Tomboy – Review

Tomboy 

Directed by Céline Sciamma. Cast: Zoé HéranMalonn LévanaJeanne Disson.

This small independent film was made for peanuts (Filmed on a Canon 5D and just a handful of people in the crew) and it is unlikely to make any big impact on the box-office. However I’m sure it’ll leave a mark on those few who will actually manage to see it. In fact judging by the recently released long list from the 2012 BAFTA Awards Nominee, where TomBoy shows among some other nominees, it looks like I am not the only person who has been touched by it.

Zoé Héran is absolutely wonderful as Laure, the 10 years old girl who’s just moved into a new neighbourhood where nobody knows her and pretends to be a boy (Michaël) with her new friends. Her performance is one of the best of the year, and possibly among the best ever performances by a child: she not only perfectly captures that innocence that children of that age have, but at the same time she seems to have a deep understanding of the struggle and the pain of her character. Throughout the film she really acts as if she was a real boy in a way that’s so believable that at some point I really started to wonder whether “she” was actually a real “he”. The film knows that and it does play with you by stretching the lie as far as it possibly can, until it decides to show you the real truth in a beautifully handled scene where you do actually see briefly the girl naked. It’s a fleeting moment and the film obviously doesn’t linger on it, but it’s enough to put our minds at rest so that we can carry on enjoying the rest of the story.

The director Céline Sciamma’s ability to film children making it look real is incredible. It feels effortless as if the camera was one of the children themselves and we as the audience are left observing them playing in the forest as if we were spying on them, or as if it was all a documentary. Rarely I have seen scenes with such young children that feel so honest and real: the approach is subtle and light, the atmosphere is almost muted, dialogue to advance the story is used to a minimum and the silences are charged with meaning and intensity.

This is a subject that rarely makes the news, let alone the movie theatres. And it’s so refreshing not just to see it depicted in this film, but to have it told with such an understanding, honesty and open-mindedness.

All this together with the stellar acting from little Zoé make the internal drama of Laure/Michaël even more poignant and powerful.

Be warned, this is a slow film (a very short one too at only 82 minutes), that has “French independent” written all over it, from its pace, to its rough look and its lack of music score, but if you, like me, love films about children growing up, this sensitive, tender and never heavy-handed story might just melt your heart too.

I saw it months ago and I still remember it vividly, so it must have worked on me.

8/10

A real moviegeek or a tired old cynic?

Some of you have pointed out that in the last few months it seems like I was disappointed by most of the stuff I saw in the cinema.

This came just at the time when I was about to choose which film to review next, of the ones I’ve seen in the last couple of days: “The Roommate” (A thriller, which is usually a genre I love), “the extraordinary adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec” (By Luc Besson who made La Femme Nikita and leon, 2 of my favourites ever!), or “Hachi” (By the director of one of the film I love the most, What’s eating Gilbert Grape)… And you know what?! I really didn’t like any of them!

It made me think: when did I become such a cynic?

It is so unlike me… I’ve always been the positive one, the smiley person who tries to look for bright side…

I love going to the movies and there’s nothing I cherish more than loosing myself in a good flick.

Whenever I go and watch something, I’m always hoping this might be the one that makes me go back to being a kid, or makes me cry or laugh with tears in my eyes, or forget about my deadlines at work and my worries at home…

The fact that I have not liked a lot films recently is probably indicative of the way cinema is today. Most of these films are just products”: they are made by a committee of advertisers, or people who need to balance their books at the end of the year.

There are very few mavericks, or real storytellers out there… Most of them prefer to play it safe and give us what their recent surveys told them they should give us.

Or is it me who is just getting pickier and pickier? Why do I seem to be the only one who thought “The King’s Speech” was a pretty average film crowd pleaser?

Why didn’t I like Scream 4, when in fact it did exactly what the “tin” said?

Should I have got lost in the colours of “Rio”, forgetting about the fact that the story line was so damn predictable?

Why wasn’t I swept away by the quirkiness of “Rubber“?

Why was I so cold in front of that tragedy that was “Rabbit hole“?

Why couldn’t I just laugh watching “The Dilemma” while everybody else was in tears around me in the theatre?

Why couldn’t I just go with “The Adjustment Bureau“, instead of looking for all the plot holes?

Why wasn’t I enchanted by Submarine?

And why am I more terrorized than excited by the idea of the forthcoming Tintin movie by Spielberg (a director I love making a film about my ultimate childhood hero?) … Why am I so afraid I’ll be disappointed?

Am I growing old and just tired of movies or are there just fewer and fewer fresh good things our there?

The Silence Of The Lambs – 20th Anniversary

The Silence Of The Lamb (1991)

(20th Anniversary Review)

Dir: Jonathan Demme With: Jodie FosterAnthony HopkinsScott Glenn

Yes, it has been exactly 20 years since Antony Hopkins appeared for the first time as Dr Hannibal Lecter (the film premiered on the January the 30th in New York and on the 1st of February in LA. Interestingly the film was released to the general public on Valentine’s day: not your typical date movie, is it?).

Back in 1991 it defied expectations by winning the top 5 Oscars (a year after its release!!), best film, director, screenplay, leading actor and actress: it is only the third film in movie history  (after it happened one night and One flew over the cuckoos’nest.)… and the first horror/thriller to win for best film. As it happened a year after Goodfellas lost to Dances with Wolves, it was probably a sign that Hollywood was getting ready to accept the dark side of movies.

20 years later, “The Silence of the Lambs” is still a preposterous film, camp as hell,  absurdly over the top in its premise and its execution and yet it holds a place in American Movie History as a modern classic.

With Hannibal (incidentally a character that appears for only 16 minutes in the film) Hopkins became a star (yes, he was good before this, but few really knew him) and created an icon, which lived on throughout (and despite) its three sequels: Hannibal, Red Dragon (in fact this is both a prequel and a remake of Micheal Mann’s Manhunter) and the very forgettable Hannibal Rising (another prequel, Hopkins-free).

All of a sudden, we all started to love the bad guy, or at least we loved hating him: we loved the fact that he ate the despicable Dr Chilton at the end (“I have an old friend for dinner”, is probably one of the classic final lines of any film, up there with “Nobody’s perfect” in Some Like It Hot), we loved those over the top lines, those chilling looks, his refined taste, his Southern English accent… And we just want him to get away, despite the fact that we know he’s bad.

This is certainly nothing new, Hitchcock had done it  30 years earlier in Psycho, but arguably this is the film that started off the whole trend of “serial killers” with whom we identify, the whole puzzle solving murder mysteries and the mixture of dark horror and funny one liners. Surely without Silence of the lambs and its Hannibal the Cannibal character, there would have been no Se7en by David Fincher, possibly no Dexter on TV and probably not even Jigsaw from the Saw franchise…  And God knows how many others.

However what keeps this film anchored to the ground, despite the over-the-top (but obviously very effective) performance by Anthony Hopkins, is a combination of a very controlled and calculated direction by Jonathan Demmi and the presence of Jodie Forster, who somehow counterbalances her camp on-screen partner.

Jonathan Demmi, uses every little (subtle and non-subltle) trick in the book to suck in his viewers and bring them as close possible to the screen. He films the most intimate dialogue sequences between Hannibal and Clarice in extreme close ups, and has them delivering their lines straight to camera, as if they were confessing their inner secrets directly to us. As he does so, he drops the level of any other sound away from the central conversation, he kills the music and as as he slowly zooms in closer and closer into their faces, he very subtly pushes the bars of the prison cells that separate them away from each other until they actually disappear from the final frame, thus bringing the two characters even closer to each other.

It’s very effective and it works wonderfully!

He even uses the powerful tricks of editing in order to deceive us to believe one thing instead of another. That famous sequence towards the end of the film, where we are lead to believe that the police is about to break into Buffalo Bill’s house and save the day, only to reveal that in fact they’re all actually heading to the wrong place. Nowadays these types of devices have been copied over and over again in countless movies and TV CSI-like shows (and even the great 24) but never worked as well as they did here: it is an incredibly manipulative but just as accomplished moment.

Today so many films about “serial killers”, puzzle solving, cat & mouse chases and dark psychological horrors, they all seem to owe a debt to “The Silence of the Lambs”. Watching it today, we find so many clichés of the genre, but in fact, most of them, if not all of them, were absolutely new at the time.

I am not quite sure it deserved to all all those Oscars, but it certainly deserves its cult status today, 20 years later, for  paving the way to a new genre of thrillers, braner and more stylish horrors.

8.5/10

Check out the review of another modern Classic:

Back to the Future (1985)

2010 Stats on MovieGeekBlog

This Blog has only been around for 3 months but it seems like it got off with a good start. The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ from WordPress seems to be veering towards the “wow”, whatever that means.

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1 – Review November 2010


2

Tron: Legacy – Review December 2010


3

True Grit – Review December 2010


4

Black Swan – Review October 2010


5

The Fighter – Review December 2010


I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for helping this blog being a success.

True Grit – Review

True Grit (2010) 

Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Oh dear, I am not going to be very popular with what I am about to say. Because somehow the unwritten rule about movie reviews of the last few years seems to be that you’re not supposed to speak evil about the Coen Brothers: “they can do no wrong” in the eyes of movie critics and cinema lovers everywhere, and even when they do take a misstep, somehow that gets quickly erased from everybody’s memory as if  it was only a bad dream (like in the case of Intolerable Cruelty for example, or The Ladykillers).

My  relationship with the Coen brothers has been one of love and hate throughout the years. I have seen every movie they have made but  I have got a few confessions to make: I am one of the few people who thought the last 20 minutes of No Country for Old Men were a bit indulgent (though the previous 100 minutes very so good and cinematically perfect that in the end I forgave them for everything) and I was one of those who thought Burn after reading was just simply idiotic. I am also one of the (apparently) few people who didn’t really get A Serious Man, but having said that I loved The Big LebowskiRaising Arizona and still think that with Fargo they reached perfection (Oh, I do love that one!).

Yet, “True Grit” has very little of the Coen’s finger prints on it: a few cold jokes towards the beginning maybe, some beautiful visuals, but that’s pretty much about it. The movie is a pure and simple Western, just like the ones they used to make in the 50s and 60s, and probably just like the one they have been remaking. “True Grit” was also the 1969 movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar. Though Ethan Coen said that the film was more a faithful adaptation to the novel with the same title written in 1968 by Charles Portis.

But enough history also because I haven’t seen the previous version and I haven’t read the novel, so I am just judging this 2010 “True Grit” on its own merit.

For a start, I have some real problem with the main character of the piece: the girl played by Hailee Steinfeld who’s supposed to be 14 and yet somehow speaks and acts like somebody who’s experienced a full life. You’re supposed to take that for granted right from the start, without any real reason behind it, or without being given much background. Well, I just couldn’t quite buy it, and was never quite comfortable with her character throughout the movie. As a result I ended up not caring about her at all. I’m not criticising Hailee Steinfeld’s performance (which was actually rather good), but more the character herself.

Then we have Matt Damon whose performance is probably masked by his fake mustaches and the big hat, because it wasn’t very apparent to me. His character (like many others in this movie)  is pretty much a one-dimensional one, and even his changes of heart are all so predictable that actually they end up being part of his “one-dimensionality”. Josh Brolin who in the last few years is having the time of his life and is enjoying a great comeback, is in for about 10 minutes, so it’s not even worth talking about him. Same goes for Barry Pepper.

Most of the dialogue in the movie has apparently been lifted from the pages of the original novel, which proves once again that something that works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on a movie (a vice-versa or course). Some of the best lines or jokes belong to Jeff Bridges. However most of them felt quite flat to me, nor particularly clever  or surprising. Also I have to confess that between Jeff’s mumbling (erm… sorry, acting) and the thick accent, I must have missed quite a few of them. And it looks like I wasn’t the only one in the theatre where I was.

Not that it matter a lot. Ultimately the film has a very familiar story, with very familiar characters in a very familiar setting. All too familiar in fact, thus without much emotional drive or drama. It all feels rather cold and it really shouldn’t, because this is certainly not an action film, so it should at least been a character piece.

Maybe my tastes are not refined enough, maybe it’s my slight ignorance for John Ford’s movies and my lack of love for John Wayne and Westerns in general, however I can safely say that this is not a movie for everyone. Some people will love it for what it is “a cold and mannered art western” (as the Hollywood Reporter called it), but it is definitely for a more grown up type of audience, certainly not a crowd pleaser in my view.

On its defense I have to say that the movie does look absolutely beautiful which is why I am feeling almost a bit guilty in saying that I didn’t like it . It’s almost  like saying that I don’t like John Ford.

Roger Deakins‘s cinematography rarely disappoints, and certainly in this one it is a work of wonder: from the cold snowy landscapes, to the great wide sunsets.

Carter Burwell’s score contains one of the most memorable and hummable tune  I can remember this year: it alternates understated cues, emotional piano moments, and grand sweeping themes (to match the widescreen vistas) and yet that too feels like it mainly belongs to a different film. Somehow the emotion that the music tries to raise don’t quite match the stark cold approach to the film.

The editing and pace of the movie is all rather slow, once again paying homage to the old Westerns our fathers probably grew up with. It does pick up a bit towards the very end, but to at that point, it is all just too late.

Unfortunately as we all know beautiful visuals, big names and a lovely tune can only take you so far, after a while if you’re not engaged with the story or the characters you’ll just find yourself looking at your watch more times than you should, and that’s never a good sign.

I must confess I was a bit bored.

6/10

Alice in Wonderland – Review

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) 

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny DeppMia WasikowskaHelena Bonham Carter

On paper this movie is something which had all the potential to be the movie of the year: Tim Burton’s visionary genius re-imagining one of the most fantastic and imaginative stories ever.  Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Mia Wasikowska (from the wonderful “In Treatment”) as Alice herself. Special Effects extravaganza in 3D. And a never-ending list of great actors and  actresses lending their voices to all those loved characters from our childhood. I would have said “count me in!” anytime!!! And yet, this ended up to be possibly the biggest turkey of the year!

It’s not really an awful film, but knowing what this could have been like, it just leaves you really disappointed.

How could it have happened?

In a way it reminded me of Steven’s Spielberg’s Hook, one the (few) big missteps of his career. In that movie too Spielberg had made the terrible mistake of messing with a classic story: for example we had a grown up Peter Pan going back to Neverland. Here Alice has grown up too and forgot everything about Wonderland which is now a run down place with a Gothic feel, typical of any Tim Burton’s movie. Well, that would probably be all right, except that Burton, by updating the world really managed to take the wonder out of “Wonderland”.

Tim Burton’s film is essentially a sequel/re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll without all the joyful surprises, the sense of discovery and  fun of that book and more crucially, without a single good original idea! None of the liberties the makers took seems to work culminating with fight scene with a dragon at the end  of the end which seems to belong to a different film altogether. And (big spoiler here… watch out) what’s point of all that going to China at the end? What a mess!

There was another Disney’s movie back in the 80s called Return to Oz, which made the same mistake and used the same device of having Dorothy going back to Oz only to find it all changed and half-destroyed and now look almost like a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape where everything seem to be covered in ash. However in that film the story and the characters were so compelling that somehow they got a way with it, in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland all the characters are so annoying and only just half-sketched that it’s hard to care about any of them. In fact it seems like their accents, make up  and CGI enhancements have replaced their personalities.

Michael Sheen‘s White Rabbit appears a couple of times and is probably the most confusing of them all, since it relies on your knowledge of the character from the previous incarnation of the story to make any sense of it. Where is he going? Why is there at all? What’s his point? is he there to help Alice or the Queen? Stephen Fry‘s Cheshire Cat and  Alan Rickman‘s Blue Caterpillar are just as superfluous to the story. Once again, it all feels rather over-blown, over-crowded with characters.

And finally Johnny Depp who’s impersonation of the Mad Hatter is the most annoying of them all and possibly one of the actor’s worse performance of his career . Now, I really used to like Johnny Depp, but it seems that in the last few years he’s only been playing the same over-the-top character over and over again. His Mad Hatter seems an extension and a mixture of his previous “mad characters”: there’s a little bit  from Tim Burton’s previous creations, from Willy Wonka in Chocolate Factory,  to Sweeney Todd and even his previous Edward Scissorhands but there’s also lots of reminders to Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and hints from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is Johnny Depp playing the same character over and over again? What happened to the sweet, restrained and understated performances of his early work like the beautiful What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Donnie Brasco? And most awful of them all Anne Hathaway‘s take of White Queen, who’s mannerism is just as annoying as her eyebrow. It might have been all intentional (in which case, even worse) but it was certainly a very bad choice to have her acting like that.

Helena Bonham Carter‘s impersonation of the Red Queen is one of the few redeeming factor in the whole film and the scenes with her are probably the highlights in an otherwise flat and misjudged series of sequences. Though even her bizarre creation becomes a bit tedious after a while.

Even the special effects (which by themselves are top class) are so diluted in the poor story that somehow failed to strike a chord and surprise us. Not to mention the use of the 3D which is probably one of the poorest use of it I’ve seen this year (together with “Clash of the Titans”). I guess it has to do with the fact that the movie was actually filmed on 2D and then retrofitted (I am not quite sure whether this is the right term for it) afterwards. This is a technique that not only doesn’t work but also brings a bad reputation to 3D itself (I keep on hearing a lot of people complaining about how bad 3D is, but they’ve only seen Clash of the Titans of Alice in Wonderland,  and they believe that’s what 3D really is).

Just a quick word about the music score: yes, it could have been good, if only they had work out where to use it, as opposed to ending up having music throughout the whole film, thus diminishing the effect that music should have. Overblown is once again the word that comes to mind.

I wonder what this film could have been like if maybe Tim Burton had made it, without Disney behind his shoulders. But as it is, on the whole, this mish-mash of Disney and Burton doesn’t really hold together and it proves once again that Tim Burton is the “director-that-could-be-great-but-rarely-really-is”.

5.5/10

OTHER RELATED REVIEWS (or, you’d better watch something else, instead of this)

Toy Story 3

Tron: Legacy

Back to the Future

 

The Way Back – Review

THE WAY BACK  

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim SturgessColin FarrellDejan AngelovDragos BucurEd HarrisMark Strong

Based on a supposedly true memoir (possibly even ghostwritten) by Slavomir Rawicz called The Long Walk, (no, not the one by Stephen King), it tells the story of a polish prisoner and his companions escaping labour camp in Siberia in the 1940s and basically walking all the way across, Mongolia, China, the Himalayas and then into India.

I am sure your geography is pretty good, but just to refresh it a little bit I took the liberty of attaching a map to this post, just to show you how bloody far it is!!

It is an amazing story, so amazing that people argue whether it’s actually true or not. However, the movie goes beyond all that: yes it is a story about the journey, but also about the human endurance, about bonding with friends,  and ultimately about people prevailing over the adversities.

I find this film particularly hard to review: I saw it a few days ago, but resisted from writing anything about it, as I wanted to wait for the film to sink in.

My first reaction was that the pace  of the film seemed to be a bit off. It is a long one for sure, and yet I felt, for the first time in a while, that actually it could have gained more pathos by being even a touch longer. I couldn’t help feeling there must be a lot of material somewhere in the editing room that didn’t quite make the final cut, most of which at the expense of the characters and their relation with one another.

It all seemed oddly fast in places. For example, in one scene people argue with each other, in the next one (few days later) they were all talking normally. At some point they were all suspicious about a new girl joining their group, the next moment they were talking to her and revealing their deepest emotions.

This particularly happens towards the beginning of the film and it made me feel a bit uneasy about it all.

I do wonder if it would have been better to get rid off one of the characters and concentrate more on the fewer of them. It’s interesting to notice that well into the film I still had no idea how many people were actually on the journey and who was who.

I can’t wait to see a possible director’s cut on DVD (or even better ono BluRay): I’m sure the film could only improve by being a little bit more drawn out. I can’t quite believe I’m hearing myself saying that, but it is after all a film about an incredible long journey, so it’s fair enough to have a film which feels  just as long.

Having said all this, the whole thing just looks beautiful! I was quite surprised to see the National Geographic logo at the front, but having seen the film, somehow it all makes sense. Those grand landscapes and vistas make it look like one of their best documentaries.

Performances are strong throughout. Jim Sturgess was chosen by the director on the basis of “Across the Universe” (a film which has been panned in this country and yet loved in many others… in which case I’d consider myself a foreigner).  Colin Farrell is the quirkiest of the all (what a surprise) and I really enjoyed watching him. And Ed Harris, who plays his age, pulls out one of the most rounded characters of the whole piece.

I was also a bit surprised to see a caption at the front of the film basically giving away the ending ( I won’t do here, don’t worry) which actually, when it finally comes, feels rushed and a bit “tagged on” and left me with a slight sour taste in my mouth.

And it’s a real shame, because on the whole, this is a solid film, quite understated (including the music, which could have gone so syrupy/hollywood grand and instead, thankfully was kept quite restrained) , with a good story and good performances. I would recommend it to anyone., even though it might not make it to the Oscars…

7/10

The Fighter – Review

The Fighter (2010)

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

This was an unexpected surprise! After seen the trailer for “The Fighter” I didn’t really think much of it. Then I saw that it was directed by David O. Russel and remembered how much I hated I Heart Huckabees. Oh dear, I thought to myself, this isn’t going to be a happy viewing… Oh, how I was wrong!!!

This is now probably in my top 10 film of the year (or even top 5 dare I say).

The trailer makes it look like another film about a boxer, filled with violence for the latest testosterone generation, yet this film is as much as boxing as the first Rocky was, actually even less. And just like that film (I’m sorry but the parallel is inevitable), it’s a story about an underdog, a rag-to-riches tale, a story about characters more than anything else.

At the centre of the action is the relationship between  two brothers: the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) who helped train him.

At this point I must confess my complete ignorance about any type of sports. So much so that I had never even head of Micky Ward so the whole turn of events was a complete surprise (including the ending).

The thing that will strike anyone watching the film is the acting of pretty much everybody in it.

Once again (as he had done for the Machinist in 2003) Christian Bale has lost a lot of weight reportedly by eating very little. He researched the part by taking notes on Eklund’s mannerisms and recording conversations for the character’s distinct accent. Apparently he even stayed in character throughout filming. Well, whatever he did, it really works. Bale transformed himself completely for this film and it’s hard to believe that he’s the same person behind the cape in Batman or even in Terminator: salvation.

And as an extra proof of how good Christian Bale is in the film, when during the end credits we are treated with some real footage of the real people in the film, we can be amazed by how similar his mannerism and accents are.

Because of the part itself, Bale is really the one who steals the show every time he’s on-screen, however Mark Wahlberg is also very good too in a much more understated act, which almost goes unnoticed. Never for a moment you doubt that he’s actually anything but a boxer (apparently he even had a boxing ring in his back garden during the making of this film).

But the big surprise for me was Melissa Leo who plays the mother in the film: a relatively unknown actress and yet a great force of nature in the Fighter.

The film is very nicely balanced, has a very good pace, a tight script and a nicely controlled and never showy direction. The only noticeable choice was the way they decided to film the few fight sequences in the film, by using video as opposed to film (or at least it look that way), by making the inter-cutting with the real footage seamless.

This is a beautiful movie which probably hasn’t got anything new that we haven’t seen before but it’s got a moving story that rings true at every step and will make you laugh, cry and cheer all the way to the last frame and it’s done with such simplicity and sincerity that it’s hard not to admire.

8.5/10


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