Sunday, December 25, 2011

Love Actually

Merry Christmas! A movie I like to watch at this time of the year is Love Actually, released in 2003 and directed by Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones). First thing to note is the incredible cast: Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, UK stars Rowan Atkinson, Bill Nighy and Martine McCutcheon, appearances by Billy Bob Thornton, Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards, January Jones, ShannonElizabeth and Elisha Cuthbert, and even UK presenters Ant and Dec.

Story takes place in London, over the four weeks before Christmas. We follow the lives of several people: the single Prime Minister who has a crush on his assistant, the married boss who I seduced by his secretary, the writer who falls for his cleaning lady in spite of not speaking her language, the spinster who has a chance to find the love of her life, the love triangle, the little boy’s love for one of his classmates, and of course the hilarious performance of Bill Nighy as Billy Mack, an ex rock star looking to come back on the music scene, and his touching version of “Christmas is all around”.  It goes from one to the other and gradually we are able to discern the connections between all these people. 

The film gives a magical view of London around Christmas, which I always felt was a magical place at this time of the year.  We also follow the stories of other characters and the good thing is that it is possible for the viewer to identify with at least one story. The little boy Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is simply adorable, and the chemistry with stepdad played by Liam Neeson shines through the screen.  I regretted the story with Sarah (Laura Linney) and her unfulfilled love for Karl, which left me a bit sad for her. But overall it is funny, subtle, well thought.

Billy Mack: Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don't buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!
One scene I love

It’s a magical tale too, and the good thing is that it is a good mix of real life, like the guy in love with his best friend’s wife, and scenes of life you would see only in movies, like Jamie (Colin Firth) falling for someone he has not spoken to but spent time with, for instance.

Sam: But you know, the thing about romance is... people only get together right at the very end.

Daniel: You've seen the films, kiddo. It ain't over 'til it's over.
Also note the very good soundtrack which fits very well with each scene and is lively. Highly recommended.

All in all, and as the title rightly indicates, it’s a message of love, and also that you may be looking for something that’s already in front of you. Friends, family, there’s no need for just one person to feel loved, it is everywhere, anywhere, if one wants to see it.  It does not feature Santa Claus, but I really think this is a perfect Christmas movie. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gran Torino

After Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, released in 2008, is directed by Clint Eastwood, who also plays the main character.
Walt Kowalski is a grumpy widower who still holds a grudge against Asian people after his service during the Korean war. He possesses a 1972 Gran Torino he keeps in perfect condition. When a Hmong family (Asian immigrants from Vietnam, Thailand and Laos) moves next to him in a gang-ridden neighborhood, his original antagonistic feelings change into something else as he takes young Thao, who had to try and steal the Gran Torino as his gang initiation, under his wing.
So I’ll say this: definitely not a masterpiece. The story is predictable, and the acting has his ups and downs. But it’s not bad! The evolution of Eastwood’s character, although predictable, leaves the viewer quite emotional, and as gang war rages, the viewer if left to feel sorry for the poor Hmong family that has to put up with the inevitable pressures that come with rejecting life within the gang. As the movie progresses, it becomes quite apparent that Walt is the only solution. At the same time, he is so old and in some scenes physically weak we are left rooting for him, all feelings of initial dislike gone. The ending is a tad cliché, but nevertheless the perfect ending for the film, and for Eastwood’s career, as I understand this was his last movie in an acting role. He is weak and old, yet on screen this disappears and he shows up as strong and forceful. Even though I have to say I was almost shocked at how much he’s aged.
Duke: What you lookin' at old man?
Walt : Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have fucked with? That's me.
Walt has not changed since war, yet in a short timeframe, with the contacts of Thao and his sister Sue, he actually becomes a decent human being. There’s the inevitable question of chicken and egg: Walt’s family is obnoxious, selfish and greedy – but then again Walt is far from being the perfect dad: which came first? Bad children made the father bitter and grumpy? Or tough father made children disloyal and self-centered? But anyway, I saw in some comments people doubted the interest of starting the movie with the funeral, since after that there’s only one mention of Walt’s late wife. Well, I thought about it, and I am honestly convinced this is to set up Walt’s family as unpleasant: it’s actually quite amusing, not only are the brothers and their wives bland, unoriginal and greddy, but their children, OMG, are just spoilt brats. Sufficient to say I was happy not to see them too much in the film, and quite happy with the conclusion.
Walt : [about Thao] I don't care about him.
Sue : You hang out with him, you teach him to fix things, you saved him from that fucked cousin of ours.
Walt : Watch your language, lady.
Sue Lor: And you're a better man to him than our own father was. You're a good man.
It has funny moments, too. The scenes with Thao are for some of them priceless, especially this one:

Thao: Excuse me Sir, I need a haircut if you ain't too busy you old Italian son of a bitch prick barber. Boy, does my ass hurt from all of the guys at my construction job.
Scenes with the priest are also sometimes funny and, to me, serve as a barometer for measuring Walt’s evolution throughout the movie.
No, not a masterpiece. But it will pull you in and keep you interested and entertained all through the end.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Citizen Kane

 This ranks as number 1 Greatest Movie of All Times, as listed by the American Film Institute.  I really thought I’d get bored when I started watching Citizen Kane (1941), by and with Orson Welles. Instead, I spent two fantastic hours.

Newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies, alone, in his palace whispering one word: “Rosebud”. This prompts journalist to investigate the story of his life. Through a series of flashbacks we are walked though the life of Charles Foster Kane, his youth, his idealism, his rise to power and eventually his fall from the top. The movie ends with just the viewer to understand this last word “Rosebud”, while everyone investigating has given up.
Kane: Hello Jedediah.
Leland: Hello, Charlie. I didn't know we were speaking...
 Kane: Sure, we're speaking, Jedediah: you're fired.

Bernstein: Old age. It's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of.

Emily: Really Charles, people will think-...
Kane: - -what I tell them to think.

Leland: That's all he ever wanted out of life... was love. That's the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn't have any to give.
At first Kane, played by Welles, appears as a great man, bound to change the world for you. The story that gradually unfolds shows someone profoundly hurt in his youth, evolving from idealist to control freak. Although a bit sad, the psychology behind the character is extraordinary – the viewer understands how Charles Foster Kane felt he had to control everything and be ruthless as a way to battle his demons. A lost battle. There is not much more to say, to be honest – black and white, very old movie can appear uninviting, but in fact it is captivating ; I think the absence of colours (even though at the time I cannot say for sure it was by choice!) really captures the loneliness, the sadness of this story. Yet the sadness doesn’t touch the viewer, who can, in the end, only feel compassion for a man who suffered and could not deal with it.
Loved it. Watch it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Great Gatsby

Based on the novel of the same name by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby was released in 1974, directed by Jack Clayton, and stars Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston (whom you may know from Law & Order). Of note, the scenario was written by Francis Ford Coppola (the Godfather series).

The story is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway (Waterston), who has just moved to long Island. He is very intrigued by his neighbor Jay Gatsby (Redford), a millionaire of mysterious background desperate to win the heart of Daisy (Farrow), a women who was once in love with him and married someone else. Incidentally, Daisy is one of Nick’s cousins.
I don’t read book, I watch movies. So, as I mentioned numerous times in previous posts, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the film compared to the book. General consensus seems to be that the film adaptation is basically a long bad version of a short, great book. I have to admit, in spite of the great cast and the good screenplay writer, I got bored. And I hear they’re making a new version with Leonardo DiCaprio!! God, no.

Nick Carraway: There was music from my neighbor's house through those summer nights. In his enchanted gardens, men and girls came and went like moths, among the whispering and the champagne and the stars. I believe that few people were actually invited to these parties. They just went. They got into automobiles that bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby's door. Come for the party with a simplicity of heart that was it's own ticket of admission.

Good things, huh, thing, first: the music is haunting.
Redford is gorgeous, granted, but is not enigmatic enough to pull off the role. Mia Farrow is also very beautiful, and portrays the shallow and vain woman very well, but does not give enough substance to her character for the viewer to understand why on earth someone would wait for years to win her heart back. Waterston as Nick is ok, I guess, but all in all his character is pale. Someone you see and forget instantly.
It kind of made me feel sad, all together – Daisy’s husband is cynical and unfaithful, he has an affair with a quasi hysterical woman, and the conclusion of the movie leaves hopelessness on the human nature: money, selfishness. It left me depressed. Although I’ll also admit that, since I did not read the book, I was expecting the usual all-happy ending, and that cynical end kind of saved the movie a little. Not enough to make up for more than two hours of my time. 
That said, as I read somewhere: read the book, don’t watch the movie.

Daisy: Rich girls don’t marry poor boys