Amour [2012] – Review

Amour 2012 Movie Poster

In an old Parisian apartment, with its yellowing books, rusty sinks and creaky tables, Georges and his wife Anne, two eighty year old former music teachers live. They go about their lives normally, attending concerts of former students, going through family albums that remind them of their younger days and caring for each other after all the time they’ve spent together. “C’est belle, la vie,” Anne says.

One day, as they’re having breakfast, Anne stops responding to Georges’ talk. He looks into his wife’s eyes and sees nothing there – she remains transfixed, unresponsive, a shell of the woman she was a few minutes earlier. He damps up a towel with water and tries to wipe her face but to no avail. As Georges gathers his things to call an ambulance, his wife comes back – but Anne has had a stroke. A carotid-stent operation going wrong later, Anne needs Georges to take care of her all the time, which he’s more than willing to do. A second stroke leaves her with right side hemiparesis, her right hand curled up in a fist. But Georges keeps taking care of his wife. He brings her a nurse three days a week, tries to sing with her “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon” when she can’t speak anymore, tries to get her to drink water when, in the rare lucid moments she gets later on, the only thing she makes him know she wants is to die.

Boasting beyond brilliant performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as Georges and Anne respectively, Amour is a heartbreaking, stunning and chilling portrayal of life in old age. Georges, the husband giving his all to care his dying wife, reaches a point where he knows what he’s doing is not enough but he keeps going anyway. The husband’s resiliency facing his wife’s forced surrender is a contrast that transcends the confines of the previously described Parisian apartment they both live in, which is the movie’s only setting though never feeling claustrophobic. The clash between the wife who wants to die and the husband who wants nothing but for her to live boasts an intense aspect of humanity that many movies fail to grasp even if they tried to. The nuances in the actors’ performances are striking. The way they look at each other through their wire-rimmed glasses, the adoration that radiates off Anne’s cheeks towards her husband… those are things you come across very rarely and you can’t but appreciate them when you do.

One of the main reasons Amour is this brilliant is Michael Haneke, the Austrian director, who has also written this great screenplay of life, love and death. The visual style he gives the movie is masterful. The pace he sets is poignant, never faltering. The movie he made draws you in, grasps and doesn’t let go. His style is shocking at time such as in Georges’ last act of love towards his wife, a stunning scene that will leave you haunted.

At a certain point in Amour, Georges tries to give Anne water, and she lets it roll angrily down her chin with a look of violent denial of life. Georges unwillingly slaps her, then apologizes like the exasperated caregiver he had become. Later on, he tells her stories of a time when he went to camp he didn’t like. He had agreed with his mother to write her daily. If he had liked his day, he’d draw flowers. If not, he’d draw stars. Amour shows us that life is a mix of flowers and stars. The love this old couple has to each other is the true embodiment of in sickness and in health. Amour is so intimate that watching it feels like you’re prying on these people’s private lives. It is so heartfelt that you can’t but feel touched by what you see. Amour shows you love. And it shows it spectacularly.

10/10

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13 Reasons To Love Harry Potter

With less than six days to the release of the last Harry Potter movie, I figured it’d be nice to write a list of reasons of why millions and millions around the globe love the books that made J.K. Rowling a billionaire and the Harry Potter movies the most successful movie series in history, as well as the fastest selling books ever.

1 – We all grew up with Harry. Most readers of the book jumped on the bandwagon long before the last book was released. We all waited impatiently for each installment to be released and we’ve all let our imaginations run wild with the possibilities that Harry Potter presented.

2 – Harry Potter is not your typical hero. Unlike action movies where the hero would be inundated with gunfire and never get shot, Harry is vulnerable. He is weak. He is flawed. He is human. You can relate to him. And if Harry Potter rubs you the wrong way, you have the ginger Ron Weasley or the bookworm Hermione Granger to keep you company. Or the everwise Albus Dumbledore. The books present you with a plethora of characters with whom you can relate – at least a part of you does.

3 – They might be fiction and fantasy but the books are gut-wrenchingly real. How many of us were teased because we got high grades in school? *raises hand* How many of us were ridiculed for not going with the flow? How many of us had our voices muted but refused to remain quiet? The basis of the Harry Potter books might be a fantasy. But the crux of them is a story about love, compassion, humility, family and courage.

4 – Once you start reading the books, you cannot put them down. There’s something about J.K. Rowling’s style that just captivates you. It’s eloquent, verbose and at the same time succinct. It captures the moment perfectly and immerses you in the lines on the page you’re reading.

5 – Harry Potter is a world by itself. How many times have you craved butterbeer or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, as long as that flavor is not anything wax-related? How many times have you wondered if there’s really something as platform 9 and 3/4 in Kings Cross Station? How many times did you even wonder if there’s something named Diagon Alley? No, I’m not being delusional. When you read the books, the world in which the story is set captivates you. For the time you’re reading, you’re taken away from dismal realities to a place where, even when it’s at war, is a better alternative.

6 – Harry Potter makes you appreciate your mom. Harry’s mom died for him. Ron’s mother would do anything to keep her family together. And even to some extent, Narcissa Malfoy can be added to that list. And in a world where the value of family is dying down, such mothers serve as a role model to everyone and they let you know the value of the person you call mom. It could be the pain that J.K. Rowling felt when her mother passed away but every mother figure in the books is made perfect.

7 – The books are genius. How many times did you wonder while reading them how J.K. Rowling came up with the idea behind them? It all started with a train running late. At least that’s how the story of the books’ creation goes. But really, the sheer amount of creativity behind the books is almost unmatched.

8 – When you immerse yourself in the Harry Potter books, you become part of a kick ass fanbase known as Potterheads. They are relentless. They defend the books they love and can take hits without flinching. Some of them are border maniacs but the norm is an awesome crowd. They also make lots of fun of the Twilight books and let’s admit it, compared to this, those books are useless.

9 – Reading (as in the act itself) the Harry Potter books instilled the joy of doing so in millions. Who would have thought buying an 800 pages book would be the only thing a teenager would think about day and night until they set hands on the book? The books instilled in everyone the pleasure of reading by offering complexity, relateability and mystery.

10 – The books do not shy away from showing the hard faces of life. Racism is present. Hate is also widely expressed. Some parts are violent and other parts are just chilling. The world of Harry Potter is not just some world where everything is happy. It’s a place where things can go wrong and when they do, it’s on a massive scale. The conflicts are not easily solved. Sure, it’s fiction but at least not everything works out for the best all the time. You lose some of the people you love. You get betrayed. But you can always recover.

11 – J.K. Rowling maintained the folklore aspect of the fantasy elements in the novels. She did not change how a werewolf transforms (or when it does so), how a unicorn looks like or what a centaur is. Which gives the Harry Potter series a sense of authenticity in the genre it belongs to.

12 – Some people think loving Harry is a vice. Well, we tell them it’s a virtue. If there’s anything redeeming about a person, it would be them reading this series. You cannot read such books and be a bad person in life. And when one day they stand at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter calls their names, it would be because reading Harry Potter was one of the most redeeming quality of their lives. Yes, I’m exaggerating but there you go.

13 – A seventh of the dedication of the last book was made to you. How could you not love that?

For the sake of continuity (although I do not agree with his loathing of The Order of the Phoenix), check out this post by my friend Gino Raidy: As The Harry Potter Era Ends, So Does My Childhood.

Monster (Single Review) – Paramore

Monster is the new single by Paramore that will serve as the lead single of their upcoming album as well as the single off the new Transformers movie.

It is also the first single by Paramore since the group’s founders, the Faro brothers, decided to leave them due to “irreconcilable differences” with lead vocalist Hayley Williams. And the song is all about that.

The Faro brothers have had many statements issued regarding their departures, portraying Hayley Williams as a person who made the whole band revolve around her and turning their sound into a music label product. Monster is Hayley’s way of firing back. And she is firing with an automatic.

The song opens up: “You were my conscience, so solid, now you’re like water” to set the tone for the dying relationship before she ends the first verse with “I let my heart go…. But I’ll get a new one and come back for the hope that you’ve stolen.”

And then she starts singing the chorus:

“I’ll stop the whole world, I’ll stop the whole world
From turning into a monster and eating us alive
Don’t you ever wonder how we survive?
Well now that you’re gone, the world is ours”

And in case the previous lyrics were not enough, the second verse is only there to let the doubters know that this, in fact, is Hayley’s manifesto against the Faro brothers: “I’m only human, I’ve got a skeleton in me
but I’m not the villain, despite what you’re always preaching.”

I have found the song to be absolutely brilliant. You can’t even discern the fact that Paramore are two members less when you hear the scorching electric guitar on some parts of the song. And since the lyrics are so personal to her, Hayley’s delivery is impeccable. I have always been a fan of her vocals and this song only fortifies that. Monster is the song that you’d expect from Paramore as their lead single: guitars and drums and the rock style they’ve come to be known for. Some people are saying that their isn’t much innovation in their sound with their song. And I agree. But the question is: does an artist constantly need to innovate to stay relevant? Absolutely not. That doesn’t mean that an artist should rehash the same stuff that made him/her popular in the first place, but that doesn’t mean that whenever an artist becomes popular, he’s not allowed to follow the formula of what caused that popularity in the first place. Besides, it’s not like Paramore have singles constantly being overplayed on radio for them to establish a “sound” that becomes glued to listeners’ ear. Yes, I’m looking at you Ke$ha.

Paramore is a band that will have the stigma of being a “teenager” punk-rock band, constantly stuck with it. Why? because that is how it started. Monster is the first step in the direction of them going the more “adult” route because the topic being discussed, while applicable to teenagers and their lives (the song is about love and loss after all), is quite mature. And not only is Monster a great leading single with meaning, but it’s also insanely catchy. Try not to get the line “I’ll stop the whole world from turning into a monster” stuck in your head and then get back to me.

All in all, I absolutely love this. Call it guilty pleasure or simply music that I like, but Paramore is one of those rare bands whose songs just click for me, without being grating on my nerves. And Monster is a good, very good song.

Listen up:

1+1 (Single Review) – Beyonce

After the horrid Run The World, Beyonce has unveiled another song off her upcoming album “4”. The song was performed live on the finale of American Idol in what could be described as an emotional performance where Beyonce gave her all to get across the song titled “1+1”.

Don’t let the urban-styled title fool you. This is not a song about math, nor is it about dancing or anything with street-cred. It’s about love, as simple as that. Beyonce’s vocals, though somewhat harsh (as in too overpowered) at some points of the song, are very good, as she usually is on ballads (Halo, If I Were A Boy, Listen are three impeccable songs that come to mind).

Beyonce starts: I don’t much know much about algebra, but I know 1+1 equals two and it’s me and you. That’s all we got when the world is through… because we got nothing but love. It is an interesting approach to the subject matter, to say the least. She later draws a resemblance with guns as well to get her point across before going into deep calls to “make love to [her]”.

Moreover, the song has basic instrumentation: they’re not very complicated, compared to other songs currently released, which leaves more focus on the lyrics and Beyonce to masterfully deliver the song.

1+1 is a song that is confusing to judge. Why so? because as a song in itself, it holds its own. It does its job of delivering the message clearly (and I do mean that literally, Beyonce’s pronunciation is somewhat impeccable) and it shows a different sound that Beyonce is definitely trying to introduce this era. But does it work as her follow-up single, as revealed by Ryan Seacrest on American Idol, to Run The World? Definitely not.

Beyonce is going way off mainstream with her releases so far and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Adele’s Rolling In The Deep is also not really mainstream and it’s currently the biggest song in the US. So an artist can go on the radio wild-side, so to speak, with good enough material. This is not good enough material. It’s good, but not that good.

And since Beyonce needed a radio-friendly single to help salvage what’s rest of her attempt to have a successful album launch, 1+1 fails at presenting her with a better launch pad for her upcoming work. Moreover, 1+1 does not feel very structured as a song. It’s very hard to see yourself finding this song “catchy” enough, even for a ballad, for you to sing to.

I hope Ryan Seacrest misspoke when he said this is Beyonce’s next single. It’s a good song that should be left where it belongs: as an album cut, on an album that is shaping up to be a huge let-down, both musically and from a marketing perspective, after a great era: I Am Sasha Fierce.

This Is Country Music (Album Review) – Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is not one of the leading figures in country music for no reason. He has always pushed the envelope of the genre with his music, introducing issues that were usually not discussed in song and making the umbrella of the country music genre even wider, engulfing more themes.

On his last album, “American Saturday Night”, Brad dealt with social issues we all live through but don’t really consider, such as looking at the younger generation and seeing all of the advances they have and we lacked (the song in question is Welcome To The Future).

He doesn’t stray far from that in This Is Country Music, an album that starts with the song of the same name where Brad says country music is the only genre where the word “cancer” is mentioned in a song and goes on into a segue of country music classics (Stand By Your Man, Take Me Home Country Roads, etc…)

On Old Alabama, Brad tells the story of a date with a girl whose idea of a perfect date is not one that involves high-end meals but a simple drive around in a truck listening to Alabama. It’s the song for everyone whose woman is not a high-maintenance gal. The country band Alabama is featured on it.

A Man Don’t Have To Die is a haunting song about the hardships in life and is probably one of the album’s highlights. It starts by describing a priest telling people that hell exists. Brad then comes in to say that we don’t need the priest to tell us this because some of us go things in life that make our life a living hell: when you get fired, when you find out you’re all alone in life, etc… “you don’t have to die to go to hell”.

Camouflage is a smart song, which would have fitted nicely with Brad’s previous album, saying how camouflage is Brad’s favorite color: makes you fit in where you can’t, makes you irresistible for a redneck girl…

And the comes Remind Me, the duet with Carrie Underwood. To say this song is brilliant would be an understatement. It is about a couple rekindling their romance and it is just perfect. You’d expect a song with such a theme to be sadder somehow but it confuses you by being a mid-tempo power ballad. The lyrics are top notch, even the repetition of the words “remind me” don’t come off as grating because it blends very well in the overall body of work. Brad holds his own next to the soaring vocals of Carrie Underwood, making for another – if not the – album highlight. You can check out my full Remind Me review here.

On Working On A Tan, Brad describes a girl soaking in the sun, doing exactly what the title says. Meanwhile, the boys are at the gym working out, wanting to go to the beach just because she’s there working on a tan, with everyone’s tongues hanging out but she doesn’t give a damn.

Love Her Like She’s Leaving is another ballad, featuring Don Henley, that starts with a couple’s wedding and how he’ll never forget how the bride’s uncle told him to “love her like she’s leaving, like it’s all gonna end if he don’t”. Definitely another album highlight, an absolutely brilliant song.

One Of Those Lives is the story of one of those days where you think everything’s going wrong: you rush out and there’s traffic, get chewed by the boss. And then you receive a phone call that your friend’s little boy had a cancer relapse only realizing that while you had one of those days, the boy has had one of those lives. If you don’t feel compassion when you hear this, you need to listen again. An amazing ballad.

On Toothbrush, Brad paints a family portrait that all starts with a toothbrush: it all starts with a toothbursh, a splash of after-shave before leaving for a first date… long kiss goodnight… ultimately leading to a marriage and some kids. Brad sings that everything starts as a little thing, needing room to grow. It all starts with a toothbrush.

Be The Lake is the dirty joke song Brad loves to have on every album. On his previous album, American Saturday Night, it was Water (Daytona beach on spring break/ Eighteen girls up on stage/ White t-shirts about to sprayed with water). On Be The Lake, the girl is swimming and Brad is wishing he could be the lake that she’s swimming in.

Eastwood is a song featuring the directing/acting legend Clint Eastwood. It starts off by Brad’s little boy asking: “hey, what about western?” to which Clint replies: “You want western? Well, this is western!” before pure western music, taken out of a cowboy movie, starts playing. Eastwood is mostly an instrumental track, with Brad, a very strong guitarist, bringing it while Clint Eastwood whistles in the background. It ends by Brad telling Clint: “good job,” the latter replying: “thanks Brad, now I’ve tried everything.”

New Favorite Memory is about a couple going through many scenarios, each time ending with the man telling the woman to stop so he could let it sink it, his favorite memory of her. It is a ballad about a tender love that holds nothing back.

Don’t Drink The Water is a conversation between two guys (the other one being country star Blake Shelton) about going down to Mexico for a vacation. They have some sweet ladies that are more than glad to meet you – but don’t dare to drink the water there.

I Do Now is a song about a man regretting the mistakes he did with his wife. How he’d give anything to go back in time somehow so he wouldn’t break her heart and the vows he made to her and tell her, right in the moment he said I do, that “I do now”.

The last song on the album, Life’s Railway To Heaven, is more on the Christian-side of things where Brad, along with Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson sing, to a prominent banjo and fiddle background, “blessed the savior that will guide us till we reach that blissful shore, where the angels wait to join us in God’s praise forevermore”.

Brad Paisley, one of country music’s superstars, has the bar set very high for him whenever he wants to release anything. And he hits the bar and more with his eighth album, This Is Country Music. The album serves as a book, each song being a chapter. It’s very cohesive and entertaining. Some said the album could do without a few tracks. But when you look at the collective work that this album presents, you can’t but feel that is is complete as is. How so? When you listen to the album’s first single, many themes are brought up, saying that country music tackles all of these issues. The album serves as a way to tackle the issues that the first single presents. Many have said it is not Brad’s best single – and I agree. But it serves its purpose of being introductory to an album that shows what is country music.

What’s great about this album is that it is real without being pretentious. It doesn’t set out to be the best album ever made, even for Brad’s fans, and it doesn’t include songs that you need to over-analyze to understand. It’s an album about life, freedom, marriage, love, as simple as it may be.

Brad’s fans will love this. Those who are apprehensive will find themselves tapping their toes to some of the songs but everyone will find a song to which they can relate because, at the end of the day, this is country music and it tells the story of your life.

The Vampire Diaries – As I Lay Dying

What do you do when you’ve lived for over a century, done all the mistakes imaginable and now suddenly, you find yourself dying?
How do you absolve your mistakes and ask forgiveness from the people you love most, whom you have hurt deeply? What exactly does a man do knowing he’s about to die?
This is the theme of the season two finale of The Vampire Diaries.

Taking it a notch down from the epic penultimate episode, The Sun Also Rises, this episode, grimly titled As I Lay Dying, is almost as epic – albeit being totally different. Leaving most of the supernatural elements to the previous episodes, the creators chose to make As I Lay Dying an episode about the redemptive power of love, regret, strength and courage. It is heartfelt, it seeks closure and at the same time opens up some of the wounds the show’s characters have been trying to hide for many years.

All of the story-lines are well-developed, in pure Vampire Diaries fashion. I would have liked to see some more stuff going on (maybe extending the episode beyond the one hour mark) but that’s just greedy me talking.

There is no other show that does cliffhangers better than The Vampire Diaries. And this season’s cliffhanger is almost as awesome as season one’s finale. It was absolutely smashing. Not only will it leave you in shock, it will also instill the feeling inside you of “how the hell am I supposed to wait till September for this?” It actually makes one of the less important characters vital for next season!

But wait is all we can do. The Vampire Diaries is not perfect. But the speed with which this show moves is what keeps you immersed, add to that the highly interesting storyline. Season three of The Vampire Diaries is said to be the “year of the originals” and this episode sets the mood for that. And let me tell you this, it will be one brilliant season! Don’t let the feeling of wanting something to happen and it not happening deter you from enjoying this awesome TV show.

Edge Of Glory (Single Review) – Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga has been what you would call pretentious in her “Born This Way” era so far. In what way? well, she calls people to embrace who they are and yet, her image is fake, her covers are filled with prosthetic additions to her face  that make you cringe and her songs are anything but a simple manifestation of artistry.

More often than not, she writes songs that serve as a vehicle for her shock value entertainment, follows them up with a video that has nothing to do with the song, extends the video to about ten minutes and people go gaga over it. And it has been working for her except Judas isn’t doing as well as they thought it would, especially on pop radio.

Now, as part of an iTunes countdown to her album, Lady Gaga has released Edge Of Glory. I have mixed feelings about this. While I like the departure from the “religiously-controversial” and “born this way” themes to much less controversial stuff (such as love), I feel the song is simply deja vu.

Has Lady Gaga lost her touch? This is a song that doesn’t rely on techno music and electronic beats as much as it relies on simple pop music and it’s simply not as strong a tune that you would expect from someone who has given the masses hit after hit, some of which are quite good quality-wise.

Now, I’m not the best person to consider when it comes to Lady Gaga. I have yet to immediately get hooked on her songs. They usually get “stuck” so to speak due to radio overplaying them. But that’s not to say that “Edge Of Glory” isn’t catchy. After all, Lady Gaga knows how to write a crafty hook. And I especially like how the saxophone goes into play there. But I think when Lady Gaga tackles the issue of love for the first time in a single, I thought it would be more like this song (Captivated) before she went all gaga:

Regardless of what I think, her fans will eat this up. Watch it become #1 on iTunes in a few hours and debut high atop the Billboard Hot 100 next week. But selling truckloads of singles isn’t always a sign of quality. And I think Lady Gaga has become too indulgent.

Listen to Edge Of Glory here:

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