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Month: December 2016

Inferno (2016)

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Quantum of Alzheimer

Paul Langdon (Tom Hanks, his face pinched in a constant frown) is the Benjamin Gates of the semi-litterate, recognising at least that there is an Old World beyond the New, stretching this time to the Sublime Door to Asia. All his work seems to be done in Europe, for the benefit of tour operators and hotel managers so this time, after pilfering Rome for locations we have Florence, a glimpse of Venice and Istambul as the lavish background travelogue of his last PuzzleQuest™, loosely based on yet another global peril. It’s not anti-matter and/or the Particle of God, it’s the Inferno virus, a radical cure for overpopulation conceived by yet another loosely sketched crazy American billionnaire (Ben Foster as the resident hispter).

There are two divinities poor screenwriters venerate for obvious reasons: Voice-Over, and Amnesia. If Inferno avoids the former, it shamelessly frolicks through the later from its second scene. This is far worse: amnesia can’t be written well, at least not as well as a good voice-over. In parallel there are two ways for poor directors to shoot a scene devoid of any interest or tension: found footage or post-Bourne epileptic editing, one unfortunately not exclusive of the other, as demonstrated by the opening of this movie, far from the quiet, stately boredom of its two predecessors. Here, Ron Howard literaly throws a camera from the top of the Palazzo Vecchio without at any moment feeling the urge to explain its presence. This complete disconnection between form and subject matter is only one of the many problems the casual viewer will be confronted to. But what a delight it is to watch the thing not unfold, but crumple.

Sienna (natch) Brooks (Felicity Jones, here looking more last name than first name) is the 16yo-looking ER doctor saving Langdon from an assassination attempt and helping him to uncover his conveniently erased memories of the two previous days (understand: repetitive cryptic flashbacks and Tom Hanks having a bad case of migraine). Only your not very bright six year old nephew won’t guess that she must have an hidden agenda, considering she’s braving death more than a few times along the way, but let’s not spoil the unspoilable as the dialogue does so good a job at it. But still, she’s very good, that doctor, as she can identify a fragment of human bone from the other side of a room, or knows her Dante by heart (Inferno, Florence, what did you expect?).

Suddenly everyone knows about a McGuffin known as “the Faraday Quantum”, including the Prime Minister of Denmark (the great Sidse Babett Knudsen, of Bergen fame, underused in the role of Elizabeth, an old Langdon flame, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb), and Omar Sy (a very popular French actor with a very good agent, let’s leave it at that). Obviously there are puzzles inside of riddles, and the mandatory anagram to be cracked. An heavily pregnant museum curator delivers exposition instead of a child, although she, from her own lines, said the exact same thing to Langdon the day before. Langdon himself throws a fit inside the Palazzo Vecchio with nobody around noticing, then demonstrates he has memorized the blueprints of the building for one long, limp chase scene… Oh look, a drone! Needless to say, the whole thing relies heavily of the golden rule that no one ever speaks clearly of anything to anyone, otherwise the movie would be 30′ long.

Based on a plot twist that is too stupid for words, and therefore is never formulated, Inferno really has it all. Academics fluent in medieval Italian but spelling English like retards; hot tempered French police losing their cool; characters popping in and out of screentime for no apparent reason; the end of the world in a plastic bag, avoided by a few seconds; old people emoting in a doorway about what could have been… It’s Inception explained to your grandmother, a terminal case of cinematographic Alzheimer: at its closing scene, Inferno literaly wets itself. Love, real or professed, is not an excuse for poor preparation and the lack of sense: what’s true for the villain’s plot is also true for the movie itself. Please, Dan, Ron, pretty please, stop, you are way to old for this s**t.

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The Young Pope S1E2

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The Invisible Pope

This Pope, this Pope is a strange Pope. What was hinted at, yet obfuscated in the first episode is here revealed in all its glory: he’s determined to shake up the Holy See, not to say he wants to shake it down. Cécile de France, aging gracefully, is introduced as the Head of Papal Marketing. She meets the Pope in order to discuss limited edition plates bearing his effigy, since he’s so young and photogenic, that and of course key rings, iPhone covers, snowing balls and the lot. He will have none of this Temple merchants nonsense: “I don’t have an image because I am no one, I am worth nothing.” he retorts. Secretary of State Voiello scoffs: he knows better than anyone what a source of revenue the papal knick-knack is to the Vatican. The Head of Marketing is quicker than the cardinal to see the Pope’s point, in one of Sorrentino’s delightful display of irony.

The man is impressive at handling contradiction, showing contradictory versions of two key scenes, the child arriving at the orphanage and the Papal address on St Peter Square. The matter of this first homely looms over all conversations. Drafts are presented, only to be discarded. The Pope, of whom no picture has ever been taken, is left a blank for the Catholics, the white silhouette he appears as on the series poster. He’s Holy Ghost and white smoke; he’s hyperbole in reverse. He refuses to be lit for the address; “Reveal his eyes right now would be too much for the world”, says Diane Keaton with the utmost seriousness, which elicits the kind of giggle one has when tasting one’s favourite treat.

Another example of contradiction is the Pope’s visit to Cardinal Spencer, the mentor whom should have been elected to papacy should have Voiello not use his nefarious influence. “You are the Pope and you are all alone. You’re nothing.” says Spencer with bitterness and spitefulness, but the formula expresses something altogether different than the first time. Pius XIII is hurt. He’s still human, somewhere inside, as demonstrated by his compassion for the kangaroo offered to him by the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He’s just full of this quiet, cold rage that no one around him has yet measured.

The Pope has a “brother” as well as a “mother”, another cardinal of the missionary type, who states that the Vatican smells like incense and death, when the outside world smeels like s**t and life. Meeting the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, a powerful man he has chosen as his first official meeting, the Pope tersely asks him “Are you a homosexual, Your Eminence?”. He has a swift cleaning of the stables in mind, which upsets not only Voiello, but even Sister Mary, although she’s glimpsed wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “I’m a virgin but that’s an old t-shirt”.

Then comes the address itself, and it’s hardcore. Hardly silhouetted against an overcast sky, the Pope directly adresses the crowd asking to see him. “I will never be close to you.” he says, his cold rage turning into fury. Then he storms back inside, the clouds breaking over St Peter Square, making him more the incarnation of God’s wrath than a Holy Father, in frontal opposition with his beatific first appearance at the balcony in the previous episode. What if the man elected to St Peter’s throne was a maniac, resolved to serve only God, whatever happens to His followers, annihilating himself in the process? That this series asks this kind of question while remaining that funny is the measure of Sorrentino’s talent, as a writer and a director.

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Feria de Sao Joaquin, Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

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A Feast For The Eye

Markets all around the world are a great place to capture the spirit of a country, because of the local products or handicrafts which are on display but most of all because of all the human interaction taking place there. Latin American markets are among the most vibrant and couloured of all, especially in Brazil. And in Brazil, no place is more vividly textured than Salvador de Bahia. One of the most ancient cities of the country, Bahia has kept alive his long, sometimes rough history. Better than everywhere else in Brazil you can feel African roots meets the Amazonian heritage.

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Situated a unexpensive cab ride off the city center, Sao Joaquin was recommended by the guest house host as the real thing. She also mentioned that the place was safe for foreigners, something that can’t be said for other parts of the city. The best time to go in obviously in the morning when the place is buzzing with activity and the heat is still bareable under the vast sheets of plastic filtering sunlight.

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The market, selling everything edible and some simple, everyday handicraft, including pottery you would for look in vain in the gentified center, is a maze for all senses. Piles of mangos and many other fruits you see for the first time, fishes you never heard about, the sweetness of Brazilian portuguese, the play of light and shadows on colour block walls. Sao Joaquin is the place to experience to pleasure to get lost, trusting only your eye and your camera.

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Yet, it’s far from being a lonely experience. People at the market are welcoming and friendly. They ask you where you come from, legitimately proud of who they are, what they do and that you took the trouble to come from afar to pay them a visit. No one presses you to buy anything. Some of them, seeing your camera, strike poses that could be featured in a fashion magazine and flash a fantastic smile just at the right moment. They love the attention, and you love them in return. You depart reluctantly, feeling happy, invigorated, a better person and a better photograph.

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With our resident photographer Wenpeng Lu, © Pculiar

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