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The Heart Is a Lonely Fighter: Bogowie

Every now and then I let a trailer or a word of mouth for a Polish movie fool me into going to the cinema. Every time I leave telling myself: “nevermore.” Nevermore shall I be so naïve as to fall for hype only to leave disgusted (and slightly glad that  my firm belief in the suckiness of Polish cinema still holds true because we like our beliefs to turn out right, don’t we).

Well, the day to eat my words, and gladly, finally came. Bogowie (Gods) interested me with its trailer but I still expected to be heavily disappointed. Then I heard enthusiastic reviews and I thought “ugh, people are always so easy to please.” And then I saw the film.

Bogowie is the story of Zbigniew Religa, a legendary heart surgeon who carried out the first successful heart transplant in Poland when everybody considered it an unnecessary and unethical risk. I’m simplifying, Google it or watch the movie if you’re interested in the history. But even if you’re not, watch the movie because it’s damn brilliant where it has no right to be, proving me wrong. I hate medical dramas, their predictability, sentimentality and how genuinely scary they are but this film kept me engrossed and not grossed out (despite the very realistic – or at least bloody, I’m not a heart surgeon, as I’m sure you’re aware – depiction of operations on hearts). I think I ate a half of my scarf out of sheer suspense.

And here go even more reasons to watch the movie:

Actors. A wonderful lead in the person of Tomasz Kot with strong supporting cast. They create characters which are both realistic and likeable.

Tone. Despite the fact that the subject matter seems to invite sentimentality, pathos and gloom, the movie avoids all of this almost entirely (well, it retains the necessary amount, I guess). It’s dynamic, sometimes humorous and quite exciting. It is also, all in all, a very positive story which manages not to become hagiographic.

Interiors. The drab interiors of Polish apartments and public places of the 80s come to life. The movie is, in fact, a very good period drama.

It makes me really happy that Bogowie managed to revive my faith in Polish cinematography and I can try to look at the awfulness and cheerlessness of an average Polish movie as merely a failure and not a given.

 

 

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Rotten Tomatoes

Girl out of Water: Fish Tank

er-fishtankYesterday, rather uncharacteristically I watched a movie without superheroes. Every now and then I will watch a gritty social drama about growing up in a worse district of a generally nice place, ever since Fucking Åmål enchanted me many years ago. My newest addition to this collection is British Fish Tank about Mia, a dancer wannabe from a more or less pathological family and the relationship she develops with her mother’s boyfriend. Of course, to make matters sufficiently gritty, Mia is fifteen and the boyfriend’s approach degenerates from paternal to decisively different.

The movie excels in the acting department. Michael Fassbender as the boyfriend manages to be both repulsive and intriguing. Obviously, he’s got the charisma (and, let’s face it, the looks) to make a viewer sympathetic where another actor would only come off as a predatory creep. I’m still not sure if that’s all Connor was or if he started as well-meaning and lost control later on. (Side note: never ever do I accept the explanation that sex is something that just happens and so dirty particulars can be excused; my uncertainty is about how much his actions were premeditated, not whether they were innocent because they obviously weren’t.)

Katie Jarvis as Mia also deserves praise for how she mixes strength with vulnerability. You can’t exactly like her but you can’t help wanting her to find luck in the end. She’s also wonderfully real, with her unflattering hairdo and far-from-perfect dance moves. Finally, the supporting actors are pretty great: the mother suffering from arrested development and male-dependency (not to mention other dependencies) and the little sister, already fated to repeat the same mistakes. Even though written more or less as clichés, they manage to appear human.

While actors work overtime to make this movie memorable, writing proves a little weaker. The movie is terribly predictable. From the array of characters you know the outline of what will happen. There are points in the story where it could take a different route but it simply doesn’t. The only thing that surprised me, and this gives the movie at least a star more in my assessment, was restraint when it came to violence. For instance, I was groaning internally – spoiler alert – expecting the little girl to drown, especially after the movie made sure we knew Mia couldn’t swim. What happened next was the only surprise of the movie and I really liked it.

Subtlety is also sorely missing when it comes to symbolism: what with the dead horse, and the fish eaten by the dog and especially the escaping balloon at the end… But I’ve come to expect that from Bildungs…films, I guess. It was still not nearly as bad as in a certain Polish film where a boy made carton angel wings for the girl he liked. Well, that’s not what teenagers did centuries ago when I was one.

All in all, Fish Tank might not make it to the top of my favorite movies but for a two-hour-long film without any spandex in it, it proved interesting and thought-provoking and made me appreciate Fassbender’s skills yet a little more.

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Rotten Tomatoes

Of Space Cowboys and Agents

It’s Friday procrastination time! I’m working on an illustration and intending to work on other exciting things (like a list of files! the thrill!) so I took a short break to post about something that could take a longer post some day, or a couple of those. Today it’s just a glimpse though. So. Let’s talk about Joss Whedon.

I’m a Joss Whedon fan with reservations. To give you a better idea about these reservations, here’s a hierarchy of his work that I’ve seen, from what I find great to the not-so-great.

  1. Firefly (and Serenity) is pretty much a perfect gem: maybe because it was cut too short with no time to ruin it with puppet shows (I’m speaking of you, Angel). I will for sure write more about it once we re-watch it again.
  2. Angel was actually my first insight into the Whedonverse (yes, I just used this word). Of course, I knew Buffy existed but I thought it kind of stupid. I glimpsed an episode of Angel by accident and got sucked into obsequious fandom for years: it was only the fifth season that freed me (puppet shows…). I’m not sure I could actually re-watch all of Angel now but I used to list it as my favorite show for so long and I simply loved the writing.
  3. The Amazing X-men (the comic), one of better things in the X-men franchise, of which I’m disturbingly well-aware. Unlike many other writers, Whedon actually played with the personalities of the characters. I didn’t even mind the aliens.
  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, good show once you accept its style but ran too long getting into all sorts of hurdles (worst of all: Riley). (I also saw the movie but refrain from grading it. It did have Luke Perry though and back then I still thought it a good thing.)
  5. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s a potential gem – what with combining Marvel universe with Whedon – but only started realizing a fraction of that potential towards the end of the first season. It could have better banter and more interesting characters but it’s slowly getting there, I hope.
  6. The Avengers disappointed me. Unlike most other fans, I guess, I felt there was too much action and too little character build-up. It was passable entertainment but I’d expected it to be so much more.
  7. Dollhouse, also known as Whedonloo (okay, I did not just do that). I waited and waited for that show because it couldn’t possibly be bad after Buffy and Firefly but guess what, it was. I gave up after the second episode of the second season so I don’t know if it got any better but I’m guessing not much. A disappointment unless you’re a stalker-level fan of Dushku.

So there goes my surely-divisive list of Whedon creations. I know there are a few other things, including a Shakespeare movie (they will let Whedon do anything these days, won’t they?) but I’ve yet to watch those.

Aaaand back to work.

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Rotten Tomatoes

Bloody True Love

er-truebloodThis is going to be a love story and like the best of them it’s filled with delight and excitement, as well as frustration and disappointment. It ended last Sunday when HBO showed the last episode of True Blood after seven extremely uneven seasons.

I watch a lot of TV, good and bad, and sometimes I get too invested in TV shows but that first season of True Blood was absolutely magical: it got me hooked immediately and kept me up at night, watching episode after episode, completely immersed in the story of Sookie and vampire Bill. I came into it unprepared, only vaguely aware that it had vampires and maybe expecting something like Buffy but certainly not ready to fall head over heels for the atmosphere, the colors, the characters and the accents. I was transfixed; the gritty opening credits felt like the new TV quality that it actually was. I recommended the show to some people and was appalled if they didn’t see the beauty of Bon Temps.

I know some people were already disappointed with season two but I still had my Louisiana-swamp-colored glasses on and I thoroughly enjoyed at least the half of it which had anything to do with vampires. In fact, I think the Dallas storyline was one of the most exciting for me, back when things were mysterious but promised to make sense one day. It was that magical time when you have absolute trust. The second part of the season, about the maenad didn’t make that much sense and didn’t really fit in with the Dallas half but when you love, you forgive little things that make no sense.

But then season three came and I began to worry: what happened to our beautiful friendship, True Blood? What did you go and add sexually-predatory white-trash girl-werepanthers for? What the hell were you thinking with those pointless werewolves? There were still good moments so I strove to ignore the bad ones: Russell was awesome and there was more Eric. But the seed of discontent was planted and grew and already you could see it would become a damn shady tree with all the unnecessary disjoint storylines.

By season four I settled into disgruntlement. I kept watching because you don’t just give up on love even if it leaves dirty socks on the floor or, more to the point, adds new ridiculous characters instead of doing something with the good old ones. Things continued pretty much the same as in season three, without saving graces and with Sam still not dead. Plus, there was the horrid opening scene in fairyland, which at first I couldn’t believe. Still, the witches’ storyline, disappointing as it was, organized most of the season and was at least related to vampires.

But when season five happened, it felt as if I was allowing someone to repeatedly hit me on the head and pretended to like it. I still don’t know why I watched all of season five because I hated pretty much everything about it: I guess it must have been what Jason Stackhouse calls “stockholder’s syndrome.” I hated how every storyline started and ended out of the blue. How the big bad was someone who only appeared in one scene. How they never got rid of the damn-awful Sam, no matter how useless he got. The ifrit storyline, oh hell, the ifrit storyline. And, worst of all, they finally got to show vampire politics – something I longed for since Nancy Flanagan appeared in season one – and made it the most ludicrous, horrid and boring storyline one could imagine. Oh yes, and there was Lilith, too. I hit rock-bottom with that season and honestly promised myself I was done. I wasn’t going to touch the next season. Good riddance, True Blood, you’ve worn me thin.

And then Alan Ball left the show, after running it completely to the ground and I thought: screw it. Let’s see what they will do with this show, now that they certainly can’t make it any worse. Ani DiFranco said: “They say that alcoholics are always alcoholics / Even when they’re as dry as my lips for years / Even when they’re stranded on a small desert island / With no place within two thousand miles to buy beer.” Well, I’m not an alcoholic. But there I was, watching season six.

And hey, I was right: they didn’t make it any worse. In fact, the whole season was a heroic attempt by new show-runners to eradicate some of the worst mistakes of the previous horrible seasons, most importantly limiting the story to one main vampire-centered storyline. It was heartwarming to watch how the writers eliminated one useless character after another (but Sam still lingered, damn it) and struggled to make the vampire mythology interesting again after the Lilith nonsense and without giving everyone amnesia so that they could say the previous three years didn’t happen. Well, it wasn’t nowhere near as good as even season two but I still hadn’t believed it possible for them to get out of everything that happened and make a story that I would care for again. I felt that the new show-runners were kindred spirits: people who also loved the first seasons and wondered how the hell to return to what was once good about this show. (I guess they were in it for money but I’ll cling to my romantic notions.)

So I was firmly on board for the final season. Everyone knew it was the last one and I appreciated the chance to say goodbye, without any illusions anymore. And it was a decent season, once you shed most expectations. Now, I know people hated the finale. People who expected explosions, car chases and zombies found it boring and useless. But for me, and I’m sure for other fans who had a similarly unhealthy relationship to the show, it was a good closure. It made the courageous decision to stop trying to outrun itself and slow down enough to send off the characters gracefully. It ended on a peaceful note and I appreciate that.

So even though you stole hours of my life, True Blood, you treated me like a fool, screamed at me and refused to make sense, I will remember the good things: Sookie’s spunk, Eric’s meaningful looks, Jason’s lines, everything about Pam, and Jessica’s insane eyelashes.

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Legos Are Awesome: The Lego Movie

er-thelegomovieIf you think liking Lego bricks past the age of twelve is embarrassing, please be done with this post lest your opinion of me is irrevocably damaged, thank you.

For the rest of you: yes, I find Lego bricks one of those things you’re lucky not to grow out of and I know more such people. And four of us, all serious adults, went to see The Lego Movie without even taking neighbors’ kid for cover and unselfconsciously enjoyed it a lot.

To me the greatest attraction of the movie is visual: how the whole world is built from well-known, recognizable pieces. The first time we saw it done were Lego video games (full geek alert, we loved those, too): Harry Potter and Marvel Superheroes and, really, it shouldn’t be as thrilling as it is to recognize brick models remembered from childhood used as parts of, for instance, Hogwarts scenery. A clever, funny idea, like using coffee mugs for helmet elements, always surprises you and makes you smile. The movie works in the same way and we still enjoyed it a lot, especially that it can use so many more kinds of scenery than the games. Allegedly, were you a millionaire, you could build all the sets from actual bricks. The creators of the movie also drew inspiration from those fan-made stop-motion Lego shorts, which shows e.g. in sea scenes. Even though the movie is not stop-motion (because if it were the world would have to end from too much awesomeness), it often feels like it with the attention to textures and detail: such as bite marks on the bricks. The hardest thing to 3D-animate always seem to be human beings and The Lego Movie didn’t have that to deal with, but it feels like they took all the resources they would normally use for animating humans and used them to make the brick world feel tangible. It also reminded me a lot of an earlier animation, Wreck-It Ralph, which uses old video game imagery for building its world. This kind of visual game of reassembling the whole world (get it?) of something well-known really speaks to my designery soul.

With so much visual candy you hardly need a plot but you still get one. It’s not all that surprising but both you and that neighbors’ kid will enjoy it. It’s about Emmett, a regular construction figurine, who gets himself involved in an adventure, blah blah hero quest, blah blah shooting and car chases, blah blah happy ending. But while the grand message is obvious (believe in yourself, be loyal to your friends and you’re a special snowflake just like that guy next to you), I liked the anti-corporate jabs that abound especially at the beginning. In Emmett’s everyday world you need to follow instructions, buy overpriced coffee and enjoy the same TV show every day. This was a little more surprising, and more glum, than one would expect from this kind of movie – or, you know, a movie that only grand corporations with their money could ever produce.

Anyway, The Lego Movie quickly rose among the ranks of my favorite animated movies (up there with Tangled, Ratatouille and a few others) and I’m sure I’ll re-watch it, at least just to gorge on the background details I didn’t catch the first time.

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