Archive for February, 2009

The Wrestler (2008)

“The Wrestler” (2008)




This is a disappointing Aronofsky experience and a great Mickey Rourke performance.

What we have is a film about a performer. Wrestling has all to do with physical acting abilities, as well as striptease. So Rourke and Tomei act performers. Actors who play actors, that’s where we stand.

About Rourke: his character mirrors his personal life, that’s probably why he was cast, and certainly why he was so enthusiastic about it, as he himself admitted. A former star, someone who created lasting impressions on the minds of those who saw him in golden years, but who eventually becomes a burnt down star, performing low gigs, with a ruined personal life. This trivia is probably the key to the success of this performance. Mickey Rourke is not as sophisticated as an actor as other ones. Because he spend most of the 90’s doing other stuff and living a late childhood, he didn’t progress as an artist as other actors did. But in the meanwhile he probably lived sad and terrible facts in his life. So now we have this. The reason why we trust so much in his acting here is because it sound so sadly honest. Here he is guts and heart, he is as much committed to the job as the wrestler he performs, whose life is on the ring. Rourke has a straight forward mind – you only have to read his political commentary to get that – but so does the wrestler he performs. So, what we have here is perfect casting, and true commitment. Such honest acting should and must be enhanced, it is rare to watch. Watch the first scene after the meaningful condensed credits, with Rourke sitting alone in an empty room, in the backstage of a performance. It’s a perfect synthesis of what this is all about.

Now, this would make a simple film by some lesser director good enough. But this was directed by the man who gave us “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream”. So it’s not good enough. OK, it’s a character study, the way the camera constantly and ostensibly follows Rourke’s back shows it. This was to be a film about Rourke, and i even admire Aronofsky having erased himself to enhance Rourke. But on and on, there’s not many things to admire here. So, as many times happens, it’s not a matter of what Aronofsky does here, it’s about what i know he could have done, because i saw his other films. Some wrestling scenes are good, because he denounces the fakery of the whole thing, and at the same time puts her inside the scenes, contributing for making it real for our eyes.

My opinion: 3/5 for Rourke.

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Fantasporto 2009


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008)



back in time

David Fincher is a worthy mind. From previous adventures i knew he cares about form, about the shape of his films, about creating a structure, coherent with the intended narrative. With Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac, i felt that structure existed before the narrative line was leaked into it. That is his playground, and it is interesting because there is more to his films than the structure which support them. So we have visual ideas, that convey emotional intentions.

Here he tries something new. Well, he still is worried about making a solid structure in which to insert the story. In fact this is his longest form, not so much for the time the film lasts, but for the kind of development in takes. A film that follows a lifetime has to be one of the most difficult things to do in cinema. Why is that? Because that kind of story is totally rooted in literature, not in cinema. It’s hard to compress one’s emotional evolution over a lifetime into images. Literature has the ability to create instant channels to one’s mind. You try to do that in film, and it’s usually a disaster. That’s why it’s so hard to find good films that convey biographies (the so called biopic).

Having said this, i think this film is successful because it deals with the disadvantages i referred above. It deals with avoiding the predictabilities, the laziness and consequent failure of placing words as the subtitles for uninteresting images. It’s not a perfect film and there is yet to come (or at least i haven’t seen) a film that depicts one’s lifetime and changes my life.

Here there is one beautiful concept that makes it for me. This is a love story, all right. But it deals with time and space as adversities for the lovers to meet. It’s a matter of two people who have to fight to find their own common space, the conditions to be together, whether fighting against war or social prejudice (the Titanic model). But, much more interesting, fighting for the right time. The opposite life lines (one getting older, the other getting younger) allow this. For a few years, for a certain period in time, the lovers are allowed to share their love. What a beautiful idea, that a couple has to live in proximity without touching, knowing all the way that they are seeing the love of their lives and yet they have to wait for the right time to come, and than having the courage to separate again. That’s the heart breaking idea that moves this Benjamin Button. Fincher had never made such a film, so based on conveying emotions, a film built with a clear structure which we can discard because what matters is what’s inside it. In his other films, structure and content were one.

This is a love story, remarkable, sensitive tail, that shows in an anti-romantic time. Maybe that’s why it grasps the sympathy of the audience so much. Winds of change? Reversed time?

My opinion: 3/5

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Blindness (2008)

“Blindness” (2008)



spatial white

At certain points of their lives, many artists feel the need to descend to the abysses of human degradation, of absence of humanity (or radical shifts of values). It’s the catacombs Piranesi brilliantly imagined, it’s Dante’s hell. The basic intent of this kind of journey, i suppose, is not so much to imagine a possible reality where we might live, but to mirror our own reality, the rotten bits of our many times ridiculous existence. Exaggeration is a device artists often use to enhance whatever they try to say. Blindness, the novel, was Saramago’s descent to the catacombs, the darkest piece of writing of a dark ironic pessimist (or an optimist of another kind of humanity). Meirelles, who had previously made to dark films, uses the novel to make his own descent. As a matter of curiosity, he admitted he wanted and failed to adapt the book, and eventually went on to direct Cidade de Deus. The mix of ideas and creative minds is deadly powerful, and the effect really is what’s intended. This is a well crafted representation of a possible hell, of a possible reality, of our actual reality(?).

Before cutting to the film, i should say something. There is a little Brazilian documentary, practically unknown. It’s called “Janela da Alma” (window to the soul, free trans.). It’s about vision, of course, it’s about observing, about what it means to a number of artists to watch, to see. To use the eyes to grab the world, and to express feelings. Among many interesting real people and artists that collaborate, i’ll talk about 2 of them. One is Saramago, who wrote the novel, Blindness. The other one is a blind photographer (forgot the name) who photographs out of intuition, obviously not caring for the final result which he can’t see, but doing photography as a means to get to the world. It’s a terrific concept if you think about that. I recommend you watch that documentary, before or after this film. You may find interesting things in it. In the film there is even a moment when Ruffalo’s character photographs out of “blind’s intuition” as he says…

(possible spoiler)

The dramatic arcs are similar to what we have in Irreversible. We land straight in hell, we get as dark as we can, right from the beginning, and we go up the stairs towards light, as we move on. That’s why in this film we don’t have much of a prelude to what’s going to happen. It’s a powerful device because it doesn’t allow us to be rational, as spectators we feel as much in the dark(white) as someone who suddenly lost his seeing abilities.

Basically, the film becomes a study on how civilization would be without a basic column, the eye sight. “what would happen if…?”. It’s simple and effective device and, because it deals with vision, and the game of taking it out, it’s purely cinematic, literally visual. Meirelles obviously got it, that’s why he wanted to adapt it in the first place. All that happens is the consequence of not seeing. Several things can be taken from here: after the initial chock of loosing vision, people adapt, and create conflicts, hierarchies, new conflicts and new hierarchies, but we are supposed to identify to what we see (and if you have a conscience you will). New groups are formed, new friendships, new “families”.

Meirelles is a highly visual director. In this one, he is much more of a “framer” than in his previous ones, where the skill was in rhythm (editing). Oh, this one has fine pieces of editing, starting at the beginning. But it is much more architectural in its approach. After all, the issue of loosing eyesight and relating to the world is purely spatial. It’s a matter of one’s relation to a world conceived to be seen. Being an architect himself, Meirelles certainly appreciates this better than other directors.

So, the visual game he plays, is space, and colours (b&w). The photography is highly depurated, contrasting when there has to be a contrast, but mainly developed around over exposed almost white pictures, and total darkness, which actually exists for probably 30 seconds in a specific scene, when Julianne Moore looks for food in a basement.

The acting is good, Julianne Moore is at the top of her game in the way she is intense without over exploding, and in how she shows us a surface at the same time she suggests there are other faces to her character. So, she is the leader here, literally in the story, since she’s the only one that can see. All the others play along, except for McKellen who often sounds just arrogant as an actor, the kind that believes actors are what the whole film (and all the films) are about. Strange, given the fact that he was also a screenwriter in this film. Glover’s character was interpreted by Meirelles as an alter-ego of Saramago. His acting is quite good though limited in time, and the off voice has the right tone. An interesting trivia is that when we first see him, he hears the radio, and what he hears is European Portuguese. The off voice Glover gives and that radio detail are what Meirelles uses to tell us that’s his designated narrator, an on screen appearance of Saramago.

Meirelles claims that earlier cuts of the film had a more repulsing effect, where more dark and shocking and that, even by the studio influence, he watered down the final cut. I think he might have hit a little bit harder on that key. It was also what the whole story is about.

My opinion: 4/5 this didn’t change my life but it certainly created a lasting mark on me

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Revolutionary Road (2008)

“Revolutionary Road” (2008)



filling with emptiness

Sam Mendes can do little wrong in my book. He envisions things cinematically, and he is always able to propose a mood, and transcribing it into film. So his films are always about a mood, and what he tries to do is something i value a lot: basically, the film, as a medium, should reflect the film, as a content. The film passes its characters urges, expectations, disillusions, onto us.

That’s what we have here: emptiness. The film is about shallow characters, ridiculous hypocritical lives, unhappy people, afraid of facing their unhappiness (“no one ever forgets the truth, you only learn to lie better”). The story is meaningless for the facts in themselves (maybe the novel had a social impact in its days), what makes it worthy is the mood it suggests, that the film completes.

So the set up is quite simple. Mediocrity, middle class useless life-styles. Assumed and accepted lack of ambition. Paris as the synonym for self-superation (“it didn’t have to be Paris”). Kate’s character learns about her own frustrations, and that triggers the whole drama. Now, watch how this simplicity is transcribed to visual terms: -very few sets; the house, the woods, the working place, and a few more with little screen time. -the stupidity and shallowness underlined in every dialog, except for the lines of Winslet’s character and Shannon’s. -the simplicity in the cinematography choices. And the outcome of that, so effective. Watch the film, and check what you have of it in you, just a few hours after… nothing, just a sense of uneasiness, restlessness, frustration for something is missing in the film. Just like Kate’s character was feeling. Get it? Kate is one of the finest actresses these days, the role here was a struggle between personality and submission, will to transcend and routine. She understood it so well.

Two interesting things:

Kate and Sam: actress/director couple. Both are interesting as artists. There is love. We can check it, frame by frame. Ted Goranson always remarks on husbands directing their wives, and i get it. It’s a sort of extra motivation. Beyond the artistic urges and intentions that triggered the need in the director to create this film, we have a layer of extra-passion for he wants to bound his art to his love. It’s a beautiful concept, truly.

We don’t have Conrad Hall here. I missed that. OK, the intention was to make a highly simplified film, so strong iconic images were not so much the kind of game Mendes wanted to play here. But i miss the poetry of light, the poetry of understanding bodies, and body placement, and faces that Hall had. We have much to appreciate from what he left, but He and Mendes were so perfectly connected in the two projects where they worked together, that i get the sensation that some pages were not written as they should. Pity. Roger Deakins made a competent work here, me referencing C.Hall is not a depreciation of this film’s cinematography.

My opinion: 4/5

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The Ice Harvest (2005)

“The Ice Harvest” (2005)



Ice warmth

I’ve just commented on a remarkable film, ‘caramel’. The reason why i say that now is because i think that beautiful film worked exactly the opposite way of this. There we had a mood, the film in itself had its own “personality”, as a living organism, and all the characters (who were looking for a similar mood in their lives) were inserted in that context. Here we have characters who try to build the mood of the film, through their actions. The film is an empty shell, which the characters are supposed to fill, with what they are, as characters, yes, but mostly as actors. The success of this approach has to do, of course, with the casting. Here they have Cusack, who is increased value from the beginning. I admire what he does. He has lesser range than other good actors, like Depp, but he is so flexible inside his acting type. His greatest quality is the way he previously reads what is needed from him to make things work and fit himself to the film machine. He faces himself as one piece of the game. Connie Nielsen is also quite interesting, and curiously she fits better here than she did in ‘Devil’s advocate’. All the other actors just do their lines, clueless, except Billy Bob, who actually thinks that this has really to do with his characters and how he performs, and how he looks, and how he, he, he…

These issues apart, i think this has an interesting idea. Not untried, but still interesting. It is not a clever narrative construction, actually rather predictable except for a minor twist at the end, but it manages to overcome those predictabilities, by hitting the key that interests Ramis more: the comedy. Here comedy happens when we feel characters deviate from the main issue, and that’s the interest of it. It’s apparently about a robbery, but than Cusack spends most of his time in parallel themes, the police is totally clueless and instead trying to grow on Cusack, to get in the eye of the local mobs, who are actually the ones being stolen. The family themes are also in this field. So it’s a matter of establishing a main theme, and than focuses on the surrounding “lesser” themes.

What taste bitter is the feeling that this could really be much much more powerful that what it is. It stopped half the way through something really good.

My opinion: 2/5

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