Nov 30, 2012

November recap

I really don't know how November passed so quickly...again! It just seems like time is running out, hurrying to get somewhere and is not stopping for anyone. Maybe I am just getting older!

Anyway, November, for me, was...uneventful! I did do a lot of reading and spend some days at the mountain side, where I relaxed, but no big developments, although I am now involved in an interesting project! At least I know the second half of December will be interesting!

Before we enter the month of snow, presents and carols, here's my list for November:

Movies 10
James Bond 007: Skyfall [2012]
Like Crazy [2011]
Argo [2012]
Expendables [2010]
Sound of my voice [2011]
Breaking Dawn 1 [2011]- re-watch
Breaking Dawn 2 [2012]
Ruby Sparks [2012]
The Mask of Zorro [1998] re-watch
Cloud Atlas [2012]

Books 10 (The Mortal Instruments series- 5 books, The Infernal Devices series- 2 books, and some other infamous, unimportant, rather embarrassing books...but still, all in English, so that must count for something, right?)

What have you been up to? Any plans for December?

I wish you all a lovely day and month!

Nov 27, 2012

Sightseers [2012]

Back in September, at the FDA showcase event in London, I had the chance to watch Sightseers, a very interesting, quite distinct film, directed by Ben Wheatley (of Kill List fame), and written by the two leading actors, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. It tells the macabre story of a couple who go on a romantic cross-country trip, only for her to discover Chris is a serial killer.

You have to see Sightseers- it's one of the best, most creative and funny movies I have seen in a while, despite its violence and gory details. The script is a definite highlight of the film- it features realistic and approachable characters in strange, highly unlikely situations, and most of all, it tells a story. What I admired most about the script was the perfect mix between darkness/violence and humor  done in a funny way, but also balancing it properly to create a good film to watch.

One of the other things I liked about Sightseers is the fact we can see a definite transformation, on both accounts, especially personality wise, although the action is also thrilling. The man tries to adapt and hide his condition, but ultimately can't hide back his true nature, while the woman starts as an innocent person, who is faced with a horrifying truth and has to decide what to do next- her future actions are quite shocking. The two actors, Alice and Steve, work perfectly together and deliver their lines in a fun to watch manner, the dialogue and setting making it unmistakably British. Side note- favorite line: "he's not a person, love, he's a Daily Mail reader".

From a filmmaking point of view, I thought it was well-made and realistically portrayed a violent nature of humankind, knowing when to shock and when to hold back, especially when it came to the actual deaths. I did find the slow motion use for the dramatic scenes a bit weird at the beginning, but I got used to it by the end.

Sightseers is one of this years' best British films, in both story and characters, and I highly recommend it- I enjoyed myself and I hope you will, too.

Nov 23, 2012

Ruby Sparks [2012]

Ruby Sparks is a 2012 comedy written by Zoey Kazan about a writer to creates a perfect woman character who loves him, and somehow transforms her into reality. Directed by the talented duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, it stars Paul Dano as Calvin, the young prodigy who creates Ruby Sparks (Zoey Kazan) on paper, the seemingly perfect woman for him. It's a sweet, unconventional, very funny and interesting love story that it's worth seeing. 

One of the key strong points of the movie was definitely the script, one that perfectly blends humor with love and deeper themes like loneliness, selfishness, desire and control. Zoe Kazan, a first time writer, I think (I may be wrong), does a good job in creating a story with heart and delivering realistic lines of dialogue and characters (such as the girl who gives Calvin her number and then meets up with him at the coffee shop, or his brother), but mixing it with a little bit of fantasy and quirkiness (the parents, the idea of making Ruby come true and others).  There are many things that I loved about the film and I don't know a better way than just write them down, one by one. And so, I loved: 

- the first scene and the lighting
- the more practical older brother (Chris Messina)- "women are mysterious creatures"
- the therapist- "I love it when you say stupid things"
- the scene describing Ruby
- the mother and her Spanish partner (Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas) and their quirky house 
- the acting all around, especially Paul Dano
- " you're real"
- "I want to be what's making her happy, without me being the one who's making her happy"

The last part of the film was a bit surprising for me and I think that made me reconsider my whole opinion on it. Although it is a fun movie, it wasn't afraid to go dark and explore the bad side of Calvin, with his need of control and love. At some point it gets too far and that scene where he makes her do so many crazy things definitely proves that. This set me off and the ending felt the same because, well...because it was sweet and...too good to be true? Maybe it was just me, but considering the innovative and interesting way it was written, I had expected more, but then again, it is a Hollywood movie...

In the end, I think it is one of 2012's best and you should see it- a nice, funny indie that dares to go deeper and darker, in a creative and sweet way. Please do see Ruby Sparks!

Something is missing...maybe the end was unsatisfactory

Nov 19, 2012

Breaking Dawn I & II [2011 & 2012]

Last week, my sister took me to see Breaking Dawn I & II, as she is a big fan of the books and series (she is 7 years older than me). I didn't like the first part last year, but I said OK now just to see how things will develop and have a clear view on the whole situation. After the screenings, I can still say I don't like BD1, but 2 is a rather good ending to a very successful franchise.

Breaking Dawn 1 starts with the illustrious wedding, which was done in a very tasteful, beautiful way- I loved the dress and the very awkward speeches, but the dialogue was still incredibly cheesy. They obviously consume their honeymoon, and Bella soon realizes she is pregnant, which, with a vampire being the baby daddy, it's practically impossible. The rest of the movie consists of Bella getting worse by the day as she refuses to give up the baby that is slowly killing her. As expected, it ends with the birth of Renesmee and Bella as a new vampire.

Why I didn't enjoy it? Although I understand why they split the book in two movies, the second half of BD1 still dragged on, even though they cut a lot of scenes. On another note, as usual, I really didn't like the dialogue and its delivery by the actors- it's weird, because I loved the book and on paper it was better than what it sounded on screen. Still, the supporting characters were downright hilariously bad, especially Jackson Rathbone and Kellan Lutz, and their look is still unconvincing. High points? Wedding, honeymoon, Bella's look and the transformation into vampire.

Breaking Dawn 2 was much better, which was curious, considering it was directed by the same man and in the same time as 1- maybe the story moved a little faster than the first part. But don't think I loved it, because I still found many flaws to it- let's just say I liked it overall and it gave a nice ending to a series of books I used to love. BD2 follows the Cullen family in their happy days as the young girl grows and Bella gets used to her new state, but the clouds come in when the Volturi find out about the child and decide to kill her. The ending features a violent fight between the Cullen's friends and the Volturi clan, which has a surprising turn that I quite liked. The last scene is, of course, very romantic and a sweet wrap-up of the now famous love story.

I know most men will hate BD2, but I thought it was fine. It was slightly better than most Twilight films on all accounts and the fight scene was very cool, including its conclusion. If I could object to one thing, and that could apply to all the franchise movies, is the hair and make-up of the vampires- they never ever got it right (with the exception of Robert Pattinson, of course, and Kristen Stewart in the last one), it all looked absolutely horrible and cheesy.

Should you see Breaking Dawn 2? Well, if you watched all previous 4, than yes, you should, just to see how it all ends, no matter how painful in might be. If you skipped through Twilight films, and saw just one or two, just forget it, it's probably not for you.

Nov 15, 2012

Sound of my voice [2011]

Sound of My Voice is a Brit Marling movie (written, acted and produced by her) about a cult revolved around a young woman who claims to be from the future. Peter Aitken, a late 20s guy, infiltrates into the group with his girlfriend, Lorna, in order to make a documentary about Maggie, the mysterious woman, and show to the world she is just a fraud. The situation changes when he is suddenly attracted and intrigued by Maggie, in spite of his earlier doubts.

One of the things I love most about Brit Marling is her ability to create such curious stories, with sometimes unbelievable ideas (mostly science fiction), that blend together and form a type of film that you are, without realizing, drawn into and inexplicably fascinated of, although it doesn't seem that interesting on a first glance. This story has a little bit of everything: drama, mystery, character development, philosophy, and sci fi, but what ties it together is the performances of the main actors, Marling, Denham (Peter Aitken) and Vicius (Lorna).

Christopher Denham, playing Peter, the man who is keen to show the true Maggie to the world, is quite the revelation, as he suffers the biggest transformation, all starting to change after the absolutely fantastic scene of the apple, my favorite. Nicole Vicius offers an equally great performance, as the girlfriend who takes the exact opposite path to Peter: she starts up intrigued by her, almost believing, but ends up plotting against her. But hands down, the best part was played by Brit Marling, the very talented woman who is simply mesmerizing- I don't know if it's just looks or something else completely, but she draws attention in every form and gives a credible and sometimes realistic performance. I expect great things from her in the future.

One of the reasons I wasn't overly excited about Another Earth (her previous film) was the directing, but Sound of my voice is much better, and as a whole, it works and looks very good. I loved the part where she told her story, or the first time we see them taking all the precautions to get to the safe house, and especially, the apple and confession scene, fantastically played by both Denham and Marling. As for the ending, I equally loved it and hated it- it made you realize that maybe she is not lying and is from the future, but also it made you imagine the next step for Peter- will he follow her or not? will he help her escape or not? will he believe her?

So yes, you do have to see Sound of My Voice, because of the script and because of Marling's mesmerizing performance and talent in all accounts. I recommend it and hope you'll like it, too!

Nov 12, 2012

Argo [2012]

Last week, on its first day of release in Romanian cinemas, I went to see Argo, Ben Affleck's latest directorial and acting effort. Written by Chris Terrio and based on a true story, it tells the story of 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. It's a very well made film that has mostly high points, although it is not as perfect as some might say.

The true story set in the 1979/1980s recalls the conflict between the US and Iran over the extradition of former Iranian leader, which led to a hostage situation and even a revolution in the Arabic country, and that's the main trigger of the script. Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, comes in as an extraction specialist to help get out 6 embassy employees who managed to get out of the building before the people marched in and took control. As much as it is a suspense and thriller story, it is also an emotional one, and the end will keep you on your toes on all accounts. The screenplay is quite good and manages to mix different themes and characters without creating confusion or being too cliche. Maybe this where the movie's success lies in, in the interesting and qualitative combination of story, character development and emotional deliverance, one that has proven hard to accomplish lately in cinema.

But things aren't perfect all the way through; one thing that I particularly didn't like was Affleck's direction. It felt, in most cases, too dynamic, too fast, and it did not have a clean and fluid shooting style- some scenes were rather hard and visually tiring to watch. I know he is mentioned in many awards predictions of Best Director, but I think there are better ones on the list that should have the prize. Other than that, the rest of the filmmaking elements were pretty good, especially the score and cinematography, but also the set design.

Casting wise, Argo was flawless. I, personally, thought Ben Affleck was a better actor than director here, although I have seen better performances from him in previous years. I also don't get why people are pushing Alan Arkin for a Supporting category; if it would be my choice, I would go for either Bryan Cranston or John Goodman, these two shined much more than him. The actors portraying the 6 embassy employees were also well chosen and I particularly loved the woman playing Cora Lijek, Clea DuVall.

Since we are already talking about awards, I can definitely see it nominated for Best Picture, Director (although I don't agree), Cast, maybe Script, and I can see it being a worthy candidate for Best Picture, most likely.

Argo is a very well made film that deserves all the attention is getting, but it is not the masterpiece some are claiming it to be. It is a film that will appeal to many and I wouldn't mind it that much for it to win Best Picture, it would be a safe and predictable choice. Definitely see it!

Nov 8, 2012

Beyond the Hills [2012]

Cristian Mungiu's second film, after the acclaimed 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, is yet another drama, this time, with an even more interesting, tragic theme: religious fanaticism and exorcism in orthodox churches. Based on a true story written by Tatiana Niculescu Bran, it is, as expected, a bleak, yet extremely well made and fascinating film, that you must see. It tells the story of Alina, a woman who comes back to Romania to take Voichita, her best friend from childhood, with her in Germany to work, but realizes that the young girl is not the same person, as Voichita is now living in a monastery and is deeply religious. She tries to convince her otherwise, but the situation gets out of hand when Alina suddenly gets sick and starts scaring people around her, especially the nuns and priest.

Most would argue that one of the highlights of the film is definitely the script- it did, after all, win the Best Screenplay award in Cannes-but I am not that convinced, although I do think it is very well written. What I admired and loved about Mungiu's script most was that he didn't take sides or focus on a specific theme or idea: he didn't actually pinpoint the fact that it was a mental problem, or it was really the need for an exorcism; he didn't show us a clear relationship type between the two women- they could have been friends or lovers or something else entirely. And he didn't blame it directly on something- that is what impressed me the most: Mungiu let us believe and interpret the actions in our own way, according to our own beliefs, and I believe that is not only a wise thing to do, but a difficult one, as well, and he should be celebrated for it.

I think the script maybe wouldn't have been such a success if not for the performances of the two leading ladies: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. They not only had great chemistry with each other, but with the other actors, as well, but they individually shined, as two completely different people, both equally complex and troubled. Alina, played by Cristina Flutur, is the more direct, strong type of girl, but who now faces a sad, even depressive moment in her life, as she feels lonely and misguided, and that's why she comes back after her friend. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), on the other hand, is a shy, kind and static type of person, who only wants to help and be peaceful, and she thinks she has found that with God and the monastery, a situation that Alina does not understand. This situation creates a tension between the girls, but also in themselves, as Alina tries to come to grips with Voichita's change, while the younger woman wants to make her friend follow her lead. Both were challenged in different ways, as they faced horrible decisions and facts; in the end, it was Voichita who had the power to change Alina's fate, but didn't or she did, but much too late. It may be a little confusing for you now, as you read it, but after you see the movie, you will understand- I just don't want to give too much away. Let's just saw that Stratan and Flutur are well worth of their acting award in Cannes, as they gave one of the year's best performances.

Moving on to the filmmaking part, I can say that Cristian Mungiu's typical direction visibly evolved in a more mature, complex way, but still having its visually appealing traits like the wide and close-up shots, or following the individual with camera from behind, and rather unusual shot frames. It worked for 432 and it definitely works here, maybe even better than his first feature. There are also some interesting and sometimes funny shots in Beyond the Hills, like the nuns transporting the girl to the church, or the scene in the end, in the car. He is fast becoming one of my favorite directors out there, alongside Steve McQueen, who I find to have a similar style of directing. 

As for the other elements, I loved the cinematography, and again, the sets and costumes, as they were completely realistic and well done. Not much of a score (maybe none at all), but trust me, the film will not bore you- the tension is there most of the time and the script helps it move forward in an interesting way. 

Talking to other people about it, I noticed one thing that could cause a problem for viewers, especially non-Romanians. I have been told that there are many subtleties, many small details and knowledge factors that could confuse people, as they are not familiar with the religion or the customs here, and I have to say, I agree, in some parts. That doesn't mean that the script alone, or the relationships and actions revealed are enough to make the film a fantastic one, but you should know it's not as easy to see as an American one, for example.

Overall, Beyond the Hills is yet another big accomplishment, not only of Cristian Mungiu, but also of the Romanian cinema, and I am proud of it. I hope you will like it, too, and I urge you to see it. Just like you saw A Separation last year, or White Ribbon years before that, see this one- it might be an Oscar Foreign Language nominee- at least I hope it will.

Nov 3, 2012

James Bond 007: Skyfall [2012]

Skyfall is the newest James Bond installment, directed by Sam Mendes, based on the Ian Fleming characters and written for screen by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. After a failed mission, Bond disappears and is believed dead, until he shows up in M's house, after a bomb attack in the MI6 headquarters. The film follows Bond's efforts to keep M safe, but also to reconnect with a secret agent lifestyle he no longer wants.

I must say I was impressed with Skyfall, I was expecting worse, for some reason. There are few flaws to it, and mostly everything ties up together in a very sleek, action-packed and dramatic way, that works very well on screen. I think one of the strongest points of the movie was definitely the script, in my opinion. Firstly, I loved the fact that we got to see a vulnerable side of Bond- he is human, after all, and Skyfall proved that in more than one occasion. Secondly, I admired the fact that, this time around, the females were not omnipresent or didn't form the obligatory storyline- there was no unnecessary love story, something that usually downgrades or takes the focus out of the Bond franchise's scripts. I also liked the M storyline and the fact that it wasn't an action-based plot, with bombs and unheard of gadgets- it was based on characters, relationships and feelings, and it had meaning and reason. One last thing I will mention, script-wise, is the introduction to Ben Wishaw's Q, but also Fiennes' upcoming presence in the Bond franchise- they don't have too much to do in Skyfall, and their presence wasn't that noticeable, but I think we can expect more from them in the future films.

The script also provided very interesting characters and I loved the fact that we could see a clear development of them, in a good or bad way. It's not often you see Bond in a vulnerable state, miserable and drunk, and you also don't usually see M react in an emotional way. Both Daniel Craig and Judi Dench gave wonderful performances and I think they helped rise Skyfall to another level. The villain, played by Javier Bardem, was in accordance to the story and provided exactly what it was needed- a deranged, intelligent, with seemingly logical reasons, but most definitely a mad person, who is capable of the worst and who doesn't fear away of anything. Bardem was spot on for his character, although his hair made me chuckle the first time I saw him on screen; but that really doesn't matter and certainly, it doesn't take away the fact that he can play a villain like no one else can.

From a filmmaking point of view, it was very well done. The direction and cinematography suited the secret agent world and there were some standout scenes that were a delight to watch: the sneaking up on the mercenary in Shanghai, the deserted town part, and my favorite, the sunset/night scenes in Scotland- those were fantastically done. I enjoyed the action scenes and I thought they were beautifully executed, without the usual exaggeration in this types of situations, plus the score helped set the tone and make things move in a much more dynamic and appealing way. Adele's theme was the perfect match for the opening sequence, and it was much better than I originally thought and heard- her voice and the dramatic sound of it definitely suits this type of movie. The sets and costumes were great, and London being in the spotlight was a highlight for me- I loved seeing some of the tube stations and places in town, but a touch of melancholy hit me, as well: I miss it so much!

I came into the theater expecting a good popcorn movie and I ended up enjoying myself much more than I thought. It isn't top 10 for 2012 material, but it sure is a great movie that I highly recommend you see in cinemas. I hope you will enjoy Skyfall as much as I did!