Monday, September 26, 2011

Izak's Choice (Les Mains) & The Red Thread (Fil Rouge) by Luc Plissonneau

Luc Plissonneau
I recently got access to the yet publicly unreleased short film directed by Luc Plissonneau Izak's Choice (Les Mains). After watching it, together with Plissonneau's previous effort The Red Thread (Fil Rouge), I decided to write a few words about both of the short films and their creator.

Luc Plissonneau is a French director and writer born in Bordeaux, France. So far, he has released several short films and apparently making shorts has just strengthen his desire to make feature-length movies cause I've got information that he is currently working on several lengthier scripts, including one expanding the story of The Red Thread.

Izak's Choice (Les Mains)
Izak's Choice is the latest film by Luc Plissonneau, made in 2011, and as far as I know it has not been publicly released yet. This short movie is about Izak, a talented but unsuccessful piano player, and his choices. He has chosen to live an alienated life, a decision that is further reinforced by a series of failures. He wants to work as a piano teacher but intentionally ruins all of the opportunities that stand in his way. Finally, he meets a 16-year-old girl, Lucie, and he chooses her as both his sole piano student and subsequently his lover. The relationship changes the lives of both of them and Izak manages to win an audition for playing a major concert at last. After the audition, something terrible happens to Lucie and Izak has to make yet another choice.

The cast of Izak's Choice sports the name of Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić who plays the leading role of Izak. He and the rest of the actors do their job quite well. The direction and writing are overall good although the scene before the accident could have been made more convincing. If I strain myself to share a bit more of a criticism, the song at the end of the movie does not fit perfectly well for me but it could be due to my almost non-existent French skills, thus my inability to realize its purpose without the usage of the provided English translation.

The film ends on a high note without leaning on a Hollywoodish happy end. The notions of love, self-sacrifice and the right of everybody to have a decent life and realization independently of physical or emotional defects are demonstrated with credibility. Superfluously sentimental and corny moments are practically missing. The camera work and the editing are nice to watch. And all in all, Izak's Choice is an easy recommendation for everyone.

Luc Plissonneau's Fil Rouge
The Red Thread (Fil Rouge)
The Red Thread has been released in November 2008. It is centered around Achille Lambert, an ancestral wine producer from Bordeaux, who is an elderly man with poor health. His daughter Roxane arranges a blind wine tasting for him, preparing several different bottles, each of which is coming from a particular vintage matching crucial periods in Achille's life. The taste of the wine brings important memories to Lambert's mind that enlighten us on his cornerstones in life. The wine induced memories assisted by intermediate short talks with his daughter help Achille to ease a burden he has carried for his entire life.

In its short time-span (about 15 minutes), The Red Thread manages to provoke a bunch of feelings and emotions. Well, you won't laugh hysterically during the movie but obviously this has not been among the author's intentions anyway. The film tells the story of Lambert's family and as such it's a tale of life and the variety of states and sensations it offers to a regular man throughout his existence. Since the film is dealing with a large period of time and explores timeless matters, my anticipation is it will work quite well as a feature-length film too. Even without any addition of essentially new episodes (or bottles of wine), a full feature film could elaborate enough just upon the current ones. Time will tell if I have been right. And meanwhile, you can sense the bouquet of emotions The Red Thread produces here.

Both, Izak's Choice (Les Mains) and The Red Thread (Fil Rouge), share a lot of similarities despite being substantially different and non-repetitive. Each movie is non-linear, composed of separate episodes accentuating key events for the lead character. Either of the two short films shows the importance of the choices we make in life. Both of the movies are indistinct to a degree in the beginning but towards the end everything becomes perfectly clear and Luc Plissonneau puts each piece of the puzzle into its proper place. At the end, each of the films leaves you with satisfactory and lightening feeling. For an even more pleasant experience I advise to give the movies a second try and just enjoy the already arranged puzzles in their screen continuity. After all, among the advantages of short films is natural proneness to recurrent viewings due to their length.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Star Wars Blu-ray Release Puts George Lucas Closer to Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker

Star Wars: The Complete Saga
As promised several weeks ago, here are some thoughts about George Lucas in the light of the incoming release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray discs.

A long time ago George Lucas created a trilogy named Star Wars. It was a refreshing breath in the world of motion pictures and it established a pattern for many films that came after while simultaneously raising the bar so high that a few movies were barely able to get near the quality or the influence of the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas himself was continuously praised for this achievement attaining a legendary status among the myriad of Star Wars fans and becoming a billionaire in the process. We could even look on him as the chosen one with regard to bringing a glorious future to the Hollywood cinema. Just like Anakin Skywalker in that galaxy far, far away...

Then a special edition of the Star Wars trilogy came. It was an anniversary edition and although bringing some changes to the original movies, it was accepted rather warmly by the huge Star Wars fanbase, probably because it was just the beginning of the alteration process, the changes weren't so drastic or unpleasant and after all, George Lucas deserved to make a few additional bucks from his franchise. As an end result, the former fans were not really annoyed and the re-release produced plenty of new admirers of the series. It was similar to Anakin being a playful 9-year-old boy who accidentally became the "man" of the day.

But the dark side of the force was already gaining control over Lucas. First, a prequel Star Wars trilogy was created. Although not being a disaster if considered independently of the original trilogy, it was far, far away from its virtues and in many ways spoiling the original movies' story and impact. But while completely unnecessary (except for money making) it still did not spoil the beloved films themselves. Then finally, the redundant altering of the original movies started with full force. DVD and Blu-ray releases came out and editing after editing happened.

I won't enumerate all of the changes cause they are well-known but one of the recent edits (Darth Vader screaming "Nooooo!" in Return of the Jedi Blu-ray) seems to be a universal irritant all over the world. Fans are asking "How much can George Lucas alter ‘Star Wars’ before it’s no longer ‘Star Wars’?" or people acknowledge that George Lucas is just making Star Wars for himself and not for the fans or anybody else. There are 2 groups of people: the majority which is completely pissed off and the rest saying it's George Lucas' right to alter his creation as many times as he wants. Both of them have good arguments. But the root of "evil" in my opinion is that George Lucas knows the FANS are going to buy his altered versions anyway.

It's easy to accept that Lucas is driven by noble motives (just like Anakin transforming into Darth Vader without having bad intentions). Let's agree that he wants to improve the imperfect Star Wars movies. We can put aside the money cause most likely the Blu-ray edition of the films would be even more profitable if released unaltered. So, if George Lucas thinks he is doing a good job editing the movies, it's forgivable.

Of course, similar to legions of other fans, I do regard his anxiety for "perfection" as immature and childish, and possibly intensifying with age. The Star Wars movies have played their enormous role as released originally. There is no any need for alterations decades later and there is not any sensible reason for their creator to bother with possible "imperfections". To be troubled because of this is like being worried why you haven't won a gold Olympic medal with 3:1 score instead of 3:2 (only that Lucas case is worse cause in addition, people are against the changes too). The whole thing looks like a demonstration of "I'm the boss here, you won't tell me what to do!" although there is nobody denying the fact of Lucas' Star Wars ownership and there is nothing to be proved.

But as mentioned above, the main issue is fans are going to buy Star Wars Blu-ray edition no matter how crappy it is. Yes, people do not have a choice to buy the original trilogy on Blu-ray discs but they still have the choice to not buy Star Wars saga on Blu-ray at all. It is not a mandatory purchase. If George Lucas knew that the majority of potential customers would not buy any altered versions he wouldn't alter them. At least, not more than once. It would be a disgrace for him and a punch in his ego if nobody purchases those "improved" products. And he would stop with this madness. Finally, if he is doing all enhancements just for George Lucas, he could easily make a private copy (he has enough money to do it) without embarrassing himself with releases nobody buys.

So, you do not have to purchase the Blu-ray releases. In the near future Blu-ray discs would probably be an obsolete technology anyway. Just wait until the alteration craze comes to an end and until then watch your older copies of the movies. And remember, it's hard to resist the dark side of the force, so continue to respect George Lucas despite his perfection mania as most of us respect Darth Vader (and to a lesser degree Anakin Skywalker) regardless of his dark force bias.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Source Code (2011): Cyclic but Hardly Boring

Source Code
A man "wakes up" on a train with a beautiful girl in front of him who is definitely showing she knows him but he has not any idea what is actually happening. More than that, the man thinks he should be piloting an army helicopter in Afghanistan at this moment instead of sitting in a train with a woman claiming she recognizes him. If this sounds interesting, it will become even more intriguing after a while in case you are going to watch Source Code.

Source Code is the second full feature of director Duncan Jones and it has a lot of similarities to his first effort Moon. The movie is in the vein of the sci-fi genre again and it is based on a pattern of repetitiveness. Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) somehow gets on that train and discovers step by step that he has the strangest rescue mission. Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) is a woman sitting opposite captain Stevens on the same train and showing interest in him for whatever reason. Suddenly the train explodes. But this is just the beginning of the story for Colter Stevens and a bunch of people in a military-scientific research center.

Source Code is cyclic but not boring. We see consecutive repetitions of a couple of scenes but each subsequent iteration presents lots of new stuff and adds considerably to the development of the story. The narrative keeps to be intriguing during the majority of the movie and although it does not offer any real twists, the audience is keen to understand what exactly and eventually how it will happen. Given the sci-fi nature of the film it is hard to say whether the "how" question is satisfactory answered or not. But this is pretty much the case with every sci-fi movie exploring more complicated concepts.

The acting in Source Code is Ok. Jake Gyllenhaal manages to develop his character from a-near-mess guy in the beginning to a charming and self-confident man towards the end of the movie. Michelle Monaghan plays her part of the repetitive game with ease and she is as beautiful as usual. Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright give authentic performances of troubled assistant Colleen Goodwin and purposeful Dr. Rutledge correspondingly. The rest of the Source Code's cast is also convincing. The writing is quite good especially having in mind the limitations of the film's premise. And Duncan Jones proves to be a director who seems to possess potential of making some great motion pictures in the future.

The movie has some imperfections though but nothing significant. One could start with its title, Source Code, which might not be the perfect match and reach to its ending that is predictable and probably excessively happy. Throughout the film there are several elements that are hard to be understood, e.g., why captain Stevens retains his own appearance during the train sequences. The whole concept of Source Code is sufficiently confusing too if you try to get deeper into it.

But since it is a sci-fi movie a bit of confusion is always excusable and the rest of the flaws are readily forgivable due to the overall entertainment and involvement the film offers. If you are into science fiction thrillers or you've liked the previous Duncan Jones' movie Moon, Source Code should be an easy choice for you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Free Blu-ray Player Software / Region-Free Bluray Player? Forget it!

Understandably, there are a lot of people searching for free Blu-ray player software or region free Blu-ray player. Often people are looking for free Blu-ray 3D players too. And while it is clear that there are not any standalone players for free similarly to all other hardware devices on the market, the answer concerning both software and region-free players is not obvious. So, here is the current situation.

Free Blu-ray Player Software
There is not any BD player software that is free. At least, not a legal one. And it is valid for all of the markets: Windows, Unix, Mac, etc. The not so pleasant reason behind this fact is that the founding companies and patent holders (Sony, Philips and Panasonic own most of the patents concerning the Bluray disc technology) still require license fees for any kind of BD related device (player or recorder), disc or software and these fees affect any hardware or software unit that has been manufactured. There are some BD drives that come equipped with OEM software for BD playback but usually, OEM software versions are stripped of many features and they are hardly ever updated. Since there are not free Blu-ray player software programs, the only option, if you don't want to become a software "pirate", is to get a commercial software package. You can check which are the available players on the market here. Their prices currently range from $50 to $100 with frequent significant discounts. You can also download free trial versions of the 2 most popular BD player software programmes by using the following links: Cyberlink PowerDVD 12 Ultra and ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 5.

Region Free Blu-ray Player
Similarly to the case with the free software BD players, there are not any region-free or multi-region Bluray players for sale. The reasoning behind the existence of BD regions does not seem very comprehensible. There are probably some questionable benefits for the movie studios but the region codes are definitely a big problem for any devoted BD fan around the world cause it may happen that a movie is released only in a particular Blu-ray region or that a release for another region is better than the one for yours. So, while there are not any out-of-the-box multi region solutions, you can still explore the following links and read a couple of software region free Blu-ray player suggestions as well as a couple of hacks for dedicated standalone players.

Free Blu-ray 3D Players
As you should have already guessed there are also not free software players for 3D BDs. The reason is again due to the existence of patent holders. Concerning the playback of Blu-ray 3D discs, if you own a standalone 2D BD player but it does not happen to be Sony PlayStation 3 chances are you won't be able to turn it into a 3D player. The cause is that 3D requires considerably more computational power than 2D and older standalone players do not have it (except for Sony's PS3). If you've purchased a software player for playback of 2D movies in the past, you have better chances to use it for 3D playback too, either with a relatively cheap software upgrade or without doing anything. Of course, for 3D playback you will also need additional (expensive) hardware like 3D glasses and monitor. Yes, evil never comes alone...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Say Anything... (1989): A Distraction with Potential

Say Anything...
If you don't like selling, buying or processing anything as a career, your only option seems to be kickboxing. Except for making a girl happy. As a career... As strange as this may sound, it's pretty much the main idea of Say Anything.... The movie has been turning itself into a romantic comedy classic over the years. And it has plenty to offer apart from its strangeness. Being directorial debut of Cameron Crowe (who is also the writer), the film deserves even more praise for its good execution and the freshness it provides. Say Anything... tells a conventional story with an unconventional approach and even at moments when the film lacks originality it is not boring at all.

The movie is a romantic teen comedy and this says a lot about its plot. But Say Anything... is also capable of surprises. The usual role of the more mature and purposeful partner in the relationship this time is given to the girl. The boy is the person who wants to dedicate his future to the woman. Lloyd (John Cusack) is a pretty simple guy who possesses the important knowledge he doesn't know what he wants to make with his life so after having a chance to spend some time with Diane (Ione Skye) he decides that making her happy is probably a good (if not the best) job for him. Diane is the valedictorian of her class who has won a scholarship for a famous college in England but after meeting with Lloyd she does not only find love for the first time but she also discovers beauty in the simple things.

Say Anything... sports many qualitative dialogues with plenty of memorable lines. A few examples could be Lloyd's thoughts on the "choosing a career" topic, the "being friends with potential" conversation and "I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen" quote but there is a lot more of ordinary, yet clever and effective talking throughout the movie. The writing does not offer any unexpected twists or a genuine plotline. What makes it good though, lies in the details as the already mentioned dialogues or the particular events that happen. The film is also spared from the cheap teenage humor plaguing the majority of other similar movies, which is a big plus for it.

The cast of Say Anything... is worthy as well. John Cusack makes one of his best performances and the scene showing him standing with a boombox in front of Diane's house is probably among his most memorable ones. Ione Skye is charming as Diane Court and John Mahoney is wonderful as her father James Court. Lili Taylor in the role of Corey, one of the female friends of Lloyd Dobler, portrays an interesting character although being a bit annoying with her constant talking and self-written 65 songs about her ex Joe. Cameron Crowe, except for the good writing job, should also be admired for the entire filmmaking of this movie including directing.

Of course, Say Anything... is not void of imperfections. The main plot is unoriginal. There are some scenes and characters that are not must-haves. Some of the events and a big part of the narrative although being possible are not among the most probable things to happen. But does someone really care about such flaws if the movie is entertaining and makes you a teenager again having a strong empathy with the screen couple? Do not say anything... If you love romcoms, this one is for you.