‘Personal Shopper’ and Kristen Stewart Review

Almost every review of the film ‘Personal Shopper’ features this rather bold proclamation: “Kristen Stewart is one of her generation’s greatest actresses.” As kids from her generation would say, exaggerating much?

Let me explain. I saw the film ‘Personal Shopper’ in a preview screening without having read any reviews beforehand. I thought Olivier Assayas’s film was bad; bad in the way a film is trying to be interesting and imaginative and different, but in the end, it just feels cumbersome.

After I saw the movie, I read three or four reviews. All of them were positive. And they all pretty much shared the same opinions: how Assayas did a wonderful and original work showcasing the grieving process, and how Kristen Stewart is a great actress. In the movie Maureen (Stewart) has recently lost her twin brother. She is a medium and is trying to make contact with her dead brother in the way presumably mediums do. What is so special about this grieving process? The special part is that Assayas chose to make her a medium, thus allowing him to treat the grieving process differently.

One reviewer was impressed with how effectively Assayas used text messages in the film. Let me describe it: we’re looking at her mobile’s text messages screen, as texts are being received and written. Well, how else would you show texts that are part of the plot?

None of the reviewers mentioned anything wrong they saw in the movie. But certain scenes were so plainly ridiculous, some in the audience laughed out loud. For instance, Maureen has gone to a hotel meet a real person or possibly a spirit, we don’t know. The scene shows the lobby of the hotel. The elevator door opens, stays open for a couple of seconds, no one is there, then it closes. The camera pans to the right, we still see nothing, the automatic doors open and close, as if -that’s right!- someone invisible was going through them! Do you get it, audience? The spirit/ghost was there! But, wait a minute, why did the spirit/ghost take the freaking elevator? Or go through the lobby door like a mere living creature that doesn’t possess any supernatural capabilities?

In another scene, Stewart is visiting her dead brother’s girlfriend at the house they used to share. Maureen is having a conversation with the girlfriend’s new boyfriend out in the yard outside the kitchen. He mentions he can feel her brother’s presence. She says she can’t. Then in the background we see her brother’s ghost behind the kitchen window drinking from a mug. Then he’s slowly moving towards the kitchen door while still looking ahead at Maureen’s back (or at us?). He looks like an extra trying to discreetly get out of the background of a scene he mistakenly found himself in. When he reaches the door, he disappears, and the mug falls and shatters on the floor. There were laughs from the audience, deservedly so.

I will omit my thoughts on the awkward wooden dialogue, the clunky plot devices, the unclear weird last scene, and move on to Kristen Stewart’s acting, that everyone is praising hard. I guess she became famous when she was in the Twilight movies. I haven’t seen any of these. I have seen Stewart in ‘On the Road’, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’, ‘Certain Women’. She was also in ‘Still Alice’, but I have no recollection of her being in that movie.  My problem with her acting is that it is mainly non-acting (which I differentiate from subtle acting). She delivers every line in the same monotone. Her face carries one and only expression, that of endless ennui. When she’s thinking hard or she’s worried, she’s furrowing her brow, seemingly her only facial movement. When she’s nervous she either flutters her fingers, or runs her fingers through her hair. When she slightly parts her mouth, it means she’s lost in deep thought. In every scene she shares with another actor, when they are supposed to be talking to each other, she seldom makes eye contact with the other actor, she doesn’t interact. Her acting is wooden, self-absorbed. Whenever she smiles in a movie, it is always for a fraction of a second, while her eyes remain expressionless and cold. Why not pretend, Kristen, why not act that smile, the conversation?

And that’s how she is in every movie I’ve seen her. I don’t get that great acting so many people see. Perhaps after the Twilight movies people thought she couldn’t do anything else, so they’re rooting for her effort. Which is fine, and good for her, but I certainly don’t see that alleged greatness. There are many other actors her generation who are better, and hopefully directors offer good roles to them, too.


2012 Year In Review

Here we are on the last day of 2012. A year that went by fast, and looking back, it was a mix of good and bad. Now is the time I am looking through my notes to see what happened in the year expiring soon. Here’s a summary of what fun things I did, what I liked and didn’t like, and the notable things that happened in my life in 2012:

Movies: I counted them all, in 2012 I watched 83 movies, that is an average of 1.6 movies per week. During the Independent Film Festival of Boston I would see up to three movies a day, but generally I go to the movies at least once a week. It turns out this year I saw plenty of classic and old movies at the Brattle, and finally did the wise thing and acquired a Brattle membership, which saves me some money. The movies I liked best this year were ‘The Kid With A Bike’, the Belgian movie by the Dardenne brothers; ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ a documentary about the Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono; Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’; the offbeat, different ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’; the heart breaking ‘Take This Waltz’; the tough and incredibly moving ‘Oslo, August 31st’; the touching ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’; and the fascinating documentary ‘The Imposter’. A quick note to mention ‘Lincoln’ for the superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ for the visual beauty. I also liked a lot Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. The movie that creeped me out the most, made me feel extremely uncomfortable and wish I had not seen was Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In”. Oh, and I am not seeing ‘Les Miserables’ because I absolutely hate musicals.

Music: I went to 18 live shows this year. Some shows stood out, like the Radiohead show, the Mogwai show, which finally happened after two prior cancellations, and the Saint Etienne show at the Paradise, where everyone was dancing happily away. I saw the most interesting lighting and staging at the Grizzly Bear show at the Orpheum. The worst show? The Jesus and Mary Chain, no contest. The Paradise still remains the best venue in the area to see live music. I just wish it was located somewhere in Camberville. I can’t say there was a band or album this year I adored, but I did listen to some music I liked a lot, like Tanlines, Alt-J, Beach House, Lower Dens and Beach Fossils. After seeing Frank Ocean and the Dirty Projectors making everyone’s best music of the year list, I tried to listened to them, but I find them unbearable. Frank Ocean’s music is plainly boring, and the Dirty Projectors singer sounds like your friend who keeps singing along to every song he hears, and he is always off-key.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this but my favorite song this year was Japandroid’s ‘The House That Heaven Built’. Yeah.


Theater: Not too much theater in my life this year. I mostly went to plays my friend TMB was in, like ‘Measure For Measure’, ‘Waiting For Lefty’ and ‘Anne of the Green Gables’. I also saw an interesting production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea, and David Adjmi’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ at the ART, a play I found was trying too hard to be witty.

Art: I visited the ICA and the MFA a couple of times each. I liked the exhibition Degas and the Nude the best, because I really, really like drawings. Really. Also at the ICA I saw Sam Green’s live documentary ‘The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller’ with live music by Yo La Tengo. And I love Yo La Tengo.

Food, Drink: I liked Casa B in Union Square in Somerville, a space with unique and pretty cool interior design and delicious tapas. I finally made it to Santarpio’s where I discovered the best pizza in town. I also liked Strip T’s in Watertown, West Bridge, and Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square. I was impressed by the food at the Garden at the Cellar, which might be Cambridge’s best kept secret. The food is amazing, how come I didn’t know? I also paid many visits to iYo the new frozen yogurt place in Davis Square. The square will soon be fro-yo central, as a second fro-yo place opened, and there are plans for a third. I had some very good cocktails at Stoddard’s downtown, and at Brick & Mortar in Central Square.

Travel: Nothing extraordinary travel-wise. I spent three lovely days in Provincetown, I love this happy and laid back place, and the amazing beaches. Speaking of beaches, I discovered Duxbury beach this year (the best beach area is south of the bridge), pretty much one of the best beaches around Boston (sorry, North Shore beaches, no comparison, really). I went to Greece for a couple of weeks to see family and friends, eat well and swim in the Mediterranean, and that’s always pretty neat and relaxing. I also visited my brother and his family in Germany. I finally got to meet my nephew, who is a very cute baby, and got to see my niece again, who is a very cute toddler.

Exercise: In the beginning of 2012 I found myself ten pounds overweight, and ten pounds is a lot for a person of my size. I had a hard time shedding off the extra pounds just by eating less. So, I started eating less and exercising more,  the magic combination that always works. After hating running for as long as I remember, this year I followed a 5k training program, and after eight weeks I was pleasantly surprised to see I could comfortably run 3 miles. I participated in my first 5k race in December, and completed the race in 28 minutes. I also started taking tennis classes, and I loved it. I can’t wait to start new classes again. I biked a lot, as usual, and I took a bicycle repair class at the Broadway Bicycle School.

A couple of other notable things from 2012: I refinanced my mortgage and once again discovered how inept the people who work in this business are. After twelve years of living here I finally decided to apply for citizenship, and became citizen on September 11. I voted for the first time, and was happy with the results. I got to meet Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts, so now I have met both Senators from MA in person. Oh, and being a citizen means I can now run for office, but don’t worry, I don’t plan to.

In 2012 I experienced some disappointments, but no reason to talk about that now. I do not have any major new year’s resolutions, but I will definitely try to do certain things different: I will try to visit places I haven’t been to before. I would love to have someone willing and able to travel with me, but I am also willing to travel by myself. I will try to read more, and after many years I have cancelled my New Yorker subscription in order to free up time to read the untouched books in my bookcase. I will try to get back to creative things I used to like, like drawing.

Above all, in 2013 I will do my best to find time for all the small and big things that make happy. Happy New Year.

Movie Review: Killing Them Softly

Another useless, redundant, half-baked, pretentious movie filled with clichés. Do you want to know more? Alright then.

I went to see this movie, because the time slot was convenient, and because judging from the previews it looked like a good old Tarantino-like film. Well, it wasn’t. It was an exercise in the absolute pedestrian.

What is the movie supposed to be about? From the movie’s website: “Three dumb guys who think they’re smart rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse. Brad Pitt plays the enforcer hired to track them down and restore order.” (By the way, the Brad Pitt sentence was highlighted, so you know you have got to see the film ’cause Brad Pitt is in it!) You get the idea what kind of film it is. Throughout the movie it is not clear where the movie is taking place, the accents are a mix of Boston and New Jersey. They talk about “Somerville” at some point and how hard it is to get there without a car, which probably means nothing and could be in any state. The film is based on a book which is set in the Boston area, but the movie was not filmed in Boston, and no Boston landmarks are seen. In the movie’s website it says it is set in New Orleans. Go figure. There is also era confusion. Although it is set in 2008 (all TV sets show Obama-McCain election coverage), the characters drive 70s cars and are dressed like it’s the 70s. Do you get it? Look at their cars, look at their clothes, look at their hairstyles, look at their sunglasses and their golden jewelry, these are mobsters, for real!

We are expecting some gore and violence from a movie like this. And it was gory, but not too gory, it was violent, but not too violent. You would expect twists and turns in the plot, but actually you could see everything coming up from a mile away. One would think that the character and mood of the film would make it a good candidate for cool shots, but the cinematography is just bland. And towards the end of the movie the color is washed out, nothing from the sharpness and color contrast of the earlier scenes remains. Its trailer seems to be the best done “part” of the movie, tightly edited, beautifully shot.

The movie never hits the right rhythm. I can hardly remember a scene supposedly involving two characters that  actually showed two characters: it seemed like they filmed each actor separately doing their lines, and then edited them to look like there were talking to each other. Sure, they do that all the time, but the editing needs to be seamless, not so exasperatedly obvious. Plus, whenever there was a character with the majority of dialogue, the other character was limited to one word responses. Which is why the film felt like it was an exercise in cutting and paste pieces together with no continuity, no flow.

As mentioned, the editing was choppy. Oh, and did I mention continuity? As in continuity errors? Early on one dude eating ice cream goes to meet another dude. Only once do we see them together in one shot, the other scenes involve one character at a time, although these two characters are supposedly meeting each other. In one scene we see him with half of his ice cream left. Next scene is the other dude speaking one line, next scene back to the other dude, and the freaking ice cream is gone! I mean, why having the dude eating an ice cream in the first place, if you cannot incorporate the ice cream in the scene sequence in a way that makes sense? And then comes the drinks scene with Gandolfini and Pitt, where the former has drunk the two beers on the table, bitches about the weakness of the martini he got, orders another martini, the waiter delivers the new martini, and in the next scene Gandolfini is drinking a… beer. Where did that beer come from? Why isn’t he drinking the martini he bitched about?

The dialogue is also problematic, it feels disrupted. Whenever there is supposed to be a dialogue between actors, it usually is just a monologue. Like the scene between Pitt and Gandolfini in the hotel room, which is painful to watch. Gandolfini’s character going on and on about how much he likes ass, Pitt does not respond much, and then Gandolfini is gone from the movie without doing anything.  Was there any point in this “plot” feature? If there was, I totally missed it.

This movie is trying hard to be smart. We have the underlying election coverage going on, by way of every TV in a bar showing that, with endless talk about the economy, and, wow, did you catch that, the hit men are being affected by the bad economy too! Oh, please. Also, Obama talking about one country and unity, and here comes the punch line, just another way to say to the audience “oh, you didn’t get all those subtle messages we showed throughout the movie, so let’s make it clear now.” So, here it is from the mouth of Pitt’s character: “America’s not a country, it’s a business. Now fucking pay me.” Thanks for the over-the-top clarification, but we got it. Repeatedly.

The selling point of the movie is obviously Brad Pitt, the star who so many will go see regardless what movie he’s in. But he’s also one of the producers, and has the Weinstein machine backing him up. One would expect a much better product, but it is just not there.

Just another movie added to the pile of mediocrity. Do you remember the last time you saw a good movie? I am struggling to.