Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Quick Sunday Rundown.

Two quick things...

I finally saw Sex and the City 2 and the wait was so damn worth it.
Expect a review quite soon but if you must know I found it to be utterly fabulous!

Now going across to the extreme opposite, in terms of gender, not fabulosity, Luke, Andrew and I got together once again to discuss the Best Actor Oscar race. This time it was a jolly trip back in time all the way to 1985.
Pretty interesting stuff happened if I may say so, now run down over to Luke's and read all about it.

That's all for now.

Style Sunday.

Salma Hayek is the epitome of summer fashion perfection in a simple white dress from Yves Saint Laurent's cruise collection.
Her simple accessories and that red lipstick are superb, plus any dress that can make those boobs look nice and not vulgar gets a ten in my book.

When did Kate Beckinsale become such a fashion icon?
This black ruffled Marchesa she wore to Elton John's White Tie and Tiara Ball is perfect for the occasion and unlike most fashion choices nowadays, makes an actual statement.
She's saying "I'm going to an upper class picnic". Beckinsale's style seems to have been created by someone who advises the royalty and as such it's perfection.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Animal Kingdom

...or how to rob a movie from all its wicked style by making it seem like a run of the mill gangster or cop movie released over the spring.
See just how good the original posters are and tell me this one's absolutely cheap.
The second one created by the amazing Jeremy Saunders is nothing if not spectacular, it has a quasi religious mood to it that recalls some of the best things done in The Sopranos.

Despicable Me

I find this movie so unappealing.
Something about it honestly bugs me, its humor and story seem so forced (also that moment in the trailer with the whole boombox joke makes me roll my eyes every single time).
This teaser is nothing if not a ripoff of the supreme Toy Story 3 poster but while that one makes me go "awww", Despicable's makes me go "ugh.

Tron Legacy

Simple, effective yet lacking a little something.

Which of these would you hang in your room?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toy Story 3 ****

Director: Lee Unkrich

Ignoring the fact that toys coming to life is actually kind of creepy, Pixar Animation studios delivered two of the most wonderful films of the last twenty years in the shape of the first Toy Story movies.
Counting on much more than their stunning animation and visuals, the films were altogether more surprising because each installment actually had something to say.
What's certainly even more impressive is that in the third, and seemingly final, chapter of the series, the filmmakers have actually outdone themselves and deliver a film of such depth and humanity that it's hard to believe it deals with characters made out of plastic.
When the film begins, Andy is packing to go to college. His mom advises him to throw, donate or store his belongings which include his childhood toys. Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang become concerned for their future given how Andy hasn't played with them for years.
During the going away hassle they end up in a children's daycare where they try to accept the fact that Andy has forgotten all about them.
There they meet new toys and come to believe that the daycare will turn into an eternal utopia where children will play with them forever; but things soon change as they discover a corrupt system deep within the innocent facade.
Woody meanwhile is trying to get back to Andy by all means and like in the previous films embarks on a journey back home.
With a deceptively simple premise Toy Story 3 proves that hell perhaps might not be at the end of a conveyor belt carrying garbage, as the characters fear during one crucial moment, but in the idea of being forgotten.
While the previous movies dealt with growing old and accepting change, this one maturely embraces a subject that has mystified artists throughout history: their own mortality.
Therefore, the film beautifully unites themes it started examining fifteen years ago and recurring to an array of storytelling techniques ties the whole trilogy together (the aesthetic choice of closing the trilogy with a "real life" representation of the first image we saw back in Toy Story is not only a tear trigger but a moment of pure artistic genius).
If letting go wasn't difficult enough, throughout the movie we're reminded of why these characters came to matter so much. Despite being objects they represent our memories (in a way linking themselves, at least on the surface, to the Lacanian concept of what's real) things we may not even know are there but have such meanings that we can't give them up.
It's safe to say that for a generation that grew up watching these movies, Toy Story 3 will serve as a strange meta experiment: the final movie about characters wondering what will happen to them during their final days.
Perhaps like Denys Arcand's superb history trilogy, Pixar's three-parter would make a fascinating basis for an Existentialism 101 course.
Of course the film provides ample entertainment for younger audiences, who might not get all the references (just the movie ones include The Great Escape, Indiana Jones and at least a couple John Ford Westerns) but will still be wowed by the thrilling way in which the setpieces are executed (the opening sequence is more exciting than any so called adventure flick released during a regular blockbuster season).
This time Pixar slightly succumbs to the idea that animated movies must feature contemporary jokes to have an effect on young audiences but they do so with such class and selfconsciousness that it's obvious they're not trying to make business out of it but are giving us glimpses of how in times of desperation we recur to unexpected maneuvers.
Notice then how by film's end, all the characters have returned to being who they always were, the popular references and such, being but rushed midlife crises of sorts showcased to deal with endings.
Cynics might say that the Toy Story series made a name of itself manipulating universal human emotions and using toys to create empathy for materialism; but the truth of the matter is that while Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman struggled throughout their filmographies to find a meaning in humanity's struggles with mortality, Toy Story looks at it straight in the eye, even playfully, and with unexpected maturity reminds us that maybe we should just stick to doing our best while we're still here.

Bloody Good.

Quick recap of Beautifully Broken (Season 3 Episode 2) of True Blood.

"Let's go to the ladies' room and stare at ourselves in the mirror."
- Pam (Kristin Bauer) to Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) after being requested to leave the room.

"I keep expecting him to come through the door and say 'Sookie'"
- Sookie (Anna Paquin) expressing how much she misses Bill (Stephen Moyer)

The way Paquin enunciates "Sookie" in that moment more than justifies her Golden Globe win and begs us to wonder why has Emmy ignored her.
How she manages to work from deep melodrama to genius comedy with one word is a thing of wonder.

"I ain't that blonde"
- Sookie to Terry (Todd Lowe) when he asks if she knows how to use a gun.

...also Inglourious Fangsters.

Vampires and Nazi werewolves and shapeshifters oh my!

How did you like this ep?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is it Me...

...or does Seth Rogen look kinda attractive in this newly released still of The Green Hornet?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Style Sunday.

The always phenomenal Tilda Swinton looks straight out of a Romantic novel in this simple Fendi frock.
Her paleness makes a beautiful match with the darkness of the ensemble and her Mary janes are simply to die for.

Julianne Moore is one good looking MILF in this beaded Mulberry minidress.
The kids in her new movie might be getting all the attention but Juli shows them no one can do it quite like her.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Walk With 'Em.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Penélope Cruz will have to get out of the car and walk a little next year in order to receive their latest honors.
My two favorite living actresses are getting their very own amazingly shiny stars in the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame!
How this news escaped me the other day is beyond me but this means I'm gonna have another reason to go visit Los Angeles once again.

For the complete story go here.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

I saw and loved the entire trilogy but I'm very pleased the American poster stays away from the Photoshopped cheesiness of the European version.
It's quite a surprise considering they would've usually gone for something more over the top and awful, instead they choose to concentrate on Noomi Rapace's wonderful face and the mysterious dragon figure made out of fire to well, link the first movie to this one.
Quite a nice, if not altogether groundbreaking choice.

The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg's face looks right at us from geeky limbo to announce the first image of David Fincher's Facebook movie.
If I wasn't interested in it at first, this amazing poster (surely made by whoever made Michael Clayton's) surely makes me want to give it a look. Like the best (?) Facebook profiles, it makes you interested in poking at what's behind the face.
Plus that tagline totally deserves a "like".


Sofia Coppola might be adhering too much to the old "stick to what you do best" adage but there's a certain inviting quality to this poster despite the fact that we probably will have nothing in common with Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning's characters.
But wait, that's what we would've thought of the people in Lost in Translation and it proved to be one of the most earthy, empathic movies of the decade.
I love how the poster looks like something out of a faux Wes Anderson movie and the slight nod to Citizen Kane is masterful.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Most Beautiful Screen Couples.

I was thinking the other day how much beauty is demanded from current celebrities yet few are able to deliver it in a sense of wholeness (you know being actually beautiful as opposed to engineered to fit societal standards).
What we mostly get now is an army of fembots and pumped Adonises who all sorta look the same and fail to take our breath away in the manner that a look at Audrey Hepburn's waifish facial features did or in the manner with which William Holden's non-six pack made our jaw drop to the floor.
It's true that standards have certainly been altered throughout the years but when it comes to beauty I'm the kind of man who is faithful to the classics.
Therefore when people exclaim how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the most beautiful couple in recent movies all I see is a good looking man and a voluptuously vulgar woman trying to trick us
into believing they're worthy of being paired with these people:

10. Ali McGraw & Ryan O'Neal in Love Story.

Say what you will about the movie's quality (I think it's terribly corny and just plain dull) but Ryan and Ali are a match made in heaven.
I once heard someone say that the film's tragic finale was karma for the couple's beauty. Sometimes you can't have it all, can you?

9. Gwyneth Paltrow & Ethan Hawke in Great Expectations.

Compiling this list and trying to concentrate mostly on legendary movie stars I really couldn't get these two out of my head.
Paltrow for one, has all the cruel beauty Jean Simmons had in David Lean's version, but her counterpart in that one didn't have the boyish good looks and effortless handsomeness of Hawke who in this movie can't help but surrender under Gwyn's spell.
Can you blame him?

8. Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief.

Hitch really knew how to pair them up and by putting together a decadently handsome Grant with soon to be princess Kelly, he created one of those rare couples that are as beautiful as they are electric.
Watch them together in any scene of this movie and you will see the sexual tension trespass into orgasmic realms.
It's not for nothing that legend has it that Grace had one last plebeian fling and surrendered to Cary's charms before leaving for Monaco.

7. Faye Dunaway & Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde.

Beauty isn't a crime.

6. Robert Redord & Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Poor Katharine Ross really stood no chance when she was paired with two of the most beautiful men that ever lived.
In this exciting revisionist Western, Paul and Bob play the legendary outlaws with a knack for stealing, riding bikes and jumping off cliffs.
Watch how they compliment each other in ways beyond mere sidekick-ism. The kind of chemistry they achieve is magical.

5. Ingrid Bergman & Cary Grant in Notorious.

Hitch does it again, in this sexy, dark spy thriller he pairs Bergman's warm beauty with Grant's caddish good looks. What results isn't a breathtaking match but also one of the most ingenious screen pairings of all time.
Watching these two make either love or war is surrendering to forces beyond our control.

4. Natalie Wood & James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Natalie and James fire up the screen with all their angst, helplessness and hormones. The coming of age classic is legendary for the way in which adolescents became lead characters up and front but it's also memorable for creating two sexual icons who proved even pretty people have problems (inventing the whole WB and CW concepts fifty years before they did).
Oh and just because the piece is about couples and not groups, we must exclude Sal Mineo from this entry.

3. Elizabeth Taylor & Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun.

Poor Shelley Winters and all but you have to confess you too wanted Monty and Liz to end up together in this one...

2. Audrey Hepbrun & William Holden in Sabrina.

We all know who Sabrina chooses but can you really blame the ingenue for wanting William Holden so badly?

1. Natalie Wood & Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass.

The first time I watched this movie I had no doubt anyone would lose their mind over being dumped by Warren Beatty but not only is this movie heartbreaking for the way in which Wood surrenders to playing poor Deanie Loomis (who knew she had that depth?) but also because it provided audiences everywhere with a first look at how cruel the 60's would become in cinematic terms.
If not even Warren and Natalie could have a happy ending what was there for the rest of the world in such a chaotic decade?

So what do you think? Any other screen couple that makes you drool and feel all fuzzy and lustful?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

La mission *1/2

Director: Peter Bratt
Cast: Benjamin Bratt
Jeremy Ray Valdez, Max Rosenak, Erika Alexander
Jesse Borrego, Talisa Soto

It takes charisma to make a misogynist worthy of sympathy and that's just what Benjamin Bratt does in La mission. Proving that his worth as an actor goes beyond the enviable physique and a killer smile, he brings actual humanity to Che Rivera, a reformed, widower convict trying to deal with his recent discovery that his son Jesse (Valdez) is gay.
Being Mexican-American and into cars, it's "obvious" that he doesn't take it that well; we never really know what landed him in prison originally but it certainly wasn't his tolerance. Therefore we see Che trying to solve everything with punching, screaming and potential drinking (he's also a reformed alcoholic of course).
But despite the movie's constant attempts to make Che seem like a beast getting ready to learn about love, Bratt goes above the script and suggests a rich backstory he probably had to make up for his character.
His movements recall a wounded animal and his eyes, whether filled with anger or fear (as they usually are when Che romances his neighbor played by Alexander), reveal more than the whole movie could ever do.
In fact Bratt is the only thing that makes La mission watchable. This is a film so confused about the point it's trying to make that it believes the best way to handle it is mix several stories and pray that one of them will make sense.
Therefore we have Che's inner study, an examination of Latino culture in America, an essay on gang violence that makes Gran Torino look subtle, a ridiculous coming of age and coming out parable and a "throwback" to family films.
The truth is that the director can't handle a single of those subjects and proves there's not a single cliché he doesn't love.
Take the neighbor for example, not only is she referred to as a "hipster" by Che but we never have any doubt she's anything other than one. She's dressed in the latest hippie styles, glows when thinking of feng shui, is always carrying a plant or talking about organic stuff and works at a shelter. Like her, almost every other character in the film (as played by the corresponding actors) is a caricature, someone straight out of a sitcom.
Jesse's boyfriend Jordan (Rosenak) in the same way is portrayed like a character from a CW show that ended having a forbidden romance with someone outside his class (their story would've made a compelling film perhaps...).
And if his depiction isn't silly enough, there's also the whole way in which the director handles homosexuality.
In the first scenes when we know nothing about Jesse's secret, we're set up to believe he's leading a life of crime; so when he kisses another guy there will be a collective "oh, he's not a criminal, he's just gay!" sigh of relief across the audience.
Because obviously being gay and being a murderer are similar in some twisted world view. But the movie can't really be accused of homophobia because in latter scenes we're explicitly told that there are things worse than being gay, like the Iraq war and racist immigration policies.
If there's something this movie can be accused of is utter lack of tact, perhaps because it just doesn't know any better.
In its ridiculous way of playing out like a reactionary after school special made during the 1950's, it's just telling us that for its makers ignorance will always be bliss.

An Analogy (For Those Not Into the World Cup)

Watching Lionel Messi play under Diego Maradona's guidance is the sports equivalent of:


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The A-Team *1/2

Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom
Gerald McRaney, Jon Hamm

There is nothing inherently evil about The A-Team besides the fact that it's so utterly disposable.
For almost two hours we are showered with incoherent action sequences, really bad writing, more of that flashy-leading-to-nowhere editing and a sad concept of what entertainment should be about.
Based on the 80's TV show, the plot follows the original premise as in how a group of clandestine army combat unit is framed for a crime they didn't commit, become federal fugitives and seek to clear out their name.
Nothing much about what the A-Team does makes much sense; they fly tanks, then drive those tanks out of lakes, have budget to create giant disappearing acts and several other preposterous actions.
The one thing they do get quite right is the casting. How Liam Neeson managed to keep a straight face with all the insane things the director asked him to do is testament to his outstanding thespian skills. He actually takes John "Hannibal" Smith, his character, seriously and his scenes have a strange resonance that cancel the ridiculousness going on around him.
Copley bursts with energy as the insane H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock and while Jackson lacks the intensity of the iconic Mr. T, he does a satisfying job.
Perhaps the saddest thing about The A-Team is that for all its loudness and show-off-ness when you leave the theater you might have no recollection of what you just saw.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time *

Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton
Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Reece Ritchie
Richard Coyle, Steve Toussaint

At first glance Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is yet another shallow video game adaptation meant to entertain youngsters with its giant set pieces, special effects and numbing loudness; but look closer and you will find a distasteful "oh well" approach to American foreign policy and media brainwashing.
Set in ancient Persia, it centers on Dastan (Gyllenhaal) an orphan of humble origins adopted by the king (Ronald Pickup) and raised like a prince.
As the movie begins, Dastan and his brothers (Kebbell and Coyle) prepare to invade the scared city of Alamut on the grounds that they have been manufacturing weapons for Persia's enemies.
Not long after they have invaded the city, Dastan figures out it was all a trick devised by the story's actual villain (quite easy to discover considering the makeup artists all but put a "villain" sign on his face). He also discovers the actual reason for the invasion was to find an ancient dagger that has the power of turning back time; but before he can become a hero, he's been framed for murder, becomes a fugitive and finds himself traveling with Princess Tamina of Alamut (Arterton) to reclaim his rightful place.
The problem with the movie isn't how miscast it is (Gyllenhaal has absolutely no hero potential despite the bigger muscles) or how badly it uses its good actors (Arterton could've been iconic and Molina just remind us that a brilliant actor can make almost anything seem better than it is). The problem isn't the action sequences either, although their Aladdin with ADD aesthetics continue to highlight the same brand of flashy, quick editing Jerry Bruckheimer's productions have become known for, which shows even less than it says.
The biggest problem with the film is how it uses all these elements to thinly disguise it's "let's move on" views on the Iraq invasion.
At first, the story seems to be taking a critical aim at how the Bush government (and its allies) handled a situation that quickly got out of their hands. We are presented with facts that almost entirely resemble the search for weapons of mass destruction led by the American army on Iraqi soil and how a few government people quickly created an entire war as diversion from their real aim (the dagger in the movie, oil in real life).
It's not even necessary to mention nepotism and the similarities between powerful political families and royalty to see how much the main plot drew from history.
But once the central dagger comes up, viewers are provided with the sort of device that could work in two ways.
Its ability to go back in time enables the audience to fantasize about a world where things can be undone and evil is quickly fixed. In a way this could provide some sort of escapism from the already brutal reality raging outside the theater.
But why then, introduce this element of correction into an allegory that had such recent effects? If it doesn't want to deal with reality why then remind us of it?
It's only then when the movie's real intention seems to come out and by suggesting mystical artifacts can fix our wrongs it's empowering the video game generation to think of technology as their own way of escaping reality and consciously grant themselves absolution.
What's the difference between the dagger and digital video recording or personalized online content? In the same way that Prince Dastan can simply rewind and fix the past, we now have the power to control the information we get and simply fast forward through the news or ignore a disturbing article and conceal the world from our already limited perception.
Prince of Persia isn't about entertaining as much as it's about creating a false idea of our involvement in the world.
The only magical thing about this movie is that very few seem to notice it's essentially propaganda.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


A few weeks ago the amazing Meryl Streep served as speaker for the Barnard College graduation ceremony.
As usual being her charming, delightful self, she reveals some of her trade secrets and trying to inspire recent graduates comes up with a lovely melancholic look at her own place in life.

Addressing several subjects, without flaunting her intelligence, she eventually hit the spot in one of my eternal causes: the lack of respect for actresses and female characters in our male centric world.

Speaking of how young men nowadays have no fear in identifying themselves with her Miranda Priestly, Streep went on to say,

"This is a huge deal because as people in the movie business know the absolute hardest thing in the whole world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman protagonist, to feel themselves embodied by her.
This more than any other factor explains why we get the movies we get."

Could she be any more right? But she had much more to say about this!
If you have half an hour to spare, I recommend you see the whole speech, just click here.

And the CFDA Goes To...

The stars came out for the CFDA awards honoring the best in fashion.
Here are my faves of the night.

Sarah Jessica Parker was breathtaking in a bold Alexander McQueen with a stunning flower print.
The fashion icon presented a special tribute to the late great and complimented her gown with gorgeous Stephen Russell jewelry.

Gwyneth Paltrow was dark chic in a glittery Michael Kors (in the picture with the Oscar winning actress).
Seeing her in something other than a mini is quite refreshing, especially when it's this beautiful.

Also, when choosing between bad boys of fashion, how can anyone in their right mind prefer Tom Ford to Marc Jacobs (pictured)?
The Louis Vuitton genius won the award for menswear and looked every bit as ravishingly cool to collect his trophy.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest ***

Director: Daniel Alfredson
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist
Lena Endre, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson
Anders Ahlbom, Aksel Morisse, Micke Spreitz

When Stieg Larsson died leaving behind the manuscripts for what later became the Millennium novels, he inadvertently created a trilogy that thrives and suffers from the qualities it inherited.
This being the last film adaptation can't help but feel awkward because as a movie it has to have a sense of closure but as a story it has so much more to say.
Therefore The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest works specifically as the conclusion of the case that first got Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) together.
In this chapter, Blomkvist must fight the system to prevent Lisbeth from being committed into a psychiatric hospital for the rest of her life.
If the main plot feels completely linear and slightly predictable (Alfredson uses the same directorial techniques he recurred to in the previous installment) this one is more effective because of the larger context in which the events take place, particularly in its vision of Sweden.
What we encounter in this trilogy is a conflicting portrait of a country known the world over for its peacefulness.
So what can we make of an action series that deals with deep corruption, decadence and a complete lack of empathy between young and older generations?
Is this dark vision of Sweden a fabrication of its author or an insider's look at a carefully concealed reality? To try and chose between these options would be to discredit fiction or disbelieve contemporary history; yet the point is that the film's mood evokes this ambiguity and gets us making questions.
Perhaps trying to spice up the humdrum nature of most common careers or maybe Larsson was really on to something...
What can't be denied is that throughout the trilogy, there's a battle between history and the future; Lisbeth's story, if anything else, is made of a conflict between her hatred for her past and her need to avenge it to obtain a future.
In a way, this film is also a fascinating commentary on the way European politics have had a hard time breaking away from traditionalist views. One of the main subplots deals with the discovery of a secret government unit exerting great power even after its official extinction.
The way in which the troubled heroine must face these dying monsters, willing to give up their revered position makes for some compelling drama.
"Reminds me of a Greek tragedy" says a character about Salander's past.
Rapace, once more, is able to reveal new layers in Lisbeth's personality. Her ability to express so much without words is remarkable, in what might be one of the highlights of her performance she delivers the most delicious smile in the most wicked situation.
That you smile along with her is testament to how much she has made the character her own. She's also particularly good in scenes with Aksel Morisse, who plays a sensitive doctor who befriends her and with Annika Hallin who plays her strong willed attorney. It's interesting to see her dynamic with Hallin because the Millennium trilogy is quite male centric, despite having a woman as main character.
This chapter also reminds us about the power of words, in Lisbeth's ability to write her story it gives her the gravitas other characters are trying to take away from her.
What can the movie be saying if it establishes that Lisbeth attains a chance at salvation only after she commits her life to paper?
Despite the fact that each cinematic installment diminished gradually in its thrills, the truth is that it's still a shame that this might be the last we hear of this character.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire ***

Director: Daniel Alfredson
Caast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist
Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Sofia Ledarp
Paolo Roberto, Yasmine Garbi, Georgi Staykov, Micke Spreitz
Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Hans Christian Thulin

You can't really blame Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) for hating men who hate women. In the second installment of the Millennium series not only must she face an entire police force looking for her but she also has to deal with a Jaws like henchman (Spreitz) and a terrible, haunting figure from her past.
Delivered with precise, IKEA like, workmanship by director Daniel Alfredson, the film lacks the cruel elegance of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but still manages to be a well made, vastly entertaining thriller.
A year has passed since Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) last saw Lisbeth and having returned to his post in Millennium magazine, he's dedicating his time to the unmasking of a human trafficking cartel hidden deep within some of Sweden's most prominent figures.
When one of his journalists (Thulin) is murdered, the police reveal their prime suspect is Lisbeth and a simultaneous hunt begins as Mikael, convinced of her innocence, is set on finding her before the authorities.
Perhaps out of blame on the sophomore slump (or the middle syndrome in a trilogy), this chapter feels too much like a transition to have more resonance. Despite of the life altering revelations made about some of the characters, the lack of nuance between the central mystery and the characters' lives feels lacking (perhaps the previous film spoiled us too much?).
Alfredson's directing style is much more straightforward than Niels Arden Oplev's; while Oplev had a respect for the film's literary origins, he still imprinted highly cinematic qualities upon it that Alfredson disregards in favor of a more blunt approach (this movie feels more like a great TV pilot).
Yet whatever the film lacks in stylistic wonders it more than makes up for with the growth of characters that were already fascinating to begin with.
This time around with Mikael being more at the office we begin to get glimpses of what has made him a loner; his sexual/professional relationship with Erika (the enigmatic Endre) begins to paint a larger portrait of a man with a past more bruised than he'd make us believe.
Nyqvist is again, terrific as Mikael, playing him with a confidence that makes him more than, book author, Stieg Larsson's alter ego.
His line delivery is spot on, when he arrogantly reminds a police officer that he's a "private snoop and understands no jack shit" there's a quality of delicious self indulgence that makes his actually insane choices seem inspired.
Rapace as well is able to make Lisbeth evolve from the introverted creature she was in the first chapter, into a scarily determined woman with revenge on her mind.
She gets more physical this time around and quickly becomes an obviously iconic action heroine (think Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow meets Matt Damon's Jason Bourne), because Rapace is not afraid to dig deep into the darkness that devours Lisbeth, each of her actions involves a mystery upon itself.
If to this you add the melancholic mood that prevails in the darkly romantic relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael, you have the makings of an even more complex dynamic.
If The Girl Who Played With Fire is a tonal downgrade from the first installment it can't help but fill us with a sense of eventual satisfaction and expectancy, for we still don't know how Lisbeth got that dragon tattoo.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ***1/2

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist,
Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Marika Lagercrant
Lena Endre, Björn Granat, Peter Andersson

A lesson in how to make a thriller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first entry in the film versions of the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium novels.
Remaining faithful to its paperback spirit, it relentlessly tries to turn each scene into the equivalent of an addictive page turner; therefore, it has a familiar structure, accumulating cliffhangers and a climax that makes sure you end up craving more.
Its twisty, noir inspired, plot finds its inspiration in the likeliest of sources: the teaming of the odd couple.
In this case it's Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Rapace). Blomkvist is a disgraced financial journalist who has just been sentenced to three months in jail after a scandalous libel suit involving a prominent industrialist (Stefan Sauk).
Salander is an introverted, goth, twenty something who specializes in hacking computers, hi-tech investigation and beating the crap out of people who abuse her (including her legal guardian played with disgusting sexual hunger by the sinister Andersson).
When Blomkvist is hired by octogenarian millionaire Henrik Vanger (Taube) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his niece Harriet, more than forty years before, he acquires an essential ally in Lisbeth.
How they meet is both part of the film's tendency to pull aces out of its sleeve and also one of its most fascinating propositions; for it wonders how much fate and determination have to do with this particular genre.
In the way the two main characters seem to reach out to each other, we are left trying to make sense about the way we influence our own perception.
Choices therefore are an essential part of the plot, "we choose who we are" exclaims Lisbeth as Mikael tries to understand her actions.
Yet this seemingly simple statement captures the major theme explored in the movie which is the primal human need to find itself by revisiting its history.
Instead of running away from things that have hurt them Mikael and Lisbeth appear to be drawn to the perpetuation of painful patterns.
Mikael hesitates for merely a second when asked by Vanger to take on a potentially dangerous case; is it his need to satiate his journalistic hunger with a good story or is he still unaware that his work can directly affect his life?
Lisbeth too is pulled by the force of Harriet's disappearance despite the eventual realization that she might be running into some of her own life experiences in the hellish process.
Is the author trying to give them catharsis by all means or does this path reek of masochism? If so can catharsis be related to masochism?
What results so compelling about the movie is that the central mystery they're trying to solve is half as intriguing as the mystery of who Mikael and Lisbeth are.
And considering that Harriet's disappearance is connected to Nazis, rape revenge, dark family traditions, corruption and fake evidence, you can imagine just how mysterious the people investigating it must be.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo owes itself mostly to the power of its great actors. Nyqvist is perfect as Mikael. His strange handsomeness contributes highly to make him likable in a way you just can't understand at first.
Full of self love, determination and an overcoming passion for his job he's the ultimate middle aged man.
Rapace's Lisbeth is an enigmatic creature made more appealing by her unconventional heroine qualities. Far from being an angel, she uses her own personal experiences to seek what might be an ultimate revenge on the men who wrong her (the Swedish title of the film is Men Who Hate Women) but more than a postmodern take on the action hero, Rapace makes Lisbeth someone completely human.
Her character is a complex hybrid of female empowerment and male fantasy. On one hand she's a rebel violent woman who takes justice on her own hands and has no problem going to bed with men or women.
The way she gets sex with Mikael out of the way halfway through the running time is a darkly funny moment in which the movie affirms to us that it has no concern for maintaining sexual tension...there are more important things to deal with here.
Yet Lisbeth is also an exciting male dream; the kick-ass woman who doesn't make a big deal out of sex and fulfills every cliché adolescent male dream.
How does Lisbeth reach a compromise between female identity and male fantasy is testament to Rapace's talents.
An incredibly exciting, if not entirely original thriller (there's not an overlapping of text, music and images montage it can resist) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo thrives in its ability to find new joys in traditional structures, with its moody cinematography, iconic star making performances and inventive direction it dares you not to feel refreshed by its familiarity.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kick-Ass **

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloë Moretz, Mark Strong
Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Yancy Butler, Lyndsy Fonseca
Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Michael Rispoli

Based on energy alone, Kick-Ass could very well ride a wave that would cloud the fact that it's a very inconsistent, almost incoherent, movie.
Its concept is quite a simple one, as it wonders why don't superheroes exist when practically anyone can become whatever they want.
The idea is executed by average teenager Dave Lizewski (Johnson) who buys himself a wetsuit, a couple of clubs and goes out to the streets looking for people to help using the name Kick-Ass.
"I always wondered why no one did it before me" he asks after he accidentally becomes an internet phenomenon and the threat of paranoid mob king Frank D'Amico (Strong, who's become the new go-to-guy for over the top villains) whose plans have been botched by a masked vigilante.
D'Amico ignores the fact that there are more heroes than Kick-Ass (giving the plot one of its first inconsistencies along with the constant disappearance of Dave's eyeglasses...) and one of them has a personal vendetta against him.
It's none other than Big Daddy (Cage) a once honored cop who fell victim to the mobster's allies and is now plotting a huge revenge against him, with his twelve year old daughter who calls herself Hit-Girl (Moretz).
Soon the heroes' storylines will cross as they face the evil D'Amico and the movie tries to be all of the following: a quirky indie like superhero movie, a Tarantino ripoff, an accurate social commentary on adolescents and the media, an old fashioned revenge story, a coming of age drama, a genre satire and a comedy of manners.
With all the different stylistic currents going through the movie, the real heroic feat is how director Vaughn manages to make something out of it and especially for that something to be vastly entertaining.
Much is owed to the superb cast who make the most out of the poor character development they're given.
Cage is at his idiosyncratic best (how he can be so good and then so terrible is a mystery) while Strong fills his role with morbid delight.
Yet the movie belongs to the young; Johnson, who technically has to carry the entire movie on his shoulders creates a charming hybrid of a Michael Cera performance with Daniel Radcliffe's unwilling blooming sexuality.
And the stunning Moretz, who also becomes the film's most controversial character, takes over the screen in such a way that you won't believe how young she actually is.
Her ability to be a complete bad-ass, yet preserve sweet, innocent traits is a remarkable work.
Too bad that it's especially with Hit-Girl that Vaughn reveals that he didn't really know how to handle the material.
For all the Tarantino-esque hyper-violence of the movie, there's also its pervading need to be as real as possible.
So in this tonal oxymoron, the film hits a contradiction that makes it impossible to take "serious" as a fantasy or as a fantastical take on reality.
Kick-Ass should've taken a cue from one of the basic paradigms of comic superheroes that make us wonder where will the villains who want to destroy the world move to.
This idea in comic books isn't usually taken seriously because we all know the hero will arrive in time to save the day, making the ultimate evil plan a complete implausibility.
But what can we make of a movie that constantly reminds us of the hero's ordinariness? If Dave's Kick-Ass isn't an actual superhero, what makes it alright to watch a little girl shooting gangsters?
The film tries to inhabit parallel universes: one where the comic book fantasy rules and even the youngest kids can be what they want and another completely different place where these very kids might want to be villains instead and pack guns in their lunchboxes to shoot their classmates.
Sometimes it's our world, sometimes it's superhero land...isn't this impossibility to differentiate between fantasy and reality what actually triggered several school massacres during the last decade?
Kick-Ass might be enjoyable but it gets wrong what a great superhero movie got very right: it has no consciousness of the responsibilities that come with power.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

All the Symbols in "All the Lovers".

The video for Kylie Minogue's anthemic All the Lovers has finally debuted and it might be one of the best things she's ever done.
Despite the fact that it's a too obvious reminder of her Body Language era and it overflows with the kind of cheesiness that has made her such a rare creature throughout her career, the video also features some of her most upfront commentaries about sex.

Unlike Lady Gaga who brings up her muffin, and her alleged penis, whenever she can and Madonna who ( I really need to give an example?) Ms. Minogue has always been more romantic about the notions of sex.

At first glance the video might not seem overtly sexual (yes, it's a massive orgy but everyone looks so in love!) but through her use of symbols she's telling us a Calvin Klein ad version of Eyes Wide Shut filtered through Greek mythology.

The video begins with a falling cup of coffee, followed seconds later by a bottle of milk crashing against the pavement.

With this simple image begins a tale of frustration overcome by the power of love and understanding; for what can this spilling of milk mean if not an overtly anxious, male, sexual desire arriving before time?

The falling objects are followed by images of people taking their clothes off, surrendering to their most urgent affective needs and beginning an orgy of sorts in the middle of the street.
Those who aren't making out are pulled by a force that turns out to be none other than Ms. Minogue herself.

It hurts, when you get to close oh baby it hurts, when love is really good you just want more. Even if it throws you to the fire.

Like Aphrodite rising from the foam, she appears in a growing mountain of lovers who then divide the video into two storylines.
One devoted to the goddess' power of granting love and the other, that follows the song's lyrics, and tells the story of the unsatisfied lover trying to regain his status into Aphrodite's chamber.

What he doesn't seem to know though, is that the goddess has forgiven all in advance and his adventure is only meant to help him achieve the role of an adventurer and fulfill his mythical status.
A random shot of a screaming stranger (pictured above) gives us the only glimpse of anger in the entire video and might serve as a perfect way to exemplify the invisible hero's willingness to battle his way up to masculinity.

Kylie reminds him that this doesn't matter and sings the chorus,
All the lovers that have gone before, they don't compare to you. Don't be frightened just give me a little bit more. They don't compare, all the lovers...

Of course while the hero fights his way towards Olympus, Aphrodite has to keep herself busy.
So she creates a massive orgy, spreading love from where we can assume there was nothing before.

Using her magical hand to induce strangers into a complete state of ecstasy (and yet another more earthly symbol of the power of self stimulation) she starts piling up on the beautiful people under her.

Before anyone decides to make a big deal out of the fact that nobody in the video is what we could call "average looking", two things must be said in her defense.
First, our society has made us used to expect nothing more than tough standards of beauty to be represented in the media and the use of a multicultural United Colors of Benetton casting here simply fulfills that role.
Second, the use of extremely beautiful people also represents the idea of perfect aesthetics established by Greek culture.
For all we know, the tableaux presented to us by director Joseph Kahn could be modern interpretations of ancient paintings and sculptures.

Can't you see that this is getting higher, higher, higher?

The video also presents us with the fascinating visual motive of elevation.
All throughout we see birds and balloons fly up towards the sky, not to mention the growing mountain of lovers that forms around Kylie.
It's certainly no coincidence that we're first presented with objects falling to the floor and during the course of the song, they seem to achieve new life as they reach for the heavens.
More than a facile metaphor for male erections (which we all know are as essential in music videos as pretty people) they also continue telling the story of the shamed lover's realization that second opportunities exist.
But first he has to earn them.

Therefore as the song nears its bridge, Kylie is swallowed by the mountain.
The goddess descends to the underworld.

Dance it's all I wanna do so won't you dance?
I'm standing here with you why won't you move?

Even if it throws you to the fire...

As the bridge concludes, the cue is set for the hero to make his grand appearance.
And he does, in the shape of a majestic white horse.
We're in the presence of a symbol that has fascinated cultures for as long as time has existed.
The white horse has always been a mysterious creature, not only because of its color (which is quite rare genetically) but because of the qualities it's attributed with.

The white horse often represented the Greek god Poseidon (especially in the shape of Pegasus who sprung from the waves. Remember that Aphrodite was created from sea foam...) and were also associated with the hero's chariot and the end-of-times saviour.

But for All the Lovers its most obvious symbolism is that of the worshiped figure of fertility (where do you think all those stud and stallion jokes come from?).

Musically the horse is accompanied by one of the most rapturous instrumental bridges Kylie has ever created, making his appearance all the more glorious and enigmatic.
(Notice those three people right under the horse's mouth? I'm dying to know what their story is. They're the only menage a trois found in a video that highlights couples)

After being saved by the horse, Aphrodite rises from the underworld with even more power.

She has been able to create a structure made out of thousands of people, right in the middle of L.A. (if you're reminded of the movie Volcano I don't blame you).
In the last repetition of the chorus, the music has achieved an even more vibrant spirit. It goes from crying-on-the-dancefloor love song, to full out bliss anthem.
The volcano, and the lover's desire therefore have also been rekindled.

As she continues moving the lovers to her will, all of them having succumbed to the siren's chant, the video reaches its finale.

In the last seconds Kylie stands right in front of the camera, holding a single white dove in her hands.
The dove here has two meanings: first and foremost it represents the male lover's achievement, because for as long as language has existed, birds have been used as metaphors of the penis.

In the goddess' look we know that her lover has fulfilled his role and under the more widespread symbolism of the single white dove, they both have found peace.

To watch the video go here.