Archive for October, 2007

Hook (1991)

“Hook” (1991)

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Going to cinema’s never land

Most of the times Spielberg shoots, he is aiming at tenderness. Sometimes he delivers some form of worthy entertainment, usually more understandable by children or less intellectually demanding audiences, other times he doesn’t. Here we have the second situation. The thing is, Spielberg has also, in all his films, a kind of safety net that stops him from total disaster. That net has to do with Williams’ scores and his camera which is most of the times able to be a complement to the actors (most of the times quite bad, especially children).

So, he chooses a story which is naturally in the hearts of a good part of his audience (1 point to tenderness) and he reworks that story introducing nostalgia in the feelings of the own hero, who is himself reason for nostalgia in the memories of many grown ups in the audience; this gets the spectator even more in touch with the story, children or grown ups (family film, another point for tenderness). But than that’s it. Absolutely nothing else. No cinematic idea, no intelligent writing, not even good performances (Robin Williams can do better, but he’s not asked to). So we have a succession of shots, scenes, which are not magical, but ordinary; not insightful, but standard; not cinematic, but vulgar. You do have Williams on the background, but here his score works for the reminiscent style of his other scores we know to be associated with higher cinematic concerns… So there is not much to be appreciated here.

My evaluation: 1/5 i do not like to attack Spielberg as much as many of his detractors, but here he really failed.

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Live free or Die Hard (2007)

“Live free or Die Hard” (2007)

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New action, old memories

There are interesting elements here.

. This film is inserted in a recent tendency for action movies, which i believe started with the first Bourne (but i may be mistaken, i’m always checking for the origins and many times i find routs in older projects i didn’t know). That tendency (influence) has much to do with style, and it features usually a kind of blue toned photography, i an apparently hard way to perform action/fight scenes. It has also to do with camera work, which is most of the time hand held and chooses not to make the whole action completely clear to us, as if we were intervenients, and makes us look elsewhere even when the action is not there. This “style” has been used (with more or less similar elements) in recent features such as the Bourne series, Syriana, even Casino Royale and this fourth Die Hard.

. The funny thing here is: The original Die Hard was very original in the way the audience related to the hero (Willis is responsible for this) but also in the way he performed his (apparently) uncoreographed action scenes (though this kind of fight probably started with Harrison Ford’s Indiana). So here in this one, after so many years of degeneration of action fights (badly) interpreting oriental moves, we have Willis fighting in his “clumsy” way the girl very “kung fu” oriented. This is a turn of the page. Interesting

. The theme was well chose in this logic of producing a new film starring an old hero. This computer dependent world is what changed in practical terms in the last 20 years. So, beyond the basic idea of the “old hero in a new world” we have another interesting device which is how the “bad guy” fights the good one, no physical action. Did anyone found strange that our PC physically developed geek didn’t die after a hard core body fight with our McClane? This is just curious but it becomes interesting when from here we get to understand that our mind changed in the way we expect the action to develop. Oh and this paranoid about terrorist global incursions is not new, but gained new forms after September 11th, obviously, in real life and film (film not also follows life, but also helps creating the paranoid, power institutions use these mechanisms, especially among Americans, so that sequence with American presidents talking and being edited is ironic in the sense that even though we think they are being manipulated, it is in fact us, the audience, specially the American audience, who is being manipulated).

. Anyway, the film is not without flaws, and i really miss the internal dialog that the “old” McClane used to establish with the audience. This old man who calls himself MacClane is almost a cartoon of the other one. We get the flavour (that’s the basic demand for most of the die hard “fans”, but it’s very far from the type of device that established new patterns for action actors, so fully appreciated by action flicks since then (Cage repeatedly copied this, watch the “comedy” Con Air).

My evaluation: 3/5

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Children of Men (2006)

“Children of Men” (2006)

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Referencial cinema

This is one of the most engaging experiences i had in film world lately. Cuarón is already responsible for some strong creations, including “Y tu mama también” or the best Harry Potter feature, to my view, which was the third one (Azkaban). Nevertheless this is, to my view, his most successful accomplishment to this point. That had to do, as far as i know, with knowing the masters, the guide lights in the visual world of cinema, i mean really knowing what was the strength in their movies (more than copying the style like, say, Tarantino often does to his “references”) and using that knowledge in a personal project.

I am not such an expert in the world of films, but for what i do know, i got to “see” four masters here. So, back to the basics:

. start with Hitchcock. In his wide-known book-interview with Truffaut, Hitch praised above all the capacity for his movies to engage the audiences; in order to do that he always played with elements of the story, surprises, turn-backs, unpredictable happenings, etc. and more important, he placed his vision in filming the scenes in a way that made them fascinatingly engaging: Watch Psycho and you’ll see the death of our Julianne Moore coming at this one which is to say, much sooner than one would expect even more when we have a “star” which was “supposed” to live until the end (or close). Watch Hitch’s films especially from the “rope phase”, “dial m…” “rear window”, and you’ll find where Cuarón got much of the ideas for much of the shots, including the final idea for a “one shot sequence”, or at least, it strikes you as that.

. than we have Welles. This one, in Cuarón’s vision, completes the structure he got from Hitchcock. Watch Welles’s work when he is more clearly aims at exploring space, finding reasons to move the camera, go around the set, unknown places, in and out, etc. In other words, watch “Touch of Evil” where his reflexions on cinematic space exploration come more vivid than ever. Compare the longest shots in that project (the first sequence, and the last ones, bridge persecution, etc), and than come to this again, watch the final very long sequence, inside the prisoners camp, and observe how brilliantly Cuarón understands the possibilities Welles opened, and how well he explores those possibilities.

Than we have the reflexion portions. Cuarón gets more clumsy here, and shows a smaller perception of the masters he seeks. But it still is worth watching, and i personally understand the fact that he “rushes” things where his references would have taken longer for matters of general coherence, and pace. So here we have:

. Tarkovsky, who could as no one in film-history, place the idea of memory in front of his camera. All his work is a big, beautiful, delightful, almost orgasmic reflexion on meditation. Cuarón doesn’t get halfway through in getting to Tarkovsky in deepness and meaning (visually speaking) but there is one shot which is worth attention, the one in which the camera explores an old abandoned school and we get to here the jingle from an old rusty swinging toy where our pregnant miracle mother thinks about her life, and represents at the same time the memory she never lived in, but in which Owen’s character lived good (and happy) portions of his life;

. Leone/Morricone: the musical vocal theme is here for the same reasons the main theme from “once upon a time in the west” is there and that is to provide the audience with the same emotion and inner feelings the characters are supposed to be feeling in that moment. Leone was a genius, an absolute master in getting this effect, and his collaboration with Morricone probably has lots to do with this. Anyway, Cuarón understands Leone; so check the moments in which this theme shows up, after reviewing “once upon a time…” and you’ll understand.

The power of this film is that you are able to enjoy it as a piece on its own, and still, afterwards (and during it) identify the references. I admire people who can dignify the masters they admire. Watch this.

Trivia: Oh and i couldn’t stop noticing. One more use in cinema of the Battersea Power Station, London. This case has two particular aspects:

. It is used as an Art Ark, place for gathering works of art that survive the chaos. We see one of them through the window while Owen’s character is inside and that is the flying pig from Pink Floyd’s animals, which was at the cover of that album exactly in that position. Animals was loosely based in Orwell’s work Animal Farm. Orwell also wrote 1984, which, when adapted to cinema, was partly shot in the same Battersea station. 1984 described a world of oppression, hopeless future, partly close to this one (oh and when Owen gets in that ark the space is in fact Tate Modern, reconstruction of another factory by the same architect of Battersea) . The other aspect is that in a street shot we get as soundtrack King Crimsons famous progressive song. This is a band from that 70’s period, of which Pink FLyod came out the most famous and successful. This is, to my view, interesting trivia

My evaluation: 5/5

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Ratatouille (2007)

“Ratatouille” (2007)

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Welles cooking!

This is very good work. Pixar is by now a solid bet, and they have brilliant minds who are working their ways in new cinematic adventures. Here is another.

The principle of the thing is a being (mouse) who is able to control another being (human) and thus create his art (gastronomy). This is announced before the beginning of the film with the short “Lifted”, i commented on it and there placed my view on the subject.

The way the story develops is fully Disney anchored, some bad people, lots of great beings, some trouble in the middle and a happy ending. We’re used to it.

The reason why this is adventurous is because of the movement and placement of the virtual camera. This is really well done. I suspect the reason why a mouse was chosen was because being such a small animal, which at the same time can move around easily, it was perfect for being climbing up shelves, going inside walls with rusty pipes, being on the floor looking up, being inside a cooker’s hat (and there you get the transparency of that hat, another theme to work visually) and moving quickly between all those places. So they have that point of view, the one of the mouse, and layered on that, they shift constantly and go to the point of view of the humans around, other animals. This is very well paced, of course, and the editing is superb. The camera works as Welles might have done it, it understands virtual space, and explores it.

This is much much better in these concerns than “finding Nemo” (which was sort of a disappointment to me) and i suspect i know why. There we had an immense space (the ocean) which we were free to explore. But that wasn’t well done there probably because there were lacking physical references, objects that could stay still while the characters were moving around (great work exploring the possibilities of deep space is the one Besson does, while filming directly the ocean in Atlantis but also in practically the rest of his work).

My evaluation: 4/5

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Lifted (2006)

“Lifted” (2006)

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Puppetering

You will watch this short in the theatre before the beginning of Ratatouille. And it’s very well placed, since it indicates much of the theme that drives Ratatouille. An artist puppeteering an instrument in order to create his art.

This short may be understood as a synonym for the work of an animator. Really really hard to manage, check out the number of buttons in the board of the spaceship. It’s hard to learn the job, and while you don’t master it, all you do will be a disgrace. But if you get to do it well, you’ll do wonders. You’ll puppeteer the world below, create and destroy, move and control.

These small appointments (not necessarily short films) are interesting to me because they are explicit indications pointing on how each creator comes out with his own originality and my opinion is, the creations reflect usually every stuff which is very close to the creator, usually his own thoughts and life (It’s the second time in a short time i identify these signs, the other was with Miyazaki’s Kiki).

The funny thing is when the construction, no matter how simple it is, is honest in its origins, works out very effective, so this short is really really funny.

My evaluation: 4/5

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Houve uma vez dois Verões (2002)

“Houve uma vez dois Verões” (2002) (Two summers)

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self-explaining world

I really care about Jorge Furtado’s work. He is one of the most intelligent cinematic minds working today worldwide. At the same time he is probably one the most not underrated but unknown creators. And there’s something specially interesting about him. In 1989 he directed a most celebrated short film, “Ilha das Flores”. That worked as a true manifest for his (and others) cinema. It’s concentrated intentions. I love those works, when directors indicate a path, to be explored by them or others (Hitchcock did it with, in my opinion, 3 different projects, Rope, Vertigo and North by Northwest). Furtado did it with Ilha das Flores. And influenced a generation of filmmakers from Porto Alegre, Brazil. This is not the most wide known branch of Brazilian cinema (that would be the one Salles was able to publicize). But for me it’s really worth attention.

Here we have the first long form in Furtado’s career. And its weaknesses may come from there. His films (shorts and long) hold inside a different world. In that world we have simultaneously:

a)something that happens;

b)the explanation in detail of what is happening (and linking it to as much elements from outside that world as possible);

c)a sense of irony and self-criticism (consequently self-awareness) on that same world happening in front of us;

So this is built with self-reference, and always with intelligence. Where i think this particular project has lots of weaknesses is in the fact that the syllogistic thinking is not as clever and meaningful here as it was in say Ilha das Flores. There everything was in its perfect place, all the syllogisms were perfectly justified, sooner or later, and it fitted. Obviously the short form helps this coherent development. Also theme was quite meaningful in “ilha…”. Anyway, this is the world of Furtado, and even though this isn’t his strongest work (or even the strongest long film) it is still worth watching, despite the horribly lame acting and some poor aspects of production.

Nevertheless, if you can, reach “Ilha das Flores” to understand Furtado before anything else, and when you end up viewing all his movies, go back to ilha das flores. Oh and check Resnais’s “Mon oncle d’Amérique” which shows where the linked thoughts started in film writing, at least in this specific form. The work of the french is not as fluid or ironic as Furtado’s but he master the long form better than Furtado does here.

My evaluation: 3/5, it’s still worth watching.

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Bedazzled (2000)

“Bedazzled” (2000)

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it’s about writing, and lips

Once in a while this happens. A movie produced under the most strict commercial constraints which actually has some cleverness behind its conception. It happened to me twice this week to watch to such an event (the other was with “the girl next door”). There is actually a story device here, a strategy. It is simple: our hero visits several worlds according to his “wishes” or at least he thinks. The comedy device comes when we understand each of those worlds will be a)totally different from the previous one and the reality of the hero b)never according to his true wish. This provides the film with a motive for reinvention through out the film which actually is effective. Fraser helps. I usually don’t like his pseudo-clumsy acting style but here he shows really versatile.

Now what i found really interesting: one wishes something, and other thing(s) come along which is to say, to define too many, is error, so the more general you get in what one defines, the more control one gets. This is interesting if seen from a screen-writing perspective; because it has to do with effective control over the medium (and the comedy of the unexpected stuff that happen in the parallel worlds has always to do with omissions or non-considerations or exaggerations in the “wish” itself). I liked it. Anyway, the credit should probably be given to Peter Cook, though i’ll now try to get to the original version to check how it was treated there

Oh, and by the way, Elizabeth Hurley is really a sexual being here. She has physical qualities obviously, but here i think it had to do with the way she uses her mouth. Usually that strikes me as something unnatural about her, but here it really works. Check it. Oh and her British accent also helps here.

My evaluation: 3/5 Get to this

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