In 2011, it was announced that Tim Burton is working on his version of Notre-Dame de Paris with Josh Brolin, but the project never moved beyond the early stages. This film was supposed to be an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris, which tells the story of three characters’ lives entangling against the backdrop of medieval Paris. Esmeralda, a beautiful girl who often dances in the square in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, has become the object of ardent passion on the part of three distinct men: severe Archdeacon Claude Frollo, the hunchback and bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, Quasimodo and dashing Captain Phoebus.
Why this project had the potential to be great?
As far back as 2013, I wrote a post where I talked about 10 classics I would love to see made into major films and Victor Hugo’s novel was at the very top of my list. Tim Burton’s penchant for the unusual and the grotesque would have made this adaptation a dark, intriguing “feast for the eyes”, especially given all the recent advances in special effects technology which could render Quasimodo vividly and bring his world of old Paris and Cathedral-climbing to one magnificent spectacle. Tim Burton is great in establishing that “creepy fairy-tale” atmosphere (Sleepy Hollow (1999)) is one such example) that the film needs and he could have done the book justice. True, there were at least three other well-known cinematic adaptations of the book (in 1923, 1939 and in 1956), but, an “update” or a “remake” is desperately needed since the story is timeless and moving and, at least in my humble opinion, has such a big cinematic potential.
Andrei Tarkovsky‘s film is a a beautiful, powerful story set during the World War II. At its centre is a twelve-year old boy Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) who has taken on the job of an adult, the dangerous job of spying on the Nazi forces that are invading his country. Tarkovsky was able to convey his own particular poetic vision of one fragile childhood that meets the horrors of war. Ivan’s tasks for the Red Army intermingle with his dreams of happiness as Tarkovsky shows the sheer impact of war barbarities on a young mind. This movie is both moving and unforgettable, and remains the best cinematic debut I have ever seen.
II. The Spirit of the Beehive 
The Spirit of the Beehive or El espíritu de la colmena comes from Spanish director Víctor Erice and stars young Ana Torrent in the lead role, giving the most exceptional performance. As so many other films on this list, this beautifully-filmed story portrays children coming to terms with the darker side of life. The story centres on two small girls in a Castilian village in 1940 during the Franco regime. Their fascination with Frankenstein leads to their imaginary world colliding with the harsh realities around them, especially when Ana encounters an escaped prisoner. Atmospheric and rich in symbolism, The Spirit of the Beehive is rightly considered to be one of the foremost cinematic achievements from Spain.
Vertigo is probably the most “philosophical” of all Hitchcock films. Whatever angle you take (the detailed “stalking” scenes, the acting, the object symbolism, etc.), the beauty of Vertigo comes through, overwhelming the viewer. Set and shot on location in San Francisco, Vertigo is a story of obsession that focuses on Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart (Anatomy of Murder(1959)), a former detective suffering from acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) who is tasked with following one woman by her husband – Madeleine (Kim Novak), because she might be a danger to herself. This film about mistaken identities, grief and seeking love at all costs is also a nuanced psychological thriller. I can’t say I enjoy the very slow pace of Vertigo, but it is an entrancing cinematic experience nevertheless and for a multitude of reasons deserves its number one spot.
Psycho is my confident number two choice. This is a quintessential Hitchcock film with some unbelievable twists and deep psychology. Suspense is the word here. In this story, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals quite a lot of money from her employer’s client and hits the road. However, she needs to rest somewhere on her way to her “financial freedom” and chooses the Bates’ Motel. You need to watch the film to know what happens there. In my review, I talked about how “Hitchcock plays expertly with its audience’s imagination and formed beliefs” in this film, that was also ground-breaking in many ways upon its release. Psycho is a the film that stood the test of time.
Inspired by my previous post where I recommended 16 films based on the 16 finalists of the UEFA European Championship, I decided to write a similar post but based on Copa América, the South American Football Championship and the oldest still-running international football competition. It started on 11 June and the finale will be held on 10 July 2021. Below I am recommending 8 films based on the 8 South American countries that reached the quarter-finals.
This Argentinian masterpiece is a must-watch film. In this both clever and emotional story, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), once a criminal investigator, looks back on one puzzling rape-and-murder case in his career, the officially unresolved case of Morales. This case once touched him deeply, especially since he was trying to catch the murderer with his beautiful and intelligent co-worker, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman he has always secretly loved. Now, looking back and piecing together all the evidence, including the one gathered by his imperfect co-worker Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), Esposito thinks he has finally found the clues he missed twenty-five years ago. Ricardo Darín (Everybody Knows (2018)) is one of the finest Argentinian actors and his film Nine Queens (2000), directed by the late Fabián Bielinsky, is also a tense crime drama to watch, detailing the story of two petty thieves who “try to swindle a stamp collector by selling him a sheet of counterfeit rare stamps (the “nine queens”)”.
The UEFA European Football Championship 2020 is underway and we now have 16 country finalists who will compete for the coveted trophy. That led me to the idea to recommend 16 films from each of the 16 European countries currently remaining in the competition:
AUSTRIA : The Counterfeiters(2007) (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)
Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher (2001), The White Ribbon (2009), Amour (2012)) is the greatest Austrian film director, but the country also has other talent to boast about. Stefan Ruzowitzky, born in Vienna in 1961, is known as director and writer of The Counterfeiters, an Academy Award-winning film based on a memoir by Adolf Burger, a man who was imprisoned by the Nazis for forging baptismal certificates to save Jewish people and who was later forced to work on the Nazi Operation Bernhard designed to destabilise UK economy.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there are many interesting films of this or last year which are based on true stories, including Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Tesla, Hillbilly Elegy, The Dig and The Mauritanian. Crime and war films are often inspired by real stories (Catch Me If You Can , The Pianist ) and I previously compiled a list of 25 “Must-See” Biographical Films (see also my related list of 5 Great Films About Adventurers Based on Real Stories). Below are five films which were based on, or inspired by, real stories which, in turn, are simply remarkable.
I. The Sound of Music 
The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, might have been a book and a theatrical musical once, but it was also based on an incredible true story. In her memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers , Maria von Trapp tells the story of her family who originally came from Salzburg, Austria, but who were then forced to cross borders and emigrate to America to escape Nazi persecutions in Europe.
Even though the true story was dramatized substantially for the film, it remained true in essence. So, in reality, a young woman from a religious background did come to work in the Trapp family, but not as a governess, but as a tutor to one of the children (who were in reality ten in number, not seven as in the film). Georg von Trapp was the father in the family, and Maria (as this was the name of the woman/the author) came to love the children first (and only then the father) (source). Georg, who was in reality a much kinder person than in the film, did marry Maria, and the family eventually travelled to Italy and America, and not to Switzerland as in the film. The Sound of Music is also not the only film to be based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Previously, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed a German film The Trapp Family , which was also based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
Previously I made this list where I talked about some Russian winter animations, so today I thought I would talk about other examples from the Russian/Soviet animation history. The three animations below were all made by the Soyuzmultfilm Studiobetween 1947 and 1964, and are good examples of animations made for children in the USSR that are based on fairy tales.
I. The Scarlet Flower 
This animation is based on a story of 1858 by Sergei Aksakov who, in turn, re-worked the tale of Beauty and the Beast . In The Scarlet Flower, three daughters of one wealthy merchant request from their father overseas presents. The eldest daughter wants a diamond tiara, the middle daughter – a mirror that only shows the beauty of a person looking in it, and the youngest, Nastenka, says that she wants the Scarlet Flower. The father gets the presents for his two daughters in his travels, and the present for Nastenka he picks in the surroundings of one strange, enchanted castle. The hidden master of the castle is so angry at the father for taking the Scarlet Flower that he demands that the father sends one of his daughters to him.
“All art, of course, is intellectual, but for me, all the arts, and cinema even more so, must above all be emotional and act upon the heart.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) was a Soviet director and screenwriter known for his cinematic masterpieces, including Solaris , Stalker and his debut Ivan’s Childhood . He inspired generations of film-makers, and Steven Dillon, a film historian, even went so far as to say that “much of subsequent film” was influenced by Tarkovsky’s work. Always favouring long takes, Tarkovsky belonged to a group of film-makers (for example, others are Robert Bresson (Pickpocket ) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story )),that explored spirituality, the transcendental and the metaphysical on film, often focusing on morality or religion, and sometimes employing certain very vivid imagery to convey that. A list of films that were inspired by Tarkovsky’s work in some way or another will probably be never ending, but here I would like to focus on just five of them. Another thing to note is that Andrei Tarkovsky himself drew influence from such directors as Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel andAkira Kurosawa, and this list is not to disparage any of the films listed, which are very good, but to simply draw similarities with Tarkovsky’s work and style.
Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a work of beauty. Sublime and thought-provoking, Melancholia focuses on one well-to-do family that starts getting to grips with the fact that the end of the world may be near. Another planet is on the collision course with Earth and members of this family, who have a straining relationship with each other, respond differently to the news. Tarkovsky’s influence (including almost his entire filmography) can be seen or felt in almost every other shot of Lars von Trier’s 2011 work.
Did you know that classic film Casablanca  was based on an unproduced play titled Everybody Comes to Rick’s? by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison?; or that filmMoonlight  was based on another unproduced play titled MoonlightBlack Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney? Many a great film first originated in a play, and because of this origin, these films often rely much on performances and have certain “intimacy” to them not found in other films. I previously reviewed such plays-turned-films as Prelude to a Kiss, Carnage, It’s Only The End of the World, Marjorie Prime andUna, and other notable films in this category include Seventh Heaven , Brief Encounter , Steel Magnolias , Glengarry Glen Ross , Meet Joe Black , Closer , Doubt  and August: Osage County . Below are ten great films that first originated in plays (excluding Shakespearean adaptations).
I. The Seventh Seal
Play: Trämålning (Wood Painting)  by Ingmar Bergman
This well-known masterpiece of a film by Ingmar Bergman stems from a one-act play by Bergman himself. He wrote a play titled Trämålning (Wood Painting) and it was initially supposed to be a play to be performed by students. In the story, the country is suffering because of the Black Death pandemic and a young Knight with his Squire have just returned from the Crusades. The land is in panic, and, unwittingly, the Knight joins a wagon of travelling performers. Death is also their follower, challenging the Knight to a play of chess. What will be the outcome? Philosophical, visually-striking and full of symbolism, The Seventh Seal is an uncanny portrayal of the Middle Ages and an iconic film in the history of cinema.
This song, written by John Bucchino and performed by David Campbell, is from the straight-to-video animated film Joseph: King of Dreams. The song is inspirational and feels very personal. It is sung by Joseph when he finds himself near to despair and at the lowest point in his life. He has to start from the very beginning again and build his life anew. The faith and trust in God enable him to do that. The animation is often compared negatively to the great animation The Prince of Egypt , but the comparison is a bit unjust and Joseph: King of Dream should stand on its own as that thathas many strong points, including the amazing dream sequences and this wonderful song.
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.
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 8 1⁄2 (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 
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.
This is my list of five favourite films of 2018, and most of those below I also consider to be the best films of 2018. Please note that I have not yet seen Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”, Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” or Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book”. There is a big chance I would have equally enjoyed either or all of them.
I. The Favourite (2018)
Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster” (2015), “The Killing of A Sacred Deer” (2017)) is one director who does not shy away from shocking film displays or enigmatic and displeasing film content. This time he is not a screenwriter and is rendering a period drama in his own style. “The Favourite“, which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, subverts one’s expectations about what a period drama should be, while it also makes one think deeply about the kind of characters that could exist in the world governed through ruthless power and self-interest. The unbelievably powerful performances from three leading ladies (Colman, Weisz and Stone) ensure the film’s high quality, while its unusual, curious camerawork has all the trademarks of its experimentally-minded director. Everything revolves around Queen Anne (Colman) here, and the story just loves to ridicule the excesses and extravagance of the royal court, as well as the fierce competition for one kind of “power” among the ladies closest to the Queen. The film works brilliantly as this exaggerated satire, which sometimes slides into deliciously-morbid and fascinatingly-obsessive character portrayals. I would have preferred the ending to be clearer in its message, but otherwise this film was just great as it is. My score: 9/10
I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and I would like to wish all my readers and followers a very Happy New Year! It is that time of the year when one would like to come home, make a hot cocoa, switch on the TV and cosily tuck themselves under a duvet. Then, what better way to spend winter holidays than by watching some wonderful winter-themed animations? Below are three classic Russian-language animations from the Soyuzmultfilm Studio.
I. Snegurochka (The Snow-Maiden) 
Drawn from the Russian folklore and based on the opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (previously also based on the play (1873) by Alexander Ostrovsky), this is the tale of Snegurochka or the Snow-Maiden, the daughter of Spring Beauty and Grandfather Frost. The Snow-Maiden, who has to shun direct sunshine because her natural abode is winter and frost, decides that she wants to spend some time in the company of humans, and is adopted by Bobyl-Bakula and his wife. What follows is the Snow Maiden’s life in a rural village among people there, and one can glimpse from that Russian traditions as the tale of one stunning beauty unsettling the whole village unfolds. The Snow-Maiden meets Lel, a youth with a talent for music, and is wooed to marriage by a reckless man Mizgir, previously a fiance of a local girl Kupava. The animation stands out because of its beauty and music (magnificent vocals). Most elements of this animation-opera are exquisitely drawn, especially the background. The story is sad, but also rather moving as it tells of the Snow-Maiden’s desire to experience/feel love at whatever cost; see the animation here.
“Metropolis” is a famous German expressionist science-fiction film by Fritz Lang. However, some may not know that Lang’s wife – Thea von Harbou – actually first wrote the book “Metropolis” which then became a movie. Von Harbou wrote the book with the intention for it to become a movie, but this does not detract from the fact that once “Metropolis” was a book. The production was along the lines of – the novel – the script – the movie, giving strength to the idea that all great things flow from books.
II. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
“Requiem for a Dream” is an infamous in its depressing content and visual presentation film by Darren Aronofsky, which follows a number of lives in Brighton Beach. In this film, drug addiction and hopelessness fuse, and the soundtrack by Clint Mansell stressed the never-ending-drug-loop and the illusion of happiness. However, the script is actually based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr. The book and the movie should be viewed as being even more chilling since Selby drew from his own traumatic past experience, including his relationship with drugs, when penning his book. Continue reading “10 Films You May Not Know Were Based on a Book – Part II”→
There are plenty of films out there showcasing the wonderful city of New York (NY, US). Martin Scorsese, especially, is famed for his “New York tetralogy”: first, he portrayed New York as a vision of urban decay (the 1970s) in “Taxi Driver” (1976); then he set love torn by societal conventions in the 19th centuryNew York in “The Age of Innocence” (1993); then he depicted the city’s violent past in “Gangs of New York” (2002); and he finished his directional tetralogy with New York’s extravaganza (the 1980s) in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). What follow are some other movies (in no particular order) showcasing the corners of one of the most exciting cities on Earth. P.S. Nothing ground-breaking, just the movies we all hopefully love.
I. Home Alone II: Lost in New York (1992)
Obviously, Chris Columbus’s entertainment-feast “Home Alone II” leads my list as it provides a great itinerary for a first-time visit to New York. In the story, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets separated from his family at the airport and arrives all alone in New York, and what follows is his exciting adventure as he tries to escape two criminals already on his track. Thrashed by critics, but much loved by audiences worldwide, the film is a good home movie showcasing many of New York’s delights. Kevin enters Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge, and proceeds to tour the city by visiting Battery Park (viewing the Statue of Liberty from it) and apparently the Fulton Fish Market, where two bandits are hiding. Kevin then settles himself comfortably into the Plaza Hotel at theGrand Army Plaza. Other interesting featured locations are the Bethesda Fountain and the Wollman Rink, Central Park; Times Square and Carnegie Hall. That mother-son reunion at the Rockefeller Centre, decorated with the giant Christmas Tree, is that emotional moment we have all been waiting for.
Secrets to magicians’ tricks are often mundane – it is the way those tricks are performed which makes all the difference.Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” is a complex, clever film about two magicians competing against each other in the 19th century, but the film is actually based on a Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel of the same name. The novel starts in the present time, but, as in the film, we are being fooled and do not realise that we have had all the clues to the puzzle in front of us at the beginning. Whatever you thought was clever in Nolan’s film – the chances are that it is also in the novel.
Nicolas Winding Refn may have directed this stunning film and Hossein Amini (“Two Faces of January” (2014)) penned the script, but “Drive” is based on James Sallis’s 2005 novel of the same name. In fact, allegedly, the “Drive” producers first encountered the story by chance in Publishers Weekly. In the book, as in the film, it is the intriguing character study which becomes the focus. The merit should go to Refn for visionary creative choices, but the film was fledged out of the already existing story, which also feels strangely nostalgic for the decades long past. Continue reading “10 Films You May Not Know Were Based on a Book – Part I”→
“Kon-Tiki” is an Academy Award nominated adventure film which tells the true story of Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Hagen), a Norwegian adventurer, who sailed around 5000 miles from Peru to Polynesia on a wood raft in 1947 to prove his point that it was possible for pre-Columbian tribes to populate Polynesia from the east. Thor gathers his crew and everyone assumes that they are on a suicide mission, especially since one caveat of the journey is that they build their raft like indigenous people of the past allegedly did, using no modern equipment. What I like most in this great film is that it has a soul. This is truly an inspirational voyage film with one likeable and relatable hero at its centre, some emotionally-moving scenes (Thor also has a wife Liv), and with some absolutely stunning “ocean” cinematography and vistas. Unlike previously reviewed “The Lost City of Z“, “Kon-Tiki” largely takes place where the main action is – the ocean, in this case, and there are a number of tense scenes involving storms and sharks. Moreover, there is some humour and sarcasm thrown into this story, which make for an even more enjoyable watch. Continue reading “5 Great Films about Adventurers and their Journeys based on Real Stories”→
Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention… committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or aircraft and directed…on the high seas against another ship or aircraft…”. In 2017, there were 117 piracy incidents recorded (Statista statistics); and, in 2016,191 similar incidents were reported (ICC statistics); in 2010, Somali pirates took hostage 49 ships with over 1.000 people on board (International Maritime Bureau information).
Captain Phillips (2013)
The film showcases just this instance of a rising cross-border illegal activity, and tells of an incredible true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking (see also a Danish counterpart “A Hijacking” (2012)). Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was in charge of one ship destined for Mombasa, Kenya from Oman. Captain Phillips and his crew then had to handle four Somali pirates who boarded their ship. “Captain Phillips” has plenty of nicely-executed, tense scenes, and Hanks gives a magnificent performances in the lead role, even though Barkhad Abdi (later “Blade Runner2049” (2017)) was the only actor nominated for an Academy Award. In the film, it is easy to empathise with the Captain Phillips’s situation and admire his and his crew members’ actions. Perhaps, the film is a little too straightforward for the lovers of intrigue and nuance, but Hanks always plays sympathetic characters excellently, and the film largely holds on the fascinating situation involving the lead character’s commitment to preserve the lives of his crew members as he tries to reason with irrational demands of the invaders. 9/10 Continue reading ““International Crimes” Films”→
It will be a crime not to begin this list with Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece “Andrei Rublev“. A paragraph will not be sufficient to do justice to this largely black-and-white film which lasts around three hours, and, in some way, it is a difficult watch. Andrei Rublev was a 15th century icon painter living in medieval Russia, and the film follows his journey as he leaves Andronikov Monastery with two other monks, travelling to Moscow. What follows is the depiction of medieval Russian rituals, Tatars’ invasion, Andrei’s attempts to protect a simple-minded girl, among others events. Some stunning iconography by Rublev is also on display, including “The Holy Trinity” and “Christ, the Redeemer“, at the end. “Andrei Rublev” is a complex work of art which masterfully conveys the messages on morality, religion and artistic freedom. On such a film, one can simply say that it is not merely a movie but one of a kind cinematic experience.
2. Seraphine (2008)
This film, which is based on a true story of Seraphine Louis and which won 7 Cesar Awards, is an exquisite and quietly powerful portrayal of an awakening painter. Seraphine (Yolande Moreau) is a naively eccentric, deeply religious woman devoid of social graces and who works as a cleaner in a house in Senlis, France. When a new tenant from Germany, Mr. Uhde, an art expert, arrives to stay at the house he is impressed by Seraphine’s natures mortes. A convincing performance by the leading actress makes this film poignant and heart-felt, even if it is overlong. This interesting story is proof that an artistic genius can be found even in most unexpected of places. Continue reading “20 Fascinating Films about Visual Art”→