Log in

Book 3: The Reluctant Empress

3 THE RELUCTANT EMPRESS Brigitte Hamann (Germany, 1982)

A biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi (1854-1898)

I have been to both Vienna and Munich on different holidays, and each time the presence of the beautiful and mysterious empress was mentioned by museums and tour guides. Of course, there're also the cheesy movies I watched when I was a kid. I decided it was time for me to know a little more about her, beyond the myth.

This biography is fantastic. I discovered an intelligent woman who hated life at court. Prone to depression, she found solace in traveling, riding horses, an writing poetry. Moreover, her her love of Hungary and the Hungarian people strongly influenced the fateful creation of Austria-Hungary as a joint monarchy.

Hamann does a great job at acknowledging the intelligence of the Empress, as well as her tragic selfishness, and makes this biography one of the best I've read.


Movie 17: Gattaca

17 GATTACA (US, 1997)
Dir: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman...

In a future where eugenics is common practice, the naturally conceived Vincent is told he is too "weak" to have a career in space travel.

Gattaca is one of those Sci-Fi horror films in which the future is utterly grim. I'm sure Philip K. Dick himself would approve of it.

The issue of eugenics and what would happen if parents could genetically select babies is a thought-provoking one, and I would certainly recommend this movie to anyone interested in it.
Gattaca's aesthetics are particularly memorable for their cold geometry, but my favorite aspect of the film remains Ethan Hawke and Jude Law's characters' Dorian Gray-esque relationship.


Movie 16: Primer

16 PRIMER (US, 2004)
Dir: Shane Carruth
Cast: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan...

Two young engineers manage to create a time machine.

The scientific terminology confused me from the beginning, and I was grateful to watch it with a scientific-minded friend of mine who would regularly pause it and explain for my sake.

Past the terminology, however, the whole paradox of time travel being what it is, Primer quickly turns into a fascinating mind puzzle. From a cinematic perspective, it demonstrates how much can be achieved with a limited budget, but I find it difficult to fully assess the quality of this movie without having watched it a second time. It demands to be watched a second time.


Movie 15: Super 8

15 SUPER 8 (US 2011)
Dir: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler...

While filming an amateur horror film, a group of children witnesses a suspicious train derailment

I enjoyed the first half (or less) of the movie, when it focuses on the children as a group of friends, and their interest in cinema. Elle Fanning's charismatic performance is without a doubt the best element of the film. There is something very charming and reminiscent of a good Steven Spielberg film about the first half of this film.
And then it turns into some big, noisy alien nonsense that made me keep looking at my watch.
Too bad.


Between this and Star Trek into Darkness, I'm confused as to why people are so happy Abrams is directing the new Star Wars trilogy.

Movie 14: Good Will Hunting

Dir: Gus Van sant
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck...

A mathematics genius who only works as a janitor in MIT is challenged by an unconventional psychologist who wants him to face his past trauma.

I finally got around to seeing this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed the acting and the great dialogues. Have Matt Damon and Ben Affleck ever written anything this good again? Will's rant about why he shouldn't work for the NSA is simply amazing and has certainly become one of my favorite movie scenes to date.

A real gem of a film.


Movie 13: How I Live Now

13 HOW I LIVE NOW (UK, 2013)
Dir: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Saoirse Ronin, George MacKay, Tom Holland...

While spending her Summer break in the English countryside with her cousins, Daisy's life is completely turned over when a nuclear bombed is dropped on London.

From the teenage romance to the post-apocalyptic world, this could have easily been a disaster. Yet How I Live Now manages to avoid a few cliches to deliver some solid character development. Saoirse Ronin does a great job at conveying the emotions of an angsty teenage girl who slowly turns into the leader of her pack.
My only criticism is that the topic of mental illness seemed slightly out of place at times, as it was not addressed thoroughly enough, but it did not take away from my enjoyment of the film.


Movie 12: The Imitation Game

Dir: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode...

Based on the life of Alan Turing, the mathematician who deciphered Enigma, Germany's secret code during WWII.

I confess I knew next to nothing about Turing before I watched this movie. I didn't even remember from my WWII lessons that he was the "Enigma man". Actually, I was slightly prejudiced against it because of how annoying fangirls are with their beloved Cumberbatch. But this movie truly moved me from beginning to end.

It's a conventional film with an elegant direction and sound character development. The acting is impeccable.
What's really important though, is that it's a story that needed to be told on screen, not just to please computer nerds, but mostly as a tragic illustration of the treatment of homosexuals throughout history.


Movie 11: Birdman

Dir: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough...

An aging actor, only known for his superhero movies, relies on a Broadway production to revive his career.

I had high expectations for this one, not just because it won Best Picture, but also because I love theater.

Nope. No thanks. Not again.

The script made me think of a bunch of graduates coming together to write a story with scope. They all have a lot of ideas, but ultimately there's no depth to any of them because each idea can't go past a few sentences. So ideas are piled up onto each other, to make the viewer forget about the script's ultimate shallowness.
I'm usually all about super-natural elements that suggest mental illness, but Birdman is too pretentious to do a good job with it. The dialogues try so hard to be smart, it was regularly painful for me to listen to them. The "you don't even have a Facebook page" Emma Stone rant - that kept playing at the Oscars - is an excellent example of it: a lot of words that don't add up to much.

I mean, not even the amazing Ed Norton could save this one.


Movie 10: The Theory of Everything

Dir: James Marsh
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Emily Watson

The story of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde's relationship from their Cambridge days, to the later development of his desease.

Eddie Redmayne is not an actor that impressed me prior to this film, even his singing in Les Miserables, I found to be pure torture, particularly because of the way his lips tended to quiver. This time, however, his physical transformation is outstanding, and I have to admit he deserved hos Oscar.

Felicity Jones' performance is also moving and praiseworthy.

The movie is in itself quite conventional, but is a great insight into the life of a fascinating man.

My favorite element of this film remains Jóhann Jóhannsson's beautiful soundtrack. A good surprise, since I was not familiar with his work prior this piece.


Movie 9: I, Robot

9 I,ROBOT (US, 2004)
Dir: Alex Proyas
Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan...

Detective Spooner suspects a robot to be the perpetrator of a murder, despite everyone else's opinion that such act would be impossible because of the Three Laws of Robotics.

The most interesting element of this film is the reflection on the Three Laws of Robotics, and the potential conflicts arising from such laws. It made me wish I'd fiinally read some Asimov.
This is definitely the kind of intelligent Sci-Fi I always look for, and rarely find. The subject of robotics is a good place to start thinking about the nature of humanity, what makes us human.