Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Downloading Nancy **


Director: Johan Renck
Cast: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman

As if trying to give his movie a final chance for some redemptive-or even human-qualities, director Johan Renck shows us a title card that reads "inspired by true events", then the ending credits roll.
His intention was probably to elicit a collective gasp that would send moviegoers debating the controversial subject the film deals with. But it works instead as a troubling statement that contradicts the previous ninety six minutes or so, because absolutely nothing in "Downloading Nancy" feels alive.
That would make sense in a movie that has a lot to do with death, but its own sense of detachment makes it impossible for the audience to get interested in what's going on.
Bello plays Nancy, a depressed housewife with fetishist (self mutilation and violent sex) practices who wishes death more than anything else.
Her husband Albert (Sewell), busy with his airport golf business idea, barely notices her existence and her psychotherapist (Brenneman) has reached a dead end trying to help her.
Fortunately for Nancy, you can find anything on the internet and she meets Louis (Patric), a loner who is willing to have painful sex with her before he kills her.
The film uses fractured narration in which we see how Nancy interacts with the other characters, but if the intention was to make us understand her, Nancy always remains impenetrable.
Bello gives a conflictive performance and the movie's coldness might in fact be owed to her, because she makes Nancy someone impossible to empathize with.
Even when given stereotypical dialogues, mostly in her therapy scenes, she delivers them with a conviction that make us wonder how much of Nancy is actually a learned performance.
When Louis reminds her that after he kills her "it will be the end of everything" she gives him a warm, almost hopeful, smile and replies "that's the whole idea".
Patric-proving how underrated he's remained-is nothing short of brilliant, his Louis is a mysterious creation that gives the film its only hints of authenticity.
Even when the story tries to turn him into a serial killer-ish character, the actor stays true to who he made the character to be.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Louis starts developing feelings for Nancy, it's almost a structural given, the surprise is how Patric channels those feelings.
The way he looks at her, the way he listens (while Bello has a good 'ole time chewing the scenery in fight scenes) all amount to making him someone who might've achieved a kind of love nobody, but him understands.
It's a shame for his performance that the rest of the movie isn't able to make him justice.
"Downloading Nancy" is made out of several parts that work independently (Christopher Doyle's sterile cinematography is fascinating if a bit too facile) but as a whole just make us feel like the movie is merely a contraption that never really answers the question: why doesn't Nancy just get it over and done with?

C'est 34.


The magnifique Marion Cotillard turns 34 today. With an Oscar under her belt (along with a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and two Césars) she's already accomplished what many actresses die to have: a movie character for immortality.
In her case it was songstress Edith Piaf and with the upcoming "Nine"she might be looking at yet another awards magnet.
But Cotillard is also delightful in light comedic roles (see "Ma Vie en L'air") where her classic beauty and charm are put to the great use, but she's been lacking in the adventurous roles, she should learn from Nicole Kidman and seek people like von Trier. Wouldn't she be awesome as Grace in "Wasington"?
Let's wish her more amazing roles and even better auteur pics!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Backyard *1/2


Director: Carlos Carrera
Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Joaquín Cosío, Alejandro Calva
Jimmy Smits, Ázur Zagada, Iván Cortés, Enoc Leaño
Amorita Rasgado, Marco Pérez, Fabián Peña, Carolina Politi

The word "subtlety" doesn't seem to exist in director Carlos Carrera's lexicon. In his newest film he tackles on the gynocide that's been taking place for more than a decade in Ciudad Juárez, México, where countless women are murdered in sexual related cases with little or no results from the police authorities.
"Backyard" (which takes its name from the direct indication that the city is used as that by the United States) takes place in 1996, year when the murders began achieving notoriety.
Idealistic police office Blanca Bravo (de la Reguera-whose performance is obviously inspired by Charlize Theron) arrives in Ciudad Juárez to command an investigation dedicated to the "femicides" (as they begin being called to the disdain of government officials).
Not only will she encounter obstacles that come with the entanglements of the investigation, but she also has to face discrimination within the police force.
The governor (Leaño) resents her interest, while her colleague Fierro (Pérez) only cares about getting to the top in his career.
But not all is lost for Blanca as she finds key collaborators in a local radio host (Cosío) and a woman (Politi) who has an institution that protects abused women.
If you think you've heard this story before, there is still more to come as Carrera introduces a parallel main story; Juanita (Zagada) is a seventeen year old woman who arrives in Juárez to work in a local maquiladora (transnational manufacturer).
In the space of three months she turns from a noble, naive woman into a heartbreaker who leaves her boyfriend (Cortés) because she still has more people she wants to meet.
Juanita and Blanca's stories will obviously intersect at some point; one being a police officer and the other target for the city killers, it's only too clear where the movie will lead.
But Carrera thinks that by including subplots with drug dealers, corrupt Americans (Smits who plays the exact opposite of wholehearted, tough, goodness we're used to seeing from him) and press manipulation he will achieve depth.
What the movie accomplishes instead is to become a didactic discourse where the good are utterly pure and the bad deserve instant punishment (even if the good have to suffer endlessly to get to this).
Carrera tries to give the whole thing a flavor of Hollywood thriller by adding suspense and hinting at a possible serial killer.
The thing is that he treats each subject as something external that must be dealt with but never analyzed. All of his characters are archetypes (better than saying clichés) that come by default in genre movies.
He doesn't even bother to hide the obviousness of the character's names and what they come to represent, Blanca Bravo (could be translated as brave white-purity, peace etc.) is the ultimate heroine who suffer but never gives up.
The rest of the characters talk about the murders as if they're reading straight out of a teleprompter, they inform, but never feel.
And things get our of control in the movie with the fate of Juanita, who Carrera has built as a Lolita worthy of the punishment she gets. Some audience members might even find reasonable motivations for the ordeal she goes through (think "Othello" meets "Babel").
With pompous characters that utter things like "cheap proletariat", it's obvious that Carrera wasn't interested in the Juárez situation, other than for the pats in the back he would get for treating such a delicate subject.

Beefcake on the River Kwai.






...was any other classic Hollywood actor as shirtless as often as William Holden?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Andersson Must Love Welles...



Shall I Compare her to a Summer's Day?


After watching "Shakespeare in Love" everybody agreed on something: that Gwyneth Paltrow could've inspired the Bard's greatest works.
The lovely Mrs. Chris Martin turns 37 today, but her timeless beauty makes her ageless as well.
I'm obviously biased because I've been in love with her since I was 11 and she is my favorite actress heh.
How could I not when she embodies the classic Hollywood I love so much with a New Age-ish vibe, plus she's one of Madonna's best friends!
So let's all send her blessings and best wishes (especially that she's in more movies!).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Brothers Bloom **


Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz
Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane

Writer/director Rian Johnson tells the story of the title brothers, Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody), two con artists for whom every new job is a play of sorts.
They get into character, develop twists and orchestrate grand finales. But eventually Bloom wants out, he wants to live "an unwritten life".
So Stephen comes up with one last job: conning eccentric heiress Penelope Stamp (Weisz). Things go wrong when Bloom falls for her and before you can say "an inverted 'The Lady Eve'", Johnson has delivered a restless film-straight out of the Wes Anderson book of witty- that thrives on quirk, movie and music references and utter aimlessness.
The actors are pretty good, but bring nothing we hadn't seen before to the table. Brody mopes, Ruffalo shows-off and Weisz uses her Victorian beauty to evoke novel heroines.
But the film's problem is Johnson's script and smugness; he tries to pull a million rabbits out of the same hat, without considering that by the third the audience is already in need of something different.
He has so much fun with his characters that he turns them uninteresting-for people who aren't him at least-and by the second half of the film it's difficult to want to invest any sort of interest in them.
Heist movies should be enjoyable-even if the end to their means is not legal-but make it so that the audience is fooled and the characters within the movie have no idea what the hell just happened.
But not a single thing in "The Brothers Bloom" feels organic or unwritten. Some movies are too quirky for their own damn good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chandler Complex.


Jason Schwartzman is adorable, but his new TV series "Bored to Death" lacked a little something. It had a great cast, cute plot and sorta funny writing, but something about it is just not clicking.
Did you see it? What do you think it is?

An Angel Indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

75?


The legendary Sophia Loren turns three quarters of a century today.
After decades working in film she has become one of Italy's greatest actresses and might very well be the person who invented sex appeal.

That's the lovely Ms. Loren a mere two years ago, yes! Two years ago-eat your heart out Helen Mirren's sixpack!-featured in the famous Pirelli calendar, which that year featured Naomi Watts and Penélope Cruz (who Loren is an obvious inspiration to).
Sophia once said "Sex appeal is 50% what you've got and 50% what people think you've got."
With her it's 100% both ways.

While Watching "The Towering Inferno"...

...and wondering if movies like this (star studded-actual A-listers-multimillion dollar, disaster flicks) could get made nowadays, I also learned a few things.

Fires can get started all of a sudden and have their own will power, it didn't just happen in "Silly Symphonies".

Faye Dunaway and Paul Newman might have inspired "Afternoon Delight"

The taller you build them, the harder they fall. What's G-d's issue with downsizing human achievements in movies? This one makes a point out of having every character point out how indestructible the building is ("Titanic" much?).

Faye Dunaway was HOT!

Jennifer Jones could've played Dame Elizabeth Taylor.

Faye Dunaway in distress was equally hot.

Nobody exuded raw, macho, sexiness and charm like these two.

Damn were they blue.

If a phallic object gets increasingly hotter for a certain amount of time it will end up releasing fluid.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Best Picture?


Following the steps of films like "American Beauty", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Amélie", "Shine", "Chariots of Fire" and more recently "Slumdog Millionaire", Lee Daniels' "Precious" has snagged the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.
What does this mean?
It has just snagged itself one of the coveted ten Best Picture slots at next year's Oscars. This also bodes well for rising star Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, the one to beat right now if there is no new Annette Bening/Hilary Swank match.
For more on "Precious" winning and Toronto read here.

"Why would you say something if it's off-camera?"

The Ugly Truth **


Director: Robert Luketic
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler
Bree Turner, Eric Winter, John Michael Higgins, Cheryl Hines

Heigl plays Sacramento TV producer Abby Richter, a work obsessed woman who has convinced herself she has no time to find the man she deserves (you know what that means in modern rom-com slang: psychotic control freak).
When her morning news show begins to falter in the ratings, she's forced by her boss to hire Mike Chadway (Butler) a cable TV personality whose show, the eponymous movie title, has become a new benchmark of crass, rude television.
He gives advice to men and women about relationships always considering feelings a load of BS and highlighting everything that leads to orgasms.
He represents everything Abby is against and of course by the end of the movie they will end together (opposites attract, first appearances are rarely accurate, biggest stars end together...you name it, we've seen it).
The movie isn't special and it seems to know it; therefore it gives in to some low class humor (who would've thought the word "cock" could come out of the angelical Heigl's mouth so much? or that a pussy-as in cat-could spark so many lazy jokes about the female genitals) like bikini clad girls wrestling in a pool of, cherry, Jell-O, baseball fellatio cams and a scene with a sex toy that works only because of Heigl's determination (and a too obvious reference to "When Harry Met Sally").
The movie doesn't reach all-time low levels of crappy, because of the chemistry between Heigl and Butler (so many movies lately are counting on being saved by chemistry that it should really start scaring screenwriters), their banter may not be the stuff of classic Hollywood battles-of-the-sexes, but it makes the crassness sting a bit less.
She is all cute pouts and fabulous outfits, he's all about the rugged charms of a rogue, the sexual tension between them is palpable and they both look damn good throughout the film.
As long as they've got the looks people will keep coming to their movies and that might just be the ugly truth.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Julia ***1/2


Director: Erick Zonca
Cast: Tilda Swinton
Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould
Jude Ciccolella, Bruno Bichir, Kevin Kilner

"You're out of control, suicidal, blind, alcoholic..." says Mitch (Rubinek) to his best friend Julia (Swinton) after rescuing her from yet another night of passing out from drunkenness.
The difference is that this time she woke up next to him, someone she knows for a change and feels that he has violated their friendship.
She immediately assumes he has feelings for her, which he denies, instead replying with a tale of how he lost his wife and daughter to alcoholism.
Of course Julia has nothing and nobody to lose, after getting fired from her most recent job she receives the offer of her lifetime when her neighbor Elena (del Castillo) asks her to kidnap her son Tom (Gould).
The young boy is living with his rich grandfather who refuses to let her see him. Elena offers to pay her 50,000 dollars.
Julia accepts and after a while figures out that Elena might not even be needed for the plan, what if she handles the kidnapping by herself and gets more money from the grandfather?
This sets in motion the plot that will consequently include desert hideouts, helicopter chases and some scary Mexican gangsters.
Directed by Zonca with the visuals of a documentary and the guts of a thriller "Julia" stays grounded because of Swinton who gives one of her finest performances to date.
With flaming red hair and colorful, tight dresses that scream more than she does (think Julia Roberts in "Erin Brockovich" but with her boobs actually falling out once or twice) and a fastidious contempt towards everything, Swinton gives this woman a backstory we can grasp without need for anyone specifying it.
She's completely dislikable, that she agrees to kidnap isn't half as ruthless as the lies she tells the kid once she's accomplished her mission. She only exists for herself.
A, darkly, funny recurring joke in the movie is how she changes the ransom amount depending on who she's dealing with.
Swinton keeps a straight face all the time, not because she doesn't see how morbidly funny this is, but because that's Julia's m.o.
Interacting with Gould (who is fantastic for his age!) Swinton develops a materialistic, never maternal, instinct. She feeds him, but dopes his water with sleeping pills so he won't escape.
The fact that he's a child doesn't mean she will treat him any different than she would a grownup in the same situation. All she needs is for him to survive so she can make a living.
Which is why when the film comes to its finale, the redemption she receives is something that some people in the audience will be highly against.
Swinton makes us see that Julia wouldn't give a damn, and that's what makes her such a magnificent actress.

Chéri ***


Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates
Felicity Jones, Frances Tomelty

It's become almost a standard of sorts for maturing actresses to eventually play a character that deals with aging.
Michelle Pfeiffer is no exception; in "Chéri" she plays Parisian courtesan Lea de Lonval who is contemplating retirement until she takes on one last mission of sorts.
Her frenemy, and former colleague Charlotte (Bates) asks her to take on her 19-year-old son, the title Chéri (Friend) and seduce him to make his decadent lifestyle stop.
Thinking this will be like stealing candy from a child, Lea suddenly finds herself six years later still having an affair with the young man and, gasp, falling in love with him.
The difference about Pfeiffer, regarding other actresses in similar roles, is that she's exceptionally radiant. At 51, she looks as breathtaking as she did in the 80's, her goddess like bone structure only serving to highlight the, socially contradictory, fact that for all her beauty she's never stopped being a phenomenal actress.
She takes on Lea ferociously, but escapes all nasty "cougar" clichés by embracing her physical qualities but merely using them as the stage for the stirring emotions within her character.
Uttering lines with acidic contempt (from the Christopher Hampton adaptation of a couple of Colette novels) she's utmostly delicious.
"It's her turn now, mine is over" she declares coldly to Chéri when he announces his mother has arranged a marriage for him.
But Pfeiffer's strengths don't lie in her line delivery but in the quieter moments when we find her all by herself (the last scene has a hauntingly beautiful quality that's practically a love song to the actress).
Bates is at her scenery-chewing best, her exchanges with Lea give the film all the social subtext director Frears wants us to understand from the bélle epoque.
The only thing these women have in common, besides their profession, is their dislike for each other.
Friend is also rather good, giving Chéri decadent qualities worthy of disdain and admiration, plus his chemistry with Pfeiffer is delightful.
What keeps the movie from transcending to another level is the mishandled way Frears tries to wrap up everything in the end. The movie has an uneven trajectory during which it tries to fit into several genres, coming up with something that lacks the punch for any of them.
While the art nouveau inspired art direction and costumes are a sight to behold, Frears has a hard time relating to them (despite his effective, if a bit forced narration).
The director never plunges into the mind set of his characters and sometimes they come off looking as actors in a play aware of the audience and expecting their acceptance.
Lucky for Frears he had Pfeiffer, who not only never suffers from this, but finding what lies in Lea's heart achieves a kind of divine humanity.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife **1/2


Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams
Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard, Jane McLean, Stephen Tobolowsky

Physics usually makes high school students weep, but the theory behind "The Time Traveler's Wife" is that the lack of physics can also make one shed a tear.
Adapted from the bestseller by Audrey Niffenegger it deals with the doomed romance between, artist, Clare (McAdams) and Henry (Bana) who's a time traveler.
Suffering from an uncontrollable genetic disorder that causes his cells to travel through time, Henry suddenly vanishes and appears naked (his clothes can't travel, something that might inspire jokes about his "Hulk" pants) in a random place and year.
During one of these travels he meets six year old Clare who falls in love with him even though when they meet chronologically years later he has no idea who she is.
It was another version of him who met her. This peculiarity is one of the film's most used dramatic triggers as future Henry comes with warnings and past Henry comes with the looks and tight butt.
When he eventually marries Claire (no spoilers, it's in the title...) present Henry disappears, only to have future Henry-complete with grey hair-save the day and cause his friend Gomez (a pretty annoying Livingston) to say he looks like his grandfather.
Truth is he doesn't, in fact if it wasn't for the dialogues you would never know what Henry is coming from what time frame. This is because the movie desperately needs to be pretty.
It disregards things that might seem too pessimist, like coherent scientific theories to back it up for starters, and dedicates itself to the beauty of its lead stars and all the tearjerking potential it has within.
Therefore we are supposed to be pissed when Henry misses Christmas and sob a little when Clare discovers he might inherit his condition to their children.
The plot doesn't care to discuss more serious matters like the creepy fact that Henry flirts with a six year old or that nobody seems to be surprised by the time traveling five minutes after meeting him.
But who has time for this when there's McAdams looking so luminous or Bana so mischievously hunky?
McAdams makes Clare someone we can root for, but never get to feel involved with, yet the spark in her eyes whenever she sees Henry is enough to forgive her flaws.
Bana gives an amazing performance that often overcomes the plot's limitations. He embodies loneliness with heartbreaking resignation, every time he travels there is a sense of loss in his eyes that says more than any of the trite lines he's given.
Watching the two of them suffer over things that defy the slightest logic it's impossible not to feel guilty about being moved by things so obviously designed to stir up emotion.
The film may not be good, but it knows what it's doing and sticks to the knowledge that the idea of separate lovers will only make the ones in the movie theater snuggle closer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Hurt Locker ****


Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Christian Camargo, Evangeline Lilly, David Morse
Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes

The notion of war always brings up intangible concepts of right & wrong, good & evil and, in the case of the American Iraq invasion, opposing political views.
But what of the people inside the battle? The soldiers for whom far is usually just a far away event. What happens to them when they suddenly find themselves in foreign lands, fighting people they can't even communicate with.
They have no time to sit down and analyze why what they're doing is wrong. They can't opt for peaceful views or no-violence policies because they might die if they do.
And no other film in recent history has made such keens observations on what it's like to be a soldier as Kathryn Bigelow's masterful "The Hurt Locker".
The film opens with a quote by New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges which states that "war is a drug".
Following this concept Bigelow throws us right into the action as members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit try to deactivate a bomb in the middle of a Baghdad neighborhood.
The mission goes wrong and the leader is killed. Less than three minutes later we meet Sgt. William James (Renner) who comes as a replacement for the former unit leader.
Other members in his team include Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Geraghty) who are in charge of covering James' perimeter while he works.
The movie then moves in vignettes-as opposed to following a story determined chronology-chronicling how many days are left for James in the unit.
Since there is no obvious leading point, the film's dramatic tension comes from within the untold stories of the characters, particularly the clashing tension between James and Sanborn who are extreme opposites.
James seems to get a rush out of his job and often jeopardizes the whole unit by taking avoidable risks. Sanborn on the other side reminds him "we're on a mission, my job is to protect you so we can go on other missions!".
It's fortunate that these characters are played extraordinarily by Mackie and Renner who anchor in the film, even stealing the spotlight from bigger stars (like Fiennes and Pearce who get limited roles) precisely by remaining completely grounded.
Renner has all the energy, and slight looks, of Daniel Craig; a tough, almost careless exterior tormented by everything he left behind in his home (a baby and wife played by Lilly).
He embodies the "drug is war" theme of the movie because he approaches every mission as if it resembled something like fun, imagine Slim Pickens in the "Dr. Strangelove" finale. He gets his "adrenaline fix", as a character tells him, by defying basic security measures and in his eyes we can see that he knows each time might very well be the last.
But besides the rough physique there is something moving about James; he befriends a young sales boy called Beckham (Christopher Sayegh), with whom he reveals a side of the paternal protectiveness he lacks with his fellow soldiers.
Or perhaps he's just looking for meaning to what he does, Renner is so effective you never know for sure what's inside his mind.
Mackie provides a remarkable stability; that he respects the rules doesn't mean he wish he didn't, when he threatens James by saying "I can figure out a redneck piece of trailer trash like you", it's impossible not to be overcome by his tranquil wrath.
Geraghty doesn't get much screen time but in his scenes he plays out the unsure soldier wonderfully. Pearce, Fiennes and particularly Morse shine in their bit roles.
Still this isn't a buddy/war movie since the characters never really achieve that movie-ness we're used to expect from the genre.
Bigelow does the whole dislike-disdain-bonding-reserved admiration thing without bells and whistles; these men know they might never get to see each other again every time they're on an assignment.
The entire film exudes this suspense element giving Bigelow an opportunity to build some magnificent setpieces aided by the marvelous camera of Barry Ackroyd who has a great eye for detail.
The editing, sound and visual design of the film understand what makes action sequences fascinating; the camera lingers, making us wish we could turn our eyes away and make us feel like we're right in the middle of the action.
Bigelow's explosions aren't cut in two second long edits, they force us to watch every little moment. One of the movie's most powerful scenes has James trying to remove a device from a suicide bomber, with two minutes before the timer goes off, the movie reaches levels of adrenaline Hollywood usually reserves for mediocre summer blockbusters.
Contrary to what one might expect Bigelow's movie, or Mark Boal's screenplay perhaps, is completely apolitical. Watching the film this neutrality comes off as looking slightly coward, but it's only after it has ended that it all makes sense.
Bigelow is not interested in taking sides, which is why her movie might appeal to war dissenters, who see the inhumanity in this hell, and also to supporters who will only see the patriotic way in which the soldiers do their job (might even serve as a recruiting method for those who detect the excitement of combat in it).
The director of course won't care what side the viewer is, her film is a historical document which like the greatest art is left to be deciphered by the beholder.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Antichrist ***1/2


Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand."
Deuteronomy 32:39

About two years ago director Lars von Trier underwent a depression that threatened to end with his career. For better or worse he overcame his ailment and out of this came "Antichrist".
It can be said that the human nature of the film ends within the first ten minutes or so, during a prologue-shot in glorious black and white by Anthony Dod Mantle, accompanied by a Handel aria-where we see a baby fall to his accidental death from a high window while his parents have sex in another room.
Stricken by guilt and pain, his mother (Gainsbourg) falls into severe depression. Her husband (Dafoe) a therapist goes against professional ethics and starts treating her.
They reach a breakthrough when she reveals she is terrified of "Eden", their cabin in the woods, (von Trier isn't one for symbolic subtleties as she makes this revelation after her husband asks her "where would you feel most exposed?").
They go to Eden where strange occurrences begin to alter the way they see the world that surrounds them and the events leading to the death of their son.
Subdivided in four chapters, the before mentioned prologue and an epilogue most of "Antichrist" doesn't take place in a comprehensible realm.
After the prologue it might be feasible to say that one must stop judging the plot based on recognizable parameters as it all turns into a macabre allegory greatly inspired by the Bible and Medieval beliefs.
All of this is basically affirmed by the title; the Antichrist being exactly the complete opposite of Christ who represents pure love.
Therefore, when we see the events He and She go through we understand that they essentially wouldn't be able to exist in a world where there is a Christ. A lot has been mentioned about the violent nature of the movie (there is a scene of genital mutilation not many will be able to stomach) but unlike gore and torture movies-which have become more popular in the last decade-the events in "Antichrist" are never suggested to be probable.
The fear instilled in us by elements in von Trier's film has nothing to do with deranged serial killers because it is all symbolic (a penetrating grindstone is less about pain and more about a woman trying to understand the nature of the male sex).
The director doesn't even expect us to understand the whys of everything in his movie as they sprung from somewhere deep within his conscience, the movie isn't about the characters it's about him; these are all fears embedded within him.
Both characters represent opposing sides in von Trier. She says "I don't know what I'm scared of", He tries his best to heal her with therapeutic methods.
It's the eternal debate of science battling the unexplainable. When she says "you are indifferent to whether your child is alive or dead" she's attributing him properties one would give to God (which makes her consequential behavior all the more heartbreaking).
It's fascinating how the director makes Gainsbourg's character completely terrified of nature, especially now when religions and spiritual currents are becoming more open to the idea of God as nature itself and not some foreign, ghostly, concept.
Since the beginning of time human beings have tried to find explanation to their misery and faith has been a great aid in this search.
It should be ironic that someone like von Trier, who has revealed so many troublesome views of spiritual faith in the past, also tries to find a meaning through this method.
What results moving is his struggle against something he knows he doesn't fully believe in (perhaps out of misunderstanding?) and when he sends He and She back to Eden-like anti Adam and Eve-he's also going with them trying to go back to the very essence of nature.
"Antichrist" has the aesthetics of Medieval tableaux (Mantle was obviously inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch, which makes sense considering he was one of the first painters who envisioned hell as something earthly) and sometimes the scenes achieve the kind of morbid beauty we only see in the natural world.
An ethereal deer appears to Dafoe's character only to turn around seconds later and reveal it's in the middle of stillbirth, a fox utters the film's most memorable line and falling acorns resonate with the disturbing announcement of an overpowering storm.
This coexistence of life/death is obviously evident in issues regarding sex. The prologue shows He and She enraptured with bliss as their son-who came from the very thing that is giving them pleasure at the moment-falls and dies.
A passage in Hermann Hesse's brilliant "Narcissus and Goldmund" has one character identify the face of death in the face of a woman reaching sexual climax...
He and She become especially aware of their mortality and feel completely left alone in the world (we never see any other person's face in the movie, even if we do see their bodies).
It is revealed that She was writing a thesis about the nihilism of nature being present within humans as well and while this might not come off as a delicate way to wrap up the plot, it's the director trying not to sound like a total lunatic.
His guilt may not be provoked from events as shattering as the death of a child, but this doesn't make his attempt at an explanation less worthy.
Was von Trier trying to battle his demons by identifying with them? If this was the case then "Antichrist" feels like revenge towards a God who had forsaken him.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Loop ***1/2


Director: Armando Ianucci
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander
Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy, David Rasche
Steve Coogan, James Gandolfini

Not long after the BBC Films logo has appeared, Government Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) let's us know we're not watching a "Regency costume drama" by establishing "this is a government department, not a fucking Jane fucking Austen novel".
"In the Loop" is in fact quite a surprise of a movie; a deliciously sardonic political satire, worthy of "Dr. Strangelove" comparisons.
Set during the time leading to the Iraq war, hell breaks loose when the British Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Hollander) says war is "unforeseeable" during a radio show.
Before long he's considered a war supporter-yes, based on one simple word-and is sent to Washington D.C. -along with his new assistant Toby (Addison)-to fix things.
There they become the center of a battle between the war-loving Assistant Secretary of State (played by an insanely conservative Rasche), anti-war Major General Miller (Gandolfini) and his ex-lover, Secretary of State Assistant Karen Clarke (Kennedy).
All of them try to use the British as pawns in their own agendas while people back in London deal with "smaller" problems (one includes a demanding character played by the genius Coogan who demands the government takes care of their constituency).
Ianucci's film (a "cousin" as he says to his excellent TV series "The Thick of It") is fueled by an absolutely brilliant screenplay (written by Ianucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche and Ian Martin) which not only keeps firing memorable one-liners unrelentlessly, but also touches a deeper chord, because this may be comedy but the ideas behind it are the stuff of the finest drama.
This comes to life with the masterful ensemble all of whom contribute greatly and create unforgettable parts. Hollander-who embodies dignity in the face of utter shame-is marvelous, every move and gesture he makes is exquisite (you can't see him acting).
Addison is a sweet looking, but has a more harmful edge that makes him dangerously charming. Kennedy is terrific; her banter with the phenomenal Gandolfini ignites the sort of sexual tension you don't want to know of, yet you can't resist.
Then there's Capaldi, whose Malcolm owns the movie; he makes an art out of the profane-you need to listen to his indecent sounding way of demonizing "The Sound of Music"-his Tucker insults everyone but makes it sound completely natural.
He's aggressive, disturbingly confident and sorta terrifying as well, but he embodies best what makes the movie so good.
The fact that despite the fact that you know this is a movie and there is a script, the characters achieve an honesty even when they come to irreverently zany levels.
"In the Loop" makes some wry observations on how politics today are a game of sorts where internal dislikes, grammatical mistakes can start wars and a one night stand can be used to prevent it.
It makes the world we live in seem corrupt and worsening, but it's also so funny that we can't help but enjoy living in it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Work of a Deranged Genius.


I didn't find "Antichrist" to be as repulsive, controversial or even as shocking as most people did.
Instead I found a sort of moving beauty to it and with that dedicatory in the end how could I not?
Review coming soon.

I ♥ Jayma Mays.


Rachel: "I try, but I guess I just don't have a gag reflex"
Emma: "One day when you're older that will turn out to be a gift"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Brüno **


Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen

The problem with, Austrian fashion reporter, Brüno (Cohen) is not his homosexuality, as he comes to think, but the fact that he didn't come soon enough-pun intended.
Two years after the comedian's breakthrough with "Borat", this new film which follows "Borat"'s mockumentary style lacks the refreshing satirical sense that made Cohen one of the most polarizing figures in the industry.
Brüno is outlandishly gay, he dresses in semi-transparent clothes, publicly endorses anal bleaching and adopts African babies because Madonna and Angelina are doing it.
He migrates to Los Angeles after his career in Austria dies (following a disastrous runway appearance with a, prototype, velcro suit) and in the land of opportunity seeks to become a celebrity.
With that intention he tries several mediums (talk shows, an outrageous TV pilot and eventually extreme wrestling) and fails in most of them.
The only constant in his life is his assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) who has more than professional admiration for him.
Oblivious to this, Brüno spends his time trying to achieve his ultimate goal. Cohen gives an uncompromising, hilarious performance. His ability to get in life-or at least safety-threatening situations is admirable.
When he disrobes in front of presidential candidate Ron Paul in an attempt to seduce him we are more shocked than when he gives oral sex to a famous dead lover through a psychic.
Even when the crass situations elicit laughter they aren't as funny as they ought to be, mostly because we never truly believe them to be completely honest.
Yes, people do laugh with completely scripted films all the time, but knowing Cohen's kind of comedy-whose appeal lies in the unexpected-most of the people interviewed in this movie seem to be in the joke.
Cohen is so notorious that the film isn't even able to exploit the fashion world (everyone knows who he is and he would've never passed undetected), so when he chooses to mock the American Midwest he falls into the same sort of hypocrisy he seeks to mock.
What's sadder, not even redneck hunters seem to be unaware that they're in some sort of gag. Cohen's intentions are good; he wanted to unmask the aversion our world has developed towards sex-especially "unconventional" practices-but not even when we see Brüno at the end of an exercise contraption, with a strategically placed dildo, do we feel the utter shock Cohen expects us to.
How would have we reacted if this film had come before "Borat"? Would the effects have been different? And if so, why didn't Cohen concentrate on this very loss of privacy instead of searching for politically incorrect takes on homosexuality?
Because of this it's impossible to watch this film and not think that Cohen isn't interested in unmasking society, just satging his very own runway show.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Handsome enough to tempt me.


Today is Colin Firth's birthday, the stoic, oddly charming actor turns 49 today.
His most memorable role to date has been of course Mr. Darcy. Both in the beloved BBC adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" and in the Bridget Jones movies which in itself is a version of Jane Austen's beloved masterpiece (talk about typecasting).
With his birthday in mind and having seen all three versions of "Pride..." lately, only one doubt comes to mind.
Who has been the best Mr. Darcy?

Laurence Olivier in the 1940 version?

Matthew Macfayden in the nouvelle vague-ish 2005 take?

...or birthday boy?

(Complete with wet shirt, puppy eyes and all...)

You pick!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Hangover **


Director:Todd Phillips,
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Jeffrey Tambor

The bachelor party is the heterosexual male ritual by excellence. During it, the groom-to-be is indulged by his friends with the last moments of utter freedom he will have for as long as the marriage lasts.
The bachelor party in Las Vegas, is the only location where Hollywood sees fit to fulfill this heterosexual male ritual.
In "The Hangover" we miss the actual party, but wake up with the guys the morning after amidst what can only be described as disaster.
Cocky schoolteacher Phil (Cooper) calls bride-to-be, Tracy (Sasha Barrese) to let her know that her fiancé Doug (Bartha) has gone missing. With only five hours left before the wedding, we go back in time two days trying to uncover what the hell happened.
Doug and Phil left Los Angeles with nervous, nerdy dentist Stu (Helms) and Tracy's weird brother Alan (Galifianakis); after a couple of Jager shots at the Caesar's Palace roof, they wake up to find their $4,200 a-night-suite completely shattered, one of Stu's teeth missing, a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet.
With only twenty four hours left to find the groom, and the title physiological effect ailing them, they set out like frat boy detectives to uncover what went wrong.
The plot, like many before it, indulges in all that is crass, loud and politically incorrect (baby masturbation should not be as funny as it is when delivered by Galifianakis) and while some of the situations work out for great comedic relief, most of the movie fails to click.
The ensemble is great, Cooper stretches out his pretty boy-ness to the max (his cockiness is disturbingly charming sometimes), Helms gives the movie a soul of sorts (even if his character is forced to enact some over the top couple drama with his possessive girlfriend played by Racahel Harris), Galifianakis gives the kind of performance deemed to achieve eternal emulations and Graham turns in a surprisingly sweet performance as the hooker with a heart of gold (she channels Julianne Moore's Amber Waves from "Boogie Nights").
Even if their distinctive personalities get a chance to shine, you never really know how is it that they all became friends in the first place because honestly the one thing they have in common is that they are guys.
And it is through this where the film has both its greatest ally and foe.
For some guys in the audience the film will feel like constant deja-vus and remind them of how they bonded through shameful experience (no morality tales here, even the ending gives the guys something to cheer about).
Some others though will see the film as a representation of everything that might result terrifying for men(morning after babies, drunken marriages, insane significant others, small gangsters who can kick their asses, Mike Tyson...) -one might even say the whole plot is a subconscious manifestation of the groom's fear of commitment- and wonder why the hell is this marketed as a comedy when it should be a horror movie.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flame & Citron ***


Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thure Lindhardt
Stine Stengade, Christian Berkel, Peter Mygind

"We will need heroes" says someone to Flame (Lindhart) and Citron (Mikkelsen), almost asking them to fill the void.
They are the most representative figures in the Danish Resistance against Nazi invaders; their mission is to eliminate Nazi officers as well as Danes who are betraying their country.
Their targets include high rank Nazi officers, double agents and even women! Their dilemma lies in identifying the cause for their actions.
A German officer (Hanns Zischler) tells Flame that there are only three reasons why people go to war:career opportunity, ideology and hatred for their enemy.
The film mostly tries to fit them into one of those to make their legend more understandable (after all the movie is based on true events) and the unlikely heroes find themselves killing people while trying to lead normal lives and even find romance.
Unlike American WWII films which take themselves so seriously, "Flame & Citron" plays out like a historical thriller with film noir strokes.
Both lead characters narrate the film at one point or another, their contributions filling in facts that remain unknown to the other.
Lindhart gives a brilliant performance as the baby faced Flame, despite his young age; he's 23 as the object of his affection, femme fatale, Ketty Selmer (Stengade) points out disturbed.
Despite this Lindhart evokes a sense of timeless valor and to some degree even animalistic violence.
Citron, as played by Mikkelsen, comes off as a nervous-he's always sweaty-figure who makes obvious that it's his compromise with the cause that made him leave behind a completely different life.
In one pivotal scene he "robs" a grocery but refuses to take the money, only taking goods for his estranged wife and daughter. And after his woman confesses she has fallen for someone else she exclaims "if I tell you [who he is] you'll kill him!", ignorant to the fact that her husband is in fact yet to commit his first homicide.
In this way the film also plays with our conceptions of public figures and the way they see themselves. This notion also plays out like a flaw in a way, because even when German officers seem to know the identity of the rebels-Flame's bright red hair being one of the details they hunt-they still roam largely in places crowded by Nazis.
The screenplay has a slight problem establishing differences between what we know and what the rest of the characters know; therefore, when the movie reaches its "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"-like finale we aren't really surprised, just mystified that it took so long for it to come.

He's a Star.


That incendiary provocateur known as Oliver Stone, set the Venice Film Festival red carpet on fire by appearing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
The controversial political figure is the star of sorts of Stone's new documentary "South of the Border" which deals with several Latin American countries moving from the path of American political standards.
Typically regarded as a demon of sorts, Chávez seems to have fun on the red carpet, the AP reports "Chávez threw a flower into the crowd and touched his heart, and at one point took a photographer's camera to snap a picture himself."
When Stone does something nowadays I take it with a grain of salt; he's trying too hard to be as relevant as he used to (his last films have been quite mediocre), but perhaps he'll renew his winning strike with what seems to be an interesting documentary.
If he chooses the path of information as opposed to propaganda of course.

This reminds me though that Stone isn't the first Hollywood figure to support Chávez...

And when even Obama's trying to get friendly with the guy perhaps it's about time the demonizing stops.

For more on Chávez at the Lido click here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bullseye.


It might not be the most faithful adaptation, but 1940's "Pride and Prejudice" pretty much set the bar for what would be consequent Austen adaptations.
The arrow scene featured in the picture above is practically recreated in "Emma", the older actors playing younger characters thing was done by Emma Thompson in Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" and Joe Wright's masterful "Pride and Prejudice" from 2005 adapts the book by using almost the same turning points featured in this film.
Not so shabby for a minor classic huh?

A Century of Brilliance.


Elia Kazan (1909-2003) would've turned one hundred years old today. Born Elia Kazanjoglous in Istanbul in 1909 to Greek parents, he migrated to the United States where he became one of the greatest, most versatile, theatrical and film directors that ever lived (that slight bias you're detecting must be because he's one of my Holy Trinity of movie directors).
Despite his infamous involvement in the HUAAC name-naming which made him a polarizing figure in Hollywood (yet inspired "On the Waterfront"...) his contributions to the craft are undeniable.
He practically discovered Marlon Brando and James Dean. Both of them received Best Actor Oscar nominations for their very first movies with Elia-which also happened to be their debuts of sorts-and Brando was nominated for every movie he did with him (he led 21 actors and actresses to Oscar nominations and 9 of them won the award).
He also funded the Actors Studio in 1947 which revolutionized the way movie acting was conceived.
His ability to use the Studio System to treat such diverse, and controversial, topics as racism, rape, antisemitism, sexual disorders and homosexuality brought him acclaim and made him a unique voice in Hollywood.
Somehow though his legacy has been a bit muddled not only by that HUAAC mess but also because his subtle directorial efforts are seen by today's audiences more as actors' achievements.
Yes, Brando and Vivien Leigh were extraordinary in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and nobody
can forget Dean in "East of Eden", but their performances would've stayed at a base level if it wasn't for Kazan.
His latter filmography is also a vault of hidden treasures including a definitive Robert de Niro performance in the all-star adaptation of "The Last Tycoon".
But don't take my word for it, go out and watch how with a mere camera Kazan could create enchantment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Body of Work.


I was watching "The Ten Commandments" the other day (don't ask) when a friend pointed out to me how unfit all the male stars were.
I turned around to take a closer look at Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston, the film stars, and had a hard time understanding what he was talking about.
He remarked how the high waisted skirts the men wore stuck tightly to their fat rolls. Again I didn't see it.
But in the end what he was talking about makes sense; they didn't have six packs.

People usually complain that women were the ones who suffered the most from the changes in beauty appraisal (the curvy shapes of classic Hollywood are obese by today's standards) but few people have given the same consideration to the guys.
When, and why, did six packs become the epitome of male beauty?