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?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/ 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:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Syi9rm2Wfw0&feature=related

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTG0vXniDQY - Olivier's Hamlet

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JD6gOrARk4 - 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

Friends

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.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Martenitsa


First of all, I wanna tell you about a Bulgarian tradition, which is a very nice one and I love it. Every year (on the 1st of March) people give each other martenitsa. It's a small piece of adornment, made of white and red yarn and people are wearing it from the 1st of March until the 22nd of March (when the Spring arrives). There is another option, which I like more and it's to wear it until you see a swallow in the sky. The martenitsa, in Bulgarian - мартеница, is a very nice thing to give, because this way you wish the person you give it to luck and a good health in the upcoming year and it symbolizes the beginning of a new life.

Of course there is a legend, which explains this tradition and we all learn it in school. Here's the legend, taken from wikipedia:


Khan Kubrat's (632–665) five sons went hunting accompanied by their sister Huba. When they reached the Danube river they saw a silver stag. Mesmerized, the men did not dare shoot at it. The stag crossed over to the opposite bank of the river showing them a ford.

A bird flew bringing them bad tidings. Their father, the founder of Old Great Bulgaria was on his deathbed. In his last hours Kubrat's last will was to tell his offspring—Bayan, Kotrag, Asparukh, Kuber and Altsek—not to sever the still tenuous link between the different Bulgarian tribes. His sons vowed to defend Bulgaria.

Soon after their father’s death, the Khazars invaded the land. The Khazar's Khan Ashina conquered the capital Phanagoria. Huba, Kubrat's daughter, was captured by Ashina. Hoping to give her brothers a chance to freedom, Huba attempted suicide but was stopped by the guards.

Her brothers kept their vows in different ways. Bayan stayed with his sister and recognized the supremacy of the Khazars. Kotrag went northwards, to the River Volga, while Asparukh, Kuber and Altsek went south to search for a new land without oppressors.

The brothers who left secretly arranged with Huba and Bayan to send word by a golden thread tied to the leg of a dove if they were able to find a free land. One day a falcon sent by Asparukh flew into Huba's room and she and Bayan quickly made plans to escape. Just as they were looking for a place to cross the Danube River, Khazar pursuers spotted them and rushed toward them. Trying to find a ford, Huba let the falcon free. She tied a white thread to its leg and handed it to her brother. Just as the bird was about to take off, an enemy arrow pierced Bayan and his blood stained the white thread.

While Huba and Bayan managed to reach the newly discovered land by Asparukh (present-day Bulgaria), they were both mortally wounded. Asparukh rushed to the side of his dying brother and sister but he could not save them. After their death he tore the pieces of white-and-red blood stained yarn and adorned his soldiers with them.

Staying home & watching films

I've got a cold and I'm staying home a third day now and I started to actually enjoy not having to attend my acting classes every day and instead I just watch movie after movie and it's real fun.
Yesterday I watched a film I've never really heard of before. It's written and directed by Cameron Crowe and I'm not his biggest fan in the universe. But this one - which is his debut film - is the kind of a film that I just started watching with no expectations at all and then it worked for me. It's called Say Anything and stars a very young John Cusack. After watching the film, which is really very romantic and very funny and very touching, I did some research on the net and I was surprised to learn that it's a film, which got an enormous reaction at the time it premiered. I wonder why there is no DVD edition of it out there or maybe I just ignored it, but the film's worth the watch.

It tells the story of Lloyd Dobler, who is the regular guy - an absolutely mediocre student, kind of shy and unsecure, who on his high school graduation asks out the school valedictorian (wow, a new word! lol!), who is headed to England after the summer to study on a prestigious fellowship and even though everybody thinks they're a ridiculous match, things just work for them. Anyway, the story is not only about that, but about family, love, vocation and much more. And even though it's a very intelligent romantic comedy, it's all about the acting, which is very natural and unforced (and I love that in acting!) & the great romantic story. I've never ever liked John Cusack that much, but here he's amazing, very charming and just a guy everyone could have a crush on - absolutely unpretentious and giving and devoted and very funny, very clumsy. And very romantic. And I just like the idea that the film fools with cliches. Lloyd isn't the guy who will find what he wants to do with his life after falling for this great young woman. He just loves her, but realizes that while she's special, he just isn't. But it isn't a problem and it isn't something the film is focusing on. It's about finding love and about being in love and not caring about if you two are a perfect match in the eyes of your family or friends (just because everybody thinks that Lloyd and Diane aren't, because he's totally out of her league)...there are some really great scenes and and the film is very simple and very natural and connects... as always Cameron Crowe creates some very nice dialogue and some charming characters... and it's just the unpretentious little movie that somehow becomes a little great movie.... everything clicks perfectly.... and this one not only made me laugh and entertained me. I even cried at the end and I don't know why. Maybe because I have a cold... :-)

Sunday, 22 February 2009

My Oscar night thoughts

The night of the Oscars is over. For the 81st time. And for the 81st time the Academy made lots of absurd choices, I think. First of all, Slumdog Millionaire swept the Oscars, winning eight awards out of ten nominations (and actually only losing the sound editing award, since it had two song nominees and one of them won). Well, I can't say it was a bad film, but it just didn't deserve sweeping. It was actually the most emotionally rewarding of the nominees and that's why it won. Last year they rewarded some dark, violent films and this year they needed a change - a lighter mood, even though Slumdog Millionaire is a film about the misery and the society people are living in as well, but it's a film full of hope, which I think made it into the small sensation it is. But still, I don't think the film deserved most of its awards - definitely not the original score and original song awards. I wanted Thomas Newman to win the Oscar for composing WALL-E and co-writing the nominated song from the film, but the Slumdog hysteria was just too big to ignore. And no matter how touching the film is, I don't think its screenplay was actually quite deserving of winning best adapted screenplay - the film just didn't have much real character development and there were some holes in the narrative as well. But I don't want to be too critical, because I actually enjoyed the film and I think that it was the best film they could actually choose out of the five they nominated.

Anyway, I just didn't care - even remotely - for most of the winners. Sean Penn won the best actor Oscar for playing gay activist Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant's Milk, defeating the actual favorite Mickey Rourke (for his surprisingly touching performance in The Wrestler - a film you should give a chance!). Sean - no matter what a great actor he is - already won an (undeserved) Oscar a few years ago and this time he was up against two actors in superior performances. Not only Rourke, but Frank Langella as well, but Langella does mostly stage and his performance just scared voters, I think. Anyway, then Milk won original screenplay for gay writer Dustin Lance Black, whom I wrote about a month ago. I have read his script for Milk and while I really enjoyed it and I think it was a complex and intelligent script (he did some fine research), I still don't think he deserved to win. Not for the actual script. He won because voters wanted to acknowledge the film and because of all the gay marriage ban stuff in the USA. I myself am impressed by the personality of Harvey Milk and his fight for equal rights (I just watched the documentary about his life, which I think is far more impressive.) But I just wanted Martin McDonagh to win the Oscar for In Bruges, which - hands down! - was my favorite film of the year and my favorite, favorite script. It was just witty, quirky, funny, absurd, hilarous, well structured! Everything a great original screenplay should be! And WALL-E! Don't blame me for liking an animation! Don't be prejudiced! Just go and watch WALL-E! It'll make you realize that a great script isn't just the words. It's about creating a story and there are many, many ways to create a story! Then there is Kate Winslet's Oscar! Some people think she was due. I don't. To me Meryl Streep and Mellisa Leo and Anne Hathaway deserved it more. And to me Kate Winslet will remain a look-at-me-I'm-acting type of a performer. This woman should learn what subtlety is. It's something which make your performance real and not full or yourself as an actor!
Anyway, there was another major upset and that was in the foreign language film category, where Japan beat the front-runners (it was considered the least likely victor, actually!) and won the Oscar. By the way, Heath Ledger won for best supporting actor and I'm still confused about the presentation. Hollywood stars just didn't feel comfortable and they felt guilty, for some reason. And Penelope Cruz for supporting actress - while a classy choice, because her performance is definitely very good - simply wasn't the most deserving nominee. But with the Oscars it's always about politics. Meryl should soon win her third! Really!

And about the show - they really tried to make it differently this year, but it didn't work fully. I liked some of the presentations - the acting categories were presented by five past winners of the same category (which cared for many standing ovations).

The best actor presenters (for example) were Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Douglas, Ben Kingsley and Adrien Brody, while the best actress Oscar was presented by Sophia Lorren, Shirley MacLaine, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and last year's winner Marion Cotillard.
But I really don't get the original song presentations - they made a tribute to great musical songs, but didn't actually allow the nominees for best song to perform their whole songs (instead they put them in a three minutes medley, which was kind of absurd!). And actually the story thing didn't work that well.

But that's it. Until next year. I hope for a better show and for classier choices.

P.S. By the way, Dustin Lance Black had a very beautiful speech about gay rights. Not too political and very inspiring. I'll upload it once it's on youtube.

OSCAR NIGHT

The Oscars are just a few hours away and I'm really excited. I love the Oscars. It's a big show (over 3 hours, sometimes 4) and the winners usually aren't the most deserving ones, but sometimes the Academy just picks the right one. I'm really impressed with this year's original screenplay nominees, with Martin MacDonagh, who wrote and directed my favorite film of last year In Bruges being a surprising nominee and Mellisa Leo being up for best actress for Frozen River or the screenplay nod for Happy-Go-Lucky (which I love) or the nomination for Heath Ledger. I already wrote an entry about how impressed I was with Heath Ledger's performance in Brokeback Mountain three years ago, when I was just starting studying drama performance. Anyway, I think that his (inevitable) Oscar win for The Dark Knight is both a reward for a great actor, who had much promise. Anyway, it comes too late. I can't blame the Academy for rewarding Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's a great actor and was due for some recognition, but I can blame them for honoring him only because he was one of them and because Heath is considered too young for a best actor win. (I'm no fan of his work in Capote, which was all about mannerism. Boring.) Anyway, it's kind of ironic that he'll get his Oscar for a hero movie and the Academy is snobbish enough to never nominate summer hero movies. (They suck big time most of the time, so nobody can blame them about that.)

Anyway, I'm prepared for my big Oscar night. First of all, I'll have my Oscar party and we'll watch A Place in the Sun (from 1951, with a favorite of mine - Monty Clift) and of course, Brokeback Mountain, which Pro 7 will air tonight just before the Oscars.

And then, from 3 a.m. - live on Pro 7 - the 81st Annual Academy Awards. Hugh Jackman is hosting. And I hope there will be some surprises. I'm predicting a major upset - Viola Davis for supporting actress. And Mickey Rourke for best actor. Wow, he blew me away in The Wrestler. He really did. Enjoy the show!

My party starts in an hour, so I should be going. Have a nice Oscars! Wow! There's no business like show business and no night like Oscar night!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Hitchcock's I Confess

On the 13th I finally had the chance to catch up with Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess (1953). Some friends and I had this movie night and we did watch three of Hitchcock's films & I did fill some of the holes, left from the film class, which I attended as an elective module in my acting education.

I remember talking (in the class) about the New Wave filmmakers (in French: The Nouvelle Vogue) of the late 50's and 60's. We watched most of the films by Truffaut and Godard (most of which I really didn't develop any enthusiasm about). And on Friday night, just before we started watching I Confess, I checked a short article about the film on the Internet andI was mildly surprised to learn that this particular film has been a huge favorite amongst the French New Wave filmmakers. Now, having seen the film, it doesn't surprise me at all. The film does have some of the New Wave storytelling trademarks (including the visualized flashback segments) even though it's filmed in the early 50's. Anyway, what lacks here is Mr. Hitchcock himself! He appears at the beginning of the film, of course!, but his aggressive cinematic style, which I love, isn't there. And the story didn't make me to hold my breath even for a second. The 'mystery' is solved in the first five minutes of the film and I didn't even expect a plot twist to happen along the way. Obviously the filmmakers wanted the film to work as a metaphor: the guilt, the belief, the fear, the sanctity of confession and a priest who is determined to remain silent even if this could ruin his life were all working for the martyrdom theme to appear throughout the film. But the film didn't work as a metaphor, because its goals and themes were presented in a too obvious way. And of course, Otto's words to the priest in the final scene of the movie were just meant to explain it to anybody who didn't get that. Is there such a person after all?! Another problem for the film to work were the way characters were created. About the actors: I understand why Vladimir isn't a fan of Monty Clift's performance, but what I think is that he's terribly miscast. First of all, he isn't Hitch's type of an actor. Just take a look at the actors Hitch really did some miracles with: they are all macho types, whose performances are dependent on their masculine, casual charm. And they're really cinematic actors, who handle the performances in the most direct possible way, while Monty Clift is a stage actor, a Method actor and I don't think he found the director he needed in Alfred Hitchcock. And I can tell you that an actor really needs a director, who understands his way of handling the role to make it work. Talking from my experience, I know that directors usually have the goals list for the actor: what he's expected to achieve within a certain scene, the passages, the emotion swift etc etc. But I don't see it here. I think Clift worked on his own through the whole film, since everything Hitchcock obviously wanted was a calm and reserved priest, who represents all the qualities people expect from such a person. And I'm really terribly disappointed that Hitchcock didn't use one of Clift's best qualities as an actor - that to represent inner turmoil while acting cool in a certain scene. This could have been the case in the scene right after the verdict is read and Clift's on his way out from the court room and facing all the faces of people, who show their hatred toward him. Anyway, Hitchcock still wanted the calm priest - the representation of the ideal. And he structured the performance that way. It confused me, because to me Hitchcock offered up the possibility of creating a believable main character in order for the film to work as a metaphor. But the story itself didn't have the metaphor, which leads to the film (and especially the performance of Clift) to feel empty. You may think: Yeah, here's the actor blaming the director, but that's not true. I'm just confused and I can't even talk about the film the way I talk about other films, because I don't understand it really. Clift does everything he's expected to do. He adopts all the gestures, the calm, quiet voice, the friendly appearance, but despite of that, he never breaths as the character. And I think it's Hitchcock's fault. He just compromised the film for me.

And of course, the other problem is that everything in this film is obvious. There's nothing left for the viewer to figure out, which could have made it a more interesting watch for me. Anne Baxter has a really ungrateful character to play: her Ruth is a character, which is written and directed in the most obvious way: she's in love, she's willing to do everything to defend the man she loves. But all her appearance is in her words. We just don't see anything else. We don't see action, we don't see some real, unexplaine emotion. She talks and talks and she declares what her character desires and thinks and there's no inner story attached here. Karl Malden, on the other hand, has a more interesting part to play and I think he delivers an interesting performance: he's the sole actor, who really was given a tricky part and executes it gracefully. He's the inspector, who likes the priest and despite of that, he feels obligated to persecute him because of his suspicions. The one scene from the film, which I really liked and which I think has this irony in it, is the scene, in which the priest arrives to the inspector's office and the inspector (who believed that the priest just flew) offered to buy him a lunch.

But anyway, I just hate it when people want to find meaning in something, which doesn't have a meaning. The themes of the martyrdom, which everybody is talking about, is represented in the film, but in an obvious way, which for me ruined the experience itself and which stopped the filmmakers from creating a believable story and interesting characters. And film is all about that.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Friday movie night

I feel a bit swallowed up in February, which is actually a nice thing. I love the short days, the snow and the cold weather. And of course, February and March are the months of the film festivals and all the films I've been waiting for premiering. The Oscars are just a week away and I think I'm going to have a few friends over to watch the show's live telecast. I'm back to college and working on a play and I don't have that much time as I did. Anyway, it's Friday night and instead to go clubbing, a few friends and I will gather home to watch movies all night long. It's a tradition that needs to be upheld actually, so it's going to be a Hitchcock night - with Spellbound, Rear Window and I Confess being the three films to watch. I'm actually a big Hitchcock freak and I think I had an entry, in which I mentioned that. Vertigo is my absolutely favorite Hitchcock film. I caught up with most of his films in a Hitchcock marathon a TV channel had last year, but I've never seen these three films. So I'll comment on them tomorrow!

I gotta go now. Have a nice Freaky Friday folks!

P.S. And by the way, it's rather a coincidence we choose Friday the 13th to watch Hitchcock's movies! Way to go!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Kevin Spacey does impersonations

I've always liked impersonations. I love Tina Fey doing it on Saturday Night Live (I've never seen the show, since it never aired here, but I've seen some clips on youtube!) and I think that Jim Carrey does a good Jack Nicholson, but I've come across this video of Kevin Spacey doing impersonations of lots of film legends - including Katharine Hepburn, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Walken and Marlon Brando. Actually, I'm not that impressed with his Hepburn. He just doesn't get her mannerism and tries doing her voice only, which I think he fails at. But Walken, Brando and Pacino are great, especially Marlon Brando. He just enjoys it. And it's all which matters. I myself enjoy impersonating a professor of mine, who's one of the most unlikable animals on Earth - and according to a few friends, I'm good at doing her. :-) But anyway, Spacey is a skilled impersonator & I would like to see more of him doing it.

Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKKDKAKNH-k

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Short films & Hattie McDaniel clip

Well, I love short films. If I get into a filmmaking programme, I'd love to do some. They're always tricky, because it's really hard to tell an intriguing story in five minutes. Some filmmakers succeed and it's always fun to watch short films. And I'm really glad that the Academy presents Oscars in the short film categories, because this way younger and unexperienced filmmakers could be rewarded (even student films) & it could be a golden opportunity to be noticed.

Here are some shorts I enjoyed: the first one (Faith d'hiver) I watched last year and it really, really shocked me. (I believe that it's an Oscar-nominated short film.) Even though I don't think it's great cinema (even though it has some really very interesting shots), it's pretty much about the plot twist, which works quite well. Right now I'm watching the five nominated animated shorts nominated this year and there's a Russian flick, which is really touching. By the way, last year my sister took me to see Alexander Petrov's The Old Man and the Sea and I really, really loved it. Go see it if you get the chance! It's really beautiful & very moody.


Watch FAITH D'HIVER here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGmy6xGo4Nw

And yesterday, just rushing through youtube, I found a really nice video of Hattie McDaniel becoming the first woman of colour to win an Oscar - for supporting actress in Gone With the Wind.


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Jimmy Dean & Heath Ledger & Monty Clift
















You know the obsession with James Dean. Or Jimmy Dean - as they call him in the Robert Altman movie I just watched. (It's an old film with Cher and Kathy Bates and is called Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.) It's something really weird. The strange thing is that he's so unlike most of the young big stars now - watching his films I just can't stop thinking that he had a great gift for acting and it's real sad that his career and his life were cut short. Most people in my acting class (and even my professors) think that it's his early & tragic death, which made him a legend. But I don't think it's really a relevant explanation. It's rather this raw style of acting, which is so natural and so unlike everything at the time. And it's the fact that he wasn't the big macho guy most actors were or pretended to be. Just watch an old movie. They're all big, raw, unemotional guys. And Jimmy Dean is all about this natural gift of honesty in acting, which is what great acting is all about, I think. If I think of a nowadays actor, who I could compare Jimmy Dean to, it's Heath Ledger. And again - not because of his tragic death, but because of his great gift. When I watched Brokeback Mountain two years ago, I was really blown away by his performance. It was in the year when I started studying theatre acting & I felt that I'd like to give a performance like that. I didn't like Jake Gyllenhaal's performance, but Heath was really the soul of the film. It was exactly a performance the way Jimmy Dean would have played it - natural and unforced. And of course - both were incredibly good-looking guys, but in a mysterious way, which helped their acting a lot. These guys just didn't fit the Hollywood stereotype even though they had everything they needed to succeed. But anyway, thinking about other Hollywood actors like that, I can't stop thinking of Monty Clift. Up until a year ago, I didn't even know who he is. I have seen classic movies on TCM, but never ever something he was in. And then we watched A Place in the Sun in class and it was a really great experience. He's a reallyt sensitive actor. And I did some research and read a lot about his life. His sexuality was probably the reason for him feeling uncomfortable and never finding his place. It's sad that such a tragic personal life actually helped him create some great roles. Check these guys' film roles. Really impressive. And sad.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Some more poetry

It's from the second class we had in English. And it's what I wrote. The subject was depression. I was still reading Sylvia Plath, so it was no problem relating to it. I wrote that:

I'm down. Memories can't be erazed.
I just remember the coldness of the knife.
It touched my skin. My teeth were in pain.
Being felt like if in vain.

And I don't think, and I just am,
I'm down... and sinking, grabbing my pain.
And choking it. Let it taste my grief!
I just feel like a damned creature, like a sinking thief!

Give me the razor. I would fain
to put an end to every grain -
the grain of pain, I see its sails.
The ship is sinking. Saving fails.

And I'm just lying on the floor,
around is water, seaweed & reck.
My wet flesh simply forgets what life is.
And my brain just stops with a picture
erazed in it -
for eternity.

Eternal frame.
Eternal non-life.
Eternal pain - not physical, not psychical.
Just a memory of pain.


The influence is there.


Anyway, this one last day has been really stormy. I think I'm losing somebody who started to mean something more to me & it doesn't feel great. Anyway, I believe we'll have a shot - if not right now, still a month or two later. Or a year. I know it.

Poetry

OK. I promised schnoogen to post some poetry. Anyway, I've never considered myself a poet and I don't really have any ambitions at all. I just had to write some stuff for my acting class with a visiting English professor & he recommended for everybody to choose two pieces - one by poet (I choose Sylvia Plath, whom I love! I love the film as well - may be the one who loves it!) and one, that's something personal. I wrote two. I didn't like them actually, so I wrote another one for the second session. Its subject was supposed to be "Emptiness", so I think I at least accomplished that. Anyway, reading Sylvia Plath has too much an influence. And I still think that it works better as a visual thing rather than poetry. I'm no poet.

This day is dying in its red fire agony.
With smoking lips, with hungry eyes.
For more. No peace, no need at all.
The day is dying. The lips are cracked.
The eyes are yelling. In a bloody, wasted silhouette of time.
An empty room in a full-size house.
Pissed voices in awkward silenced arms.

Watch this one!

Most people will never appreaciate the beauty and charm of animation & it's a sad thing. I remember watching Persepolis, which I love, last year and thinking that this one simply should stop all the prejudiced talk about animation being inferior to live action films, but it won't stop. No matter what filmmakers do and sometimes they do some really beautiful things - like Persepolis or Richard Linklater's Waking Life. And I love fun animation, too. Ratatouille was funny and entertaining and well written.

And then there are the shorts that never get much attention, but I've found this small piece of animation - called Father and Daughter - and it kind of touched me. It's a very short film (about 6 minutes excluding the end titles) and it has no dialogue. It's just minimalistic animation & music. And it tells a story, which I personally could relate to. Maybe it just speaks to me, but I cry every time I see it.

Watch it!

The Host and Me

Hosting the Oscars is actually a tricky thing. Every year people start talking about how wonderful it would be to have Billy Crystal back, but I wasn't around when he used to host the Oscars in the beginning of the 90's, so I just watched the 2003 Oscars, which is the last edition of the Oscars he hosted. Hollywood obviously adores his style - it's all about making the audience relaxe and forget about the awards for a moment & he has these crazy best picture nominees' songs. Judging from youtube videos, he had some really witty songs in the 90's. And of course, I love him becoming digitally part of the actual Oscar nominated films in these little movie segments, which are aired over ths how. But Crystal simply ain't my favorite. I don't get Chris Rock either. I think that his humour just feels like way too arrogant for my taste. And Ellen was quite fun, but I don't think she used the time she had. She's really something of a TV host and the TV format fits her loose style. She just wants people to relax and just have something of a conversation with them, not just popping killer jokes. Anyway, my favorite seems to be the one most people don't get and that's Jon Stewart. I used to watch his The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (the CNN World edition) and I simply love his way to make people feel kind of uncomfortable and that's really what I loved when he hosted. For him it's easy, because he isn't part of Hollywood and critisizing is real fun, even though the audience just doesn't respond to his jokes the way an outside would. And does. I do.

Jon hosted last year and I think that he did a good job, even though I wanted him to focus more on politics. It was an election year and it could have been fun. But anyway, I loved the Vanity Fair Oscar party joke. The Vanity Fair Oscar party is just the absurd of Oscar season: a magazine gathering all the stars to congratulate themselves once again in the weeks before the Oscars telecast. That year the party was cancelled in support of the writers on strike. Of course, the strike ended, Jon Stewart welcomed the guests of the 80th Oscars to the "make up sex" and then said:

There is still some collateral damage left from the strike - emotionally, economically, but probably worst of all the cancellation of the legendar Vanity Fair Oscar party. They said they did out of respect for the writers. Oh, you know another way you could show respect for the writers. Maybe one day invite some of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party!

That was great. And the audience enjoyed it immensely, even though I'm sure some felt kind of offended. And that's the problem with Jon Stewart. His jokes are stinging Hollywood's ego and it's a problem for them, because he exposes them on Oscar night. That's why they prefer having him talk about politics. And of course, he had a nice part about the election. (And of course, the Diablo Cody joke, which was kind of really predictable, but still fun - "Diablo Cody used to be an exotic dancer and now she's an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. I hope you enjoy the pay cut." It was kind of expected having Stewart tell a joke about a screenwriter and Diablo was the screenwriter sensation of the year. And she was a blogger, actually. ;-) Anyway, I'm no huge fan of her film, so that's all I'm saying about her.)

And then the very best joke (to me) was the one, which mixed the reality of film and politics. It was quite fun and kind of it has been there all around, which is iconic.

Now about Hugh Jackman. I've never been to one of his Broadway musicals, even though I've seen parts of them on youtube. And I think that he's going to be an entertaining host - pretty much using his tools (dancing, singing) and it won't be about the jokes, but about entertainment, which could be good for a change. We'll see. On Feb. 22nd.

That's it for now.


Here's a part of Billy's songs segments. The gay dream thing at the end is funny. ;-)


Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Before Sunrise & Before Sunset & Nina Simone's song

My friends and I used to have this movie night - once in a month we gather to watch films and talk all night long, even though we pretty much talk & ignore the film most of the time. lol. But last year we've seen these two films - Before Sunrise & Before Sunset, both starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. I loved them. I may be a helpless romantic (and I don't consider myself one), but I loved these two films. If you're not familiar with the story, it's pretty much about two strangers - a French chick (Celine) and an American fella (Jesse), who meet on a train in Europe. They develop a strange bond over the course of a conversation and once they arrive in Vienna, Jesse has this weird idea that they could spend the day (and the night) together in Vienna, until he takes his flight back to the US in the morning. All they do all night long is talking and sharing some intimate things and at the end of the film, they decide that they'd meet in six months in Vienna to see if the emotion is still there. They don't exchange phone numbers, addresses, nothing. Just the promise to meet in six months. And it's where the film ends. For some people and for most of my friends, who're studying all possible things - from psychology to arts - it was a nice forgettable film. I loved it. It's possibly the most romantic thing I've ever seen, because it just felt honest and unpretencious. The acting was natural and very down-to-Earth. And I loved the chemistry between the two leads. But anyway, it was this open ending, which I loved the most. Will they meet in six months? What happens? I really wanted to know, even though I didn't like the idea of a sequel.... Anyway. I was the sole person who wanted to watch the sequel right away, so I just waited for everybody to fall asleep to watch it. In Before Sunset - the sequel, Jesse and Celina meet again (ten or eleven years later). Their lives are totally different from what they were the first time they met. Nothing's the same except for the emotion. Which is still there. And this time they kind try to repress it, even though they share intimate things and talk and talk and talk. About everything. It's pretty much a talkie. But then there are these two or three really silent scenes at the end of the movie, which are really my favorites. And then there's this song Celina sings (her own) for Jesse (who still gotta go catch a flight and is terribly late; he's in Paris this time to promote the book he wrote about their one night affair). And this song is really catchy.
But then Celina talks about a singer- Nina Simone.
In the film Celine shares some memories about a concert of Nina Simone she attended, while she and Jesse listen to a song of Nina. Yesterday I finally found the CD of Nina Simone & bought it, so I can't stop listening to her songs. Just get a copy yourself! Really jazzy. And she has this amazing voice! Very characteristic. And every song makes me think of Jesse & Celine. Don't know why. ;-) I may really be romantic. Just love these films!





This here is a video of Celine performing her own song. Cute video.

I couldn't find a video of the Nina Simone song. There was one terrible video with Italian dubbing. But anyway, check her songs out!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Meryl's SAG Award

Last night the Screen Actors Guild presented its awards in both film & TV. And the best actress in a leading role SAG went to ... my favorite, my girl - Meryl! I was so happy and it definitely boosts her Oscar chances! I think she's the one to get the Oscar on Feb. 22nd. Come on, Meryl got a standing ovation from fellow actors and there were cheers and lots of love for her. Kate Winslet got only a mere applause. So, Meryl! Congratulations! Love ya!

(And I must point out I'm really happy that the SAG nominated Mellisa Leo in the best actress category. She's no star, but she's a real, real actor. Her performance in Frozen River was painfully realistic and she deserves to finally break into the Oscar line-up. Leo is an actor I've admired for some years now and her performance in Frozen River may be too naturalistic for awards' bodies, but still, she deserves people to be aware of her great performance. The same about Richard Jenkins. And no matter what I think about Milk being a solid film with some really good acting, I can't say I think Sean Penn deserved this award. To me Frank Langella did.)

But anyway! Once again - actors LOVE Meryl! (Somebody pointed out that when Life Achievement Award recipient James Earl Jones compared actors to gods, the camera focused on Meryl! Of course! :-) That's like a cliche already. Once again: Meryl, love ya! And of course, congrats on your 15th Oscar nod!


Thursday, 22 January 2009

Dustin Lance Black's WGA article


This is just a short entry.

Go to the Writers Guild of America website & take a look at this short article by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Black's the screenwriter behind the HBO series Big Love (about the world of a Mormon man, I've seen only parts of it, so I can't recommend it) & Gus Van Sant's latest film Milk (starring Sean Penn & Josh Brolin), which I can recommend. It's a film, which showcases some really good acting, even though I find it a bit conventional in terms of storytelling & it could have been far more experimental and moody. My point. It's just me. Anyway, great performances.

Mr. Black is an openly gay writer and this article focuses on him growing up as a gay Mormon & is related to the political situation in the USA.

http://wga.org/writtenby/writtenbysub.aspx?id=3354

Read it! It's an interesting piece of journalism, in which he invests some real emotion.

And his point is so true: we need more gay characters which make sense. Real sense. Gay characters shouldn't be a ghetto in films and on TV & a gay kiss shouldn't be the big news. Good luck, Mr. Black!

* Having read the article, I just feel kind of happy that a film like Brokeback Mountain was filmed (I read somewhere it has been in production since 1997 and got made in 2005, which is a really sad story, given how much emotional potential the story has). I've read Annie Proulx's short story the film is based on and I was impressed. And I'm happy that the film & the story itself got that huge attention.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Just some news

My professor at the Academy will direct A Doll's House this semester and I'm playing Torvald, which - I think - is a huge challenge to me and I hope I'll manage to do it. I'm working on my portfolio for the UCD theatre directing programme. I'm going to direct fragments from Miss Julie (by Strindberg) with a very close friend of mine, who's already a working actress and a few days ago got a nomination for the Theatre Guild's award (for best supporting actress, congrats!) & I'm looking forward the chance to work with her and I'm hoping it'll be a rewarding experience. I'm going to a ski vacation in the beginning of February - for just a couple of days, because after that our semester starts. :-) But I'm glad my friends came up with this idea, so I'll have the shot to visit Bansko (which is a winter resort in Bulgaria) & have some fun.

I've been thinking about working on a Harold Pinter play as well, so it could be a really busy semester with lots of things to do. I just started researching A Doll's House on my own (you know, there's always a way to impress the people you're working with! no, i'm no go-getter!, I simply wanna give my best, lol) and that's all. Just yesterday I watched a very interesting film from Israel called Walk on Water. I recommend it highly to everyone. It's just about a subject, which is typically German, but I think the film is very human and entertaining as well.

And Oscar nominations are tba in 48 hours. You know, everybody interested in making a career in film and theatre is obsessed with things like that. I know the Oscars usually go the wrong way, but the excitement is a big part of the whole experience, so I'll enjoy myself.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

All these books

You know all these books people are telling you about - there are so many articles like The 100 books you have to read before you die (yeah, I really successful attempt to make somebody excited about something, lol), there are the books the folks at the Academy are talking 'bout all the time & of course, there are the books your friends have read & the books your Ma thinks you should read. And right now there is a campaign in Bulgaria (with a show on TV) - Bulgaria's favorite book. And I've been thinking these days - fuck, I've never read David Copperfield. And I even felt kind of ashamed because of it, because it's the way things are supposed to be. You have to read some books no matter if you care about them or not, which I think is the main reason for young people to not enjoy reading that much. I enjoy reading actually and I've read some books - I'm a big Salinger freak, I told ya already! - but I have no interest in reading some books, no matter how great they may be. I started Master and Margarita at least twice and I lost the interest after the first fifty pages. It just doesn't speak to me. (And I'm the guy who couldn't stop reading The Catcher in the Rye!) My point is that if society wants people to read, it shouldn't actually make people feel stupid because they haven't read a certain novel or if they happen to dislike it. There was a film I've seen last year - The Squid and the Whale (a great film by the way!) - in which the father (a writer, a total snob and a pain in the ass as well) said to his son: "Don't read that novel! It's minor Dickens!" It just felt stupid. But it reminded me of the way some people speak. I'm usually surprised that people I used to admire are such blind followers. One of my professors would say anything is great just because it's written by a writer who's a big name and must read. He pretends it without having read the book at all. He just pretends that on name recognition alone. And he wouldn't read a young immigrant writer just because he ruins the language. He has never read something he's written, not even a page, but he pretends that with such confidence, that it's simply impossible to not get angry at him. Unlike him, I don't pretend The Master and Margarita is something unworthy. I'm just saying it doesn't appeal to me. It's not my kind of a read. But he rejects even the idea of reading something & then pretends that he cares a lot about reading and about the young people not reading at all. And of course, his tirade ends with something like: "It's sad that a society of illiterates is coming to rule this country in some twenty years." That's absurd. No - not absurd. Absurds are at least charming. That's hypocrisy, which scares me even more. It's just sad that reading became something snobbish and people who accuse other people of not reading don't care.

Anyway, we could be doing some Harold Pinter the coming semester, so I'll check some of his plays tonight. I really loved a play I read some years ago. Old Times. Now I'm checking and I finally, finally got a copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman - a film Pinter penned and I've been recommended to watch. It's Meryl Streep, of course! I'll watch it tonight and could write something about it tomorrow. Another insomniac night of films! Great! Love it!

Anyway, just about my Tina Fey! I loved her speech at the Globes. She was the highlight of an incredibly dull night (for me). Anyway, she said something like that:

But I want you to know that I really know how very lucky I am to have the year I had this year and if you ever start to feel too good about yourself, they have this thing called the Internet. And you can find a lot of people there who don't like you. I like to address some of them now. Diane Fan, you can suck it! C.Letter, you can really suck it! All year you've been after me!

That got me really laughing! Well, now I'm going to watch The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Writing


Learning the craft of acting & directing is so much different than most people could even imagine. Above all, it's hard work, because the so called inspiration thing actually happens, but most of the time it just happens in the wrong moment & disappears as quicky and unexpectedly as it came to you. Anyway, acting to me has always been like a tool to express emotions, but it just made me aware of some other impulses inside of me. Without the acting, I wouldn't have been able to start writing & directing and these two are so much more a way to express myself than the acting. And there you can really feel the inspiration and you're really dependent on it. And I've been happy enough to have lots of people who are supportive and believe in me - not only friends, but some people, whose work I respect as well. And I've learned my lesson - don't give up. Not easily! Because it's what I used to do until recently - I just started a story and at the beginning I just felt passionate about it & confident about that I was writing, really mattered somehow, but then I just lost the interest & this emotion & I gave up on this story & started another one. I finished only a few. Anyway, now I have these weeks off (we have a break) and I'm home, far away from friends and coffee calls (I hate them, because I just can't say No, even when I want to!) & I have some time just sit down & write. I'm working on a story I happen to live & to believe in and that's something. The images & the characters just happen & I enjoy it. And what's even more satisfying is that I have a clear idea of what it's going to be. What the story is going to be about. So I'm not afraid of it taking shape. And having the instincts of an actor is just helpful here. It helps me find the character within the story. Maybe some people really start from acting and then really have careers as writers & directors - like Emma Thompson and George Clooney (whom I respect as a director much more than I do as an actor), Romen Polanski & even Clint Eastwood (I happen to love Unforgiven & Mystic River). The new story just starts to take shape, but I feel I'm in full command of it. I hope I don't give up! Please, don't let me!

The interesting shot

I'm into film (very much!) and I'm into photography. So here are a few film shots, which I happen to love. Over at Incontention.com, Kris Tapley selects his ten favorite shots of the year and even though this year's list looks quite disappointing, last year's selection is impressive. The There Will Be Blood shot alone (the hand shot) is amazing. And Atonement reality vs. celluloid (film) shot is amazing. Here are some of my favorite shots.


This one is from Quiet City and is the story of two strangers who meet & spend some time together (in the park, at parties, at art shows etc etc). It's a very poetic shot & I love that about it. The two charactrs running against the sun just feels so fresh and hot and kind of liberating, but at the same time it just feels surreal and like a part from some action packed sci-fi film. The composition is pretty simple, but working. It just feels like somebody captured this happy accident on film. I'm not really familiar with lenses and stuff like that, but I have some friends, who's DP (director of photography) undergraduates & we had a long talk about this one. Anyway, it's really poetic.


The Atonement shot. It's from a scene at the end of the movie. Robbie (James McAvoy's character - I still feel obligated to point out that James's performance was to the cast standout & he gave such an honest and beautifully nuanced performance, that it's a shame he didn't get enough attention from his peers, but he's not yet 30, so I believe he'll have enough shots at being recognized in the future). In this scene his character Robbie - who's a soldier in WWII enters a deserted theater and in his depression & weak physical condition he just walks around & when he gets in front of the screen, he just gets overwhelmed by emotion. It's actually a scene, which is open to interpretation & James delivers a performance which happens to be both haunting & ambivalent enough to raise these questions. I love it. And the composition is pretty amazing. These days I'm reading a lot about compositon (with all the Susan Sontag photography stuff & reading about acting & the physical presence on stage and on screen) and I have to say that this shot delivers, because it's a shot, which points out contrasts - color & b/w, the big & small figures & the excitement of the lovers onscreen & the pain of the man off screen / in front of the screen. And it's beautiful, ain't it? I read somewhere that its director Joe Wright uses classic paintings as influence for many of his shots and I think it's a good idea. Stealing from the masters isn't stealing, right? ;-)


My favorite shot - from There Will Be Blood. Anyone who has not seen this film, go and see it! It's amazing! It's so much unlike other films, that after it, I felt like I've read a big epic novel. And Daniel Day-Lewis is an actors' actor & even though I think he went over-the-top, I think it just worked in this particular film. There was the need for a performance, which is strong and commanding enough to get the film working as a metaphor. But I loved it. And this shot - among many others - is amazing. It's this hand - covered with oil - against the light. There's the greedy nuance in there, there's the feeling of a human being becoming powerful & feeling superior. It's like a quest for a victory and at the same time it feels pretty empty. I love it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Love Letter to Tina Fey - the Comedian

Tina Fey, I love you! I do! You rock!


I just love you on 30 Rock and your Liz Lemon is my absolute alter ego. haha. I make the very same mistakes in my life & have some of her phobias, so I find it pretty enjoyable to watch things happen & the way she's reacting. It rocks!

You're funny, spontaneous & generous. I'm a fan!

30 Rock is just what TV should be all about - great, clever writing, witty comedy and complex characters. Once people think of a sitcom, they forget about the logics of character, which I myself really don't like. Okay, Friends was fun. But as much as I enjoyed it, sometimes its characters just didn't make sense, because the writers wanted them to react in a situation in a way, which would make the scene work as a comedy, but not in terms of characters. And I think the show suffered a lot from that. You see - there are scenes, in which Joye just reacts as if he's somebody, who's really good at analyzing people's actions (and even manipulating them), but in others (and it's what the writers wanted us to believe at first) he's just a goofy fella with a big heart. But 30 Rock rocks big time.

The characters are just hilarous, the comedy is always there and there's always a small detail I've failed to notice on the first viewing. Yeah, you got. I watched most episodes more than just once. Watching once is for starters, you know.

Right now, I have to think of a great moment in the episode Rosemary's Baby (with a guest star appereance by Princess Lea from Star Wars - I really forgot her name!). Anyway, Fisher! Fisher! Yeah. Carrie Fisher.

But anyway, Carrie is playing an older writer, who's been something of a huge influence for Liz in her childhood and inspired her to want to be a writer & in the first scene of the episode, Liz is attending an autograph signing session & just can't stop talking to her idol.

Here's the dialogue (with some pics).


Pic 1: Liz gets the chance to talk to her idol.


Liz: Hi, I don't want to sound like a weirdo fan, but I am obsessed with everything you've ever done. And I used to make my friends act out your sketches the next day. Oh! When I say my friends, I mean my Fisher price..my friends - dolls, because I didn't have a lot of (she can't believe she just talks and talks) friends. Oh, boy! Am I still talking?


The writer: You're gonna kill me, aren't you?








Come on. That's real comedy. That's real character within a few lines. And there's the cultural reference as well. I love that. No, I loaff it. I loaaffffff it. (Got my Woody Allen Annie Hall reference.) Haha. It's sad the series has such low ratings, really. It's a proof that people just wanna get a laugh and not think about it. And as Tina points out in a flashback in this episode: "It's so funny, because it's true." It's actually very true of great comedy, I think.

And that's why I love Tina Fey! Everything this woman has ever done is hilarous! And I love the fact that she doesn't have the confidence as an actress. It's quite cute how humble & at the same time hilarously funny and biting she can be. At the Globes she did dedicate half her speech to her bashers on in the Internet. It was fun. It didn't felt offensive or anything. It just felt like a sketch she's written & is performing to entertain people.

I wanna see more of Tina & actually I uploaded a video (she's done on Saturday Night Live, which I've never seen, but checked her Sarah Pallin impersonations, haha) and she made me laugh again. Enjoy! It's real fun!

I just love the Bush doctrine moment. ;-) (Anyway, I must say that I just don't get Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton. It just doesn't work and seriously diminishes the joy of watching Tina stealing the show. Wow, now I sound like a fanboy! Terrible! I stop! It will be the last fanboy entry I write. So, sorry to Ellen De Generes & Jon Stewart & Billy Crystal & Steve Martin & Diane Keaton and all these other comedians I won't pay tribute to. :-)


Happy-Go-Lucky

I'm in a rather bad mood today & I wanna cheer up a little bit. Anyway, no matter how many cops of coffee I take, my mood is still bad. Maybe I miss some of my friends in Sofia. Maybe I'm going through some winter depression (very trendy, huh?), but today I just thought of Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky & about how much I love her character Poppy & the way she handles things - rejection, people's obvious hatred & irritation. She's just happy-go-lucky. She doesn't care about stuff. If she wants to talk to somebody, she talks & doesn't wait for this somebody to take the initiative. If she wants to go out and do stuff, she just does it. And it's kind of her life philosophy - she just wants to enjoy herself. So, no worries. And as she says: "Stay happy!"

I just wanna be like her. And I am - to a certain degree. But I care most of the time, which is a bad thing. :-)

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Helen Levitt's picture

Hey fellas!

I usually have these insomnia periods when I don't get a lot of sleep, really. And I'm watching films then. But last night I slept really well and long, so today I feel like I could conquer the world. It's a good feeling. Nothing violent about it actually, just fresh and in the mood for lots of things.

This entry isn't about anything special. I justed wanted to share a picture I found on the Internet. I enjoy photography and even though it's very different from the medium of film, there are some moments, in which their similarities become obvious. But anyway, I found information about a photographer called Helen Levitt, I've never heard of before. She's amazing and maybe her work could be considered a little bit typical today (though I wouldn't say it), but she's a master. She does street photography & I uploaded a picture, which I think is really kind of haunting. I just checked it today and even though it's very simple, it just doesn't get out of my head. Maybe because it makes me think of the NY I've read about in Salinger's books. (And I'm a real Salinger freak, you know.) But come on, she just controls the space & I like the enigmatic nature of the picture's protagonist. And then - there is the space between the person in the front & everyone behind her (I think it's her despite of the clothes! Just feels this way!), but they're all on a long distance. And the POV. I love this picture.

Anyway, I just got a copy of Susan Sontag's essays on photography and I'm going to check them later today. One of filmmaking students at the Academy who's very supportive of my dreams of being a director, just told me about the book & I read a lot about Sontag recently. And of course, I'll be fulfilling my NY resolution - to work on myself intellectually ;-)

So, here's the picture. Doesn't it work for you?

Alfred Hitchcock & economical style & actors


Thanks to Vladimir I got some recordings of Francois Truffaut's series of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock (which I had read in a book form a few months ago and enjoyed immensely). There's a lot to like about these interviews: it rarely happens that filmmaker discusses his own career step by step, film by film, pointing out things, which were a real challenge to him at the time and actually considering other possibilities to make it (at the point the interview is taken). And it's even more interesting because of Truffaut being a critic turned filmmaker himself. I still vividly remember a line from the book's preface (or possibly it was something he said during the interviews, I don't remember exactly! must check it!). He said that he considered film differently as a critic as he did as a filmmaker. And that's true, because critics way too often focus on the story itself - the development of story, of character, of how the director works with these tools within the frame he's given. And when I talk to Bulgarian directors (like Ludmil Staykov, who's a very impressive person, I have to admit and a filmmaker who had his roots in acting & theatre; he's already in his 70's and though he doesn't make films anymore, he's devoted to teaching at the National Academy), he works like this. He doesn't focus as much on the visual side of things, but works within the character's development. Because (at least in the theatre) that's the crucial thing. That's what everybody is looking for. The visual side is actually managing. It's like finding the most effective (and at the same time the most economical & simple) way of telling the story within the frame. And I think it's really what European filmmaking is all about. Filmmakers in Europe aren't the flashy visualists American filmmakers are. (And I don't have anything against visualist filmmakers and I think that unlike critics, other filmmaker could value the visual style, but no way style over substance.) Because somebody like Steven Spielberg and Marty Scorsese work with many cuts. They cut often, they love to change the POV (point of view, if you don't know what that is) and that's maybe even necessary for the films they're doing. I don't blame them. It's the way they experience the power of the medium they're working within. But I just don't think I would work like that. I don't believe I'll by any good & don't think it's the way I see things. To me filming is always finding the best possible shot & doing a transition or a cut only when necessary - for the rhythm. And I think Hitchcock works like that. He's a very economical director and I love that about him. Woody Allen works like that and I think it works. He's actually one of the few filmmakers who really find new ways of pushing the envelope, of changing the nature of the mise-en-scene. I was kind of perplexed when I first watched Annie Hall & characters kept to leave the screen and even left the space I (as a viewer) was observing, empty. And the camera didn't follow them, didn't change the POV every five seconds and it was kind of liberating for the actors, because they just work on their characters and they work as stage actors. On the other hand, there is Robert Altman who works like that with his actors (I really regret I didn't have the chance to work with him. Ambition, you know ;-)!), who just puts a few camera on the set (they work simultaneously) and just wants to capture everything which is happening between the actors on film. And that's why I love the motion in his films, because he finds other ways than the obvious editing to make his films work in terms of rhythm. The rhythm is set by the actors, who through improvising find ways to make the story work on different levels.

And talking about actors, I love this economical acting style as well. Altman's actors have it. They don't push, they don't try to get all the spotlight. They don't overdo things. Watching Helen Mirren in Gosford Park is feeling she just isn't acting, but kind of living this life & I couldn't even think of her as an actor. No, I ever imagined that she kept living in this estate house, cleaning and being the cold woman on the surface (with a tragedy in her life) & she came to life because of that. Because her performance was about feeling as a whole & not about giving as much information as possible & stealing the spotlight. She doesn't have lots of scenes actually, but when she's on the screen, she really delivers something barely noticable, but important to keep her character arc moving. I often regret that non-professionals rarely understand and value these performances. I have lots of friends, who are interesting and intelligent people and I really hate it when they say about a performance like Helen Mirren's performance: "It was okay, but nothing special." Come on, it was special. It was more than just special. And just because Russell Crowe played a mad mathematician who fights against a mental illness in A Beautiful Mind, doesn't make his performance special. Actors call performances like that baity, but not interesting. I used to think like my friends, actually. When I wasn't really doing it myself. But now - as I deeper I get into acting & directing & theatre & watching and analyzing films and being a wanna be as a filmmaker & theatre director - I understand how little they mean in general.