Saturday, January 24, 2015

Film: Wild (2014), Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Based on the book of Cheryl Strayed

Watching this film, one can't help comparing it to other films based on the metaphor of the road or endurance  or self-discovery - films like "On the Road" or "Into the Wild" and going further back - "Easy Rider" or even -- "The Odyssey." The comparison is not in favor of "Wild." It relays a very personal story, as opposed to generational, unlike the above-mentioned films. And being so personal, or individual, it does not possess the intellectual baggage to turn this story of ordeal into a more meaningful one. If it wasn't for the final monologue of the character which injected some meaning and some element of self-analysis, the film would have remained a mix of painful memories recalled against the backdrop of some beautiful natural vistas or somewhat threatening landscapes. If it wasn't for the sentimental scene with the little boy and grandma with the lama it would have left the viewer unperturbed by Cheryl's earlier misfortunes.
And "Election" is still Reese Witherspoon's best film.

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Film: Still Alice (2014), Directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer

Julianne Moore plays a 50-year old linguistic professor afflicted by early-onslaught Alzheimer's disease. Plays quite well - reserved enough to make you identify with her and face your deep instinctive fear of the disease, and passionately enough to make you weep. Her fans should be happy for her because she was quite terrible in the role of the hysterical actress from Cronenberg's "Map to the Stars". She most certainly has a shot at the Oscars given the award potential of disease-suffering characters. Entertainment Weekly have compiled nice visualized stats on the professions of Oscar nominated roles. They should have done one on healthy vs sick personae, a graph like that would have definitely been in favor of the sick. 
The film is cathartic -- plunging the viewer into the fear and trembling of modern Fate - incurable diseases. Helplessness and horror gradually take over the plot as it follows Alice's demise through her slowly loosing hold of her Self. At the end she is still there and not there. The reason why she could be still Alice is the thin thread of love still linking her to her beloved and prodigal daughter. The film ends with a close-up on a totally lost Alice still mumbling "love" to a face she probably does not recognize... A weepie! 

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Film: Birdman, 2014, Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

The irony of the Golden Globe Award for original script this year for "Birdman" is that it is exactly the script that is the problem of this movie...
It is half "back-stage" comedy/drama (with all the cliche moves typical of that genre), and half allegory. A very confused allegory at that, which cannot draw a clean parable of meaning or communicate a clear message. Its appeal, I believe, comes from this confusedness which some snobbish viewers take for complexity. Well, the story is a complete mess. The writers put every idea that crossed their mind (many of them totally unoriginal and annoying) into the script. It has everything - an actor whose stage life is more real than his real life (how tired is that?!), another actor who wants to make art but is only recognized as a celebrity (another cliche), a critic who just "hates" an actor and is determined to destroy him without even having seen him perform (a totally random and whimsical argument), a mixture of life and art with art dominating life (cliche), etc.
The genre of the allegory is quite treacherous - it requires everything to be thought out on two different planes - on the plane of reality and on the plane of allegory and to make sense on both. All the elements should click together precisely in order to be meaningful. Multiple components of this film are puzzling and defy meaning - the multiple endings, the transformation of the actor into the character of Birdman (after the success of his show?!), his final flight....It is hard to try to interpret a mess -- seems like a waste of time.
Mr. Inarritu, mumbled some pretentious nonsense in his acceptance speech about "mirroring" - he seems to be considering himself an intellectual. While he should simply stop writing his own scripts.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Film: Codebreaker, 2011, A Documentary by Clare Beavan, Nic Stacey, Written by Simon Berthon and Craig Warner

A must-see movie! It drives painfully in the viewer mind its tragic truth about the life and fate of Alan Turing, a pure genius, who played crucial role in the winning of WW II by breaking the Enigma code, and who was tried and convicted on the basis of the same laws used against Oscar Wilde in the 19th century. Turing was forced to accept chemical castration in order to avoid being imprisoned for his homosexuality. Eventually, he committed suicide - he could not accept the deteriorating effect of the drugs on his intellect. And this all happened to a man who helped defeat Hitler (and we know what the latter's treatment of homosexuals was...). The plain facts, delivered in a documentary manner, can be more shattering than the suggestive power of art. The fictionalized story of Turing, as told in "The Imitation Game" and as performed by Benedict Cumberbatch has a sentimental streak that clouds the sheer tragic irony contained in the actual historical events and prevents the realization of truth. Instead of the realization of truth, "The Imitation Game" offers empathy...

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Books: Money, A Suicide Note. A Novel by Martin Amis, 1984

Thanks to Carl Hiaasen for discovering for me "Money" via the WSJ book-club. It's such a pleasure to read a book where the language is not just a vehicle for the narrative - it's a sheer source of aesthetic pleasure. It clicks so perfectly with the character it portrays. The novel's main character is on an nightmarish rambling spree in search of himself. His hilarious monologue draws a satirical self-deprecating portrait of himself, the protagonist, and his surroundings. Still, the novel is not a pure satire. It is too mainstream in terms of plot, to qualify for this. A true satire would be totally unforgiving to its subjects (the way Gogol is). Amis' main character is quite sympathetic and and on top of this -- looking for redemption. The whole line of Self trying to win Martina's love, and become "good" and "normal" is too sweet and romantic - it spoils what could have bee a true cynical work of art where nobody is spared and nobody is redeemable.

Still, the writer is at his best here. Quoting pieces of the book would not do it justice still I am tempted...:

...I am not allergic to the twentieth century. I am addicted to the twentieth century...
...Cold out there.When it's cold. That's when you really feel your money...
...the whole show has the suspended air and sickly texture of treated film, that funeral-parlor glow - numb, tranced, and shiny, like a corpse....
...his Latin rug sweats with vitamins...
[this woman].. has a wraparound mouth...
...My life was a joke.My death will be serious.That must be why I am so afraid....
...My theory is - we don't really go that far into other people, even when we think we do.We hardly ever go in and bring them out. We just stand at the jaws of the cave, and strike a match, and quickly ask if anybody's there.
...At sickening speed I have roared and clattered, I have rocketed through my time, breaking all the limits, time limits, speed limits, city limits, jumping lights and cutting corners, guzzling gas and burning rubber, staring through the foul screen with my fist on the horn. I am that fleeting train that goes screaming past you in the night. Though travelling nowhere I have hurtled with blind purpose to the very end of my time. I want to slow down now and check the scenery, and put in a stop or two. I want some semi-colons...

Pleasure to read when phrases create a short-circuit between meaning and wit and brevity+complexity of expression.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Books: The Good Girl, 2014 A Novel by Mary Kubica

Publishers Weekly needs to apologize for false advertising! The jacket quotes a review from them claiming that the book "will encourage comparisons with Gone Girl...." What a nonsense and a lie!
The book is a weak attempt at fiction writing by a housewife well-read in romance novels. The story could be transplanted in a fantasy "medieval" setting and could well be told as, for example, the story of a princess abducted by a Highlands shepherd who eventually fall in love. It is totally phony, banal, and boring. Too many pages dedicated to describing physical details don't make a "psychological" novel. Literally describing looking, touching, walking, sitting, glancing, driving, etc. and doing all kinds of things a physical presence in the world comprises, is not the "detail" that fiction is made of. It fills pages. The author should go back to her other hobbies like "gardening, photography and taking care of animals in the local shelter" or find another way to make her kids proud of her, different from the fact that "mommy wrote a book."

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

TV Film: Olive Kitteridge (2014), directed by Lisa Cholodenko

"Olive Kitteridge" is probably the best film I have seen in a year now. It is based on Elizabeth Strout's book which won its author a Pulitzer prize for literature. This is one of the rare cases where everything - literary
material, script, acting, directing, music - is in such perfect sync and of such high quality - that the mere pleasure of watching is added on top of experiencing and understanding the drama of the characters. The sentiment is just the right amount and the wittiness - just the right degree.
And even though Frances McDormand's acting has some excess of curtness and a programmatic element in it, it balances well with the melancholic coolness of Bill Murray and the soft presence of Richard Jenkins. Lisa Cholodenko demonstrates once again a superb taste in choice of material and actors and a deep understanding of the human condition. Thie film is just excellent. Nothing is overstated and nobody is spared yet a gentle forgiveness and despair dominate the ending - a mix that is true to life and lacking in fake "uplifting" messages. It's a matter of "can you handle the truth" to really enjoy it...

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Film: Maps to the Stars, 2014, Directed by David Cronenberg

Can't quite figure out the source of David Cronenberg's appeal. He has a claim to originality and intellectualism but everything I have seen from him is pretty mainstream, plus snobbish and murky when it comes to a film's intellectual message. Quite often, his films border on the tasteless and kitschy. "Maps to the Stars" is a perfect example. (Other past works could serve as an illustration as well - "The History of Violence"- tasteless and banal with one of the worst performances by William Hurt. But also, isn't Vigo Mortensen, Cronenberg's favorite actor,  one of the most tacky actors alive? He looks like a hairdresser or a pimp or a child molester...Actually, "The History of Violence" looks like something shot by Verhoeven...)

Anyway, why is "Maps to the Stars" such a bad movie? It desperately wants to be a satire (and does it in a hysterical way, matching only the hysterical performance delivered by Julian Moore as a crazy-bitch-Hollywood-actress). The satirical intention is stuffed into a tacky, soapy plot about an incestuous family with murderous tendencies. They are rich and famous but tragically deprived of normality.They talk to themselves, they are suicidal, violent, they whimper in their bathtubs, smoke like maniacs or display other similarly "original" signs of "inner suffering". The so called "satire" is so trite and literal - e.g. Julian Moore's character is insanely happy when a tragedy befalls her competitor-actress because she gets to play the role she was after... How flat and unimaginative...Every scene in this film is as contrived and square as this little example.

If you are looking for a real satire of Hollywood, check Robert Altman's "The Player," of course...

But once proclaimed an "intellectual," David Cronenberg will stay one, I suppose, as long as he makes claims to this status either by talking about psychoanalysis, Jung, Burroughs, or quoting Paul Eluard. Though the products he manages to churn with Canadian state support, are not quite intellectual.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Film: God's Pocket (2014) Directed by John Slattery

Actors' directorial debuts tend to get snubbed - especially if the actor is a handsome man or a pretty lady. Examples abound. John Slattery's debut which he co-scripted with Alex Metcalf is based on an eponymous novel by Pete Dexter. The film feels like drama in its first half but then its genre gets confusing as dramatic situations are resolved violently in an absurdist manner reminding of the devices of the Coen brothers (Blood Simple). The social layer of the film is still prominent but it is stylized and deviates towards the lurid with its "metonymic" settings switching between the pub, the funeral bureau, industrial sites... The problem with the confusing genre stems from the novel itself - Pete Dexter's writing favors the sensational and the salacious over meaning and structure. "The Paperboy" (2012), also based on a novel of his, was a cinematic disaster. 
Given that, Slattery was actually able to convey more than the literary basis of his film - the picture oozes a kind of melancholic desperation which his low class characters couldn't possibly articulate. 

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