Feng Xiaogang’s ‘Youth’ celebrates how rich the narrative texture of Mainland Chinese cinema can be. How its stories can be as real and turbulent as its modern history. It sweeps through the lives of members of a Chinese military performance troupe from the 1970s to the 1990s in a whirl of grand, dramatic gestures. Based on novelist Yan Geling’s adaptation of her own novel – which in turn was based on the writer’s 13-year spell as a dancer in an arts troupe in the Chinese Army, Feng, who worked in a military arts group himself in his youth, seeks to remind modern audiences how those young soldiers from a seemingly more dogmatic era could be just as selfish, sexual, superficial and human as anyone their age in the here and now. And how fate can twist at the expense of the stained, even the faultless who are outcasts. But life goes on. By the third act, it appears this can be Feng’s most pessimistic film to date. Until the narrator offers some semblance of poetic justice from her insights. George Bernard Shaw may say youth is wasted on the young, but at the end of 2 hours and 26 minutes, audiences would have lived the full lives of the characters and savoured what it was like to be a part of that colourful Chinese history.
How many of us can say we know a world-class figure skater? After today, I think I can. After watching this seamless fusion of docu-drama, real-life drama and mocku-mentary, where characters constantly break through the fourth wall, where one of the biggest scandals in sporting history is turned on its head as a black comedy, I feel I know Tonya Harding personally. The opening credits states upfront it is ‘based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly’. It culminates in the 1994 knee-bashing of Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s Olympic skating teammate and rival, the ‘incident’ that made Harding the most notorious woman in sports. ‘I, Tonya’ shows her as the foul-mouth, chain-smoking outsider the sports world was not ready for. Try as she would, she could not separate her bold proud-to-be-a-red-neck image from her skating. Her mother, husband, his best friend, along with Harding herself, collectively became a skater career’s biggest enemy and worst nightmare. We see a train wreak unfolding, a disaster waiting to happen, complete with familial abuse, wife beating, and the wonky scheme to take down a sports rival going down in Olympics infamy. Working with an excellent cast, it is clear director Craig Gillespie is faced with a script in which the truth was irrefutably stranger than fiction. Which is why, while we find ourselves rooting for this white trash of a sportswoman, along with feeling a great sense of missed opportunity and wasted talent, we are made to laugh at and with the tragedy.
I watched All The Money In The World with expectations. Didn’t read any reviews but know they are generally glowing. Especially the performance of the last minute replacement, the 88 year-old Christopher Plummer. He takes on a major role, with only nine filming days, and delivers a detached, gallantly considered, and at times vulnerable oil tycoon John Paul Getty. Yet the detachment is not one with the ruthless coldness needed to drive home the film’s message, which is just how shockingly cold the human soul can be, with or without extreme wealth and power. The Kevin Spacey scenes might have been reshot but the whole film was not remade. So although he is physically not in the film, his presence jarringly is. Which is the problem. I think the ensemble cast play against a much nastier Getty than the one we see in Plummer. Ridley Scott says Spacey played Getty harder. From the House Of Cards, we know the actor can summon a coldness bothering on evil from within. The level of disgust in Michelle William’s performance which is shared later by Mark Wahlberg’s character feels like a disconnect. The movie left me cold. The detachment makes the characters unreal even though they are based on real people. I am looking forward to Danny Boyle’s Trust, FX’s new ten part TV series, also based on Getty and the kidnap of his grandson…
Have you ever wondered? Why and how for some movies, you are on the edge of your seat when you already know the outcome of the story, when it is retelling a piece of history. It comes down to great storytelling, the makings of a great film. I am talking about ‘The Post’. A movie in which three names synonymous with great filmmaking come together – Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks. Comparison to ‘All The President’s Men’ is inevitable and it will fall short. But it is as polished as any good old fashioned well-made film can be, turning an American story of history, journalism, politics into a tense thriller of how those things came together over a couple of fateful weeks in the summer of 1971. When The New York Times, followed by The Washington Post, published extensive excerpts from the top-secret Pentagon Papers – despite clear signs of certain defeat, the government continued sending young American soldiers to fight the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep, in a role that will probably win her another Oscar nomination, plays the publisher who has to make the final most precarious decision – can The Washington Post afford to print the story given the dire consequences? And can The Washington Post afford not to print it? Her decision became an iconic moment – the media reclaiming its own freedom to call out the excesses of power. This movie celebrates what that means, but it also takes you back to a time when the outcome was uncertain, and the freedoms we thought we took for granted hung in the balance. Just as they do today.
This morning, woke up automatically at the exact time I wanted to. Felt refreshed from a reasonably good sleep. Checked emails and messages. Finally got the replies I was waiting for. My helper was her usual jovial self. Taking the lift down, I heard footsteps and held it. My neighbour entered the lift and thanked me profusely. As he was leaving the lift, he smiled happily at me and almost shouted, Have a good day! Before turning into Avenue One, I stopped my car ahead of a guy reaching the zebra crossing. He was hesitant if I had stopped for him. When he realised I had, he hurriedly walked then ran and upon reaching the other side of the road, turned to acknowledged me. I nodded and drove off. If any morning qualifies as a good morning, this morning surely does. Every little thing adds up. Good morning. Have a good Friday.