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. 

Deux jours, une nuit (2014)

Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée
Production: Belgium | France | Italy
Duration: 95min

It is Friday noon. Sandra discovers that she has been "released" by her duties in her work. Unless she manages to convince her fellow colleagues to give up their annual bonuses, at the end of the weekend she will be dismissed. She has "two days and one night" exactly in order to go on this unusual quest. The results can be destructive or constructive. 

But Sandra is not feeling so good. She has been absent from work a couple of days due to "sickness". All this proves to be extremely hard for her. This cruel dilemma that was put upon all workers is causing her extreme stress. To who wouldn't either way? Standing at people's doors and asking for a chance to keep her job feels like begging to her eyes. With the help of her beloved husband she finds slowly the necessary courage to pursue what she deserves.

The Belgian Dardenne brothers, known for their usual Cannes presence, having won two times the Palme d'Or (Rosetta - 1999, L'enfant - 2005) and being nominated a couple of times for it - the same for the Grand Prize of the Jury - , including this year for Deux jours, une nuit (2014), they have shown a consistent line of work that is acclaimed but mostly impressive. 

Their cinema is raw and intense. It always focuses on realism and the socially underprivileged. It is not happy or shiny, it is how life is below the surface, where financial struggles and social absence are everyday obstacles. You never see something overdone or over-shown in their films. No extra sentimentalities, no extra drama. You only see how life really is with its passions and defeats.  

This nerve-wracking dilemma being put by the boss causes different reactions to people. Some understand, some doubt, others react. It is understandable. What would you do if you were in their position? Would you give up a bonus that would help you pay some extra expenses, would you sacrifice someone's life for that? Maybe there is no need to do that. Maybe you have already decided. 

Here, we become witnesses of a society and its broken ethics. Many of those people are also not so privileged, others need the money to get through the year, others to extend their houses. Sandra is kind and submissive. She understands and doesn't put up a fight. Even asking for their vote is already overwhelming for her. But this action, knocking on 10 different people's doors, reveals a full profile of the average modern European. Solidarity is tending to disappear or was it ever there (?) and today's ethics have been shuttered under the enormous burden of the social and financial crisis. 

Sandra might be psychologically weak, but she demonstrates a huge capacity of perseverance, even if she needs to be pushed. She takes small steps towards the accomplishment of her difficult task and understands gradually the importance of defeat. There is the necessity to win this fight, but ultimately it means only one thing; it doesn't matter if you lose or win, you have at least tried. And it seems that Sandra has already given up before this journey even begun. Now she is learning the importance of getting through it. And Marion Cotillard keeps proving her vast acting talent. Her vulnerability and strength at the same time are imposing. 

Through the unstable movements of the camera, Sandra's unstable state is intensified. However there is no character development. We never learn what happened to cause her anxiety and depression. But this is not important. The Dardenne brothers don't care for that. They care about the decadence of today's world, this moral decay and absence of personal principles we experience today. No judging or blaming, this is left to you to do.