Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Dir.: Kenneth Branagh
With: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins.

Ok, people, don’t judge.

I had an exam earlier today and, having felt like I just gave a mental birth to an ugly and underdeveloped German baby, I needed some distraction in my life. Something big, loud and unassuming. Enter “Thor”, the latest superhero adaptation by Kenneth Branagh, the respected Shakespearean actor and a very surprising choice to direct such an opus.

The demographic at this early show was quite telling – mainly teenage boys but there was also an Adidas-clad middle-aged man who, for some reason, decided to sit next to me. The entire duration of the film he was either scratching his shaved head or his balls. You have no idea of the amount of effort it took me not to laugh out loud when he was going through the motions for the umpteenth time. If he is reading this by any weird chance – I sincerely apologise for mocking you, I am sure you are a lovely man, and it was pretty comfy sharing the armrest with you.

Anyhow. Although I thought that Kenneth Branagh might bring some weird Shakespearean dimension to the film, my expectations were so low, that only a fly would have tripped over them. Also, the trailer wasn’t exactly promising. So, although it might have been my post-exam condition, I was very pleasantly surprised! As far as super-hero films go, this is definitely a good one! Probably, even comparable to the first “Iron Man”. It was entertaining, the story was unusual and coherent, but most importantly, the casting was extremely successful.

Chris Hemsworth, an unknown Australian actor, proved that he has enough talent and charisma to carry off a major blockbuster on his shoulders. His comedic timing was pretty good too – there is a lot of comedy going on during Thor’s adaptation period on Earth. Natalie Portman was the usual pretty and charming self. Anthony Hopkins was Anthony Hopkins. However, it is the little known Tom Hiddleston, or Thor’s treacherous brother Loki, who wins the award in my opinion. He was absolutely great as the mischievous but essentially tragic hero of the story. I'll be most definitely looking out for him in the future. Apart from this, the rest of the cast were solid too – Idris Elba from “The Wire”, Jeremy Renner from “Hurt Locker” and even Stellan Skarsgard.

Visually it was very rich. Apart from the many beautiful starry space-scapes,  Asgard, the realm of the gods, was also impressive. It was quite obvious that the LOTR trilogy has left a major mark for the future set designers of epic fantasies. The Earth looked appropriately modest in comparison.

Another surprise was the ending of the film – you don’t get many woots-woots for the main hero here, instead it was rather sad and solemn.

Conclusion – if you like good superhero flicks, Nordic mythology, teenage boys and general good fun, go see this, you’ll be definitely entertained! I shan’t post the trailer here, it is a very poor representation of what lies in store.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

REVIEW: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Dir.: Luc Besson (yessss)
With: Louise Bourgoin, Gilles Lelouche

Woooohooooo!!! And I thought I’d never live to see this day! Luc Besson is back to directing films wooopie-dooo! Let me explain why this is such a big moment for me. To put it mildly, I have a very soft, if not squishy and supple, spot for Luc Besson (and this is not a euphemism). The main reason for this is that it was his “The Fifth Element” that was the first ever film I went to see in a proper cinema, with surround sound and the whole shebang. I was nine years old and I was blown away. I felt like my imagination was taken on a visual journey that I could never have dreamt up before; I suppose this is what audiences experienced back when the first “Star Wars” was released. I developed crushes on ALL the cast, obviously starting with Bruce Willis, followed by Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, Milla Jovovich and even Ian Holm to some extent. I became literally obsessed with the film, watched it every week and even now I try to watch it on yearly basis. The dialogues, the costumes, the little particulars left such an impression on my nine-year-old psyche that if you were to wake me up in the middle of the night and ask the name of the opera singer in the movie, I’d tell you that it was Plava Laguna, which means Blue Lagoon, which is in fact a reference to the film which Milla Jovovich starred in when she was younger. Yes, I am a little geeky when it comes to this. But that’s just how I roll.

Of course, I watched all Besson’s films (ten up until Adele Blanc-Sec) after that and could not help but admire him for his very idiosyncratic style and otherworldly characters. So, I hope you’ll excuse the waves of adolescent excitement I am about to send your way.

Surprisingly, Besson is not taken very seriously in his homeland; supposedly, he is not enough of an auteur like Truffaut to be regarded as the French national treasure – they say his approach is too "American". I beg to differ. The films that he’s actually written and directed are all very European in their treatment, character development and emotions – think of “Leon” or “Subway”. His plots and ideas may revolve around aliens, angels, hitmen, hot sea divers, etc, but they are pretty original ideas, which often become imitated by other directors, mostly from the States. The special effects never overshadow the heart of the story in his films and, let's face it, everyone loves a bit of special FX. However, my favourite aspect of his films is his ‘goddess-fixation’; six of them are about unusual, often gifted in some areas but lacking in others, super-human wonder women. He denies having an obsession, but the fact that he actually married both Anne Parillaud from “Nikita” and Milla Jovovich points to the opposite.

Phew, now that I got this long-time-brewing love letter to my favourite little stout French fatty out of my system, I can begin to actually review “Adele Blanc-Sec”.

If you are a fan of Besson, be prepared to see something that has nothing to do with his previous works, unless you count the two “Arthur” children's films. I don’t know, maybe he is getting old and sentimental, but this foray into the children’s adventures land is quite striking. The film itself is based on famous (apparently) French comic books by Jacques Tardi. This can be seen in how the characters in the film are dressed and made up – the exaggerated, caricature-like features and costumes may be slightly off-putting at the start, but once you manage to suspend your disbelief, kick back and actually enjoy the film, they turn out to be quite charming. The story is a bizarre mixture of “Indiana Jones” and “Amelie”. The protagonist, the said Adele Blanc-Sec is a young woman in 1911 Paris, an author who writes novels about her own adventures in far away lands. She has many male admirers, none of whom are taken seriously. She is very strong-minded and independent in the time of corsets and girdles. I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline, but there are pterodactyls, mummies, big game hunting, tombs and many disguises involved.

The whole time throughout the movie I kept thinking that it must be much funnier in French, the subtitles seemed a bit too literal to transmit the irony, of which Adele is full. However, there were some truly hilarious moments, a lot of good, ol' slapstick comedy. Sadly, there were also times, especially towards the middle, when it just got too slow and a bit unnecessary – bad editing is the culprit I think. The ending was brilliant though. Everyone in the cinema seemed to laugh.

Thus, although this is no “The Big Blue” or even “Subway”, “Adele Blanc-Sec” is a charming and slightly bonkers movie that will leave you with a smile on your face, lingering on for quite a while after the film is over. If you are looking for the usual Besson shtick, you won’t find it here, but maybe some things are better left as they are, untouched, and wonderful in our memories. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Ladies of the Night in film.

The oldest profession on earth... Whilst there is nothing alluring about prostitution in reality, filmmakers have tried to glamorise the “craft” for decades, especially in the 60s as I found out. I recently came across a trailer for an upcoming film called “Sleeping Beauty” which seems to be the modern version of “Belle de Jour”, it looks very enticing, enigmatic and seductive and I cannot wait to watch it. But it got me thinking about other famous onscreen call girls, or whatever you want to call them. It appears that some of them became rather iconic figures in pop culture. Let’s see who they are!

BUtterfield 8, 1960.

Dir.: Daniel Mann
With: Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey.

I regret not writing about Liz T after she passed away, but to be honest, how many times can the facts about her life be recycled? This beautiful, multi-married, talented, substance-abusing and philanthropic woman and billionairess is one of my favourite actresses. Although I only watched a few films with her – “Cat on a hot tin roof”, “Cleopatra” and “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – clearly, not enough to write about her work in the industry. And I could not really give any more insight into her life, for those curious enough to read about it, since Liz and I weren’t exactly bosom friends. Suffice to say that I deeply admire her and love her talent. Here she plays Gloria who seems to waste her time on many one-night stands until she wakes up one morning and finds 250 dollars left for her on the bedside table. At first insulted, she then starts to slowly see the advantages of charging for her services. However, she grows to hate it all, including herself. Although this film must have seemed quite risqué at the time, it appears quite tame now. A bit of a moral fable, it is nevertheless worth watching for Liz T’s performance in it, for which she’s won an Oscar that year.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961.

Dir.: Blake Edwards
With: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard.

This much beloved and copied film has radically downplayed the fact that Holly Golightly was a call girl, something which is made much clearer in the book. Here she is depicted as eccentric, naïve and innocent, occasionally taking 50 dollars from men for her trips to the powder room. Not much to say about it really, simply because you must have all seen it, or the film stills from it, about a dozen times.

Marriage, Italian Style, 1964.

Dir.: Vittorio De Sica
With: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni.

I’ve written about this film in my compilation of the best Italian movies. Quite happy to bring it up again and hopefully make some of you watch it! It is a comedy about a girl from a poor family who ends up working at a brothel after WWII. She is then picked up by a sleazy Neapolitan businessman, wonderfully portrayed by the handsome Marcello Mastroianni. The film follows their turbulent relationship, which goes on for the rest of their lives, and the girl’s struggle to get married to her lover. The two actors have made many films together and their onscreen chemistry is really something. Absolutely hilarious and morally dubious in the best way possible!

Belle de Jour, 1967.

Dir.: Luis Buñuel
With: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Claude Carriere.

This is my favourite film of the lot. It is very artfully done and it explores dreams, the subconscious and female sexual drives. Catherine Deneuve plays Severine, who is very beautiful but in an ice-queen, cold sort of way. She is an overprotected, bourgeois wife of a brilliant doctor. They seem to love each other but she refuses to consummate their marriage. So, after some internal debate, she goes and works in a brothel (as one does), but only during the day, hence the name of the film. There, she can explore all her desires and push her boundaries, so to speak. In a way, it is a story of a bored rich girl, but because of its surrealist aspect, the film becomes much more than that. Very alluring.

Pretty Woman, 1990.

Dir.: Garry Marshall,
With: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere.

Funnily enough, this story originated as a drama about a prostitute who dies in the end. The producers judged that this was too depressing, changed the script and decided to hire America’s sweetheart to play the title role. As far as chick flicks go, this is not bad at all, despite its predictable and unrealistic story line etc. The cult status of the film is mainly achieved through Julia Roberts’ portrayal of Vivian, who is warm, good-spirited and endlessly charming. The plot itself is a mixture of Pygmalion and Cinderella with a touch of illicit sex.

And so we've come to our times. There haven’t really been films made about this topic recently, if you don’t count the terrible TV series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” with Billy Piper, which I am ashamed to admit to have watched, for whatever reason. But let’s not talk about it, the series depresses me. This new film, “Sleeping Beauty” bears more than a fleeting resemblance to “Belle de Jour” and I am very excited to see the end product. It is released in May at the Cannes Film Festival and the proper release dates will be finalised later. Enjoy!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Inside the Actors Studio

You know what, I absolutely hate this time of year in terms of film releases. There is literally nothing on right now that I would like to see/spend money on. Literally. Which is really sad, because I am in a great need of a distraction, revising my poor brain out and all. So, instead, I am going to write about procrastination. We all hate it and love it. And I think that when this supposedly useless time is spent on something a bit more meaningful, it can be quite beneficial. Take Inside the Actors Studio videos, which you can find on Youtube, for example. In my opinion, they are the best and most insightful interviews with actors and filmmakers out there.

Inside the Actors Studio started off in conjunction with the Actors Studio at New School University as a television seminar for young actors, lead by the then president, Paul Newman in 1994. James Lipton, actor, poet and writer, presents it. He deliberately chooses a slow pace for the interviews, steering the guests in the right direction with occasional questions and remarks, but mainly leaves them to their own devices, which lets the guests speak freely and openly.

In the last 17 years the show had over 250 guests, all very respected talents, some of them are sadly no longer with us. The set-up is always the same; Lipton asks the guest questions about his or her childhood and parents, their breakthrough moment and some of their career highlights. If they had a formal training in dancing or singing, he asks them to perform right there and then - the results are often pretty impressive. Then they have to answer Bernard Pivot’s famous questionnaire:

1.     What is your favourite word?
2.     What is your least favourite word?
3.     What turns you on?
4.     What turns you off?
5.     What sound or noise do you love?
6.     What sound or noise do you hate?
7.     What is your favourite curse word?
8.     What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9.     What profession would you not like to do?
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Some of the answers are surprising and hilarious. After this part is done, Lipton leaves the stage and the students ask the guest a series of questions. Here, I always have to wonder if any of them actually make it in the business. The only person from the audience I ever recognised was the young Bradley Cooper. That’s it in a nutshell.

My favourite guests were:

Natalie Portman.

The video was recorded before her big Black Swan moment, but it is very interesting nevertheless. I also kind of fell in love with her, she is extremely smart, charming, beautiful and down-to-earth.

Ian McKellen.

This eloquent and talented Shakespearean actor turns out to be very humble, funny and a pleasure to listen to.

Jim Carrey.

Although I am not the biggest fan of his films, this interview changed my opinion of him. He makes a great stand-up comedian. So much raw talent!

Kevin Spacey.

A bit of a weird guy but his impersonations are dead-on.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Films that make me weep

Haven’t been to the cinema in a while, simply because there is nothing on at the moment that I’d like to see. So I have been catching up on films on my to-see list and also watching what was on TV. And surprisingly, the two most recent movies I watched completely reduced me to tears. Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that I NEVER cry in the cinema, somehow, standard human drama just does not move me. I did not cry in the well-known tearjerkers like “Titanic”, “Schindler’s List”, “Life is Beautiful”, “The Pianist”, “The Notebook” and many others. There are a couple of films though that do seem to touch my hardened soul and when they do, I wail as if I were a professional mourner at a medieval funeral procession. You might think that the selection below is very odd, and I would whole-heartedly agree with you. I’m just weird that way.

1. Edward Scissorhands.

Dir.: Tim Burton
With: Johnny Depp, Wynona Rider

This is one of the two films I watched recently and although this was the seventh or eighth time that I've seen it, I cried like a drunken old woman. I think I just really like misunderstood characters who are considered to be oddballs, especially if they try to integrate into the society, but then the people are too cruel, so they realise that solitude is their only solution. You know the moment in the end of the movie, when Edward goes back to the castle to live alone and then he starts to cut out ice sculptures and then it snows? And he never comes down again? Aaaa, someone, give me a hanky quickly!!!

2. The Omen.

Dir.: Richard Donner
With: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick

Now, most people would think of “The Omen” as a good horror film. And it is. But I, as scared as I was of the little devil child in it, could not help but sympathise with Gregory Peck’s character - the film’s protagonist and the devil’s stepdad. Thus, as the little boy was slowly ruining his whole life, culminating in his untimely and disturbing death, I became a total wreck. I could not sleep for ages after, but not because I was scared. I was feeling sorry for the man whose child was Satan. LOL as one would say.

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Dir.: Ang Lee
With: Chow-yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi

This would hardly qualify as a tearjerker for most people. Martial arts, magic and an exotic location, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is just a high-paced fairy tale. But not to me it isn’t. I must have watched it about ten times now and I know all the characters' names. Li Mu Bai is my favourite. I also love the whole desert sequence. So, when Li is dead and Jen gracefully flies off the bridge and into the clouds, I just feel so sad. Wouldn’t you agree? There is just so much dignity in that last act of hers.

4. This is England

Dir.: Shane Meadows
With: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham

This is the other film I watched the other day that made me cry. It is very violent, offensive and shocking. It deals with the skinhead subculture, racism and nationalism but from a very human perspective. It is an absolutely brilliant film and I honestly felt as if the wind was knocked out of me after it. The main character, Shaun, a boy of twelve who lost his father but found friends amongst the skinheads, is an absolute gem and I hope he goes into acting when he grows up. Please watch it, it is incredibly moving, funny and very, very sad.

5. War and Peace.

Dir: Sergey Bondarchuk
With: Ludmila Savelyeva, Vyacheslav Tikhonov

This 1965 Soviet epic film received an Oscar for best film, which is quite unthinkable considering the Cold War dynamic at the time. It is also thought to be the most expensive film ever made, although, the Soviet government never published the exact records of it. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that without CGI, all the battle scenes are completely real and the decorations are huge in scale. In my opinion, you should really read the book before watching this film, but if you really cannot be bothered, the film is absolutely brilliant. It manages to capture the grandiose ideas of the book and contrast them to the emotional drama of individual characters. There are plenty of moments where one could cry, but the one that always gets me is of Prince Andrey, laying on the battlefield, thinking that he is mortally wounded and contemplating death. The fact that he is very hot probably helps too.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

REVIEW: Flare Path

Dir.: Trevor Nunn
With: Sienna Miller, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Purefoy.

Yay my first theatre review! Are you excited? I am well excited. I won’t pretend to know much about theatre as an art form, so here are my modest views on this modern revival of Terrence Rattigan’s “Flare Path” from 1942.

It is set in a hotel lobby in Lincolnshire near a RAF base. There are three couples: three pilots with their wives who are planning on spending the weekend together. A London actress, Patricia (Sienna Miller) and Teddy (Harry Hadden-Paton) have recently been married, Maudie (Kathleen Harrison) and Dusty (Leslie Dwyer) are the somewhat less glamorous and more austere couple and Doris (Sheridan Smith) and Count Skriczevinsky (Gerard Hinze) are the comedic duo comprising of an ex-bar maid and a Polish count who joined the British air force. And on top of all things, Peter (James Purefoy), Patricia’s old flame and an ageing film star, checks into the hotel for the night in order to wreak havoc and steal Patricia back, much like a fox in a hen house. At the same time, the pilots are unexpectedly required to take part in an air raid on Germany.

The play starts off very slowly, the characters are introduced one by one and it is only in the second scene (there are four in total) that things begin to pick up. In the second half I found myself clutching the seat, leaning forward and muttering ‘fuck fuck they’ll be found out!!’ or ‘shit shit he is dead!’, so, evidently, I was very much engaged in the illicit affair, the air raid and the unstable relationships between the characters. Although Sienna Miller is the supposed star of the show, “Flare Path” is an ensemble work. I thought the acting was of a high standard; Teddy was one of my favourite characters with his devil-may-care outer shell, whereas in reality his psyche has been very much damaged by the war. Peter Kyle, the film star, was at times the most repulsive character, but in the end his weaknesses made him very human and you inevitably ended up feeling sorry for him and for his washed-up life.  Sienna Miller made a very good trophy wife, a showpiece, who has no real connection to her husband and broods on her past. The dilemma of deciding which man is more suitable for her is nicely played out in a series of very tense dialogues.

However, the drama of the relationship problems seems petty when the audience is confronted with the reality of war. When the three pilots leave for the air raid, you suddenly realise that whatever the three women waiting for them must be feeling, is beyond any ordinary desperation and hope. There is also a high level of humour in this play, mostly poking fun at the stereotype of the English stiff upper lip and inability to fully express emotions, especially in the military.  Most laughs were caused by the Polish count and his Borat-like accent. It was rather clever how the colour of each woman’s dress reflected her character – regal navy blue for Patricia, bright magenta for Doris and a puritan light brown for Maudie. Sienna Miller also happens to have the most beautiful head of hair I have ever seen. I kind of wanted to stroke it.

I can only recommend “Flare Path”, it is a clever, at times sad and at other times funny, example of a traditional English theatre play, with a great ensemble cast. It is by no means groundbreaking or challenging, however, sometimes you just want something a little more old-school to enjoy.

“Flare Path” is currently on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

REVIEW: Source Code

Dir.: Duncan Jones
With: Jake Gylenhaal, Vera Farmiga

One thing I can say for sure after watching “Source Code” is that I would love to visit Chicago. The bird’s eye view of the city’s architecture on a beautiful, sunny day makes Chicago seem like the perfect example of outstanding urban planning and cutting-edge architecture. I also liked how the famous ‘metal blob’ (I’m sure it has a more poetic name) monument by Anish Kapoor was integrated into the story.

Other than this, the film proved to be a very pleasant surprise. Out of the last three movies that were quite similar in their genre and the themes they touched upon (“Unknown” and “Limitless”), “Source Code” is obviously the more superior film, both in terms of the plot and acting. The story itself is a bizarre combination of “Inception” and “Groundhog Day”. Jake Gylenhaal’s character, Colter Stevens, wakes up on a train, in another man’s body with only 8 minutes to go before the train blows up. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but he has to go through these 8 minutes of mayhem over and over again.

I find Jake Gylenhall infinitely watchable; he just looks like a very decent person (I think that it’s his huge blue eyes) that I could never imagine him play a villain. So, you end up really rooting for him. Vera Farmiga, on the other hand, is great at portraying distant and controlled people – like she did in “Up in the Air”, and she does this very well again here. Again, I don’t want to say more about her role, scared as I am of spoiling the surprise of the film.

Grrr…it’s so hard to say something meaningful about a movie like this without giving anything away. So, I’ll just have to be vague this time.  Although it isn’t perfect, it is definitely entertaining and worth watching. There are some cheesy moments, and overall, the film is quite absurd, but I, personally, like these kinds of things. There is tension, passion, sadness and humour, which is a good combination for a thriller. I also think that films like this, which are set in enclosed spaces, are quite difficult to direct and to shoot. There is only so much drama that can fit into a train or a bus (remember “Speed”? good times). “Source Code” deals with its limitations superbly and actually uses them to its own advantage.

A nice bit of casting was Russel Peters, the comedian, playing a commuting comedian on the train. It was quite funny when he first appeared on screen, the audience all laughed and went ‘oooooh’ in recognition. It is little signposts like this that make films more memorable and smile inducing.