duminică, 30 iunie 2019

The Holiday, written and directed by Nancy Meyers - 7 out of 10

The Holiday, written and directed by Nancy Meyers
7 out of 10

Although far from overwhelming, this rather average motion picture has some good moments.

Admittedly, they are few and far between, surpassed by many more scenes that are embarrassing, ludicrous or just uninspired.
Kate Winslet is believable - mostly, and within the confines of a less than brilliant script- as Iris, representing half of the British team playing in this transatlantic game of Love and Redemption.

She has been infatuated, perhaps love is not the correct word, with a man that has mistreated her and took advantage of her affection...he would try to do so to the very end.
Indeed, a monologue on shared love, which is the subject of most stories and films is rather interesting, as it moves towards those who love without having their feelings shared.

The only problem here would be that this tends to happen to those who look much worse than Iris and do not have her many other positive traits, but can present a long list of flaws instead.
Cameron Diaz is also admirable, given the limitations of the narrative, as Amanda, a producer of film trailers that finds her partner is cheating on her.

In order to get over their respective disillusionments, Amanda flies over to spend some time in Iris' cottage, while the latter would enjoy The Holiday spent in the ravishingly luxurious mansion of the former, with a big swimming pool and other flamboyant amenities.
The trip that Amanda takes into the village is not amusing though, for all the supposed mishandling of the Mini Cooper, it is one of the scenes that bring the quality of the feature down.

Late in the evening, a handsome stranger comes to the door, drunk and amused, looking for Iris.
This is Graham, her brother, portrayed rather imperfectly by Jude Law, who may know that the dialogue is flawed and therefore does not deliver it with too much, if any conviction.

Soon, an idyll would be in progress between him and the bold visitor, who suggest they have sex.
It might be one of the only ways in the modern age, when such a proposition coming from the male characters would become increasingly seen as anathema.

On the other side of the ocean, Iris meets with Miles aka Jack Black, who at this stage has a girlfriend that is a beautiful, aspiring young actress.
Jack Black seems to have a huge popularity around the world, or used to have a couple of years back, when I have read in The 
Economist that studios look at the world audience these days and cast some of the actors with international appeal in their mega productions.

One such figure is Jack Black, who can be effective and professional, but at times he seems to overplay, exaggerating his gesturing, musical contributions and much else.

He does not look like the ideal romantic partner for Iris, but then again, worldwide cinema goers may love him.
When his girlfriend is seen kissing and embracing another, just as he was shopping with the British tourist, in a store where Dustin Hoffman has a cameo, the hyperactive American would try to and maybe find solace in the company of Iris.

The American part of the plot has a sideshow that seems rather corny and at times pathetic, involving Arthur, a one major screenwriter, who has added the 'kid' in one of the legendary lines from Casablanca, which we know has been written by a committee, not one or a few authors.
Iris takes care of Arthur, makes him walk in the pool, attend an  event destined to pay him homage, which he had hitherto refused to accept.

Sometimes, some of the otherwise lame ideas work.
Such as the run in the snow, In High heels I think it was, when Cameron Diaz aka Amanda leaves the limousine abruptly, to return to dear - and also quite lame - Graham.

Part of the movie works, but only to som extent, and it is better watched, only if need be, when one is really tired and wants to give the brain a break, so that it stops functioning...well, ninety percent of it or more.

sâmbătă, 29 iunie 2019

Once Upon a Time in the West, based on a story by Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone, directed by the latter - 9.4 out of 10

Once Upon a Time in the West, based on a story by Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone, directed by the latter
9.4 out of 10

This memorable motion picture has become a landmark in the History of Cinema, included on major lists of the Best Films Ever Made.

Some of its scenes are also presented online as Nec Plus Ultra, the quintessential best shots.
Some say the moment when Harmonica aka the solid Charles Bronson - rather unusually formidable for this cinephile, who has seen him mostly in forgettable fare, where all his enemies die and there is nothing interesting about the plot - arrives by train is the best shot ever.

Henry Fonda also has an unusual role, whereas we are expecting him to play the hero,  a role model, in this motion picture, he is the absolute villain, Frank, a monster willing to walk on bodies, throw a divine widow like Jill McBain aka the spectacular Claudia Cardinale out on the street.
Frank works for a railway Baron, Morton, who gains the extraordinarily valuable land of the widow, if the railway station is not finished before the line reaches the property.

Foul play, murder, extortion, every monstrosity would be used in order to get the land.
Harmonica might stand in the way, for he has a revenge to take, given that the beastly Frank had killed in the past a member of his family, in gruesome, terrible circumstances.

Furthermore, a valiant, fearsome ally would join forces with Harmonica, Manuel 'Cheyenne' Gutierrez aka the sensational Jason Robards.
There are many tense, dramatic scenes.

The gun fight that takes place when Harmonica comes to town, by train, is splendid, although very short.
The expectations are building up to a superb climax.

Another battle takes place around and within the special train car that transports the disabled and vicious Morton and his henchmen.
Frank sees the shadow of Harmonica, as he moves on top of the train, and manages to take him prisoner.

But then Cheyenne enters the stage and uses marvelous tactics and accurate shooting to eliminate all his adversaries.
Frank had gone by now, but evidently, a major confrontation would have to take place between:

The Good and The Bad

The villains try to force the widow McBain to sell her land for a pittance.
When Harmonica offers $ 5,000, which might me fifty million today, they cannot stop him.

Frank offers him the five thousand and a dollar, to avoid  a shoot to kill situation.
Counterintuitively, Harmonica seems to help the villain escape execution at the hands of his own men, paid by Morton to eliminate him.

But that's just because he wants to fight him himself, in a fair fight, not see his enemy killed in a 'dirty' manner, by assassination.
Some critics thought this film perfect, while the one from The New York Times wrote that 'it is quite bad'

vineri, 28 iunie 2019

Goodfellas, based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi - 11 out of 10

Goodfellas, based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi
11 out of 10

Goodfellas is not just a classic, it is beyond that, part of the History of Cinema, one of the best ten motion pictures ever made, included on various prestigious lists, up there with the very best.

The story of Henry Hill aka the unforgettable Ray Liotta is used as teaching material, Goodfellas is referenced a myriad times...yesterday, Seth Meyers was joking on his show that the voiceover from the Goodfellas would be appropriate when the latest offense is committed in The White House, by the chief Wise Guy and his acolytes.
We learn how becoming a member of the syndicate was so attractive for the adolescent Henry Hill, who would get minor assignments in the first place, he would asked to become an arsonist and then would graduate to very serious crimes.
His honest family would reject this perspective, his father would beat the boy, up to the point where the mobsters would stop the mailman from delivering bad news from school and eventually it would become to late to change the career of the teenager who is now gaining so much money from his participation in illegal activities.

He is more or less protected by Paul Cicero aka Paulie, played by the remarkable Paul Sorvino - indeed, every single artist in the cast is fantastic.
The mobsters would appreciate when the young Henry is caught by the police - well, not this exactly - and he does not say a word about the others...accomplices, source of the contraband cigarettes...he does not 'rat' on anyone in other words.

The scene where we are introduced to the various Goodfellas has become legendary...as aforementioned, the whole film is iconic.
Martin Scorsese described the technique he had used in a documentary called American Cinema.

Each mobster talks to the left of the person who walks him and explains the nicknames, as they all parade in front of the camera, that is moving through the restaurant they all frequent and which would soon become a Paulie protectorate, given that he is asked to share in the profits and patronize the place.
This happens after the famous 'what do you mean I'm funny...funny how?!' Scene.
Crazy Tommy DeVito aka the superb Joe Pesci is furious when Henry says he is funny, or at least he acts that way, only to give way to laughter.

Still, in the next few seconds, after everyone is entertained by his playing with fire, the owner of the place comes with the bill, saying politely that he had accumulated seven thousand dollars in debt.
In a flash, Tommy takes a bottle and smashes it on the head of the man who had asked him to be the godfather for his child.

Tommy is a vicious killer, sadistic to the point where he kills the poor young man who serves them drinks when they play poker, after he had shot him in the foot just to...make him dance and more importantly, because he takes pleasure in the pain he inflicts.
Together with his best friend, James Conway called Jimmy aka the majestic Robert De Niro, another monstrous figure, Tommy would kill a made man, member of the Italian Mafia and that could be the end of him.

We cannot seriously call Goodfellas educational on some levels, although being the chef d'oeuvre that it is, watching it should be required homework for its beauty, glorious acting, fabulous story, marvelous direction and the work of art that it is.
It is instructive to learn how a made man cannot touched, unless permission is given by the leaders, the godfathers, Henry and Jimmy cannot be accepted, on account of their Irish side,one has to be one hundred percent Italian, trace all its ancestors back to the home country to join this mob.

The Godfather and Goodfellas are the best films on the Mafia and together are part of the World Heritage and High Art.
While The Godfather has been criticized- people have an inherent tendency to see the negative even where there is perfection...'the mind is its own place, it can make hell out of heaven and heaven out of hell'- for presenting a glamorous view of the mobsters, Godfellas makes it clear how vicious, despicable, violent, cruel, heartless those people are.

It is the Ultimate Masterpiece!

joi, 27 iunie 2019

The Seagull, based on the play by Anton Chekhov - 9.7 out of 10

The Seagull, based on the play by Anton Chekhov 
9.7 out of 10

The most recent, remarkable adaptation of The Seagull, from 2018, benefits from a tremendous cast, led by the glorious Annette Bening as Irina, with the established Saoirse Ronan as Nina, Corey Stoll as Boris, Billy Howle as Konstantin and Brian Dennehy as the patriarch Sorin, among others.

This phenomenal play is a meditation on art, the theater, artists and their role, the writer and his inspiration or lack thereof, love and its obscure ways:
The teacher loves Masha aka Elisabeth Moss, who loves Konstantin, enamoured of Nina who would fall for Boris, the latter used to fancy Irina, but atone stage, he is infatuated with Nina.

The most modest seems to be the teacher, though Masha does not respond to his feelings, she still thinks she might marry him, for her love for Konstantin is destined to be unrewarding...she is scolded by the man who loves her, who states that she should be content, she has food on the table, a roof over the had.
Like in most Russian masterpieces, many if not all the characters are sad, often, if not always gloomy and meditative, contemplating one disaster or another, although Nina is happy in the beginning as the girlfriend of Konstantin.

This young man is a writer and one of his plays is performed in the garden, with family and friends in the audience, up to the point where the inattentive, careless Irina, his mother, demonstrates her total lack of interest in the work of her son, alas, an indication of her disinterest in him...she would declare at one point that she has never read anything written by him, for 'who has the time'.

Irina is very keen on Boris though, this why she had brought him to this mansion by the lake, where Nina is admiring and expresses her enthusiasm for his writing- at one stage, Irina would assure him he is the greatest writer of Russia.
Indeed, Boris takes notes...on Masha: 'always in black, loves the playwright, drinks vodka' she would say to him later that all women, or most of them drink, she just does it without hiding, while they pretend not to indulge.

Irina seems to be self indulgent, arrogant, miser and selfish, although she thinks her performances as an actress help the world, in the meantime her son's play is 'supposed to be high art', but she thinks nothing of it, she doesn't even bother to be patient and allow it to end.

She might have a point when she says that her work makes her younger- one of the secrets of longevity discovered on the island of Okinawa relates to Ikigai, a philosophy of working into very old age, never retiring- in fact, they don't have that notion there.

Irina has a confrontation with the manager of the estate, when she asks for horses and he tells her this is not possible and when she insists, he declares that he would resign.
Meanwhile, Konstantin shoots a Seagull, anticipating an attempt to commit suicide.

Boris declares that his ultimate wish and pleasure is to go at the lake and fish...he is escorted by Nina, and while they take the boat, the girl is impressed by the writer she had already admired, who stops to put down an idea:

A short story would be about a young woman, who lives happily near the lake and this man comes around.
Obviously in reference to Nina and the writer himself.

Boris would be challenged to a duel by Konstantin, who has seen what is going on between the girl he loves and this infatuated man from the city.
Furthermore, he tries to bring his mother to acknowledge the flawed character of the one she considers her lover, who flirts with Nina and has no loyalty.

In fact, Boris would face Irina and state repeatedly that he wants his freedom and his partner to 'let me go'.

'Let me go...I know you are capable of sacrifice...let me go! It could be my last chance'

Nina would give Boris a note and say that she would like a couple of minutes in the solarium.
The note sends the man to a quote:

'If you ever need my life, come and take it'

The young woman thinks she should toss a coin for her future.
To see if she should try to become an actress.

Eventually, with extreme intensity, she would repeat in desperation:

'I am The Seagull...I am The Seagull' 

A splendid drama,not appreciated by critics on the whole, but otherwise jubilant, even if tragic.

Richard III by William Shakespeare

Richard III by William Shakespeare

Another version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:

This is an adaptation with Ian McKellen in the title role and listed as one of the executive producers of this classic play.
And the cast was stellar, no less

-          Annette Benning as Queen Elizabeth, Jim Broadbent as duke Buckingham, Robert Downey Jr. –lately the highest paid actor in the world- as Lord Rivers- a supporting role, Nigel Hawthorne –  magnificent in the lead role of The Madness of King George by Alan Bennett- as Duke of Clarence, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Anne and the champion of longevity Maggie Smith, nominated at the age of eighty two for her roles in Downton Abbey and The Lady in the Van by the same Alan Bennett

So the premises of this spectacular and modern version were fantastic…
As Donald Trump likes to repeat: fantastic, beautiful, great.

Being so modern, this version has made me think of:

-          Trump and Richard III

And I think they have so much in common.
Yes, The Donald has not killed anyone, except for a good number of small businesses that worked at his towers and real estate properties and that he has refused to pay, which in the case of small players meant death.

But the two leaders share a pathetic and pathological love of their own persona
And the list of similarities goes on:

-          They would do anything to get to the highest position in the land and they finally get it, undeservedly, if you ask me
-          Lying and accusing others of the most outrageous, preposterous and yet false acts or associations comes naturally to these individuals
-          A psychopath is one who feels nothing, but can perceive and use other’s emotions to his own benefit…both do that
-          They say what their audience wants to hear, even when that is a “post-truth”, a word elected as the word of the year by Oxford, for 2016

I was flabbergasted when Richard III has a dialogue with Lady Anne.
She is mourning near the dead body of her husband.

Both the spouse and the father in law have been murdered and Richard III, the ultimate villain is responsible.
And this is just the beginning of a long series of assassinations.

Clarence is killed.
Then young princes, Buckingham and others who have helped the tyrant obtain one of the most coveted thrown in the world at the time.

There is no limit to the ambition of either Richard III or The Donald.
They both see themselves as capable of superhuman endeavors, with Trump declaring a couple of days ago that he would be able to run both America -as yet the greatest democracy in the world- and his business empire.

Indeed, here is another shared element:

-          Richard III is a king and the elected leader-alas- of the free world sees himself more as an emperor or a monarch than a leader of a democracy
-          His latest press conference showed a discretionary bent, with King Donald refusing to grant CNN the right to ask any question

Meryl Streep has chastised a man who mocked a disabled journalist, laughing at his disability and addressing the lowest instincts in people, especially his flawed supporters, from the height of his powerful position.

The answer came quickly, via tweeter:

-          Meryl Streep- nominated for 20 Golden Globes, winner of- I don’t know, 7?- and awarded the Oscar three times, among other outstanding achievements- is an over rated actress according to the man who has a disgusting video on a bus, bragging about what he can do to women…anything

Yes, Richard III has a confirmed violent history
But The elected Clown has spoken about torture, killing the families of suspected or confirmed terrorists.

Let’s hope, Insha’Allah that we can say at the end of the next four years:

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”