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Joker's laughter is no joking matter
Writer-director Todd Phillips's new movie "Joker" appeals to me on multiple levels, primarily by offering an engaging story, strongly rooted in believable reality, related to audiences mainly by opposing protagonist's prevalent dark depressive moods while using often optimistic soundtrack and sound editing, shallow nonetheless rich visuals, angles and framing, theatricality augmented through expressive costumes, props and sets, but most impressively via great principal performances and acting choices made by Joaquin Phoenix in the lead as a title character (under proper fictional name Arthur Fleck), whose sudden uncontrollable and seemingly inappropriate laughter (justified as a medical condition) easily counterpoints the (painful need for) outcry from Gotham (read: any) City masses, hurt and deprived by injustices of their quotidian existence, as well as by Robert De Niro in a quintessential supporting role of a TV-comedy show host Murray Franklin (both worthy of the end-of-the-year acting award considerations), and by setting believable pre-course for the future adventures of the most realistic DC Comics character, the Batman (not a superhero at all, with his extraordinary capabilities rather resulting from his physical fitness and skills combined with high technology employed), who appears here only as a young boy, and whose later adult activities could be understood as largely driven by what has happened to his parents in the final scene of this movie, an event directly inspired by actions of Joker, henceforth his future main nemeses.
Something Better Change... and not only the name of the Epoch
In the opening titles of Canadian documentary "Anthropocene: The Human Epoch" (2018), directed by Jennifer Baichwal (who also wrote all the comments, sparingly provided, whether as onscreen titles, or as Alicia Vikander's occasionally didactically delivered narration), Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas de Pencier, a proposal which has been already a long-standing one in responsible scientific circles, is getting repeated, a need to change the name of the current geological epoch from the Holocen, which is, literally, the "wholly recent" period of geological time, to the Anthropocene, which would be, literally, the "humanly recent" period of geological time.
What follows is a photographic evidence, collected on camera over the last four years from six continents, all except for Antarctica, showing results of numerous examples of human activities proving that exactly humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary changes, most noticeably pronounced since the middle of 20th century, but extensively evident even in the last two and a half centuries, marked with the advancement of industrial revolutions, from the first one in the second half of 18th century, to the fourth one which is building up right now. Humans more than any other forces of nature, even more than all other natural phenomena combined, most notably including erosion, sedimentation, weather (temperature and precipitation activities), thunders, winds and tornadoes, tidal flow, and natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
In an almost unique successful diverge from otherwise mostly gravely thought and dead serious subjects, in Russia's potash mines in Ural, two miners are sitting and having a tee right in front of the camera, guessing the comments of future spectators of the scene, something like: "Oh, those Russians, that's how they work, sit and drink a tee". While still speculating whether camera, which records the moment, takes only a video, or an audio as well, one of the tee-drinkers exclaims "I love my job!" Well, who wouldn't... sitting, having a tee, and getting paid for it!
The filmmakers have circumnavigated the globe to visualize the strength and demonstrate the extent, henceforth simplify the grasp and facilitate the perception of human planetary footprint and, if it continues to be abused, domination which might lead to damnation.
Sometimes in awe, more often in mind-blowing disbelief we're witnessing: gigantic open pit nickel-copper-cobalt-palladium mine and all-direction underground corridors in Norilsk, Siberia, the most polluted city in Russia, and among the ten most polluted in the world... concrete seawalls in China that by now protect from maritime erosion 60% of the mainland coast... mind-altering potash mines in Russia's Ural mountains, contrasting on two levels, emotional and intellectual, attraction and disruption... lithium evaporation ponds in Chile's Atacama desert, surreal in appearance while photographed from drone perspective... East Africa's largest garbage dump, Dandora landfill in Kenya, constantly searched by poor people and marabou storks, hoping to get lucky and find things of value amidst all the trash... a bucket-wheel excavators (Bagger 288 and 293) at the open pit coal mine in Hambach in Germany, as if they came out of an SF movie, the biggest terrestrial machines ever built... the world's longest and deepest rail tunnel in Switzerland, the 57.5 km long, 2.3 km under the surface at its deepest point, twin-bore Gotthard base tunnel, providing a high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps between northern and southern Europe... incredible vistas of Carrara marble quarries in the Apuan Alps of northern Tuscany, Italy... massive cutting at breakneck speed, causing destruction of Canada's finest and grandest, last remaining, ergo rare and endangered old-growth rainforests on Vancouver Island...
Presented scenes, like those from conservation sanctuaries in Kenya, from the London Zoo... deal also with the ever so alarmingly growing issue of species extinction...
Images captured in this documentary are impressive, often aggressive, sounds are seldom pleasant, almost always unnatural, expressing how we have transformed (malformed) the planet, exactly reflecting on how human activity alters our earthly landscapes and habitats: forcefully and abnormally. But strangely, results are more than once rather artistic, and even though contradicting the rational disturbance they cause, and therefore intellectually being rightfully repulsive, a good number of these fabricated vistas aesthetically appear quite appealing. But, content-wise, that's all what's good in this documentary. So, if we want to continue carving and digging, tunneling and bridging, spanning and rigging, engineering and painting our earthly canvas and within, no matter how artistic it turns out to be, basically ripping off this planet, replacing its natural versatility with techno uniformity, making it devoid of its self-sustainable habitats, thus bringing more and more other species to extinction, let us serve ourselves, until we're the last ones, and then be extinct we surely will. But if we want to regain the harmonious existence of all living beings inhabiting this earthly abode we've been given, we better change, change for better and change a lot.
They don't make them like this anymore
Closest to docufiction, consisting of mainly documentary material combined with certain scripted narratives, dividing title character's life in well-defined chapters, fictionally captured on "tapes", British production "McQueen" (2018), directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, gives an all-inclusive, many personal perspective (from a wide-range of people interviewed) look at the life and extraordinary talent, propelling sometimes controversial, ultimately, artistically and business-wise unprecedented career of the enfant terrible of fashion, Lee Alexander McQueen. From among those who were lucky enough to have spent time with him, and close enough to have had their lives touched by his clearly inspirational and motivating presence, many have contributed a word and shared their memories here: from his family members (mother, sister, nephew), partners, teachers, employers and employees, sponsors and promoters, fashion reviewers, colleagues and models. All comments together, organized in thematical chapters, "tapes" covering distinct periods of his life, create a comprehensive and rather impressive portrait of an extraordinary individual, from his humble beginnings, his meteorite success in launching and supervising his eponymous line, providing his conceptual and designing skills and artistry to numerous collections and dramatized fashion shows, all the way to his premature death.
I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of fashion: just an occasional spectator, even less frequent follower, if at all. Yet, this documentary caught my attention from the get-go, and kept it on high till the end. I learned a lot and started to appreciate.
In short, this is a skillful and insightful, an exciting and poignant documentary about someone who was in the public eye ever since his middle twenties, therefore easily leaving behind lots of personal footage from both, his professional activities (running in parallel his own line of fashion clothes production and organizing shows for other fashion houses) and his private life (exposed and discussed in numerous interviews along the way) about his alluring, intensively creative and, therefore, despite being cut short, very productive life.
As one of the interviewees summarized on McQueen and his growing charisma, they don't make them like this anymore.
By the way, quite deservedly, and indicative for its quality and attraction, film won a popular vote, Audience Vote Best Feature Film, at the latest, 18th edition of Beirut International Film Festival, 22-28 April 2019.
Koja je ovo drzava! (2018)
A satirical tragicomedy that slips in and out of surrealism
The opening episodes of Vinko Bresan's new film "Koja je ovo drzava!" ("What a Country!") (2018) (Croatia-Serbia-Poland), written by Mate Matisic, with the surrealistic absurdity of their repetitive tragicomic situations reminded me of Russian avant-garde satirist from the 1930's, Daniil Kharms, and his collection of short stories, "Incidences" ("Sluchai"). A couple of characters, haunted by sins of their past and the awakening of their consciousness, suffer from mixture of hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences, feeding a satirical tragicomedy that slips in and out of surrealism.
Events, initially driven by oniric experiences, and therefore hard to understand, later on become reality driven, and therefore more meaningful. Use of the historical figures from the recent past of the region, primarily of those whose impact, or lack of it, resulted in the independence of the Croatian state, and the exaggerated events, implying contents which resonate well with reality of life (t)here today, makes us ponder over the essential message of the film: an institution that has failed to meet the expectations of too many (maybe majority of) people, should be abolished, started all over and rebuilt from scratch (?).
Well worthy of commendable comparison to the works of Scottish writer and director Armando Iannucci ("In The Loop" (2009), "The Death of Stalin" (2017)), this movie deserves good attendance.
Red Army (2014)
The greatest sports dynasty in history
Red Army (2014) documentary, directed by Gabriel Polsky, retells the story of probably the greatest dynasty in the history of sports, the Soviet Union national ice hockey team of the 1980's, and its best five-man unit featuring Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov on defense, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov (aka the KLM Line) at forwards, all in their 20s, aided with the legendary goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, in his 30s. The five dominated national and international hockey for nearly a decade.
Having foundation of their game laid by Russian hockey coaching pioneer Anatoli Tarasov, based on creativity, organized team movements to create and win the space, as well as individual puck control, with its timely transition into an empty space on the next zone of the rink, ultimately to a player in prosperous scoring position, Soviet players, additionally subjected to military discipline added by Tarasov's successor, head coach Vladimir Tikhonov, who took over the Soviet national team in 1977., skated three times a day, eleven months of the year, "perfecting both their individual skills and their teamwork". Knowing that "copy is never as good as the original", creative "father of Russian hockey", Tarasov, sought inspiration from other team sports, even from theatrical arts, primarily ballet, to create a unique style, "a completely new way of playing hockey, which changed the sport".
I was lucky to watch alive two games of this incredible hockey team in 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, the first one early in the competition and the last one in the finals. In the opening round, against Cubans, USSR won comfortably, and in addition to enjoying the game and individual virtuosity of USSR players, managing to combine two seemingly incompatible traits, improvisation with harmonious and fluent team play, comparable maybe only to similar traits of the best jazz orchestras, by having being coincidentally seated right in front of him, I was also listening to the professional comments of Ivica Osim, one of the greatest footballers to grace the soccer fields of Sarajevo, who has had thus far spent most of his active career whether playing for or coaching my favourite local team "Zeljeznicar", and was soon to coach national team of Yugoslavia. It was pure delight to listen to professional comments this great football enthusiast and expert had about the style and strategy of the Soviet national hockey team, and about the skills of its players, as well as comparison between the two sports, level of individual skills and tactics applicable in both. I can clearly remember Osim's comments and his longing for soccer outfield players of comparable individual skills, conditioned for so called total football, based extensively on player's capability not to cover only for his nominal position in the field, but, as it becomes required, to take over the role of any other player in a team.
Strength of this team composed of players with incomparable skills was shown in the final game. Although the end result was not impressive, 2:0, nearly routine execution left no doubt who's dominant, and another participant, Check Republic, practically had never had a chance to win.
Documentary, cleverly composed from interviews with three players of thus far surely the best five skater hockey unit ever to hit the ice, and from mixture of archive footage from their games, trainings and other life events, by showing how great and undefeatable they have been, really does them a great justice. Therefore, in the rest of this review I'll rather just add the words of the "Red Army" director, copied from a featurette "Gabe Polsky Hockey Commentary" found on a DVD:
(Red Army-Director Gabe Polsky discusses the essence of Soviet hockey-2014)
"I'm Gabe Polsky and I directed the movie Red Army. The Film is about the Soviet Union and the greatest sports dynasty in history. The Soviet Union national hockey team revolutionized sport, they took hockey and sport to a whole new creative level. When I was a young kid and I watched for the first time (the) Soviet Union play in a 1987 Canada Cup VHS tape it was a religious experience, it was incredible what they did on the ice creatively. This was the best hockey ever played in history. In the series you saw the greatest players from the Soviet Union face off against the greatest Canadian players. (Starting Lineups: USSR (Fetisov, Makarov, Larionov, Krutov, Kasatonov) vs Canada (Grossman, Gartner, Gretzky, Messier, Bourque).) The Soviet style play here is like a finely tuned symphony: the passing, weaving, improvisation. (situation description) Krutov hits the puck out of the air to his team mate Makarov who has a breakaway: improvisation and awareness. (situation description) Here we see how they knew each other so well they could almost play blindfolded together. The passing is like an artistic tapestry. They transitioned fast and confused defenders with their movement. (situation description) Here we see incredible skill and creativity, and a sense of one other. This kind of hockey was incredibly fun to watch. (situation description) Here we see how quickly they punish you for mistakes. (situation description) This is one of my favourite players showing the skill level of the Soviet players... (situation description) The Soviet game and style is all about puck possession and passing we see here. (situation description) Here's Sergei Makarov, one of the greatest magicians in hockey history, passes to Krutov and then has an accurate shot. (situation description) Here tremendous skill, being able to shoot from any position. (situation description) And this here (Demiensky breakthrough and score), my friend, is pure art... the essence of hockey."
Learning the essence and enjoying the art of ice hockey, indeed, while delightfully watching masters of the ice rink in their stellar moments.
Reflecting the limits of human dignity
By 1967, in his already 24 years long career as film director, French cineaste Robert Bresson has only shot seven feature-length movies. Nevertheless, he's been already regarded as a groundbreaking filmmaker. Small in volume, yet of great importance, his oeuvre has gained interest throughout the film world, especially among film critics.
For his 8th film, protestant Bresson has chosen another novel by catholic Georges Bernanos, whose Diary of a Country Priest he had turned into a film in 1950. Film is based on the story of Mouchette, a 14-year-old girl who was driven to her tragic end by the lack of love from adults she knew. "Distraught by the lack of understanding shown by her father, a petty smuggler who is almost always drunk, and upset by the silent suffering of her mother, Mouchette - in silent, stubborn anger - refuses any kind of guidance. Her fellow pupils avoid her, and her teacher mistakes her for being willful and stubborn. Thus Mouchette fails to find the love she yearns for, and a poacher whom she hesitantly trusts, eventually rapes her."
Summarised in a few words it may sound like a shocking story, but for Robert Bresson it's just a new starting point to reflect the limits of human dignity.
Inspirational Journey with Pope Francis
In his latest film, biographical documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018), coproduced internationally between Switzerland, Holy See of Rome (Vatican City State), Italy, Germany and France, acclaimed director Wim Wenders takes us on a personal journey with Pope Francis, condensing in just about an hour and a half Pope's urbi-et-orbi addresses, dispatches and other communications from an abundance of ideas and messages well based and inspired by traditional religious views, though often customized to the challenges of contemporary world. By thoroughly professing vow of poverty (which is, in Pope's position, modified to living on advanced necessities required and sufficient to respond to his functions), chastity, and obedience, just as Jesuits, he himself belongs to, do, in five years since he's been voted as the 266th and current Pope and sovereign of the Vatican City State, in his wisdom and compassion, modesty and kindness, Pope Francis indeed has established himself as one of the leading moral authorities of contemporary world, who certainly deserves to go by his adopted name, Francis, thanks to his adherence to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the Franciscan order and its founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, who himself embraced and lived a simple life of poverty, penance, brotherly love, and peace.
Dedicated to his mission of speaking to people most deprived of life's essentials, in need of bare necessities, the poorest, homeless and hungry, sick and weak and otherwise vulnerable, he travels to a great many places in the world just to personally deliver his message of encouragement and hope to victims of unavoidable natural disasters (floods and quakes, draughts and famines, pandemics...), but also highly avoidable catastrophes, sadly mostly people-made ones (wars, transport and industrial, nuclear and radiation accidents...), and even doesn't shy away from visiting a good many people subjected to legal persecution, marginalization or social isolation (e.g. convicts in detention facilities). Certainly, it is not only deprived, but mainly good-willing people throughout the world who are his most attentive audience. Some can help more (e.g. members of the General Assembly of UN, American congressmen...), but anybody and everybody can make a difference, no matter how small, and his word gets to all... "Some of the hard-boiled congressmen were moved to tears" by his speech, which comes about much easier when one has been confirmed and recognized as A Man of His Word.
As an example, this is what Pope Francis says on avoiding consumerism: "The way to escape consumerism, this corruption, this competitiveness, this being enslaved to money, is the concreteness of day-to-day work, is tangible reality! I like to talk about the three 'T's: 'trabajo' (work), 'tierra' (land) and 'techo' (roof). 'Roof' means home, family. Recovering this sense of family. 'Land' means work, cultivating the land. And work means precisely the most noble thing that man has: to imitate God with your hands by creating!"
In a message chosen to conclude this cinematic journey, Pope Francis accentuates benefits of good humour and advises to keep smiling as often as we can. In that respect he brings to our attention St. Thomas More's Prayer for Good Humor, which, admittedly, he himself prays every day. Prayer starts with the plea "Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest", and reminds me in the second part of this verse of the proverb included in my high-school Latin language lessons (professor Josip Selak R.I.P. (Requiesce in pace)), already (incredibly) more than four decades ago: "A full stomach does not study willingly" (Plenus venter, non studet libenter), left by responsible authorities of the era (purposely?) incomplete, by omitting its additional, even truer remark: "but empty even less" (sed ieiunus eo minus), apparently by moderating this factual highlight out.
Touring the world with Pope Francis, exploring the workings of his mind and crossing the landscapes of his thoughts, in a sort of illustrated extended homily, never tires, but rather inspires... a lot to ponder on, even more to go by.
Auf der anderen Seite (2007)
Heavy matters, yet easily perceivable... Very engaging film
In his film The Edge of Heaven (2007), under original title Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side), Fatih Akin, a German writer-director of Turkish parentage, intertwines two stories, whose protagonists get caught in seemingly hopeless situations, both resulting in individual tragedies, stories with a cross section on the character of a young Turkish German professor, Nejat Aksu (Baki Davrak) whom we first meet living in Bremen and lecturing in the German literature university classes, who returns to Turkey, on a (futile?) quest for the lost daughter of his father's suddenly deceased girlfriend, and (unexpectedly?) stays there where he, quite appropriately to his vocation and interests, buys and maintains an Istanbul bookstore with exclusively German books (or books translated in to German) on offer, two stories which gradually approximate each other, but never actually "resolve" one in to another. Still, the end is open, with the possibility for resolution, future cleansing what-so-ever, of the souls heavily burdened with guilt from the past.
Film touches real life situations, ranging from usual family tensions and quarrels, through losses suffered due to physical separation or emotional disorder, all the way to ultimate loss, death of the dear one, and in doing so engages audiences on the first-person level, because nobody is spared from at least a single such experience, or two or more. Such an easy and deep identification with on-screen happenings, with how they develop, how they are mended or not... is what we feel all along, and what we carry out of the theatre when the film is over... Split between two sides, Life and Death on the edge, but who's to tell which side is the Heaven and which one is the Hell?
Heavy matters tackled, yet easy to relate to, feel for affected characters and empathize with them, in an emotionally charged and very engaging film.
Still Life (2013)
Loneliness in life, loneliness in death
"Still Life" (2013) (UK, Italy), expertly written, directed and produced by Uberto Pasolini, tells an exquisite, rather poignant story about John May (excellently played by Eddie Marsan in his minimal, but distinguished and moving portrayal of this superficially emotionless, seemingly lonely, occasionally humorous character), a Londoner--living his life of, as it appears to be, not so uncommon solitude within multitude of UK's most populous capital--who is a funeral officer. If somebody dies and there's no obvious close relative, friend or anybody who knows the deceased, the funeral officer steps in and finds out as much as possible about the departed. Funeral officer is, literally, a detective for the dead, deceased, departed.
In greater remainder of this review I'm letting the two most powerful creative forces behind the movie, director, writer and producer, Uberto Pasolini, and leading actor, Eddie Marsan, express their views, expertise whatsoever, on the subject in certainly well inspired words taken from their interviews included in additional features of the film's DVD edition.
As the one who's been working on the project a good number of years, Uberto Pasolini elaborates extensively: "I did read an article about funeral officers or people who work for local councils and are in charge of finding the relatives of people who have died alone, and in the absence of relatives they take charge of the funeral arrangements. What struck me was the idea that there are, literally, in this country thousands of funerals every year that are not attended by anybody. Many of the people who do this job, organize funerals and do attend the funeral of their clients. But some people are so busy, or so distracted by other problems in their work, that they arrange the ceremony but then do not attend. And therefore, you have churches, chapels, crematoria where coffin is alone, and, furthermore, if coffin is buried in a funeral, nobody is around it, nobody is there to witness the last moment on earth of the person in question. And... the thing that struck me more than anything else was this image of a grave, a forgotten grave, a grave abandoned, a grave that has seen no one around it at any point, the idea that there's somebody there under that mound of earth, but there was nobody there to witness that passage from life to death. And... it really did strike a very powerful cord, the idea that in a society like ours, and in most western societies in fact, people can not only be forgotten in life, but, even more so, forgotten in death. And the idea that there are people who are in charge of those lost moments, and how some of these people can handle their work with humanity, with the sense of the value of the individual, with the sense of the importance of every single life, in spite of the fact that they know very often very, very little about the life of the person who has died. And I was fortunate enough to meet some of the people in London who do this job... and indeed they did have that extraordinary sense of value of lives forgotten... They had a sense of the importance of every single life, no matter how little impact it seemed to have had on the world around them... At the end of the day it provided me with an excuse to make a film about loneliness, a film about solitude and loneliness in particular. A film about how, in general, we can be alone in a big city, but in particular many people end their lives, and not unfortunately always as old people, but sometimes young people, too, end their lives without any form of communication with the outside world, forgotten, forgotten by the system, forgotten by their relatives, forgotten by people who, you would consider, could've been their friends, and die alone... I was not particularly interested in witnessing the death of somebody alone - I think that is the corollary to our story - but I was interested in telling how often this happens, and in showing how our society has arrived at a situation where people fall through the cracks and are literally forgotten.
So, it is a film about loneliness, but it's also film about, to me, the importance of every single life... The fact that lives are forgotten, the fact that people are forgotten, does not mean that, first of all they should be, and secondly that even in lives that are forgotten, at the end of their journeys, those lives have had an impact on people, the world, society, individuals... along their course.
... As a portrait of our society... it is very damning portrait in... the notion that our world enables us to forget individuals, to allow people to have no communication with the outside world, to allow people to become so isolated that at the moment of death they are alone, and after the moment of death they remain alone... that is terrible indictment to our society...
... Whether the story is compelling or not I'll leave (to) others to decide... The way I made it compelling to myself is to turn the issue of loneliness in to a personal story, and... the central character, who is himself a lonely character, who is himself the kind of character that could end up not only dying alone, but being buried... with nobody present at the funeral has a lot of me. And I'm not suggesting that I'm alone... but... one questions oneself how close relationships are, how truthful they are, how long lasting those relationships are, how meaningful your presence is to the people that are around you throughout your life. And... to me the notion of loneliness in life and loneliness in death are very much linked in the story, and therefore, our central character, the central character we have created, is character who in his own life is a very lonely man, he's a man who doesn't feel the loneliness, doesn't know about how to live a fuller life, a complete life, a life of relationships, a life of interchange between the personal and the work that he has. He dedicates his whole life to his work, and if he has a family, then his family is made up of his clients, the dead people he ends up burying and at whose funerals he's always, always the only person present. And he dedicates not only his time and his efforts to the lives of his dead clients, but also his emotional life and his imagination, he attempts at creating, recreating ideas, notions of the lives of the dead by the small fragments of lives... that he witnesses in the places of their death, in the places of their life, where they were living when they were found dead. And he writes eulogies for these people, for the priests, for the celebrants to read out at the funerals, at the services, and very often these eulogies are imagined, or certainly have a very great deal of imagination in them to flesh out, to show how he needs to give them a bigger past... a complete, a fuller life than he could gather strictly from the remnants that they have left behind. And... these people are his life, these people are the people he cares for and... in that way he's the example, the best example of a humane society, a society deep in the understanding of the value of lives. No life should be forgotten, and that is what he does, he doesn't accept the notion that simply because someone has died alone, and might have nobody connected, friends, relatives at their funeral, they should be forgotten at that last moment, at that last official moment on earth... Audiences have different needs when it comes to pleasure. I've seen, obviously, audiences enjoying laughing, and enjoying good time out... and enjoying action, and enjoying speed. This is on the hole something that this film will not give them, not speed, not a great deal of action, some amusing moments, because life in truth has lots of amusing moments on a daily bases... if you give yourself the time to observe it. But, it is a film that moves, and I have seen audiences wanting to be moved, wanting to be emotionally transported, wanting to be reminded that they have humanity in them that can be reawakened or can be prompt a bit in cinemas. I have seen films where people wanted to cry, and cried, and were happy to cry. The film, although it deals with sad issues, it deals with weaknesses in our society, it is not... the pressing film at all, in spite of its subject... It has some sad moments, but it is a film that... leaves you with the great deal of love for your fellow human being, and with a very positive sense of the value of life and your neighbor... "
As another one who understands the main character certainly better than others, because he had to identify with him in order to bring him to life on the big screen, Eddie Marsan offers additional cleaver observations: "Character of John May is a man who lives on his own. He's not lonely man, he's just an isolated man and man who lives on his own and within the development of the story he researches the life of a man who lived opposite him, in a block of flats, who died alone and in researching this life it opens up John May's life... I would describe the movie as being a study on mortality, and loneliness and the importance of sharing your life... It's about living on your own, and it's about people who die on their own and lonely. And because of that it's also a film about values, your family and the people around you. So, it explores one thing by showing the absence of another... It shows the absence of belonging in order to make a film which is... about promoting belonging, really."
Joanne Froggatt appears in a short, but remarkably subtle supporting role (as Kelly Stoke), and her interaction with the main character leads to a well fitting and uplifting ending.
I Feel Pretty (2018)
I Feel Pretty... and witty and bright!
"I Feel Pretty" (2018) may not be the greatest movie, but it's not a bad one either, at least not as bad as its current IMDb rating, 3.4 out of 10, shows. What's puzzling (well, only slightly, given the video-gaming world we live in) is that movies having stories and subjects very little to do with reality: space operas, movies about superheroes... practically by default get higher rating, at least 7 out of 10, while not-at-all bad movies, but, in comparison to former, slightly unattractive since so unexcitingly set in real life, get often an average, or, as in this case, a very low rating. So, which of the two is more important quality of the movies (today), having the story told well nested in reality, or their technical superiority?
Answers will offer opposing views, but numbers show that great majority of viewers appreciate later. I have also enjoyed spectacular show while watching the ginormous gorilla George (Saint George) killing the augmented alligator (slaying the dragon), in latest IMAX theatres' favourite "Rampage" (2018), but what's the point? There's no point, because point is supposed to make sense, and there's a little sense outside of reality. On contrary, as unimpressive as it is, "I Feel Pretty" is so real, and as such, more relevant in everyday life.
Appealing factor in "I Feel Pretty" is the fact that movie managed to remain realistic in giving a believable reason (a head injury accident in a gym) for the main vehicle moving the story forward, i.e. for the changed perception of herself the main character goes through, therefore gaining confidence and modifying the way she carries herself. Regular movie goer with longer viewing experience will easily recall how numerous other, pretty good movies from the past managed to be quite entertaining, but only after fantastic premise has been served. Time-traveling movies, well represented by "Back to the Future" trilogy (1985, 1986, 1990) with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, long list of body-swapping fantasies like "Freaky Friday" (1976) with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster (or Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan in its 2003 remake) as mother and daughter whose personalities switch their bodies, Bill Murray's character repeatedly reliving the same day in "Groundhog Day" (1993), Michael Keaton's character quadrupled by cloning in "Multiplicity"... to name a few. So, once we accept the fantastic premise, those movies are even more entertaining than the one reviewed here, at least leaving to "I Feel Pretty" advantage of having no fantasy infusion required, thus deserving the coveted attribute of being realistic.
Thanks to already veteran writers/first time directors, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, for coming up with a realistic reason (even though already seen before) for vital twist that propels the story. Though quite repeatedly, Ms. Amy Schumer successfully gets the (known) message (on getting the inner splendor loose) across, and, while doing so, achieves fluent and humoristic narrative, making it easy to accept her character, Renee Bennett, suddenly not limited only to her inner beauty, a point surely aided by the fact that actress herself doesn't even fall in to the only other category... less beautiful... long ago advised as applicable for women.
Contrasting the dominant, loud female lead with her quiet, not shy (to deliver the line "Can I be you when I grow up?") but rather laid back, eventually boyfriend Ethan (Rory Scovel) was helpful. Other contributive "witnesses" include friends Vivian and Jane (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps), and quietly hysterical office mate Mason (Aidan Martinez).
Finally, in her supporting role as Avery LeClair, heiress to cosmetic line, although for her corporate position apparently sufficiently highly educated and quite well looking, Michelle Williams feels unsecure and requires help, so she uses suddenly wonderfully uninhibited Renee to deal with her physical (vocal) limitations, lack of business ideas, and other frustrations of her somewhat awkward position. Already established as dramatic actress, Williams uses this chance well to skillfully break into comedic acting by spicing her character with a touch of restrained lunacy.
In conclusion, film is at times touching, sufficiently amusing, and positively motivating... all of which should, hopefully, help (not only) girls "feel pretty and witty and bright!" (Line excerpted from the musical "West Side Story" and its song of the same title "I Feel Pretty".)
Exciting and thought provoking... lack of directions
Story in Bulgarian drama "Directions" (2017), skillfully directed by Stephan Komandarev, almost repeats a basic concept--five taxis-five cities-one night--of the 1991 film "Night on Earth", directed by Jim Jarmusch.
However, while common denominator for five different stories experienced by as many taxi drivers in Jarmusch's movie was one night (on Earth) from the movie title, "Directions" locates all (1+5) taxi drivers in the same city, Bulgarian capital Sofia, thus feeding them with the same talk-of-the-day on the local radio, polarizing the audience about the incident which happened earlier that day, brought to us in the introductory story about the small business owner, also driving a taxi to make ends meet, who can only save his business with the help of solely through banker bribery-obtainable, cash infusion loan. Trying to remain as an honest man as he can, already uncomfortable about the bribe he has to pay, when he learns that bribe has doubled in his anger and his shame he shoots the unscrupulous banker and then himself.
Later that night, characters in a numerous parallel stories (if I counted well, altogether ten stories: the two (the high-school student, secretly a "belle de jour" for a classy hotel clientele, and the corrupt banker ) initial stories, experienced and (or) instigated by the day-time driver, and eight additional stories distributed on and revolving around the five night-time taxi drivers) brought to screen in a more-or-less smooth transitions, by very solid actors with good dynamics between them, keep you interested from the get-go: commencing on already described, extreme start-up incident, inspiring other, fortunately only attempts of radical responses, but never solutions to the ongoing problems.
And while different stories in Jarmusch's omnibus (one of my favourites in his many-wise very enjoyable opus) have a comic relief, although, nevertheless treating some serious issues, Komandarev's stories, save for a few jokes told, are all about the people brought to despair by constant and hopeless exposure to economic suffering and therefore troubled life conditions in a post-glasnost and perestroika, newly emerged democracies of (not only) Bulgarian type, societies not yet well adjusted to, or cultivated for the way too soon introduced, therefore unsustainable European values, people who have lost their compass in life and who need new "directions" to (try to) move forward... Exciting and thought provoking movie.
A deeper insight into a seemingly common insult made in Lebanon
I live and work in Lebanon for already a decade, so I'm well accustomed to local ways and habits, frequently "justified" through common phrases of the following kind: "This is Lebanon... Only in Lebanon... Welcome to Lebanon!"
In my ongoing increased attendance to movie theatres, and exposure to current repertoire, "The Insult" (original title "L'insulte", literal English translation of Arabic title "Case No. 23") (2017), was my last choice. Now that I've seen it, I realized that it should've been the first! Namely, while other feature movies from the contemporary repertoire, even those allegedly inspired by true events, are mostly telling excessively exaggerated, hard-to-believe stories, revolving around almost out-of-this-world heroes, thus flooding the A-movie market with commercial exploitism, otherwise exemplified in low-budget films, "The Insult", based on deeply insightful screenplay written by Ziad Doueiry and Joëlle Touma, and compassionately directed by the former, is richly soaked into (Lebanese) reality.
What starts as an every-day incident (cited in the title) in an average Beirut neighbourhood, within minutes grows into a bigger conflict between two ostensibly unreasonably stubborn personalities, and spirals out of proportion to a high-profile courtroom drama and a matter of an almost utmost national interest.
What happens here is not unknown (m)anywhere else in the World. It's only that in Lebanon it has greater gravity and impact due to well-advertised, for more than half a century closely monitored, media covered multitude of regional and local political problems, ever so easily reviving and fuelling age-old animosities based on ethnic, religious and sectarian antagonisms, as well as rivalries between the autochthonous communities and migrants--whether economic immigrants, or internally and externally displaced refugees--ergo plethora of political, economic and humanitarian challenges.
Actors did a good job, and although sometimes way to eloquent and theatrical, especially, not unexpectedly, lawyers in the courtroom scenes, at least they provide ample historical background which could explain but not justify all the buildup subsequent to otherwise an ordinary incident. However, silences and exchanged glances between conflicting protagonists, Toni, a Lebanese Christian (Adel Karam), and Yasser, a Palestinian refugee (Kamel El Basha), often speak even more than words!
The very ending is a bit vague, but so is the broader context, involving multifaceted interests, creating tensions, eternal conflicts whatsoever, sadly, with no solution in sight, neither at present, nor in the foreseeable future?
As it was mentioned by the end of the movie nobody has monopoly for suffering. I would like to add for happiness, neither, which makes it even harder to accept endlessly ongoing bitter realities people of (not only) Lebanon have to live.
All in all, "The Insult" is a fine courtroom drama, which keeps you at the edge of the seat. It is an almost perfect Lebanese movie, fairly cut even for international audience, well worth seeing.
The Petrified Forest (1936)
Strange company caught in a searing, blinding tornado of emotions
Transcribed from the trailer for "The Petrified Forest", filmed in the fall of 1935, and released early the following year.
[ Here's the news you have awaited-for a year and a half. Warner Bros. announce the re-uniting of The Stars Who Electrified The Screen World. The Girl Who Knows How To Use Her Charms – Bette Davis. And The Man Who Found Her Dangerous, but Irresistible – Leslie Howard. Co-starred in the sensational Broadway stage success "The Petrified Forest". ]
On the edge of the American desert lies a forest turned to stone, the Petrified Forest, grim, silent, mysterious. Here in a lonely desert tavern, faith draws together a strange company: Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), of Vagabond Adventure, running away from his past, Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), a beautiful girl, weary of the desert solitude, eager to escape with the first man who comes her way, Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran), an ex-football hero, down on his luck, Paul Chisholm (Paul Harvey), multimillionaire banker vacationing with his disillusioned young wife, Edith (Genevieve Tobin), Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin), a sly old reprobate, and Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart), vicious leader of a notorious band of gunmen, hiding out after a gang massacre.
In a short space of 24 eventful hours, these characters live a lifetime of romance, adventure, terror and tragedy. It's one of the most unusual stories ever brought to the screen, "The Petrified Forest".
[ Gabrielle Maple: Wouldn't you like someone to be in love with you? Alan Squier: Yes, Gabrielle, I would like someone in love with me. Gabrielle Maple: Do you think I'm attractive? Alan Squier: There are better words than that for what you are. ]
"The Petrified Forest", where nature makes man Forget his conscience, and Strips woman of her pride.
[ Edith Chisholm: Do you mind if I speak up, my dear, perhaps I could tell you some things that Gabrielle Maple: What do you know about me? Edith Chisholm: I don't know about you, my dear, but I do know what it means to repress yourself, and starve yourself. ]
[ Duke Mantee: What were you saying? Jason Maple: I'm telling you for your own good, Mantee. They know where you were heading, they picked up your trail. They'll get you. Jackie: What's the matter with you, Duke? Do something! Duke Mantee: Shut up! Shut up! Give me time to think. Alan Squier: No, Duke, you want revenge, don't you? You want to go out of your way again, to get that blonde who snitched, Well don't do it, Duke. Jackie: She has snitched, come on, Duke! Duke Mantee: I told you to shut up! Alan Squier: You know they gonna get you, anyway. You're obsolete, Duke, like me. You've got to die. Well, then die for freedom. That's worth it. Don't give up your life for anything so cheap and unsatisfactory as revenge. ]
You'll find yourself Caught in a searing, blinding tornado of emotions in "The Petrified Forest".
Leslie Howard re-creates the role that thrilled Broadway. [ Alan Squier: Any woman's worth everything that any man has to give: anguish, ecstasy, faith, jealousy, love, hatred, life or death. ]
Bette Davis more tempting, more tantalizing, then ever. [ Gabrielle Maple: Sometimes I feel as if I was sparkling all over, and I wanna go out and do something absolutely crazy and marvellous. ]
Humphrey Bogart the most terrifying character since the Cagney of "Public Enemy". [ Duke Mantee: Just keep in mind that I and the boys is candidates for hangin'. And the first time any one of ya makes a wrong move, I'm gonna kill the whole lot of ya! ]
And Genevieve Tobin, Dick Foran.
"The Petrified Forest"
[ A New Triumph For The Screen's Greatest Dramatic Team. Brought to you by Warner Bros. the hit-after-hit studio. ]
Biopic so well rooted in reality, fitting easily even as a docu stand-in
With her powerful performances and dramatic emotional investment to her singing, unmatched even today, Egyptian born singer and actress, named by her Italian parents Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti, better known as Dalida, undoubtedly holds a unique place in the history of European and wider--including Middle East, Russia, Japan, Canada--popular music.
By the time I reached my teens (in early 1970's) a middle-aged gentleman from the neighbourhood has already accrued a good collection of Dalida's records, and that's how I was introduced to her singing, and remained her fan ever since, for four and half decades already. Contributive to that is the circumstance that last ten years I've been living and working in Lebanon, with Dalida's strong presence in its musical scene, and with her faithful audience, very much alive even three decades after her untimely demise.
That's why I have been very enthusiastic to see the movie based on her life, but also a bit concerned about it. Now that the movie is out and I have seen it, I'm very pleased to say that it has met my expectations to the greatest extent.
A number of elements are greatly contributing to the solid success and good quality of the French produced biopic, simply titled "Dalida" (2016). Based on my earlier findings and details known, story follows Dalida's life meticulously and faithfully, life filled with professional successes and personal torments and unhappiness. Actors have done an extraordinary job, which is especially important in the case of the leading actress, Sveva Alviti, who has brought to screen the title character--portrayed at the right measure, faithfully, decently and respectfully--but also actors impersonating key players in Dalida's life, her brothers (the younger one, Bruno-Orlando, plausibly depicted by Riccardo Scamarcio, performing as her career manager since 1966) as well as her professional companions, and partners in her private life. Finally, identification achieved thanks to the fascinating physical resemblance of the leading actress, as well as her successfully accomplished impression of Dalida's on-stage (and otherwise) presence and mannerisms, is certainly not disadvantageous.
According to her biographers, Dalida performed and recorded in more than ten different languages, while being fluent in at least half of that number. However, due to the fact that her career has shot to stardom in France, and her success has been most persistently maintained across the French-speaking music scene, lyrics of her songs are mainly in French. Therefore, to me, a non-French speaker, her songs were appealing primarily because of the power of her performance, ranging between its modest intimacy and dramatic intensity. Henceforth, only after watching this movie subtitled in English I have realized how much lyrics used in her songs were matching the on-goings in her own life. As if song makers and lyricist were retelling her life in real time. Having her screenplay based on the book written by Dalida's already mentioned brother Orlando, and thanks to proper choice of such songs with real life-relating lyrics, and their excellent timing, screenplay writer and director, Ms. Lisa Azuelos, has offered to the viewers most dramatic and suggestive revelations, easily implying such exciting, and--within the context of Dalida's private life troubled by failed relationships and personal difficulties, mishaps and tragedies--often touching connections between the songs and reality.
Though shot as biography feature film (biopic), meant primarily to entertain, then to inform, by appearing so well connected to reality, true to the facts, naturally gaining from the circumstance that the main actress is almost a dead ringer for Dalida, further inspired by clearly Dalida's own voice performing all included songs, it almost feels like watching a biography documentary.
To Dalida's faithful long-time followers, this is a great chance to reconfirm their fandom, to all others--including a co-spectator at the movie screening I attended, my wife Minnie--an excellent opportunity to get acquainted to this most gifted, duly celebrated singer, whose life was tragically cut short, but whose legacy, primarily her songs (but also, her high ranking as a personality, e.g. personality who had the greatest impact on French society), still lives and remains for posterity, as a pleasant reminder of her impressive and memorable talents.
Fun to sing your ABCs along to guest stars and resident Muppets
Sesame Street: Alphabet Songs (2014) special offers an inspirational selection of mostly original letter songs from one of the longest running American children's television series, created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, "known for its educational content, and creativity communicated through the use of Jim Henson's Muppets, animation, short films, humor, and cultural references". Songs are performed by prominent artists—Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Ricky Gervais, Norah Jones, Patti LaBelle... to name a few—and resident Muppets: Elmo, Big Bird, Grover, Bert and Ernie, Zoe, Rosita
and the rest of the crowd.
Though primarily targeting toddlers and preschoolers, program easily fits to every age and every taste. My daughter of three years, Danica (Dah-nee-tsah), has been watching it twice, often three times a week ever since she was 6 months old, so she must have seen it between 250 and 300 times thus far. Nevertheless, she cheers and laughs, dances, sings along to Dixie Chicks, Cookie Monster, Jamie Foxx... and never gets bored or tired of it. Neither my wife nor myself. Very enlightening and very entertaining. What more can one wish for?
P.S. A for Awesome, B for Brilliant, C for Charming, D for Delightful, E for Exuberant, F for Fun-tastic, G for Groovy, H for Hilarious, I for Impressive, J for Joyful, K for Keen-witted, L for Luminous, M for Marvelous, N for Novel, O for Outstanding, P for Playful, Q for Quick-witted, R for Remarkable, S for Stupendous, T for Tremendous, U for Unforgettable, V for Vibrant, W for Wonderful, X for eXciting, and Z for Zany.
The Bucket List (2007)
Rob Reiner's best film since the turn of the millennium
Lovely, thoroughly enjoyable movie with lots of nice words and thoughts exchanged, some to make you laugh, some pretty profound to make you ponder on. Who would've ever thought that a story about two dying men could be such fun. Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), so far complete strangers, with rather different economic and social backgrounds (billionaire hospital magnate and body shop mechanic), both terminally ill, thus inevitably at closing stages of their earthly lives, meet and, in order to try to experience things from their "bucket list" (a list of things to do before one "kicks the bucket", i.e. dies) before the final curtain falls, embark on nothing less than an amazing journey. Although age-wise much too "developed" for many youthful activities they engage themselves in, and despite their individual differences, however sufficiently open-minded and open-hearted, two protagonists, through their earnest performances and their great interaction easily draw us into their well believable story (with single fantastic twist at the end... (spoiler)... realization that rather than through eyes of the still surviving one, the story was told from the mind of his ensuing spirit), whether (constantly) putting smile on our face or tears to our eyes, ergo covering (well, for us viewers) one of listed items, "laugh till I cry".
...On a more personal note, eight years ago when I first saw this movie in a theatre, I was a solitary man, going fifty, thinking that I have already experienced things which could make my "bucket list" (climbed high mountains (Mont Blanc, Gross Glockner, Triglav, Durmitor, Fujiyama, Kilimanjaro... to name a few), visited Great Pyramids, well not Great Wall of China, but at least Great Wall of Ston, well not Taj Mahal, but instead many other magnificent temples (Angkor Wat in Cambodia, temple of Karnak in Egypt, temples of Nara, Japan... to mention a few), been on safaris in Tanzania and Rwanda...) to reference those matching items pursued in the movie. Now, after its second viewing, coincidentally on my wife's birthday, I'm almost sixty realizing that only by starting a family and having this cute little toddler of ours to chase and play with every day (and... quoting another listed item, in "kiss(ing) the most beautiful girl in the world", compete with her mother), I have pushed my life's wish list much closer to completion...
Finally, after a decade of his successes in 80-ies and beginning of 90-ies with movies that I have enjoyed watching very much ("This is Spinal Tap" (1984), "Stand by Me" (1986), "The Princess Bride" (1987), "When Harry Met Sally..." (1989), "Misery" (1990), "A Few Good Men" (1992)), "The Bucket List" marks Rob Reiner's successful comeback and it stands as his easily the-best-of-the-new-millennium directorial effort thus far.
Life of Pi (2012)
Powerful storytelling and splendid performances presented in a brilliant 3D
With his latest movie, "Life of Pi", Ang Lee further establishes himself as one of the greatest contemporary movie directors. Starting from his Taiwanese beginnings, and his highly enjoyable, family-harmonizing "Father Knows Best" trilogy (1992-1994), through his Academy Award winning works on gracefully choreographed, highly spiritualized Far East martial arts tour de force "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000, best foreign-language film) and on an uncommon yet nostalgic portrayal of the Old West in "Brokeback Mountain" (2005, best director), to his other titles like "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), "The Ice Storm" (1997), and "Lust, Caution" (2007), quality and Kubrick-like versatility shown in his movies offer continuous attraction for wide audience of his admirers.
Lee's latest and, so far, easily, greatest movie, "Life of Pi" is based on a screenplay adapted from the acclaimed fictional adventure novel written by Canadian author Yann Martel.
Throughout his childhood, due to matching pronunciation of French word "piscine" (pool, swimming pool) and English word "pissing", Piscine Molitor Patel, named that way after later abandoned Parisian swimming pool, so predictably suffers from being nicknamed "Pissing Patel". In order to avoid it, once in high school he finally shortens his name to Pi Patel... Nowadays middle-aged Pi tells the story of his life to a visiting writer, apparently a book author Yan Martel's alter ego, who is seeking for the literal inspiration. Retrospectively, Pi divides his childhood and adolescence into three segments. In the first segment he gives shorter account of his life until the age of 16, describing his interaction with his family and schoolmates, in particular his relationship with his father and a girlfriend, concentrating on his exploits of God and spirituality, meandering between multitude of religious practices while in the last one he briefs about his testimonial given to officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, investigating the reasons why the ship his family was relocating on from India to Canada sank. Most detailed, and therefore the longest, is recollection of his 227 days in a lifeboat, an extraordinary ordeal he went through after the ship has capsized and everybody else, crew and passengers, died
Well, everybody human, but not everybody living. Namely, a number of terrestrial animals from their discontinued family zoo, offered for sale and brought along with other family belongings, have survived, too. But, not for long, because, while confined in the most limited space as they were, surrounded by vastness of the ocean, the law of the "survival of the fittest" prevails, takes its tall, and pretty soon Pi finds himself in a company of a single one topping the food-chain, a Bengal tiger curiously named Richard Parker.
Not to reveal the story further, it is with greatest pleasure to inform that cinematic excellence has been achieved in several categories: in an engaging tale—whether allegory or depiction of realistic, believable events, filled with protagonist's rarely matched curiosity, imagination and his often reasonably unanswered doubts, encouraging the same in viewers—of an uncommon character, indeed, brought to on-screen life by outstanding performances from two contributing leads, remarkably presented via ubiquitous, yet inconspicuous animation, exceptional, CGI aided visuals and superb usage of 3D photography, all along complemented with an uplifting score. All these assets work seamlessly together in unfolding an intense relationship between Pi and Richard Parker, complex yet basic, difficult yet simple, initially charged with Pi's dreadful fear, swiftly shifting to respectful care, instantly boosting his never overbearing confidence and relentlessly improving his survival skills. Wholesome artistic experience reaches and maintains its pinnacle particularly in clever tactics and constructive survival techniques 16-year old Pi uses—amply benefiting from his instructive lifestyle of a zoo owner's attentive son, certainly well acquainted with animal psychology—to suppress the fear and convincingly impose himself as an equal to the one of the most elaborate "killing machines" among mammals, desperately striving for his own survival, nevertheless, generously, for survival of his seemingly sufficiently tamed companion, but still, initially and ultimately, magnificent adversary, Richard Parker, as well.
"Life of Pi" is, certainly, one of the most impressive movies of 2012, year that has just come to a close.
The Guard (2011)
Character-driven, raucously thrilling crime comedy
Screenplay writer John Michael McDonagh's directorial debut, "The Guard" (2011) is really a fine movie, relying the least on the originality of its story, describing criminal proceedings of the group of cocaine drug-smugglers and their interaction with local police, set against the backdrop of small-town western Ireland, however, filled with crackling good dialogue, sparkling with wisecracks, accompanied with nice scenery and pleasant, unobtrusive music. But, what makes it the best is its protagonists' performances.
Brendan Gleeson is usually natural, making the character he plays fit like a glove—whether the robust and humorous loyal buddy and the warrior, as in "Braveheart" (1995), or a quiet and subdued aspiring politician, as in "Gangs of New York" (2002), or a non-supportive father, civil war volunteer-turned-deserter, as in "Cold Mountain" (2003), whether the gentle, mentoring, culture-exploring hit man in hiding, as in "In Bruges" (2008), or on the other side of the law, the grouchy police sergeant with defiant, often dissident sense of humour (provocative in one-liners like "being FBI, don't you prefer to fight unarmed women and children "), as in this movie--and Don Cheadle, in the role of FBI agent Wendell Everett, a bit in the shade of Gleeson's Gerry Boyle, but nevertheless, sufficiently competitive ("Langley is CIA, I'm FBI "), neat and convincing in his performance as always. (I admit to have a soft spot for this actor since his impressive role of the manager of Kigali Mille Collines hotel in the movie "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), the very same hotel I have been frequenting for two months in 1995, just a year later to tragic events described in the movie.)
To a pretty frequent movie goer like myself, who hasn't seen a single en par (or better?) leading actor in this year that is rapidly advancing towards its end, it is hard to believe that very many better acting performances could be demonstrated in the remaining two months or so. Therefore, if Brendan Gleeson does not find himself at least among top nominees for any yearly awarded film prize, I'll have a problem finding such decisions just.
As a marginal note, I was lucky to watch this movie back home in my motherland, because having it subtitled was very helpful in order not to miss any of sergeant Boyle's wisecracks, delivered often in heavy Irish accent, and to understand at all occasional lines, uttered by marginal characters, spoken completely in Gaelic. Of course, point was not to be understood by English native speakers, but it was still interesting to know what usual "advices" (if not insults) were given to English speakers, though eventually not English (as FBI agent!) at all. As Irish colleague of mine once said "We don't sing songs in Gaelic so English people cannot understand how badly we talk about them, they know it already! We sing in Gaelic simply because that's our traditional language (N.B. official whatsoever), and songs sound much better and sweeter in it."
Word of honour tempted by hopelessly budding forbidden love
It has taken almost a year and a half before Lea has fully understood the responsibility, resolve, dedication and devotion, ergo the true nature of the ultimately tempting and utmost sacrificial personal protection she's been subjected to...
The year is 1914, when young couple of school teachers, a Serb Filip (Nebojsa Dugalic) and a Slovenian Lea (Iva Krajnc), find themselves working in the secondary school of the south Serbian provincial town, himself as a principal and herself as a teacher of rhythmics and dance. On the outbreak of the war, initially declared by Austro-Hungarian Empire to Serbia, eventually escalating to become the WW1, Filip is instantly called up by military and sent to Belgrade to serve in the forthcoming war effort, leaving thus his young and attractive wife alone. Having no one else to turn to, he asks Azem (Miki Manojlovic), the school custodian, to take care of her. Being a patriarchal Albanian, by accepting to do so, he gives to Filip his pledge, 'besa', to look after and protect Lea. In Albanian tradition such a word of honour is so obliging, that--in order to hold to it--one would even stake his life on it.
Suddenly Lea finds herself in dire straits, and not only for being worried enough about the whole war situation, as well as for extensive detachment from her husband, but even more for becoming practically a prisoner to this simple Albanian (Arnaut in local language), overzealous to keep his word and protect her. On top of it, local community suspects her of spying for enemy. Namely, Slovenia, at the time, was part of Austro-Hungarian Empire... Fortunately, not before long Azem gains her full trust, because it becomes obvious that he's the best chance she could ever have in order to survive through the most difficult times, with her integrity preserved and honour untarnished.
However, by having their interaction evolving towards gaining mutual trust and respect, they start playing with the fire that could've easily been ignited by what clearly appeared to be a spark of forbidden love between two people from such profoundly different backgrounds: well educated Christian woman, brought up as a Catholic, ergo having enough to deal with already, due to her marriage and conversion to Orthodoxy, and an almost illiterate man, yet, for all he knew, a traditional practicing Moslem Dealing with multitude of intertwined questions about cultural and ethnic differences, religious and language barriers, social and class divisions, the ultimate question arises: whether the given word will stand the challenge of apparently honest and true, yet unexpected and forbidden love budding?
With his well known, fluent narrative style, adding frequent spontaneous comic relieves even when dealing with heaviest subjects, director Srdjan Karanovic in his latest movie, "Besa" (2009), tells another, apparently, almost a centennial old, true life events inspired, engaging story, yet describing an infinitely older, nowhere-near-to-resolution conflict, and therefore, in its essence, still remaining right up to date and very well worth of contemporary audience's time and interest. Slovenian actress Iva Krajnc has fully justified her engagement in this complex role of Lea, while Miki Manojlovic, having had impersonated already, throughout his rich acting career, a multitude of individuals, most naturally predominantly of his own, Serbian but also Bosnian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Roma(ni) origins, has added yet another among numerous Balkans ethnicities to the spectrum of the characters he has successfully brought on to the screen.
Fictional viral outbreak plausibly dramatized in docu-like fashion
Stephen Soderbergh's latest direction, "Contagion" (2011), even though bringing less than expected excitement, is an absorbing movie to watch, efficient as a social and behavioural study, but no less as an accomplished collection of individual case studies, offering sufficiently thought-provoking arguments, such as the fact that--despite all the scientific advances and exhaustive efforts of the thousands of specialists--humankind still stands pretty helpless in the prevention of new viral outbreaks and their many strains occurring globally, when even seemingly well organised societies easily slip into chaos, leaving all individuals to fend for themselves in the ultimate fight for survival, all further fuelled by unstoppable leaks (however, lucrative sensationalism, as well) on an almost inevitable, mutually supportive (money and power shouldn't mix, but mostly they do) corporal and governmental cover-ups. Surely it is a disturbing reminder that even at the most difficult of times, humanity's good traits still get so easily overpowered by the seed of all evil--selfishness and greed.
Many good actors partake in the movie: Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gould, to name a few, though one cannot expect remarkable character development when action is dispersed and story spread on so many leads. Nevertheless, Soderbergh knows how to make people count and, albeit somewhat shy about it, he's sufficiently confident in decisive difference their increasingly frequent, self-sacrificing actions could make, having faith in ultimately predominant selflessness and benevolence, kindness and compassion, whether among pre-organised, or ad hoc gathered communities, down to the last individual, rediscovering--now under extreme conditions--their altruism and, as implied in a reserved hope raised towards the end, having--this way or another--humanism in humankind still prevail.
Cactus Flower (1969)
A feel-good comedy with its title symbolism well justified
Florigraphists, fluent in the "language of flowers", revealing a symbolic, underlying meaning to sending or receiving floral arrangements, describe cactus flower as a symbol of lust (in Japan), as well as courtship and romance (among Native Americans). All three and many other modest or excessive feelings, relationships, experiences... are nicely wrapped up in a comedy suggesting same symbolism in its title.
1969 film "Cactus Flower", directed by Gene Saks (who has already introduced us, a year earlier, to another stage play classic adapted for the big screen, Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple") is a feel-good movie--based on Abe Burrows' Broadway stage adaptation of its witty French original, Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pieerre Grédy's play "Fleur de cactus"--scripted by a legendary comedic writer I.A.L. Diamond (who is, among his other memorable works, credited with the screenplay for an all-time favourite comedy "Some Like It Hot" (1959)), with impish dentist Walter Matthau, accompanied by his reputable nurse-receptionist Ingrid Bergman, coming across as likable and funny leads, further supported by young and sweet Goldie Hawn, in her Oscar awarded depiction of a-cute-dumb-blond stereotype.
Bergman's Stephanie Dickinson, for all her decency and selflessness, is a character who is easy to identify with and root for in her initially seemingly unconscious pursuit of her apparently long suppressed, quietly emerging affection for Matthau's Dr. Julian Winston, a rogue we cannot hate because he behaves like a boy from Mark Twain's novel, or Dennis the menace who has grown up and old, but never out of his mischievous ways. In his no-strings-attached wished for relationship with Hawn's sparkling Toni Simmons, he pretends to be married. However, this new "fact" tickles well meant youngster's curiosity, so, surely free spirited, but not unscrupulous as eventual household breaker, Toni, tormented by many unanswered questions becomes--as seen in the introductory scene--suicidal, and... what was meant to be a small "preventive" lie asks for more lies, ultimately spiraling out of control.
Interaction between the three, further helped with an additional "accomplice", Winston-like lovable cad Harvey Greenfield, played by Jack Weston, produces some truly hilarious and--specially when the most believable miss Dickinson is involved--touchy moments for a wide-range audience to enjoy. "Cactus Flower" easily stands the test of time and even improves with each repeated viewing.
Current year (2011) production "Just Go with It", a loose remake of the 1969 original, provides a solid, yet, somewhat inferior entertainment when compared to its predecessor.
U raljama zivota (1984)
A noteworthy predecessor to the 'Bridget Jones' franchise
Zagrebian lass tefica has been struggling with overweight and in relationships with men long before arrival of Bridget Jones.
tefica Cvek is a typist, plump and slightly depressive, and inexperienced when it comes to men. And that is the most important 'territory', at least according to her friend Marijana, who considers herself an expert for the subject, providing an abundance of advices and tips. Marijana upholds that having blokes is the most important thing in life, and that tefica simply lacks sex appeal. On the other side, tefica is constantly getting advices from her old aunt, whom she lives with. Aunt descends from a provincial town in neighbouring Bosnia, having rather different life philosophy, henceforth delivering her advices through wise and often peculiar anecdotes from her homeland.
Meanwhile, tefica fights her sadness and suppresses her grief resorting to excessive eating and hopes that all her problems will be over as soon as she meets the right man. All her girlfriends are already in love; Ela is getting married for the fourth time, even Anuka has found a soul mate.
Will tefica remain single, or there is a happy end for her, so common in 'chick flicks'? Story about tefica came into existence long before nowadays popular 'chick lit' novels and their principal heroines. Dubravka Ugreić's 1981 novel was titled tefica Cvek in the Jaws of Life, a.k.a. Patchwork Novel. And a patchwork it is indeed. Namely, authoress trips between the stereotypes of popular romance novels and standards of the genre, and plays with its characters. However, this novel is by no means a typical romance novel. Ugreić skillfully points out all the problems with such novels, comparing her writing with the work of a seamstress; cuts out, rummages, writes additions, inserts citations, short folk proverbs, considers her own writing process...
Based on this very popular novel, a screenplay for the movie U raljama ivota (1984) (In the Jaws of Life) was co-written by its director Rajko Grlić and Dubravka Ugreić. And, while in the novel authoress is struggling with tefica's character, in the movie her role was taken by directress Dunja, who is shooting a TV series about tefica. Vitomira Lončar in the leading role of tefica meets three men, all played by among the most popular Yugoslavian actors of the era: Bata ivojinović, Miki Manojlović and Rade erbedija.
However, tefica has not found happiness with any of the three, and you will have to find yourself why not? (Review translated from Kristina G.'s Croatian language posting in her theatre web log teatar.hr/author/kristina/)
Cirkus Columbia (2010)
Bonny the lucky cat: looking for a lost pet or hunting for happiness
Danis Tanović, a well deserving Academy Award winner in the category of Foreign Language Film with his very first feature movie, after two respectable international attempts--L'enfer (2005) and Triage (2009)--both dealing with certain universal subjects, geographically located outside the country of his origin (Bosnia and Herzegovina), in his fourth movie comes back home and scores again.
Anyone slightly interested in global politics already knows the sad story of a certain Balkan super state, which was in a "good ol' days" thriving to considerable extent on worldwide--basically, American (and its post WWII interested allies)-Russian (and its willy-nilly 'satellites')--polarization and then, at the end of the Cold War, "allowed" by the same global powers to violently fall apart and dissolve.
Particular time and place provide the setting for Tanović's latest movie, Cirkus Columbia (2010), based on the novel written by Ivica Đikić, telling the story of Divko Buntić (who, in his own self-ironic words, rather than just gone mad, has always been mad), descending from the family on the losing side of WWII, whose uneasy life among privileged descendants of WWII winners forced him to emigrate. He managed to make a good living abroad, but, after 20 years in exile, couldn't wait more to come back.
His chance to return comes at the beginning of 1990's, after decline of previous, rather totalitarian system and opening for democratic changes. Coming back to Herzegovina, to his birthplace where he's spent his childhood and teenage years, he flaunts his wealth, showing off with his expensive car and young wife, willing to get even with whoever might have done him wrong in the past. He immediately dislodges his estranged wife Lucija and his son Martin from the reclaimed property and, initially, it looks like he's winning and that money can fix everything. But, can it really make the world go round? Answer comes later.
Without giving too much away, it is enough to repeat an advice that he gives at the very highpoint of the movie. Offering a big bunch of money to his son, who is following in his father's footsteps, getting ready to emigrate as well, Divko bitterly admits his life lessons learned in a reminder "with this you can buy everything, but you cannot have everything"... Ultimately, in deserted premises of the used-to-be circus from the title line, finally daring to be honest to their true feelings, reunited couple literally makes the world merry-go-round. Against all chaos-approaching odds, at least for a fleeting moment, their world becomes a better place... A moment amplified during the end credits by a beautiful period song "We could've done it all" ("Sve smo mogli mi"), Valerijan ujo's versified lament over the life's oh-so-ephemeral opportunities lost, in Slobodan Kovačević Bodo's atmospheric arrangement, interpreted in a calm, soothing voice of Jadranka Stojaković.
Tanović continues to make interesting movies. For a number of reasons my favourite one is still his first, No Man's Land (2001), certainly not the least being the fact that I'm Danis's former fellow countryman--well, former, because, apparently, we both (temporarily or not?) moved out of the country, after it has been struck by our common, well known tragedy--so I have been either personally, or as a participant in the closest collective experience, through those times and situations described.
On a more impartial level, it is pleasure to notice that, in both his domestically inspired movies equally, Tanović depicts a fluent story about common people, though, eventually, in not so common circumstances, distinguished by standouts in leading roles (here, well established actors Miki Manojlović and Mira Furlan and promising Boris Ler), good work with supporting actors and his skillful direction, that all adds up to (a) very attractive movie(s). Though, it might work well just for viewers who do not look necessarily for bigger-than-life themes, who do not seek only for stories with intriguing details or unexpected twists, ergo unusual narratives that, once "consumed", often lose their attraction, while appeal found in commonness allows for even repeated viewing, almost without any significant loss of interest. ( Davor Blaević, currently in the South of Lebanon.)
Mei to Koneko basu (2002)
Master storyteller, animator and director (always) at his best
Mei to Koneko basu (Mei and the Kitten Bus, 2002) is an enjoyable animated short with lovable characters, couple of them already known from Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro, 1988) feature-length movie, and a number of newly introduced ones. A kind of spin-off of the original movie, this 13-minute short can be seen only in the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, western suburb of Tokyo. (And what a delightful visit there it was, 20 months ago, almost to the day, in May 2009.) Story revolves around 4-year old Mei Kusakabe (this time without her older sister Setsuki, making here only a brief appearance) who befriends and babysits Koneko basu (Kitten Bus), the offspring of the Neko basu (Cat Bus), often compared to the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland. Spacious hardly enough to accommodate solely little Mei, Koneko basu takes her on a night ride, and flies her in and out of the forest to get her acquainted with the whole fleet of cat-shaped and spirited vehicles, serving their Totoro passengers, to meet sort of a big cat-liner, Neko Bâ-chan (Granny Cat Bus), and revisit the great O-Totoro itself, largest among the spirits "keepers of the forest".
Film offers many favourable ingredients contained in Miyazaki's other, mainly hand-drawn animated adventures: humorous, colourful characters, including child(ren), often girl(s) protagonist(s), character driven animation, subtlety in timing and movements, enchanting visuals with watercolour-like backgrounds, actions involving flying... Lack of subtitles, to otherwise favourable original Japanese soundtrack, for a non-Japanese speaker (Nihon-go wakarimasen!) was not detrimental at all, because it's not about the story told in words, anyway, but about telling it in "thousand times" more descriptive pictures, worming up the feelings, playfulness and imagination omnipresent in children, and, though seemingly forgotten, eventually only suppressed in grown-ups, ergo dormant potential that can be easily activated through the well-administered incentive from the skillful wake-up caller. And who could do it better than a master storyteller, rarely multitalented to simultaneously write, animate (draw), direct and produce at the highest level, whose desire is not exhausted in the process of storytelling, since he prefers to participate and play himself, "suspected" and excused for finding in it as much fun as children do. And, in doing so, he entertains the same desire in us, spectators on the receiving end of his generous and exuberant offer, until, smitten all along, we find the pure joy of it all... ourselves.
Author of, apparently, one of Miyazaki's favourite books for children, Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking), Sweedish writer Astrid Lindgren used to say: "I don't 'mean' anything by my writing. I just write for the child in myself." It is unlikely that Miyazaki doesn't 'mean' anything by his great and comprehensive anime movie output (Specially in his feature-length movies, his references to contemporary global issues are quite obvious: burning requirement for scaling down the speed of exploitation of natural resources, harmonizing it with the capacity of existing reserves, and allowing for their renewal, improving ecological awareness and reducing pollution, peaceful reconciliation of hostilities ), though it is easily understood that he does the movies for the playful and curious child in himself, as well perhaps--and why not--above all.
Judging by loud ovation from the highest represented, otherwise traditionally self-controlled, if not self-restrained, Japanese children and their parents present at the screening in Ghibli Museum theatre: kids love it and adults enjoy it!
Der Räuber (2010)
Prospects for a good life inexplicably gone bad
Austrian-German co-production, Der Räuber (The Robber, 2010), based on the real events, tells the story about the long-distance runner, who could've lived a decent life, having a loving and caring girlfriend, a solid place to stay, and an extraordinary talent for long-distance running that he could've easily made a good living on, but instead, he additionally specializes and excels in bank robbing, becoming an addict of such an unusual activity for no other obvious reason but for possible "beauty of a criminal campaign" and adrenaline rush received along. (He's hinted times and again that he couldn't have cared less about the stolen money itself, by jamming it into black rubbish plastic bags, as if he was going to trash it.) One of those life stories that you cannot help but get unpleasantly amazed with how all the reasonable prerequisites for a good life, though inexplicably, yet seemingly so unnecessarily, get flushed down the drain, apparently faithfully presented in the movie with understandable, ergo acceptable lack of intention to ease the answers to the hard whys.