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It isn't very easy to convince the jury of a pretentious festival like Berlin that your animation is better than all the other features in competition. Maybe Miyazaki's success is based especially on his extremely focused effort on creating a believable world in which believable characters evolve bound by a dreamlike predestination. When Chihiro's parents start eating from the tables filled with extravagant dishes, one can expect something nasty is going to happen. Animation is the closest step a filmmaker can take toward an accurate depiction of dreams, and the "Japanese Disney" can obviously handle the techniques. The entrance in the "mysterious town", the green field, the beautiful architecture, the loneliness of that place reminds us of eerie moments in our own childhood, when we could wonder at a midsummer garden full of flowers in the afternoon. Soon, the plot unfolds and we can witness Chihiro's adventures in a fantastic land where spirits gathered after dark. It's useless to describe the richness of colors and details and the amazing characters which one can enjoy in this monumental fairy-tale. The European and American response to this Japanese production showed that this kind of story, although filled with specific motives and themes, is useful in any civilization. It's about the power of a child to surpass any fear or difficulty in order to be back with her parents.
Youth Without Youth (2007)
Searching the eternal youth in Romania
It's been a while since I have written anything for IMDb. "Youth Without Youth" is not only a very personal approach to a barely known novella by Mircea Eliade, but also a homage to Romanian culture and civilization. I felt really good watching a legendary filmmaker like Coppola before the special screening (in Bucharest), walking on the stage and thanking sincerely to the Romanian cast and crew, and in the end, thanking all of us "for Mircea Eliade". I read Eliade's novella some months ago, and I found it difficult and "anti-cinematic", unlike "La tiganci" or other texts of his. "Youth" is, as I saw it, a meditation on time and the relation between human memory and identity. Eliade has been concerned with the theme of "la vita est sueno" (life is dream) for a long time, and his fiction shows it. Coppola also has been preoccupied with time, dreams and memory in his late films like "Peggy Sue", "Dracula" and "Jack". It might seem strange and paradoxical, but beyond the horror clichés and the gory make-ups, one can see lots of formal similarities in "Dracula" and "Youth...". The Italian American director is definitely bound to European Romanticism, and he tried to infuse a lot of new symbols (the mirror, the moon on the bluish night sky, the skull etc) to an already symbol-heavy-loaded narrative. Tim Roth is the ideal choice for the central character (old Dominic Matei that grows young after a lightning stroke). The rest of the numerous cast is composed mainly of Romanian actors, most of which are famous in our country. Iures is known for the international public also, and handles his role elegantly, as usual. Maria Lara is a Romanian-born German actress, playing the role of Dominic Matei's lady friend and lover. The relationship between Dominic and Laura is beautifully developed by Coppola's rewriting of the initial novella. Near the end of the film, there is a moment (shot in Malta) where Dominic decides to break away from Laura, because of the dreadful effects of his supernatural youth on her physical condition. Both actors are impressive in this delicate scene.
This film was, all in all, a pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting a more Hollywood-ish speculative and commercial-oriented style. Anyway, I personally (still) think the D.P. and the photographic department in general was overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project. Coppola should of thought more deeply about his choice, because Mihai Malaimare Jr. (the D.P.) and digital imagery was simply not enough ! It took over 2 years to complete this film anyway, so why didn't he use film instead of digital mediums? Was money really a problem here? Maybe Roth asked for a big fee, I don't know. This film won't be appreciated by a wide audience, because Eliade's literature is very special and restrictive (you need to fancy Romanian folklore and oriental philosophies in order to get into this). In fact, Eliade's novella was clearly inspired (as the main title shows) by one of the most beautiful and profound fairy-tales ever: "Tinerete fara batranete si viata fara de moarte" (hard to translate into English, but it might sound like "Eternal youth and life without death"). Even if you are not Romanian, you should check it out! It will change the way you feel about time and life, the way Eliade changed Coppola from an old mainstream Hollywood director into an arty European film experimenter.
Bob the Butler (2005)
I must be losing it if I'm voting 9 out of 10 for a film called "Bob the Butler", but I just can't help it. When the film started, I was sure it's something really common, a medium-level comedy. Indeed, it's not for the tastes of a philosophical genius but once you start "digging" the action and the main character you can't stop enjoying this brilliant, innocent, Sunday evening family movie. This is the kind of movie only Americans can make - a loser trains to become a stylish butler and ends up being Brooke Shield's lover with the help of her two funny kids that are fond of him. It's one of the greatest happy-endings I've seen lately - Brooke is looking for Bob in a shipyard, and finds him in a Car-Washing Centre. He just couldn't leave... Irresistible ~
the darkest and most intense in the series
Everybody was curious about this "key" episode in the most famous S.F. series of all time. The big question was: "How is Anakin turning into Vader ?". After all, the whole "saga" was about a "boy-genius" that becomes fascinated by Darkness, and then returns into the Light. The final installment - "Return of the Jedi", is more about the return of Vader, than about his son - Luke, who was never really attracted by evil. So, as Francis Ford Coppola said when he visited the Film University in Bucharest, "Episode III" is like a Shakespearean tragedy". The darkest and most intense film in the series can't top "Jedi", but comes second best. For some minutes I really had the impression that I was traveling back in the eighties, when big-time adventure films looked like this. Great acting in supporting roles, such as the formidable Ian McDiarmid, back in the scary make-up of the Emperor (which should of had that Oscar for make-up), Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu and Christopher Lee as Dooku (a count that sounds a lot like Dracula). Yoda is a great actor, as usual. As they were in the previous two episodes, the leading roles are poorly handled by the such of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. These two are striving to keep up the appearances, but they are kind of ridiculous vis-a-vis the cast of the initial trilogy. It seems that Lucas couldn't get out of the young cast the performances that he got from the elder British masters - Alec Guiness, Peter Cushing, now joined by Lee. Anyway, Ewan and Hayden make a decent couple, as master and apprentice. The quarrels between the two are artificial, the same as the relationship between Anakin and Amidala.
If we put aside much of the acting, it's a great ending for the prequel trilogy. Beautiful CGI landscapes from strange planets, exhilarating light-saber duels all-around, breathtaking rides in the various space vehicles and unforgettable alien creatures make this film a unique experience. I've seen it three times in theaters and I couldn't get enough of the magical soundtrack from John Williams, that renders a symphonic pace to the whole. Absolute highlights : Yoda fighting the Emperor in the Senate, Anakin vs. his master and the mind blowing quote (from the exquisite theatrical teaser) "Lord Vader... rise!", that completes the circle. Almost... perfect !
Actorul si salbaticii (1975)
great role for Toma Caragiu
This film is an opportunity to watch great Romanian actors at work, under the direction of Manole Marcus, one of the first Romanian film makers that attended Film School (the first generation at the Academy of Theatre and Film in Bucharest). Toma Caragiu is portraying Constantin Tanase, a great Romanian comedian from the '30s. The film looks like a musical-comedy, but in fact is tragic. The historical background is carefully designed and crafted, starting with the costumes and ending with the grim atmosphere, suggested mainly through an attentive manipulation of light and shadows. Marcus took a pretty long shot with the subject, because Tanase was an "old-time" entertainer, from the the so-called "exploitation" period (that's how the communists called the years of monarchy in Romania). A careful watcher can observe the sympathy for the culture and civilization of that troubled time. Watch for Mircea Diaconu and Mircea Albulescu in two special appearances.
This film is a beautiful ending for Ion Popescu Gopo's film career. Childish, indeed, but charming SF-fairy tale about two little girls getting lost in a fabulous world inside a TV. I remember I saw this film in 1989, when I was 7. TV was important for me those days, because it was the source for thousands of daydreams, i.e. films and cartoons (all of which I saw on video cassettes). Gopo could foresee the impact that television would soon have on young people, so from this point of view, his movie is in a league with Spielberg's "Poltergeist", only a fairy-tale version instead of a horror. Gopo died later in 1989, but before the Revolution broke in December. He never saw Romania turning against oppression and fighting for real freedom, but maybe he didn't need that. He was free in the first place, because he was an artist.
Chirita la Iasi (1987)
used to be funny
When I saw this film in a cinema in Bucharest I was like 5 or 6. The film was very funny back then, but recently, when I accidentally took a glimpse at it on TV, it seemed obsolete. The humor is not entirely expired, as the musical moments are ridiculously funny and some of the old gags still "steal" a bunch of laughs. In fact, the sets and costumes seemed even more spectacular now, but time obviously damaged a lot of the original photography, as the colors are pretty washed out. Draga Olteanu and Dem Radulescu make a good couple, but the cast highlights remain Mihai Fotino and Marin Moraru, the two scoundrels running around in the moneyed hillbilly mansion, dressed like "ladies" and trying to make an impression on their hosts. The scene where they take refuge in a tree, after trying to steal some money from Radulescu's mansion, used to be hilarious. Now, it's just funny.
Mihai Viteazul (1970)
Simply the best Romanian film
Yeah, that's it! The best Romanian film ever. Sounds stately, I know, but nobody has topped this film yet. Sergiu himself said that this is "the most IMPORTANT Romanian film", because it serves in a beautiful way the main cause of our people over the centuries - the unification of the 3 ancient Romanian-speaking countries: Transylvania, Moldavia and Tara Romaneasca. This epic that could easily enter the league of such blockbusters as "Braveheart" or "Kingdom of Heaven", depicts the final years of the XVI century, when Mihai Viteazul achieved the longed unification that, unfortunately, lasted less than a year. In fact, I'm talking about the second part of "Mihai Viteazu", here. Everything said is applied to the first part, as well. It's useless to glorify this film in a short comment - you have to watch it and make your own impressions. If you are not Romanian, you won't feel the same as we, all the Romanian movie goers did, but anyway, you can enjoy a truly good piece of historical cinema.
NOTIFICATIONS : the central figure is incarnated by Amza Pellea, a monumental actor at his best. Stay focused on Mihai's mother, approaching the final scene of the film, portrayed by Olga Tudorache in a brief, but wonderful screen appearance.
pretty bad, but brings back memories
I've seen this film recently on a Romanian TV-channel. It brought up lots of memories from the eighties, when I was a kid and the only films I could see (except VHS) were Romanian or east-European. First, it's the sets. A big part of the action takes place in foreign countries, yet all the furniture is obviously Romanian-made, and all the clothing, the walls, the windows, everything seems to be made in our country. I can't say this film is just bad, because it aged a lot these last 21 years. It must have had a very serious target back then - showing the Romanian population the risks of getting in touch with forces outside the communist space. Now it's just a hilarious, obsolete film that strives to copy some clichés from "James Bond" films of the seventies. Acting is really awful, especially from Piersic, the name of the director is still a mystery. Besoiu plays one of the funniest villains I've ever seen in Romanian cinema.
Misterele Bucurestilor (1983)
The "Margelatu" series contains one of those movie moments that made a real impression on me as a child: Margelatu (Piersic) cleaning his famous multiple-barrel pistol with an alcoholic liquor, at a table in a squalid old-Bucharest inn. I'm almost sure that I've seen this in "misterele Bucurestilor", although it might have been "Trandafirul ...", or "Drumul...". Anyway, "Misterele..." is opening with another memorable scene - the fair which gathers a real "freak" collection, starting with the magical dentist that worked in open-air (irressistible performance by Jean Constantin) and ending with the weird witch that could see in the future. Simply entertaining.