Archive for November, 2012

Brazilian cinema is for me another almost completely unexplored territory. Have I ever seen a Brazilian movie before? Probably not, maybe a couple of documentaries about Brazilian music. Director Jose Padilha‘s Elite Squad was for me as big a surprise as it must have been for many of the viewers at the Cannes festival a few years ago. Settled in one of the many favelas, the bad-famed suburbs of Rio, it describes in a non-compromising manner a sick society faced with such a level of violence and corruption that it seems to make any tentative to reinstate law and justice a risky and utopian endeavor. And yet this is exactly what the team of policemen in the center of the film tries to do, and the principal heroes are a couple of recruits trained into becoming some of the most efficient (and most violent) cops to fight organized crime.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0861739/

 

The action formula with a police school sub-theme works, the story is extremely well paced, realistic, even if sometimes cruel to the limits and not completely avoiding (because of the rush) to create some confusions. Overall, because of the sincere acting, and the unusual setting Elite Squad leaves the impression of bringing fresh air in the cops vs gangsters genre.

 

(video source alfinete99k)

 

Acting is good and the characters are well-drawn. We understand well their motivations and their relationship with the environment in which they live and they fight. I liked the film, and my only concern was that I read that after a few years a sequel was made. When an original story in a refreshing environment is repeated, there is a high probability to be turned in a tired formula. I hope to be wrong.

 

‘Cat de infricosatoare par profetiile unui tanar scriitor, privite retrospectiv! Daca vom scrie suficient de mult si vom trai suficient de mult, viata noastra va fi, in mare, un deja vu, iar noi insine, personajele-fantoma pe care credeam ca le-am creat’.

Aceste randuri apar in postfata pe care Joyce Carol Oates a adaugat-o romanului Gradina placerilor lumesti (versiune romaneasca la Editura Polirom, 2012 in traducerea excelenta a Mihaelei Negrila) cu ocazia rescrierii si republicarii sale in 2002. Aparut initial in 1967 era doar a doua carte a unei scriitoare care avea sa adauge in lunga si inca activa sa cariera inca peste 50 de volume si sa devina una dintre vocile distincte ale literaturii nord-americane contemporane. Gradina placerilor lumesti este si prima din cele patru volume ale tetralogiei Wonderland care grupeaza operele majore ale primei parti a carierei sale literare.

 

source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JoyceCarolOates.jpg

 

Varianta rescrisa a cartii adauga elemente autobiografice pe care autoarea insasi marturiseste ca nu le-a sesizat sau in orice caz nu le-a constientizat in momentul primei scrieri a cartii. Clara Walpole, eroina principala a cartii se naste intr-o familie extrem de saraca, de muncitori sezonieri si romanul urmareste timp de jumatate de secol biografia ei marcata de asecendenta sociala si lupta permanenta de a-si depasi conditia initiala si de a-si asigura stabilitatea materiala si a dobandi pentru ea si pentru baiatul ei implinirea in lumea in care traieste. Cu toata ca aceasta ascensiune materiala si sociala se realizeaza, cel putin in aparenta, traiectoria sa este departe de a fi o intruchipare a visului american. Fiecare succes, fiecare pas inainte pe esalonul social este platit daca nu imediat atunci mai tarziu prin suferinte si uneori tragedii. Doua sunt cauzele acestei permanente lupte cu lumea din jur: conditia de femeie si originea sociala. Aceasta din urma este traita constient si descrisa in cateva cuvinte clare:

“Erau albi sarantoci, toata lumea stia asta, si asta inseamna ca lumea arunca in tine cu pietre: mai devreme sau mai tarziu, cu siguranta erai lovit.” (pag. 69)

Aceasta este conditia pe care eroina isi pune ca scop sa o depaseasca cu orice pret. Iar pretul se va adeveri a fi imens.

 

sursa http://www.polirom.ro/catalog/carte/gradina-placerilor-lumesti-4660/arunca_o_privire.html

 

Nascuta in imprejurarile dramatice ale unui accident al autobuzului care ii transporta pe parinti dintr-un loc in altul in cautare de lucru sezonier in anii marii crize, Clara se va defini in cele patru capitole ale vietii sale prin cei patru barbati care o vor forma, ii vor modela personalitatea si relatiile cu lumea din jur. Primul este Carleton, un tata abuziv pentru toata familia, violent si rasist, dar al carei slabiciune pentru Carla o protejeaza o vreme si o face sa-si castige increderea de sine, pana in momentul in care realizand limitarile materiale si spirituale ale vietii de nomazi agricoli a familiei fuge la numai treisprezece ani cu primul barbat care manifesta fata de ea grija si respect. Acesta este Lowry, care desi este un speculant marunt este si cel care paradoxal dovedeste atasamentul cel mai sincer fata de Clara, o ajuta sa-si schimbe viata si modelandu-i cu tandrete sentimentele sa-si cladeasca o noua biografie sentimentala. Cand meandrele vietii si ocupatiilor sale il determina pe Lowry sa o paraseasca (nu inainte de a o lasa insarcinata) apare al treilea barbat, Curt Revere, cu care Clara intretine o legatura blamata social (Revere este casatorit) pana la moartea sotiei acestuia. Este momentul in care Clara se schimba ca om, castigarea securitatii materiale prin casatoria cu Revere la moartea sotiei acestuia nu ii aduce insa nici respectabilitatea sociala si nici echilibrul moral. Nu poti castiga pe toate fronturile in lumea cruda in care traieste Clara, si pierderea cea mai evidenta este cea a sufletului fiului sau Swan (sau Steve) pe care Revere il crede fiul sau. Toata biografia acestuia este bazata pe minciuna, o minciuna a carei secret il cunoaste doar eroina, dar pe care ea alege sa il ascunda celorlalti pentru a se bucura de placerile lumesti pe care nasterea i le refuzase.

 

Bosch - Gradina placerilor lumesti (sursa http://www.computus.org/journal/?p=1178)

 

Deznodamantul tragic se concetreaza in biografia lui Swan. Baiatul extrem de dotat intelectual tanjeste dupa dragostea mamei sale, dar aceasta nu este capabila sa si-o exprime decat prin acte superficiale, care reflecta conditia sa initiala. Rezultatul este anihilarea sentimentala a tanarului Swan, care devine un calculat afacerist, vazand oamenii prin prisma valorii utilitare, si a carui singura legatura sentimentala adevarata este una incestuoasa:

‘Oricine era prost nu constituia o grija, nu trebuia sa-i acorzi vreun gand; nu erai nevoit sa-l ghicesti, sa-l intelegi. Asta elimina sute de oameni. In viata, aveai timp doar pentru o anumita cantitate de gandire si nu trebuia sa irosesti nici un pic din ea pe oameni care nu reprezentau o amenintare.’ (pag. 462)

Putin din ceea ce se intampla in America jumatatii de secol cat se desfasoara actiunea razbate in cartea care se concentreaza pe biografia sociala si spirituala a Clarei si se desfasoara in cea mai mare parte in micile orase din nord-estul Statelor Unite. Cartea este insa extrem de bine scrisa, si este pasionanta la citit, desi de multe ori intamplarile violente si destinele personajelor nu sunt usor de digerat la lectura. Regulile sociale si relatiile de forta intre barbati si femei, intre parinti si copii, intre saraci si bogati creaza un mediu pasional si violent, care este redat cu talent si fara menajamente. Nu este o lectura usoara dar este o lectura captivanta si  care aduce la viata in Clara Walpole Revere un personaj greu de uitat.

Reading some the interviews that Wim Wenders gave about Pina I learned that this film ended to be something quite different from what the director originally intended. While fascinated a long time by Pina Bausch’s creation and especially Cafe Muller, Wenders could not find for a long time the appropriate means of expression to make a film about it. And then something happened – technology developed and 3D came back with a revenge. The revelation was that 3D and filmed dancing are a perfect fit. The result is a film which is unique in its way, hard to enter in any category, a good example actually of how relative and futile categories are.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1440266/

 

What we get on screen is a portrait and a homage to Pina Bausch. While Wim Wenders authored many documentaries about music or history of cinema, this film is not the usual documentary, neither is it a biography (no chronology, no theoretical analysis of her work), but a portrait of an artist who was among the few who revolutionized her discipline, a portrait assembled from testimonies from the dancers who worked with her (although some say no words) and most of all by her art as it was filmed and brought to screen. Maybe the best description I found is the one in the German sub-title of the movie – a Tanzfilm, a Dance Movie.

 

(video source indieculturebox)

 

There are indeed a great deal of beautifully filmed ballet scenes, in different environments, and here we see the hand of a master director, as almost all required innovation in building the sets and making them look like belonging to a cinema event, not to a filmed performance. As I am a fervent spectator of filmed performances of contemporary dance on Mezzo TV especially, I am pretty familiar with the genre.  Wenders succeeds here to work the synthesis, and Pina is both a ballet performance of first class and a cinema event combining the best of the two arts and amplifying it by the power of 3D. The usage of the technology results not only in viewers seeing better and more clearly the performance and the sets (these too), but also making them part of the creative process. In several scenes in the film we see Pina Bausch during repetitions mixing with the dancers, watching and talking with them, working together as a team. With the 3D effect the spectators become part of the work process, part of the show, part of the homage Wenders brings to the great choreographer.

 

 

The century is the 21st according to one of the popular counting methods and ‘Bond, James Bond’ is still spoken from the screen by a man dressed in a tuxedo with a glass of a selected cocktail in hand. Yet, very many things are new in the last few films in the series (now at #23 if I am not mistaken) and the traditional casino scenes, the exotic locations, the gadgets and even the fabulous Bond girls, without being completely pushed to the back seats are secondary in the recently released ‘Skyfall’. It’s a new world, a world where the good guys in the service of Her Majesty are no longer fighting the bad guys on the other side of the Iron Curtain, as there is no longer any such Curtain.  Not only the enemy is no longer clearly defined by politics or nationality, but he can actually be one of ‘us’. Bond himself is no longer an infallible gentleman feeling no pain and encountering no failure, he actually fails, and falls, and is wounded – physically and psychologically. Daniel Craig is a completely different type of actor than the first (big) names who took the role, he is not only better, but also has a much more distinct human dimension. No longer a super-hero. Hardly a hero.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1074638/

 

Is the new James Bond better? I would say yes, but not much better. Certainly, the realistic touch brought by director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) is an interesting turn. For the first time maybe in a film in the James Bond series we are watching a Bond and an ‘M’ which are not only flesh and blood, but also complex human beings, with doubts and dilemmas that we can understand and resonate with. The question however for me is to what extent these human dimensions work in the context of a mega-action series whose rules are not only set from start but also known by almost anybody who chooses to come and see the film. This is a film I liked, but now, two or three hours after I watched it I can say that I liked it because of the same good all reasons that I liked all good James Bond films – for the fabulous action scenes (and there are a few memorable ones in the film), for the variations on the old familiar characters (and I loved the new ‘Q’) and for the balance between tradition and innovation. It is not for the psychological deepness of the characters that I (and many other fans) go to see a Bond film. The problem is not that the characters are not deep and real, but that these aspects of the film are too overloaded, and if the film seems to be a bit too long it is just because of these.

 

(video source SonyPictures)

 

Some of the acting is very much to the point. Judi Dench gives a great performance (possibly her last one in the series) which puts in shadow all other characters in what is probably the first Bond film without a real Bond girl to receive consistent screen time. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomi Harris mark the new generation that will probably take further familiar characters in the next 21st century installments, while Javier Bardem adds his name to the illustrious series of Bond villains. Times are achangin’ and so are slowly the Bond films. For good? We still are too see, but there are signs it’s the right direction. If we are to look back 50 years after, it’s only Her Majesty who did not really change since the series started!

 

There are many interesting scenes and ideas  in Sound a My Voice, the first film of director Zal Batmanglij. Co-written with Brit Marling, one of the two feminine stars of the film it tells the story of a young couple who engage in a potentially dangerous undercover investigation of a cult built around a woman who no less but claims to come from the future. A future where the world seems to have pedaled back in technology and the (American) nation is engaged in a civil war. With the action paced by the separation in ten segments, the story advances in a way that presents the facts in a supposedly objective manner and lets the viewer guess where the truth is. Premises are interesting.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1748207/

 

So, who is really the fascinating Maggie (played by Marling), the inspiring leader of the cult – a con-artist full of charisma and psychological intuition or maybe she is really what she claims? And whom of the two young investigators, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) will truly fall under her spell? There are enough reasons to be on the edge for most of the time of the screening, and the completely open ending leads to the thoughts about this film to follow the viewers after leaving the cinema hall.

 

(video source GameChannelTrailer)

 

Despite of the many good intentions and ideas, Sound of My Voice however disappoints. It is maybe the film-making which really never seems to aspire to go beyond the good B-movies level. Or maybe the lack of consistency (derived from lack of experience in writing the script? The good script and the original story makes the film raise above the usual horror or investigation genres. Unfortunately the director stopped mid-way, and the promises are only partly fulfilled. There is however enough good stuff in Sound of My Voice to make me expect better things from the careers of Batmanglij and Marling.

The local cinematheque screened a few weeks ago the 2000 adaptation of Edit Wharton’s now classic novel The House of Mirth, whose first screen adaptation to screen dates back from 1918.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0200720/

 

The House of Mirth is a combination of a social and personal drama the story of the descent of a young woman from high class into poverty, of the price to be paid for keeping the dignity in a society that seems to define rigidly the place and track in life of each human being according to their birth, their place in the social hierarchy, their sex, and their material fortune. The American society at the beginning of the 20th century does not seem to resemble too much to the land of all opportunities described in many other literary or cinematographic works. Lily Bart, the apparently apparently frivolous character who stays in the center of the action is smart and beautiful, apparently high in the social hierarchy but too poor to be allowed to make her own choices and play a different role than the one of the well-married girl, or of the woman supported by rich and powerful men. Her refuse to surrender to the social pressure ends in catastrophic results.

 

(video source 13conversations)

 

12 years only after it was made Terence Davies’ film looks much older than it’s age. A team of TV stars from the 80s (Eric Stolz), 90s (Gilian Anderson) and 2000s (Anthony LaPaglia) does more than a decent job, but I felt like the adaptation to screen borrowed some of the stiffness of the social environment described in the story. More passion, more nuances in the relationship between the characters would have made this film more interesting. Gilian Anderson is a great actress but her discrete acting seems pushed one step too far, her breaking down comes too late to give meaning to her self-sacrifice. This too academic version to screen is interesting mostly for the fans of the social historical American dramas. Which is kind of a paradox as the novel was at its time an exercise in contemporary prose. But this is also history.

 

I got very late to seeing Brazil. 27 years later. It was released in 1985, one year after Orwell’s year, which was also the exact moment I left my own Orwellian universe, the one where I had lived the first 31 years of my life. I was too busy finding my ways in the new world to see good movies then, I had no time and no money, the getting back to the pleasure of seeing movies happened only a few years later. This is how I missed this exuberant anti-utopia, an almost permanent mix of dreams and nightmares, where reality is the longest and darkest nightmare of all. Now I eventually found the time and the opportunity to do it, from the perspective and with the experience of an individual who spend an almost equal period of time in a supposedly free society. I was impressed.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/

 

The story of the clark in the Kafkaesque bureaucratic system is basically similar to the one in 1984. What is different here is the freedom that director Terry Gilliam took in building his retro-futuristic world, the infinite imagination in building the sets in all their complexity and attention to details. There are many memorable scenes in this film, some impress by the visuals, other by the rhythm of the action, the surprising actions. the relation between the characters that borrows a lot from the classical films of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy in a Metropolis atmosphere. Almost each scene is a masterpiece of sets creation and architecture.

 

(video source thecultbox)

 

Jonathan Pryce made here probably the best role of his career, while Bob Hoskins and Robert De Niro (not necessarily in the best role of his life) leave their marks as well. Almost three decades later the future imagined in movies like 1984 and Brazil is closer to our reality than ever. Mind control, interference of the authorities in private lives, permanent supervision, and huge electronic bureaucracies at work in any aspect of life are all realities.  Some of the machines that we are using may be more sophisticated or just different than the ones imagined by the directors of those movies, but in many other aspects we are almost there.

 

 

 

One of the songs in the first part of this comeback tentative of The Muppets is called ‘Can We Do It Again?’.  To some extent it resumes the story and the history of this film. The story because the film is about the legendary Muppets getting together 30 years after in order to save the studios from being acquired and turned to something else by a heartless tycoon. The history because the same question can be asked by the viewers, some of them trying to find back the charm of the original shows into their memories, other completely new to the concept, which may have led to a multitude of replicas and sequels but also had its own charm, value, humor which I am not sure can really be reborn ‘as is’. At least not in James Bobin’s version.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1204342/

 

I was a great fan of The Muppets. In the 70s and early 80s, under the direction of Jim Henson the show was capable of bringing into its 20-25 minutes of nonsense some of the best performers of the period, from Harry Belafonte to Joan Baez. Unfortunately the version realized by the Disney Studios rarely raises over the level of a musical for kids, and the worst thing it that it does not aim much higher. I should have suspected, as I can hardly remember any good coming out of the Disney brand that was not created by Disney himself. His followers seem to have embraced a puritan approach to kids and teenager culture, but Disney’s world of ferries was much more than kids entertainment, it was great story telling, it was sharp humor close to cruelty sometimes, it was a whole universe of cultural references, it was art daring to push the limits. Staying beyond the limits of the Disney universe of the 50s is the great mistake the studio and the style they embraced ever made. Their acquiring of the Muppets brand from the inheritors of Jim Henson Sr. may be the mortal hit to the concept, at least if we are to judge after this 2011 production.

 

(video source TotalFilm)

 

Nothing or almost nothing of the old show charm is on screen for this production. Music is mostly banal, humor almost absent, the characters as they slowly get back together seem all to be playing the role of the two old guys in the gallery rather then their own roles. I wonder how Jack Black accepted to play in this film. Oh, yes, I forgot, he was kidnapped, tied and forced to put a show on stage! And he is not credited (why? really!). Or maybe he was just a kid by the time the original show was run, watching it and dreaming to be a star in it, and ready to do anything to become one. As a grown up he could have skipped this film.

There is a strong feeling of deja vu planning on the viewers of We Own the Night (the slogan of the NYPD in the 80s, while fighting for the control of the streets of the Big Apple at night). The story and the characters are pretty much borrowed from similar movies where brothers or childhood friends find themselves on opposed parts of the cops vs. mafia game. The atmosphere and characters are very much similar to other stories about the New York gangs or police academies. The combination of family drama and Mafia intrigue is also a classical theme.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498399/

 

So the story of the film looks very much like an 80s story. The problem is that it does not only refer to the 80s but it also feels like a film from the 80s. This may have been in part intentional, a decision by director James Gray that I respect, as it provides an air of authenticity to the way the streets, the clubs, the police stations are being brought to life. Some of the acting also fits into the same vision, as Robert Duvall as the head of the policemen dynasty is an actor who comes to us from the 80s, and Mark Wahlberg fits well in the patern, as well as the Israeli Moni Moshonov distributed as a Russian padrone. The out of pattern acts are those of Joaquin Phoenix, a huge actor who hardly can fit in any pattern and of the very sexy Eva Mendes who plays his girlfriend.

 

(video source MoviemanTrailers)

 

Worth seeing? Maybe, if you really are interested in another family drama mixed with gangsters vs. cops intrigues which does not really raise to the level of Scorsese, and if you like films from the 80s. But, wait a moment, if you really like films from the 80s why not renting or looking for one of the real stuff on the cable movie channels?

 

The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art and the Haifa Museum of Art organized in Haifa what is probably the most important exhibition of contemporary art from Japan ever hold in Israel with the occasion of the 60 years since Japan and Israel established diplomatic relations. Designed in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami by two art collectors from England and Japan the exhibition provides a wide perspective of the modern art in Japan, bringing here artists from several generations who express themselves in different genres, styles, and materials. The result is a fascinating window open to a world of art which combines tradition with innovation, revolt and respect to the predecessors, all in a permanent dialog between the Eastern and Western cultural values. Here are my impressions about a few works by some of the artists exposed at Tikotin which I visited today. These are only some of the artists exposed and unfortunately I did not have time to get to the Haifa Museum of Art where the rest of the exhibition and artists are being shown. Maybe in the coming weeks, as the exhibition is open until December 15.

 

source http://www.tmja.org.il/

 

Makoto Aida mixes in Aichan-BONSAI the traditional Bonsai trees in an octopus structure with human female heads, the result is disconcerting.

 

source http://www.azito-art.com/homma-takashi/tokyo-suburbia-boy.html

 

Takashi Homma photographs the suburbs of Tokyo, combining industrial structures, depersonalized lodgments and highways with portraits of humans, most of them young people who seem to be lost in the landscape deprived of any cultural identity.

 

source http://www.anninaroescheisen.com/art/contemporary-art/motohiko-odani/

 

The fate and extreme manifestations of the young is also the theme of two of the three works of Motohiko Odani exposed in the exhibition. One is a video criticizing the sub-human teenage TV shows in the 90s, the other two are in porcelain and the material that must respect gravity to protect its fragility is dealt with in an original manner. Crushed to the ground in the work above, suspended but tense in the other work in the exhibition.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uB–DXH02mI

(video source mouffettefatale)

 

Yoko Ono (yes, the wife of …) is present with two of the provocative video works filming happenings that made her known even in the pre-Lennon fame years. Cut Piece filmed in 1964 shows the audiences cutting in pieces her dress, she repeated the happening about 40 years later.

 

 

source http://japan-photo.info/blog/2010/05/09/rink-kawauchi-lieko-shiga-exhibitions-lectures-at-photobook-festival-kassel-germany/

 

Lieko Shiga asked friends from different places in the world to find the darkest and most lightened places in their neighborhoods. Then he came and made pictures in these places, he then printed the photos, brought modifications to the prints and photographed them again. This is the technique used to give birth to the Canary cycle.

 

source http://www.asianartnewspaper.com/article/yuken-teruya

 

The last work I will write about is Yuken Teruya’s  You-I, You-I. The painting of a kimono, one of the most specific Japanese art genre combines fauna and floral motives from his native island of Okinawa with models inspired by the recent history of the island. This beautiful work can be used to describe the essence of the exhibition.