Review: Kardec, Mayday Life, Tall Girl, Shanghai Fortress

Kardec

Trailer

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Flim shaw.

In 19th century France, disillusioned educator Hippolyte Rivail is disgusted at the rising phenomenon of “spinning tables” and seances, that claim to offer a means of communicating with the beyond. But when he is convinced to undertake a scientific investigation into such things, he discovers there may in fact be some truth to them.

I take full responsibility for this. I should have done some more research before hitting play, I should have even looked up “Kardec” on Wikipedia. I didn’t. I was lulled into watching this, in ignorance of the “spiritualist” originator Kardec, on the back of some slightly dishonest Netflix marketing, but I can’t blame them.

Ignore the summation I wrote above. Let me offer a new one: Kardec is a film about a charlatan becoming a charlatan, it just so happens to present his charlatanism as real. The film decides that spinning tables and seances and communicating with dead spirits is absolutely real, and does next to nothing to present the possibility that it may not be. It’s a propaganda film for dangerous nonsense, dressed up as an ass-kissing biopic.

And perhaps worse than any of that, it’s incredibly dull. At 110 minutes, it really shouldn’t feel as long as it does, but Kardec’s running time is of the time-bending variety, feeling like three hours when it’s under two. The film is replete with bad pacing, poor editing and scenes that stretch on and on for no good reason: awkward conversations between principals are matched by the sheer isolation, with Wagner de Assis’  production apparently having to make do with a deficit of extras.  The dialogue is flat, not aided by what might be an iffy translation job. But I suppose that’s just what happens when you have a Brazilian production making a biopic about a French man, subsequently released to English-speaking audiences.

How exactly all of turned out is probably a more interesting story than that presented in Kardec itself, which isn’t. De Assis apparently had just a week to film in Paris before having to return to Rio, and really bad CGI has to step in to try and make Kardec look like it is actually being filmed in France. They should have saved themselves the trouble and not bothered at all, with anything to do with the film.

Why does this bother me so much? Because seances are bullshit, mediums are bullshit, and these kinds of films promote the aggressively braindead idea that such things are a force for good, or, at worst, “harmless”. They aren’t. They’re scams perpetrated by people who are either deranged or criminals, taking advantage of those of us who are all too easily duped. Maybe Kardec was a nice guy, and maybe he genuinely believed what he was doing was supernatural, as this film of the same name would have us believe. But at the end of the day, he was propagating fantasy. This kind of propaganda is unpalatable, and I wish I had never turned it on. Not recommended. Hardcore not recommended.

Mayday Life

Trailer

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Maydaymania, is running wild.

During the course of their two year worldwide concert tour, Taiwanese rock/pop band Mayday tell the story of five fading superheroes, called out of an ignominious retirement to battle an extraterrestrial enemy, while putting on a unique show for their passionate fanbase.

I suppose that I can only offer an assessment of Mayday Life, a real lazy Saturday-afternoon watch, by splitting it into its two constituent parts. In terms of the actual concert footage, well, I suppose that it is a fun enough experience, if you’re not all that bothered. If I may be a bit blunt, Mayday play a really safe, inoffensive tweener-specific brand of pop/rock, so its hard to express any kind of outward distaste for it, just as much as it is hard to express a great level of admiration. I suppose the absolute worst thing I would be able to say is that it’s just sort of bland, the kind of music that you can tap your foot and nod your head along to, before it instantly vanishes from your memory five seconds after the song ends.

The stagework is well-done, an array of colours and vibrant explosions of energy, matched by some nicely kinetic camerawork. It’s not on the same level of experience as Beyonce’s Homecoming from earlier this year in terms of interest or engagement, but it is a well crafted visual spectacle all the same. It’s obvious that Mayday are an adored group, what with all of the screaming fans, and if Mayday Life does nothing else, it’s at least a good advertisement for the band. I certainly would never have heard of them otherwise, even if one of the concerts on this tour wasn’t all that far away from me.

But then there is the other aspect of the show. Sets of songs are separated by a number of pre-filmed vignettes, wherein the members of the band – whose names are, by the way, Monster, Ashin, Stone, Masa and Ming – appear as various types and forms of superhero, out to battle a collection of different fantastical enemies. The shorts are obviously comedic interludes, and are not meant to be taken all that seriously, replete with questionable CGI, bad one-liners and a brand of humour that is probably designed for the legions of screaming teenage girls in the audience than anybody else. They are perfectly serviceable distractions, though some of them last a bit too long. It’s meant to be a concert after-all, not the Mayday Variety Hour. One wonders if, perhaps, the band or the people behind the band consider themselves a bit too big for their boots, if they attempt to be both musicians and blockbuster-esque film stars, all in the same breath.,

In the end this isn’t really for me, it was just a completely random watch that didn’t work out. Mayday seem like a perfectly nice group of guys playing music that is clearly adored, but it just isn’t my kind of experience. With that said, I suppose I don’t recommend this, unless you’re a Taiwanese tweener.

Tall Girl

Trailer

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Guess who ends up together?

Jodi (Ava Michelle) is the titular “tall girl”: the only woman in her high school over six feet, a fact that results in social ostracisation and a degree of self-loathing. When Swedish exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner) arrives in school, Jodi sees her chance for romance, much to the chagrin of her long-time friend/admirer Jack (Griffin Gluck).

I used to be all in on these kinds of romantic comedies, the stereotypical American high school inexplicably populated by twenty/thirty somethings that had the jock, the nerd, the cheerleader and the heroine. I’m not talking the crudity of American Pie, but the more palatable – and frankly, much better and more creative – Ten Things I Hate About You, Get Over It, Never Been Kissed, She’s All That or the parody Not Another Teen Movie. They were easy sells, easy makes and easy watches.

Long after such films have seen their apogee, Tall Girl aims to perhaps reinvent the canon, with a film that slots easily enough into the empty space. There’s the nominally “flawed” but likable heroine, the goofy male love interest, the bitchy rival, the token black friend, the embarrassing parents etc, etc. All the elements are here to make something that may temporarily transport you back to the days of the late 90s, when this sub-sub-genre was the King of the box office.

But Tall Girl reminds you of just why these films don’t really hold up all that well. Maybe you need a younger mindset to really buy into the slightly too-old actors, the lack of diversity or the intricate web of high school politics. Maybe it’s just the idea of a girl not being interested in a guy not being taken with the adequate seriousness that the world of 2019 demands. Maybe its the saccharine and homogenised attitude to sexuality (kissing is the goal of all teens here it seems, with an opening scene flirtation set to Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” about as far as Tall Girl goes). Either way, Tall Girl just can’t connect with the audience the way it wants to.

Michelle is a fine actress and does her very best with what she is given. I’m sure the central issue of Tall Girl is a very real and distressing one for many young women, and in that sense the film does a good job of saying the right things about self-perception, self-esteem and rising above degradation. It does a good job at making clear that everyone at this stage in their life thinks they are the marginalised one, even if they really aren’t.

But then there is the other side of things, namely that romance plot-line with Jack (Gluck might have a future in comedy as an aside, as his performance here as a put-upon sad sack is generally terrific). Jack is obsessed with Jodi, to the point of openly stating he’ll wait forever for her, even though she isn’t interested in him as anything other than a friend, something she has enunciated clearly, repeatedly. This, spoiler, changes through the course of Tall Girl, and the way that we get to the inevitable destination is a tad disturbing really, indicating that all a teenage girl really needs to gain an attraction to a guy is unerring persistence mixed with a bit of violence between rivals.

Perhaps I should try and be a little less harsh. Tall Girl has its funny moments – Steve Zahn as Jodi’s trying-to-hard-at-being-supportive father is probably the stand-out, as is her intense beauty queen sister Sabrina Carpenter – and is a serviceable bit of nostalgia-bait. But it just doesn’t land the way that you have expected. Perhaps there is no future in this genre anymore, and maybe film has moved on. Either way, Tall Girl wasn’t the one to reverse the trend. Not recommended.

Shanghai Fortress

Trailer

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Why are these children being sent to fight the aliens?

2035: After finding a potent new energy source in the stars, humanity’s fuel issues appear to have been permanently resolved. That is, until an alien menace attacks the Earth in pursuit of that same energy source. Now, it is up to the defenders of Shanghai, such as plucky recruit Jiang Yang (Lu Han) and Lin Lan (Shu Qi), to find a way to defeat the extraterrestrials and save the planet.

My return to the world of Chinese cinema, after the disappointing The Wandering Earth earlier this year, was a weird one. Again based on a well-regarded Chinese sci-fi novel, Shanghai Fortress at first seemed like a fairly straightforward action blockbuster: alien invaders, valiant human defenders, aerial battles, explosions, heroic sacrifices, maybe some romance if you have the time (oh, and we do, at an excruciating 100+ minutes). You got the feel from trailers of something, if I can be allowed the comparison, of an anime adaptation, something in the same league as Macross.

But while Shanghai Fortress has the requisite amount of alien combat, it takes a very odd tack, with around 30 minutes of what you would expect at the beginning and another 30 minutes at the end. It’s the middle where things go south, when director Teng Huatao turns what really should just be a Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich CGI-explosion fest, and tries to make it into a moving account of a young man declaring his love for (slightly) older woman. The story of Jiang – I suppose the everyman we are supposed to rally behind, although it was hard to tell sometimes, with singer Lu Han not really up for this – and his infatuation with Commander Lin – probably a more interesting character, but only barely – is parsed out to a very lengthy degree, killing the momentum of the film dead after a half-decent, and only half-decent, opening act.

You simply can’t have it both ways here. The romance plot-line is asinine compared to the carnage going on when the alien’s attack, and the alien attack, despite its visual prominence, is treated like the secondary plot-line for too much of the film. The residents of Shanghai go about their daily lives with gleeful abandon, despite the alien robots smashing into their skyscrapers daily. There’s also a sense that I should have already read the book to understand a good bit of what is going on with the setting, with pivotal plot points touched upon briefly before being forgotten altogether. I wouldn’t even repeat my criticism of The Wandering Earth that it seems like a bad facsimile of the Hollywood equivalent: this feels like the director wanted to try something very unique, even daring, but it was simply the wrong call to make.

The rest is what you would expect of Chinese cinema, namely a fetishistic focus on the virtues of military service and sacrificing the self for the greater good of the whole, themes that smack a little of state-influence. In the end, Shanghai Fortress has the potential to be a fun sci-fi romp, but layers itself down with undue amounts of melodrama and hints that you are watching propaganda by proxy. The film was a box office disaster in China apparently, with the director issuing an apology: if the Chinese film industry wants to make good on the international level, they have a long ways to go on the basis of this year’s contributions. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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1 Response to Review: Kardec, Mayday Life, Tall Girl, Shanghai Fortress

  1. Pingback: Film Rankings And Awards 2019 | Never Felt Better

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