDB

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Why cancelling #Sense8 is @Netflix biggest mistake so far

Yesterday, Netflix announced that Sense8, the ambitious show created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczinsky about eight people from around the world who are mentally linked to each other, will not come back for a third season. It’s a decision that hit me totally out of the blue. As anxious as I was after Season 1 about a renewal, given its ever-growing popularity, it’s globe-spanning fanbase and the more positive reviews from critics that Season 2 received, I was certain that the show would return for at least one more season. So sure was I, in fact, about Sense8’s return, that when the first articles made the rounds two days ago stating that the show was in trouble (started by a tweet from one of the show’s stars, Brian J. Smith), I dismissed them as alarmist clickbait. Yesterday, I was proven wrong in spectacular fashion. But it’s not just the shock of a (dis)believer whose convictions get turned upside down. Sense8’s cancellation really hit me hard. Harder than any cancellation and squashed film project that I can remember.

“Grow up, it’s just a TV show.” That’s what people usually say when news like that hits and the outcry starts. However, when it comes to Sense8, I honestly believe that this is not entirely true. Sense8 hit a nerve with a lot of people around the world. Not just with its exemplary representation of the LGBT-community, but also as a shining beacon of positivism in a TV landscape that is dominated by dark and depressing shows, one of them bleaker than the other. Even more important though is that it provided a glimmer of hope in a world that seems to get shittier with every single day. A world that grows more and more divided, where alliances seem to fall apart, where it’s growingly commonplace to think first and foremost about yourself our your country instead of others and/or the greater whole. Where, as sad and depressing as it is, more often than not, hate seems to trump love. Which is exactly what, in my very humble opinion, made Sense8 the most important show on TV right now. It made us come together. it showed us that we’re not alone. That kindness and compassion can make a difference. That we’re stronger together than we are apart. That our diversity is a strength, not a weakness. That love, no matter its form, is the most beautiful thing in the world. Most of all, though, it gave us hope. For a better tomorrow. For a kinder future. For a world where no one is judged, pursued or even killed for what he/she is and/or whom he/she loves. Which is why “Sense8” was so special, and also so important to many of us – and also why its cancellation is such a hard blow for so many people from around the world.

However, for me, it ultimately is less about the fact that it ends – because, face it, nothing lasts forever, and sooner or later, saying goodbye to this show and its characters would have been inevitable – but how it ends. Because I get it. Sense8 is a highly expensive show, and even though it has a globe-spanning and highly devoted fanbase, it never came to be a cultural phenomenon like, say, Stranger Things. Still, letting it end this way is just a tragedy. Season 1, even though it left the door wide open to continue its story, still offered a satisfying conclusion to the overall arc of the Season. In contrast, Season 2 ended with a cliffhanger, and left the show and its characters in a rather dark place. Letting “Sense8” end with this bitter note completely undermines the uplifting message of hope that the show set out to spread. Which is exactly why this decision leaves such a sour taste in my mouth. A show that was all about kindness and love and optimism ends on a note of bitterness and war and hopelessness; thus, in a way, destroying everything that it set out to do in the first place. Yes, the idea that we have to say goodbye to these characters that we came to love over the last two couple of years would have hurt anyway, no matter if it comes today, or in two, or in ten years. But what I’m truly heartbroken about is the fact that Sense8 is to end in this frustrating kind of way, thus at least partially extinguishing the joy that it brought to so many of us.

Which brings us back to my earlier statement: I can’t remember ever being similarly heartbroken about the cancellation of a TV show. Thus, I share the pain and despair of all the Sensates around the world who mourn the loss of this unique and important show. However, if you decide to take a stand and to get up and fight, I urge you to do so in a civilised and respectful manner. Make a lot of noise on social media. Write them. Call them. Let them know how you feel, and how important this show is to you, and why. Sign and share this petition. Cancel your Netflix accounts if you have to. But please, never forget that Sense8 was a show about empathy and respect and acceptance and compassion and – most of all – kindness. Don’t kill its lessons in your efforts to try and save it. Sense8 means a lot to a lot of people around the world. It’s what brought us together. It brought a lot of joy to us. Don’t let this cancellation ruin that. Right now, I still hold out a slight glimmer of hope that Netflix might reconsider and give us at least one more season, to give the Wachowskis and JMS the chance to wrap up the story in a satisfying way. But even if we don’t, and these 23 episodes are all that we’re ever going to get… no, especially if those are all that we get, it’s important that its lessons and values live on in us. Sense8 might be over. But we are its legacy. Let’s make sure that it’s one that its creators can be proud of.

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At the Movies 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
USA 2017
Written by James Gunn, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Directed by James Gunn
Watched on 02.05.2017

The first one was arguably was Marvel’s biggest surprise so far (and also their biggest gamble, which paid off tremendously). A fun, epic space-action-romp with wonderful, original characters and an incredible sense of fun, but also a lot of heart and soul. Thus, “Vol. 2” has some huge shoes to fill. What’s more: Where the first one came out of the blue, people’s expectations are a lot higher this time around. However, I’m glad to report that in my book, “Vol. 2” is on par with its predecessor.

Granted, it’s not quite as fresh and original as the first one. They also go a little overboard with the action, especially during the finale, which is one of those typical superhero-CGI-fests, and thus its most common and least appealing trait. Not to mention that once again, the entire galaxy has to be saved; personally, I would have preferred smaller odds (like the Guardians just fighting to save Peter). The music mix is also mostly inferior; with the exception of the last song – which is not only great in its own right, but is also used extremely well – I found the tunes in the first movie to be much more iconic and catchy. And the story in “Vol. 1” seemed to have a little more momentum and was more varied, thanks to all those different locations we visited and characters we met along the way. However, all those shortcomings are made up by the much more personal story, more character depth and development (which is especially true for two previous adversaries, Nebula and Yondu), and especially one emotional moment at the end which was the saddest, most touching and heartwarming scene the MCU has offered so far. When a friggin’ racoon almost makes you cry, you know that you’re seeing something very special. And the rest of the movie is just like (and as good) as the first one: I’m still in love with – and awe of – all the characters. From the current Marvel-lineup, the Guardians definitely are the most fun to be around. Also, Vol. 2 once again is full of surprises, gags, and funny moments. However, despite all the humor, it never gets superficial and/or loses its focus, which lies always on its characters. And even though there’s plenty to laugh about, and despite all its goofiness, there’s an earnestness and weight to the proceedings which makes this so much more rewarding on an emotional level than your usual superhero roundup. Come for the laughs, stay for the heart.
9/10


IMDB

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Viennale 2016 – Day 2: Aquarius

Aquarius
Brazil/France 2016
Written by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Watched on 21.10.2016

When a movie starts with a song by “Queen”, who to this day are my favorite band of all time, and later on features even a second one, we’re already off to a good start. Unfortunately, the longer the movie progressed, the more it got obvious that it couldn’t quite refute my worry that it would end up being too long. The running time of over two hours was the main reason why I was reluctant to buy a ticket, but since they showed it between two movies that I absolutely had to see and I didn’t feel like wandering around for 2-3 hours, I decided to stay and watch it after all. Ultimately, I don’t regret seeing it, but had I done so in a couple of months or years when it’s streaming for free somewhere, I wouldn’t have missed much in the interim.

My main problem with “Aquarius” was that it tried too hard to urge its viewers to side with Clara – something that I had a hard time with. I felt manipulated, and what’s probably worse, at least in my case, it didn’t even really work. Because as much as I can understand her reluctance to leave the building in which she lived almost her entire life, given the safety and health issues, the offer from the building contractor, and the fact that her refusal to leave the apartment prevent them from building a new house – which would create jobs – she ultimately felt rather stubborn and selfish to me. Thus, I wasn’t really on her side. Then again, thanks to the less-than-sympathetic way the company handled the situation (and that’s not even taking into account the late reveal; which felt a little forced to me), I couldn’t side with them either. Ultimately, I was caught in the middle, not really rooting for anyone – which might be one of the major reasons why “Aquarius” never really gripped me. I’m also not sure if we really needed to see the prologue (even though you can never have enough Queen in your movie). And overall, “Aquarius” just was too long for its own good. What I liked most about it, was the part that concentrated on Clara itself. All those scenes that weren’t about her struggle with the apartment, but about her, period. “Aquarius” always worked best when it was simply a great portrait of this complex and headstrong middle-aged woman. It was further helped by great performances, especially from Sonia Braga and her film-daughter Maeve Jinkings. And a couple of individual moments were really strong, like her discussions with her family, the night with the gigolo, or the ending.

Overall, “Aquarius” is a nice movie with great performances and an ok-story, but is simply too long for its own good, and is further held back by Kleber Mendonça Filho’s insistence to have the viewer side with Clara – which in my case didn’t really/always work.
5/10


IMDB

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At the Movies 2017: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell
USA 2017
Written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger, based on the comic by Shirow Masamune
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Watched on 07.04.2017

First of all: I won’t get into the whitewashing-debate. I understand the arguments behind it, and I got my own opinion on that, but this review will deal exclusively with the movie itself. Also, please note that so far, I haven’t seen the original (an oversight that I’ll correct on May 13th, when it will be shown at the Vienna Filmcasino). Thus, if you automatically disregard any reviews that don’t complain about the whitewashing at length and/or compare this live-action film with the anime, you might as well stop here. This is about one thing, and one thing only: The movie, taken by itself.

One thing that “Ghost in the Shell” has going for itself is that it’s visually arresting. The beginning in particular offers a couple of beautiful images, culminating in a nice action sequence that, in my opinion, already was GitS’s best (the rest of the action was fine, but never quite reached the same level – which, with a movie like that, is a little bit of a problem). The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe was also quite good, and – with its mix of orchestra and synthesizer – fits the movie (and its theme of a fusion between men and machine, aka the “natural” and the “artificial”) quite nicely. I also think that Scarlett Johansson was pretty much perfect for the role. She’s a very physical actress, and very convincing in action scenes (see her Black Widow or “Lucy”), but she also has this knack for slightly outlandish and otherworldly characters (“Under the Skin”). “Ghost in the Shell” makes use of both of these qualities – and, of course, also her incredibly beautiful, angelic face – but she also shines in the few emotional moments that the movie gives her. The rest of the cast was great too. As for the characters, I liked that Dr. Ouelet wasn’t a typical mad scientist-kind of bad guy. Otherwise, most of them – including Major – were a little generic.

Which also brings us to its biggest disappointment for me: Maybe it’s because the trailer already gave too much away, or that the original anime movie served as inspiration for similarly themed movies, but… plot-wise, “Ghost in the Shell” didn’t feel particularly groundbreaking (to put in mildly). If the live-action film is a fair representation of the anime, I’d argue that it was heavily influenced by both “Blade Runner” and “Robocop” – two (better) movies that I had to think of quite often while watching this. But even apart from that, I had the feeling that there were a lot of really interesting themes and topics, which “Ghost in the Shell” unfortunately dealt with in a very superficial way. Take the idea that we’re not made by our memories, but our actions. It’s a sentiment that’s uttered twice within the movie – but we’re only told, not shown. It’s an idea presented only in words, but not within the plot of the movie. There were many other, interesting ideas in this which they never really got into – which is possibly the main reason why the reveals and certain moments never really resonated emotionally. “Ghost in the Shell” is an empty shell of a movie – albeit a visually beautiful, entertaining, and occasionally thrilling one – but it’s missing a soul. Which, given its subject matter, is not without a certain irony.
6/10


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