Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Great Gatsby (2013)

I remember vaguely that I read somewhere that The Great Gatsby novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the beautiful books ever written. Not sure if it’s the story or the writing style. I wanted to read this book then, and perhaps I did read a few pages and was never interested to finish it. So I don’t know if the movie version by Baz Luhrmann is faithful to the book. Thanks to the movie, however, that now I know what the book is about.

I am not a fan of both main actors in the movie: Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio; and in the first half hour of the movie, I was pessimistic. The party held by Jay Gatsby made me dizzy. Too many people came (in 1922 were party goers really that many?) and the scenes were too fast. After it was revealed why Gatsby wanted to befriend Nick Carraway, the story went smoothly.

A poor bond salesman, Nick Carraway, just arrived in Long Island New York and lived next to a palace owned by Jay Gatsby, who held a party every night. Gatsby asked Carraway to bring his cousin, Daisy, for tea. It was then Carraway realized that before Daisy married, she and Gatsby were lovers. Gatsby went to war and Daisy married Tom Buchanan, a former Yale football player.

Buchanan had a mistress, so Gatsby was convinced that Daisy never loved her husband. He asked her to leave Buchanan and marry him. Buchanan told Daisy that Gatsby was a fraud, a bootlegger. In the heat of the moment, Daisy and Gatsby went home in Gatsby’s big yellow car and Daisy, who drove, hit Buchanan’s mistress with the car to death.

Buchanan blamed Gatsby for his mistress’s death, also claimed that Myrtle (the mistress’s name) was Gatsby’s mistress. Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, shot Gatsby to death, after Gatsby thought that he had received a call from Daisy, who he thought agreed to go away with him. The call was actually from Carraway; while Daisy was going abroad with her husband.

To Carraway, Gatsby was one of the good guys; while Daisy and Tom Buchanan were careless people.

Although the party scenes made me dizzy, the landscapes were very beautiful. Carey Mulligan, who played Daisy, is very beautiful. The audience were easily convinced why Gatsby wanted her very much. I must say that Leonardo DiCaprio was suitable in that role. I don’t like him enough that it was believable how people in New York turned from him after the scandal began, that none attended his funeral.

Daisy's entrance

Compared to Moulin Rouge and Australia (which I didn’t even remember what it was about), Gatsby’s love story was much more beautiful; but I believe it’s because the book it’s based on is also a classic. Among the three, Moulin Rouge is still the best.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Worthy Brown's Daughter - Phillip Margolin

Phillip Margolin got the idea for this book in early 80's when he read an article about Colonel Ford from Missouri who owned black skinned Mr & Mrs Holmes and their children as slaves, and when they moved to Oregon, Ford told Holmes that if they helped him establish a farm they would be free. The farm established, but Ford kept several of Holmes's children as servants. Holmes found a white lawyer who would help them get their children back, but when they were returned in 1853, one had already died in Ford's custody.

Margolin also found, in his research, a memoir of Stephen J. Field; the only Supreme Court Justice to be arrested for murder while sitting on the bench.

There is also a reference from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, where a sinner is saved from the death row because someone else takes his place. Same principle as Christianity.

The story in this book was set in 1860, began with a court in a little town called Phoenix. We met a young, honest attorney named Matthew Penny and a dishonest attorney named Caleb Barbour. Barbour represented a wealthy businessman named Benjamin Gillette. Another client of Barbour was a beautiful, greedy woman named Sharon Hill. Although Matthew Penny lost his case in Phoenix, he left a good impression on Benjamin Gillette's heart. When all these people went to Portland for the next actions, Gillette invited Matthew Penny to his house, where Matthew fell in love with Gillette's daughter, Heather.

Caleb Barbour had a slave named Worthy Brown, whose daughter Roxanne could read. One day Roxanne saw an article in a newspaper that there was a new constitution on slavery. Worthy Brown asked Barbour about it, and Barbour promised if Brown worked for one more year he would free them. One year passed and Barbour let Worthy Brown go, but he kept Roxanne as a servant. Worthy Brown asked Matthew Penny to be his lawyer.

A character like Matthew Penny is hardly to find these days. A man with such a pure heart could only be found in 19th century novels. It seems that at those times, many people had concience. Book I read these days usually portrays flawed heroes who try to beat up their opponents at any cost. When Penny accidentally killed Barbour, all he could think was how to pay for that sin. His heart was breaking because he had to forget his happy future with Heather Gillette. Worst, Worthy Brown felt so grateful to him that Worthy was willing to admit the crime.

Another important character was a smart lawyer named Orville Mason, graduated from Harvard. A good friend to Matthew Penny and Heather Gillette, Orville Mason became Benjamin Gillette's attorney and in the end saved Heather Gillette from Sharon Hill's greed.

The book was thin, with very short chapters. Not many dialogues and I guess Mr Margolin focused on the plot. Basically this was a historical novel about the judicial system in Portland, Oregon, in 1860.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The World's End (2013)

"It's pointless arguing with you."

Gary King and his 4 friends: Peter, Oliver, Andy, Steven were originally from Newton Haven. In their early twenties, they attempted to do something called ‘The Golden Mile’; that was going to all twelve pubs in the town in one go and drinking in each. It was not completed.
Twenty years later we saw the five men didn’t live in Newton Haven anymore. Peter, Oliver, Andy, Steven all had steady jobs and we could say they lived in order; while Gary lived in disorder. We saw Gary in a circle meeting (the one the participants tell others about their lives like in an AA meeting) and someone mentioned how Gary never completed The Golden Mile. Something clicked in Gary’s head and he gathered his four friends and they all went back to Newton Haven, trying to complete The Golden Mile.

The Five Musketeers back in Newton Haven
It sounded simple and boring, but this movie was directed by Edgar Wright, whom I think is very good with camera trick. What audience can see is only what the camera is capturing, which he combines with cleverly cutting scenes. Far as I know, not many can make this kind of movie with not-so-big budget. The movie was fast paced, or very fast paced, or at least the characters often said their lines very fast. To complicate matters, Newton Haven had been possessed by aliens. It was a combination of Shaun of The Dead (also made by the same people) and some comic I read years ago which I cannot remember clearly, a girl found the townspeople had been turned into robots – including her parents.

In the end, The World’s End (you will find the name of this last pub in The Golden Mile is very appropriate if you watch the movie) was a very entertaining movie and I enjoyed watching it very much.

Baarìa (2009)

After succeeded with Cinema Paradiso, Malèna, The Unknown Woman; it was time for director Giuseppe Tornatore to make the movie about his homeland: Baarìa (=Sicilian slang for Bagheria, a town in Palermo, Italy). I must say that after watching his other great works, Baarìa was not as good as I had expected. The opening scene - which showing a little boy being sent to buy a pack of cigarettes and ended up flying above the town – and the ending scene – showing another little boy (the first boy’s father) wake up in class’s corner, got out to find the town had changed a lot and crossed path with the first boy – seemed ridiculous and a bit confusing. Tornatore did mention that the movie was a comedy.

Peppino (Francesco Scianna) sending his love to his lover
We followed the story of Peppino Torrenuova, who lived with his father Cicco, his older brother Nino, and his mother. The story started at the time when Italy was under Mussolini’s reign. Little Peppino worked with Nino in a plantation, then became a shepherd. The injustice done to his father by a rich landowner made him joined the communist party. He married his girlfriend Mannina, although the girl’s parents didn’t like him because he was poor. To them – and also to Peppino’s children later – Peppino was not doing a real work. Only years later, Peppino could get an important place in the communist party and he hoped for a better Italy for his children.

The story had many interesting characters, they were souvenirs from the director’s memories. I am not sure what was wrong, perhaps the movie needed more screentime because the scenes changed and jumped from one another quite fast. It was about 2 hours and 20 minutes long though – which was quite long, so perhaps it needed more focus on certain things and things which were unimportant could have been cut out.

An American soldier gives Mannina a parachute. What for?
It can make clothes for a lot of kids.

The director didn't forget to include this tribute for Cinema Paradiso.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lucy (2014)

With Luc Besson and Scarlett Johannson in this movie, I had expected to watch something extra-ordinary. However, it did not meet my expectation. I must have set my hope too high… I think the movie was too short: it was less than 90 minutes.

Lucy (Scarlett Johannson) met Richard – whom she had dated once – in front of a hotel in Taipei. He asked her help to deliver a suitcase to the receptionist and asked for a Mr. Jang. Mr Jang’s henchmen killed Richard and took Lucy to Mr. Jang’s room, where she found out that the suitcase was full of a new powerful drug in the shape of little blue crystals. To smuggle the drug into other countries, Mr Jang took Lucy and 3 other men and inserted the drug into their stomachs. While waiting for her flight, Lucy was kept in a prison and kicked in her stomach, causing a leak in the pack. She was overdosed and be able to use more part of her brain.

Ordinary people only use 10% of the brain.

She became very strong and could control her cells and electronics, could alter her appearance; but after a while she fell apart. Therefore she needed more of the drug and contacted French police to catch the 3 other smugglers. She also contacted Professor Norman (played by Morgan Freeman) who she believed understand her situation and could help her. So, what happened after Lucy could use 100% of her brain? Time and space became no obstacle? She became a sort of goddess?

Lucy's body is falling apart

Freeman & Johannson - in the same frame

Scarlett Johannson’s character gave blank looks most of the time, like she was looking through something. She probably could control cells but it looked like she had lost her soul. It was said that she had no pain, no fear, and no desire.

Maleficent (2014)

Disney's Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite movies. The drawings are a bit different than the usual Disney style and I think Aurora, with her long golden hair, is the most beautiful among all Disney’s princesses. And why not? She’s got the gift of beauty from a fairy.

Maleficent is the same story told from the point of view of the ‘bad fairy’. King Stephan, Aurora’s father, is described here as the bad guy: greedy, selfish, and deceitful. To become a king, Stephan stole Maleficent’s wings. She had trusted him, thinking that he had loved her. For a revenge, Maleficent cursed King Stephan’s baby girl: that before the sunset on her 16th birthday, she would prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep slumber; and only a true love’s kiss could wake her up. Maleficent herself believed that true love’s kiss didn’t exist.

The three ‘good’ fairy who were supposed to take care of baby Aurora turned out to be incapable (and stupid), so secretly Maleficent and her raven, Diaval, took care of her. When she almost reached 16, Aurora recognized Maleficent and called her ‘Godmother’. Maleficent grew to love Aurora and tried to undo the curse but couldn’t. When Aurora fell into her deep sleep, what could wake her up but Maleficent’s true love’s kiss. Perhaps it goes to show that only a mother’s love is true.

Aurora and her Godmother in the Moors
Aurora wanted to follow Maleficent, back to the Moors (the enchanted forest kingdom). King Stephan’s army stopped them and they fought – which ended in the king’s death and Maleficent got her wings back. Thus Maleficent, the raven and Aurora lived happily ever after in the Moors.

In the movie, Maleficent was not always described as kind. She destroyed the first king’s army who was attacking the Moors; very different from young Maleficent who let the young thief go in peace. Prince Philip was described as a useless boy, who couldn't even path to the palace.

I know you. I walked with you once upon a dream.

Alain Delon: Album Photos

This book is quite rare so I spent quite a lot to obtain it. It's quite a big, heavy book, with hard cover. Dimension: 30,4 x 21,7 x 3,5 cm. Weight 2,2 kg.

Like the title suggests, the book has many photos from Alain Delon movies, from 1957 Quand la femme s'en mêle .. to 1982 Le choc, compiled by Philippe Barbier. It also has synopsis and short article from each movie. The photos are mostly stills from films, although there are several taken from behind the scene. The photos were reproduced on glossy paper - which I don't know the kind, but the quality is pathetic. Perhaps in 1982 it was the best they can do.

Plein Soleil (1960)

Le Samouraï (1967)

Pour la peau d'un flic (1981)

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Last Spymaster - Gayle Lynds

I enjoyed very much reading The Book of Spies a.k.a Library of Gold by Gayle Lynds so I thought The Last Spymaster would be as good. But it was not.

Jay Tice, a legend in the CIA, the last spymaster in this case; had been sent to prison for treason. Three years later he escaped. A hunter, Elaine Cunningham, was given the task to track him. There was a reason why Jay Tice escaped and he also managed to convince his old friends to help him in his new mission.

Compared to The Book of Spies, The Last Spymaster seemed plain. I guess a mission to track illegal weapon smugglers and to find a mole in the CIA was not as interesting as a mission to find a treasure. It's like comparing Mission Impossible vs Indiana Jones.

The Son - Jo Nesbø

Probably the best thriller I read in a while. The Son is much better than the Harry Hole books, better than Headhunters.

Sonny Lofthus, 30 years old, had been in Staten Prison for 12 years for 2 counts of murder. He was a drug addict and a model prisoner; the others often told him their sins, like sinners confessed to their priest. One day, a sick prisoner told Sonny that his father, police officer Ab Lofthus, had not committed suicide, but murdered before he could expose a mole in the police force. Sonny escaped from jail and took his revenge by killing the bad guys, those who had put him in jail in the first place; and tried to find the mole.

Reading The Son is not like reading any thriller books; the style is more sophisticated, more stylish to read. What I read is only an English translation from its original language, but I'm sure the translation tried to follow the original closely. It's a coincidence that the son's name is Sonny, what is simpler than that? He is also referred as 'the boy', although I don't agree, because a 30 year old male should be called a man - not a boy, even though it is said that "he looked much younger" than his age. Sonny is basically a kind hearted boy, that he weeps after killing people; reminds me of a movie called Crying Freeman.

The local Oslo Police - Homicide was led by Simon Kefas [an interesting name. In the Bible, Kefas is an alias for Simon.], who investigated the murders and also tried to capture Sonny back, was smarter than Kripos, the National Criminal Investigation Service. Kripos was also called to work on the murder cases, because the victims were important people.

Many interesting characters in this book, notably Sonny, Simon and Markus, a little boy who lived next to Sonny's old house. I'm glad this book ends with a happy ending.