2014-09-12

August : Osage County

August : Osage County (John Wells, 2013)

A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

Without much introduction this try-out to reach many Oscars nominations at the 2014 Ceremony, the movie earned a leading nomination for Meryl Streep and a supporting one for Julia Roberts, reminded me of a sad recognition of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. The later film, a masterpiece, would forever shadow August : Osage County except for the strong performances from its actresses and actors. With Juliette Lewis, Juliana Nicholson, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Dermott Mulroney, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Misty Upham, and Margo Martindale at least we have performances from those A-list actors that deserves the mention of a nice ensemble cast. Too bad, the story isn’t that much well told and the film suffers from the lack of empathy we can feel for any character in this tragic story.

Apart from the sheer confrontation of the many characters between each other and their abusive relationships, this family film is far from the feelgood movie genre. I don’t, however, want a film to be happy or hopeful, but I want a little humanity in the characters I invest time in. In fact, the dysfunctional family pictured reminded me of my own family on my mother’s side. Still, a family that dysfunctional as the Weston is only fictional because this kind of confrontation, abusive, and unhappy family would have been completely apart and they would not have had such a long history. People get sick of situations such as those and children don’t suffer long at the time they come to adulthood and just left those behind.

Well, after all the drama is done and all the damage we are left with a sour taste of a sad family that you never want to revisit again especially if they are your in laws. It demonstrates how the film is okay to watch for the aforementioned performances, but other than that, it is not something you want to own and showcase on the altar of your collection of movies.
Too bad because as the original play was highly acclaimed, the feature film never meet expectations and fell a bit offshore. Worth a look but nothing to write to your mother about.

2014-09-10

The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

The adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Inspired by the writings of Austrian-Hungarian author Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel wants so much to be a sophisticated comedy with bits of romantic distinguished characters reminding of the best films of Max Ophüls and Ernst Lubitsch. Knowing that The Earrings of Madame de… is Anderson’s favorite Criterion Collection film, this is no surprise that he would make a film that is inspired by the German master.

However, with all the will and wit that Anderson is known for, his stylistic extravagances and quirky filmmaking style isn’t enough here to make it happen. Monsieur Gustave is not really engaging and Zero is funny but still hard to get. Added to the stylistic signature, the outstanding cast of F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Mathieu Almaric, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, and Owen Wilson are just a few of the names and many regulars of Anderson’s films.

All those elements couldn’t save the film from being a big mess of a story that goes everywhere and anywhere just for the sake of creating an interesting imagery and using old school visual effects. The hotel looks like a huge cake and despite the saturated look of everything, the adventure does seem forced and characters were probably written for actors that accepted to be in a Wes Anderson picture despite the real use in the story. It is sad that Anderson’s film fells flat because of that. He is a master at writing great ensemble cast stories.

Admitting that I am a big fan of Wes Anderson but not a fan of his latest might demonstrate how even if I vow almost a cult to the director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, and Moonrise Kingdom I honestly couldn’t relate or enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel as much as I wished I would. Even if it has its moments, it was not enough to save it from being nonchalent, nostalgic in a pointless matter, and a lesser film compared to his overall work. I always let some strikes pass when I really like a director and that he can make films the way he envisions them. Just like Stanley Kubrick who had a vision that was unique and always right. It fells into the average category and lacks of flavor even if any Anderson picture it has lots of sugar.


2014-09-08

Happy Together



 
Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)

Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a couple from pre-handover Hong Kong, visit Argentina hoping to renew their ailing relationship. The two have a pattern of abuse, followed by breakups and reconciliations. One of their goals in Argentina is to visit the Iguazu waterfalls, which serves as a leitmotif in the movie.

Highly stylized romance drama about the difficult last moments of a relationship between two Hong-Kong men living in Argentina, Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together is a visually beautiful film that leaves impressions more than leaving a clear reflexion on the story that is told in those experimental images.

With impressive shots of black and white and other superb color images, Happy Together feels more or less incomplete in a way that it is almost frustrating that such a beauty needs a couple of final brushes. As much as I think that My Blueberry Nights was too harshly reviewed when it came out, Happy Together did not made a consensus either with critics and fans.

When one reads further on the details of the making of this film, we learn that actors and the director didn’t knew which direction they would get to and the story was being written as they shoot the picture. Wong’s been questioning himself for all scenes and how they would go. This drafty angle of the making of confirms that the film never really materializes in front of our eyes since its director never had a vision of it. This is much like shooting bits here and there but without a tangible purpose. Sometimes great things can happen from this but with Happy Together it doesn’t deliver like we would hope.

It’s not everyday that we can gaze at a Wong Kar-wai film and even if it’s a real visual delight, this is another example of the auteur’s taste for style and form for his film more than substance and something toothier.
In his review,
Jonathan Rosenbaum described this better than I could ever formulate it : Like its characters, Happy Together is less a film with a subject than a film about not being able to find one. At best it’s a movie about being at loose ends, though it seems to mean something more for some Chinese viewers.

What consoles me, is that I still haven’t watched Ashes of Time, The Chungking Express, Fallen Idols, and Days of Being Wild and I hope they live up to my expectations.

2014-09-05

Powell Peralta’s Caballero Chinese Dragon

This feature is about the most innovative, subversive, original, and artsy graphics in skateboarding. Highlighting new and current decks on the market but also going back in the great catalog that many legendary skaters and companies have put out since the underground debuts of this highly marginalized sport.



Powell Peralta’s Caballero Chinese Dragon

With the reunion of George Powell and Stacy Peralta, reforming as Powell Classics and Re-Issueing decks of the Bones Brigade era, old-school skateboard buffs have been flooded with every deck possible in every thinkable color.
Choosing one was not that hard since my favorite rider of this team was with no doubt Steve Caballero. A pioneer of so many vertical tricks and an inspiration for pool skating. As a warm up I often watch videos of Caballero in the pool just to get me pumped enough.

Sadly, I never owned a Cab deck and despite the cool Chinese dragon graphics I’m not that much of a fan of decks with no concave. This choice is only based on the graphic that is still considered as legendary and that inspire respect amongst skaters. What is more corny than a dragon on anything? With the name Caballero it changes everything and impose a legacy of old-school grandeur.

This is a reissue of the classic deck in a dark green that could only match huge round wheels.

2014-09-03

Rain Man


Rain Man (Barry Levinson, 1988)

Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's (Tom Cruise) father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.

This popular success film that won many Academy Awards is an iconic piece of film that delivers a nice entertainment that sealed Dustin Hoffman as one of the most respected Hollywood actors but also that proved to many of Tom Cruise’s detractors that he could act in a more serious film.

Much like other Academy Awards winner for Best Actor, like Forrest Gump for instance, Rain Man is about an actor portraying mental illness and making us believe in it. With a plot full of wit, sometimes comedy, and heart warming moments we are in the presence of the kind of family movie you can watch and feel no harm. It brought a little more light on autistic people and their challenges.
It makes us face how capitalism represented by Cruise’s character often forget how it is important to give more money on social programs for the less fortunate and those who can’t live by themselves. This is a nice moral lesson.

However, I have some struggles ranking Rain Man as one of the greatest films of all time. Yes this is a very good script and it deserves recognition. There’s also all those iconic moments parodied in The Simpsons and remembered in The Hangover by the character of Alan.

On a more personal note, I tend to like films of the 1980’s with their more conformism form and less control to the directors since the crash of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate saga. I don’t like the fact that directors had less power over their films. In fact, I hate this. But there’s something to the films of the 1980’s that reflects the time of my childhood and how America tried to connect to better times. In fact, connecting to the baby-boomers’ childhood of the 1950’s. Just look at Back to the Future and its mega success with the story of a teen that goes back to the time his parents met.

With Rain Man, we are dead on this, they go in Las Vegas, a place that had its best moments in the 1950’s with the Rat Pack and the presence of Elvis, Sinatra, and all those classy American acts. In fact, Rain Man had a very good screenplay and it is one of the reasons why it worked so well with audiences in 1988 and still works well today.

2014-09-01

L’Avventura


L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

A woman disappears during a Mediterranean boating trip. But during the search, her lover and her best friend become attracted to each other.
Infamously known as one of the masterpieces of the seventh art to have been booed at its first showing at Cannes in 1960. Michelangelo Antonioni’s existential film about the isolation of souls, L’Avventura isn’t one of the most appreciated films of all time. Despite having some elements of mystery and adventure, the simple plot of a woman (Lea Massari) who disappears during a cruise of friends on an Island of Italy and he search of her best friend (Monica Vitti) and her boyfriend (Gabriele Ferzetti) who inevitably fall for each other in the way might even sound a little cliché.

Having myself written a screenplay based on this story, I cannot hide my admiration towards the contemplative elements of Antonioni’s visual storytelling. Of the few Antonioni pictures I have seen, L’Avventura and Blow Up are my favorites. Both films are about mysteries and their central characters are pursuing something that is almost never on the screen. It is the superb cinematography of Antonioni’s spleen story that will let an indelible mark into the cinephiles’ minds.
The simplicity of the story and the apparent simplicity of the mise en scène, that is in fact everything but simple, demonstrate how talented and visionary Antonioni’s contemplative masterpiece can be. In some point, as I was asked to participate to a weekly feature on the now defunct website The Cinematheque, I ranked L’Avventura as the greatest road movie along with Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. The adventure that represents Antonioni’s film blends with the spirit of the road movie genre. An introspective journey not only on the road but into the characters’ selves. Few movies have demonstrated that the chase is better than the catch and with L’Avventura we are there and the payoff is not the final moments of the film. But I think that this ending is pure genius.
Or I should say that the journey is the road not the destination. It reveals something in the face of viewers and I believe that it is a film that stinks with you for a long time. You have to actually experience it to completely sense the depth and importance of this unique movie.


The Antonioni regular, Monica Vitti has this mysterious presence on film. Full of beauty and sexual magnetism it is no surprise that she was in a relationship with the director until the 1960’s. Antonioni shoots Vitti with the eye of a lover and knows how to unveil her strong sides as her frailty.
It is very high brow and not that accessible for the average movie goer but I don’t think you have to be a film critic to actually enjoy the cinematic grandeur that Michelangelo Antonioni has accomplished. As a final note, I would recommend watching Blow Up before getting to L’Avventura but only just to get the kind of vibe that the Italian director carries.


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