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This week, ear for eye, an entry from the London Film Festival finds a simultaneous release on BBC iPlayer.
Meanwhile, along with another superhero highlight with Shazam!, Netflix drops its latest original anime in Violet Evergarden: The Movie, a lush and keenly felt conclusion to the series of the same name.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
ear for eye - BBC iPlayer
Watching ear for eye, you don’t have to know who debbie tucker green (the name is intentionally decapitalised) is to immediately place her as a playwright. Based on her play of the same name, the focus of ear for eye remains entirely on monologue and theatrical performance, the characters isolated against a black background, the only set dressing being some wooden chairs and an instrumental from a Run the Jewels track.
The film is constructed from speeches about different aspects of Black living in the US and in the UK, starting with a young man wondering about how he might appear less threatening to a white person, or a cop. An elderly woman speaks about the nature and importance of and the appropriation of protest, what has been sanitised by liberal white groups and what has been appropriated by corporate entities.
Watch a trailer for ear for eye
The film’s most interesting points come from how it confronts the quiet oppression of language choices used around Black struggle. But for a film so based around the performances of these monologues, green frequently obfuscates the performances of the actors even while presenting them as the sole focus, not just cutting away from their faces but from a lot of the emphatic bodily motions, leaving only the text — its early act can feel a little like listening to an audiobook.
It gets more interesting as green sets up other deliberately stagey backgrounds, with multicoloured backdrops and stoops and interjections from archive photos and footage from recent protests. Essentially, when green actually begins to add more filmic elements - but even then, the photography feels mostly functional, there’s a surprising lack of sensuality or intimacy from it even in its isolated setting. To this writer, as fascinating as the writing is and as thoughtfully contemporary the messaging is, the staginess of it feels alienating.
Also new on iPlayer: The Death of Stalin, Sully, Swallows and Amazons
Shazam! - Netflix
David F Sandberg’s Shazam! came as a surprise in contrast to DC's other superhero films. Shazam! is a lot lighter. The weight of its myth becomes an exciting prospect for its young teenage leads rather than the burden that Superman struggles with in Man Of Steel. It has the air of a Power Rangers show about it, with its goofy monster villains and team of young people taking on an ancient power.
Young Billy Batson, an orphan recently fostered in a new home, is chosen as the holder of an ancient magic power from a wizard named Shazam, and by evoking that name he turns into a muscular, adult superhero with super strength, invulnerability and the power of flight. It’s an enticing embodiment of the kind of childish power fantasy that comic books inspire in young audiences, the question of “what if it was me?"
Watch: Zachary Levi teases future Black Adam film
And the best parts of the film are in that childish indulgence. Early stages of Shazam (now played by the adult Zachary Levi) are a clear homage to Big. It’s funny, and shows that there’s a potential for variance amongst a ‘cinematic universe’ that was beginning to become a little too homogenous. Its success finally allowed these films to loosen up a little.
But it’s also trusting that a young audience can handle its more serious notes, particularly thorny notes of child abandonment and some gruesome threat (this is from a horror director after all) surprise in their trust of the audience’s emotional maturity. Most importantly, it so far stands outside of the aggressive world-building that has come to define superhero movies, an offhand reference to Superman is about the most you’ll get, but Shazam! works in isolation, and is far, far better for it.
Violet Evergarden: The Movie - Netflix
The arc of Violet Evergarden — its stories of grief and of reconciliation and acceptance — can’t help but feel as though they also exist along the arc of Kyoto Animation’s dealing with the horrific KyoAni arson attack of 2018, an event that has left permanent wounds.
The studio’s return to work was marked by the release of the film Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, which had a dedication to those killed in the attack. Directed by Taichi Ishidate, Taichi Ogawa, Minoru Oota, Shinpei Sawa and Takuya Yamamura, Violet Evergarden: The Movie follows on from that previous film, though it still works in isolation (and if you’re interested in catching up, the series and the previous film are all available on Netflix too, and are equally beautiful).
At the time of the movie’s opening, some time in the future, Violet’s exploits as a letter writer from the CH Postal Company — episodes from the series — have become famous, and a character in the future tries to retrace Violet’s steps as we see how her journey concludes. It will doubtless carry far more emotional weight for those familiar with the series, but it’s a welcoming, warm and visually astounding work regardless, one that finds profound beauty in various forms of human communication, the permanence and remembrance of letters.
A former child soldier and double amputee, turned letter-writer (thanks to some delicately designed prosthetics) Violet’s prim presentation, her initially cold but inquisitive manner and metal hands could fool a viewer into thinking she’s actually a robot (the women working as scribes are referred to as “dolls”, after all) - the series’ emotional hook coming from Violet connecting with the emotions she had long suppressed as a child soldier, and gaining an understanding of herself. Violet refuses compliment, struggles with the idea that she might deserve happiness of her own with the death of her mentor and guardian, with her history of war. The series’ long arc concerns Violet’s allowance of herself to live a life that she truly wants - for starters she finally begins to write for herself.
People she’s helped in the past have moved forward with their lives, but Violet remains in place. Even as Violet’s personal struggles begin to move more to the centre of the narrative, her job still serves as a window into the lives of others. A teenager who has spent the past year of their lives in the hospital who wants to write posthumous letters for his family is one such focal point. Some stirring melodrama to be found among its general quietness as well, but the emotion always feels believable even as its ramped up to tearjerking heights.
The 19th century European art direction is realised with lavish detail, a soaring soundtrack that matches romance and heartache overlays it. The characters are astonishing in how alive they feel through every twitch and tremble and subtle change in expression. The drawn acting is a big part of why Violet Evergarden lands all of its big emotional swings, a testament to the emotional realities revealed through animation. Put simply, it’s some of the most stunning animation you’ll see all year, and a fine showcase for the ever immaculate work of KyoAni.
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