Film: The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl BannerI was really looking forward to watching The Danish Girl, the theme is something I’m interested in, I love Eddie Redmayne and the posters looked beautiful. So i was made it all the more sad as the film progressed, the feeling of disappointment crept over me finally leaving a deposit of unfulfilled potential.

The plot begins with marital bliss between landscape artist Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and portrait artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). On the surface they are a loved up, successful young couple. One day when Gerda’s model fails to turn up to a sitting she asks Einar to be a substitute ballerina. After his inner feelings are aroused by the stockings and pumps of the ballerina, his journey to becoming Lili Elbe begins.

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I just want to start of by saying the film is beautiful, its early 20th Century setting provides some astonishing set pieces and amazing dresses, even if everything seems to have a dull sepia tone to it (no doubt to make it look like you’re really in the 20s!). If you enjoy the 20s flapper art deco extravagance, you’ll be well sated.

That being said, I found the plot was rather long and meandering. I was never really sure where it was going or what exactly it was trying to say. This is trying to be an Oscar bait film, complete with a mildly saccharine undercurrent and a ham fisted attempt at a heartwarming and ‘life-changing’ storyline. Alas, I found there was little to be said in The Danish Girl. The 20s setting, whilst lavish and beautiful seems to serve as a way to portray the subject matter without really dealing with the issues that trans people deal with on a daily basis, it gets to skip dealing with the nitty gritty of a topical issue by setting it in the past, which makes it feel all the more irrelevant to modern day trans people.

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..The film didn’t really do anything interesting with the subject matter, the real deep and intense feelings that can come with being transgendered never really came out. I never felt like I knew Lili, or her motivations, I found it hard to get behind her as a protagonist and as such I just didn’t care when the film reached its tragic conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong, the performance of Vikander as Gerda, Lili’s wife, was brilliant. She was able to tap into the character and give us a well rounded performance as someone who has internal conflicts and tries to do what is best for her husband, and herself. Lili remains almost like a child, selfish in her petty need for Gerda to stay with her despite the destruction of those around her.

Having since done a little research in the Lili Elbe, it’s no surprise that this film seems like such a mess, it appears to be a further fictionalisation of a fictionalised version of a real story. Lili Elbe was a real person, and as she was one of the first people to have gender reassignment surgery, her story should be one of hope and resilience, not petulance.This could have been great, this could have been the film that really gets people talking about transgender rights and help people to understand what being trans is. I wanted to like this film, I wanted this to be the mainstream film to deal with these issues in a mature way that doesn’t treat transexuality as a butt of a joke a figure of ridicule. Instead it’s just a rather dull story about a rather dull person not coming to terms with who they really are.

Despite being promising, having a great director (Tom Hooper, from The King’s Speech and Les Miserable fame), great cast, and interesting base story the film does not live up to the hype. Redmayne’s performance is flat and boring as Lili, leaving Vikander to do all the heavy acting, the plot is slow paced and a bit muddled and the accuracy of the story is also under question. The set and the costumes are amazing and beautiful (the only thing worthy of an Oscar), but it really is just a dull disappointment. If you want a film that deals with transexuality in a more updated and relevant setting I would recommend Boy Meets Girl which deals with the subject matter in a far more mature way. I do say all this as someone who is not transgendered, and my views do not reflect that of anyone but my own. Please leave a comment if you feel differently, I’m happy to have a discussion. (120 mins, rated 15)

★★☆☆☆

 

Life Is Strange Review – PS4

Life Is Strange was a complete surprise to me. I tried the first episode on a whim because I’d read about it being some of the best storytelling in a video game of 2015. I was not disappointed.

Disclaimer – there will be some early story spoilers in this review but I’ll try to be as vague as possible.
  Stranger

In this game you take the role of the 18 year old Max Caulfield an aspiring photographer who’s moving back to her sleepy seaside hometown after 5 years in Seattle. This is a good framing device for the player as it let’s you explore the town’s characters with Max because she’s been away so long she barely knows anyone anymore.

In the first playable scene you’re in photography class. This is your first chance to meet some of your fellow students at Blackwell High. All of your classic American school stereotypes are represented; jocks, mean girls, nerds, goths and unpopular kids. Max falls somewhere in the middle of the social totem pole, letting you chat to pretty much anyone you want. 

You can hit Triangle to get a brief explanation or hear what Max is thinking about most objects and people in the world that you can interact with. So I took this time to learn about my fellow classmates.

It’s not long before the teacher starts asking you questions to see if you were paying attention to what he was saying. I wasn’t, I got distracted by having Max take selfie so this actually caught me off guard and I answered incorrectly. This mistake gave the mean girl Victoria a chance to show me up in front of everyone.

So the classroom scene plays out and Max heads out to the bathroom to compose herself where she witnesses a boy and girl arguing. This argument get’s extremely heated and the boy pulls a gun and shoots the girl. As the girl hits the ground Max holds out her hand and time suddenly stops. This is where the game shows it’s unique gameplay mechanic for the first time.

Max is suddenly transported to a cliffside lighthouse being torn apart by a tornado and just as she’s about to get crushed by falling debris she wakes up back in the same classroom you started in. 
  
Butterfly Effect
During every conversation and event from this point on you’ll have access to Max’s time rewinding power. So for instance you could let things play out in the classroom exactly as before but now you know the question you could steal Victoria’s answer much to her chagrin. More importantly this also means that you can be ready to save the girl from being shot later on.

It’s a well thought out mechanic that allows the developers to turn the any conversation into a puzzle. Sometimes you may have to question a room full of people so you can then rewind with all of your new found knowledge and have the perfect conversation with a key character. Or you can retry a whole scenario that went bad. 

I came across an example of this fairly early on where you meet up with your childhood friend Chloe at her house and she asks you to take the rap for some weed she was smoking when her step dad shows up. If you claim it’s your weed you get threatened with a call to your parents but ultimately the situation defuses. However if you let Chloe take the rightful blame things escalate very quickly culminating in her step dad hitting her in a rage. Luckily the game usually warns you before you hit a point of no return so I had a chance to put things right after that screw up.
  
Everyday Savior

There are some story situations that can’t be avoided or failed and in these cases you will be forced to rewind if you mess it up. These moments typically involve saving one of the main character’s lives but you should never let your guard down when playing Life Is Strange.

This game has some of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make in a game. It made me feel like I knew the characters personally and that made it way harder to decide their fate. There have been multiple times I’ve had to put the controller down and talk it out with my girlfriend next to me. She’d been watching and was almost always just as conflicted as I was.

Over the course of the first 2 episodes they let you mess around and in time start to rely on your powers to get through conversations. Then you get to a life or death moment only to find out you’ve overused your powers that day and you have to carefully pick the correct answers and actually use knowledge you’ve hopefully have been accruing along your way. Luckily I had been trying to learn everything I could about this particular person and was able to save them. 

The way they take your powers away does a great job of making you feel useless in that moment. Add in that this was a character I genuinely cared about saving and this was definitely the most memorable moment of the game for me. 
  
Uncanny
Unfortunately Life Is Strange can show some signs of it’s low budget origin at times. Some of the lip synching doesn’t always match up with the audio and the facial animation isn’t on par with bigger budget games which have access to facial capture techniques. This can make the characters look a bit like creepy puppets at times. I don’t personally think this is a big deal in the grand scheme of the game and I still really enjoyed the character interaction in spite of this. 

I don’t really want to reveal anything else about the story because that’s basically the main reason to play it. The game is mechanically sound as far as I’ve seen. I didn’t experience any glitches or crashes during my time. So if anything I’ve said seems intriguing then I would definitely recommend Life Is Strange.

★★★★☆

Film: The Revenant

(156 Minutes, Rated 15)

If you’re looking for a light, breezy slice of escapism then The Revenant is definitely not the film for you. If you’re looking for a brutal and unforgiving piece of hypnotic cinema then roll up, slap your ten quid down, then maybe grasp for another fiver for a drink (clocking in at 156 minutes long you are probably going to need it).

The Revenant starts how it means to go on, with a bloody sequence in which Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) and his expedition, including his son (Forrest Goodchild), are attacked by the Arikara Indians who in turn are in search of one of their own. Goods and lives are scrambled for, arrows fly into limbs and jugulars, tomahawks are launched freely into spines, and Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and his men are lucky to get away. It’s a brilliant opening, setting the tone and characters in one fell swoop. It also showcases Iñárritu’s dazzling work behind the cinema and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki’s stunning cinematography, made all  the more impressive by the fact it was all done using natural light. The exquisite tracking through the carnage makes you feel in the moment, right in there with Glass and his men and things get even more immersive as the film progresses.

After the now infamous bear scene, which in itself is an absolute trial to sit through and not squirm and grimace at every rip and growl, Glass is left in the care of Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, a bug eyed villain of delightful proportions), who have offered to stay behind to make sure Glass is giving a proper burial in exchange for extra coin.

And then….. Fitzgerald royally fucks him over. And Glass does not stand for this royal fuck whatsoever.

What follows is one man harrowing trek across an unforgiving landscape all in the name of retribution. We feel every scar, every wound, and every aching step as Glass tracks his way through the cold wilderness. In a really nifty bit of direction, we even see his breath cloud up the screen. It’s beautiful grimness at its very best.

Yes, there are some missteps; the hallucinations of his dead wife and some pretty weak attempts at deep philosophical meaning jar with the sparseness and brutality of the rest of the film, and the pacing, particularly in the middle third, can be a little slow and glacial at times. But honestly, the performances go to some way in making up for these indiscretions.

DiCaprio does so much with so little dialogue. His pain, fear and rage all come through in a series of grunts and grimaces. It’s a commanding physical performance, requiring just as much work and graft as if he had 150 pages of dialogue to learn. The whole film leans on his dirty shoulders and relies on his grubby, bearded face. If you don’t give a shit about Hugh you lose the film. And DiCaprio makes you give a shit. Hardy is wonderful as always, putting in a strong turn as the money grabbing, itchy footed Fitzgerald, and Poulter puts in an emotive performance as the naive Bridger.

We’ve all heard the stories of the grueling conditions, the ludicrous over-runs of schedule and budget, and the daft game of Chinese whispers claiming Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets raped by a bear (I can categorically say he does not). And of the firings, people walking off set unable to cope with director’s perfectionism and obsession with only using natural light, but the end product shows us that it was never in vain.

The result of all this madness is a raw and visceral work, and surely DiCaprio will pick up that much deserved Oscar statue (I mean the bloke got buried alive for it).

★★★★☆