Mar 29, 2012

There will be blood [2007]

After I saw Little Miss Sunshine last week and was pleasantly surprised by Paul Dano's performance, I decided to watch him in another movie, so this one seemed the perfect answer, as I had it on my list for a long time.

"Ladies and gentlemen", There Will Be Blood is a 2007 written&directed film by Paul Thomas Anderson, about an oilman and his trials and tribulations. Daniel Day Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a simple, yet very smart guy who works his way into every little town with potential for oil drilling. When he reaches Little Boston, an area suggested by a young, peculiar man named Paul Sunday on a late night, both luck and trouble come his way and influence his actions, as he strives to get more oil from the ground, but also tries to keep his dignity and his son close to him.

I was impressed and excited by several aspects of this amazing movie. First of all, the performances. By now, you should know I am a sucker for character development, interesting or just plain good performances and There Will Be Blood had it, and then some. Two stand out for me and these are Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano. The lead man was perfect from the first shot to the very last, showing, one by one, the multiple layers of this fascinating man: his smart side, the caring side (whenever he was around children), the fighter in him or the careless, old, drunken ghost of his successful career; he won an Oscar for this part and it is deserved, indeed. As for Paul Dano, I might be biased, but I think he was absolutely amazing, being quite a revelation as the young pastor with a creepy, but very powerful presence- not only did he stand up and match Lewis' performance, but he dared to act his part in ways not most people do. There are some scenes that prove that: the first church scene, when he performs an "exorcism", the fight between the two on the field, the baptize part (DDL saying "I am a sinner" plus the first words after, supposedly, the devil left him: "There's a pipeline"), the table discussion between Eli and his father, and the most important one, the final scene in the bowling alley room- that just entered my all time favorite scenes list and I will definitely do a separate post just for it.

That leads us to the script; based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, it provides just enough dialogue, drama, action, character and story development, to keep things going and make it more interesting as things progress- solid job by Mister Anderson here, as well.

Another beautiful aspect is, of course, the cinematography. That, combined with probably one of the best musical scores I have ever heard, takes the movie to the next level. The haunting score makes up for a certain lack of dialogue, especially at the beginning or in key scenes and visually, everything is just perfect. (one scene that I remember is the gas explosion) I love Paul Thomas Anderson's style- Boogie Nights is still stuck in my head and I cannot wait to see Magnolia (yes, kill me now, I haven't seen that, either, but I will, promise).

All in all, There Will Be Blood is a fantastic movie that cannot be missed- I highly recommend it. If I will ever make a top 50 or top 100, it would be surely be there.

Mar 26, 2012

Hunger Games [2012]

Hunger Games is a trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins about a dystopian world and a girl who is forced to compete against 23 other kids her age, until only one survives.

Now, I am writing this review of the Hunger Games, firstly, as a reader of the books, and secondly, as a film viewer. Just to let you in on my take of the trilogy, I will say that the 1st novel is very good, it sets the mood, introduces the characters and it's a real page turner; the 2nd one is just as slow at the beginning, but after the 1/3 of it or by the middle, it picks up the pace and introduces great new individuals (like Finnick) and provides another page turning experience- I can't wait to see the film; the 3rd one is very disappointing for me and I do not look forward to watching it on the big screen, with the exception of some scenes.

As a fan of the books, you can understand my excitement previous to the screening of the film- I had heard so many great things about it and I love the casting, so normally, I had rather high expectations. After seeing it, I have to say it didn't fully rise to the occasion, at least not in my eyes.

Now, don't get me wrong- it is a very good movie, well made, with perfect casting, a good visual representation of the story, Panem and its characters, and faithful to the book. 

BUT, it did have some weak points that I can't just get over. First of all, the shaky camera- I knew it was a problem because this topic came up in every review I read, so I was aware of it; I agree it was a little annoying at times, although I understand the use of it, mainly to support the idea of reality TV.

Second of all, considering it's a teen movie and especially, after observing the soundtrack list before hand, I thought the music would be amazing, but it wasn't- I don't remember any of the songs; it was mostly orchestral and poorly used. 

My biggest problem was the lack of emotional depth....I could not connect with the story or the characters, even if I tried, and that just ruined the experience for me. Script wise, it was very faithful to the book; it added interesting new scenes (especially those between Seneca and Snow), and cut out the unnecessary ones (too many Capitol preparations), but it all felt very robotic, like scene A, switch to scene B....nothing made me cry or have an unusual reaction (the only moments I can exclude from this would be one of the tribute deaths and the cave scene; the second one just because I loved it so much in the book). How can you not transport that raw emotion and excitement that the book transmits from the beginning, to the big screen? Where did Gary Ross mess up? I am very curious- I can't figure out what he did or didn't do to make me jump off my seat or connect with the actor's performances.

Speaking of which, I thought the cast did a great job- I liked every one and not for a second did I think "Oh, that guy is not right for the part" or "They should have gone with X". Jennifer Lawrence delivers the best performance, considering she has the most screen time, and has good chemistry with the two male leads and the girl playing Rue. I, unlike some (or most) critics and bloggers out there, liked Josh Hutcherson, playing Peeta, because not only did he understood the character and portrayed it just like it was in the book, but also because of his charm, sweetness and likability factor. He is not your typical handsome Hollywood star and yes, he is short, but that is why all the girls love him- he is approachable and a genuine nice guy- you will notice that in interviews.  I was pleasantly surprised by Lenny Kravitz as Cinna- not an obvious choice (if you read the books), but very good anyway; another one of my favorites has to Woody Harelson- he just is Haymitch and I can't wait to see him in the other movies, as well. Stanley Tucci stands out as Caesar Flickerman, providing the most laughs, and a special mention must be given to Wes Bentley and his Seneca Crane beard (why isn't he in more movies?).

Overall, I think it is worth spending your money on a ticket, for many reasons:
1.Go with the flow and watch the movie that every one is talking about.
2.It is a faithful adaptation of a great book.
3.The cast is diverse, talented and  provides good performances
4.The capitol and Game center offers a new perspective of a possible world and is interesting to watch
5.Jennifer Lawrence in a role that will propel her to superstar level, and this time, she deserves it (*cough* Kristen Stewart)
6.Move over Robert Pattinson, with your brooding, sad looks- welcome Josh Hutcherson, the sweet, next door guy who will win millions of hearts all around the world with his charm and smile. I heard a lot of people calling him a wuss or stupid or silly, and I understand where they are all coming from, but I also know why little girls will love him. I'm in the middle here!

The book is entertaining, raw and powerful, it offers more emotional depth, and the feeling you get while reading the book is ten times better and more appealing than the film experience. But, I think that a second viewing is beneficial, at least for me- I have a feeling I will like it even more and understand and feel the story better. I never watch a movie in theaters more than once, but I might, this time. Still undecided.

Sunday night, after the first weekend, the box office number are huge- the 3rd biggest opening weekend ever, with over $150 millions domestically and $214 million world wide- it's safe to say we have a new Twilight-like phenomenon, but trust me, this one is worth giving it a try. Coming out of the theater, I realized almost all of the teenage girls were talking and gushing over Hutcherson- at one point, I passed by a group of 10-12 year-old girls who were jumping up and down, sharing their enthusiasm over Peeta.

I'm not saying Hunger Games is amazing and I am not giving it a 10/10- it sure has its flaws, but I do think it can't be missed. Hunger Games, in theaters now!

Mar 23, 2012

Little Miss Sunshine [2006]

"A real loser is somebody that is so afraid of not winning, they don't even try"

*SPOILERS ahead, beware*

I am so happy I eventually got to see Little Miss Sunshine yesterday; it was one of the sweetest movies I have ever seen, full of hope and life and power, all whilst being entertaining, but also providing a strong emotional connection and relatable characters. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Michael Arndt, it follows the Hoover family into their journey to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant contest in California, where Olive, the youngest, desperately wants to compete.

I loved the fact that they started it by presenting every character with one short scene that perfectly captures the essence of each one; the song, "The winner is" by Devotchka, is amazing and quietly stalks my memories every time I think about the film.

Moving on to the actual story, it is a very interesting one, as it mixes drama, regrets, sarcasm and hate, with love, support, power and sensibility. You have delicate themes like suicide, drugs, divorce, but they are balanced with different sweet moments, like the innocence and determination of Olive, the pep talk Edwin gave to his son, Richard, after he lost his job, or the moment where Dwayne tells Olive to hug his mom. There are some laughing out loud scenes (pushing the car, getting the body out of the window, the final dance), but also some dramatic ones that were perfectly acted; two come in mind here: the table discussion about Frank's attempt to suicide and Dwayne freaking out after he found out he is colorblind (the way he couldn't contain himself inside the car, that build up to the moment in which you knew he was going to scream, and the actual moment, was just brilliant).

My favorite scene has to be the dance at the end, where all the family joins the little girl on stage, in an attempt to protect and encourage her- it has to be one of the most embarrassing, yet hilarious and fun scenes I have watched in a long time. In the end, although there is tension between them, they still love and support each other, no matter what. The script was just fantastic and I am so happy it got the Oscar, it is deserved.

The true magic of this story lies in the characters; they are defined, relatable, interesting; they are people with whom you can create an emotional connection, and most important, they seem real, although they have their little quirky features- you still get attached to them, and that is the best thing a script, actually a film, can hope for. What an array of individuals: the always-complaining grandfather (wonderfully played by Alan Arkin, but Oscar-worthy?hmm...maybe, maybe not), the Nietzche-silenced teenage boy (Paul Dano, with probably the best performance of the film for me, at least, just for that freaking out scene), the success-driven father who hates losers (Greg Kinnear), a mother trying to keep her family together (Toni Collette) and her suicidal brother (Steve Carrel, in his best role yet), and of course, Little Miss Sunshine herself, Olive (Abigail Breslin), who steals the spotlight with her innocence, sweetness and perverence. They are all wonderful and I love their interaction with eachother- the casting was perfect.

As you can see, I can't stop gushing over it, and I might have run out of compliments to give- this movie is that good, and I really hope you saw it or you will see it soon! Amongst a sea of thriller, horror and action movies or tragic dramas, this refreshing comedy/drama stands out and commands attention. I wish more films similar to this one would be made each year!

Mar 21, 2012

True Grit [2010] and future plans

The fourth Coen brothers movie on my list was their latest, True Grit, released in 2010, and based on a novel by Charles Portis (and another movie starring John Wayne) which is new for me, because all the films I saw were written by them, not adapted. [was Fargo adapted or just based on a true story? I can't remember; anyway]. It tells the story of Mattie Ross, a stubborn 14 year old girl who hires an old, mean sheriff to revenge the death of her father, by catching and surrendering Tom Chaney, the murderer, to the authorities. What's the catch? She is going with him into the land of the Indians.  

Again, this film is very different from the other Coens pics and I love that; you never know what to expect from the brothers in terms of storyline, but you know you will always get amazing cinematography, great dialogue, strong characters and peculiar situations and people. True Grit falls perfectly into those lines and turns out to be an entertaining movie, with good intentions, multiple layers and good old time action and fun, to top the visually beautiful scenes and the great acting. 

Speaking of it, the casting is fantastic, especially when it comes down to the two leads, Reubeun Cogburn, played by Oscar winner Jeff Bridges, and Mattie Ross, played by the young Hailee Steinfeld, who, weirdly enough, was nominated for awards in the Supporting role category- her part was as lead as a role can be (stupid phrasing, but you get my point). Matt Damon did his job, but I found his character and his portrayal of it to be a little annoying and exaggerated. 

I liked the fact that the film was pretty straight-forward, tough, with attitude and funny, sarcastic lines, and I especially loved the sequence of scenes at the end- Mattie being attacked, the appearance of Cogburn and La Boeuf, shooting at 120 m, falling etc etc; it was exciting, fun to watch and nicely done. 

True Grit was a very good movie that I enjoyed. If you will ever do a Coens marathon or plan to see some of their movies or if you just like westerns or if just like good movie or if you like Jeff Bridges/Matt Damon/Josh Brolin- get this film now and see it, you will not be dissappointed!

Overall, the Coens marathon was a huge surprise for me- I did not expect to like their movies so much! Each one is unique, with distinctive features and qualities, but all have several key points that make the project better every time, and by now, if you have read my posts, you know them: script, characters, casting, cinematography- any film who excels in these points can be called a great one, so I guess it's safe to say the Coens always do an amazing job! They are now in my favorite directors, but mostly scriptwriters, category, and I can't wait to see Inside Llewyn Davis (written and directed by them, now filming in New York, with Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman), and Gambit, set to be released in 2012, written by the brothers, but directed by Michael Hoffman.

If you're curious about future plans, I plan to do a mini Herzog marathon soon, and then a huge Stanley Kubrick one, with, hopefully, all of his movies (I sure need to watch them, it's embarrassing how many I haven't seen already). Honestly, I have to admit, I am terrified by Herzog, especially his earlier, feature film work, as I saw some trailers and synopsis and they don't seem something I would particularly enjoy, but I will be brave and try- maybe it's not so bad!

So, tell me, did you like my Coen brothers posts? what do you suggest I should do next? any (light) recommendations for the Herzog marathon? 

Mar 19, 2012

A Serious Man [2009]

My third choice for the Coens marathon was "A Serious Man", their 2009 film about the complicated life of a Jewish physics teacher. I have to admit I am not familiar with the religion, so forgive me if I make any mistakes....or actually, if I don't touch upon that topic at all.

Let's start with the beginning- what did it mean? why was that scene there? What is the connection between evil lurking a family or superstition and the story of Larry Gopnik? I can see a faint relationship between the two, but still, that scene was unnecessary for me.

The story of "A serious man" is pretty simple: a man burdened with many problems who seem to appear all at the same time, making him feel confused, saddened, desperate and in search of answers, answers which he tries to get from three different Rabbis in age in experience, with no success.  His wife wants to divorce him, although he hasn't done anything wrong and she has already found a replacement; his son is high most of the times and steals money from his sister and father; the daughter is a normal teenager who doesn't give a crap about family or school; one of his students is threatening to sue if he doesn't get a passing grade on his midterm; Larry's brother, Arthur, gets into to trouble because of his betting and other bad habits and the story could continue.

Poor Larry doesn't get a break and I felt for him- I empathized, and I wanted to make everything go away, especially since most of his obstacles were approaching him with high speed and at the same time. How can a person cope with that? You would think Sy's unfortunate ending and Danny's bar mitzvah would make things better, but that wasn't the case. As the first Rabbi said, Larry is "..looking at the world, at (your) wife with tired eyes".

Yet again, the Coens have written a great story with meaning and different layers and subtleties that talk about human nature and life. I loved the idea behind the script, but I felt the ending didn't help too much- maybe that was the point? maybe the ending suggested that these situations don't have an ending and that life isn't easy? My first reaction after seeing it was to be surprised and a little bit angry, as I didn't get it, but now, if I think about it, it does make sense. The two men sure do create weird, yet very intelligent and appealing stories- they're quite special and I love them; in my case, from now on, anything they do, I will see it, as I know I am in for a treat.

Two other great things that I like about their movies are the cinematography and the soundtrack- always on point, always beautiful and appropriate. Also, the casting is amazing each time, they pick the perfect people and I don't know if it makes sense, but it feels like the script and the direction just takes out the best in an actor, it makes them better somehow.

In this film, I loved seeing some familiar faces from my childhood repertoire (movies from the 80s or 90s I used to watch at home, on TV, with my dad), like Richard Kind (Arthur), Adam Arkin (divorce lawyer) or Fred Melamed (Sy). As for the main characters, Michael Stuhlbarg is a class above the others as Larry, the sweet teacher who tries to survive through the "storm"- he was believable, interesting, and I could relate to him; I was a bit shocked to see he wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this role. Another standout was Richard Kind, who played the innocent brother, plus Melamed gave Sy Ableman a touch of craziness that made the role ten times more fun to watch than it was probably on paper.

Overall, I must say I really liked "A serious man" and it's definitely one of my favorite Coen brothers movie. The interesting thing is that each Coen film is so different from one another, especially in storyline, but somehow, each time, it delivers in all points and each one is beautiful and fun to watch. I can't really say which one I like more, they are special in their own way and all deserve attention. I'm very intrigued by these filmmakers, as they are truly distinctive in the cinema world.

Last stop (probably): True Grit- review coming soon! [I already saw Old country for old men and don't plan to revisit it soon]

Mar 17, 2012

Florence and the Machine

Right now, I am pretty much obsessed about Florence and the Machine, which is a famous British act that I love with all my heart- their sound is beautiful, majestic, but sometimes peaceful and serene, and Florence's Welsh voice is out of this world (it can go so high and her vibrato is very interesting). I like the fact that their music is written by them and it always has hidden meaning or it is written in metaphors, with lovely lyrics, certainly better composed than the hip hop or pop songs of our days.

The name can be confusing for some: Florence started the band with a female DJ (which she called herself the Machine), but after a while she was gone, and so now The Machine is basically her backup band, containing guitarist, pianist/keyboards, harp player, choir and sometimes an orchestra. Other sources claim that Isabella Summers, her pianist, is actually the Machine...either way, now, the Machine is the band behind her.

So far, they (she?) have released two albums: Lungs and Ceremonials. Although I am not very familiar with the first one (I do love some songs from it), Ceremonials is just fantastic; most of it is breathtaking and has one of the most special sounds I have ever heard. You should really listen to it!

Recently, I had the pleasure of going to see Florence the Machine in concert, with the help of my friends, who gave me a ticket for it for my birthday. It was, by far, one of the most amazing concert experiences I have ever had. Held in Alexandra Palace, a large, spacious building on the hills of London, it featured a choir, an orchestra, visual effects, great lighting and amazing music. As I said, I love their music, and I was so happy to be able to sing along 90% of their songs, as I knew most of them. Florence's voice is stunning and sometimes she sounds like an angel; it feels surreal just listening to her. Yes, sometimes her voice cracks or she goes too high and it sounds wrong, but honestly, even that is part of her charm, and I don't mind!

Favorite songs: You've got the love, Dog days are over, My boy builds coffins, Cosmic Love, No light,no light, Shake it up, Only if for the night, Leave my body, Water gave me and my latest obsession is Never let me go.

Below you'll find some peculiar videos of Florence and the Machine

- Florence and Robert (her guitarist) playing You've got the love in an abandoned zoo

- A rare, old, but very sweet and informative video of early F&tM singing My Boy builds coffins in the park (watch the intro as well)

- Dog days are over at Glastonbury Festival in 2010- wait til the second part of the video and watch the audience's reaction (it must feel so amazing for an artist to see that)

- Florence and the Machine covering Drake ft Rihanna- Take care [you will be surprised, it's very good]

Let me know if you like Florence and the Machine and what songs are your favorites in the comments!

p.s. My Coen Brothers mini marathon continues tomorrow or Monday, stay tuned!

Mar 16, 2012

7x7 Link Award

Anna, the very smart girl behind the Defiant Success blog, gave me this award, a very cool  one, which is similar to a “tag it” post/game.

Rules are as followed:
      - Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.
Well, you might find this weird, but I like spending time alone in my room, just listening to music or quietly surfing the internet! You could call me a loner, but I do get bored after a couple of days and always feel the need to go out, see people, talk! So yeah, I do hang out with friends, but I don’t mind spending time alone, either!

-         -  Link to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-Worthy Piece.

Interesting. Here it goes:
*I have to say that I don’t really trust my Google dashboard and analytics- there’s always something fishy there, so I can’t really say these are right (I am referring to my most popular or most surprisingly successful piece)
** It was hard choosing some links, as I don’t think I have helpful pieces or controversial ones, but I will try to come up with something

Most Beautiful Piece: Beautiful? Hmm... let’s just say the one that I liked writing and I thought it turned out good. Besides the last two I will mention later one (pride-worthy), I would have to go with the post about We need to talk about Kevin
Most Helpful Piece:  Uhm, I don’t know! The Saturday Night Live post? Or the one about On the Road trailer?
Most Popular Piece:  Weirdly enough, right now, it’s the Oscar live-blogging, but I think it’s just because of the pictures! Close by, the On the Road trailer discussion
Most Controversial Piece:  This one is tough...I have no idea! Nothing really interesting happens on the comment box in my blog. If I have to mention something, I would say maybe the Cronenberg posts? Or the awards talk? Or On the road?
Most Surprisingly Successful Piece: Carnage and The Blue Sea have surprisingly high numbers- maybe it’s just because they are smaller films that have got a lot of attention lately
Most Underrated Piece: I loved Shame, and I spent a lot of time writing my review on it, but it seems not a lot of people read it, which is sad, because it was one of favourite posts!
Most Pride-Worthy Piece:  I have two posts I wrote even before starting this blog that I will always remember: A single man and A streetcar named Desire – two movies I loved writing about and who will always be in my top 10 or 20 of all times

-         -  Pass this award on to seven other bloggers.
Gladly passed on to:
Margaret aka Sati- Cinematic corner
Surrender to the void- I don’t know his/her name and if he/she does posts like this, but I love the blog and I would like to see his/her post [Later edit: It's Steven- hello Steven :) ]

Thank you Anna again!

Mar 14, 2012

Fargo [1996]

Continuing my mini marathon of Coen Brothers movies, I decided to go with Fargo, one of their classics and another favorite of many cinephiles out there.

It tells the true story of Jerry, a small town sales executive, who hires two men to kidnap his wife in order to get the money from the ransom, so he can pay off his debts. It all goes wrong fast, as the two do more than they are asked to, and the persistency of Marge Gunderson, a pregnant sheriff  from Brainerd, who desperately tries to solve the murders in her town, leads to a bloody, tragic ending.

Again, the best things in a Coen brothers movie are the characters. Each one is unique, with a special spark, or if not with a spark, at least with a loveable trait or flaw that attracts the viewer, like it or not. Jerry (wonderfully played by William H.Macy) is just a sweet, naive guy, with rather good intentions, if you stop thinking about the kidnapping thing for a moment; he never expected this to happen or the situation to escalate so much- it just shows that people should not believe everything they see in movies (a kidnapping never ends well).

Other two Coen regulars take central stage: Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare (also seen in Big Lebowski and probably others, as well), as the two men who quickly derail off the plan and start shooting people. Although you would think Carl is the slower one, the more reasonable guy, by the end you see he is bad to the bone, but just prefers to keep it calm most of the time. Gaer, on the other hand, is a ruthless killer and isn't afraid to show it or, just I say, not show it. Both gave good performance, although I was more impressed by Peter Stormare; I feel like Buscemi basically plays the same character in almost all his movies, with slight differences.

Of course, the star of the movie is Frances McDormand, who rightfully won an Oscar for her interpretation of Margie Gunderson, a pregnant sheriff who is willing to do anything to learn who are the killers who disrupted the peaceful life of her town, Brainerd. She perfectly mixes the strength and toughness of a cop, with the sweetness and grace of a woman, and most importantly, never gives up and keeps pushing her way through paper work, hookers, phone calls, and uncooperative men. It was so refreshing and surprising to see a woman triumph and catch the bad guy without a kick-ass attitude, stunt work, swearing or mad eyes; she just did her job, in a calm, respectful way, and still managed to come out with the main suspect in hand. I loved that and the more I think about it, the more I love Marge Gunderson as a character: she has spunk, a spark in her eyes, although she is just a simple woman doing her job. Those Coen brothers are amazing in creating memorable individuals.

Another great thing that the script transmitted and I appreciated it, but was saddened by, was the idea of stupidity and superficiality that you can find in small towns like Brainerd or Fargo. These people don't actually think; they go on with their lives without searching for a meaning or asking themselves if what they are doing is the right thing. For them, it's just about putting one foot in front of the other and surviving. Sometimes it makes me go crazy, as I feel they are missing so much, but other times I wish I was just like them. Like Thomas Gray once said, sometimes "Ignorance is bliss". They are just happy in their own indifference and simplicity and you can't argue with that.

Fargo was more serious than Big Lebowski, but it did feature some laughable moments; the number of "Yeah"s spoken during this movie was getting pretty annoying by the middle of it, but I understood, and it gave a sense of reality to the script.

All in all, Fargo is a very good movie, with great characters, a tragic story and a very strong female lead. I really enjoyed it and I recommend it whole heartly! Next Coen movie: A serious man or True Grit (I haven't decided yet)!

Mar 12, 2012

The Big Lebowski [1998]

It's time for a new mini-marathon: the Coen brothers! First in line: The Big Lebowski!

Written by the two famous brothers, and directed by Joel Coen, the movie tells the story of Jeff Lebowski, a careless, lazy guy from LA (who likes to be called Dude), who gets mixed up in a shady business, as the other Jeff Lebowski, his older millionaire alter-ego, asks him to help get his much younger wife back after she is kidnapped. The plan derails and insanity occurs, as everything goes bad, and more people than necessary intervene.

I liked the movie. All the main characters (Dude, Walter, Donny, Maude) are well written and the supporting cast is very entertaining (John Turturro and the Nihilists, with Flea as a member, were particularly funny). I admired the fact that, although the Dudeness seemed like a stupid, lazy, out of this world loser, he was actually the only one who thought straight during those crazy moments and knew something was wrong most of the time; he was smart, smarter than Walter or Donny. Some call this Jeff Bridge's role of a lifetime, one that he will be remembered by his whole career, and I must agree. There is just something about his carefree, chilled, honest performance that makes the film ten times better. John Goodman, as the extreme pacifist, bowler and Lebowski's best friend, was particularly good, giving one of his best performances. I was annoyed most of the time by his character and his stupidity and stubbornness, but he complimented just fine with Jeff Bridges and Steve Buscemi's characters. (p.s. Does Steve Buscemi die in all of his movies? I just saw another Coen brothers film with him, and I know at least 2 or 3 others movies where he has the same fate). Other peculiar individual was Maude, played by Julianne Moore- strange character, weird accent, but she made it work; she always does, Julianne is fabulous in mostly everything. Special mention has to go to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as the assistant of the millionaire, who always shines on screen, for some reason, at least for me, anyway.

The story flows smoothly and offers great laughs and an interesting situation, although I must admit some scenes were a bit off key (Dude's dreams of flying or dancing with Maude). The progressive involvement of third party people, like Maude or Treehorn, was a bit too much and it complicated the story, but it brought some great scenes; the only problem was that, in the end, the mix up was not actually fully explained or resolved, but I guess the Dude doesn't really care enough to want to know, right?  I thought the parking lot segment with the Nihilists was very funny, until that tragic moment, of course, and my favorite scenes are the ones at the bowling area or the one with the ashes.

Overall it was a very good movie and I understand the hype over it. Supported by a great cast and hilarious lines, Big Lebowski is a classic cult movie that should not be missed!

Favorite quotes
"You see what happens, Larry?"
"That rug really tied the room together"
" I still jerk off manually"
"The Dude abides"

p.s. I really want a White Russian now!

Mar 10, 2012

On The Road- the trailer

"The only people that interest me are the mad ones"

If you follow my tweets, you know I love On The Road; you know it is one of my most anticipated movies of 2012 and that I have been following the development of it for more than 2 years.

It all started after I read the book, by Jack Kerouac, and saw immediately after, that it was going to be adapted for the big screen- I had some doubts, as all readers have, but the cast sounded interesting, so I decided not to have any preconceived judgment (and it was hard in Kristen Stewart's case) and just see what happens.

The road to getting this movie on the big screen is very long and extremely interesting. The short version: Jack Kerouac wanted it to be a movie, and even wrote a letter to Marlon Brando, asking him to be Dean Moriarty. Between that time and the beginning of the 2000s it was passed on by many people, although Francis Ford Coppola held the rights ever since 1968.  A lot of big names were considered for the main parts: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Sean Pean and so no. But the people who got the three main roles were basically nobodies in the middle of the 2000s, when they were cast: Sam Riley, Garrett  Hedlund and Kristen Stewart (yes, she was attached to this movie even before Twilight, or very close to the start of the first movie). That's actually one of the problems that On The Road will face: people don't believe in them; most formed an opinion after seeing one movie or franchise and immediately put them in the bad actor category, something that I personally hate and disencourage others to do.

You should all give them a chance to prove to you they are worthy enough of taking on these iconic characters. Why? Because, first of all, they worked their butts off to prepare for the shooting; it wasn't just reading the script and rehearsing three days before, it was much more than that. Garrett Hedlund promised Walter Salles he would not take any other project until the movie was done, and he kept it for at least 2 or 3 years (sorry, but I don't know for sure), until Salles said he should do Tron or other movies, as the producers weren't sure about the state of the production and when it could start. He read the books, he met with Neal Cassidy's family (the actual person Dean Moriarty was based on) and, together with the rest of the main cast, including Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Tom Sturridge, did a Beatnik Boot camp dedicated to that era and the book. You have to understand that most of them were very committed to the project and put a lot of passion in it. [I am sorry if I got any details wrong, but it's 2 am here and I really wanted to write this after the trailer came out; if someone is interested in the topic, I will attach some helpful links about the book, the adaptation and the development process]

The reason I like the book and, consequently, the movie, so much, is because of the story, of the memorable characters, of the vibe and the life and energy it transmits. It's like nothing I have ever read and it is worth picking it up from your local bookstore before seeing the movie.

Now, on to the trailer. First of all, here it is:

My thoughts on it:
- the cinematography is a standout: I think it looks beautiful and I love the colors and the way they shot most of the scenes- visually, it's very appealing!
- Sam Riley's accent is good; not the most American one you have ever heard, but definitely memorable and alluring!
- Garrett Hedlund has the difficult job here- the part of Dean Moriarty is make it or break it! If he pulls it off, it can definitely be an award contender, and from what I have seen it, he might be in the running next year. I might be biased here, he is one of my favorite actors.
- I know 99% of people will roll their eyes when they will see Kristen Stewart, and I know I had these doubts, as well, but it looks good so far; still, the trailer didn't show too much of her character!
- I like the chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund, and the dance scene looks pretty hot! P.S. Garrett Hedlund is actually dating Kirsten Dunst, his other wife in this movie!
- Viggo Mortensen looks like another standout in the brief moments we say him, but then again, he is amazing in every film he is in!
- the supporting cast is dynamite: Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Terence Howard, Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Stewart, Alice Braga and so on!
- just some quick facts about the movie: Jose Rivera (Motorcycle Diaries) penned the script and Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain) composed the score;
- it will, most probably, premiere in Cannes, as its French opening date is 23 or 24 of May!
- what you didn't see in the trailer, but will certainly be in the movie: SEX, and a lot of it! if you read the book, you know what I mean and from what I've heard, it contains a lot of explicit scenes, but I am hoping it won't be slapped with a N17!

Now, it's your turn! Please let me know in the comments what you think! Is it good or bad? What stands out? What strong and weak points does it have? Will you be seeing it in the cinemas when it comes out?

Mar 9, 2012

A dangerous method [2011]

My David Cronenberg mini marathon continued with "A dangerous method" and I was pleasantly surprised, for I saw some interesting differences between his earlier movies and this one.

First of all, the beginning was much more intense and its pace helped get into the story very quickly and start understanding the characters and the situation right away. But, I still knew it was a Cronenberg movie when I realised 16 minutes have passed, but it felt like an hour- how does he do that?

Second of all, the script was better and more diverse, featuring some very introspective and thought-provoking subjects, as expected, since the movie is about the evolution of psychoanalysis. I loved the conversations between Freud and Jung and the experiments, and it was nice to see the interaction between the two doctors, especially when they realised they have opposite opinions, which of course, led to friction and interuption of their friendship- Jung wanted to move forward and research daring topics, whilst Freud never dared to question the wonders of the world around him.

One of the highlights of this film, for me anyway, was Vincent Cassel- his character, Otto Gross, was, by far, one of the most complex and interesting, and his charming presence made the story even more fascinating and appealing. Otto had a great take on monogamy, as he considered it to be a stressful concept and his motto was "Never repress anything" (case in point, his suicidal patient); he also comes up with the brilliant explanation of why Freud is obsessed with sexuality ("He is not getting any"). But, some great things never last long, so he dissapperead rather quickly.

Viggo Mortensen, as Freud, is good, and surprisingly unrecognisable; I wasn't very keen on his performance, mainly because his character doesn't evolve, and his strict mind holds him back. I thought Michael Fassbender was great, but I never stoped to analyse him or think about what he is doing- it felt like he was a driver for the story and for the other individuals, and maybe that is a very good thing. As for Keira Knightley, I still don't know what to think of it- was it exceptionally good or bad? I can't really tell, but overall, she delivered and it fitted the situation; special mention goes to Jung's wife, wonderfully played by Sarah Gadon.

"A dangerous method" is a good movie and one that raises many interesting questions, and for people interested in psycology and psychoanalysis, it will be a treat, but I think most will think of it as being quite boring. I don't recommend it to everyone, but if you have the patience and the willingness to see a movie about these topics, go for it!

Mar 6, 2012

Eastern Promises [2007]

Eastern Promises, my second David Cronenberg movie in a week, is a drama about a midwife who discovers the shocking story of her recently-deceased unknown patient, who gave birth to a child after being raped by a Russian mob man.

To help explain this film, let me just talk about a cake. Just imagine a cake with many layers to it. The first one, on top, doesn't look to good; the colour is too bright, and its taste is rather dissapointing, like they put too much vanilla or rum in the syrup. You get to the second one and it's better: the taste is normal, but still a bit boring and not that good. As you get to the third layer, you find the chocolate, and suddenly you are interested and you want more. The center of it, the caramel, just melts your heart. "Eastern Promises" is very similar to the experience of tasting a cake- the beginning is slow, the English-Russian accents are just plain hilarious and bad, the acting can be over the top, in some situations. Then you get to meet Anna and Nikolai and you start to care, but still it doesn't feel comfortable. When you discover Tatiana's story and Nikolai's actions to spare the uncle or save the prostitute, you understand you are witnessing a character development and the story is becoming more and more interesting. In the core you encounter delicate subjects and shocking revelations, and you start to care about Anna, and the baby and you hope for a happy ending for them and even for Nikolai.

"Eastern Promises" has flaws, even more than "A history of violence", and, as expected, they are similar in some aspects. Both have a running time of less than 2 hours, but seem to last to at least 3 and 1/2. The start is slow and it drags in the middle, but when it hits, it does with such power and shock, that it knocks you down (case in point, the fighting scene in the bath). Both feature strong character, but some of them seem so out of place, so caricaturized, that I don't care as much (Fogarty and Cusack in HoV and Kiril in EP). The obvious flaw that I couldn't stand in "Eastern Promises" was the accent- that is not how Russians talk or act (I know a few); I know it is a movie and they are dramatising the individuals, but it seemed so fake and laughable at times (I liked it more when they were talking in Russian, than the English-with-a-Russian accent conversations).

That being said, some great performances were delivered. Viggo Morgensen was, yet again, very good, and although I did find it hard to believe he was Russian, he embodied Nikolai so well, with such calm, restraint and darkness, that you cannot take your eyes off of him and you even start to care about what happens to him by the end. Another standout was Armin Mueller-Stahl as the head of the family- the sweetest man turned out to be the most ruthless villain and I thought he was brilliant (the only believable character in that story). I didn't empathyze or like Vincent Cassel's character until the very last scene of him, near the water, and I thought he was overacting in most scenes, but I understood him in the end, and sometimes, that matters more than what happens in the first 80 minutes.

"Eastern Promises", is a good movie, but would I recommend it to everyone? Not really, I don't think most would like it. There are too many misses, to really appreciate and love the hits. I liked "A history of Violence" better than this one.

It seems I am in a little Cronenberg marathon, so the next movie I'll see will be A Dangerous Method!

Mar 4, 2012

A history of violence [2005]

David Cronenberg's 2005 movie is interesting. It has its strong points, but some weak ones, as well, but overall, it is good film and projects a cool attitude and very strong characters.

It follows the story of Tom Stall, a small town guy who's peaceful life is disrupted by an act of violence he is forced to do, in order to save the people from his diner, when two armed men try to rob it. After this event, he becomes the hero of the town and receives unwanted attention, one that eventually leads Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) to him, insisting that Joey Cusack, the man Carl thinks he is, comes back with him to Philadelphia.

The beginning was a little weak and, at times, boring, as it took its time to set up the story and the characters, going from scene A to scene B to scene C almost automatically. It also gave it a sense of predictability- I knew something bad will happen to the family or to Tom, and I had a feeling it will go down in the diner. I did like the progress of the story after the act of violence and one of my favorite scenes has to be the shooting in the yard. Viggo Mortensen comes in and out of character, switching from Tom to Joey with such ease and roughness, that I am left shocked and a little bit creeped out by the character and what he is capable of- just the way his expression and his eyes change from second to second, channeling Joey just enough to save himself and the family (the way he looked at Jack, his son, after he shot the man, was so intense and scary).

That being said, one of the best things about "A history of violence" are the characters- these are strong, complex, real, tough individuals that give the story and the situation more substance and a much more accute sense of reality. Viggo Mortensen as Tom/Joey gives one his best performances to date and Maria Bello shines as his innocent wife, who tries to protect her family and her hisband. Ed Harris is appropriate as the mob guy who tries to scare Tom, and William Hurt (Joey Cusack's brother) is just as tough as Harris, but with more background relevance and a scarier attitude; I also thought Ashton Holmes, as the son, was good and I can see potential there.

Coming back to the beginning, my weak points refer to the lack of music and the slow pace of action in some places, although it seemed extremely well-thought and with many layers to the story and the people involved.

Overall, I thought "A history of violence" was a good movie, with chilling performances and good action! I would recommend it! Next in line: Eastern Promises, with the same David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen!

Mar 2, 2012

Control [2007]

The 2007 British film, directed by Anton Corbijn, tells the story of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Jov Division, a famous rock band of the late 1970s. Married young, he decides to pursue a music career after 3 guys casually tell him, at a Sex Pistols concert none of the less, that they need a singer for they band. They start as Warsaw, but quickly change their name to Joy Division and begin touring UK and then Europe.  But life is not easy for Curtis, as he has to battle epilepsy, an unhappy marriage, and hard work.

The story is interesting and sad, as it depicts Ian as a very mellow, introspective, troubled young man, who just doesn't seem to fit into this world, either if it's at home, with his wife and daughter, or on stage, or just around his friends. He always feels out of place, outnumbered, caged in and can't make up his mind on one spot, on one place where he can feel comfortable. That is the saddest thing to see- a man who is always looking for himself and his happiness, but never gets to see it or enjoy it, and that lack of control over his life is what pushed him to take that radical decision in the end.

I must say that Control is one of the best British films I have ever seen. Shot in Black&White, it perfectly captures the mood and essence of that era, and the performances are superb. Sam Riley absolutely shines as Ian Curtis and plays him with such ease, but, in the same time, with such complexity and wisdom, that is wonderful and moving to watch. Samantha Morton, as Debbie, his wife, stands in the same high league, adding so much passion, love and sweetness to her character, making it believable and endearing. Actually, all of the cast is very good, continuing with Alexandra Maria Lara as Annik, Ian's lover (she is now happily married to Riley and they live in Berlin), Toby Kebbell playing Rob, their manager, and the band, formed by Joe Anderson (as Peter Hook, the bass player), James Anthony Pearson (as Bernard Sumner, the guitarist) and Harry Treadway (as Stephen Morris, the drummer and percussionist). The moments were you see them playing on stage are live and the actors are actually playing the instruments and singing, as they wanted to make it as real as possible. If you look up on youtube the same performances of the band (like Transmission or Dead Souls), you will see they are very similar and they encapsulate the style and vibe of Joy Division.

As expected, the soundtrack is amazing, and I just discovered a new love for Joy Division; their sound is so simple and catchy, yet very specific and Ian Curtis's vocals are haunting and interesting, perfectly mixing with the good melody. I especially loved She's lost control, Love will tear us apart, Trasmission, but others, as well.

You should definitely see Control soon, because it is a great film and well worth your time, especially if you like biopics or British films- it stands out in both categories.