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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Uncertainty Principle proves we can't ever really know... what's going on. So it shouldn't bother you.", 25 July 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's been mentioned many times that A Serious Man (2009) is a retelling of the Book of Job. It very well could be - as only Coen Brothers could adapt the Biblical story to the screen. They placed Job, the Schlimazel of the Old Testament in Minnesota suburbia of their own adolescent. They named him Larry Gopnik, made him a physics professor in a local college, a nice, loving, and pious man, and let him watch hopelessly how his life was collapsing around him while he tried to make sense of what and why was happening to him and desperately sought after a spiritual help from his religious advisers, three rabbis - in vain. A Serious Man is not an autobiographical movie but it is set in the very atmosphere and spirit where two Coen boys grew up in the year 1967, the exact year Joel Coen turned 13 and was preparing for his own bar mitzvah - just like Danny Gopnik, 13 years old pot smoking Jefferson Airplane fan Larry's son whose Bar Mitzvah in the movie is a truly unforgettable event for many reasons. Now, as the experienced celebrated filmmakers who have proved (at least for this viewer) to be among THE best modern filmmakers, Coens look back at the place and time that shaped them as individuals, men, and creative personalities, and they ask eternal and often impossible to answer questions. Does life have meaning? What is the point of it? Or is there point at all? Why do bad things happen to a decent person who "did not do anything"? Is there any certainty in life or all we can do just accept the fact there is no explanation, no certainty, and no fairness, and the best is - "to receive with simplicity everything that happens to you."

I can understand how this film may be puzzling and even disappointing for many viewers even among the fans. A Serious Man is different and original even for Coens, always innovative and creative artists, but it is undeniably and unmistakably, their film, with their finger prints all over. Take for example the opening scene, the black/white prologue spoken in Yiddish and set somewhere in Eastern Europe back in the 19th or 18th century, in a small Shtetl. It involves a married couple and their mysterious visitor who could be a dybbuck, an evil spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. The scene certainly would stay with a viewer and make them try to understand its meaning. As one explanation, the husband and wife could be the ancestors of Larry Gopnik before his family immigrated to the USA and ended up in Minnesota. The encounter with the dybbuk could bring the curse to the future generations, and that may explain all assortment of "tsuris" that poor Larry tries to deal with. Coen's explained that they wanted to include a folk tale to set the tone in the film that explores among many things Jewish traditions, religion, faith, and character. They could not find a tale they'd like, so they wrote one and made a very stylish, ominously dark yet funny and mysterious opening to their film. As a perfect balance to the fairytale/ghost story opening, the final scene comes that literally can blow you away. As it has happened before in a Coens 'movie , the open ending has as many admirers as haters but I believe it was no other way to finish the film, and I found the ending perfect in the universe that Coens create.

The brothers' decision to cast mostly unknown stage actors in the main roles, proved to be successful one, and everyone was up to their job. Michael Stuhlbarg positively shines as Larry and he makes one of the most sympathetic characters in Coens' movie. Sari Lennick, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed as a seriously creepy man whom Larry's wife Judith wanted to leave Larry for as well as the rest of the cast are all memorable. The camera work by Roger Deakins', the longtime collaborator of Coens in recreating the long gone era of the late 60s in the Middle of America is above any praise. A Serious Man is beautiful, profound, and perfectly well made. It is funny, too. Seriously.

An exemplary adaptation, 21 July 2015

11 hours long TV miniseries "Brideshead Revisited", based on Evelyn Waugh's eponymous classic novel, has been one of the most pleasurable watching experiences I can think of. It lacks action or adventure, but is one of the most charming, elegiac, moving, elegant, and classy films, TV or otherwise. It is also generous with the delightful humorous scenes in the specific English humor that can't be faked or reproduced outside of England. Both, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier, contributed to these scenes as well as Nickolas Grace as Anthony Blanche, decadent and flamboyant but sharp and observant acquaintance of both main characters, Charles Rydes and Sebastian Flyte. Anthony Andrews plays golden boy Sebastian as Dorian Grey with heart, beloved and admired by everyone but troubled, unhappy and self-destructing because, as one of the characters insightfully observed, he is in love with his childhood and he refuses to grow up.

The production valued are of the highest quality, and never for a moment I stopped enjoying the magnificent settings of such locations as Venice, Morocco, Central America, Paris, and New York as well as majestic halls and glorious landscapes of Brideshead (Castle Howard). The most important aspect of Brideshead Revisited, is, without doubt, Evelyn Waugh's language, and Jeremy Irons, as Charles Rydes, the film protagonist, was born to narrate the pages of the beautiful prose that sounds like an exciting melody of the times passed but not faded.

While watching "Brideshead Revisited", I contemplated on why this story of the class that does not exist anymore in the period of time that is long past history is still compelling and riveting. What are these people to me? Why was I running home every evening to continue watching the stories of their lives that on the surface seem uneventful and even boring? I guess the answer is in double magic of great literature that had captured the period of fall of Great Empire and those who disappeared with it and grand film making that did not lose much while adapting it to the screen. One of the best TV series ever made, "Brideshead Revisited" deservingly belongs to 100 Best British TV films.

Albert: I'm not the hero. I'm the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero's shirt; that's who I am., 2 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" uses the scenery, camera work, and soundtrack that are too good for such crude, rude, raunchy, tasteless affair as Seth MacFarlane goofy western –parody. Somebody said already that the world did not need the whole two minutes of Neil Patrick Harris's manifestations of the upset stomach and public defecation in somebody's hat not once but twice. The joke about a virgin guy in love with the town prostitute who would not have sex with him before the wedding was funny once (barely) not ten times. If MacFarlane had taken it easy (ier) on the jokes involving farts, pissing sheep, crude sexual references , etc, and decreased running time from 116 minutes to, say, 90 or 85, the movie might have been much better and funnier. There are a million ways to die in the west. Dying from constant laughing while watching this movie is not one of them. With all this said Albert's (MacFarlane) drug-induced trip close to the end is truly wonderful, creative, funny scene that re-invents the word "surreal". He deserves a credit for casting Charlize Theron as the female lead, Liam Neeson as the devious villain, and Neil Patrick Harris as the pompous mustached mustachery owner. It is always nice to see them on the screen, and they seemed to enjoy making fun out of the weird situations and the fools out of themselves. There are million ways to spend your time during the weekend, and Steve MacFarlane's western-parody comedy while, certainly, not the best of them, is not the worst.

Water (2005/I)
House of Sorrow and Hope, 28 February 2015

"Water" (2005) that was written and directed by Deepa Metha, the Indian- born Canadian film director and screenwriter, is a final part of her Elements trilogy, Fire, Earth, and Water. Each film deals with serious and often unknown outside of India problems that the country has inherited over its long history of religious traditions that always played highly important role in all aspects of Indian society. Water, a heart breaking tale of Indian widows, is set during the early 1940s and tells the compelling story of an eight-year-girl who learns that she became a widow. Her parents married her when she was an infant to an unknown man but were taking care of her until she was old enough to become a wife to the husband she never met. After his death, according to the holy laws the little girl had only three choices in her life: to burn with her husband on the funeral pyre, to marry his younger brother or to become untouchable and spend the rest of her life in an ashram - a shelter for widows at the temple, on the banks of the great river.

Delicately beautiful and colorful film introduces the viewers to several unfortunate widows of different ages who whose families have abandoned them forever. The women have to live together and use any means possible for surviving. Pain, grief, loss, sacrifices are the essential parts of their daily struggles. Deepa Metha deserves every praise and award she has received for her memorable and passionate film which may shock the viewers who would not imagine what choices were available to a woman - widow back in the days and even now in some rural parts of India. But the film also praises the beauty of nature, joy of friendship, and eventually, it brings hope for better future for those women and their country.

Not only is Water an exquisite work of art, it is an important social statement. So important, indeed, that the Indian government interfered with the production process, canceled the funding of the film, restricted Metha to shoot in India, and did not stop the fundamentalists' riots that threatened the physical violence toward the female director and the members of the crew.

If the things have improved in India, as the officials proclaim, why the government hated so much just the idea of the film and caused all kinds of obstacles for Deepa Metha and her crew?

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not much magic under this moon, 24 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For the 46th time, the viewers who came to see the latest Woody Allen's picture are greeted with his familiar calling card, the black screen with elegant white subtitles that is a portal to the new world created by the tireless workaholic whose motto is - no single year without a movie. This time, he takes us to Europe of the late 1920s, at the end of the short lull between two most devastating wars of the 20th century. After brief stop in Berlin, the plot moves to the luxurious villa on the seaside of French Riviera where the owners, their guests and neighbors are all excited about otherworldly and supernatural phenomena inexplicable by science.

Do Cassandra's and Sybil's really exist among us? Can they foresee the future and read the past, based on the mental images that are projected directly into their consciousness? Are they really a medium between the material and spiritual worlds? Famous circus magician, skeptic and atheist Stanley (Colin Firth) responds scornfully: "No!" And he is ready to expose one such Sybil, red- haired and green-eyed young American woman Sophie (Emma Stone). Acrimonious and sarcastic,Stanley has no doubts that he will immediately uncover the impostor, but to his utmost surprise he realizes that Sophie knows his hidden secrets, weaknesses, regrets and unfulfilled dreams he never admitted to anyone. Maybe, unknown and hidden forces exist after all?

The picture is beautiful to look at. Shot by Darius Khondji, who has worked on three Allen's films of lately, the French Riviera arises from a dream, wrapped in beauty, serenity and luxury. The problem was, first and foremost, a colorless screenplay which subject Allen might have borrowed from one of his recent London pictures. There is nothing wrong with re-using one's own ideas, and it was Allen who once said: "Steal from the best". But he wrote the script for Magic in the Moonlight without a drop of inspiration or magic. Easily predictable movie drags in the middle hoping for magic to move it towards the final black screen with the white letters adding up to the word "End". What could have been charming romantic period piece/comedy turned bland, devoid of originality and sadly did not allow talented actors Marcia Gay Harden and Jackie Weaver to shine in the supporting roles. This is unfortunate because in Allen's movies even inanimate objects can give exciting performance.

Another problem was director's decision to make a romantic comedy, which, by definition, must end with the close-up of two heroes either lost to the world in an endless kiss or looking into each other's eyes with tenderness that softly melts the screen. Stanley and Sophie share no spark, no "chemistry" that would make the viewers believe in the possibility of romance developing between them. Much more "chemistry" has arisen between Sophie and pretty dresses in the fashion of the late 1920s that were created for her by the talented costume designers. One of the cheerful dresses, white with a big red collar, clings to her gently, hugging her slender figure and highlighting unusual shade of her red hair. And perky black beret, holding on her pretty head at an impossible angle, may well qualify for an Oscar for best supporting role.

Perhaps, none of the modern actors can play a cocky and arrogant English snob better than Colin Firth what he has proved repeatedly. This time, though, he went so deeply into the character that when he had to switch to falling in love mood, the transition was sharp, sudden and not convincing.

With all this said, even pedestrian Woody Allen comedy is more elegant, polished and pleasant than most of the rom- coms produced by the big studios but vagueness, haste and not plausible final act weakened the magic of moonlight. It lacks the enchantment and spell of Paris at midnight that Allen created with light touch and inspiration three years ago.

Long waiting for couscous, 30 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Film director Abdel Kechiche became so involved with the footage for the picture La Graine et le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain) which tells the story of a big dysfunctional family of Tunisian immigrants in the southern French port town of Sete that he could not part with a smallest parts of it. He dedicated the film to his father, and I would not be surprised to find out that the film characters with their traditions, everyday problems, struggles, hopes, and losses were written by Abdel Kechiche from his own family, and the story he tells was inspired by his own growing up. The Secret of the Grain is compelling and personal movie but Kechiche either should have taken another editor or let them use the scissors without reservation. The movie is long with many scenes practically begging of being significantly trimmed. It does not apply to all scenes. Some are amazingly acted, and I would not miss a second of the scene where young Rym (Hafsia Herzi) is trying to convince her mother Lilia to go to the big party in the final part of the film. A newcomer Hafsia Herzi is a born actress, and a good one. She is without a doubt a very promising talent with huge potential but her endless belly-dancing in the final was just that - endless and boring. I get the purpose of the scene but its length and the camera peering at Hafsia's belly for what seems hours, totally kills it.

Kechiche shot the film in Cinéma vérité style, and while it works and lets us actually get to know the characters, overlong monologues and conversations often made me feel like watching a reality talk show which is a completely different genre altogether. The emotional and powerful monologue of Julia, the long-suffering wife of one of a male characters, would have been ten times more powerful had it been twice or even trice shorter. Yes, perhaps in reality the neglected young wife and mother would cry and complain even longer than the scene in the film lasts but we the viewers are grownups, we understand, we get it - don't hit us over the head.

The film is a recipient of many Awards including four César Awards (Best Film, Best Directing, Best Writing, and Most Promising Actress for Herzi) and it was nominated for Best Editing which really surprised me. I think Kechiche deserved to be recognized and rewarded but I hope that he will be more critical with his future films. The film creator should not be afraid of cutting of all unnecessary parts of his work to let a hidden masterpiece inside it breathe freely.

Big Trouble on the Baker Street, 22 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While watching The Bank Job (2008) by Roger Donaldson I could not help thinking how much it felt like a Guy Ritchie's movie, the best that he did not direct. The Bank Job is fast, smart, and so well made that I can only agree with Richard Rupert of At the Movies with Ebert& Rupert, "The most entertaining heist movie I've seen in years". It is based on the true story of the Baker Street robbery that involved a robbery of the safe deposit boxes at a branch of Lloyds Bank on the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road, London, and the following political scandal that the content of some of the boxes might have caused. The robbers were never arrested, and the cash, jewelry and the documents were never recovered. I am not sure how much truth is in the film but it works fine recreating the atmosphere of the 1970s with its political corruption, sex scandals that link to the highest circles, and the police incompetence.

I mentioned Guy Ritchie above, and it seems that the colorful characters from the different layers of society that inhabited London in The Bank Job might have come directly from his early movies. The most decent and sympathetic turned to be the petty thieves led by Terry Leather (the role fits Jason Statham like a glove) while the owners of the stolen safe deposit boxes are mostly corrupt and despicable. Among them the members of the parliament who like to visit the fashionable London brothel, the leader of Black Power organization who keeps the compromising pictures of a member of British Royal Family in the coveted deposit box 118, and the porn-king of Soho (David Suchet) who makes the note of his every payment to the bent cops of London in the special book. Sushet, known to millions as a master of gray cells, the world famous Hercule Poirot, is here on the other side of the law. Perhaps, you won't remember this movie for its outstanding photography and spectacular scenery but as far as the level of entertainment and thrills goes, it is certainly a hit. And the big one.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners.", 4 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Looks like while making "The Big Lebowski" (1998)– weird, nutty, outrageously funny and deliciously twisted movie, the brothers Ethan and Joel Coens, known for their unique and dry humor, sat back, laughed out loud, and had fun. "Big Lebowski" turned as one of the funniest comedies ever made. It is funny because of the incredibly off-beat characters, their weirdness, flaws, their interactions, the surreal situations they found themselves in, and perfectly written and delivered hilarious dialogs. There is the story, of course, which is based on the case of mistaken identity with the following kidnapping, villainous nihilists, vanguard erotic flying painter, the bowler named Jesus but the story is truly secondary to the delicious craziness of the movie.

Some reviewers call Big Lebowski misfire and deranged mess, saying that the story is convoluted with the characters we would not care about a bit. It was also interesting to read the reviews that were written upon its release and compared it to Coens' "Fargo" that had been made a year earlier than the adventure of Jeffrey "the Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges)."Fargo" could be Coens' masterwork but it does not make Lebowski any worse. It was dismissed as the inferior film and was predicted not to stand the future re-watch. The time has proved the predictions wrong. "The Dude" Lebowski - middle-aged pot smoking, White Russian drinking, bowling enthusiast ex-hippie, and his friends, Polish Catholic converted Jew, "more Jewish than Tevye" Vietnam veteran Walter with anger management problems (John Goodman) and timid, little slow, "sweet prince" Donny (unusually quiet Steve Buscemi) have become the cult figures, the beloved characters, for millions of film lovers of different generations, not only the baby- boomers.

The Coen Brothers have made twenty films, and all of them are treasure, including their contribution in the 2006 anthology, Paris, je t'aime. I've seen all their films and I want to repeat the title of my review on their latest, "Burn after reading" - The Coen Brothers don't make bad movies, because they don't know how. Their films, Including the cult favorite, Big Lebowski, should not be missed. They are clever, darkly funny, and beautiful without being pretty pictures. In short, they are first class entertainment.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Invitation to the adventure, 24 February 2014

I found out about this independent adventure documentary from one of its creators and started with watching the 3 minute long trailer which instantly grabbed my attention. Tight, dynamic, even suspenseful thanks to well-chosen soundtrack, the trailer was a great introduction to the film.

I liked the 80 minutes long movie and given that it was the first picture by the Baghdasaryan brothers, they deserve respect and praise for making an engrossing and intriguing film. The subject of the movie was new for me because I did not know anything about The Mumbai Xpress, one of the most extensive and demanding routes of The Indian Auto rickshaw Challenge, the race across India on the auto-rickshaw or tuk- tuk that covers almost 2000 km. Extremely popular in the urban areas due to their simplicity,efficiency and low cost, driving Auto rickshaw across the huge continent with diverse landscape during the rainy season presents a real challenge. That's why the participants, the teams of two or three drivers from different countries, called the rally 'an amazing race for the clinically insane'. But the madness of the brave deserves a film made about it, and that's exactly what Baghdasaryan brothers did. Technically, their film deserves praise. They were able to create a mood of the travel. Shot during the rainy season, the movie is soaked in rain and leaves impression of danger waiting on the every turn of the treacherous roads. The soundtrack, superimposed on the images of long and often grueling journeys between the cities, helps to feel excitement as well as fatigue and frustration that the participants inevitably and regularly have to deal with.

Of several international team-participants, the Baghdasaryan chose the Team US/ Canada team, which included Rick, a Chicago Realtor, and Keith, a Canadian Chef to follow in their adventures during Mumbai Xpress. Rick and Keith, despite their far from extreme occupation back home (or, perhaps, because of it), were ready for excitement and unexpected turns on the treacherous roads during the tropical never ending rain. It was fun in the beginning to follow them on the trip where the problems with their tuk-tuk happened all the time but somewhere in the middle of the road following their team only became a little repetitive and monotonous. I kept thinking of the others teams and how they were handing the long trip. Especially, I wanted to follow the only female team participants and to experience the rally from their perspective. Another slight quibble I have to the film, it was hard to distinguish one city or town on the way from another. I am not sure how the footage should have been edited to pick the most interesting and memorable signs of each new place but there is something for the creators to improve during the work on the future projects. Now, after few weeks since I saw the film, I think that the trailer was the best part of the experience. But as I mentioned above, Hit the Road: India is quite good as a debut in documentary and I am sure that it is a beginning of the long and successful road for the Baghdasaryan Brothers.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Beyond the Valley of the Kings, 22 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ultimate Tut, a special two-part documentary in the popular educational PBS series Secrets of the Dead, is an exciting account of historical-scientific investigation that might have brought us closer to the solving of one of the most fascinating ancient mystery - the short life and death of the Egyptian boy-pharaoh Tutankhamen (Tut) of the 18th dynasty. Tut has become the most recognizable figure of the ancient Egypt after his intact tomb with the priceless golden treasures, Tut's mummy, and the strikingly beautiful golden mask of the young ruler were discovered in 1922 in Egypt's Valley of the Kings by the archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter.

The two hours long documentary is made as the investigation undertaken by Egyptologist Chris Naunton who has been haunted by the obvious differences in the way the 18-years-old King of Egypt was prepared and sent to the eternal life comparing to the rest of the pharaohs whose tombs were also discovered in the Valley of the Kings. Why Tut's was the only tomb that has survived the millenniums with almost all its treasures in place and never been raided by the grave-robbers? Why was the young king buried in a hurry and interred in the tomb that was not prepared properly? Why his body was brutally deformed and the crucial inner parts were missing? Why was embalming of his body performed in the manner that was not appropriate for such important person? Why were the name of Tutankhamen as well as the names of his father, Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV) and his successor, Ay, missing from the list of all pharaohs, Abydos King List? Finding the answer to one of these questions would immediately bring Naunton to the next, and would take him further on the exciting journey all over the world, from Cairo and Luxor to Liverpool University in England, to Getty Center, Los Angeles, California, USA, and back to Egypt. He enlisted the help of the lead scientists, forensics specialists, doctors, historians, archaeologists, geologists and art historians to find the answers and their scientific proof. Two hours long investigation into the mystery that goes back 3000 years turned to be one of the most gripping, compelling, and fascinating documentary thriller I've ever seen. It is entertaining, educational, and is highly recommended to these who love to follow the mysteries of the past and who appreciates excellent documentaries.

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