Archive for November, 2008

Men in Black II (2002)

“Men in Black II” (2002)

men2

IMDb

no roots

Well, some things were fixed here. The filmmakers understood the huge wholes of the first one. Despite that one was celebrated (right now it’s more highly rated in IMDb than this one).

Among other things, what improved here was the attachment we feel to the alien world. There are more situations that makes us mildly care for what the mib are after. The aliens enter the action, and sometimes that’s funny, the talking dog has moments, and so do the worms.

Also, the partnership Smith-Jones is much more effective here. That’s because here they create the gags together, whereas in the first one the production relied totally on Will Smith to deliver it while Tommy Lee was in the back to state how Smith is funny even in the world of the film.

But above all, one thing takes this one to other dimension: Lara Flynn Boyle’s character, efficiently supported by her. That’s bringing sex to the equation. The first one depicted a totally undeveloped and uninteresting bad guy (the one performed by d’Onofrio). Here that totally supporting part is really supporting, and made by Knoxville two-headed character. The center is occupied by Boyle, and her presence affects everything, she spreads roots as the ones her character master. She was a good cast, and makes it mildly work; she has screen presence and knows how to pose to make it work.

Is this enough for a film to be good? Has the word ‘entertainment’ narrowed in the cinema industry that it’s possible for the mentors of projects like this to get away with it? Think that despite being ‘classics’ today, films like ‘City Lights’ were actually entertainment upon their release. No film could match that one in its specific corner, but see how attitudes towards cinematic creation changed?

My opinion: 3/5

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Charade (1963)

“Charade” (1963)

charade

IMDb

Honesty

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

This film is so effective, probably more effective now than it was when it was released. Oh it was celebrated in its time, but the years highlighted the charm (and the legend) of the actors in it, and we can look at it with a sense of lost world, past things.

Stanley Donen, here already away from the Hollywood system, though depending on it, is one of the best directors coming from America.He was deeply original in his more prolific years as a musical director, and he was never less than competent in what he did after that. That includes this enjoyable film. To me, one of his strongest points as a director, was the ability to mix opposite forces and talents, and create an unified vision out of it, by motivating genuine cooperation. Isn’t that the best we can expect a director to be? And what a good mixture he makes here.

The idea was, i suppose, to create a plot which keeps grabbing the audience by constant twists. We don’t know more than Audrey’s character, and we try to guess the true character of Grant’s. It’s tremendously effective, because the twists are subtle and clever, and the dramatic effect that they might have is always brought down by the comedy feel of the whole thing.

Grant spent a good part of his career doing comedy, and in fact he probably set most of the standards for comedy acting that were still in use at the time of this film. What public believes is ‘funny’ becomes easily dated but what he does here still works today, and that is absolutely remarkable. Audrey/Givenchy are in this ride, and being the character she invented for herself on-screen suits this one perfectly.

The supporting cast also allows this to work, specially Walter Matthau whom, because of how his lines are placed in the film, and how he distracts us with his great skills as a comedian, fools us as much as he fools Hepburn’s character all the way.

Henri Mancini is one of my favourite film composers. The music has less presence here than in other films he scored, by i think that’s in the mood of the thing.

I don’t know any recent film that works so easily with this comedy/suspense environment and looks so natural and unforced. I praise the people involved here.

My opinion: 4/5 watch it and keep it with you

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Men in Black (1997)

“Men in Black” (1997)

men

IMDb

Forgettable style

This is an empty film. 11 years is not that much time, but it seems ages on this film. Looking at it now, makes me understand it has nothing inside.

This is yet another film that develops around a certain idea of style. If you start counting them, it’s incredible the amount of films made on that basis. Well, it’s huge but understandable: style is something appealing for the crowds in the moment the film is released (though it gets easily dated) and something that doesn’t require much skill to bring out. Just the right guy, in this case Will Smith who represents the top of coolness for a certain percentage of the population.

The Guggenheim Museum was apparently a good choice, but misused. I wanted to see what they’d make of it, but in after all they just wanted to use the long ramp to show how Will Smith was able to run fast to the top of the building.

If you see the extras on the DVD, check how Barry Sonnenfeld sounds like a nitwit. Completely clueless about what his job is about. He just remarks technical curiosity, he has nothing to say.

My opinion: 1/5

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Batman Begins (2005)

“Batman Begins” (2005)

batmanbeghinsposter6

IMDb

Getting into the film

Nolan and Bale are two of the director – actor whom i follow with more interest nowadays. Right now they make a good pair, and besides the two renewed Batman films (of which i’v only seen this one), they made the very good Prestige. This, on its own, makes me interested in this project.

It was ambitious, serious, and not totally flawed what was made here. Apparently Nolan really wanted to be part of this, and approached Warner Bro. to get the job. He knew he could bring something to the the superhero film, and probably Batman suited best what he likes to do. It’s a self-made superhero, he’s not created by accident, and in the process of the creation of his mask (which is Batman or Wayne?) there is a quest for an inner self, unlike say, IronMan, who plays science with his body. So, in Nolan’s vision, we need an actor that can act, and we need several cinematic and design devices that work. We have all of them sketched here, though not totally successful. Taking IMDb top 250 films, which as i write puts Dark Knight in 4th place, he probably solved the problems there. But than again, Shawshank Redemption is in number 1.

city: The conception of this has a lot to do with the city itself. There is clearly the intention to create something detached from previous films – “realistic”, in Nolan’s words. So this is modeled after Chicago, something we can recognize, and has a dark cloth falling over it, of decadence, social bankruptcy, corruption. The places are well explored, and used for the cinematic trick i’ll talk about.

A complaint: Gotham City used to be The world, in Batman. We didn’t even feel that there was a world outside it, it was self sufficient, and balanced, as a closed world where all is born. I’m sorry it couldn’t be kept like that.

cinema: Besides the Hollywoodian sequences of Wayne training, Wayne learning, Wayne building costumes, and finding places, there is something great, on the cinematic side. The main plot is played around fighting a “league of Shadows” which tries to spread an hallucinogenic gas for the city. That poison makes people see everything become their worst fears. They loose sense of reality, and start to fraction they’re own vision, and misunderstand/exaggerate what they see. The editing and pace of the film are built in accordance, so in the more active bits, we feel the film as the people of Gotham probably feel what they see. We become active viewers, and that’s great. It was only felt in some pieces, and that’s the flaw. Most of the time is spent on building the Bat’s world, and Wayne’s inner self. I wish we could have more, but i’d choose some of the sequences of this film to watch many more times. Christian Bale is in this ride, he knows what’s happening, and allows it to happen. Great work. This is what cinema is bringing new now and for a while. Making us part of the game.

My opinion: 4/5

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Beetle Juice (1988)

“Beetle Juice” (1988)

beetle

IMDb

Damaged world

I’ve been spending some time with Burton. I like him, i feel strangely attracted to what he purposes, though i can’t help recognizing the highly recognizable flaws.

In summary: he creates worlds, sometimes he is thrilling on that alone, others not so much. But everyone of his films is a true vision of its creator, and that’s something i value a lot. But he is not a good director. Planely as a director, he can’t be more than just competent, because he doesn’t work on the specific issues of direction (editing, camera-work, actor-direction…) with the same passion and special angle as he does with molding the world he gives us.

So look at this. He was still a relatively young director (this was, i believe, his second long form). He didn’t craft the world of this film as exquisitely as he did with later works. And the film is a relative failure to me because, once that rich notion of being side a quirky mind is gone, the rest doesn’t hold.

Oh, one thing that saves it: Michael Keaton’s performance. I’ve never seen him act like he did here. He holds this as his best performance ever and i support it. It’s a great physical and verbal acting, that engages the audience as well as the characters of the film, so the plot develops around the idea of one trying (and failing) to resist paying attention to him. Great.

The animations are tender in some points, it has the flavor of old animations, that look artificial, but which we are willing to believe. I recently watched a crap film, Monster X, made by someone who should take some lessons here about honesty on film making.

My opinion: 3/5

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Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

“Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999)

star-wars-1

IMDb

Darth Lucas

I must say i was much more satisfied with this now than when i first saw it, at the time of its release. That’s probably because i was then still enough naive to believe there could be something as thrilling as the original films that coloured part of my childhood dreams. Also because the gap between the old ones and this i was seeing was so huge that the disappointment wouldn’t allow me to put this in its place.

About Star Wars: it’s impossible for me to look at the old films as coldly as i would look at a film without that charge of nostalgia. Thinking about it, i think this is a complement to the old series. Looking back, seeing this and thinking about the old features, i think George Lucas is not a good director, he is quite ordinary and he understood that when he chose not to direct episodes 5 and 6. He doesn’t have any special angle, he does everything like anyone else would do; he watched the masters but couldn’t extract what they were really aiming that. But he is a great storyteller, and was absolutely masterful in the way he created this franchising.

He created a new cosmology and fed the dry minds of a mythless society with stories that placed superior forces (Force) beyond the control of ordinary beings, something that ‘surrounds’ them (here he killed the mystique with the useless midclorian explanation). The way audiences evolved to appreciate such stories based on supernatural and the idea of finding forces and events that exceed us proved Lucas right, and at the same time underline the role the original Star Wars had in molding pop thinking for the last 30 years. Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings (refished for cinema), Harry Potter, and a number of equivalent series. People have a tendency to look for religion, and wanting to rely on it. That’s what positive ’cause effect’ thinking wouldn’t consider, and the extreme marxist societies would help hide. To me that’s the key to the success of all this.

A decade ago Lucas felt it was the time to come back. He had a lot of story blanks to fill, a lot of promises from the old movies, a whole galaxy of untold events. That’s rich, he created the universe, and he wanted to explore it. But the problem is, he wasn’t competent to do that. Here he doesn’t have the angle and the innovation quality he ha in 1977, when his effects were breathtaking, they would still amaze me when i first saw the films, in the late 80′. Here the special effects are just of medium quality in the middle of what’s been done lately (to which his exploration post Star Wars contributed a lot). So, because we don’t have that innovative side, and the story is already known (who knows the old films knows what to expect from this one), the magic is partially gone, and the flaws of Lucas-director show up, vivid as never. Of course there are the hard-core fans who won’t abandon the boat and will blindly vote negative on this comment because it ‘insults’ their beliefs, but even those penalized these new films (6.4 rating in IMDb as i write).

It’s a beautiful story, that of Star Wars, but Lucas, either burnt out and with no new approaches to use, or influenced by money fetchers around him (or both previous), messed up with this. It’s as if Lucas had become Anakin: he was a curious intelligent brilliant little boy, protected by the Force and who was supposed to bring peace and prosperity to the Republic, but in the end turned to the dark side.

My opinion: 3/5

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Kaubôi bibappu: Tengoku no tobira (2001)

“Kaubôi bibappu: Tengoku no tobira” (2001)

cowboy

IMDb

Japanese western

This is yet another Japanese animation rooted on western cinematic conventions, and Japanese visual construction. It’s one of the three threads Japanese animation is following for the last ten or more years.

This one is specially well crafted. Notice that every recognizable narrative element, and the majority of the visual ones, are attached to western cultures. The city might be Japanese, Tokyo, but all the rest is not (including the music). We have an ordinary plot about a terrorist with intentions of global extermination. Bounty hunters, mainly one, tries first to get the prize, and later he makes it a personal matter, also because he falls in love.

Being handicapped by not having seen the TV series, i recognized very interesting aspects here: I was able to follow the whole thing, and follow the characters, their own dynamic bows of evolution throughout the narrative without having seen them before. They made a film which, i guess, can be inserted in the series, for whom has seen it, but at the same time is an independent piece, worth on its own.

The production is good, the Japanese ability to use colours in a sober way, creating images where the balance of the perception of the image in our eye is a priority in front of playing with perspective deepness (perspective has always been a more western concern).

This is not intelligent and en richening as some Japanese contemporary animations – like the outstanding Paprika – but it’s worth peaking and living a little bit with it. I’ll try to find the series.

My opinion: 3/5

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