Dec 26, 2012

Les Choristes, 2004 (The Chorus)

Les Choristes, 2004 (The Chorus)
Director: Christopher Barratier
Cast: Gerard Jugnot, Francois Berleand, Jean Baptiste Maunier

Stage: my own TV selection on a Christmas evening

Les Choristes in short: Fond de l'Etang is a boarding school for troubled boys located in the French countryside. In the mid-twentieth century, it is run by the principal M. Rachin, an egotistical disciplinarian whose official unofficial mantra for the school is "action - reaction", meaning that there will be severe consequences for any boy out of line. This approach does not seem to be working as the boys as a collective are an unruly bunch. In turn, the teachers don't teach, but are always watching out for the next subversive act from the boys. January 15, 1949 marks the arrival to the school of the new supervisor, M. Clément Mathieu, a middle-aged man who is grasping at finding his place in life after a series of failed endeavors. Although he does find the boys an unruly lot, Mathieu does not believe in the "action - reaction" policy, and as such, butts heads with Rachin while secretly undermining the policy.

Preps: I have just seen the introduction and I am impressed by the IMDB review rating. Therefore I am curious. I have missed this piece at LIFFE, obviously. Therefore I am even more curious.

Reality: The movie is a blast. Virtually takes you from the beginning to the end in the melancholic tone you don't want to absorb at the beginning. It will make you sad to see what kind of environment once boarding school were. Somehow it resembles the Oliver Twist story, hence it is made to make you sad at first and then see what miracles can happen with the right approach.
The movie praises discipline as the only virtue that was important in that time. With boarding schools, you can almost taste misery that ruled in those premises. Boys that ended there were either taken from their parents because they couldn't support them or were juvenile criminals. However, they were all treated the same - as criminals that need to have a tight rope around their necks. Which to an observer of the movie isn't easy to accept, but you can then dwell upon this feeling because you get familiar with all kinds of torture methods that the principle is using when interacting with boys.

On the other side, you can see the teacher perspective and what does it take to change things that are "the way they used to be", or maybe "action-reaction" idea, which blows my mind with anger, once I hear about it thousands of times. It is hard to buy what this era is selling, but it really seems very authentic.
With the choir, you see a totally different approach with kids' education. If they really were villains, it would mean they would also deny to participate in a music project, such as choir. Their teacher brings out the best out of anyone, for this matter, they need to learn how to participate, choir has always been a joint effort, where there's no place for egoism.

The story can break your heart because of its cruelty towards children. The director made sure we don't doubt it and that your mind freezes if you only imagine being thrown in an institution like that. On the other hand, you need to be grateful for present time which doesn't allow such acts from the staff of the institution, neither from the children that still attend such facilities. A very solid drama, one of the better ones lately. It made me think that sometimes you are thrown in a situation where you cannot do anything to make it better. Was the principle the best man to fit the job? I doubt it. Was the teacher the best man to fit the children's needs? Most certainly. Do we always work where our potential shows the most? Not likely. In present time we have the option to really change it. At that point of time they could only dream about that.

My personal rating: 8,0 (brilliant drama that broke my heart on several places).

Les choristes on IMDB

Dec 2, 2012

Gone, baby, gone, 2007

Gone, Baby, Gone, 2007
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton

Stage: Home TV selection

Gone in short: When 4 year old Amanda McCready disappears from her home and the police make little headway in solving the case, the girl's aunt Beatrice McCready hires two private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. The detective freely admit that they have little experience with this type of case, but the family wants them for two reasons - they're not cops and they know the tough Boston neighborhood in which they all live. As the case progresses, Kenzie and Gennaro face drug dealers, gangs and pedophiles. When they are about to solve their case, they are faced with a moral dilemma that could tear them apart.

Preps: I have seen this at the movies already and I liked it a lot. A good drama, thriller, if you like. Morgan Freeman is one reason to see this. 

Reality: I believe movies about serious kidnapping of a child or a teenager and police chasing this or detectives, are always a promise to success. However this isn't enough. I am just claiming that as in romantic comedies, when you have a cute couple, the movie has a better chance to succeed than if you have a really ugly cast - the same thing here. The story can do the trick. Now, we know a lot of stories on this topic. What makes winners really win and what obstacle haven't losers thought of?

We have several hot shots in the oven. Firstly, Ben Affleck, one of his first directing acts. Luckily we only have him on the director's seat and not in the cast. Noone (ok, I give this to Clint Eastwood and some others) can't do both. Secondly, cast. Morgan Freeman, to start with. He makes these investigations and everything obscene in the movies as if you had a big godfather looking down to us and giving us fatherly advice when we are lost.

Two really young detectives, a couple, is on a quest and takes us through the background of the story, to the mortal endings and really filthy people that they scratch from beneath the surface. The aim in my opinion is only one, to really make the audience relate to the story and wish their children would never fall in the hands of such villains. I believe Affleck emphasizes this to the point where you are really appalled by everything that can happen to this four year old Amanda, i.e. to your kid. And where you are on the field with the detectives, trying to figure what happened and where is the young lady.

Normally I wouldn't expect such a connection between private detectives and police. I buy it in this case.
The music covers the fearsome parts of the piece and is carefully chosen. The scenario is well driven, some dialogues are a bit clumsy, but all in all, I am eating it from the beginning from the end like my favourite cheese from the plate.

My personal rating: 8,0 ( a strong piece on kidnapping. Morgan Freeman on godfather role. Action, thriller. Worth seeing and thinking about).

Gone, Baby, Gone on IMDB

Pretty Woman, 1990

Pretty Woman, 1990
Director: Gary Marshall
Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander

Stage: Home TV selection

Pretty Woman in short: Edward is a rich, ruthless businessman who specializes in taking over companies and then selling them off piece by piece. He travels to Los Angeles for a business trip and decides to hire a prostitute. They take a liking to each other and he offers her money if she'll stay with him for an entire week while he makes the "rich and famous" scene (since it doesn't do for a man of his stature to be alone at society parties and polo matches). Romantic comedy (and complications) ensue.

Preps: Don't need them seen this a thousand times. One of my favourites from my youth. My mother also adored this piece. I can watch it or have it as a background. I know it by heart.

Reality: As said, my classic from my junior/primary school. Always wanted to be Vivien Leigh.The movie is about falling in love and making something in your life that brings you happiness - in this case, falling for the man/woman of your life.
The movie is a hot example for a romantic comedy. This was one of the first memorable ones of the end eighties period. Also set some standards. At that time, we watched either this, or Ghost (for the romance), or on the other hand, Police Academy. Luckily there weren't so many movies as these days, when you cannot follow them - the market is overfilled with them.

Now, the movie has some drives and moves other should follow. First, a lovely lady. Or better said, a lovely wreck that after seduction and fancy clothes becomes a lady. Gere in this sense represents a guy every girl in the world wants to be with. Charming, well mannered, filthy rich and ready to spoil a woman. I mean it. Dinners, evenings at the opera, living in a penthouse, .. it just never ends in this week. With all the charming qualities he is showing in this week, it's quite normal and predictable that she falls in love with him and that he falls in love with her.

The movie is depicted a bit off normal wheels. It is not a repeatable situation, I mean by that. But it shows a perspective (like if you win a lottery, you have perspective). So in this case, they both end up winning a lottery, and everyone is happy.
Storywise, it's not a peak of all peaks. But in any case, I am still very keen on this piece. I virtually know all the dialogues by heart. I love the way the director exposes the manager of the hotel, and the butler. And I love the anti-person we have. Always we have one in these comedies. Stuckey in this case, makes me hate him from the very beginning.
Obviously the audience waits if this what we all have been waiting for, resolves in a fairy tale. It all ends up well in Hollywood, doesn't it? :)

The piece has also a good soundtrack. Back in 80ies, I got an original for myself. Also know it by heart. It is a movie that always reminds me of my young days that I spent with my mother, in front of TV. Always brings back memories.

My personal rating: 8,0
(for its period and placement, genre, a solid and good positive piece).

Pretty woman on IMDB