joi, 31 mai 2018

Larger Than Life, based on story by Pen Densham

Larger Than Life, based on story by Pen Densham

Bill Murray is always a pleasure to watch, seeing as he is one of the Titans of his trade, even when the material is not outstanding, as is alas the case here, with a Smaller than Life script.

The hero of this comedy is Jack Corcoran aka Bill Murray, a motivational speaker with some strange and humorous solutions for people's troubles, who need to "Get Over It" like he did, when his father had passed away before he was born.
In the first few scenes, the protagonist has participants at his gigs climb on the back of one another, presumably to help them overcome difficulties, teach them how to cope with adversity and trauma...

The man who arranges these speeches has something better in New Orleans, for the client is unhappy with the events so far...he will not travel to th next gig anyway, for something tragic happens.
His mother has hidden the truth from him and he finds that his father who had worked for a circus had just died and he has left a huge inheritance.

Jack travels to see the lawyer and he gets papers to sign, thereby agreeing with onerous terms as he will find right away, when an...elephant comes near the window and the lawyer reveals that this is the inheritance and it actually translates in a debt to pay.
The protagonist stands up from his chair, says he will just take the trunk which had been presented earlier and that is all he will take before he departs, without the animal, in spite of the protests and threats of the counselor who has the bills states that the large pachyderm has just destroyed another fence...

The hero walks out of the office and into the streets, but he is stopped by the local police and the lawyer who presents some legal documents, a policeman restrains the "fugitive" and explains he has to take the huge animal away.
The elephant is called Vera, the father gave Jack's mother's name to his best friend and she is a wonderful treat, the only other attraction, next to Bill Murray, in a rather poor offering.

Evidently, the hero cannot take the huge inheritance and keep it in his living room, so he tries the local zoo, without success and then he will have to pursue one of two choices, the first is Mo, an animal rights activist and lover, who offers thirty thousand from her budget, to take Vera to Sri Lanka, where she would be liberated with other elephants.
The hero needs the money to pay what he owes and tries another venue, somewhat later in the Road to Perdition or Salvation.

Along the way, he is helped to some extent by a former friend of his late father, who shows him the astonishing things that Vera can do, provided the trainer knows what he wants and has the charisma, right energy and bond with her to convince her to do it.
She can stand, push a cart and many other incredible acts...including walking and stopping, to the chagrin of the protagonist who had found it next to impossible to make her move or stop heretofore.

Nevertheless, this is the moment when the public may get more worried, for the question is raised about how did the animal performing for the film learned to do all the tricks?
It is known that in the training of wild animals, severe punishments, abuse, electric shocks have been used - indeed this issue is raised in this film itself - and this is the reason why in so many lands, circuses are banned or the use of wild animals is prohibited.

The friend of the dead father offers to take Jack and his companion to California, where Natural Talent and Terry Bonura, the woman in charge, owner of the business, would offer more than the thirty thousand available at this point.
The truck breaks down, the hero has to take another one that he rents, claiming he knows how to drive it, but when he has to, he does all the wrong things, unable to get the chair in the proper place, while on the highway, he pushes the calamity button and the front part of the truck bends over.

The truck is damaged and therefore another solution is required for the team that wants to reach the West Coast and the hero thinks he finds it at the gas station where a bizarre, obnoxious character enters the stage...
Matthew McConaughey has never been one of this cinephile's favorites, on the contrary, he is placed on a black list of actors to avoid as much as possible for they deliver annoying performances, for the most part.

However, it is rarely possible to see such a terrible show, a performance that is difficult to watch, over the board,exaggerated and detrimental for the movie.
Tip Tucker aka McConaughey is not an amusing, comical character, but the one who makes the viewer leave the cinema, shut down the TV, even consider cancelling the cable subscription.

This was a hyperbole, but meant to underline the extent to which his hand has been overplayed, turning a grotesque personage into one that is difficult to watch.
Without this abnormal, pathetic piece of acting, the film would have been better.

It is very possible that others see things differently and appreciate the character and the performance, after all, this man has won an Academy Award - not for Tip Tucker, God forbid!

miercuri, 30 mai 2018

The Last Legion by Jez Butterworth

The Last Legion by Jez Butterworth

There is so much potential in a story with Romans, barbarians, epic battles, legendary heroes, outstanding courage, phenomenal achievements, splendid loyalty and a tremendous cast to present all this.

And yet, with Ben Kingsley and Colin Firth leading the troops, this motion picture still fails to deliver much more than unexceptional entertainment.
Indeed, the Metascore is a terrible 37, one of the lowest one can find for a non independent motion picture.
One reason for this misfire might be that it tried to include too much.

Why would have sorcery, coupled with many fights, a difficult escape, vicious Goths, betraying allies.
In one of the early scenes, Sir Ben Kingsley, in a role so distant from the classic, quintessential, universally acclaimed Gandhi, for which he has won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe and other important prizes, shows that he has magical powers.

When a stone is thrown, Ben Kingsley aka Ambrosinus aka Merlin, catches it miraculously and not just that, but he turns it into...air and feathers.

This onlooker was lost here...
Is this a serious feature about the Roman Empire, a tragic tale of escape, valor, based on real history, with facts that support the plot and make the artistic license reasonable?

Or is is a children's story?
Alas, it could be perceived as neither...the public was not thrilled and the critics were not impressed.

It is better to watch Sir Ben Kingsley in the aforementioned chef d'oeuvre and other great motion pictures he was so brilliant in Sexy Beast is another masterpiece- and Colin Firth in The King's Speech, for which he has won the Oscar and other equally rewarding movies.

marți, 29 mai 2018

Lost in London, written and directed by Woody Harrelson

Lost in London, written and directed by Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson is a sensational, provocative, intelligent, charming, extremely talented, high up in the sky - even if he says he has not used drugs in a long time - outstanding actor.

However, the enterprise of Lost in London does not seem to take off, in spite of inside jokes, the presence of Owen Wilson and the commendable, laudable efforts of the cast.
Admittedly, this is a rather small production, without huge goals and intent on competing with The Avengers, Iron Men or Fast and Furious Drivers.

As such, a more modest feature can be rated as enjoyable and entertaining within limits.
Woody Harrelson plays himself, although there are many scenes where he is either unfamiliar to bouncers at night clubs or confused with Woody Allen- if the latter was not in jest, which it could be what was intended all along.

Early in the film, there is a tension, for the protagonist has been caught on camera as he was involved in a rather intimate moment with - was it two ? - women and this compromising photograph made the front page of a tabloid.
As the hero takes his family, wife and children to the restaurant, he is invited by the Prince to have a drink, when his spouse comes frantic from the bathroom and hits the philandering husband with a cry...

How could you?! She may have used some expletives too.

He tries to apologize, kneels, says all the kind words possible, you are my life, I am nothing without you and other words to that effect.
The Prince says that Asian women have different ways...Woody's wife is Asian.

The protagonist drives with the Prince and his party, refers to them as bodyguards and the aristocrat says that if something happens, they will throw him in front...these bodyguards.
As they arrive at this special night club, the hero lags behind, the group enters and the bouncers stop him in front...

Hey, I'm with the Prince!
What Prince?
Look, he just walked in
His name is? many princes do you have in there anyway?

So Woody Harrelson has to mention he is an actor and he starts mentioning some of his work...White Men Can't Jump, Indecent Proposal...
The bouncers do not know any of these.

Nonetheless, this is a repeated jest, a self deprecating humor that is noteworthy, especially since most of the time, it is poking fun at the acting of the star.
In some late scene, Owen Wilson pretends he was called for The People vs Larry Flynt...

For the Ed Norton part?
No, for the leading role

And the two best friends fight over this and other issues, including the picture in the tabloid that Wilson complains would affect his image too.
So he degrades the other star from "best friend" and they argue over the films of Wes Anderson, The Royal Tenenbaums in particular.

Woody Harrelson plays the amusing critic here, maintaining that the motion pictures of this director are too self conscious, too precious - was this the other word he used?

After some argument, Wes Anderson becomes Owen Wilson's best friend and later on, we notice that the hero is just a "great friend" now.

There are some good moments in the police chapter...the protagonist is hand cuffed and taken to the station, after he "broke the broken ash tray in a cab".
On the way to the police station, the hero has a long talk with the officer, learns that he has a child with special needs and invites him to bring the boy over to play with his daughters.

Learning the officer is Irish, the star mentions Bono and there are many laudatory words regarding the charity works of the rock giant, music and more...

Do you want to talk to Bono?

Without much delay, a call is put through and after some amusing lines, involving Woody talking to the wife, one Irish talks to the other, but very soon, the policeman offends the rock star, charity figure...

You sold out...
Why did you have to say that? What about the charity you mentioned and the other great things? Asks a puzzled hero...

And when he has to ask again to be allowed to return home to the spouse who is already angry with him and awaits his arrival before midnight, he asks...

Do you like Paul McCartney?

The Sum of All Fears, based on the novel by Tom Clancy

The Sum of All Fears, based on the novel by Tom Clancy

In some ways, this motion picture is noteworthy, if we think of the theme that is so crucial, paramount and relevant in today's world...indeed, we could say that there is nothing more vital than the survival of mankind...well, if we think from the perspective of the multitude of species that we have extinguished and we continue to threaten with annihilation, our destruction might be the goal to aim for.

Another reason to appreciate this production would be the presence of Morgan Freeman- alas, recently caught in the MeToo scandal with allegations of indecent behavior, inappropriate demands, to say the least, questions like- do you have any underwear- if we are to believe the accusers.
Along with him, in a more important role, Ben Affleck plays the maverick hero, an analyst working for the CIA, able to help the President of the United States avoid the destruction of Russia and hence the rest of the world, or most of it.

Ben Affleck knows Russian and apparently everything there is to know about this intriguing country, their president, significant leaders, their habits, addictions and flaws.
In one early scene, the audience is impressed when Jack Ryan aka Ben Affleck is able to look at footage from television and assert that one of the key Russian figures is again drinking and he has someone near to try and prevent him from collapsing and getting defeated by alcohol.

However, he has to analyze much more serious developments very soon, as the situation in Russia becomes volatile.
This motion picture does not deal with more recent troubles created by Putin and his acolytes- like the troops in the Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, killing of Litvinenko with Plutonium and the chemical attack on another, former double agent.

The inspiration is drawn from Conflicts in regions of Russia, the attempted coup against Gorbachev and there is evidently artistic license and fiction, based on scenarios that have been and are probably even now contemplated by American and other agencies in the world.
The premise is that rogue, hard line elements in Russia want to steer the country towards a conflict with America and this in spite of the more rational, peaceful approach of the president of that country.

Alas, there is no need for hard liners to try to enter conflict outside the Kremlin today, for Putin is as "hard" and conflictual towards the West, interfering in elections, funding radicals, spreading fake news and much more.
Vladimir the New Czar is determined on a Cold War, engaging in all sorts of vicious activities, short of a hot war...for now.
In the sum of all fears, it takes all the tactical prowess and brilliant mind of the Superhero Ryan to prevent a full scale war and the god side of the Russian president, able to think a few moves ahead, anticipating what the West would do in the face of the tanks, making them understand his signals...

Well, many hardliners in America would not stop to think for long, but there is Jack Ryan to play Superman.

There are some interesting climaxes.
One, in the opening scene, seems to purport that a nuclear attack is under way, but we see in a few minutes that it is just a rehearsal, but it makes for high tension right from the start.

The other tragic event is the detonation of a nuclear bomb in an American city.

luni, 28 mai 2018

Rain, based on story by Somerset Maugham

Rain, based on story by Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham was the best writer ever, along with Marcel Proust, in the view of this reader- cinephile anyway, and therefore Rain has all the ingredients for an outstanding, brilliant motion picture.

Furthermore, this adaptation benefits from the participation of two of the best actors of the time- the nineteen thirties-one of them being Walter Huston, exceptional in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre- for which he has won an Academy Award- Dodsworth – nominated again, in all, this artist has been nominated four times for the most prestigious, coveted prize in the cinema industry.
The other leading light in…the Rain is another Oscar winner, Joan Crawford, Meryl Streep of her day, celebrated for Mildred Pierce- for which she has won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and other classic features.

The narrative of this film takes place in South Seas- where the brilliant, genius Somerset Maugham has set many, if not most of his short stories and some novels, including the famous Painted Veil- on the beautiful island of Pago Pago, which seems to be the epitome of earthly paradise for many.
Positive Psychology studies have identified a phenomenon called Hedonic Adaptation, which prevents us from continuing to enjoy a dreamed move to an island in the Pacific- Pago Pago say- California, the Caribbean or other such coveted destinations, where once we will have arrived, we adapt soon to the weather, palm trees, white sand beaches and start to notice the flaws- like electricity cut offs and steep prices, hurricanes that wipe up constructions- see Puerto Rico and other islands where recent typhoons have been disastrous.

On this island, a boat arrives with the characters of the motion picture:
Joan Crawford aka Sadie Thomson, Alfred Davidson aka Walter Huston and his wife, with a couple of other passengers.

They are all stranded on the island when an outbreak of cholera is suspected and the life loving Sadie finds ways to entertain herself and her companions, causing the wrath of the self-righteous Alfred Davidson, who is not just a missionary, but acts like he is one of the prophets of Jesus Himself and has all the authority to impose rules and punishments on others.

Putting things into perspective, it could cause laughter and abhorrence if we were to imagine this fundamentalist in this day and age- where we have alas so many of his type, ready not just to preach, insult and inflict pain and abuse on others with their words, but a number of the most vicious are involved in violence and suicide attacks.
The amusing part might be connected with images of this false prophet in a disco, or just near one school in civilized parts of the world, where young people would have piercings in- well everywhere- and their manifestations would make the protagonist of the Rain seem like Mother Theresa, when placed near teenagers with short skirts, swearing continuously and misbehaving- obviously, for the sick mind of the missionary.

Alfred Davidson becomes so enraged with the “sinful” acts of the woman that he makes it his duty to alert the authorities and demand her expulsion with extreme urgency, which looks like a very unchristian attitude, given that the teachings of the Bible – if this is not a mistaken impression- demand kindness, charity, compassion, summed up in “love thy neighbor” , do not cast the first stone and many quotes from the Holy Book- this reader is not a believer, however, that is the main theme of Christianity.
Furthermore, this maniac is devoted not just to the removal of the poor soul, but he wants it to be immediate and disregarding the circumstances, when he is asked to accept a delay, given that his vicious, mean request has been approved, he refuses with arrogance and carelessness.

He has a few confrontations with his victim – that he of course treats as a woman who must thank him for…saving her soul – and he learns that there would be problems for the heroine if she travels on the next ship, as the missionary insists with acerbity, for she would land in prison for a few years.
The man is not softened or moved by this, on the contrary, with his stupid, psychopathic zeal, he states that the prison term is just what she needs and she has to get to San Francisco to be…again…saved.

The story in its original form is brilliant, stupendous and heavy with significance and explores the changes in the personality, the thinking of the clashing main characters, Sadie undergoes a transformation, if not in substance at least in form, and she appears to have been enlighted, Redeemed by this fervent preacher, who has showed her the light, the way to Redemption, which includes a stint in prison, a fate that she accepts with serenity and luminous transcendence…

Apparently, the others are mesmerized, awed by the change in the happy, singing, ebullient woman, who is now restrained, a nun-like figure, without make up, dressed in clothes suitable for a funeral and awaiting a tragic fate with resignation and Cristian resilience.
At the same time, her opponent or Savior (?) moves with astonishing speed in the other direction, at least to a point, giving in to temptation, the “call of the senses”, feeling attracted by beauty and sensuality – which fro the undersigned seem like saintly, paradisiacal and to be accepted, cherished and enjoyed- with tragic, disastrous consequences for the balance, the fragile equilibrium of a mind that cannot cope with adversity and trauma.

Rain made this cinefile think of the phenomenal Psychologist and Professor Nathaniel Branden and his Psychological Effects of Religion, which are all-negative and have dramatic, calamitous consequences – there is more on the subject here:

Fahrenheit 451, based on the classic by Ray Bradbury, adapted and directed by Ramin Bahrani

Fahrenheit 451, based on the classic by Ray Bradbury, adapted and directed by Ramin Bahrani

Fahrenheit 451 is such an archetypal, quintessential classic that the audiences can find references to it in the manner that masterpieces are mentioned and burned in this motion picture, one of the most recent examples being The Bookshop, wherein the protagonist sends…Fahrenheit 451 to an avid reader, who is so enthused that he wants more works by Bradbury and continues with The Martian Chronicles.

It is natural and probably welcome to have such a cornerstone adapted, perhaps multiple times, for this keeps it in the public arena, the main themes are discussed and brought to the present, a fresh view would reveal aspects that have been missed before and the public of different ages may need a different, modern perspective.
Nonetheless, the latest look at Fahrenheit 451 has not been very successful, although it may be hard to identify the main reason, since they seem to be a few, ranging from the lackluster performance of the actor in the leading role, to the supposedly modernizing changes in the story.

Evidently, this viewer may be wrong and the work of Ramin Bahrani could become the reference point and a landmark that would have future publics in awe, mesmerized and elated to watch this version of the Armageddon that books face.
In a not so distant future- judging from the design of cars, the lack of evolution around the personal assistants, which are not called Alexa or Siri anymore and other elements of this film – books would be burned for their influence is judged to be evil by the rulers of those times.

The hero is portrayed by Michael B. Jordan – an artist that may have been phenomenal in Creed, as a boxer, but seems overwhelmed, out of his depth in a role that requires sophistication, a more refined perspective, subtle work that seem to be lacking in a performance that appears strained, suggesting that the young man has pain in seeing things from the perspective of Guy Montag.
Maybe Michael Jordan, seeing as he belongs to a very different generation, used with reading –only?- from phones, has the advantage of sharing with the people from this Fahrenheit future this disregard for printed books, but at the same time, this cinefile’s impression was that he does not get why all the fuss about some printed papers.

That was an exaggeration and this criticism is probably misguided, but hey, this is a point of view that is shared by others who have seen this – disastrous?- new take, or maltreatment of such a great story, where the culprit may be the screenwriter- director, who may have asked the lead actor to do all the wrong things.
Michael Shannon is better in the role of the obnoxious, possessed, rigid, brain washed Captain Beatty, but he also acts like if someone has given him quite a few, if not all the wrong guidelines and suggestions, with the result that this brilliant artist nevertheless delivers a much better act.

Another main issue with this adaptation is that it does not solve a problem of credibility- not from the angle we saw it anyway- which lies right at the Heart of The Matter, in this case the theme of burning Printed books to eliminate them and the messages they deliver to thinking people.
It could be argued that we have already stopped thinking – look at election results in America- The Donald- Italy, with two silly leaders in control of such a great country, the Philippines, Russia and the list is alas, so long.

As for books, almost all the books of the world can he hidden and stored on a very small device already, never mind in the future, even if not in the printed form, but then, to this viewer this is a major flaw in the plot, for, once you have all the concepts, the text, multiply those devices and just wait until the crazies are gone and start printing again.
After all, the undersigned is a reader- as testimony, he has the largest number of goodreads notes for his land- and he goes about it using an ereader, which holds a whole library wall in a storage the size of a small pocketbook.

Granted, the burning of books is the Very Idea, Central to this novel and there are some changes, if minor, from the first few scenes we have Guy Montag burning the material using a postmodern flame thrower, and this has become a TV show, with interviews from the firemen, who do not extinguish fires in this dystopic future, but they are the ones who act as Fire starters.

There is a scene with a great potential, it could deliver such an emotional impact- indeed, it does in the original material (reviewed three times on the blog of this reader- cinephile, one of the notes is here:

In this version however, the woman who has a multitude of books in her house and decides to die along with them just gives a feeling of an outré, eerie, absurd happening, justifying to some extent the assertion of the villains that she was crazy…
Bad acting again?
Wrong guidance from the director?
This is very likely.

duminică, 27 mai 2018

In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh

In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh

In Bruges is a very dark comedy that may remind one of Pulp Fiction, Seven Psychopaths, for, although it is not so violent and there are not that many killings in Bruges, it shares with the aforementioned a somber, outré humor.

The writer- director of this motion picture has been nominated for the academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, the film has received three Golden Globe nominations – for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture- Comedy or Musical – for Brendan Gleeson- and won the Golden Globe in the latter category for the other nominee- Colin Farrell.
Brendan Gleeson is outstanding as Ken, a hit man who has been ordered by his boss, Harry Waters, played by the incredible titan Ralph Fiennes- who reminds the public of his performance in Schindler’s List and proves yet again that he can be the romantic lead, as in The English Patient, the lunatic villain, as here, the comic as in The Budapest Hotel- to travel to Bruges.

Ray aka the Golden globe winner Colin Farrell has made an accidental mistake on his last job, where he went to see this priest, with devilish jest he confesses to a murder and when asked by the pastor who has he killed, the hired gun says – “you, father” and takes his gun out.
Alas, with the dead clergyman, that may or may not have done something to justify in some small percentage the killing, a child of about six is also murdered, hit by one of the bullets destined for the priest.

Ray would suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and guilt, remorse because of his accidental killing of the boy and he is so depressed that he becomes suicidal…if we are to use the jocular tone of the movie, even in regards to serious issues; it is also because he hates Bruges.
Harry has ordered Ken to take Ray to Belgium, following the horrendous blunder and murder of the boy – along with the intended target- and they expect that they will get clarification, perhaps orders to kill someone in this interesting city in continental Europe.

Whereas Ken is enchanted by the medieval town and is of the opinion that it is lucky to be situated in Belgium, where fewer tourists flood in and therefore the charm is better protected, Ray is almost horrified and feels this is as close to hell as one can get.

Ken insists that they take in the great town and do sightseeing, while Ray is more than reluctant and he is wrong, for as they walk along the medieval part, a film is produced there and he has the chance to see a splendid woman that attracts him immensely.
There is also a Lilliputian man, who will part of the plot, to begin with, the very short man is used as a pretext for conversation by the young man who wants something to talk about – and joke- with the gorgeous Chloe aka Clemence Poesy.

Ray mentions some statistics he may have picked up somewhere, talking in politically incorrect terms about midgets – albeit, the very short character will later prove he is a racist, at least under the influence of drugs- and their penchant for definitive acts, he claims that they have suicidal tendencies.
The young woman seems uninterested for a while, but when she departs, she throws in the air a card with her name and telephone number and then two establish a date for the following evening.

When the two hit men return at their hotel, there is an offensive message from the mobster, who has at number one in the note- his annoyance with not finding them in the room, second point- deals with expletives like f*** on the matter of having to call such a lousy hotel, where he cannot leave messages in the rooms, but has to go through the receptionist.
There is a PS – “I am not the receptionist, I own the f****** hotel with my husband”, evidently written by the woman who had to put down the abuse from Charlie the Boss and the Evil party in this feature.

Ken tells Ray about the note and the necessity of being in the room, the next evening, when their superior would call, to which the younger killer retorts that only one needs to be present and mentions he has to meet the resplendent girl he has just met.
To do that, the older hit man imposes the condition that the following day they would observe the program he has in mind, which includes too much culture for the taste of the wild, rebel Ray, who has to take in the Church of the Holy Blood- was it? – where a crusader returned with the blood of Christ, kept in a recipient in the church, which becomes fluid at intervals, when the situation was grave, as a sort of divine warning, if we are to believe that.

Events have been rare in the first part, but they precipitate once Chloe and Ray meet, and they confess to what they do, only it seems in jest to each other, the man punches a neighbor, he is attacked by the partner in crime of the woman he dates, shoots him in the eye, while his friend Ken receives the order to kill the other hit man, for his mistake on the previous job.
In this wild ride we have drugs, the very small man and the prostitute he has brought from Amsterdam, an exchange of insults, sexist and discriminatory remarks, a suicide and murder attempt, the arrival of the despicable Harry and a few confrontations, runs and weird jokes- a few involves Americans and one Canadian, some obese individuals who want to make it to the top of the old tower…all in very unusual and effective mix.

sâmbătă, 26 mai 2018

The Bookshop, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, written for the big screen and directed by Isabel Coixet

The Bookshop, based on the novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, written for the big screen and directed by Isabel Coixet

Penelope Fitzgerald is the outstanding author of the Man Booker Prize Winner Offshore and her novel that has been adapted for this motion picture has been itself short-listed for the same prestigious literary prize.

Therefore, it is to be expected that the film is noteworthy, especially if we also add the cast, which includes Emily Mortimer in the leading role of Florence Green, the aristocratic, effervescent Bill Nighy as Mr. Brundish and the gifted Patricia Clarkson as Mrs. Gamart
When considering the setting of a small, sleepy seaside town and the idea expressed in the title of The Bookshop, one could think that this is not going to be very exciting, there would be no adventures here, but passions run high and some astonishingly, amiable looking personages turn out to be just about as nasty as Lex Luthor.

The protagonist, Florence Green, decides to open a bookshop, in 1959, in Hardborough, England, where there has been no such outlet and even if it seems such a harmless, unadventurous idea, it turns out to be opposed vehemently, at least by some individuals that matter.
If the heroine is the good fairy, the Cinderella and/or Snow White of the Books World, Mrs. Gamart is the Cruella de Vil, the bad witch who will fight the Bookshop as if it was a whorehouse, a gambling outfit or even the den of mobsters and criminals.

Apart from the formidable adversary that will play any trick in the bad book and eventually cause the death of another good character in the story, there is the bank official who is not willing to support the protagonist in her endeavor and would actually start on a negative path and cause trouble along the way.
Mr. Keble who works for the bank and on top of his financial opinion is expressing other views and offers unsolicited, gratuitous advice, is called Potato Head by the local people.

Florence Green wants to establish her business in an old house and when she meets General Gamart, she mentions her project and the intention to bring first the classics, books that people want, by famous authors like Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope.
The General asks poetry, which the bookshop startup owner thinks would not be so much in demand, and when the interlocutor mentions a few lines from a poem and she does not recognize them…the old man walks away.

However, it is his wife that would play the role of the “Harpy” to quote the man who thinks she is such an evil, obnoxious, overbearing, negative influence in the area and who would ultimately die because of her, Mr. Edmund Brundish.
Bill Nighy plays this intriguing, complex, interesting character, in love with books, but apprehensive of people, indeed, so much so that he does not want to see the authors of the volumes he reads.

Edmund Brundish cuts out the photographs of the writers from the covers or the pages where they are printed- when and if they are- for he is so unwilling to see them and he says that:

Biographies should be about good people – at least this is what he wants to read, along with good novels- and he also has the view that good books are about bad people…

Milo North is another local personage of some interest to the narrative, ambivalent and ultimately treasonous, who offers some help and at one stage works with the protagonist at her bookshop, only to give access to unwanted guests, when she is absent from the premises.
He is the one who attracts the attention to Lolita- of which he says that Graham Greene has called a masterpiece, but others have condemned- and Florence sends this to find the opinion of Edmund Brundish.

Before this, Mr. Brundish had sent a messenger with a polite letter, asking for recommendations and the list of prices, wishing the local bookshop owner success and with this marking the “Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship” to quote Casablanca.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of the books sent to this book lover and he enjoys it so much that he asks for and starts reading other works by the same wonderful author, including The Martian Chronicles.

Edmund Brundish and Florence Green have much more in common than a love of good books, for the man had been a sort of pariah and in the town; gossip had him kill his wife who had supposedly been drowned.

In fact, the truth is that man and wife decided after six months of marriage, decades ago, that they should remain good friends – best was the word indeed- and she now lives in London, not dead at all, where she has gained a lot of weight, mostly because she loves sweets too much.
The attack on the bookshop is devious, perverse and sophisticated, for the enemy wants an “art center „and even has her nephew work on a law that would make it easy for the local counsel to take the old house away from the heroine and sent her out, after closing the shop.

A man dies trying to prevent this and to add insult to injury, the General comes to Florence green to say that the deceased had come to his wife to express support for the great idea of creating the “art center” and the protagonist, horrified and overwhelmed cries out to the man to get out and never come here again…
The Bookshop is a very good motion picture.

Water for Elephants, based on novel by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants, based on novel by Sara Gruen

The adaptation for the big screen could have benefited from better circumstances, such as a more suitable lead man, for the actor Robert Pattison, talented and able as he is, does not give a convincing performance in this feature.

Alas, he is not the only one, indeed, it is probably not just the actors who seem to take the wrong path, the concept, screenplay and other factors are probably, in their turn, responsible for the lack of enthusiasm, effervescence generated by this motion picture.
It has a Metascore of just 52, which means that the critics have not been overwhelmed.

Robert Pattison is Jacob Jankowski, the hero of this film, a young man whose parents die, misfortune aggravated by the fact that he loses his home and everything else.
Without any means, he tries to join the circus lead by August, portrayed by Cristoph Waltz, generally brilliant in the role of the villain, but somewhat awkward, perhaps a little over the top in a construction that anyway seems to be unbalanced, to lack a sense of unity, or maybe something else.

August is married to Marlena, played by Reese Witherspoon, who gives a decent if not outstanding performance, in the role of the star of the show, the acrobat who rides the superb horse and at the same time displays acrobatic skills on the moving animal.
The manager of the circus refuses the protagonist in the first instance, pointing out that everybody works hard in his enterprise and he sees nothing that the young man can bring to his outfit.

Nonetheless, the hero insists, points out that he has some education as a vet and that his main attraction, the horse with which Marlena brings in the public and the money has a serious problem.
Indeed, upon further inspection, the problem of the smart animal proves to be much more serious, for it is not just an abscess, as his rider thought, that will go away with cold towels.

The beautiful white horse is in excruciating pain, will be lame soon, but this is the first time when the cruelty of the ruthless manager is apparent, for he says that the animal will perform to the very end, since he has seen people starve and he is not moved by the suffering of beasts.
Nevertheless, in agreement with Marlena, the young vet puts an end to the suffering of the poor animal and this attracts the wrath of Khan, the master of the show brings in his henchmen, they pull the culprit half way out of the moving train of the circus and it seems that they will kill him.

The dialogue, violence and attitude all point that way, only Jacob escapes death this time and the manager seems to enjoy it when he says that others would enjoy the death of the star attraction- indeed, the vet had observed that the meat given to them had been abominable and rotten- the lions, tiger and others would now eat fresh meat.

Before all this, August had made a frightening jest, making the young new employer feed the lion, by opening the door to the cage, placing the bucket in, only to be grabbed by the ferocious feline, to the absolute joy of the laughing proprietor, who finally says...he has no teeth.
It soon becomes evident that this character is actually a a maniac, a sadist who throws his employees from the moving train, when he feels he cannot cope with adversity, their challenge and request to be paid, when he fails to give them their wages and he is absolutely a psychopath when it comes to animals too.

To replace the dead horse and try to attract the public, August buys an aging elephant called Rosie, mistreated by her former stupid owner and alas, soon to be abused by the terrible negative personage.
The manager of the circus wants his wife to ride the new star, just as she did with the horse, against her protests that she knows nothing about elephants and Jacob to be the handler of the new, giant star of the show.

During the first performance, Rosie walks out, Marlena just about manages to hang out to a an iron bar and the elephant is off to town, where she stops to eat some cabbage and is recuperated by the hero, only to be savagely hurt with a poke with which is repeatedly stabbed, until her side is covered in blood.
The loathsome, abhorrent master of the game had given a " lesson" on how to cope with an animal, who needs to see who the boss is, the latter has to have the means to inflict pain and the necessary attitude, for the animal would sense if he is feeble and powerful enough to handle it.

This was indeed the repulsive concept and the reason why circuses are now banned in most civilized lands, for the basis for handling wild animals was force, the stick and the electric shock, with other means of abuse.
It is true that even dogs recognize the alpha male and it helps to show them that the owner is at the top of the food chain, the leader of the pack, otherwise it could be dangerous, the pet would want to get to the top position, with a weak owner and it might become impossible to make it come, stay, obey or even prevent him from biting.

The method to make the pets realize this is not with the whips though, but with firm, decisive, constant, balanced, sure training.
When August seems to be ready to kill or anyway dispose of Rosie as untrainable and of no use to the show and his finances, Jacob finds out that the elephant can and would obey if the handler uses some words of Polish.

From this moment of revelation forward, it is all Wine and Roses, with the exception of the lunatic in charge and the growing emotion that the hero feels around Marlena and which seems to have a response in kind.
The jealous mad man resorts to vicious violence, beating the rival - even in a period when his faithful wife has given no reason to complain or doubt her loyalty- and it is all heading towards an expected climax, which in some ways the public can anticipate and then it is somehow mentioned from the beginning, when we have an old man lost at the circus and he begins to tell the story of

Water for Elephants

In conclusion, this is not a bad movie, but it could have been so much better, perhaps with different performers, maybe with some other perspective on the script and changes in the view of the director...maybe with a different team altogether.
It is also possible to have different ingredients and still find flaws in the tragic tale connected with the suffering of gentle animals at the hands of human beings, bent on making a profit from their suffering.

Armageddon, based on a story by Robert Roy Pool, with six contributors for the adaptation for the big screen

Armageddon, based on a story by Robert Roy Pool, with six contributors for the adaptation for the big screen

Armageddon was nominated for…Four Academy Awards!
Granted, the categories were Best Sound, Special Effects, Visual and Sound and for the tremendous “I don’t want to miss a thing”, Best Music.

The feeling is that Armageddon is disastrous in so many ways, in spite of the splendid cast and the presence of the Divine Liv Tyler, an actress whose beauty is not surpassed by anyone – equaled, maybe, but there is no other woman or goddess who is better looking than this talented artist is.
One of the strong points of this rather forgettable motion picture is the presence of so many heavyweights:

Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper, Billy Bob Thornton aka Dan Truman, Ben Affleck as A.J. Frost, Steve Buscemi aka Rockhound, Owen Wilson as Oscar Choice, Michael Clarke Duncan – outstanding in The Green Mile- aka Otis Bear Kurleen and the glorious, fantastic, splendid Liv Tyler as Grace Stamper.

The premise of the film is reasonable in that it makes sense to think of the future when a big enough asteroid would come in the vicinity of the earth and eventually collide with it, destroying the earth in the process and if not that, then wipe out the population on it during and following the impact.
The hypothesis of a big clash with one such huge cosmic traveler is advanced as one the most likely explanation for the disappearance of the dinosaurs and multiple such objects from space have fallen on our planet and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, up to the very end of the earth, which may be cause by one such awful collision.

Starting from this acceptable premise, what follows in this gigantic feature is mostly, if not entirely preposterous, outrageous, colossal and flawed in details and its structure and ridiculous magnitude.
NASA has seen this and the humanity, its leaders are aware of the Clear and Present Danger and the imminent extinction if they do nothing about it and a series of frenzied consultations is lined up.

The military says that they need to nuke the oncoming danger, only this is more complicated than it seems and after a supposedly humorous exchange – which just seems over the top and obnoxious- they take the view that a nuclear bomb would have to be inserted into the asteroid, otherwise, it would not work.
Enter the stage Harry Stamper aka Bruce Willis and his band of rebel, maverick, outré drillers and geologists, in this instance the world’s last hope, for they would have to create the big hole required to get the bomb in, under impossible circumstances, within dangerous conditions, out there in the outer space.

The creators of this saga surely thought this would be such a terrific, spectacular story that the audiences would be awed and ecstatic, only it is too pretentious and silly to think that space ships would fly through meteorites- and only get some cracks in the windows, and maybe one team gone- and drill on a flying surface with success
Of course, many dismissed the race to fly to the moon and a number of conspiracy theory fanatics still think it was all just a show, filmed somewhere on earth, for nobody ever stepped on our natural satellite, but there is a limit to where we can take some scientific facts and bend them.

It is not just the impossibility of the endeavor that makes this hard to watch, it is the combination of a strange kind of humor, the sense that some undisciplined, untrained amateurs can play games and become astronauts in a matter of days- yes, there is no time left, but then we can just guess this is the end and it is really Armageddon, with an unhappy, but credible ending.
Con Air, Top Gun come to mind, with the pretense that a team or better still, just one exceptional hero can change the fate of a large group, or why not, the world, but the most likely to resemble to some extent would be The Right Stuff, which is so much superior to Armageddon as to defy comparison.

The Right Stuff is a chef d’oeuvre about real astronauts –including John Glenn and some of the first to go out in outer space- what it takes to fly away from the earth,, the skills, perseverance, grit, discipline – which in Armageddon seems to be a negative trait- dedication, bravery.
When compared with The Right Stuff, Armageddon is the opposite, a motion picture with a very flawed narrative, too much bent on spectacle and fireworks and very thin on substance, willing to dazzle and impress, but without a plot that is respectable.

It could all happen, but even if it would, the elements and ingredients can never be the ones described in this film, for they try to much to make it glamorous and have the team sing at the most inappropriate and unlikely moment- if any singing is indeed in order- it feels hallow and silly.

joi, 24 mai 2018

Hilarious by Louis CK

Hilarious by Louis CK

Louis CK has experienced a dramatic downfall, after having reached the peaks of acclaim, recognition, popularity and admiration, a fantastic, spectacular fall has followed and the talented comedian is now in disgrace.
Maybe- probably- he deserves it, if the allegations- some of them apparently confirmed by the accused- are verified and the performer had masturbated in front of shocked and humiliated women.

With hindsight, hearing some of his shows, it seems that the extreme to which he takes his lines may have announced, anticipated, maybe even warned (?), about the sexual aberration that was about to be unleashed.
Take one piece from Hilarious, where the showman shares with the audience the story of the beautiful couple- handsome CK adds that he may suck his dick, for he has been straight so far, but maybe he wants to be gay for the last part- after all, gays have parades to celebrate the way they have sex, whereas heterosexuals have nothing of the kind - and then the comedian sees near the couple someone he thinks is the baby, a Chinese woman in fact that with his slow brain - he jokes on this too - he still thinks should be the child of the couple...

„Oh, so this is what their child looks like...”

But then he has another jest, that is so bizarre that hearing about the sexual misconduct makes it sound like alarm bells...maybe I wanted to fuck their baby...and emphasizing that it is to annoy the public so he can laugh- maybe a dead baby, it would not feel anything.
This is just absurd, we can see that clearly, it is all a game, pushed so that the further it gets, the more preposterous it becomes and hence, ridiculous and amusing...Insha'Allah.

In some ways, criticizing a type of humor that pushes the boundaries is in the same vein with the attacks on masterpieces like Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, classics that conservatives and fundamentalists hate because there is too much violence and /or expletives.

Louis CK has a tremendous power of observation, which is a large part of the reason for his - alas, now gone - huge former success.
He is more than sarcastic when he talks about the attractive girl that he saw at the gym- where he went just to wear athletic gear, by his own admission - but whose attitude, mentality, philosophy- if that is the word- seems to be summarized by "you want to fuck me"

This is where Louis CK may appear funny or obnoxious, depending on one's point of view, but the observation is accurate, at least for a group of individuals who have an exaggerated care for their bodies and own personas, but little to offer beyond a great shape.
The humorist is also provocative when he talks about the use that people make of grandiose sounding words like amusing and Hilarious, which is the title of this feature.

He reminds me of a story by Thomas Mann, in which the protagonist is upset by the frequency with which we resort to lines like:

I love you so much that words are not enough...

That character said that actually, we can only find the meaning of love in fiction, in real life, we do not have the resources to love somebody, being loyal to the end, dedicated and all that Love implies.
Therefore, the point made by CK is more than jocular and sensible, it can be argued that indeed, amazing and hilarious must be reserved for somethings overwhelming, glorious and otherworldly.

On the other hand, Harvard Professor Tal Ben- Shahar maintains that

„Words create worlds”

The performer is anyway over the top when he attacks the woman that made two interlocutors say...Hilarious...

„I saw Lisa today
That is hilarious
How can that be, says CK”

He then wishes Superman took her from a gruesome fall, take her higher, only to...drop her again...fucking Lisa...

Why? Just because it may be funny, absurd?
The other thing, with Amazing might sound more decent, in a way, for he is right to criticize using the word for chicken wings.

What if Jesus comes to earth and makes love to you all night and then you give birth to the Child...what would that be, if you use amazing on chicken wings.

The point made regarding flying is both Hilarious and pertinent, for we keep complaining about waiting for the take off, when it is such an Amazing achievement.
Louis CK puts in perspective the thirty years it took in the past to get from the west coast to California, the arrows and frequent deaths, compared to spending time on a chair, up in the air.

Many are critical of their mobile phones, without pausing for a second to think of the time when there were dial phones with discs- mentioned by the artist- or no such wonderful machines at all...we did not have one at all in our home, just a few decades ago and we had to wait in long queues to use a public phone, in the paradisical communist days...they were saying this is heaven, but we knew it was hell.

In conclusion, I have enjoyed Hilarious tremendously, in spite of the ostracism of the protagonist, after all, if you read the wonderful chef d' oeuvre Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, you learn that geniuses have often been really obnoxious, even abhorrent and criminal at times:

Tolstoy, Hemingway, Ibsen, Rousseau and the list is evidently longer...
What to do if the human behind the writer was evil, throw away War and Peace?

miercuri, 23 mai 2018

Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by Martin McDonagh

Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by Martin McDonagh

The cast is phenomenal in the outré Seven Psychopaths, and if only for that reason, this outlandish comedy- thriller would be worth watching, without taking into account the originality, fresh perspective, quirkiness, provocative and unusual material that is proposed here.

Even the actors that only have a couple of minutes, in the introduction, are more than heavyweights- Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, the couple of characters that discuss a murder, only to be taken out by the one who would prove to be Psychopath Number One.
Sam Rockwell- the recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, for his exceptional performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri- plays Billy- the aforementioned Psychopath Number One, friend of Marty, the screenwriter portrayed by Colin Farrell.

Another friend of the above is Hans aka the always fascinating and out of this world Cristopher Walken, whose “business” is stealing dogs and then delivering them back to their owners, casing in the reward for finding them, after a feeble protest, a fake refusal of the money.
Hans and Billy make a serious mistake when they take the Shih Tzu called Dolly- was she? -- from the “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know” mob boss Woody Harrelson in the role of Charlie- always a bliss, an ecstatic pleasure to see this artist, maybe stoned at the time- he says he is off marijuana now, but he was known as a frequent user in older days.

When Charlie finds that his beloved pet is missing, he pours his wrath down on the woman who had the dog in her care- Gabourey Sidibe, the phenomenon launched by Precious- and threatens to kill her, indeed, he even pulls the trigger…but his favorite gun has a habit of jamming…one of the very bizarre aspects of this comedy- drama.
One of the hatchet men of this mobster says that there is an individual in the neighborhood, who comes with missing animals and brings them back, taking money for his supposedly innocent effort and Charlie is mad that he had not been told earlier, aims the gun again at the poor woman and insists- she still has to get it, she lost my dog- but he shoots above her head for this is his idea of a joke.

The organized crime leader sends his team to find the thief and punish him, they catch him and it looks like this will be an easy revenge and Hans will be dead in short while, when the first psychopath enters the stage- again- and kills the two hit men.

Weaved into this story of the missing Shih Tzu are other narratives that have nothing to do with it, they are meant to be part of the screenplay written by Marty, who is interested in psychopaths, one of them being a Vietnamese who has a few versions to his tale, as imagined by the different contributors, in one take he sets fire to a convention, while in another he protests through the gruesome self-immolation.
Billy shares the girlfriend with…Charlie, perhaps it would be better said that Angela aka Olga Kurylenko is cheating on the “Mad, Bad and Dangerous Man” – who has nothing in common with Lord Byron, the one the famous quote is about, except perhaps a peculiar eccentricity- with the first Psychopath and there is a funny jest on being rather an extreme act to be not just with one, but two violent men.

Charlie wants to exact revenge- reminding one with his fury and lividity of Jules, from Pulp Fiction and his famous quote from the Bible -“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord…”
In his blind search for vengeance, the mobster enters the hospital room where Myra, Hans’ wife is treated for cancer and after a weird discussion he kills the poor woman who had nothing to do with the missing pet- indeed, she is actually telling her husband that she hopes he will take another job and it becomes another joke when the government is mentioned, and a job working for the government would be no change from stealing- instead of dogs he would be taking other things…

Billy finds about his absurd murder while he is with Angela and he decides to do something senseless in his turn, shooting the poor lover in the stomach, just as part of the series of cruel, mindless, brutal series of Payback games.
A psychopath is someone who has no emotions, no feelings, but who is nonetheless able to perceive and speculate on the emotions of the others, often reaching positions of power- perhaps as high as the White House? - only the characters of this motion picture seem crazy, but it is hard to say if they are psychopaths or the diagnosis should be different.

Hans, Billy and Marty take the kidnapped dog into the desert, where the latter is outraged and overwhelmed by the actions of the former two, who indeed act in a mind boggling, insane manner.
Psychopath Number One calls Charlie, he tells him to drive in this desert like location, with no guns, and he wants a final confrontation- the shootout, a version of which he had described to his friends- to the desperation of the screenwriter.

The confrontation is both amusing and rather upsetting- as is the case for almost all the feature actually- for when the villain arrives, he is told to climb out of his car, turn around, show he has no guns and pull his jacket to make all this evident and then he is…shot down by the antagonist, raising the question...
Is this a fight between good and evil, as we generally expect, needing some hero to cheer for?

Or is it just bad against bad?
Well, the movie is called SEVEN Psychopaths for a reason…

marți, 22 mai 2018

Les Grands Esprits aka The Great Spirits by Ludovic du Clary and Olivier Ayache-Vidal

Les Grands Esprits aka The Great Spirits by Ludovic du Clary and Olivier Ayache-Vidal

When seeing this good film, one is reminded of Entre les Murs, To Sir with Love and other classic features with a professor and his or her pupils at the center of the plot.

Denis Podalydes is very good in the leading role of Professor Francois Foucault, who is a teacher of French at Henri IV Institute, of the most prestigious establishments in France, but after a rather long career, he accepts the challenge of moving to the banlieues.
This is where teaching is hard and it requires a calling - psychology studies have demonstrated that in each profession, we have one group of people interested in the paycheck, another in a career - more or less - but the community you want to be in is that of those who have found their Calling and hence the ingredient of happiness.

It is not easy, plain sailing, for the students he now has have very little idea about almost anything cultural, artistic and seem to have been affected by the modern day plagues- always on mobile phones, a continuous presence online but little real life interaction and so on.

Nevertheless, the gifted professor would take the intelligent attitude, which has been again proved by psychology research.
The Pygmalion Effect, named after the sculptor of Ancient Greece that has asked the Gods to give life to his statue, Galatea, purports that a teacher who believes in the potential of his or her pupils will see them performance improve...the same is true for students that think highly of their teacher, managers of workers and in other circumstances.

Francois Foucault gives credit to his class, even when. They give the most absurd and outlandish answers and he sees them cheating, furthermore, he does this in front of opposition from fellow teachers.
Indeed, others are flabbergasted by the astonishing high scores, ratings awarded by the new colleague to known difficult cases, like Seydou and Chloe.
While they think that the professor is out, Seydou and a friend, walk to the desk, look into the briefcase of the teacher and use their phones to take pictures of the answers they have to give to their upcoming test.

Even if he saw that, the hero decides to ignore it, perhaps thinking that at least they took some effort, whereas in general they have seemed to be rather absent minded and disinterested.
This Superman, Wonder Teacher finds challenges for his reluctant pupils and he tells them the interesting stories behind famous novels, like Les Miserables, of which, alas, this rather backward class had never heard.

But now they learn that Victor Hugo had had an affair, he was exposed at a time when adulterous acts where considered a shame and a crime, therefore the author had to stay away from the world and thus created one of the most popular and appreciated novels ever written.
The protagonist decides to take his class on a trip that they hoped - and the skeptics in the teachers cabinet were right- to go to Disneyland or an Asterix park, only to find that it is Versailles for them.

They ask when they find their destination what is it?
A chateau? They are not happy with it, even if it turns out to be quite an adventure for at least a couple of them.

Francois Foucault jokes about the bedroom of the King, talks about the secret staircase through which the sovereign would visit la favorite and he has to explain what the term means and then makes what looks like a mistake with hindsight.
The hero says that the royals, King and Queen, took a selfie and the naive teenagers believe it and he has to state that this is just humor, they had no phones back then.

Nevertheless, this gives a crazy idea to Seydou and his friend Chloe, who are missing when the count is made at the bus and after checking the security cameras are found under the royal bed.
The council of the school decides to punish the girl with a suspended exclusion, but they are unjust and expel the boy, causing his teacher trouble when trying to reverse this harsh sentence, which would affect the life of the black boy and his family.

An impressive teacher, Great Spirits indeed and a worthwhile motion picture, which teaches values, morality, Character strengths and what teaching and education must be about.