Oct 31, 2012

October recap

October has past, yet again, as fast as the last few months- time is running out and I feel like I am loosing it on useless things. Take October, for example- I was busy almost every day of the month, but I haven't actually accomplished anything important. I did chores for my parents, I met with the some friends, but I didn't get a job or write on the blog.

That's one of the things I regret and feel very bad about: not being too active on the blog, when I had the time. As you can see below, my movie count is shameful, and I hate it. But lately I don't have the mood to either see or write about a film, which is weird, because I used to love it before- I still do, but it's proving to be more difficult to do. God, I am such a lazy person, I need to change things quickly this November, and I will start by making a day by day schedule I will have to keep up with- mandatory tasks regarding job search and movies. I know that if I keep at it, I will definitely reach some of my goals- I am an organized person, but I also need motivation to get things done, and that's hard to have sometimes. But no, I am determined to have a much more productive November. Focus Diana! :)

Anyway, let's stop whining and start November on a much better vibe. Until then, here's my very short list for October:

ParaNorman [2012]
Devil wears Prada [2006] re-watch
Traffic [2000]
4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days [2007]
Children of Men [2007]
Beyond the Hills [2012]

Books 2

How were you this month? lazy, active, did anything interesting? 

Oct 29, 2012

Children of Men [2006]

Children of Men is a 2006 dystopian film directed by Alfonso Cuaron and adapted for screen from a novel by P.D.James. It features Clive Owen in the part of a lost, sad man who is suddenly thrown in a world of conspiratorial events and death, but also hope and survival. It is definitely one of the best films of its genre and deserves all the praise and attention it has gotten.

The premises is simple, yet tragic and heartbreaking: in the year 2027, the world is facing chaos, death and violence, but especially infertility, something that has left the Earth population in a grey, unhappy and with no ounce of help state of mind. Theo is contacted by his ex wife and asked to help transport a refugee, Kee, who proves to be much more precious than expected. The end is both positive and negative, and leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth. The script has a very interesting concept, with a great mix of drama, love, action and existential themes. That's actually one of the films' strongest points: its ability to create a dystopian world without overreacting or relying too much on sci-fi or science. Children of Men talks more about people, the evolution of mankind and relationships, and less about new technological developments or unseen gadgets, and that gives it more soul and ultimately, impacts you on a much deeper level.

Alfonso Cuaron is perfect for this type of movies. He has a very dynamic shooting style and that works here, especially in the running scenes. There are many details that I loved and appreciated: the blood on the camera, the close-ups, the shaky camera in some points. The dark cinematography complemented the direction very well, as did the sets.

The casting was probably one of my favorite things in Children of Men. Clive Owen in one of his career's best parts- he gave an amazing performance as the sad, miserable man who finally finds a reason to live and fight, 20 years after the death of his son and separation from his wife. He has always been a favorite of mine and I always wonder why doesn't he get more roles, or better ones, to say so, considering this performance and the one in Closer. Another standout was definitely Michael Caine as the wacky, adorable old Jasper, and of course, Julianne Moore also impresses in her short time on screen. One mention I have to give is to Oana Pellea, the woman playing Marichka, the gypsy  who is actually Romanian- when you were hearing her talking rubbish in a weird language, that was actually Romanian. It was quite cool for me to recognize that- she is a loved and appreciated actress here. 

In the end, Children of Men is definitely a must see for all film lovers and dystopian aficionados. Very well made, visually appealing, wonderfully acted and with existential themes like hope, survival, love and humankind, it is highly recommended. 

Oct 24, 2012

Private Peaceful [2012]

Last month, at FDA showcase event, I had the pleasure of seeing a number of new movies, some I haven't even heard of before. One of the more pleasant surprises was Private Peaceful, a very well made war movie, considering its budget and casting. It's the story of two brothers who fall for the same girl while trying to cope  with the pressures of their family life, the war, and the price of courage and cowardice. Based on a Michael Morpurgo novel, written for screen by Simon Reade and directed by Pat O'Connor, this small film should be on your radar in the next following months.

The story is not overly creative or unknown- two brothers like the same girl, and as they grow old, the girl eventually chooses one of them, while the other is left hurt and abandoned, and so he decides to join the army in order to forget about her. The situations worsens when both brothers end up in war, and get in trouble for disobeying orders. I won't give up too much details of the plot, but it is a touching story, with approachable characters and a steady, yet intriguing storyline.

One of the things I appreciated and remembered was that, for such a small budget and unknown names, it had surprisingly good quality in both acting and filmmaking. The cinematography was beautiful and used simple, yet effective techniques, the direction was on point and didn't overreact on certain occasions (see War Horse) and the sets, costume and music helped the story come across in a much more realistic way.

The casting was definitely one of its strongest attributes. Starting with very good young cast (Izzie Meikle-Small, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Samuel Bottomley) who set up the movie, and its high class supporting cast, starring Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, and ending with the three main leads, Alexandra Roach as Molly, the girl who wins both of the men's hearts, and the two brothers, Jack O'Connell as Charlie, the older, smarter and more charismatic brother, and George MacKay as Tommo, the younger, more sensitive and heartfelt boy. There are some things I noticed about them and their acting that I want to mention. First, interestingly enough, younger Molly was much more interesting and appealing than older Molly, as Roach was quite bland in her part (or maybe the script didn't allow her to shine). Second, George MacKay gave, probably, the best performance out of the three, with his sweet nature, misunderstood character and brave facade. Third, Jack O'Connell, the guy who played Charlie, very much reminded me of Anton Yelchin.

In the end, Private Peaceful is a very good British war movie that proves that you can make a wonderful film without enormous amounts of money. Some might say it is a more normal, less dramatic, low budget, version of War Horse or Saving Private Ryan, and I think I would agree. You should see it!

Oct 18, 2012

Romanian Cinema (2): 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days [2007]

My second attempt to discover and examine Romanian cinema was the Cannes Palme D'Or winner, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. I was extremely surprised, in a very good way, of the quality of the film, from all points of view: direction, cinematography, acting, script and so on. Set in 1987, the prime time of Communism in Romania, we witness a day in the life of two young women: one about to have an abortion, and one helping her with this delicate situation, meanwhile trying to survive her own demons.

First things first, the script was quite outstanding. Seemingly simple and static at times, it simmers in emotion, fear and uneasiness. We see the life of two young women ruined within a day, and mostly because of a heartless man, a merciless creature who only cares about money and his own safety. For me, this was one of the scariest and dangerous types of villain I have ever seen, although he technically didn't kill anyone, or shoot/strangle someone directly. His insensitive behaviour towards the girls was evil enough to qualify him as an villain in my eyes. I was also stunned about certain script decisions I did not see coming: I don't think I have ever been so surprised by a change in story like the moment they went from fighting over money to taking their clothes off, or the fact that Mungiu or the script meant to show us the detail in the bathroom at the end.

Filmmaking wise, I absolutely loved it. I could literally write paragraphs after paragraphs about Mungiu's directing style and favorite scenes. For example, I liked the constant moving of the camera, but choosing the right moments to stop it and let the subject move away, or the way he puts the camera on the counter in the hotel, or how he stills the camera for minutes while a whole conversation is happening. His style reminds me a lot of Steve McQueen and I love the former, so Mungiu just reached the top 3 current directors list for me. I can't wait to see Beyond the hills next week. The cinematography was beautiful and it was interesting to see how he used dark or very dark tones for some scenes. As for music, there was no soundtrack, but I didn't need it, the normal background noises were loud enough to compensate for the lack of music.

Another thing I have to mention, because I thought it was brilliantly executed and helped me appeal and understand the whole situation better, was the realistic feel of the feature. Mungiu absolutely got it right-most of you probably don't realise, but everything in this film delivers a Romania in the communism era- from the way they talked, to the cars and buses, to the interior designing, everything. It's weird, but also nostalgic and appealing to most nationals, including me. Starting with the first shot: all the little, seemingly unimportant, but spot on, Romanian things, like Doina, the usual make up remover/face cream/mask for women those days, the blanket on the bed with the standard model, the ASOS cigarettes, or the soup in the container. Moreover, the conversation between the adults at the table near the end is EXACTLY what happens in a normal Romanian dinner party. Speaking of this particular scene, I also liked it because we could see the decay of the girls' state of mind, the sadness in her eyes, the worrying for Gabita and everything else crowding her mind, all whilst the adults were talking about food and children.

Another strong point was, of course, the casting. Although it features very few actors, they do their job wonderfully, all delivering awards worthy performances, especially Anamaria Marinca, playing Otilia, the much more open and daring friend, who does all the "dirty" work for her friend. She shines throughout the film, because we see the biggest change in her actions and feelings: she is, at the beginning, the no-bullshit, let's get things over, type of girl, but by the end, she is more vulnerable and sad than Gabita, the woman having the abortion, will ever be. I also have to mention Vlad Ivanov, who played Bebe, the ruthless man performing the "medical" act, who gave a standout and quite chilling performance.

As I think I said in my previous instalment, Romanian filmmakers are good at dramatic features...so good, that they very rarely stray out of tragedy or drama genres, and when they do venture into comedy, it's not always pleasant. 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is one of the best dramas I have ever seen, in national or international cinema and I am very proud because of it. It's just sad it took me so long to see it.

I urge you to watch it, even if you're afraid of foreign movies. This one is worth the trip, especially if you appreciate and love outstanding films.

I am very curious to find out what you thought of it, if you have seen it! What was your take on the story, the direction, the sets and vibe of the film? Please share your thoughts or link me to your review, if you've written one!

Oct 15, 2012

Traffic [2000]

Traffic is probably one of the best dramas, or better said, best political/addiction dramas I have ever seen. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Stephen Gaghan (but based on a miniseries), it focus on drugs, more specifically on a conservative judge who is appointed by the President to spearhead America's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is an addict. Winner of multiple awards, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director at the Oscars, Traffic is unmissable.

The script, an intersection of stories and characters, is quite intricate and political, but it works perfectly by the end of it. When I noticed this, I thought it would be hard to follow, or it will make me loose the interest, but they connected things very well. My favorite storyline was the main one, that of the judge and the daughter, just because it had so much to provide and prove, and the ending of it was both touching and memorable, as the man who's job was to fight the war, had to quit it in order to survive that same war for and with his daughter.

Another strong point for Traffic is definitely the casting: not A listers, but good, talented actors, who are not in the front of the line, but still do their jobs to the T; people like Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid and others. Benicio del Toro, as Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez, delivers one of the strongest performances of the cast- what I liked most was his way of showing so much emotion and care without overacting or letting on his feelings in a visible way. Other standout performances were those of Catherine Zeta Jones, a woman who I have never seen have a bad day acting, and Michael Douglas, of which I can say the same thing, but also Erika Christensen, who provided the surprise as a young addicted woman who takes the wrong turn in life.

From a filmmaking point of view, it was quite spectacular. Soderbergh's direction was spot on, giving the story a very realistic feel and showing us all the sides of the main topic, without being too subjective on one or another. Shocking and moving examples are most of the scenes with the young woman, like when the teenagers were taking drugs, or the moment in the dirty hotel room with the black guy, but also some of the scenes in Mexico. Similarly, I liked how the cinematography, colors and editing were different according with the set up and the cities (special elements for Mexico, or the blue motif for some of the scenes). All together, the technical elements worked beautifully with the performances of the actors to give us a film worth watching.

Overall, Traffic is a fantastic movie, not only because of the story, its delicate theme and how it was made, but also because it manages to provide a realistic and sometimes shocking view over the drug war. That's probably why I liked it so much- because it told the story of drugs from all points of view: those who buy it, the users; those who sell it and produce it, the cartels; and those who try to stop it, the force. Traffic is a drama you should definitely see, if you haven't already.

Oct 11, 2012

Frankenweenie [2012]

Frankenweenie is the newest Tim Burton production, inspired by a 1984 short film he made for Disney, but ended up being rejected. It tells the story of Victor,a young man passionate about science and his dog, Sparky, who also is his best friend. When it dies, the kid suffers, but after an inspiring and interesting lesson of mister Rzykruski, the science teacher, he decides to bring his dog back to life by using electricity. He keeps him a secret, but after a classmate finds out, more youngsters decide to do the same with their pets and things get out of control when some don't turn out to be as cool as Sparky.

* Before going into details, let me explain the conditions of my viewing. 9 am, got there late, I was very hungry, slightly sleepy, and the very cold room I was in made me feel very uncomfortable and again, sleepy, so I might not be the best or most objective reviewer, especially when it comes to my overall opinion.

Moving on to the actual film, Frankenweenie is Tim Burton's return to his golden age; he comes back to a more interesting, less flashy side of art, and creates a funny, yet dark story for people young at heart. Although the entire process of making the movie is long, complicated and intricate, the setting and direction seem to be quite simple and smooth. It doesn't try to be more than it is, visually speaking, because it puts the focus on the story and the characters, but doesn't stop in offering the viewer a visually beautiful film, in all its darkness and simplicity, and the black&white definitely helps put across the story better.

One of the strong points were definitely the characters- they are awkward, they are quirky, and they are dark, but somehow you feel for them and understand their actions, although it's not something you see day to day. My favourite has to be the Weird Girl and her furry white cat- they stole the show for me (can we have a spin-off, mister Burton?). The science teacher, Edgar and Elsa are also highlights, in great cast.

But here's my problem and overall observation. Is Frankenweenie a good film? Yes. Is it very well made, with good direction and script? Yes. Is it visually beautiful? Yes. Was I excited about it afterwards? No. Did it touch my heart or move me emotionally? No. Do I think ParaNorman is better? Yes. Why? Because ultimately, it's funnier and more appealing.

In the end, do I recommend Frankenweenie? Yes, but only because it's Burton at its finest and it will probably be one of the animations most people will see this year.

Oct 8, 2012

ParaNorman [2012]

Bucharest has, from time to time, some very cool events, and one just started a couple of days ago: Animest, an international film animation festival. The event's premiere on the first day was ParaNorman, a Laika studio production. Written by Chris Butler and directed by him and Sam Fell, it tells the story of a kid who can see and talk to ghosts, for that being considered a freak in school. Things get complicated when a weird old man entrusts him with the vital task of stopping the witch's curse over the town.

ParaNorman turned out to be a fantastic film, one of the best animations I have seen in a long time- might even crack my top 2012 film choices, and that is surprising, considering I don't particularly like animated movies.

Let me tell you why you should see this. First and foremost, it's extremely funny most of the time, and that we can "blame" it on the script, a definite strong point of the film: its lines and hilarious situations make you laugh out loud. Moving on, we also have a lot of action, some scary moments, and great, lovable, down to earth characters, with slightly exaggerated traits to make it more funny. Mix that with fantastic visuals, dynamic direction and an appropriate soundtrack and score, and you've got yourself a hit.

I enjoyed this much more than Frankenweenie- maybe because of the use of colors (as opposed to F, which was Black&White), or because of the much funnier script, with the more realistic and hilarious characters, but overall, in my eyes, ParaNorman is a class above Frankenweenie, not to mention much more entertaining than the Tim Burton film.

Please go see ParaNorman, I think you will like it! 

Oct 5, 2012

Now is good [2012]

Now Is Good is a typical teenage movie based on a novel by Jenny Downham called Before I Die, about a 16 year old girl with leukemia who decides to give up on treatment and live the little time she has left. She makes up a list of things, wild things she wants to do, including sex, stealing and taking drugs and sets out on a journey of accomplishing them, together with her friend Zoey (Kaya Scodelario) or her brother, Cal. Of course, a hot boy enters the picture, Adam (Jeremy Irvine), and things get complicated.

Now, the cancer story has been done quite a lot in the recent years- 50/50 is the first to come in mind, but I am sure there are others, too. The problem lies in the fact that Now Is Good doesn't accomplish what 50/50 did: it doesn't move you emotionally, it doesn't show a different side of the story or new, unusual reactions. This film follows the classic, and I am mean classic in the sense that it is the classic way cancer is portrayed in movies: girl is depressed, takes it out on the parents or friends, although they are not to blame for. She does stupid things and refuses treatment or help because she thinks they pity her, and so on. Adam coming into the picture already gives you an idea of how things will follow (they fall in love, they don't want to let go of each other, teenage angst...you know the drill). Please don't think that I am underestimating or not understanding the effects and problems of cancer- I know these things actual happen in real life and I am not trying to criticize the story, but I think they could have done it better.

Take A Walk to Remember- it still gets me to this day. Maybe it's the actors, maybe the script, maybe the sad, although some might say, cliche ending. Still, I always cry at the end of it and I will always want to re-see that film (it's kind of my Notebook). But Now Is Good fails in that department and it's a shame, because the book is ten times more effective and emotional, especially the ending, which had me bawling my eyes out when I first read it. By contrast, the film didn't: when the credits started rolling, I said to myself "ok, nice movie, when do I have to be in X place?".

Filmmaking wise, I don't really know what to comment- nothing stands out, good or bad about most aspects. I do have the mention the soundtrack and score, which are pretty good.

As for the casting, I quite liked it. It featured a rather convincing Dakota Fanning (both in accent and acting), and a very pretty, but not quite there yet Jeremy Irvine- he plays his part, but it just seems so amateurish, I don't know, I wasn't convinced, but then again I can't say anything bad about him either. Maybe it's the script, maybe I'm too picky. Just forget about it, he is handsome and does his job. Paddy Considine is a wonderful actor that, despite the idea and the script, did a fantastic job in portraying a father desperately trying to somehow save his daughter from an imminent death. Him and Olivia Williams, who plays the mother, are the standouts, acting wise, of the film and once again, prove their worth.

In conclusion, I wouldn't warmly recommend Now Is Good, especially if you don't like romantic comedies or teenage movies, although it isn't a bad movie to say so. As you might have guessed, I wasn't overly excited about it, but I think I let the book raise high expectation for the film. It was a good adaptation, but it just didn't hit the emotional level I was expecting. If you ever have a choice between this and A Walk to Remember, got for the latter.

Oct 2, 2012

Holy Motors [2012]

I've been struggling with this review for over a month, for several reasons: first of all, the film was a little complicated and, at times, unbelievable; second of all, I still find it hard to explain and understand the premises and meaning of the movie myself; third of all, all of that just put me off wanting to write it. But I really do have to, so this is my attempt (sorry if I screw it up).

Holy Motors is directed and written by Leos Carax, about...well, here's where things get complicated. The official synopsis on IMDb says: "From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man..." I believe that it is about a man who gets payed to fulfill other people's dreams and wild imagination, living this fantasy for different period of times(5 minutes or a while night). Basically, that is what he does all day: running around Paris, whilst being driven by an older lady in a white limo, from job to job, doing crazy, unexpected and sometimes, confusing things.

Despite its madness and WTF factor, Holy Motors is definitely intriguing. You are fascinated by the crazy actions, and although, at some point, you might have the tendency to give up, it still keeps you asking questions: is that girl really his? who is Kylie Minogue's character and what does she mean to him? Is it all a dream? Who is the agency? and so many more like that. I won't even talk about the end, because it mean to spoil the film for you, but let's just say that it 1. Clarifies the name for me but 2. Confuses me even more on a more general level of the story. Again, wtf?

From a filmmaker's point of view, it was quite good. Interesting direction, to match its course of action, the score fitted it very well and special props to the make-up department for some of the scenes. Denis Lavant as the main character, Mr.Oscar, is fantastic and I am surprised he hasn't received more praise for his work, but then again, I also think Holy Motors, because of its originality, will, most likely, be left out of the awards season, so ultimately, it doesn't surprise me. Eva Mendez and Kylie Minogue play their parts to the T, but don't get overly excited, there's not too much going on for their characters, in terms of complexity or action.

I know a lot of people didn't have the patience or, better said, were not drawn into the story enough to stay focused or give a shit by the end of it, but for me, it was definitely interesting to watch and experience. I was outraged, shocked, confused, but ultimately, intrigued by it. I can't and won't say too much of it (because I don't want to and, as I said before, I can't)- you need to experience it yourself, but I believe you should give it a try when it comes to your cinemas or local DVD store. Curious to see what you think of it.