Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty (2016) by David Frankel

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This is an unusual pick for me. I’m not what you would call a Will Smith fan, neither do I like to watch sad movies about grief, but I’ve been in love with Kate Winslet for almost 20 years, so… I guess it actually is not that unusual after all.

A short synopsis:

collateralbeauty5Howard (Will Smith) lost his little girl 2 years ago and he can’t get over her death. His friends and colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) are worried and hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to find out what he’s up to. She finds out that Howard writes letters to Death, Time, and Love.

Whit has the idea to hire actors to play Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore), and Love (Keira Knightley) to confront Howard. But Howard has already begun his way toward healing by joining a support group for grieving parents (Naomie Harris among others).

Considering the subject matter, one already knows that this is not a light-hearted film. Even the title seems to point to that fact. We have a man suffering severe depression and his friends can’t help him because he shuts them out and also off. And I, for one, felt shut off from him as well. I don’t get to know Howard, not in the beginning anyway. And that’s really strange for one to not get to know the protagonist of the film. Instead, I get to know Howard’s friends and their problems.

And this is, I feel, one of the problems of the film. While it seems to center around Howard CB09078.dngand his grief, this storyline is pushed to the sidelines in the beginning. While we know that Howard is hurting, we don’t really get to feel with him. We get to know Whit and the problems the advertising company he owns together with Howard has. We get to know Claire and Simon who have, of course, problems of their own. Then we meet the actors who’re supposed to stand in as these conceptual things Howard once cherished and now despises.

There’s a lot going on. Given, it is all very well acted, because… look at that cast! I got a total kick out of that scene at the theater with Kate and Helen and Keira and the three dudes (sorry, but that’s how I experienced it, having three great actresses I admire talk to each other in one scene… heaven!). But it’s still part of the reason the movie could barely reach me: too many cooks, too many stories, too little time.

Howard’s story almost completely plays out between him and Naomie Harris’ character Madeleine. And those are beautiful, well-acted scenes as well, but it’s hard to focus on their grief. It seems like the film’s makers run circles around their subject matter to not make the film about grief, while one of their characters is dying, while one’s afraid of losing love and another might never find it. I think they mean to make it a generational piece, something profound about life and how it goes on, how death is part of it as much as time and love… but the movie wants too much and becomes an indecipherable adding of brilliantly acted scenes that fall short of actually telling a story.

collateralbeauty7Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes which touch you, which amuse you, which tell you something about life, but then you’re taken from it into another scene that doesn’t add up. The big reveals of the film are none because you see them coming a mile away. Nothing suprised me because the film only flirts with big life issues, but doesn’t deliver. Instead, we get old Hollywood clichés.

The film wasn’t abysmal, not with that kind of cast. But I found watching it a very unsatisfactory experience. Whether it was the writing, the directing, or maybe even the editing (all three?) – the film just doesn’t add up to an emotional challenging story. Disappointing.

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Insurgent (3D)

Insurgent (2015) by Robert Schwentke

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I must confess that I gave up on the books 200 pages into the second volume. It all turned too much into some sort of Twilight with Four becoming more important than Tris. I hate when that happens and I’m still in awe of Suzanne Collins and the way she developed Katniss Everdeen into a real person instead of just arm candy for Peeta.

insurgent1Given, Insurgent doesn’t quite give me the same feeling, but it disappointed on another level – a level it shares with the book, no doubt. The plot is… still no more convincing. It actually got a little weirder and wilder and not in a good way.

Okay, let’s get back to what happens for a second:

Tris (Shailene Woodley), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Four (Theo James) hide out with the Amity but are out of luck as the Dauntless are still hot on their heels. They are being found out and are just barely able to escape – back into the city. Tris’ only thought is that of revenge on Jeanine (Kate Winslet), Four is tumbling into a Family reunion with his abandoning mother (Naomi Watts), and Caleb leaves the two to follow his own beliefs. They bring him back to Erudite where he and Tris meet again when Jeanine insurgent3threatens to kill people if Tris does not surrender. She does and is forced to use her divergent powers to open a secret box that promises to either make things even worse or bring salvation to those hunted.

It’s a fast-paced movie with a lot of action and little time to ponder what is actually happening. Which is probably a good thing because not all of it is making sense. I find the big reveal quite questionable, probably because I never understood the faction-system to begin with. Or rather, I didn’t be lieve in its functionality, neither as  political system or as plausible post-apocalyptic basis for a plot. Well, I shouldn’t have worried, it’s just a smoke Screen. But what is revealed instead doesn’t make it any better, unfortunately.

insurgent2The movie is not all bad. But most of its story just doesn’t work for me. What still does and will always work, of course, is Kate Winslet. I love her portrait of evil Jeanine and am only sad that it’s come to an end now. I’ll miss her – or maybe I won’t depending on whether I’ll watch Allegiant.

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Divergent

 

Divergent (2014) by Neil Burger

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Let me start by saying: I haven’t read the books (yet). They’re somewhere on that long list of want-to-read books I hope to get to in the future and watching the movie certainly pushed them up quite a bit.

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I’m intrigued by the concept of the story. But I’m also a little confused. Let’s look at the plot:

In a not too distant future in post-war Chicago, society is being sorted into five factions. When Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is tested for the special virtue that will decide which faction she might best fit in, she finds out that she’s divergent – she possesses multiple virtues which means she might not fit in anywhere.

Divergents are considered dangerous in the society she lives in and changes within the government lead to the systematic prosecution of divergents. Beatrice must learn to hide in her chosen faction to avoid detection. But hiding ceases to be an option when her parents’ faction becomes the target of a vicious attack.

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I guess it’s a little like getting into Hogwarts and being sorted into houses by virtue but then, of course, it’s not like the Harry Potter-series at all. There’s no magic, there’s technology. Nobody has a super power and having multiple virtues can actually paralyze the bearer.

As I said, the concept is certainly intriguing, but having only watched the movie, I feel that it was not able to convey the layers of the complex social system that lies beneath the story – at least I hope that something like this exists in the books.  Thus the movie left me a little restless to find out more – which is not bad in itself, it just makes the movie a bit dissatisfying.

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Something that cannot be said about the acting. To be sure, I watched the movie because of Kate Winslet. She is a singular reason that never fails to attract me and she’s amazing, and amazingly evil. I love her character, I love how she protrays her – and I love that I can usually trust Kate to star in watchable movies that rarely disappoint. The star of the movie, Shailene Woodley, doesn’t either. She’s vibrant, she’s a good actress, and it’s actually a little disconcerting how much she reminds me of a younger Kate Winslet. It was good to see Ashley Judd again – even in a rather small role, she certainly made an impression. The same goes for Zoe Kravitz and Mekhi Phifer.

I liked this movie, and not just because of the great casting choices. It’s interesting, smart, has great pacing. Beside the fact that I felt a little left out of the loop where background was concerned (I’m aware that the medium does not allow for delving into it too much or the pace would suffer), I feel that I could have done with less of the love story between Tris (Beatrice changes her name to Tris after chosing a new faction) and Four (Theo James). Some of the dialogue in these scenes was also rather corny. But apart from that it’s certainy watchable and I’m looking forward to reading the books and then (maybe) come back for the second film of the series.

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This Kiss, this Kiss

So, over at Afterellen.com people are a-voting the best lesbian kiss in entertainment. Flipping through all the pix and amazingly wonderful characters that have also formed some of my most memorable tv and movie moments (I am not that much of a comic-fan), I not only voted my favorites I also thought about the kisses that I missed there, or the kisses that were especially important to me.

Yeah, I know, not really lesbian that one. But it actually was the thing that made me watch the show because it was the first thing I saw and I didn’t know that it was not a lesbian kiss. It ran hot and cold up and down my spine, and I mainly watched the next episode because I hoped it would be explained to me – both my reaction to a seemingly lesbian kiss and the kiss itself and whether it really was between two women… well, what can I say, I was 18 and a babe in the woods. But this kiss changed my life. It did not make me a lesbian, I also did not discover that I was one but it made me watch Xena: Warrior Princess. If nothing else, it made a fan-grrrl out of me. And I am eternally grateful for that.

I would say that the first lesbian kiss I remember seeing – it could be the first I saw but with all the stuff I saw on tv it’s rather unlikely that it really was – was the one between Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures. The film fascinated me on an obsessive level (not because I saw girls kissing, more because I saw girls killing), I became a heavenly creature (I did not kill anyone but to this day I am convinced there is a fourth dimension… I hope it’s where I go when I die – to spent eternity with Kate Winslet, mostly). The lesbianism in it is disturbing on more than one level (one of these levels is Freudian), it is distructive and clichéed and if you tell me you hate the movie because of it – that’s your prerogative. Still, it was important to me – these two girls made sense to me, their love, their friendship, yes, their madness, too. Let’s face it, sometimes it is maddening to be different, and I certainly knew how that felt.

Tara and Willow. It is strange because I must have actually missed their first kiss. I do know that I did not see every episode of season 5 – because it bored me to pieces. Since I have just watched the whole show (including season 7 which I have not watched before, so now at least I can rightfully jump onto the I-hate-Kennedy-bandwagon), I actually discovered that most of the things I thought happened in season 5 actually happened in season 4 – I must have completely zoned out when 5 was on. I remembered Tara getting brain-slurped by Glory and Buffy jumping to her death, that’s it. But it also held that marvellously disturbing kissing scene when Willow prepares for Joyce’s funeral. Very sensual if your girlfriend sobs into your face, snot and tears running everywhere, very classy. Okay, this was not one of the important kisses – as I said, I didn’t even remember it – but rewatching it, it makes sense: OMG, Willow and Tara-shippers want them to kiss! What are we gonna do?! I know… let them make out during a marvellously traumatic storyline… when someone died or something. We can sell it as a comfort scene, nobody will be the wiser – and thus it was done… RMB when creators of shows had to come up with rediculous storylines like that just to put in a lesbian kiss – crazypants.

But, of course, then there was that massive making-out/having sex scene just before they killed Tara off… putting it like this is not really giving this scene enough credit. But it was wonderfully acted out by both actresses (Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson). It was important – and they kinda killed the importance along with Tara, implicating that evil lesbians must die and all that crap.

But let’s face it, if it wasn’t for these two and Xena and Gabrielle, Emily and Maya (and Emily and Paige and Emily and Somara) would probably not have happened – not in the way we can see them nowadays.

And kissing is so important, too. I mean, who doesn’t remember last Xmas when twitter was all aglow with lesbian rage when some writer of Glee actually insisted that Brittana had kissed… oh yeah, that kiss! What?! No, they never did. And they didn’t and now they have. I guess, you could say that the Glee-powers handled this badly. They told us these two had sex, these two were casual and then they gave them a lesbian story line and it all ended up being about THE KISS… The ultimate scene was well-handled, refusing to give THE KISS a big, dramatic moment with violins playing in the background. It made fun of the whole discussion surrounding it and then gave us the little peck that was the introduction to the Valentine’s kissing concert that was mostly well-acted by Naya Rivera and Heather Morris.

A kiss is still a kiss – but this one blew every other kiss right out of the water. And I guess it will win since Glee seems to take all the awards these days. Is it my winner? No. I am way beyond my teenage years and it would probably have rocked my world if I had seen it when I was a teenager. I liked it but my favorites are these:

Because these days, it’s all about them… and even months after All My Children ended I am still rewatching Minx-vids.

This movie always depresses me – I cannot fathom how real it feels to me and how lonely I feel when it is over… but I keep rewatching it because it also makes me incredibly, stupidly happy. Just believing there is love like that – yeah, and that kiss.

And, of course, this (yeah, yeah, I know, not an actual kiss, just life-saving measures… but ROC sure got into it pretty good):

Just dropping a note: Contagion

Contagion (2011) by Steven Soderbergh

The one thing everybody agrees on about Contagion is that it has a great cast. In Jane Austen-speech this mean: Lizzy Bennett, Marianne Dashwood, and Emma Woodhouse in one movie – for non Austen-speaker: Jen Ehle, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow. Adding to these actresses we have Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, and Jude Law. Who wouldn’t wanna watch? And let’s not forget that Steven Soderbergh directed.

But does a great cast a good movie make? Well, it doesn’t make a bad movie, that’s for sure. It has a solid story, of which I think Jude Law’s character was the most surprising. But there was nothing we haven’t seen already – including the fact that Kate’s character dies and that is always traumatic and I wish they wouldn’t do that.

Also, I think in a world where we have all these awful diseases, do we really need Hollywood to invent just one other? Somehow I thought Outbreak was much better and even Quiet Killer – a tv movie from 1992 starring Kate Jackson – had more appeal. I am not even sure why that is. The trailer looked good but maybe there is just not more to tell about diseases and outbreaks. And not even a cast of superstars can change that.

One word about Jen Ehle because she was probably the least known actress among all these big names: she was amazing and she is the hero within the film. And if you haven’t seen her in Pride and Prejudice – the 1995 BBC version -, do. She’s a brilliant Eliza Bennett – and in everything else she’s done…

And the Oscar goes to…

I remember a time when the Oscars were not available for every movie lover to watch – in Germany, that is. And so, I always try to watch it which is not as easy as it sounds since I do not own a tv set and I do not even have internet at the moment. So, I watched it over at my sister’s and we actually made our bets and saw some surprises unfold – and Kate Winslet (which is for some – so as not to say for me – the best part of the evening). [Just to make it clear: she did not unfold herself, the surprises did. She was there and it is no coincidence that there is no “just” in this sentence.]

I personally like the red carpet pre-show a lot. That is, I used to like it a lot, now people are just rushing from one reporter to the next and there are more people pushing stars around than actual stars to ask questions, and these organizing people are quite pushy! But there were sights to be seen none the less, everybody was beautiful and nice (though Sandra Bullock seemed a little tight, didn’t she —- I guess that was just her nervousness, well-deserved nervousness). Kate looked stunning, then again that is a given since we’re talking about Kate. George Clooney, though, was the coolest because instead of talking to reporters he went to the other side of the carpet and signed autographs for the fans there. Well done!

Then the Oscars began and Neil Patrick Harris sang a song. For my part, every award show could start with Neil Patrick Harris singing, loved it. And it makes the whole event a little gay-friendly to start with and that can’t be wrong. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted and they were very well matched.

Okay, since I do not want to reminisce the whole thing word by word, here are the highlights (highlights for me are not necessarily highlights for everybody else but sometimes I coincidentally match the opinion of everybody else. Strange, how that happens, really.). Kate Winslet. The jokes about Meryl Streep were hilarious. I think by now she should be put on the list of nominees even if she had not made a movie (like that will ever happen!). Just because she is Meryl Streep and she is always at the Oscars and always good-humored and fun to watch. I would not want to watch an Oscar-show without her. When is she hosting, already? Then again, only people who are not nominated are hosting — fat chance of that ever happening to Meryl.

I cheered for Mo’nique a lot. Once, because I had actually seen the movie she was in and because she was so good in it. And because she was right in her speech to say that a lot of times Hollywood (and therefore the Oscars) is about politics. And as far as I remember she was the only African American who won at the awards who mentioned Hattie McDaniel in her speech. When Halle Berry won her Oscar for “Monster’s Ball” she seemed to have forgotten that there had been an African American woman who had ever won an Oscar before her, not to mention that it happened 1939. Which reminds me of a question on of you might be able to answer: Since “Gone With The Wind” premiered in Atlanta (which means, the South), did Hattie McDaniel sit among the white audience? Was she there at all?

A lot of the movies that were nominated had not even been shown in Germany. For example, “The Blind Side.” I have only watched two of the nominated movies so far: “Precious” and “Inglorious Basterds.” I liked them both and was happy for Christoph Waltz to have won the Oscar for his role as Nazi. I guess, it still holds true that Austrians are the better Nazis, there still has to be a German one to win anything. Yeah, I know… But let me tell you, the experience of watching “Inglorious Basterds” as a German is a little different from watching it anywhere else in the world.

I was a little confused about where Tina Fey went. She was interviewed on the red carpet with Steve Carrell and they were supposed to present together and suddenly Cameron Diaz stood beside Carrell when presenting. Where did Tina Fey go? Did she have such a good time sharing jokes with Baldwin and Martin behind the scenes that she forgot to come on? Did she walk ascend or descend one of those dangerous looking stairs and fall and break a leg/a neck? Will we ever know? Whatever happened I hope someone has secured the crime scene.

Sandra Bullock held a great acceptance speech. She is at least the second leading actress in a row to mention Meryl Streep in her speech. While last year Kate told Meryl to “suck it up,” Sandra dwelled on the kiss she shared with Streep at another award show and finally called her her lover. Uhhhhhh…. Nice one, Sandy.

Barbra Streisand presented “Best Directing” and I was reminded of the Preliminaries of the Democrat Party in 2008 when Bee told us that it could be the first time a female director could win or an African American. Well, we know how those Preliminaries went, it was just the other way around at the Oscars. The woman won. And I was wrong once again, because this time I had my money on the African American. More precisely: Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” Lee Daniels did not win for “Precious.” I think, it is a little sad, that these things have to be accentuated so much. But Hollywood IS a sexist and a racist place… and the Oscars are a good place to accentuate it. So much for a non-politcal Academy Awards show.

I cannot think of anything else that I would refer to as a highlight. The dancers were cool, though. Great performance!

Sean Penn looked a little bit worse for wear – maybe that was just my impression. And I for one do not like it when some people are too uppity to sit in the audience during the show but present an Oscar – like Tom Hanks and Barbra Streisand. Usually, I would not criticize Barbra (I am a really huge fan!) but… I don’t know – it feels like some people are better than others. I mean, we already know that the Oscars is a class act, actors/actresses are sorted into A-, B-, C- and other Lists. But this sort of thing leaves one wondering if there wasn’t something like a super-A-List. And I don’t know about you but for many of those people on that list I would not even buy a ticket (i.e. Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson [if he is still on that list], Tom Hanks – I am sure, there are women I would not buy a ticket for but Bee is not one of them, then again, are there women on that list beside Barbra?).

Well, it was a nice show. And I am actually grateful that “Avatar” did not get too many Oscars. The movie is huge and everybody knows it. It’s important to make other movies that do not get the same attention (especially worldwide) known to a bigger audience.

One word to Kate Winslet: I am obsessed with her, it’s true. If I was stalker material she would have had one since 1998, luckily for her, I much rather sit in front of a screen than in a tree looking into other people’s bedrooms (has anyone of you ever considered the close link between Paparazzi and stalker? Do.). She looks more stunning everytime I see her – and especially at the Oscars. And there are not many people who can pull off telling Meryl Streep to “suck it up” but she did and I lover her the more for it. To me, Kate Winslet is the ideal, the perfect woman, my muse.