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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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Film: Boyhood (2014), Written and Directed by Richard Linklater

The film is a typical Linklater project -- sensitive, over verbose, overwhelming with dialog, and laden with banality philosophical conversations. But this is how people articulate their lives and human self-insight always touches on the banal.
I loved the film and its lighthearted but also melancholic message that "growing up" is actually the content of one's life. The main character's parents were growing up together with their son and their life was as confused at the end as it was in the beginning. Going off to college does not put an end to Mason's "boyhood" as he was well aware. It is just a "next step" in his life as it is in his mother's life - only marking different stages. For the mother it is the realization that there might be less "next steps" left.

The fact that the film was shot over a period of 12 years with the same cast and we see the physical change the characters go through - the phases of "mutation" from cute, through puberty-ugly, to weird and uniquely beautiful - is crucial for the message of the film. The gradual building of one's individuality, the formation of self, illustrated by physical change, lends truth to the film and makes acceptance of its philosophy on a visceral level.

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Books: The Nobel Prize for Literature

Patrick Modiano is a good author but Philip Roth is a formidable writer. And the Nobel Prize can't change that. 

The Swedish Academy is playing politically correct games and Philip Roth is NOT politically correct. Great writers never are. 

At least, (thank you, Academy!) Haruki Murakami did not win...But given that Elfriede Jelinek is a past winner - anything is possible....

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Film: The Counselor, 2013, Directed by Ridley Scott

Cormac McCarthy, the author of the screenplay, is a graphomaniac. The proof is in works like "All the Pretty Horses", "The Road" and finally - this film which helps highlight all the symptoms of the condition. Even a skilled director like Ridley Scott could not pull out a cogent 'story' not to mention some sense out of this pretentious textual mess. What do you think of this piece of wisdom: "When it comes to grief, the normal rules of wealth do not apply. Because grief transcends value. A man would give entire nations to lift grief off his heart and yet, you cannot buy anything with grief, because grief is worthless. What the ...?!!! What does this mean? Nothing. It's a strŠ°in of the mind of a pseudo-philosopher and pseudo-writer who is desperately trying to be original...I should rest my case only after this quote but can't help mentioning the drug lord citing the poet Antonio Machado. Not that it can't be done, but Mr. McCarthy does it in a dumb way.

"No Country for Old Man" was a good movie only thanks to the Coen brothers who wrote the screenplay.

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Film: Runner Runner, 2013, Directed by Brad Furman

After a streak of very bad movies, it was a relief to watch this one. The movie is not great, but it is skillfully written and well-acted. Its plot is a variation of "Wall Street" and "Boiler Room" - with the same main male characters in the trio - ambitions, entrepreneurial, and smart college drop-out, a mentor, a father. The details differ but the moral is the same - greed is not good. The dramatic quality of the two older films is better. The latest version is more entertaining than anything else. Some very snappy dialogue (written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien) contributes to the pleasure.

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Film: "Labor Day", 2013, Directed by Jason Reitman

The film is based on some very bad novel and it is mind-boggling that Jason Reitman would try to resuscitate it. The result is so poor that at certain points, when the plot defies any logic, it turns into its own parody. Examples: mother is given her baby (whom we just saw being still-born) all dressed up and pretty?! ; father roams the pubs, baby in hands, looking for his no-good wife; convict and lonely mother mix together sugar and peaches with their bare hands in a scene, reminiscent of Ghost's famous pottery scene...
The author of the terrible piece of "non-literature" is Daphne Joyce Maynard, the woman who became famous for being briefly involved with J.D.Salinger and tried to capitalize on that writing about his exploitation of young women, or was it the opposite, him being exploited by young women...
The sad thing here is that Jason Reitman was very desperate for a script, and that eventually he exhibited such a bad taste in choosing/writing this one. Early success, as J.D.Salinger points out, is treacherous.

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TV: Happy Valley: BBC Drama Series, 2014 Directed by Euros Lyn, Sally Wainwright and Tim Fywell

The script (Sally Wainwright) has some of the ingredients of a soap opera - a child born of rape, his mother committed a suicide, the grandparents have problems accepting and raising that child, the latter exhibiting some violent tendencies. The father of the child is a brutal criminal but has a soft spot for the child, etc.
On the other hand the series' plot revolves around an accountant, a looser-character reminiscent of the insurance salesman Lester from "Fargo." This, and some of the dialog help distinguish the series from a soap-crime series. The directors are quite good but they could have been more thrifty with the flashbacks. The flashbacks, in their case, are just illustrations of what is going on in the character's mind, which is always a symptom of helplessness to express a psychological process in alternative ways. In other words, the viewer should be able to deduce what is going on in the character's mind via different, purely dramatic, subtle devices.
Good performances by Sarah Lancashire and Steve Pemberton.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Film: Chef (2014) Written and Directed by Jon Favreau

What a poor, pathetically weak script! I thought Jon Favreau was cool but with his last creation he shattered that impression .
The dialogue feels like its sole purpose is to provide linking between a series of product placements and occasionally resembles an interactive Twitter or Vine tutorial. The movie is classifiable as "comedy" only because it is NOT a drama or a tragedy but it cannot squeeze out a single laugh from a person with an average sense of humor. There is some bad acting there as well, quite understandably, since there is nothing to act.

If you want to watch a smart and entertaining foodie movie, the best so far in my opinion is "Dinner Rush" (2001), an independent feature film, written by Brian S. Kalata and Rick Shaughnessy,
and directed by Bob Giraldi.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

TV: The Emmy Awards 2014

The biggest joke of the night: J. Margulies winning the Best Actress Award in the company of Claire Danes and Robin Wright.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Books: Biographie de la faim, A Novel by Amelie Nothomb, AKA The Life of Hunger, 2004

The Independent called the book a "memoir of a megalomaniac" and I can't agree more. Who would not stop talking about herself and her childhood as if it is something so exceptional that every detail deserves attention. Can't understand authors that consider their childhood memories worth sharing with the world. And, yet, I would read Knausgaard childhood memories...What makes Nothomb's childhood memories so annoying is that sugar-syrup-dripping cuteness and narcissism that lives in every single page. Even the self-deprecating statements ("I am ugly and have a big head") make a claim for exceptionalism. And why would I want to learn that she was finishing the glasses of champagne (such an exquisite taste at three!) of the guests of her "diplomat" father? This book is as annoying as the self-indulgent banter of a smart-ass child who has been told many times (by her parents) that she is so smart and so cute.
Unfortunately, there are still some guests lingering and watching the infantile woman play cute. The French reading audience amazes me. The woman with the big hat is their cult figure! No wonder Michel Houellebecq emigrated to Ireland.

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