It’s late in the evening, it’s storming outside and Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) just wants to go home to his girlfriend and eat some sushi. It’s been a long day of auditions. None of the women that auditioned seemed right for the part. Thomas is just about to leave, when out of nowhere a mysterious and voluptuous woman shows up. Her name is Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner), like the just like character in the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch-inspired Venus in Furs. Thomas has no intention of auditioning her, but she is very persistent. As she starts reciting the lines, he becomes entranced by her. Soon the lines between fiction and reality start to blur. Continue reading
I finally made it: I got to see Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine! One of my most anticipated films of the year. It was my first time watching a Woody Allen film in a theater. I’ve only discovered this fantastic filmmaker in 2011 when I watched Midnight in Paris an experience I’ll never forget. So anyway, that was the highlight of my week, in terms of movies, but there were also two others I’d like to discuss.
Lust, Caution (2007) – 7 (IMDb 7.5) – War, Drama, Romance (Taiwan)
Ang Lee is one of those directors I should get more into. It seems that everyone loves his films and while I can certainly see why, for some reason I never really love them as much as everyone else. I can’t connect somehow. Lust, Caution is probably my favorite of his so far. I mainly checked it out because it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. To me there are three “authorities” when it comes to cinema: The Criterion Collection, Sight & Sound and the Venice Film Festival. I will literally believe and watch anything they praise. Continue reading
I haven’t done this in a while, but I have watched quite a few movies lately, so I’ll reprise it this week and try to keep it up. It’s not like many people care anyway, but to the few good souls that actually read my stuff: Je suis désolé. After a month of basically non-stop horror, I wanted a week where I could basically just watch whatever, based on my mood and my snobbish sensibilities. And so I did. I was mostly successful in my intent, but of course you can’t avoid a couple meh flicks, nothing bad though, so that’s cool.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
Frances Ha (2012) – 8 (IMDb 7.6) – Comedy, Drama, Criterion (USA)
Slacker (1991) – 7 (IMDb 6.9) – Comedy, Drama, Criterion (USA)
Richard Linklater’s Slacker is a film about a bunch of slackers, all seemingly living in the same area (boy business gotta be bad down there). It is only appropriate that the film has the same attention span and focus of a pot addict, since most of the films protagonists seem to be smoking some sort of substance. There is no real story or recognizable plot, the film sort of follows these slacker characters for a couple of scenes, then moves on the the next slackers, the “new” ones that made their appearance in the previous scene. Unfortunately, sometimes just when things were about to get interesting, the film changes subject and characters. Most of the slacker-dynamics are very similar: There’s the very talkative, almost annoying slacker, the quiet slacker, the stoned out of his mind slacker and so on. It’s just the actors that change. All in all, as with every Linklater film dialogue is king. While there are some interesting thoughts and discussions in Slacker the film is far from his strongest effort.
The To Do List (2013) – 6.5 (IMDb 5.8) – Comedy (USA)
I was ready to dismiss The To Do List as a bad teen comedy with no spine and guts, but I had to change my mind watching the film. Of course Aubrey Plaza was the deciding factor in me even giving it a shot, but I must say that I was more impressed with Johnny Simmons in this film. Set in the 1990s the movie is about a nerdy high-school girl graduating with top grades, but lacking sexual experiences. Being a very organized and serious girl, she decides to do a check list of all the sexual activities she needs to learn before going to college (and sleeping with her crush). What sets this film apart from standard genre fare is the ending (which I won’t spoil). Oddly enough, even though it’s supposed to be an homage to the 90s, the film feels more 80s than anything else in its structure, humor and characters. One issue I take with the film is Plaza’s character, which is not as likable and relatable and ends up feeling artificial and annoying. Not all the jokes work, but overall the film is entertaining enough especially if you like this type of films.
Casino (1995) – 6.5 (IMDb 8.2) – Biography, Crime, Drama (USA)
Directed by Martin Scorsese Casino is the story of two guys trying to make it big in Las Vegas in the casino business. Of course being a Scorsese picture, you know it’s going to be about the mob, the seedy underbelly of the Sin City, the Italian tough guys with strong accents and goofy voices. I’m not going to lie it’s a great film, but I was overwhelmingly annoyed by Joe Pesci’s voice-over. I detest his whiny voice. His lines were supposed to be funny, but made me cringe instead. Every time he was talking I checked out mentally and actively tried not listening to him. Aside from that I’d say the film’s strength lies in the great performances and the overall solid acting (including Pesci). De Niro is great, Sharon Stone is almost unrecognizable (which is automatically a good thing, right?). It’s an intriguing story, even if sometimes it just seems like a list of events and names. One last complaint is that the film is a bit too long. Some leaner editing, less running down facts and voice-overs would have made the whole thing more enjoyable. Still a great film on every other technical level.
Bitter Moon (1992) – 7.5 (IMDb 6.9) – Drama, Romance, Thriller (France)
As a big fan of Roman Polanski when I heard that he had done a Lolita-type story, I was immediately curious to check it out and I must say that I wasn’t disappointed. Bitter Moon is about a couple (Hugh Grant & Kristin Scott Thomas) traveling to India by ship. On their journey they meed a strange disabled man on a wheelchair and a drop dead gorgeous femme fatale (Emmanuelle Seigner), who is his wife. Of course Grant’s character wants to have an affair with the mysterious voluptuous woman, but the man in the wheelchair know this. So instead of forbidding him to touch his wife, he starts to tell him the story of how they met and how she basically ruined his life. The whole film is basically just Peter Coyote telling the story, but the story is so intriguing, sexy and twisted that it works. Like with every Polanski film you have to ask yourself if it’s not all just a bad dream. I was very impressed with this film, great casting and actors, an engrossing story, well-rounded, three-dimensional characters and a very romantic, yet dark atmosphere. Highly recommended.
If you thought this week’s mini-reviews were particularly inspired, you can thank the ridiculously adorable brunette that was irradiating the library with her beauty today. Or maybe it’s just the pretty pictures I added to this section. Yeah, it’s probably just the pictures.
With Closed Circuit coming out in theaters this weekend this is a good time as any to talk a little bit about paranoia in cinema. If movies are meant to be seen as dreams, some of them are definitely nightmares, and I’m not just talking about horror. We all get paranoid sometimes, filmmakers are no exception. So in listing and thinking about my favorite films about paranoia there are endless possibilities, a lot of great films to chose from. Some directors however deal with the issue of paranoia more than others, so in selecting some of my favorites I decided to pick five films whose directors return to the subject matter with every new film they release(d).
The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock)
Hitchcock is probably the most famous director of all time and besides voyeurism and blonde leading ladies he also had a passion for paranoia. The Birds is one of my personal favorites of his, but fans of his work will know that there is a bit of paranoia in every one of his pictures (to some degree). ‘Birds’ is a great example because the fear is materialized on-screen in a very concrete and palpable fashion. Fifty years after its release it’s still a chilling film about nature turning on humans. Not only is it one of the best, but also one of the scariest horror films of all time, for me anyways, and I say that because fear is very subjective.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)
Well, if Hitchcock is the most famous, Polanski seems even more paranoid to me. Again, it’s a recurring thread in all of his films, but this one right here about diabolic possession, might take the cake for me in terms of favorites. I love its slow burn pacing, Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes and just how scary and perfect the ending is. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I still remember the film vividly in my mind, that’s how much it affected me. If you’re a horror fan this is one of the best and if you’re not, you can’t really deny Roman’s genius and the fact that this film succeeds on every level.
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
A lot of conspiracy theories around this film and Stanley Kubrick himself and what are conspiracy theories if not structured paranoia? Once again one of the great horror films and a director that seemed to get progressively more paranoid throughout his career culminating in Eyes Wide Shut, and who can tell if he could have topped that in terms of paranoia if he wasn’t prematurely taken from us. The Shining is great, it’s an intimate story about a man taking his family to a secluded hotel in the mountains and then slowly descending into madness; although one might argue that he never really sane to begin with.
Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma)
A fine mystery/thriller by De Palma, there’s a lot of Freud in it, just like you would expect. John Travolta plays a sound recordist that finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Actually that’s the typical premise for a film about paranoia: The fact that you are “framed” or “trapped” or just very unlucky, like Travolta’s character. I love the look of this film and how it’s edited. Blow Out is great at creating tension and suspense, a fundamental ingredient for a film about paranoia, and I always found myself on the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to happen next. With the Cold War still going on a lot of the films of this and proceeding eras are also metaphors for what was going on at the time (just look at all the alien invasion films).
The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)
Might seem like an odd pick, especially coming from someone like me who doesn’t like “cold” filmmaking, but there certainly is a context where that style feels apt and appropriate. In The Social Network I appreciate the unemotional, precise and methodical approach of Fincher’s filmmaking, because he’s portraying characters that could be described similarly. The “Facebook movie” was one of my favorites of that year, because it’s almost like a Citizen Kane in its incredible and fantastic portrayal of very successful, yet lonely people. Just like in every Fincher film there’s also a bit (or a lot) of paranoia, you might not pick it up right away, but it’s there and I certainly noticed it revisiting this great character piece.
That’s it. Those are my five recommendations for this week. If you love film you’ve probably already seen them, but like I said all of those filmmakers have a lot of paranoia flicks in their filmography and some of them (namely Hitch) have a huge catalogue of great works. Other directors that come to mind when thinking of paranoia that I’d like to mention are Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Kim Ki-duk, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Michelangelo Antonioni. Coincidentally they also happen to be some of my very favorite directors, so what does that say about me? I guess that should be pretty clear. See you next week and don’t smoke weed, because it heightens your paranoia and if you’re anything like me: That’s the last thing you need.
If you happen to be living in the Locarno area or are visiting the city located in southern Switzerland, I have a real treat for you.
Just today they announced the two free screenings preceding the official beginning of the 66th Locarno Film Festival.
On August 4th, Vittorio De Sica‘s Golden Bear and Academy Award winning The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) will be shown, with producer Arthur Cohn and protagonist Lino Capolicchio present. For the second soirée, August 6th, they’ll screen Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). The film was nominated for eleven Oscars and won best original screenplay. A screening of Chinatown, makes sense, because aside from being a great film it stars Faye Dunaway, who will be honored with the Leopard Club Award during the festival (August 9th). If you happen to be at Spazio Cinema (Forum) on that day at 10:30 a.m., Faye will be attend a panel open to the public.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, the pre-festival evenings are free, you have no excuse for not being there. Last year they even gave out free bottles of water and it’s the open-air experience and two excellent films from two of cinema’s best directors. Both films start at 9:30 p.m. Make it happen!