miercuri, 21 februarie 2018

Starman, written by Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon

Starman, written by Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon

                Starman is a charming, enjoyable science fiction film.

Given the date of the production- 1984-, the special effects are not what we are used with in 2018.
Nevertheless, it is not the movement of various ample space ships which fill the skies in Transformers and the like that provides meaningfulness.

                Jenny Hayden is a widow who grieves for her husband.
One day, at the beginning of the film, in the room next door, a sort of baby appears and he cries.

However, over the next seconds, the baby grows into a man, or at least something that looks like one.
And the shape and form of this “creature” is exactly that of the late husband of Jenny Hayden who is terrified.

This apparition takes her hostage and wants her to drive to a certain meeting place where he has to be.
If at first, the woman tries hard to escape this strange being that we soon understand is an alien, things change later.

On the road, as they have a dispute over her driving the car, they produce an accident and this is an opportunity.
Jenny comes out of the car shouting that she has been kidnapped, while the other driver takes a crow bar with him.

He is very determined to make the Starman stop his wrongdoing and release his prisoner, or else…
Only the SuperBeing has extraterrestrial powers:

He melts the crow bar and creates a sort of explosion that sets fire to a few trees nearby, making the initially brave man to run away.
The government, or some agencies within it are chasing the Starman and one individual wants to help him.

The one in charge though is determined to annihilate this dangerous force that comes from outer space.
Gradually, the dynamic between Jenny and the Starman who looks exactly like her late husband changes.

They stop to eat at a restaurant near the road, where the woman has the last attempt to escape from her…destiny.
This is where they meet a stupid red neck, who has a deer on the front of his pickup truck and the dead animal attracts the attention of Starman.

This is a moment of philosophy, of which there are others, wherein the alien is thinking about humans and their violence.
While they sit and order, with the being from out of space asking the usual comic questions, for he is unfamiliar with expressions, even if he learns fast, with smoking, behavior, aggresivity and more, the hero keeps looking at the dead deer.

Finally, the alien goes out at the pickup truck and starts touching the corpse of the deer until it moves.
When the animal runs away, redeemed by the Starman, the red neck gets angry and comes out.

He knocks the stranger out with his fist, but the alien who copies the human actions flattens him in return.
However, the primitive, ruthless troglodyte has other cave men with him and they are intent on beating Starman to a pulp.

Jenny interferes and this is the moment when her former apprehension turns into a loving feeling.

They then have to run from the police and during the ensuing car chase, the woman is shot and fatally wounded.
Nevertheless, Starman is the equivalent of Superman and he takes the car into a fuel truck and through the consequent massive fire, after which he comes out into inferno, with jenny in his arms, like the Terminator.

He may have to travel back out into space, just as they have now discovered they are in love with each other.
This may be the opportunity for this film to avoid the eternal successful conclusion and opt for a more unconventional finale, with surprises in store, a major gift for Jenny, a confrontation with the Army and more.

Starman is an outstanding film, which is listed on The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list:

The Bachelors, written and directed by Kurt Voelker

The Bachelors, written and directed by Kurt Voelker

                The Bachelors is an interesting, if not spectacular film.

To begin with, we have the always-solid performances of Oscar- winner J. K. Simmons and Julie Delpy.
The latter was outstanding in both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, where she was the perfect romantic hero.

Furthermore, she was twice nominated for an Academy Award for her contribution as writer for the screenplay of both aforementioned, sophisticated, accomplished, entertaining films that are on…
                The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made:

J. K. Simmons is Bill Palet, a mathematics teacher that is recovering after his wife’s death, with a fresh start…
                Actually, for most of the film he is just mourning and not recuperating.

The teacher has a breakdown and he has to see an analyst in order to move along and cope with the trauma.
Coping with Adversity and Trauma is hard.

However, there are two options after encountering a disturbing experience:
1.       Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
2.       Post Traumatic Growth

There are situations wherein one can have the chance to Grow, after a trauma, understating the deep meaning of life.
Valuing life more, realizing that the deceased would want one to live life to the full can help and change it all.

One such example comes from the real life of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was sentenced to death for revolutionary activities.
He has three minutes left as he faces the execution squad and he divides them into three parts.

The first minute he would say good-bye to family and friends
Second minute will go to passing life, experiences, extraordinary moments, glorious days before him…

And the last, third minute will be reserved to enjoy, probably with maximum intensity, a ray of sunshine on a church roof nearby.
The genius writer is pardoned before the last minute and he lives to share with his readers this vision.

The last moments on earth of a man sentence4d to death are depicted in Crime and Punishment and some of the other exhilarating novels of this magician who saw death with his own eyes.

Bill Palet has a son, who, although a teenager, is coping better with the loss of his mother and even tries to help his parent.
Carine is a colleague that should make Bill move on, for she is attractive, intelligent and interested in the math teacher.

However, Bill is too depressed to survive.
As his analyst explains, his mental suffering was too much and it transferred on to the body, causing a collapse.

The psychiatrist has treatment that is more serious in mind, after the initial Lexapro pills that did not work in this case.
One is even reminded on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where patients had to suffer electric shocks.

Only in this day and age, these methods are allegedly much more advanced and they may help the patient.
Wes is told by his teacher, Carine aka Julie Delpy, to help a troubled girl, beautiful Lacy Westman.

They have at first a rather cold rapport, because the girl has apparently been hurt before and she is mistrustful.

“All’s Well That Ends Well?

This is Where I Leave You, based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper

This is Where I Leave You, based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper

                This film has some highlights

                First: Jane Fonda
                Second: Jason Bateman and the rest of the cast

With the caveat that this viewer finds that, Tina Fey, in spite or because of her fulminant rise and reputation, is not that entertaining.
Maybe the story is ecstatic, the direction superb, the cast has been already established as stellar, but there is something missing

                Or simply wrong

                For this comedy-drama does not deliver.
About one hundred and fifty nine critics have not been pleased with the motion picture, if we consider the Metascore:

It is only 44 out of 100

The father dies and the family gets together for the final goodbye.
One is reminded of the much more complex, amusing, rewarding, intelligent, worthwhile chef d’oeuvre:

The Big Chill

In the better comedy, a group of friends gather together to mourn the departure of one of their dear soul mates.
With another stellar cast, the results are mesmerizing, glorious, ebullient, fascinating and sensational.

Alas, This Is Where I Leave You can stand for this is where the music stops and the team of actors does score.
There are some good moments- it is just hard to say where:

Maybe when mother Jane Fonda delivers an astonishing statement and a secret is shared with the stunned family?
Alternatively, when Philip Altman arrives at the cemetery very late, in a dazzling new fast car, a black Porsche?

Judd Altman aka the likeable Jason Bateman has in the first few scenes a revelation, as he brings home a birthday cake.
His wife has sex with his boss.

Is this funny?
Surely, the scene was meant to be.

Later on in the movie, boss, Judd and wife meet at the hospital where she might be having a baby.
The girl is Judd’s.

However, why are they so sure?
Without the DNA test?

Anyway, a group of sympathetic and positive (?) characters takes the other flashy car, that of the cheater, and damage it.
Wow, another humorous moment…

We wish…

It always a pity to see former Gods of cinema engage with films that flop, both in financial and intellectual terms.
Think Jack Nicholson in The bucket List, Robert de Niro in The Intern and alas, so many more, Al Pacino in almost anything he has done over a couple of decades…

One can only forgive this by thinking of a quote from a very clever insider, winner of Two Academy Awards, for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, William Goldman, in his tremendous work, Adventures in the Screen Trade…

“Nobody knows anything in Hollywood”

O’Henry’s Full House, based on stories by O’Henry, with contribution from…nine other writers

O’Henry’s Full House, based on stories by O’Henry, with contribution from…nine other writers
John Steinbeck introduces this exhilarating film based on a few of the stories of one of the most amusing writers ever.
Howard Hawks and Jean Negulesco are among the five directors in charge of the segments of the motion picture
Charles Laughton is the star of the first part, in which we can admire Marilyn Monroe, twenty-six at the time.
The first part is dedicated to The Cop and the Anthem, wherein the hero tries hard to get to…jail.
For most of the story he is unsuccessful, in spite of the mischief he creates, eating, drinking and smoking a cigar in a restaurant, insulting people and appropriating an umbrella from a stranger and then giving it to a streetwalker aka Marilyn Monroe.
The most impressive parts are: The Last Leaf, The Gift of the Magi and The Ransom of Red Chief.
As it happens, the notes on the respective short stories are appropriate for the film since the movie respects the main ideas from the original material…let us just limit details to The Last Leaf…

Sue and Johnsy have a studio together and this is a story about their encounter with death.
I would say that this is a psychological drama, reminding me of Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, but also of ikigai.
Pneumonia is the "Mister" as O'Henry puts it that strikes Johnsy.
When the doctor talks to her friend, he only gives one chance in ten for recovery.
Alas, one main reason for this is the fact that the patient has stopped caring.
Viktor Frankl, in his extraordinary Man's Search for Meaning writes about the Holocaust and his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps.
It was easy to identify those who would collapse from their attitude.
The survivors were those with a will to live, while those who gave away their cigarettes, the most important currency in these death camps, did not have the zest anymore died in a matter of hours.
Johnsy is tired and she watches the leafs of a vine that is visible outside her window.
There are only a few left and she says that when the last one will go, she will expire as well.

- Nonsense, protests her friend, the doctor said you would be well. It is a ten to one shot!
However, the pessimism of the convalescing woman is determinant.
Positive Psychology studies have demonstrated that those who are positive live longer, healthier lives.
Scientists have researched on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
This is one of the places with the highest number of centenarians as a proportion of the overall population.
One reason for this is their diet, which includes some purple potatoes as the main element of their meals, meat eaten rarely, a habit of getting up from the table without a full stomach, I guess it was only seventy or eighty per cent.
Nevertheless, another important factor, maybe the crucial one, is Ikigai.
These people do not retire; in fact, they do not even have a name for that and what gets them up in the morning is...
- Ikigai!
Johnsy is lacking in this vital department.
Her fate is sealed for as long as this does not change.
In fact, Johnsy is now at the last five leaves and the night is windy.
Sue is trying to protest while she is very concerned that the last leaf would fall and thus her friend, with this morbid attitude, might indeed die.
Enter the stage Old Berhman.
He is a neighbor who tries to pain and has been making the effort for a long time.
He might be the one to contradict Malcolm Gladwell and his theory that ten thousand hours of practice over a period of ten years, which means about three every day, would place one at the top of the game.
You could read Outliers and learn more about that.
Sue needs the help of Old Behrman, who is posing as a model for other artists.
In addition, she talks to him about the dramatic situation and her friend's obsession with the last leaf.
I knew O'Henry as an author of humorous tales.
This one is dramatic and the previous have not been without sad aspects.
The fact is that Johnsy recovers and Old Behrman dies of pneumonia.
Moreover, this was not a spoiler, for the astounding ending is not revealed here:
Why did Johnsy survived, what did Behrman do for this outcome?

marți, 20 februarie 2018

The Death of Stalin, based on the comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

The Death of Stalin, based on the comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

                The Death of Stalin has been censored in Russia

This should be an indication that aspects of this film are definitely true, otherwise why bother with a story that is preposterously false.
Indeed, the idea, the depiction of the regime, stupidity and ruthlessness of leaders, awful nature of that regime is spot on.

Even if many events are tragic and some scenes involve barbarity and/or nauseating scenes, the film is hilarious, most of the time.
Early on, we watch Nikita Khrushchev aka the spectacular Steve Buscemi as he talks to his wife.

She has the role of a…censor, albeit not the usual kind, for she records on paper what he remembers from the evening…
Given the drunken parties, the politburo organizes, that is a good idea, but the point is also to look at the jokes he made during the night with the other members of the Central Committee and cut the bad ones.

In the morning, the couple talk about his mumbling, he does not make sense when too drunk, and the wife says grenade…funny, train…not funny and this one is…Molotov h. h…it is not clear
Khrushchev wonders and asks his wife about the meaning, but then he understands he meant Molotov ch ch means the minister is on the black list, together with so many others that have been tortured and executed.

Later on, another humorous scene will involve Nikita K. and Molotov aka the great Michael Palin, talking in the bathroom of the latter, pulling the flush to cover their voices and prevent the NKVD from listening in.
When they come out they meet Lavrenti Beria, the head of the horrific Secret Police and they insult Molotov’s wife- “the treacherous sow, the guilty woman…” only to see her coming from behind the door.

Molotov and Nikita K. thought she had been sentenced and killed already, plus, these leaders of the party were actually scared stiff of each other, the NKVD, Stalin and their own shadow and changed tune all the time, a theme which makes for so much great, amusing material throughout the film.
There is a concert that Stalin wants to listen to and to record it we have the usual harassment and brutality of these communists, but there is a dissident, a pianist who inserts a courageous message to the absolute tyrant within the record with the classical music and which might be the end of the dictator.

Stalin reads that document and he first laughs to find someone as absurd as to wish him dead, only to suffer from a heart attack or some other ailment, which sends him to the ground with a thud.
However, the guards are too afraid to enter and see what, if anything is wrong and the cruelty of this mass murderer helps bring about his end, for rather than face execution, the soldiers stay at their post.

The next day, the Politburo have the same cautious attitude that condemns the leader, who, with some medical help might have survived, but his communist comrades talk about organizing a…meeting to see about the doctor.
Finally, when they decide that they need a physician, there is more hilarity combined with tragedy, for the only doctors left in town are the bad ones, the others have been killed or sent to the gulag…

When they finally line up a few doctors, Stalin’s daughter rightfully says that they look like mental patients.
Infighting follows and unbeknownst to this viewer it is not Khrushchev that takes the reins of power.

Not for a good while anyway.
The unfamiliar Georgy Malenkov aka Jeffrey Tambor- accused alas recently of sexual misconduct, but terrific in this and almost all the other roles he has had- takes power, albeit he is a weakling.

He has quite a few memorable lines, one of which has him refuting his early statement that makes him look ridiculous:

                I said…no problem
Nevertheless, what I actually meant was….No! Followed by a long pause and the strong…Problem!!

Of course, given the inspiration- a comic book- and the lack of credible material that would record discussions between the various, colliding factions of the Politburo, Army and NKVD- later to become the homicidal, now ruling the country KGB, the narrative of The Death of Stalin has to use artistic license.

                However, it is a triumphant motion picture!!

Capote, based on the book by Gerald Clarke

Capote, based on the book by Gerald Clarke

                Capote is one of the best films in recent memory.

The stupendous, dazzling, radiant, ebullient, outstanding, phenomenal and alas no longer among us…
Philip Seymour Hoffman has won a well-deserved Oscar for his leading role in this chef d’oeuvre

In Cold Blood, the other book that has surely offered inspiration to this splendid film is a wonderful achievement
                You can find it on The Modern Library list of 100 Best Nonfiction Books:

In some ways, Capote is the motion picture that explains how the wonderful book was written.
The famous Truman Capote reads the story of a vicious homicide that took place in November 1959.

The four members of the Clutter family living in the countryside in Kansas have been killed In Cold Blood.
Capote travels to Kansas with his assistant, the later famous Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mocking Bird that is only mentioned in passing in this movie, portrayed graciously by Catherine Keener.

The famous writer becomes ever more interested in this gruesome drama, learning the details of the deaf family, solid, honest, good citizens all.
Capote befriends the investigator, his family and other people involved in the inquiry or friends of the deceased.
When amiability does not work, as in the case of a prison warden, the author offers money to get access.

Perry Smith and his partner in crime are caught near the middle of the film and Truman Capote becomes interested and somewhat attracted by the killer, which dismays the writer’s partner.
This is a dual relationship, for the killer provides an important subject for the author, who also has some feelings.

The nature of those emotions is surely complicated; a mixture of compassion and fascination for the prisoner is probably involved.
Truman Capote talks about In Cold Blood as an absolute novelty, a new genre that he creates with his book.

In what looks like dialogue inspired by real life interviews with the novelist, he relates his learning about the story:

It has changed my life…nothing seems to be the same anymore
I trust that the reader may have the same extraordinary experience

Truman Capote is in the audience when the suspects are on trial and he watches with attention.
Perry Smith seems to be absent from the courtroom.

He is drawing while the prosecution, judge, lawyer discuss the substance of the otherwise clear-cut case.
Capote is wondering how the accused got his papers to draw on and remarks on his absent mindedness.

The writer will hire a lawyer and his partner talks about the solicitor Truman has hired for himself.
Truman Capote talks about this with Harper Lee, who is funny when she states that she might be a friend of the author just because of his partner.

Capote was gay.
Perhaps the most astonishing, terrifying aspect in the murder of four innocent people, two of them teenagers, is the absurdness, gratuity and extreme violence, which did not result in any gain.

The manner in which the murders were caught goes back to the stupid misunderstanding that caused the multiple homicide, with one criminal overhearing a cell mate talk about Clutter and having the misconception that there are a lot of money to get in a robbery.
In the end, the brutes only took a few dollars after they killed the father, mother, son and young daughter.

The Doctor, based on the book by Ed Rosenbaum

The Doctor, based on the book by Ed Rosenbaum

                The Doctor makes a few interesting points.

                However, this is not a breathtaking work.
In spite of the fact that the once effervescent, spectacular, ebullient, great William Hurt has the leading role.

The celebrated, Oscar nominated Peter Bogdanovich mentions in his classic book Who the Hell’s in It? The opinion of Orson Welles:

The performances of the actors are what is important in a film
That makes or breaks the picture

This may be so.
Nevertheless, the Doctor may contradict this idea, even if William Hurt, wonderful as he is, has not had his best work in The Doctor.

The point this film makes comes from another masterpiece, one that explains Hollywood and filmmaking:

Adventures in the Screen Trade by the winner of two Academy Awards for screenplay, William Goldman

There has been a trend, maybe a fashion to look at some directors and declare that they are paramount for their creations.
Indeed, they are.

However, to release and insist on the notion that the author films are all about their directors is definitely wrong.

This is what William Goldman explains with mastery and incredible inside knowledge of this Screen Trade.
He gives the example of the feted Alfred Hitchcock, who was so much admired and declared the ultimate author of films.

Once this status had been established however, the quality of the motion pictures helmed by the genius has gradually decreased.
A film needs an excellent director.

Nevertheless, the crew of actors, producers, screenwriters and others matter, with examples from Jaws to Chariots of Fire:
In Jaws, the special effects played a crucial role, which had been rarely the case until then, although today they are paramount.

For Chariots of Fire, the Academy Awards winning soundtrack, composed by the wondrous Vangelis was also fundamental.
In The Doctor, some of these ingredients are missing.

Alternatively, someone somewhere was not so inspired.
The end result feels artificial and forced.

Even if the story is not only credible, but also familiar.
The protagonist is a doctor with great skills, but an obnoxious manner that he wants to instill in his students.

He is sure that the only way to treat patients is by keeping the distance and feeling no empathy for them.
All this becomes anathema once he is diagnosed with cancer and he has to face indifferent medical personnel, humiliating rules and all the suffering that is part of everyday life of patients.

There are two opposite views to mention here, one would argue that the Doctor is actually right in keeping the distance- and not just from a #metoo perspective- but if a surgeon and other medical workers are imbued with all the pain of their patients they will only survive for a few weeks at best.
On the other hand, studies have been made in hospitals, the results show that janitors, who have a calling for their position, engage with patients, and co-workers are happier than cold doctors who see their profession only as a means to get a paycheck or just a career opportunity.

Perhaps as always, the path to take is that offered by Aristotle with his…
Golden Mean…you do not need to suffer all the pain of those in your care or around you, but you also need compassion