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.
Continue reading “7 Great Films About Pianists”
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.
Continue reading “5 Films That Centre Around Film-Making”
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 Continue reading “My 5 Favourite Films of 2018”
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. Continue reading “Russian* Winter Animations”
I. Metropolis (1927)
“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 century New 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 the Grand 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. Continue reading “New York: 10 Films Illustrating the City”
I. The Prestige (2006)
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.
II. Drive (2011)
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”
I. Kon-Tiki (2012)
“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 Runner 2049” (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”
1. Andrei Rublev (1966)
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”