This year, Athens International Film Festival turns 20! For 20 years (!), “Cinema” magazine, makes September a special month for us film lovers, by offering a wide selection of film screenings, including premieres, documentaries, short films, music films and many many more!
This year’s first film I saw was “The Drop”. Michaël R. Roskam’s English-Language directorial debut, the film is based on a short story by Dennis Lehane, the writer of “The Shutter Island” and “Mystic River”. Starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini (his last film) and Noomi Rapace, this crime drama, takes us to the world of illegal gambling, animal sheltering and a series of events that puts our not so innocent heroes on a pretty tough spot.
Not to spoil it too much for you, we follow the storyline from Bob Saginowski perspective (Tom Hardy’s character), who while being in the centre of a crime universe, insists on separating himself from the role of a gangster or a lackey, by calling himself “just the bartender” of the bar where all the bad deeds take place. While dealing with some trouble on the (illegal) job, he founds a beat up puppy, which he takes under his protection, developing a bond with it, along with the puppy’s “trainer” Nadia (Noomi Rapace). At the same time, cousin Marv, his cousin and employer (James Gandolfini) seems to have his own agenda and his motives in the series of events that occur, are seriously questioned.
Tom Hardy’s and James Gandolfini’s performances were to my opinion, the highlights of the film (and the cute puppy). Other than that, the director set a very convincing, mysterious atmosphere, but the way the story and the scenario were developing, I felt that it kinda stretched out. I mean, you could tell that it was a short story initially; it was missing something that would make the viewers more on edge. Not to be too critical, we did get a good “wow” moment at the end, but was that enough? I know that the critics and viewers were all enthusiastic about the film, but for me it was good in some parts but not everything came together as it should. Well, I guess the fact that this film's got everyone debating about it, means that at least it's a film worth noticing..
Guildford Four's Gerry Conlon, whose story was portrayed in the film "In the name of the Father", dies
Gerry Conlon, known for his wrong conviction in 1974 for the Guildford IRA pub bombing, has died aged 60. He was one of the Guildford Four, who spent 15 years in prison before their convictions were annulled in 1989. He was imprisoned along with his father. His father died in jail in 1980.
His story was better known to the younger public by the 1993 Oscar-nominated film In The Name Of The Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
In 2005 the serving at the time Prime Minister Tony Blair, apologized for this tremendous injustice.
This week marked the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. The great Bard gave us 16 comedies, 10 histories, 12 tragedies, 154 sonnets, and five longer poems. Many of his plays have been transferred to the big screen and many others have inspired films that might not share the exact same stories or titles, but were clearly inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
Great adaptations have been filmed by great artists such as Kenneth Branagh, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Laurence Olivier. But here are some of the films that might not seem at first sight Shakespearean and might surprise you:
10 Things I Hate About You (1999) inspired by Taming of the Shrew
In the late 90s flick, Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, star in the high school version of the Taming of the Shrew.
I think that anyone who was a teen in 90s, has seen this movie… At least us girls...
O (2001) inspired by Othello
Again starring Julia Stiles (those were her glory days); Othello set in a high school and centered on basketball player Odin.
She's the Man (2006) inspired by Twelfth Night
A more embarrassing, unnecessary, yet short of fun to watch “version” of the Twelfth Night, starring Amanda Bynes (remember her?); you can totally live without having seen this one…
The Lion King (1994) inspired by Hamlet
Yes. Lion King. The Disney animated film. It might not strike you at first, but Lion King is sooo the Hamlet story. Minus the Hakuna Matata song.
Much Ado About Nothing (2013) inspired by Much Ado About Nothing
This latest version of the same titled Shakespearean play, is a really good adaptation of the original text, but in the modern era with a modern touch.
Warm Bodies (2013) inspired by Romeo and Juliet
Yes, I mean the Zombie film. Even if it was not Romeo & Juliet inspired, I would still like this film; what’s not to like? Zombies & Shakespeare… amazing combo!
My Own Private Idaho (1991) inspired by Henry IV Part 1
One of Gus Van Sant’s best films that features the late River Phoenix, is indeed inspired by Henry IV and Henry V.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
This film is not so much inspired by a play of the Bard, rather than two characters that actually play a very small part in Hamlet. In this hilarious 1990 film starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, the characters seem to be unaware of the greater story that they are part of and try to deviate from it.
And then there are those films that were not inspired by Shakespeare’s plays, but rather from his own life: Shakespeare In Love (1998) was inspired by his life as we know it (with a small romantic twist), giving Gwyneth Paltrow her first (and hopefully last) Academy award and Anonymous (2011) was inspired by Shakespeare's life according to the Oxfordian Theory; saying that Shakespeare did not actually write his plays.
But, for me, the best non-traditional adaptation of a Shakespeare play will always be Baz Lurman’s: Romeo + Juliet. The cast, the direction, the music, the editing; the Lurman way to transfer the legendary play to the modern era...
This week’s film is Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. Shot in 1980, this is the director’s debut film, marking the birth of his signature style.
The story takes place in 2 and a half days, following an unemployed young man who wonders around New York, meeting intriguing characters and searching for the meaning of life.
To be honest I had high expectations for this film, having seen the other Jarmusch masterpieces. Permanent Vacation is not Down By Law, but it’s a great debut film. You can distinguish the later on Jarmusch characteristics: music plays a great role (in fact Jarmusch co-wrote the film’s music), the characters are quite unique and corky and the story is being through monologues and random encounters, all in an urban set.
Casting wise, Chris Parker as Allie Parker stands out and the rest of the cast might not be that impressive, yet is supporting the story and the main character in an effective way.
After this first experiment with film, Jarmusch gained acceptance with films such as Stranger than Paradise, Down By Law, Dead Man, Coffee & Cigarettes and Broken Flowers and became one of the most influential artists of the last 30 years.
I have no desire to make films for any kind of specific audience. What I want to do is make films that... tell stories, but somehow in an new way, not in a predictable form, not in the usual manipulative way that films seem to on their audiences.
My Film Club
After studying Jarmusch’s debut, next week it's time for another great American filmmaker: David Lynch
Next week’s film: Inland Empire (2006)
Happy St. Patrick's Day little leprechauns!! Today we celebrate everything Irish: Bono, Liam Neeson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Colin Farrell, even Jack Gleeson (a.k.a. Joffrey..)!
In celebration of this great day, we take a look at some of the most famous and beloved Irish/Irish themed films!
In the name of the Father (1993)
The true story of the Guildford Four, four people falsely convicted of the 1974 IRA's Guildford pub bombings which killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian. Seven Academy Awards nominations, including Best Actor for the superb Daniel Day-Lewis.
Gangs of New York (2002)
The Scorsese masterpiece, is set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of Lower Manhattan, where we witness the battle between the Irish immigrants and the "true" Americans, as well as the break out of the New York City draft riots. An eye opening view of the story "the hands that built America"...
The Departed (2006)
The film that gave Scorsese (finally) the Oscar, is the story of an undercover cop who has infiltrated an Irish gang and a mole in the police force working for the same mob, and how they both try to track down and identify each other before being exposed to the enemy, after both realizing that there is a rat. Amazing cast, amazing direction, amazing music!
Before 12 years a slave and Shame, Steve McQueen had directed Michael Fassbender in this film, that narrates the story of the 1981 Irish hunger strike. A powerful film with great performances!
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Set in Boston (where most of the Irish American films are set), the 1997 film written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (unknown at the time), came out of the blue and gained very positive critical acceptance.
The story of the film is more or less known: a janitor at the MIT, has a special gift with numbers and mathematics and struggles between taking the opportunity and chaising his future or staying at his confort zone and continue his normal life...
Bloody Sunday (2002)
This film shows one of the most important parts of Irish history: The events of the 1972 "Bloody Sunday" shootings in Derry, Nothern Ireland, through the eyes of of Ivan Cooper, a SDLP Member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland who was a central organiser of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry on 30 January 1972. The march ended when British Army paratroopers fired on the demonstrators, killing thirteen instantly and wounding another person who died 4½ months later.
Michael Collins (1996)
This film is the historic biopic of the life and action of Michael Collins, an Irish patriot that contributed great to the foundation of the modern Irish state. Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman give amazing performances!
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)
The story of both the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), through the eyes of two brothers who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for the Irish independence. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
Albert Nobbs (2011)
The film that gave an Academy nomination to Glenn Close, is based on a novella by Irish novelist George Moore. It's the tale of a woman posing as a man so she can work as a butler in Dublin's most posh hotel and her struggle for survival at the 19th century Ireland. A feminist story that received mixed reviews from the audience. No one can deny though the incredible performance by Glenn Close.
In America (2002)
Finally, a beloved film by Jim Sheridan. In America is the modern immigrant tale, of an Irish family arriving in the United States. Emotional and full of powerful performances, especially by the two sisters, who are also sisters in real life! Fun fact: 11 year old at the time Sarah Bolger (playing Christie), is now a regular in ABC's Once Upon A Time!
And tons of other Irish films or Irish themed films, worth discovering.... Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
Before the Walking Dead, 28 Days After and Zombieland, there was the film that started it all: The night of the living dead.
Released in 1968, it is considered one of the most influential horror films of its time. This film defined the horror genre and became an inspiration and influence for many horror film directors.
Shot in black and white in just seven months and with a really small budget, George Romero’s iconic film, managed to become a huge box office hit and start a whole new era in horror film making. Apart from the apparent shock that the film brought to the audience, it stood out for another reason: It was one of the first films where an African American actor was casted for the leading part, without that being a prerequisite on the script. Quite revolutionary for the time, especially given that the civil rights movement was at its peak.
The story starts with two siblings, Johnny and Barbra visiting their father’s grave. There, the attacks of the living dead begin. After Barbra is attacked and her brother is killed by the “ghoul”, she finds refuge in a farmhouse, where she meets Ben, also hiding from the creatures and another 5 people. They all hide there and try to defeat the mortal creatures.
The film’s effects might seem childish today, but the direction, montage and music of the film helps enhance the sense of danger, fear and agony.
It is very interesting, that despite the fact that the term “zombie” had already been introduced in cinema, Romero decides to refer to the creatures as "ghouls" or "living dead" or "those things".
In their previous appearances in cinema history (I Walked with a Zombie, 1943), zombies were never defined as flesh eating. It was this film that first established human flesh being the primary diet of zombies.
George A. Romero saw very little profit from the film when thanks to his lack of knowledge regarding distribution deals, the distributors walked away with practically all of the profits.
My Film Club
While this week we discovered a classic horror film, next week it's all about the American Independent Cinema and the great Jim Jarmusch
Next Week's film: Permanent Vacation (1980)
This week’s film selection is Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona.
Let’s be honest: Bergman is not an easy director. I will be frank and say that apart from The Seventh Seal, I hadn’t really watched any of his other films. Until Persona.
It’s not easy to review such a film. The story, the direction, the cinematography, all of this film’s elements have a story of their own. Even from the opening credits – which are to my opinion homage to Bunuel’s cinematic Surrealism- you are sucked into Bergman’s world…
The story is about a young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) and her patient, a famous actress named Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullman), who has suffered a mental crisis and refuses to speak. The nurse takes care of the actress and develops a strange relationship with her that is between dream and reality and seems to merge her identity with Elisabeth’s.
It seems though that there is more to than just their identities merging. As I interpreted the film, Alma and Elisabet are two versions of the same character and the film captures this mental straggle. Of course one can interpret the story in many ways. Apart from the complex story and its many meanings, Bergman offers an amazing cinematography that is enhanced by the lack of colors, the intense editing and the overall direction, that seem to match the mental alterations of the two leading ladies.
Persona is considered one of the major works of the 20th century by essayists and critics. In Sight and Sound’s 2012 Greatest Films Poll it comes in at 17th in the critics poll (tied with Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai") and 13th in the directors poll. It won the award for Best Film at the 4th Guldbagge Awards and it was Sweden's entry to the 39th Academy Award category for Best Foreign Film.
My Film Club
Week #8’s film was a bit… heavy, so next week we are going to keep it simple with the film that started a whole genre of horror films…
Next week’s film: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The story behind the film
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is based on a Broadway play, which is based on the same titled book. The story about making this film starts 12 years before it was shot, in 1963 when Kirk Douglas was starring at the Broadway play. Douglas bought the film rights and intended to also star in the film. While touring in Eastern European countries on behalf of the state department, he met Milos Forman who he found ideal to direct the film. He gained Forman’s attention to the project and promised to send him the book, once returning to the States, which he did. But the director never received the novel. Ten years passed and the two men met again. Meanwhile, Forman had become famous worldwide with films such as “Black Peter”, “Loves of a Blonde” and “The Firemen’s Ball” and Douglas had continued his efforts to produce the film, but with no luck. As Douglas was no longer young enough to play the part, in 1971 he turned over the project to his eldest son, Michael. Without Michael knowing that his father had shown interest to Milos Forman directing the film, he later on approached him to take over the job. So, the project was back on and one of the greatest American films went into production.
Apart from Nicholson, who had already made a name in Hollywood and had already gained an Academy Award nomination and William Redfield who had already an active career, most of the cast are actors first appearing on the screen. Also, many of the extras are actual mental patients. In this film, we get to see Danny DeVito in his first major feature role, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif in their first ever feature roles. Louise Fletcher might have had a series of roles before this film, but it was One flew over the cuckoo’s nest that built her career.
The film follows the admittance of R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a small time criminal to a mental institution, and his influence to the patients’ daily life, as well as the relationship with the oppressive head nurse (Louise Fletcher).
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest deals with issues such as mental health, the health system, power and authority and human relationships. The actors’ magnificent performances and the director’s focus on detail make this film a historical treasure worthy of being studied in film schools.
Things you might not know
Things were not so great though during shooting. Legend has it that Nicholson and Forman had completely opposite opinions on how the narrative should play out and during production, they spoke to each other through the cinematographer, but faked a friendly relationship when the media and studio personnel would show up to the set.
Author Ken Kesey was so bitter about the way the filmmakers were "butchering" his story that he vowed never to watch the completed film and even sued the movie's producers because it wasn't shown from Chief Bromden's perspective (as the novel is). Years later, he claimed to be lying in bed flipping through TV channels when he settled onto a late-night movie that looked sort of interesting, only to realize after a few minutes that it was this film. He then changed channels.
The film won 5 Academy Awards in all 5 major categories: Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adopted Screenplay. It broke a record that Capra’s film “It Happened one night” was holding since 1934. It also received 6 Golden Globes, 6 BAFTAs and another 13 awards.
My Film Club
Next week we will look into a film by one of the greatest directors: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966)
Sources: IMDb, Universal (DVD extras) & HerDudeness-pedia
The Academy can (and does) make mistakes sometimes… Especially when they have failed to award the best film of all times: Citizen Kane.
And the list goes on and on…
Biggest Losers in Oscar History
As for directors, well, let's say that everytime that Hitchcock, Scorsese, Kubrick or Tarantino lost, well.. the Academy must have been blind!
Finally, there have been times that brilliant films, actors or directors were not even nominated.
Here's a video that sums up the Academy's snubby choices over the years.....
Only 2 days left to day 0 and today we take a look at last year's winner: Argo!
Ben Affleck's adaptation of Tony Mendez's book, earned 3 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing.
Affleck lost (surprisingly) the Best Direction award to Ang Lee for the life of Pi, he was acknowledged though at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs.
So, we still have another 2 days till the big night, and we are out of Oscar winning films! Well, not exactly.. Tomorrow we are going to take a look at some losers that deserved a better fate and on Sunday, well, it's betting time! Who will win this year? Who should win this year? Who I want to win this year?? Frontrunners and underdogs: they all have a chance to win an (uncle) Oscar!
Ever since I first set foot on a cinema theatre, I knew that something magical was happening there....