Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Revolutionary Road ***

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, Zoe Kazan, David Harbour
Kathryn Hahn, Richard Easton

The suburbs have been the mythical creature of innumerable films; it's within the picket fences and tree lined roads where some of the darkest machinations behind American culture have occurred.
Seen by the cynical as the place where dreams go to die, the notion that anyone who holds esteem towards these values is a killer robot or an alien has spoken more about the people who say it, than their actual discourse has done for them.
But when we are invited to view them under a critical light in a context that includes several other variables instead of just one accusing finger, the suburbs can turn out to be much more complex than we'd imagined.
And to explore this ambiguity seemed to be the intention of Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road", an adaptation of Richard Yates' cult novel about the Wheelers, Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet), a couple who moves to the suburbs where they find their dreams crumbling before their eyes.
Frank works as an "executive" in a city based company where not even he's sure of what he does, while April stays home looking after the house and their children.
They socialize with the neighbors which include real estate agent, the gossipy Mrs.Helen Givings (an excellent Bates), her son John (Shannon) who has recently been released from a mental institution and the Campbells, Shep (Harbour who does miracles with the little scenes he's given) and Milly (Hahn).
The Wheelers find comfort in their knowledge that they're above everyone else. That the executive lunches, martini breaks and egg salad sandwiches are just a waiting room for the grand life they have ahead of them.
But when April realizes they are slowly giving in to convention, she takes action and comes up with a plan for them to move to Paris where she will work while Frank "finds himself".
Early on the film announces it will be mostly about marital problems and for this it becomes a showcase for its two lead actors who are phenomenal.
DiCaprio, ever more maturing, imbues Frank with the kind of fear only lessened by the fact that you may have seen it in people you know.
His eagerness to please and a sense of "deserving" everything promised with post-WWII America, but not getting it or at least not in the way he expected, touches on a sensitive part of you.
With April, Winslet goes for earnestness avoiding the melodrama one would come to expect from a hysterical housewife. She throws tantrums and most of the time sparks up fights she knows she shouldn't be holding, but there is something remarkably human about April that makes these things comprehensible, maybe the fact that a sense of emasculating her husband is one of the only things that make her feel alive.
Her eyes often wonder "how did we get here?" and her nuances are what give April the soul the movie never obtains. Talking to a friend she confesses how "she wanted in" not escaping and in the same scene she goes from moving and confessional to raw and sexual without us expecting it.
Eventually we wonder if April is putting on a performance all the time. Winslet taps into this element to make us doubt our very surroundings.
DiCaprio and Winslet convey this angst beautifully and turn "Revolutionary Road" into the movie that chronicles the implicitness other dysfunctional suburbia films have taken for granted.
Shannon's character then comes and questions everything about the Wheelers in a way nobody else dared to, think of him as a contemporary viewer interceding for all who have doubts about why people choose these lives.
Because if there is something true about the film is that its themes are as relevant as ever. John whose insanity might receive a milder diagnosis nowadays, has so many questions that he can't contain them and Shannon holds up remarkably well, given how other actors would've dealt with this character.
He represents a rage that most would opt to hide and in his final scene creeps under your skin and gives the film what ultimately becomes it's one undeniable truth.
Mendes crafts a work that is easy to admire, giving it a nice structure and an adequate pace, if the symbolism is nothing too new (enough with the pastels and light! Give us a film about suburbia inspired by German Expressionism!), it's talking to us in the only terms the director knows how and this is perhaps because even he's unsure of what he's trying to say.
The director puts out a troubling representation of traditional values, that nevertheless offers no option. It's like a window to hell from inside a burning house.
If he gets one thing right is the idea that the one thing humans can share is their misery, especially in the last scene where he tries to send us away with an ironic wink at a how it all will become a vicious cycle, but feels more like how Frank is described at the beginning of the film "a smartass with a big mouth" or camera in this case.
Throughout the film something that remains constant is the carelessness for the children, they are barely featured and the characters themselves' are rarely asked for opinion.
They appear purely as accesories and perhaps without trying Mendes makes the most lasting impression with them.
By not taking them into account he makes their consequent story the only one we're dying to hear.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Wrestler ***1/2

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

You may never have seen a wrestling match in your entire life and you still will be rooting for Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke), a professional wrestler who is way past his prime and looking for a comeback in Darren Aronofsky's touching character study.
"The Ram" was big in the 80's, where he even had an action figure shaped after him (and which he carries in his car with him), now he's living in a trailer, working part time at a supermarket and doing small venues aware that he's old news in the modern wrestling scene while trying to rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Wood) and trying to initiate a romance with a stripper named Cassidy (Tomei).
If everything about the film sounds like a cliché it very well should, the surprise is in how after watching it, it's been everything but that.
Centered on the remarkable performance by Rourke, "The Wrestler" takes a harsh look at a society where the underdogs only get their due in films like this (one of the "best" compliments you can give the film is thinking it was inspired by a true story).
Rourke disappears into Robinson, with a bulked up body, blonde dyed hair and the remains of what one was a face he embodies the pain the man has put up with for so long.
The only thing that reminds him there is a world outside his career is his ailing heart, which both physically and emotionally bring him down to Earth for a moment where he faces that he has to change in order to remain alive.
What Rourke preserves is an intense charm, aided by a sweet, almost paternal voice. When we see him playing a video game with a child, we don't find it surprising that the kid isn't terrified of him and when later he has to work behind the deli counter, the women he serves are enchanted by his brutish kindness.
Yet all of this hides a pain that he doesn't know how to channel. He is a bad father because he doesn't know how else to be; Rourke shines in his scenes with Wood, who gives an affecting performance containing her adolescent resentment until exactly the right moment.
Sometimes you wonder why Robinson chose this job and Rourke makes us understand that it might be perhaps because within it he has found the only place where he can control the pain he receives and the one he inflicts upon others.
Because if this kind of selfish sacrifice, his performance is almost sublime.
Tomei plays his emotional counterpart, at first being almost some sort of a twin. They both play entertainers who must submit to the fantasies of their customers (one remarkable scene cuts between the two of them tidying up for their jobs), both have to be careful in establishing the limit where the job ends and the life begins.
The actress, one of the few who can be completely nude dancing on a pole and stir feelings of kindness, avoids playing her as the stripper with the heart of gold and goes for a raw approach where not even she's sure she'll end up.
"The Wrestler" is shot in verité style by Maryse Alberti, who gives it even more of a documentary feel. The cinematographer's work with the camera is also a wondruous thing to behold, most of the film the camera follows "The Ram", reminiscing the moments before the wrestlers are sent off into the stage and also giving everything a rare kind of sadness making us think that perhaps everything good about Robinson has been left in his past.
Aronofsky details the behind the scenes of wrestling, where we are witnesses of the tricks and maneuvers they plan to put on the show we end up watching. In a way it's as if we're watching the movie being made in front of our eyes, because even when we know for a fact everything we're about to see has been prepared for our entertainment, there is an amount of truth within this that makes it remain compelling.
Those who aren't fans of wrestling will surely wonder what is there to see in a fight where the winner has been resolved before it even begins, where the pain and blood have all been calculated.
What is it that charms viewers about this showcase of artifice? Those who care to see beyond this will find a beautiful metaphor within the spectacle they're witnessing, as wrestling becomes comparable with cinema where the fates of the characters involved have been resolved way before the projection begins, but the journey can't help but feel thrilling nevertheless.
When talking about a match with some of his fellow wrestlers, "The Ram" asks them if they enjoyed it, after getting an affirmative response he stops for a while, points to the audience and remarks "more important, they liked it".

"Cicatriz" is Mexican for...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Flight of the Red Balloon ***

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Cast: Juliette Binoche
Simon Iteanu, Fang Song, Hippolyte Girardot
Louise Margolin, Anna Sigalevitch

Meditating on who art belongs to once it's released, director Hou Hsiao-hsien reworks Albert Lamorisse's beloved "The Red Balloon" to deliver an enchanting tale set in modern day Paris.
Juliette Binoche plays Suzanne, a single mother who hires Song (Song) a Chinese immigrant, and film student, to be her son Simon's (Iteanu) babysitter.
The film consists of vignettes where Simon is followed around the city by a big red balloon and those where he interacts with the adults in his life as they go through their routines.
Lamorisse's short film is a beautiful childhood fantasia tinged with melancholy and a weird sense of happiness, Hsiao-Hsien uses this to his advantage and gives his film a sense of desolation.
While he doesn't concentrate on Simon specifically, it's through his character where we perceive the loneliness felt by all of them.
Suzanne is always working or dealing with her problems, Song still feels she doesn't belong in France and Simon seems to know he doesn't really need a sitter at his age, yet their isolation becomes their means of identification and community with each other.
The film at first feels like a sort of sociological experiment, as if the director was studying Western culture through its movies and through families, but even as the film grows more conscious cinematically, the actors become more comfortable with their characters and reach a point where it seems they weren't even being filmed.
Although there isn't much of a story to follow, the film makes it almost impossible for you to take your eyes off it, much of it is of course owed to cinematographer Pin Bing Lee, whose curious camera competes with the balloon itself as to places where it can go.
Despite the fact that the settings become almost limited to Suzanne's messy apartment, where all the characters interact, the camera captures pleasantly surprising moments that achieve beautiful and chaotic intimacy.
Everything about the film seems so lived in that eventually there is no need for a traditional advancement of the story; it's as if we were spending an evening with people we know.
Binoche gives one of her finest performances as the bleach blonde Suzanne, who enters and exits her apartment fully aware that this is her stage, unlike the puppet theater where she works.
A drama queen that confides her existential problems with anyone who will listen, it's her overbearing need to please her son (who she knows she neglects) what becomes beautiful to watch. Her character feels like she's lived within it forever.
Curiously, while the actors work hard to achieve absolute subtlety, Hsia-hsien does his best to remind us that we are watching a film.
With Song, who arguably becomes his alter ego going beyond race and nationality and relying on the "foreign"-ness of a filmmaker within this surrounding, he views cinema as childhood and a filmmaker as someone who plays with time and alters it so that it may be of use to others.
He doesn't merely hint at this with his lyrical use of memories, which come through unconventional flashbacks and even with films themselves.
During one scene Suzanne asks Song to convert some 8 mm films of her great-grand father into digital discs, when she sees the results Binoche's expression of wonder is similar to what we would expect from someone witnessing time travel.
After watching one of Song's films (which we never see) Suzanne says "your film touches on very deep things I thought I'd forgotten". The same can be said for Hsia-hsien's and perhaps the director in a way was saying the same to Lamorisse.
But things get to a more meta level when we learn that the film song is working on is no other than an interpretation of "The Red Balloon". She even goes as far as to reveal the effects she will use to make the balloon follow Simon.
After this, the film turns on an intellectual twist and we wonder who does this red balloon belong to after all?
Is it Song's or Simon's? Is it Hsia-hsien's? Is it Lamorisse's or is it ours'?
In the film's most beautiful moment Simon goes with his classmates to a museum, the Musée d'Orsay, where their teacher has them analyze a haunting paiting of a child following a red balloon.
The teacher invites them to see beyond the painting and when at one point one of the kids suggests that there are more children beyond the painting it finally hits us that like Suzanne says "grown ups are a bit complicated" and don't take the time to grasp at all the beauty surrounding them, or care to do so for that matter.
We later see the balloon making its way through the Paris skyline and everything makes sense.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Last Mistress ***

Director: Catherine Breillat
Cast: Asia Argento, Fu'ad Ait Aattou, Roxane Mesquida
Claude Sarraute, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale

After a career where she's explored sexual behavior and pushed it to its limits, staying mostly on a cerebral level, provocateur director Catherine Breillat chooses a more mainstream approach and perhaps for the first time hints at entertainment with her adaptation of Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly's novel about doomed love, destructive relationships and yes, sex.
Fu'ad Ait Aattou plays Ryno de Marigny; a notorious libertine engaged to the granddaughter (Mesquida) of the influential Marquise de Flers (Sarraute).
When she learns of his relationship with Spanish courtesan Madame Vellini (Argento) she asks her grandson to be to come clean.
He does, and while reaffirming her that everything is over between the two of them, tells the Marquise the story of how they met and why they ended their affair.
In this film Breillat puts her keen visual sense to wonderful use and drawing inspiration from art forms of the era creates a truly luscious movie to watch.
The lead actors seem to be carved out of marble; the first time we see Argento she's a Goya painting come to life.
The director, who has rarely been so inviting, takes her time to seduce us, providing the plot with a charming structure and a superb ensemble.
Argento seems to be having the time of her life encompassing this she-devil (she even dresses like the devil at some point) who nobody seems to like, but everyone falls for.
She's sensual in a unique way, but mostly becomes animalistic (Vellini is the illegitimate daughter of an Italian Princess and a Spanish matador) as she turns Ryno into both her prey and predator.
However there is one moment when Vellini suffers a personal tragedy and here Argento turns all this sexuality into a harrowing kind of pain that the rest of her performance never lives up to.
Aattou is absolutely gorgeous to look at; with his cherub like face Breillat makes an interesting point about what makes men and women as distant from each other as they're the same (she also stresses out this in a church sermon scene).
Aattou makes out of Ryno someone we believe, whether it's the eternal love and sweetness he promises his wife to be or the violent, inexplicably attractive creature he becomes with Vellini.
The film also has some charming supporting parts in the form of Moreau and Lonsdale, who play old friends through which we learn what the rest of society thinks about the scandalous leads.
When the film begins Lonsdale's Vicomte de Prony acknowledges he hopes "to provoke a scandal" as he goes to Vellini's house with gossip.
It is hinted at us that these forms of social games where perhaps the most interesting kind of entertainment these people had, one that we don't really need any more, or do we?
The Marquise de Flers tells Ryno that "fireplace stories are the balls of old age" as she sits down for his story and perhaps part of what makes him become obliged to her is the need to satisfy her thirst for entertainment.
During one scene we see the Marquise has surrendered to Ryno's tale, she is almost lying on her couch, with an almost empty glass of port (which she switched from the tea she begins with).
Sarraute, who gives perhaps the most delicious performance in the film, then becomes a metaphor for the audience who comes to the cinema to be enthralled.
Breillat who takes the form of Ryno is at first unsure that we are enjoying what she offers and when he pauses to ask if he shall procede, the Marquis doesn't hesitate to encourage him.
As if we were planning to go home without every lurid detail of his story with Vellini.
The tale, pointless as it may seem sets the tone, to what later becomes a very Breillat twist where we realize that like Vellini, the director hasn't fully surrendered to us.
She tried to please us, but this is still her show and she will make sure to get the last wink.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cruz Gun.

Woody Allen breathes life into Penélope Cruz, she had only achieved under Pedro Almodóvar's direction. A surefire Academy Award nominee, and hopefully a winner, for her role in this film, her key moment might be during her last scene where Allen brings her back in one of his insane twists and she still comes out a winner, giving a master class in subtlety, inner pain and sensuality.
What's curious is that she isn't even the best thing about the movie!
Click on the picture to read my review.
Come back and comment.

Eartha Baby.

In what can only be called a sad irony; the sultry Eartha Kitt, known the world over for her legendary rendition of "Santa Baby", has passed away.
Her song was part of my Christmas (as were some of her other songs, I love the way she purred through "C'est Si Bon") and this came as a rather upsetting announcement.
She was a perfect Catwoman, in the campy 60's "Batman" along Adam West and the fact that she worked until the end of her life, she was 81, should be an inspiration.
May she rest in peace.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Vicky Cristina Deliciosa.

After my first screening of Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" I was completely transfixed. Its combination of deeply felt nostalgia, eroticism and soul search makes it arguably his best film since "Everyone Says I Love You".
I loved the performances (where the hell has Rebecca Hall been all my life?) and like Peter Travers put it "you haven't lived till you've heard Cruz and Bardem trading Woody Allen one-liners in Spanish. "
I recommend a viewing after a big nice meal (with lots of garlic) and a bottle of wine; the film, like the food, will result absolutely delicious.
Expect my review very soon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Baz Strikes Back.

On one of his first interviews after the U.S release of "Australia", director Baz Luhrmann is taking on critics who not only dislike his film, but wonder why it was even made.
Not one to remain still, Luhrmann, who is arguably one of the most divisive filmmakers in history (all of his films are either love them or hate them experiences) has revealed his new project is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby".
Insisting that it won't be another seven years before we see his name on the screen again, he invites people to eat from the grand banquet of cinema...and one can only love him for that.
Read the story here.

Too Borracho To Pray.

Greatest Cinema Dad.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rock Them Sexy Oscar!

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has narrowed down its Best Original Song pre-candidates to forty nine tunes .
Since they chose to snub "Sex and the City", a shame considering I had a whole performance in my mind for "All Dressed In Love" my only request is that they don't follow NARAS' ridiculous obsession with Alicia Keys and nominate her hideous James Bond song just because it's her and Jack White.
Oh and I'd just squeal like a schoolgirl if Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel got to perform "I Want It All" from "High School Musical 3"...
Read the complete list here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still *

Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly
Jon Hamm, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Kathy Bates, Kyle Chandler

If there's something sillier than remaking a classic Hollywood film, it might be doing so without a reason.
Director Scott Derrickson updated Robert Wise's underrated 1951 sci-fi classic about an alien named Klaatu (Reeves) who comes to Earth to warn about the impending destruction of the planet only to be met by bureaucrats and skeptical people.
Jennifer Connelly plays Helen Benson, the good hearted scientist who helps Klaatu in his mission and eventually becomes the only person who can help save the world.
Jaden Smith plays her stepson, left under her care after his father's death and who still has trouble dealing with Helen.
Klaatu warns them that the human species has done enough damage to the planet and he's representing a group of planets that has come to the agreement that Earth can only be saved once humans are gone.
His aid is the giant robot Gort (whose design is "inspired" by the original one) who becomes the subject of scientists' studies as they prepare for destruction.
While the original film was a timely allegory for the Cold War, Derrickson's version with his "green" message comes off looking forced and preachy.
The biggest problem is that Klaatu's mission is constantly changing, first he wants to destroy the planet then he doesn't, as if Derrickson doubts exactly what he wants to say with his movie.
He avoids taking stances and is afraid to say something too pessimist but also lacks the vision to deliver hope.
The film features some nice visual effects, that somehow still don't make the impact of the rudimentary ones used in the original and completely forgets to worry about character development.
Connelly does satisfying job, Hamm is sadly underused and Bates takes herself too seriously giving her performance slight strokes of camp.
Smith is utterly annoying, you often wonder why Helen puts up with his tantrums in the midst of world destruction, which shouldn't be a natural thought, but this is exactly what the film's dull pace give you time to think about.
The action sequences are dull, the plot tries to be complicated and deep when it's quite the opposite and unlike the original version you never really understand why is it called that way.
And when it comes to Reeves, you wonder if he also is CGI. His expression remains completely blank throughout the entire film (as with most of his filmography), he delivers his lines with absolutely no interest, as if he just learnt them phonetically.
It's never revealed exactly what planet Klaatu comes from, this movie however must've come straight from planet unnecessary.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Man on Wire ***1/2

Director: James Marsh

On the morning of August 7, 1974 as the citizens of New York City got started on their normal day; 25 year old, Frenchman, Philippe Petit high-wire walked between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Regarded as the most famous artistic crime in history, Petite and his adventurous spectacle are the subject of James Marsh's absolutely magical documentary where through the use of reenactments and interviews with the participants he crafts an inspirational tale of making your dreams come true, in whatever shape they happen to come.
The energetic Petit (imagine a less vicious looking Malcom McDowell with a dash of Roberto Beningni's spirit...just a dash though) recounts how the idea began when he saw the plans to build the Towers in a magazine while he waited in his dentist's office.
If he also created the first optimistic thought to come out of a dentist's waiting room and this otherwise irrelevant fact makes you smile, then the rest of the film with its combination of genre pastiche and sideshow storytelling will win you over completely.
Petite refers to his life as a "fairy tale", his impish features aid this affirmation, as he describes how he became a high-wire walker (he liked to climb things) and how this led him to seek new, challenging places to perform his act.
After performing in Notre Dame de Paris (where the images shown give you goosebumps and a weird rush of spiritual bliss) and a bridge in Sydney, Australia, he held the Twin Towers as his destiny.
"The Towers were built for him" affirms ex-girlfriend Annie Allix, avoiding any sort of resentment people are supposed to have for others who aren't in their lives anymore. As with the rest of the crew who helped him with the Twin Towers walk, who have nothing but admiration for his feat and feel fortunate to have been a part of it even if most of them have become estranged from him.
A story about world cooperation and people coming together, Marsh's approach infuses the film with as much humanism as excitement.
Petite's crew was made out of people from various nationalities who all got together to help someone else achieve his dream.
How did he come in contact with them and why did they choose to trust him? Nowadays if a stranger suggested an idea like his', a claim of terrorism would come faster than anything else.
Back then however, the world was dealing once again with the reaffirmation of hope, Petite's Quixotic enterprise was the perfect way to top off the new levels being reached by the Towers, which were the tallest man made structures on the planet.
In a way "Man On Wire" reminds us of what made the United States the land of dreams once and for Petite it summarizes the idealistic idea of the immigrant experience.
The director's greatest achievement might be his ability to create suspense where there shouldn't be any (illusion if a constant motif in the film and its interpretations).
He shapes some moments into scenes out of a heist movie (the plan for "the coup" was brilliantly laid out by a group of artistic criminals) and Marsh is capable of creating real thrills and somehow retain the kind of mystery that has your heart racing while your head seems to obviate the fact that things went as planned.
To doubt if Petite will survive during his act is one of the many joyful tricks the film plays on you. "If I die, what a beautiful death" he proclaims remembering the fateful day as he recreates the walk in the studio where he is interviewed.
If the man can't be contained by an interviewer's chair, those Towers stood no chance. Most of the time Petite makes you feel as if he owns the world and you can't judge him by putting lives in peril and defying the law itself (misdemeanors but criminal actions nevertheless).
"They don't know how to react to a daydreaming wirewalker" he says completely elated by his place in the history of an iconic place and time.
Remarkably Marsh makes no reference to the eventual disappearance of the Towers, instead showcasing their majestuosity which aided Petite's adventure.
You know that the Towers are gone now, but for an instant they represent the wire Philippe walks on; their presence threatened by fleeting time, but their essence a reminder of why people still dare to dream.

A Knight's Threat.

Jim Emerson has written a great article about two of the subjects that have interested me the most in the last few weeks: the sad disappearance of film criticism from print media and the ridiculous fanboy-ism of "The Dark Knight" followers who have become Neo-Nazi in their threats about why the movie they like best is the one that needs to win every year end award.
About the Batman insanity he writes "[According to "The Dark Knight" partisans] The picture must be showered with year-end awards consistent with the all-consuming Batmania of last July, no matter what else was released in 2008.", then he makes a hilarious point about how these people, who now condemn critics for not falling for the hoopla, are exactly the kind of people that choose tabloids and gossip over actual film criticism.
Emerson points out, "So, to conclude, dead critics who are not now hailing "The Dark Knight" as the greatest cinematic achievement of the year (or all years) are being inconsistent with what they may or may not have said earlier, and are thus sealing their own coffins."
The entire article is a must read and a sad reminder of why we need film critics to survive.
Read it here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sexiest Oscar Host Alive.

It's official, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced Hugh Jackman will host the 81st Annual Academy Awards.
With Bill Condon as executive producer and Jackman's request that the show be built around his abilities, these Oscars are promising to be one of the most interesting ceremonies ever.
Read the story here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Kind of Quote Made for Campaigns.

"[Kristin Scott Thomas in "I've Loved You So Long"] is profoundly effective. I'm not sure I've seen a better performance in any film this decade.
- Richard Roeper on his "Performance of the Year".
To read Roeper's "Best of 2008" list go here.

Il Divo **1/2

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Toni Servillo
Anna Bonaiuto, Piera Degli Esposti, Paolo Graziosi

"Il Divo Giulio", "Beelzebub", "The Dark Pope", "The Salamander" all those are nicknames attributed to Giulio Andreotti (Servillo), the Italian Prime Minister whose Christian Democratic party ruled Italy for more than four decades until they were linked to the mafia in the 90s.
Paolo Sorrentino's biopic is a provocative work that plays with genre conventions to deliver a playful crash course through Italian politics.
One that sadly feels pointless for people not familiar with Italy. You can feel that the movie and the ideas it conveys are incendiary, you're just never sure why.
The film rightfully begins with an Italian Glossary letting people outside the peninsula know what the movie will be about, including the names of key political parties and its members.
This is followed by a brutal, brilliant sequence where several men are killed in different places. Set to an infectious song, the scene is something straight out of Tarantino and gives viewers an awkward sense of joy.
It is only after this violent display that we meet Andreotti, sitting behind a desk, his face covered in acupuncture needles.
Can it be this weird looking, old man who was responsible for the mayhem we saw before? The rest of the film will try to answer this as it slowly links the murders to Andreotti while he evades his involvement and provides Servillo with a wonderful showcase to prove his acting skills.
The actor, who is in his late forties, plays the Senator from his sixties up (aided by impressive makeup that gives Servillo, Andreotti's flaccid skin and unique ears).
Servillo does great job, particularly with Andreotti's manierisms and his hunched walk that gives the film some of its funniest scenes, but the screenplay never lets the actor to go beyond impersonation.
A lot is made by the rest of the characters about how Andreotti is an impenetrable fortress, a man as resilient as he is inexpressive.
His voice never seems to change tone and he delivers powerful one liners infused with acid sarcasm. But it is Servillo's delivery that avoids making them sound like wicked Yoda-isms, because the script by itself doesn't help that much.
Perhaps Sorrentino never intended to give his interpretation of the man, or to try and humanize his subject, but this approach makes the film difficult to connect to and aimless sometimes.
Not that there's anything wrong with detached movies (this would make several filmographies obsolete) but Sorrentino doesn't seem to know why is he delivering this story and why did he choose to do it this way.
He shows off he has virtuoso visual skills (his work with photographer Luca Bigazzi and editor Christiano Travagliolo is brilliant) especially during the first twenty minutes or so of the film where it sets a mood that it never fulfills.
But Sorrentino's trouble is in the form of encompassing what he wants to say. There is too much to cover and the constant name dropping will obviously remain relevant only to those within the country where it was made (a film not interested in international commercialization is sort of a wonder though).
It's easy to assume that the film is completely nationalist and actually doesn't care for foreigners, if that wasn't the case it would've made an attempt to give its characters summarized backstories or worried more with how the ensemble conveys them, as opposed to the "circus in a glassbox" feel it goes for.
The best scenes in the film are those that become universal, as in a Senate discussion that goes out of hand in seconds that immediately remind the rest of the world what Italian politics have become known for, or the more intimate moments featuring Andreotti's private Secretary, Mrs. Enea (Degli Esposti) whose loyalty and apparent love towards her boss is the closest the movie ever comes of conveying real human beings. But otherwise it's as if Andreotti is a Fellini character in a Scorsese movie.
The movie, like Andreotti, remains completely enigmatic, its tongue in cheekness and winks perhaps more a sign of defeat than achievement.
If it couldn't say anything new about Il Divo, it settles for witty, stylish reenactment.
That Andreotti now serves as Senator for life in the Italian Senate shows us who got to laugh last.

Golden Snubs.

The Hollywood Foreign Press had no doubt snubbing last knight's milk or something corny like that... as they announced their nominees for the 66th annual Golden Globe Awards and proved just how brilliantly insane they can get sometimes.
Bringing back to the spotlight films that were considered dead for award consideration (Both Kate Winslet pictures in "Best Drama"!) and featuring what might be the craziest Best Supporting Actor nominees ever, they always put a smile on your face, while they are a kick in the liver for others.

Motion Picture Nominees

Best Picture, Drama

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Reader"
"Revolutionary Road"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Best Picture Comedy/Musical
"Burn After Reading"
"Happy Go Lucky"
"In Bruges"
"Mamma Mia"
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
David Fincher, "Ben Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Sam Mendes, "Revolutionary Road"

Actor, Drama
Leo DiCaprio, "Revolutionary Road"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Actress, Drama
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Joie, "Changeling"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kristin Scott Thomas, "I’ve Loved you So Long"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"

Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise, "Tropic Thunder"
Robert Downey Jr. "Tropic Tunder"
Ralph Fiennes, "The Duchess"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Actor, Comedy
Javier Bardem, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Colin Farrel, "In Bruges"
James Franco, "Pineapple Express"
Brendan Gleason, "In Bruges"
Dustin Hoffman, "Last Chance Harvey"

Actress, Comedy
Rebecca Hall, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Frances McDormand, "Burn After Reading"
Meryl Streep, "Mamma Mia"
Emma Thompson, "Last Chance Harvey"

Foreign Language Film
"The Baader Meinhof Complex" (Germany)
"Everlasting Moments" (Sweden)
"Gomorrah" (Italy)
"I’ve Loved You So Long" (France)
"Waltz with Bashir" (Israel)

Animated Feature
"Kung Fu Panda"

"Slumdog Millionaire"
"The Reader"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Down to Earth, "Wall-E"
Gran Torino, "Gran Torino"
I thought I Lost You, "Bolt"
Once in a Lifetime, "Cadillac Records"
The Wrestler, "The Wrestler"

The HFPA always makes sure their nominations announcement is sort of a prelude to the fratboy-ish nature of the actual ceremony.
This year they made Brooke Shields name Tom Cruise as a nominee for "Best Supporting Actor" which made the entire room burst out in laughter and gave Brooke an awkward smirk.
Other great moments included when James Franco was nominated for the least expected of his roles, the TV guy from E! predicting Cruise's nod and when "In Bruges" made a sudden appearance (it is a very good movie after all and Colin Farrell was superb).
Now the actual nominations were felt like a splash of cold water especially when "The Dark Knight" and "Milk" were not nominated for Best Picture and received exactly one nomination each.
It won't be long now 'til fanboys condemn the HFPA of hating comic books (forgetting that they have nominated the previous Batman films) and others start accusing them of homophobia (forgetting that in its year "Brokeback Mountain" won in the major categories).
The fact that they nominated Heath Ledger and Sean Penn means they saw, but they didn't love. Actually by taking a look at Best Supporting Actor you might actually say Ledger is a lock, although Ralph Fiennes was the best thing in "The Duchess".
Moving on, it was great to see Kate get the boost she needed. It was weird how they snubbed "Sex and the City" which they adored during its TV run and I'm ecstatic about the "Happy-Go-Lucky" love. Sally Hawkins pretty much has this in the bag.
Yay Penélope again and apparently they loved Woody Allen's film, sadly not enough to nominate him as well (the Oscar nod for Best Screenplay looks more promising now).
Overall it's an eclectic mix of nominees, including snubs and the very deserving ones.
After last year's sad press conference am I the only one childishly excited that the Globes are back?

Because the Globes Love Sex...

...wouldn't it be just marvelous if they decided to nominate Kristin Davis for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture?
Perhaps not.
I would love it though, even if she would stand no chance at winning with the heavyweights that will be poured around her. My point however is how much the Hollywood Foreign Press Association loves its stars and the glamor they bring to their ceremony (I expect something even more kitschy after last year's fiasco) and they did love "Sex and the City"(which I expect to be nominated as Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy along with an Actress nod for the lovely Sarah Jessica Parker) quite a lot.
With only six hours left until nominations are announced, the excitement is killing me...

A Woman to Share Your Sins With.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Awards and the City.

Mike Leigh's extraordinary "Happy-Go-Lucky" and Gus Van Sant's "Milk" wowed the New York Film Critics Circle as they lead their year end awards.
This year's winners are:

Best Picture: "Milk"
Best Director: Mike Leigh "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Actor: Sean Penn "Milk"
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin "Milk"
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Best Screenplay: Jenny Lumet "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Foreign Film: "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"
Best Animated Film: "WALL-E"
Best First Film: Courtney Hunt "Frozen River"
Best Documentary: "Man on Wire"

Particularly interesting is the resurgence for Sally Hawkins who is shaping out to be the critics' darling this year (and with reason, she's fantastic).
What I find intriguing is how much the actual state of the world is influencing the critics, these people often choose the most dramatic, "hard" performances for their awards (see Charlize Theron, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Fernanda Montenegro, Imelda Staunton etc.) so this year it was supposed to be about how great Kristin Scott Thomas was in "I've Loved You So Long".
Yet they're going for Sally Hawkins! Both performances are absolutely brilliant (I'd place them both in my ballots if I got to vote) but it's interesting to ask oneself how much they need optimism right now.
Oh and yay for Penélope!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Proving that L.A is not all about tans and crazy executives, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association has announced its winners for this year's awards and boy have they made great choices!

"The Dark Knight"

Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"

Actor: Sean Penn, "Milk"
Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Actress: Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Runner-up: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy"
Runner-up: Viola Davis, "Doubt"

Screenplay: Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, "Synecdoche, New York"

Foreign-language film: "Still Life"
Runner-up: "The Class"

Documentary: "Man on Wire"
Runner-up: "Waltz With Bashir"

Animation: "Waltz With Bashir"

Cinematography: Yu Lik Wai, "Still Life"
Runner-up: Anthony Dod Mantle, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Production design: Mark Friedberg, "Synecdoche, New York"
Runner-up: Nathan Crowley, "The Dark Knight"

Music/score: A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

New Generation: Steve McQueen, "Hunger"

Douglas E. Edwards independent/experimental film/video: James Benning, "RR" and "Casting a Glance"

Apparently they loved their genre films this year with both comic books and animation featuring prominently in the list. Overall it's refreshing to see them choose things others only nominate (Eddie Marsan as runner-up to Ledger is brilliant and sorta hopeful).
I'm thrilled to see Sally Hawkins win something at last and Cruz continuing her walk towards the Kodak Theater, but mostly I'm ecstatic about "WALL-E" which is still the best film I've seen all year long. Can maybe this mean that just perhaps we might be staring at only the second animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure ***

Director: Errol Morris

When pictures of the inhuman treatment Iraqi citizens were receiving while imprisoned in Abu Ghraib started circling the globe during 2004, the American invasion of Iraq turned into something more than a second Vietnam.
The images depicted American soldiers with huge smiles on their faces as prisoners laid naked on the ground, were forced to engage in sexual positions and in one chilling case wore a leash around their neck.
Torture has sadly been a consistent part of history for as long as there have been ideological or political conflicts and during wartime it has somehow obtained a special category that suddenly makes it un-condemnable.
So what resulted most disturbing about the images wasn't so much the fact that the people kept there were being mistreated, but that the soldiers doing it seemed to be getting pleasure out of it.
Private Lynndie England, who was a mere 21 years old at the time, became infamous for appearing in several of the pictures. When interviewed by Errol Morris for this film her argument is that everything she did was out of love.
With this brutally disturbing confession it becomes obvious that Morris' documentary won't be an extended version of a CNN show, but a deep study about what exactly happened inside that prison and inside these people's minds.
He doesn't point fingers, because even he's unsure of what he will find and this is by no means a film about war (Morris doesn't even make the war itself an issue, which is an interesting point of view worthy of another film on its own) which makes the film a fascinating exploration of human nature open to discussion and further investigation.
Using revealing interviews with many of the soldiers who were discharged after the Abu Ghraib scandal, stylish reenactments (wonderfully shot by Robert Chappell and Robert Richardson) and a surprising, somber score by Danny Elfman the film is aesthetically engaging.
Its power however relies on the ideas explored by Morris who extracts the stories from his interviewees and without recurring to cheap techniques shapes them into intellectual debates.
Great part of the movie is about the power of images; one of the soldiers rightly affirms that without the pictures there never would've been any scandal or controversy.
"All you can do is report what's in the picture" says one of the officers.
What does this tell us about the way history is made? Since the events in society began being recorded, the ones we learn about have become facts while the other side of the same event has remained hidden (not even counting all the events not recorded).
With this Morris isn't justifying the soldiers involved in the pictures (although he often stresses the fact that they might've been scapegoats for high rank officers who not only order torture but allow it to take any form).
Everybody in Abu Ghraib had an alibi for their involvement in the pictures, for England it was her unrequited love for Specialist Charles Graner (often made to sound like the evil mastermind behind it, but perhaps only because he wasn't available for interviews because he's in prison), another soldier says that he participated because he was "a nice guy" and never said no.
Watching the interviewees you often ask yourself if they're justifying themselves or just digging their graves deeper.
The one clear thing about these people is how uneducated most of them are, perhaps the film is actually about what makes them seek out the army (most of them volunteered) and obviously how high are the army's standards.
When one of the soldiers says "we just denigrate them, we don't hit them" you get chills from the way these people underrate the power they're given over other human beings.
"It's just words" says another about the torture technique involving violent screams to get information out of the prisoners. Words however play out a larger part than they want to believe; the title SOP is a tag that differentiates crime from normal army work.
After all it might be a single word that saves them from prison.
It's obvious that the people in the Abu Ghraib pictures have no respect for the power of words and with it they disrespect history and perfectly encompass the Bush administration which was characterized by lack of education and disregard for other cultures.
When one of the soldiers proudly writes "rapeist" on the body of one prisoner, the misspelling resonates as much as the inhumanity.
How can they trust a gun to someone who can't even handle a pen?

The Dark Fight.

As year end critics' lists begin to emerge, the terrific "Iron Man" is being found in several of them (including "The NY Post", "The New Yorker" and "TIME"); the equally worthy "The Dark Knight" not so much.
In several award sites and forums a lot is being made about how Iron Man has stolen the Batman's thunder, but honestly how can anyone with a slight reasoning mind say this?
Proving that Batman's core of supporters is made out of mindless fanboys, they are arguing how it's unfair for one movie to be there while the other is not.
When did "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" become exchangeable?
Both films surpassed critical and box office expectations and perhaps the one thing they have in common is that they were adapted from comic books.
Other than that they stand at completely opposite levels: one is a joyous throwback to pure comic book aesthetics while the other is an attempt at neo noir with hints of social picture.
Both films were released during the summer and not counting the fact that critics' lists are completely subjective, individual works we might take a look that the sociopolitical effect might've had in both films come awards season.
Maybe Batman proved too dark with the way the economy threw people around and Iron Man's optimism was what they needed. Again, films have always been subjective to the times, just take a look at the Oscar winners during WWII, especially the fact that "How Green Was My Valley" beat "Citizen Kane" for Best Picture.
One is arguably the greatest film ever made, the other is one is also a very good film, but during the time, not counting Orson Welles' ego, people were in need of a traditional look at how values make society survive.
Does this make "Valley" a bad picture? Not at all, but then again this is perhaps seeing too much into something that shouldn't even be argued.
For all we know when all is said and done, none of the films will have important places in critics' lists or one might have more mentions. They'd end up being apples and oranges no matter what (last year nobody made a fuss about how "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" were dark, brooding, absolutely inhuman westerns and they both were critical darlings throughout the season).
Why then must they be compared and pitted against each other?
If this stupid reaction continues not only will there be a backlash for both films, but for the whole comic book style which has had an already hard enough time getting some respect.
If fanboys say that one film making a list means the other one was kicked out aren't they in a way saying that therefore all comic book films are the same and should be treated so?

Another Reason Why I Love Musicals.

Despite being highly discriminated against nowadays, they are the most inclusive of film styles, as seen in this picture from "The Band Wagon" where they do film noir.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Moment He Saw Her Smile...

From Liz and Richard to Russell and Meg, people making movies and falling in love is as common as their eventual separations.
One of the most well known film to real life romances was Vincente Minnelli falling for Judy Garland while he directed her in "Meet Me in St. Louis". It's funny now considering the fact that Judy tried hard not to make the movie (she wanted adult roles), Minnelli eventually convinced her and the rest as they say is history.
The musical became one of the most beloved examples of classic Hollywood and a huge moneymaker back in the day (as well as perhaps the first completely modern film musical, but that's another story). In one of the interviews included in the DVD, the legendary Liza Minnelli expresses how you can see her dad falling for her mom throughout the film because of the way she is photographed.
And it is actually true; watching her specifically you realize it's more than mere Golden Age beautifying, sometimes the camera seems to caress Judy's face (she never looked more beautiful in any of her other films) and he, always, frames her (even using her hands as means of framing) as if trying to grasp her essence for a moment (as proved in the following pictures).
When she performs "The Boy Next Door", her Esther wasn't the only one sighing, apparently Vincente came to direct a movie and lost his heart instead.

- This post is part of "Musical of the Month" hosted by Nathaniel Rogers of "The Film Experience".

Tony Manero **

Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Alfredo Castro, Paola Lattus, Héctor Morales
Amparo Noguera, Elsa Poblete

It's 1979 Chile, Augusto Pinochet has been in power for most of the decade, human rights have completely vanished and while armored cars patrol Santiago, people are killed for carrying anti-establishment pamphlets.
But for 52 year old Raúl (Castro) the only thing that matters is becoming Tony Manero. Obsessed with John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" character he spends his time watching the film while he phonetically learns the dialogues and rehearsing for a show in the guesthouse where he lives with the intention of winning a Manero look-a-like contest on national television.
If the premise sounds like a quirky comedy, the film becomes something else when Raúl helps an old lady after she's mugged.
Once she thanks him for his aid he murders her, steals her television set and pawns it for the glass bricks he needs to emulate the film's club dancefloor.
We don't know if this is the first time he's killed, but soon, and for the rest of the film, this becomes his modus operandi as he uses murder to reach his ultimate goal.
Castro's comitted performance is a thing to behold. His languid figure and wrinkled face could pass at some degree for the mug of some Eastern European droll comedian, but the blank stare in his eyes and his uninterested attitude give you chills.
Castro is able to convey a dark inner force that drives Raúl to commit acts of complete inhumanity with no evidence of remorse (what he does when the people from the theater take away "Saturday Night Fever" takes costumer service to a whole different level).
Like Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron's "American Psycho", Larraín's murderous Raúl is a product of insanity in spite, not because, of the sociopolitical climate.
But while "Psycho" criticized the materialistic, hedonistic culture of the 80's yuppies, "Tony Manero" has a hard time deciding exactly what it's trying to say.
At some point it becomes obvious that Raúl is a representation of Chile, not a citizen in Pinochet's regime, but the country itself.
As damaged and dirty as the city is impoverished and falling apart, Raúl conveys the battle between nationalism and irrational wishes of grandeur that was being held by Pinochet supporters and rebellious groups.
Like the military regime Raúl takes everything by force; one scene has him grab his girlfriend's (Noguera) daughter (Lattus), taking her to his room and attempting sex with her.
There are a couple of sex scenes in the film that are raw and ugly to look at and Larraín stresses the fact that Raúl has an impotence problem (one of his encounters has his companion preferring to masturbate while he sighs in disappointment).
But if he is a representation of Pinochet's troops what does his impotence mean? Now, after the dictator's death it has a sort of comic effect, but within the film's context it makes no sense, especially because the women around him are always lusting after him.
It would make sense perhaps if sex was related to Raúl's inner life, but the director has a hard time separating the character from his symbolism.
As with his obsession with Manero, why choose a character that represented the peak of a country's popular culture?
Is it means of contrast between the sexual liberation up North and the fear and poverty in the South? Or is Larraín simply pointing out the fact that Chile, like Raúl were at the time highly influenced by American culture? Considering that Pinochet's rise to power was aided by the CIA, Raúl's fascination with Manero results as some sort of accusation towards the American way of life, but also a critique to Chilean citizens who saw this and tried to adapt themselves to this lifestyle.
During one scene someone tells Raúl how some other guy would never win the contest, "he's too brown" she says, implying some sort of cultural self denial (the film also makes an issue out of this whenever someone asks Raúl if he likes folkloric music).
With "Tony Manero" director Larraín proves that he has a great ability by transforming recent history into a dark, wicked metaphor. But like his antihero, who after the contest stares at the camera with a "now what?" look, the film doesn't know what to do with what it has.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let the Right One In **1/2

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Patrik Rydmark

"Are you a vampire?" asks 12 year old Oskar (Hedebrant) to his friend Eli (Leandersson).
"I feed off blood" she answers. Not so much an evasion, this response sets the mood for Tomas Alfredson's unique coming of age story, which happens to include vampires, but isn't a "vampire movie".
Set in 1980's Sweden, the opening scene has Oskar staring out his window, touching his reflection on the glass expecting that someday it's gonna touch him back. His parents have recently separated and he's the target for bullies in his school.
He plays alone in his building's playground where he kills trees while uttering lines from "Deliverance".
One snowy night he meets Eli, who has just moved into his building. She smells weird and only comes out as night, but Oskar still likes her enough to ask her to "go steady".
A creepy valentine to first love if there ever was one, "Let the Right One In" observes the way in which we're drawn up to others by what we have in common with them.
For both Oskar and Eli it's their loneliness that brings them together, Eli is restricted by her species' limitations and by her fear that she will want to have her friends for dinner.
As a love story, the film achieves some absolutely moving moments, especially because the vampire take can be interpreted in a million different ways as a metaphor for acceptance (it's not by coincidence that most of the film you actually wonder if Eli is a boy or a girl, not that it makes much of a difference in the end) and the mature performances by both leads make for an engaging, if abit distrubing experience.
But as a coming of age story, Alfredson debates on whether the nature of the love he seeks within his cahracters is enough salvation for them to fight their inner nature.
Eli expresses at one point that while she needs to kill, Oskar's thirst for revenge is avoidable and somehow unnatural.
But is it? Society has brought us up to solve everything using extremes which usually include violence. Alfredson might've tried to explore the nature of violence in spite of danger, but instead of using this vehicle as a more optimistic opportunity he thrusts both points of view and forces us to choose.
When Oskar finally confronts his bully, are we really supposed to cheer because he threatens to strike back with a pipe? Or are we supposed to believe that it is love which has made him "brave"?
Avoiding vampiric staples like overt sexualization and lust, Alfredson is at his best when he grasps the moment between childhood and adolescence (this tween fantasia does not include Jonathan Lipnicki); using Hoyte Van Hoytema's chilling cinematography, it's always what we can't see what becomes more haunting.
But the director has forgotten that even the undead are hormonal and most of the decisions taken by his characters stay at a more cerebral level and up to the intellectualization of those watching.

Let the National Board of Review In.

This year's winners are:

Best Film: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Director: David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Best Original Screenplay: Nick Schenk, "Gran Torino"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"; Eric Roth, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Best Animated Feature: "WALL-E"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Mongol"

Thrilled about Penélope and Anne! Not so much about the Clint love fest (both his films...really?), surprised about the snub for the big foreign language films and slightly pleased that they finally stopped the Ledger posthumous slam dunk wishes.
Read the rest of the winners here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

[On how he writes]

"...a goose quill dipped in venom."
- Clifton Webb as Waldon Lydecker in "Laura".

Encounters at the End of the World ***

Director: Werner Herzog

After announcing that he isn't in Antarctica to make another movie about "fluffy penguins", visionary director Werner Herzog goes deep into the mysterious continent to bring together something that is part travelogue, part science film and part philosophical exploration.
The film begins when he arrives to McMurdo Research Station, the largest human settlement in the continent that has become some sort of post-hippie colony where bankers end up as bus drivers and descendants of Aztec royalty work with plumbing; people as many as they're different all come together to discover the beauty that comes with the unknown.
Herzog condemns some of their mundane activites like yoga as "abominable" and seems ecstatic once he leaves the colony and goes into the wild.
There the film is divided into chapters; we meet a group of deep sea divers collecting mono cellular creatures, a linguist expert who now looks after the colony crops, a group of volcanologists looking deep into the heart of the planet and then he does see some penguins (which ironically have the most haunting effect in the entire film), and the reserved man who studies them.
Herzog is obviously working on a different level of thought, which is why the film is uneven as a documentary, he refuses to settle for didactism and offers his own ideosynchratic take on almost everything he observes (think more "Sans Soleil" than "March of the Penguins").
His narration gives the film the edge which sets it apart and makes it even more enjoyable (his questions towards the pinguin expert and the random-ness of his Napoleon Bonaparte reference will erupt giggles and make you ponder on the standards humanity has chosen to measure mental illness), you can feel him smile through the lens when one of the scientists compares seal calls to Pink Floyd music and he seems overjoyed when he wonders on how alien archaelogists will catalogue our planet once we're gone.
The movie is concerned with global warming and the eventual demise of human kind, but Herzog isn't an alarmist, much less a pessimist, and in his loving wanderlust he evokes magic when he makes us conscious of all the things going on in the planet without us knowing.
He points out that now we have lost our original sense of adventure and we do things to be in books, without telling us that he belongs to the first kind the way he embraces everything will almost child like wonder is enough for us to understand what he means.
The documentary covers various elements and because of this sometimes it feels aimless, perhaps it might've worked better as a television serial giving him chance to dig deeper into every particular field, but also this would've removed the final cut from its quirkiness.
Sometimes it feels as if you're watching an old fashioned slide show from one of his vacations, he's having a drink while he recounts his adventures and you're the sedentary kid on his couch,
this also brings the film its biggest foe, because not everyone will want to travel along with him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Assassination of the Film Critic by the Coward Establishment.

During the last couple of weeks a lot has been made about the fact that newspapers and print mediums have been firing critics en masse.
Literature reviews are scarce in mainstream newspapers, culture critics have been replaced by uneducated gossip writers and not counting established film writers like Roger Ebert, the idea of film criticism has been reduced to PR clippings that focus on Angelina's latest scandal while promoting her new movie.
It's truly a shame that society has reduced the debate of arts to a cult instead of encouraging it, since talk about art inspires art.
As Nick James reminds us "Never mind that it was a bunch of critics that transformed cinema in the 1950s to create the nouvelle vague, or that another bunch paved the way for Britain's "Angry Young Men" to transform British cinema in the 1960s."
Roger Ebert writes a fantastic, funny piece in his blog and "Sight and Sound" offers a fascinating take by James on how the British are facing this phenomenon. Both articles are a meta reminder that without these people there wouldn't be pieces demanding pieces were being written and what a boring world would that be.

You Gotta Give Them Hope.

"If we learn from history that the struggle goes on, eventually we will win and all the President has to do, or the Governor, is just turn the pages of history a little faster"
- Harvey Milk

Monday, December 1, 2008

To the Woodsman.

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work...I want to achieve it by not dying"
- Woody Allen

With his talent and natural genius you know he has made sure his work will live forever, with his determination and energy (still making a movie per year) you believe it's just quite possible he'll achieve physical immortality as well.
To the Woodsman on his 73rd birthday, may the movie g-ds shine their light on him for decades to come!
Now go out and celebrate by watching one of his films...