Category Archives: Catching Up

History of the cinema – important films that I either missed because they were made before I was born or for other reasons.

“Saturday Night Fever” (1977) by John Badham

This film has not aged well. Despite it being made in the golden era of Hollywood. The daily problems of 20-somethings do not correspond well to today’s experiences.

One could argue that it is a fair social study of late 1970’s in New York among the children of 2nd or 3rd generation of immigrants from Old Europe.

I love dancing and I do see the appeal of the main story. So I understand how it became a success back in its time.

But now? No thanks. I am allergic to disco music, so probably that is why it has been a difficult watch.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe it is a universal picture of troubled youth. I just don’t dig it.

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Filed under Catching Up, Cult Classics

“The Departed” by Martin Scorsese (2006)

Incredible casting, best film of the year at Oscars 2007.

A smart game of different layers of who-knows-what and who-works-for-whom between police and local mafia structures in Boston.

Jack Nicholson in a characteristic role reminding his “The Witches of Eastwick” times.

Beautiful Vera Farmiga (perhaps one of the most underestimated roles in this film) – amazingly playing internal conflicts with external body language clashing with what the character is saying.

Great Mark Whalberg, very good Di Caprio, average Matt Damon (*I really want to see Matt Damon as a) baddie, b) in a shabby role), respectful Martin Sheen.

Amazing amazing casting and a grabbing story. A must.

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Filed under Catching Up, film reviews

Somersault by Cate Shortland (2004)

Rarely does it happen that I see such a beautiful film. Apparently, it is easier to find such gem if we drift away – off the beaten track of European and American films. “Somersault” is an Australian feature made in 2004. As its poster boasts, it was part of the official selection of both Cannes and Toronto festivals back in 2004.

The strongest aspect of this film is coldness in watching a nice looking girl collapse and then gather together. In emotions, in feelings, in life.

Great watch.

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Limitless by Neil Burger (2011)

I saw a great drawing depicting a film journalist sitting down at his computer to write down a review having watched “Limitless”. He just sits there. In all three pics of the comic.

I had the same problem. Here is why.

The film touches upon the creative inability/writer’s block. Initially this sets off as a story of a sad person who cannot cope with his life, is being dumped by his girlfriend and unable to produce a sensible few pages of the novel he already signed a contract for. When he is at the bottom and cannot really get any lower, he bumps into an old acquaintance in the street. There goes the breakthrough. Former brother-in-law buys our writer a drink and drops in a freebie – a pill of a supposedly licensed drug enhancing human brains.

Only the drug isn’t licensed. And the supplier gets shot the next day. And … it really works.

What sets off for Eddie Morra is a journey on the rollercoaster as he finds a fair amount stuck in Vernon’s flat. He finishes his book in no time (and it’s good), takes control over his life, and basically as long as he remembers to eat and stays away from alcohol, he is invincible.

The downsides? Well – the limited amount of the magic drug for one thing, another is definitely that once the Russian mafia finds out about it, Eddie’s in danger.

Overall impression? I want that drug! Don’t we all? Imagine, you can sit down at your computer and produce whatever you wanted to produce and it’s good. Or you can learn easily how the stock markets work and make money that way. Or you can get into politics and become the US president. You can learn as many languages as you want in no time… It is mentioned at the beginning of the film that this drug works better on smart people. Is that a drop of irony? Is that a wink at the audience strengthened by the final few scenes when Eddie openly states he no longer uses the drug? My understanding of the overall message is that if you really know what you want and focus on that, you can do miracles, hence why it works on smart people. It’s not the pill that we need, just confidence and belief in our own strengths.

I like films with a moral. And I really liked this one.

I will watch it again and again – every time I feel I am unable to move on with something I want to be reminded it is all in my head. And once I realise that, all I need to do is get my stuff together and act.

Great performance by Bradley Cooper, fantastic supporting role of Robert de Niro.

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Filed under 2011 cinema releases, Catching Up, film reviews

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Peter R. Hunt (1969)

With the new Bond (Yes, Skyfall) out in the cinemas, I decided to do a tour back into the abyss of history of other Bonds.

George Lazenby was a one-time James Bond in this Swiss poem of a plot to eradicate humanity (oh, yes Telly Savalas).

This is one James Bond who falls in love (doubtfully yet conveniently) and gets married (yes, really). Lazenby did not have it easy to pick up the role well established by the seasoned Sean Connery. It surely took a lot of courage to try and fit into so much bigger shoes. (On a second thought I am not convinced that Daniel Craig had it any easier – like what? A blond Bond? – remember back in 2005?).

What I like about Lazenby’s take on Bond is he knows he has nothing to lose and therefore creates a young almost pleasant character to start with. Setting the plot aside, he was not such a bad Bond (character, not film).

OHMSS is sentimental – showing the virgin beauty of the Swiss Alps with almost no tourists, with empty pistes, with pristinely white snow. However, this is not enough to make a good Bond movie. Perhaps there isn’t enough of the intrigue, perhaps too much happens in an enclosed golden cage of a mountain-top spa, perhaps there are too few obstacles. This is not a good James Bond movie, but George Lazenby was not that bad of a James Bond.

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Never Let Me Go by Mark Romanek (2010)

(spoiler alert)

A successfully conveyed adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel.

The book was considerably alarming in its concept, whereas the film has been made to a little milder version of being seriously disturbing. The story will be revealed below so please do not read if you hate spoilers.

The concept is known to those who had read the book. Clones bred to become vital organs donors who usually do not survive their third donation. Ethical or moral questions are set aside as nobody in the national organ programme seems to care that the clones actually have souls.

Hailsham is a peculiar place on the map as children clones are being educated there just as at any public (=private) school in England. They do sports, they learn art, literature and geography. Hailsham is an experiment led by some idealists who wanted to question the ethics of transplants from bred humans.

The story centers around 3 main characters – classmates watched from early childhood through to final stages of their lives.

Andrew Garfield turned out to be a disappointment for me. I haven’t seen him in Spiderman, but after the Social Network and Never Let Me Go, I concluded he cannot act (and neither can Keira Knightley, but that has been established long ago). Carey Mulligan, however, delivers  a convincing tragic role and has created a convincing character.

This is a film that brings cold thrills to your spine as you sympathise with the donors and as you recognise they have no way of escaping their fate. They cannot just refuse or even postpone their deadly donations. They wear the electronic bracelets and not even a thought is cast as to perhaps ridding of that and tasting freedom.

Great film based on a sick but not that unreasonable or out of touch concept.

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Filed under Catching Up, Warsaw Film Festival 2010

Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray (1955)

Some films are called classic masterpieces for a reason. And this is one of such films.

Watching this film is emotionally exhausting. And not because the plot reminded me of my youthful times or life as a gang member. I was never a gang member if anyone cares to ask. The most powerful notion was that it felt like watching myself being 17 again and re-living my first fascination and closeness with another person my age. Of course we had our issues with ‘the folks’ as do all the three youngsters in this film. Perhaps not that extreme and perhaps we did not end up meeting for the first time at the juvenile retention, but still – the emotional phenomenon of discovering who we really are and who we want to be seems to universally transcribe  throughout decades.

James Dean, although he is 24 and plays a 17-year old (and looks a contemporary 32-year old),  carries through the magic and power of how it is to be on the verge of becoming one’s true self. He walks, moves, looks like my 17-year old counterparts back in my day. The red jacket he’s wearing (apparently the costume decision was made once it turned out the film will be shot in colour) works like a magnet and forces us to closely watch him and rarely do our eyes turn away. This is a film that needs to be watched with 100% attention as there are so many details crucial to the story, shown rather than described. Shown rather than told.

Also, Jim Stark reminded me of someone and I only realised it late into the film – my first boyfriend back at high school, even though he does not look like James Dean at all. That’s what I’m talking about. The energy, the emotions, the question marks, the will to no longer be in this place and the realisation that when you’re 17, you really are alone with your issues and surprisingly it is your first boyfriend/girlfriend who will become your ally. Not your parents anymore.

There were other films made later touching upon the same notes of coming of age but so far I haven’t seen a more successful one.

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Filed under Catching Up, Cult Classics, film reviews

Numb by Harris Goldberg (2007)

Matthew Perry plays a depressed and detached from reality 30-something script writer and part of creative duo (the other half is quiet as never Kevin Pollak).

He is at a moment in life, when men his age go through their mid-life crisis. It seems Hudson never quite got over his adolescence until now. After having smoked one joint too many, he begins to suffer from a rare psychological condition, which practically disables him from normal functioning. He mainly sleeps and bores his shrink to deep REM.

A much welcome turning point appears when he meets Sara – the perfect idealised version of a woman-anchor, woman-saver, woman- iconic embodiment of forbearance and patience.

Perry is as far from his comic roles as possible and to a good change. His role is carefully led and credible. This film galloped through screens without much ado, go catch up if you can!

The melancholic drama carries an important message of the need for distancing oneself from everyday trouble to focus on the big picture and the general direction one needs to take going forward.

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Barney’s Version by Richard J. Lewis (2010)

In the Catching Up Section

Starring Paul Giamatti (who bagged the Golden Globe for this role) as well as Dustin Hoffmann. A long tale of a life of an unhappy artist-writer and his wives. Over the years he lives in Rome, New York and finally in the countryside somewhere in New Jersey.

Another warm approach at presenting a tragic character who does not mature throughout his whole life, however is still capable of unconditional love towards his third wife.

Full of politically incorrect jokes at the expense of the Jewish community with Dustin Hoffman openly expressing his supposed discrimination, ignorant of the fact that it could have little to do with his ethnicity and much more with his attitude.

A good piece of cinema, again, a little too long to my taste. Watch it if you can.

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Filed under Catching Up, Off Plus Camera 2012

Anyone Can Play Guitar by Jon Spira (2009)

In the New British Cinema section

A documentary on the Oxford music scene. A phenomenon is presented on the sample from the 1980’s until present. The film was made in 2009 and features a combination of live events coverage, interviews with band members of numerous bands that got created in Oxford and either raised to fame (Radiohead, Supergrass, Talulah Gosh) or fell into the abyss of always being beaten by other big stars (like the unfortunate band who released their album at the same time as Nirvana’s “Nevermind” – The Candyskins).

The two big absent are Andy and Thom Yorke. Their names are mentioned multiple times throughout the film but neither of them appears on screen in a different context than gigs coverage or photos. Members of their bands talk about them but the two are excluded from the documentary.

This is a very interesting film for both those who know the history of the Oxford music scene and those who don’t. The former will learn something new and the latter will indulge in what they knew already.

It is a long film (over 120min), therefore drags a little towards the end, but that could be because the screening I attended started well after 10pm.

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Filed under Catching Up, film reviews, Off Plus Camera 2012