movies

Surprise Me!

I’m in love with stories that surprise me. Whether it’s a short story, a newspaper column, anecdote or a movie, doesn’t matter as long as there’s a plot turn that makes me question my own reality. It’s also irrelevant if the surprise is positive or negative, subtle or loud, realistic or pure science fiction – just hit me with it, expand my mind just  bit beyond the borders of a mold it is currently in.

Watching a predictable drama or Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy can be both fun and cathartic every once in a while, but when it comes to movies, the unusual genre hybrids are what keeps this love going strong.

I’ve already heard impressions about Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ unusual ways of coming up with stories before I watched one of his films and naturally developed my share of expectations. I knew I would encounter something atypical and was very much looking forward to that.

The first one I watched was The Lobster, a 2015 dystopian drama probably taking somewhere in the near future. I already wrote a piece about that one so I don’t want to repeat myself, I just wanted to stress out how it exceeded my expectations. I was baffled, impressed and entertained in a unique way. It met all my ‘surprise me’ wishes and put Lanthimos on the list of foreign directors I keep yapping about to my friends, pulling their arm and saying: But trust me, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before! TRUST MEEE, go watch it! Read the reviews,  here’s the trailer link, did you watch it? Did you like it? Did you? Isn’t it funny when you realize why the film is named Lobster, is it? Can you imagine this happening to us one day?

And so on.

At the moment I’m impatiently awaiting The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest Lanthimos’ work so today I decided the time has come to go back in time and watch 2009 critically acclaimed film Dogtooth. Of course I didn’t expect it to have anything to do with The Lobster, but the cold, sterile atmosphere crept on me right from the beginning and that’s when I was able to recognize a similarity. The feeling of alienation and characters pronouncing the dialogue like reading school textbook lines in a bad play while  turning absurd statements into logical conclusions are shared in both movies.

That is where the comparison ends and the weirdest plot I have ever seen begins (and I’ve seen Martyrs, thank you for asking).

Three teenagers live with their controlling parents, completely separated from the real world. By that I don’t mean they go straight back home from school to do their homework, they never leave home and are literally unaware of other people or anything that’s going on in the world (assuming that it really is our world), the only one who leaves the property is the father who works in some kind of factory. The children (two sisters and a brother) are told they can leave home on the day their ‘dogtooth’ falls out.

They are coming up with endurance games to keep themselves busy, have gathering ‘parties’ by watching old family videotapes that they already know by heart or listening to their grandpa singing. A little spoiler alert – the man they think is their grandpa is actually Frank Sinatra singing Fly Me To The Moon. Those poor kids.

At times it felt like a much more censored and brutal version of  The Truman Show, but the rest of the story is far more original in making levels of absurd hitting the ceiling. I caught myself often getting annoyed by the characters – their way of talking, reacting to pain, following their animal instincts, general lack of empathy or any kind of usual reaction. But then again, there’s no place for normality in a story like this one so who can blame them? Their family dinner time taken out of the context sounds like a bad improvised sketch performed by not too intelligent amateur actors.

Oh and please remember that the cats are the most dangerous animals you can ever encounter and that zombies are small yellow flowers.

Confusion, sex, violence, incest, more violence, confusion and the open ending is how I would put it shortly. At the end of the day,  I’m glad I watched it but the feeling of having a 90 minute physical fight with this film is something I wouldn’t like to go through again.  I think I can finally say I watched something that was just too much for me to absorb or break down to pieces and analyze. But it sure did surprise me, disturbed me, but made me laugh at the most unusual moments, and like I said at the beginning, that’s the most important part.

 

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THE ART LIFE: Stepping Into The Strange World of David Lynch

After five highly productive decades of work David Lynch proved he is still at the top of his game when he returned to our screens with third season of Twin Peaks, a show that changed television history and gathered a cult fan following. Being one of the greatest American directors, Lynch will always be remembered as a leader of postmodern cinema, introducing us to surreal, intense plots in movies like The Elephant ManBlue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. The highlights of his impressive career are easy to find, but how did it all start? At what point did the boy from a typical small town family started to turn into atypical filmmaker we know today?

The answers can be found in a in a 2016 documentary film David Lynch: The Art Lifewhose director Jon Nguyen created it in a form of a one-way 90 minute interview, no one is around but Lynch with the exception of a couple of scenes where he is joined by his curious toddler daughter Lula.

The visual focus is on Lynch while he is painting or creating small sculptures or just sitting quietly while smoking in his cluttered Hollywood Hills studio – the place he feels most comfortable in. The footage of the creative process, getting his hands dirty, painting with fingers, sawing wood or cutting out pieces of it while he is narrating key events from his life. He talks about childhood, teen and later years, about ideas and why art and happiness go hand in hand. At the same time, there’s a lot of old video and photo material following his stories, but also examples of his dark and eerie paintings and illustrations. Some moments are quiet, we watch whatever he is working on and are left to think about it for ourselves, nothing is imposed.

Discovering Dreams

Through the film we chronologically follow Lynch’s life from childhood and formative years to early adulthood. He is not an ordinary storyteller since the information he delivers doesn’t necessarily come in a logical way or have an expected pinnacle moment. Of course this is no surprise coming from the man who spent his filming career deconstructing the usual narrative structure and abandoning the mainstream rules.

The film starts with Lynch remembering happy childhood days, praising his loving parents and the sense of limitless freedom and support they provided for him and his siblings. The way he described a particular anecdote from that period about encountering a strange naked woman while playing outside especially stuck with me because it sounded like a twisted dream sequence or something I might have seen while watching Twin Peaks.

'Twin Peaks' [Credits: Showtime]

The director proceeds talking about the effect of his family moving to a different city. Those early teenage years are remembered as dark and unhappy because he developed some health problems, started to hang out with the bad kids, smoking and drinking, going out of control and disappointing his mom. But also at that time, while still being a stubborn, rebellious teenager Lynch started to develop a fascination with the world of dreams, that keeps inspiring him up to this day.

I never studied. I never did anything.I hated it so much. I hated it like… powerful hate. The only thing that was important was what happened outside of school and that had huge impact on me. People and relationships, slow dancing parties… Big, big love and dreams. Dark, fantastic dreams. Incredible time.

The Art Life

After learning one of his friends’ father was a painter, Lynch realized that being an artist can be a real profession, so that is when he firmly decided that painting is all he ever wanted to do in life. That painter was called Bushnell Keeler and he will play an important part in supporting Lynch in developing his career later in life. Visiting a painting studio for the first time Lynch described drawings, paintings and everything else in that place as ‘an art life going on right before your eyes.’ That is when the roots of obsession with art and the whole concept of ‘art life’ and happiness that comes along with it started to form.

[Credits: Janus Films]

I had this idea that you drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes and you paint. And that’s it.

The best part of this documentary for any aspiring artist is when Lynch talks about his beginnings as a painter when his work was really bad and he knew it, but it was a process he needed to grow through in order to find his own way of expression, so he just kept painting until that happened. The most important element in doing what you’re passionate about is dedication.

After graduation Lynch moved to Boston and went through a short experience of agoraphobia when he stayed in for two weeks and listened to the radio because he was physically and mentally unable to do anything else. He managed to get through that crisis, but says there’s always a certain level of nervousness when leaving home, even today he is the happiest when he doesn’t have to go out and stay in the world he created.

Moving to Philadelphia to pursue the art spirit and enrollment into Academy of Fine Arts were another important step for Lynch. While talking about living in a new, dark city that scared him, he describes weird and unpleasant encounters with neighbors, for example with a woman who would go around in her backyard squawking like a chicken. In moments like these, even though this is an intimate and honest portrayal, the viewer can never be sure if it really happened – Lynch lets us wonder about those events using his great capacity for telling surreal stories.

[Credits: Janus Films]

“Oh, a moving painting, but with sound”

The love of painting came first and remained his main occupation, until the day when Lynch, while observing the big painting he was working on at the time, started seeing movement and hearing the sound wind in the background. That’s when the passion for film making and storytelling started and led him forward in his career.

Homemade videos that show Lynch filming his first wife Peggy playing with his daughter show his personal side, but even then you can’t clearly separate the artistic and family man persona because he seems to think about art all the time.

The life changing moment in Lynch’s life was getting a grant from the American Film Institute at the time when he had to find a ‘normal’ job in order to provide for the family. He was unhappy and felt empty because there was no time left for painting and doing what he loved. The grant made it possible to continue his education in California and completely dedicate himself to visual art.

[Credits: Janus Films]

Lynch moved to Los Angeles to attend a training program in the Center for Advanced Film Studies describing the experience as unbelievable and inspiring. Creating new worlds and capturing them on film was now part of his daily routine.

The last couple of minutes are dedicated to the making of his first feature film – surrealist horror Eraserhead. His family thought he was losing time with it and should find a real job to earn money. He knew the time spent on filming it wasn’t lost and was determined to finish the movie while fully enjoying the process, describing everything about it as beautiful.

 

Eraserhead to me was one of my greatest, happiest experiences in cinema.

[Credits: Janus Films]

The impression after watching this unique documentary and getting to know David Lynch’s life and career on a personal level is very similar to being immersed into his work – you experience the fascination, thrill and mystery. Every person who is in a way involved into art making can learn a lot from this feature, there are two things I would like to point out – creating is important because it gives us a real sense of freedom and mistakes are necessary because they lead us towards what we’re trying to achieve.

He is letting the viewer in, but not inviting him to stay too long, only to have a long peak through the window, because at the end of the day – this is David Lynch, a talented, crazy imaginative artist that dares to visit places others have yet to discover and all that while we watch him sitting calmly, puffing away smoke and keeping his cool appearance.

 

Originally posted on Creators.co

 

Godard: ‘I get high staring at posters in the streets. I get high on people.’

Note: Godard who has just finished shooting his lates film One Plus One, agreed to meet Hermine Demoriane for this interview but would not consent to it being recorded. “What you don’t remember, make up”, he said. Excerpts from the interview follow.

We have a lot of professional filmmakers who would be better off doing something else.

 

HD: You have said everybody should make movies.

JLG: No. I did not say that,  I said more people should. There are not enough films. Look, there is no black cinema at all. Stokely Charmichael should make a film. But he can’t. Even if Mao sent him the money he would not find a distributor. There aren’t any films from the workers, either. I’d like to hand over my unit, lock, stock and barrel and let some of them get on with it. We need films FROM people, not FOR them. In the meantime, we have a lot of professional filmmakers who would be better off doing something else.

HD: What do you think of Claude Givaudan’s experiment?

JLG: Very good. You should be able to go into a shop and buy the latest Godard, take it home and project it with no more fuss than reading a paperback. In two years time we may be putting cassettes of our own films into TV sets.

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HD: You have said England was an American colony. Does this apply to its films?

JLG: There are no English films. There are American films set in London.

HD: What do you think of American cinema, then?

JLG: The most conservative in the world. It works on worn-out formulas totally irrelevant today. Its only aim is to lift people out of their environment for a moment and persuade them the world is a beautiful place so they keep quiet and allow the system which begats such films to continue.

HD: You didn’t even like Bonnie and Clyde?

JLG: Average. Very average.

HD: And the cinema in France?

JLG: Very conservative, too.

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HD: What do you reckon is the way to break the monopoly of the big companies?

JLG: Either drop a bomb or them or buy them.

HD: You have just made a film for French TV. Would you like to do more?

JLG: I see no difference between cinema and TV films. I would like to make more, yes, but I doubt if they’d get shown. TV is governmental, and not only in France. Governments are always clever enough to take it over. Consequently TV would be the same in Cuba as it is in Greece. I think opposition parties should have an equal influence.

HD: Do you believe that hippies could be a force to purge Capitalism, as the Red Guards purged Soviet Communism?

JLG: The hippies will do nothing until they are politised.

HD: They need a Mao?

JLG: Not necessarily. Only to get educated politically.

HD: The demonstration at the first night of the Green Berets proves that something is burning.

JLG: Yes, that was excellent. I wish someone had told me, I would have gone.

HD: Do you think the uprising could come from England eventually?

JLG: Yes, it is good here because there are plenty of people with money and open minds. But alas, they don’t use their minds, and they are usually corrupted by money. People could do things but won’t. Look at the Beatles for instance. And Peter Brook. He should have put his Marat/Sade outside Buckingham Palace.

HD: Are you aware to have prophested Sorbonne in La Chinoise?

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JLG: No. Prophesy is a mild form of fascism.

HD: What about your next film?

JLG: It is going to be produced and shot in America. That’s all I know about it. Except the title. I’ve got that. An American Movie.

HD: Have you ever taken acid?

JLG: No. Not interested. I get high staring at posters in the streets. I get high on people.

HD: Exactly what my mother says. Thank you.

 

*Interview with Jean-Luc Godard by Hermine Demoriane, published in IT (International Times) no. 39, 6-19 September 1968

All About My Favorite Director: 5 Reasons why Pedro Almodóvar is a Creative Genius

Cannes Film Festival is about to begin, introducing the impressive selection of films competing in different categories with everyone’s attention especially directed towards the potential Palme d’Or and Grand Prix winners.  What makes the 70th edition of the most acclaimed European film festival even more exciting is that Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodóvar  has been named president of the jury, becoming the first Spaniard to be given that honor.  The prolific director has had six of his films shown at Cannes throughout the last two decades, winning the best director prize for All About My Mother (1999) and best screenplay for Volver (2006).

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Even though his films are exclusively in Spanish, that didn’t stop them from getting worldwide recognition from both critics and the audience. What is so appealing and unique about Almodóvar’s films that makes everyone who has seen at least one always come back for more? I’ll try to break down the director’s trademark characteristics in 5 key points.

 

Every genre is his genre

The problem is that I work in more than one genre. It’s impossible for me to aim for a single one because, for me, comedy is mixed with tragedy. That’s very Spanish, the way in which comedy and tragedy are inextricable from each other.

Transferring his eclectic taste into movies turned out to be a big creative success.  There are no  boundaries in Almodóvar’s stories, the viewer is often surprised by the way in which the story is developing. Also, his films are a great example of how the art of movie making is all about freedom of expression and having fun while creating the amusing plots and characters. This blend of genres is evident in every period of Almodóvar ‘s career- the early love stories mixed with provocative eroticism and political statements, to his newer films that contain mystery,  thriller, black comedy and horror elements. No one incorporates romance and suspense as skillfully as Almodóvar  resulting in emotional romantic thrillers like Broken Embraces or mystery melodrama Volver. 

 

 Memorable female characters

I feel that I can tell a richer and more entertaining story with women.

It’s not jut that he puts women in the spotlight as main protagonists, he makes them believable and goes well beneath the superficial explanations of what drives a character to act the way she does. Penélope Cruz, one of Almodóvar’s favorite actresses praised him as someone who perfectly understands the female universe and makes them feel protected so that is why she enjoys collaborating with him. The key of this capability stems from director’s childhood experiences,  he explained many times that he grew up surrounded by powerful, strong women.

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During the promotion of his latest feature Julieta, the Spanish filmmaker criticized Hollywood for sexism and not creating enough complex roles for women of all ages. On the other hand, some of his critics say he focuses on women too much, while his heterosexual male characters seem questionable and incomplete.

 

Visual style

Almodóvar’s filmmaking style may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but no one can deny that he has an amazing sense for details and using colors as an important addition to storytelling. Quirky characters are not based solely on their dialogues and expression, the visual representation means a lot in how the viewers interpret their actions. The first example I think of is Lucia from black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown whose mental instability was emphasized by over the top make up and costumes, turning her into hilarious, almost grotesque character.

Almodóvar has never been afraid of using ‘too much’ color, he openly flirts with elements of kitsch evoking traditional Spanish culture,  but in a modern, progressive environment. Through years of making movies he learned how to control those exaggerated visuals in order to improve the film’s plot, but has continue to  employ the bright colors, no matter if it’s the clothes, make up, lightning, a chair, a telephone, etc.  The trademark of the majority of his work is the use of red which is directly connected to everything is so typically Spanish, but also draws attention to specific details, creating a tense atmosphere, and  simply works out so well in front of the camera. One of Almodóvar’s  most successful international features Everything about my Mother is the best illustration of the power of red. It represents strong, bold women and their life stories through dealing with broken relationships, love, motherhood, friendship, loss, etc.

 

Breaking the taboos

As much as he is not scared of colors, the Spanish filmmaker also doesn’t stray away from the unusual and hidden parts of human nature. A part from that, he creates space for characters who were in most cases pushed away from the mainstream – the homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites. Ever since his debut 1980 film Pepi, Luci, and Bom Almodóvar  has been promoting artistic, individual and sexual freedom, questioning the social conventions and tackling stereotypes. It is impossible to forget elements like Gael Garcia Bernal’s transgender character Zahara and dealing with sexual abuse in Bad Education,  the deconstruction of identity in All about My Mother, challenging mother stereotypes in Volver, getting involved with the creepyness and obsessions in The Skin I live in, or experiencing painful feelings of guilt in Julieta.

Another important element is humor that is born out of unexpected, absurd, generally considered tragic situations showing the importance of context, for example the rape scene in Kika, or suicide attempt in High Heels. Despite of these chaotic events, the viewer continues to form emotional bonds and empathy towards the fabulously eccentric characters and that is what makes Almodóvar ‘s work authentic.

 

  The choice of music

It’s no secret that films in general wouldn’t be nearly as exciting and touching if they weren’t accompanied by music, so it’s no surprise that Almodóvar  doesn’t leave anything to chance in this department. He carefully chooses songs by his own preferences and is often led not by the artistic quality of music, but its references and emotional value. Original soundtracks for his movies have become hits of their own thanks to the collaboration with talented composer Alberto Iglesias.

Some of Almodóvar’s films are so strongly connected to their soundtrack that after watching them, we automatically connect actors and characters with a certain song proving music is inseparable from narration. When I think of the closing scenes of Talk to Her, I immediately hear the music, the dancing couples gliding through the stage appear afterwards. The most recognizable scenes have become so popular precisely for their musical intervals, like the incredible tunnel scene from All about My Mother which stays with you long after you’ve seen the film or Penélope Cruz owning that melancholic musical scene in Volver. For me, the most rememberable due to not only music, but costumes and incredible acting abilities is Gael Garcia Bernal’s performance of Quizas in Bad Education. 

 

Originally posted on Creators.co

 

 

 

Honoring Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a Vampire Movie Chronology

As soon as it seems we have seen it all when it comes to vampire thematic, a new movie or series comes out proving that, just like its characters, the genre is immortal.  To honor Bram Stoker, an author best known for his gothic horror novel Dracula which actually paved a way for vampires entering the popular culture, I created this historic overview of the most interesting. Each one features pale, more or less attractive blood sucking mythological creatures who keep inspiring filmmakers and attracting the audience’s attention.

Stoker died on the 20th of April 1912, but his legacy lives on, although some of the vampires we have gotten used to today are nowhere near the original book version of count Dracula who is described as a thin, old, white-haired predator with sharp teeth and pointy ears.

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Book cover by Laura Birdsall

Nosferatu (1922)

First we go way back in time to Germany and F.W. Morneau’s adaptation of Stoker’s novel. The character’s names and some facts and locations have been altered because the film studio didn’t manage to obtain the rights for the use of original Dracula content. After finding out about the movie, Stoker’s widow filed a lawsuit against the creators of Nosferatu and demanded that all of the copies need to be destroyed. Luckily, some of them were copied, saved and managed to survive. Even after all those years, Count Orlok  (Max Schreck) remains one of the most chilling characters on-screen, he is so convincing that many viewers at the time thought he could be a vampire in real life as well. An absolute must see for true horror movie lovers, especially if you can get your hands on the restored Blu – ray edition.

dracula-intro-nosferatu

 

Dracula (1931)

This is an official version, the one that had no lawsuit and copyright issues. More importantly, it features the legendary actor Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, the role that marked his career forever. Also, Lugosi’s thick Eastern European accent influenced the future portrayals of the character in the same manner, turning it into one of the most recognizable Dracula’s features, even though the novel description clearly states his English was flawless. Lugosi’s deep voice, clean-shaven face with not much make up and simple elegant clothes have become a mandatory part of the iconic Dracula portrayal that would be copied and used as a reference for many generations to come. Apparently, at first he wasn’t Universal’s first casting choice, could you imagine that?

 

 

The Return of the Vampire (1943)

The 1931 horror classic has turned Bela Lugosi into a star, but it was also the one he couldn’t escape from as he continued to get typecast for the rest of his career. This was supposed to be a Dracula sequel, but due to possible copyright problems and lawsuit threats, the names were changed even though everything else remained familiar. As a  cool fun fact it should be noted that this is the first movie ever that features both vampires and werewolves in it.

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Lust of the Vampire (1957)

The plot of this Italian horror movie (I Vampiri is the original title) takes a different turn as it doesn’t revolve around the classic vampire monster antagonist. Instead, there is a mad scientist who kills young women and draws blood which his lover uses in order to stay alive and maintain a youthful appearance. This the debut film for Italian master of horror Mario Bava who didn’t get credited as a director because he continued the work startted by Ricardo Fredda who left before it was finished. Here you’ll get to appreciate Bava’s talent in creating amazing visual effects, knowing how to properly use lightning and creating a chilling atmosphere.

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Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

It would be impossible to go through this list without mentioning the Hammer Horror Film series who’s first three sequels were all directed by Terrence Fisher. Also, this series brought the iconic role to Christopher Lee,the second most famous Dracula of the 20th century‘. For the first time he appeared as the mysterious Count in 1958 adaptation of Stoker’s novel, for some reason skipped the following Brides of Dracula, and then came back for the Prince of Darkness.  This part of the franchise is particularly interesting because Dracula doesn’t really speak, he only hisses, and the reason? Christopher Lee claimed he refused to talk in the movie because the lines sucked, while the screenwriter Jimmy Sangster said it was his idea, that he didn’t even write any lines for Dracula because vampires don’t chat. Even if the lines were THAT bad, that didn’t stop the legendary actor from taking the Count Dracula role in 8 more movies.

 

 

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

The 70’s era delivered some classic adaptations, but also a whole range of really weird vampire inspired movies like Love at First Bite and Dracula Sucks, taking the genre to a whole new level.  To completely step away from the original Dracula plot, I chose another title from the Hammer Film Company – The Vampire Lovers. This one is inspired by the story that was written earlier than Stoker’s novel, it deals with not only vampires, but includes eroticism as well. It means there’s nudity and lesbian sex scenes, while vampires are no longer ugly, but sexy and seductive. Placed in the 19th century Austria, the plot centres around beautiful female vampire who is constantly looking for new victims. Even though the movie can’t be declared a masterpiece, it has gathered a cult following among horror fans.

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The Lost Boys (1987)

There’s horror, there’s comedy and there’s some romance and awesome soundtrack in this Joel Schumacher‘s movie, and it all works pretty well together.  Three teenagers and their mom move to a small town in California where they hear rumors about vampires and mysterious deaths that could be connected to them. At first they think those are just funny stories, but after one of the brothers starts behaving suspiciously, it’s time to get serious. I love the make up and special effects, the bloody and gore scenes look convincing, especially when you consider it’s an 80’s movie. A great cast and an entertaining, modern approach towards the ‘vampire’ subject makes this one definitely worth watching.

 

 

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

The 90’s offer another gothic, back to roots view of the genre in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula or luxurious blockbuster Interview with the Vampire, but my favorite work from the decade lies on the other end of the spectrum. I am not a George Clooney fan, but nevertheless, Seth Gecko remains one of my favorite movie characters ever. Over the top, violent, rude, not afraid to be trashy, those are the characteristics of many Robert Rodriguez’s movies. Two brothers who have just robbed a bank and are on their way to Mexico. A father and his two kids are going on a holiday in their RV until the Gecko’s take them hostage and they manage to pass the border all together. When they make a stop in a bar, after sunset they realize they will have to fight for their lives… What I love about From Dusk Till Dawn are the creative dialogues, humor and ridiculous gore moments. And of course, that Selma Hayek scene.

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Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Probably the one that stands out the most from the list, and it’s no wonder since it’s Jim Jarmusch‘s take on vampirism and the meaning of life. In its specific way, it is a great contribution to the genre. Even vampires struggle with existential crisis, get depressed and worry about the future of our society. This is not really a horror, but not really a typical romantic film or drama, neither sex or violence are at its core, the most important place is reserved for cultural references that could be found everywhere. The pace is slow, but amazing cast, soundtrack, atmosphere and dialogue keep the viewer focused throughout every minute. Movie lovers and pop culture enthusiasts will know how to appreciate it. If I had to choose living as a movie character for the rest of my life, that would be Eve (Tilda Swinton) from Only Lovers Left Alive.

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Originally published on Creators.co

 

Bubble Trouble

There are people who ‘get it’, also there are people who just don’t,  no matter how much you try to explain something.  I’m the one that likes all the best stuff – the best films, TV shows, books… If I stumble upon a classic movie that is praised by everyone, finally watch it and get disappointed because it didn’t live up to all the hype, I’ll tell you it’s overrated and worthless because my opinion truly matters, and if you don’t agree with me…

Well, you are entitled to your opinion and I respect that, but I will secretly judge you because I KNOW STUFF, I GET STUFF better than you do.

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This is an exaggeration of course, I’m not really a delusional narcissist, at least not a serious one.  I’m sure everyone has similar thoughts occasionally, even when we’re unaware of it.  We are born with a self-defence mechanism that keeps us in a bubble which helps us maintain confidence in our intellectual capacity and skills. Some bubbles are thicker, some are very fragile, they vary from being stable or changing from time to time. For instance, you know those days when you feel like things are perfectly falling into their place and with a little effort and focus, you can do whatever you set your mind to… and then there are the dog days when the gut keeps telling you it’s just not worth it, you’re going to die anyway, etc.

A piece of art about nothing

Nothing is everything. Experiences and routines we go through every day, people we meet and talk to, casual coffee breaks, business lunches, awkward first dates, sleepy late TV nights, not so casual sex encounters… Whatever you go through on a daily basis can be turned into a story for a broad audience.

In modern TV era no one had done it better than Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. Seinfeld will stay forever relevant because it deals with those little daily ‘nothingness’ moments that can be so familiar. Even if you’re not a comedian who lives in NYC and hangs out with three equally crazy friends who are all, just like you, incapable of forming meaningful relationships while getting into absurd situations, and… oh well, you get it, even then, those Seinfeld stories seem ridiculously close and personal.  When the series came to an end after nine amusing seasons, Larry David placed himself in front of the camera, but this time in a much more aggressive and politically incorrect version starring in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Some even consider the show better than Seinfeld, but I can’t fully agree even though I enjoy every minute of it. I’ll never stop rewatching Seinfeld whether I’m going through each episode starting from the beginning, or just clicking on a random one, but sometimes you need to move on. I think Curb Your Enthusiasm is the answer as it represents a natural follow-up for every Seinfeld fan which comes in a more direct, more absurd, hard-boiled form.

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I have seen some of the Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s way of creating a talk show with famous guests by literally driving them in a car, talking, then stopping at a coffee shop where they continue to, you guessed it, talk. I mentioned this to a friend who watched a Larry David as a guest episode and asked me ‘what the fuck was this all about, they’re just having a random conversation about basically nothing. And then it ends. And that’s it.’

Why is nothing bad? Why can’t nothing be enough? Of course it can, Seinfeld is a big pile of nothing in particular, but it didn’t stop it from rewriting the history of TV sitcoms. Obviously, there are people who ‘get it’ and those who don’t, no matter what.

This brings me to a completely different genre of films that are very important to me.  I hear people complaining a bunch of times about Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise – Before Sunset – Before Midnight trilogy being overrated because, as it’s written in the plot description:

‘The plot is considered minimalistic, as not much happens aside from walking and talking.’

And then it ends. And that’s it. What some people don’t like or don’t want to realise is that walking and talking can be more than enough. Whenever I watch any part of it, I am left with a big smile on my face overshadowed by melancholic yearning towards something or someone I have not necessarily met. Sometimes it’s clear to me that what I’m feeling is a complex set of mixed emotions towards a fictional construction, like living in a parallel universe for a while. I guess it’s because I strongly  identify myself with Céline, a character played by Julie Delpy, an actress who deserves a separate post so I won’t start going on about her right now. She is a careful romantic, kind of awkward because she thinks and (sometimes annoyingly) overthinks stuff and desperately looks for a conclusion even if the question is not easy or even impossible to answer. Completely rational and irrational and dreamy at the same time, that’s what draws me in every time, I guess.

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My conclusion would be, after years of trying to explain things I like to people I like in a way that doesn’t suit them doesn’t really make sense. If a couple just walking and going through all kinds of banal and complicated topics while contemplating the meaning of life and relationships isn’t someone’s cup of tea, what can you do? Tell them they are missing something very important? Tell them there’s more to movies than adrenaline packed action thrillers or dumb romantic comedies? No. We find what we like or it finds us eventually, it’s not that the other’s ‘don’t get it’, they just ‘get’ things differently and there’s nothing wrong with that as much as I would like to scream otherwise. 

Chin up, make sure your bubble stays strong, but peak out every once in a while to see more clearly what’s really going on.

 

Quentin Tarantino’s Badass Female Characters

Gender pay gap, hyper sexual objectification, dumbing down of female characters, lack of quality screenplays for women, these are just some of the issues film industry is still dealing with. Lately it seems things are moving forward as more actresses are candidly speaking up about the problems they are facing and bringing them to international spotlight.

Although Quentin Tarantino holds an image of the ‘enfant terrible’ of American cinema, his movies are often labeled as too violent, brutal and unnecessary bloody, he is also one of the most important modern directors and screenwriters. In opposition to all the violence and hundreds of gallons of blood , there is an interesting fact I appreciate very much – when you ask someone to name five iconic characters from Tarantino’s films, more than half would most certainly be female. Intelligent, cool, independent, strong, sometimes very dangerous, sometimes caring and sensual, we admired them all. Who would have thought after Reservoir Dogs came out that Tarantino would become a sort of a feminist hero.

To honour the Hollywood’s favorite ‘basterd’ on his 54th birthday I am bringing you some of his most remembered heroines that continue to inspire.

Jackie Brown

Aw, the milk went bad while I was in jail.
This is his third film, but the first in which Tarantino decided to place a woman in the lead, and oh, what a wonderful decision he made. During the ’90s period actress Pam Grier was used to appearing in smaller roles, but came back in style with a captivating performance in crime thriller Jackie Brown where she managed to outshine acting legends like Robert DeNiro and Samuel L. Jackson. Jackie is a middle-aged flight attendant who is actually working for a gun dealer Ordell Robbie by smuggling money across the border. After she gets caught, Jackie agrees to cooperate with the police in order to catch Ordell and avoid jail time. At the same time, she realizes her crazy boss wants to kill her, so that’s when she comes up with a not so simple plan… Smart, daring and charming woman who doesn’t want to depend on anyone, that’s why Jackie Brown will always deserve an important place on a groundbreaking female roles lists.
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 Shosanna Dreyfus

My name is Shosanna Dreyfus and THIS is the face… of Jewish vengeance!

Tarantino made Inglorious Basterds so that he could play with the darkest part of the 20th century and deliver his version of WWII events in his distinctive, attractive way. The key character is Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a young Jewish woman who happens to be the only surviving member of her family that was murdered by Nazi’s. Years after the soldiers found them in their hiding place and committed a bloodbath, she meets a German war hero and gets an idea for a revenge plot with a goal to kill the Nazi top commanders like Hitler and Goebbels. Her will power and fearlessness is astounding, along with her ability to keep focus on the way of reaching her final objective.

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Mia Wallace

Three tomatoes are walking down the street-a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and smooshes him… and says, Catch up.
This small tribute can’t be completed without HER, the ultimate style icon and every girl’s dream Halloween costume choice. Uma Thurman and Tarantino surely had a special chemistry between them on the set, and we can all be grateful for that. She is not a main protagonist, but is the most recognizable one, her face is the visual and spiritual representation of Pulp Fiction. Mia is a mobster Marsellus Wallace’s wife who wanted to be an actress, is totally in love with Amsterdam, smokes a lot and also likes to snort cocaine. Her style is simple, but seductive, she is smart, has a great sense of humour and she’s definitely got a way with words. And as you already know, she can dance like no other.
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Zoë Bell

You guys look like shit. Who died?

One of the leads in Death Proof, maybe not Tarantino’s most acclaimed work, but certainly the most ‘girl power’ statement movie . Also, Zoë is the only one starring under her real name because she is actually playing herself – an energetic, talented stunt double who made me want to get out more and get involved in a sports activity for a change. Tarantino was amazed by the skills she presented while doubling for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and how could he not be – just remember those crazy adrenaline-filled Death Proof scenes where she’s strapped on the hood of a speeding car. Zoë also appeared in other Tarantino’s works: Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, showing a range of talent, breaking stereotypes and just staying true to her cool, bold presence.

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The Bride

Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.

Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), code name Black Mamba is one of the greatest action movie characters of all times which means a lot because that kind of roles are usually reserved for male actors only. She is a former member of an elite team of extremely well-trained assassins who finally wakens from four years spent in a coma after she was shot in the head by her former boss and lover called Bill. Kiddo creates a list of former colleagues who have betrayed her and begins her ruthless mission of killing every one of them showing impressive fighting skills along the way. Her dynamic, blood soaked quest for vengeance is divided into two volumes, culminating in an epic ending. That kind of firm determination in a character is rarely seen and has to be appreciated, Kiddo is passionate and dangerous, scary, but makes you sympathize with her after all the trauma she’s been through. Finally, the list of awesome women who are not afraid to attack first is what gives this movie a big credit in establishing a different kind of a female presence on the big screen, showing everyone that women can kick ass, as well.

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Originally posted on MoviePilot

Lust for Life

I slept over at a friend’s place and forgot to take my contact lenses off last night. And my mascara as well.  A thousand dry, itchy blinks later, I’m home drinking lemon balm tea which is known for its calming effects. At the same time there’s another cup in front of me, I’m also having morning coffee leftovers. Last sip of tea, I’m still very thirsty and in desperate need for more tea or a tall glass of water, but no, my mind goes blank: Hey, have some salty pretzels! Naturally, these pretzels are making me (even more) thirsty. While devouring the last drops of coffee with a bitter taste in my mouth, I’m thinking how in three hours time I’ll be able to celebrate the impressive 24 hours of not washing my teeth. During that period, I drank tea, ate pizza and french fries, smoked a pack of Lucky Strikes, a couple of beers and two (I think) gin tonics. Usually, I’m really conscientious about personal hygiene and eat lots of vegetables so don’t judge.

Yesterday evening before going out I’ve seen Trainspottingnot the sequel but the 1996 original. I keep postponing the sequel watching due to a cool mix of nostalgia and unexplainable fear of the future. What does it have to do with a random movie sequel? I don’t really know, it’s just as close as I am able to describe how I feel.  Location – my favourite old cinema in  town which has been turning the best idea ever into reality with adding old(er) classics to their programme (I’ve already seen Taxi Driver and The Wizard of Oz).

So, back to Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy, Spud and Tommy, the characters we hate to love and love to hate. From the intro to the end, every scene, every conversation, every character’s quirk, vice and gruesome activity is epic. The ‘heroes of my youth’ grinning, swearing, shitting and injecting heroin on the big screen, all accompanied with hands down one the best movie soundtracks ever, music growling from the speakers in perfectly arranged intervals.  No matter how many times I’ve already seen Trainspotting, it just doesn’t get any less exciting, touching or funny.

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After leaving the cinema, I stood on the street among people for a bit, lit the cigarette and kept thinking about the holy trinity: David Bowie – Lou Reed –  Iggy Pop, and how any movie containing their music couldn’t be bad even if it actually was.

During my rebellious, curious teenage years, I was prone to thinking of Trainspotting as a film that glorifies drug use and junkie lifestyle, it was a form of a forbidden fruit, cool in a weird way and that’s what I was drawn to. Now I’m experiencing things much differently, I laugh and cringe at particular scenes… It is a sad story at the times, tragic but hilarious, imbued with tons of cynicism. Also, this sounds like a definition of a black comedy, but that categorization doesn’t do the justice to this movie, not even close.

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I was relieved to realize that this cult work was and will always remain important to me; even though we all change through the years and outgrow things every day, the core, the quality pieces we collect through our lives remain the same. The same as in we appreciate them equally, but from a very different angle. The variety of perspectives is why it’s fun to be an art loving human in the first place while listening to music, reading, watching movies, admiring paintings or sculptures… the content comes to us in different shapes and each mind reshapes the artist’s view in their own way.

Ok,  I’m about to make a sugar-free lemonade, no more coffee today!  This means I’m thinking of improving myself on so many levels right now. Today I’m going to eat  fruit instead of junk food, brush my teeth a couple of times to compensate, wash out the smoke from my hair, sweat and beer from the clothes and nonsense from my mind.

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Things and opinions can change, but my crush on Sick Boy is forever.

Crazy for Godard

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There are movies you can watch with one eye closed, while texting your crush or thinking about your grocery list. There are movies you can watch with a bunch of friends and comment, laugh, talk about something else for a while, get up to get some more popcorn. There are movies who don’t demand your full attention, they are here to present a certain plot and try to entertain you while on the greater scale their sole purpose is to earn as much money as possible and then fall into the oblivion. Everyone who had at least a brief encounter with Jean-Luc Godard‘s movies is aware, of course, that this is not the case.

The average mind raised on the typical American style cinematography will get confused after five minutes, get bored after twenty and is most likely to give up from watching the movie after 45 minutes. But that’s no surprise and doesn’t mean that the average mind is stupid or uneducated. Godard’s work is an acquired taste, the one that when/if the viewer accepts it and gets to know it, falls in love more and more until you start looking at the everyday life scenes through Jean-Luc’s glasses.

That started happening to me after I watched Une femme est Une Femme (A woman is a Woman, 1961), my first Godard experience. I was a bit puzzled at first but it was love at first sight – the story, Anna Karina, Belmondo, the clothes, dialogue, colors, language… Freedom! Freedom is the key, freedom from the overpayed, overplayed, predictable script, nonchalant deconstruction of what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘succesful’. Godard himself says it all in one simple sentence:

“Improvising on the set is different from faithfully following the script.”

C’est vrai.

The last one I’ve (re) watched is also one of the most important French new wave titles – Pierrot le Fou (Pierrot Goes Wild, 1965).  It’s one of those movies that stuck with me and will always be important, also this time I had a chance to watch it in the cinema, on the big screen. What an experience, not even drunk people talking pretty loudly or leaving in the middle of the film couldn’t spoil the good feels and my overall excitement. If an extraterrestrial finally visits our beautiful planet one day, I suggest playing Pierrot for him/her/? to explain what ART means. You can’t define it in one word, it can be completely subjective, but once you come across it, you know it’s here.

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What I like the most about this film is the criticism towards Americanization, war and consumerism. We are so obsessed with things and accumulating stuff we don’t really need. We all know that, we’ve seen Fight Club for god’s sake, but still we remain clueless. I’m looking for winter coats online as we speak and I get that adrenaline rush because I’m in a hurry to pick the PERFECT one, the one that DEFINES me and at the same time I hate myself for it, but also can’t help it. Ridiculous, it’s like being stuck in between two worlds. That’s why artist that present sober critics to their public need to be even more appreciated. They are not just artists who create something for themselves and a small circle of people, they represent the state of society in general. Through the words, music, images and beautiful or funny scenes they can comfort us, but also implement a warning sign in our mind that something needs to be changed.

Like all great works of art, Pierrot le Fou is still very much relevant, I always laugh at the statement:

“Now we are entering the age of the ass.”

We are very much in that age and it seems like we will be in it for a while longer, don’t we? It’s hard to come out and look up, I guess.

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To conclude, i really think everyone should find some free time and dedicate it to watching good, classic movies, and not just so they can boast about it and act all ‘intellectual’ in front of others, it should be completely opposite, actually. Watching Godard helps me create my own little world, draw inspiration from it and learn. Finding out that  improvisation can coexist with author’s  control over  his work and what he’s trying to achieve is something I didn’t know before Godard, and now I very much appreciate. It is the unique pleasure of letting the viewer feel whatever he wants to, find his own way through the two hour movie watching experience without pulling his hand like he’s a kid about to get lost in the shopping mall. Let him get lost on purpose to find something new and exciting, that is the goal.

There are many little joys we all need to give our life true meaning, the memory of coming out of the cinema, snapping my fingers while singing quietly Ma ligne de chance is and always will be among my favourite instant mood boosters. And the best part is, I have yet to discover the rest of the ‘nouvelle vague’ familly – Truffaut, Chabroul, Rivette….

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FIN.

Reservoir Dogs & the Aestheticization of Violence

What I’m about to post is an English translation of a part of the favourite essay I have written by now. I chose this topic as an assignment for a class called Media and Violence. The essay is all about my favourite American director Quentin Tarantino, also, this particular piece of it focuses mostly on the analysis of screen violence and it’s influence on the viewer in Tarantino’s first-born, the legendary Reservoir Dogs. The main question inflicts itself: was all that blood really necessary?

The formal expression most commonly attributed to the work of director Quentin Tarantino is the aestheticization of violence. The inevitable violence is also the central  topic for the biggest critics and those who disapprove his work. The term aestheticization of violence includes all kinds of violent behaviour or images that suggest violence in high culture and mass media; violence which is presented in movies, fashion, TV shows and the rest of the media world.

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Tarantino as Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs

When it comes to art, the aestheticization of violence and death is very much present since the early age, especially in the western culture. Why has violence always been such an important part of art, cultural critic Susan Sontag explains as the universal human desire for images of pain and violence, it is the same as our universal desire for looking at the naked bodies. Sontag also thinks that people feel a certain amount of satisfaction while watching that kind of content because they feel they can take it without wanting to look away. In case they do look away, they feel satisfied, but in a different way. Kind of like a win-win situation.

Of course, an abundance of violent scenes is not something typical for Tarantino’s movies only, there is a great number of directors who use it, I will mention the most memorable ones like David Lynch, Guy Richie and Ridley Scott. Hollywood cinematography is present in the entire world, produces the most violent movies, but also attributes most to the aestheticization and presentation of violence as a form of artistic expression.

The critics have different opinions about the aesthetics of violence, there are two main theories most of the talk about: the habituation theory and the catharsis theory. The habituation theory suggest that the more we consume violent content in movies or TV shows, we decrease our sensibility to violence, violent behaviour becomes normal and usual to us. It is often presumed that movie violence is superficial and senseless, it is used only to get the attention, and eventually has a negative influence on the audience who’s members can become violent themselves.

The opposed side considers violence to be a part of the content, important asset to the movie’s plot, it has a chatartic effect on the viewer who’s tendency for violent behaviour decreases. Australian movie critic Adrian Martin defends and explains  the use of violence in the movies:  „ … violence on-screen is not real and mustn’t be confused with real life violence. Movie violence is fun, spectacular, acted, it is a dramatic metaphor. (…) It has gone through its historical changes,  has its codes, precise aesthetic benefits.”

Now it’s time to apply the theory through the examples, and my first pick was my favourite Tarantino movie which was also his first, break through project from 1992 – Reservoir Dogs.

This influential piece of independent movie history tells a seemingly simple story: it begins with eight men who don’t know each other (they don’t even reveal their names or anything about their identity) who have planned a diamond robbery, but the whole deal doesn’t really go as smoothly as they’ve expected. Nonlinear narrative combined with many gore, bloody scenes leads the viewer through the story and gets him to know the characters.

Those violent scenes and extent use of profanities were the reason for a big discussion right after the movie premiered. While some were impressed with the scenery and amazing acting performances, some scenes were too much to handle for a part of the audience.  The scene that cause the biggest ‘fuss’ is the one with Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) dancing and having loads of fun while brutally torturing a policeman by cutting his ear off. On many occasions the viewers would leave the cinema because of this particular scene. On the other hand, it has become one of the iconic scenes of the modern cinema, along with the song Stuck in the Middle with You performed by the Stealers Wheel.

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The infamous ‘ear scene’ with Michael Madsen

Tarantino’s answer to the numerous question about how Reservoir Dogs could inspire the increase of violence among its viewers went a little like this: Well, you can’t arrest me for something some pussy could do after he watches the movie. The moment when artists are blamed for stuff like that, that doesn’t have anything to do with art anymore.

Along with that, there are also negative comments concerning political (in)correctness – the movie is filled with aggressive racist dialogs, demeaning conversations towards women, and there’s also an important fact – there is not a single female role in the movie. To explain the racist part, all the criminals are white males, in this case they are the ones who have adopted the cool gangster image.

Verbal violence and overuse of profanities has become a common trade of Tarantino’s movies, in Reservoir Dogs he implemented swear words wherever it was possible (fuck is pronounced 269 times), we could assume it was his way of attracting attention and desire to bring something new to the crime movie genre. At the time those movies were getting less and less popular, Tarantino is the one that renovated the genre and brought it back to life. The critics love to say that Tarantino glorifies violence, tries to make it seem appealing, but closer look at those stylized scenes and pop culture references bring us to a different conclusion. Violent scenes are exaggerated, choreographed, attention consuming, but they are very far from reality.

Stylization that is created on exaggeration and repetition keeps  the viewer  in the safe distance, the difference between the real  and imaginary world is very clear. We have our world on one side, and Tarantino’s creations on the other. If you appreciate his creation, enjoy it, if not, don’t watch it and just let him be.