movies


The usual introduction and disclaimer applies. When I chose to go to a comics-inspired movie I expect a different type of experience than the one that I expect when I go do a Shakespeare-inspired film or an European art production. Yet, there are good films and bad films and I have seen all of them in all genres. Within the limits of its genre I did not find ‘Black Panther‘ directed by to be a very good film and it’s difficult to me to understand the enthusiastic reception given to it by some of the film critics that I otherwise agree with most of the time. It’s not a bad film either. It’s just average.

 

source https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2018/02/afrofuturist-superhero-movie-black-panther-breaks-new-ground-more-ways-one

source https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2018/02/afrofuturist-superhero-movie-black-panther-breaks-new-ground-more-ways-one

 

The idea could actually work as most of the ideas of comics-based characters. A meteorite hit Earth million of years ago bringing with it a precious metal, vibranium, stronger than anything we know plus some curative properties. Vibranium is something like the reverse of kryptonite which was annihilating the powers of Superman, with the difference that while the Black Panther superhero can use it and become superhero by drinking it in liquor form, his whole nation of Wakanda can enjoy its power and build an advanced underground civilization in a secluded area of Africa, with one of the poorest countries on Earth as a cover above the ground. If you did not hear about Wakanda you should not worry, you probably did not hear about many of the – say – 20 poorest nations on Earth members of the UN. The adventures of young king T’Challa who ascended to the throne and is confronted with many internal and external threats and enemies as well as with the dilemma whether to continue the isolationist policies of his father and ancestors (‘Wakanda first’ :-) ) or open and share his technology with the rest of the planet and especially with the oppressed categories on it are the essence of the story. The rest is CGI and 3D effects.

 

(video source Marvel Entertainment)

 

It is visible that film director made a serious effort to add a layer of serious items to the basic comics story. Allusions to current events in the US and rest of the world like racial inequities, war as a mean of settling conflicts and isolationism are more than transparent. The treatment they get in the film is pretty conventional and there are no surprises or dilemmas, there are more questions than answers. Characters are quite well differentiated but their depth does not exceed the two dimensions of the comics heroes – we pretty much know from start what they will be doing and how they will react to various challenges. Good acting by a few well known and other lesser known actors could not add too much, not even the fantastic or . Computer graphics are spectacular but they lack innovation, I found them to be at the middle of the road between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ (the animated version). One atop the other, it’s reasonable entertainment for kids of all ages (and I include myself in this category) but it’s not up to the buzz.

It’s one hundred year since the world entered in the final year of the first global conflict. WWI was a fractal event in history. It changed the world order that had been in place for the last century, it led to the crumbling of empires that had lasted for many centuries, it changed the map of the world, created new nations and countries, and gave birth to one of the most cruel totalitarian regime ever, seeding the seeds for the emergency of another less than 20 years later. Tens of million of people died, the lives of other tens of millions were shaken, shattered, destroyed. It also changed the course of the history of culture, art and literature. Artists caught in the turmoil of war reflected their experiences (mostly traumatic) in dramatic works – paintings, music, poems, novels, films. One hundred years later, the experience of WWI is still subject to novels and films. Some of them are outstanding and this is the case with the novel of which won the Goncourt Prize in 2013 and the film it inspired written and directed by . “See You Up There” (“Au revoir là-haut” is the original title) shows that we still try to understand the feelings and sufferings of the men caught in that war (or in any war), to make sense of the absurdity, to learn where there may be no lesson to be learned.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5258850/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5258850/

 

The trigger of the story in “Au revoir là-haut” takes place in the last days of WWI. Armistice is rumored to happen any moment, but there are still commanders who have a hard time putting aside their war toys and continue to fight absurd missions sending soldiers in the way of useless deaths and mutilations. One of the last victims of the war is private Edouard Pericourt, an artist whose talent and style allude to the works of Egon Schiele. He is badly wounded and disfigured, and for the rest of his life will wear masks that hide the mutilation but also express his moods and feelings.  spends much of the film behind masks that he created, and this is one more challenge for that he overcomes with superb talent. His friend and companion is an older soldier, Albert Maillard, (acted by himself). Pericourt refuses to return to his rich family, the old conflict with his severe and authoritarian father being part of the reason. He just wants to disappear as dead, to hide the identity and cut short the destiny brutally destroyed by war. The revenge he devises is not aiming personal benefit, it’s a revenge against the system and society that sent him and his whole generation to war and does not care about the living victims, the survivors traumatized physically but especially psychologically, and against the demagogues and the war profiteers who switched businesses from selling arms to building cemeteries and monuments of war.

 

(video source Gaumont)

 

I will not reveal more about the story to leave intact to the readers of this note the pleasure of viewing. It’s a very well written story (excepting maybe the final) with characters that succeed to be both original and credible. It’s beautifully filmed, with a cinematography work that is expressive and attractive, seeking permanently surprising angles that make the experience of seeing this film interesting at all moments. Art plays a special role, there is a lot of original art (drawings, masks) created for this film in the spirit of the immediate post-war artistic movements. As viewers we are delighted with a beautiful and authentic image of Paris in 1919 and of the evolution of art in the aftermath of the war, at the time art-deco artists were turning to Expressionism and Abstract to express their feelings.

One of the best films about and against war that I have ever seen.

I confess that I was waiting for such a movie for quite a while. It’s so long since I have seen a comedy that made me laugh without being stupid, with characters I could care about without falling into melodrama, with a story interesting to follow and no super-persons involved. Game Nightwritten by and directed by and succeeds to be all these and made me spend some of the most pleasant couple of hours in a cinema theater recently.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2704998

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2704998

 

The characters of the story are quite recognizable for many of the viewers. They are young mid-class professionals in today’s America, whose lives is centered around the hobby of playing all kinds of rather innocent society games. Never falling on the bad side of vice, the gaming passion defines their way of life with funny moments – like proposing marriage in riddles – or doubtful impact when concerning their decision or even capability of bringing children to life. When games and real life become entangled and the game in game situation turns to be more real than realistic the characters become involved in a turmoil of events where physical integrity and even lives are at risk, and viewers become part of the game. Same as the heroes on screen we know that the bullets cannot hurt (too much) the good guys and the blood spilled by them is just ketchup. The script authors just added one layer between fiction and reality, and this layer turns the film into a combination of surrealistic action movie and situation comedy gags – a few of them novel enough to extract some extra laughs.

 

(video source Zero Media)

 

The excellent cast feels good on screen and you can feel that they had fun making this movie. A special note should be given to the lead actors and who add personal chemistry to their comic talents, and to , a young comedian who constructs the role of a nerd cop with a soul in  manner that lets me expect some more fun from him in the future.

If you look for good entertainment where neither the characters not the viewers are considered stupid – Game Night should be the choice.

 

The lead male hero in “Phantom Thread” is a tailor of the high society ladies in a city of London vaguely located in time sometimes after WWII. It is seldom that I am in such a disagreement with the opinions of the majority of the film critics and of many of my friends whose opinions I appreciate. I cannot refrain myself however to express my feelings about this film by quoting the famous short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about the tailors that sewed the “emperor’s new clothes”. I need to shout: “The emperor is naked!” “This film is bad!” Not even can save it. IMHO, of course.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5776858

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5776858

 

I need now, of course, to explain. I will try to do it without committing the sin of writing a spoiler. It’s the love story between a man well over 50 and a young woman in her 20s. Their are separated not only by the age difference, but also by a social gap (he is a famous tailor of the rich and famous, she is a servant in a country inn) and a difference of nationality left vague in the story. He is one of the best tailors in the world, totally dedicated and immersed in his art. He picks the young woman more like an instrument that fits his artistic model and goals, while the young woman (acted by )  is completely falling in love with him. In order to draw his attention she will do something terrible which I will not reveal, not once but twice. The result is his complete surrender first into marriage, later into parenthood. His creative power seems however to diminish, and the final is actually vague again about his continuing artistic path. The story is outrageous (and I do not allow myself to be outraged to easily), non-credible and ridiculous.

 

(video source Focus Features)

 

I liked a lot ‘s “There Will Be Blood” and especially “The Master“. I am quite astonished about his latest works including this film. He probably intended to bring to screen a story of love and horror, of passion not shared, of a relationship that is based on a terrible lack of balance. The story he created and the solutions he found did not work for me. I am even more disappointed because of the superb acting of who is again investing all his acting style and talent in order not to act but to become his character. I will be very sorry it this is the last film of his acting career. Maybe he will change his mind. What about the role of a great artist like Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan? While watching “Phantom Thread” I was thinking about these two great music conductors as characters of the same huge talent and intensity as the one of the hero he brings to screen in this film.  deserves a better final.

 

 

Weddings are sometimes odd gatherings that bring together people from different backgrounds, nationalities, identities. Films about weddings have been used too describe not only the folkloric aspects of tradition, but also to deal with rather serious issues beyond relationships – social and national gaps, stereotypes, fear of ‘the other’. The best of them succeeded in mixing the ‘easy’ and relaxed approach with attentive description of the characters and of the truth beyond the appearances. I can now think at examples as ‘s “Monsoon Wedding” or ‘s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding“. In 2009 the fashion reached Eastern Europe when Romanian and Moldavian cinema studios got together to make “Wedding in Bessarabia“  (or “Nunta in Basarabia”) directed by

 

sursa http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1741706

sursa http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1741706

 

There are many ways this film can be see and commented. One can start at the historical metaphor level, with the Romanian groom marrying the Moldavian bride which is also more ore less openly courted by the Russian pretender. The history of Bessarabia, the Eastern half of historic Moldavia fallen at the beginning of the 19th century under imperial Russia rule, unified and becoming part of the Great Romania exactly 100 years ago, only to fall back under the Soviet rule during World War II as a result of the pact between Hitler and Stalin, could fit well the scenario. However, director chose to focus on contemporaneity and more exactly on the cultural, language and morality differences between the different classes of characters: the relatively ‘westernized’ Romanian from the West of the border, the Moldavians torn and divided themselves between their (long time oppressed) Romanian identity and the Russian influence.  All characters are living at their own pace the process of transition between the Communist rule and democracy and modernity which are slow to show their benefits in this part of the world, with corruption, demagogy and even crime putting pressure on life at national and personal level. The wedding itself has its own dynamics, and the Romanian cinema has its own tradition of using the theme as a metaphoric space where tradition is invaded by reality and sometimes small history meets big history – see as example ‘s “Silent Wedding” (“Nunta muta”) made just one year before this film.

(video source Nunta in Basarabia)

 

The identity problems of Bessarabia and the political issues related to the possible re-unification in the future are complex and certainly cannot be dealt with all in one film. They even become more complicated in the years since this film was made, as the Republic of Moldova stepped back on certain respects from its path of getting closer to Romania and joining Europe. I am not familiar with other works of Moldavian cinema or literature that deal with these issues – they may exist but I do not know them. In their absence, I would take this film as what it is – a snapshot of the identity crisis of the Moldavian society and of the relationship with the rest of the Romanian nation, treated in a light manner, without making any definitive judgments. The film succeeds to entertain and without eluding the tough questions, and without pretending to provide solutions. Certainly the stereotypes are present, but please show me any ethnic comedy that can completely avoid them. The older and younger actors make a great job, and it is sufficient to see and looking at each other to understand that their love is genuine and this is a marriage to last, despite all the difficulties. Maybe here lies the optimistic message of this film.

 

The vice of gambling inspired quite a number of literary and cinematographic works, starting maybe with Dostoevsky’s novel which shares the name with the films that inspired it until the almost masterpiece movie “House of Games” written and directed by . “The Gambler” directed by  is not an adaptation of the great Russian writer’s short novel but rather a remake of a 1974 film that featured in the lead role. There are enough reasons to watch this 2014 version of the story with in the lead role, even if you have seen or not the older film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2039393

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2039393

 

The film history does not lack heroes (or anti-heroes) who lead a more than honorable life and/or have a respected profession at day, while spending their nights in vices of all sorts. Most of the characters of this kind are women, but there are also men like Jim Bennett, a decent and passionate professor of literature and novel writer who spends his free time in gambling crazily money that he does not have, borrowing from all possible bad guys, ruining the trust of his mother and of his girlfriend. At some point in time the viewers ask themselves whether he is playing a survival or a suicidal game, as he invites trouble and seems immune to the any danger or concern as soon as he walks the door of a gambling place. The response is in the character of gamblers which escapes reason (there are a few lines that I suspect were borrowed from Dostoevsky). His chance to survive depends upon getting rid of the addiction.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

‘s “The Gambler” is written more like an action movie than as a character study. At some point in time the hero borrows money from three different mob groups, and uses the cash to cheat each other in order to try to save his skin. The influence of the gangsters movies of the 70s and 80s is visible, with reverences to  or Sidney Lumet. The atmosphere, the darkness and even the humor are present in the right doses. While the action is quite satisfying the quality of the film derives mostly from the actor work of who succeeds in this film to deliver one of the best roles in his career, with an intense rendition of the combination of the emptiness and despair of the intelligent hero who is aware about the falling spiral path of his life, but has a hard time fighting to prevent it. Supporting roles are played by fine actors like , , and (his last movie!). I liked less the very final which may be a little to conventional cinema relative to the rest of the film, but the overall impression is better than expected.

 

Director ‘s “3 coeurs” (“3 Hearts”) gathers on screen a stellar cast. The three lead feminine roles are trusted to , the daughter of …,  and  , also the daughter of … and also the daughter of Deneuve in real life. Gainsbourg and Mastroianni play the roles of two sisters in whose life shows up a man – the role is played by , whom I have last time seen playing the role of … God in The Brand New Testament, a film which you should search to see if you happen to have missed. The names and fame of the actors were the principal reasons for which I chose to see this film, and probably also the main reasons for which I will remember it.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2822742

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2822742

 

Marc Beaulieu () is a tax inspector. A good one and probably even a man of integrity because we see him involved in valiantly handling a high-level corruption case (not really connected to the rest of the story). Numbers and determinism may be his profession, but hazard seems to reign in his personal life, which looks like a mess in which he attracts also the two sisters, one after the other. His heart is also feeble, the heart which is said to be for humans the center of noble emotions, but which also distracts and derails the paths of life when it physically malfunctions. Should we let hazard (or destiny) reign upon our lives, or should we try to fix its effects? Is this even possible?

 

(video source Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films)

 

The questions raised by the story in the film are interesting, the resulting film is not really up to the premises. The principal reason is the pace of the story, which lingers for long periods, to jump suddenly at some moments, without a good connection between the different episodes. Good acting cannot save the flaws of the story and especially of the story telling, and despite the promises “3 coeurs” ends by being just another love triangle movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite being quite a popular and well established genre, biographical films about artists succeed quite seldom to become consistent works of art by themselves. In many cases they deal with personalities whose art and biographies are reasonably or well known to the audiences. The personalities of the artists, the environment they lived within, their relations with the society and the personal lives, in some cases controversial are good material, but the script writers, directors and actors have to match their cinematic work with the expectations, have to bring enough new elements to make the films interesting and above all have a formidable competitor for their films in the art created by the heroes of their stories. Austrian director ‘s tentative with “Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden” (or “Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen” in German) is a good exemplification of a diligent tentative that does not succeed to avoid all the traps and surface above the crowd.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4558396

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4558396

 

Egon Schiele was one of the lead artists in the period of art flourishing at the beginning of the 20th century in Austria. While post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism was changing in a revolutionary manner the history of art in France, and while German artists were building the foundations of Expressionism and Abstract art, their Austrian colleagues of generation were shattering the bourgeois establishment with a more subtle and subversive approach. Certainly, the works of Klimt and Schiele were defining new aesthetic codes, but their attack on the conservative art was coming mostly on the moral grounds. In the decadent atmosphere of the end of the empire, they were living a free and amoral life according to the codes of their time, and this was reflected openly in their art. Egon Klimt, whose last eight years of his short life are described in the film, lived in a passionate but also deeply anxious manner. Had death not cut short his life (he died in the terrible flu epidemic in the last month of the war) he may have joined the expressionist current, and maybe become a great anti-war artist such as Otto Dix.

 

(video source Thimfilm Filmverleih)

 

Unfortunately, little of the torments of the artist are translated to screen in “Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden“. We are served with a quite documented biographical film, which is as much as I can judge close and true to the facts that we know about his life. The focus of the script and of the film director was directed to the historical details and the sentimental life of the painter. There is too little in the film that can explain the psychological shock that one feels when looking at the paintings and drawings of Schiele, the deep mute shout that comes from the lines, the forms, the expressions of the people (mostly women) that he painted. The team of artists (, , ) is very well selected, and their acting reveals a little more than the script does, but this is still enough. Director succeeded to make a rather conventional film about a provoking artist.

 

 

Americans love the true crime genre. The big bookstores in the US have dedicated true crime books sections. Many of the Hollywood or independent films are based on true crime stories, biographies and memoirs of people who walked on the wrong side of the law. Good and bad books, good and bad films. Molly’s Game (written for the screen and directed by  and based on the auto-biographical book written by ) is a good example of how short is the distance between the good ones and the bad ones.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4209788

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4209788

 

is a real person, born in 1978. She spent much of her childhood and teen years in sports training, she was a skier and Olympic aspirant, but jer sports career was cut short by an accident. Shortly after that event she became involved in the high-stakes poker games, at the edge of the law. While the money that the games she organized went up, her life spiraled down, she became involved in a big scandal and lawsuit involving the mafia, accused of money laundering and organizing illegal gambling. The whole operation fell apart during a big FBI crush-down on illegal games and gambling. The film describes her ascending and downfall, the inquiry and the trial during which she refused to become a state witness, preferring to plead guilty and eventually avoiding a prison sentence.

 

(video source

 

Much of the film relies on acting performance of . She does a find job in describing a woman of character and ambition, who makes the wrong choices at several moments of her life, but finds the inner strength to assume responsibility and change the path of her own destiny. Unfortunately, Chastain’s acting is not enough to save the film. Much of the screen time (which exceeds two hours) is spent in legalities and technical details about poker. You can follow these for a couple of times by a couple of minutes, but here they come back for almost all the duration of the movie. The second aspect that I did not like was the way the film describes the building of the relationship between Molly and her lawyer. There are several dialogs written by script author that filmed director liked so much that he forced the actors to declaim them at high pace, almost with no break for breathing. They looked to me theatrical and not credible. Another weak part in the script was the psychoanalytic explanation of Molly’s choices which we get in a teary scene by the end of the film that contains a discussion between the hero and her father, who happens to be a clinical psychologist. The fact that the role is played by  did not help either, this is for Costner another bad choice among many that he made in his career.

Molly’s Game is probably close to the book and may be faithful to the real events which happened quite recently. They may have actual resonance which may be enough for a TV documentary drama but it is not enough to make of it a good feature film. Hints to real persons, actors or other celebrities are not relevant, especially for for international audiences. In the absence of true drama or characters evolution, we are served with a lot of legal and poker technicalities, and with a conventional and melodramatic view of the whole story. The result is verbose and boring, and seems even longer than its 140 minutes of screen time.

The format of the British film “The Party” directed by is quite unusual. It’s total screen time is just over one hour, which places the film in the class of mid-sized features, not very popular nowadays. It is even shorter than what would be a filmed theater play, although from many other aspects it looks like one. All the action happens within the walls and in the garden of one house. There are a total of seven characters which are on screen (on stage if you want) most of the time. Actually the closest work I could think about are the plays of , and especially “Dieu du carnage” which inspired “Carnage“  directed by . And yet, “The Party” is based on an original script written by the director of the movie . It may be the goal of the West End theaters to put on stage the play inspired by the film.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5814592

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5814592

 

Janet () is a British MP in the opposition, who lives what should be one of the best days of her life. She was nominated a minister in that odd British institution which is called ‘the shadow cabinet’ – a mirror of the real government formed by opposition politicians to show publicly the democratic alternative. She is on her way of becoming, maybe, the next Margaret Thatcher. A party with her closest family and friends is called, but besides the principal events, her family and friends have also their own announcements which will completely change the course of the day and of their whole lives. We witness one of these situations in which events go quickly out of control, marriages and old friendships are broken, and the masks of conventions fall completely because of the revelations of hidden secrets from present and past.

 

(video source Madman Films)

 

Music plays an essential role in the film. Vinyl records picked from a box near the pick-up music machine in the living room will provide the almost continuous musical background that starts with Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’ continues with famous jazz standards by Sidney Bechet, John  Coltrane and Ibrahim Ferrer, jumps between the funereal “Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell to the Romanian folk song ‘Ciocarlia’ (‘The Lark’) played by Grigoras Dinicu and ends with Latin music, appropriate to the passionate ending.  The music and the intensity of the acting provides the quality and the satisfaction that I experienced as a viewer. is fantastic, fast forwarding between self-confidence and vulnerability, between feeling hurt and planning revenge. as Janet’s husband wears a mask that viewers will find hard to forget, and seeing again the excellent German actor was also a treat. Each of the actors creates first class performances, their characters have each strong individuality and interact well together. The choice of black-and-wide filming became a fashion, sometimes justified, but in this case it did not seem to me to have added anything special. “The Party” with its duration and content looks less like a full length movie, and more like an afternoon theater performance in the London West End, but a good one.

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