Archive for April, 2009

Caper Fear (1962)

“Cape Fear” (1962)

cape1

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old vases

Remakes, or films which were remade are a good experience by this fact alone. If you’ve seen both, you can watch to films in parallel, and the reflexive film of imagining how the second film was made, what were the re-makers thinking. This is how i watched this one. I’ve seen Scorcese’s remake, before i saw this one, so from that moment i would never be able to watch this original isolated, where it stood on its own. I can only imagine.

Yet, i thought what would Scorcese be thinking. I think his intention was no other than a matter of updating, and fulfilling the hinting that this original version opened. Everything was more graphical and visceral by 1991, of course, so Scorcese updated the violence, and showed what audiences were only prepared to be hinted at in 1960. But the big thing Scorcese did was to introduce the sexual tension between Max Cady and the daughter. Juliette Lewis really makes an impression. In this original we have the sexual lust by Mitchum’s character, but it is one sided, a pure attraction of a filthy mind to a innocent child. And this is basically the point:

in this old version everything is a matter of good-evil. It’s a poorer approach (even the reasons for the vengeance are less dubious than the Scorcese’s version). Well, even the actors are less flexible than what is required of a good modern actor. Peck and Mitchum were both artistically born to a cinema where “character” was something that was part of their public personalities as “stars” as well as of his characters. So their acting in itself is wooden, and very limited. They are there to show off their public characters. So for instance, if you take Mitchum’s character, he is not trying to convince the audience of a certain kind of sophisticated meanness. Instead he is giving us a scent of bad roughness, while he tries to be himself: the rough seductive “man”. Peck has his life more easy, we are supposed to like him so he just has to be himself.

This is a film that lost the ambiguities and moral quests of the original film-noir, but which has not yet develop to a new stage, that includes modern acting (the Brando effect didn’t apply to these fellows) and novel ways to build narrative. So to me, it sounds just outdated, and i don’t connect to it.

My opinion: 2/5

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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956)

homem-demasiado

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music IS cinema

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

I haven’t seen the original. Only loose bits of footage i found on the extras of this DVD.

I can only think of one reason why Hitchcock wanted to remake his own film, and that would be for the music. In the original, he didn’t have Herrmann to count on. With Herrmann, he knew he could made truly powerful scene out of the Albert Hall bits. And the scene indeed is powerful, and fully anchored on the music. You have the tension of knowing what is about to happen, or supposed to. You follow 4 lines. Doris Day, trying to avoid a crime, the potential murderer and what he is doing, James Stewart trying to get there, figuring the whole thing and most importantly, the music itself, which is actually literally filmed at some moment (the cymbal’s score, which the camera follows as the music develops). This fourth thread, of course, involves the other 3, marks the pace and itself becomes the narrative manipulator as everything happens to the sound of music. This is a very powerful concept which really is perfectly built here, and a coordinated effort of Hitch and Herrmann, one of their finest moments, and they had so many… Notice specially how the music conducts the actions of Stewart’s character even when he is no yet at the Albert Hall. How the editing helps, as we follow Stewart through the corridors, outside the concert room, and as he talks to people and tries to find his way to the murderer, we feel about him what the music allows us to feel. The whole sequence is a perfect piece of film/music adequation, and thus, a perfect piece of collective film-making. Worth watching on that alone. This is, i suppose, where Coppolla picked his powerful finale for the Godfather trilogy, though he made it even more (literally) theatrical. Well he was working with an Italian opera, of an even more artificial nature than other Italian operas.

Further more, we have another attempt at scene development through music. At the embassy, when Doris Day sings for her son to whistle, so his father can find him. We had this scene prepared from the very beginning, from the part of the film when suspense was only a promise. Probably, Day was chosen precisely because she was a singer, because she doesn’t belong to the type of actresses and physical presences that Hitchcock was electing in those days for his films. The “Que será será” bit is not half as powerful as the Albert Hall sequence, and it looses even more because it happens right after it. “Logically”, the Albert Hall could have ended the film, but i think Hitch was wanting us to live the aftermath of that sequence a little bit.

Anyway, The rest of the film builds competently the mood for the Albert Hall, if you are willing to avoid asking yourself to many questions about what doesn’t fit in the story. Except for the scene, this is just below average Hitchcock, to me. But watch it.

My opinion: 3/5

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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

“Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)

slumdog

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transatlantic cinema

I think there are two layers of observations from where we can watch this film.

One way is to look at the film as a small part of something bigger. That bigger thing would be the possibility of making this experience become a certain rule in film world. The growing proximity between bolly and Hollywood, the possibility that we might start getting films bounded financially and thematically (and culturally) by this proximity. If we consider this approach, than the fact that this film would become so celebrated by the key agents of promotion of American films (awards) would be a kind of signal for this new age. I think the other layer of approach i propose may confirm this one:

this is a kind of film i catalog as “ascending”, which basically means that we start off in hell, and we climb stairs of suffering throughout the film until we arrive at heaven. A sort of inverted dynamics, that we’ve seen in Cidade de Deus, Blindness, Irreversible (where the arc is literally inverted). In this case, Danny Boyle picks up the experiments Meirelles made in the slums of Brazil, and produces his own version. Boyle relies more on framing and camera work/positioning (he always has). Meirelles’ films are, before anything, brilliant pieces of editing. So, on the visual side, we have different approaches, but which convey the same objective of moving into the slum, of exploring with a frantic eye the darkness of those daily lives. This film is brilliant in that respect. Yet, as it progresses, it moves away from the slum, and the cinematic choices answer to that, so the pace slows down, and little by little we end with a bollywood romantic ending. Love is the reward for the suffering, in this world that we now know to be, after all, a fantasy one. So Bollywood meets certain ideas of dark cinema. Remember my first approach?

My opinion: 4/5

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The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)

“The Shoes of the Fisherman” (1968)

shoes_fisherman

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propaganda meets real life

One has to admire how cleverly this story anticipates reality. The understanding that the “insider” from behind the curtain, placed in the right position, with the right power, could make a difference in the outcome of the cold war.

Well, most of what we see in this film is romantic brain washing. The cliché of the good, well-intentioned, humble man who, despite being at the top of the world and political guidance, still holds as a patron for love and for the lives of the disadvantaged. That’s why we have the bits of the pope living an ordinary life, in the “real” city and mostly, that’s the meaning of the final scene, which follows ‘The Great Dictator’. But in Chaplin, we Really had a committed artist, someone who, in that moment, cared so much for what he stood for, that he risked what he was as a celebrity and even as an artist just to pass the message, of true humanity. Here, we have perverse engineering of the story (i haven’t read the book, this refers to the film only). So, that final speech should, and eventually does sound like the rebellion scream of a man who tries and breaks the chains of higher interests, in favor of the disfavored. But it is itself part of the scheme that allows for the brainwashing of those disfavoured, and the replacement of the Church as the spiritual, superior leader. Well, the interests of the church in matters of Cold War and after that were political, were mundane, were not selfless. Not in this situation nor in any other in 2000 years history.

But it is remarkable (and i suppose this goes for the writer) how accurate was his prediction. How did he assume that a pope would come from the chains of suffering of the soviet union? Did he know something? How did he create the biography of a man that might really resemble John Paul II? That really is remarkable.

The cinematic options are good. The film is highly textured, it shoots many things on location, and it really plays with the colors, and the textures of the inner spaces of the Vatican, it amazed me the visual concerns on those matters. Also i was moved by the use of real footage repeatedly, whenever (i suppose) was the need to show “real” people in S.Peter’s square. Whether it was a budget necessity, or a real option, i don’t know, but the fact is those moments with real footage made the whole construction slide into a delicious sensation of documentary which, if you over layer the last 30 years of history, will make this a much stronger work. To enhance this, we have a designated storyteller, a reporter who literally tells us the facts, from the public point of view. That reporter has a personal story, which we follow, and which mixes the story of the pope at a certain point. That’s not innocent.

Well, you can choose to enhance how effectively the cinematic construction works, and how it is probably more powerful today than it was in its day, because of the facts that we know today. Or you can simply stick to the fact that films like this are veiled propaganda, that they intend to bend the opinions of the people without assuming themselves as propaganda. I took that note, but i enjoyed the experience.

My opinion: 3/5

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“Equador” (#1.15) (2009)

“Equador” Episode #1.15 (2009)

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exile

I’m commenting on this episode and bits of other few episodes.

This is sad. Sad to watch, miserably bad in everything, from the basic plot to the basic mediocrity that this targets and helps to mold.

These are cardboards that illustrate vulgar situations, formated story lines. There is not any kind of questioning about any theme, visual, narrative, “historic”. Sets are lush and bad illusions of “history”, but what we see is millions of previous TV series, and bad literature, with distracting pseudo globe trotting elements. this is blind television making, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a formatted genre that is delivered countless times, as many as the useless formated books like the one on which this series is based.

All this is sad, how useless is the average TV production these days, at least in Portugal. Sadder is to consider that these silly productions reflect the minds of the TV watcher. Well, some of them yes it reflects.

But something else is really sad. We have three names in this production, three very valuable people, who should be doing great things with their lives, and instead drag in this mental poverty. Nicolau Breyner could have been great, of he had had a film industry to get in, in Portugal or outside. He is good, he understands pace and tone, and actor placement. Than we have Filipe Duarte who actually IS having a career, acting at least one film per year. He is talented, he probably is the best “new” Portuguese actor these days, he should be growing in the challenges he gets, instead of having to slide into the uselessness of these stupid productions. Last, it is so sad to hear the moody and environmental music of Rodrigo Leão, mixed with the superficial and fake lighting and sets of these false world. He is certainly one of the best film composers we Never had.

These three names are what’s sad about the series. Not because they are in, but because they Should be doing other things. Greater things. It’s like they had been deported to a hot hell island, like incidentally one of the cardboards in the series is forced to do.

My opinion: 1/5

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Ischeznuvshaya imperiya (2008)

“Ischeznuvshaya imperiya” (2008)

ischeznuvshaya_imperiya_posterfantasporto-2009pequeno2

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exorcism

I am Portuguese so, despite being born in the 80′, i know a few things about a country trying to overcome its own memory. For those who don’t know, Portugal was the late perpetrator in Europe of a fascist concept of “empire”, a retro idea that stuck cultural life and true evolution for decades in some countries. It finished for us in the mid 70′, but dealing with such a radical change of collective definition is something that drags to these days, watered by an upgrade in the Portuguese general living conditions, but still there.

Now i think the Soviet experiment was probably more radical and fundamentalist to its populations than the Latin European fascisms. And it lasted longer. So, dealing with the radical shift towards a forced “western democracy” approach is probably a painful process for the ex soviet territories, mostly the russians. That’s the frame where i place this specific picture. I watched it as an exorcism of past phantoms, but also a blinking melancholic eye to those days.

The facts in the story, which is casual (it is here as a ‘typical’ repetitive case, in those days) all speak against what was happening in that regime in that context, but yet it avoids moralizing. No one is judged (unlike, for example, in “The lives of the others”) and no one is innocent. It’s a kind of approach that assumes that we must feel what was going on regardless of the upper political or power contexts that forged what we see. I accept that vision, i enjoyed it. The cinematic options here were fully coherent to what we saw, and from time to time i saw Tarkovsky here, who has much to do with how cinema bends memory. Nice to remember a social context, a certain youth i never got to know, and a certain kind of cinema that is sweet and sometimes (not this case) deep and life-altering.

My opinion: 3/5

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