1. Talaash (Reema Kagti, 2012)
2. Siesta (Mary Lambert, 1987) (re-watch)
3. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (Cathy Yan, 2020) (cinema)
4-5. Star Trek: Picard
3 episodes 44+43+42=129 minutes
a) Episode 1 "Remembrance" (Hanelle M. Culpepper, 2020)
b) Episode 2 "Maps and Legends" (Hanelle M. Culpepper, 2020)
c) Episode 3 "The End is the Beginning" (Hanelle M. Culpepper, 2020)[/spoiler]
I've been on a *little* Star Trek kick for a few months; have gone through the first few episodes of the original series and caught a few Next Gen as well. I can't say I've ever been anything close to a serious fan - I've probably seen every episode of the first series, and maybe a third of Next Gen, a scattering from some of the later series, and all the films - but I do like the concept and I guess I'm more interested now than in the past because I feel the increasing need for a more optimistic view of the future than what we tend to get in modern SF - or in the modern world frankly. And I knew that this show would be more influenced by the J.J. Abrams reboots, and the more recent "Enterprise" series than the old stuff - and thus more trendily "dark" and "intense" and action-packed, but what the hell I figured I'd give it a shot.
And well, it lives down to my expectations so far. Unpleasant, bloody, profane - I don't necessarily mind these elements in SF or anything else, but does every science fiction or fantasy show or movie now have to have them? Does everything have to resemble, say, Game of Thrones
or the Battlestar Galactica
reboot in emphasizing all the unpleasant elements of the fantastic worlds, and that people are all basically terrible? I sound like an old man I guess - I'm just saying that there ought to be some place for something a little less mean about the world, and Star Trek
was that exception for a long time, probably up through Deep Space 9
to some extent anyway. Not anymore - it's all gotta be dark and violent and we have to trust nobody and all of our heroes have to be at best shells or deeply flawed. And we sure can't make much space for fun or humor (though there is a bit more of that as this goes on, particularly in the 5th episode which doesn't qualify for this challenge). The basic setup here is the that the retired 92-year-old Jean-Luc Picard, living happily enough on his vineyard in France in 2399 is called upon to help a mysterious young woman who is being tracked by some super-secret Romulan agents, and when he fails spectacularly, he becomes determined to find her twin sister - unbeknownst to him, working on a Borg cube and fucking a Romulan spy of some sort - and assembles (of course) a ragtag group of
- uhh, malcontents to do this. It so happens that the twins also seem to be the "daughters" of Data, Picard's second officer and - according to this series - best buddy on the Enterprise decades previously, who sacrificed his life to save Picard. So there's lots of homages to earlier shows and characters of course, and also extensive reworking of them to make them fit the more "realistic" i.e. negative vision of z-grade writers Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman, the masterminds behind this project.
These first three episodes aren't completely worthless or anything - Stewart is always fun to watch even if he does seem as tired of the character as he is tired and old as a man here, and the new cast isn't bad, and the production of course is modern-day high-digital-gloss, which is probably appealing to a lot of people and is... all right as far as I'm concerned. I like the low-key rather wistful music and at this point though there's been plenty of action, it hasn't overpowered the show. But it feels more like a collection of fan service items and half-baked ideas that may or may not go anywhere, and the everybody-is-lying-and-has-a-dark-backstory idea is very old and overdone here already. I will probably watch through to the end of the first season but I don't expect much improvement frankly. More entertainment value for me in Mike and Rich's dissections of the show on RedLetterMedia, which have also been helpful to me to fill in some of the gaping holes in my scattered knowledge of previous shows.
6. Portrait de la jeune fille en feu / Portrait of a Lady on Fire
(Céline Sciamma, 2019) (cinema)
I went into this with fairly high expectations, preparing to be disappointed - overall my experiences with films from 2019 have been a little underwhelming compared to previous years, and for whatever reason I had the feeling that I wasn't going to agree with the ecstatic responses this has received, some from people I trust. It's probably good to be cautious but... I had a good sense early on that this might be something special, and though it's a little "slow" in a sense, as let's face it most films about artists are --- we don't have much "action" and we have long periods of looking, staring, thinking, as per the usual dicta of this type of film --- it becomes evident around the halfway point that it's really a slow burn, that the moodiness of model/muse Héloise (Adèle Haenel in what may be the best performance of 2019) and the cautiousness of painter Mariane (Noémie Merlant, very nearly as good) are going to change and develop into something at once ecstatic and mournful.
This is a harder film to write about than any narrative feature I've seen in recent months, because so much of it is in the visuals, in the eyes, in the relation to landscapes both outdoors and in; while there is plenty of dialogue, it is all very carefully chosen in service of character and the inevitable destiny that a story of lesbian romance in the late 18th century must have - disengagement, or tragedy and death, or perhaps exile. It's very much to the credit of the film that I never felt sure where this was going in the final stunning half hour or so - and that I do have such a hard time putting down words. I think the choice to limit the music to a few moments of Vivaldi's "Winter" from The Four Seasons
- as well used as any piece of classical music in any film I can think of offhand - was brilliant, and it's also an interesting limitation that we don't really see the exterior of the house where the film takes place - we go from rocky shores and windswept cliffs on the coast of Brittany to indoor candle-lit interiors, as if to show that this kind of experience can only exist in certain kinds of isolation; and perhaps the director's choice of a rural, lonely setting for her first period film suggests also that she desires to show them in the only kind of atmosphere where they could, for a moment at least, feel free.
There is much more to say about this and I'm sure much has been said by many others already. If I get to see this again in the cinema I'll write more for myself and the maybe 2 people who are going to read this. Suffice it to say that had I seen this before the 2019 poll ended I'd have had a real internal battle to decide which of the top three spaces it deserved, and I really, really loved my top 2.
7. Naissance des pieuvres / Water Lilies
(Céline Sciamma, 2007)
So I had to watch the director's first film, and first collaboration with Adèle Haenel after coming home from her new masterpiece; I'd seen Tomboy
and Bande de filles
when they were new and liked both an awful lot but never got around to their predecessor. And it's much as I expected from what I knew about it - a sensitive, beautifully acted and shot but ultimately somewhat generic first love - or really first crush - story. Young and still pretty adolescent teen Marie (Pauline Acquart) falls for older, beautiful and (seemingly) boy-mad swimmer Floriane (Haenel), engendering the jealousy of her dumpy, rather childish best friend Anne (Louise Blachère). This pretty much hits all the plot points you'd expect if you've seen a few teen romance/love triangle stories but as I said, it's well done - Sciamma has a certain "classical" way of shooting that very much fits her subjects and is lovely without ever being show-offy - and it's short enough to not get tiresome. A good start to what has become a great career.