“Burning” Review

Burning Poster Burning (2018)

You don’t have to convince yourself that a mandarin orange exists, you have to forget that it does not exist.” (Haemi, when explaining the art of pantomime in “Burning”).

In Chang-dong Lee’s film “Burning”, Jongsoo (Ah-In Yoo) is a country lad who rekindles friendship and begins a romance with Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon), a girl from his childhood, only then to discover that Haemi vanishes soon after meeting the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun). “Burning”, which received much praise at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, is the kind of a film commenting on which people would pride themselves by saying that they liked it, only for others to secretly tell themselves that they do not. Slow-moving or “burning” films with intricate psychological character studies and with unhealthy doses of inexplicability are fashionable nowadays, and, in that vein, “Burning” also would like to take its place among this elite unfathomable group of films. However, the result is a clumsy, uncompelling and excruciatingly tedious film that is as much of a mystery as any non-mystery and that has as much high tension as waiting patiently for a catch when fishing (only then, predictably, not catch anything substantial at the end of the day).

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“The Children Act” Review

The Children Act Poster

The Children Act (2018) 

It was a logical extension of his fantasy of a long sea voyage with her, of their talking all day as they paced the rolling deck. Logical and insane. And innocent. The silence wound itself around them and bound them” (Ian McEwan, The Children Act). 

The Children Act” is a film adaptation of an acclaimed novel by Ian McEwan, who, incidentally, also wrote the screenplay. In the story, a High Court judge, Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson), comes under immense pressure and has to deal with two rising issues in her life simultaneously – firstly, Fiona faces a family crisis as her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) states openly that he would like to have an affair with a younger woman, and, secondly, she also becomes involved in a very traumatic legal case of a boy, Adam (Fionn Whitehead), who refuses to have his life-saving blood transfusion because of his religious faith. The film is to be admired for its faithful conformity to the book, as well as for the excellent performance by Thompson. However, it is also apparent that, despite having McEwan himself on board as a scriptwriter, the film also missed its plot in relation to the portrayal of the character of Adam.

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“At Eternity’s Gate” Trailer

This film is about the final days of Vincent Van Gogh; is directed by Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007)); and stars Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project” (2016)), Rupert Friend (“Pride & Prejudice” (2005)), Oscar Isaac (“The Promise” (2016)), Mads Mikkelsen (“A Royal Affair (2012)) and Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly“); the director knows something about making films about artists since he previously directed “Basquiat” (1996), a film about a postmodernist artist in New York; see also my list of 20 Fascinating Films about Visual Art, which also features “Basquiat” and many other notable movies about painters, their artistry and hardships. 

Films that “grapple” with Faith: “First Reformed” (2018) and “Novitiate” (2017)

First Reformed PosterFirst Reformed (2018)  

First Reformed” comes from director Paul Schrader, who co-wrote the scripts to such films as “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Raging Bull” (1980), and who directed “American Gigolo” (1980) and “Affliction” (1997), among other films. It tells of Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), a priest in the First Reformed church in Snowbridge, New York, who tries to help one man with his obsessive radical-environmentalist beliefs, but who ends up fighting his own inner demons instead. This film works well on many levels, but it is probably its deep philosophical, existentialist-like quality, as well as its masterful execution, which distinguish it above others. Deep, thought-provoking and resolute, “First Reformed” grapples interestingly with the questions of faith and morality, and, by the end, becomes both a subdued and quiet meditation on life and internal despair, and an explosively powerful statement on hope.

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“The Mercy” Mini-Review

The Mercy PosterThe Mercy (2018)

There is method in his madness. This is the way some were able to characterise Donald Crowhurst’s insane desire and, ultimately, attempt to finish a single-handed, non-stop round-the world trip – the Golden Glove (Yacht) Race sponsored by Sunday Times in 1968. Completely amateur, Crowhurst, nevertheless, entered the race, and, overcome with growing boat problems and despair, started falsifying his positions in log books, to make it appear as though he is making an excellent progress in the race. The fascinating bit is that the film is based on a real story, which has so far been the subject of numerous books and other films (for example, see, probably, a better recent film “Crowhurst” (2018)). Despite the cast of Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz in the lead roles in “The Mercy“, the film never quite manages to raise its sails up, portraying a very predictable (to the point of boring) voyage, with an almost unconvincing and foolish “hero”-character at its centre. 

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“The Handmaid’s Tale” Series Review

Handmaid's Tale Poster The Handmaid’s Tale (2017) 

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” (Atwood, 1985:34) 

Humanity is so adaptable, my mother would say. Truly amazing what people can get used to as long as there are a few compensations.” (Atwood, 1985:283) 

The 2017 dystopian web TV series is based on an award -winning novel of the same name written by Margaret Atwood in 1985. It is about a young woman, Offred, who recounts her time living under the totalitarian regime of Gilead, where women have few rights and their main function is to reproduce in a controlled environment. Pronounced “a TV sensation” overnight, “The Handmaid’s Tale” had 10 episodes (although there is still Season II to come!), and starred such recognisable names as Elisabeth Moss (“The Square” (2017)) and Joseph Fiennes (“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)). I will review the series paying special attention to its faithfulness to the original novel and to the philosophical ideas behind the story.       

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“Youth” Review

Youth (2015)youth poster

One of my favourite actors – Sir Michael Caine turned 85 this week, and this is my belated opportunity to celebrate by reviewing one of Caine’s more recent films directed by the eminent Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty” (2013)). “Youth” is about Fred Ballinger (Caine), a retired music composer who reminisces on his life while luxuriating at a health resort in the Swiss Alps. His old friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), an American film director, keeps him company, while his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), who suffers from a relationship break-up, prompts Fred to re-examine his past familial relationships. A very much Sorrentino film, “Youth” may not reach the heights of Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty“, but it is still an interesting examination of a life past with some great acting as well as breathtakingly beautiful vistas on display.    

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