Great use of a pop culture reference

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Sense & Sensibility

The-Five-Senses-blogathon   Sorry to disappoint if you were thinking about Jane Austen and the film. This is my entry to the Five Sense Blogathon, organized by My Filmviews, Karamel Kinema and MovieInsiders. The idea behind it is quite simple and pretty neat: for each of the five senses (Sight, Sound, Taste, Smell and Touch) you describe the film related association you have with it. This can be a particular movie or even a scene, but also something having to do with the movie going experience. So without further ado, here are my five choices:

Sight 2001SpaceOdyssey One might say that it’s the prominent sense when one experiences a film and since the dawn of motion pictures there’s been countless visually stunning films, but 2001: A Space Odyssey holds a special place. Kubrick’s masterpiece is captivating beyond words.

Sound AFistfulofDollars Western is a classic and beloved genre but Sergio Leone changed the game with A Fistful of Dollars and took it to a very different place. He also changed the sound made by a gun, giving it a unique and unforgettable voice.

Taste BabettesFeast There are several films/scenes with or about food that come to mind but Babette’s Feast is the one that takes hold and will not let go. The long and precise preparation of each dish, the dedication of the cook and the actual feast are memorable.

Smell

Considering this particular sense I have a double entry: a good smell and a bad one. Chocolat The smell of chocolate is powerful and even overwhelming… Have you ever prepared a Sachertorte? If yes, then you can understand. Naturally Chocolat and its several cooking scenes come to mind. LoChiamavanoTrinita On the opposite side of the spectrum but equally overwhelming is the strong odor of an unwashed human body and Lo Chiamavano Trinita’ (They Call Me Trinity) reeks from start to finish.

Touch Manhunter   Well, imagine being blind and touching a sleeping tiger… Thomas Harris had a great idea and Michael Mann translated it to the screen beautifully in Manhunter.

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Sound & Motion Pictures: best James Bond opening credits

Focusing again on great songs/titles combinations, what is more iconic than James Bond’s films? All the songs has been written for the film, usually with the same title, and, especially in the last couple of decades, by famous artists. This is my top five.  Honourable mention for: Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney & The Wings), View To A Kill (Duran Duran) and Thunderball (Tom Jones).

1. Goldeneye – Goldeneye, Tina Turner (1995)

Nothing beats Tina’s voice!

2. Casino Royale – You Know My Name, Chris Cornell (2006)

Speaking of voices, I always had a thing for Chris’ and rock just makes it better.

3. Skyfall – Skyfall, Adele (2012)

Hauntingly beautiful.

4. The World Is Not Enough – The World Is Not Enough, Garbage (1999)

The film was kind of crappy but the intro with Shirley Manson & Co. is great.

5. Tomorrow Never Dies – Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crowe (1997)

Not a big fan of this film either but the song is pretty amazing.

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Wolf Hall (TV mini-series)

wolf-hall

Main Cast: Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Claire FoyJoanne WhalleyBernard HillJessica RaineJonathan PryceAnton Lesser;

One might be tempted to say: do we really need yet another take on Henry VIII and his desperate need for a male heir? Well, yes. Forget bodice ripping and Henry’s cavorting with all the pretty ladies while the peers of the realm fight for his favour, this is more A Man For All Seasons only in reverse. This time around the hero of the piece is Thomas Cromwell (Rylance) and his cautious and shrewd navigation of the dangerous waters of Henry’s (Lewis) court. The story starts with the fall from grace of Cardinal Wolsey (Pryce), the banishment of Catherine (Whalley) from Henry’s side and the rise to power of Anne (Floy), the Boleyns and the Duke of Norfolk (Hill). The villain is embodied by Thomas More (Lesser), unrelenting and quite fanatic in all matters pertaining religion and the Holy Church. Notwithstanding the fact that Cromwell is Wolsey’s protege, he manages to achieve a position of power and to help Henry solving his Great Matter and finally marry Anna. We all know the fate of the second queen, what is interesting is the characters’ study and the political maneuvering. This mini-series is a six-part adaptation of two of Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and it leans more towards the Reform, presenting the Catholic Church and his chief defender and champion, More, in a rather harsh light. It also doesn’t pull punches when it comes to look at family relationships of the rich and powerful with their perpetual scheming and always selfish motives. It’s hard to find a character to root for, even Cromwell comes across mostly as an ambitious man who needs to prove his worth to the world. However he’s not without redeeming qualities and it is exactly these shades of grey that makes the story more captivating. The acting is top-notch, in particular, Mark Rylance gives a very nuanced performance and Lewis brings the right gravitas as Henry. The settings and costumes are a great complement to a slow-burning but engaging tale. Enthralling –8/10

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Two kinds of people series

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Kingsman: the Secret Service

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Director: Matthew Vaughn; Main Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. JacksonMark StrongMichael CaineSofia BoutellaJack Davenport;

Vaughn’s latest effort is a funny, tongue-in-cheek foray into the spy world, in a way, it’s a love letter to the genre and to the 007’s films of yesteryears (I’m looking at you Goldfinger!). In his world the heros are knights in shining armor who happens to be spies and gentlemen. They have mad fighting skills, ingenious (and lethal) gadgets, dapper suits and, above all, good manners. Colin Firth is Harry, a.k.a Galahad, veteran member of a secret, independent agency, and  Taron Egerton is Eggsy, a young man with potentials who is recruited to fight the good fight. The two of them have a mentor-protégé relationship but there’s also the clash of different cultural backgrounds and the professional attitude versus street smarts, that, although pretty cliched, it’s still quite entertaining. While Eggsy is at the secret agent boot camp (more The Recruit than Nikita), that will decide if he is cut out to be a Kingsman, Harry is busy unravelling the mystery behind the death of his friend and colleague Lancelot (Davenport). To spice things up we get Samuel Jackson as Valentine, the villain with a crazy, ambitious plan for world domination and his faithful henchman Gazelle (Boutella): a lady in killer heels…literally! It’s almost as good as teeth capped with steel and a swimming pool full of sharks.  To roundup all the usual suspects there is also Michael Caine as M… oops sorry, he is Arthur in this film (well not only in this one but he’s not a butler here) and Mark Strong as Merlin, who is half way between Q and gunnery sergeant Foley. The viewer gets a lot of action scenes, a few plot twists and some over-the-top violence, that ends up being more hilarious than disturbing, more Guy Ritchie’s style than Sam Peckinpah’s. Talking about violence, there is a scene that rivals the fight of the Bride with the Crazy 88 (Kill Bill Vol.1). Vaughn gives the audience an entertaining and fun ride and the cast, while providing solid performances, is clearly having a blast as well. In addition the combination of the opening credits with Dire Straits is pretty spectacular. Always remember: manners maketh the man. Amusing –7/10

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All-time favorite quote

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The Fall (season 1)

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Main Cast: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, John LynchBronagh WaughNiamh McGrady;

I decided to watch this for two reasons: I like detective stories with a leading lady and I heard that Jamie Dornan was cast in Fifty Shades of Grey because of his role in The Fall. Let me clarify the latter: I haven’t read the books nor I saw the movie but, since I don’t live under a rock, I’ve read reviews and commentaries about both (some pretty hilarious!) and I find telling that an actor who received good reviews for his performance as serial killer is considered an apt choice to embody a billionaire with a predilection for BDSM… well, he’s more a controlling sadist but let’s not open that can of worms. So back to the series in question. The story is pretty straightforward: driven and experienced detective Stella Gibson (Anderson) is looking for a serial killer who targets pretty brunettes with good jobs in Belfast. Gibson is from London and on a different task when she reaches Belfast. Being smart and with years of police work under her belt, she makes a connection between two separate murders that eluded all her local colleagues and sets up a task force to deal with this unstoppable criminal. Anderson is very good at bringing out both the tough and the caring side of Gibson, but keeping her past shrouded  in mystery. The viewer also meets right away said serial killer: Paul Spector (Dornan), grief counselor with a very particular hobby. Unfortunately for Dornan, those puppy dog eyes of his do him a disservice here and prevent him from truly selling the psychotic murderer persona of Paul Spector. He does manage to give off some creepy vibes but there’s nothing in his demeanor really menacing or chilling, which is a pity since the audience spends so much time in Spector’s company. I wasn’t asking a performance at the level of Hopkins’s Hannibal (or Mikkelsen’s) but something more was needed to make Spector a worthy villain and this hunted/be-hunted story more convincing. What I like a lot is the Northern Ireland settings: the scenery, the light and the accents! The supporting cast is solid and helps improve the quality of each episode: Waugh as Sally Ann Spector, Paul’s wife, John Lynch as Jim Burns, the local chief of police with a personal relationship with Gibson, and Niamh McGrady as Danielle Ferrington, a determined policewoman who joins Gibson’s team. In the end I’m left with mixed feelings about this first season, well, only five episodes. There are a few strong points but nothing really revolutionary about the plot or the characters. Ambivalent –5.5/10

 

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This post is part of The Begorrathon 2015 hosted by Niall at The Fluff Is Raging and Cathy at 746 Books, go to their blogs and check all the other contributions out!

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Great use of a pop culture reference

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Sound & Motion Pictures: opening credits

I asked myself: self, what’s the best way to start a new series about great music and films? Well, to begin at the beginning… with amazing combinations of songs and opening credits. This is not meant to be a top ten, just ten of my favorite opening credits (the ones I manage to find on youtube, alas From Dusk Till Dawn title scene with the great sound of Dark Night is not there!). Some films use songs that were already famous, others made the song known to a bigger audience and, in a few cases, the combination is iconic, so much that it has been quoted, spoofed and imitated in later films, TV-shows and commercials.

1. Reservoir Dogs – Little Green Bag, George Baker Selection (1970)

After an opening scene that introduces the main characters and Tarantino’s trademark penchant for verbal incontinence and silly topics, we get this:

2. The Big Chill – Heard It Through the Grapevine, Marvin Gaye (1968)

Main characters introduction while the stirring voice of Marvin Gaye sets the mood:

3. Easy Rider – BornTo Be wild, Steppenwolf (1968)

Ultimate badasses… no more comments needed:

4. RocknRolla – I’m a Man, Black Strobe (2007)

Modern badass with the plus of Mark Strong’s heavily accented voice-over:

5. The Departed – I’m Shipping Up To Boston, Dropkicks Murphys (2005)

Celtic punk and American-Irish underworld… match made in heaven:

6. Watchmen – The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan (1964)

Visually stunning and an amazing prologue:

7. Shrek – All Star, Smash Mouth (1999)

Irreverent and energising:

8. Guardians of the Galaxy – Come and Get Your Love, Redbone (1974)

Lip-synching using an alien-rat as microphone… this will be remembered for a while:

9. Dirty Dancing – Be My Baby, The Ronettes (1963)

Just tidbits of what’s to come: music and dancing!

10. Juno – All I Want Is You, Barry Louis Polisar (1977)

Half fairy tale style, half everyday life, it sets the pace well:

 

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Two kinds of people series

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Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Main Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward NortonEmma StoneNaomi WattsAndrea RiseboroughAmy Ryan;

Art imitates life, or so it seems, in this film but it left me wondering if Inarritu’s last effort is  campy navel-gazing or a honest, tongue-in-cheek look at the entertainment business? I must say I’m not completely sold on the latter. Using a rather ingenious editing move (shooting the whole film in one, continuos take!) and an inspired soundtrack, Inarritu introduces the audience to a collection of different types (or archetypes) of actors and somewhat hefty themes: art and fame, vanity and self-worth. Riggan (Keaton), a once famous actor, has reached stardom interpreting a popular superhero (starts with b…finishes with …man, little on the nose maybe?) but he has fallen into obscurity in more recent years. Eager to revamp his career and be accepted by the high-brow critics, he is directing, producing and acting in a Broadway play he has adapted from Raymond Carver’s story What we talk about when we talk about love. The film follows Riggan in the few days before the premiere, while he struggles with mundane issues as director/producer and with his inner demons embodied by Birdman himself, who follows him around and talks like he has been gargling marbles. His internal conflict is sometimes fueled, sometimes abated by the people surrounding him: his manager and friend Jake (Galifianakis, casted against type and a pleasant surprise!), his recovering addict daughter Sam (Stone), his girlfriend and actress Laura (Riseborough), his leading lady Lesley (Watts), his ex-wife Sylvia (Ryan) and, last but not least, Mike (Norton), renown stage actor who lives only for the craft. There is an interesting mix of comic and dramatic moments in the story, with the right touch of surreal that reminds me a little of Michel Gondry‘s style. Riggan wants desperately to prove that he is a real artist, well versed in the craft, and not a washed up movie star, he wants to leave something behind that’s worthy and, most of all, he wants to matter. In the end this film is about very human feelings we can all relate to and understand. Keaton gives a great performance, one that can propel him back to stardom, so life mimics art after art has imitated life…ok, I have a headache now…Anyway the supporting cast, in particular Norton, is pretty amazing as well and improve the already good quality of the film. Innovative and thought-provoking –7/10

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Favorite quote of the moment

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Great use of a pop culture reference

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Oldies but goldies: The Molly Maguires (1970)

The-Molly-Maguires

Director: Martin Ritt; Main Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha EggarFrank Finlay;

Martin Ritt takes us back to 1876 and the harsh life of Irish immigrants in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He focuses on the social drama of the early struggles between workers and company owners and, in particular, on the rather violent methods adopted by both sides. Written and co-produced by Walter Bernstein, this film is based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis. We follow the actions of Jack Kehoe (Connery) and James McParland (Harris): the former a hardened worker and leader of the titular secret society, the latter an undercover detective of the Pinkerton agency, employed by the local police to infiltrate and unmask the Mollies. In a stunning opening scene of almost fifteen minutes, without any dialogue, we are made acquainted with the grueling work of the miners and the trenchant approach of the Mollies to battling exploitation. I must add that the score by Henry Mancini is not only very effective in the opening scene but a nice complement to the whole film. We meet then James McKenna (McParland’s undercover identity), new in town and looking for a job in the mine, of course his first stop is at the pub for a pint and a brawl (there will be more of both down the line), the Irish way to present oneself as a potential friend? Well, it works… sort of… slowly but surely James gets closer to Jack and in the inner circle of the Mollies. At times, the viewer might doubt where his loyalty really lies (kudos to Harris for playing very well the ambiguity) since James and Jack are both  working class immigrants from Ireland with essentially the same aspiration: advancement in this new society. In the end, however, the law will prevail but it is a sour victory, James is left with the weight of his betrayal, although he tries his best to shake it off and justify it as a mean to an end. It was promoted more as a Connery’s film since he was fresh from his stint as 007 but, to me, this is a Harris’ film, he has the lion share of the story and the acting chops to carry it. The supporting cast is solid and Ritt has some inspired directing choices. To add more Irish flavour to the tale there aren’t only pints and bar brawls but a heated rugby match and a few traditional songs in the score (played with period instruments), so it makes for a perfect St. Patrick’s day film if you are not looking for light entertainment. Satisfying –7.5/10

This is my contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o’thon hosted by Diana & Connie at Silver Scenes, you can read all the other entries here:

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Two kinds of people series

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Extraordinary Tales

ExtraordinaryTales

Director: Raul Garcia; Main Cast: Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher LeeJulian Sands;

Raul Garcia brilliantly assembles a collection of five animated stories adapted from Edgar Allan Poe. Each segment has its unique style of animation, colours and narrator with very different yet impressive results. The stories in question are: the Fall of House Usher, the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, the Tell-tale Heart, the Pit and the Pendulum and the Masque of the Red Death. The grim and foreboding atmosphere that permeates each tale, and it’s so characteristic of Poe’s dark universe, is translated very effectively to the screen with the help of an apt music score and a perfect voice cast. As a curiosity: Garcia went to great lengths to recover old Bela Lugosi’s recording in order to have him “narrate” one of the segment. I particularly appreciated the nice touch of the interludes with the dead writer, represented by a crow, conversing with Death while hopping among the statues and the tombstones of a cemetery. This omnibus is quite an accomplishment just by an animation point of view: its mixture of 2D and 3D techniques, diverse textures and rendering methods suit well the mood and tone of the tales. In addition, the source material is excellent and Poe’s fans can definitely enjoy this new approach. Riveting –9/10

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Whiplash

whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle; Main Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. SimmonsPaul ReiserMelissa Benoist;

Andrew Neimann (Teller) is a young musician, attending a prestigious music school and dreaming of nothing else but to become a great jazz drummer. As he strives for perfection, he meets Terence Fletcher (Simmons), revered teacher and leader of the best band in the school. It seems an encounter without consequences but it changes Andrew’s life, when it’s clear that Fletcher wants him in his band. It begins then a battle of wills, Fletcher always pushes his musicians beyond their limits but he takes a particular interested in Andrew and, at times, it seems that perfectionism becomes sadism. Andrew, on his part, is so absorbed by his quest for greatness that he’s ready to accept the abuses, disregarding his father’s (Reiser) concerns and discarding a budding relationship with Nicole (Benoist), a sweet girl from another college. The plot is very simple but both Simmons and Teller really sell this story of a match made in dysfunctional heaven, of driving someone to the edge: being another person or oneself. The “no pain, no gain” mantra that is the leitmotif of so many films about artists or athletes, reaches a whole new level here, turning what I always regarded as a fun, harmless thing, a drum set, into an instrument of torture both psychological and physical. I bet Darren Aronofsky, the master of cinematic obsessive behaviour, would approve and Sigmund Freud would have a field day. After yet another extreme event (showing up cover in blood and with a probable concussion to a concert) Andrew is forced by his father (who finally decided to intervene) to take a step back from music and leave school. However, he goes out with a bang denouncing Fletcher’s mistreatments and having him sacked. This would be the celebration of a sound approach to life and an uplifting ending, barring joining a rock band and having tons of fun while on world tour. Alas, this is not that kind of tale: there is a comeback and a final show down and the audience is left wondering if anyone really won or it is just a beginning of a new chapter of an enabler and his favorite addict. Chazelle has put together an interesting movie, thanks to amazing performances and refreshing directing choices; in addition jazz makes a great soundtrack. Captivating –7.5/10

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Best threat by a villain

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Great use of a pop culture reference

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