George Clooney as a director has an uneven record, it’s kind of one hit and one miss. This film is, unfortunately, a miss, stellar cast notwithstanding. It is a story set during the last true “good” war: between the ever righteous Americans (with some help from those nice English chaps) and the evil Nazis! It is about a group of men who are not soldiers but art experts (being museum curators, art historians, architects or artists) and whose mission is to rescue artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from museums and churches around Europe and return them to their rightful owners. Strong of a mandate from FDR himself, Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together a band of unlikely heros to rob three casinos in Las Vegas…oops no, sorry, that was another movie! They arrive in France, not long after D-Day and, with barely any training as soldiers, venture to the front and split in groups trying to reach precious artifacts before the Germans have time to smuggle them away. Naturally, they are too late! Nazis are not only evil but real devils when it comes to organisation and logistics. From this point on, it is a giant treasure hunt through Europe and a race against time, since the prime directive from the Fuhrer is to destroy everything if the Reich falls (and the Germans aren’t doing so well by the end of 1944). Instrumental in helping the Monument Men is Claire Simone (Blanchett), curator of the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, who kept a detailed record of all the works of art that came to the museum and that were later moved to secret locations by the Germans. She is the most interesting character of the film because she is the only one the audience has the chance to know a little better, the others are just one-dimensional cardboard silhouettes, devoid of any character development, which is a great flaw in a movie that is supposed to be about these happy few men who chose to risk their lives for what they believed in. Yes, yes, the message is very uplifting (prevent the destruction of centuries of culture and history and save what really makes us human) but the delivery is rather clumsy. There are a few funny one-liners, some banter and witticism in a “brotherhood of men” kind of way, but it all feels flat and without pathos. It is not enough to cast Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Matt Damon, if the script is uneven, lacking a clear direction and credibility (none of these men of culture is fluent in a foreign language or two, really?!? Damon’s character pitiful attempt at speaking French doesn’t count!). It is a pity because this movie could have been quite something considering the cast. Unsatisfying and ineffective –5/10
Apologies for the misleading title but this post is not about Spacey’s movie. RobbinsRealm, a fellow blogger and film/TV buff, reads my reviews and, apparently, likes them well enough to nominate me for The Liebster Award. What can I say? Many, many thanks for your consideration! Much obliged. I strongly suggest my (few) readers to go and check out his blog, you can find interesting and thought-provoking posts.
For those of you who don’t know what a Liebster Award is (like I didn’t, before a quick google search), it is basically a shout-out to bloggers you like with a small following. The origin seems to be a German blog (liebster means dearest in German) in 2010 (the things you learn on google!). The real gist of the Liebster Award is that there is no real award. There are neither judges, nor official website with a team of experts to congratulate you and shake your hand. It’s mostly what you want it to be. If you receive the award, you can A) accept it and B) pass it along i.e. it’s a Pay It Forward for bloggers.
The recipient must abide the following rules:
1. Post the award on your site.
2. The blogger who has been nominated must link back to the person who nominated them.
3. The nominee must answer the eleven questions given to them by the person who nominated them.
4. The person who has been nominated must choose eleven bloggers who have less than 200 followers to answer a set of questions.
5. When you are nominated, the only blogger you can’t nominate is the blogger who nominated you for the award.
These are my answers to the questions asked by RobbinsRealm:
1. Favorite vacation spot?
La Maddalena archipelago (Sardinia, Italy)
2. Favorite color?
3. Favorite dessert?
4. Favorite black and white movie?
5. Favorite superhero?
The Incredibles (the whole family is just great!)
6. Favorite television show?
It’s a tie: The Wire and Cowboy Bebop.
7. Favorite book?
This is the most difficult one… I would say Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, but there are a few other contenders to the title.
8. Favorite Beatles song?
9. Favorite dog breed?
10. Favorite beverage?
11. Favorite nerdy franchise?
Star Wars (duh!)
These are my nominees to the Liebster Award:
- Scrivere al bar
- Girls Do Film
- Mike’s Take On The Movies
- The Movie Evangelist
- Cinematic Underdogs & Overcats
- The Guilty Words
- The Robot Who Likes Pretty Things
- Whitman’s Barbaric Yawp…
- The Pop Culture Pulse
- Noodle Maps
A note for the nominees: it’s alright if you don’t feel like blogging about this award or answering all those questions, you get a honorary mention!
“A James Stewart picture must have two vital ingredients: it will be clean and it will involve the triumph of the underdog over the bully” is what the man himself once said and it is a very apt description of this classic film directed by John Ford. Although, canonically, this feature has always been considered a western, it doesn’t have any of its typical trademarks: no shots of the landscape, lack of horse rides, lack of proper gunfights and not a real bar scene. The movie opens with one lead as an old man, even if arrived and very well-respected, and the other one dead, just a pinewood box, also quite atypical. It has more of a post-western vibe: a bleak, claustrophobic black and white tale, with so many enclosed sets and no open range scenery. Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is a State senator who comes back, with his wife Hallie (Miles), to Shinbone for the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The newspaper men have never heard of him, so why would such a powerful political figure visit the town to attend this funeral of a “nobody”? Through a flashback, Stoddard tells them the tale of how he came to town and met Tom. It is the story of a young lawyer full of hope in the progress of the nation and its laws, who goes west to be part of this civilization’s process, reminding me a quote from Dances With Wolves: “You wish to see the frontier? Yes sir, before it’s gone”. Unfortunately he has to face the hard truth: there the law of the gun is the only one truly respected. This lesson is taught right away by Liberty Valance (Marvin), ruthless gunslinger, who robs the stagecoach and beats him to a pulp for trying to defend a woman. Ransom is rescued by Tom and then he finds help and shelter at the Ericsons’ restaurant, where he meets Hallie. Not having a penny to his name but being a resourceful man, Ransom works in the kitchen of the restaurant to pay for bed and board and later starts also working for the local newspaper and teaching children and adults alike to read and write. Ransom is very vocal about upholding the law and fighting the local ruffians by arresting them and not settling matters with a gun but the town’s marshal is not a coeur-de-lion and Tom has a different opinion. In the midst of all this there is also a political issue: the territory is vying for statehood and Ransom ends up as town’s representative, instead of Valance. The latter keeps terrorising the community, he destroys the local newspaper office and brutally attacks the editor (O’Brien). Ransom calls him out, though the conclusion is not quite as straightforward as legend would have it. One very interesting thing about this film is Ford’s approach to violence. The most gruesome acts are never shown directly, the camera is pointed to the perpetrator and the audience sees only the result afterwards. It is a deliberate choice and an effective one, which increases the senselessness of it all. Everything considered, the movie is well acted (special kudos to Marvin and O’Brien), skillfully written and provides a complex and multi-layered analysis of legends and facts: is living a lie as a successful man better or worse than quietly dying as a hero? “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. It is noteworthy to consider that for most of the film Ransom is a man in his late twenties/early thirties while Stewart at the time was in his mid-fifties (and Wayne as well), not exactly a spring chicken, but still he is quite believable in his role. Remarkable and riveting –8.5/10
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This is the story of Gustave H. (Fiennes), renown and beloved concierge at the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel between the two wars, and Zero (Revolori), who starts as a lobby boy and then become his protégé and most trusted friend. As is Wes Anderson’s wont a voice-over narration begins the tale, in this movie he chooses to built it as story within a story, using an old writer (Wilkinson) who remembers meeting an aging Zero (Abraham) when he was still young (Law). Old Zero will recall his youth and tell his story to the writer. Gustave takes Zero under his wing from the very beginning and start schooling him in the delicate art of running a luxury hotel flawlessly, while he takes care of every need of the guests: Gustave is a full monty concierge, especially with the ladies. This might be considered the root cause of the adventures and mishaps that follows, with a touch of Buster Keaton’s humor. The death of Madame D. (Swinton), a longtime guest at the hotel and dearly attached to Gustave, sets in motion a battle for her very large estate and the possession of a priceless Renaissance painting (bequeathed to Gustave and stolen by him right after the reading of the will, in a genius move). Dmitri (Brody), Madame D’s son, will not stop at nothing to get it all, including murder by proxis, since his faithful henchman Jopling (Dafoe) will do all the dirty work. He manages to frame Gustave for Madame D.’s murder and send him to prison, allowing the audience to be delighted by a cameo by Harvey Keitel, as fellow conscript and means to Gustave’s escape. Zero and his resourceful girlfriend Agatha (Ronan), the pastry apprentice, are essential in helping Gustave to evade, to clear his name and collect what is due to him, but the secret society of the concierges of European luxury hotels will play a key role as well (and we get a Bill Murray’s cameo). By the end, the viewer will finally be able to piece together all the different parts of the story, it does feel like a bittersweet ending after such a roller-coaster of adventures, but it is always the case when one has to part ways with such great characters. We get all the trademarks of Anderson’s style: static camera, artful use of colours and photography, quirky characters and subtle humor. It is one of his best films to date, also helped by an amazing cast: Fiennes above all. Hilarious, amusing and inspired –9/10
“1997 Escape From New York” meets “48 Hours” with a hint of “Transporter” (no surprise there, since Luc Besson is one of the writers), it sounds good on paper, I know, but all that glitters is not gold as it’s the case with this film. First we meet Leito (Belle), who lives in the titular banlieue, a degraded neighbourhood with run-down high rises at the outskirts of Paris. He’s a tough guy but he tries to protect the honest people of his district from the rampaging thugs and gangsters led by Taha (Naceri). Then the viewer makes the acquaintance of Damien (Raffaelli), Cpt. Tomaso of the Parisian police, who is tough but fair, works alone and is always respectful of the law. Both guys have Jet Li fighting skills and are champions of urban acrobatics, which makes the action scenes frenetic and impressive. Naturally they will pair up, not liking each other at the beginning, to save the day or, more precisely, Paris from Taha’s evil plan. In this testosterone fest we also get Lola (Verissimo-Petit), Leito’s sister, and almost as badass as him. She ends up, of course, being a prisoner and leverage but also instrumental in the final showdown (girl power!). First independently and later together, Damien and Leito will fight their way up the rungs of the thugs’ hierarchy to get to the bad guy and stop him, in a overly used and very predictable plot. The film is overdone and take itself too seriously, which is a little uncharacteristic for Besson. The complete lack of humor dooms it and makes it a boring flick, adrenaline-fueled scenes notwithstanding. Tedious –4/10
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A story of brotherly love and loss in a small town of America’s Rust Belt. Russell Baze (Bale) works a dead-end job at the local steel mill, takes care of his very sick father with his uncle’s (Shepard) help and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) has been stop-lost and will soon go back to Iraq. Being a decent, hardworking man and wanting to built a life with his girlfriend (Saldana) is not something that is usually rewarded in life and Russell’s fate is only about to get worse. He ends up in prison for drinking and driving, after being involved in a car crash in which people lost their lives. When Russell has finally paid his debt to society, a few years have gone by and his world has changed: his father is dead, his girl has moved on and shacked up with Wesley Barnes (Whitaker), the chief of Braddock’s police, and his brother is broken, lost and in deep with the wrong crowd, after coming back from his tour in Iraq. Since the audience has met early on both the town’s small-time crook Petty (Dafoe) and the ruthless, all-round criminal DeGroat (Harrelson) from up north (Bergen, NJ), it is very clear that things will end bad, at this point it is just a matter of seeing how grim the story will turn out. Rodney is using his fighting skills as bare-knuckled boxer in illegal matches, trying to earn money to pay back a debt he has with Petty and have something left. Once he goes up in the Ramapough Mountains to fight in a match organised by DeGroat, he will never come back. This sends Russell over the edge and on a path of revenge but as Confucius said: “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”, which is quite an apt description of the ending. The slow burning pace of the movie, along with the rural and desolate settings, increase very effectively the foreboding mood of the story and a good characterisation keeps the viewer engaged. Although all the cast is excellent, I’d say that this is a Bale and Harrelson film, the latter in excellent form as the villain of the piece. Relentless –7/10
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Mattie Ross (Darby) is determined to find her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (Corey), and see that justice is served. Being a resourceful, determined girl, she hires Rooster Cogburn (Wayne), a U.S marshal, who has true grit and a reputation for getting the job done. This unlikely pair is joined by Texas ranger La Boeuf (Campbell), who is chasing the same man for murdering a Texan senator. They start out from Fort Smith, Arkansas, and venture deep into the Indian Territory, where most outlaws seek refuge. A chance encounter with two of Ned Pepper’s (Duvall) men, a notorious bandit, put them on the right track. On a side note, it is interesting to see Denis Hopper in a small supporting role the same year in which Easy Rider was released, another proof of his versatility. The odd trio lie in wait to ambush Ned’s gang, hoping to catch Chaney as well, but luck is not on their side. Rooster’s knowledge of Ned and of the lay of the land will eventually lead them to their quarry but justice will come at a high price. There is a good on-screen chemistry between Darby and Wayne that sells quite well the story, notwithstanding the incredibly wooden performance of Campbell. The portrayal of Rooster is often celebrated as one of the best among Wayne’s roles and rightly so. He manages to complete disappear in his character and bring an artful mix of grumpiness, gumption and good-heartedness. Already in his sixties and rather portly, Wayne channels strength and make this drunken, beaten man believable as a hardened marshal, even if he looks a bit stiff climbing up or down his horse. I must confess that watching American western films from the 50s and 60s always leaves me baffled by the excess of cleanness and neatness of the people and their clothes, I have seen too many spaghetti western and post-western movies not to find it a little weird. I couldn’t help but notice Mattie’s perfectly manicured hands, her nylon stockings or the fact that no one is ever sweaty, scruffy or, god forbid, cover with dust! Anyway it is still a very enjoyable film. Entertaining –7/10
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This post is part of the Diamonds & Gold blogathon hosted by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World, so please have a look at reviews of other great films with memorable performances of actors and actresses into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond:
This film is an American remake of a Swedish movie (Let The Right One In, which, in turn, is based on a Swedish novel) and it is an edulcorated version, although still belonging to the horror genre. The director/screenwriter used the core, one might say, classical horror elements of the story but left out the true creepy ones that makes it far more macabre. The premise is very simple: Owen (Smit-McPhee), a lonely, neglected 12-year-old, befriends Abby (Moretz), a girl who lives next door, and his life gets better. Oh, yes… nothing is more uplifting than young love, except…well, the girl shows up only at night, doesn’t feel cold (walking bare foot in the snow it’s naught to her) and has a predilection for human blood, possibly fresh from the vein. As usual the audience finds out sooner than Owen about Abby’s true nature, through gruesome serial-killer type attacks carried on by her “father” (Jenkins) and by witnessing Abby’s smooth hunting technique (but rather messy eating manners). Matters will spin out of control, carnage will ensue and the body count will increase (no kidding!). What will survive is the sweet bond between the children… aww, so sweet. Chloe Grace Moretz can channel innocence and vulnerability well enough but I agree with Craig (Craig’s Movie Report ) about her being miscast, she is neither eerie nor scary enough for a horror. I found Kodi Smit-McPhee far more creepier (as children in horror movies should be, remember The Shining? that’s the idea), and he was supposed to be the “good guy”. Anyway the dark, cold atmosphere and the slow but ominous pace of the story still make this film sinister enough that you’ll want to avert your eyes or hug a pillow, which, in my book, qualifies as a job well done for a horror flick. Spooky –6.5/10
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This beautifully shot drama made in 1963 is a perfect example of kitchen sink realism i.e. the British New Wave. Set in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Frank Machin (Harris), a bitter young man who works in a coal mine but dreams of better things. Anderson uses a flashback-narrative for the first half of the film, with a bold cutting style, mixing Frank’s past and present in an effective and haunting way. The viewer learns how he succeeds at a try-out for the Wakefield rugby team, making quite an impression with his ruthless and aggressive style of playing, so much that the owner, Gerald Weaver (Bendel) signs him up in the top team as loose forward. It is also clear that, unlike his sporting life, Frank’s personal life is not so great, he is clearly in love with his recently widowed landlady, Mrs. Margaret Hammond (Roberts), but she treats him rather coldly and doesn’t think much of him. This attitude is an additional spur that pushes Frank to improve his social status and to obtain the things he wants. Unfortunately for him, life is far more complicated than rugby, although the director appears to suggest a parallel between mining and playing: both are harsh, dirty and consuming. While things seem improving with Margaret, Frank starts to have problems with the team’s management, in particular Mr. Weaver, they do not appreciate his cocky attitude and his recklessness on the field. This happens, purely coincidentally (yeah sure!), right after Frank refuses Mrs. Weaver’s (Godsell) advances, who is not only a predatory woman but also a vindictive one. Naturally nothing will end well, Frank will be left only with his sporting life (which, of course, won’t last very long), vulnerable to the ravages of time and injury. Harris portraits Frank with the right mix of angst, vulnerability, smugness and violence, he gives us a touching and convincing performance that really makes the film. All the scenes between Frank and Margaret are tense, charged with what is not said or done, making this story of amour fou real and believable, the terrible fate of wanting something unattainable. Impressive and gut-wrenching –8/10
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Sergio is a taxi driver in a, surprisingly, gloomy and rainy Naples (it seems Milan in November, if it wasn’t for the huge piles of trash laying around). He is mourning his brother Alfredo, who has recently died after spending the last ten years as a buddhist monk. As more often than not, grief brings along anger and self-introspection and the viewer goes on this journey, both psychological and physical (since a lot of the film take place on a taxi), with Sergio. Intertwined with his story are the snippets of his fares’ lives, that are instrumental in enriching the tale and in helping Sergio understand better his feelings. In the background the audience catches glimpses of Naples and its inhabitants, nice snapshots of ordinary Italian lives: resigned, fatalistic and vexed. The viewer finds out more about the two brothers and their relationship through flashbacks: how they used to be a jazz duo but never too successful, how Alfredo left for Tibet to become a monk and how, as a consequence, Sergio quit playing and got the taxi license (and the taxi) from their uncle Luciano (a rather colourful guy whom the audience get to meet). Fundamental to Sergio’s trip down memory lane is Antonia, who gets on his taxi very upset and in tears and without a destination in mind. They will tour Naples for a while, going to places that have a particular meaning in Sergio’s life, and also getting to know each other a little more. At the end of the film and of his cathartic, inner voyage, Sergio does attain a relative balance and accepts the pain of the loss, reaching the only possible conclusion: it doesn’t go away, one learns to make room for it and live on. This film is quite an achievement, not only it has been made by an all-Italian crew (direction, production, script, music, etc.), it is also an animation feature for adults which I must say it’s a first for Italy. The drawing style and animation are distinctive and sleek, along with a stunning soundtrack that matches perfectly the tone of the story and the moods of the main character. It might be difficult to watch it, no DVD out yet and I saw it at a film festival, but I strongly recommend it. Engaging and poetic –9/10
I have read reviews in which Frank and Claire Underwood have often been compared to Lord and Lady Macbeth but I don’t think it is enough for this second season: the Macbeths are rank amateurs! The Underwoods are more “thy mother mated with a scorpion” kind of people. Unlike season 1 (here is my review, in case you were curious), this time around their end game is very clear from the start, which takes, a little bit, the fun out of watching Frank and Claire move the pieces on the chessboard. Frank utters in the second episode what should be the tag line of this brand new 13-parts story: “Democracy is so overrated!”. He also delights the audience with his personal version of Cersei Lannister’s “when you play the game of thrones you win or you die, there is no middle ground”, in his first breaking-the-fourth-wall monologue. After swearing in as United State Vice President and moving his “war room” to the White House, we see Frank still trying to work both fronts: loyal supporter of the President and eminence grise of the Capitol. Although the writers manage to ambush the audience with a couple of sudden twists and give us scheming and backstabbing, there are also scenes that seem a little out of character for both Claire and Frank, and the “nosy journalist” plot line is resolved hastily and it feels swept under the rug, which diminishes somewhat the overall good quality of the script. This aside, the season is rather enjoyable with an excellent cast (Spacey is superb) and strong, capable directors for each episode. Crafty –8/10
Every film by Jim Jarmusch feels like discovering a hidden treasure. The indie auteur par excellence gives us a story about love, darkness and the beauty of simple things, an extremely unusual take on a current mainstream theme: vampires. I know what you are thinking: “Vampires, seriously! Haven’t we seen and endured enough!?!”; well this is Jarmusch, give him a chance, you won’t be disappointed. The viewer is introduced to the titular lovers with a few masterful scenes. Adam (Hiddlestone) is a reclusive, underground musician with a penchant for science and technology who settled in Detroit (do I see a subtle homage/reference to Terry Gilliam in Adam’s tech contraptions? Maybe, maybe not). Eve (Swinton) is a book-lover (I used to pack like her before the advent of e-readers) and an aesthete, who resides in Tangier. They are both centuries-old vampires but they have found a non-violent way to feed, with the help of compliant doctors, not so much for moral qualms but to avoid hassles and prevent disruptions of their quite life. The audience makes also the acquaintance of Ian (Adam’s agent/helper), friendly, solicitous and human, and Kit Marlowe, vampire, writer and old friend of Eve. Adam and Eve (always appreciate Jarmusch’s irony) have been together for a very long time and when Eve realises that Adam is depressed (again) about the state of the world, she rushes at his side. We see them spending time together, in contented simplicity, talking about their past and present and sharing their interests. It is a rather alluring description of long-lasting love and friendship, that will go on with its perfect harmony, as in “my vegetable love should grow, vaster than empires, and more slow” (Andrew Marvell). Their domestic bliss is however shattered by the arrival of impulsive and reckless Ava, Eve’s sister. A poor judgement call on Ava’s part forces Adam and Eve to flee Detroit and go back to Tangier, where more woes await them. It is a haunting film, it feels like that place between sleep and awake. The captivating shots of a deserted Detroit and teeming Tangier tell a whole story by themselves, juxtapose as metaphors for Adam and Eve’s state of mind. The magnetic performances of Hiddlestone and Swinton (eerier than ever) and a mesmerising soundtrack complete the movie and make it a little gem. Beguiling –8/10
So this is it: Miyazaki’s swan song. He brings together his great passion for airplanes with a recurrent Studio Ghibli’s theme: the pursuit of one’s dream. At odds with all his previous works, this film is an animated feature more for adults than children, being the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft engineer who developed the Zero (fighter plane used during World War II). Although it starts with a boy and his imagination, whose dream of becoming a pilot is impeded by his myopia, it evolves into a more serious and grounded story of a young man determined to become an aircraft engineer, who, in turns, matures into a talented designer of fighter planes. Miyazaki still delights us with his magic, giving it free reins representing Jiro’s dreams and a great character, Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer who appears as mentor and adviser in the dreams. On the other hand, the film also shows, very effectively, dramatic events such as the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and firestorms that devastated the Kanto region and nearly destroyed Tokio in 1923. It is during this fateful day that Jiro, still a student at the time, crosses path for the first time with Nohoko, the girl who will become his wife years later. Miyazaki, while telling his hero’s story, only hints at the major historical events: Japan’s poverty, its race to armament (along with Germany), the rises of totalitarian governments, repression of dissent and war. It seems that the story, as well as Jiro, lives in a bubble and focuses only on making the best plane ever without really dealing with what it’s being built for. This is the major flaw of the movie and it is the drawback of telling a story grounded in reality when the author is so used to fantastic ones. The uses of planes for war is, indeed, briefly addressed and condemned but it feels like an afterthought, like Miyazaki realises too late that he cannot avoid making a statement. Anyway the film is still a pleasure to watch with its flawless animation and endearing characters. Miyazaki leaves us with a bittersweet ending, reminding us that the dream is over and it is time to wake up. Le vent se lève il faut tenter de vivre. –7.5/10