{film} Guardians of the Galaxy, 5 Reasons.

I’m sure someone will decide their means for being relevant will require them to pan James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). They’ll claim some disconnect with the director’s work in general as their opening disclaimer or some such entry wound into their “review.” I am fine–relieved, actually–to be absorbed into the clamoring for an encore. Was the film perfect? no. Was it AWESOME? yes. Look for the early-bird special if you need to, and take a friend.

5 Reasons to see Guardians of the Galaxy (in no particular order).

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Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (voice Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (voice Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista)

# : You are a fan of mischievous heroes in space and the silliness that is sure to prevail aka Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Gamora and Nebula have siblings, can one future casting call be Gina Torres (Zoe in Firefly)? But, really, the comedy, much of which was unanticipated and then subjected to the long-joke, was fantastic. Its a film that doesn’t rely on the energy of the audience to keep you laughing. Too, that the film is based on an under-read, lower-tier-developed comic has some appeal. While this may frustrate those who like to debate which characters get cast and how terrible the reboot was, I liked going into the film with the notion that we were not wading through a lot of backstory and bickering. It is fun feeling like you are discovering a hero for the first time with a theater geeked on the SFF genre alone.

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Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star Lord

# : Chris Pratt, and not only to witness the musculature. The comparisons of Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly) and Han Solo (Star Wars) to Peter Quill are accurate and appealing.He is hilarious and charming, and you never once doubt his abilities to play an action star. When he plays the goofball, it isn’t because he lacks intellect or strategy. Pratt has range, and bless it, but they do not push the romancing Gamora line too far. Pratt’s comedic timing is golden. Natalya cites Quill’s dancing (near the beginning) as her favorite scene: she always thought heroes should carry their soundtracks with them. I actually like his troubled looks, like when he is subdued in the prison (just after the shirt went back on). Pratt does not suffer from the lackluster nor the over-the-top. I’m not sure the casting could have more perfect.

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Zoe Saldana as Gamora

# : Gamora (Zoe Saldana) as kick-ass, smart-ass, and vulnerable. Saldana finds and uses complexity in a character that could be just one idea of a female in comics or another. Yes, we were still subjected to the “male gaze.” I’m thinking of the opportunities for her to show she is not unaffected by the world around her. She isn’t a strong character because she is invulnerable, in fact, her circumstances make her courage and capability all the more impressive. The fight choreography is spectacular, though the quick cutting and cross-cutting during her fight with Nebula was frustrating in it’s lack of spectacle. Love how smart yet charmed Gamora is by Quill–and we are still laughing about the “Kevin Bacon” scenes.

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Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

#: Groot. Yes, all the fuss is warranted. A bit of humor is floating around about how the production staff really only needed Vin Diesel to read a few variations on his one line. Digital manipulation would manage the actual reading for the film. Vin Diesel insisted, in what is taken as a lug-headed fashion, on reading the scripted lines as they would sound in the scene. I am having a hard time imagining what the results would have been with the original plan, but between the effects and Diesel’s reading, Groot was a flawless presence on screen.

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via David White interview; Karen Gillan as Nebula

# : The Make-Up and Special Effects. David White is the special effects makeup designer on the film, “he created the tangible, high-concept looks for Gamora, Drax, Nebula, Yondu, Korath, and the film’s numerous aliens.” You can read Scott Pierce’s interview with him on Co.Create (there are images of the process), “‘I’ve been fortunate to have been around the Marvel world for a little while,’ White says. ‘I like to think my own artwork and style has worked well within the universe’.” Indeed it does. The Kree architecture/design produced in the film is noteworthy. The ships are amazing as well. Sean favored the Black Aster, but we agreed that the ships, tech and the battle scenes were frankly marvelous.

{film} the game

Even though David Fincher’s The Game (1997) was a rewatch, it was almost like watching it for the first time. I remembered a few elements, but Sean wasn’t confirming the details. I was at the mercy of a slow and twisted mystery.

thegame-01If you haven’t seen The Game, you should stop at after the second paragraph (—) and go watch it.  At his troubled younger brother Conrad’s (Sean Penn) invitation, the game Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) finds himself embroiled in will have you wondering at it up to the very end. The question of whether Nicholas will follow in all the footsteps of his father is tied up in his survival of the game. Of course, another relevant question is: just where and when did the game begin?

It is fun to go back and watch an early film of a director you admire. The Game has the blue wash; the waist-high shot that zooms or cuts, but never pans; and Fincher’s meditative patience. Douglas and Penn are brilliant—Penn, so very young there! Tech is just a little outdated, and the soundtrack’s piano may become tiresome, but the film holds its thrilling edge just fine these 17 years later.

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the game

If you have seen it… The ending caught me off-guard and I was trying to remember if I’d felt the same way back when. I have a hard time understanding why Nicholas was not pissed by what his brother did, the lengths he went. I get the liberation from that haunting terror that interweaves the game-playing narrative—and I don’t. The extended display of gratitude was baffling. The romantic twist rang false.

Sean read that the original scripted ended with Nicholas landing, helped to his feet, and then walking out. Yes. If you’ve seen it, could you help me out here? Do you agree the better ending was the original one? How is the current one better and/or informed by the film?

{film} her

her-movie-2013-screenshot-samantha-pocket

The discordant pulse of an alert opens the Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), a film bout a lonely middle-aged man who falls in love with his new operating system. If this sounds rather pathetic, it is, at first blush, meant to.

Jonze plays on cultural expectations as we are first introduced to Theodore Thwomble (Joaquin Phoenix), who appears as clumsy and shy as his name. He is an average middle-aged man who lives alone, seems to be anti-social, plays video games in the evenings and calls other, equally lonely people for phone sex at night (under the awesomely assumed name “Big Guy 4×4”). He isn’t some sick pervert weirdo—that would be Sexy Kitten (voiced by Kirsten Wiig).  [I really wished we’d seen this in a theater.] You’ll notice too that how the language shifts between the earlier and later long-distance sexual scenes. Jonze sets out distinctions as to what is and is not aberrant behavior.

her-movie-2013-screenshot-catherine-and-theodoreWe learn that Theodore doesn’t live in his parents’ basement because they won’t let him, but that he is still grieving a ~year-long separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). (He has yet to sign the divorce papers.) He has a lot of friends, is well-regarded at work, and, despite his fascinating occupation, he is achingly familiar.

What is somewhat unfamiliar is the setting of the film. It reads current day, but cleaner, European or Asian metropolitan city. Really it is near future Los Angeles. The tech has advanced, primarily voice interactive and seamless in the everyday operation of the human world. You do not see any disrupting variation in tech, but rather the set design produces a singular branding effect. The aesthetic in the design/imaging of the set was gorgeously selected and executed. The results should yield the kind of timelessness Gattaca (1997) has achieved in its set design.

From the clothes and work spaces to the interiors and environment, you are given the sense of a tailored life. The lighting is soft, the color hues vibrant and warm. In a science fiction involving human interaction with artificial intelligence, the environment isn’t the least cold, austere, and thus, threatening. The inviting aesthetic also provides a perfect environment for a story about loneliness, transparency, self-doubt and joy.

her The-future-according-to-Her-ss-8When Theodore decides to upgrade to  an OS1, an advanced system design with the artificial intelligence to meet his every need, we meet Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). All of the excitement surround Johansson’s performance was/is warranted. But what struck me was how she has to negotiate a full-bodied personality to a certain level of excellence with her voice acting, because Jaoquin Phoenix captures his characters personality in his voice to an exceptional degree. If you were to shut your eyes and just listen to the film (which you won’t want to because it is just visually stunning), but if you were to, Phoenix embodies his character in his voice. Considering the high degree of craftsmanship in this film, Phoenix’ performance is not incidental. In its way, his voice acting helps eliminate an important difference between Theodore and Samantha. Language and its delivery are an incredible bonding element and equalizer.

Late in the film, Theodore calls Samantha out on imitating the taking of breaths in the delivery of her voice, and she explains that, while yes she does not require oxygen, the affectation is naturalized in other ways. Different kinds of bodies (environments) regulate our actions, our personalities, not just our physical human body.

As Theodore and Samantha become increasingly intimate, falling in love and attempting a ‘normal’ healthy relationship, we see each of them struggling with their unusual circumstances. He tells people he has a girlfriend, and when he reveals to them that she is an OS, the reactions vary (the god-daughter and his co-worker are the sweetest). She wishes she could manifest her personhood into an actual physical form. Their needs begin to diverge, and even as they are able to nurture the other’s growth as a person, we feel the echoes of Theodore’s marriage (which ever remains in the consciousness of the film).

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When Catherine lists what she felt were Theodore’s expectations of her, she describes Samantha, but even that goes awry (as Theodore suffers a feeling of betrayal). A repetitive thrust of the film is that in order to discover your potential and become more fully realized lives, it will require some letting go. But we do not allow that of those with whom we are in relationship, because it is not ours to allow, which is yet another reason why communication is such a central focus in the narrative. How many times does Samantha tell Theodore that she didn’t ask his permission, or that they were not talking about him, but rather her?

The film title is her, singular. Samantha isn’t the only her in the film, though she is the only one who really challenges the idea of object, of namelessness. I like that she chooses her own name; that she decides what sounds appropriate to her. There is a lovely moment where Theodore’s co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) rather awkwardly tries to admire Theodore for his ability to channel both the feminine and masculine in his letters. (Theo ghost-writes personal correspondence for people at Beautiful Handwritten Letters [dot] com.) Paul sees Theo as parts man and woman and the scene carries no concern towards Theo’s emasculation. The ‘cuddly puppy’ scene comes too close for Theo’s comfort, but that is another situation. The situation with Paul creates another her to add toward Theo’s desire to be who Theo, in all sincerity, is.

Her relies on flawlessly coherent environment and its voice talent, but the physical acting is another exemplary aspect of the viewing experience. The incredibly talented Amy Adams plays Theodore’s long-time friend and neighbor Amy. Of the many elements contributing toward a sense of normalcy in the film, Amy is comfortably normal. She desires more for herself, experiences self-doubt, wants for authenticity and friendship. Really, she is both Theodore’s female counterpart and foil alternately.  Hers is a face (a solid physical presence) that Theodore can connect with when and where no voice is necessary or even available. In a film about how and what we communicate, Amy is a “her” with whom we enjoy watching Theodore interact.

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I’m not sure how Her will resonate for those who’ve never felt fear, self-doubt, and real loneliness. It is the kind of loneliness that technology can neither cause nor alleviate, though the exploration of both is an intriguing one in the film. How technology enables the facades we prefer to erect and hide behind is popular discourse at present, but I like the film’s reminder that we would hide ourselves in other ways and behind other people regardless.  Our desires hide in petty arguments or in our displacing and unfulfilling demands of other people. Amy suggests that the only time we are truly ourselves and uninhibited is while we sleep—which would make for a boring documentary on a life. But then what is life, and how solitary (individual) is it?

Theodore and Samantha’s relationship demonstrates varying degrees of privacy. She is his operating system and thus has access to all his recorded information, yet he can withhold parts of himself. Introducing themselves as a couple to the public spheres occurs in stages. Then there is the trouble with the—er—threesome. But the public and social facets of our relationships are weighted.

We meet an actress who, as a vessel, would facilitate the possession of another, even as we observe a cast of actors embody lives/personalities. Theo writes personal, very intimate, letters for people, and has become entrenched in their lives. Amy can provide her outside observations to help Theodore work through his marital grievances, as vice versa. We begin to doubt or feel bolstered in our relationships based on the opinions of people who matter (or even don’t matter).

_DSC2097.tifI love that to combat loneliness in the film is complex, though at the core is this need to give ourselves permission to experience joy. When we see Phoenix express the liberating happiness in his smile and laugh, it is the context of his sorrows that deepens his expression to one of joy. There is a level of courage, I think. And Amy speaks to her own journey toward trusting her feelings. The demonstration of selflessness in the conversations between lovers and friends in the film is a challenging one, and is the ingredient that unburdens even as it may lead to heartache. The discovery of the self and another is found within the relationship; it means no longer hiding; and it’s certainly no longer interested in limiting the capacity of oneself or another.

If you have to watch one film about what it is to be human, Her is it; after all, it is about operating systems.

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her_xlgHer (2013); writer/director: Spike Jonze; Editing by Jeff Buchanan & Eric Zumbunnen; Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema; Music by Arcade Fire; Executive Producers: Chelsea Barnard, Natalie Farrey, & Daniel Lupi; Producers: Megan Ellison, Jonze, Vincent Landay, Samantha Morton, & Thomas P. Smith. Annapurna Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore Thwomble); Scarlett Johansson (Samantha voice); Amy Adams (Amy); Chris Pratt (Paul); Kristen Wiig (SexyKitten voice); Olivia Wilde (Blind Date); Brian Cox (Alan Watts voice) & Rooney Mara (Catherine).

Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Running Time 126 minutes.

 

{film} ginger and rosa

ginger-rosa-2012-posters-alice-englert-32604818-1181-886Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been best friends since their birth in the year 1945.  As the opening footage reminds us, this is the year the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima (& Nagasaki). The pair are now 17 in 1962 London and looking to declare their independence from their mothers once more.  This rebirth takes place in the auspicious year of another massive bomb threat, global events culminating in a Cuban Missile Crisis.

Even though Ginger and Rosa have their differences, they are intimate friends, sharing everything. In fact, they take pride in their transparency and steadfastness. You’ll note how often they are dressed alike (& how this diverges). The friendship takes on a special vitality under the threat of doomsday and crumbling households, which makes the increasing sensation of their growing apart particularly distressing in the film.

GINGER AND ROSA by Sally PotterAs with any coming-of-age story, the hero’s desire an ability to exercise “autonomous thought, personal truth, freedom of action.” Of course, Ginger’s father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), to whom is attributed the quote, cites these as his “guiding principles” as someone who has supposedly already come-of-age. I say “supposedly” because his is a character that is troublingly adolescent; which troubles these principles that other adults in the film actually agree with.

gingerrosaGinger and Rosa is a YA-related film that actually has adults (& no marketable soundtrack). Indeed, one part of the conflict is mentorship or appropriate adult figures to the youth in transition. Roland’s lifestyle tempered by that of Ginger’s (awesome) family friends Mark (Timothy Spall), Mark Two (Oliver Platt) and Bella (Annette Benning), and the lives of Ginger and Rosa’s mothers. The girls feel neglected and harassed by their mothers, but Ginger does find counsel with the family friends and political writings (she tries to discuss Simone de Beauvoir with Rosa at one point, is reading T.S. Eliot). Bella is a poet-activist, what Ginger wants to be. Rosa, who is not the primary protagonist of the two, seeks the advice of popular magazines and a faith we assume is handed down from her mother.

Rosa seeks the more domestic goals. Careless of the scope of a global crisis, she desires a love that will last, that can shelter and carry her through anything in the present. Whether she truly understands Roland or not, they share a similar focus in their seize the day philosophy, tired of pandering to the self-serving demands of their authority figures. Ginger feels that life might require some sacrifice, particularly on the part of the other. Writer/director Sally Potter creates an active passivity in Ginger’s character, the conflict of desiring to yield to those she loves, for the sake of those she loves, yet also doing something that could change things for the betterment of everyone.  We fear she will self-destruct before the bomb even actualizes.

ginger-and-rosa-image05In some ways, Ginger and Rosa are Roland in two parts. And we come to anticipate that perhaps it is not only the mothers the girls need to liberate themselves from, but their fathers, or shared father (as Rosa’s left long before). Potter does play ambiguously with the daddy-issues available to the female coming-of-age story. That it manifests in the sexual act is noteworthy; as is a female director’s handling of it. She does not eroticize the abuses, nor does she accuse the girls as Ginger’s mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) does.

In a story where these young women are testing boundaries, believing they know better than their mothers about the modern world and their sexuality (timeless, right?), a figure catches us off-guard and proves to be a potentially fatal conflict in the narrative.

Ginger is constantly preoccupied with the looming sensation of the end of the world. While bombs could be dropped, she believes it with a terrifying certainty. She has chosen this as something she can believe in, now to believe that she can and will do something to make it all stop. Honestly, I was not optimistic her poetry was going to do anything for her or the cause. Meanwhile, the domestic scene suffers an increasingly catastrophic fall-out that does culminate in an explosion.

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Ginger & Rosa is not the most uplifting film for a summer evening (I propose an autumn viewing). However, it is a beautifully crafted one. And I suppose there is a certain gift of optimism the final confrontation affords. Ginger is still pursuing her voice and the desire to love in healthy and profound ways. Sally Potter closes the film with Ginger in the foreground, pen in hand. The film is sad though, Potter allowing her characters to be complex, unwilling to shift them too dramatically. She chooses the comforts of realism over the mythological. Potter disrupts that otherwise fairytale beginning of two girls, best friends from birth, filmed in a charming, magical fashion with the opening footage of the Hiroshima bombing. Potter disrupts a lot of things.

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Of note: I realized at the end of my writing, I did not address an important aspect to this film, which is the disarming perspective of 1962 from London. No, actually, the import is the weight the actors bring. We all know by now that Elle Fanning is an actress to watch, but the entirety of the casting should encourage prospective viewers. The film is an excellent one, and its casting does not hurt at. all.

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ginger and rosa posterGinger & Rosa (2012); writer/director Sally Potter; editing by Anders Refn; cinematography Robbie Ryan; executive producers Reno Antoniades, Aaron L. Gilbert, Goetz Grossmann, Heidi Levitt, Joe Oppenheimer & Paula Vaccaro; producers Jonas Allen, Lene Bausager, Caroline Blanco, Peter Bose, Margot Hand, Kurban Kassam, Andrew Litvin, Christopher Sheppard, & Michael Weber. BBC Films, British Film Institute, & Det Danske Filminstitut; A24.

Starring : Elle Fanning (Ginger), Alice Englert (Rosa), Alessandro Nivola (Roland), Christina Hendricks (Natalie), Jodhi May (Anoushka), Timothy Spalding (Mark), Oliver Platt (Mark Two), & Annette Benning (Bella).

Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language. Running Time 90 minutes

{television} the fall

The-fall-highres_8colThe Fall (2013) is a dark television series out of the UK that should appeal to viewers of Wallander (2008), Broadchurch (2013), and True Detective (2014). Its degree of ‘disturbing’ fits right in there between Broadchurch and True Detective; so while the impulse may be to binge-watch season one, the content is hard to take in such heavy doses. That said, episodes end with that tantalizing effect of “I need to see what happens.” Just, if you have to binge, begin really early in the day and find something cheerful before bed.

Alan Cubitt created a series in The Fall that follows a talented investigator’s hunt for a serial killer. There is another storyline that I failed to mind early on, nor did I actually care to retrace it as the series was racing toward the finale. I would apologize, but you’ll understand how transfixing the serial killer storyline is if you decide to watch—and how transfixing Gillian Anderson is as Detective Stella Gibson.

The Fall

Gillian Anderson is as Detective Stella Gibson

On loan from the MET, Gibson is a highly educated investigator who negotiates her surroundings with what I hate to call out as startling confidence. She demonstrates a kind of self-possession that will excite feminist viewers. I’m still giddy over her encounter in the washroom with Jim Burns (John Lynch) where she refuses to take the traditional sexual burden of the female. A great article takes shape: How Stella Gibson Leans-In at her Workplace.

The pacing is cinematic in the narrative scope of the show. The series is very much about the crime-drama, but the characters and relationships develop and unfold slowly. It is very much a domestic drama as well, and the violence paired with the domestic translates into some fantastic social commentary.

The Fall tackles a lot of mythologies regarding women, men, and sexual predation. Often the show uses our cultural expectations to its advantage. For example, if you think that had the woman not lived alone, she wouldn’t be such an easy target (invitation). And this is where I caution as to the brutality of some of the sequences. Although, a great deal of the terror in tension is in the quiet invasions, the contemplation of the horrors waiting just beyond a child’s mobile, a dark corner just off the bathroom….

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Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector

Other unusual facets to anticipate? The serial killer of single young career women is a very attractive young male, loving husband, and father of two—one of whom is a little girl. Jamie Dornan (Once Upon a Time) as Paul Spector creates a gorgeous conflict; physically he is well-cast, but his acting is better than I’d anticipated. Anyone completing a dynamic with Gillian Anderson has to be excellent. After all, Anderson is the show maker.

That series one spends its entirety on the case of the serial killer (and the other surfacing line I forget), contributes to the sense that the show is driven by character over plot.  They are not actors coloring within the lines of a plot. We learn not to anticipate the crime or the investigation, but the criminal and the investigator in our wondering how the show might progress. In other words, the psychological drama remains and is played out in the characterization; e.g. how they negotiate the intrusions on their primary occupations. The success is in how disturbing the results are. Whether good-guy or bad-, the characters are terrifying because of such an emphasis on realism.

As the series began to close, the pacing was heart-thumping and well, I might have flat-lined in a bit of a shock there at the end. I both love and hate The Fall for its series 1 finale. Most of the hatred is directed at the wait for series 2 now.

 

{film} the broken circle breakdown

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Veerle Baetens (Elise) & Johan Heldenbergh (Didier), The Broken Circle Breakdown

When Sean and I saw the trailer for The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) some time back, we were fascinated by the idea of a Belgium film featuring blue grass. We wondered maybe that it was a Belgium film set in the American South, but no. It’s just that Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) is in love with blue grass music. Bill Monroe is his hero.

Director Felix van Groeningen’s film is about Didier and Elise (Veerle Baetens) who fall in love at first sight and, despite differences, begin to build a life together. They have a daughter Maybelle (“like Maybelle Carter”) played beautifully by Nell Cattrysse who manages both spunky girlhood and the deathly pallor of cancer. Maybelle’s condition tests an otherwise idyllic marriage, the differences surfacing in riveting explosions of rage and grief.

I described the film with a linearity it does not adopt. The transitions in and out of the present have an overall organic feel within the narrative, but are not easily anticipated (which is a praise, not a criticism). The story is easy to follow despite the time-shifts, or because of them. I can’t imagine The Broken Circle Breakdown told any other way. The simultaneity of lives being built and destroyed, the blossoming and the disintegration, is necessary to the complexity of the film and its story. Love and heartbreak are constant companions; you glimpse them in Didier’s look of adoration and fear when he watches Elise. Heldenbergh captures that sense of awe that love demands.

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The Broken Circle Breakdown is a moving and heartbreaking portrayal of a life. Didier and Elise live in a small haven with farm/ranch animals, good friends (the band), and a sense of humor about their needs. But the world intrudes, and their faith suffers heavy blows. Didier’s love for America and its ideals is particularly painful to witness in its disillusionment.

But Didier still has his music, his blue grass band adding singer/actress Baetens’ Elise as a vocalist. They harmonize well, singing the songs in their original English. They even affect the word “Alabama” with a near-perfect southern inflection. The music is used judiciously, reminding us that the blue grass is born in context, not just performed on a stage for entertainment. The songs add to the narrative texture of the film, posing as transitions, but are primarily situated as storyteller. The music and its origins are at the heart of the film. Didier explains the presence of blue grass near the start of the film as he describes his passion for it to his lover Elise. There is beauty and there is suffering.

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A lot of stories want to open at the beginning of a relationship so that you can fall in love with the characters as they fall in love. Elise and Didier’s cute meet is certainly charming, but having our first introduction in the hospital with their 6-7 year old child and years into relationship creates a startling investment as well. You are asked to appreciate the first blush and the commitment. And we need to love them at the hardest times, because that first rush of blood to the head is too easy, too common. The shift in sex scenes from their romance through the test of their commitment is moving. The shifts in body language are remarkable in the actors’ achievement. Heldenbergh has the intense gaze, but Baetens vibrates with emotion, even when she is completely still and looking away. I appreciate that the camera afforded them their bodies, the present-day impulse for innumerable close-ups resisted. Of course, the tall and lanky cowboy and the tattooed punk/rockabilly look deserve their screen time.

I never shook the strangeness of witnessing that, which to me is so essentially American, performed and set in Belgium. The foreign and the familiar cohere in a large conversation in the film as to why we have our mythologies; when they work and do harm. The idealism toward America shifts necessarily toward the benefits of living in Belgium. The music, though Didier knows it history, has a quality that is transcendent of borders, of nationalities.

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Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) w/ Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse)

A struggle in the film is in how to parse the hard surfaces of reality with its more extravagant acts of passion, etc. How and when to let go and allow the other the belief they need. The bird flying into the glass, the stars, the inked skin, The Broken Circle Breakdown establishes and explores conversations in images. You’ll note which images linger as the film whittles its way to the baring of bones. Too, we see the harsh realities (well-lit) take on the surreal in the sequences of disintegration—sequences that harbor a certain kind of joy. We’ve descended into night-scenes and rain, but the film closes in a day-lit room in white.

Didier’s lesson is one of letting go, of surrendering at key moments. Even so, The Broken Circle Breakdown settles into an acceptance and a celebration without turning up roses. But then, life is unresolved; the stories involve human beings. While we can write a synopsis in which the two protagonists are typed representational, the narrative is fairly muddied by human complexity nonetheless. The actors carry off self-possessed and memorable characters and they arrive at a decision of what they are able to abide in a relationship that is not only their own, but has their daughter ever in mind. Have those handkerchiefs ready. Listen and watch as they sing hymns amidst a disintegration of faith. The courage in the characters is marvelous. And, of course, there is the blue grass.

the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiNjfI_DR1w

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broken coverThe Broken Circle Breakdown (2012); Director Felix van Groeningen; based on the play “Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama” written by Johan Heldenbergh & Mieke Dobbels; adapted to screen by van Groeningen & Carl Joos, Charlotte Vandermeersch collaborating; Music by Bjorn Eriksson; Cinematography by Ruben Impens; Editing Nico Leunen; Produced by Dirk Impens, Arnold Helsenfeld, Laurette Schillings, Frans van Gestel, Rud Verzyck. Starring: Johan Heldenbergh (Didier/Monroe), Veerle Baetens (Elise/Alabama), & Nell Cattrysse (Maybelle).

Flemish w/ English subtitles; Running time: 111 minutes; No-rating, there is coarse language, sex, and nudity, plan accordingly.

{book} a legacy, a man, a company of men, and Ntozake Shange

30 days of pbDay Twenty-Nine: Ellington Was Not a Street

Written by Ntozake Shange

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Simon & Schuster for Young Readers [text: 1983] 2004

ellington2The narrative of Ellington Was Not a Street comes from Ntozake Shange’s poem “Mood Indigo” (from A Daughter’s Geography, 1983). The poem, excerpted for the picture book, is a reflection of and tribute to a legacy of African American innovator, a “company of men” “who changed the world.” It is a personal poem of a young Shange (nee Paulette Williams) whose home nurtured and was nurtured by this company of men.

Only such gorgeously wrought poem could withstand the company of Kadir Nelson’s illustrations. The images themselves (as Sean, an Artist, breathed “precise”) have a precision a poet, too, would recognize.

 

ellington celebrating-the-duke

You may want to read with some kind of liquid precision the first time through, caught in a rhythm of the words, but plan the time to linger again and again on an image, a deeply impactful moment Shange and Nelson have crafted. It took me a stretch of time to pull away from the cover, then from the portrait facing the title page (‘piano’ image above). I was drawn to circle

our house was filled with all kinda folks

our windows were not cement or steel

our doors opened like our daddy’s arms

held us safe & loved

As the narrative acknowledges the simultaneity of then and now, the illustrations move back and forth in time between the streetscape whether the narrator reminisces and her childhood home. Her home is quiet, interior, full of warm patterns. The street is busy with a different sort of liveliness, other textures that are met with rain. The narrator holds a red umbrella amongst the institutionalized black, a “Don’t Walk” sign flashing at the intersection.

Our narrator, she is small in the presence of the company, her and her brother, and she is small in this house (another of her surroundings), but she is without question present, never forgotten, and cherished (e.g. a man’s suit jacket draped over her as a blanket as she sleeps on the couch).

ellington fps-133397_2zThe images are real, not abstracted. The poem is hardly abstract, but an illustrator could have reinterpreted the narrative into something more ephemeral. The detail in the setting, the verisimilitude of the portrait, the inclusion of a group sitting for a ‘photograph,’ these establish the very real and tangible existence of the life/lives represented.

Ellington Was Not a Street includes two pages of biographies using excerpted images from the narrative, “More About a Few of the Men ‘Who Changed the World’:” (I will list them as the book does) : Paul Robeson, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois, Ray Barretto, Earlington Carl “Sonny Til” Tilghman, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, Virgil “Honey Bear” Akins, The Clovers.

The endpage at the close shares narrative the in its stanzaic form of “Mood Indigo.” Of course “Mood Indigo” is also a musical composition by Duke Ellington, so exquisitely observed on the vinyl held by our narrator on the cover: the record, an RCA Victor special of Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington and his famous orchestra. I have a YouTube option, undoubtedly a lesser quality, if you are interested.

Do I really have to say it? You really must find a copy of Ellington Was Not a Street.

ellington cover

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Ntozake_Shange,_Reid_Lecture,_Women_Issues_Luncheon,_Women's_Center,_November_1978

Ntozake Shange, Barnard College, Reid Lecture, November 1978 via Barnard College Archives

Poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams on October 18, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey. She earned a B.A. in American Studies from Barnard College in 1970, and then left New York to pursue graduate studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. It was during this time that she took the name “Ntozake” (“she who comes into her own things”) “Shange” (“she who walks like a lion”) from the Zulu dialect Xhosa. She received an M.A. in American Studies from USC in 1973. [...] She is the author of multiple children’s books and prose works, including Some Sing, Some Cry (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), If I Can Cook You Know God Can (1998), See No Evil: Prefaces, Essays & Accounts, 1976-1983 (1984), Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo: A Novel (1982), and The Black Book (1986, with Robert Mapplethorpe).

Kadir Nelson is an award-winning American artist whose works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Nelson earned a Bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. […] Nelson has also gained acclaim for the artwork he has contributed to several NYT Best-selling picture books including his authorial debut, “WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball”, winner of the Coretta Scott King and Robert F. Sibert Awards, and was published by Disney/Hyperion in the spring of 2008.

His corpus thus far is extensive: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (2011); Nelson Mandela (2012); He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (2005); Baby Bear (2014); Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit (2009); Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, words by Carole Boston Weatherford (2006)…. you can find listings here and here.

{images belong to Kadir Nelson, words to Ntozake Shange}