Archive for October, 2008

Sliding Doors (1998 )

“Sliding Doors” (1998 )

IMDb

Through the door; sliding destinies

This is a little cozy and intelligent piece of film making. It plays with the tools and pieces i enjoy the most: creating a mood, inventing a world or given a personal angle of a world close to mind, and inventing in narrative, novel ways of telling a story. It does it competently, it’s an even film in practically every aspect.

Here, there is a clear plot line considered: The life of an unhappy woman, who looses her job and has an unfaithful partner. This line has a beginning and two possible ends. Somewhere over that curved line, the writers place an alternative, a second line which deviates from the first one only to intersect it further ahead. So, a line with a perfectly defined beginning and end. The plot is fully centered on Gwyneth’s character. The distinct plot lines are followed in parallel and this gives alternate versions, which we follow, alternating between them. The moment where both lines cross again is relatively banal – death of one of the alternative Gwyneths which reestablishes the normal curse of things. But the moment in which time breaks is a beautiful piece of film. The cinematography is beautiful, how the subway doors are shot, how the editing of Gwyneth living both versions in that moment is made. Beautiful. Curiosity: the little girl who in one version causes Gwyneth to loose the train, and on the other is step aside to allow her to pass carries a doll, blonde, with which she plays. Like a puppet. Fate drives the life of the characters here. Delicious.

Gwyneth Paltrow is a very good actress, who can perform that same distinctive character in both versions bearing in mind that some strange will of some superior manipulator is playing dice with her fate. I felt that. It was good. So we have a number of players in this board, and all of them have their lives dramatically and profoundly changed by the single event that divided Gwyneth’s character time.

The cinematography, and the tone of the story sets the mood. The thing that impressed me the most was the clear sensation that the film created a little place i can visit and hide for a little, like if i was visiting the possible reality the sliding doors created for Gwyneth. This is top notch, and it is a nearly perfect cinematic creation of intimacy. On-screen and outside it. How great to be in this film.

My opinion: 4/5

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Tropic Thunder (2008 )

“Tropic Thunder” (2008 )

IMDb

Acting actors who act actors

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

I must confess i’m not a great admirer of Ben Stiller. Even though sometimes he finds interest concepts to explore in the films in which he is more actively involved (as writer above all), his own performances strike as relatively ordinary, despite effective, and that passes me the impression of being watching a minor actor.

Well, not here. Not at all. Here he embraces a reflection and a deconstruction of what an actor does, and essential what may mean to be an actor. A film about acting, where actors act several roles, one over the other in some cases. I like this material. In this ride to the jungle of actor constructions, he takes Downey Jr. Casting him is one of the most intelligent things here.

So we have a group of actors who move to the jungle to shoot a film. Along the way, due to a series of events, they eventually take ‘real’ locations for sets, and ‘real’ people for actors. They keep on acting, even when they know they’re no longer in the reality of the film within the film we are watching. Maybe they’re acting for us.

The writer of the film within the film is himself an actor performing a role he invented for himself. We come to know that as we find out he is a fake, and invented the whole plot of the film within. What everybody in the film we’re watching takes as real events is in fact fiction the fake supposedly handless writer creates. So he also creates the places every actor on the film within will perform. In that film everybody acts differently and over posed roles: Stiller is trying to outdo himself, so he tries to grab the main role which would naturally (in the reality we are given) belong to the ‘star’ Downey Jr. Eventually he comes to find a star role in an improvised stage. Stardom is his theme, and the motivator of his acting.

Downey Jr is the most interesting and more complex character, for the own construction in the screenplay and for his own deepness as an actor. He is an Australian actor, blond and blue-eyed. We know Downey Jr as a public figure and he is not like that at all, so we get him acting right here. In the film he dies is skin black, changes his hair and eye color to look black, afro-American urban black. This is another role, representing a certain stereotype who actually acts all the way, whenever they perform they’re urban character. The plot also has a real black guy who has frictions with Downey Jr for him to act like a black guy without being one when in fact they both act that part, latter on we’ll have a glimpse at the real sensitive gay personality of the real black guy. The comedy is in this contradiction between both characters.

Jack Black is the most straightforward character. Also the most uninteresting to me. That’s because his acting is only as a ‘public’ personality in the reality of the film we are watching. An idol to child and teen audiences who actually is an addict to drugs, and a fully uninteresting character in his real life. It’s a version of Groening’s Krusty, the clown. Black has a great potential for comedy and for playing interesting games with it, petty that couldn’t come out here.

A discreet yet interesting character is the one Baruchel performs. That’s because he is the only one who doesn’t perform in the mad reality of the jungle. He knows where he stands, he doesn’t enter the hallucinating world the others embrace to the point of mixing they’re own personalities, and probably that’s why he is, in the film, the weakest actor. He acts to get laid, no special relation to it.

All this mad, beautiful playing with actors who play characters who play characters who… is well framed in the beginning and in the end by the ‘celebrity’ reality of those actors. This is underlined by the Oscar ceremony where the film we watch ends, and for all the gossip and past lives of those actors we come to enter to a certain extent. The beginning gives us a number of false trailers of films where the actors have starred. Cameos like that of Tobey Maguire establish the credibility of this. The film starts with no credits, and we are given those trailers as if they were in fact part of the trailers we see in theaters always before the film we’re expecting. I loved the detail.

For the first time since Magnolia, Tom Cruise acts. He was not announced, or very little mentioned in the promotion of this tropic thunder, and that was intended for us to be surprised. Double surprise. Not only he is there, he is also ‘not’ there. He is acting… that’s a surprising little account on the ‘actors who act’ theme. He is vibrant, he really is funny because we wouldn’t expect him to do everything he does. It was a pearl.

I suppose American audiences will appreciate the fun made around goofing with australians and English characters. i’m out of it.

I mark this with my higher mark, though it may change based on future viewings of the film and, mostly, how it will accommodate in my mind. I just found it so intelligent and well executed, i think it deserves the place.

My opinion: 4/5

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Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008 )

“Repo! The Genetic Opera” (2008 )

 
Festival Sitges 2008

IMDb

progressive narration

One thing that annoys me, and a few others i enjoyed: The ‘cult’ film thing; i understand that a cult movie is something which gathers around it a number or a legion (or many legions) of fans, who, fascinated by the symbols and/or the characters of that film, will go on searching for new meanings, searching for sequels, inventing stories around it or so on. At least, cult in the kind of sense a film like this can carry. I’m not very interested in that notion, it blurs the clear ideas one might form out of ‘watching’ a film instead of worshiping it. But i’m OK with that. The thing is, what is the idea of releasing a film as a ‘cult’ film? That’s a status that time and the dedication of fans should give, or by now the notion is so ruined that ‘cult’ became a genre? What a commercial cheap strategy…

Apart from this, this is relatively well crafted. I still haven’t checked the sequels to Saw, that Bousman directed, but probably this is a more personal project to him, therefore one where it is possible to reach deeper into his mind. There was an effort towards the creation and establishment of a detailed world here, and i always appreciate that. Post-chaos, dreadful paranoid inhuman future world. No special edge, on the narrative side (except one thing i’ll talk ahead), or on purely cinematic skills. All the efforts were pointed to the image side. Liking or disliking that is a matter of personal taste, i suppose. I enjoy sneaking into these gore environments once in a while, even though i feel like a tourist there: i like to see, i like to live it, i like to try it, but than i like to go back home.

Still, i found one element of great relevance, on the narrative side: the grave-robber (Terrance Zdunich’s character). He is fully part of that world, even though an outsider in it (criminal, he robs graves to profit with it), and provides us with a balance, a kind of a link between us and the freaky world we’re entering. He tells us things, he ‘narrates’ much of the thing, and he talks (sings) directly looking at us, most of the times. This is very interesting, there are already some experiences working this kind of link between the audience and the film; Cusack in High Fidelity or Willis in Die Hard among others. This adds something new, and it doesn’t depend so much on the ability of the actor to do this, more of the musical device, in which Zudnich had a participation as a creator of the music. interesting…

That music is close to the progressive metal Dream Theater master these days, and for a while now. It’s a mood creating yet substantial music which i enjoy, for its balance and for its ambiguity between musical worlds. So, in coherence with the thing here. Incidental or not, i liked it.

My opinion: 4/5

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Kurôzu zero (2007)

“Kurôzu zero” (2007)


Festival Sitges 2008

IMDb

be cool

This is fully based on style. It’s an exploration of what it means, in a certain moment in time, in a certain culture (arguably global…), to be cool.

Everything here is designed to look cool. In fact, whenever we hear about wanting to ‘rule’ the school, what’s in fact at stake is being the coolest there. The fighting is a fundamental issue of that coolness, the best fighters gain admiration, not for their physical skill but for the coolness with what they get out of the situations – even when Genji is defeated after fighting dozens at the same time, he falls in a cool way. To underline this, we come to understand that in fact the strongest guy in the school was in fact away from the main disputes all the way, probably because he is not cool, in the notion of the cool guys (he is cool in his uncool way).

This is a thin notion, which probably will appeal to a teen mind (with 24 i’m not quite sure yet if i’ve ever been a teen). This film gets away with that single thin notion because it is able to support it visually. The director knows a few things about framing and pace, even though he doesn’t take many risks (or none at all) in how he shoots the fights.

In a way, this is no different, in root, of series like Rambo, the filmography of Chuck Norris or the urban hip-hop acting pose. Different moments in time, and different places on earth, and an important element: this film doesn’t take itself seriously, as the others do. This is all staged, and that’s clear to us, and it’s OK. The comedy bits exist to underline this. Also the parody of the Yakuza, as inferior guys who get beaten up by the school kids.

My opinion: 3/5

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Ekusute (2007)

“Ekusute” (2007)


Festival Sitges 2008

IMDb

pup-petering hair

I have a good time watching works like this. Films like these use visual, and symbolic codes specifically directed to a certain dark piece of audience, who is willing to live a life in films outside the most widespread conventions, and accept what comes with that. One of the thing i like the most when watching such a piece in a public venue (usually crowded with the hard fans of these kinds of productions) is to observe how those fans respond to certain conventions inside the ‘genre’. To me, because i only make occasional visits, it’s something equivalent to visiting a foreign country, i observe how people behave, what’s mood of the place i’m visiting.

Inside those alternative conventions, this is a good film, i suppose. At least it made it for me, to the point of wanting to know more work of this director. He has a vision, in the middle of this kind of capillary horror, he has an interesting concept which spreads clearly and embraces the film, as much as the hair embraces all the characters.

Hair as open channels. Hair as an element to connect people, to connect lives, and past lives. And to share death. It’s an effective narrative device. The dead hair growing girl works as a kind of noir agent, someone who controls the action, but we are the whole time inside the device (we had to be to make the whole thing credible, and also because it was important for the creators and for the genre to explore the one-eyed dead girl). She manipulates through hair, and has a human puppet who delivers hair, and makes the whole thing work. That silly man is her hands in the street, giving death randomly. That agent believes all the way that he controls her, but we come to understand it’s the other way around.

This clear storytelling strategy makes the film pleasant enough to me. It’s a solid production work, the stop-motions were made with competence, and you will enjoy this if you like to explore interesting storytelling and if you’re willing to accept, at least for 2 hours, the conventions of this corner in film universe (that if you’re not already inside it).

My opinion: 3/5

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Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008 )

“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” (2008 )


Festival Sitges 2008

IMDb

pouring wine in a vase

I saw this inserted in a festival. Festivals are great occasions. There is a mood in the air, which invites us to see new things, ambitious ones. Most of the time, it must be said, i see failures, some glorious, others pure crap. But the possibility to see new surprise life altering creations compensates for all the eventually boring proofs we might have to endure. This little documentary is something of an exception in these types i described.

As a film in itself it has little value. It’s a collection of photographs, testimonies, old videos and testimonies made for the documentary, with a plus, Johnny Depp narrating Thompson. It is tailored like the serial documentaries the Discovery or History channel usually makes. But i actually enjoyed it. For one reason, i was ignorant about many of the aspects in his life, namely the politic involvements, which is a contradiction, among others, in the life of a counter-culture icon.

Anyway, it’s the very facts of Thompson’s life that move the whole thing, and sparks the whole interest this may have. Because there was something that displeased me, a kind of formal contradiction which nevertheless is fun to find: H.Thompson was important as a writer, fundamentally because he broke forms, and in the process created a genre on its own. His kind of writing is essentially visual, which means it’s also potentially cinematic – Gillian understood this, but in ‘Fear and Loathing…’ he was either to literal in his interpretation, or to attached to his own vision, so though he made a good piece, he was not fully faithful to Thompson. The visual quality of his writings can be tested in this documentary, whenever Depp reads. It’s powerful, and probably more effective than any of the footage used. There lies the contradiction. The documentary is vulgar, it uses a worn out formula for serial documentaries, equivalents to the kind of dull journalistic writing Thompson wanted to evade. See my point?

So, probably, Hunter will last for what he wrote, not for what he ‘was’. After all, it’s not uncommon or specially thrilling the kind of things he effectively did. Though that provided most of the juice and energy he puts in his writings, it’s not the orgies, or the guns, or the acids that make his life worth knowing.

Nevertheless, Thompson would perfectly incarnate the mood of a film festival. That’s a complement.

My opinion: 3/5

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Your Name Here (2008 )

“Your Name Here” (2008 )


Festival Sitges 2008

IMDb

coagulated realities

This was a warm visit to a very hot mind.

Before i went to what Phil Dick wrote, his writings came to me in the form of the films made over them. It’s probably not that uncommon in his case that this happens, as it isn’t with several other writers. Blade Runner is to this point the best and probably one of the few (very) good films working on his invented sense of reality(ies) and his exploration of identity paradoxes, and reality misplacements. The one thing dearest to him is probably the will to play with ambiguity and build worlds from there. He uses story lines, plots, to anchor those notions. In the way, he creates meditative self-reflective science-fiction. Terribly, his stories are fashioned in such a way that they can be appropriated as mere stories, with no juice beyond the basic structure. This is the cause of the existence of so many rubbish films made over his writings.

Now there comes this. I enjoyed the experience, but i couldn’t overcome its flaws. The film is written with a central character who is an alter-ego of Dick. But the film writing is also a mirror of Dick’s writings. So, the film writer (who is also its director) tries to be Dick playing Dick, in his game, doing what he did best. So he engenders a complex, multidimensional mind, and takes us on a ride with it. He takes the idea of parallel realities Dick so obsessively explored, and circulates in and out them. He casts ambiguities on whether we are inside or outside a fictional mind-forged world or in a “real” reality, and he goes on mixing elements of each reality, eventually making us understand all of them merged. Each reality comes wrapped around some Dick’s story. The problem is, even though this tries hard on the visual manipulation, through editing, and through visual narrative devices, in the end the stories are only worth for their value as plot lines. Non of the true ambiguity Dick would place, which, ultimately, would make us function rationally, and would work as brain starters. This was just a (sometimes) joyful ride through the mind of a fictional character. It’s entertainment, and it wasn’t supposed to be.

Bill Pullman was a miscast. Or maybe performed a badly shaped character. This character fully reminds Robin Williams teacher of ‘good will hunting’. That was a safe guy, someone who playing straight, who wouldn’t take chances, for life had made him afraid. Not the kind of guy who would get high to reach the depths of new realities, and get to know the true meaning of life. He just doesn’t pass the right kind of energy.

Last, the thing that really bothered me: the conclusion. After a whole film building an undefined world and constantly changing the rules and the premises for that world (realities) and softening the differences between them, we have a doctor who literally explains in clear scientific terms absolutely everything we have been watching, and demystifying the whole thing, thus killing any interest for any meditation post film.

My opinion: 2/5

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