Friday, December 31, 2010

Black Swan ****

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis
Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied

Once upon a time black swans were thought to be a myth. White swans had been considered the epitome of royalty and beauty since times immemorial but its dark counterpart was thought of as a representation of utter evil; the antithesis of the pure, uncorrupted beauty in the white swan. What must've been the surprise of explorers when they stumbled upon the actual species in the Southernmost part of the world during the seventeenth century?
What could it mean that this creature did exist?
This uncertainty and eventual shock are the central dilemma of Nina Sayers (Portman) a New York City ballerina desperate to be cast as the Swan Queen in her company's production of Swan Lake.
Nina has perfected the graceful technique to play the White Swan but she is told by ballet director Thomas Leroy (a slimy Cassel) that she completely lacks the sexual energy and imperfection needed to portray its evil counterpart.
She struggles to win the part and gets it just as a new dancer joins the company; Lily (Kunis) from San Francisco arrives exuding the raw sexuality Nina can't muster, soon she becomes convinced that Lily is after her part and the only way to keep this from happening is for her to find the black swan within.
She descends slowly down the kind of, not-so-subtle, spirals Darren Aronofsky usually throws his characters into but unlike some of his other creations, Nina's breakdown has a flawless structure.
On the surface Black Swan feels like The Wrestler meets Suspiria by way of Cronenberg but once you look at it carefully, it really has more in common with Carrie than with Argento's horror film.
Like Stephen King's character, Nina's breakdown is parallel to her discovery of things until then unknown to her. While Carrie unleashed her telekinesis in a terrified attempt to exert some control over the unexpected changes brought over by womanhood, Nina begins to be terrorized by her doppelgängers who walk by her on the streets, haunt her house and spy from beyond mirrors as she finds that deep within she can also be dark.
Nina has decided she wants to achieve perfection and in her limited world view this can only be obtained with control; therefore when Thomas asks her to "let go" she doesn't know how to handle this.
It's as if she's been living in a fabricated world all along and has no awareness of the evil that exists in the world. This is represented by Nina's home which she shares with her possessive mother (Hershey) a former ballerina living vicariously through her daughter.
Watching their softly lit blood tinted apartment, where even the hallways seem to constrict Nina, we understand that in a way she has never left the womb, not because she doesn't want to but because it's what she knows best.
Black Swan is anchored by Natalie Portman's fierce performance. Like the movie, she first deceives us with her fragile beauty and we are led to assume this will be yet another of the actress' performances in which her delicate features harbor contrived fear and contempt.
Soon we learn that this isn't the case and we see her shatter before our very eyes. Beyond her method immersion into the character (her ballet technique seems outstanding!) there is something transcendental in the way in which she lets go of all vanity.
We see Nina's transformation from outside (Aronofsky's technical team does wonders showing bizarre wounds as Nina literally begins to think she's becoming a swan) but we also detect that something has changed inside her. It's something in her eyes that demands our attention in the way her body can't.
In the final scenes of the film, the Portman we are watching isn't the one we started with. During one particular scene as Nina finally becomes aware of what the truth is, she makes a choice. This moment isn't highlighted as much by the external elements (although the movie owes itself to Tchaikovsky) but by a heartbreaking look Portman throws at us, seemingly out of nowhere. How she's able to encompass fear, resignation and something that scarily resembles pride is what makes her decay so beautiful to watch.
In her search for perfection we could draw parallels about seeking artistic accomplishment but on simpler terms the film discusses this search in life as a whole. Therefore we are left wondering if Black Swan is a cautionary tale about the peril that comes with perfection (and if so, is it an ode to mediocrity?) or is it a reminder that everything that's worth something comes through a certain amount of pain?
Structurally Black Swan resembles a Russian doll, each containing a miniature double of the one before it. In a way, Swan Lake is Black Swan is Nina Sayers (again with the doppelgängers).
One of the biggest mysteries about Swan Lake is the fact that we never know why the evil sorcerer casts the spell on the princess. Why is he turning her into a swan? When the ballet begins this just is and we rarely get time to even question it.
Why are we to assume that this spell isn't some sort of deserved punishment?
Similarly in Black Swan we are never really sure of who is casting this spell on Nina, is the movie perhaps a prequel of sorts to the ballet in which we are to assume that maybe the princess had an insane mother or couldn't cope with homosexual thoughts?
Or is it finally a questioning? Is the Swan Queen actually fulfilling her fate? However twisted and tragic we might perceive it as.
It should be noted that Black Swan is a completely self aware movie. There is not a single camera move Aronofsky hasn't meticulously planned. From the way in which sometimes we follow Nina as if the camera is afraid to look into her face and see who she's becoming to the film's mirror motif, one that's not in the slightest original but the film doesn't really brag about inventing anything new.
It's also a selfish movie for it never pretends to worry about creating some sort of universal code we can use as metaphor. We are not supposed to identify with Nina. We either like her, hate her, pity her but we are not supposed to love her. After all the Swan Queen is never truly able to break the spell.
Structurally the film itself mimics Nina or at least the version of Nina it's letting us see and then it reaches a point where just like the ballerina in distress, the film too realizes that it doesn't know how to become the black swan. But how do you make a movie that loses itself?
In practice this would perhaps mean the director recurred to some robotic device or simply let the cameras roll without choosing what happens in front of the lens. Symbolically though Aronofsky settles on making it dangle dangerously between melodrama, camp and horror. Up to the very last shot the film seems to be trying to decide which one it will become and by then audience members will have made their minds about what kind of movie they just saw.
And whether it is high art or trashy exploitation, by letting each one decide, Aronofsky has created the perfect finale: the one that goes beyond "the world as a stage" conventions and bluntly reminds us that in the end we might be the only ones applauding our own curtain call.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Are You Ecstatic About Awards Season?

Cate sure is!

I don't know why but year after year I find this season less and less exciting. In the last couple of years the Oscars have began to feel more like a boring high school reunion than a beach rave.
Perhaps it's because as I grow older my tastes have completely diverged from what AMPAS picks. No Oscar movie has gotten me excited and cheery since the last Lord of the Rings probably. And that was almost a decade ago! how about you, still get all fuzzy inside when you think Oscar or do they feel like a dull old night at aunt Gladys'?

PS: I miss Cate at the Oscars! She puts the cutting edge in couture. I know that doesn't make sense but let me be...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

While Watching "The Day of the Triffids"...

I couldn't help but love how at one time smoking was allowed everywhere, even in hospitals.

And more than that...

The friendly nurse would help the recovering patient light up.

I said it again recently but I must repeat it: I love vintage sci-fi.

Thanks to the awesome Luke of Journalistic Skepticism for recommending this one. Any others you have in mind buddy? How about you guys, any awesome old, campy sci-fi classic you think I should watch?

FYC: Best Actress.

I saw the tattoo on your back it seems quite large.
Why did you get it done?

Why do you ask?

Pure curiosity.

For private reasons I will not discuss.

It must have hurt and taken time.

Yes, to both.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"A man who thought he loved me."

When in Mars.

According to Robinson Crusoe on Mars these are absolute musts to pack when going to the red planet.

Adam West and a monkey in a space suit.

A strange little TV that apparently airs 60 Minutes on a loop.

The man who inspired Lady Gaga's album cover.

A bagpipe.

And this hat.

Don't you just love vintage sci-fi?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Am I alone in thinking that this looks like it might end up in rankings of "worst movies ever made" for years to come?
When I was a child, The Smurfs were thought to be demons by some crazy-ass religious fanatics, their little action figures would turn to life in the middle of the night and murder the unlucky child who happened to own them. This movie makes me think the crazy religious freaks weren't so far off...
The tagline should be changed to "be scared, be VERY scared".

Isn't Seth Rogen dreamy?

Also Merry Christmas to you all! How did you spend it? watched any good movies? Ate to the point of coma?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rabbit Hole ***½

Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart
Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh

Rabbit Hole often feels like a clinical dissection of pain. The way in which director Mitchell interprets David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay (adapted from his own play) lacks any sentimentalism or melodramatic undertones.
In fact the film and the story can become so painful that some might even perceive Mitchell's directorial decisions as sadism but those willing to look past this will see how his film thrives with humanity.
Kidman and Eckhart play Becca and Howie, a married couple whose lives were shattered with the sudden death of their four year old son. When we first meet them it's been eight months since the tragedy and at first we don't even know what's going on.
Those coming into the film without knowing what it's about will probably detect an air of awkwardness and hostility during the first few scenes in which we see Becca go through her daily chores as if performing commands uttered by an unseen force.
She's almost robotic in her duties, even when she interacts with her husband. He's not any better, he makes her go to group therapy where they both agree they don't fit.
After we learn the reason for the strain in their relationship, the film takes on an even darker path as we see how they are forced to evaluate what will become of them in the wake of tragedy.
The idea that they might need to "move on" in order to survive gives the film its dilemma, for how can you move on without trying to forget the pain and for that matter how can you turn someone you love into pain you need to get away from?
The nature of suffering is questioned under extreme scrutiny and Kidman does it with such grace that you can't even fathom the depths he must've reached in order to deliver such a performance.
Becca is someone who at first glance seems like a controlling bitch. The way she reacts, the manner in which she moves and especially the tone of her words are filled with such passive aggressiveness that all you want to do is stay away from her.
In one scene she cooks creme brulee for her sister (Blanchard) she's just picked up from the police station. Her sister begins to eat her dessert and joyfully exclaims "I love the way it cracks" as she hits the sugar with her spoon. Becca auotmatically replies "of course you do" filled with contempt and bitterness.
Her performance is composed of dozens of tiny minutes like this during which we see Becca's pain seep through the cracks. We wonder how long will it take until her entire shell shatters and when it never happens (at least not in the way we expect it to) we are left with a true enigma of a woman.
Best of all is to see the way in which Becca's eyes move, she's always fully aware of everything going on around her, almost as if she's on constant guard trying to avoid more pain from coming into her life. Then she makes you want to reach out and hug her.
If Kidman is the film's center, the supporting cast is nothing if not impressive. Eckhart is often shattering and really funny (his scenes with Sandra Oh are magical), Blanchard is terrific and Wiest does such wonderful things with tiny scenes that you really end up craving more of her character when the film is over.
But perhaps Kidman's counterpart is in fact Miles Teller who plays Jason, the teenager who accidentally killed the child. When Becca reaches out to him the film could've easily turned into some sort of vendetta drama or a weird psychological thriller but in fact once he appears on the screen, we end up realizing that the pain isn't reserved to those who think they were the only ones affected by tragedy.
It's Jason who gives the film its name and in a strange way the heart Becca is trying so hard to find. Watching the plot unfold in unexpected ways makes for a beautiful experience and Mitchell proves to be a master of restrain (who would've guessed judging from his previous films?) who makes absolutely perfect touches with his camera.
Director of photography Frank G. DeMarco does an outstanding job externalizing Becca's emotions. During one scene we see Becca take her son's clothes out of the washing machine filled with hope because she has a plan for them. When said plan fails she drives by a Salvation Army deposit box and simply throws the clothes in.
The same action essentially symbolizes two extreme opposites. First as we see her take them out lovingly, we are reminded of someone taking a baked good of the oven, filled with promise. Then these very elements show us how Becca simply gives up.
Considering how often domestic dramas set in the suburbs recur to the same tricks, it's wonderful to see how Rabbit Hole was so thought out. The ideas behind the movie, like the way in which it flirts with metaphysics as a way of consolation, often seem too overwhelming for the genre and threaten to distance the audience but the delicate way in which it's executed make it seem oddly familiar.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Style Sunday.

Gwyneth Paltrow's simple Emilio Pucci column dress might seem like nothing special at first look. She evokes Cher or a disco ice queen until you take a look at the slit that begins in the back and goes all the way down to well...the floor?

It's understatedly sexy without ever being vulgar.

Julianne Moore is another example of my firm belief that Lanvin can do no wrong.

Am I right?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

So Let Me Get This Straight...

Back in 1982 AMPAS decided that Tron shouldn't be nominated for Best Visual Effects because it had used too much computer effects.

Yet, the obviously not computer aided costumes were fit enough to get a Best Costume Design nomination?

Oh AMPAS aren't you always groundbreaking and forward-thinking...

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

The biggest poster this week was the new Oscar one sheet.
I really would love if Oscar finally started doing something different with these posters. How about not featuring the statuette for once?
I wrote a bigger piece on this for The Film Experience. Go read it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

RIP Blake Edwards.

Random Design.

I'm not really a fan of this movie but isn't this cover art for the Criterion edition of Topsy-Turvy absolutely fabulous?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

While Watching "The Harvey Girls"...

...I realized I'm always surprised when I realize Angela Lansbury was young at some point in life.
I always think of her as being old.

Applaus ***½

Director: Martin Pieter Zandvliet
Cast: Paprika Steen, Michael Falch, Shanti Roney
Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks, Noel Koch-Søfeldt, Lars Brygmann

Almost a monologue of a movie, Applaus is a magnificent showcase for leading lady Paprika Steen. She plays Thea Barfoed, a famed theater actress trying to resume her life after alcoholism lead her to divorce and losing the custody of her children.
She tries to convince her ex-husband Christian (Falch) that she is ready to be a mother again and manipulates him to get her children back.
At its most basic, Applaus is none other than the dream movie for an actress and in theory it's a walk in the park towards awards glory; however, Steen grabs all of the stereotypes we'd expect from this kind of performance and slaps us right on the face by creating a woman that's creating herself in front of our eyes.
The plot is basically a slice out of Thea's complicated life and we see her in a series of vignettes as she spends time with her children, deals with her lawyer, tries to avoid the temptation of alcohol and most interesting of all, we see her acting.
The play she's in is Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?, where of course she plays Martha and what results so fascinating about watching her play this iconic character is that the director isn't trying to conceal that we should be drawing parallels between the character and the woman playing her.
The truly perplexing thing is that even though the director sees it and the audience sees it, Thea seems to have no idea of what's going on. This is a woman who becomes fully alive on stage yet fails to get a clue in "real life".
That she's capable of separating craft from reality lets us know that Thea is in fact a great actress and more often than not we are left craving to see her play other parts.
What Steen provides then is a multilayered performance that goes beyond any "life as a stage" metaphors and concentrates on the humanity that lingers in this troubled woman,
Watching her make jokes backstage we get a feeling that she's drawing inspiration from some of the great divas, yet when she accuses her ex-husband of having turned her beloved offspring into "Nazi children" we understand that she hasn't truly learned how to modulate all this intensity into the person she's trying to become.
On most scenes we see Steen all by herself, even when she's with other people, the camera follows her mostly. We see her in closeup during some of her most intimate moments and not for a single second do we detect any vanity emanating from Steen, in fact she encourages us to see the insecurity in Thea.
During the film's most haunting sequence, Thea tries to make amends with a stranger (Roney) she was rude to at a bar. After some small talk, she takes him home and for the first time we see her coming to terms with all she's done.
Going from playful and childlike, to terrified and ultimately ashamed, Steen goes through an intense prism of emotions that will leave you astounded. "This isn't a part, it's my life" says Thea and with the conviction with which she is played by Steen, we never would dare to doubt her.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop ***

Director: Banksy

What better way to explore what makes something "art" than with a film that itself is questioned for its artistic merits. Such is the premise of Exit Through the Gift Shop the documentary debut feature of iconic street artist Banksy.
His film concentrates on the rise of Mr. Brainwash, a street artist who made a name for himself out of the blue and has been hailed by the press and media for his refreshing of pop art.
When we first meet Brainwash, he goes by the name of Thierry Guetta. He's a French immigrant trying to make a living by selling old clothes at vintage prices.
Obsessed with recording everything with his video camera, Guetta becomes fascinated by street art and soon begins to make a documentary on the rising art form by traveling all over the world and meeting people like Shepard Fairey (of the famous Obama "Hope" poster).
Soon Thierry realizes he's missing the big one in his documentary and sets on finding the reclusive Banksy. He succeeds and develops a work relationship with the artist who suggests Thierry dedicates to art making and leaves the documentary in his hands.
With this simple twist, as one art form replaces another we can begin to ponder on the nature of what makes this movie a documentary.
Banksy is known not only for his stunning graffiti but also for being one of the biggest public pranksters in the world and everything about his debut film seems too good to be true.
How do we know for starters if the movie is even being made by him when nobody in the world knows his real identity?
When we see him here it's only from the back or in shadows using an altered voice. How do we know if this is the real work of Banksy when in the film he inspires Thierry to emulate his art.
The film explores this notions of fake and worth using techniques that remind us of a mockumentary minus the winks. We might say this is also a trait of Bansky's work and use it in his favor to attribute this work to him completely.
If the film is a hoax then Thierry Guetta has got to be one of the most fascinating fictitious creations in recent film history. Watching him in action is seeing someone so uniquely strange that we can't really bring ourselves to believe he's a fake. After all haven't we been trained to believe reality is usually stranger than fiction?
If he's in fact a character then we are witnessing work by an actor that could easily leave Paul Giamatti out of a job as the go-to-guy for down to Earth quirkiness.
That he's described in a serious tone as "someone with mental problems who happened to have a video camera" makes him even more compelling, as if he was just brought to the world to be the object of study and-why not-different characterizations.
Perhaps the most significant element in the film is the fact that at some point it becomes a palindrome of sorts. It begins with Guetta being a filmmaker and becoming an artist and finishes with Banksy leaving his street art on the side for a while and becoming a movie director.
If this sounds a bit too Bergman by way of Lichtenstein then the movie, whatever its real nature may be, might as well just had its way with you.

Style Sunday.

The one thing Angelina Jolie should learn is that white, and not black as she seems to think, is the color that suits her best. Remember that pantsuit she wore to the Oscars about seven years ago? She was perfect in it!
This time around she's stunning in a simple Versace dress with a sexy leg opening. Her hair isn't that great but notice how the white brings out the color in her eyes. Stick to this Jolie!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

Best campaign of the year? Abso-freaking-lutely!
This image of a shattered Natalie Portman is both beautiful and very, very creepy.
What lies under the cracking shell?
Each poster for Black Swan has been better than the last. Although the set of teasers made by UK design group La Boca, gets the crown...

Is that Mjöllnir in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Now that's a big hammer!
I have never really been a fan of Thor or any comic book for that matter and I'm not sure I'm curious as to what this film adaptation will bring us.

Any of you out there care to enlighten me why I should be into Thor?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger **

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Pauline Collins, Anna Friel
Anthony Hopkins, Neil Jackson, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto
Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts

Throughout his filmography, Woody Allen has been characterized for delivering existentialist meditations filtered through comedy and relationships, yet even his darkest movies have been characterized by something that resembles hope. Yes, even in something like Interiors, we find ourselves finding that there's always more than meets the tragic eye.
It's a surprise then to find the master feeling so jaded in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. And it's not that feeling of bitterness itself what makes the film fail where other of his works have blossomed, it's just that it feels more like a work in progress than an actual film.
For all the plot twists, winks at some sort of divine justice and quips Allen inserts here, there's also an unintentional sense of disconnect within the characters who this time merely seem to become puppets in a convoluted plot that doesn't know where it's going.
The plot is quintessential Allen, a series of interconnected characters all trying to find their way in the misery of life.
We first meet Helena (Jones) a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband (Hopkins) who ends up marrying former prostitute Charmaine (Punch). Heartbroken, Helena begins to visit a fortuneteller (a delightful Collins) who begins to fix her life.
Helena's daughter Sally (Watts) has developed a crush on her employer (Banderas who curiously isn't the stranger from the title) while her husband (Brolin) tries to get out of his writer block by spying at their sensual neighbor (Pinto).
Allen's dialogues are fascinating as usual, even if sometimes the quips sound forced and cold and while it would be easy to say that any Allen is better than most things playing out there, the truth is that this film in particular shows that as a writer some of his tricks don't work as they used to.
For all the charm contained in the fact that his characters still say things like "erotic" and study musicology sometimes his lines feel derivative. This movie would've been aided by the use of silence and restraint.
If Allen fails a bit, his actors are mostly fantastic (even if this cast doesn't particularly fit together). Brolin broods marvelously and reaches a level of dishevelment that's an act upon itself, while Watts should get an award for being the actress who reached the lower depths of selfdeprecation in films this year. When she confronts a character to ask him if he ever fathomed the idea of falling in love with her, she asks it from a place of such pain that your heart will be broken along with her character's dignity.
It's interesting to see that when it comes to the two central characters in the film Allen pretty much redoes Interiors.
Jones as the resentful wife gives a layered performance filled with the over the top theatrics muffled by her sensitive British comedic timing, it's like watching Blance Dubois being played by Helen Mirren's version of Queen Elizabeth.
Then there's Punch who proves that nobody writes a hooker with a heart of gold like Woody does. Sometimes she comes off looking as an inferior version of Mira Sorvino's character in Mighty Aphrodite but even in cliché Punch finds an odd sense of beauty. Watch her act next to Hopkins, while he tries a bit too hard, she flows effortlessly like a skanky Eliza Dolittle.
It's the cast that make this stranger more alluring than he has any right to be.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Town ***

Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall
Blake Lively, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Slaine, Pete Postlethwaite

Who would've guessed that in his directing Ben Affleck would manifest all the straightforwardness he fails to present in his redundant work as a thespian? The Town is barely his second directorial effort and already he's developing what could be called a style. Of course Affleck's style is highly influenced, if not directly extracted, from the work of Clint Eastwood (the cinematography and sense of in-justice) and Martin Scorsese (the seductiveness of crime as a lifestyle) but with this and Gone Baby Gone he seems to have mastered what it takes to deliver a no-bullshit film in what can be referred to as a "classic style".
His film is straight out of this universe where crime is the only kind of life and the one everyone's trying to escape. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a career criminal who falls in love with Claire (Hall), the bank manager he takes hostage after one of his gang's heists gets threatening.
In Claire, Doug sees the perfect way to atone for his sins while giving himself a second chance. Of course this threatens the stability of his gang as his friend James (Renner) begins to resent Doug for wanting to leave and they also end at the mercy of the local kingpin (Postlethwaite).
The Town has all the makings of a movie we've seen countless times, or at least to come from the same place where these movies have come from. There's also an FBI agent, keen on catching the criminals and even a femme fatale, in the shape of Lively's Krista, a woman who had an affair with Doug and is reluctant to see him move on.
It seems that every element and every character in the film are trying to drag Doug down with them and in a way it's fascinating to see how Affleck manages to make us sympathize with this character who is unarguably guilty of several crimes. Yet we find ourselves rooting for him to succeed in his relationship with Claire for example and in the bloody climax we still have an idea of him as some sort of hero.
The film boasts an impressive cast and all of them deliver efficient work. The seriously underrated Hall gives Claire the complexity needed to empathize with her even when she makes strange choices, Hamm is superb, even if nothing is really demanded of him other than to look heroic and use the hell out of his Superman looks and Cooper is fantastic in a single scene.
Renner gives the film's best performance as he creates a character that's as real as he's cinematic. James is one part Method acting, two parts hybrid between James Cagney and Richard Widmark. He's electrifying!
In the biggest setpieces he seems to be fueling the energy from within his body and you can not take your eyes off him even as he commits the most gruesome acts of violence.
It has to be said that Affleck is a master at action sequences, there isn't a single action scene in this movie that feels lacking or unnecessary. They are executed with such precision and stamina that you believe they are recreations of things we might've seen on the news.
If he fails a bit with the most intimate scenes, it only means that he's still finding his niche (there are several red herrings that feel more like plot holes than Hitchcockian techniques) but for all that matters, The Town is nothing if not promising.

Monday, December 6, 2010

(Future) Crush of the Week.

...and so begins my obsession with everything that will be the film adaptation of One Day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I **

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltraine, Jim Broadbent
Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Rhys Ifans, John Hurt
Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton

Have you ever noticed how the trailers for the Harry Potter movies often make for much more exciting experiences than the films themselves?
Judging from what we were presented in the previews for this (the first part of two, in the series finale) this movie should've made us be on the edge all the time, gasping for air and having our jaws fall to the floor in amazement.
The truth is that the film feels like nothing else than a marketing ploy to extract every single penny from Potterites and those who accompany them to the cinema.
It's said that this film was meant to be as close to the book as it possibly could and perhaps that is why it fails to be engaging in a purely cinematic level.
The filmmakers seem to have forgotten that not everyone has read the books (or ever intends to) and besides recreating entire passages from J.K. Rowling's prose, they should also be creating something worthy of being transferred to the silver screen. Something that will feel magical for everyone who buys a ticket.
Instead we get almost three hours of Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) moping and setting up tents in lush forests where they hide from Lord Voldemort (Fiennes).
The kids are looking for the horcruxes they began looking for in the previous installment but now have to deal with the fact that the entire magical world is under Voldemort's rule.
Still there's not even a single moment when we feel these people are real and before you make some joke about Muggles keep in mind that these characters should be true to the world they inhabit.
This almost never happens, except of course with the mature actors but this movie belongs mostly to the children. Yates is often redundant (how many times can we see Ron feeling Potter envy in this series?) and while he concentrates on silly twists we never understand how is it that the kids have no protection against evil but still packed a different coat to wear during their escape.
The action sequences are limited and as usual character development is restricted to a few moments of big dialogues that often result more stilted than not (why are they wasting Carter's Bellatrix Lestrange so much? She has such potential!)
It's a shame that the film feels so stale when absolutely everything is so handsomely crafted. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra evokes ancient carvings and even when he tries too hard to emulate Andrew Lesnie's magnificent work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Alexandre Desplat provides a sumptuous score that perfectly works with John Williams' already iconic theme.
When you come to think about it, this movie might be the exact opposite of The Two Towers, an introspective chapter that serves mostly to link plot turns. While Peter Jackson's movie managed to make the film a stand alone piece upon itself, Yates makes this Potter feel like waste the movie's almost three hours long and we find out what the deathly hallows are during the last fifteen! He even includes his own Gollum in the shape of Dobby (and sometimes even Ron) but fails to make any sort of emotional connection between what we're seeing and what we're supposed to be feeling.
Speaking in simple literary terms Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I is a luxurious hardcover version of a silly airport novel.

Style Sunday.

Am I the only who gets the impression that Natalie Portman is still a child on the red carpet? As beautiful and fantastic as she can get to be onscreen, she still lacks a little something when making public appearances.
She always looks overpowered by the clothes she wears and shows this by posing in a stilted manner, with her shoulders back on every picture she's in. There's an adorable awkwardness to her that make us realize she tries hard to fit into Hollywood, even if she would just prefer to let her work speak for itself.
With this in mind I found this ensemble utterly perfect, the dress is perfect (it's Christian Dior people!) but what's so unique is her Olympia Le-Tan book clutch.
She holds onto it like a girl who would prefer to be on a library than a gala and as such it's a deliciously subversive fashion statement.

Ah Eva Mendes, if only you were as interesting onscreen as you are on the red carpet you'd appear in this site more often. Her Peter Som dress to announce the Spirit Awards nominees is fresh, elegant and if it doesn't scream "indie", then not even Ellen Page playing Michelle Williams in a Gus van Sant movie would.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

While Watching "Black Orpheus"...

...I was stunned at how Marcel Camus managed to make such an outstanding film with such basic concepts. I also am thinking that Brazilian music might be the music that has inspired the best films ever made (Talk to Her anyone?).

I loved how Camus was able to work his way around the Greek myth of Orpheus and did it in a way that was not only ingenious but practically natural.
See how he gets the actors dressed up in Greek-like costumes and simply uses the excuse of carnival to make them fit in.
The rest of his allegories work perfectly because there's a strange balance between what we can think of as the real world and the mythological world. It's as if on carnival, a portal to another dimension had opened and made it logical for various symbolic creatures and human beings to walk the streets together.

The film has an ongoing theme of windows that's simply remarkable. It might have something to do with the various layers the film contains and how we're seeing it through cultural, musical, racial etc. windows.

The idea of death in this film is terrifying and mystifying. Camus taps on a very primal state and makes us fascinated by death in the way Bergman and Allen have.

If this isn't the most amazing metaphor for Orpheus' descent towards hell then I don't know what is.
If you haven't seen this film, wait until you see who Cerberus is. Truly brilliant.

Sheet-y Saturday.

Where we take a look at posters for upcoming features.

After the truly hideous design the marketing team over at the Weinstein Co. had made for The King's Speech, it's refreshing to see they finally came up with something that's not only lovely but also brilliantly executed.
Colin Firth's lips look thinner than usual and very well represent the dilemma at the center of the plot, notice how the microphone coming from above actually seems to evoke something godly and how the entire thing is a version of Michelangelo's famous painting of God and Adam atop the Sistine Chapel.
I'm thinking that the Weisnteins redid their campaign because they must know what ugly posters can do to Oscar movies...

I have to confess when it comes to documentaries I'm the most unversed person alive. All I know is Michael Moore, some Errol Morris, Herzog (LOVE his docs!) and a slew of the preachy stuff that always win Oscars.
However I have never seen what some think of as the greatest documentary ever made: Shoah.
When it comes to it I tend to think like Annie Hall "four hours of suffering!" but seeing how it's getting a new release I'm wondering if I've truly been missing out on something great?
Have you all seen it, should I stop being lazy and rent it?

Also, kudos to my friend Andrew for spotting this.
He gets the honorary Sheet-y Saturday badge of honor.

Friday, December 3, 2010


One could say almost every modern movie goddess has a classic counterpart. Julia has the blithe charm of Audrey, Cate all the technical mastery and command of Kate. Tilda's strange beauty and overpowering nature evokes Bette, while Charlize's classic aesthetics and harmless acting recall Grace. And if Sandra with all her likability is Doris, then Nicole is Garbo. Period.
I have tried to figure out who Julianne Moore would be and I have no idea.
All I can say about her is that she's completely unique. May she have a fantastic birthday today!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jackass 3D ***

Director: Jeff Tremaine
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn
Chris Pontius, Jason "Wee Man" Acuña, Preston Lacy
Ehren McGhehey, Dave England

On the surface Jackass 3D is an unabashed celebration of human stupidity and more often than not that surface is all it's got.
For the past ten years, Johnny Knoxville and his troupe of, well, jackasses, have proved that stupidity isn't the only thing more infinite than the universe but there are also innumerable ways in which a human being can harm himself.
Their antics which are two parts drunken frat boy, a million parts exhibitionists often have them find ingenious ways to beat the shit out of themselves, particularly if they can find a way to hurt their penises (one has to wonder how, after all those kicks, any of these men are still able to reproduce).
Just this movie has Steve-O taking a punch in the nuts (which makes him wonder out loud "why do I have to be Steve-O?"), another guy get kicked in the groin by a donkey (during a clever sketch called simply "Pin the Tail on the Donkey) and Chris Pontius tying his own member to a control remote helicopter or "helicockter" as they prefer to call it here.
Other of their favorite pastimes involve feces, animals with horns and snakes usually filtered through homoerotic behavior and a relentless need to push themselves harder.
Watching a man glue himself to a midget or another drink a cocktail made out of a fat man's sweat could be, and usually is, utterly disgusting but there is something that makes us look.
Despite the revolting nature of almost every minute of film in Jackass 3D we find ourselves enthralled, hypnotized even by the constant displays of decadence and insanity.
The film taps into our innermost voyeur, one that needs to satiate his every guilty pleasure because the truth is that Jackass embodies what the movies were created for originally; for us to see things out of our wildest dreams or kinkiest thoughts, to experience things on the screen that we otherwise would never be able to know about.
This time around the 3D adds to the film because we feel closer to the action, it's not like audiences are dying to feel vomit or poop near them but truth be told, when Knoxville throws a bucketful of dildos at us we are experiencing the same kind of thing that we go to the summer blockbusters for.
The film of course never implies it's being some sort of postmodernist take on pleasure fulfillment, these men know they are the class clowns and as such try hard to make us laugh. They achieve this brilliantly on several occasions (the aforementioned donkey sequence is one of them and there's a man with anal talents you'd have to see to believe) and even when they fail the camaraderie between the men makes for some interesting observations on male behavior. See how Steve-O confesses he's terrified of bungee jumping yet has never had any trouble stapling things to his body or jumping off roofs in the nude. There are several moments in between sketches where the camera seems to capture these men at their most introspective, as if these stunts were ways for them to exorcise their own demons.
A scene involving a pit and snaked induces us, and one of the guys, to the kind of fear most horror flicks would love to achieve and yet these moments go by so fast and sometimes unnoticed that you might end up feeling guilty for watching this and enjoying yourself so much, instead of doing something more "productive".
The truth is that for all its celebration of stupidity and irrational behavior, Jackass 3D leads us to the interesting realization that we have become a culture that enjoys watching others in pain the difference is that we have conditioned ourselves to process it in different ways according to our preconceptions and biases.
If we saw a man on the news trying to calm down a ram by playing an instrument at him we probably would hear comments about how he's making a biological study, when we see it on Jackass we laugh our asses off when said man gets beaten by the ram.
For all of their silly energy and gremlin like behavior these men allow us to see a part of our world we fail to identify with, a part that we have learned to compartmentalize in order to suit our superegos...if only we can see past all the shit.