movies


I was quite curious to see Manchester by the Sea which was considered one of the best movies of the year and received two Academy Awards. Overall I was quite disappointed (relative to the expectations and the fuzz) and I believe that the success of this film is due merely to the dry season that was 2016 for the American film industry, with a selection missing movies that were both ambitions and well made, and with criteria for promotion and selection as nominees dominated by non-cinematographic arguments.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4034228/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4034228/

 

There are certainly many reasons for the film to be interesting. The script is well written (director has authored several smart scripts beyond the ones of his own movies) and builds carefully the characters while gradually dissipating the fog around their past and the reasons they behave as they do with a mix of the progressing story and flash-back scenes interleaved in a clever manner. The atmosphere of the small town by the sea not far from Boston is well described, the characters that populate it are credible, and the cinematography is so poignant that it makes us feel the cold, the wind, the proximity of the sea. All these cannot however hide the thin content of the story – a mix of a tutoring story of a teenage boy orphaned by his father and of guilt caused by the responsibility of a terrible tragedy in the past of the uncle assuming the parenting. One way or another all characters in the story are marked bu grief – how they cope with it and what are the consequences of the disappearance and absence of the dear ones differs. The problem is that the story is thinner than the materials it is built from, and the characters are less interesting from the moment we understand their stories. I happened to see this film three days after 20th Century Women which was also bringing to screen a piece of life including the story of coming of age of a teen boy. What a difference between the characters in the two movies, between the rich and interesting universe of ‘ film and the dry and empty world of the world described by  !

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

What about acting? A lot was written and said about ‘s performance which earned him the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award. I appreciate his acting of a man who hardly survives the grief, but there is nothing unexpected or interesting in the character. He is under shock, he has accesses of violence, he tries to do best to help his nephew, but is and will be forever marked by the tragedy of his life. All these are obvious. Are these worth an Academy Award? I doubt. Young provides actually a good counterpoint with some unexpected but well placed humor for a teenager who sometimes acts as the adult in the difficult relationship with his uncle. The rest of the cast does well, with being wasted talent in a film that is not bad, but is certainly overrated and in many moments simply boring.

The most unusual and violent scene in director 20th Century Women is the opening scene. A car suddenly bursts in flames in the parking of a supermarket. The year is 1979. Is this a violent act (not unusual for a period when racial and political clashes often turned so) or some mafia coup? It turns that it’s just an old car overheating. That’s the most extreme scene, the rest, even some fist-fight between teenagers, is just life. Real life, brought to screen with talent and emotion in one of the best films I have seen lately.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4385888

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4385888

 

It could be the story of the coming to age of a 15 years boy with a rather intrusive and dominant single mother. It could be a film about a period of confusion in history, or better said the beginning of many consecutive periods of confusion, when values were eroding and the old generation of leaders were having too many doubts to be able to continue to lead. It may be the story of a single mother, born after WWI, raised during the Big Depression, who dreamed to become a fight pilot but WWII ended to early for her to fulfill this dream, who fell in love, gave birth to a child, got divorced, and raises her child as well as she understands, in the friendly and tolerant atmosphere of California ten years after the Flower Power era. It may be the story of three women at three different ages of their lives coping with loneliness and failed relations. It may be all these and more.

 

(video source A24)

 

The characters in 20th Century Women are weird because they are true. They are actually weird as in real life, weird as each one of us is. Fabulous acting helps to make these characters live persons which remain with you as viewer long after the screening ends. as the aging mother gives a performance which reminded me some of ‘s finest. acts literally since she was a toddler, and grows into becoming a formidable actress – this may be the role we shall remember years later of her as a growing and mature teens (but are not teen girls more mature than teen boys as a rule?). is a real revelation, she enters her messy character and makes it true. succeeds to be real, complex, and likeable – with him Hollywood has a new teenager idol, I hope it will not break but rather lunch his career. I do not know where director hid until now, but before I applaud his work I would like to praise script author  who wrote a story that lives on screen, moves the viewers and brings back the time when things started to go wrong but the emotions and kindness of the people prevailed which is always a reason to hope. The only objection I would have is related to the exaggerated use of quotes, this may have tried to convey a feeling of what the characters were reading and were influenced by, this seemed a little precious and verbose – too little shade however for a shining film experience.

 

Why is (or was) God silent is a key question for believers. Why was God silent when Christians were prosecuted and died for their religion in the 17th century in Japan? Why was God silent when Jews were prosecuted by the Catholic Inquisition and died for their religion at the very same time? Or when Christians fought and killed each other in the European religious wars in the same century? Or during the Holocaust? Or today when people are prosecuted, fly for their lives and die for their religion in so many parts of the Globe? Is (or was) God silent? Or maybe He did speak and we did not hear Him? Those are the questions asked in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Are these questions asked in a generic manner, or just limited to his own faith, and to the specific period he deals with? Are the answers the film gives convincing?

source http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000217/

source http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000217/

 

The answer may depend on the viewer’s close or remote relation to faith. The story of the two Catholic priests who are traveling in AD 1640 in Japan at one of the most cruel periods of persecution of Christians, their encounter with the different culture and religions, their fight to help the devote local Catholics who were continuing to stick to their belief, their own personal fight with the doubts and the apparent silence of the Divinity, their dilemma the ultimate choice that they need to make between saving lives and their own soul, between martyrdom and apostasy – all these may speak a lot to believers in general and Catholics in particular. From that perspective, this is the story of Via Dolorosa with a different ending. What if as viewer one does not belong to either of these categories? These viewers are left with a film of exquisite cinematographic beauty but with a slow and unconvincing story telling, quite surprising for a master director as  is.

 

(video source KinoCheck International)

 

There is a secondary story here of the relationship between the priest father Rodrigues () and the local fisherman who helps and then betrays the two priests Kichijiro (). It’s an extension of the Jesus – Judah story, a continuation maybe of the relation between the two described in Scorsese’s 1988 The Last Temptation of Christ, and one more work that deals with the story of Judah, part of a trend of ‘rehabilitation’ of the character, at least in films and books. I liked this part, and the acting in general (not to forget who always fills any screen he is on). I liked less the long off-line monologue which becomes quite repetitive at some point, the ‘Deus ex machina’ off-screen voice that shows up at a key moment, and the odd epilogue that does not add too much to the story, is told in a different style and from a different perspective. Maybe it’s just Scorsese’s way of making sure that we place the story he is telling in the historical context? Did he really need this?

One of my friends wrote after reading the original version of my short review: ‘It is an experience more than a movie to watch.’ I agree with her. Seeing Silence is like visiting a church. Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers, everybody has a different experience, remarks and appreciates different things.

 

 

The second film we have seen at the Italian film festival was an entertaining comedy starring one of the most popular actors and singers in Italy nowadays. The title Quo vado? may send to serious philosophical and even Biblical connotations, but it’s actually a light-heart comedy about the Italy and Europe of today.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5290524/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5290524/

 

It’s probably good not to take this film too seriously, especially using the political correctness filter. The main hero is a mid-class, mid-age, bold type living with his parents and enjoying what seems to be a for-life bureaucratic public servant position in a small place somewhere in Italy. One sunny day the skies fall on his head, as his job is going to be terminated because of an efficiency campaign. He either should resign, pocket some termination bonus and give up the good life, or fight for his job – which means being sent to all extreme places to perform the extreme job an Italian clerk is supposed to perform. The hero is sexist, ethnic prejudices and stereotypes abound, and he undeservedly accommodates any place and gets the smart and beautiful girl at the end (who just happens to have three different kids of three different races without having evener been married. No-PC? Thanks, God! Funny? yes – most of the time. Original? Not really, but who cares as long as we have a good time.

 

(video source Vue Cinemas)

 

Director relies on a script that could be as well the skeleton of a theater comedy or musical show, and on his leading star actor who is apparently popular enough in Italy to assume the risk of lending his name to the hero. A few holy cows are tickled just enough not to cause too many waves and allow for the good spirit of comedy to prevail. It’s easy but not stupid entertainment, and with this state of mind many viewers will enjoy it, I believe.

I usually have little problem accepting genre conventions. Without being a big fan of exorcism or daemon’s hunting films, I believe that I understand the rules of the genre. Something odd (and bad) happens however with The Conjuring. It takes the genre seriously.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1457767/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1457767/

 

Director has the original Saw in his directing record, and he was the executive producer of the next six films in the series. He should know something about genre rules. One golden rule is that you either need to abstract the details to give the story a more generic touch (this is what was done with Saw which could be seen as a pure horror exercise, enhanced by the claustrophobic and time bomb effects), or include a touch of humor or some other elements to allow detachment of viewers from the ‘tough’ stuff. The damaging mistake made in my opinion in The Conjuring is that not only that none of these two elements is present, but also that all the story is taken so much in serious up to the claiming that it is inspired by true events and characters. What if you are not a Roman-Catholic, if you do not believe in daemons, if you doubt (as many Internet sources do) that Ed and Lorraine Warren (the couple of demon fighters in the movie) were really anything else than story tellers at best, fraud at worst? This film does not let you room to enjoy, because if you do not accept the convention little makes sense – story, dialogues, characters.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

There is some good horror cinema in this film, which tried and to some extent succeeded to paint the action in a retro early 70s atmosphere, using film means of that period. However, the weak premises of the story make everything look artificial, and when noises become more strident and bodies start being dragged faster or fly higher, the lack of credibility is so strong, that it the even more ridiculous solution comes as some kind of relief.

Avoid!

 

I did not see the original Japanese anime film with the same name which triggered the idea of Ghost in the Shell and this may be an advantage or a disadvantage. I have read some articles that compare the two works, and also refer to the comics series, as well as to ‘Matrix’ which took apparently many ideas from it. It seems to me that I can enjoy and appreciate director ‘ film even better without that comparison, although I may be missing some of the nuances or different directions the original work was taking the theme to.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1219827/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1219827/

 

What may have changed in the two decades since the Japanese original works were created is the fact that much of the technology that is described in the film became reality, and for the rest the feasibility is a confirmed fact. Artificial organs are now more and more replacing organs and tissues damaged by diseases or accidents. We know much more about how brain functions, how information circulates between brain and body, and how mechanical actions of the human body or artificial prosthesis are controlled. Brain transplant was not achieved, but it’s considered feasible, as well as a future implant in a completely artificial body. As in the film, many of the humans are or will become hybrids with a higher and higher percentage of replaced parts.

The film deals with a future in which the first brain implant is made in an artificial body. This makes of the lead heroine () kind of a super-hero, a living weapon to fight terrorists. It’s just that her former identity (her ‘ghost’) comes to haunt her, and while she slowly recovers her human identity the reality around becomes less connected to the truth. What follows is a combination of action (or even super-heroes action) and smart science-fiction genres, which takes place in a world where men coexist with hybrids, or maybe better said almost any man also became a hybrid. It’s a film which succeeds both to entertain as well as to ask difficult questions about the future evolution of mankind and it’s relation with the thinking machines created by men.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

Some exceptional work was performed in order to create on screen the possible world of the future described in Ghost in the Shell. The visual concept makes reference to previous art like the one in Metropolis or Blade Runner, but develops those into new directions starting from the images and shapes that define today’s Asian big cities. There are a lot of computerized effects but they all have logic and are backing the story line, and so do the action scenes. The film succeeds to satisfy both action fans as well as viewers who are looking for meaningful science-fiction.  is very good in the lead role, she continues her daring undertaking of roles in science-fiction movies, but each one of the roles is different and this should help her avoid automatic casting in a new stereotype which replaces the older beautiful-fragile girl one in the first years of her career. It’s a pleasure to see huge actors as and also involved in this project.

 

Based on a trilogy of books written by Veronica Roth, Divergent brought to screen by begins as many other similar dystopian films years after the civilization as we know was destroyed by war. One of the surviving pockets is the city of Chicago. In the retro-futuristic ruins that we know from many other films the local community survives by having itself divided into five strict casts, with well defined social roles – agricultural production, justice, social assistance, policing and defense. One has to chose once base on some kind of a hipno-test that detects his abilities and recommends the future path. There is no return. Outfits are thrown out of the system in kind of a homeless world. Those who do not fit into the patterns are feared, and eliminated when identified. They are the Divergents.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1840309/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1840309/

 

The film is the story of one of them – a teenage girl who chooses to train to become part of the more exciting military-policing cast – or maybe two if we add her trainer who has one secret in his pocket – as they fight the system, try to adapt, but do not find their way of integrating, so they revolt. The premises are almost as strict as the social rules of the world that is being described in the film, and it would have taken quite a lot of talent and character building in order to overcome a simplistic approach. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the film hesitates between a future vision which is not original enough and a teenage fighting adversity story which is not complex or interesting enough.

 

(video source Summit Screening Room)

 

Director of The Illusionist fame quite disappoints here. I should say that he disappoints again, as after that 2006 movie he never got back to the level of story and characters building that he reached there. He never succeeds to exceed the cliches of the The Hunger Games genre. No, this is not supposed to be a compliment.  Divergent is too much resembling many other films of its genre, the young and   act well but they are no and the presence of in a well built supporting role is not enough to save this film from a very average grade. Divergent is missing some more divergence.

 

‘Veloce come il vento’ (which translates ‘fast as the wind’ – but got the English title Italian Race is a quite original combination between a teen drama, a car races story (including the corresponding stunts) and a moralistic story about what (mostly bad) drugs do to people. All is based on a true story, or at least the true characters of a brother and sister in a race cars pilots family. The result is a fresh film, with enough drama and good acting to keep the interest of the viewers and confirm that the Italian cinema is the place where one can find lately more and more interesting films.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4300480/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4300480/

 

Giulia de Martino () is racing cars although she is just 17 and does not even have a driving license. This is apparently possible in Italy especially if you are born into a car racing family, and her father is trainer and mentor. The film actually opens with the death of her father, and we are soon in family drama territory, with a drug addicted brother showing up and settling in the house which is also inhabited by the younger brother. To keep the house the girl must go on racing, and the unsettling brother proves to be an ex-pilot, fallen out of the path of life or races because of his addiction. What follows is a combination of coming-to-age and family drama combined with spectacular car races, and some melodrama. We eventually learn that the smile on the face of a kid is more important that money, or even houses, or even winning in car races.

 

(video source FilmIsNow Trailer & Clip in Italiano )

 

Much of the film attraction is due to the splendid performances of the two lead actors and . Accorsi’s character who sees his life destroyed by drugs but keeps trying to be a good person is poignant, while De Angelis is smart and beautiful and her work here may draw the attention of the international scene, she has all the looks and skills for success. Director  seems to specialized in films about the problems of teenagers, here is broadening the scope with the exploration of the world of the car races (legal and illegal). The result is a film which looks fresh and true and keeps the interest of viewers even if car races or teenagers problems are not their preferred themes.

Very few films were made until now about the beginnings of the American space program, and I am wondering why. Here is a true American saga that took place at a time that is still remembered by many of us. It’s a story with famous and anonymous heroes, a story that begins with the dismay and fear caused by the Soviets taking early lead in the race to space (with the launching of the Sputnik and with sending the first man in space) and ends in triumph with the Apollo program and the moon landings. And yet, Hollywood still has to approach the period and make the movies about this great story and the men that made it possible. Hidden Figures only partly fills some of this gap, looking at a little known aspect of the first space programs, from a specific perspective, with the emphasis on an unexpected and unknown aspect – the racial prejudice that faced and had to be overcome by the first Afro-American contributors to the program. It tells the story of (until now) little known heroes who not only were ‘colored’ but also all happened to be women.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4846340/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4846340/

 

Hidden Figures is a fiction film based on the nonfiction book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, written by historian Margot Lee Shetterly. The script authors and director where extremely careful in the details, from dialogues that aim to be as close to reality as they are remembered by the heroes who lived the period (including apparently a scene that looks very Hollywood-like but apparently did happen, with John Glenn on the launching ramp of the very first flight asking for the computations to be checked by ‘the girl’ he met in the preparation meetings room) to details about how buildings, corridors, rooms, parking lots looked at the NASA compounds in Virginia. What is shocking today especially from a non-American perspective is the extent to which segregation and racial discrimination was part of life and of the books of laws a little more than half a century ago, in the country that was leading the democracy block in its fight against Communism, and was working to send its first men to space.

 

(video source 20th Century Fox)

 

Yet, the ‘inspirational’ tone dominates the film, and the viewer has the feeling that almost every fact, action, or spoken dialog is in line with the point that the film aims to make. A more realistic or neutral approach would have made the message more convincing IMO. I did like the characters development, the fact that three women who are the lead characters in the film have each her own personality, talents, way of overcoming prejudice. The three actresses are , and and I hope to see them in more (good) movies ahead. and are cast in supporting roles and they do a good job. Hidden Figures is a solid and in some places emotional film, but cannot break the convention of genre and style that it seems that the authors imposed on themselves.

 

The once very popular Murphy’s Law was stating ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.’ The practical application of the saying into the space horror genre seems to be director ‘s Life. What if the worst assumptions and the deepest fears related to the long expected contact with alien life become true? This seems to be the premises of the film, coupled with an execution which salutes famous predecessors like ‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey and ‘s Alien, but does it in a different dosage of the components adding a few of its own to be satisfying, interesting and thrilling.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5442430/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5442430/

 

The rules of fantastic fiction are well respected here as all starts in the familiar and thought-comfortable atmosphere of the space expedition returning from Mars and bringing back the first proof of alien life. Times Square fills with enthusiastic viewers of the life broadcast from the international space station where science mixes with trivia about food entering and exiting human body in no gravity conditions, and school kids give a household name (‘Kevin’) to the new form of life. It just happens that this very smart alien cell has the power to turn in a few minutes of screen time into a killing machine that will start devouring the crew whose mission of ensuring protection of Earth and life on the planet is in jeopardy, and gets suddenly much serious consequences.

 

(video source Sony Pictures Entertainment)

 

For a serious science-fiction movie the script has huge holes and abounds in science gaffs, but this becomes secondary because of the good characters development. Quite unusual in the genre, we get to know the six astronauts, and when they start dying heroic but horrible deaths we already know and feel something for them. Good actors performance helps, with excelling in his ‘guy-we-care-about’ routine. The sets also try something different, this space station has a lot of tubular corridors where the lack of gravity is induced to viewers by using camera position effects and the colors palette looks like the (dark) negative of the cool non-colors in Kubrick’s film. I will not say more about the ending then stating that this was one of the most unexpected and unsettling movie ends that I have seen lately. One more good reason not to miss this film, especially if you like science-fiction and horror.

 

 

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