Archive for March, 2008

Helvetica (2007)

“Helvetica” (2007)

IMDb

Catalog

As a future architect, i felt close to many of what’s depicted here. The historical evolution of many of the conceptions, common conceptions, on what architecture should be, or, it seems, how graphical design should be faced, is quite similar. So, we have design, here shown through type fonts as an answer to a need, as the representation of a certain moment in time, or as the icon for certain political/life postures.

The title font is a creation of modernism, which means it works, it aims at being universal, and it’s durable, visually speaking. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be the target of criticism. The thing for me is, the human nature doesn’t allow human beings to rest the same. That’s because the human mind is creative. At the same time, men like formulas. Men like to be told what’s right, they like to rely. And in fact, except for a very reduced number of artists who have/had the genius to produce work generated in some outer reality, something Plato would talk about, the vast majority of mortals need references, need formulas (even if they fight them), need restrictions, as someone said in the documentary. So, to Helvetica i could add many formula items, the modernist ‘boxes’ of Bauhaus, the transparent spaces of Mies, these were all creations springing from creative minds, and fully adopted massively, either with fantastic results, or gradually loosing interest, context, and quality. In the end, i think everybody is, to a certain degree, conservative and radical, conformist and revolutionary, Helvetica or Script, Gropius or Gaudi. It is in the oscillation between these extremes that human creativity works, and in the conflicts which exist within that evolution. So who are you? What chances are you willing to take? how new are you willing to be. If you were(are) American, who would you vote? Obama or Clinton? The idea behind what’s depicted in this film, is that the choices you make define who you are. But there’s a catch. We’re talking about the choices you make over the creations of others. People claim Helvetica to be part of themselves as it is part of American Airlines. And a window is opened in the end of this.

The fact that today, the technological democracy allows you to have much larger power of communication and personalization of your “identity cards”. I personally don’t think that technology stimulates creativity, it increases your options, yes, but that just gives you a larger catalogs of “fonts”. Your power to innovate is the same, with or without computers. And i even think the fantastic timings you get while working with computers may kill your creative process, because you may rush yourself into things you’ll feel are not the right options, only when it’s to late to change them. But it’s fantastic that people are allowed to produce a feature film out of a cell phone, or get to know all things done in a certain area with very little money. It’ll take a few years for us to understand what important work can be created with all the possibilities we have today. I’m skeptical, but i also tender the possibilities, and think about what i can do with them. And it really is exciting to be alive and able to participate in the process. Writing in Helvetica or by hand…

My opinion: 4/5 watch this.

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The Transporter (2002)

“The Transporter” (2002)

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dry powder

This is based on nothing. Everything explodes, but it blows nothing. The elements that were used on this film will be regarded, i suppose, as the main characteristics in action films from this first decade of the century. We have a specific cinematography, based on blue tones which in the end work as a kind of sober image, tough, hard. This is supposed to set the tone for the action, which will be choreographed, but also hard, heavy, sometimes violent. Editing has a fundamental part in all this, many times we, spectators, won’t be allowed to understand exactly everything that happens. The Bourne features started this, i think, Casino Royale successfully exploited the notion, as well as several other films. Not this one. This is a collection of useless tricks, which don’t work in any situation, in any part of the movie. There’s nothing here. It emulates badly its references, it lives on a certain style, but that style is corrupted and it is incompetently used here.

My opinion: 1/5 stay away.

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Billy Madison (1995)

“Billy Madison” (1995)

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Sandler with a help

this is a vulgar project with two redeeming moments.

Adam Sandler has accustomed us with projects in which everything is driven around his character, every element exists to enhance his qualities as a comedy performer. He is one of those humorists who built his career around a character. In his case, someone who is a weirdo, apparently a clueless guy who, nevertheless, is able to fulfill something purely honest and hard. So is the case here. Even the title gives us what we’ll see: billy, and not much else.

There is a matter of personal choices here, if you like Sandler, you’ll be able to stand this, i suppose it has good moments according to his ‘character’. But it is, otherwise, a vulgar experience with not much to give.

There are, however, two quite well done episodes. The first is the participation of Steve Buscemi. He shows here also referencing and making fun of his own character, the strange psycho, the old Sandler’s classmate who became a psychopat with sexual deviation. That was really funny, because of the association we make to the previous characters of Buscemi. The other moment is the musical piece. I suppose it works because it’s fully unexpected. At least i didn’t expect it, and it emulates with a good comedy level the classical musicals it references. Of course except for these moments, there is not much here.

My opinion: 2/5

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No Country for Old Med (2007)

“No Country for Old Men” (2007)

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the children who got out of the sandbox

This film is a great experiment in many levels, it is one of the best uses of widescreen i’ve seen in recent productions. The photography is enviable, and i call attention to all the scenes taking place at the slaughter location. Day, night, down up, up down, all the situations and angles are tried, they all mean different things in different moments of the narration. It’s really good work. But there are questions to be reckoned, i think.

I’m convinced that most of the enjoyment one can take out of a film (or other creative work) is a matter of personal decision. Basically you have two choices: get superficial, or think/feel. The vast majority of the average cinema crowds work in the first case which basically translates into “did i like the story”, “did i like the performances” (on the basic level of convincing/artificial), and the prettiness of the images. For that kind of crowd, this film will work perfectly, because it is built with already seen situations/plots/characters. None of this is unusual, drug dealers, money, sheriffs, and the border with Mexico, Oh and the psychopat. With this lines, i’m not taking myself out of that average crowd. I work my ways in trying to understand what might be behind what i’ve seen. In this case, i don’t believe the Coens would simply go with the flow, and make what would be expected from other competent directors. But indeed, apparently they do… i suspect it was on purpose.

I like to check for self-reference in films, or metaphors to the real world machinery of things. I tried to make my one interpretation of the world i watched in this film and establish a possible relation that may have some logic, or none at all. It is important to say that i didn’t read the book, nor am acquainted to McCormack’s writing, but i think the influence of it may be felt in the narrative structure, of episodes which are parallel which from time to time intersect and connect (the Coens don’t often work this way). Anyway, i decided to watch this: we have a film starting in the aftermath of a slaughter. Several bodies, dispute over drug in a border territory, and a huge amount of money. This is staged for us, it is the section in the film where we are more forced to really see the set and be placed there. We have someone who is totally clueless about anything that has occurred, and fate/fortune takes him to find the money. And we have him being hunted for that. Check the hunter. Everybody thinks he is crazy, that “you (he) don’t have to do this”. But he never gives in a little bit. He has his own moral, he creates his rules, and he even gives fate a chance, when he uses a coin to decide on life or death. All and all he just seeks exactly the same as everybody else, the ‘macguffin’ (money), but somehow we know he has other motivations, though we really can’t tell what. This was made by two brothers, who are proud of being the ones who play in sandbox of the corner of Hollywood, make their games and don’t get annoyed by those who are “just” after the money. But hey, they also play the big game, they also produce in the context of the Moss and the Wells, and they are under the jurisdiction of the Bell. They are not independent in the bankrupt European vision, they are not even low cost filmmakers. They are stars, and the mediatic success of this film made them even more like stars. So I think i watched a game. The Coens putting crowds, investors, producers watching themselves running and fearing the Coens, and laughing. Undercovered irony. But i’ll add a catch to this possible game. The film filled many pockets, it is watched, and its success may turn it into some kind of a paradigm, of a style to be chased, copied, and recognizable. So who won the game?

And by the way, i think this is one the most “conventional” Coens films ever, conventional in relation to the Coens films as much as in relation to conventional films.

My opinion: 4/5, it’s playful to watch Joel and Ethan, but i think they’ve done better. But this is a good film

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Fados (2007)

“Fados” (2007)

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Fado is also art

I’ve been dreaming about this film. Despite i’ve seen this some months ago, i didn’t comment on it before because i wanted to understand how it would fit in my imagination. And it has been moving my dreams in ways i had never experienced before. This is a milestone work, and i am marking it as a film one should necessarily watch in order to get maximum range of what moving images can give you.

I had experienced the musical genre according to Saura’s vision. This one tops what he had done previously with Iberia and Flamenco. He topped everything he had done before in this area. The thing with this is: i’m not sure i watched cinema here. I watched a composition, which concerns music, plastic development of sets based on the feeling they cause, framing, camera movement and so on. So, Saura plays with the whole deck of cards. He plays with camera, sound and image/composition. He uses all the possibilities, and oh, he knows so well where he wants to go.

Probably, as a Portuguese i connect with this more specially. Fado is an work in progress, it is a form of expression that jumped out of the “neighbourhood”. Amália Rodrigues tried to cross barriers, she looked for making Fado something more jazzy in the way it could play with more notes, breaking forms, and even breaking the idea of rigid forms. Ary dos Santos was her equivalent in what concerns lyrics (and he supported in this quest the upcoming Carlos do Carmo, who performs here). But when Amália started, she had fascism supporting “traditional” and fado had necessarily to play the cultural role of supporting the soul of the people, and the health of the empire. So she could never take the music to a whole new level, as it is being done in recent years.

Mariza shows now, well supported by the right people, and she took musically fado to a new artistic level. Fado is also music, Morelembaum told her. New musical developments are taking its way. And now we have this. Here the question becomes more universal and has to do with other “sports”. Several parallel forms of expression, which intersect fado without being exactly fado. Over those expressions, Saura places flat colored surfaces, and he uses them at his will, to bring out the best all the numbers (dance or music) have to offer. So, he uses mirrors to multiply the area or to reflect movements he cares about, and he uses strong colors, usually to place faces against them. Here he can achieve in moments genius. I dream about that yellowed orange, i believe i cried a tear in my sit over that orange. The genius here comes when Saura is able to use all the media he has in order to bring out the value of music. He creates a new form of art, that may be beyond cinema, something between the happening and the installation, but oh much more interesting than any of these. Curiously, 2007 also gave us a film i consider essential, Caótica Ana by Medem, another spaniard, and in this film i commented on a specific scene which i considered to be something more than cinema, something which included the viewer. Very interesting, same year, same country. I believe the next step over this would be to place an architectural/spatial eye. That could come by studying the cinema architects (Welles, Tarkovsky, Antonioni…) and emulate them, or turning this into a physical real experience, but there, cinema is gone. I would prefer seeing this done the first way.

My opinion: 5/5 I felt i was watching to the construction of a new medium, of something never seen before. I enjoyed the sensation

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The Secret Life of Words (2005)

“The Secret Life of Words” (2005)

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a set which performs

This has a beautiful set up, one which is highly in touch with the themes and the shape of the characters. That set up works because the performances allow it.

The film is about being incomplete, abnormal people running away from normal situations – almost a reverse of the most common kind of drama this days, normal people in abnormal situations.

There are great hints at understanding visually what the two main characters feel physically/deeply. So, the characters are an island, an artificial island, self-absorbed, and broken, like the oil platform. She is deaf, and able to decide whether she wants to hear, he is temporarily blind. I understood the deaf as someone who is able to decide when she wants to be the island (by total silence, or by the constant noise of the factory where she works when she’s not being a nurse). The temporary blindness was the process by which Robbins’ character is forced to “hear” (synonym to understand) instead of “seeing” (synonim to preconceive).

The way the conclusion unfolded, with the revelation of the past of the girl struck me as natural, and confirmed me that the tensions, the revelations, etc. all come throughout the portions in the platform, it speaks to us and reveals more than the dialogs do, that’s the interest of it. That’s why it’s visual. The set up tells the story. The opposition between inside outside helps. We have mostly hand held camera for the dialogs, and travelings for the outside.

I knew Tim Robbins was competent. Sometimes he is great. He is an intelligent actor, one of those who is an artist himself, who has a great creative portion in the projects where he works, he has his own ‘method’. Sarah Polley was a surprise. She is talented, she projects her characters internally, she’s highly contained, but also highly emotional. I’m not sure about this, but in a way she reminds me the kind of actor Henry Fonda was (and his daughter as well). I’ll follow her career. She directed a film recently, i’m interesting in finding out how she took her acting skills to the field of direction.

Isabel Coixet has a personal touch, i suspect, it’s not original, she doesn’t pull out risky tricks, but she emulates well enough the references she takes. I like that. This is a worthwhile experience, one that may touch you deeply if you have the capacity to understand the abstractions of the minimalist interpretations and project those abstractions on the way the set is filmed. That’s interesting…

My opinion: 4/5

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Breaking and Entering (2006)

“Breaking and Entering” (2006)

IMDb

visual, but not vigorous

I care a lot about the work of Minghella. There is a visual poetry transversal to all his films, good or bad, which, although clearly rooted in specific references, are quite personal and honest. I often have the impression that throughout the whole movie he is showing one single image, which is twisted, faded, slightly changed. So he is coherent within his own personal world. He is abstract in the way he weaves sensations and feelings which may not be directly related to the story or the characters depicted. There is an element which always plays in agreement with what he intends: the music by Gabriel Yared. When (if) i come to comment on the English Patient, all these observations will be more meaningful and make more sense (thus i will feel the need to explore these links more). But, generally speaking, these are the characteristics that trespass all of Mighella’s films. This is no exception. He chooses a location, strongly identifiable (London), and he layers his poetic visual storytelling on it. He is building his own city within the real location. No wonder the protagonist is an architect. Nevertheless, the film has little to do with architecture.

The thing is, there are filmmakers who operate (no matter what they are doing) mainly on a spatial world (Welles, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, dePalma…) and others rooted on image, or framed (Wenders, Lynch, Lang, Antonioni again…). Minghella is one of this second kind. He roots his visual story telling on framed image, and possibilities it gives to our imagination. It’s as if the film we see here was the model the young thief builds along the film, and the characters were the small human models he places at his will. The need to escape (or the need to change) apparently drives the fate of these characters. The boy who searches the abstract space (architecture in process) to escape his marginal reality, Binoche who searches the affair to escape her solitude, Law who searches for the same affair to escape his difficult family life. Yared’s soundtrack has here an interesting ambiguity between an epic vision and a cozy environment. Where i think this film fails (or at least doesn’t succeed the way other films by this director succeed) is in its lack of energy. It’s less vigorous than “mr ripley” and less meditative than “english patient”. i suppose it’s coherent to the world it depicts, but it’s not as efficient or interesting as the world of the two other films. I face this as minor work by the director, but it’s worth taking a look.

My opinion: 3/5

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