Tonight the 2014 Athens International Film Festival, aka Opening Nights comes to an end. 11 Days with tons of films for all tastes! This year I managed to see 4 films: The Drop, Palo Alto, When Animals Dream and What If.
Before getting into the films, let me say that this year the festival seemed more alive than ever before, despite the 20 years that have passed. The selection of films was amazing, with many Greek productions, including Xenia by Panos Koutras, the crowd was amazing and the organization was almost impeccable, except from the problems in the Nick Cave screening (perhaps that was jinxed by all of us who did not find a ticket). The film ‘71 (Yann Demange’s tale of a British soldier accidentally abandoned by his unit at the riots in Belfast in 1971) won the ultimate prize, the Golden Athena award.
Now, regarding the films that I did get to see.
Palo Alto, is the first film by Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, Gia Coppola, based on the short stories by James Franco. Starring Emma Roberts and the man himself (James Franco), Palo Alto is the tale of April, a shy virgin teenager (Emma Roberts), who while trying to connect with a sweet classmate (Jack Kilmer) has to deal also with her soccer coach (James Franco) hitting on her. Through April and her friends’ tales, we get to see the anxiety and issues that teenagers deal with, the mistakes that they make and how they deal with it. Coppola’s exquisite cinematography showed us that it must be in the genes (seriously, can this family ever get it wrong?) and reminded me a bit of good old Auntie Sofia’s debut film “The Virgin Suicides”. Overall a great debut film!
When Animals Dream, is a Danish film by Jonas Alexander Arnby, about a 16 year old girl living in an isolated Danish town, with her sick mother and her father, who will discover that something weird is happening to her body, making her transform little by little to something not human… I will not reveal too much about this film as the element of surprise plays a very important part. What I can say, is that the direction and photography were amazing, adding to the whole mystery of the story and that the newcomer Sonia Suhl, is breathtaking in her film debut.
The final film that I saw was my favorite! What If, is a Canadian-Irish co-production, directed by Michael Dowse and starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan (Elias Kazan’s granddaughter). The story is quite simple: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl likes boy, but girl has a boyfriend, boy decides to be friends with girl but of course falls for her. Despite that it is considered a romantic comedy, to my opinion it was an anti-romantic comedy that made fun in a way of many genre clichés. A fresh, well written comedy, with talented protagonists that share great chemistry! Daniel Radcliffe shows that his Harry Potter days are far behind him and the lovely Miss Kazan, who we had already noticed in the film Ruby Sparks that she had also written, proves that she has inherited her fair share of her grandfather’s talent.
Well, that was for this year’s festival! Let’s focus now, on the very busy cinema & TV Fall that has already started!!
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..
The most appropriate place to watch a film such as "The Two Faces of January" is the heart of its filming locations, at the best cinema in the world (according to CNN).
"Cine Thision", is one of the oldest open air theatres in Athens (it opened in 1935) and offers not only great films to its fans but also an amazing view to Acropolis and other sights. Its unique environment, along with the old school bar (kilikio), offers a full cinematic experience to its guests.
As regards the film itself, "The Two Faces of January" is an adoptation of the 1964 novel by Patricia Highsmith and narrates the tale of an American couple vacationing in Greece at 1962. Viggo Mortensen plays Chester MacFarland, the rich husband and plays his wife Colette. They meet an American tour guide Rydal (played by ) who tends to deceive tourists to get by (a character that resembles in a way to Ripley). Rydal approaches the couple with ulterior motive Colette, but the unexpected turn of events make him connect with the couple in darker ways...
The scenery and photography helped a lot bring the atmosphere of Athens in the '60s and the sense of agony that the characters feel. Mortensen and Isaac give amazing performances that help develop he story but unfortunately that seems not to be enough. The ingredients were all there but the recipy failed. The story seemed to weeken in the end, especially the second part. Overall though, it was a good film to watch, but an even better cinema to watch it in...
For more information on the locations of the film, read The Telegraph's article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/culture/two-faces-january/10785636/two-faces-of-january-set.html
Powerful, emotional, heart-breaking, honest. HBO’s TV film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony-winning play The Normal Heart, written by the play-author himself and directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee), is an emotional ride to the early days of the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in New York as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks, the gay Jewish-American founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group.
The play is autobiographical, as like Ned (played by Marc Ruffalo), Larry Kramer himself helped founding several AIDS activism groups.
The film touches the issue of the virus, its spread and the ostracism of the gay community, but also the problems that the patients and activists faced when having to deal with health care and bureaucracy. Through the brilliant performances of the entire cast, we take a look into the gay society of the early 80s and how they dealt with the crisis and their relationships; but most of all we witness the fear and cruelty that an unknown decease can bring to an entire society.
Talking about great performances, of course Marc Ruffalo delivered a great Ned Weeks, but for me the performance of Jim Parsons (who had actually played the same part on the Broadway production) stole the spotlight; especially when it’s actually the first time that I get to see him in a role other than Sheldon Cooper. He was emotional, not too over-the-top, with great Southern attitude additions.
Other actors staring in the film are Matt Bomer, playing Ned’s lover Felix, Taylor Kitsch and Julia Roberts, who plays the role of Dr. Emma Brookner a clear reference to the Dr. Linda Laubenstein, who treated some of the first New York cases the unknown disease. Finally, I thought that Jonathan Groff (mostly known through Glee), although had a small part, was amazing in his performance, showing the way that all can change in a single second.
This film stands out the other films about the early days of AIDS, as it focuses more on the tale of the bureaucratic issues and the struggle of a generation of “time bombs” asking to be heard. It did remind me a bit of Dallas Buyers Club though, not only due to the similar bureaucratic and health care issues that both films addressed, but also due to a specific scene: the touching scene when dying Felix goes to Ned’s brother –gay disapproving- lawyer to have his will written and we see him at his worst state, reminded me (at least visually) of the scene that Jared Leto’s character in Dallas Buyers Club, faces his disapproving father, forced to ask him for help at his dying moments.
An emotional, educative film that serves as a tribute to all the victims of AIDS; and for those wishing to learn more about the beginning of the disease, watch also Angels in America, the award winning 2003 HBO mini-series.
A long time ago, we used to be friends. But I haven't thought of you lately at all.
That’s what the song says but that was not the case for the many Marshmallows (a.k.a. the Veronica Mars hardcore fans) who never stop thinking of their favorite TV show. Neither did the cast and the creator of the show.
Veronica Mars was a TV show that aired during 2004-2007 at UPN & CW. It lasted three seasons when suddenly it was taken off air, leaving fans with many cliffhangers. Despite the efforts of creator Rob Thomas to revive the show by pitching the studio a 4th season trailer with Veronica and her summer internship in the FBI, the show was never brought back to air.
Rob Thomas & Kristen Bell never stop believing in the project and kept thinking on making a Veronica Mars movie, but there was never enough (or at all) funding to move forward with the project. Until March 13, 2013 when they uploaded a video at Kickstarter.com (a crowd funding website that helps raise funds for all sorts of projects) starting a funding campaign.
So, there it was: the chance for all heartbroken fans to revive the favorite show. And boy, did they deliver! The campaign broke all kinds of records:
· Fastest project to reach $1 million.
· Fastest project to reach $2 million.
· All-time highest-funded project in FILM category ($5.702.153)
· Third highest-funded project in Kickstarter history.
· Most project backers of any project in Kickstarter history (91.585)
All that, thanks to the devoted Marshmallows! Of course they got their treats: according to the amount that they donated they got T-Shirts, tickets to the premiere, privileges to download the movie earlier, even to star as an extra alongside the favorite cast! That’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me!
So, filming started and on March the 14th, 2014, exactly one year after the campaign started, Veronica Mars the film, was released in selected theatres and was available on line for downloading.
The film takes place 9 years after the show ended, with Veronica having finished law school and being in NY starting her first big-shot lawyer job. She has Piz on her side and she seems to be finally in peace and having it all. Until a certain someone (Logan) calls her asking for her help as he is falsely (?) accused of murdering his girlfriend. So, once again Veronica is drowned back to the rabbit hole (Neptune that is), where she faces her former classmates in what can be described as the reunion from hell, her dad and a conspiracy.
Will Veronica return to her old ways? Will the safety of Piz overcome the magnetic pool hat Logan has on her? Will she throw away everything she’s worked for to return to being a PI?
I’m not going to spoil it for you; you are just going to have to see it for yourselves. As for what did I think of the movie: well, I was really looking forward to it (being a Marshmallow myself and all) so I might have had really high expectations. Of course it was awesome to see the old gang back together, of course I got the chills in hearing Veronica’s narration and witty lines but I was expecting it to be more of a film and less of a two hour Veronica Mars episode. There was a downside to not getting 100% of the cast back (Carrie Bishop’s part was re-casted as Leighton Meester was unavailable at the last minute), but still, if you have Dick Casablancas on board, you’re good to go!
What’s ahead for Veronica Mars now? Following the film, Rob Thomas had yet another treat for the fans: a book entitled “The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line” that continues the story where the film left off. And of course, rumors are buzzing over a sequel!
There you have it: a project that the fans of Firefly would envy; a devoted fan base that would do anything for their fictional characters; a success story that might open the way for many other similar projects...
"The German Doctor" (Walkonda), is a Argentine historial film that tells us the tale of a family that encounters -without knowing it- one of the most notorious was criminals of all time: Josef Mengele. The Nazi doctor who tortured his victims during his time in Auschwitz, escaped Germany at the end of the war and ended up hiding in South America. The story in the film takes places at 1960, where allegedly Mossad (Israeli Secret Services) had tracked him down in Argentina and tried to arrest him.
There he meets a family, where he immediately takes interest at the younger daughter, who according to him she needs " help" to grow taller as he claims that she is under-deveveloped. The girl and her mother get closer to him, without knowing that he wishes to conduct experiments to the little girl.
The film shows us the soft face that Mengele was rumoured to be showing to his victims and how he tricked them in order to make his experiments, as welll as his true dark and scary side. We also see the impact that he had on the little girl and how she was attached to him. The performances of Àlex Brendemühl as Josef Mengele and Florencia Bado as Lilith, really stand out, as well as the amazing cinematography.
What fascinated me, is that we see a side of the war that we have not seen many times on film: the aftermath and how these ruthless criminals continued their life and their horrible experiments, years after the war had ended.
An amazing film that is definitelly worth watching!
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)
The Grand Budapest Hotel, is Wes Anderson's latest film and truly one of his best! The film features an all star cast with performances and cameos by: Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton to name (truly) a few.
The story revolves in the late 30s and is the tale of the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel and how he became from a simple lobby boy, to the millionaire hotel owner.
The tale involves various murder, conspiracy, a painting, lots of perfume and the various members of the society of the crossed keys...
Fiennes' performance is by doubt the best thing in the film: Gustave's H (Fiennes' character) witty lines, describing his sexual encounters with his 80 something lady friends (“I’ve had older”) or cutting short his own reverie on humanity (“Oh, fuck it”), and his overall cool preformance, are to die for! It is nice to see him in a such a (different) role!
Of course the classic direction and photography that Anderson films share, seems to really work in the whole nostalgia that the Grand Budapest Hotel brings out.
The ensemble cast and their corky characters complete the Wes Anderson world and deliver a film that definitelly stands out and can be a very good opportunity for a younger audience to get to know his films!
Definitely a must-see!
Tonight I had the chance to watch a rare documentary on Karl Lagerfeld, the legendary fashion designer. The film is called "Karl Lagerfeld sketches his life", was shot in 2012 and the screening was organised by CineDoc at the Institut Francais Grece.
The film portrays the life of the famous German designer, though images and narration. It's a storytelling through words and sketches.
The director of the film is Loic Prigent, who has also directed among others, the 2007 "Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton" documentary.
In this film, he manages to capture Lagerfeld's aesthetic (by using great photography), to pose "irritating" questions that the designer does not seem to wish to answer and to also show an honest side of Karl's, especially when he admits that he has nothing to fill his life but his work.
Make no mistakes though: Lagerfeld manages to manipulate the camera as he wishes and reveal exactly as much as he wants. Let us not forget that apart from an artist, he is also a businessman.
A really interesting documentary that managed to turn a single shot of the designer sketching, into a vivid naration of an exciting life!
Special thanks to my friend and fellow blogger Violetta Kyriakou from Demoded Fashion Business Blog (www.demoded.weebly.com), for inviting me to join her at the screening!
The great Alexander Payne did it again! He delivered an amazing bittersweet film that got us all talking about his great talent.
Nebraska is a very intimate film that deals with family bonds and human relationships, in a very delicate, sometimes funny way. The story is about a senior who believes that he has won 1mil dollars in a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize and sets off on a road trip with his son to claim it.
The road movie turns into an opportunity for his estranged son to get to know his father and his past better and come closer to him. Great performances by the veteran Bruce Dern, SNL's dearest Will Forte and a hilarious performance by June Squibb, in the role of the mother.
Nebraska is yet another great film by Payne that has gained a lot of Academy & Golden Globe nominations but unfortunatelly might not be able to win, having to compete with Mcconaughey, Lawrence and DiCaprio.
It is by far one of his best films though! Definitely a must-see!
Ever since I first set foot on a cinema theatre, I knew that something magical was happening there....