Previews: “News of the World”, “The Last Duel” and “Deep Water”

I missed writing the kind of posts where I preview films to be released at some future date (I previously wrote only three such instalments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one in 2017). Now, I am talking about three films I am excited to watch in 2021, and all three of them are based on books – Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water.

A poster to Paul Greengrass’s new film News of the World.

News of the World (2021)

Story: Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, this film tells the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) who, in the year of 1870, travels across the US, spreading “the news of the world” to people. When he comes across a little girl, who has recently been an Indian native and is now left abandoned and homeless, he decides to take charge of her and return her to her real family in South Texas. The issue for the Captain, though, is that Johanna still considers herself a Kiowa, an Indian native, and, as the two travel together, they soon discover many things that bond them in the increasingly hostile and threatening world around them.

Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips (2013)).

Leads: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel.

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7 Great Films About Pianists

My last review focused on a cellist who was forced to abandon his chosen profession and resort to a more undesirable one. This got me thinking about musicians in films, and I am presenting below seven great films that focus on pianists, their lives and struggles. While some pianists below are completely fictional, such as Ada in The Piano or Tom in The Talented Mr. Ripley, others are based on real-life people, including David Helfgott in Shine and Mozart in Amadeus. In no particular order:

I. The Piano (1993)

It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters“, said once film critic Roger Ebert, “but about a whole universe of feeling“. Set in the 19th century, Jane Campion’s very fine film tells the story of a psychologically-mute Scottish woman Ada who travels to New Zealand with her young daughter Flora after an arranged marriage. Ada’s passion for music and for hand-crafted piano is touching in the film as she has to face strict social conventions in a foreign land while also longing for the love that is genuine and freely-chosen. The film also has one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever, composed by Michael Nyman.

II. The Pianist (2002)

This film is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist (1946) that tells the story of a Holocaust survivor, pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. Masterful and unforgettable in every way, the film by Polanski is all about one Jewish man hiding in apartments across Warsaw as the Nazis brutal, evil regime is set to hunt down and kill every remaining Jewish person in the city. The film emphasises the sheer beauty of the piano music, and how it has the power to transcend life, bring out the best in humanity and unite it.

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“Departures” Review

Departures (2008)

Departures is the winner of the 2009 Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign Language Picture. Loosely based on a memoir by Shinmon Aoki titled Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, it tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), an ex-cellist who comes to his home town and finds a very undesirable employment as a nōkanshi, a traditional ritual mortician in Japan. The profession attracts strong societal criticism and prejudice, and soon Kobayashi has to justify his choice not only to his wife and those around him, but also to himself, while finding the courage to finally face the most hated man in his life – his own father. Departures is a wonderful film full of humour and touching moments. This film about one man’s journey of self-discovery and finding forgiveness is also an admirable attempt to challenge and to help alleviate the nonsensical and unfair discrimination faced by people who work in this very difficult and challenging profession in Japan.

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Sean Connery (25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020)

Sean Connery as Mark Rutland in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964)

It was with great sadness that I heard yesterday of the passing of Sean Connery, a Scottish actor and one of the film legends. He was a man of incomparable charisma whose acting and screen presence were always distinguishable and memorable. Possessing innate smoothness, gentleness and his very own recognisable sense of masculinity and vigour, he emanated the persona of a true gentleman and a real action hero on screen and both at the same time, inspiring warmth and a sense of awe in others. If there ever existed an actor or just a human being working in a film industry who personified the word “class”, it was Sir Sean Connery.

Sean Connery won his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role in The Untouchables [1987], but most people remember him as being the world’s first ever James Bond, which was also his breakthrough role. And, Sean Connery will always be the James Bond in my eyes. Gallant and almost too nonchalant, but caring, romantically-involved, but objective, Connery was the most perfect cast for Fleming’s famous Agent 007. With his incomparable screen presence, he could get everyone following his character, no matter the location or the plot. Dr. No [1962] and From Russia With Love [1963] were good films, but my favourite James Bond film with Sean Connery has to be Goldfinger [1964]. I think it was Alec Baldwin who put it best in his obituary article of the great man, saying that Connery had a “trifecta dynamic” and he knew [instinctively] “where masculinity, sensitivity, and intelligence intersected“. There had been other handsome actors before and after Connery, but I think it was Connery’s delicate combination of “masculinity, sensitivity and intelligence“, as well as his skill of presenting himself and his character’s actions as immersively as possible, that helped make him into a star.

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5 Films That Centre Around Film-Making

Last week we saw the release of a tease trailer for the new film by David Fincher Mank (2020). This film is written by Fincher’s father Jack Fincher and is about “screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his battles with director Orson Welles over screenplay credit for Citizen Kane (1941)”. Films that portray other films, Hollywood or deal with film-making in general are curious since they provide an insight into their own industry. In this vein, we can recall Fellini’s 12 (1963), Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988), Hazanavicius‘s The Artist (2011), Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! (2016), and, more recently, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). In the list below, I am focusing on 5 similarly-themed films that usually escape this categorisation on the Internet. In no particular order:

I. A Star Is Born [1954]

Arguably, this film showcases Judy Garland’s phenomenal acting ability the best. Here, Esther Blodgett (Garland), later, Vicki Lester, finds her desired career of a singing actress skyrocketing after she meets already almost forgotten, disillusioned and alcoholic movie star Norman Maine (James Mason). The film by George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story (1940)) clearly demonstrates the pitfalls and disillusionments associated with wanting and trying to be an actress in a movie industry, as Blodgett/Lester tries to navigate tricky behind-the-scenes action and movie studios’ unscrupulous management, being torn between hope and despair, love and hate.

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Documentary: “Tell Me Who I Am”

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

Any film or documentary that centres on identical twins and their relationship is fascinating in its own right, but if that film or documentary also involves the case of total amnesia, dark secrets and completely buried past, then it becomes one of the most interesting ever filmed (at least for me). Tell Me Who I Am is based on a memoir of the same name by twins Alex and Marcus Lewis, and Joanna Hodgkin, and tells the real story of Alex Lewis, who lost all his memories when he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18. From that age onwards, Alex had to rely on his identical twin brother Marcus to tell him everything – from how to tie his shoelaces and ride his bicycle to who he was and what were the relationships inside his family. As time passes in the story, however, Alex starts to doubt that Marcus tells him everything. Tell Me Who I Am is too brutal in its portrayal of the truth and distressing because of the subject matter, but it is also a fearless exploration of our reliance on memory that is always an important element dictating our sense of identity and our relationships with others. The documentary presents a powerful and often fragile relationship between two identical brothers torn apart by a dark family secret.

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“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Review

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

Charlie Kaufman’s newest film is a psychological drama with elements of “magical realism”. In the story, one young woman (Jessie Buckley) travels in a snowstorm with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents in their farmhouse. She is one eccentric and “artsy” person who is unsure of her future with her boyfriend and who often receives mysterious messages on her mobile phone. That is all we can be sure of because, the rest, including all the details, is soon called into question as Jake’s parents start behaving oddly and the characters are forced down the memory lane. Unfortunately, all the philosophy, psychology, good acting and the sumptuous cinematography by no other than Łukasz Żal, cinematographer behind Cold War (2018), cannot rescue this latest cinematic riddle by Kaufman. Wrapped in layers upon layers of tedious and predictable poetic and philosophical musings (or rather outbursts), the film becomes bland very early on and no pretty decorative “wrapping” (including all the wonderful design and wallpaper in the film) can hide the fact that, inside, our cinematic “enigma” is one weird mix of different, well-trodden on, pretentious and almost meaningless ideas.

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“Snowpiercer” Review

Snowpiercer (2013)

Eternal order is prescribed by the sacred engine: all things flow from the sacred engine, all things in their place, all passengers in their section, all water flowing, all heat rising, pays homage to the sacred engine, in its own particular preordained position”.

A blockbuster production with a devilishly unpredictable plot”, says character Wilford in Snowpiercer. That is what this film, directed by Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) and based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, also is. In this story, there is one post-apocalyptic world and one “self-sustaining” train makes it rounds around the world. On board are human survivors who are divided into strict social groups with one unfair regime governing them all. At the bottom of the social ladder (and the train), one can find the poor masses who are dressed in rags and survive on protein bars, and, at the top, there is the elite, consisting of a few individuals who ruthlessly preside over the masses, while enjoying the luxuries of life. When one man from the bottom of the train sparks the rebellious spirit in the masses, he does not even begin to imagine the complicated way to the top of the train nor what awaits him as he nears the real power propelling the train forward. Snowpiercer is not one’s ordinary action or sci-fi film; wrapped in philosophical reflections and delicately balancing humour and horror, and realistic action and allegory, the film defies expectations, requiring both a leap of faith and open-mindedness from the audience.

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Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Meshes of the Afternoon is a 1943 experimental film by Maya Deren. It is known for its sense of unease, eeriness and mystery – all accomplished using a minimum number of objects and a single location. In this 14-minute film, the most commonplace and everyday objects take sinister contours as the director plays impressively with dream and reality using repetition, silence, innovative camera angles and unexplained sequences. Meshes of the Afternoon undoubtedly influenced such directors as David Lynch (Mulholland Drive (2001) and Roman Polanski (Repulsion (1965)), and was definitely a film ahead of its time.