Sunset Boulevard (1950) Vs. Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

blogThis week I (unknowingly) watched two stellar performances. One, a certified classic while the other a recent biopic. The more I thought about writing two separate blog entries for both, the more I was convinced that the two movies were a close resemblance to each other, if not entirely.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you would have seen the first movie I’m gonna dive into. Sunset Boulevard; the highly acclaimed film-noir directed by none other than Billy Wilder, the man who gave us classics like Double Indemnity and The Apartment to name a couple amazing ones. The film is about a bothered script writer ‘Joe Gillis and a forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond’s weird relationship and the insaneness that surrounds them and the people around them. Don’t wanna give away the plot, because it is an utter gem that should be experienced by one’s own eyes.

This movie has some very eery moments because of some great cinematography. Black and white LA, star-dust, movie business and the life of an old “long gone” star is depicted beautifully by the director and cinematographer. Gloria Swanson embodies the character so perfectly and those eyes, have so much expression like you’ve never seen before. For me, Eric Von Stroheim stole the limelight. You never know what secrets a man is hiding under his male bravado until he falls in love and is destroyed forever. Stroheim showcased just that, and rightly so. We are made to see the story from Joe Gillis’ POV played by the very talented William Holden. And the fact that it’s a narrative (voice-over) makes it truly a piece of art (for me at least).

The next movie is a 2016 release Florence Foster Jenkins. Based on real life events. The film shows the inspiring true story of the world’s worst singer. A NY heiress Florence, whose dream is to be an opera singer, only she has no idea that she can’t sing.

The  film revolves around Florence (played to the T by Meryl Streep) and her husband St.Clair (Hugh Grant like you’ve never seen him before)  and the struggles he faces in maintaining an illusion of a world that respects and have high praises for his talented wife.

It’s a story about having dreams and letting go of them when harsh realities set in. It’s a movie about love. Hugh Grant quotes Shakespeare in the movie which is what he really practices in his love life;

“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,”

Technically, the movie is dazzling. The 1940s stage setting is brilliant, from the steep outfits to the elegant decor and old-fashioned automobiles that inhabit old-time New York. By the looks of the poster, many thought it would be a feel good comedy of the year.
Stephen Frears has taken a sad, tender story and made it surprisingly  fun and enjoyable without avoiding the melancholy. It has a beautiful message. A must watch!

Now, the real reason why you’re reading this (if you haven’t closed the tab already that is), the comparison I drew from both works. Let’s list them down:

  1. Delusional Star syndrome: Both the stories talk about the slightly delusional stars that still think that the audience wants them back as they’re truly mesmerized by their acts. Gloria Swanson and Meryl Streep play the delusional character so well that at some point, you start feeling sorry for them.
  2. Loving Husbands: We have Erin Von Stroheim and Hugh Grant doing their duty towards their mentally disturbed wives because their love is too strong and because both the husbands have dealt with the bad cards in the entertainment industry themselves and therefore, they personally invest in the talent (or lack there of) of their wives. Knowing that the outside world is mocking them both.
  3. Court Jesters: Ok, I don’t know why I put out this term to describe the external elements of the movies, but I guess this somehow described their characteristics. I’m talking about the outsiders in the movie (apart from the leading man and woman) who develops an interest in the “talented stars” for money. Although, they soon find themselves deeply invested in the talents of the ladies. In Sunset Blvd.  the court jester is William Holden’s character Joe. Who is initially taken up by Norma to be her personal editor (for great deal of money) but later on develops an intimate relationship with her. In Florence Foster Jenkins, the court jester is Simon Helberg’s character Cosme McMoon. Who is paid a lot (by St Clair) to play along with Florence’s fantasy as her Pianist. He too later on develops a great deal of love and admiration for Florence.
  4. Death: Both the movies end up with deaths (I won’t spill the beans about who dies though). This somehow showcases that life is but a stage and all men and women merely players. All the botheration about rights and wrongs are nothing when compared to the ultimate destiny of each one of us. So, we must play along with our  dreams and fantasy if that is what brings us pleasure.

Although, one is a fiction and the other, based on real life events; you cannot help but wonder if Life imitates art or it is the other way around.

 

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Top 10 Halloween (Horror) Movies

October is ending, and that brings with it the most entertaining and thrilling night of the year… Halloween!!

I am a sucker for scary movies. I love to not being able to look under my bed at night or walk down the hall to my kitchen to grab something at 3 in the AM. I get great pleasure in getting jumpy at the slightest of sounds after I’ve seen a few good horror scenes of a horror movie.

This got me thinking about curating a list of my top 10 Halloween flicks that I have enjoyed over the years. So skip the cinema and have yourself your very own thrill fest with these gems…

                                                                Hocus Pocus (1993):
I remember I saw this one when I was 6 or 7 and it left a huge impact on me in my formative years.  I know it is a bit Nickelodeon/Disney but if you haven’t seen this, you’re not doing Halloween right.

   Donnie Darko (2001):

It’s not your average “Horror” movie; it’s on a different tangent all together.  With the right script and cast, this movie is a cult classic in psychological thriller category. Watch it and try to contemplate what happened…I dare ya!

      Nosferatu (1922):

Kids these days don’t know what the real vampires were suppose to look and do to a mere human (thank you Twilight). Thankfully, we have classic cinema to teach them a thing or two about the actual vampires, you know, how Bram Strokes originally imagined it to be.

   The Amityville Horror (1979):

Oh boy! The best horror movies are those that are inspired by real life events. This is the best example of it. The infamous Amityville Horror is a Halloween treat and a spine chilling movie to enjoy with (or without) family. See what I just did there 😉 You’ll understand when you watch this.

    The Changeling (1980):

A haunted house, a vindictive ghost and Martin Scorsese’s stamp of approval, need I pitch this more?

     Orphan (2009):

What you see is not what you’ll get in this thriller. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you about what goes down in this 2009 thriller/drama. See it to figure out what I’m talking about.

     The Craft (1996):

What happens when four beautiful Catholic school girls decide to run the world on their terms? It’s a more creepier version of Mean Girls to say the least.

     The Addams Family (1991):

My list won’t be complete without mentioning this “all together ookie” family. They scare you, disgust you, confuse you and even make you giggle. Their home is full of dark magic and they find it difficult to adjust to the normal outside world, so they just stay the way they are. We love them!

           Carrie (1976): 

American supernatural horror film based on Stephen King’s 1974 epistolary novel of the same name. The King of horror, Stephen wrote this story so well that to this day, directors try to remake this movie, in the attempt to out shine the next.

  The Wicker Man (1973):

A police sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whom the townsfolk claim never existed.This British mystery horror film is like no other. It has it’s weird moments (look out for songs and dances) but thats a given being a British film, which is great as it brings a whole other cinema into light.

Well, I hope you’ll enjoy these movie recommendations and I hope that you have an uneasy sleepless Halloween night. (Insert evil laugh here)

Trick or Treat?!?!

My Top 10 (dead of) Summer Flick Picks 2016

Well, now that we’re on a break from all the GOT drama (for a while); let’s not forget the simple pleasures in life that are equally enthralling and worth the while.

I’m talking about the slumber summer! Yes, that time of the year when your body is on a constant drowsy mode and your mind just feels like procrastinating on your “To-do list” (please don’t tell me it is just me).

If that’s the case, I have you covered. I curated a perfect summer movie list to put those unproductive days to shame.  Let’s get your summer on…  Continue reading →

Irrational man

irrational-man-wallpaper“Human reason is troubled by questions that it cannot dismiss, but also cannot answer.”- Kant

So what are we talking about here…

Morality? Choice? Randomness of life? Murder?

Taking this philosophical opinion from Kant, Woody ventures into the new tale of his latest movie plot.

Irrational Man is a story of a middle-aged philosophy (Ethical Strategies) professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who has trouble finding “inspiration to breath” in his life and so, his only option is to drink through his days. He’s simply bored of the sufferings of meaningless day-to-day existence. He’s very radical and original. You either love him or hate him.

Jill (Emma Stone), his young, bright-eyed student who is fascinated by his sufferings, desires to know him on a much deeper level and in doing so falls in love with Abe, and out of it with her serious but naive (young) boyfriend.

One day, “randomness” strikes their lives. A serendipitous encounter causes excitement in Lucas’s life and he thinks he has finally found a reason to live. He finally decides to stop whining and to take actions in his own hands. He calculates his activities in favour of someone he doesn’t know (pure altruism with a dash of selfishness) and this brings his existential crisis to a riveting adventure.

The movie moves back and forth with the voice over narrations of Jill and Abe; one (Abe) voicing his troubles and the other (Jill) trying to figure out those troubles. This is what made the film have a gripping artistic quality about it. The audience is left to choose which side of the argument are they on or want to be at least.

The idea of randomness in life was very well portrayed in Allen’s previous work with Match Point and now this film tries to do the same with the similar idea but in a different light. Getting away with murder in a godless universe is what Allen tries to show through these films; or is it just pure chance that governs our lives?

Almost each (I might be exaggerating) Woody film starts with despair and ‘life is meaningless and there is no god’ but, ends with completely instilling the audience with a hope for a better tomorrow or a second chance.

See, there’s a difference between the theoretical world of philosophy bullshit and the real life (nasty, ugly life). There is the classic economic “Problem of choice” one is confronted with.

What world would you chose to live in? The answer to which can only be found in your “Rationale”.

Irrational Man is an American mystery drama film written and directed by Woody Allen, and starring the brilliant Joaquin PhoenixEmma StoneParker Posey and Jamie Blackley; with great work (yet again) done by Darius Khondji for cinematography. Soundtrack was unlike any other Woody classics but suits the background.

The Irrational man released in 2015 has much homage to works of Alfred Hitchcock (of course, in notable Woody Allen style). It received mix reviews from the critics.

How would you rate it?

 

The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal 1957

“And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.   

“Silence in heaven” — or rather the silence of God in the world — is Bergman’s grand theme. This movie contains nothing but knowledge of the unknown. Knowledge, that someone with existential crises (like me) can especially understand. Love, faith, religion, philosophy, God, death; all comes in together to make this beautiful masterpiece.

Considered a great classic of all times (and I vouch for its authenticity), The Seventh Seal can be difficult to comprehend and even more hard to stomach. It is after all a 1957, Swedish noir movie, I don’t expect the modern audience to bear it, much less like it.

It’s the ‘medieval times’, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a Swedish knight returning home from the Crusades with his squire Jöns (Gunnar Bjönstrand) meets Death (Benkt Ekerot) on an abandoned beach and challenges him to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives. (Notice that only Antonius can see Death and no one else) As the story continues, Block and Jöns meet with several others who are evidence to the suffering that the Black Death (plague) has brought upon their land. They find a young girl who is considered a witch for having seen the Devil to be burned alive at the stake. They discover insanity in the eyes of everyone they meet, as each one is certain that God is angry with them and is punishing the world with the black plague. They also find a small group of traveling actors, Jof (Nils Poppe), his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), and their infant son Mikael, who appear to be the only souls to have remained sane during these troubled times, and are trying to bring joy to others through their plays/acts.  These people may be a little dim, but they are good at heart and you can see the happiness in Antonius’ eyes when he is together with them for the first time. This goes to show that not knowing about God or Death or believing in any socially acceptable customs and religion can make you a very happy human being. It is only when you gain the knowledge of this vacuous beliefs that you start to die or, to put it more nicely; you forget how to truly live.

The game of chess continues at each interval and Antonius inquires Death about philosophically deep questions that are bothering him. Death is ambiguous in answering them. In the end, however, Death is a much better player than any of us, and though he may humor some of his opponents by letting them think that they have the advantage, the end result is inevitable: Death always wins. No matter how skilfully we plan our moves or how determined we are to win, we can never beat Death.

If I start quoting from this movie, I might end up writing the whole movie script. Personally, the dialogues were definitely the real star of the show, as these were extremely stimulating and carefully constructed throughout the film. Almost every line spoken is, in one way or another, daunting and unforgettable. From the first sentence to the last, you won’t be able to listen to your own thoughts. It is that good. I see now where Woody Allen get’s his inspiration from. He considered Bergman as the cinematic genius. And I agree.

With great performances by every actor, the scenes are truly made memorable by the cast. Beautiful cinematography work done by Gunnar Fischer. The Seventh Seal teaches you that even when you are not getting any answers, you don’t stop asking questions.

Existentially poetic, slow paced and gloomy, this Ingmar Bergman’s classic has made a special place with film royalties, inspired numerous spoofs, and exceeded the expectations of both believers and non-believers for nearly half a century. Although it is dark and grim, it still somehow manages to spark hope in you that things might turn out better. Long considered one of the greatest films of all time, Bergman’s medieval production of fighting with inner demons can be difficult to watch but is truly impossible to forget.

A must watch before you die. (There’s an existential joke for you) 😉

the-seventh-seal

Magic In The Moonlight (2014)

“It’s science, it’s philosophy, it’s religion.”

Magic in the moonlight is one such movie where the viewers are divided into two sides from the get go. One side pertains to the heart and the other to the head.  One concerns logic and the other mystic. One relates to cynicism and the other of course to optimism.  As is the main theme to many of his movies, Woody strikes yet again with another thought provoking work of genius.

Set in very Gatsby-esque scenes in the South of France, the film surrounds a wealthy family, a world famous magician and a clairvoyant. In the affluent Catledge family we have the widowed mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), romantically naive son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen). Enjoying a great deal of appreciation for his acts as a world class Chinese conjurer going by the stage name of Wei Ling Soo, not many know that the real Wei Ling Soo is a disguise of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) an arrogant Englishman with sky high opinions of himself and a natural dislike towards phony spiritualists and optimists. When Stanley is convinced by his friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) a not so well known magician, to unmask the clairvoyant, Stanley immediately agrees to do so. He presents himself as a businessman named Stanley Taplinger in order to debunk the alluring young spirit medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden).

Sophie arrived at the Catledge villa at the invitation of Grace, who is convinced that Sophie can help her contact her late husband, and once there, attracted the attention of Brice, who has fallen for her head over heels. What follows are series of magical events that sends the characters and audience whirling. In the climax lies the biggest trick of all. Not even the critics could’ve thought of that.

Stanley (Colin Firth) is a middle aged skeptic, a scientific and a logical man. He does not believe in paranormal activities and is very argumentative on the subjects of magic and spiritual being. Sophie (Emma Stone) on the other hand is a young, cheerful, mystical spirit medium who believes in after life and the goodness in everything. The film revolves around how Stanley tries to debunk Sophie and prove for once and for all that there is not more than meets the eye; that we are born and even after committing no sins are still sentenced to death and that there is no God. But could she be the real deal? Will she be able to spark a change in Stanly with her beautiful gift?

During Séance Session

During Séance Session

Many have argued about the casting choice of the main leads (Firth and Stone) due to the age discrepancies, but I feel that it couldn’t have been better: he must be old enough to develop his pessimistic ways, and she must be young and beautiful enough to defy them at first sight.

There is no denying that there are all kinds of people present in this planet- the mystics, pragmatic, happy, unhappy, believers and non-believers. The point that Woody wants to make is in an interrogative form, which is that: whether the unhappy nonbelievers have really made science and proofs as their defence mechanism to prevent themselves from irrationally falling in love?  The way the movie tries to entangle the web of materialism and mystery, of rationale and irrational is where the beauty of the filmmaker that is Woody Allen, cannot be unseen or critiqued.

Our world has reached a point where it holds Science as the ultimate power. We live in a materialistic world with conservative views- views which believe that modern science has completely eliminated the slightest of possibility of spirit, the hereafter and God Almighty. This is what this movie tries to showcase and also examines to discover the psychological relationship between accepting that world-view, and being pessimistic and unhappy.

Dealing with such heavy subjects like religion, philosophy, love and the universe and then presenting them with such ease that it looks good and enjoyable but still manages to engross the audience with the questions that he himself is searching for through his art; this is what true magic is like on a big screen and Woody is not new to that. Many are not able to see that and I feel sorry for them.

Actors casted for the movie did their job so well that you cannot imagine anyone else doing these roles.  The part of Aunt Vanessa played by the very talented Eileen Atkins is sheer perfection. Movie’s soundtrack is what anyone would expect form an Allen classic. The cinematography, capturing the beautiful landscapes of French Riviera on reel is done splendidly by Darius Khondji who was nominated for Lumiere Awards, France 2015.

The movie scores a decent rating on major reviews but who is to say what’s right, right?

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

Movie Poster

“The saddest thing in life is a missed opportunity.”

If dirty is on your mind, then you are far-off the subject than you could be. If funny is on your mind, then you are a little to the left from where you’re ought to be. And so help you God if you think that it has anything to do with Shakespeare. If all this was on your mind after reading the title, then my friend Woody has got you hooked. Like him or not, he sure knows how to demand the attention from his audience and critics like wise.

When the production on Zelig (1983) was stalled, Woody had a chance to pen this confusion down in no less than two weeks. Filming it in as many months. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is one of Allen’s most confusing theme for a movie. It’s got nothing to do with any genre that is typically found out there on any movie database that I could agree with (even though some sites termed it as a romantic comedy). This film is inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night — not the plot per se but the tone. AT least that’s what the media says.

The story is based on three elements- three couples’ romantic complications, mid-summer weekend vacation and supernatural happenings. Couples in the story are: Andrew (Woody Allen), accountant and inventor; his sexually repressed wife Adrian (Mary Steenburgen); Leopold (Jose Ferrer), Adrian’s uncle and University professor; Leopold’s sexually adventuresome fiancé Ariel (Mia Farrow), who Andrew once dated; Maxwell (Tony Roberts), an incessantly horny doctor, who is also Andrew’s best friend; and Dulcy (Julie Hagerty), Maxwell’s nurse and FWB (friend with benefits). But you won’t be made to pay too much attention on the characters. This move is not about the characters but about what and how they survive this vacation.

It possesses a little slapstick funny moments and much more confusion, both within the plot and the characters. Woody himself didn’t crack any jokes. This movie was however significant in one way; it was the first time that Woody shared the screen with Mia Furrow.

The film progresses in a rhythm wherein one is unable to grasp fully what is the message that it is trying to send across. Although on observing again, I figured that this message is discussed in the very first scene of the film. Points like: “Nothing is real but experience- that which can be touched, tasted, felt or, in some scientific fashion, proved.” “We must never substitute qualitative events that are marked by similar properties and recurrences for fixed substances.”  “Metaphysical philosophers are men who are too weak to accept the world as it is.” “Apart from this world there are no realities.” The whole argument in this first scene is how the theme is set for the movie.

The Spirit Ball

The Spirit Ball

The element of supernatural is brought in by Allen’s character Andrew who has invented a “Spirit ball” which can communicate with the spirit world. Andrew believes that there is more to life than what we perceive with our five senses. When Leopold dies (the night before his wedding to Ariel) due to a heart attack caused by having amazing sex with nurse Dulcy (as he discovers through the Spirit Ball that Ariel is cheating on him with Andrew), just then a light emerges from the Spirit Ball and it’s Leopold’s voice that they all hear. He tells them that he is amongst the spirits in the enchanting woods who died at the hight of love making and that Andrew was right about his theory of ‘there is more than meets the eye’. This light then goes out and vanishes in the dark and the rest of the gang just watched it in awe and amazement. The End!

This is not a terrible movie at all. It’s a good one time watch or even two (who’s counting) if that’s how long it takes for you to understand the moral of this story. It taught me that opportunities should be grabbed as it comes. You only live once and you should not live it in fear or disappointment of ‘what if’s’ and ‘could haves’.  We should not take others for granted and that time is of the essence when it comes to love. Others might dis it and regard it as a waste of time but try and see the good in everything and you might learn a thing or two.

Mia Furrow was apparently nominated at the Razzie Award for Worst Actress. That’s the first and the last time that any Woody Allen movie actress got to have such kind of ‘honour’. Woody Allen has said of Mia Farrow’s performance anxieties on this movie: “I calmed her but I was not completely sympathetic, because I didn’t realize the dimensions, the gravity. I knew she’d be wonderful in it. It never occurred to me she’d disappoint me”. Every other character however played their parts to the T and were captivating. Gordon Willis was the cinematographer on this and the movie was filmed almost entirely outdoors. The role of Ariel was initially made for Diane Keaton but she was busy with promotions of her movie Reds and so, Mia took over. This was Woody Allen’s first movie for the fledgling Orion Pictures, whose executives had run United Artists and produced Allen’s movies for that company.

Not a great soundtrack compilation on this one. In fact, there weren’t much to begin with. No typical jazz tracks as is known a staple in Allen’s work. But then again, it didn’t need any major conductors. The film did not win any awards for obvious reasons. Although it scored 6.7 on IMDB and 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. You be the judge. Check it out and send in your reviews in the comments below. Check out the trailer below; hopefully it will get you excited to watch it.