Some film reviews

Since sleep eludes me, this is my recently watched and rewatched list. Minor spoilers I guess.

Martin Eden – The New Yorker read like the reviewer hated this award winning film because of its props (at least that’s my understanding), while Vulture called it the film of the year. I feel too close to some of it, and too remote to other bits to form a coherent opinion. It’s based on the Jack London work of the same name but set in Italy at an unspecified but distant time and it’s both art house and dramatic. The titular Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) is attractive and unlikeable. He’s a character you want to see succeed, sort of. As a writer, as someone who feels like an outsider, I am supposed to be…on his side, but…. I’m so used to US cinema heroism that characters of nuance, with changing political allegiances, leave me more narratively satisfied but less able to parse it. Also there’s a pandemic and I’m tired. But excuses aside, Eden is violent, considered subversive by differing political and social classes, and acts like an arsehole to almost everyone: people who want to help him as well as towards people who hate him, and yet…I kinda get it. He can’t work in jobs with people who despise him if he wants to learn his chosen craft and the wrong kind of attention means he might not eat. Meanwhile, the barriers of class and education create a surreal feeling that Eden is living in a raw 20th century, while Elena dwells in a privileged, coddled, sheltered 19th. On the other hand, it’s a dose of reality in that a writer is represented as both generous and awful, and doesn’t deserve worship, even if his writing might. The fact our main character realises he’ll never fit anywhere as a writer/hooligan/sailor, and the fact few around him understand this, is the point. Maria, my favourite character, redeems Eden a bit. Anyway, no poor kid goes from Steve Rogers to Captain Italia here, and for that I am thankful.

The ST ALi Palace Italian Film Festival continues until October 28 if you want to catch it streaming in Australia.

Life, Itself – The first chapter of this film is clever in a scriptwriter-self reflexive way, but it’s also remarkable, and difficult; the second and third chapters are less perfect, and the final chapter is too cloyingly self absorbed, because it reasons “previous suffering resulted in me therefore it was worth it.” The author at the conclusion of this film is more unlikeable for her smugness at existing than Martin Eden’s troubled scrittore, but the first bit saves it overall. Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, and Annette Bening are good.

Navigator: a mediaeval odyssey. A re-watch of one of my favourite New Zealand films, and apt amid a pandemic and a travel bubble crisis. Anyway, a bunch of desperate 1300s Cumbrian villagers put their trust in a boy with visions to save them from the plague. While his dreams get them to 1980s Aotearoa, there is a cost.

The Promise – Another Oscar Isaac film. Yes, I know, I’m hosting my own Oscar Isaac film festival. Anyway, I knew what this film was about before I started to watch it, so I timed the viewing with when I felt ready, and even then I wasn’t. True, the narrative is about a love triangle, friendship, tradition, family, difficult choices, and freedom, but it’s also about war, nationalism, and prejudice and genocide that to this day is barely recognised. Watch this film, when you can.

Birds of Prey – Not going to lie, I haven’t finished the fantabulous whatever of Harley Quinn. Mainly because I got bored. It’s not Margot Robbie’s fault, as she’s responsible for some creative violence, or the soundtrack. It’s just too much, too many characters, too much back story and not enough story and the emancipation thing doesn’t feel particularly emancipatory. But she’s right, no one can be like her, or even relate to her, because they haven’t lived her cartoon Commedia Dell’Arte┬álife and that’s part of the problem.

Far From the Madding Crowd Ok, the inciting incident for Gabriel Oak was upsetting for this former farm girl. But once over that hurdle, I was in. Carey Mulligan’s Bathsheeba Everdeen is clever, hardworking, and a tad unlikeable because she’s headstrong when she should listen, and impetuous when she should pause. I see why Thomas Hardy wanted a happy ending for her, though the film differs from the novel in a couple of plot points. Everdeen’s suitors are suitable and the fact she takes so long to realise which one she loves is not about them as much as what she needs to learn to be worthy of him. Yes, it is 19th Century Farmer Wants a Husband (who is not obsessive or in love with someone else) and the denouement is perfect.

side note

I have realised my film watching has been slightly and accidently sheep-centric recently. Yearning for childhood times? When chores included baking for shearers, cobolting herds, and that one time I had to paint the entire timber interior of the shearing shed with oil like I was the Karate Kid, for reasons that escape me. Yeah, nah.

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