Archive for July, 2012

My unusual relationship with films inspired by comics continues to develop, as for various reasons I have seen a lot of these in the last few weeks. I picked Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec this week at the end of an exhausting day of work (and heat outside) as I was looking for easy entertainment that would not require efforts from the few cells in my brain that staid awake. More or less I got what I wanted.




I think that I know the reason because of which I enjoy more the films inspired by French comics than the American ones, and feel more comfortable in the company of Asterix than in the one of Superman, Batman, or Spiderman. Unlike many of my American (and not only American) friends I grew on the French comics journals, especially Vaillant (later named Pif gadget). Second to Vaillant was Pilote and this is where the character of Adele Blanc-Sec created by Jacques Tardi comes from.




Adele is a French newspaper journalist in the years before the First World War. She is beutiful, she travels, she never seems to lose energy. Well, she’s a cartoon character. She also has a fantastic sense of humor, and ridicules her enemies with the same easiness she beats them with various weapons or tricks. The first sequences that see her travel to Egypt in order to find, bring to France and bring back to life a physician of the Pharaohs who is of course the only person dead or alive who can save the life of her sister are both well filmed (as is the full movie), funny and a reverence to Indiana Jones.


(video source EUROPACORP)


Certainly script author and director Luc Besson wrote and directed more ‘important’ and ‘serious’ films. Here and in other films made lately he seems to enjoy himself with making easier stories, and targeting all audiences. While I miss films like the original La Femme Nikita, Leon or The Fifth Element, I cannot deny that I enjoyed this film at many moments, including the thick comical parodies of the characters at the start of the 20th century (policemen, scientists, and even le president de la Republique) or of the ancient Egyptians on a walk to know Paris, a Paris emptied by heavy traffic but already with most landmarks in place. Louise Bourgoin as Adele Blanc-Sec is sexy and funny, and as the last scene shows her boarding the Titanic I am wondering whether Besson intents to locate there her next adventure. Ah, a parody of Cameron‘s movie, what a sweet revenge it could be!

Islands are terrific settings for thrillers. We know it from our own cinematographic experience, and we know we are in claustrophobic territory from the very first scene of this film, with the Shutter Island somewhere out of Boston in the mid-50s appearing in the mist under the gray oppressing skies. In Polanski‘s Ghost Writter or in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the first series of Millennium there was a bridge to connect the island with the continent, here there is no bridge and a storm will soon cut any connection with solid ground and any way for the characters to get back to the safety of their routine existence. If there is one.




There are a lot of Hitchcock quotes in this film of Martin Scorsese, we almost may characterize it as a Hitchcock film directed by Scorsese. The setting of the film in the 50s reminds immediately the great films of the master of the suspense from that period, and the main character, a US marshal sent to investigate the impossible disappearance of a patient in a special asylum, where criminals are treated for insanity using modern psychoanalytic methods behaves for a while as one of these Hitchcock heroes whose sanity is placed under doubt, but we know that it is not them but the world around that became crazy, and tries to pull him into its lack of sanity. Is this the case here? Leonardo DiCaprio plays the lead role, I am no fan of his, but I confess to have liked immensely his acting here.  In a film where nothing is really what seems to be, where the reality and terms of reference change slowly to be completely swapped by the end, his solid but very nuanced acting is critical and sustains the film from start to end. DiCaprio is present in every scene in the film, because what we see is what he sees, and what he feels starts to infuse into us viewers as the film progresses. His perception of reality becomes ours, his flashbacks bring his past under our eyes, his visions and nightmares end by hunting us.


(video source fsilverscreen)


There are many beautiful scenes in this film, ideas, shots, dialogs that are all memorable. Acting from actors like Ben Kingsley or Max Von Sydow as two of the psychiatrists in the prison-asylum is positioning their characters against the evolution (or is it an involution) of the hero in search of the truth, which becomes a search of his own identity. If I am to explain why I was not completely happy with this film I would maybe blame its duration, the rule of ‘way over two hours’ which seems to have been legislated in Hollywood lately applies here as well, with no clear benefit. It’s maybe a way to say – this is a serious and heavy movie- but there is no need to have said it in this case because the film is serious and catching and the final is hard to forget anyway. Less is better, here is another rule which could have applied. Scorsese makes great films, they need not be excessively long also.


I did not see yet the American remake version of the first series in the ‘Millennium’ adaptation.  I am hearing good things about it, but frankly speaking I enjoyed so much the Swedish version that I am a little bit reluctant to have my visual image of the heroes and the cinematographic version of the landscape where the action happens replaced or confused by something else. In the meantime I saw this third and final series in the version directed by Daniel Alfredson and based on the novels completed by Stieg Larsoon.  I am happy with what I saw.




This third installment misses some of the elements that made the first and also the second film in the series special. We now know almost every about the traumatic past of Lisbeth Salander, and as she is recovering from neurosurgery we can guess that she will face another set of troubles due not only to the conspiracies of the people and institutions that want her reduced to silence, but also to her own character. Missing also is some of the frozen far North landscape, the action takes place this time in the short and lovely Scandinavian season which as pleasant as it may be for the locals does not feature that well on screen as the endless chilly landscape in the first film. The new element that is introduced instead is a conspiracy theory story in which the heroes need not only to solve mysteries, but also face forces beyond their control that try to destroy them for reasons of ‘national security’. The good news is that all these play well together, make sense both from a story telling perspective, as well as from a characters development and dynamics point of view. This last (?) installment of the ‘Millennium’ trilogy may contain less characters suspense, as we already know the heroes, but moves the action in the political and psychological thriller and court drama territories, and does it in a solid and yet sensitive way.


(video source simarchetto)


Much is of course to be said – again – about the splendid acting of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth and of Michael Nyquist as journalist Mikael Blomqvist. They are so credible inside their characters skins that it’s hard to imagine them in other roles, or the characters with other faces than theirs (this may be one of the reasons I am in no hurry to see the American version). The team of journalists at the ‘Millennium’ redaction provide good support, with their fears in face of the real dangers they face. In the quiet and civilized Scandinavian democracy, danger and violence surface in a manner that is hard not only to contain but also to believe for the local characters. This contrast adds one more level of interest to this more than satisfying ending of the trilogy.


The heroes in ‘Kick-Ass’ are not made of special forms of matter and are not un-breakable. They try however to live to the ambitions of the super-heroes myth in a world which seems to believe in myths, and take the superhero life-style paths. Of course, when regular people act as super-heroes they can also get hurt, especially as they are at different levels of evolution in their training. A dad and his 11 years daughter seem to be the most advanced, with a high-school teenager who is actually the main hero following them bravely on the same path. Another teenager rather seems to be on the dark side, but he also tries the funny costumes and the weapons of the trade. The names of the heroes are Big Daddy, Hit Girl, Kick-Ass which seem like warnings not to take things too much seriously. There are some background explanations, but these do not count too much. The general tone of the film is on the comic register, a combination of superheroes parody and teenager growing pains comedy but the mix becomes lethal when it comes to action scenes. These are actually as violent as you can get in a Tarantino movie, and the scenes featuring the father training his 11 years daughter to become a killing machine (even if for the good cause of justice) risk to upset anybody who stops for a second to reflect at what is presented on the screen, and takes the subject too seriously and out of the nonsense territory.




The film does also belong to another genre – the ‘how could Nicholas Cage pick such a role?’ one. With all due respect for the film, which is actually a well made, well paced and entertaining movie if you can overcome or you do not care about the moral aspects, Cage’s presence in a supporting role in which he walks most of the time with a ridiculous thick make-up is wasted time for his enormous talent. That’s certainly just a (big) fan opinion. Otherwise you can accept the convention and just enjoy the wild ride.

The Brits have their institutions that they carry on with for centuries – the monarchy, the Parliament, Shakespeare, fish&chips, etc. Some say that their adherence to tradition is what keeps those alive, I say yes, it is tradition, but combined with the will or at least the recognition that traditions need to be combined with a dose of novelty, and this is to the same extent as the consevative philosophy what maintains institutions alive over centuries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ has become one of these traditions and it includes tens of variants of bringing them to screen. The latest on big screens (starring Robert Downey Jr.) and the BBC (another British institution on its own) series ‘Sherlock’ are I believe one more example. It’s probably the most daring version and an update of the Holmes stories to modern times, and it’s pretty good.




Let me say from the start that it took me time to get used and love this new incarnation of the detective on Baker Street. Fortunately the Israeli Cable TV broadcast the six series of the two first seasons one after the other, so I had not enough time to be discouraged by the first episodes, which I felt were too long and too complex for me to enjoy. I also perceived the adaptation to the 21st century realities to be rather inconsistent, with some of the feminine characters entering and disappearing the plot, and with Sherlock speaking way too fast and too smart for me to understand, not to speak about enjoying. But then, starting with the third episodes things started to come together in the story, and the appearance of this version of Moriarty really made the difference and built up the material of the second season. Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is a real treat, great acting and a typology that balances the triangle of him, Sherlock and dr. Watson.


(video source TVpotatoes)


Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as doctor Watson are fine actor selections for the two characters, which you would expect from any good quality BBC series. What is less expected are the perspectives we get about the two characters relocated in the London of the beginning of the third millennium. Sherlock is a mind too smart for his human peers, and a poor communicator, so poor that it lets us wonder if he really has human feelings or rather belongs to the Mr. Data category. The last episode in the second season provides at least a partial answer. Dr. Watson is nothing less than a medical officer traumatized by what he witnessed in the Afghan war, but a short documentation revealed to me that the original character of Conan Doyle has a similar background, which shows that history had its own loops during the last 150 years. The script is a little bit hesitant on what to do with his character, he does take a more important role than in the novels, but this role seems to go to different directions in different episodes. Sherlock’s brother character keeps a dose of mystery which can be used in the coming season.


(video source BBCWorldwide)


Yes, there will be a next season, as the producers announced and after the last and great season finale of the second one I am looking forward to it. I started as a doubter, I am now a converted. The Sherlock Holmes in this series may be using the most advanced technology of the century he lives (as the original character also did), but it’s the human dimensions, the characters and the relationship between themselves, and between themselves and the world around which make the film captivating. With most if not all American series failing us this year, and a couple which were atop the line being discontinued as they failed the American TV rating thresholds, thanks to the BBC for coming to rescue and saving the season.


Daca memoria nu ma inseala ‘Fratii Sisters’ (‘The Sisters Brothers’) al lui Patrick deWitt este primul roman pe care il citesc intr-un gen care in literatura nord-americana are un loc al sau castigat si consolidat in preferintele cititorilor si in rafturile librariilor si ale bibliotecilor de pe Noul Continent – romanul-western. Cele mai apropriate carti de gen pe care le-am citit trebuie sa fi fost romanele de frontiera ale lui James Fenimore Cooper, dar m-am nascut prea tarziu pentru a le citi in foileton pe cele din seria Winnetou a lui Karl May. Romanele lui Cooper, cu toate elementele lor romantice erau insa la timpul publicarii romane ‘de actualitate’ scrise pentru publicul american al vremii. Cu timpul genul a devenit ‘istoric’ dar el continua sa aiba o viata a sa, cu rezultate delicioase si nu lipsite de reale calitati literare asa cum dovedeste aceasta traducere a Ioanei Filat publicata in 2012 de editura Polirom in colectia Proza XXI. Este a doua carte a lui Patrick deWitt (scriitor canadian din Vancouver, nascut in 1975), nominalizata pentru vreo patru premii literare nord-americane din care a si castigat vreo doua si este si o dovada (daca mai era nevoie) ca nu exista genuri literare ‘minore’ ci doar carti bune sau mai putin bune.




Cartea este povestita la persoana intai de Eli Sisters, pistolar si ucigas cu simbrie in perioada goanei dupa aur din California secolului 19. Eli este unul dintre cei doi frati Sisters, si jocul de cuvinte din titlul cartii indica din start o anumita detasare declarativa a scriitorului de materialul cartii, care daca ar fi privit cu prea multa seriozitate ar risca sa fie in multe locuri sordid. Stilul umoristic balanseaza realitatea cruda a povestilor descrise in carte, insoteste cititorul de la prima pana la ultima pagina si este unul dintre motivele care fac din ‘Fratii Sisters’ o carte placuta la citit, inclusiv o recomandata lectura de vacanta, daca tot suntem in perioada in care trebuie sa alegem ce carti punem in bagaj pentru lecturile de drum sau de plaja.

Misiunea primita de cei doi frati este ‘lichidarea’ unui personaj din San Francisco pe nume Warms, carismatic descoperitor si inventator al unui procedeu care face cautarea de aur mult mai productiva fata de metodele obisnuite, fapt care il face insa si tinta atentiei tuturor concurentilor intru prospectare si a criminalilor mai mici sau mai mari intr-o perioada in care viata omeneasca este la pret de nimic fata de valoarea aurului. Warms este numai unul dintr-o serie de personaje bizare, patetice, ridicole, vicioase si mai ales cautandu-si rostul si negasindu-si linistea intr-o lume in devenire efervescenta. Una dintre marile calitati ale prozei lui deWitt este acesta capacitate de caracterizare expresiva, colorata si nemiloasa, din cateva fraze, sau cateva dialoguri, si galeria de personaje pe care le ofera cartea este diversa si interesanta.




Cei doi frati insisi sunt doua personaje diferite in caracter in pofida apropierii rezervate de soarta si antecedentele familiale – un tata abuziv pe care fratele cel mare, Charlie, il ucide in copilarie pentru a-si proteja mama si a pune capat violentei in famile, deschizand insa astel poarta violentei in propriul lor destin, si o mama care isi dezavueaza copiii, in profund dezacord moral cu felul lor de viata si modul lor de a-si castiga existenta. Spre final cei doi vor fi reuniti si din punct de vedere moral, mai mult datorita circumstantelor si intamplarilor din carte, pe care nu le voi dezvalui pentru a nu rapi placerea lecturii. Cu toate ca cartea este povestita la persoana intaia, perspectiva este de multe ori mai mult moderna, si simtim surasul ironic al autorului atunci cand personajele descopera de exemplu binefacerile igienei dentare.

Scrisa in ritm alert, cu personaje si cu o poveste bine ticluita si impanata cu momente de suspans, cartea are mari sanse de a fi ecranizata intr-un film care poate avea succes. Am si auzit de fapt ca drepturile de autor pentru ecranizare au fost vandute. Ar mai ramane de hotarit cine sa regizeze filmul, si aici nu m-am hotarit inca. Pe baza aceluiasi scenariu si Quentin Tarantino si fratii Coen ar fi cred potriviti si interesati cred, sa faca un film despre ‘Fratii Sisters’. Cele doua filme ar fi desigur filme foarte diferite. Inca un argument ca este vorba despre o carte interesanta.