Jun 28, 2007

Norah Jones / "Not Too Late"

I'm not a big fan of country music. Always thought it's a bit too corny. But there's something about Norah Jones' last album - Not Too Late - that made me hang on to it, though it does often sound countryish. It might be because I missed that mixture of light guitar strings, soft piano and mellow voice. I probably haven't heard it since Jewel's old albums and maybe some of Alicia Keys' early pieces. Plus lyrics are pretty good too.

Personal favorite: Rosie's Lullaby. You can hear it here (if you have tzeava) or here (if you don't really; ah, and ignore images).

Jun 22, 2007

Oldies, but goldies :)

Poate pentru ca e vara sau poate pentru ca pastrez nostalgia mersului la mare cu trenul (14 ore cu pielea lipita de bancile din vinilin-marca CFR, in mirosul inerent de transpiratzie si tzigari Carpatzi, cu coji de semintze scartzaind sub talpa shlapilor ...eh, ce vremuri!:))

Sau poate pur si simplu pentru ca e una dintre pozele mele favorite din galeria lui Bumbutz.

Jun 15, 2007

The latest Rodriguez/Tarantino film

No famous names are on the list of actors that shows up in the first scenes of Grindhouse, juxtaposed with the image of a stripper doing her thing half-naked in a bar; everything filmed in 80s cheap-style studio effects. No Uma, no Samuel L., no Travolta. So just when you start wondering whether the mad Rodriguez/Tarantino couple wrote again a script so completely insane that all their big-star Hollywood friends abandoned them, a nice close-up of none-other-than-the-great-savior-himself, Bruce Willis, is up on the screen!

Although you later realize his part is practically inexistent in the film (I don't think he has more than 10 lines all in all), that close-up definitely does the trick. I mean, honestly, can you picture any action movie without Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris or Mr. Van Damme? And I believe a "true" action movie - with all the related blood-baths, corny dialogues (e.g. Bruce Willis' line #1: "Where's the shit?" :)), miracle escapes, tragic last-words-before-dying, breathtaking car races & the like - is what the Rodriguez/Tarantino are after.

But the fact that pastiche is Tarantino’s middle name became pretty clear ever since Pulp Fiction. However, with Grindhouse I'm having some deja-vu issues. First of all, you have the same vampire-scenario as in From Dusk Till Dawn (though this time they’re some other type of creepy creatures), the same mixture of cheap sex and violence, all packed as a simulation of a good old pulp script. Plus, most fighting scenes - with the chopped limbs and the blood-showers - look so much alike the ones in the Kill Bills.

What's new is the way they patch together two different movies into a single one, creating some sort of a meta-frame (with kitschy ads, missing reels and trailers for other movies included in between). The thing works to reinforce the cheap 80s action-film pattern. But it also makes the whole thing unbearably long (190 minutes!). Though now that I think more about it, this is not so new either, since Tarantino & Rodriguez did it before in Four Rooms.

So all in all, I did get the humor and what they're trying to do, I digged and laughed at many of the funny scenes (e.g. the wooden leg dance, the "I killed Bin Laden" story etc.), but somehow I think Tarantino is not as good as he used to be. I feel he ends up imitating cheap/kitschy movies so well, that many times the irony escapes me and it's harder and harder to distinguish the fact that this is actually a pastiche.

Or maybe it's not?

Jun 10, 2007

A Driver for Vera (Voditel dlya Very)

The landscapes are great in this movie. (Which, I know, you couldn't tell from this kitschy poster). The camera moves really well and the whole setting - the sea, the cliffs, the small town, the mansion - is captured gorgeously. I've never been to Crimea, although it's not that far, but I'm definetly putting it on my list of places to visit after seeing this.

So, great landscapes...and that's about it. I'm afraid the rest was just a bit overdone. A bit too much far-fetched, telenovela type of drama for my taste. However, apparently it was pretty appreciated in Russia. And after all, it is an interesting insight into the Soviet atmosphere of the late 60s and offers a tiny taste of Hruschev's political schemes. But that hardly saves the poor script and the feeling of "seen-this-before-for-tens-of-times" that you get while watching.

Jun 9, 2007

Jun 7, 2007

Good (metro) reading :)

Ok, I do realize this shouldn't function as a criterion when choosing a book, but I'm afraid I picked up Jhumpa Lahiri's "Intepreter of Maladies" because it's rather short :) Unfortunately, time doesn't exactly allow me to start reading massive stuff like "À la recherche du temps perdu" right now, so I've become a short-story fan lately (i.e. consume anything that fits into my daily 80-min commuting time) :).

Anyway, Lahiri's book is an absolute must, not only because it won the Pulitzer prize, but because it captures with so much grace, talent and wit the cultural differences that people from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh have to face when migrating to the West. Themewise, it reminded me of Arundhati Roy (the small, revealing details; the refined characters and their quiet sadness, embedded so well in everyday routines). Structurewise, strangely enough, it reminded me of J.D. Salinger (for most of the above reasons, and maybe perhaps because this volume is also made up of nine stories).

Jun 4, 2007

Kukushka (The Cuckoo)

What's really special about this film is that it features 3 different characters speaking 3 different languages! We're in 1944 and two soldiers fighting on different sides (Ivan - the Russian - and Veiko - the Finnish who wears the SS uniform, but hates war) end up through a complicated series of events and coincidences into the home of Anni. She's a Laplander living in a small hut in the middle of nowhere (i.e. remote areas of Finland), with a husband gone to war four years ago, a small herd of reindeer and a great longing for the company of the opposite sex.

So how does dialogue work between 3 characters brought together by war but who don't understand each other? You might expect some really dark, absurd-theatre type of humor coming out of this. Just like some of those Ionesco plays in which each character delivers its own isolated discourse and is incapable of making sense of what other characters are saying. But in reality the funny situations brought up by the language barrier so obvious in Kukushka turn out to be pretty light. You might often find yourself genuinely laughing without the awarenss of a gloomy irony in the subtext of the non-sensical dialogue.

Like when Veiko tries to find a common language with Ivan by quoting titles of famous Russian novels ("war and peace", "the idiot" etc). Or when Ivan tries to share his desolation regarding the war and his life in general, while Anni replies with really prosaic pieces of advice about how he shouldn't eat mushrooms from the woods.

All in all, the statement of how irrelevant can language be in human interaction is pretty clear until the end. It makes you think (without annoyingly finger-pointing) about what's really important & all. Plus Anni is a really cute & eye-catching character, even when the script pulls her (a bit too clumsy maybe) out of the real world.

Jun 3, 2007

Ultimele momente (tăcute şi cam plicticoase) din viaţa lui Warren Schmidt

Într-una dintre cele mai controversate cărţi ale sale, celebrul cercetător în ştiinţe politice Robert Putnam descria consumatorul contemporan de media ca fiind un tip care nu arată prea grozav pentru viitorul celei mai de succes democraţii din lume. E cam plictisit şi în general dezinteresat de problemele sociale şi politice ale comunităţii în care trăieşte sau ale naţiunii americane în general. Nu îl mai doare nici măcar în cot, deci nu prea are motive să se uite la ştiri. În schimb, e mare amator de divertisment şi şi-a “privatizat” în aşa fel timpul liber încât să îl poată consuma singur sau în grup restrâns. Adică nu se mai prea urneşte de pe canapeaua din faţa televizorului pentru a interacţiona cu alţi membri ai societăţii sau pentru a se implica. În plus, e un tip foarte capricios. Preaputernic peste telecomandă, el are un comportament de consum media sintetizat de Putnam prin motto-ul “ce vreau, când vreau şi unde vreau”. Intransigent şi fără a face concesii în apăsarea butonului de schimbare a canalului, el e un practicant activ al acţiunii de “zapping”. Parcă pentru a-şi reconfirma puterea de alegere, adesea petrece mai mult timp verificând rapid întreaga ofertă disponibilă pe cele măcar 50 de canale TV, decât fidel în vizionarea propriu-zisă a unei producţii media de la început la sfârşit.

E destul de clar că răbdarea nu reprezintă unul dintre punctele forte ale acestui consumator. Orice program potenţial generator de plictis e rapid abandonat. Iată de ce momentele prelungite de linişte sau de imagini statice constituie un lux pe care regizorii de filme şi-l permit destul de rar în ultimii ani. Dacă nu avem dialog, atunci avem o coloană sonoră captivantă. Sau dacă trebuie neapărat să fie linişte, atunci succesiunea de imagini probabil are ataşat un mănunchi foarte gros de cârlige pentru captarea atenţiei. Preferabil sex, violenţă, droguri sau acţiuni cu o valoare reprobabilă echivalentă.

De aceea filmul regizat de Alexander Payne după cartea lui Louis Begley (din care însă nu mai păstrează decât numele personajului şi puţine detalii de context) pare destul de anacronic la nivel de structură. Totul despre Schmidt (About Schmidt) are un story lent (şi destul de anemic). Cine e Warren Schmidt? Un bătrân care iese la pensie şi nu face mai nimic interesant toată ziua. Ah da, îi moare soţia, dar oricum nu o prea putea suferi. În rest, scrie scrisori şi stă în halatul lui de baie cam tot timpul. La un moment dat se hotărăşte să îşi viziteze casa în care s-a născut şi constată că pe locul ei e acum un magazin de anvelope. Deci îşi revarsă neinvitat amintirile către bietul vânzător de acolo, care e prea politicos să îşi exprime dezinteresul. Apoi vizitează universitatea pe care o frecventase acum mai bine de 40 de ani. Şi din nou e mult prea generos cu împărtăşirea de amintiri către nişte studenţi care nici nu îl ascultă. Parcă în ciuda audienţei lipsite de răbdare, Alexander Payne nu face deloc economie la luxul numit “linişte”. Cadrele fixe, cu o coloană sonoră minimală sau chiar inexistentă nu sunt doar o întâmplare, ci aproape un refren. Cum de regizorul are succes cu un astfel de film în era “zapping”-ului? Pe de o parte îl are pe Jack Nicholson într-un rol care probabil poate fi egalat doar de vechea performanţă din Zbor deasupra unui cuib de cuci. Pe de alta, are cel mai plauzibil pretext. Viaţa lui Warren Schmidt este o viaţă în care nu se mai întâmplă nimic. Iar filmul redă asta cu claritatea unei oglinzi.

Pretextul pe care Alexander Payne îl găseşte pentru a vedea ce se întâmplă în interiorul acestui personaj (fiindcă din afară nu vedeam decât un şir lung de acţiuni şi fraze banal-monotone) sunt scrisorile lui către Ndugu. Warren Schmidt descoperă într-o zi un program prin care poate sponsoriza un copil din Africa, procedeu echivalent cu un fel de adopţie la distanţă. Se decide să participe şi îl “primeşte” pe Ndugu – un tanzanian de 6 ani, ce devine “copilul la distanţă” al lui Schmidt. Copil căruia, pe lângă cei 22 de dolari pe care îi expediază lunar, îi trimite şi câteva pagini scrise de mână. Pentru spectator, ele funcţionează ca nişte confesiuni revelatoare. Pentru Ndugu, în rama ficţională, probabil nu funcţionează decât ca nişte ataşamente fără rost ale banilor, fiindcă el nu ştie nici să scrie şi nici să citească.

Stilul subversiv al lui Payne e cel care face ca filmul să pară adesea comic, într-un mod foarte negru desigur, în ciuda depresiei implacabile a protagonistului. În cele din urmă însă, tăcerile lungi, lentoarea şi aparenta plictiseală nu fac decât să sublinieze excluderea sa dureroasă din viaţă. Moartea lui aparentă începe imediat după încetarea rutinei zilnice de la birou şi după dispariţia soţiei, chiar dacă până la moartea lui propriu-zisă ar mai putea fi mulţi ani. Schmidt nu mai înţelege, nu se mai poate adapta, nu îşi mai găseşte nici o semnificaţie şi nici un loc. Esenţa filmului stă într-una dintre frazele finale: "Relativ curând voi muri. Poate în 20 de ani, poate mâine, nu contează. Odată ce mor, şi toţi cei care m-au cunoscut mor şi ei, va fi ca şi cum nu aş fi existat niciodată. Cum am marcat viaţa celor din jur? În nici un fel. Absolut în nici unul."

Jun 1, 2007

O Ceu de Suely

As in the case of many good movies, the story of this one sounds rather banal if I try to retell it in one sentence. So I won't. Instead, here are just a few things I liked most in O Ceu de Suely:

• How the small-town life of Iguatu is pictured. The heat, its quiet hopelessness, the dead ends and the no-way-out.

• Hermila/Suely. Just everything about the vivid and so utterly real way she moves, talks, laughs, dances and cries on the screen.

• The final scene. You see the camera completely fixed, with the road spread out in front towards the horizon and a big sign above the road saying “Aqui comeca a saudade de Iguatu”. Suely’s bus passes forward until you can’t see it anymore and then Joao appears on his motorbike and slowly follows the bus. The camera stays there absolutely not moving for what seems like a loooong time. It must be over 3 minutes (pretty bold move on the director's part!). And probably just when you start thinking this is the end and expect the cast and credits to soon show up on the screen, you see his motorbike reappearing on the horizon. At first it’s just a small spot. And that it grows approaching the camera. And of course you have no idea if he’s coming alone or if she had a change of heart, got down from the bus and is now coming back with him. And then for what seems again like quite some time you’re pondering on the two possibilities, while the motorbike advances towards the camera and you get to see his silhouette clearer and clearer. And until the last minute you might have the secret hope that she’s up there on the back of his motorbike and that this will be clear as they get close enough to the camera. But in the end she’s just not.