vineri, 30 noiembrie 2018

Finding Neverland by Allan Knee - Nine out of 10

Finding Neverland by Allan Knee
Nine out of 10

This motion picture is inspirational, beautifully acted, a pleasure to watch and “motivational”, a key word today.

It presents the emotional story of J. M. Barrie, his relationships with his spouse and more importantly, with the Llewelyn Davies family that would ultimately inspire the famous Peter Pan.
The extravagant Johnny Depp proves here again that he is a phenomenal, versatile actor, capable of portraying Pirates, the memorable FBI agent in Donnie Brasco, a mobster – that has been recently killed in real life, in prison- in Black Mass, supernatural figures like Edward Scissorhands and all the other imaginable characters.

As J. M. Barrie, the talented playwright, he experiences a low when producing a work that is rejected by the public and feels the pressure to follow this with a success, put on stage though his impresario, Charles Frohman aka Dustin Hoffman.
At the most opportune moment, while walking his huge dog in the park, the writer meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies as played by the legendary Kate Winslet, and her four sons and the author would become good friends with this family.

Indeed, so much so that gossip would interfere, the rumor that he spends more time with the woman who is a widow than his own wife and outrageously, the slander would assume that the playwright has a vicious, perverse reason for spending so much time with the adolescent boys.
In fact, he is one of them, an adult boy who has a strong bond with the children that benefit from his fabulous imagination, truthfulness – when disease strikes again in this unfortunate household, the adult would not indulge in the usual lying about the gravity of the affliction and limit himself to stating that he does not know what is wrong.

The Llewelyn Davies family is poor and in his generosity, J.M. Barrie thinks of helping them in all manners of ways, including by sending someone from his staff to help the household with chores, attracting the wrath of his jealous wife, who is malicious and rather loathsome in a scene where the hero explains his intentions only to have her retort that he should also give them cutlery and why not, linen, while he is at it.

Mary Ansell Barrie is to some extent justified in reproaching her husband the time he spends with another woman, more than with her, but at the same time, she would eventually be the one that does have extramarital affairs, while the man would limit himself to a platonic relationship.
Which is not without prejudice, harm to the reputation of the widow that would see all her prospects of remarrying vanish in the face of the public opprobrium that is so manifest as to have her family isolated at public events and ostracized in general.

Mrs. Emma du Maurier, a widow herself, former spouse of another writer, is portrayed by the titan of cinema, Julie Christie and is the severe, rather excessive mother of Sylvia, who comes to the rescue as she calls it, but creates all sort of problems, interfering between her daughter and the playwright.
This imposing figure rejects what she calls the charity of the man who harms the reputation of her daughter, damaging it beyond repair and eliminating all the possibilities of a future, decent, married life.

She would however be chastised by one of the boys, who makes the exceptional point that if her mother wishes to see uncle James, there is no way to prevent her and even he does not have to listen to her, for this is not the grandmother’s home, it is theirs.
Indeed, James Barrie has invited his friends to stay in a cottage he has, that his family does not use and where they try to stage some amateur plays, when Sylvia becomes ill and one of her children smashes the stage in frustration and despair at the lies they are always told and which this time would bring out the news that this is just a simple cold, when he knows it is not the truth.

The author promises to tell the truth, always, and keeps to this promise, stating that he does not know what the illness is and later on, when action is needed, he confesses that he tries to make the sick mother take care of herself, but she would not listen, giving the example of her late husband who has been taken to the hospital – as is recommended for her, for further analysis – and the result has been tragic.
For the new play that would be staged, James Barrie faces a difficult task, with hostile actors complaining about the costumes, or in the case of the one playing a dog, the impossibility of performing the acts in the script due to lack of teeth, the awkward paws with which he cannot make the beds or anything else.
The phenomenal Kelly Macdonald – seen recently in a formidable film, Puzzle, noted on here: - would play Peter Pan on stage.

This would be revealed to be James Barrie himself, as one of the Llewelyn Davies boys reveals with tremendous insight, when people say that he is Peter Pan, he explains it is actually the author.
Finding Neverland is a joy to see

miercuri, 28 noiembrie 2018

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, two segments based on stories by Jack London and Stewart Edward White respectively - 10 out of 10

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, two segments based on stories by Jack London and Stewart Edward White respectively
10 out of 10

This is one of the best films of 2018, deserving of a few Academy Awards, Golden Globes and other prestigious awards – the most relevant of all, the Cannes Festival Palme d’Or included.

It is original in that it does not present just one narrative – indeed, when the first segment, the Ballad, ends, the viewer is almost shocked, if amused by the sudden departure of the leading character, a pistolero named Scruggs, who shoots opponents with otherworldly speed and accuracy, even when he does not have a gun in his hand, only to be in his turn eliminated with such an ease that the scene becomes jocular and morbid…some spoiler alerts may follow…
Tim Blake Nelson – who has already been excellent in another Coen Brothers masterpiece, O Brother, Where Art Thou? – plays with masterful ease the preposterous Buster Scruggs, who is both amused, joyful and extremely deadly with his pistol, killing an opponent in the most bizarre circumstances -when holding a mirror, looking in it for his target and calculating the mirror effect, what impact his keeping it upside down has on the trajectory of the only bullet left has.

Scruggs enters a saloon, where the rule says that all weapons, pistols and shotguns have to be left at the entrance for storage, to avoid gun fights within, is considering joining a poker game, but decides to skip it when he sees the poor hand that is left on the table by the previous player, only to be forced to continue, by a man who somehow still has his revolver with him and is about to put a decisive hole in the protagonist, who is so good that he steps on the table and makes his rival shoot himself.
This motion picture is the cinematic equivalent of a splendid collection of short stories, with one tale more interesting, sometimes outrageous, tragic, with darker humor than the other, like the segment that is second in line, Near Algodones, with the exceptional James Franco in the role of a failed bank robber, who enters this branch in the middle of nowhere and tries to get the money.

He threatens the teller with a gun, this one is bending to supposedly get the bills, but he has already installed there two shotguns, ready to fire at potential wrong doers, fires them, forcing the intruder to duck, while the employee disappears and the cowboy takes the bills and tries to escape, wondering where the gifted adversary might be, makes it to a water well nearby, where he comes under heavy fire and is eventually apprehended and due to a blow on the head wakes up with a rope around his head.

A group of men is waiting for him to wake up, inform him that there has been a fair trial and he would be hanged, therefore he might consider giving his horse to one of the cowboys present, and when the sentenced criminal refuses, a band of Native Americans attacks the party, killing with arrows, hatchets all of those present, with the exception of the protagonist who is waiting on his horse, when a chieftain approaches, laughs at him and departs.
It looks like an even worse fate, for having been saved in the last second – like the famous Russian genius. Fyodor Dostoyevsky – for instead of dying in a more or less short time, with less pain, he would now wait on top of his horse, who is slowly moving about to grasp the few grass roots available, until a more sudden movement would leave the antihero in the air, without support and therefore hanging by the neck until he is finally dead.

There is a twist and a macabre joke about this, to avoid spoiling it, let us just mention the line “is it your first time (when you are supposed to be hanged)” uttered to an old, whining man that is waiting for his execution.
The part entitled “Meal Ticket” is still humorous at moments, but it could well be the darkest of the entire collection - together with The Gal Who Got Rattled – with a very cruel Impresario – a sibylline Liam Neeson – an artist without hands and legs – portrayed with majesty and outstanding talent by Harry Melling – who gives performances in various small towns and villages.

Meal Ticket refers to the Artist, who has a one man show that includes impressive, remarkable acts, attended by small crowds where they are lucky, but with a public limited to only three –and even these seem to pay nothing for their entertainment – in places where there is no interest, or, like in this locality, a serious competition attracts the audience, who looks in awe at a hen that supposedly can count.
Impresario buys the hen, takes it on the wagon he shares with his Meal Ticket, the disabled, mesmerizing performer that is looking with despair at the feathered rival that is kept hanging in a small cage, up to the point where his companion stops near a ravine, where the monstrous man checks with a big rock the depth of the valley and the next scene explains why he did that…

All Gold Canyon is based on a story by Jack London and in it a prospector takes his mule near a river, where he tries and fails to find gold, up to the point where he appears to get lucky, with a rather remarkable finding in the big hole he has dug, only to see the shadow of a man that is standing above, with a pistol in his hand…

The Gal Who Got Rattled shares with Meal Ticket a very sinister streak, given the unexpected finale, the fate of Alice Longabaugh, a young woman who travels with her optimistic, but rather flawed, untrustworthy brother on one of the perilous, deadly wagon trails, where the sibling expires, the grieving woman has to settle some exaggerated debts towards the boy leading their equipage.
Billy Knapp, who leads and guides the wagons with the older Mr. Arthur, comes to the rescue, on the first instance in a rather cruel manner, offering to put down the President, a small, lovely dog that barks too much and has had the neighbors complaining, only to see him escape, return later and get the owner in trouble when the American Indians attack.

As the makers of The Big Lebowsky have used us, No Country for Old Men, Fargo, True Grit and so many other classics, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an outstanding, mesmerizing collection of stories.

La Ch’tite Famille, starring, written and directed by Dany Boon - Seven out of 10

La Ch’tite Famille, starring, written and directed by Dany Boon
Seven out of 10

This comedy seems to be a sequel – or is it prequel? – to the very successful, at least in France, film Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis.

Notwithstanding that first accomplishment, the latest descent into a very strange dialect does not seem to have the impact of the first, which was anyway hard to engage with for audiences outside the Hexagon.
In the Welcome to the Sticks, a man from Provence is sent to work in the far North, where he finds it impossible to communicate with locals that seem to speak some foreign tongue.

Recently, this has been a subject for the news, when the leader of the extreme left, Jean-Luc Melenchon has been aggressive to a journalist who spoke this strange dialect, which he pretended not understand, asking for a question in French.
This was not just preposterous, it was outright offensive, pretentious, ignoble and stupid, and coming from a self-proclaimed leader who cares for those left behind, including the uneducated and citizens who do not speak the tongue of the Paris elite…

Dany Boon is the writer – director who also has the leading role of Valentin Duquenne, a designer architect who has left the northern region with its dialect to become a phenomenon in the capital.
He pretends to be an orphan, which in one scene would cause his father, Jacques Duquenne aka the legendary comedian Pierre Richard, to take his car up in the air, in a revenge for this offense, even looking like he may shoot his prodigal son that has denied his origins.

Valentin is ashamed to assume his origins in a less than developed region, as the son of scrap metal merchants.
However, his family would be coming to him.

The celebrated architect is opening an exhibition, when the family he rejects comes out to surprise him.

They do, but not delight the estranged son and brother, as they have expected.
The celebrity is flabbergasted and wants to hide, taking refuge behind curtains, trying to evade the relatives.

His father-in-law, Alexander, has a fight with the hero, backs up his Mercedes limousine and hits Valentin so hard that he enters a coma.
When he wakes up, he has no memory of his life of the past years, his recollections stop at the moment when he was still with the ch’tis.

Therefore he talks in the same incomprehensible manner, does not know who his partner, Constance Brandt is and whines over a lost scooter.
Alexander arranges for elocution lessons, for there is no way that this primitive man could represent their business.

Meanwhile, the devoted, loving, flexible, understanding Constance starts talking that crazy language.
When questions are asked, it seems there is no French word that has an equivalent in the ch’tite patois.

Horse and all the other common words do not ring a bell for the newly born Valentin, who has only portable in common with Constance, but even that is uttered with a different sound.
Another tragedy is about to happen, for when he woke up from his coma, the protagonist is in love with his brother’s wife, with whom he has had a relationship in the past.

A fight ensues when his attention is more than platonic and Valentin seems to be determined to become intimate with his sister-in-law.
There are amusing moments, but not enough to make this more than a forgettable, light comedy.

luni, 26 noiembrie 2018

Columbus, written and directed by Kogonada - Nine out of 10

Columbus, written and directed by Kogonada
Nine out of 10

Columbus is a very beautiful, serene, rewarding, intriguing film that will not receive an Academy Award, although it would deserve one or a few.

The plot does not have car chases, killers ambushing victims, spider men or cartoon characters, but the resplendent architecture, the touching characters, the atmosphere that is often Zen more than make up for what mainstream fare has these days in abundance, if not excess.
The formidable, promising, very young Haley Lu Richardson has the leading role of Casey, a dedicated daughter, determined to stay in the small town of Columbus, Indiana, where she loves the glorious buildings, but would ultimately sacrifice her future if she does not move to a bigger city.

She has met and talked with one of the great architects that have given this city astounding masterpieces and was encouraged to continue her studies and not abandon her education, but she is such a self-sacrificing daughter that she puts the wellbeing of her parent above her own accomplishment, success and eventually her happiness.
Gabriel is a colleague with whom the protagonist interacts, although he appears to be if not somewhat superior, perhaps arrogant, at least aloof and distant, for when the delicate, charming, kind young girl asks him about hanging out on one day, he replies that he would go out with another friend, which although understandable, it is not commendable for he could at least have insisted on the next day.

Granted, on another occasion he is the one suggesting an outing, which Casey refuses because she would spend time with her mother – the communication between the two is at the same time interesting, natural and satirical, even cynical when they talk about degrees, the need that the girl would have to further her education, but not with a “stupid” degree.
Gabriel makes an interesting point on one occasion, after he reads about the short attention span and states that gamers have no patience to spend time reading, hence the “short attention span”, but if we turn the tables, those who love to read, are put off by games that they abandon soon after they start, bored with the plot and the repeated, pointless tasks – we could therefore say that they also have issues with their attention span.
Casey meets a Korean man, Jin – he has to repeat his name, when he is called Jim and say it is with an “N”- who is town because of his famous father that was supposed to give a lecture on architecture and has collapsed, entered a comma in which he still is in a hospital.

Jin is a translator for a publishing house, working with difficult deadlines – he explains the attitude in Korea where family is of such paramount importance – but work is even more important and he hates the fact that he has to finish what are creative, artistic tasks under such pressure.
The classic Outliers by the genius Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most important and influent psychologists of our time, refers to this Asian attitude towards work that has led to their outstanding success, economies that have risen from poverty levels to reach standards of the rich world and multiple achievements in other domains, explained to a certain extent by…the thousands of years tradition of cultivating rice.

The Korean man is much older than Casey – he says at one point that she seems to be about nineteen or twenty – perhaps twice her age, and indeed, he is the one who is reluctant to engage with the young woman who wants to communicate, invites him to see the buildings she loves and talks about her issues, her mother who used to “take meth” and suffer from addiction.
The two get along very well, although they have what appears the exact opposite attitudes towards their parents – while the young heroine is willing to commit to the mother who would suffer in her absence, Jin even goes as far as to say that he might prefer his father to…die.

He means to die in Columbus, when the interlocutor speaks about the health of the unconscious man improving at least enough for him to travel to Seoul, because once in Korea, people would expect the son to respect traditions, the ritual of showing extreme grief, otherwise a curse would descend upon the relative of the deceased and he or she would be transformed into a ghost.
The irony is that the hospitalized father does not believe in this or any other religion either, Casey shares with her new friend her similar attitude towards faith – indeed, she seems to believe very much in architecture, she has a top twenty of the best works of art in Columbus, which he takes Jin to see.

It would seem at first that this relationship cannot go anywhere, indeed, to some extend it appears a wonder that the much younger woman is the one who encourages, seeks it, while the Korean man is often reluctant, also refusing to come when invited – saying he should go – for instance to a party, which ends up being the young woman dancing with aplomb, on the music from her sometimes unfunctional car, near the building of her former school.

When the initial feeling of inadequacy gives room to a certain adaptation, the public may expect the closeness to become physical intimacy, but somehow this does not look like happening, even after the night of the “party”, when Casey finds herself in the bed of the man who slept on the couch – or at least from the look of it.
Jin does have an impact on the wonderful, generous, intelligent woman and their platonic bond may offer her the affection she has not received from her father – well, the mother was actually absent and a nuisance in the long periods when she had been a drug addict – even now, her behavior is often bizarre, she does not answer her cellular and has a colleague encounter her daughter whenever this one is looking for her parent.

Columbus is a beautiful, intriguing film.

Persepolis, written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud - 10 out of 10

Persepolis, written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
10 out of 10

Persepolis is a phenomenal, outstanding animated motion picture – with a PG 13 rating – winner of the Jury Prize at the most important cinematic celebration in the world, The Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and nominated for an Oscar, the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film.

Chiara Mastroianni gives voice to the main character, Marjane, her real life mother, the legendary Catherine Deneuve, portrays the mother in the film, while another titan, Danielle Darrieux, is the grandmother- a gentle, serene, honest, just woman that keeps the lavender she collects in the morning in her bosom.
This astounding, stupendous feature tells the story of a teenager, who would become a young woman, based evidently on the life of one of the writers-directors of this movie, called Marjane Satrapi – it would not be a pure coincidence.

Persepolis is also the fascinating narrative of the events that took place in Iran, before, during and after their Islamic Revolution of 1979, with its excesses, elimination of most basic freedoms, reaching the point where today, this once great nation – the people is not to blame for what the tyrants, ayatollahs at the top do – is a sponsor of terrorism in Syria, Lebanon and around the Middle East and elsewhere.
Granted, the foolish clown in the White House has made a serious – one of a multitude - - mistake when he pulled out of the nuclear agreement, instead of negotiating and adding the missile program to the aspects to watch and curtail in this very aggressive, Islamic Republic that had once been the core of the Persian Empire and fantastic civilization.

Before the advent of the loathsome ayatollah Khomeini, Iran has had other bad leaders – albeit not as awful as the case was after becoming an Islamic state – the Shah and his father, rulers who have engaged in some modernizing projects, wanted a Western type of society, but jailed dissidents and abused power and their citizens.
The uncle of the heroine was a communist – no sympathy from the under signed here, who has had to live in a communist society and still faces the consequences of the Animal Farm – and therefore imprisoned by the Shah, together with other opponents and militants.

When  the fundamentalists gain power, they resort to even worse tactics and rules, taking to prison ten times more people than the previous regime, turning women into second class citizens that have to wear the hijab, banning alcohol and in general, almost all the basic human rights.

Marji, as the protagonist is called by her family and friends, is a very vocal, brave girl and she talks about the absurdity of this new system, pointing for instance the fact that women have to cover all their body, hair, to avoid tempting in any way the men that are free to expose themselves in any way they want…is this fair, just and the way a decent society should be?
Fearing for her, the mother says that these fundamentalists would sentence her to death – as they have done with so many, including a girl they know, who worked with her father, the man who forged passports for refugees – but because their perverted beliefs would not allow them to hang a virgin, they would give her to an Islamic guardian to force himself on her before they execute her and her mother would kill anyone who touches a hair of her girl.

The family sends Marji to Vienna, to enlist with the French high school – my girl is a student of the local Lycee Francais – and stay with a friend, who allows her a limited facility and then sends her packing, in a difficult Strange New World, where she struggles to find friends in a community where many are bored, rich, anarchists, complaining about having to join their families for holidays in Monte Carlo.
The heroine speaks about the grotesque disability of these privileged rich classes to understand that while they complain about minor, foolish insouciances, people in Iran and other places fight for basic human rights, die opposing tyrannical regimes, dictators that oppress their subjects.

After changing lodgings frequently, Marji ends up as the tenant of a vicious woman that, while the girl is in serious emotional, romantic crisis since her boyfriend had slept with her and then cheated almost instantly, accuses her of stealing something and infuriating the heroine to the point where she runs on the street, where she would live for a few months, eating from garbage bins and ultimately succumbing to cold and disease.
She calls her parents and asks to return to Teheran, where the regime is the same and their abuses take at times humorous turns, as in the instance when they are stopped by the religious guardians as they drive and then taken to their home where they wanted to check if they have any alcohol – which was illegal.

While the father tries to gain time, the women are supposed to go upstairs, claiming they have to care for the diabetic patient, trying to pour all the wine artificially produced in the basement into the toilet sink before the thugs enter the house- alas, they finish all the wine needlessly, since a bribe took care of the incident before any search would be enforced.

Many die in the war with Iraq and all that is left for the families of the deceased is names of streets in Teheran, which feels like a great graveyard, where the religious fanatics roam searching for victims.
One day, Marji is running and is stopped by two patrolmen, who tell her to stop it, for while she moves like that, her bottom is “inappropriately” – perhaps they said something like luridly – creating discomfort…

Stop looking at my ass (cul in French) then!

Persepolis is a memorable, overwhelming, unusual, remarkable, excellent motion picture!

duminică, 25 noiembrie 2018

Puzzle by Polly Mann - Nine out of 10

Puzzle by Polly Mann
Nine out of 10

This motion picture has enchanted this viewer not with its fabulous plot, the fantastic action scenes, but with the extraordinary performances of the lead artists and the phenomenal atmosphere of the feature.

Kelly Macdonald is splendid as Agnes, apparently an ordinary housewife, who spends almost all her time caring for her home, cleaning, cooking – when she does not forget, as happens in one tense scene – and all the other numerous chores that pass unremarked generally, although her son, Ziggy, would protest at one stage and prove that he knows his mother does multiple things during the day.
The protagonist is married to Louie, a spouse that has some merits, although he does not seem to appreciate how lucky he is, manifests what psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation – a phenomenon characteristic in various degrees to all humans – and does not notice anymore the work of his partner, on the contrary, he is aghast when there is one slip of the mind.

Louie works with his son in a garage, but the latter does not like what he is doing and would much rather pursue a career in cooking, project in which he would be encouraged by his mother, who clashes with the retrograde, obtuse father who sees this line of work as “unmanly” and even protests when his wife indicates that the best chefs in the world are men and is challenged on the matter – “how do you know that” – there is an obvious answer in this day and age – google it on the internet.
Agnes has a hobby that she is very good at, completing puzzles with tremendous skill and speed, answering an ad in the newspaper to further this line of interest and meeting with Robert, a man who lives alone, since his wife has left, passionate about this game and willing to participate in the national competition.

Irrfan Khan plays the character with majesty, glorious talent – indeed, this must be repeated and emphasized:

Puzzle is an exquisite, great joy to watch because the artists offer a splendid, charming, almost ecstatic, serene, Zen performance at times that seems to emanate and enchant the public…at least it worked wonders for the undersigned.

Robert is the one who is engaging, joking, trying to communicate with Agnes, although the latter can be awkward – when she first arrives at his house, she has a weird cross painted on her forehead, because it is Ash Wednesday – and searching the internet we can indeed find that this is what believers of this faith do on that special occasion.
The woman is reserved, discouraging the jokes – she says she has no sense of humor – reluctant to get closer to the man that will only be her partner in this competition, in the doubles section, a religious person who lies about her training sessions, claiming she has to go every week to see someone who has a broken leg.

There are even some confrontations between the puzzlers, after the heroine learns that he is an inventor, she attacks his obsession with the puzzles – “why do you do these silly puzzles when you could do much more, you are just a bored rich man who wastes his time”- but Robert retorts with a very sophisticated, philosophical reply.
He talks about the meaning of life, the fact that we cannot control our destiny, he met her by chance, there is nothing he or anyone can do about the things that happen, only puzzles are something we can admire once we have completed them, they are even better than love in some way…

There are quite a few gems like that, insight into various deep, interesting ideas, including Buddhism and vegan attitude, with an example of a monk who does not interfere to save a life, with the thinking that he must not interfere, then the purity and innocence of the heroine is remarkable and overwhelming.
Robert falls in love with her, but she is very shy, seraphic and limited to their game, training and encourages very little conversation, hurrying to get back home to cook meals for her family, up to the point where she is also falling under the spell of an interesting man, who sees so much more in her than a cook and the woman who keeps a house in order.

The eccentric man even sees deep inside the mind of this Wonder Woman, saying that the reason why she does these puzzles – with such amazing talent – is that she can see ahead so many moves, she has a brilliant mind and is bored and dissatisfied with the rest of her life – something which to some extent is true and is brought to light by events related with this training, which has to be revealed to her husband and then a clash ensues, especially after she is so absorbed in solving a puzzle one day that she has not prepared the meal and furthermore, she has not bought anything from the grocers…a calamity!!

After Agnes kisses Robert, she says “this is the worst thing she ever did”, confessing to this mysterious man that she loves him – making the audience wish that somehow she would choose him over the spouse who claims it is the end of the world when he does not have his dinner ready, or she encourages one of their sons to pursue a career as a chef and study the culinary art.
There is another breakdown after they discuss the future of their two grown up boys, the mother suggesting they sell a piece of land they have and the cabin to a reluctant father that wants to keep fishing there, only to change his mind and without consulting his spouse making some announcements that are crucial and annoy her with the lack of consultation.

Puzzle is a spectacular film, with the usual paraphernalia of motion pictures that offer Much Ado About Nothing, with all their dazzling special effects, car chases and Transformers killing Avengers or vice versa.

Nothing to Hide aka Le Jeu, by Filippo Bologna and five others - Eight out of 10

Nothing to Hide aka Le Jeu, by Filippo Bologna and five others
Eight out of 10

Le Jeu is an interesting, at times amusing meditation on the excessive dependency that humans have on their smart phones, the social media and the constant communication through texts, postings, SMS that is coming though on a permanent basis using that medium which is always in our pockets.

The issues of privacy, secrecy, intimacy, sexuality, homosexuality, erotic internet games and exchanges are brought forward as well and a purported comedy deals with an interesting, challenging array of questions, themes, sometimes even philosophical and moral answers.
A dinner is organized by Marie – the always resplendent Berenice Bejo, best known for the landmark The Artist – and Vincent, who are married and have a teenage daughter that worries her mother, since at the age of seventeen she finds condoms in her purse that on one hand indicate precaution, on the other they point towards an active sex life.

Mother and daughter clash over the spying and foraging into the personal space, the purse that supposedly contains condoms for a friend – why is that? – whose mother is neurotic, paranoid and might look into her personal things – so that parent should talk with this one, should not she, on how to deprive the teenager of her privacy…
Ben arrives alone in the evening – he is portrayed by the formidable Gregory Gadebois, seen in Too close to Our Son -

Charlotte arrives with her husband, Marco aka another remarkable actor, Roschdy Zem, and this couple has some issues that would nearly explode later in the evening, in the course of the Game that is about to begin, initiated by Marie, who wants all present to place their phones on the table and then read aloud whatever text, message or posting they receive – if it is a call, it has to be dealt with the loud speaker and heard by the entire audience.
There is suspicion among the couples present, with the possible exception of Lea and Thomas, a younger pair that appear so in love with each other that they kiss frequently and do not show signs of worrying about each other’s philandering, speaking even about a child that they “work on” intensely – she even calculates that he or she might arrive in nine months, then in about five years they might have to move from their place to another.

The start of Le Jeu is mirthful, with a joke made by Vincent, who calls and pretends to breathe heavily to incriminate Thomas, then there is another moment when Ben answers his cellular, stands and then starts to do jumping jacks as ordered by a voice that belongs to an application which is meant to help him lose weight, stay fit.
No spoiler alert needed here since this is not crucial, but the film ends with this rather rambunctious character stopping his tiny Smart car – he appears a bit too large for it – on a bridge over the river Seine, approaching the parapet and for a moment giving the impression that he may commit suicide, only to start doing the same exercise, prompted by the now familiar voice of the app.

After the jocularity of the start of the game, there is the inevitable tension, that would actually increase to dramatic effect, reaching a climax when various revelations would transform the dinner into a near battleground, with the first moment when Marie answers her phone to receive details of an operation – surgery makes the friends fear the worst, but it is only plastic surgery, hence the occasion for some cynical exchange with the spouse, but not much more.
Marco takes Ben aside and asks him to switch phones, explaining that every evening, he receives a photo that although not very hard, would certainly cause a commotion and he would help to avoid what could be a drama, separation perhaps if he accepts the transaction.

Although his friend has refused, Marco makes the switch himself and when the photo arrives, the soft erotic picture is the occasion for jokes among the friends, making the husband think he has avoided the wrath of the spouse, up to the moment where he has to deal with the messages of his friend, that reveal the teacher to be a homosexual, or “PD” as the French would call it when they wish to insult the man.
The wife is aghast, thinking this proves her husband is not just cheating on her, but in the most unexpected manner and this is also the occasion for Thomas to reveal he is something of a homophobe…then we learn that Charlotte herself is engaged in online erotic exchanges – we have seen her taking her underwear off earlier in the Game.

As nobody seems to be pure here – indeed, there are no seraphims anywhere – Thomas is called by a woman who speaks of their not yet born…child, a climax that makes Lea suffer a breakdown, she runs to the bathroom to vomit and lock herself up, forcing the worried party to eventually break the door down to make sure she has not killed herself.

In a barrage of revelations, proves of infidelity and foul play, there is a memorable moment of exceptional parenthood, when Margot calls her father and Vincent is perfect in the attitude he has, explain to his daughter that he has given her the condoms so that she can be protected, she does not have to go with her boyfriend to use them that very night, it is her decision, he would suggest that she remains his little girl all her life, but that is not feasible and she has to decide for herself if she takes the big first step on that night – which is not advisable – but she has to know that she will always remember this moment and she might consider waiting for an occasion that would be happier than this one, when she is pushed into it by a boy whose parents are absent and wants to benefit from this.
Le Jeu is a remarkable, thought provoking motion picture; inspired it seems by a previous Italian made film.

sâmbătă, 24 noiembrie 2018

Chasing Amy, starring, written and directed by Kevin Smith - Nine out of 10

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Lola Pater, written and directed by Nadir Mokneche - 8 out of 10

Lola Pater, written and directed by Nadir Mokneche
8 out of 10

Even if the writer-director of this film has a name that does not give hope, at least in English, Lola Pater is a very interesting proposition.

When his mother dies, Zino Chekib, attends the funeral and then embarks on the journey of finding his remaining parent...his father, he thinks.
He has an address from the notary, the GPS which we hear and must be on the phone- for there no place for a big dashboard on a motorcycle, is there? - gives the known directions, take left four kilometers down the road...

And he arrives at a house where an imposing woman - the towering, experienced Fanny Ardant has the leading role here, that of Lola - is instructing, teaching a group of women the secrets of dancing, oriental style to be more precise, using Arabic music.
A man that we would later learn is gay, meets the stranger who tells him he is looking for Farid Chekib.

This has an evidently strong impact on the woman who is the leader of the operation no doubt, who comes to greet the young man.
She says that there must be a mistake, Farid Chekib is not there, does not live at the address, even thoughZino insists it was given by an official who has had dealings with him.

Eventually, he mentions that his mother has died and therefore he has to meet his remaining parent to settle the testament, official papers.
Lola is very emotional, once the man is gone and she starts crying, her friend and probably an employee, walks out of the house to bring another woman that turns out to be the heroine's lover.
The protagonist states that she has just learned that her wife is dead and we understand almost all that has happened.

There have been a number of films on the subject, with variations in the plot, from Normal with the excellent Tom Wilkinson, to Transamerica, Transparent and another acclaimed work with ChristopherPlummer and Ewan McGregor.
This is different in that the son has no idea about how the meeting with his father would be, this is true, but even the wildest imagination could not envisage what he would find.

There is a moment when he looks at some photos and he covers the lower part of the faces and he might just have a hint, a premonition, but it would take a long time and something of a struggle to come to terms with the reality.
After sending the son away, the father-who is now a new mother? - changes his mind or in fact hers, for she is a woman now, and travels to the city to engage with the Zino.

From the small hotel where she would stay, she calls his business, which is to tune pianos and other musical instruments, and pretends that she wants him to come to take care of the instrument at the address of the motel.
When he comes, the concierge knows nothing, the parent is hiding, unable to face the son, until they finally talk, but only for a few moments.

Zino has been offended by the initial rejection, he still thinks this could be the woman his father has married or is the lover of and she tries to keep him away from his parent.
It would take quite some time to one along this game, the awkward rapprochement between the former father, who is now a woman and the confused, often hostile young man.

When he is told the truth, he rejects it and this strange person who has abandoned his mother and the child, his son to become someone else, indeed so different and hard to accept.
When he looks at the old videos, where his young father was dancing, being so close to his wife and son, Zino is already tender, more pliable and warm towards Lola.

The mutation, even a paradigm shift takes place after reading the loving, touching, gentle, kind, truthful letters in which the man states that he would jump to his death if he does not change his condition.
Ultimately, he is a woman in the body of a man - there is a good joke when Lola says that she has made an improvement on the work of ...she points a finger towards Allah, the sky where he allegedly resides.

Farid asks for forgiveness and to see his son from a distance, if his mother would allow it.

Lola Pater is a very good film.

Postcards from the Edge, screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on her book - 9 out of 10

Postcards from the Edge, screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on her book
9 out of 10

When you have Meryl Streep in the leading role, you know that the film would be a minimum very good and chances are it would actually be memorable.

For Postcards from the Edge we have other phenomenal ingredients:
The director, Mike Nichols, is a fabulous artist and the cast is incredible, we only have to mention:

The legendary Shirley MacLaine, a glorious actor that is one my favorites, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Annette Bening and Dennis Quaid.

It could not be any better!

Meryl Streep portrays Suzanne Vale, an actress that has had serious problems with her addiction, given the number of stars that have experienced this issue and even died as a result, the central idea for the plot is both relevant and educational to a large extent.
Because the studios do not want to deal with the complications, indeed, potential calamities resulting from a drug problem, which could jeopardize the making of a movie, they have banned the heroine, more or less.

She is given a chance, but with strings attached.
First of all, she has to live with...her mother!

And Doris Mann aka the adorable Shirley MacLaine. - who has gone to the extreme of using make up to show her in an awful light, while she is sick in hospital- is a very tough cookie.
Actually, in a scene where they fight, we learn that when Suzanne was a child, her mother gave her pills to sleep and it is not even leaf if they were prescribed or just given on a whim.

It does not even matter if a foolish doctor would suggest such a monstrosity and even if Doris denies her role in creating at least the conditions for her daughter's misfortune, I would say that she definitely played a major role.
As a "role model", Doris Mann was actually a heavy drinker and she has been doing very embarrassing- if rather amusing for the audience- things.

She has made her child feel awful with her penchant for extravagant behavior, lurid at times, dancing with lascivious movements, even exposing her body, under the skirt, as she wore no underwear!
As Suzanne arrives on the set of the film where she would be a police woman, executives from the studio approach her.

They talk about some irrelevant matters and the they mention the insurance company and the fact that they need...a sample.
Because they would not accept to insure her without that...

Blood or urine? Asks the resigned star
Urine would be fine and an assistant would come.

The heroine seems to have found a way to happiness, especially after she meets the dashing Jack Faulkner aka Dennis Quaid and they start a tumultuous, if problematic relationship.
The seducing, effusive, expansive young man declares he loves Suzanne. She is elated, enthusiastic about it.

Up to moment when the actress talks with Evelyn Ames, portrayed by the mesmerizing Annette Bening.
The latter explains, reveals the real Jack Faulkner.

This Cassanova is telling almost all women about the same thing.
It is both sad and jocular to hear Evelyn comforting Suzanne to some extent by insisting on the very few things which were different and stating that since he did a few things that are not for the masses, so to say, this means that he must think she is some extent.

Otherwise, the paraphernalia seems to be the same.
You smell like the Catarina island - or something similar- and other cliches have been used on the heroine and a multitude of other partners.

Cherry on top, when he was telling Suzanne that he loves her, he was getting ready for sex in the same afternoon with someone else.
Which brings to mind a character from a short story by Thomas Mann.

This personage was outraged by the people who keep saying:

I love you so much, the are no words to express that!
That is absolute nonsense!

The character explains that the word love means something we do not really find in real life.
Figures in poems, novels love, but not humans.

It could be an exaggeration, but amusing heroes like Jack Faulkner do make one wonder how easy it is to say something which is meaningless.

This comedy is also a drama an a remarkable, wonderful motion picture.