Entries tagged with “Hollywood 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.

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.

Hollywood loves more than anything else to make films about Hollywood. There may be some trivial economic reasons for this, films about films taking place mostly in film studios are easy to make in film studios. There is a more deeper reason however, and this is the Hollywood fascination for movies and for itself. It may be considered self-serving, but when the fascination is shared by audiences the result is good movies. Actually, some of the best movies made at Hollywood take place and are about making films (in most cases in Hollywood). ‘s ‘The Disaster Artist’ belongs to this category, but there is an increased risk as its topic is the making of ‘The Room‘ considered by many the worst film in history and its principal hero is its director, producer, script actor and lead actor,

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3521126/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3521126/

 

The Disaster Artist’ tells the true story of the making of a film which many consider so bad that it should never have been done. Yet, this film is born of the passion and of the desire to prove themselves of two aspiring actors who were rejected by the Hollywood system. We know that Hollywood is a capitalist jungle, that one in a hundred or a thousand make it, that in order to succeed one needs talent and luck. But if talent and luck are missing, can money replace them?  tried to prove it by making ’The Room‘. The result was surprising, just because the film was not mediocre, it was awful. Superlatively awful, to the point to become a success and a legend.

 

(video source A24)

Viewing  ’The Disaster Artist’ asks some troubling questions about what is a ‘good’ film, and what it takes for a film to become a ‘cult film’. Are we living in times of such confusion of values that nothing does really matter? If bad is good, than ‘The Room‘ is the best because it was the worst? What turned it into a ‘cult film’ and what does this mean? I would not say that all these artistic and philosophical questions found answers in ’The Disaster Artist’. The film is well made and it entertains,  does a good job as a film director and as an actor, but I cannot claim that I understand his character (yes, he has passion, but passion is just one component of film or any other art making) or what a ‘cult film’ is. I can however say that I witnessed an episode of the ‘cult of ‘The Room” as the cinema hall at the cinematheque in my city was more populated than in an average evening, most of the spectators were young people who knew and voiced text loudly, in chorus and in sync with the actors, and brought with them spoons. Why spoons? You need to come and see the movie to learn the answer.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘ is positioning itself as the main favorite of the Academy Awards season, and if it will win some of the statuettes in the major categories it will be by merit. It is quite interesting that an Irish – British director succeeded to make such a sharp film about the territory that we know so little especially out of the US – the deep America, the one far of the glamour of the big cities or the sparks of high-tech. We should not be amazed however, as  is a very special kind of artist, a playwright of great talent who has gradually broadened the scope of his plays from the Irish history and political present to British realities, and later to more broader human topics. As a film director he started with a short film set in Ireland that won an Academy Award in 2006, while his next two feature films are set in Europe (In Bruges) and Hollywood (Seven Psychopaths). The story in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘ takes place in the heart of America, I would almost say to the bleeding heart of the country, as the small city in Missouri can be seen as a micro-model of the complex realities of the US, with its prejudice and violence, but also with the humanity and power to heal of its people. The quality of the film making places it somewhere in-between or in the same league as the films of the Coen brothers and of Tarantino.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5027774

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5027774

 

Mildred ( ) is a hard working woman, divorced and living from a gift shop in a place not many tourists come to visit. When her teen-aged daughter is attacked, raped and killed she feels guilt at the thoughts that she could have prevented her death and anger at what seems to be foot-dragging from the local police force led by sheriff Willoughby (). She turns her anger into action by posting bug announces on advertising billboards on a side road, but in short time her actions will put her in conflict with the rest of the community.

There are many levels that the development of this story can be understood. People like Mildred (and not only her) are angry, and anger needs to be channeled into action. Does this action need to be violent? Does violence ever pay? Maybe this is one of the roots of the higher level of conflict and polarization that we detect when we observe the American society in general and small communities like the one described in the movie in particular. Then, in true life, nobody is a perfect saint and nobody is pure evil either. The sheriff is terminally sick which makes the whole community to side with him in his conflict with Mildred, and maybe his inaction is only apparent, maybe there are crimes which cannot be really solved but by chance. Life is not as presented in the ‘CSI’ TV series (although a CSI element does appear in the story!). Mildred’s actions seem all justified but do they have the effect that she desires, do they bring peace of mind, and especially do they bring closer the solution of the crime that took her daughter away? Can redemption be achieved by taking the law in your own hands or by punishing the committer of another crime?

 

(video source FoxSearchligh)

 

The script succeeds to bring to surface the characters and the environment they live in. Acting is superb. makes us forget all those discussions about the lack of strong feminine lead roles in Hollywood and she may be on her way to a deserved second Academy Award. He words, her looks, her silences are just to the mark. I liked her performance here more that ‘s one in ‘The Post‘. provides another strong performance, but the real great surprise is whose nuanced interpretation of the role of Dixon (the sheriff’s aid) was complex and subtle and succeeded to overcome one of the few weak points of the script, the change of perspective of his character.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘ is the best thing that I have seen until now in this pre-Academy Awards season. It makes the viewers immerse in the reality of the place it describes, it makes them think about the humanity that exists in each of us, about the need to act and the need to find peace of soul, about justice and vengeance and the difference between the two concepts. As with many good films its story and characters continue to be with us long time after the screening ends.

Movies about the late 60s or early 70s become more and more epoch films. They describe a time when dollars were kept in boxes to be used by kids ten or fifteen years later and still have some value, when smoking in restaurants and working places was the norm, when journalist used typewriters and lead was making the printing industry a health hazard, when people used public phones and put coins in them to get a dialing tone, and when parking places were available in Manhattan. And yes, a time when women were an exotic presence in board meeting rooms (unless they were serving coffee) and when printed press mattered. Yet, understanding the past seems essential to make sense of our present, including some of the wars of today that seem to have been fought forever (or at least since half a century ago). These include the need and right for a free press to tell the truth even if this is inconvenient for the government, and the need and right to have women who make key decisions at the higher levels of our society and institutions. These make the story and the essence of ‘s most recent film The Post.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6294822/mediaviewer/rm198401792

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6294822/mediaviewer/rm198401792

 

The Post is actually ‘The Washington Post’ whose story we follow until the very moment that starts the Watergate case, one of the most famous cases in the history of the United States of America and of printed journalism. Before the newspaper became famous it was a respected but rather small and ‘local’ liberal newspaper, run for long time as a family business. They were not the first to write about the Pentagon documents but had their opportunity when the NYT were preempted to continue the publication by a judge order. The risks they took were both economic and personal and the film describes the crucial week when the decisions of the owner of the newspaper () and the editor-in-chief () promoted the Post on the national scene and wrote a page of courage in the history of the American journalism and democracy.

 

(video source 20th Century Fox)

 

Of course, the two principal theme resonate today but in a different context. There is no need for a journalist or for a TV reporter for any citizen of the US or of the world in order to make their opinion known or generate news. The problem is not in making the news public, but in filtering between fact and fake. Yet, the right of saying what is right and true even if it comes in conflict with the interests of the rulers is still a critical problem. So is the role of women and the attitude towards their contributions. Women are no longer a rarity at decision levels, but they are still under-represented, and other factors of the relations between the sexes in the centers of influence became a priority lately. I would say that of the two strong political messages of the film, the feminist one was better presented, and no little credit belongs of course to . I was not enthusiastic with the level of the cinematographic execution of the story overall. I expect more from a film directed by Spielberg than plain and clear story telling, but he seems to have decided to let the things run and speak for themselves on the screen. A classical political story about good journalism deserves a classical cinematographic approach Spielberg may have thought. Yet, some of the technical details overwhelmed the story, and a few moments were too ‘classic’ in style to my taste. The three minutes dialog between Kay Graham () and her daughter compete for Spielberg’s worst three minutes of film in his whole career. On the other hand is – again! – stellar in his acting. He IS Ben Bradlee, the journalist professional and the citizen. This is one of the several reasons to see this film, which may end by receiving more honors that it deserves, for various reasons.

‘Topaz’ is quite different than most of the previous movies in the filmography of  and also lacks the (American movie) stars in its distribution, as his fans were accustomed in the 20 or 30 years that preceded its release in 1969. These may be two of the principal reasons that the movie is less credited in by the critics and historians of cinema. There are, however, sufficient reasons of satisfaction for the movie fans, and the film does not fall in my opinion lower than ‘Torn Curtain’ that preceded it by three years, and also brought to screen a Cold War spy story. On the contrary, I would say.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065112

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065112

 

The film brings to screen a novel by which tells a true story of a Soviet spy ring in the high French political environments during the critical days of the Cuban missiles crisis. The events in the fall of 1962 that brought the world closer than ever to an atomic war were since then the subject or background of many books and films, but Hitchcock was the first well-known film director to bring what was at that time very recent history to screen, in a moment when the story was still under censorship in France. However, this was not in the area of comfort for Hitchcock who liked to be very involved in the writing of the story and building of the suspense, an opportunity that was lost with ‘Topaz’ . This may be also why there is less Hitchcock thrill in this film than we are used. There is yet quality, but more in the details than in the overall architecture.

 

(video source Alfred Hitchcock TV)

One of the best parts of the film is the rendition of the atmosphere of the time and places where the action takes place. Washington, Moscow, Copenhagen, Paris are all well served by filming on location, the only exception is Cuba, for obvious reasons. We can say that Hitchcock was a pioneer (also) of the international spy thriller, and we can only imagine what would have happened if he had been trusted with a James Bond movie. He also uses in a flawless manner the combination of documentary clips cut and edited together with filmed fiction. The lead actors are not doing great service to the movie, but we can see a progress and less stiff acting than in previous films. It is with the supporting roles that the good surprises appear, with the beautiful and exotic in the Cuban episode, and the French stars and giving style and credibility to the French episode of the action. It is in the humor of dialogs and situations, in the use of music (composed by Maurice Jarre) and in the creative games of colors that we find some of the Hitchcock touch. Otherwise, we can just enjoy a good action movie based on a Cold War story which has the merit to have been filmed at the time of the Cold War. Not a bad film, but not really one of the best Hitchcock films either.

 

 

I love seeing films half a century after their initial releases. It’s not only a cinematographic experience that in many cases brings up unexpected gems, but also an opportunity to compare the acting and directing styles, the technical means, and the perspective on events, which some were actuality at the time the films were made and became history since then. In some cases it’s also the opportunity to compare a fresh viewing with our own memories about the film, although this is not the case here with Torn Curtain , a late film by , whose Cold War theme seen from the Western perspective had no chance to pass the filter of the censorship in my native Romania at that time.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061107

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061107

 

There are many interesting elements in this story about a an American scientist (,) who plays spying games and simulates a crossing of the lines to East Germany in order to discover the status of a key weapon in the rockets arsenal of the Communist block. When his unknowingly fiancee () joins him against his will, his mission becomes more complicated. It’s at the same time a psychological thriller (the fight of the minds between the American professor and his East German counterpart), an action movie, and a relationship story with some of the Hitchcock touch. As in many of his films, Hitchcock succeeds wonderfully in the thriller part, partially succeeds (or partially fails) in the action area, and fails completely in the romantic zone.

 

(video source Video Detective)

 

50 years later, the very interesting part of the film is the rendition of the Cold War atmosphere. I have seen several films about that period, some more recent, and I was surprised how well Hitchcock succeeded to catch the feeling of the area without falling in any black-and-white clichees, describing a world close to what I knew, with people living under the pressure of a dictatorship, but still managing to joke, eat, drink, dance even under the scrutiny of the portraits of Karl Marx. There are less credible scenes – for example the whole auto-bus episode (why were these people traveling together at all?), but they belong to the action part of the script. Acting is decent, with Newman and Andrews doing what I remember they were supposed to do, but the most wonderful surprise is a poignant scene with the Russian-born actress which some may remember from Zorba the Greek . Her role there was unforgettable, so is the one here if you have the chance to see the film. A few daring Hitchcockian camera takes build the thriller part. A film to watch, especially if you are Hitchcock fans.

 

I have somehow missed ‘Now You See Me‘, a very entertaining movie directed by when it was released four years ago. Luckily, it’s one of those movies that do not lose their appeal that fast, and then it’s summer time, so the right time for fun and entertaining films. The only detail that seems overcome by time in this film is the usage of phones phones with geo-positioning systems.As smartphones took over the market, and applications as Google Maps became ubiquitous, the cops using keyboard based not-so-smart mobile phones seems to have happened twenty and not four years back. It’s kind of a lesson for film-makers which may find more and more difficult coping with the pace of progress of our smart gadgets. Maybe the sequel avoids this mistake.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1670345

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1670345

 

Now You See Me‘ combines two genres – the big robbery and the magicians movies, with more emphasize on the later. ‘The closer you look, the less you see’ is the key saying of the film which tells the story of four magicians with different specializations brought together in a team that combines huge magician shows a la David Copperfield with bank robberies. They are supported by a finance tycoon (), followed by a former magician () whose pastime is exposing on TV the tricks and frauds of magicians, and have of course all the FBI and Interpol on their tracks. The roles of manipulators and manipulated, suspects and innocents change all the time, and as in a good magic show we are never sure what we exactly see on screen.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The story may have a few holes that cannot be filled even by magic, but the convention works well, and is well supported by the actors. Watching and is always a delight in this kind of roles that they enjoy playing in this epoch of their careers. The rest of the team does a good job as well, with special mentions for  and . ‘Now You See Me‘ is a film to enjoy, like a good show with magicians.

 

The action thriller The Call which takes place in the Los Angeles area brings to the center of the action a category of people who seldom appear on screens in most of the movies dealing with police work – the emergency call responders. The opening scenes of the film do a fine job not only in describing the atmosphere and (2013 level) technology at the 911 LAPD response center, but also of defining the job, the responsibilities, the professional and human qualities that are required from the people whose voices one first hears when placing an emergency call. It’s a good start for an interesting action movie, that could have been quite special. Unfortunately, director  and his team did not succeed to make it one.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1911644

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1911644

 

The development of the story is rather interesting. Jordan Turner ( in the lead role) is an experienced emergency operator who had made one fatal mistake returning a call in a situation that allowed for the caller to be kidnapped and murdered. Many months later, she finds herself in a situation that seems similar to the incident that continues to track her day and night. It’s her opportunity to do things right, and to save lives. The dialog between the operator and the kidnapped teenage locked in the truck compartment of the car of the abductor is well built, has tension and catches the attention. The problem is that the script authors did not dare to build all or most of the film on the call itself. At some point in time they may have felt that the accumulated coincidences could not hold the story any longer, and they switched the call off. From that point farther the film became just one of these many action thrillers in which usual people become unexpectedly heroes. The issue is that in order to make these happen the script authors had to invent more coincidental situations, plus to build some reasoning for the motivation of the kidnapper. All these are just usual action stuff, and not very good one.

 

(video source Movieclips Coming Soon)

 

delivers good acting as she always does, but she seems to be in danger of accumulating roles that look too much one with the other. The rest is just another action film, especially in the last third of the screening time. It’s a pity for the film that promised so much at the start. The good thriller about the emergency responders is still to be made.

So we bought our tickets and our medium sized popcorn box (usually lasts about 15 minutes in the movie), grabbed the 3D spectacles and sat in the theater to watch Wonder Woman. That’s the way to do it. Each genre has its rules and one needs to know a minimum of them before entering the cinema theater or starting to see a movie on TV or on his/her preferred viewing device. When I chose to see a super-heroes comics inspired movie I do not expect a lot of realism or credibility from the story, and these are not the films where I am looking for lessons about life. On the other hand I am ready for fun entertainment, for action and special effects, I hope to see a coherent story with actors performances that make me care about the characters. I do not care about the laws of physics, but I hope there will be some humor and that the good guys will eventually prevail.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0451279/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0451279/

 

Many of the super-heroes movies nowadays do actually carry some cultural background, it’s just a different type of culture, and it helps, although it is not mandatory, to know it. ‘Wonder Woman’ is a character that combines the mythology of comics stories with the other mythology, the ancient Greek one, the one we read about and maybe learned about in school. Invented during WWII, at a time when women were playing an increasing role in supporting the war effort, mostly by undertaking the roles played in economy by the men sent to fight, but not on the first line of the front, the character of princess Diana (yes, this is the name of the character) carries a strong feminist message. The authors of the script and director moved the origins of the story to the end of WWI, the war that was supposed to end all wars. By the way, hard to believe that this talented director is at her only second film, and that 14 years passed since her remarkable debut with Monster. They brought the princess from her isolated island somehow hidden in the mist of mythology, in a tentative to really end all wars. We all know that the tentative failed. In the process the hero will learn a few things about men and evils of mankind, will avoid and block a whole arsenal of bullets and bombs and will kick many bad guys to dust.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

I enjoyed ‘Wonder Woman’ because of a few good reasons. The feminism of the message is never dogmatic and almost always impregnated with a dose of self-irony. who plays the lead role may not be a great actress, but she has the looks, is very well fit physically and typologically for the role. The film is very much the story of her coming to age while learning to understand mankind and fighting on the side of the good guys. She does it with the smile of a teenager on her face and radiates optimism and belief in truth which somehow becomes credible and succeeds to overcome the horrors of the carnage fields of the world war we see on screen. While playing well on the mythology grounds, the story has enough humor to avoid being dry or pathetic and lets us understand we are still in fantasy land. I also liked the special effects, especially in the opening scenes when the Amazons fight the uneven battle with the war machines created by men since they were lost in history. The color palette of the cinematography was well adapted to the different phases of the story, although the 3D spectacles made it (again) too dark – there is something that needs improvement in the technology here. I also liked two of the supporting actors – who succeeded to be the nice guy without being over-sweet (also because of the dose of humor invested in his role), and especially which I have seen previously in Fargo and who develops to be a formidable actor. I liked less the other characters, especially the bad guys, who were, well … cartoonish. The end of the story was a little disappointing. It looked like one of these epic superheroes endings, but the careful preparation and building that preceded prepared me for something better. It leaves however clearly the path open for the sequels and I will be making reservations when pre-sales tickets become available.