Gods do not seem to aim too high nowadays, not in the cinema industry anyway. Olympus Has Fallen is one of the relatively successful action movies of 2013. Audiences did not rush in masses but did not avoid it either, critics were not enthusiastic but did not ‘destroy’ it, and it paid back the production costs even before the release of the DVDs and TV runs. So its a good study case about what I do not like in Hollywood action movies
So, the (American) nation is again under attack in ‘Olympus …’. North Korean are the hard-to-dispute nowadays bad guys, and we know how bad they are from the news, and this film will not tell us more about why they are bad than the news. This time they take the White House which seems to have achieved in the last few years the status of one of the most blown-up buildings in the world (in movies). In the semi-ruins of the White House a semi-renegaded secret agent fights empty-handed to bring back the Universe in balance. He will succeed. The only surprising thing is that his name is not Jack Bauer.
Morgan Freeman seems quite embarrassed to be involved with this film, as the acting President at times of trouble. The rest of the acting stuff (including Gerald Butler and Aaron Eckhart) does the decent job they are paid for, but cannot go much higher or deeper than TV series acting. The dialog does not help them too much, and I especially disliked the naturalistic reaction that the leaders of the nation are shown to take when facing physical danger. Cursing is not the best manner of showing dignity in my opinion. Director Anoine Fuqua is actually doing well his job of bringing action to screen, but with the script at hand he cannot make of ‘Olympus …’ more than a rough action movie in which the events happen to take place in the White House.
Ginger Baker is not only one of the greatest drummers ever but also a character who waits for a movie to be made about him. One day maybe a fiction movie will be made, until them we have ‘Beware of Mr. Baker’ – the documentary made by Jay Bulger. Rock documentaries are now quite ‘en vogue’ and there is a good reason for this. The big rock stars of the 60s and 70s, well, the ones who survived are now at the age of writing or telling on screen their memories. The younger generations may have heard little about ‘Cream’ or ‘Blind Faith’ but they do have an opportunity not only to watch part of their concerts (luckily filmed concerts technology developed just in time to catch much of their sounds, moves and the atmosphere of their live shows) but also to hear fist hand their version of the history of rock. And fans like me are definitely delighted.
‘Beware of Mr. Baker’ is centered around the interview reluctantly given by Baker at his ranch in South-Africa. He is one of those anti-social partners of discussion that you sometimes pity the interviewers about. He certainly loves to complain about his family, other musicians, life and fate in general – one of these guys who seem to love themselves much less than the world lives and admires them. We learn much more about his life from interviews with members of his family (his first wife seems still to have a crush on him, his son’s best memory is having made music with his father) and with other musicians. It’s the story of a life damaged by drugs abuse and a pattern of behavior that preempted Baker from establishing good working relations with any of his colleague musicians and eventually led to the early breaking of all bands he played in. Yet, it is also doubtful if in the absence of this temper and even of the use of drugs his music would have been the same. And music is what is left at the end from such personalities. Great music in the case of Mr. Baker.
Cream - the gathering of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker was a stellar event. In my view it simply gave another dimension to rock, developing progressive rock and setting the stage for hard rock and metal (in the documentary Ginger Baker strongly disagrees, of course). It is hard to believe that they played together for only two years (1966-1968). It is said that when Hendrix came to London the only musicians he asked to play with were Cream, I do not know if this ever happened.
Next step was for Baker and Clapton Blind Faith where they joined forces with Steve Winwood and Rick Grech. This super-group did not last more than two years either, but they also left one concert of legend in Hyde Park.
Is the trip over? Not yet! After being filmed and interviewed for the documentary Ginger Baker was on stage in 2013 with Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Baker, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo.
There are a few good reasons for me not to like Captain Phillips. I am not a big fan of ‘stories inspired by real events’, especially when they try to follow closely the ‘real events’. This film is based on real events, was made only a few years after the events occurred, and according to many accounts is quite accurate in following the real story. Yet the story does not get lost at any moment and tells much more that a docu-drama. It is a real strong drama by itself. I also dislike stories where unarmed and empty-handed heroes succeed to subdue armed and superior forces. There is no such thing here, the fight that is taking place (and there is a hell of a fight) is much more about psychology and about the power of will and spirit than the power of muscles and arms. Here is an American anti-hero rather than an American hero who survives and overcomes because of his anti-hero forces.
I did learn a few things about modern piracy that I did not know. Commercial ships – it appears – are not carrying arms and their crews look more like a gang of corporate technicians (they even are organized in unions), even when they sail oceans infested by pirates. This makes the boarding of a huge American commercial ship by four machine guns armed Somali fishermen turned into pirates and the subduing of the American crew of 20 possible (I avoid using ‘credible because’ it really happened). The resulting confrontation which becomes a thriller at sea makes Captain Phillips a well paced and smartly filmed action movie, and the suspense is in the air all the time. Even as we know how it ends we are curious to understand how director Paul Greengrass (who directed both the real facts inspired United 93 as well as part of the fiction Bourne films) will lead us to that end.
One of the reasons of the success is no doubt named Tom Hanks. He can do no wrong and we all know it. He does even more here. If there was no concept of super-anti-hero before he just invented it. There is much more in his facing of his captors and the dialog with their leader who is so well acted by Barkhad Abdi that I had to go to Wikipedia to make sure that he is indeed a professional actor and not a fisherman from the coast of Somalia, maybe even one turned pirate. What we have here is a reflection about power. Who has the power? the guy with the gun? the guy with the bigger boat? What are the limits of having at hand the best technology and the best army, being able to launch satellites, send helicopters and deploy the best armed forces – does this ensure the safety of your (our!) mode of life? Great questions, and there are no definite answers in this piece of real history brought to screen, but the film has the huge merit of asking them.
Iata un film care nu este prezentat de obicei in programele de Craciun ale televiziunilor, cel putin nu in orele de zi in perioada de sarbatoare desi actiunea sa se petrece in preajma Craciunului si avem chiar si o scena cu un cor de copii cantand un colind. Filmat in 1974 in Canada (din motive de impozite), Black Christmas este o combinatie intre filmele de sezon (sau cu pretext de sezon) si genul ‘horror’, si mai precis un precedesor sau unul dintre primele filme ale sub-genului ‘slash’ care descrie actiunile unui ucigas serial care macelareste de-a lungul filmului un numar crescand de victime si transforma treptat viata linistita a unei comunitati (de obicei intr-un spatiu inchis) intr-un infern.
Regizorul filmului este Bob Clark, un autor aflat in anul realizarii filmului la inceputul unei cariere care avea sa mai includa inca cateva succese ale genului, inclusiv un al doilea film (A Christmas Story) avand ca tema Craciunul. Clark demonstreaza ca stapanea deja multe dintre secretele meseriei si asimilase lectiile maestrilor generatiilor precedente si in special ale lui Hitchcock. Actiunea filmului se petrece intr-unul din acele camine studentesti americane in care studentii din anii mai mari se auto-administreaza in cadrul ‘fraternitatilor’ – de fapt este vorba despre un camin de fete si echivalentul fraternitatii este in engleza ‘sorority’ – cuvant care nu sunt sigur ca are un echivalent in limba romana. Tensiunea este indusa la inceput de telefoane misterioase si amenintatoare, pentru ca scurt timp dupa aceea locuitoarele caminului sa inceapa sa dispara una cate una, si cadavrele sa se acumuleze. Mai mult nu voi povesti pentru a nu rapi placerea vizionarii celor pe care ii voi convinge sa vada filmul (accesibil in intregime in acest moment si pe youTube).
‘Black Christmas’ merita sa fie vizionat in primul rand de pasionatii genului, dar nu numai de ei. Nu pot spune ca este un film pe care timpul nu si-a pus amprenta, dar interesant este ca si partile sale bune sunt acum mai vizibile. La lansare el a fost aproape ‘distrus’ de unii critici, de exemplu cel al lui New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9504E3D71538EF34BC4851DFB667838E669EDE. Desi unele dintre obiectiile criticului sunt intemeiate (jocul actorilor si mie mi s-a parut destul de schematic), eu cred ca a pierdut din vedere constructia exacta si gradata a atmosferei, folosirea spatiului inchis pentru a crea impresia de claustrofobie, si indrazneala abordarii unor teme cu tenta sociala cum ar fi cea a dreptului femeilor de a decide in privinta avortului (in general se poate spune ca este un film feminist). Desigur, cronicarul din 1974-75 nu avea cum sa anticipeze ca acest film va deschide calea altor filme ale genului horror care se petrec in mediu studentesc cum ar fi cele din seriile ‘Scream’ si ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. Sunt insa cel putin doua scene aproape de geniu pe care nu ar fi trebuit sa le omita. Intr-una dintre ele tatal unei fete si mama altei fete, ambele disparute, participa la cautarea fiicelor lor intr-o noapte intr-un parc inghetat. Este descoperit un cadavru. Cui ii apartine? Toata scena este redata in oroarea ei profunda doar filmand fetele celor doi, nu este nevoie sa vedem niciun cadavru pentru a intelege a cui moarte a fost confirmata. Macabru si excelent psihologic. A doua scena este cea finala si nu voi povesti nimic despre ea, pentru a nu va priva de placerea unei vizionari pe care v-o recomand.
I really needed this film two days after watching and being so disappointed with Gravity. I am pretty sure that American Hustle will make ways less money than ‘Gravity’ and will get less Academy Awards if any. It is however a much better film in my opinion, smart and sensitive, funny and entertaining, and in its way represents much better today’s (or yesterday’s) America.
The story happens in the late 70s – early 80s in Manhattan and part in New Jersey, these two settings which may provide the background for more than half of the movies about America today, and is based in part on the real story of an FBI investigation that discovered wide-spread corruption in the local and national politics. In order to infiltrate in the local environment the Bureau investigator (Bradely Cooper) devices a scheme in which he blackmails a couple composed of a con man (Christian Bale) and his partner and lover (Amy Adams) are sent to lure a local politician and then other by offering them bribes. Same as in director David O. Russell previous film Silver Linings Playbook, (also set between NJ and NYC) none of the characters is really normal, they all have their non-negligible dose foolishness, malice and stupidity.
There are two reasons for which American Hustle works well. The first is that the structure of the script is well designed, and the characters are very credible with all their goods and flaws. The second is that Russell’s style of directing his actors enhanced the feeling of authenticity. Russell picked a team of very talented actors whom he knew well from previous films and let them create and improvise each their own roles. The result is bright. Christian Bale is hard to recognize physically, he is a smart and pathetic, loving and cynical con man. The actor of so many feel-good movies Bradley Cooper is mean and dark. For the first time I have seen here Jennifer Lawrence in a role (Bale’s wife) that justifies the praises he received from many critics. Last and best – Amy Adams is unbelievably beautiful and vulnerable – she looks like a 2013 version of the best of what Jane Fonda could be. The cake has a glazing, and it’s called Robert De Niro (uncredited for some reasons) – he does the older and tired version of the role he played so many times, and I hope that his devastated looks were just make-up.
Smartest, maybe best American film that I have seen in a while.
Almost every pre-Academy Awards season brings for me the big Hollywood movies disappointment. A big studios film, usually directed by famous or at least interesting directors, getting raving critical acceptance and breaking audiences records for the year or for the eternity. A few years back the name of the sensation was Avatar, last year there were two – Argo and Lincoln. I go, I buy my popcorn, I sit down with the best intentions of enjoying it, and … flop. When I exit the cinema theater I ask myself ‘Is this all?’. ‘What is the fuzz about?’.
Before you ask – yes, I have seen the 3D version in a well equipped cinema theater. I saw it in good visual and sound conditions and I was not enthusiastic at all about the cinematography and sound effects. I actually believe that cinematography was quite banal, and the few moments when some screwdrivers flew to our faces could not compensate for a film that takes place 80% in the open space – meaning open stellar space, and cannot provide even the National Geographic documentaries effects or emotions. The story is completely incredible from any point of view. If this is supposed to be science-fiction the science is completely flown, and the fiction non-credible. In other words, impossible on all grounds.
Neither can Sandra Bullock and George Clooney save this film. To their defense I should say that they are given a very clichee relationship to act. Clooney’s hero text actually provides some of the rare sources of emotion and fun in this film, but this is too little.
Alfonso Cuaron directed previously at least one science-fiction film I fell in love with – Children of Men. What a difference between the action-ridden and the human tension there and the routine stuff we get in Gravity. I can understand his attraction into making such a film, it’s a challenge for a director to film a story in either a small and confined environment or in the infinite space as here, and some of the greatest successes came from movies with theme like this. Unfortunately, he was not up to the challenge on almost any respect.
This will not prevent Gravity getting its plethora of awards, I am sure.
The Catcher in the Sand is 4 years old! Yes, its birthday is on Christmas Day, a present for myself and for my friends with whom I share beautiful and interesting things that I read, see, hear, experience, a present not only on one specific day of the year but for all the days of the year.
For the past year The Catcher got some serious competition from Facebook, whose improved timeline allows me to keep some of the memories of the things that happen in a way easy to record, with improved graphical capabilities, and almost as they happen, in real-time. Yet I continued to blog most of my books reading and films watching experiences, as well as some of the travel logs, theater and concert impressions. I will continue to do it in the next year, and years to come. Your comments, feedback, critics are always appreciated.
One more present to honor the day and its significance for many of my friends. Ray Charles in concert celebrates A Gospel Christmas in 2003 together with the 120-member Voices of Jubilation Gospel Choir of Newark, New Jersey. This may be the only time Ray Charles performed traditional holiday music in a live concert.
O bucurie in plus a acestui anotimp de sarbatori este aparitia la casa de discuri MediaPro Music a CD-ului cu colinde romanesti ‘O, ce veste minunata!’ al Angelei Gheorghiu. Este un eveniment muzical de prima importanta nu numai pentru diva noastra nationala ci si pentru genul foarte bine reprezentat in magazinele de muzica si cadouri de sezon din toata lumea al cantecelor de Craciun, eveniment care nu a trecut neobservat de criticii lumii, o cronica foarte favorabila aparand in cea mai prestigioasa revista a iubitorilor de muzica ‘Gramophone’ sub semnatura lui Jon Tolanski – http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/angela-gheorghiu-releases-album-of-romanian-christmas-carols. Este genul de cronica care poate asigura o lansare si o frunoasa cariera internationala a CD-ului. In Romania el deja a obtinut Discul de Aur la o luna dupa lansare, si un Concert Festiv de Craciun la Sala Radio, precum si transmisiile la Radio Romania ii pot numai spori popularitatea. Am avut sansa sa cumpar discul la Carturesti in vizita mea la Bucuresti de la sfarsitul lui noiembrie si sa mi-l adaug colectiei de muzica apropiata sufletului meu.
Inregistrarile au fost facute in septembrie 2013 in Sala Radio din Bucuresti si in Studioul ISV. Angela Gheorghiu este acompaniata de Orchestra Nationala Radio dirijata de Tiberiu Soare, de corul Madrigal (care a sarbatorit in acest an 50 de ani de activitate) si de Corul Accoustic. Aranjamentele muzicale ale cantecelor populare sau apartinand unor compozitori romani din diferite perioade apartin lui Dan Dediu, Cristian Lolea si Constantin Arvinte.
Buna dimineata cu Mos Ajun si Mos Craciun al lui Dimitrie G. Kiriac ne introduc in atmosfera de sarbatoare. Trei crai de la rasarit este primul din cele sase cantece traditionale repovestind in frumosul limbaj al satului romanesc povestea Bunei Vestiri. Urmeaza Leganelul lui Iisus (sau Florile Dalbe a lui Valentin Teodorian) si Inchinarea pastorilor (traditional) care dezvolta aceeasi tema. Steaua sus rasare si O, ce vesteminunata sunt slagare eterne din repertoriul de sezon al traditiei romanesti. Inca o versiune din Florile Dalbe, cea a lui Tiberiu Popovici incepe cu o frumoasa tema rapsodica imbinata cu sunet de clopot, este poate cea mai frumoasa orchestratie a discului. Nasterea Domnului (Minune prea mare) de Paul Constantinescu este cea mai lunga si mai complexa piesa de pe disc si totusi se incadreaza bine melodic cu ansamblul. La Vitleem colo-n jos (traditional dar cu o orchestratie sofisticata si interesanta) si scurta Colindita de Emil Montia incheie regalul intr-o atmosfera exuberanta si sarbatoreasca.
Despre calitatile vocale exceptionale ale Angelei Gheorghiu nu este nevoie sa scriu. Ceea ce vreau sa remarc este respectul si vibratia sincera cu care artista abordeaza repertoriul traditional. In niciun moment nu se simte diva, ceea ce auzim este o cantareata intr-o forma de zile mari care lucreaza in perfecta armonie cu o orchestra si cu corurile, si care adauga fiecaruia dintre cantece vibratie si sentiment. Cu acest CD traditia romaneasca are o sansa sa intre si sa o ocupe un loc de cinste alaturi de alte reusite ale genului, sa incalzeasca caminele nu numai ale romanilor ci si ale iubitorilor de muzica de sarbatoare din intreaga lume.
An extra joy in this holiday season is provided by the launching by the label MediaPro Music of a CD with Romanian carols ‘Oh, what wonderful news’ sung Angela Gheorghiu . It is a musical event of the first importance not only for the Romanian diva but also for the genre of the Christmas songs well represented in music stores and gifts stores from around the world. The event has not gone unnoticed by musical critics, and a very favorable chronic appeared in the prestigious journal of the music lovers ‘Gramophone’ under the signature of Jon Tolanski -http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/angela-gheorghiu-releases-album-of-romanian-christmas-carols. It’s the kind of chronic that can mean the start of a nice international career for the CD. In Romania the already has already achieved Gold Record status just one month after launching, and a festive Christmas Concert Hall Radio and repeated broadcasts at Radio Romania can only enhance its popularity . I had the chance to buy the disc in a bookstore during my visit to Bucharest by the end of November and I added it to that section of my music collection that stands closest to my heart.
The recordings were made in September 2013 in the Radio Hall in Bucharest and at the ISV Studios. Angela Gheorghiu is accompanied by the National Radio Orchestra conducted by Tiberiu Soare, by the Madrigal choir (which this year celebrated 50 years of activity) and by the Accoustic Choir. The musical arrangements of popular songs or belonging to Romanian composers from different periods belong to Dan Dediu, Cristian Constantin, and Lolea Arvinte .
(audio source Gabriela Dragoi) Buna Dimineata la Mos Ajun (Good Morning on Santa’s Eve) and Mos Craciun (Santa) by Dimitrie G. Kiriac open introducing us in the mood for celebration . Trei Crai de la Rasarit (Three Magi from the East) is the first of the six traditional songs, retelling the story of the Annunciation in the beautiful language of the Romanian village. Leganelul lui Iisus (Jesus’ Small Craddle) (or Florile Dalbe – White Flowers – by Valentin Teodorian ) and the traditional Inchinarea pastorilor (Sheppphers Worship) develop the same theme. Steaua sus rasare (The Star Rises Above) and O, ce veste minunata (What A Wonderful News) belong to the eternal seasonal repertoire in the Romanian tradition. Another version of Florile Dalbe (White Flowers) composed by Tiberiu Popovici begins with a rhapsodic theme combined with beautiful bell sounds and offers perhaps the most beautiful orchestration of the disc. Nasterea Domnului (Nativity of the Lord) by Paul Constantinescu is the longest and most complex song on the disc , yet fits well with the overall atmosphere. La Vileem colo jos (Down there in Bethlehem ( again a traditional song, but enriched with a sophisticated and interesting orchestration) and the short Colinda (Carol) by Emil Montia conclude the disk in a exuberant atmosphere of celebration.
About Angela Gheorghiu’s exceptional vocal qualities I do not need to write. What I notice is the respect and the vibrant emotion with which the artist approaches the traditional repertoire. At no moment we can feel the diva, what we hear is a singer in a great shape who works in perfect harmony with the orchestra and chorus, adding vibrancy and deep feelings to each of the songs. With this CD precious jewels of the Romanian tradition have a chance to enter and take a place of honor alongside other succesesl of the genre, to heat not only the households of the Romanians but enriching also the celebrations of music lovers worldwide.
I liked Colombiana, a film that bears the mark of Luc. Luc Besson, of course. Although he is not directing this film, he wrote the script and produced it, and more important infiltrated into it some of the stylish and cynical touch which is characteristic to his best films. By providing a feminine character that descends from comics (Laura Croft comes to mind in many of the sequences) with a realistic life story and placing choreographic and well directed action scenes in the dire atmosphere of the drug wars Besson took a bet. A bet which he won with the help of a not so experimented director (Olivier Megaton), which makes me believe that his hand may have been also behind the directing exercise as well.
The first few minutes prepare the ground by showing how the parents of pre-teen girl Cataleya are murdered in her native Colombia and how she finds the way to the US, to find her uncle, a more than honorable mobster in Chicago and achieve the dream of becoming a professional killer to revenge the parents’ death. 15 or so years later she has become that killer and has more than 20 corpses in her CV, just that all of these are bag guys which she kills just to draw the attention of her object of revenge. All these seems very unrealistic and so they are – pure comics stuff. However this film is much more than a comics-inspired action film.
Part of the reason Colombiana works can be found in the excellent rendition of the environment and the careful build-up and precise acting of the supporting characters. I especially liked the one of the FBI agent played by Lennie James, an actor used much and well in TV series (Jericho was one of them). The best acting however belongs without doubt to Zoe Saldana. The greenish thin girl from Cameron’s Avatar used here her real face and body and all is to the benefit of the viewers. The combination of the incredible (the hero, the action scenes) and credible (the accurate landscape and social environment, a script line that makes sense) works well, and I need to credit again Besson for making sure all corners are carefully rounded. The ending leaves hope for a sequel, and I hope rumors about Colombiana 2 are true. There are rumors also about Avatar2. As I know Hollywood there are chances for both sequels to come to reality, and for once it would not be a bad thing.