Danijel J's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews


Mike Nichols' Closer is a sophisticated movie. I say this after having thought about that designation for a while, a process which only made me certain about being right in the first place. Why would it need such a careful evaluation? Well, maybe because people in it speak like sailors, act like primitives, and display a behavior which could be interpreted as spoiled more than anything else. It is sophisticated, however, and that has nothing to do with the empty cultural aureole that surrounds it, and everything with the filmmaker and screenwriter allowing it to have some of the liberties this field more than allows, without feeling obligated to blush.

The starting point for enjoying it is to take it as a Hollywood production. That isn't so hard to do. It stars actors who were, at that time and even now, some of the more bankable ones, falling in and out of love (lets stop it at that), and is directed by an Oscar winner who made financially successful movies right from the first one. We meet Natalie Portman and Jude Law first, in a slow motion, which is a perfect way to look at their relationship as it is set up. She is hit by a car while walking the street, and he takes her to hospital. The injuries are insignificant, but the destined slow mo meeting results in them living together.

Fast-forward a year or so, something this movie does without consulting us too much. Her past experiences make her too possessive towards him, he can't handle it, and his love of a different kind finds Julia Roberts' photographer attractive. She does not respond at once, a situation made extra complicated by him accidentally setting her up with Clive Owen's doctor. The following interaction of these four is not interesting to describe or, from a certain moment, even try to understand. I kept the desire to follow them until the end, however, though, gradually, the actors were forced to carry more weight than this production welcomed.

These people from the big city of London want security more than anything, ready to cry or scream in public if that would mean that they have a chance to keep it, and who can, precisely because of that, sense, from miles ahead, every temptation which poses a danger to their status quo , even if the source lies in their person. The necessity of succumbing to those temptations gives the film an intellectual weight which, in general, made it work for me-the powerlessness and the awareness of its inevitability.

That exciting feeling of being thrown out of your comfort zone by raw emotion, which, combined with pure noise, prevents you to regain your composure, fades in that obligatory moment when you want not so much to form an opinion about the characters, but certainly understand the position they are coming from. The desire of the film-making team for this quartet to explain their actions so clearly doesn't help with that, as words tend to lose direction as the action progresses and the emotional core, which makes them say the things they say, will sometimes be so far away that you just want have enough time to find it before everything becomes loud again.

The eloquence, however, is not missing. Observe how Nichols' camera respects the need for expression of each character. There are few instances where the he turns our attention on certain shots, but shortly after they are established, he makes sure we keep it where it should be. The humor, delicious at times, is reinforced by the self-confidence of the actors, especially Owen, who plays it as a boxer who never shows intention to tell you in which instance his call for a fight is just a joke.

Now about those liberties. Verbal direction and rapid-fire deliveries take us back to the old times when people from the silver screen spoke in a different way from us, common mortals, and when the realists of the day were not so annoyingly loud as they can be these days. It is easy to forget, after the early nineties, that designed dialogues don't always have to be followed by scenes of designed violence. Call it an excuse for enthusiasm if you want, but I found more bravery in here than one would expect with such a precious cast.

Barbary Coast

When we put aside the obvious talent involved in making of this, Barbary Coast is just another movie which almost completely depends on Edward G. Robinson's screen persona, legendary even in that time when it was still fresh and rising. There were many filmmakers who counted on him being one of the rare constants in the history of motion pictures, but what's peculiar is how many of the weaker ones than the two he got here managed to get through with it. I mean, you'd think Ben Hecht (who wrote it together with Charles MacArthur) and Howard Hawks would have had more fun with him on board! Still, this is one of the rare instances where Hawks missed because he aimed too high. He was always one of the most careful ones in that respect, so the reasons for that probably lie on the side of his partner.

One can say that this was thematic exorcize for the westerns he made in every upcoming decade of his distinguished carrier. The setting is San Francisco of the nineteen century (during The Gold Rush) where Mary Rutlege (Miriam Hopkins) from the civilized New York settles to be married, following the previously existing arrangement. On arrival, she is shocked to find out her groom to be was shot dead by chief local gangster Louis Chamalis, a shock increased with the knowledge that all of his money was also confiscated by the man. Even there, we begin to suspect her motifs. Our doubts are confirmed when she accepts platonic relationship with him, for a chance to enjoy some of the luxury.

This is not a first collaboration between writer-director tandem. They did Scarface, the best of the early gangster pictures and Twentieth Century, which I thought was a little overrated, but still enjoyable on its own terms. Both of those pictures, even with the shortcomings of the later, always looked like they are coming out of the same mind. That synchronicity, or the lack of it, is the key reason Barbary Coast was the first of their collaboration which could be called a failure. When Hecht goes on one of his ramblings about the importance and lost honor of journalistic profession, Hawks looks interested. It brings us picture's best sequences, most of them involving the head of the printing paper Colonel Cobb, played by Frank Craven in a supporting performance of the film. But there are parts of this script Hawks doesn't seem to take seriously, and we can't be to harsh on him because of that.

Somewhere in the middle, we are presented with Jim Carmichael (Joel McCrea), an idealist who spent last 3 years alone in the wilderness, trying to use the best of The Gold Rush. As he becomes more and more of a conscious call for Mary, we can almost feel Hawks snoring in his chair. From than on, it is a situation of two pictures in one, battling for the domination. McCrea is perfectly fine in all of his misplacement, but that doesn't do the picture much good, and Hopkins is at her routinely convincing and uniquely sexy in calm moments, but is left entirely on her own in dramatic ones, coming out as a bad stage actress appearing on the screen.

The strongest feeling Barbary Coast leaves us with is lifelessness, a flaw even Hawks' biggest detractors can't find in his best work. He collaborated with Hecht again, most famously in His Girl Friday, when they recreated the early magic. This one remains for the fans only.

Gangster Squad

What made the original noirs of the forties so magnetic was the sense of something being different without the explanation of what that is or where the difference came from. That change manifested itself both as a shift in movie realism and as a new kind of world those movies were portraying. The cities remained the same, the cost of California was, I believe, as sunny as before, but people who inhabited this familiar world were, the filmmakers suggested, pushed away from the pleasures of the west coast by something deep inside them. If you wanted to search for causes in the big world event of that period, nobody had in mind the idea of stopping you. Indeed, you would probably have been on the right track. You were not, however, pushed in that direction.

Back to the present now. In the very first sentences of this over the top, politically correct picture book named Gangster Squad, Sergeant John O'Marra (Josh Brolin) informs us that he has been fighting abroad and winning a couple of medals. He is now back in the ever more corrupt LA, where his pregnant, devoted wife isn't capable of turning him out of the desire to set straight all of the wrongs. When he finally gets his chance to go after the big guy Micky Cohen (Sean Penn), the next logical step is choosing couple of brave ones to take along, which he does in Brian De Palma Untouchables style (though it comes of as flashiness worthy of Armagedon). They include his partner Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), technician Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), an old timer from the south, a black guy and a Mexican (Indian minority was covered in a brief scene where a witty comment was made about their mistreatment in Hollywood). One more connection with Cohen is the hooking up of Wooters with gangster's mistress Grace (Emma Stone).

As it manages to even be self-referential about the war experience in the first 30 minutes,Ruben Fleischer's film takes a moral stand right from the beginning, one where an honorable badge and justice are placed against greed and moral corruption, and it does that in such an blatant way that you are forced to consider of taking it seriously. And there is nothing more deadly for a film this devoid of any character substance or story wisdom than for us to take it seriously. It suggest that violence can be defeated with more violence, and that the final result of that will be harmony and peace. Maybe Fleischer's friends should buy him few history books as a birthday present, desirably about any revolution that ever took place. One must wonder what to do with scenes like you know the drill. If you haven't seen it, I'll let you discover it by yourself in all of its misplacement.

Of the main performers, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone look less ridiculous then the others. This has got to be the ultimate low in Sean Penn's carrier. His boss comes out as an impersonation of Robert De Niro in those comedies where he parodied his tough-guy image. As for Ryan Gosling he continuously mails to us just how thin the facade of his cynicism really is, not that the script works in his advantage, since that facade is crushed after about 20 minutes in order for him to join the just cause of the operation. This is the first film in which I could see why he gets on the nerves of so many people with his acting style.

Ultimately, it is one of those film where its aficionados will defend it by saying things like: "they've done the blood realistically after that head shot or when the old man took those shots to the can, he fired exactly six bullets, the maximum amount for gun of that caliber. They don't get those small details right in most cases." That's all true, no doubt about it. Fleischer also shows his superficial fascination with the glamor of the forties and for excessive use of childish violence to as a narrative device. Interested?

Beyond The Hills

Decade lasting Romanian invasion on pretty much all of the prominent European festivals continued last year with, among others, Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills. Mungiu brought his film to Cannes, the same place he picked up a major award for his 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, one of the most acclaimed works of the past decade. As is the case in these situations, all eyes were pointed in his direction when he finally announced his second feature. If the five year gap between two films tells you he's been aware of those looks, his film confirms that notion in few unpleasant ways. It is obligatory longer than its predecessor, has an obligatory controversial theme and has won him few obligatory awards. It also presents itself as an obligatory viewing for fans of serious cinema.

This time around, director stays in the present (months, weeks, days happened in the late eighties) in the story set in a remote orthodox monastery, where nun Voichita (Cosmina Stratan)receives a visitor from Germany, her friend Alina (Cristiana Frutun, both very convincing). Two girls were friends in the orphanage, became something more (we can be pretty sure of that) later, had an arrangement to go work together abroad, but that's now in danger of being delayed because Voichita has found in the monastery life calm and security she feels she has no chance of getting anywhere else. Alina decides to stay with her for a while, with both girls showing substantial dependency on one another, without the courage to admit their paths can't go in the same direction any more.

Alina's attempts to adjust to a life in monastery and become member of a community whose strict readings of The Bible she has no desire of accepting induce few convulsions of rage, prompting the well-meaning priest to believe she is possessed by Satan. The cure is one many moviegoer's have seen on the big screen in the last 40 years, but not often, if ever, in a picture like this.

There are several times when we follow characters leaving the monastery and interacting with regular people. They visit dreary, unequipped hospitals, cold rooms of the police station , take a quick gaze in the hopelessness of the orphanage Alina and Voichita grew up in. After a while, those scenes cause the movie to loose direction. Social themes, structurally set in the background, come to the fore in an intensity that does damage to the balance of the entire piece. Voichita, burdened with group mentality, takes the sacral direction mainly because she has been either failed by other formal institutions, or she has had no reason to rely on their help. In the monastery, separated, she knows all of the promises, though modest, will be fulfilled in the end.

The other conflict, one that puts the ostensible security of blind faith against the risks of giving confidence to another human being threatens to fade away as a consequence of the permeation mentioned above. One gets the feeling that all of the time spent inside the church walls has no real purpose, other than stressing out the social context. As a consequence, some might find the exorcism scenes sensationalist or out of place. Either way, their futility remains.

Mungiu can probably justify two and a half hours running time with a carefully choreographed turn of events, where he needed the last half an hour to put a stamp on many points he pursued. Still, one truth remains. All the layers of suggestive darkness that soak the screen from the first minutes (this is one of those pictures where shades of black are covered by the shades of gray) can't conceal the lack of one memorable scene. Everything is staged with monotonous expertise, as if writer-director thought some small burst of spontaneity would violate his overwrought plan. I'm talking, for example about that wonderful scene in Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, where the first appearance of a female figure, almost an hour into a film, makes both us and the characters forget about everything else. In a picture with contemplative pace this strict, we have a right to expect at least one of those.

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook has been described in many different ways, properly so only if you look at it too broadly. It has, infiltrated in main narrative, themes such as bipolar disorder, OCD, sex addiction and job loss in these insecure times we live in, with some hyper-tetchy people as its subjects. Still, it's not a particularly complicated thing to classify. Break it down, and you get all of the elements of a romantic comedy. The fact that this genre has been dragged down the mud in last few decades in particular dosen't mean Davis O. Rusell's film should leave the comfort zone it works so hard to cover.

When Pat (Bradley Cooper) comes out of the psycrhiatic institution, he finds a lot of things which could trigger his bipolar disorder (for which he has an appropriate document as a proof). His wife has left him (he ended up behind the key because he beat up her lover), he can't come back to the job, and his obsesive compulsive father (Robert de Niro, doesn't have a proof for it, so it is not formal) has lost his job too, and is now planing to open a restaurant somehow. In the early stages of his rehabilitation, he meets Tiffany, who first serves as a madness evaluation meter, but has some ideas of her own about the direction of their relationship.

This is not a kind of filmmaking I usualy respond to, openly unsubtle, rough around the edges and sometimes schizofrenicaly pumped up to an extent that you expect the projector to go up in flames at any moment. These people expres their nature exclusively by means of language, using the rappid fire delivery as an out and out attack in desperate attempts to claim the right for hope. Nods to Rusell for calming things down somewhere in the middle and saving the movie. As he also penned the film, I got the feeling he writes not for the camera, but for the editing room. It is through editing esspecialy that he puts the nature and maybe even the existance of medical problems these people deal with entirely at our evaluation, showing us the border of insanity solely through basic human contant.

The most prominent theme in his film, that of finding positive reaction on every situation you encounter and than expressing it without being missunderstood, is almost brilliantly covered up, which makes this first and foremost a director's picture. He found a perfect sense for pacing, understood what he wants to achieve with it and saved the film from becoming a tyranny of cheep idealisam (the kind in which everyone who is not talking about happines and love to one another is deemed a cynic). And be certain the danger of that was always on his mind.

Jennifer Lawrence, who is 21 is cast against Bradley Cooper (37), in a move which inevitabely calls to mind the old days, where these kinds of films often lived and died out of that gap. While it's not hard to addmit that Cooper can not be equated to, say, Cary Grant in Charade, Lawrence takes full credit for us not having to perceive this as a situation which needs to be saved from either one of the actors. There is a sense of immediacy in her screen preasence, not very different from her character in this film, which doesn't allow anyone to think she hasn't had enought expirience to confront any co-star. Like Lawrence, De Niro is more than capable to carry out more complex characters, but given his track record in recent years, let's be gratefull he dignified us with this one.

Rusell's quest for freshness this material lives of before plunging into familliarity brought us stuff like the segment where characters overcome communication breakdown by investing all of the savings in one game of American football. Even that sort of nonsense shouldn't be able to spoil the picture. It appears in the second part where your involvment, if it exist, can't be shattered that easily. The same goes for the ending. This is one of the rare occcasions where a picture and its characters deserve to have a standard rom-com conclusion glued to it.


When George Clooney made his political thriller The Ides of March last year, I thought it suffered from too much cautiosness, with Clooney's imposed, seventies inspired finesse never quite finding the appropriate edge within the subject matter. Now comes Argo, originaly intended for Clooney, but later transferred to his directorial descendant Ben Affleck on his request. Some friendship!

Like The Ides, Argo covers the world of big politics, though some would argue that there is nothing more significant then the American presidential election. One big difference - Affleck doesn't want to be a political comentator like Clooney. More than a political thriller, his picture uses the aftermat of a serious political situation to draw out tension. A little irresponsibe? When you look at what event he has chosen as a setting and how he dealt with it, yes, definitely!

In the late seventies, as cute historical lession at the beginning points out, the Iranians overthrew Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi imposed by the USA and Britain some 25 years earlier. It was the starting point of Iranian Revolution, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, a classic example of evil regime replaced by something not many people wanted as a substitute. The shah was given shelter in the USA, something not met with approval back in his home country, where he has done some unworthy things during his time in charge.

The response was quick. After some verbal exchange between two authorities, the radicals decide that the convenient response would be the takeover of American embassy in Teheran. Before the military got in there, six of the employes managged to flee, and find shelter with the Canadian ambassador. A quick action from Washintong is required if they are to be saved before the information about their escape expands How to do it? Victorious proposition is one which includes filming a fictional film called Argo in Iran.

The amount of praise this picture has been getting is a true sign of the times. If the standards for pure popcorn entertainment have been sistematically lowered over the years, it would be futile to expect anything else in the area of "criticaly acclaimed films". Affleck deliberately shuns from establishing a clear point of view. He is more than satisfied to just create an impression he has enough knowlage accumulated, and leave it linger somewhere between his oh so well constructed shots. It all comes down to the lines you pick up on the way, present more to show the wittiness of the writers than serious political stand. Since when have well crafted, tense thrillers devoid of any human interest or, in this case necessary poitical sharpness, become something to rave about?

Affleck doesn't measure the weight of making a film about a country he's never visited. Like many things in his picture, he just lets it be. The revolution was at the centre of turbulent times for Iran, bringing a shift in politics that was all but progrssive, and with the strong opposition from local intellectuals. Based on this, a viewer is tempted to think it can only be reduced to the hostage crisis. The sad thing is that the filmmakers can not be accused for bad intentions; just lack of bravery. That fact really bothered me, and note this comes for someone who greets historical adjustments if used tastefully within a context. Also, would emphasizing the cynicisam of using a money making machinery of Holywood in dealing with issues as large as these be too much to ask, even if shown in a film aiming for easy entertainment as this one does?

Few mention Affleck's participation as an actor. Being a lead player in a story this humanly numb, he doesn't need to act in a strict sense of the word, just lead us through the motions. He has been through enough movies and has became able to grow enough beard for that to happen easily. Alan Arkin was expectedly Oscar nominated for showing how the big players operated at the time when current members of The Academy were still green and John Goodman just reprised his function from Flight, without the (visable) illegal substances.

With Argo, you will get your share of tension, good mainstreem humor, and a sense of history awakened, if only with the most obvious of means (TV, music of the period). I would have prefered it if the basis was fictional. Not every true story needs to be told!

A Royal Affair

And now for something completely different from Scandinavia. The kind of juicy material often made into deliberately shocking and challenging films by the filmmakers from that peninsula was given a rather classical treatment in A Royal Affair, a still running contender for an Oscar. The country in question is Denmark, who was in the forefront in summoning the ever growing future of freedom of mind back in the eighteenth century (its arrival is expected shortly even as we speak).

Somewhere in the middle of the century, new age was in the air. The Enligtement, which started spreading around the Europe from the cafes of France, found its natural habitat in distant Denmark. King Christian VII (Mikkel Folsgard) was praised for it back then, but the real makers of progress were off course people outside the court's life. In this case, that was doctor Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a son of a very conservative priest. At one of king's escapades through Europe, he makes Strusse into a personal medic, a perfect oportunity for him to put his philosophy in practise, esspetialy considering nature of relations on Danish court.

The king, as he already found out, is mentaly ill, and thus manipulated by the nobility more than in any other country from that period. But, more importantly, he finds someone who could be an ally in his endeavor. Young Queen Caroline (Alicia Wiklander), who has lost even the illusion of freedom when she came from native Britain to become a part of a previously arranged marriage, doesn't find the doctor pleasent at first. He is just some childish older gentleman Christian has found to play with. Then, she discovers they have something in common.

Namely, they like the same books. As he makes it possible for her to read Rousseau and Locke without looking over the shoulder, an affair from the title, which will determine the destinies of everybody involved, seems inevitable.

I would say that the director's main standing ground is respect to history of his country, and though I don't find that to be a main goal in depicting true historical events, I was very pleased how it played out in this case. The lavishess of the production is used to put a thin shadow over all of the controversies this story has by its verey nature. Instead of giving us a visceral insight into the madness, drunkenness with power or sexual perversions, the director plays them all as down as he can in order to give a full rounded story in the most traditional sense of period pieces. Nevertheless, the end result is not fear of going deeper into the subject matter; it's pleasentness with the evocation of certain period in time.

To keep the predictability under control, Nikolaj Arcel (the director) devised three firm characters who balance each other. Though his desire to seperate them from stereotypes (the tortured idealist, mad power man, women in the middle ages) can sometimes make them seem too dim, close observation show that it isn't so. Mads Mikkelsen, a current man to go to if you wanna cast your European film, excepts that he wont be able to show his true potential until the final scenes of the film. It's a mature piece of acting. Mikkel Folsgard, a newcomer, is the biggest indicator this is European cinema you are waching. He is appalling, and to accept him demands an effort made from your side. Caroline is an emotional centre of the film, largely due to the presence of Alicia Wiklander. She has the potential of becoming a new European star.

The film has a feel equal to the effect of ideas it depicts. It preocupies your mind while it lasts. You become aware of the potential those ideas have, you engadge in the struggle these characters lead, just because, for a change, these are filmmakers who are inspired by something which can lead to a rich discussion. And then the movie ends and the feeling fades, just like you forget about the illusions of freedom or whatever you fantasize about when the reality strikes in. That doesn't change the fact that it is very pleasent while it lasts and necessary to give in once in a while.

It has now been few days since I've seen the film. Putting the fading effect I mentioned asside, I give it a rating based on the feel I had just after it was finished. It was an 8 than, and that's how it will remain.


Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is in the long tradition of American movies where we root for the hero to get on the right track. At least one of those is guaranteed each year. I'm refering to the types of piuctures where an audience gets its fair share of heavy drama within a "serious" subject matter, and yet the notion that a relief will come in the end alway somehow lingers in the air. On answering the question how pulpable that notion is, often depends the impression you will be left with. Like all of the solid movies in that tradition, Flight has certain side qualties to get you through all of the familiarity.

In this case, you begin to get drawn into the main character's issues through an adrenalin packed first half an hour, because Robert Zemeckis is a director who knows what buttons to push with his audience. Indeed, those scenes are quite something. From the beginnig, you are reminded that the person you are seeing is no angel, but somehow you sympathise with him the whole time. After all, he has a problem! And most importantly, there is a famous, award winning actor, giving The Academy no choice but to nominate him for the most prestigious of awards.

He is off course Denzel Washington, getting his share of booze, coke and sleeples, sex filled night, before heading to fly his commercial jet in the morning. Washington's acting shows us with ease that flying under the influence is not something this capitain is doing for the first time. After speeding through some threatening clouds, safe landing is expected in about 40 minutes. Then, some more serious problems appear. We learn the proper technical names for them latter. What's important for us is that they are not caused by any human on the plane, including the capitain. What's also important is that his brave manuvers saved the lives of almost every person on board. That still doesn't change the fact he was intoxicated. The picture continues with an accent on his personal demons more than public battle.

The main questin here is as it follows: how long will I keep on lying and pretending I can handle my demons (which are not a problem by the way), on my own, if I realize I can get away with it every single time, and the reason I know it is beacause I've been doing it for as long as I can remember? Zemekis direction makes this the dilema of the viewer rather than the character. He remains in the state of deep denial, while soaking every glimpse of reality with another round. It is us who are forced with the mentioned question, as we follow him making one hypocritical choice after another.

And yet, the same viewer has that question taken from him and answered in the last minutes of the piece. And what is even worst: he knows that moment is comming and he knows the nature of the answer. When the finale comes, we realize we have been aware of it the whole time. What remains is a picture which lost all the rights to be called a character study (and that's what most people praise about it) when it decided to abandon its main character for the sake of standard, mechanicaly uplifting movie conclusion.
The most interesting scene: the day after the accident capitain sneeks from his room into a hallway to have a smoke. There, he meets Nicole, who will later become his roommate and more. Soon, a cancer patient who's counting his last days joins them, also for a fag. The scene continues with capitain quietly observing the conversation of two people who speak soberly of how doomed they are. That was the only time I could sense the desire to break the monotonous pacing.

In the end I have to mention an extremely unispiring use of music. Let's sidestep the fact what songs he chose to play. Evaluating them would be a case of nitpicking. But the way Zemeckis uses Under the Bridge and Ain't no Sunshine in particular, makes for an unpleasent double effect. Take a look at what happens in the scenes in which those two numbers play. Than note the meaning and words the songs. Without the question, you get a creative low point of the film.

To Rome with Love

Woody Allen is slowly running out of cities! The Italian capital makes it his fourth Europen entry in the last seven years, which include three trips to London and one to Paris and Barcelona. If he carries on this way he'll have to move behind the iron curtain(he's of the old breed, so I imagine that term hasn't lost meaning to him). In fact, that wouldn't be such a bad idea. I'm sure there is some oligarch with a healthy sense of humor out there, ready to finance his efforts.

But enough about that! His 43rd film was release in the summer and guess what?! Since he is a man who has never lived outside of New York, Allen applies the same approach to Rome as he did with the other cities on his Europen trip: he films only the best known locations. Blessed with never visiting "The Eternal City" (I had the same luck with Paris, Barcelona and London), I don't blame him for not knowing the hidden jewels of a town he knows only as a tourist, like many of the more mobile film aficionados do. So, globetrottering snobs, consider yourself worned!

It is one of Allen's collages, dating back to Hannah and Her Sisters and some of the other work from that period. There are four or five major storylines, connected by their lightly surrealist and farcical nature. The only one I completely disliked was between the Italian actor star and the girl lost in the big city. The concept of an old loverboy who is that much cool and/or profound to make the fact he is being chased by a much youger girl into something explicable can be amusing. In this point in Allan's career, however, it takes much more than what he gave us for that to happen.

All of the other segments work up to a point. You get expected intelligence, good humor, sights and Roberto Benigni being calmer than we are used to, but still getting a chance to go over the top. Than, at about an hour into the movie, the laziness of developing these stories becames too obvious. You've seen everything you need to see, including all of the jokes, which from that point on become too repetitive, and all you are left with is learning where do these people, which have stoped being funny and thus lost their only value, finally settle.

There is one big reason why I liked this film. Woody is back in front of the camera! From the first moment, when he starts whining even before the camera sets on him, I felt I was in the company of an old friend who has some new things to say. Funny or not, his track record makes them worth hearing. And just to make it clear, they are almost always funny. It's easy to forget what an asset he is to his films. There is a scene here which is by now chewed out even by sit com standards. That's your standard "I just touched something I shouldn't and now I'm looking at my hands." With Allen, having his screen background in mind, you can't halp but to laugh even at that.

It was six years since he appeared in a film. Last time was in the Britain set Scoop. Well, I can safely say this wasn't half as bad. I hope that means we get to see him few more times.

Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)

They say that you are what you are and you are what other people make of you. The protagonist of Agnes Varda's 1962 classic is a little too preoccupied by by the second part. She is a pop singer who had three singles out. They were mildly succesfull, at least according to the reaction of people she meets. They know her name, but not exactly what she lookes like. Somewhere in the middle of climbing the charts, she seems to have lost her personality, if she ever had one in the first place. Suddenly, new people started to appear in her life, and she slowly convinced herself she can't make it without them. They don't exactly aim at using her; in fact, they seem like pretty stand up bunch. It's just that she is a very pleasent person to spend time with, and thay decide to go along.

For us being able to form this kind of a picture is a testiment to Agnes Varda's unique talents. The title of the film, Cleo from 5 to 7 should be taken litteraly. The main character is named Cleo; we follow her life one day from 5 to 7 o'clock. She is a playfull, childish young person who just find out she could be suffering from a serious illnes. Although the medical results are yet to be revealed, she already looks defeated, esspetialy after a rather unpleasent visit to the fortuneteller. Two hours of her life we see are the ones prior to the visit to the doctor, where she is to find out the outcome.

The movie looks great from the first shot, as impressive as any of the early New Wave pictures. Emotionaly, it comes alive at one particular moment. After coming back from the fortunteller, Cleo meets with her personal assistent. They go shoping, which makes her happy. Then they go home, where she indulges in what seems to be the usually routine: short exercise, visit from the insensitive (and rather elderly) personal companion, visit from musical colaborates, all under a supervision of the assistent. Suddenly, she breaks! Finally! Next step is a relief. She puts on her dress, takes off the unnecessary wig and goes outside. Alone!

There, she is finaly stoped being treated like a queen. She has a chance to confront the fears of the destiny making meeting she is to attend on her own. She does that by wondering the gorgeus Parisian streets. In a caffee house she enters, everything is quiet. The routine conversations people lead look like an attack on her personality. The silence is unbereable. She turns the jukebox. It's one of her songs. Nobody reacts in an aproving way. One customer even complains to her conversation partner about the noise. They all have problems of their own, which don't became any smaller just because she is present, regardless of the fact she might be dying. She is more and more aware on what she's been missing all this time.

I have to say the essence of this film is not easy to explain. I now see my clumsy depiction might create an impression that this is a calculated film, designed to make us, the audience, became aware of the values of living life to the fullest. No! If anything, Varda creates an impression of not even being aware that someone is going to wach the film. Her consurns lie only on the protagonist. As she wanders the streets, meets different kinds of people, interacts with them in a way which far outshines the pure spoken words, the most beautiful thing happens - we gradually develop comlete emotional involvment, without the breaking of an impartial narrative. That feeling grows until the last 20 minutes, which are a true beauty of delicate, warm, lightly poetic dialogue.

I'm shocked to learn that the lead acctres never became famous, esspecialy compared to other New Wave icons (she invites obvious comaparations to Anna Karina from Godard's My Life to Live; both Karina and Godard appear briefly). Corinne Marchand is her name (see what I meen), and she has a character impossible to simply lift from the paper. Her physical and mental involment is absolutely crucial. Without it, she could come out as cartoonish, spoiled brat and the film would fall in that most dangerous of situations: gaining our attention simply because she is faced with a possible death sentence. Merchand, as well as Varda's camera make her sweet, life - loving and almost crying for enough bravery to get rid of her charming insecurities. The line between those two is thiner than you could imagine.

The biggest succes Varda accomplished is showing us two hours in the life of a person who just happens to be a woman. Not that she flipped a coin to esstablish the sex of the protagonist. There was, off course a clear idea behind that, fully revived on the screen. I'm referencing the feminist aspect of the picture, and the awkwardness which comes with the mere mention of it. Eventhough her womanhood is brought in all its glory, Cleo remained sexless in our assement of her possabilities. That means that, sure, you can look at her as a victim of "phallocentric society with its gender divisions deeply rooted in dogmatic past" (not a direct quote, I'm just trying to get into a mind of a feminist writer). Or as a human being whose potentials far surpas "meets the eye". I don't have any doubts as to where I stand.

The Woman in the Fifth

Polish born filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski continues the tradition of Poles doing films in France and at the same time prolonges his own voluntary exile from the home country with The Woman in the Fifth, a 2011 effort set in Paris. Ethan Hawke plays an American writer Tom Ricks (he speaks a little Franch in this one) who comes to the city to visit his family, or more precisely, a six year old daughter. Right at the beginning we learn he may have lost that right sometimes in the past. There is a brief mention of some sort of mental illness Pawlikowski smartly injects and than lets it linger for a while.

When his former wife phones the police, he is forced to leave, just to get mugged soon after. Without the money or clothes, he makes a deal with the owner of some cheep resort to stay there cash - free for a while, under the condition that he surrenders his passport as a pledge. The owner soon hires him to do some shady work for him. Also, two women appear in his life: Ania (Joanna Kulig), a waitress in the resort and Margit (Kristen Scott Thomas), a proffesional muse he meets at a litterarly gathering of some kind.

Pawlikowski's picture has a special connection with the proffesion of its main character. More than madness in general, it deals with the specific demons we tend to connect, stereotipicaly or not, with the great minds of the literaly world. The script (based on the book of the same name by Douglas Kennedy) plays on those with the conviction that we, no matter what are interests might be, posses some notion on what their nature might be. The demones in question always tend to be more carnal, the obsession often multiplied. Margit, no matter how you interpret her character, is an unreachable goal for Tom (let not the size of modern skyscrapers confuse you; the fifth floor is still pretty high). She has what Tom the writer wants, but not necesarily what he needs. Manipulative, inteligently seductive and chalenging, she is also the price he has to pay if he wants to pursue his potential greatness.

The other of the ladies is the security he can't afford. Choosing her is something which your standard audience member will root for, and find it incomprehensible if the hero lets her slip through his fingers. She is simple, gentle and unthreatening. But wouldn't he find her boring after a while? Wouldn't his dry spell inspiration wise just continue?

There are many delicate touches by Pawlikowski; note the way he brings the character played by Kulig to the core of what he's trying to portray. She's like an extra in the beginning. We feel she will remain that way. Than the camera subtly catches her gaze twice in the right time. After that, she become important.

The fact that you get all of this out of the story fades under Pawlikowski's intensely objective approach. What comes out is a very taltented storyteller telling an over - calculated story. At the centre, there is an intense personal battle, one you don't feel satisfied waching as a mere passive observer, and yet that's all you end up being. Think of it as Polanski at his coldest directing a Kieslowski film. You will understeand the desired emotional impact of the ending, but it will drain out before you have a chance to remmember the effect it had on you.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the best known Turkish director around, came to Cannes last year with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, his longest running film to date, and took home the Grand Prix. According to the director, the story is based on real events which took place some 25 years ago. The producer, who also plays the part of the vilage mayor, told the story to him, and two of them, togethar with Ceylan's wife wrote the script. It turned into a mentaly exhausting piece of work, in the best way possible, with a tendency to keep that impact for some time after the conclusion.

It's a film of peculiar structure. The title and the location point out to a variation on western genre; on the other hand, the artistic persistence, for the most part, reminded me on Antoninoni striped down of all the glamour.

Turkey this movie gives us somwhere far in the background is one trying to reach a bar set high by few countries which call themselves "The Europe" (don't limit yourself geographically in naming them) to the rest of the continent. In the forefront, there is probably the largest, most literal investigation I ever saw on film. It includes several people who take a suspected killer out to the countryside where he burried the body. It looks like there was some kind of an arrangement in which he promissed them he will point out the exact place, but now he has some problems locating it. After some time, three characters emerge as central to the story: police chief, the doctor and the prosecutor. The killer is almost always somewhere in the frame, looking scared, weary and haunted, maybe even by something more than the crime.

The film shows us procedure breaking down individuals who are doomed to live their lives in - between formalities. When I say doomed, I do realize they have a power of choice. But, as time goes by, it becomes harder to assess when to plug out. A little more down the line, the real question becomes "how" to do that. The point Ceylan is trying to make might be directly connected to the fact that there is no clear division as to when the action takes place. Usually, night shows the people little out of balance. That's not the time to work. Here, night turns into day almost unawares. They just keep on finishing the job without showing any difference. It makes you wonder how do they behave when they come home? Do they even have a place they can call by that name? The very effective sad irony of the picture is that one of them gradually discovers a hearbreaking truth precisely while doing something which made him so depersonalized, using the techniques he acquired on the job.

Aside from working together on the case, they all have at least one more thing in common: applying logic to what they do. The nature of their work requires them having to have solution for every situation they encounter. If a crime is commited, there has to be a criminal; if someone is accused there has to be an answer wheather he is guilty or not; if someone dies, that happened because of one specific reason. Ceylan, with all of the cautiosness in the world, allows us to gasp the reprecussions of noumerous occasions they had to give those kinds of explanations whether they liked it or not.

I'm still not sure about the last half hour. The movie works on our need to discover. It is structured that way. My interpretation from above may differ completely from what the next guy has to say. That's why the director's need to close the circle, while certanly well grounded in the first two hours, ends the picture on a more final note than I expected. His desire to make the film as bulletproof as possible narrowed the entrence for the imagination of the audience. Then again, he is the only one who had the chance to make his take on the story come alive. It's hard to blame him too much for doing so.

God Bless America

In Bobcat Goldthwait's vision of America two outcasts begin a killing spree nobody tries to stop because they are more concerned in doing their pop culture stuff. They are Frank Murdoch (Joes Murray), a midle-aged, divorced father of one who acts because he is fed up with the society's hypocrisy and Roxanne Harmon (Tyra Lynne Barr) whose reasons lie in being more advanced than her peers, other 14 year olds around. The surveillance camera catches them early on, but nobody reacts to save the lives of humans who could be their next victims. The movie accepts that as something normal, and justifiably so. It is a statement, the most clever one in the film too. And you know why it's the most clever one? Because it is the only one the writer - director doesn't throw directly at his audience. You acctualy have to look for that one on your own. It wasn't that hard. Maybe we could even manage with something more if we were given the chance.

Let's get one thing strate at the beginning. The things said in this movie I don't have a problem with, intention free as they may be. I too "hate people when they are not polite". I too think we live in a "civilization of supreme mediocricy". No restrictions to America. The whole world is becoming Americanized, in the worst sense of the word. But when I play a movie, I want to see some spin on the material, a little mental stimulation perhaps. Instead, Goldthwait gives us a script that sounds like a collection of people having a conversation over a cup of coffee. The fact that those are inteligent people in question doesn't change anything.

Don't be fooled to think that the intention behind this movie is not to shock. I say this because it may look like that on the surface. It looks ordinary in its violence, nonchalant even. And that's exactly what should shock us. That we've come to the point when, seeing the numerous deranget reality show deviations and other pop culture garbage the idealisam of 50 years ago turned into, the point that some people don't deserve to live is becaming more and more valid. After raising that, most controversial of all ideas, Goldwait subjects it to an approach which couldn't be more mellow and infantile. Not that he could find some satisfying argument for that anyway. The object of his satire are things which are satirical by their very nature and his response to them is violence, the notion of its normality. That's his satirical attack. Really? In this day and age? You don't have to go further than the movies. Most people don't rent them blodless.

Since violence is populist (it would take very much to convince me otherwise) and this movie is aiming to be satirical, what we get is a populist satire, an oximoron if there ever was one. Only thing worse than that is to disguise it (badly) in a cautionary tale. Shame, because much of the humor does work and the finishing sequence would be thriling if the movie managed to bring us there interested.

The best comentary about modern society God Bless Americe gives is the unintentional one. Remember Bonny and Clyde, remember Leon, remember even Falling Down, just to name a few. And than look at this, their succesor in different parts. How more repetitive can we get?

One more thing. What infuriates Frank the most are scenes where everybody makes fun of a talentless contestent on American Idol just for the sake of entertaining the masses. Wasnt's that the only function of Goldthwait's character in Police Academy?

Margin Call
Margin Call(2011)

In his first full length film, a guy named J. C. Chandor decided to play the role of a smart ass after the facts were laid opened. His 2011 film Margin Call sends us back to the beginning (strictly formaly speaking) of economic crisis 3 years prior to its release. You'll probably wonder how someone who's making his feature debut got actors of this caliber to star in it. Ahh, that's because he's a confident smart ass. He probably just sent them his research-clever script, guessing that actors like Spacey and Irons will hardly refuse to play characters they can take on with such ease, and look so smooth while doing it.

First five minutes indicate a different picture from one we got at the end. It shows people getting fired. I was glad to soon discover we are not dealing with flipside of Up In the Air. One of the fired employees was in the middle of reaserch connected with the company. Since that went down the drain, he left the disc to his young colleague. Out of curiosity, he started digging, and found out something to trigger the chain reaction.

To cut the long story short, the company lost its step on the market. Thair way of dealing has been useless for few weaks. The damage is in numbers ordinary humen don't know how to write. The kid quickly informs his boss (we are talking about the time of the day post the working hours), and from there on, faster than you could imagine, all the heads start appearing. Those include, in order of importance: Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore), Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and finally John Tuld, played by Jeremy Irons. He has a helicopter. No one with a private jet appears. That must mean he's the man in charge. His decision is quick and ruthless - to sell, before customers find out they are buying pure fiction.

It's a dark comedy masquerading as high drama, asking the good people to laugh at being screwd by a bunch of guys whose dream was to spend their lives sitting in high offices, doing a job they have only a partial understanding of and making a living out of it. At some point those partial people will meet, form a gigantic, self-centred corporate brain, decide what steps to take in certain future period, and than diverge, not approaching to a whole for one inch. Or wanting to for that matter. What Chandor's movie suggests is that disintegration is not an option. It can't be even if they want it to. Most what can happen is some sort of shapeshifting, with the consequences that can't have a major impact for those who remain within those walls. As for the others, well...

I don't see where all the praise for acting comes from. I mean, should we really be so impressed when we see actors like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons first and foremost, but also Paul Bettany and Stanley Tuccci, here cast against type, looking so confident in these roles? They do, off course, but that's only because of their natural talent. All the nuances characterwise are minor, like in the scene in front of the building when Spacey is reminded of his son, or when he's burying a dog in the yard of his former home. His track record is too impressive for us to consider those scenes as anything more than a routine.

What the movie does bring is a believable, sharp look, script which doesn't pander to audiences, but also doesn't try to gain aditional points on that account and a director who doesn't do anything more than what a first time filmmaker should. If you take it the right way, it should be entertaining enough.


In 1996 a small town in Texas, called Carthage, was not as shaken up by a weird crime as you might think. Two years latter a journalist named Skip Hollandsworth wrote an article about that event. Somwhere on the line film director Richard Linklater read it, called up the journalist and in 2011 they gave us Bernie, a not so fictional account of the event. What exactly happened?

Well, the eponymous Bernie was the criminal, and he is the main reason for the reaction I mentioned above. Everybody is in love with him. As Jack Black portrays him, that is probably understandable. He came to town to do what he considers to be right there on the top of Lord's priorities - burying people. In that he is meticulous. He is also a studying pilot, an actor, director and musical supervisor in local theatre, social events organiser and a pretty fair singer. More importantly, he is best in lifting the spirits of everybody who meets him. That's why the information on the murder he commits doesn't induce the reaction one would expect when such a crime is comited.

Sure, that has something to do with his victim too. Marjorie Nugent, played with, for the most part, gratifying lack of suggestivness by the great Shirley MacLaine, is completely the oposite on the scale of popularity to Bernie. When her husbend passed away, Bernie befriended her, with the attention he payed to any other widow before her. Some time after the event, they became inseparable, by all acounts in a purely platonic way. In the period prior to the killing, the whole town witnessed her becoming way to possesive towards him, a behaviour coming close to imprisonment. Few also noticed that Marjorie was a little better off financially than his other aging companions. What were Bernie's intentions? One persone who finds them immoral is local DA Danny Buck, played by Matthew McConaughey in a very funny performance. His persistence brings a wider attention to Bernie's case.

For a film which shows a murder of an old rich lady by her much younger personal friend, with darkly comic undertones, it doesn't have much cynicsm in it, if any. What Linklater does is testing the limits of cynicsm in his audience. He never shows Bernie alone, not in a single moment of the film. That way he limits our knowlage of his character only on what we see and keeps us guessing if his real persona is different from what we can gasp directly. Helped by Black's subtle performance, which could or couldn't be interpreted as ambiguous, he knows majority of people will be dubious about this man seeming so angelic in appearance. Linklater doesn't try to break us; Jack Black, on the other hand, may just be able to do that with the unexpected honesty in his performance.

Now, I usualy don't like to attach an epithet "small" to a movie, and I esspetialy don't apprechiate it taped to some of the previous work by this director, to which it goes without saying in some circles. It's often more about what you achieve within the chosen subject matter, esspetialy if it's so connected to the politics of everyday life as in his case. However, I wonder if what he did here can be considered big.

For the most part the movie feels like one big introduction, something which comes naturaly I guess, considering that it's permeated with interviews with the real life people who lived there in the time of the event. Even though those scenes are never boring, and many of them are funny as hell, it seemed to me they continued to present us with Bernie's character for some time after that job was succesfully done. It made picture lose saome of its steam in the middle.

With the approach itsself, however, I don't have a problem. It served the story well. From someone who's never steped his foot anywhere near Texas, but knows few things about the consciousness of small communities, there is a sense of complete authenticity on dispaly here. When I discoverd Linklater was born and raised in Texas, it came to me as an only logical explanation. His ablity to bring it on the screen with the great deal of humor and well controled mockery is a something to remmember.

Unsurprisingly for a Richard Linklater film, Bernie came and went without a bang. Even though he never broke into the mainstream, or maybe precisely because of that, he remains to this day one of the most interesting of American indy filmmakers from the nineties.


If Trishna is ultimately a succes it's because of two things: 1. Frida Pinto being arguably the most photogenic young acctress around; 2. Director Michael Winterobottom heavily relying on that, playing on her strengths as much as he can. Wheather his British mind feels some sort of wounded colonial pride when working in former part of the machinery is beside the point, more so after "the Danny Boyle expedition". I have a strong feeling he decided to set Thomas Hardy's nineteenth - century novel Tess of the d'Urbevilles in modern day India only for an opportunity to work with her.

Coming out of his native island is not something new to Winterbottom. After the hopelessly naive Welcome to Sarajevo, where he proved that provocative naturalisam and political sharpness don't have to be a match made in heaven, he pays more attention to the filmmaking process this time around. For me, it is an artistic up (I'm referencing his fifteen years old feature because I haven't seen much of his work since).

I haven't read the novel nor did I see the Polanski 1979 version (though I came dangerously close few times) so bear in mind the freshness of this material to me. With the background of two different sides of India, Winterbottom introduces us with the story by showing couple of males in their early twenties, carelessly drifting through the countr in search for some adventure I guess. One of them is Jay, who has sort of a problem bugging him - he is a son of a wealthy hotel owner in Mumbai and now everybody expect from him to carry on with the tradition. He doesn't want to do that.

On their odyssey through the rural parts of the country, they encounter young beautiful girl named Trishna, who also has a problem. Her family is numerous, and they all need to have few meals the next day. It is mostly up to her to provide that, doing whatever job she does that particular day. This time, it's dancing. It happens to be her passion too. Jay instantly feels attraction. After finding out of her situation, he offers her job in one of the hotels. She accepts. Something is destined to happen between them. What follows is not what you'd expect based on the introduction.

Winterbottom doesn't work much on the character of Jay. He doesn't demand much work. There's nothing there. Director affirms this with the casting of stiff Riz Ahmed. It's enough to show him as oasis, too good to be truth from Trishna's perspective. She doesn't have a choice but to fall for him. In the first 40 minutes of film, he serves one purpose and one purpose only: to gaze. His obsesion with Trishna's beauty gives Winterbottom an excuse to let us do the same. We need to meet her in all of her vulnerability to be prepared for what is to come in the later parts of the film.

The style of Winterbottom chalenges you with the seeming indifference. There is a constant feeling that he is trying to find a positive side to everything he portrays, which, if truth, would come out as artificial and in contrast to the story. The poverty inside India, the ungrounded hedonisam and sometimes childish snobbery of the elitists from the big city can all be looked from a positive angle. That angle comes from wherever Trishna is sitting. Mumbai is like a different planet for her and she leads us through its dolce vitta as a passive observer. After all, were there little films which portrayed uneducated, beautiful and above all honest girls who by all acounts had no chance for succes ultimately prevaile? We sense this approach by the director, though we can always suspect where his story will finally settle. That combination brings us a picture of hypnotising power, which keeps us tied to the screen by pure combination of tone, sounds and appearance of leading actress. Because of that, you willingly throw at the back of your head the notion that the final outcome is, after all, evident a little too soon.

I have much respect when a director is able to make this kind of an approach work. It manages, in a minor way, to work beyond telling a story and give us something only film as an art form can do. It won't stay with you much; it probably won't stimulate the desire of a repeat viewing. But if you see it with the rest of the day still ahead of you, you just might fall asleep with it on your mind.

Blizna (The Scar)

After shooting documentaries for the first ten years of his career, Krzysztof Kieslowski decided it was time for a feature when he was already 35 years old (his first fiction film Personel was made for TV). If you know his work only from The Decalogue up, you will find some familiar elements, sure, but there will also be that feeling of something incomplete. His background in documentaries is too obvious in the way The Scar looks and feels, showing a filmmaker who was still very much in search for his cinematic angle.

A work of social realism, it tells a story set in a small Polish city of Olechov, where local executives decide that building a great chemical complex should be enough to finally bring the desired progress. The project is secured in spite of some concerns by people about the effect that sort of enterprise could have on the natural resurses of the area. For the person in charge they choose Stephan Bednarz (Frantiseck Pieczka), by all acounts an honest man who has proved his abilities enough times to be given this duty. He and his wife have already lived in this town some time ago, with some unpleasent memories, wisely unexplained, threatening to come to the surface. The movie than goes to show the events up until the factory is finished, with many different points of view on just about every different aspect of the procedings.

Man dealing with responsability and its consequences is a subject matter which didn't stop appearing in his work after this. In his later films, his hero becomes disillusioned cynic, playing God or spying on his neighbours. But here, he is still somewhat in full strenght. Stephan accepts his job with an honest belief he can make it work. We are a little dubious. It's not that he lacks ability; it's just that nobody has enough of it enough to pull something like this of. There are just too many differences of opinions, too many committiees and subcommittiees he needs to consult. Somewhere in between, there are people. At some point, they too will have something to say.

Kieslowski here demonstrates the ability to handle crowds, those in stuffy poorly looking offices where every member faces another dead end day armed with a bottle of mineral water (the official drink of communist conferences), as well as the outdoor outbursts of joy when celebrating every deceptively big success. It is in those well structured scenes that the shortcomings of the picture lie. The complex schemes of socialist bureaucracy prevent simplicity we love so much in his work to come to surface. He was still to discover that he is not at his strongest when portraying people as part of a singular society, but as independent individuals who exist outside of those bounaries.

The Scar is not a work which shows how great Kieslowski is yet to become. But as a separate piece, it has enough elements to be considered a necessary viewing for those who want to get familiar with the work of the director with more depth.


Haywire is a minor work by a director who's quite happy by making a minor work this time around. When it comes to expensive B movies made around New Year, it beats Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, though that one does prevail by far in budget terms. This has a more acceptable running time, the pacing gives the audience a chance to breathe between the action sequences and yes, the lead performance is much more charismatic!

Basically , the story follows Mallory Kane (Gina Carrano), who became a wanted woman after doing some dirty work for the goverment, the nature of which she was tricked by her employer and ex - boyfriend Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). In the begining she is already in trouble, and in flashbacks we find out how she got there. During that time she engages in few kung fu wrestling matches, with the impressive accent on naturalisam and physicality of those scenes. They are one of the movie's strongest sides.

There really isn't much more to say here. Steven Soderbergh does that thing of his where he, more than almost any other director, looks like making the movie exclusively for himself, untargeted to anyone but with enough respect for those who are ready to except his conditions. It's too slow moving for people who want straightforward action thriler, too indulgent for those who ask for something more from the director. There is one sequence where the heroin is running from the police. And running. And running. It goes on for close to ten minutes through streets, builldings and rooftops, photographed in every possible way until the question wheather she will be caught becomes inferior to how Soderbergh is going to film it.

And yet, I enjoyed it throughout. I think Gina Carano is the main reason, regardless of the capacity of actors around her. She is one more winner for Soderbergh when it comes to his experimental casting choices, after Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Expirience. He apparently saw her in some martial arts commercial and decided to build a film around her talents. People who criticize her acting capability should remember that there are many "proper" actrices with only slightly stronger skills who lack her screen presence. For an action picture, she is more than passable. In smaller episodes there are names like Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McCgregor in a role which couldn't be further away from his acting sensibility.

One thing the script doesn't explain is the nature of Channing Tatum's Aaron hearing problem. Or was the constant head tilting a way to build a character? Anyway, it was very distracting. And I see Soderbergh had already cast him in two of his future projects, with Magic Mike already playing in cinemas worldwide. Well, I gues you can't win 'em all!

The Duellists

Ridley Scott's The Duellists is a kind of movie people are often reluctant to give praise it deserves. I mean, how could they? It comes out as unremarkable, to say the least, lacking the importance of Alien, revolutionary impact of Blade Runner or sweeping scope of Gladiator. It's a small movie really, with notable litterary background (Joseph Conrad's short story) and a simple premisse which shouldn't engage us throughout the entire course of the picture, yet somehow it never shows intention of letting us go.

A period piece set during Napoleonic Wars (and occasional outbursts of piece), it is completely structured around the relation of two soldiers from his army. Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) is a duel junky, who, I had a feeling, counts these honorable encounters into his daily routine (indeed, he fights two of them in less than 24 hours). When Lieutenant Armand d'Huber (Keith Carradine) comes to arrest him for one of these adventures, they end up fighting in Feraud's back yard. And few months after that. And few years after that. In fact, they do it over and over for the entire 16 years the story evolves.

To put the most obvious quality of this film as simply as I can: it is a beauty to look at, to that extent that, in some other case, it would feel like a distraction. That's impossible here. What could the scenery distracts us from? What is the point of the story, some higher purpose Scott is aiming at here? I don't know. There are fragments, for sure, like trying to compare the futiity of these people's behavior (esspetialy Feraud's) with what Napoleon tried to do. Indeed, the final defeat of his matches with the fall of The Emperor. You can also start questioning yourself about the value of human life, as their duels became more and more of a public event. But you don't have to do that. With his obsession to keep the authenticity of the time period, in look, feel and the mannerisms, carefully choregraphed fight sequences and faboulosly looking costumes, Scott and his associates have created a visual masterpiece which works beyond that only if you want it to.

Actors act accordingly, never sinking much into their characters. Feraud is kind of a demonic figure and we know, after few minutes of watching Keitel's performance, that he will remain like that until the end. Caradine, on the other hand, keeps us at a distance. He has some thing he calles honor, that is to say his own perception of it, and doesn't show interest of letting us in at any moment. Yet, like everything else in this movie, they are pleasent to wach. Keitel is not psyhotic, he's menacing and we take him seriously. Carradin's detachment gives him a note of a flawed hero we can root for. His presence here is so strong that I never regreted Keitel's limited amount of screen time.

Even in this first picture, Scott showed some of the paths his work will take. The machismo is there alright, but the picture is from the POV of the one who, in a more romanticised Swashbuckler, would be called a coward or a hypocrite. Or better yet, he wouldn't have a place in a film like that at all. Scott did his job job in a sense that he brought that guy on the screen in a way that convinced us he is always more intriguing than your standard hero.


Actor Ralph Finnes makes his directorial debut with Coriolanus, a movie more ambitious in set up than the execution. It's an adaptation of a lesser known Shakespeare play, writen at the turn of the centuries, about a Roman soldier who lived in V century BC and his turmoil relationship with his hometown, his mother and his views on where his true calling lies. Finnes sets it up in modern times with the Shakespearian language left untouched. The results are mixed.

Marcus Caius (Finnes), the unpopulist Roman general, after the triumph over the rebelious Volsces and for him more importantly, their leader Aufilius (Gerard Butler), comes back in Rome to claim the noble title Coriolanus. His dominating mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) thinks that's the perfect moment for her son to run for Senat. Alas, he doesn't have a single demagogic cell needed for political games and, with the television giving way to many different Forum's, he is quickly defeated in front of the public eye and is forced to leave Rome. He joins his arch enemy Aufilius and his troops and sets onto a Hanibal - like expedition against his city. Since he is one of those boys who has best friend in the face of the mother, she, along with his submisive wife and feisty heir, is the only one who can stop him.

The movie is about the downside of masculinity, the vanity of soldiers and their own charasteric view on the enemy, a person you have to kill because you respect him so much. I found it, in the beginnig at least, to be an attack on the mores of soldiers and their way of thinking and that was alright to me. But Finnes filles his film with scenes that could fit in any of the Rambo movies, providing you write Stallone some Elitabethan dialogue. The movie is so shamelessly pompous, so hormonal, that you will be uplifted by it as long as your adrenalin is kept at high enoug level. That's why it drags in second part. Finnes has not been able to inject enough humanity in all of the theatrics to make the slower parts engadging.

I was, however, impressed by some parts. If the sequence of Coriolanus and his senator rivals speaking directly to the people is intended to make us wonder why do these guys give their confidence to any political option these days, than I think Finnes really hit at the centar of current political moment. And there are some interesting performances. I have to admit that Gerard Butler, who I don't like very much, seems very natural while speaking his lines. But then again, this is a textbook example of a Gerard Butler role. Where else will he shine? On the other side, we have Vannesa Redgrave and Brian Cox, actors whose delivery of Bard's dialogue can make even the skeptics to his work work pay attention. I have a weakness for Jessica Chastain, but I was glad she didn't have more screen time. The softness of her Virgilia just deviates too much here.

Though the specific contemporary place where the action takes place wasn't named, the fact that the movie was shot in Belgrade tells you something. It doesn't have any direct relation to the history of Balkan conflicts, but the occasional documentary - like style of shooting can be seen as a reference to that period, as well as any other of the modern wars. This also means there are some Serbian actors present. Slavko timac (Underground, Do You Remmember Dolly Bell) has the most screen time as Volscie liutenent. There are also Dragan Mićanović as Titus, and in few singular scenes Slobodan Ninković, Svetislav Goncić and Radislav Milenković.

As for Finnes, this was obviously a very personal project for him. You can see it in his performance. He seems ready to confront you if you don't like his picture. The question is, how useful is that amount of rawness for the movie?

The Holiday
The Holiday(2006)

Where do the screenwriters stand when it comes to the casting choices? That question popped into my head somewhere in the beginning of this film. It would be only natural to to let them have some kind of vote, with the character up there on that screen being a part of them and all. And if they do have some influence in that area, how can anyone who's serious about his writing be willing to accept the kind of a casting crime that happened in this movie? Yes, but this was in the beginnig of the film, first 20 minutes or so. As it progressed, I realized the participation of the writer doesn't really matter. Nancy Meyers, who wrote and directed this movie, is the worst kind of hypocrite: not only did she made this garbage; she dared to implicitly place it in the category of the classics of the genre (romantic comedy).

Yes, she pledges her etternal loyalty towards the classic Hollywood cinema. This picture was entirely based upon the oldies and the many kinds of pleasures they bless us with. But did she know that mentioning the names of Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck or Irene Dunne will probably only make audiences see how inferior Jack Black, Cameron Diaz or Jude Law seem in comparison? That too doesn't matter. Her picture was targeted towards the audiences who can hear the name Cary Grant only like this - used as some distant, romantic figure you needn't bother finding anything about.

But wait till you hear this plot! See, Kate Winslet lives in England and Cameron Diaz in Los Angeles. They don't have much in common exept that they are both wounded by love. The agreement is reached and they decide to swich their homes for a while, having in mind the positive effect of change and all. But what happens they couldn't imagine in their wildest (read corniest) dreams. When Cameron arrives in London she finds out that Winslet's brother is non other than Jude Law. Lord does bless us with his mercy sometimes, doesn't he? In LA, Kate meets Jack Black, but don't worry, she seems to have no problems with that! She also encounters a sweet old man who turns out to be a legendary Hollywood screenwriter (Eli Walach) who then becomes her guide through the strength of on screen female characters of the forties.

Mayers did one good thing with Jack Black here - she gave him just enough screen time that makes his screen presence bearable. The second key ingredient - putting some funny lines in his mouth - was, apperantly, not even intended. Why? Seriosly, that's not even a rethorical question. I would really like someone to answer this!

The scenes between Kate Winslet and Eli Walach are nowhere near as poignant as Mayers would like you to believe. His dwelling on the utopia that is the Golden Age of Hollywood quickly becomes tiresome (there were many people working in that sistem who would have few words to say on the subject). But their moments can't be looked at objectively. I mean, she's Kate Winslet and he is, well, almost 100. That fact alone elevates them above anytheng else seen here. Including and esspetialy, the biggest crime..

In one part of the story, they chose Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, two of the most dependable actors in movies today, Orlando Bloom not counting. If they are to be bareable in a romantic film, it's because their screen partner worked a double shift. Like this, they couldn't keep the engine running even if their hairstyles dependen of it. Strangely enough, this doesn't have to be that much of a dissaster. Pay attention to the house and the area they spend their time in. It looks like created by Disney in the moment if inspiration. If you can imagine these two as animated characters, you may even get some kind of a kick out of it.

So, fans of Kate Winslet, skip this one! I like her work too so you can trust me: it isn't worth it! As for those of you who like Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, I won't bother you much. You have enough problems as it is!

Parada (The Parade)

The Parade, latest offering from Serbian filmaker Srdjan Dragojević, gathers the distinguished representatives from all the radical currents of the Balcan conflicts in the last twenty years around the cause you would't exactly call their priority. By the set of circumstances, the nature of which is too complex to explain (their discovery is the biggest joy in watching the film), they join together in trying to protect the latest attempt of Pride parade in Belgrade. The movie did very well in this years Berlinale, winning the audience award and the sympathies of the majority who've seen it.

Nikola Kojo plays Limun (The Lemon"), who's keeping in touch with his war time glory by doing some dirty work for the country's newly enthroned jet set, the kind that usualy comes to the surface after a major conflict. His cover is a judo club he leads with bunch of old timers. Already divorced, he's getting ready for a new wedding with Biserka (Hristina Popović), a trendy lady with some worm feelings towards The West (just don't ask her to point it out on the map). For a wedding planner, much to Limon's dissatisfaction, she hires Mirko, an openly gay young man who's paying for his "politics" by planning weddings instead of directing plays (that't what he learnd to do in school). Mirko's boyfriend is a veterinarian Radmilo (Milo Samolov) who has no problems with keeping his orientation a secret. Radmilo already met Limun, while saving his beloved bulldog from deathly, revenge induced, injuries.

The circumstances mentioned above bring Limun to the position of having to defend the parade. Since he has no hope of finding much help within the Serbian borders (the chief of police, like everyone, leads a politics of his own), he sees his only chance in recruiting the thugs from neigbourhood countries, all of which he shares some wartime memories with. They are: from Croatia Roko (Goran Navojec), now running a bistro, video clerk Halil (Dejan Aćimović) from Bosnia and Azem (Toni Mihajlovski), an Albanian who's spending his time selling drugs to US soldiers on Kosovo and having a pretty comfortable life out of it. There's maybe one scene too many in showing the absurdity of their comradery (considering they fought on different sides not so long ago).

It's a comedy of manners, with the elements of a road movie I found particular enjoyable. Dragojević should be congratulated for making the mess on screen seem organized in the entire course of the picture. It's an admiring piece of storyelling. Since he puts this, the most current of subject around here, in the context of happenings in the last 20 years, a small insight into that period could help you to gasp certain aspects a little better. However, that's far from imperative for understanding the final product. This is first and foremost a comedy, and besides, there is a short explanation in the begining for all those unfamilliar.

The deal with Dragojević is that he's a talented director and, at best, an average writer. He can scrible down a catchy and quotable line of dialogue, but character development is not his thing. What benefits him is that he seems to be aware of that. It is evident in the way he envisions his characters. They all serve some higher purpose he's trying to get to, rearly coming out as individuals. That kind of sterotypical portrait is not new to him. In Pretty Vilage, Pretty Flame, mabey his best known work to date, all of the participants symbolised certain broader points of view and played their role in a pointless clash of ideologies shown in that film. Like in that earlier picture, here too Dragojevic never allows it to be a problem, esspetialy having in mind that this genre more than tolerates it. That being said, the fact that he uses stereotypes and intends to breake them at the same time doesn't allow the film to go far beyond entertainment.

My problems with the film increased as it was reaching the conclusion, and writer - director's intentions started to became clear. There is really something utterly vapid when a rounchy comedy turns into a mesage movie. That kind of shift in tone is imposible to pull of, and it makes you wonder about the filmmaklers intentions in the first place. Was it a trap they didn't know how to avoid or did they plan this kind of cheep attack on our emotions from the beginning? The final scenes (i'm not going to reveal them, naturaly) may be justifiable from the purely human side but they make movie loose much of the credibility.

The Parade won't solve this newest problem citizens of Balkan countries entertain themselves with - that's neither the goal or the reality of art. It didn't even play the role in encouraing some big debates on this subject - turning on the TV is quite enough for that. What's left in the end is the thing that should be the most important when all of the secondary aspect have been put asside - the motion picture. From that aspect, this movie provides enough laughs to check it out. Just don't expect anything more

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

As I start to shuffle through my memory, I can't think of a movie so dependable on the source material as Thomas Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. You'll know what the film is getting at in the end, you'll understand everything that happend if you pay close attention, but the process of finding that out is bound to take some of the pleasure away. It was based on John Le Carre novel of the same name, a classic of the genre, and seeing the film, I have to say the director kept his integrity - his first American effort is far from money grabbing attempt to benefit from the arthouse hit he had few years ago (yes, this was aimed at that German director who directed Johnny Depp as a math teacher!?).

John Le Carre has become somewhat of a cult writer. A former spy, with eloquent style and masterfully constructed plots, he often gives the situation from many different angles in his books. There are several points of view leading to the final conclusion. That's why his work is so challenging for ambitious filmmakers to adapt in a two hour narrative. Since I haven't read this book, the knowlage of some of his other work certanly helped me with this.

It all happens in the early seventies, when the pionires of the spying game have already seen everything there is to be seen in their profession and are now getting closer to retirement, with the burden of decades long havey decision - making process becoming more and more visible. An information about a Soviet mole within MI 6 appears, and the jaded Control (John Hurt, who plays him as barely accountable) and his man of trust George Smiley (faboulous Gary Oldman) start looking for suspects. They are Tinker" (Toby Jones), Tailor" (Colin Firth), Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds), Poor Man" (David Dencik) and Beggerman" (Smiley himself). One of these people is The Spy.

This is a Le Carre world just like I imagined it, filled with silent, hidden despair, where you can almost feel these claustrophobic rooms smelling of people who've been sitting in them way too long. There is a constant fear on the faces of everyone; for the experienced ones it is already a natural state of mind, while in the case of the young ones it comes, I suspect, from the close look at the future that awaits for them. Alfredson repeats the gift for creating an absorbing atmosphere, where the characters are prisoners of their duties, constantly looking over their shoulders. Literally!

But this is not a picture which can work solely on the tone and the mood. The plan was to keep the audience on the edge of the plot, to make it as inteligent as possible, and most importantly, to keep Le Carre's obsesion with the characters and the moral ambiguities of this world intact. That had to be the essence of the picture. My problem was that the mechanics of the plot often worked against my attention towards what's really important. It's not as smooth as it had to be in this case. There were few occasions where the emotional reaction of certain character seems ungrounded, simply because the reason for it isn't visable at the moment it happens. If you are to get really involved in the film, it will be in the second half, when the intentions of Alfredson finally became clear. That, off course, under a condition you still care.

The film is dominated by bunch of unapologetieclly restrained performances, but there is never a feeling of underplaying from anyone's side. It's like they've all decided to work for the team in this case. It was a pleasure to see Gary Oldman developing his character by holding back most of the time, and still giving you a chance to see his demons if you are careful enough. Toby Jones and John Hurt also shine, Colin Firth is as good as the script allows him and there is also help from the younger forces, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch (in that order). The production values are among the best I've seen last year.

More than anything, I was intigued by this film. It has an aura of greatness surrounding it. It feels authentic. I'll certanly check it out again even if I don't read the novel in the mean time (and I plan to). It feels like one of those cases where the second viewing makes the expirience complete.


It would be an understatement to call Reds a movie about the rise of communisam in America, or more accurately, an attempt of it. The main charaters were Amerians; they were comunists too, whatever the hell that means by now. But to put that kind of a stamp on it would be a massive simplification. It belongs to a special category of movies I have a big weaknes for - long, ambitious and imperfect, the imperfetion being a natural consequence of ambitiousness, and therefore, not really a flaw. It is also a near masterpiece of controled and naturalistic epic filmmaking.

The picture goes in many different directions, all of them filled with intriguing and chalenging ideas looking for a context. If you get interested enough to devote yourself in finding it, the move will proove to be a rich emotional and intelectuall expiriance.

A love story set against the backdrop of World War I and Octobar revolution, it cronicles the stormy relationship between two jurnalists: John Reed (Warren Beatty), who wrote Ten Days That Shoock the World, one of the best known accounts of revolution and Louise Brayat (Diane Keaton), who was with him in Petrograd during those historical events. The story actually starts in 1912 in Portland, where frustrated Bryant is slowly getting tired of scribbling to her narrow minded fellow citizens. The chance for salvation comes when she meets the already famous jurnalist John Reed, who's smart enough to gasp the bigger picture of the events to come, and cocky enough to tell it publicaly. When he offers her one way ticket to New York with him, she has enough sense to except the chalange.

There, they get right in the middle of a flourishing bohemian scene in Greenich Vilage, where arguments about free love and monogamy are just as important as the ones about the war and growing attraction to socialisam. Reed is already an established name in those circles, but Bryant, with her still undetermined stance regarding the current issues, finds it hard to keep up with the likes of Eugene O' Neal (Jack Nicholson), Max Eastman (Edward Hermann) and legandary anarchist Emma Goldman (Maurine Stapleton). The fact that Reed always seems to be on the road doesn't help.

The first part works as well as anything Beaty has participated in. This film was his baby, more than 10 years in production, so the feeling of complete mastery of the time period doesn't come as a surprise. It's evident not so much in accurate depiction of every single connection (absolute historical accuracy is not a moviemaker's priority), but in showing an extremely believable feel of a time period when everything seemed possible. The display of these people, some of them already legends, and their rebeliosness would be tempting by itsself, but Beaty richens it aditionaly by bringing a great deal of humor and inteligence to his writing (together with Trevor Groffiths). Regardless of the epic scope, the most interesting scenes turn out to be ones where characters simply talk or argue.

The additional dimension comes from the interviews with the surviviors from the era, some of them looking less ancient than they should. Most knew Reed and Bryant in person; some befriended them. Though their memories are substantialy blured by the enormous time gap, the rhetoric is still sharp and personal. Covering a wide variety of subjects, from our heroes political beliefs to their relationship, style and even clothing choices, they give additional credibility to the picture.

Inspite of the conventional epic structure, the director manages to do something essential for the succes of the picture from the artistic side - Reed is kept enigmatic enough right to the very end. Yes, he is an idealist, some would add an atribute naive to that; some would say it's an easy verdict from today's point of view, or the one in 1981 for that matter. But there is another Reed lurking beneath the surfface. He likes showing his briliance in front of the big crowds, being in political minority and could even be conventional if he stoped and did some rethinking of his priorities. The interviewed help a great deal with this.

Warren Beaty was in the second or third wave of method actors, and here he brings to his Reed a well nuanced amount of voulnlebility characteristic for that acting style which, combined with his flamboyance, makes this one of the best performances he ever gave. Keaton, than considered a surprising casting choice for this role, has a tough character in her hands. She has to work harder than any other actor here. Louise knows she wants to be where the action is. When she gets there, than she'll worry about finding her role. That is, I assume, not an easy motivation to base a character on and, if we understood her at the end, that's mostly to Keaton's credit.

There is a richness in supporting players category, as it ought to be in a picture this long. This includes Gene Hackman, Edward Hermann, M. Emmet Walsh, Jerzy Kosinski and best of all Jack Nicholson and Maurine Stapleton. Nicholson cynicism gets proper words from the screenwriting tandem, as he brings some conventional, in your face sexual desires and plain human honesty to his scens with Keaton, deviating from the rest of the cast. And Stapleton's authority is so strong she could convince anyone they don't need to bother with an opinion if it differs from her own.

For a movie with two great subjects, the romantic and the political one, Reds triumphs in that sense that it ultimately offers more than satisfying payoff on both fields. That gives even the viewers who choose one part as the core of the film a chance to be rewarded at the end. I personaly liked it as a whole. It's one of those movies that seem to defie the passing of the time. I can't speak about 1981 with enough credibility; that was long before my era. But today, in a time when many intelectuals proclaim the death of idealisam, the ideas of Reds are more than worth visiting.

The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps(1935)

The 39 Steps is, according to many scholars, Alfred Hitchcock's first great picture. I don't know if that's true, but of one thing I am certain - it is a fabulous entertainment anouncing even more fun yet to come and containing many of the elments that will permeate his later clasics. This picture, together with The Lady Vanishes from 1938, was the one that fully drew attention of the American studios on him, speeding up the process of his transfer across the Atlantic.

The picture involves a murder you are likely to forget soon after the execution, a secret of national importance you will remember only when emphasized (a classic example of a MacGuffin) and a man whose wit and adroitness it's all about. In Hitchcock's work, the terms hero and a gentleman are never separated. This time he is played by Robert Donnat, one of the first actors to fill the shoes of that famous innocent man who finds himself on the run without the fault of his own. That concept is not to be taken literally though, not in this case. Unlike Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest for example, Richard Hanney consciosly invites trouble to his house, and is than forced to face the consequences.

Since this is a Hitchcock film, the trouble unsurprisingly comes in the face of a woman. This one says she is a spy and, after the shooting at a gathering of some kind, she politely asks Hanney to take her home. For a cavalier like him, that kind of offer is impossible to refuse. After they fall asleep (in seperate beds, they agreed on that earlier), she somehow gets herself slightly killed, leaving the cavalgier to deal with the aftermath.

The pacing is faster than in some of his latter offerings with simillar subjects, a logical consequence of a much shorter running time. Being that way, it runns a risk of even seeming a little rushed in few occasions, showing us a director in the final stages of mastering his trade. Nothing much to worry in this respect, though. The picture moves from one inspired sequence to another, from London to the more rural areas of Britain, with the esspetialy bizzare and creepy part in Scootish highlands. The love interest is brieffly introduced in the beginning, while fully joining the show in the second part.

Hitchcock is known for controling every aspect of the performances from his actors, so I will feel free to say he wanted Donnat to seem like nothing much is going on. He plas Richard like he's been preparing for this mess for a long time. The director gives him stage, and he is more than capable to shine on it.

People usualy get around to films from this stage of Hitchcock's carrier when they've alread seen some of his best known titles from the forties and fifties. Pictures from British period are not so widely viewed by audiences, much due to the fact they lack the star caliber of James Stewart or Ingrid Bergman for example. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling on some kind of injustice. There are perfectly jutified reasons for that. But this film has so much of Hitchcock the author in its core that it is maybe the best place to start understanding how his cinematic mind works.

Young Adult
Young Adult(2011)

I usually love cinema of Jason Reitman. He makes his films about trendy subject matters without the intention to turn them into lesions. Too star filled for indie, too conscious to be considered mainstream, they find their audience among people who don't care much for those kinds of divisions. All of his protagonists are charismatic eccentrics, worth spending time with, if only during those 90 minutes in the theater. Until now!

In Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody of Juno, he builds the story around Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron), a 37-year old ghost writer of fiction for adolescents. Recently divorced and with a deadline for a new book in the series already destined for cancelation, she comes of as pretty delusional right from the start. The problem is, she doesn't even seem close of realizing it. It will take a painful trip through the glory past for her to discover it.

Mavis is descried by one of the characters as a "psychotic prom queen bitch", and that's not much of an overstatement. It's too true actually, to an extent that I never, in a single moment of the picture started caring for the final outcome of her search for reaffirmation. You have to really want to follow people like this. As far as I'm concerned, Cody and Reitman weren't able to make this one worth a trouble. She is a living proof that hipsters sometimes tend to get more and more obnoxious as their hipness starts to fade.

Mavis is played by Charlize Theron as someone who has obviously practiced for a long time (if only subconsciously) how to give out the impression of success and satisfaction with the place in life she finds herself in, no matter how screwed up the reality is. I don't think my dissatisfaction with the film has anything to do with her performance. In fact, together with Patton Oswald's perfectly measured and often poignant take on Matt, it is the highlight of the picture. It makes you regret they didn't receive more decent material, considering the form they were in.

I'm not denying there are people who carry the burden of past with less grace than the others, whose scares heal more slowly and the memory of it haunts them more often than usual. With Mavis, those scares are the consequence of her high school glory, whereas with Matt they are deeply rooted in that awkward period. But the fact that the prom queen comes back to the place she graduated in and the same people she probably humiliated back than and whose names she can't remember continue sucking up to her was hard for me to swallow in this particular case. The scene between her and Matt's sister was almost painful to watch.

Though Reitman's weakest directorial effort to date, I don't think this is an unrealized picture, in that sense that he brought Cody's vision to life in its fullness. The fact that I didn't respond to the story is, I guess, my problem.


Will these people find this trip useful? Will it make them understand each other just a little more and establish the coherency in their family? That's a big, fat NO! Are they going to try something like this again? Off course they will! Theirs is a world which consists solely of duties seeking to be fulfilled, and spending time with the family seems to be the hardest one.

The members are Edward (Tom Hidlleston), Patricia (Kate Fahy) and Cynthia (Lydia Leonard), who decide they should spend a holiday together before Edward's departure to Africa, where he's to teach safe sex to kids as a part of a voluntary mission. The setting is their house on a secluded island. There are two more people there: a housekeeper Rose (Amy Lloyd) and a painter Christopher (real life painter Christopher Baker), who's also on vacation. Pater familias was brave enough not to come and his absence, among many other things, increases the tension within the family members, slowly dragging poor Rose into their madness.

This has a vibe of an Antonioni film, where people's emptiness becomes evident only when they became secluded from their natural surroundings. It was directed by Joanna Hogg, someone I have never heard about, and she certainly is a brave one. There is not a single camera move in the entire film, we can barely see the close-up of an actor and the only music is the one produced by the pounding of the waves and howling of the wind. With that in mind, it is almost needles to say that this is one extremely slow moving film. It gives us an insight into a family so dysfunctional that every conversation they lead seems like a job interview. And not a casual one either!

It's a difficult film to watch, both in form and content. Hogg's biggest advantage is that she knows exactly what she wants and doesn't dream of copping out. She has a beautiful way of putting her characters in a certain environment, both interior and exterior. That was the biggest pleasure I had while watching this.

The problem for many (me included), even putting aside the filmmaker's style, might be the fact that all of these people are extremely childish and unlikable. Edward is the one who disintegrates the entire situation by becoming doubtful about his way of life, almost a sacrilege in this company. He starts out as being pretty intrusive, but at least he's trying. The trouble is that he's probably not doing anything worth rooting for. After all, the reasons for his actions might even be the wrong ones. If he doesn't know, how could we?

I'm far from interested in the mores and consciousness of British middle class-it's not my cup of tea. I do, however, enjoy in a challenging, basely, confident filmmaking, and Hogg delivers on all three points with fearless determination. Her film will most certainly get tedious at some times, but if you learn to accept its sluggishness as a necessity and decide to bestow your patience to the people who perhaps don't even deserve it, you might end up enjoying it, at least the way I did.

Le Havre
Le Havre(2011)

Finish master Aki Kaurismaki came back to Cannes last year with Le Havre, his second French language film. It's a comic fairytale which defies the time we live in, talking about universal values in a very particular way characteristic for the simplest ways of life. Big part of its charm comes from the direction in which Kaursmaki leads this story. I'm not sure if he believes in it; all I know is that I wanted to, and in a medium like film, so dependable on illusion, that is perhaps the only thing that matters.

The city from the title looks untouched by modern society, both in appearance and spirit. Its inhabitants seem like specimens of some bygone era where everyone knows each other and play their irreplaceable role in the life of the community. There's the grocery store they visit, a bar they drink in and a police inspector they all dread. To put these kinds of people in the context of France's policy towards illegal immigrants is one of the jokes Kaurismaki throws at us. In this day and age where even the rebellion against the authority has become too flashy and commercialized they do it because of the old fashioned reasons - they actually believe they're doing the right thing.

The (anti)-hero is Marcel Marx played by Andre Willis in the performance of the film. He is a shoeshine by occupation, a bohemian by nature and, rightly described by one of the characters, an eternal child, radiating with charm and unfakable class. He is married and we soon realize he was extremely lucky to find someone willing to accept his eccentric personality. When his wife Arletty (Kathy Outinen) falls ill and ends up in a hospital he carries on with his daily routines, unable to even imagine what would happen to him if she died.

At the same time another person enters his life. When local police captures a group of immigrants from Gabon trying to enter the country illegally, one boy manages to escape. His goal is to get to London where his mother is already settled. One thing leads to another and Marcel finds himself helping the boy. Soon, the good people of Le Havre join him. Kaurismaki shows this as the most natural thing in the world. Police inspector Monnet suspect where the boy is hiding, but is not sure himself what to do about it.

In Andre Wilms and Jean-Pierre Daroussin Kaurismaki has found two actors able to strike a perfect note with their characterization of Marcel and Monnet. They are deeply dignified individuals, who find them selves in a situation where they are faced against each other, but are not that different. Like every other person in the film, they accept their role in the small society they live in, perform their duties with necessary dedication and professionalism, but always give out impression there is more to them than their job. The question weather one of them will allow himself to make a "mistake" is very important for the outcome of the story.

This is one of those cases where only one director in the world could make something like this work. Kaurismaki is a true author, who, in this case, uses his characteristic sardonic deadpan inseparable from the low key performances of his actors in bringing to life a town where time seemed to stop long ago, making the people of it, and the protagonist in particular, so defeated by life it somehow never stops being very funny. His usage of source music brings us a classic concert scene with the clear proof that any definition of a rock star's look seems futile.

Le Havre is planned to be the first part of a trilogy, with all of the films set in the port cities. If Kaurismaki succeeds in keeping all of them in this level, he could end up creating something special.

Safe House
Safe House(2012)

"Why are you in Cape Town" is the question Ryan Reynolds character Matt Weston finally dares to ask Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) somewhere near the end of Safe House. Frost is an ex CIA operative and currently one of the most wanted criminals in the world, already in town when we first see him. There, he acquires some important files from one of his former associates, whose content is very well hidden by the filmmakers since it is the only link that holds the film together. The problem is, by the time we get to the point in which the question from the beginning is asked, I don't think many will care for anything in the film, including the answer to it.

This is an out-and-out action picture trying to persuade itself it has enough intelligence to be considered a thriller as well. The problem is not that it is predictable; it's precisely in its intention to be unpredictable. The director (a name unknown, let's leave it like that) uses the cheapest trick in the book, throwing every possible surprise in your face and hoping you will ask for more. His intention is probably for you not to have time to question yourself who is doing what and why.

The picture is obviously a Ryan Reynolds vehicle, with a much stronger actor Washington selflessly offering his reputation not to mention his bank account number to help his younger college being taken more seriously as an actor. It's futile to talk about the performances (and there are more reliable actors here, like Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and even Sam Shepherd), since the direction of the film works totally against them. It prevents every possible intelligent situation between characters, verbal or non verbal. If the intention of editing this consistently fast was to give us a headache, it totally worked in my case. It appeared some 20 minutes into the film, maintaining the substantial intensity throughout.

I was happy to see Washington's next two project are being helmed by David Cronenberg and Robert Zemeckis. I hope they will manage to present him a role which doesn't include mere recycling of his already classic screen persona.

My Week with Marilyn

In the year of movies set in the world of movies, My Week with Marilyn represents the one without romantic or sympathetic look at the industry. It reminded me of an interview by Orson Welles I saw some time ago in which he talked about some books he had read about Hollywood from which he realized how many great people were destroyed by that industry from the earliest days. Merlyn Monroe can surely serve as a textbook example.

Don't get me wrong, the movie doesn't even scratch the surface of that. It is based on the books The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark, in which he talks about his first job. It was no less than an assistant director gig on now largely forgotten Laurence Olivier picture The Prince and the Showgirl that signified the only time he and Monroe appeared on the big screen together. Directed by Simon Curtis, it follows the entire time of troubled shoot, including the alleged relationship between Clark and Monroe.

This is just your ordinary coming of age story, with the difference that the person who helps the boy turn into a man is no other than Marilyn Monroe. This kind of subject matter and this cast deserved a better script than this one by Adrian Hodges. It feels a little exaggerated in its cautiousness, with Hodges sometimes being too aware just how significant some of the people he is writing about really are. Still, the dedication and the charm of the cast, as well as tolerable job by the director make for a slightly above average movie experience.

Monroe is played by the magnificent Michele Williams as someone who loves life but willingly accepts to spend her's among the lowlife. I didn't visualize Monroe once during the entire film, and that is the best indicator of how high I rate her performance. I remember her from Dawson's Creak (give me a brake, I was a kid when that show was popular), and this film, coming after Blue Valentine and Meek's Cutoff, makes her one of the most exciting actresses working today.

I guess Eddie Redmayne is good enough as Colin. Let's face it, his biggest function is to serve for storytelling purposes. Kenneth Branagh is obviously having great fun in playing his "brother by Shakespeare" Olivier, Judy Dench is an asset this kind of film desperately needs and Emma Watson is quite charming, making a smart choice for the beginning of departure from her Harry Potter image. Vivian Leigh and Arthur Miller as the spouses of the leads also appear for a short time.

Like Midnight in Paris, one of my favorite films of the last year, My Week with Marilyn features some legends from the past, and like in that film, it decides not to mess with their image. Understandable! But unlike Allan's film which has an aureole of a fantasy, with the legends playing supporting parts, Monroe and Olivier are the leads in this one, and that's why their stereotypical portrait is more evident. I enjoyed in the acting, but not so much in the characters portrayed by the actors. And that was rather disappointing.

The Descendants

The Descendants is Alexander Payne's deconstruction of a life in paradise. It tells a story about a character behaving so politely it almost becomes self-destructive. In the beginning, he looks like one of those middle aged guys who are materially secure enough to afford them selves not to be too worried about the disintegrated family they live in. In the course of the film we get to know him so well that in the end he becomes the most sympathetic character George Clooney has portrayed so far.

Within several weeks two important things happen in Matt's life: first, his alienated wife Elizabeth suffers an accident and falls in a coma she has no chance getting out of, and than he finds out she has been cheating on him. By the way he deals with these things one can figure out he has had, in the past, some problems with facing the conflicts. One can also admire his awareness of the situation he and his two daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) found them selves in.

He is also a sole trustee of a family trust which controls a great amount of land in the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Lately, there has been a pressure from his estranged relatives (wonderful comic performance from Beau Bridges as one of them) to sell it. That seems like a pretty reasonable option to him. After all, the descendants don't show much promise in that area.

Payne doesn't make it easy for us by taking Matt's side. There are no big scenes designed to make us like him because he's supposed to be the hero of a picture. He doesn't even give him his big scene in front of the family. Instead, what Payne does is creating various situations in which he has to deserve our respect. There are several moments where one would expect him to explode but, as we slowly get into his mind we realize he's not going to do that. The stakes are too high. How do you blame your teenage daughter for her unconventional behavior when you realize you have a big amount of responsibility for that? How do you tell a father his dying daughter was a cheater, regardless of the fact he keeps pushing your buttons. He has a full understanding of a bigger picture and sees the futileness of reacting abruptly. By doing that he also gets respect from Alex, (SPOILER ALERT, i guess) and if in the end he's able to enjoy a pleasant evening in front of the TV with his family as a deceptively small sign of victory that just means the choices he made were the right ones.

One of the things I liked about the film is that it took me to a place I knew nothing about, showed me the people who inhabit it and convincingly did what it set out to do - broke all of the possible prejudices about their lifestyle. Matt tells us in the beginning that this is no paradise, but it sure as hell looks like that. Payne and his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael want it to look like that. That emphasizes the importance of another choice Matt is faced with - how good do you think these landscapes would look if covered by hotels, parking lots and other necessities of a consumer society?

Deservedly, Clooney is getting a lot of acclaim for this performance, though I do think a lot of its quality lies on paper. I also think he is one of the rare actors able to pull something like this off with such an ease, as he proved with Michael Clayton for example, playing a character who found himself in a similar place in life. Woodley holds her own, but the performance of an equal importance would be the one by Robert Forster. This film wouldn't have worked if it had any repulsive characters and Forster, because he looks pretty unpleasant in writing, has a delicate task in making Scott as sympathetic as possible in a limited amount of screen time he has.

From what I wrote so far, this may seem like a humorless family drama. It's not. There are several very funny scenes. It's just that you are not likely to remember them first when you think about the picture. I don't think there is a director working in the business today who uses humor more effectively as a storytelling device. It prevents the film from becoming too preachy about the important journey this family has embarked upon.

One small weakness is a melodramatic scene in the hospital involving Julie Speers. It's been few days since I've seen the movie and I still don't know how necessary that was. In best case, it served a point which was already made.

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg's latest, takes us back at the very beginning of the 20th century where Sigmund Freud (before his literature became obligatory on the shelves of every Hollywood screenwriter) and his followers were setting the basics for psychoanalysis. From that fact alone you can deduct it has a lot to do with sexual urges and different ways of their satisfaction and, from what I could see here, I would argue that Cronenberg opts for monogamy. His protagonist leaves that "conventional" belief of his somewhere in the first part of the movie, but I don't suppose the place he ends up at looks like much fun.

From the very beginning, when Carl Gustav Jung (played by Michael Fassbinder) manages to pull everything out of his newest patient Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightly) within a few minutes of a first session, we realize this is not going to be a movie about the nature of psychoanalysis. The furthest it goes in that direction is successfully creating an atmosphere filled with hopes and dreams, as well as the opposing opinions about the further exploration in this area. These people felt they were on to something special. They were also realistic enough to realize they will only be able to scratch the surface of it during their lifetime.

I enjoyed mostly in watching the interaction between Freud and Jung; or was it the interaction between Mortensen and Fassbinder that involved me? Never mind really, because I don't think A Dangerous Method is about any of the subject it touches per se, and that inability to convincingly mix them up is the biggest weakness of Hampton's script. The numerous conversations are what makes the core of the picture. They are rich enough and in such quantity that you probably wont even have time to process everything you heard.

This is the most conventional work by the director so far, but it still isn't easy to classify. His intention is not the one of shock, something he did in his heyday but he also doesn't aim to merely entertain - the picture is way too talky to pass as your standard popcorn flick. I think he would find his job accomplished if he managed to engage us in discovery of the driving forces behind the behavior of his characters.

I must admit I wasn't so impressed by Knightly, of whose acting here I've heard a lot of good things. Hers is one of those performances which first captures your attention by its sheer physical nature and openness of emotions, but you are likely to remember her least at the end. Fassbinder as Jung grows on you as the film evolves. He does a great job by precisely following the growth of his character, who is not the most interesting one, as the screen time he has would suggest.

That title goes to Mortensen's Freud. His intelligence is obvious in capturing the enigma and oh so well concealed vanity of the patriarch. Since the man's theories haven't been fully explored yet, it is only natural to cover him in the layers of mystery. This is the actor's third consecutive masterful performance for the same director.

As for Cronenberg, he fully stepped into the mainstream with this picture. I don't think he can go more "commercial" than this. What next?

War Horse
War Horse(2011)

With War Horse, Steven Spielberg made another Spielberg movie. You know the kind, where he profits on his many times used and abused gift for telling grandiose stories, without dreaming of stepping out of the well practiced pattern. The result may be the all time favorite childhood movie for ten year olds around the globe.

It takes place in Britain in the first years of the twentieth century, where a boy and the most noble of animals (the horse named Joey) will develop a friendship thanks to a strange set of circumstances, involving oppression and pride. Come the World War I Joey gets recruited, and we are left to wait when and under what circumstances they will meet again. On the battlefield, he will change sides several times and find both cruelty and humanity in each army.

The picture always seems to know where it is going, and not in a good way. It's terribly calculated. The only way to enjoy it is to take it for what it is - a piece of old fashioned, romantic, escapist cinema and try to ignore the intrusive sentimentality of some parts. The complaints about implausibility of certain aspects are not exactly well grounded. There is no use of an approach too realistic when watching a story about the connection between a man and an animal.

Since it's a visual feast, you should by all means catch it in the theater. Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski can probably communicate telepathically by now. All the schematics aside, there's no denying that the scene of the first attack is as beautiful and striking as anything Spielberg ever filmed. And that's just the beginning.

Jeremy Irving as Albert, with his innocent looks was perfectly cast considering the nature of the material. And Emily Watson, who gets some of the best lines, makes us wish she had more screen time.

With a suggestive John Williams score and homage to Kubrick's Paths of Glory, War Horse is bound to be remembered as a minor work by the king of Hollywood.

The Untouchables

Brian de Palma's The Untouchables is not so much about the law as it is about doing the right thing. Those things collide more often than one would think and in doing so tend to lead towards the triumph of formalism over justice. It is up to the individuals to try and make it right. Not to say that the film dwells on these issues. It is a fabulously made mainstream crime-drama, beautiful to look at and always more concerned about the cinematic elements than giving its audience a touch of reality.

It takes place in Chicago during the prohibition era, where gangsters enjoy the status of movie stars and always seem to have the last word, directly or indirectly, when it comes to just about anything in the city. When a Bureau's agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) decides to take the big guy Al Capone (Robert de Niro) on, the first obstacle he faces with is finding someone desperate or crazy enough to help him. He succeeds first and foremost in the person of officer Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), who learned where to sniff in his long carrier spent on the streets of the city. Together with rookie George Stone (Andy Garcia) and accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) they became the famous untouchables.

The film starts slowly and almost threatens to turn into a cliché in the first 20 minutes or so. After that De Palma kicks it in a higher gear and starts revealing his true intentions with this material. The naturalistic approach and his overemphasizing of important moments give this the vibe of a spaghetti western. There is a sharp distinction between good guys and the bad ones and, more than what will actually happen, the question is what casualties will have to be endured if the final triumph is going to be accomplished.

The script was written by David Mamet. It is a wonderfully restrained piece of work, never trying to aim higher than it can reach. I have a feeling De Palma took it even further than imagined, with especial good use of Sean Connery's excellently written character. And the homage to the legendary Odessa steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin has already become a classic scene on its own.

There was a lot of buzz about the casting here. Kevin Costner is a rarely uncharismatic lead actor, but I think he was well cast. The whole point was for Ness to look common as a contrast to De Niro's gloss. He, on the other hand, does tend to overplay it a little, even with taking in consideration the celebrity nature of his role. That leaves us with Connery. Even though he is still criticized about the accent (BBC's poll recently proclaimed it the worst ever), he leaves the best impression, playing Malone as someone who means business and doesn't look too preoccupied in being wise. The fact that he comes out like that is crucial for the success of the picture, serving as a testament to Connery's authoritative presence.

I don't think The Untouchables makes it strait in the top of the genre. It doesn't have the scope of The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America or the virtuosity of GoodFellas. I would put it up there between films you must see if you are a fan of gangster pictures and should check out if you like cinema in general.


Carnage, Roman Polanski's follow-up to the last year's masterful The Ghost Writer, takes the director at least one step in the wrong direction. Adapted from the play God of Carnage with the help of its author Yasmine Reza, it suffers mostly from high expectations, considering the strength of its participants. I expected more than a routine, but the routine was all we got. However, I can't say I didn't enjoy it enough to recommend it.

At only 78 minutes and extremely fast paced, it is set almost entirely (except from the short first and last scene) in one New York apartment, as it follows two couples who meet to discus the incident that occurred between their kids. Desired peaceful meeting quickly turns into a night of excessive drinking, projectile vomiting and endless mood changes.

I thought this film was going to be more than just funny; the potential for that was certainly somewhere in there. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Interestingly enough, I thought it was weakest precisely on paper, even though the reputation of the source material is impeccable. The development of all characters looks unconvincing, with the clash of Foster's political correctness and Waltz's cynicism coming out as particularly artificial.

However, I did enjoy Polanski's handling of this material. I never felt he was only filming the play, but doing his best to give us a full-blooded cinematic experience. An active camera is the key reminder that this is a motion picture we are looking at, though I must admit Polanski could only use his skill to a certain degree, as the play seems not so adjustable to the big screen. I quickly became too aware that the action is going on in just one place, never a good thing when watching the adaptation of a play. The humor, however, worked for me completely. It even made me feel uncomfortable on few places, most of all because of the fact that the characters, behaving the way they do, don't seem to feel like that in any moment.

The casting was well done, though Waltz and Winslet do look more believable as a couple, with stronger on-screen chemistry. Foster's acting is fine, but she has that problem of being a moralist in a comedy this nasty - just as unlikable as the others, but not as interesting. Riley has most of the humorous lines and situations, much to his credit, though he has some troubles in handling the sudden shift in his character.

Roman Polanski is 78 years old and without a doubt one of the greatest living directors. Carnage is by all accounts a minor entry in his rich filmography, but the vitality in direction he displayed here shows us he may have the strength for another masterpiece in the next few years.

The Prize
The Prize(1963)

If anyone wonders why Alfred Hitchcock cast Paul Newman in Torn Curtain although he had certain reserves when it came to method actors, they need to look no further then 1963 Mark Robson film The Prize. It doesn't try to hide its Hitchcockian nature at any time. Written by Ernest Lehman, the same guy who wrote Hitchcock's North by Northwest (it borrows heavily from that film in particular), it is only a sporadically entertaining homage to the master.

An international spy thriller, it offers us a gaze into an intriguing, though probably highly unrealistic, life of the Nobel Prize winners. The place is Stockholm, where the winners have just been announced. Among them is a rebellious American writer Andrew Craig (Paul Newman), looking like Scott Fitzgerald without Zelda or any noticeable depth or writer's aura. There is also a winner for physics Dr Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson). Soon, Craig starts having doubts about Stratman's real identity, quickly becoming that famous ordinary man in unordinary circumstances.

This is a great example why the change in the late sixties had to come. Earlier in that decade, in the time this film was released, Hollywood had become too boring, recycling old ideas and the work of the old masters just for the sake of entertainment (sounds familiar, doesn't it?). There are few interesting elements here, which is only natural if you look at the participants. Lehman had the ability of writing smooth characters and luck to have them played by guys like Bogart, Grant or Newman. It was nice to see the later brining his naturalistic style to a Cary Grant role, as well as his showdown with the old school legend Robinson (the picture was in desperate need for more the scenes of them together).

However, this is far from enough. The picture overstays its welcome for at least 20 minutes, mostly because of a pretty slow start. The filmmakers, surprisingly, weren't able to use the extensive length to elevate the political stuff above the level of a sketch. It remained in the sphere of mere obligatory warning against the still existing dangers of Nazism. And Robson never really managed to turn the cheesiness of the love scenes into an advantage. That part also suffers terribly in comparison to Hitchcock.

So, if you are not a great Paul Newman fan, feel free to skip this one. Watch North by Northwest again instead, or run and get it if you haven't seen it yet.

The Help
The Help(2011)

When you don't notice the length of a film which lasts almost two and a half hours until you look at your watch when the lights go up, you shouldn't be preoccupied in finding the eventual flaws in it. The Help is less than perfect and sometimes maybe a little too satiric and cartoonish for its own good, but all in all, it was one of the more satisfying movie experiences I had this year.

The time is the early sixties where young Skeeter (played by Emma Stone who apparently wouldn't be able to find a prom date if she had lived back then!) is trying to rise above her surroundings in the notorious South of the land of the free and home of the brave (only the first part was intended as ironic). She seems to be a real representative of a generation to come: unconventionality, defiance, bravery, even cigarettes-it' all there. But before she goes to New York where her naturalness will be appreciated, she feels an obligation to tell a story that has to be told, a story about her maid and many other African-American women humiliated for a long time in that part of the country.

This film is not a masterpiece, far from it; it's just a moving, well written story exceptionally acted by the entire cast. This is one of the best ensamble's I've seen in a while. The fact that it was almost all female makes it even more impressive and unfortunately, unusual.

The Help belongs first and foremost to Viola Davis, who could easily win an Oscar for her poignant performance as Aibleen. Octavia Spencer also has much to hope for, especially on the wings of the Globe's win. And than there is Jessica Chastain, by far the busiest actress last year. It would be unfair to say that her eventual supporting Oscar win would be for the total years work. Celia is a hard character to play so that the audience takes her seriously. As played by Chastain she never comes out as unintelligent, just a little too naive for her surroundings.

Emma Stone was bound to be in the shadow of these three, probably for a reason. Her performance was spot on and Skeeter is the most important character in terms of story development, but this tale is not about her. She has a function in channeling every other character here and is closest in seeing things from our perspective, as an audience. The fact we got to know, and even care for her on the way just goes to show the quality of writing.

Tate Taylor, the director, won't get much mention either. He takes the safest possible approach here, letting the people in front of the camera to take the spotlight and trying to stay out of the way as much as possible.

The biggest objection many have here is the picture's mainstream character: it's not a Malcom X film but a Martin Luter King one. I had no problem with that. It never declared its intention to be too radical in the first place. It's an intentionally optimistic story, whose sentimentality and softness is overshadowed by the often heartbreaking honesty. Sometimes, you don't need more to enjoy yourself.

A Separation
A Separation(2011)

The power of A Separation comes from the strict refusal of its creator to speak too directly about the questions which first come to our minds when thinking of a theocratic society. The writer - director Asghar Fahradi is far above that kind of obvious approach. His story is about the stupidity of pride, stupidity of stubbornness and stupidity of silence, about people whose reactions we can understand even if we do not approve them, and about vortex of lies and deceits they got themselves into, out of which everybody can't possibly go unharmed. That way he manages, among many other things, to break prejudices without even trying to do so.

At the beginning, we see a marred couple, Nadir and Simin in front of a judge. She wants them to leave Iran and take their daughter to West, where a bright future should wait for her in the glory of a liberal world. He can't leave his Alzheimer diseased father. A separation is inevitable. Without the necessary and often taken for granted women's hand, Nadir must hire someone to take care of his father while he's out working. His ex wife recommends a woman. He hires her. She brings her small daughter with her on the job and is pregnant on top. Her low on self confidence husband doesn't know she found a job there. A seemingly innocent conflict will soon bring to their wrenching confrontation.

This movie grabbed me right at that opening dispute and I was its prisoner up until the rarely powerful ending. The opening scene sets the template for the entire picture. Simin's and Nadir's conversation in front of a judge establishes the impossibility of a win win situation, which is not restricted only on their marriage. It permeates almost every relation within the film, making the participants prisoners of their own decisions. Whatever they choose to do, the complete satisfaction of all sides is impossible.

The most impressive thing Fahradi did was making us, the audience, into the hopeless passive observers of the things that happen on screen. He showed us the characters, established the connections between them and made us watch their inevitable road to ruin. These characters are so sharply drawn, that I felt like I knew them even before they came on the screen. The process of their development was totally invisible. My feeling was that he didn't build any individual characters. He only built the situations they inhabit so well, it seems like the most natural thing in the world.

The accent on social, political or religious questions is present, but it's not overstated. It comes to the fore in the differences between two couples (lower class religious ones vs. the upper class more liberated ones). However, Fahradi reduces it to necessary, to that influence any given society has on any given person in any given time and place. Nobody here is shown as a victim. This story could be set everywhere, and would still have the same power, slightly adjusted to the characteristics of the society in question.

The portrait of Therme, the 11 year old daughter, is very important. The entire situation between her parents is seen through her eyes. She is very bright, with big potential and intellectually far above her age. That makes the separation even more devastating, because of the effects it can have on her. Nadir's father is in a pretty bad shape, but able to recognize the importance of a women for the household in spite of his disease. Fahradi's laid back approach when photographing these two has an immense emotional impact.

A Separation is one of the most powerful films I have seen lately, a subtle masterpiece which completely puts it's masterfully constructed plot in service of characters. By doing that, and by refusing standard good vs. bad divisions, it gradually discovers its multiple layers with an astonishing effect.

Blown Away
Blown Away(1994)

At the end of this movie there is a dedication to the brave work of the Boston police bomb squad, whose members risk their lives daily in order to give the citizens of that city the protection they deserve. After seeing the content of the film, however, I think a simple "thank you" would satisfy them more. That would save many of the participants from a lot of embarrassment.

Jeff Bridges plays Jimmy Dove, one of the most prominent members of the bomb quad. He is engaged to beautiful Katie (Suzy Amis) and ready to give up his dangerous job in order to start a more peaceful, family life. Those planes are shattered when his dark past comes knocking. He was betrayed by his mentor Ryan Gaerty back in Ireland, who did some terrorist job unknown to Jimmy (or Liam, in birth). After sending him to jail, Liam fled to USA. Several years later Ryan escapes, and comes to seek revenge. He is played by Tommy Lee Jones in a very annoying, way too self conscious performance.

The main problem here is that they wanted to make something more than a standard action picture, but remained in the strict form of that genre. And, to be honest, the action itself is sloppy in many situations. There is a scene in the beginning where their aim is to defuse a bomb which is going to explode if a girl trapped next to it stops typing on a computer! Yeah, I know! Their main goal is, naturally, to save the girl, but the thought of replacing her with someone from the squad doesn't come to them. Apparently, the keyboard is also programmed to recognize the shape of her fingers.

The actors are the most obvious ones to blame but, apart from the terrible accent, I think that would be unfair. I can only imagine how bad this looked on paper when these reliable names look so silly. Jeff Brides doesn't finish the process of looking for his character until the end of the film, Tommy Lee Jones looks like he's auditioning for the following year's Batman Forever and Forest Whitaker is just plain ridiculous.

Special mention goes to one of the worst uses of popular music on film I ever saw. I guess U2 was the only exiting Irish band in 1994.

The Kid with a Bike

It had to be the bike. Of all the things identifiable with childhood, it certainly holds one of, if not the most prominent place. Everybody remembers their first bike. Its color, size, first time they fell from it, first time they rode it without the auxiliary wheels. All of the wonders of technological world with its fancy gadgets could never replace the joy and freedom of that first ride.

Off course, certain circumstances can make some more attached to it than the others. The hero of this movie is one of those persons. The bike was given to him by his dad, and according to his depiction here, that was probably the only decent thing he ever did for him.

The Kid With A Bike is a new entry in the already rich carrier's of the Belgian Dardenne brothers, and it strengthens their position as one of Europe's most prominent authors in the last 15 years. In spite of the fact that the person from the title is the lead protagonist here, this is not a story about growing up. It's more about learning how to be a kid again.

That kid is Cyril (Thomas Doret). We meet him as he's hysterically trying to escape from the children's home. His father Guy (played by Dardenne's regular Jeremie Renier) left him there, telling him it was only temporarily, but the time is flying and Cyril is becoming more and more worried. He doesn't believe his father moved and sold his bike. When Samantha (Cecile de France), a nice lady he accidentally meets (she buys him back the bike) accepts to look after him in weekends, his mission becomes to find Guy and tell him he's ready to move in with him again. Off course, things won't go as smoothly as he planned.

Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne are one of those authors who came to prominence quite late in their carrier's, and continued to make one strong film after another since then. The storytelling here is exquisite. A simple premise is effortlessly turned into a deceptively simple film. They never seem to take the easy path, by playing on people's natural affection for the young ones. The "big" moments (and there are a few of those), are never too emphasized. They happen quickly, mostly in the course of casual conversation, sometimes followed by short musical parts (uncharacteristic for the directors), and remain deeply rooted in the minds of the participants. I also liked the fact that the past is left alone. What's done is done, and any possible exploration would be futile for the story.

And, while I'm not denying the fact that the film is about Cyril, the key for its success may be the portrait of Samantha. She is a person Truffaut's Antoine Doinel never had in The 400 Blows, a gentle mother figure who constitutes the possibility of a choice. Cecil de France plays her as someone who accepts this demanding duty like something completely natural, never trying to sell it as a sacrifice. Cyril, on the other hand, is played with fierce determination by Thomas Doret. Followed by an appropriately restless camera, he wander's around on his bike, proving to be smarter and wiser than we maybe give him credit for (the wonderful sequence with a city thug as a demonstrator).

This film, and that goes for all of the work by these directors, deserves to be cherished. It is a story about real human emotions, told by people who obviously understand them and want to portray them without a trace of manipulation. If you find yourself genuinely concerned for Cyril before that final trip to the store, than know you have witnessed something special.

Meek's Cutoff

Meek's Cutoff is a patience requiring, ultimately rewarding western, not like many you've seen before in this genre. It tells a story about the necessity to believe in the power of decision making process, even if the choices are slim, almost non-existing. Its uncompromising accent on reality will sometimes inevitably work against the whole product, but don't let that stop you - this film is never less than gripping.

The time is 1845, when a shady guide Stephen Meek is leading three families of settlers across the Oregon Desert. The journey stretches considerably, making the traveler's water supplies reduced to a minimum. As they progress, the question weather Meek knows where he's going slowly increases. They capture an Indian on the way and, though he doesn't speak the same language, find in him even better possibility for salvation than in Meek. The problem is, they can't be sure of his intentions.

Reichardt imposes slow pacing here right from the start and holds her own consistently. The camera is mostly static, moving only when absolutely necessary. By keeping it steady, she helps us to understand the reality of the situation these people found themselves in. We have a chance to constantly gaze in their lives without being interrupted by potentially faster cutting. There are many characteristic wide shots, putting the travelers against the unmerciful nature of The Old West.

These are some truly rough condition shown here. The families have only three companions on the journey: The Lord, Meek and later the Indian. In Lord they believe in, but they have to confide their thrust in the hands or Meek or Indian. The problem is that those two aren't likely to do anything more for them than the abstract concept of faith. Meek is a charlatan, who, in the best case scenario, looks like attempting to convince himself that there is nothing to worry about. In regards to the Indian, they have to cope with the fear of the unknown. His portrait is very important for the picture. Deeply mysterious individual, he looks like someone who may have a solution, but in the same time like he could have some hidden motives.

The acting of Michele Williams and Will Patton may be the key here. They play the Tetherow's, the two voices of reason. Patton is an actor whose name probably won't ring a bell at first, until you see him. He has one of those faces able to convey nobility with ease. And Williams has that rare ability to elevate herself above any picture by just looking in the camera, the fact Reichardt knows how to use well.

Meek's Cutoff is a film filed with respect. Kelly Reichardt shows a great deal of it, but it's not, as you would imagine, aimed at one of American film's oldest genres. It's more a respect for the characters of western, the characters that have often been neglected by directors in the past pictures of the genre for the purposes of message or mere entertainment. With her approach here, Reichardt gives them a dignifying treatment, indirectly paying respect to the people of The Old West.

The Ides of March

George Clooney's The Ides of March is a political film which tries really hard not to piss anybody off. Sure, its creators do have something to say about the nature of politics: that it is immoral, always compromising, ruthless towards individuals and so on. They state their point well enough within the given material. I don't know, however, how anything from it can be news to any grown up living in this day and age.

The film's biggest problem is, strangely enough, in the nature of its biggest strength-the cast. I found George Clooney to be very convincing in a film someone more mean spirited would call his vanity project. Ryan Gosling is striking regardless of the fact the writers don't give his character much respect, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman can't do wrong in the roles they are given here and even Marissa Tomei leaves an impression with the few scenes she's in. But when a film set in a world as ambiguous and intriguing as politics has its biggest strength in the quality of the performances, it is safe to say something went wrong. In this case, that something is the writing.

I wouldn't go so far and call it lazy; it's safe in best case. It seems to me that the writers, lead by Clooney, were in all times aware of the fact they are making a mainstream movie, where certain boundaries must be respected. That's why it moves in a predictable territory, doesn't try to break any new ground, keeping its political content in the strict limits of light cynicism. Aside from this, I couldn't believe in the characterization of Gosling's Stephen Mayers. He is shown as a major talent and, more importantly, someone who is already a big name in his job, able to win the campaign for his candidate almost single handedly. There is no way he could get that far and make such a huge reputation in this line of business, if he is truly as naïve as Clooney, Haslow and Wilimon depict him.

I don't think The Ides of March is a bad film - Clooney assembled a talented team to work with and they make all the right moves. It's just that it doesn't deserve much respect. When you are someone as talented and popular as George Clooney, with the obvious intention to make serious films, and you can afford working with the best experts in all areas off film business, you have an obligation to your audience to mix it up a little, risking some of the commercial glory. Otherwise, why bother?

The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodovar is a director whose work, I'm ashamed to say, I don't know so well, since I've seen only few of his film prior to The Skin I Live In. Based on those couple of experiences, however, I'm eager to see more. He seems to have two key ingredients which make his celebrated compatriot Luis Bunuel one of my favorite directors: a mastery of storytelling and a very humorous and perverse (in a good way) mind. Directors with these attributes can rarely make something uninteresting, no matter what subject matter they choose to deal with. Since I can't say how high this film ranks in his cannon, all I'm left with is to evaluate it as a separate entry.

So, how dangerous are people with huge amount of knowledge in their disposal, especially in certain areas of science? The medicine is definitely one of the most indicative examples. Doctors are, off course, people like the rest of us, and are, therefore, subjected to the same types of influences. When a man has the right motive he can hurt you, or even kill you. When that man is a surgeon, he can make you wish you were never born without physically hurting you in any way. That is a chilling premise of The Skin I Live In.

Antonio Banderas plays a surgeon whose psyche is in a pretty bad place when we meet him. The rest of the film is devoted to the discovery of how he got there. I will not say anything else about the plot, because the real pleasure here is to follow how Almodovar untangles this bizarre and complex web, while playing with his characters and the audience on the way. His storytelling seems effortless and is very effective in keeping the audience's attention. The suspense is always there, and he never lets you forget that you are in the presence of a major filmmaker. New, unexpected events keep us on our toes constantly, always perfectly incorporated in the bigger picture. The camera is far from shy, but it also avoids being too intrusive. We are only shown what we need to know with a wonderful attention to detail, especially towards the aesthetics of the interiors.

With The Skin I Live In Antonio Banderas reunited with a director who obviously knows all of his strengths as an actor. I haven't seen him this confident in a movie for a long time. He is always there, present, in character, as his face consistently shows the demons Robert hides, no matter what the situation is. Proper casting combination of Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet deserves praise too. Anaya is particularly strong here. She holds her own with Banderas in every scene they have together, and doesn't let the substantial amount of nudity take away from the performance in any time.

I guess the best description of this film is the one given by its director: a horror story without screams or frights. In the tradition of many great films of the genre, the horror here doesn't come from the individual scenes; it comes from the director's ability to drag us in the frightening world his characters inhabit. That world is certainly bizarre, but the director sure takes it seriously. The question on which your pleasure depends is: are you ready to do the same?

The Debt
The Debt(2011)

People say all debts must be paid one way or another, but the payoff itself is the biggest problem in John Madden's The Debt. I must admit I was left a little disappointed with the third act of his remake of a 2007 Israeli thriller. However, the disappointment wasn't nearly as enough as to make me say I regret seeing it. That would represent the panning of a thriller which tries, and in most cases succeeds, to use intelligence and suspense to tell an intriguing morality tale, with great actors at the top of their game to boast. There are not many of those recently, you have to admit.

At the beginning, we see a retired Mossad agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) at the presentation of a book her daughter wrote about her. The book tells a story set 30 years earlier in East Berlin where Rachel, together with her fellow agents Stephen (Marton Csorkas) and David (Sam Worthington) had an assignment to capture a notorious German doctor Vogel (Jesper Christiansen) and send him back to Israel where he was to face a trial for conducting some savage experiments on Jewish prisoners in World War II. Madden uses flashbacks (which take the majority of the film actually) to show us the course of that operation which didn't go exactly as planned. The story then comes back to present, where the consequences of their mistakes must be faced with.

As I implied earlier, I liked the part set in the past much better. I hardly blinked every time the camera was in that stuffy, old apartment. I found all of the three characters and their interaction extremely engaging, the key perhaps being in the way Madden uses the presence of Vogel to show the weakness of David and Rachel and their sentimentality in these circumstances where the suppression of that attribute is perhaps the only way to keep your sanity. The question of the price one pays for the "obligations of patriotism" is expertly worked out through a well written script by Mathew Vaughn and his co-writers. All good things here are derived from a sharp characterization of Rachel, especially the believability of the love triangle. Ban Davis's dark photography inside of the East Berlin apartment creates an atmosphere of imprisonment and claustrophobia we became used to identify this tortured city with.

The actors, young and old, have different roles in the quality of the end result. The first ones increase the power of the flashback part, while the present time guys serve to save the film from falling into mediocrity. With respect to all of them, Jessica Chastain deserves to be mentioned first. Her graceful screen presence and a necessary amount of vulnerability she gives to Rachel will assure you this is someone to look at for the future. She also makes a job easier for Helen Mirren, who has, in this point, reached a status where she can undoubtedly be called one of the few best living actresses. Tom Wilkinson, one of the best character actors around, makes the sparkles fly in all of the scenes they have together.

John Madden made the strongest film he could out of the given material. He moves confidently in the attempts to make this complex story as clear as possible to us. The suspense is derived mostly out of the character reactions and their psyche, and that's why the way he told us what really happened in the past (that climactic moment somewhere in the middle) never seems like a gimmick.

The only flaw of The Debt is a common one for many thrillers-it has a set up too perfect for the conclusion to follow. However, considering the film's many strong aspects I mentioned above, that remark seems almost like an unnecessary pettiness.

Another Earth

Another Earth is Mike Cahill's debut film, and that fact is sometimes too obvious throughout the entire course of it. Here is a guy who had an intriguing, promising premise, but no real idea how to talk about it and develop it in the full hour and a half of its running time. So he delayed it, delayed it, than delayed it a little more, and when he finally got around to it, his name suddenly appeared as a sign of the end credits.

I don't generally have a problem with slow movies just because they are slow, nor do I understand moviegoers who call all of the films with calm tone arty and pretentious. Patience is often a virtue in this medium too, and besides, some of my favorite films share similar characteristics. The key is that your tolerance gets you to some place. The problem with Another Earth was not so much in the lack of power in the end, but in the shortness of its conclusion.

The premise is one that can exist only in fiction, and should be accepted as that. The scientists from NASA discover a planet very close to the Earth which can immediately be seen by a naked eye. That same night a drunken teenager Rhonda Williams (Brit Marling) causes a car accident in which a pregnant woman and her son are killed, and the husband John (William Mapother) is deadly injured. Four years later we see Rhonda coming out of the prison, while the obsession with the new planet reaches its peak. She soon finds out John has come out of the comma and is living a reclusive life in the nearby town (he was a university professor before the accident). Rhonda then finds a way to get close to John in the hopes she will find courage to confess, and the movie further unfolds by following their bonding, while the story about the other Earth (a sort of a parallel universe, where every inhabitant of our planet is suspected to have his clone) serves as a backdrop.

Cahill's way of dealing with another planet is just to show it, or to mention it in some way from time to time. That approach works fine for a while. The parallel planet exists as a way out for people, as a symbol for that place someone always needs to escape to when feeling depressed, lonely or out of place in any other way. Both Rhonda and John are in that faze, and that's why their story seems suitable for Cahill's conception of another world. But the trouble is in their relationship. It is predictable in creation, progress and conclusion, and, with director's hesitation to finally get to the point, a certain loss of interest at about half way is inevitable.

It is, however, obvious that we are talking about a talented, character oriented director, who could do some nice work in the future. The budget of Another Earth was only 200 000 $ (probably the cost of one explosion in Tranformers), but he managed to make this necessarily striped down shooting style into an advantage in much of the situations. He was also able to drain out everything he could from the formulistic relationship between Rhonda and John (which is not much though), including two spot on performances from the leads.

All in all, I respected Another Earth for its serious intentions, really wanted to like it, but can't say I enjoyed it so much as to recommend it. Certain aspect of it, however, wont fade away from my mind so quickly.

Love Actually

If you put the construction aside, Love Actually doesn't have anything new to add to a romantic comedy genre. On the contrary, it accepts its core in every place it can. Yes, the genre is, in most cases, superficial, clichéd, with paper-thin characters and predictable plot, but what writer-director Richard Curtis is telling us could be: who cares!? Well, I do in most of the cases, but not in this one. It would take a heart of stone to resist everything he throws at you in this one, no matter how cynical you are, or consider yourself to be.

Love Actually reminded me of that mathematical law where minus and minus make plus. Throw in every imaginable rom-com situation, make some of them as cheesiest as possible, repeat the main idea in almost every story within the film and then hope your skill will somehow make the end result positive. I think it was, and that had nothing to do with math. I found many of these superficial stories genuine in writing, much of the situations funny and literally every single one of the performances irresistible.

Yes, the casting! It was clear to me even before I saw the film what its biggest strength should be, as it would be to anyone with a little deeper insight into movies. Since there is a very limited amount of screen time for everyone, the actors made sure we remember them when the end credits start rolling. The fact that almost all ensemble consists of British doesn't hurt either. I always thought they are more suitable for this genre than the Americans (not counting the classic Hollywood period, off course), with their natural wit, elegance, grace and yeah, that accent. Britain's output in the last twenty years proves that point. Don't know about you, but I would rather give my money to see a Hugh Grant film than, for example, to watch someone like Adam Sandler in his moronic roles.

There are, by the way, ten stories here, involving porn actors, old rock star, British prime minister and struggling writer among others. Many of the characters are linked one way or another, with few of the paths interlacing on the way. Curtis's storytelling is decent enough, and, besides that, he lets the charm of the actors take over every time he can.

My guess was he had some beef with the Americans here. There is that wonderful scene on the press conference (Britt's telling the Yanks to bugger off in 2003 - now, that's what you call fiction!), and the only really shallow character is obsessed with America. He eventually goes there, and is involved in a very funny parody of an American pop culture image.

With Love Actually, its all about how big your threshold of tolerance is. If you are ready to bypass some of the corniness, you will probably end up with a big, fat smile on your face. Otherwise, you are likely to give up before the second hour strikes.

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses is a fun view on the worker-boss relationship in the midst of the world economical crisis (they promised that will be over by now, didn't they!?). Director Seth Gordon used one of the oldest tricks in comedy - exaggeration, which, combined with sometimes pretty raunchy humor, makes for two hours of enjoyable popcorn entertainment.

The plot is not an original one - three friends, dissatisfied with their bosses, make an agreement to murder them, each of them changing the employer for this one time. As a certainty in these kinds of situations, everything won't go exactly as planned.

All of the scenes and lines are not as funny as the filmmakers would like you to think, but Gordon sidesteps that with his quick pacing of the film. That way, the next laugh is never too far from the previous one, and you are likely to remember only the good stuff. Gordon freshens it up by introducing several episodic characters from time to time. Jamie Foxx is particularly interesting in his few scenes, which work out the African-American stereotype in a mostly unassertive way.

Anyway, the writing is not the biggest quality of the film to begin with. That title goes to the proper casting choices on both sides of the chain. Colin Farrell plays, basically, his public persona, Jennifer Anniston proves how good of a comedian she can be when given a decent material, and Kevin Spacey convinced us long time ago he can do almost anything. He makes his role a walk in a park. On the "oppressed" side, there is a classic sitcom division: the womanizer (convincing Jason Sudekis), the romantic (Charlie Day, the one who doesn't want to have sex with Jennifer Anniston) and the bond between them, Nick (steady Jason Bateman). The effortless chemistry between them was what saved this from becoming too tiring.

Comedies like this are not rare, but they don't always succeed. They became either too vulgar to be funny, or too cliché to be interesting to follow. Horrible Bosses somehow managed to sidestep those obstacles and proved, I repeat, that the proper casting is a main precondition for a success of any kind of comedy.

Don't Move
Don't Move(2004)

Sergio Castellito co-wrote, directed and stared in this 2004 romantic drama about a respectable surgeon Timoteo (Castellito), whose operation is interrupted by the news of his daughter Angela's motorcycle accident. She is brought to his hospital where an operation is to take place, while the desperate father waits in front of the operation room. There, he has time to think, and the film further evolves by showing scenes from his sinful past.

In the flashback, we can see Timoteo's dissatisfaction with his marriage even before Angela was born, but, more importantly, the accent is on his relationship with Italia (Penelope Cruz), which began by him rapping her. For a long time he has kept a double life, in love with Italia, but too much of a coward to confess that to his wife. Time for a final decision must come some day, and we suspect it can't end well.

This was Castellito's biggest international success, and I can see why some would like it. Its heart is in the right place, and it has one great performance by Penelope Cruz. However, the flaws in it can't be reduced by its nobility. My main objection is that I couldn't believe, as the story suggested, that Italia was the greatest love of Timoteo's life. Sure, they are connected by the troubled past, but the relation on the screen was not as further developed as Castellito wished. It seemed to me, as harsh as it may sound, that he showed a relation based on lust, trying then to sell it as great love.

The photography is quite beautiful in some parts, but the director had constant problems with the tone of the picture. He lost every chance to establish it with the overuse of slow motion in the first half, which probably looked like an easy way out of the creative problem.

Penelope Cruz is, undoubtedly, a star of the film. On a deeper level, her Lucia doesn't believe in a happy conclusion of this romance. She lives in fear which soon turns into an obsession, and Cruz managed to show this with the necessary subtlety. As for Castellito's performance, I'm not so sure of its constancy. I kept changing my mind about his interpretation during and after the film, maybe because I've seen much better actors doing these types of roles (Daniel Day-Lewis in The Age of Innocence comes to my mind).

My final impression is that Castellito wasn't able to surpass the picture's utter predictability. That doesn't have to be a flaw in these kinds of films, if a director is brave and skillful enough not to lead it through every single one of the usual steps. Castellito obviously didn't have the guts, and that's why the desired cathartic ending falls flat.

Shine a Light

So, you have the best living director doing a documentary about your favorite band! There is no way for me to avoid subjectivity here! Martin Scorsese caught up with The Rolling Stones in the middle of their Bigger Bang tour to film them two nights in a row in New York's Beacon Theater. If you consider the history between the director and the band, the quality of the end result does not come as a surprise.

There was no one better for this job, and I'm not saying that only because of his directorial skills. He said on numerous occasions that this was his favorite band, an integral part of his youth and someone whose development he's been following from the very beginning. You don't need to look further than his films to find that out. The Stones sound was the soundtrack for some of the most powerful scenes in Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino and few other Scorsese classics. He basically used their music every time when the setting of the story allowed it.

The film opens with short preparations for the gig. Everything, from setting of the stage, cameras, the appearance of some annoying guests, and even the bands reluctance to give the set list on time, seem to serve as an audience warm up for the main thing. And then the band starts to do what they know best, with the routine one should gain during 45 years on stage. From the fast, up-tempo version of Jumping Jack Flash to the expected closing with Satisfaction, the intention of the ones involved is clear: band's-to prove why many consider them to be the best rock band in history and the director's-to capture the energy and rawness of a rock 'n' roll show.

I say this because this is not the first time Scorsese did something like this. I'm, off course, referring to The Last Waltz, his 1976. chronicle of The Band's last gig. These two pictures don't have that much in common as you would imagine. Scorsese's dealing with the subject is different here. In that first film he showed a band which was obviously at the end of its strengths, jaded by the rock lifestyle in appearance and partly in sound. In Shine a Light, on the other hand, we have a group whose members survived all of that, and now look and sound extremely grateful to someone or something for that miracle. It's all about the show here. The music is sometimes interrupted by short clips and interviews from the past, most of them meant to show the difference in personalities of Jager and Richards.

As a fan, I have to say few words about the music. The Stones, off course, were never a group defined only by the hits, so I was particularly glad to see few of their most celebrated and played songs out of the final set list (Paint it Black, Gimme Shelter, Wild Horses, Angie), which paved the way for a bigger accent on their mythical Exile on Main Street (three songs) and maybe the last streak of inventiveness, Some Girls (four sons). The highlights, to name a few, include a beautiful, intimate rendition of As Tears Go By, Just My Imagination, which almost beats the album version and Keef's effortless spreading of coolness in You Got the Silver. As for the guests, Jack White seems honored to be there, Buddy Guy pushes the band in their performance and Christina Aguilera pushes Jagger with her over the top delivery of Live With Me, a perfect choice for her style.

Because of his enormous love for the band, Scorsese didn't want to take any chances here, so he gathered a team of top players to collaborate with him. Lead cinematographer Richard Robertson (JFK) led a group of nine others (including Emanuel Lubezki who shot Children of Man and Robert Elswit from PT Anderson films), and they practically shot everything that could be shot. No, not exactly everything! They didn't photograph the audience, the best decision Scorsese made. Since the goal is to show the energy of the band live, the real audience is us, and not the people who can witness it on spot. The camera men obviously did their job, but the editing by David Tedeschi is just as important, if not even more. Every cut is in tune with the mood and tempo of the song performed. This was clearly done by someone with great passion for, and understanding of the music. With all due respect to Tedeschi, you can almost feel Scorsese reaching out from the editing room.

Whit Shine a Light, Scorsese made a film he long desired to do, but also showed a true independent spirit. Just a year before, The Departed won him an Oscar and the box-offices around the world. And than he did this! What other Hollywood sellout (as some accuse him) would do that? Don't fool your self, he is still as independent as those numerous indie directors he, with few other masters from the seventies, paved the way for.

W. R.: Mysteries of the Organism (W.R. - Misterije organizma)

"Comrade Communists, fuck freely", shouts the narrator at the beginning of Dusan Makavejev's hilarious 1971. satire about sex and politics behind, but also, to a smaller extent, in front of the iron curtain. The film's destiny, it's safe to say, was already determent at the time of its release: it became an instant art house classic, retained a cult following even in these sexually more liberated, ideologically not so colorful times and it also marked a seventeen year hiatus from a targeted country for its creator. He eventually came back; the dream of communism is dead, as is his country for that matter, but WR: Mysteries of the Organism remains a great testament to the audacity of its creator and to the moment of time when the sixties started making their breakthrough to the east.

The film is based on the teachings of Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud, whose controversial ideas about the role of sex in people's lives brought him to trials in the mid fifties. He died in 1957. but left a number of followers who continued to explore his ideas. Makavejev used some of them in this film, the structure of which is not so easy to explain. It is a combination of fact and fiction, where the documentary content consists of interviews with Reich's family members and experts in his philosophy, who conduct a number of experiments to prove their theories. That part, set in the United States, is intercut with a fictional story about a beautiful Serbian Milena (Milena Dravic) who propagates philosopher's views in the communist Yugoslavia. While her randy roommate Jagoda (Jagoda Kaloper) mostly has sex or can be seen naked in the background, Milena preaches free love to the tenants of her building more passionately than any speech Yugoslav leader Tito ever gave. When she meets and becomes attracted to a sexually repressed Russian ice-skater Vladimir Iljic (Ivica Vidovic, obviously named after Lenjin), the whole east block becomes the target of Makavejev's biting humor.

The sole construction of this picture is a pleasure to watch, not surprisingly, considering it comes from probably the weirdest and most original director of the late sixties and early seventies. His juxtaposition may be influenced by the cinema of Godard, Eisenstein and Bunuel, but the style has Makavejev written all over it. Just see few other of his films, especially Innocence Unprotected, and you'll see what I mean.

The biggest mistake one could make is to call this exploitation due to the heavy sexual content. It's not, that's clear to anyone familiar with the nature of communism and with a small insight into Reich's work. What makes it exceptional is that Makavejev took the philosophy which was controversial even in the "liberal" West and applied his radical view of it on the conservative communist society, even if the society in question was the "the most liberal communist country". It's easy to see how this would trigger controversy upon its release.

If you choose to find one single meaning here (I won't, nor does Makavejev, I'm pretty sure of that), you will find this to be a cautionary tale, without the intention to shock, but to worn. By doing this, you could find the main idea to be the one about the dangers of dedication to any ideology that puts abstract ideas and ideological riddles in front of the individuals and their freedoms. But, for anyone who has seen it, it is clear that the reduction of this kind would be an unnecessary, and probably untrue, simplification.

I realize that everyone won't like WR. It doesn't have a structure of, what you'd call, a normal picture. But if you refuse to restrict your self to standard TV film narrative you might try with Makavejev, one of the directors whose work represents the most radical challenge to that convention.

Jamón Jamón

Jamon Jamon was imagined, I suppose, as a serio-comic examination of that situation where one lets his basic sexual instincts take control over his entire being. What makes it bad is, I would say, two things: 1) every person in it shares these characteristic and, as a an expected consequence; 2) they all become extremely boring at about twenty minutes into the film.

This was the first pairing of future spouses: Javier Bardem who, with his above the waist outfit could be considered as a predecessor to male characters from Twilight and Penelope Cruz. She plays a poor young girl Sylvia, who gets pregnant by her rich boyfriend Hoze Luis. Now, I know the thought of an abortion proposition immediately came to your minds, but no! Hoze Luis actually turns out to be quite noble and wants to marry Sylvia. The problem is his lack of spine, as he is not capable to fully confront his obsessive mother (Stefania Sandrelli) who thinks her son could do much better. She hires Raul Gonzales (Bardem) to seduce Sylvia and separate her from Hoze Luis. That intention is short lived as the mother soon starts to feel attracted to Raul and wants him all to her self. If anyone has seen few telenovelas, this kind of plot is familiar.

Speaking of that, the whole movie, in writing, with its one-dimensional characters, is a soap opera material which had to be elevated by director Bigas Luna in some way. Apparently, the most creative way he could think of was to throw in great amount of nudity and sex scenes. Most of them are pointless because the whole film is like that, and they are not very sexy to begin with. During the one between Raul and Sylvia I honestly thought that her contractions started. After that experience, she needn't worry about giving birth. It couldn't possibly be as painful as that sounded.

Javier Bardem has proven him self as a terrific actor over the years, but this is the single most uninteresting character I have ever seen him play. The fact that his Raul gets all the ladies shows us that Luna doesn't have much respect for women in general. By that I mean mostly on Cruz character, who should be the most sympathetic person here, but the script just doesn't give her credit.

I honestly don't know what Luna was getting to with most of the stuff he threw in here. There are a few musical moments which suggest his desire for a certain kind of mood or emotion, but I wasn't able to name it because he didn't achieve it in the scenes, and couldn't feel it because I didn't feel sympathy for none of the characters.

When it was all over, I realized that Jamon Jamon didn't do anything for me. It didn't even change my perception about the possibilities of using a ham. If I ever find myself in a situation where protection of my integrity is necessary, I think I will rather choose more conventional, already proven weapons.

Destry Rides Again

James Stewart was in the early stages of his carrier when he stared in this amusing western comedy which benefits from many good aspects, the title definitely not being one of them.

George Kent (Brian Donlevy) is the self-named owner of the little town called Bottleneck He runs it with the help of a "towns real owner", the bar singer Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich). When a sheriff confronts him about the ways he uses to obtain his wealth, Kent kills him in cold blood. Since he has the corrupt mayor wrapped around his finger, they choose to elect the town drunk Washington Dimsdale(Charles Winninger) as the new sheriff, thinking it would e easy to control him. Little did they know that Dimsdale's friend is non other than Jimmy Stewart. When he arrives in town to help his pal, that's when the real party begins.

George Marshal keeps this material as loose as possible, though he manages to make few nice points about the Old West's confrontation with civilization on the way. But the real star here is Stewart. He completely steals the show with his well written Destry, who shares many of the same characteristics with the character he played for John Ford 25 years later in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Destry's wise guy persona matches Stewart's acting style from that period perfectly. And it is weird (in a good way) to see Marlene Dietrich's diva persona in these surroundings, especially if you know her mostly from Von Sternberg's films.

Though the humor can sometimes seem a little archaic from today's standpoint, and Hollywood's common stereotypes are not pleasant to watch (Russians through the unfunny character of Boris and the Chinese get it this time), ninety minutes of witty entertainment is guaranteed with this one.

Michael Clayton

Don't let the title fool you. Michael Clayton is the main character in this one, but this is not a story about just one guy. It is a story of a way of life in high offices, a way of life which is so cruel and unmercifully immoral that it will undoubtedly leave you soulless if you live it long enough. It is a great film.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer for an internationally renowned law firm. He was an Assistant D.A. once, but apparently discovered this job suited him better. His work basically consists of being called every time some big shot is in trouble and finding a safest and fastest way to help them. His latest task is to leash one of firm's senior partners Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) who had a sudden attack of conscience and it is ready to destroy a multimillion dollar deal. Of that deal depends a future merger of Clayton's firm with another hundred headed monster called U-North, lead by general counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton in an Oscar winning performance).

Basically, what we have here are characters on the way to ruin. Neither of them is genuinely happy, and when one finally realizes the situation he is in, the avalanche starts and there is no way of stopping it. Arthur's decision to finally do the right thing determines the faith of the others, especially Michaels. His task is the easiest, to learn from other peoples mistakes and achieve salvation they can`t. This makes Michael Clayton a movie about redemption, one of the most effective of all movie subjects.

All of the performances here are incredible. Clayton is probably the most complex role Clooney has ever played and he proves once again how mature of an actor he is by not pushing the character that was so well written.
Tom Wilkinson's role is perhaps the trickiest. He could easily fall in the trap of overacting like many actors in these kinds of roles, but he does not do that. He gives his character just enough amount of craziness, so that we can understand what he is going through, but also leaves room for compassion. And Swinton plays the role of a career driven women with ease and authority expected from one of the best actresses around (though I still believe Blanchett deserved the Oscar that year).

Michael Clayton was written and directed by Tony Gilroy and it was something I really didn't expect from a writer of entertaining but pretty shallow Bourne movies. It was one of those situations where you just wait for him to make a mistake, sell out and use his characters for plot purposes and than feel real amazement when that doesn't happen. It was obvious that he had a clear plan from the beginning and remained true to it in the execution.

I have seen Michael Clayton two times so far, and i am definitely going to see it again eventually. It is a perfect example for us, people in Europe who love movies, that big budget, star filled Hollywood film doesn't automatically have to mean absence of brain.

Cirkus Columbia

Cirkus Columbia is something you get when a talented, award winning author falls into a creative crisis. All the bits and pieces are there, but the final product feels like someone had a gun pointed to his head throughout the entire creative process.

The story about Danis Tanovic threatens to become a classic Welles-Citizen Kane tale, on a much smaller scale, off course. In 2001. he made his debut film No Mans Land, a winner of foreign language Oscar (beating Amelie) and numerous awards around the world. After that he did some stuff worth of a mention, including an interesting take on a Kieslowski script in Hell, but now, with this effort, he made a first total misfire in his short carrier.

The film is set in the eve of Bosnian war, as Divko Buntic (a stiff Miki Manojlovic) returns home after spending 20 years abroad. The communist regime has fallen (unofficially) and Divko uses that fact to throw his ex wife Lucija (Mira Furlan) and their son Martin (Boris Ler) out of the house they have been living in ever since he left. He moves in with his new, much younger wife Azra (Jelena Stupljanin) and beloved cat Bonny, not hiding the fact that he made quite amount of money while he was away. He soon discovers that things have substantially changed since he left. He has problems in establishing relationship with his estranged son but the real trouble begins when Bonny disappears. That urges Divko to offer a substantial award to the one who finds it. His overwhelming concern for the cat alienates Azra, who begins to feel attracted to young Martin.

Tanovic creates a believable atmosphere in the late eighties-early nineties Yugoslavia, with the fall of communism and the appearance of another, much more openly radical social order. But that's about it. The script is extremely overwritten. You have the changing of political climate; ex-husband-ex-wife showdown; father-son relation; Martin's coming of age story... Oh yes, and the missing cat as some sort of a MacGuffin! Obviously, it's too much for Tanovic to handle, as every segment of the film doesn't surpass the level of a sketch. The actors seem to try hard, but can't do much with the material this uninspiring.

Circus Colombia can not be called a glorious fall because it doesn't aim that high. That makes it just plain boring, superficial and incoherent work which can't be saved by its good intentions. Danis Tanovic is much better than this and i`m sure he will show it in the near future.

Win Win
Win Win(2011)

"Lot of things can get in the way when you're trying to do what's right" said Bob Dylan in one of his latest recordings, and that line can serve as a perfect description for this movie, or at least few of the characters in it. They have reached that certain point in their life (crossroads, if you like), where one starts to recapitulate and question his satisfaction with the journey taken so far. In that place the best of people can do the most selfish of things for what, and that is the paradox, is very hard to blame them. If this subject matter is handled without the unnecessary melodrama, what you have is something as believable and fresh as Win Win.

Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is an attorney specialized in working with the old, a suburban husband and the father of two. He also coaches local junior wrestling team and is not very good in that (though definitely better than his assistant, that's for sure). The finances haven't been so well recently but he doesn't want to let his wife know as that would represent one more letdown, more for him than for her. He sees his way out of problems when he takes the case of an elderly, slightly demented Paul (Burt Young), whose estate is pretty large but, since he hasn't seen his daughter for a long time, has no one to take care of him. Mike takes that duty on court, promising that he will be his guardian and look after him. That way, Paul will still be able to live in his own house, a wish he expressed to the judge. In spite of that, Mike throws the old man in a nursing home (a very well equipped one, to be honest) while continuing to receive money for guardianship. Soon after that, Paul's unknown grandson Kyle appears and changes the lives of everyone. Since he can't stay with Paul, Mike accepts him in his home out of remorse.

Kyle is your typical rebellious teen, with few words and a lot of hidden anger, but I liked the way McCarthy established the relation between him and the other male characters, especially Mike and Terry. When they look at him, they can see themselves in that age, with the difference that Kyle is a born winner and can easily achieve all of the dreams they had. He has that something that separates the real talents from the rest of us in any area. All he needs is that little helping hand we can all use in some point of our lives, and the question weather Mike will step up and lend it to him makes the core of the film. Kyle's role, on the other hand, is to bring some freshness in the boring existence of bunch of middle aged-defeated by life-but still struggling guys. A win win situation is sometimes quite easy to get to, isn't it?

It's safe to say that Paul Giamatti is one of the best and most underrated American actors. His Mike does some unappealing things and its Giamatti`s performance more than the script which allows us to understand and even sympathize with him. Legendary character actor Burt Young is also worth a mention, as well as Bobby Cannavale, whose charmingly insensitive Terry brigs most of the laughs.

Win Win is not a very original film, a clear fact to anyone who saw it. It is, however, flawless in its unoriginality; one of those indies where the director's sympathy for literally every single of his characters puts aside every eventual predictability. Tom McCarthy has written and directed it with great deal of humor, humanity and self irony, bringing a light approach to a serious subject matter. A great story he had in his hands allowed him to make a fine film by accepting many of the usual conventions rather than avoiding them. That way he created deeply human characters easy to relate to. If you, in certain point of your life, don't find your self in the shoes of some person from this film, you may consider your self to be genuinely happy.

The Red Badge of Courage

John Huston had high hopes for this picture, thinking it could be his ultimate masterpiece. It had all of the potential to be one-a director at the top of his game, source material perfect for his style and an actor who literally lived through the lead role. The only thing he didn`t count on were the studio butchers. What`s surprising is how close he got to his goal inspite of their interference. Working from his own script (co-written with Albert Band), based on the Stephen Craine novel of the same name, he made a tight film about a thin line between courage and shame, and the ultimate irrelevance of this division in such hellish circumstances.

The story takes place in Civil War where a division of Union forces spend their time practicing and waiting for the battle. They all seem to be anxious to get to the battle except one young man. He doesn`t delude him self and is brave enough to realize that there is nothing to be excited about. When the time to fight finally comes, they will all see how close encounter to the possibility of death can change ones behavior in a radical way.

As you may sense, this is basically a plotless film. Huston`s take on this is much more character based. Even the battle is something that happens in the background and we don?t experience it as it actually evolves but through the eyes of people who participate in it. That approach makes it possible for us to really feel their state of mind rather than watch the mechanics of battle which are practically always the same.

Huston`s direction here is superb. He strips this material down to its core, finding effectiveness in simplicity. The general idea is always in front of our eyes and his noirish camera angles and beautifully conducted tracking shots never miss the point.

And now about those studio fascists.. The first thing they did was to shorten this to 70 minutes. That didn`t have an effect on the film quality as the story seemed coherent and the point shown clearly after it ended. But the narration they threw in certainly diminished the power by few degrees. Take the wonderful sequence of the first battle as an example. When the soldiers get to the battlefield and wait to be attacked they are all scared, though some choose to show it openly and others don`t. We can see the horror in their eyes as the enemy gets closer and closer. And than, relief. The other side changed their minds and apparently decided to give up. That lasts only few minutes because they come striking again. Huston showed this with such intensity that there was no need whatsoever for the narrator to tell us how the soldiers feel. This was just one example, there are few others in the course of it. Apparently nobody told the men in high offices that there is a big difference between literature and film, in the way we experience these two forms of art.

From what I could gather, not many people went to see this picture when it was first released. My guess would be that among those few admirers was one young director who, only six years latter, went on to make Paths of Glory, the best film about war ever made.

La Voie lactée (The Milky Way)

Luis Bunuel is one of those directors who slowly grow on you, as he has several themes he deals with in his special way. By constant watching of his work you gradually find out what to expect. One thing you learn is the futility of trying to decipher every scene in his movies. That would be an attempt to fully penetrate into the mind of one of the original surealists , a potentialy maddening expirience. Thet rule can be applied to most of his pictures, and The Milky Way is definitely one of them.

This is probably Bunuel's most straightforward confrontation with one of his constant obsesions, organised religion (read Catolic church). He has found a way to input this preocupation of his in almost every movie he ever made, but never in this quantity. There is not a scene in here which doesnt contain some religious reference, less in a form of serious examination and more through a biting satire. Those references may be the best known ones (Marie's conception, Christ's dual nature), but they serve few purposes, one of them definitely the satisfaction of his perverse mind.

The story (if that term can even be ussed here) follows two pilgrims on their way to a small spanish city Santiago de Compostela, where they are to attend a gathering. Bunuel plays with time in this one, by placing them in diferent centuries, but always in a religious context. The main question here, in my view anyway, is a simple one: what gives the right to a group of PEOPLE to control one important life aspect of entire humanity. In Bunuel's world, church is basicaly just one organisation, like country or any corporation, but more dangerous than either of those because it claims monopoly on spiritual life of people without the need to explain itself.

He questiones the viewpoints of many different movements within the Catolic church, all of them trying to persuade everyone else in their understanding of "the truth", unwilling to attempt any kind of compromise, no matter how easy it might be. The scene between the jesuit and the count is the most indicative for that. They meet. Start talking. Take opposite, seemingly irreconcilable sides. Begin a sword fight. Continue talking in the course of it. Find out that their convictions are not so different after all. Leave as friends. Nobody died in this fight, but unfortunately, there were more of them. These confrontations are shown as totally irrelevant, as they all lead to the same conclusion.

Bunuel doesn't use the time game just to confuse or play with us. It is a clear demonstration that the church is as dangerous now as it was back then, only with the help of different methods. Since the opened, unhidden force cant work anymore, all they are left with is the power of sugestion. And man, do they know how to use it?! He also expreses special concern for the kids and young addults. They are actually the only absolutely sympathetic characters in this one, and the tragedy of their brainwashed innocence is one of the films recuring themes.

Two main characters represent an example of a standard beliver: on verge of existence, they except unconditional faith as only option offered to them, without ever thinking about it. And when finally try to understan it, they realise that it is futile.

Even though it is uneven, with some of the scenes not as powerfull as the others, The Milky Way is more than satisfying continuation to arguably the greatest streak of classics by any director in the history of cinema.


Interiors is a 1978. Woody Allen picture that was and still is the biggest risk he ever took in his carrier. From a creator of some of the funniest comedies in the early seventies to make a picture this dark in tone and characters was a pretty courageous thing. It was also a necessary move if he wanted to continue his path to a serious filmmaker's pantheon. The timing was perfect. He had just made Annie Hall, a significant departure from his earlier work, but this was something even more radical for him. The fact that he made it work might have looked like a surprise to some viewers back than, but from today's standpoint it seems only natural.

The story is about family and its inevitable impact on our life. This one is particularly unhealthy. The members have kept their demons under the rug for such a long time that something is bound to break when the moment to face them finally comes. That moment is initialized by the parents divorce. The father, Arthur, has been waiting a long time for this move and when he decides to do it, he and their three daughters(Renata, Joey and Flynn) are left with already psychically damaged mother, Eve. All of the daugters have problems of their own and this event makes them think about the causes of those problems. In this case, it is obvious that it can't end well.

If you think about it, this is essentially classic Woody. Dismiss the Bergmaniesque feel of it in some parts, and what you are left with are his characters, the ones he has been writing about all these years, with the same problems and anxieties, important or unimportant as they may seem to you. The only thing different is his more earnest approach to the material. That's what makes this a unique entry in his carrier.

Gordon Willis camera is extremely effective in bringing up the contrast between dark, quiet, pale interiors and the rough exteriors of the see. It sets the perfect environment for these types of people to exist in. I also liked Allen's treatment of all the characters. He manages to include them in the story one way or another, no matter how little time they have on the screen. The types of persons often mocked in some of his films are given a fair treatment here, which is only natural if you consider the material.

The performances are the biggest standout here. It would be a crime not to mention Geraldine Paige first. Her Eve is the glue that keeps this picture alive and with this performance she gave her even more dept than the script maybe suggested. Maureen Stapleton is not far behind as an honest "vulgarian" Pearl, who serves as a counterpoint to the intellectual hypocrisy of the others. Diane Keaton deserves mention too. She maybe has the hardest task, in making Allen's sometimes a little pretentious dialogue and monologue pleasant to listen to.

With all of that said, I did feel a little empty when it was over. It was one of those situations when the director makes you interested in what's going on during the picture, shows you some interesting, well written and acted characters, establish strong relations between them, but doesn't generate that finale feeling that keeps you tied to the screen for those few minutes after the film is over. The ultimate point remained somewhat unclear to me but, because trying to get to it really made me involved, I definitely recommend this. Just be aware that you are getting yourself into a deliberately unfunny Woody Allen film.

A Room With a View

A Room With a View is a light and romanticized look at the "age of innocence", focusing more on the joys of life and love than the tragedy of fading away. It is a movie that put Merchant - Ivory productions on the map. They had done some acclaimed work before, but with this effort they managed to finally establish their sub-genre, as some like to call these period pieces. It is a visually beautiful film about the conflicts of cultures and ideas, and the importance of courage to make certain decisions in our life.

Located in Italy and England at the beginning of the twentieth century, both countries and their characteristics serving as symbols to different life paths for the characters. Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) and Charlot Bartlet (Maggie Smith) are two cousins who travel to Florence on a holiday. Charlot is older and has a task of not allowing young and beautiful Lucy to betray her rigid brithishnes in any way. There, they meet the Emerson's, father (Denholm Eliot) and a son (Julian Sands) with pretty liberal ideas for these pedantic British ladies. The attraction between younger Emerson, George, and Lucy is obvious right from the start but with the constant supervision they can't do anything about it, and she is too uptight to admit her desires anyway. It all ends with one short kiss before they (Lucy and Charlot) go back to Britain, leaving poor, lovesick George behind.

There, a marriage is set between Lucy and Cecil, a seemingly boring higher class rich guy, who turns out to be the most interesting and complex character here. But soon after the engagement, the Emerson's move in their town and make it harder and harder for young and innocent Lucy to forget that kiss.

A Room With a View is set in a time of hypocrisy and feelings kept below the surface, but the movie only makes hints towards that direction. That is the past, and most of its characters look to the future, directly or indirectly, trying to avoid or diminish predictable life offered to them.

As i said before, two countries are an important part in following the story. Italy represents future, passion, danger, uncertainty, openness and the possibility for an ultimate reward. In another words - life, the sweet and the sour. In England, there is just certainty - life spent with the eyes firmly tied to the ground and the fear of being discovered. The choice is easy, isn't it?

I was going to say that Daniel Day Lewis is unbelievably good in this but, since I have seen many of his films, i wasn't a bit surprised with this masterful performance. His Cesil is ultimately the tragic character here. He plays him as a guy who has been learned throughout his life that cautiousness is the biggest virtue a man can have. Its as he constantly looks from outside to the life of George, Lucy and Ethan, a life he never knew how to live.

Helena Bonham Carter is physically the perfect casting, and with enough amount of youthful spite to get her through the role. And Maggie Smith embodies the nobility of Charlot with an ease expected from one of Britain's best actresses.

Ultimately, the beauty of A Room With a View is in its simplicity and honesty. It addresses the basic human needs for love and life meaning and it does that in such a way that it is hard not to be moved by it.

The Three Musketeers

I saw an interview with Milla Jovovich about this movie recently in which the first thing she said, when asked to talk about it, was that this was the first time we could see a woman in a corset fighting. OK, let`s give her that. But further exploration of this statement is what interests me. Basically, it goes like this: we made a 200 - 300 million dollar kids movie disguised in a story about honor; we realize that it is a piece of crap; but that doesn't really matter because we know you suckers will go see it, spend your hard earned money and help us to even make a profit. And this from a sucker who went to see it after he had heard that statement. Oh yes, there is one bright side: they are going to make a sequel.

Batman Begins

I never understood people who accuse Joel Schumacher for destroying Burton's effort in development of Batman series. Sure, you can't get much worse than Batman and Robin, but I don't think he had anything built to actually destroy. Both series can not be taken as serious efforts to bring the legend of Batman into life, with the difference that Burton is a much more talented director and thus a bigger appeal of his works. But then came 2005. when Christopher Nolan made Batman movie that defies that title as envisioned by his two predecessors. No cartoonish stuff, no theatricality, no cheesy one - liners. Just full-blooded character(s) easy to relate too and a hint of a serious story, imagine that.

The best way to understand Batman Begins is to look at it as a part of a bigger picture. The movie has few holes and is not perfect, but I suspect that was done consciously. Nolan knew that he was going to make two more films and he partly sacrificed its existence as a whole in order to build the character up and set the atmosphere for the rest of the trilogy. The fact that he made a pretty strong film in its own right is just a testament to his talent.

The entire first part is devoted to development of the Batman character. He is shown as a human being rather than a hero, someone who fights his inner demons and the feeling of guilt, and who has to deserve the responsibility he is about to except. The motivations behind his actions are finally clear to those who never read the comics, and this was the first Batman movie where he is the most interesting person in the film. Batman was always a noir character but, while the earlier films just "said"that, Nolan actually showed it on a psychological level.

I also liked the way he established the romantic relationship. With the clear notion that this is not a world where love comes first, its lack of sentimentality and uncompromising conclusion are in perfect relation with the characterization of Bruce Wayne and the tone of entire picture.

The weak spot is Batman - Duckard conflict. That part seems forced and a little excluded from the rest of the picture. It's as if Nolan had him only because he had to. Liam Neeson is a great actor but his Duckard is just not interesting enough to play a part in the duality of good and evil Nolan tried to show here. To be fair that has to do with his limited screen time because of the bigger picture I mentioned earlier. I guess it took the charisma of Heath Ledger's Joker to pool that off.

Christian Bale is without a doubt the best Batman so far, in perfect tone with character's vulnerability and darker side. He has the physical appearance to boast as well. And Morgan Freeman - Michael Caine duo could turn the reading of cookie recipes into an interesting and exciting thing.

With Batman Begins Christopher Nolan finally made justice to one of the most interesting comic - book characters, something he will continue to do in The Dark Knight, a picture that derived much of its strength from its predecessor.

Leave Her to Heaven

Leave Her to Heaven is probably first noir ever shot in color. Off course, they didn't call them noirs back than. It was just another melodrama done by the master of the genre John M. Stahl. It is his most celebrated work which provided Gene Tierney with the strongest role of the carrier, a role that finally established her as a serious actress.

She plays Elen, a soon to be married young girl, who breaks her engagement after she meets an attractive writer Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) on the train. In a matter of couple of days they are married and in the beginning everything seems to be going right. But Helen gradually becomes possessive and wants to alienate her husband from everyone including his cripple young brother. That leads to the most powerful and chilling scene on the lake.

Film noir as a genre exists in the darkness and depends much more on the atmosphere and tone than it does on the plot. Therefore, color can take much of that away from it, by often focusing us on irrelevant things. Even in the seventies and on, in the so-called neo-noir period where films were shot in color, directors always tried to strip It down a little enabling us to connect with the characters more. But Leave Her to Heaven is a different thing. It was shot in beautiful Technicolor and that, along with the performance from Tirney, is its biggest strength. What Stahl does here is putting the beauty and innocence of both colors and Tierney's appearance in a stark contrast with her inner demons. That makes her growing obsession even more disturbing and chilling.

He really wouldn't be able to do that without her wonderful performance as Elen. Laura is often regarded as her best film and it probably is, but lets face it, that picture wasn't exactly about her. It was about Dana Andrews character and all that she had to do is appear and look like Gene Tierney. Here on the other hand she has an astonishing screen presence and we don't doubt for a second that she is capable of anything.

Stahl is patient with this material and doesn't rush it. He takes his time to build the characters, the whole first half of the film actually, something that the Hollywood of today could learn from. The weak spot Is the epilogue in the courtroom, which feels more like a plot device and it is the only place where movie really looses its ground.

But other than that this is truly a haunting picture, the one which, like Laura two years earlier, truly deserves cult status it has.


The story of Sabrina, considering its basic Cinderella premise, could have become weepy, too sentimental and overly dramatic, something that's not strange to Hollywood, back than or now. But the mind of Billy Wilder never did function in standard Hollywood patterns, did it? Together with his writing partner Ernest Lehman he created something rare, a romantic comedy which fully justifies both of those titles, with his characteristic touch evident from the start. As I watch more and more of his films I come to realize why Spanish director Fernando Trueba said the following while accepting his Oscar:" I would like to say that i believe in God so that i could thank him, but i only believe in Billy Wilder. So, thank you Mr. Wilder."

Sabrina is a young girl, daughter of a chauffeur of a filthy rich Larrabee family ("they can even stop the rain if it doesn't suit them"). Since she was a child, she's been in love with younger Larrabee, David, who off course doesn't notice her, being a playboy that he is. As a therapy, her father sends her to Paris in a cooking school, with hope that breaking eggs and making fish will help her forget the impossible. Think again, dad! All that Paris did was turning Sabrina into a classy lady, more determent than ever to win her dream guy after she is back. That represents a problem for the older brother, Linus, a workaholic in charge of all of the family affairs. Thus a triangle that makes the core of the film is created.

Every god aspect of this film comes from the writing (especially dialogue) and casting. You won't be able to remember all of the funny exchanges and one-liners in only one viewing, most of them on the account of rich people snobbery and uselessness. Wilder was, by this time, already the most respected Hollywood writer and Lehman was at the beginning of an impressive carrier. They had the talent of making their dialogue not sounding corny in the corniest of situations. The traces of Wilder`s characteristic cynicism come to the fore in those situations (they are evident in whole of the movie actually), soften for the needs of the genre. The laughs often come from the most obvious of situations, and that is where the actors shine.

The casting here is one of the greatest in any romantic comedy, right up there with Philadelphia Story. Some argue that Bogart's casting was offbeat, but I don't think so. He's made a carrier of playing cynics and the fact that this is a romantic movie doesn't really matter. His character is the most interesting one, as we never really know weather he's being honest, or just putting on a show in attempts to achieve his goal and separate Sabrina from David. And was there ever an actress more perfect for this role than Audrey Hepburn, with her combination of childlike innocence, grace and elegance. William Holden seems almost a little pale next to them, but that's more due to the fact that his character is not as interesting, though Wilder does give him some credit at the end. John Williams as Fairchild and Walter Hampden as incompetent pater familias are right up there with them.

One other admirable aspect is the films consistency, as the movie never slows down. That is the testament to Wilder the director and his perfect pacing of the film. I was never bored or on a verge to lose interest as interesting scenes just follow one another.

Sabrina is not Wilder`s strongest film, but since we are talking about someone who made Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole and Some Like it Hot among others, that isn't saying much. It remains one of his most widely appealing works, the one that unquestionably stands the test of time.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

Source code is Speed meets Minority Report kind of deal (though not as strong as those two), a film you realize you have been manipulated by after its over, but you don't really mind because it was so well done. The trick is to accept it just the way it is. If you do that, 90 minutes of enjoyment should be guaranteed.

There is no point in explaining the plot in details, because it is a pretty complex one and frankly, because I don't think that anyone can enjoy a picture simply on the plot basis. I will just say that in the beginning we see a man waking up in the train and not knowing how he got there. He is a captain in the us marine core, and the last thing he remembers is being on a mission In Afghanistan. His name I captain Stevens. The girl who sits opposite of him calls him Tom and seems like she knows him very well. Confused, the captain tries to find out what is going on, but has no time because after a few minutes the train blows up and he finds him self in an unfamiliar cockpit. There , an air force captain Goodwin(Vera Farmiga) establishes a video contact with him and tells him he is a part of a special program called the Source code. The mission is to go back in train as much times it is possible( in a way that i`m not going to get into) and try to find out who planted the bomb. The trick is that he has only 8 minutes every single time. This basically is the ground for the entire story.

Director Duncan Jones is fully aware that he is working inside of the SF genre, and cleverly uses all of the freedoms it allows. He realizes that, in order for this movie to work, he needs to keep the audience on its toes all of the time. And that he does. The film doesn't slow down once. That is partly result of the choices he makes with the visuals, and his smart usage of the CGI. He also manages to find a human story between two leads. There are a few moments that are quite pleasantly emotional.

As for the actors, the casting was well done. Jake Gyllenhaal strucks me as a pretty strange Hollywood actor, who chooses his roles because he actually believes in the project(with few exceptions, but come on, the guy has to make a living somehow). Michelle Monaghan is exactly the kind of girl you would like to meet on a long ride and eternally underrated Vera Farmiga cruses through her role.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This fourth installment of Pirates is a sad conclusion (i hope so but for me anyway) to the series i quite enjoyed in the beginning. This adventure fantasy stuff quickly became tiresome for me, and the only fantasy i had after about half an hour was the one about the end credits. Unfortunately, i was subjected to two more hours of poor 3D "entertainment".

New director Rob Marshall gathered every possible of the genre cliches and mixed them together in one very rotten stew, which, honestly, doesn't even pretend to make any sense. First problem that comes to my mind is lack of interesting supporting players. Take Penelope Cruz character for example. The story would unfold in exactly the same way without her being part of it and since there is no sign of sexual tension between her and Depp (and i`m certain it was planed) there really is no purpose for her character to exist. And great Geoffrey Rush gives a performance which is extremely over the top, even for this kind of film. Keith Richards makes a short appearance, and is more interesting than both of them together, with barely a line of dialogue.

They even tried to throw some pseudo intellectual, religion versus greed crap in there through the character of a priest, whose love subplot with the gold heated mermaid is one of the more pathetic ones recently.

That leaves it to Johnny Depp ( as charismatic as ever) to try and save this all by him self, but with one-liners which are insult to the word corny ("I`m for the missionary position"), he doesn't really stand a chance.

Dark Passage
Dark Passage(1947)

Dark Passage is not the best of Bogart-Bacall collaborations, it may even be the one with least appeal, but the existence of several good sides in it cannot be denied. It is certainly the weirdest of them all, and i`m not saying that as a bad thing.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry who just escaped from prison and is trying to hide from the pursuit. He is not very successful in his attempts until a young, unknown girl (Bacall) appears and helps him (the reasons are later explained, though not very convincingly). She takes him to her home but, since they quickly get to a conclusion that there is a serious danger of him being found, he chooses a radical option. A plastic surgery with the help of a taxi-driver he has met recently.

This was one of the first pictures to use a subjective camera, since we don`t even see Bogart in the first half of the movie. The camera acts in his behalf so to speak, and we only hear his voice. Fiscally, he appears only after the surgery is completed. Strangely enough, the part without him is the interesting one. No matter how crafty and dynamic the cinematography is (and it is), the reason for that also lies in Bacall`s performance. Stunning as she is, she handles the hard job of acting opposite camera alone with grace and charm, daring us to look away. It is when Bogart finally shows up that the movie looses its ground and drags on a little. It`s as if Daves counted on his charisma alone to carry the story.

The recurring theme of Dark Passage is loneliness that permeates the lives of all of the characters. Davis nicely puts that in a context of life in the big city, achieving a feeling of almost Durchemian anomie. There is also much location shooting with some great sights of San Francisco in the late forties.

Despite all of that, my final feeling is that there was a great film hiding in there, that Delmer Daves tried very hard to make it, but ended up with one that was just good. And that is a very honorable thing.


The first hour or so is a poorly and unimaginatively constructed formula. Seeing how the rest of it turned out, i consider that to be a compliment.


Limitless is a movie that has few good ideas but handles them in a Hollywood way - that is to say, it doesn't DO anything with them. That makes it just one of many pictures whose only asset is talented, box office appealing cast.

Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, down on his luck writer who sees the way out of his problems by trying an experimental drug which can allegedly allow his brain to develop its full potential. At about twenty minutes into the film we find out that the experiment is successful, and until the end we don't learn anything else that would be of any interest, unless, off course, you are interested in seeing Bradley solving every possible problem he can get his hands on and becoming very rich. I was just waiting for him to discover cure for AIDS as a cue for walking out.

This is truly one of the laziest scripts I have ever seen. The writer didn't show any attention whatsoever to play with this material a little, to explore the characters, to give this film some meaning. Shame really, because with such an interesting premise and directors fine visual job, this had the potential to be something more. Oh yes, Robert De Niro is in it too, but there is no point in talking about actors. I think that even Tom Green could manage with this material.

And now about that ending. I think that the movie would have kept a shred of integrity if it had ended some ten minutes earlier, with De Niro`s character holding Cooper`s in hands. But with the conclusion like this, it is a good thing that this is not a serious effort because, otherwise, it would be extremely morally questionable.

Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent is Alfred Hitchcock`s second film in 1940. and though it may not be a masterpiece as Rebecca, it is definitely one of the most entertaining works by the great master, probably beaten only by North by Northwest. It is a movie set in three different countries, on two continents, with the action taking place in the land, see and the air, all of that in the safe confounds of a Hollywood studio. What more can you ask for?!

It stars Joel McCera as a news reporter Johnny Jones, sent to Europe as a foreign correspondent in the wake of the World War II, under a pen name Huntley Haverstock ("because it sounds more serious"). There, he has an assignment to attend at a Universal Peace Party meeting, and to interview an important Duch diplomat Von Meer (Albert Bassermann). By sheer coincidence he meets Van Meer on his their way to the party but when they arrive, he suddenly disappears from his sight. At the party he meets Peace Party President`s daughter (off course, they will fall madly in love on the way), and the story quickly moves to Amsterdam. This is only the beginning and there is really no use of going on further about the plot.

The most memorable part of this one are many wonderful set pieces, used as a background for Hitchcock`s masterful building of suspense. There is a breathtaking sequence in a windmill that stands out as perfect example of doing so much with so little.

As for the actors, supporting players carry this one, especially Basserman as Von Meer, who steels every scene he is in. George Sanders as Scott Ffoliot (its not a spelling mistake) is right behind him. McCera lacks charisma to carry on a lead role and his love subplot (deliberately cheesy which makes it even a self parody) sometimes slows the movie down.

When i first noticed the number of writers (four of them and bunch of uncredited ones) i thought this could be one of those "too many cooks" situations, but luckily i was wrong. They actually made the story more unpredictable and the dialogue more versatile. The finale result was great fun all around, especially for Hitchcock i imagine. The last twenty minutes are a shameless propaganda, with the nod even from genius in that area, Joseph Goebbels.

Foreign Correspondent doesn't have any big statements about war, that was not the intention anyway. But watching it, you may get the glimpse of the atmosphere at the start of the biggest conflict in history of mankind.


To be perfectly honest, i decided to check this one out only due to the fact that Cate Blanchett is in it, but ended up liking it on few other levels too.

As the story begins, we meet a young girl Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) living with her father (only average Eric Bana) totally separated from rest of the civilization. They have been doing so since she was two, but now, twelve years later, she finally decides it was enough. The time has come to stop hiding. From that moment on, the movie unfolds in two directions: one follows the attempts of a CIA officer (played with ease by Cate Blanchett) to capture her and in the process we find out why she`s been hiding all that time. Oh yes, during the isolation Hanna was trained by her father and has become a killing machine. That part provides all the action. But the real hart of the film lies in that other direction, as we follow Hanna through her attempts of adapting to a world she knows nothing about. It is there where the picture takes form of some weird fairy-tale with coming of age elements.

The main reason this movie succeeds is a magnetic performance from young Saoirse Ronan. At seventeen, she is more than capable to carry the entire story on her back. It is very hard to turn your eyes away when she is on and the fact that director Wright gives her so many close-ups doesn't come as a surprise.

He, on the other hand, makes the right choice of focusing more on her character than on the action sequences. There are only a handful of those and he handles the skillfully, especially the one in the warehouse.

Midnight in Paris

How great and a little scary would that be? To find a way to visit and talk to your heroes from the past, people that shaped you as a person and changed your worldview. In Woody Allen`s Midnight in Paris Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) gets a chance to do that and learn few valuable life lessons on the way. This is a film about magic that is any given city in the minds of people who love and cherish it.

Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter on his way to become a serious author, who visits Paris with his wife to be Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Enchanted by Paris for a long time, for him it is a place you must be crazy not to wanna live in. I was immediately reminded of Isaac Davis from Allen`s Manhattan and his relationship with New York. Gil too romanticizes the city and sees it as an ideal from the past, untouched by modern world. Because his future family does not exactly share his enthusiasm, he takes long night walks through city streets, alone, trying to absorb its culture and find an inspiration for a novel he is currently working on. During one of these walks something unreal happens. He suddenly finds him self in Paris of the twenties, getting a chance to party with the Fitzgerald`s, talk to Hemingway and have his book reviewed by Gertrude Stein. For a short time he has a chance to live a dream.

Nobody does this kind of fantasy better than Woody Allen and, although his profound knowledge of characters is obvious from the beginning, he makes the right choice of giving us stereotypes. Hemingway is macho, Fitzgerald`s party animals and Dali is, well, Dali. And really, who could blame him. Their peronas are so deeply structured in cultural history of the world that any attempt of further exploration would have probably ended in disaster. The portrait of Gertrude Stein is particularly interesting as a demonstration of an authority of a strong, liberated woman in a man dominated society. That may sound like a cliche now, but back then it was pretty impressive.

Since this is a Woody Allen movie, it is needles to say that the casting is spot on. Like every leading man in his picture, Owen Wilson has a difficult task not to be too Woody. He succeeds in a sense that he plays Gil as a guy who looks like he is here to spread joy regardless of his pessimistic worldview, an impression we could never get from Woody Allen`s acting.

What Midnight in Paris finally settles down to is pure magic of imagination and sense of spiritual connection. As for Gil, he needed this trip to realize that escapism has to have its limits, that living in reality is hard but inevitable, and finally that, even though he can`t live in the same time as his heroes, their spirit will never cease to inspire him