Archive for January, 2009

Sukkar banat (2007)

“Sukkar banat” (2007)

caramel

IMDb

Sweetness

This is as seductive as the women it depicts. Women directing is a field i haven’t explored so much for now, and i think it can be really rewarding, taking the samples i’ve had so far.

This was, as well known, a Lebanese film, directed by a woman, depicting free-thinking women. This is enough trivia to make it worth watching, and a landmark for a country which, not being as immersed in fundamentalism as other Islamic countries is still quite overshadowed by them. So, there is a line of commentary about this that goes on that. I skip it.

What interested me here was the sweetness of everything. Sweet as caramel? Sure, but more. There are true urges, true fundamental issues debated here, without being mentioned directly, so they have to be told visually, and that’s the sweet spot i deeply appreciate.

There are no depressive pseudo intellectual babbling here, only true needs by these women, with truer existential concerns, that go way beyond fundamentalism, women’s oppression or “feelings”. What women fight for is a way to be, a way to live, they look for their own mood; that mood the film itself has (beautiful cinematography). Each of these women go around adversities (the fake virgin, the lesbians) or face them directly and move on (the older lady, the protagonist). So in a way, the stories we watch is probably the very story of the making of this film. Though this has french support, i’m guessing that Labaki went around and faced directly similar existential concerns while making this. Well, she got out nicely, to my eyes.

It’s nice to have women filmed, maybe cinema can become the best way to watch women through women’s eyes, literally. From my short viewings of women’s films, it’s a much less erotic look but a much greater insight into their soul. I can live with that.

My opinion: 4/5

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Il Mio nome è Nessuno (1973)

“Il Mio nome è Nessuno” (1973)

nessuno

IMDb

Filmmaker versus actor

This is a Leone production where Leone was watching and supervising its making, and blinking his eye to direction in several scenes, according to record. I think that is true, there are moments which sound Leone. Unfocused, uninterested, but Leone.

So, for better and worse, it is visible that Leone was here, the very idea of the story (which is interesting) is credited as his, but it wasn’t the mastermind behind the conception of the grand scale, the grand picture. In fact that’s the problem. This isn’t inserted in a grander scheme, it’s just a film about characters, and that’s not what Leone did, when he was fully in control.

Tonino Valerii is, for this sample (it’s the only film i’ve seen by him) a weak controller, who either doesn’t have the pulse to carry his vision, or doesn’t have a vision to offer. I suspect the second. So here, instead of a story about a story-maker, which is what the script Is about, we have a story about two characters, Fonda’s and Hill’s. Whereas Fonda is clearly cashing the check, and not motivated to do anything interesting, Terence Hill is young and wanting to show off (a common thing in less mature actors). The film lives on his gimmicks and physical comedy, but it shouldn’t.

A funny thing: when Leone was the master-minds, the actors were his employees, serving a greater picture. Here the actors take the action, drive the film. The end result is, in the first situation the actors get out finely, in the second one, they become forgettable. See the thing? Most of the times actors are only the visible, yet not so important part of the big game, which is to be played by a major player, a man of vision, someone who wasn’t here, since Leone was here only for production and to amuse himself in directing single scenes.

Good points: the initial scenes are not as focused as with the equivalent in Leone’s films, they don’t have the perfect timing, they are rushed in yet overlong. Still they are enjoyable, some frames are good pieces of visual storytelling (the mirror at the beginning).

The Orson Welles bits, in the fantasy house, here the mirror scheme is once again used to enhance Terence Hill’s comedy bits, but it’s not misused, i think the sequence is enjoyable, and on its own fills what was intended for it to fill.

The section near the end, with Fonda facing the band “alone” is actually watchable. The alternating between extreme detail and grand scope of a minimalistic landscape is something Leone invented, and actually works here.

For those who enjoy Terence Hill (and his partner Bud Spencer) there are other enjoyable rides, in films centered from root on characters, on their characters. Here we have a film divided into wanting to look big epic, Leone type, and being assaulted by characters who wanted to do their numbers. Incidentally, the story is about two characters each trying to write the story his own way. Who wins? the one who clearly is more a ‘character’ than the other. See? Coordinated forces, that’s what’s missing here. Isn’t cinema, mostly this kind of grand-scale cinema, about that?

My opinion:1/5

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Le Gendarme de St. Tropez (1964)

“Le Gendarme de St. Tropez” (1964)

gendarme

IMDb

how it felt, and how it feels

Of all the genres, comedy is the one which gets more easily dated. That’s because the conventions for each moment in time (and for each culture) are very volatile, they change quickly. And, for some reason, we don’t “pile” new notions over old ones, which is to say, with humor, once we have new conventions, we reject old ones (unlike, for instance, the detective film). This means that what makes people laugh now, won’t work in a very short time. I’m still young, and i’ve seen that happen, with films i saw as a teen. But than we have another aspect to be reckoned: the fact that, though audiences adapt to new conventions regardless of their age (as long as they keep seeing new films and live active social lives), they still gain a cinematic memory. So, many times, people “know” that they will re-watch a film which “is” funny, they remember they laughed out loud when they saw it the first time.

I saw this film with my mother, and i registered this effect on her. To me, this was something i had seen 10 years ago, to her, it was a memory from childhood, when these gendarme films were fresh.

Now they aren’t fresh. Social criticisms here are totally out of date for European societies, even for the Portuguese!, so that’s a card out of the deck.

The kind of gimmick Funés uses are also no longer so watchable. Physical acting has evolved to play with the body as an object (Jim Carey type) more than with the placing of the characters in a funny situation, like here (Chaplin made both things).

I do sympathize with his unlikable character. The witty policeman, despicable, over-protective about his girl (that’s social commentary as well), caring for appearances. It’s a matter of attitude, and Louis de Funés was a valuable performer.

One thing is remarkable about this film and its context: St.Tropez. What is remarkable, besides beautiful beaches, and pleasant lifestyle, is how cinema was an important, even fundamental, piece of the publicity machinery the french created to promote the place. It starts with ‘Et dieu crea la femme’, and it goes through a number of other films, including this one. Here we even have a song about the village, obviously made to promote both the film and the place. So here (as with ‘and god…’) we have the key elements that were important to highlight: beach, sand, summer-mood, boats, high life, open-minded relaxed living youth, attractive girls. The story exists to show off these elements. Well, you go today to St Tropez and compare it to what we have here in this film (and specially in ‘and god..’) and you have to admit they were successful in their campaign.

My opinion: 3/5

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Click (2006)

“Click” (2006)

click1

IMDb

contrast

Another simple and highly used formula for Hollywood comedy: a simple, supposedly deep, honest sincere, moral issue: you have to seize the journey, living is the most important thing, don’t choose work and success over your family.

Than you add a device that allows you to move further and explain the morals, in this case a remote which controls time development, and which allows you to move forward and back in time, and eventually making you loose control (he uses preferences).

Than, Sandler, who is supposed to make it work. Well, i don’t give much for his comedy skills, with few exceptions. But even for those who enjoy his best performances, i think this may stay a couple meters below what he can deliver.

Comedy and Drama can be a very powerful mixture in the right hands. Chaplin may have invented the notion, and is probably the absolute master of the genre to these days. It’s something that is based in high contrasts, therefore enhancing the drama bits. If it is well driven, it can tear you a part: the filmmaker makes you laugh out loud, enjoy yourself with the “frivolities” of life, and than, suddenly, or gradually, you’re pushed into a narrow abyss of sadness, which is enhanced by your previous state of joy. Contrast. Well, these guys didn’t do it, they weren’t close to it.

My opinion: 1/5

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The Dark Knight (2008)

“The Dark Knight” (2008 )

the_dark_knight_poster

IMDb

what it is, and what i dreamed of

Strange, curious, and interesting thing that happened to me here. Well, i was a bit disappointed with the film. Not that it is a bad film. It is a solid work, and a good ride with someone who has some interesting things to say in narrative construction.

Basically: Joker is a pivot to a complex narration device, where everybody, bad guys, or good guys, is completely clueless about what will happen with them or in Gotham. The Joker plays the game, he is the central key to this plot. He defines the rules, and the rules are incidental even in his thinking, he acts randomly, kills by chance. Chaos through unpredictability. It’s great. Everybody has the job to survive, except to characters: Batman, who follows Joker and tries to “unmask” the plan (without unmasking himself), and Dent, who tries directly to attack Joker, also to unmask him, but in a more direct, straightforward, “honest” way. That’s why he is looked upon as the true hero of Gotham, even by the Batman. That’s why he is turned over and twisted to become the ‘good’ enemy. It’s a game of oppositions, clear sides, the two faces of everybody. The unfolding of the game is, of course, when Joker looses guidance over the unguided destinies of the facts.

So this is actually phenomenal cinematic story-telling. It’s not visual, it doesn’t even attempt at being fully visual as, for example, ‘Batman Begins’ tried (and partially achieved), but it’s a great structure in the line of recent works like the life-altering ‘Oldboy’.

What made me disappointed was the high expectations made by an unbelievable #4th place in IMDb top 250, and the smashing positive reviews by almost everybody i read. OK, i should have seen it coming, the reason for this was the effect of Ledger’s premature death. He really shows skill and true talent here, and his character is involved in an aura of darkness that exists because Ledger deals with the contradictions of this character, the constant smile versus the darkness of spirit. He is conscious about his own acting, so he “laughs” at his character, and his role. It’s very hard to do that, at least rare to watch. So everything in this film is solid. But it isn’t ambitious enough to make me dream beyond certain horizons which, in my view, stay way below the “4th best film ever”.

So, i have to place reviews and general opinions into perspective. If i had seen this in the theatre when it came out, before the avalanche of empowering reviews around Ledger’s performance, i might have taken it for what it is. Like this, i was unfairly disappointed with this powerful film.

My opinion: 4/5

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Alfie (2004)

“Alfie” (2004)

alfie

IMDb

fashionable

Two remarks on the quite good experience this film is:

-one is the visual aspect of the thing. This is a visual tapestry, each scene has its own visual strenght, and could actually be enjoyed on its own, but all together they make an impression on you. Every affair in Alfie’s life has its own visual treatment, according to the mood of it. Colours, and camera work are elements taken care of. Watching the extras, one gets the impression that artistic values were something in the minds of theses guys, but i’ll credit Ashley Rowe a great deal for what was done here. The colours are something in the line of what Chris Doyle might do. IT’s interesting how Jude Law fits well this kind of photography, we saw him in similar situation in the recent ‘my blueberry nights’.

-the other thing is the story telling device. I haven’t seen the original, so i may be commenting on something that happens already in that one, but i would bet not. Alfie speaks to the camera, he speaks to us. He denounces the staging all this is, and the artificiality of cinema in itself (lush, but artificial photography underlines this). The film is episodic in its nature, every women is an episode, but we know Alfie is our narrator, as we get every feeling directly from his mouth. Jude Law is a very interesting actor, one of the good actors we have these days, and he delivers, he knows how little dramatic and exaggerated he has to be in order to make this work. The success of this strategy is to make us assume Law’s words as a dialog between him and us, instead of a monologue like, say, Depp in ‘The Libertine’. Jude Law knows it, he pauses the speech, and intonate as if he was chatting, instead of narrating. Very good.

Jude Law is a character in himself, even through fashion. In this film he was at the beginning of a relation with Sienna Miller, they’re seen in a collection of clips reading Vogue together. This is no innocent. Actually it is a very clever way to build they’re own public personalities out screen.

Oh and we have a story. A playboy, single man, with his life centered on women, searching for true affection, living love as episodes and suffering from the consequences of his irresponsibility. It’s a mere excuse to unfold visual storytelling. Some women, though are interesting. We have Tomei, we have Miller, we have Sarandon, who, though being limited as an actress, is well placed in the film.

My opinion: 4/5

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3:10 to Yuma (2007)

“3:10 to Yuma” (2007)

310

IMDb

(not) subverting, and a pair

What an interesting and effective film.

This is a remake of a western originally made before Leone laughed with at the western genre. But this film is made in 2007, 43 years after that injection of irony and subversion of the genre took place. This film takes itself seriously, or at least, picks the key elements of the genre before Leone twisted them, and assumes them in the Ford vision. I think that’s a dangerous approach, because the audiences, in the meanwhile, updated their old conceptions to what Leone proposed (to me, born in the 80′, ‘classic’ are the Leone films, the others are ‘old’). But the overcome is successful.

So, we have extreme characters populating the whole thing. Crowe is ambiguous, so intelligently mean that we like him, so he grows on us as Bale’s character grows on him. The men are in the game for clear reasons. Bale for self transcendence (to grow on his sun), Crowes uses a mask of meanness as a revenge for child rejection (the Bible as an expiatory element), Bale’s son as a form of self-imposition. Reaching one’s goals as a cross through the desert. Honour is a key element, dying for it is worthy and admirable. That’s something Leone mocked at. But than, we have visual sequences which owe more to Leone than to anything before him, and more to recent action films than to old Ford or Hawks’ westerns gunfight. So, this is a miscellaneous, a real product of this time, when genres are all subverted, and even trying to make a genre film totally in the line of old notions is a subversion in itself.

Why this one is so watchable, and effective, is for Bale/Crowe. They both are intelligent actors, Bale more flexible and someone who adapts to what it takes, Crowe a more internal, meditative and imposing figure. So, they are as actors the mirrors of what they’re characters are. And that’s something really well done. The narrative arcs are classic, but so well built…

My opinion: 4/5

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