Some movie posters are so enchanting that you remember them even if you never saw the movie itself. Here are some examples of my favorite ones - some may not be among my favorite films, some may not have that great taglines, yet all are simply fantastic, captivating and stimulative, whether they are simplified, visually engaging, wonderfully aesthetic or just plain clever. Kudos to the authors were not just preoccupied with marketing the movie, but with doing an art of itself.
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Friends with Benefits; romantic comedy, USA, 2011; D: Will Gluck, S: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman, Jason Segal, Emma Stone
After Jamie, the Executive Recruiter for the GQ magazine, manages to hire Dylan as the new art director and resettle him to New York, they both find out they just recently broke up from unhappy relationships. As an experiment, they decide to make a pact: to have sex whenever they want, but just stay friends, not boyfriend and girlfriend. At first, it works, yet when Jamie goes to visit Dylan's family in Los Angeles, she falls in love with him. He does not register that and turns accidentally insensitive towards her, which causes an animosity between them. However, they make up in the end.
"Friends with Benefits" is a too light, too fast, too dynamic romantic comedy overburdened with excessive babble, but charming thanks to various satirical jabs at cliches of the romantic comedy genre and, especially, refreshingly untrammelled performances by its two leads actors, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Snappy dialogues give the story - about a guy and a girl who want to have an exclusively sexual relationship until it also gets an emotional and spiritual one - the most sparks: for instance, after Dylan arrives in New York for the first time in his life, pondering over whether or not he should work here, Jamie gives him a grand day out by presenting him with a "flash mob", i.e. hundreds of people who suddenly start a public performance on the streets of Times Square, choreographing a mass dance. Dylan is so impressed that he decides to accept the offer and indeed live in New York, upon which Jamie jokingly says: "OK, you may all go home now!", which coincidences with the mob leaving the street. In another comical moment, Jamie mentions to Dylan how he read the L.A. Times for 23 years, which causes another funny dialogue exchange (Dylan: "Wow. You know so much about me. Someone made her homework." - Jamie: "Yeah, I have this thing in my office...It's called Google."). Only in the last quarter does the movie slow down and give room for the situation in which the characters found themselves in to 'sink in' and for the viewers to absorb the mood, though it does turn melodramatic towards the end (and fall itself into some romantic comedy cliches), yet the wit and supporting performances by Woody Harrelson and Jenna Elfman manage to assure a good fun.
Roma, città aperta; war drama, Italy, 1945; D: Roberto Rossellini, S: Marcello Pagliero, Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Francesco Grandjacquet, Harry Feist, Maria Michi
Rome towards the end of World War II. Giorgio and Franscesco are two resistance fighters who constantly have to hide from fascist raids of apartments. Don Pietro, a clumsy but good natured priest, helps the resistance by smuggling messages for them. Franscesco is engaged to Pina, a widow with a little boy. When the fascists arrest Francesco during a raid, Pina gets shot for interfering. Marina betrays the remaining members of the resistance for money. Fascists torture Giorgio until death. Don Pietro gets shot in a firing squad for not wanting to give information about the resistance plans.
Winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes, the New York Film critics Circle Award for best foreign language film, and nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay, "Rome, Open City" went down in history of cinema as one of the first, if not the first example of Italian neorealism (experts also cite "Ossessione" as one of the possible forerunners to that direction), surprising the audience in those times with honest, unglamourous, "un-Hollywood" depiction of ordinary people coping with a tough, dirty life: with this film, director Roberto Rossellini also started his 'war trilogy'. "Rome" flows well and is a quality piece of art, but still seems to be an underdeveloped forerunner to Rossellini's future and better films "Germany: Year Zero" and "Paisa" - for instance, in the first half of the story, the viewers truly make a connection only with one character in it, the clumsy but lovable priest Don Pietro, in the scene where he is in a shop but cannot help not to turn the statue of a saint away from the "view" of a nude sculpture. Other actors and their characters are also good, but simply not that engaging. Rossellini concentrated his talent only in the last third of the film when it reaches huge intensity during the torture sequence of the fascists where so little is shown, but everything is said on the terrified expression of Don Pietro's face, yet despite an ambitious tone that deserves recommendation, the movie as a whole does tend to turn rather melodramatic at times.
Saturday, 24 September 2011
Splendor in the Grass; drama, USA, 1961; D: Elia Kazan, S: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle, Audrey Christie
Kansas, '28. Bud Stamper and Deanie Loomis are a teenage high school couple. They kiss a lot and are passionate but still did not have intercourse because Deanie wants to stay a virgin until marriage since her conservative mother taught her that "good women" do not have erotic fantasies. Bud is annoyed by this status quo, especially since his sister is no virgin anymore while his father Ace is inciting him to leave Deanie. After catching pneumonia, Bud breaks up with her. Deanie thus rebels against her parents and tries to commit suicide. Bud goes to Yale but changes his plan to become a farmer, while his sister and father die. Deanie lands in psychiatric treatment. When she visits Bud, it turns out he already married and started a family with someone else.
One of the last, if not the last great film by Elia Kazan, undated classic "Splendor in the Grass" offers a different, contemplative view on the life in a conservative province, a one that is incredibly direct, honest and daring even today, which makes it modern-actual: sexual repression. Kazan used the theme for a deep emotional portrait of his two teenage protagonists, Bud and Deanie, who feel bound by the norms imposed on them through their parents, but he did not criticize the society in areas that were not subject of the story, thus achieving a measured and even mood, even though some of his scenes do tend to be rather heavy handed. Warren Beatty is surprisingly good in his first feature length role, but Natalie Wood as the sexually frustrated Deanie is truly the main star of the film: from her daring dialogues ("My pride? My Pride? I don't want my pride!") through her reaction when her mother tells her how she felt about her husband when they became intimate ("Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. Then I... I just gave in because a wife has to.") up to her final rebellion against her mother who asked her if her boyfriend "spoiled her", symbolically shown when Deanie cuts her hair, as a reaction to being constantly denied her sexual rights, Wood simply steals the show and delivers a phenomenal performance, one of the best ones in her career, which may blush even conservative viewers from today. The screenplay won an Oscar while Wood was nominated in the best actress category for that award, while she was even nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Coup de Torchon; drama/ satire, France/ Senegal, 1981; D: Bertrand Tavernier, S: Philippe Noiret, Isabelle Huppert, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Eddy Mitchell, Guy Marchand
An African country during the French colonialism. Lucien is a sloppy local police officer who is humiliated and despised by everyone: his wife Huguette openly cheats on him with Nono; local crooks and pimps like Le Peron ridicule his authority and bribe him while even his superior, Marcel, belittles him for his inefficiency. When Marcel jokingly advises him to eliminate the crooks, Lucien untypically follows his advice and shoots them, humiliating them before. From there on he gets the hang of revenge and shoots Rose's husband, who beat her. Lucien starts an affair with Rose and even kills the African "Friday" because he was a witness. Finally, he frames Rose by spreading the rumor that she stole Huguette's money: in self-defence, Rose kills Huguette and Nono.
The concept of a weak, humiliated underdog suddenly getting the upper hand over his tormentors in a twist of fate or chance is a good base for numerous films, and Bertrand Tavernier's cynical "Coup de Torchon", nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, copes well in that category until it suddenly seems to lose interest in it and wonders away into other directions - messages about colonialist (White) morals in general - which are also good but not quite that engaging. Philippe Noiret plays the overweight, sloppy police officer Lucien well, a person who is humiliated by virtually everyone - in one especially ironic sequence, after Lucien was bribed and humiliated by two pimps, his superior Marcel kicks him in the butt and throws him through the door into another room, and then he does it again (!): so by "demonstrating" to him how it "feels" like to be humiliated by two pimps, his superior actually humiliates him again! The African desert panorama is opulent, the dialogues are incredibly cynical ("Better the blind man who pisses out the window than the joker who told him it was a urinal. Know who the joker is? It's everybody."; "There are three kinds of French: real French, shit French and French shit. You're not even French shit!") and the initial vengence of the seemingly harmless Lucien, who starts killing his opressors, has some spice and wit, yet with the running time of over 125 minutes the movie deflates itself way too much: Chabrol would have stopped at 90 minutes and achieved an excellent film, while Tavernier overstretched the story way pass the limit when the viewers started loosing their concentration.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
The Blair Witch Project; horror adventure, USA, 1999; D: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, S: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
In '94, three film students disappeared mysteriously in Maryland. Five years later, their camera footage was discovered with the following recording: students Heather, Michael and Joshua are preparing a documentary about the alleged witch from Blair, a city that abounds with stories about her. According to the legend, the witch killed children centuries ago. The trio goes to the nearby forest by foot. They spend the first night in fear due to strange noises in the dark. They get lost and have an argument, while numerous stones are placed in unusual positions. Joshua disappears. Heather and Michael go to a house from which they hear noises. Then something grabs them and the camera turns off.
"The Blair Witch Project" is the US film that gained cult status thanks to its mainstream promotion of a horror story told from the protagonist's POV, filmed in its entirety with hand-held camera: if it was not already an international phenomenon in 1999, then it became one based on numerous follow-up movies like "REC", "The Troll Hunter", "Cloverfield" and others that all acted as an extension to its concept. Despite everything, it is interesting to note how directors Myrick and Sanchez "obscured" the fact that "Blair" has so little, practically nothing to show through its shaky camera that gives the empty story intensity and suspenseful adventure tone: not only does the opening state that the entire recording from three "disappeared" students is "authentic", but the three main actors do indeed use their own names. The opening with them improvising random lines has charm: for instance, when Heather takes a sip of Scotch and makes a comical grimace or when she hides from the camera in the forest to urinate. However, basically, the title witch never shows up - instead, the entire film is just based on the three protagonists anticipating her, which is why a large part of the viewers felt cheated: to be fair, the authors are indeed trying to sell 'hot water', allowing the story to turn too much 'lassez-faire' instead of opting for a strong directorial intervention, yet the mood does occasionally send genuine (clever) scares here and there.
Monday, 19 September 2011
Il mio nome è Nessuno; western comedy, Italy/ Germany/ France, 1973; D: Tonino Valerii, Sergio Leone (uncredited) S: Terence Hill, Henry Fonda, Jean Martin
The Wild West, 19th century. The aging Jack Beauregard was once an unsurpassed shooter during a draw, but now he just wants to go to Europe and retire. On his way he meets cowboy Nobody who is his big fan and who follows him. But Jack has a lot of enemies: the Wild Bunch and the rich Sullivan who both want to eliminate him after his brother died and thus discontinued their profitable fraud of a fake goldmine. With the help of Nobody, who placed explosives on the saddles of the Wild Bunch, Jack wins by shooting at them and causing an explosion. He then fakes his own death to peacefully go to Europe while Nobody takes on his post as the new shooter.
Unusual cult western comedy "My Name is Nobody", which Terence Hill once named as his favorite film, was based on the screenplay by Sergio Leone and thus the opening, where there is almost no dialogue in the first 10 minutes, really seems as if it came directly from some Leone film: three bandits take over a barber shop, place one of their men as the barber and wait. Jack (Henry Fonda in a dignified role) enters the shop and sits on the chair while the "barber" starts shaving him "suspiciously". But Jack then aims his gun towards him so the "barber" shaves him properly. A brilliant opening, and it's not surprising to find out that Leone directed that sequence himself.
This comical, fun and sympathetic comedy drains most of its virtues by spoofing or twisting the western cliches upside down, especially in leading long or inaudible situations of expectations to the extremes of absurd (the hilarious sequence where Nobody is in a river, places a bug to float on the surface and waits, with a club in his arms, almost endlessly long for something - a fish - while people look at him in confusion). Even though "Nobody" has considerable flaws - the story seems to be roughly patched from various subplots; a couple of contrived moments; the stupid, disastrous joke where Nobody is whistling in order to 'stimulate' a railroad engineer to urinate at the toilet; the sequence where, instead of a duel, Nobody is so fast he is able to draw the gun from a bald man, slap him and return it to his belt before the guy can even move is a legend, yet it was "borrowed" from a previous Hill film, "Trinity is Still My Name" - the story as a whole is elegant and works, contains a bunch of irresistible ideas (a gang called "The Wild Bunch", Sam Peckinpah's name is on a tombstone) whereas Fonda is excellent.