Archive for February, 2014

A few days from now ‘La Grande Belleza’ will probably get the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language picture so it’s probably a daring act on my part to share the opinion that this film is over-rated and that it’s not – in my humble opinion – the best film of Paolo Sorrentino. I actually like a lot the work of the Italian director, but I liked more the sharp critic of the Italian political system in the biographical Il Divo and especially the very original approach to the Holocaust in ‘This Must Be the Place’ - one of the best and unusual films in the Holocaust genre.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2358891/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2358891/

 

There is certainly a lot of charm and visual beauty in this ‘Great Beauty’. If this was a documentary I could have enjoyed the views of Rome and the film is a declaration of love for the Eternal City, a poem dedicated to it’s magnetism and power to corrupt.  If it was a study of characters I would have first  admired the aristocratic spleen of the principal hero in the story, as well as the collection of characters from the debauched and corrupt, and yet so fascinating high society and artistic media the characters come from. The film however also tries to draw a moral about the ephemeral nature of life and love, and about the vanity of beauty and emptiness of the extreme sensations – and this moral core is too thin for the fabulous wrapping it is enveloped in.

 

(video source TIFF)

 

Of course, one can admire the exquisite cinematography and splendid performance by Tony Servillo, the preferred lead actor of Sorrentino. Just by seeing him here, in a film and a role so different from the one in Il Divo one can appreciate what a great actor he is and how he identifies with the character and melds in each role he undertakes. The disappointment is however with the director approach. Sorrentino used us that each new film is different than the previous one – strong and original, unexpected in vision and inventive in means. In La Grande Belleza he seems to have decided to quote Fellini – does Fellini need to be quoted, and did he really need to quote him? I love Fellini but I know that he died a while ago and I did not go to see a film of Fellini, but a film by Sorrentino, hence my disappointment.

‘Inspired by a true story’ seems indeed to be the mantra for the majority of the films in the Academy Awards race this year. A few days ago I saw ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and now this ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ which together with ‘American Hustle’ are among the strongest competitors in the race and are all inspired by biographies and true stories that took place in the last few decades of the previous century. Even ’12 Years a Slave’ is inspired by a true story and biography but from the previous century. While I liked much less ‘Dallas’ I feel ‘The Wolf’ is quite comparable – both are remarkable movies, both throw light on some dirty and corrupt aspects of the American society, both bring to stage characters which use and trick the system at the same time. While ‘Hustle’ has a more original idea, ‘The Wolf’ has Scorsese and DiCaprio.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0993846/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0993846/

 

The real life Jordan Belfort is probably a much less likeable character than the one brought to screen by Leo. He made his fortune in the 80s and early 90s by pulling the strings and walking the dark alleys of a system which was building financial castles on sand and where the real money was made almost exclusively by people like him. The whole movie can be actually considered as a sharp critical view of a society that creates and makes heroes of such individuals. This is however a moral judgment and it belongs exclusively to the viewers – actually the film makers were quite insistent that the many scenes of debauchery in the film were as close to what really took place in Belford’s corrupt empire and faithful to episodes from his auto-biographical book. Scorsese can use the excuse that he just makes a film which is fun, interesting, entertaining based on the real life story and the conclusions are yours, Mrs. or Mr. Viewer.

 

(video source Paramount Pictures)

 

It’s rather amazing for me that things that I really dislike in other movies work so well under the hand of Scorsese. The use of the out-screen voice for example which I typically hate works here pretty well, as it gives an auto-biography touch to the whole story. I would hardly bear three hours in a cinema theater if it was not a very well told story, with heroes and action that keep me quiet in the chair. Leonardo DiCaprio amazes me again and again, especially when Scorsese directs him. His hero is mean and cynical and does abhorrent things and yet he is simply fascinating.  The most questionable thing in the film seemed to the ending, which I frankly did not understand. Maybe it tried to make a point that I missed, maybe it just described the anti-climatic years of the rest of the life of an individual past his wild years – I do not know. It came however too late to spoil my immense appreciation for this film.

‘Inspired from a real story’ can provide the premises of good movies and bad movies, or I should put it in different words – movies I like and movies I do not like. They are usually good when they aim higher than replaying on screen the facts but also succeed in extracting the human truth behind the journalistic truth. It’s not only an issue of credibility, as reality surpasses fiction in many cases in creating incredible situations, and real life characters can be extreme to the unbelievable in good and evil. It’s an issue of adding that minimal dose of emotion that justifies the decision of viewers who chose the movie channel rather than Discovery. It’s just that it must be real human emotion.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0790636/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0790636/

 

Combining docudrama and melodrama Dallas Buyers Club describes that moment at the beginning of the spreading of AIDS when no cure or even treatment to decrease suffering was available and the lack of information about the disease, its origins, ways of propagation was leaving space to prejudice. We still encounter this in some remote countries, but than, 30 years ago this was the situation in the developed world including main stream USA. Ron Woodroof lives the transformation between being the ultimate macho stereotype man, homophobic and ignorant to the stunned victim of the disease who decides to fight for the right to live his own way – which is also the way of the rebels in the American system in periods of pioneering. Actually America was pioneering new territory at that point in time with the initial initiative fighting not only the external threat but also the internal sclerosis of the medical and legal system.

 

(video source JoBlo Movie Trailers)

 

Yes, the acting of Matthew McConaughey is brilliant and he deserves the Academy Award that he may get for this role. Unfortunately this is the only artistic statement of quality in this film. The rest is enveloped in a package of melodrama, with a script that does not offer any interesting or surprising development, and director Jean-Marc Vallee and supporting actors Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto not succeeding to overcome the stereotypes and the melodrama. I was quite hesitant to go and watch this film which is out of my preferred genres and zone of comfort or entertainment, unfortunately the reasons to hesitate were justified.

 

Some of the latest films of Woody Allen seem so much taken out of life that you have the feeling that Woody’s camera caught a point in time when the story started and left the story at another point in time, but these two could have been any other. Life is as it is, Woody just starts to put it on screen at some point in time, and stops the camera at another, maybe when he runs off digital storage (there is no real film nowadays to run off, right?). This is more or less the feeling with ‘Blue Jasmine’ as well, with the difference that there are two stories here. Or better said to mental plans his character (acted by Cate Blanchett) oscillates between. The story starts in one of them (the world socialite Jasmine French just fell from) and ends in another – the cruel reality which her life became and which he has trouble to accept and adapt in.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2334873/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2334873/

 

Good films can be watched in different keys and receive different interpretations for viewers. So is the case for Blue Jasmine which can be seen as a psychological study of a woman in denial or a social commentary about differences between the classes and their mentalities, as a docu-drama inspired by the Madoff case, a comedy or a melodrama or a modern tragedy of alienation. It is maybe a little bit or more from each of these, but is first of all another good film of Woody Allen – one in the series closer to the reality, and here we deal with the American reality which he returns to film after three of his consecutive yearly films made in Europe. The overall tone seems to be a little more to the sour side, and we feel this not only in the way the story develops but also in the manner it is told and edited. The dixieland music that sets the tone of Woody’s Allen reminding us that we entered a cinema theater and we shall be watching shades on a wall does not last beyond the minute of introduction. Reality follows, or at least a version of reality extracted, processed and given back to us by the script and the director.

 

(video source JoBlo Movie Trailers)

 

Cate Blanchett cannot do wrong and I have a hard time deciding whether her creation in ‘Blue Jasmine’ deserves to receive the Academy Award, or it’s rather Meryl Streep’s work in ‘August: Osage County’. Can’t they really give two statues this year ex-aequo? Her Jasmine has built a world of illusions and lived in it, illusions as solid and lasting as long as the speculative operations of her husband lasts. There is however more in her character, as she has her own part of guilt and she seems not only unable to cope with any dose of reality but also self-distructive and dangerous to all she touches and to people she comes in contact with. The amazing thing is that as viewers we and by understanding her and by sympathizing with the screen of lies she builds around herself. Don’t we all do this one way or another when we have to face realities we do not like and problems that we do not know how to solve? Jasmine just goes far, much to far …

 

Having made some of the best and some of the most successful movies in the history of film making, Steven Spielberg has nothing to prove to anyone but himself. He is the complete master of the subjects and themes, genres and styles, and I suspect even of the financing of his films. Thus I am not surprised at all to see him pick Tintin as a hero for this film made in 2011 in which he plays on the ground of movies for children while allowing his own childish self to enjoy the making and the story and experimenting with the almost unlimited possibilities offered by computerized animation.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0983193/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0983193/

 

There are two things that I did not like in Spielberg’s version of Tintin. One is the de-belgization of the character. Titin as a character has a Belgian flavor and although his appearance and the the one of the surrounding characters created by Herge are respectfully preserved, the rest is all but lost in translation. The second is the fact that there is too much action in this film. Yes, Spielberg is a fantastic action director, but he seems to have become at some point too much absorbed in creating action at the expense of creating emotion. Kids today already have at hand a lot of action movies, TV shows, games. If this is to be a film for kids and if parents take their precious ones to see a film by Spielberg I would expect then to experience emotion and not so much action thrills.

 

(video source ClevverMovies)

 

Otherwise The Adventures of Tintin is an amazing technical achievement and a superb visual experience. It’s almost a masterpiece in hyper-realistic cartoon making if you believe such a combination exist. I must just honor the names of the people in charge with the art – they are Andrew L. Jones and Jeff Wisniewski. I will be excused however that I expected more from the great film-maker named Steven Spielberg.

 

I had seen the play that inspired August: Osage County a few years back on stage at the HaBima theater in Tel Aviv and I confess that I did not remember much of the story. It took me this second viewing with its fine acting to appreciate the text written by Tracy Letts, which smartly puts each one of its characters at its place and gives it a good reason of being what it is. It is hard to believe that John Wells is only at his second long feature film, but then he has a long career as a producer and this tentative of switching to the shouted rather than the shouting side of the industry provides many good reasons for seeing his work.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1322269/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1322269/

 

Set in the flat landscape of Oklahoma during the hottest possible season August: Osage County starts as a thriller although we never know what really happened to the patriarch of the family who disappears two minutes in the film to become soon dead. The reason of his death does not matter too much, as we understand quickly that the life of a poet and professor of poetry could not be too happy in this environment and it’s not only the weather but a totally dis-functional family that carries in the 21st century the scars of the economic disasters and crisis that marked America in the first half of the 20th one, and of the incapability of its members to deal with the psychological traumas and avoid making the lives miserable one to each other. It’s a big and unhappy family in the tradition of Leon Tolstoy, and we watch how the masks fall from the faces of the characters one after the other, how the reasons of their behaviors, their fears and personal hells are brought to surface exactly at the moment when the families we know are expected to get together at the loss of a dear one. The families we know are never on screen however, but can we really say that we did not know some of the situations or of the characters in this movie?

 

(video source MOVIECLIPS Trailers)

 

I suggest to the Academy to create a new category besides the Best Actress and this would be ‘Best Actress Who Is Not Meryl Streep’. Her performance here is so huge, her immersion in the character is so total that I am afraid that she is even better than Cate Blanchett, my supreme love (as actress) in ‘Blue Jasmine’ which I did not see yet. She is so good that we hardly pay attention to the great acting of Julia Roberts in one of her best roles ever, and of all the other members of the cast. Even if complicated family dramas are not your cup of tea (they are not mine), even if the film making has a dose of theatricality (it is based upon a theater play) this film is worth seeing and may offer the best acting in this film season.

 

 

What is bluntly visible in this French film is the American look. Actually it is not only the look – the whole approach taken by the film starting with its story and I dare say with its ideology, going through the rapid pace and crisp editing style and ending with the style of acting is borrowed from the American ‘war on terror’ movies. We even have some kind of a French equivalent of the CIA headquarters in this film. The most amazing things is however that the combination works. Philippe Haim is a talented director and his ‘Secret Defense’ is a good American thriller even if it is acted in French.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1003052/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1003052/

 

Recruiting a young and sexy woman who finds herself in some kind of distress and turning her into a spy is a theme that we have already met in the classical Nikita, and original French film turned into an American movie and than successful TV series. The world of Secret Defense is however today’s France and Middle East, and a parallel thread develops the background of an abused criminal who falls of dark side of the war on terror. The paths of the two characters are to meet inexorably, and we know it from almost from the beginning. The smart and unfortunately true idea of the script is that both the good girl and the bad guy are victims, paws, foot soldiers in war machines that confront each other and eventually crush everybody who falls under their wheels.

 

(video source Beuzzy0)

 

The story has logic and the development of the main character played by Vahina Giocante is credible and does not lack an unexpected dose of sensitivity. There is one moment only when the accumulation of coincidences seemed to me to be hard to believe, but otherwise the story line and the excellent acting, the exact rendering of the various environments and the pace of action built upon interleaved threads contribute all to the good quality of a film that has an American look, and this time I am writing this appreciation on its positive meaning.

 

The test of the time is probably the best test that a movie can pass or fail. I have seen The Salton Sea two weeks ago, and did not have time to write immediately about it. Two weeks later I have a hard time remembering what the film was about. Fragments of good film making are left in my memory but they seem to be buried in a story which tries to make sense of some very improbable coincidences which end by making no sense, without the courage of being nonsense to the end, as in a Tarantino film.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0235737/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt0235737/

 

The Salton Sea tells the violent story of the life of a trumpet player turned into nightmare as his wife is murdered by drug dealers and trying to take revenge by enrolling as an undercover agent. His fake identity places him in the situation to meet the evil and their victims, and in order to take the revenge to the ultimate satisfaction he is obliged to go rogue and take all upon himself. No prisoners are taken and there hardly can be survivors from this situation.

 

(video source VDOVault)

 

The world described in the film is the one of Tarantino’s characters but director D.J. Caruso is no Tarantino and the story lacks exactly the sarcastic craziness of Quentin. Val Klimer does a fair job, but fair is not enough. I remember too little of this film two weeks after I have seen it, and I will probably remember nothing two weeks from now.