Extraordinary Cinema Review II (The Shows of Shows + Persepolis)

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of indie foreign films that I’ve started yesterday. My previous post and the reasons behind me doing this review series are here.

The previous two films I discussed both belong to the narrative cinema genre, so they were fairly close the mainstream. However, these two are more outside the box: one of them is a stock footage documentary and the other – black and white 2D animated feature.

The first film I’m discussing today is The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses, and Carnivals. It’s an Icelandic director’s Benedikt Erlingsson’s musical documentary from 2015. The whole film is one giant found footage montage. Erlingsson just pieced together various National Fairground Archive clips of circus and carnival performances. The picture has no dialogue, no narrative – it just a spectacular combination of music and visuals and the upbeat tempo of the soundtrack really adds a lot of liveliness to the already spectacular video recording. The film is kinda divided into different sections – you get 10 minutes of dance acts at the start, then the movie spotlights the different animal performers, jugglers, gymnasts, clowns and all kinds of other circus personnel.  The Show of Shows ends with the sequence of people laughing and drives home the idea that circus wouldn’t exist without the spectators.

The feature is definitely amusing and entertaining (just like the carnival), though, the animal parts are quite hard to watch. The previously heard stories about animals being treated badly at the circus kinda ruined the enjoyment of the film for me just a bit.

Watching this film was not only a great experience because of its content – the location added some flavor to the mix too. I actually got to see this film outside during the night. During the summer, the Lithuanian international film festival Kino Pavasaris (eng. Cinema Spring) in partnership with the Kaunas’ Art Cinema Romuva put on a screening of this particular picture in the Old Town of Kaunas. The event attracted a lot of people and we all got a chance to spend a nice summer evening watching a movie underneath the stars.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Show of Shows trailer

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The second film I want to mention was made in 2007 but skipped my attention until two days ago. It’s the animated feature Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I have read the novel – it was one of the first comics I have read – and absolutely loved it, so I decided to check out the movie as well.

To begin with, I loved the film because it was so close to graphic novel – the animated graphics looked exactly like the comic book panels. In addition, although all the characters were animated and lacked any coloring, they were so full of life and expressive.

I also appreciated the fact that the picture was respectful to the subject but also dared to make some jokes. The film revolves around a girl’s (Satrapi’s) life – how she lives through a war and through a revolution in Iran, how she eventually has to leave her native country and has to build a new home abroad. All of the facts are laid out neatly and clearly, the problems and horrors are showed unflinchingly, but the comic-relief and the everyday funny situations also find a place in the picture. In short, Persepolis is both heartwarming and anger-inducing. It kinda makes everyday problems of my own life seem unimportant.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film (and the original novel) was the concept of Westernization of Iran. It was interesting to see that Iranian people weren’t actually that different from people in the West – they liked the same music and films. It was also captivating to see the items of the Western world being sold as contraband on the streets – the situation was pretty similar in the Soviet block, where my parents grew up, so it was fascinating to see the same things happen in a different part of the world. I guess, for better or for worse, one cannot escape Westernization, be it a voluntary or involuntary process.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Persepolis trailer

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I hope you enjoyed this slight break from the mainstream films. I will return to reviewing them tomorrow with a post on Deepwater Horizon. In the meantime, let’s go back to binge-watching Luke Cage.

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Extraordinary Cinema Review I (Son of Saul + Mustang)

Movie reviews

Hello!

Throughout the summer and the rest of 2016, movie audiences have expressed a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the mainstream films. The critics disagreed with the viewers on the same topic multiple times as well. Looking at the statistics, the box office numbers have also not been the greatest.

I have also heard a lot of people say that the best movies they have seen this year have all been indie releases. So, I have decided to tell you about the best independent movies that I have seen this year thus far. On top of being non-studio films, these pictures have also been produced outside of the English-speaking world, however, they should be fairly familiar to the Western audiences. Lastly, these films have not necessarily been made or released this year – it’s just that I got a chance to see them in 2016.

I don’t know if this post will spark a broader series of foreign reviews but I would really like if it did because I want to widen my horizons and want to help bring more foreign films to the forefront. I will review 2 pictures in this post and the other two tomorrow.

The first film that I’d like to mention is the Hungarian WW2/Auschwitz concentration camp drama Son of Saul. It was directed by László Nemes and stars Géza Röhrig as Saul. The film won a bunch of awards at various festivals last season and also received the Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign film.

Son of Saul’s story was not easy to watch, even though I have seen quite a few films about concentration camps. Nevertheless, this picture showed the horror of the situation so vividly that you could almost feel like you were in the camp. A lot of that came from the extraordinary cinematography by Mátyás Erdély – the handheld long continuous close-up shots of Saul’s face made the viewer feel claustrophobic and scared. Because of the limited frame, the audiences couldn’t actually see much of the camp or the gas chambers. However, one didn’t actually need to see the broader mise-en-scene to imagine what was happening outside of the frame. The decision to have such a narrow point-of-view also reminded me something that Art Spiegelman stated about the visualization of the genocide (he is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Maus which also deals with the events that happened at Auschwitz). Like the Son of Saul filmmakers, Spiegelman also chose not to show the inside of the gas chambers in his comic because no-one came out alive of these chambers, so no-one knows how they actually looked and it might be disrespectful to the people who lost their lives in there to fictionalize these rooms in one way or the other.

The lead of the film – Géza Röhrig – was spectacular. His face took up the bigger part of the frame throughout the whole film, so his emotions and face-acting were extremely important and he absolutely nailed his performance. Son of Saul didn’t really focus on the plot but explored the heartbreaking journey of a single character. In addition, the lack of music added a lot of realism to an already realistic movie, while the ambiguous ending was equal parts satisfying and horrifying.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Son of Saul trailer

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The second auteur feature that I want to talk about is the Turkish coming of age drama Mustang by the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It was nominated for a variety of awards during the festival season and also received the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination but lost to the previously discussed picture.

Mustang revolves around 5 sisters, played by Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu and İlayda Akdoğan, who have reached puberty, thus, according to the traditions of Islam, they have to get married. The sisters’ parents are dead, they grew up with their uncle and grandmother. Their life so far has been quite independent: they went to school, socialized with boys and led quite a Western-style life. However, from the very beginning of the film the viewers and the sisters realize that everything has changed.

All films, which revolve around Islam and women’s place in this particular religion, spark dual feelings inside of me. On one hand, I’m angered that females around the world still have to suffer the oppression. The concept of arranged marriage simply infuriates me. However, as an anthropologist-in-training, I’ve to attempt to look at a different culture through the lenses of that culture. Nevertheless, I know enough about Islam (definitely not from the Western media) to tell you that the female subordination by males is not in the Quran. The theoretical religious concepts highly differ from the religious beliefs that are practiced in the Islamic world – they have been radicalized to the extreme.

Mustang is an independent but narrative film, so it can definitely appeal to the mainstream movie goers more than some other art cinema pictures. The 5 leading ladies are all amazing and the 5 sisters, though related, are all very unique and different. The picture also shows a variety of diverse consequences of arranged marriages: these outcomes range from happy and relieving to extremely sad and tragic.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Mustang trailer

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Movie PREVIEW: Captain America: Civil War a.k.a. Civil War comic book review

Movie previews

Hello!

I have done a few preview posts while waiting for the release of the big movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, I would like to discuss my expectations and predictions for the new Marvel movie – Avengers 2.5 also known by its actual name Captain America: Civil War.

In preparation for the film, I have rewatched both of the Captain America’s films and enjoyed them even more than the first time. If you would like to read my review of the previous two films, you can click here – that post is one of my early ones and the reviewing style is completely different from the way I review films now, so don’t be too harsh.

In addition, not only did I rewatch the previous movies in the series, but I have also actually read the graphic novel by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven (the main series of the 7 issues) that this movie is at least partially adapting. Civil War graphic novel is one of the first serious superhero graphic novels that I’ve ever read. As a child, I would read comic books about magic that were aimed at very young audiences. Nowadays, the majority of graphic works that I used pick up would be quite biographical, like Maus and Persepolis. However, Civil War really made me want to get into comics more. I have always felt kinda overwhelmed with the lore of the comic book universes and didn’t really know where to start. But, through Civil War, I discovered that there is a bunch of limited series style graphic novels that are easily accessible to new readers. You don’t have to hunt down different issues, but can enjoy the whole story all at one, in a book format! Because of this, I have recently purchased the Greatest Batman Stories compilation novel and I’m also actively looking for the Watchmen graphic novel in my town’s 2nd hand shops.  So, let’s talk what the film might and will change when transferring the Civil War story from the page to the civil screen. SPOILERS for the comic book and possible SPOILERS for the movie.

  • To begin with, from the trailers and previous MCU films, we know that the incident that will divide the superheroes won’t be an unsuccessful TV show and will have nothing to do with New Warriors. Instead, The Avengers will disagree over the Winter Soldier question, thus, making it a personal matter to Cap. In addition, the aftermath of Sokovia and other accidents, that The Avengers were involved in, like Battle of New York will only deepen and widen the rift .
  • In addition, the film will probably cut a lot of characters that were involved in the original story. For one, Marvel Studios does not have the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four characters – it is a miracle that they got Spider-Man. Moreover, MCU has a lot of characters already, without adding a bunch of new ones ( that’s why I called the film – Avengers 2.5  – it is more of a team up movie rather than a solo standalone feature). So, if Cap 3 introduced a big group of characters all at once, the majority of them would lack the necessary development and would overcrowd the film. In the comics, it is a different story – all of the characters, that were involved in the Civil War story, have about 50 years of history behind them – they are known to the avid comic book readers, while the movie has to cater the needs of the mainstream audiences, who do not know anything about these characters.
  • Having said that, while the film won’t add a bunch of new characters, we will be introduced to a few of them. Black Panther and the new Spider-Man (with the best suit ever – the CGI eyes are amazing) will make their debut. I do not really think that they will reveal Spider-Man’s identity like they did in a comic book Civil War, since Spidey is so new in the MCU. I feel like they will save this big reveal for a solo Spider-Man film, maybe even the last film of the new trilogy. On the other hand, Black Panther’s comic book storyline probably won’t be changed that much, but the movie might add something more to it.
  • In the comic book, X-Men characters were sorta neutral, so the lack of them in the film won’t be a huge loss. On the other hand, Fantastic Four’s characters played a big role in the events, so I wonder who will replace them in the movie’s version. Doctor Strange was also neutral in the comics and since he technically is still Stephen Strange – the surgeon in the MCU (he will get his powers in his own film), we will probably only get a post-credits scene with him. Other characters, like Thor’s Cyborg Clone will either be cut or substituted. There is only a small chance that any Thor lookalikes will appear in the film, as Chris Hemsworth is not listed on IMDb. Nevertheless, that plotline might be included in the film by replacing Thor’s Clone with Vision. The characters or team like Goliath, Mrs. Sharpe, The Thunderbolts (Marvel’s Suicide Squad), Young Avengers and Namor will probably also be cut. I also don’t think that TV characters, like Daredevil and The Punisher, will appear.
  • I wonder whether the film will keep the idea that Nick Fury is on Captain America’s side, while the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. is supporting Iron Man. Either way, Civil War film will definitely mark the end of The Avengers as we know them now.
  • I am mostly sure that, in the movie the same way as in the comic book, both teams will have members, who will question their choice and will change sides. We will probably get ‘mole inside the team’ plotline as well.
  • The negative zone prison and the fifty state project will probably be too comic-book-y and too grand ideas for the film, so the actual Prison 42 will most likely be different – more realistic maybe? In general, the film’s Civil War will probably be a much smaller scale event.
  • I am also interested to see whether the film will keep the ending of the comic book. Will Tony become the S.H.I.E.L.D director? Will Cap surrender? What will be Winter Soldier’s role? I also heard the rumors that they might include the death of Captain America storyline at the end of Civil War – really don’t want that to happen. It would also make Civil War very similar to BvS, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. 

So, in conclusion, I have a lot of questions and possible speculations about the film and that’s all part of the fun with these comic book movies. I loved the graphic novel Civil War and can’t wait to read more – now I feel stupid for waiting so long to star reading the comic books.

Civil War film will be directed by the Russo brothers. Since half of their filmography consists of past and future Marvel movies (they will direct Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 and 2), I don’t really have anything more to say about their previous work. I will briefly touch upon actors’ previous work in the actual review of the film, although I will probably be repeating myself a lot since I have said almost everything I wanted to say about them in my past Marvel movie reviews: Avengers Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Guardian of the Galaxy. If you want to read my either comic book movie posts, both Marvel and DC, you can find them here: Marvel Phase 3, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Deadpool and BvS.

I am planning to see the film on April 29th, in the morning, and I will definitely be rocking my Marvel Comics T-Shirt. Will you be cosplaying for the premiere and what are your predictions for the film? Let’s discuss this in the comments!