Saturday, 4 April 2009

Two films I watched ...

I love French films. J'aime French actors and actresses, maybe because they realize what film is all about. I love the way the good ones don't overdo it.

I watched Love Me If You Dare, which is a film I had not even heard of two days ago. But a friend of mine recommended it and I decided I should give it a try. And I'm glad I did, because no matter that it's not the perfect film, it's a small miracle in itself.

It's about two kids, who play Game or no game all the time, challenging each other all the time. Well, these kids grow up and become a man and a woman, but their Game or no game challenge goes out of control and they try to hurt each others' feelings, actually denying that they're in love with each other. It sounds very trivial, but it's fun and entertaining. And that's what I needed.
The actors in the leads are Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet and they have great chemistry together. Their performances are down to Earth and even though I never learned a lot about their characters, it's a film, which is not that much about characters, but about enjoying what's on screen. And the visuals are great! I checked the director's name and it was no surprise to learn that he was a storyboard artist before getting into films. And he's really a visualist - the camera moves all the time through imaginary worlds and doesn't stop even in the real world. It's something very beautiful and it doesn't feel forced.

Well, the story had some leaps and the characters' actions weren't motivated all the time. Sorry, but I just can't stop doing what I'm taught to do: ask questions about the characters and make them as real and complex as possible. Probably I should try to stop for a while.

Anyway, the film was much fun and unlike the soppy romantic comedies, it dares be surprising. And at the end it's a bit like a real tearjerker. But it's still worth it.

The other film I watched was Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. I'm no fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. She's not a bad actress, but she's always the same and her roles probably suit her personality, but I don't think that's interesting acting. And I loved Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise, but he was so awful in Before Sunset. I love the film, but he changed way too much. Wait, I probably take what's on screen in these two films for real - you know, the actors wrote the second part and it's part autobiographical. So I shouldn't do it.

Anyway, this film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron. I love this man. His films are very visual and at the same time he has the gift for stories. And it's a rare combination. Anyway, this film is not perfect and even though it ends in a very soppy way (sorry, can't get rid of this word!), it has atmosphere, which is something rare in films. And it's very stylish visually. And no kidding, I enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow's acting - and this time she explored a different side of her personality: playing a cold woman, who can't deal with her own feelings and life...

Anyway, an enjoyable film! Nothing special, but enjoyable!

P.S. Today I found a copy of the 1946 version of Great Expectations with Alec Guiness. I'm so happy I'll watch it. :D

Friday, 3 April 2009

Evening - an attempt to write my review

I've been pretty busy these days and I've only had time to watch a film last night. I decided to watch Evening - the film had these shitty reviews, but anyway - the reason to watch it is clear:
Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close and a cameo by Meryl Streep. I bought the film a long time ago, but I've always waited for the right moment to watch it. I knew it was a very sad film, so a sad moment was probably the right time for me to watch it. So I told myself: Even if the film sucks big time, you can learn something. Well, the film didn't stink. It's not a good film, but there are a lot of good things about it. The main reason for the film's failure is the script. I can't believe that the director approved of something as flawed as the script. I blame the screen writers, because they obviously have no idea of what dramatic structure actually is. The script is such a mess (and the pretentious, unbelielable dialogues are just a bonus there!, lol) that it's a small miracle that the actors actually did some nice work. Most of the characters on screen were talking and talking about their decisions and actions and there was no way to connect to them, because there was no way to understand their logic. And I think that's the most annoying part of it.

The premise is simple: An old woman - Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying and while her daughters (Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette) care for her and try to cope with their own problems - she remembers the time when she was a young woman and right after college she attended the wedding of her best friend Lila (Mamie Gummer, who's Meryl Streep's daughter and quite an actress of her own). Lila's brother Buddy (to me the most interesting character on screen and the sole really fully realized character!) introduces Ann to Harris - the son of their servant, whom she falls for. And then there is Buddy, who kind of proposes to Ann, but at the same time feels attracted to Harris, even though he denies it. To himself and to everyone else.

Well, that's pretty much the premise. I don't want to tell you what's going on. I told enough. But now about the main reason why the film is still worth the two hours. The performances: Vanessa Redgrave is a great actor, but I can't deny that her character is simply needless. We see an aging woman, who just remembers her past and at some point reunites with her friend Lila (this time played by Meryl Streep, who appears for four or five minutes, but totally steals the show). But the story involving the older Anne just doesn't contribute to the whole as it should. It's repetitive and it's trying to explain some things that don't need to be explained.

Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson are very good as her daughters - both have problems and they don't get along very well most of the time. Like a real family, with the bad sister and the good sister and so on. :) But I think that they pretty much nailed their performances and made them far more interesting than they were on paper. It's real fun to watch two actors as different as Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette, because when you see Natasha, you see her theatrical background and when you see Toni, you think of an acting style, which is very much American and about the naturality of the acting. Both are real good in their own way and it's interesting to see how much the acting styles of the two contribute to their characters.

And then there are the leads in the story set in the 50's.
Glenn Close is really one note. It's the over the top performance as the hypocrite mother of Buddy and Lila. Glenn Close never really has the chance to get into her character, because it's just a caricature thing and the film isn't really about her.

Mamie Gummer is playing the young Lila and I think that she did quite well. In her final scene she was really terribly directed, but I think that she does very well what she's supposed to do - there are the two Lilas all the time. The first Lila is the young woman soon to be married, who's happy and has a happy family and a happy life and really wants it and enjoys herself. But there is the other Lila, who's always been in love with Harris and now tries to deal with her emotions and her love for Harris, who pushed her away. And I think that Mamie did that very well, which I suppose is what her character is all about.

Claire Danes - well, I don't know what to say here, because I never really understood her character Ann. She's both free-spirited and very down to Earth, but at the same time she makes decisions, which I don't understand. And Danes's performance is nothing interesting, nothing that makes much sense to me. So I'll just skip her. Haha, maybe that's not a compliment, but I feel that way about her performance.

Patrick Wilson - well, he had to be handsome. Because everyone's in love with Harris. But there's nothing more I can say about his character. I don't get why everyone's in love with him. He's handsome, but nothing more. No character here. And I think it's a big problem. Because this character has to make sense.

And now we come to Buddy, played by Hugh Dancy.
I've never really seen Hugh Dancy in anything before that. But here he's amazing. I mean his character is a real wreck - he wants to be a novelist and sometimes he's just happy and euphoric and thinks about life and enjoys it, but then he starts drinking and he just tries to cope with his own demons. Well, the theory that Buddy is repressing his love for Harris makes sense to me, because no matter that he wants to marry Ann, he just acts like a friend with her and he doesn't pretend to feel any passion for her. I read some reviews and there are critics who call him 'the closet case'. Anyway, it's a very sensual performance and it shows some real range and it's a character that's really hard to perform, because his actions are very immature and even mean sometimes, but because of Dancy I understood his character and still loved him and wanted him to find peace. So I really, really liked his performance.

And of course, the cinematography is very good - technically perfect. The visuals are great. Impressive. But I think that the script ruins it all and the director doesn't know how to actually make the things work as a whole. So the impression the film left is that this is a film about interesting things, with some good performances and an awful script, which makes it all seem dull and forgettable in the end.

Anyway, my professor keeps telling to watch films from the POV of an actor and to ask the questions I would ask if I was playing the part: to try to find the things that made these actors act this way! So I think it was a nice exercise. :D

P.S. I hope my English is getting better, because my exam is just around the corner and I really hope I won't fail. :D

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Big Read - A BIG ABSURD!

I don't know if you have heard of the BBC's The Big Read? Here is some information, if somebody is curious about it.
Anyway, this year the Bulgarian National Television organized the same 'contest' we had to choose our favorite book of all time. Last night we 'choose' our favorite book - Под игото by Ivan Vazov (the so-called patriarch of the Bulgarian literature) and a book I really can't stand. And I can't stand it for a good reason - because it's no literature, it's no art for me. It was one of the novels we had to read in school and it's one of the novels I as a Bulgarian am expected to love. Anyway, I can't love a novel, which doesn't make me care about its characters the least. Some of the other finalists were The Lord of the Rings, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Master and Margarita and East of Eden.

And I don't believe the statistics that most of the people who voted to select the 'winner' were in their 20's. It's kind of absurd to vote for a novel simply because it's supposed to be something you cherish because of being a Bulgarian. And nobody, nobody really can say it's a novel he/she loves. At least not people in their 20's. As an old relative said: It's a book you HAVE TO RESPECT AND APPRECIATE! Why? For what? Maybe I'm still immature enough to understand why I have to RESPECT a book I had no pleasure reading, but I doubt I'll ever understand that. There were four other Bulgarian novels on that list and one of these novels - Тютюн - is an amazing novel on its own and a more deserving 'winner' for me. I don't get how Под игото wins only because it SHOULD (as people say) because it represents the Bulgarian national identity, but NOBODY (and I mean NOBODY!!!) really would like to grab the book and actually READ it! None of my professors would ever read it! None of the folks I study with would grab it and READ it! Then WHY IS IT OUR FAVORITE BOOK?! Because it represents the Bulgarian identity?! Because some professors in literature think that it represents the Bulgarian identity?! I think it's a shame, because I believe that 99% of the people who voted for this book have not even read it. Or left it at page 5, because it's that boring! And the book - OUR FAVORITE BOOK - SHOULD be a book people read for pleasure and love because of that! And not a book we should read, but nobody (!) really likes. Sorry, but not even my grandmother would pick it as her favorite book!!!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

My Method Acting essay - still in progress (and it should be ready pretty soon)

I'm still writing my essay on Method acting and therefore I decided to watch a lot of performances. An interesting fact: while Laurence Olivier played Hamlet on stage in London, he once confessed that while he performed the To be or not to be monologue and the audience was amazed by his emotions, he was actually thinking of the wine he'd drink later that same evening. I actually think that he said that just to get some attention, because he was obviously confused by the Method and couldn't communicate with Method actors (like Brando, James Dean, De Niro, Al Pacino etc). I think I mentioned in my last entry that Brando calls him an architect of an actor in his autobiography. Anyway, I decided to watch as many of Elia Kazan's films as I could. I realized that Kazan is really a great director of actors. There's so much attention for detail in the performances actors give in his films. I just watched East of Eden again. I first watched it two years ago, but now I realize I knew little about acting at the time and I now realize what a great job James Dean does in the film. I finally got a copy of A Splendor in the Grass and I'm going to watch it tonight. Yesterday I watched for the first time Wuthering Heights with Olivier in the lead and I enjoyed it pretty much, even though I couldn't get rid of the feeling that he's faking emotion all the time. It's always tricky to judge other actors because of the information you have about them. And the more performances they gave you see the harder it gets. An example: Of the Old Hollywood actors, I like Bette Davis (and I've only seen one performance: that in All About Eve, and let's face it, it's hard to not be impressed by that one). But all the others: their performances are all about their charisma and their own image and not about the characters they're playing. I've seen a few performances by Katharine Hepburn (many of the professors at the Academy consider her a great actor), but every time I see her on screen, I see Katharine Hepburn. She's always the same. Always the same gestures. Always the same mannerism. And I cannot find the connection to her characters.

Anyway, I'm still a little bit confused by the Method. I don't get it fully. I think I understand most parts, but some are still big question marks.

I'll write later about the Elia Kazan films - with some brief reviews.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Method acting & the To Be Or Not To Be monologue & stuff

I've been kind of busy these days. I'm writing an essay on Method Acting and even though I enjoyed doing the research and analyzing performances - thinking as a stage director is something I feel is a very rewarding experience - it's just eating up my days. And right now I'm just sketching out my ideas about the performances I watched and am going to analyze.

A friend of mine recommended watching a very interesting series, which some nice fellows uploaded on youtube - it's called Into the Actor's Studio. It's fun to watch all the episodes, because they're actually inviting some famous actors (like Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro as well as some directors - such as Martin Scorsese; even though I'd prefer them inviting some theatr directors as well) and they're talking about their experience of acting. Of course, I started with Meryl Streep being a guest and I enjoyed it pretty much. Anyway, for me it's hard to say if Meryl Streep is a Method actor. All the characteristics are there, but I doubt she's doing her work consciously following the Method. She just adopted some of the Method's characteristics, but I don't consider her a Method actor. Meryl herself states that she cannot talk about her process the way other actors do, which she finds funny, since people often discuss her as a very technical actor. Anyway, just watch these videos. They're entertaining and it's really funny seeing Meryl Streep discuss working with a coach for her Irish accent in Dancing at Lughnasa. (If you don't know, Meryl's considered a master of doing different accents.) Here's the segment:

I started reading Marlon Brando's autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me.
It's huge, but easy to go through and there are some interesting stories he's telling and the text made me curious about who Stella Adler was for example. I've never known all that much about her - an actor, an acting coach, a collegue of Lee Strasberg (whom Brando openly dislikes). Anyway, it was funny to read that Laurence Olivier refused to do accents, because he just didn't consider it a possibility to talk like a peasant. Olivier himself didn't feel comfortable around actors of the Method and considered acting being something on the surface. That's why Brando calls him an architect of an actor, because he didn't change anything in a performance once he's analyzed it and shaped its form. His performances never changed, which I think is kind of impossible for a stage actor. Where's the meaning in such a strategy? And above all, where's the pleasure from being on the stage? That's why I decided to write about Olivier and other Shakespearean actors (Kenneth Branagh) as opposed to the Method actors (Brando, James Dean etc etc). Anyway, just for fun, I started to think about the different approaches to Act Three, Scene One, which is To be or not to be.

I've never done the monologue. Just read it a few times (and I have to say I like the Bulgarian translation pretty much) and I think that the big challenge an actor finds in it is finding the rhythm. Of course, there is another huge problem (for the director and actor) - it's a long monologue and the stage is supposed to be empty, which makes it even harder for it to work. The actor has to get all the attention, but that while he remains kind of passive! And he doesn't even move on the huge empty stage! How can somebody make it work? I think that the success of such a scene depends on the actor's charisma and I wonder if a lavish set could actually help or would rather do some harm! I've never seen Hamlet on the stage and I think that directors rather shy away from it. It's the monster play. Anyway, I've seen two adaptations - Laurence Olivier's film from 1948 and Kenneth Branagh's adaptation from 1996 (which contains the whole text!). And it's interesting to see that Olivier and Branagh struggle not only with the text, but with the visual decisions as well. Laurence Olivier's version of the monologue appears to me more as a visual presentation, even though I don't like most of his work on the film. Especially the transitions just don't work most of the time. But I have some issues with Branagh's visual strategy. This is the scene, which represents Hamlet's crisis and the dilemmas he faces most clearly in the whole play. But at the same time it happens through words, because Hamlet remains passive, melancholic and quiet on the surface. He doesn't display any great emotion. Just the eyes - eventually. (Even though in Olivier's version - we barely see Hamlet's eyes directly.) It's all about the words and the idea that while he says something, he surpresses some even greater emotion. Then why the mirror in Branagh's version? Why does he show Hamlet's reflection in the mirror? And that from such a POV that we barely see Hamlet's eyes? The static camera really helps the viewer to focus on the voice and the text, but the strange POV rather confuses. We don't get the contact. But film and to a certain degree theatre are about the visual aspect of presenting the words. Laurence Olivier does a lot of POV change during that scene and I think that it was a clever idea to make the scene outside the palace and with all the mist around him and the sea - you just get the visual idea of the unquiet words. The camera is instantly moving and helps providing the idea of isolation. Anyway, it's just the beginning of me working with this scene and I think it could help analyzing it. Right now all my thoughts are just a chaos. So any help is welcome. :D

Here are the links to both Branagh's and Olivier's approaches to the scene: - Olivier's Hamlet - Branagh's Hamlet

But anyway, now I'm going to have some coffee with friends. And in the afternoon I'll continue working on the essay.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Party in Veliko Tarnovo

A very good friend of mine is celebrating her birthday on Saturday, the 7th of March, so we're going to Veliko Tarnovo, which is my absolutely favorite Bulgarian city. If you get the shot, go there. It's absolutely an one time experience. There's so much history and atmosphere there.

You could spend the whole day going to meseums and to all these historical places - all kind of palaces (which are situated on the tree hills surrounding the city) and it's gonna be a great adventure, and of course in the evening you can hit the clubs. And then you get up the next day and drink your coffee while being surrounded by all this majesty around. It's amazing.

I just feel it's something of a place I always would come back to. To get energy and to meet friends. It's an university town as well and I've got lots of friends studying there. Anyway, I'm really exicted about going. I go there at least twice the year (even more often, if my economy allows it) and I never get tired of it. It's not a really big city, but there are lots of people and life everywhere. Coffee shops, restaurants, clubs... And by the way, it has this patriotic feeling because of being our Medieval captial. I found some nice pics on the net. So tell what you think if you feel like doing it ;-)!

And of course there is this small part of the town, which is a real attraction for tourists and I love it myself. You can go there and visit a coffee shop and it looks exactly like it did hundred years ago and you go in and order coffee and they make your coffee in this old-fashioned way. And it's real fun drinking coffee there and having a day, which offers you both full speed entertainment the way we know it and some touch with old times. Here's a pic of this street. (Anyway, the pic's awful, but I couldn't find a better one.)

And I love the "Sound and Light" spectacle they do from time to time. They do it during the night and it's something, which I would recommend to everyone.

So I'm going on Saturday! I can't wait!

Sunday, 1 March 2009


It's 1:30 a.m. and I just finished watching L'auberge espagnole. Anyway, a friend of mine has been in Germany on an exchange program for half a year and we haven't even had much talk on the net during the period. And now she's back and we have an appointment for coffee tomorrow. But it feels kind of weird to meet her after so much time. When she called me, I was happy to hear her voice, but at the very same time I don't know if she's gonna be the same person - not in a dramatic way, but I mean - would we be able to talk to each other the way we did half an year ago? With some people it just works and it feels like if we just had coffee yesterday, but with others it's kind of the end. I have a friend, with whom I used to spend a lot of time two years ago. We were together every single day - drinking coffee, hitting the clubs etc etc, but now we see each other once in a while and we just don't know what to talk about - we talk about what it was for two years ago and nobody seems to enjoy it. And it feels strange, like if we aren't meant to be friends. And it feels strange that we spent so much time together two years ago. Anyway, I just feel a really strange fear that my friend and I won't be able to talk about anything tomorrow and it's kind of just putting an end to a friendship, which meant something to me. This entry is rather ridiculous, I suppose.