Entries tagged with “Hollywood movies”.


The laws of commercial success or failure are complicated. ‘47 Ronin‘ is a film that failed completely at the box office and is considered one of the biggest losers of the Universal Studios in the current decade, despite of belonging to a popular genre (fantasy action movie) and despite having as lead actor. I actually liked the film, and some of the reasons may be the same that let to its commercial disaster.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1335975/

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1335975/

 

47 Ronin‘ is based on an 18th century historical event which took place in a Japan led by the shoguns who decided to close its gates and shores to foreigners and all but cut the ties with the external world. It’s a bloody story of revenge and sacrifice that raises issues of honor, tradition, and respect for authority very close to the essence of the Japanese soul. The story was taken over by oral and written literature and later by cinema, with a romantic intrigue of impossible love being added among other. The approach in telling the story and the perspective taken by the writer or film director tells a lot about the way tradition and the whole era of the shogunate are being perceived. I can understand that Japanese viewers may dislike the Hollywoodization of the story. Script writer and film director have taken the Japanese story into the territory of fantasy action movies. Feudal Japan is in their vision a land populated by spirits of the forest, dragons and witches. It’s pure entertainment, and this is the main angle this film needs to be judged from.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

I found the result more than satisfying in the limits of its genre. The film is spoken in English, but I guess it would have had no chances otherwise in the American cinema theaters. The majority of the acting team is composed of Japanese actors, some of them well-known in Hollywood and they all do a fine job: is the noble commander of the samurais revenging their murdered and dishonored master, represents the dark side oponent, gathers beauty and delicacy for the lead feminine role, while is best in the feminine role of a witch with transcending powers. In order to match the Caucasian physiognomy of the authors of the script had to invent a biography of a mixed race cavalier who did not appear in the original story. The role will not be remembered as a peak of his acting career, but he did not do less or worse than many other lead stars in action movies. Cinematography is beautiful, costumes are colorful and expressive, and the action scenes are well choreographed.  ‘47 Ronin‘ is a well made action movie which succeeds to be true to the essence of the story despite the liberties taken by the Hollywood adaptation of the story. It may lack authenticity, but purist can always find on youTube the Japanese film with the same name made in 1941. It is all spoken in Japanese (with subtitles) and it lasts longer than 3 and half hours.

 

(video source menatil)

 

I believe that I’m done with the summer movies for 2018. What a dry season! After having barely survived the 2h30min of the most recent ‘M:I6‘ I was hoping to spend a more pleasant time watching the constellation of talented actresses which show up in the cast of Ocean’s Eight. Each of , , , or on the poster would be a good reason for me to buy my cinema ticket and popcorn and watch any movie they star in. How does it happen that the gathering of them all in ‘‘ resulted in a rather mediocre production, which barely extracts a smile and does not thrill (action-wise) at any point in time?

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5164214/

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5164214/

 

I am afraid that I need to blame director and script co-author for this failure. Ross succeeded quite well when he wrote and directed films that were at the fringe of mainstream, and I include here The Hunger Games. With Ocean’s Eight he is riding the waves of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, not only continuing a series with a well established formula but also a tradition of big studios hits based on the combination of very popular actors bringing to screen stories of elaborated burglaries in famous museums or postcard touristic destinations. The problem is that this version of the old story no passion, no thrill, no original ideas. Yes, the burglars team is all-women but this direction was not enough put in works either, and the result is much lesser than the amount of talent that is invested and the potential promised by the cast.

 

(video source Warner Bros. Pictures)

 

The girls try to do their best. leads the team and devices a plan that is unfortunately never clear or too interesting to viewers,    brings to screen her usual ‘I am much more than I look about’ feeling but we never get what this ‘much more’ is about,  is perfect in her beautiful-but-not-too-smart role,  and has the chance of the only role with more comic potential and a better background story. The action trails, we have seen the laser beams dances too many times to enjoy it, The Metropolitan Museum is under-used as a location, and while shorter by almost one hour Ocean’s Eight eventually seems to last as long as ‘M:I6.  The bad news are that this film may be the best entertainment that we get this this summer.

I know that I am the only one to blame. Guilty pleasures are often punished and enjoying action movies now and than is one of those. I also should know that in the first week on screens it’s mostly the hardcore fans running to see the film and writing viewer comments on IMDB, so the current stellar grade does not really mean that ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout‘ (8.5 right now) is a better film than ‘Citizen Kane’ (8.4). I took the risk of being among the early viewers and I was punished. The quality level of the installments of the M:I series is on a decreasing curve, and this is continuing with this latest issue in the series. My opinion, of course.

 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4912910

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4912910

 

I am never judging an action movie with the same criteria as I am judging a drama, a comedy, or an art film. Yet, there are some elements that I look for in any film – a story that has logic and catches my interest, and characters that I care about. None of them is present in this film co-written and directed by whom trusted with writing and directing some of his latest movies. The story of the rogue terrorists threatening to blow up the planet or at least half of it is placed as many of the latest movies in the genre in an aseptic and non-politic environment with non-identifiable bad guys, so that nobody is bothered and the film can be sold in as many markets as possible. The heroes destroy half of Paris and a quarter of London killing scores of policemen and innocent by-standers with no consequences. The main hero has a couple of Ethan-girls to care about and one more who seems to care for him, but the characters seem to be frozen or maybe wearing some of those rubber masks that the heroes are experts in.

 

(video source Paramount Pictures)

 

Yes, there are good and well paced and choreographed action scenes, but their gathering of coincidences makes them non-credible. The 3D capabilities are well used, but there is nothing that we haven’t seen yet. Actually this M:I looks more like a 3D James Bond film, without the charm of Bond. There is a change of guard in managing Ethan Hunts activities, and seems to replace who probably had enough and decided to jump wagon. Frankly speaking, I am not sure that I want to see M:I7 after this disappointing M:I6. is 56 years now, and cannot pretend being 35 or 40 years old forever. He seems to enjoy the narcissistic exercises that the movies he plays in for the last ten years, but how long can these last. If I am not mistaken his last non-action role was in Valkyrie in 2008. On the other side, if he has fun and viewers have fun watching him, who am I to tell him what to do? I can only decide to not watch his next 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.