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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Quoting one of the greatest modern films, any time of the day is a good
time for pie. Blueberry Pie. The Hong-Kong auteur Wong Kar-Way
certainly thought so having made his first English language movie with
the popular American desert playing an important role. My Blueberry
Nights is a very beautiful, visually instantly recognizable Wong
Kar-Way's picture even though his usual collaborator Christopher Doyle
did not shoot it. Instead, Darius Khondji provided lush cinematography
with lots of night shots and neon lights. The soundtrack is wonderful
which is no surprise at all. Kar-Way was very impressed by the
singer/songwriter's Norah Jones work and his idea was to make a movie
around her voice, her songs and the mood that they create. He says that
there is something exciting about her voice. It could be the blend of
sensuality, melancholic longing, hidden passion, depth and obvious
class that might have attracted the celebrated master of the modern
romantic film. My Blueberry Nights is also a travelogue and the
contribution of the Hong-Kong director to the American cinema. By his
own words, he chose to make his American debut the road movie to learn
more about America and to get to know her better.
The three stories of love lost, as the song in soundtrack confirms, have been told before. The main story concerns Elizabeth (Jones) who got dumped by her boyfriend and leaves the big city to get far away and to reinvent herself. She befriends Jeremy, the owner of the diner named "Klyuch", which means "the" key in Russian. He keeps the big jar on the counter where his customers would drop the keys for the ones they love to come back and start all over. Elizabeth's journey would bring her to Memphis, Tennessee, where she encounters the guy so crazy about his wife he could not let her go. Later, in Nevada, Elizabeth meets the gambler girl who longs to re-unite with her estranged father. The problem is not in the stories, anything but new, rather, in the simplistic, uneven and abrupt way they are told. In one of the scenes, Elizabeth says that sometimes things look better on the paper. Maybe it is the case with the film. There's nothing wrong with Wong Kar-Way's movie equivalent of Blueberry Pie. It's just... overly sweet and sadly, the impressive cast has not much to play. Perhaps, that's why the female characters in the movie were so forgettable even if played by Rachel Weitz entering the bar in slow motion and Natalie Portman in oversize sunglasses leaning against convertible. And with all due respect to Norah's talent as a musician, her acting debut was not memorable. On the other hand, David Strathairn's performance was impressive in spite of the short appearance and Jude Law was very likable as Jeremy. And there were Norah Jones' songs and the vistas of America the Beautiful as seen through the eyes of the most romantic modern filmmaker in his English language debut which is pleasant, good looking but simple, even silly and lightweight movie. It is very much akin to a first impression of the foreign tourist armed with all sorts of clichés who just started to explore the never seen before country.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am proud to declare that I have seen (or thought that I have seen)
every movie Woody Allen has been associated with, either as a writer,
director or a star, very often all of the above. To my surprise, I
realized just recently that I missed "The Front", very dark, rather
tragic political dramedy about shameful part of the American history,
the McCarthy-era Communist witch hunts with the blacklists that
affected deeply lives of many Hollywood filmmakers, performers and
writers. Creators of the film, director Martin Ritt; writer Walter
Bernstein; and actors Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Gough and
Joshua Shelley knew about McCarthy-era from their own experiences. They
were all blacklisers. Woody Allen who did not participate in directing
"The Front" or writing the script delivers realistic and sympathetic
performance as Howard, a small apolitical guy, rather a loser who
wanted to help his friend, a blacklisted writer, by providing the front
for the TV scripts with a little profit for himself to cover his own
many debts. While doing so (and helping two more blacklisted writers),
Howard soon realized how horrible, unfair and anti-human the blacklist
situation was and he wanted to do something about it.
By reluctant pretending to be a writer, he becomes a popular and sought-after figure among the TV producers and actors and makes friends with the beloved TV comedian Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel) who was blacklisted because of the marching during the May Day parade in his youth many years ago. Howard witnesses firsthand the spiral fall of the man who lost everything he lived for because he was not allowed to do the very thing he was born to do - to perform on public, to entertain, to make people laugh. If nothing else, "The Front" introduced me to Zero Mostel, the very symbol of great comedian and the victim of the witch hunts in the 1950. Mostel effortlessly steals every moment he is in, and his last scene could make a stone weep.
If you are prepared for a comedy, The Front is most certainly not a regular one even though it's got quite a few jokes, the majority of which had to do with Howard (Allen) repeating that he was not a writer and could not even write a grocery list. Coming from a man whose next film would be "Annie Hall" that brought him two Oscars for writing and directing and who has received numerous awards and nominations for his work during several decades, especially, for screen writing, makes it for an excellent joke.
The film belongs to its time by giving very personal and honest account on what it was like to be on the notorious blacklist but it works fine for today audiences as well. It's been over 60 years since the dark times of the blacklists, the hunt for the dissenters, for those whose opinions, beliefs, preferences were different from the generally accepted but we all should know about the gross injustice that resulted in many broken lives and never let the dark era of paranoia, abuse of power, and hypocrisy prevail again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Beautiful girl and the unsolved mystery - good starting point for a
noir film", mentions to the everyman Jonas, husband and father, the
hero of "Just another love story", one of his friends, urging him to
think twice before immersing into that mystery. And soon, the movie
turns out as a thriller in the Hitchcock's and Coen Brothers'
traditions with the main character taking the sudden choices in order
to run from the stalled relationship that lost its initial appeal, from
unfulfilling job, from life that leads nowhere to a romantic passionate
love and exciting new possibilities.
Derivative - that's the word that majority of nay-sayers use when commenting on this film. But its writer/director Ole Bornedal does not hide throughout the picture that he has made a noir film, or, rather, Neo-noir: Danish style that characterizes by postmodernist self-reflection and consciously refers to the works of past and present. There are all ingredients here you would expect in a noir film: twists, turns, wrong or questionable choices the main character takes and where they would lead him. There are mysterious young woman with a dark past and a sinister stranger in bandages, gloomy deserted landscapes and long corridors with flickering neon lights. The scenes of killings and beatings are rather cruel and violent, erotic encounters - explicit, and the ending is thousands miles away from a Hollywood happy ending. But for Ole Bornedal, the creator of Just Another Love Story, the most important message that he wanted to convey to the audience was that everybody carries a dream and the need for a self-fulfillment in life - that life very rarely offers. His dark, violent, moody noir reflects on the wishes, fantasies, desires that seem have been lost as time goes on but never disappear and only wait patiently for a sudden spark to ignite them and to start unquenchable, all-consuming disastrous flames.
The film is over the top in its second part but by that time you have been already so involved in the story and glued to the screen that you are willing to forgive whatever problems and deep holes the plot has and how many films and books Just Another Love Story freely refers to. It could be described as Talk to Her While She Was Sleeping but remember not to mess with the Chinese Triads because this is No Country for Old Men. Ole Bornedal's neo-noir also brings to memory the mystery novels by French writers, the duo Boileau- Narcejac and Sébastien Japrisot. The former are the authors of the novels Les Diaboliques and Vertigo. Before they became the classics of cinema, they had been and still are highly popular books. "Trap for Cinderella" by Sébastien Japrisot tells about a young woman who has lost her identity due to amnesia in the fatal fire accident and does not remember anything that led to the disaster including the truth about being a murderer or a victim or both. The common feature of all mentioned novels and their screen adaptations is assuming somebody else's personality. But "No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main." And giving up your identity, pretending to be someone else, thus accepting their connections with this world however mysterious, sinister, dangerous those connections may be, inevitably leads to the devastating results. It is just a guess whether Bornedal is familiar with these books but the theme of Identity is the most prominent in his film, which is a riveting thriller, an impossible love-story, a social commentary on the middle-aged angst, as much as a philosophical meditation on the possibility/impossibility to live someone else's life, and accepting your own.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Time will tell whether Joel Edgerton joins the exclusive club of the
famous actors turned talented and successful film directors or sticks
to the acting career but his directorial debut, "The Gift", was a nice
gift to the fans of the psychological thrillers in the Alfred
Hitchcock's fashion or, rather, their new variety, "marriage thrillers"
that follow the success of David Fincher's provocative Gone Girl.
Edgerton, who gave a bravura performance in the fellow Aussie's, Buz
Luhrmann's adaptation of Great Gatsby, hit the trifecta with writing
the screenplay, directing, and producing The Gift, and also playing one
of the three main characters.
Edgerton undoubtedly loves the good thriller and proves to know how to make one. The Gift starts with a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callen (Rebecca Hall), relocated from Chicago to a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood after Simon finds a new job outside the city that should propel him to the corporate heights. While out buying supplies for their new picture-perfect home, they run into Gordon "Gordo" Moseley (Joel Edgerton), a former high school classmate of Simon's who Simon claims to have completely forgotten about. Soon after, Gordo begins dropping in unannounced, usually when Simon is at work. He sends thoughtful housewarming gifts for the couple, neatly wrapped in the bright paper, with the bow attached, accompanied with nice handwritten card in the red envelope.
Without giving too much away, it should be said that whatever started as yet another retelling of the "Fatal Attraction" type story, turned out as the dissections of such ugly but persisting realities of life as bullying, human cruelty, unconscious desire for dominating that would start in someone's past and would cover all aspects and spheres of human communicating, including school, family, the workplace, and neighborhood. Main idea of Edgerton's film as shared by director himself during an interview is acknowledgment of one's past, admitting to the wrong doings in order to be able to build the future. But it brings a question: do we change as time goes by? Are we able to admit the guilt that went unpunished and to face the consequences? Can we predict to what extend will our words and deeds affect someone's life? Someone whom we won't even recognize if run across accidentally after many years?
Edgerton plays with the viewers' expectations and takes them to the unpredictable directions adding to the plot more layers and depths. The way he tells the story while building up the suspense and creating disturbing atmosphere is remarkable. He almost convinces the viewers that they could guess easily what would happen next yet when they expect it the least, he pulls the rug from under their feet. As a director, his use of the multiple glass surfaces is masterful. The heavily windowed houses in the nice South California area, Hollywood Hills, are as important to the plot as three main characters. Huge windows and glass doors seem to bring people closer but, at the same time, they stand as the walls of alienation and estrangement. Massive glass elements soon become gloomy threatening messengers of impending psychological horror which comes from the sins of the past that have not been acknowledged. Danger may lurk behind the misted glass door while you take a shower in the safety of your house. There is a silhouette disappearing in the air in the manner of Keyser Söze behind the thick matt glass doors in the hospital. The movie keeps surprising us by changing the viewpoints, by showing that what we see is not always what actually goes on in front of us. It makes us ask themselves, do we really know these closest to us, someone whom we think we share the intimate knowledge of ultimate closeness with.
One of the delicious surprises the movie provides is the characters development that drives the story and moves it in the different directions. Both, Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman play real people, complex and alive, not just two-dimensional carton figures. Jason Bateman, especially, impresses by bringing out dark sides of Simon's confident, successful, charismatic persona. But the best gift Edgerton keeps to the very end. For the movie which important and repeated over and over image are nice wrapped gift boxes of the different sizes and shapes, the writer/director refuses to wrap up the ending and attach the colorful bow to it. The Gift's conclusion is open but strangely satisfying. What goes around comes around, and bygones don't want to be bygones.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
La jetée (1961) aka The Pier is one of the best, poignant, and most
unusual films ever made. The 28 minutes long collection of unbelievably
rich, mesmerizing, still black and white images accompanied with the
mourning score and sparse narration look inside your very soul while
you look at them and they talk to you and reach to all your senses.
This is correct - the film used a photo-montage technique but once
stated watching, I was so enthralled that I did not think about
technical part. The film is simple, poetic, philosophical, and
profound. It is an anti war/post-apocalyptic science fiction
documentary style and at the same time the ode to love, longing, and to
power of memory.
Here is the paradox - how can documentary, made of the still black and white images tell the story that would influence every following film about time travel and be the true feast for mind and soul? Well, it has happened in La jetée, and while watching you forget what genre the movie belongs to because it defies the definitions of genres, and you just don't want it to end even though you know from the beginning that this movie will never have a happy ending. Like millions of fascinated viewers I ask myself how that much was achieved with so little. Like an unnamed protagonist of La jetée is marked for life with an unforgettable image from his childhood, the viewer is marked with the still images of the film, especially by only one animated image of awakening in the film that comes like a miracle.
I finished earlier this evening re-watching Terry Gilliam's excellent film Twelve Monkeys (1995) for which La jetée was the inspiration. Now when I saw both, I am sure that if it were not for the unspeakably sad, beautiful and moving short film of Chris Marker that suggests that "calling past and future may save the present" and provides the extraordinary emotional impact with the story of return to the most vivid childhood memories again and again, there would be no brilliant and dark visions of Twelve Monkeys. Both films are glorious in their unique way and should be viewed together to be appreciated fully.
*** 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.
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.
*** 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) 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?
*** 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.
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