Τετάρτη, 16 Μαρτίου 2016

The Lobster (2015)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
With: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw
Duration: 118'
Production: Ireland | UK | Greece | France | Netherlands | USA

People tend to call "weird" what they cannot understand, what they fail to fit into their structured perceptions. Many might have introduced this film to you as the "strangest" they have watched and critics might have written about how absurd and unique it is. Very few people will actually tell you what the film is really about, because very few people will manage to put aside their cinematic conventions and dive into this world. 

The Lobster is more than a strange film; it is pure and instinctive, it awakens those places in your soul you didn't even know were there. In the world Lanthimos built with his images, people who are incapable of finding a partner are sent to The Hotel, an actual hotel where possible partners can be found. People are given a room number, identical outfits and 45 days to find their ideal partner, someone with whom they share a particular natural characteristic, being blind for example. If they fail to do so, they turn into an animal of their own choice for the rest of their lives. 

The residents need to attend the hotel's events, but also be prepared for hunting. That includes going to The Woods, loading tranquilizer weapons and hunting down Loners, people who managed to escape this structured world and live on their own in the wild. If the residents succeed in immobilizing loners, they earn extra days at the hotel. 

The film that won the Jury Prize in Cannes this year, Lanthimos first English speaking film, is dealing with a subject cinema loves to visualize; that of pure love. But through a different perspective. How could the world be structured if being alone was a crime? In a society where the inability to find a lover would be punished and the talent to kill lonely people would be rewarded? It must be hard to imagine, but look what Lanthimos has created so far; a seemingly cynical and exaggerated version of reality, where love is the only thing making sense. 

Lanthimos has the unique ability to create realities that make us uncomfortable, just because they dare to tell us honestly what we'd rather ignore. In this case, he visualizes the fear of being lonely, the love that flourishes in any circumstance, the obsession humans have on trying to change each other. His images look structured and senseless at first glance, but they unlock a greater depth on how love is perceived. His vision is simple and decisive, his cinema is more liberating than weird and in its unorthodox form it breaks all conventions, expressing universal truths. 

Κυριακή, 29 Μαρτίου 2015

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Director: Felix van Groeningen
Writers: Johan Heldenbergh (play), Mieke Dobbels (play)
With: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse
Duration: 111'
Production: Belgium, Netherlands

I always find it hard to write down my thoughts when it comes to films I love. "The Broken Circle Breakdown" is one of them. This intense Belgian drama took over my consciousness for many days. For its strong narrative and storyline are breathtaking and every shot vibrates out of real life. 

Nominated at the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film for Belgium, this film made an intense impression worldwide because of its inner strength to narrate a magnificent love story between two earthly creatures. 

Didier is a musician, specified in the banjo. He sings and plays for a bluegrass band. Elise is a tattoo artist with her own tattoo shop. They fall in love instantly. Their shared love for American music and culture will bring them even closer. Soon their life together begins and they have a daughter. The girl is diagnosed though, with an aggressive type of cancer and their lives change dramatically. We follow the course of their relationship by reversed narration. Pieces of their life appear in front of our eyes in order to understand the depth of their love and all those incidents leading to the present. 

The characters evolve gradually through the unfolding of their story, making you fall in love with them without even trying. They have a natural coolness, they way they fall in love, the way they live, singing together on stage, raising their daughter as free as possible. They live absorbed by their strong feelings for each other, a love that seems to grow every day. But cancer decomposes little by little that bond. Suddenly what drew them together sets them apart. 

Where once was deep love is now replaced by enormous confusion. Didier, a strong-minded atheist finds it difficult to suppress his opinion about the world and religion, while Elise has found a shelter and comfort through it. Their differences in how they see the world have enlarged through their daughter's illness. Elise, a woman full of temperament has found her soulmate in Didier and he feels exactly the same. But how can you fight life's struggles when the ego stands in front of you building a stiff wall?

"The Broken Circle Breakdown" is an intense elegy on true love between two different people who merged their lives and created a new one, a better and happier one. But their shared life is cracked and smashed from life's cruelty and harshness. The remains of their love are falling apart and they are losing each other along with their own selves. It takes a lot of courage to just go on even when you feel you have lost everything. 

Felix van Groeningen has created, through magnificent storytelling, a heartbreaking love story, presenting the true power of love. He has adapted skillfully the play "The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama" by Mieke Dobbels and Johan Heldenbergh, who is playing the role of Didier. 

With an amazing bluegrass soundtrack (performed by the protagonists themselves), inspiring performances and a great story, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" will make you laugh, hope and love, but mostly will make you want to live a full life/ With no regrets, no mistakes. Just a life filled with love. Can you handle it?

Δευτέρα, 2 Μαρτίου 2015

Turist (Force Majeure) (2014)

Direction: Ruben Östlund
Writer: Ruben Östlund
Stars: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren
Duration: 120min
Production: Sweden, France, Norway

Set in the cold and unfriendly environment of the French Alps, a Swedish family will try to find peace at their ski vacation. The work-addict father, the loving mother and their two young children. After facing an avalanche at lunch, their seemingly strong family bonds will be shaken to their core, leaving them all numb and doubtful. 

Tomas and Ebba seem to be very close to each other and their lovely family. They decide to escape in the French Alps to share some quality time with their two children, Harry and Vera. An incident at the ski resort, an unexpected, uncontrolled avalanche, will shake up their relationship. Ebba will remain speechless and terrified while the avalanche crosses them leaving everyone unharmed. But Tomas, at an attempt to survive, will flee the scene, avoiding helping his family and his screaming son, leaving only shreds of doubts behind him. 

"Turist" has an unprecedented tension, but not in the way you expect. It is subtle, hidden, almost invisible tension that changes slowly and gradually the nature of this family's bonds. Disappointment comes with doubt, but mostly with anger when the patriarch of the family denies his own actions, trying to avoid, not only the confrontation with his wife, but also with himself. By facing Ebba's feelings, through the couple's social meetings with friends at the ski resort, Tomas will feel bewildered and falsely accused, trying to bury the incident in an attempt to avoid dealing with his wife, but mostly the truth. 

It is absolutely fascinating how the roles between the couple change. At first and just after the incident, Ebba acts and feels like the victim, abandoned and mocked by the man who is supposed to protect his family no matter what. But then it all changes. She accuses Tomas of being a liar and gradually makes him the victim, the one who acted on the wrong instincts and fled, the one who denies everything, the one who failed. She puts him in the corner and strips him up, trying to make him understand the seriousness of his non-actions. And from strong he becomes weak, from leader he becomes a follower. 

This deep family drama evolves quite unpredictably in the idyllic, but terrifying set of the snowy Alps, with an elaborate script from director Ruben Östlund that manages to elevate the damaged relationship skillfully. Accompanied by small doses of classic music, the tension builds throughout the film and grows unevenly till it breaks into small pieces and get scattered everywhere. The collateral damage of this collision are the kids, who sense their parents' distinct separation and close themselves into their own shelter. 

Ebba and Tomas will collide harsh, talking endlessly with each other, fighting, trying to find a solution for themselves and their family. You may already think how heavy of a drama this might be, but here is the awesome part of it; its comic and witty cocoon in which everything happens is inevitably amazing. The reactions, the words, the scenes, all are dominated by this tragicomic feeling that raises the film into one of my favorites of 2015. Ruben Östlund's direction is magnetic, cool colored, alienated and engaged at the same time, managing to convey this family's emotional roller coaster with wit and mastery. 

The essence that this could happen to anyone and the fragility of human relationships in environments like this kept creeping up with me. How would I react, I think. How would he react, I wonder. And how would we get over such a small fraction which grew only to be a humongous gap between us. I wonder. 

P.S.: you gotta love the redhead bearded friend of Tomas --

Τρίτη, 10 Φεβρουαρίου 2015

Nightcrawler (2014)

Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton 
Duration: 117'
Production: USA

Lou Bloom is unemployed and desperate. On his constant job search he has learned the most efficient way to promote his qualities and to present himself as the perfect candidate for a job. When he will discover the night world of crime journalism, he will realize that this profession was made for him. 

Jake Gyllenhaal is transformed here as the creepy, but with the somehow attractive personality, Lou Bloom, a loner who is determined to succeed no matter the cost. Like a trained predator (Gyllenhaal admits his inspiration for the role was a coyote) Lou observes carefully his opponents, the environment he chooses to act and which can be the most effective way to attack and survive. Entering the world of crime journalism as a cameraman who runs to cover any possible crime in Los Angeles, Lou will discover a fascination he never imagined was possible. Covering car crashes, attacks, accidents and murders he will realize how much good he can be and how many dollars he can earn by just following real crime with his camera. 

Slowly but effectively he will befriend Nina, a tv news journalist, who will be very quickly attracted to his passionate determination and complex personality. She will aid him and support him for his explicit and unique footage from numerous crimes. Lou will prove not to have any ethical boundaries when it comes to his profession and his success. He will ignore any kinds of moral violations and will deliver to Nina the most gruesome and raw crime footage ever. 

Nina is like Lou, they both are attracted by the ugliness of this world and the more terrible the image, the more excited they get. They are both made by the same materials. It is not about the shock or the shame of it, it is purely about how the audience loves crime and they, as the best team ever made, understand it. They know what people crave for and what they will talk about for days. They give people what they want. This way they are both winners; the bigger rates the channel gets, the more dollars they both earn. Simple as that. 

"Nightcrawler" is a dark film which draws a thin line between the hunter, the victim and the viewer. Lou is part of the triangle, so is Nina, with the roles constantly changing. Lou will do anything for his new business and will prove to himself and to others that with constant hard work and perseverance success follows. But where do you stop? Are there any limits? It is creepy, intense and totally instinct based film that will make you hate even more the amoral society we live in and how media bet their existence on people's lowest instincts; the need for blood, sperm and violence. 

This film takes a deep dive into the dark world of crime and media circus that most human eyes are dangerously attracted to. Its narration is smooth and builds up beautifully with Lou in the spotlight. You witness his initial state and his almost immediate adaptation, like a natural predator, to any circumstances in order to survive. Many have named the film a satire on today's media and a social-ethical comment and I couldn't agree more. Its dramatic and satirical tone match perfectly together, especially by the assistance of the music. But the problem lies on its restlessness in trying to cross its own limits. 

Gyllenhaal is fascinating in his character, creepy, extremely intelligent and methodical, but he is too perfect in how to pull through every situation, on how his shocking work is being broadcast, when all of this feels indeed like a joke; how can a person like him never have to deal with the consequences of his actions? Yes, this might be the point, how ethics have diminished and people can do anything for television, but the film takes itself too seriously while it mocks us and the society we are not trying to change. 

I understand its point and the way its done and the fact I hated this character more than anybody the last 6 months says a lot about the power the film had on me. I liked it, but my objections on how it presents its story are stronger. It made me also realize how I  was craving for something even more cruel, more dramatic to happen. Maybe this is what the film solemnly proves; that even though we realize our low moral position we still crave for more blood, more violence, more brutality. 

Δευτέρα, 12 Ιανουαρίου 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle
WriterDamien Chazelle
StarsMiles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist

This is not a film about music. It is a film about pure ambition, hard work, perseverance and raw determination. It is magnetic, radical and profound. And thousands of people are delirious about it. I don't blame them. 

Let's start from scratch. This is the story of Andrew, a 19-year-old ambitious drummer attending one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. He is talented and smart and he knows it. But Andrew has no idea how to socialize. He spends his free time practicing with his drums or watching films with his dad. His only worry is to become the greatest of the greatest. 

Fletcher is the most infamous teacher of the school, tough and constantly angry, he coordinates a band where only the best enter. Everyone is scared to death for him, he pushes students physically and mentally to the edge, he is fearless but most of all he is necessary for anyone who dreams a career in music. He is the connection, the one who can make it happen. 

Andrew knows about Fletcher and knows that endless possibilities unfold when it comes to his band. He would do anything in order to enter. And he does. But the pressure is too much. Fletcher follows humiliating practices towards anyone who either disobeys him or makes one mistake during practice. His methods can be described as at least barbaric. 

But somehow this works. Especially with the band. They keep on participating in big contests and working as hard as ever. Maybe it is the fear of the students that keeps them going without complaining or probably the fact that he pushes a person till he gets the best out of him. Either way they are aware of his power on them. One word and their possible career is over. They only obey. And the worst? He knows it more than anyone. And he abuses this power. 

Andrew creates a unique relationship with Fletcher. He is submissive to his remarks and abuse but soon he will start resisting. He will stop obeying. Till the guy finally notices him. Till Fletcher finally recognizes his worth. This seemingly endless kind of game has its ups and downs. When you think it is going good between them, something happens and f***s up your brain and everything turns to the raw fragility of the beginning.

"Whiplash" opens a constant and very intense conversation about surpassing any kind of obstacles or difficulties but mostly yourself and your limits in order to accomplish your goals. It is full with competitive attitude, the one necessary for achieving. It is testing your limits like Fletcher is testing his students'. 

Even though it is Damien Chazelle's debut, he has already shown a craft and ambition that I personally salute. The rigorous rhythm of the film focuses on Andrew and Fletcher's relationship, cutting out all the others, revealing through tight close-ups extraordinary performances by both of his leading actors. J.K. Simmons has just won the Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his supreme performance and along with Miles Teller they are marching towards this year's Oscars. 

Andrew and Fletcher's relationship is purely poisonous and stimulating at the same time. Andrew is craving for Fletcher's recognition, he wants to be the next great jazz drummer and this is his greatest motivation; he desperately needs Fletcher's acceptance. Fletcher sees Andrew's potential and helps him, but with his perverted methods he only play games with him, aiming exclusively to push him harder to the very edge, to his own best. 

Through constant drumming, a tempo fury and unexpected events rising up to a pure catharsis, "Whiplash" does make the difference. It winks violently at you proving how a big dream is never big enough and no matter the mistakes and disappointments, the delays and drawbacks, if you share this flaming perseverance and determination anything - ANYTHING - is possible. Thank you, Damien Chazelle, for reminding us that. 

Πέμπτη, 8 Ιανουαρίου 2015

Ida (2013)

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz 
Stars: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik
Production: Poland | Denmark | France | UK
Duration:  82 min

Ida is a strong, uncompromising film, whose immense power and raw beauty are indisputable. This is a winner film. Magnetic, raw, real. For its direction, its content, its everything. Yes, "Ida" is my favorite 2014 film and a masterpiece. 

1960s, Poland. Anna is a young novitiate nun and about to take her vows. She was brought up by nuns and was nurtured with Christianity. Before she takes the ultimate step she is urged by her superior to visit her last living relative, her aunt. Wanda is a formerly powerful judge of the regime, now an alcoholic and full with guilt. She meets with Anna and unfolds the secret story of her real identity. Anna is Jewish and her name is Ida. 

A lost secret family chronicle will be revealed to Anna - now Ida - frustrating her innocent and pure soul. She will decide to follow Walda on a journey of discovering her past, what happened to her parents and why her aunt is so depressed. 

This poetic depiction of the lost past of Ida guides the narration in a delicate and profound way. The subtle direction, infused with an amazing composition of frames, together with the profound silence offer few clue elements that are mostly hints on where the path of Ida is going in life. 

Pawlikowski chooses to show with his frames - through the cameras of the talented cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal - an unprecedented intensity in those two women's lives. This films has such an integrity, it knows what is doing and where is going, and this is one of the things that add up to its greatness. 

The framing of the shots plays a crucial role in the poetic illustration of life and especially of Ida's life. Concealing or intensifying details or even changing the center of attention has unexpected results. You feel there present, but not in the way you think. You feel you see more than you are shown, you sense everything that happens on screen, the characters' pain, feelings and so much more. You get lost but this is the magic of it. 

Ida will be faced with life itself, her choices and dreams, her own destiny. Wanda will be faced with her own past and the guilt she carries for years about choosing the regime instead of her family. Redemption will struggle to find its way through those women's lives and love will unfold again in order to transform the painful past. 

Both Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska, the first experienced and the second in her acting debut, synchronize their performances creating a harmonic but intense acting duet. The crudeness expressed with the extraordinary black and white photography helps them achieve what I call symmetrical beauty in the film. They fill each other and their relationship. With the determination of the one and the submission of the other, those two characters evolve, creating something unique. 

This magnetic film talks about the power of choice, the burden of guilt and the darkness of lost secrets. It opens a dialog about desperation, devotion but above all about human connection beyond any kind of religion. Religion is just a shelter, a cover, something to help people define their identities. But people give power to people. And actions fuel people's lives. And we shouldn't forget this. 

Τρίτη, 6 Ιανουαρίου 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Production: New Zealand | USA
Duration: 144 min

I was really doubting if I should sit down and actually spend time writing about this film, but I realized I am almost obliged to write a proper closure about this trilogy. Unfortunately, as you can already imagine, this film was a great disappointment for me and my Tolkien love. But honestly, I didn't expect anything better. It was actually worse. 

We all know how Peter Jackson is famous - or better infamous - about his long, boring shots in his films. He loves stretching generally in his work and he doesn't miss a chance to show it. We have accepted it all these years and when it actually helps the dramatization - like in LOTR - we salute him. But this time it results in excess and exaggeration. 

All those long shots and all this overstretched narration doesn't make sense anymore. All those films are made only to satisfy the fans worldwide? I don't think so. Don't let me start over the off-time bad humor and the many awkward moments. No character development except Thorin's, but still it seems it happened very fast and abruptly. Everything just looks out of tune. The only definite thing is that the purpose of these films is completely lost. 

The Tolkien literature spirit is completely vandalized by the main story element that struggles to keep up the narration in the film, the fruitless and weak love story of Fili and Tauriel. It doesn't make sense and it will never do in people's eyes and especially the hardcore fans like myself. First huge mistake.

You just can't raise up the standards yourself, winning an Oscar of direction for one of the greatest films ever made and then fall from one mistake to the other. You do not make a movie only for the sake of making it, you need to be good at it, you need to put your soul in it. Second mistake. 

And yes we are all tired of the constant show-off of the magnetic special effects. Unfortunately we are sick of all this. It is nice to watch but special effects do not make a movie good. Never. Obviously Jackson acknowledges that and is totally tired of hiding it. This type of negligent behavior. Third and deadly mistake. 

However one of the greatest scenes of this trilogy was in this film. The fighting scene with Galandriel and the Nazgûl along with Saruman and Elrond was breathtaking and reminded us for some minutes the grandiose LOTR trilogy. 

Unfortunately it is very hard for me to accept this film as it it, this trilogy as it was promoted and produced. I don't believe in this kind of cinema anymore and even if I indulge myself to many bad guilty pleasures, this was not even close to one of them. It was boring, unsettling, very long and completely far far away from its initial intentions. The first part definitely carries some of the Tolkien spirit and it is the one I enjoyed the most. 

The Lord of The Rings trilogy will always be in my heart for its consistency, its directorial magnificence, its narration, its complexity and of course its story. The Hobbit trilogy just provokes both sadness and disgust in me and I really hope it will be forgotten soon enough. At least we will always have the LOTR trilogy to look up to.