Archive for July, 2009

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

“Lady and the Tramp” (1955)

lady and tramp

IMDb

sweet dust

A film with the story of relation with a general audience that this has, steps outside the ordinary rules that i respect when commenting on films. When i write, i never intend to make such a thing as a “critic”. Instead i try to isolate and write down a few notes on things that made the film to my eyes, to my mind, to my emotions. Writing helps me understand and understanding improves my viewing. Therefore i become (i hope) a better film viewer. I root my opinions on the films themselves, i only comment on what i see.

Why do i mention this? Because right now i’m commenting on a film which by now is more of a collective memory than a film on its own. Rewatching this made me realize that we no longer remember and talk about Lady and the Tramp, we talk about what our memory makes of it. As far as animated films go, i belong to one of the last generations for whom a certain number of films (most of them Disney’s) hung over our heads as the stereotype for moral values and its cinematic representation. What does this mean? It means that if you wouldn’t want to go further in your research, films like this were The thing. A kind of dogma, untouchable and true from any point of view. I’m OK with that because we have the freedom to step outside and inside the world of these films. Reading the average IMDb comment on this films frames this comment.

I sure need to come back to films like this once in a while, it’s a child memory. But most of what i remembered is not here. The film is incredibly flat, especially since now we have Pixar induced digital depth. The characters are rendered sweetly, and really there was a kind of humanity in how these characters were created, so we related to them willingly. But the film in itself is way much smaller than what my memory makes it. The very spaghetti scene, i suppose the spoofs and celebrations of it enlarged it to a point the scene never had. It’s great how the collective perception of things counterfeits our memory of them.

This was a sweet comeback to a world which does not exist. Good to live there for a while, though.

My opinion: 3/5

This comment on IMDb

Advertisements

Valkyrie (2008)

“Valkyrie” (2008)

valquíria

IMDb

illustrations

I didn’t find anything here that i wasn’t expecting, and nothing i expected to be here was absent. This is a bad premise to commenting on a movie. The thing is, i don’t expect much of Bryan Singer. Yes, he gave us “usual suspects” which has some narrative interest in how the flashbacks are used and in how we redefine all that we’d seen with the final twist. But even there the direction was stylish, which means he chose effect over meaning, appearance over flesh. But clearly he is one of those guys who gets carried away by his immense enthusiasm, but than doesn’t have the brain to bend his emotions to a coherent structure. Like him, so do think most of the common film goers, especially those who would flock to a movie like this. So, we have a box office success.

But if you want to go further, you’ll find very little to interest you here. The one thing that matters is the story itself. What these guys tried to make was big, not because of the act in itself (certainly many Germans would want to do the same if they could) but because they were privileged Germans, who could just play the Nazi game. Of course by than the end of the war was close and they felt that, so killing Hitler might also be a way to protect the future of those who were around him. In any case, it was a brave attempt. But that can be told by a simple documentary, like the one in the extras of this DVD. The film is a mere illustration of the events. It’s like those re enactments of historical facts in the History channel docs, with a (much) higher budget. But apart from that it is pretty useless, except for a minor entertainment value.

Well, the writers tried to build on the tension by not allowing us to understand or check Hitler after the bomb exploded. That tension is mildly well done, because it elects a narrator, it makes us live the lives of the dissidents. But we knew what had happened, so even that fails.

After the incredible participation of Cruise in Tropic Thunder, i would expect he would keep redeeming his career, but here he goes back to his usual numb thing. Pity.

If you go for “realistic” sets and good illustrations, i think this will do it perfectly for you. If not, i think you can skip it.

My opinion: 2/5

This comment on IMDb

Tetro (2009)

“Tetro” (2009)

tetro

IMDb

staged soul

It’s so nice that this film happened. It’s great to have been able to watch it, on the big screen,as the film asks for

Coppola is respectable, to say the least. I’ll want to see whatever he makes, if i sense that he put some of his soul in the project. As it is common knowledge, until 2 years ago, Dracula had been the last film Francis had taken seriously. The 90′ were an accumulation of useless and eventually profitable pieces of trash which allowed him to sponsor the rising Sofia, mainly, and another project of Roman. 2 years ago he made a film which i haven’t seen, as i’m keeping to a more special occasion; i sense there something in it which requires previous preparation. Now he gives us this Tetro, and i’m pleased he did.

He envisions the story, he writes the script. It features two writers, and it is the writing of the older, hampered by the interpretation of the younger of that writing that will give us the dramatic arc. It’s all about drama, it’s all about staging. The story is solved in 2 final staged performances, a play, and a concert at a funeral. He actually blew the ending. For what i guess, he had 2 ideas to unfold the story he had built beautifully until than, and didn’t have the cold mind to elect one, instead he made both endings. To my view (minor spoiler), he should have kept the festival alone, and somehow merge the funeral (or the meaning of it) into that festival. Anyhow, this is a remarkable moment. He picks on his Godfather3 operatic finale and remakes it, in a not epic, delusioned way. It was great, despite it’s flaws. (major spoiler) It’s a moment where the lives of the two brothers is being staged, as written collaboratively by the two brothers, and the true ending is being revealed by the older brother, and the major twist breaks us apart. It’s a great card he played on us, and despite some naiveness in the dialogs and an apparent arrogance in Gallo’s performance, this is a powerful dramatic piece of cinema, solved through the very script, and that’s something rare, an (apparently) invented story which, by itself, makes the film matter. The reason why it works is because he applies several levels of performance: the play the brothers wrote which is being staged, the dialog between those brothers as that play is being staged (that dialog is ostensibly staged as well, through the set and lights) and the cameras whose images fill the screens, which frame both the staged play and the dialog. Carmen Maura’s character is pivotal here, as she conducts the larger play, and indeed calls for its ending. Exquisite. From here on, the rest of the film is quite dispensable, except for the very last scene.

We can sense the autobiographical references, and quite part from the not so interesting exercise of understanding which is true and which placed for dramatic purpose is to know that Francis was actually putting himself in front of us, layering his own mind in the structure of the film and thus building and strong world, though “encoded” where we can sit in and to which we can easily trust our emotions. In a way, we can see Coppola in Tetro in how both are creators to whom being brilliant might mean they are lost. It’s a deep matter of (un)balancing art and the artist’s soul, and as a consequence, balancing both with the audience that cares about them. Probably Apocalipse had something to do with this.

Apart from that, this is the best digital photography (?) i’ve seen so far. Through the b&w, through the scope, through the framing, Coppola and Malaimare do something that hadn’t been done probably (and properly) since Allen’s Manhattan. What they do is, they enlarge the visual scope, they enlarge landscapes, they detail the interiors as much as they can, and they use all that to achieve the inverse and (because of that) powerful effect of intimacy. Manhattan was probably more powerful (i’ve never seen it on the big big screen) even due to its 70mm format. But this one hits that sweet spot, in which cinematography matters and merges to what is told. That’s why we have contrasts, crowded streets against small apartments, hospital rooms against the huge landscapes of Patagonia. This is about making you understand coziness in front on infinite landscapes. It’s a beautiful idea, and we can put this together with only a few others, as films that manage this properly. Also, the lighting is ostensibly artificial in all crucial moments, as we are never allowed to forget that the film is a play with plays inside.

I’m really happy that we have this new filmmaker called Coppola, 30 years after. This film probably matters more than anything he has made since Apocalipse Now. He doesn’t bet his soul and guts here, but he certainly depicts it well enough. Prety well. I’m happy, as if it mattered.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb

Collateral Damage (2002)

“Collateral Damage” (2002)

colateral damage

IMDb

the good and the evil

This was one of the last films of the ‘governor’. It’s interesting how the film underlines the simplistic approach that apparently en forms the American republican thinking.

It’s a story of revenge. The man who lost his family at the hands of a terrorist; he is the common American, oh he saw the family die, he blames himself because he was late. This is corny and seen over and over. He strikes back, does what a “great American” would do, and seeks revenge. He learns a few things along the way, he learns the original killing of his family was already a revenge, and he proves himself better than the colombian terrorists by sparing the life of a mother and her child. How superior is this man? Now, to go even further **spoilers here on**, the mother whose life he spares plays double and is the central key to the terror plot which he thought was at the hands of the terrorist “bad guy”. Now, will you vote for Arnie? you should, now you see what’s at stake. I suppose by than, Schwarzenegger would have already the politic job in mind, so i may consider this is not an innocent plot. Specially not in a film released the year next to September 11th. We have to admit this flows perfectly in butter minds.

The action is worthless, see Stallone, Arnold or Seagal from the 80′ to have this made better.

My opinion: 1/5

This comment on IMDb

Get Carter (1971)

“Get Carter” (1971)

get_carter

IMDb

what you see is what you get

There is a strange appeal to the English movies of the late 60′ and beginning of the 70′. Socially, we find in that moment a peak in the usual arrogance of the British. Today, when the UK, indeed all Europe, is sliding towards cultural decadence, and artistic indecision, it is interesting to consider that specific social context, and watch what came out of it. Probably the best example of what i’m talking about is “the Italian job” which also stars Michael Caine. But this is a pretty good example.

This is a detective story. One guy trying to correct a story sold to him, and thus remake the reality where that story goes. The basic structure was held for the remake, with Stallone, except there we have Stallone’s muscles in place of Caine’s British wittiness. That’s the basic game. There are broken strings, pieces that don’t fit, and Caine struggles to tell things right. In the middle we have mundane dramas, unsolved family issues, which matter very little. Yet, three things are to be noticed.

.one is the very use of the English rural/provincial landscape. It informs the mood, it evokes the shape that we need for this story: close-minds, unsophisticated gangsters, but a light world where it is apparently enjoyable to live; that’s why it was so believable that Caine’s brother might have died by accident;

.Caine’s character, he is the formalization of what i stated above. A sophisticated, stylish representation of what the “modern” British should be, after the humiliations of the world war, and the exaggerations of the 60′. He is on the top of the game, despite the final irony where the film ends. In a way his character here is no different than the one he performs in Italian Job. But the whole project is less arrogant and self-centered than Italian Job (where Caine says “the people in this country drive on the wrong side of the road”).

.The unfolding of the story (spoilers herein). The solving of the mystery is allowed by a super8 film. This is a world where seeing means believing, and every character is there to confuse Caine’s perception. So the fact that a film is the key to the game, makes the solution interesting (this aspect was kept in the remake)

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb

Natural City (2003)

“Natural City” (2003)

2080

IMDb

not folded paper world

Several times in my comments i’ve said how i’m getting more and more interested in korean current cinema (i still don’t feel comfortable to investigate its past). In later years, i think some of the best films coming out are korean. Among their vast production, we have two directors with whom i commit seriously. Because i have this interest, because korean films appeal to me, even when they fail, i’ve been wondering of the reasons for this. So far i think korean cinema reflects their culture. And that culture is a thin balance between west and east values. Korea is, in most aspects, apparently a country ruled by western principles. Yet, at root, it is an eastern country, coming from the same cradle as Japan and China. So these films i enjoy, beyond their own characteristics, reflect this balance, reflects the essence of two opposed visions of society.

Sometimes the film presses more on the spiritual construction of koreans, which i think still remains oriental in its core. Other times it marvels at topping western narrative structures. Kim Ki Duk and Wook Park are the best in each case. The reason why i mention all this is because this film is totally inserted in this context. But here the balance falls totally for the western side, and is not at all satisfactory in it. The film tackles Bladerunner in its cosmology, in how the world works, in how people in this world face their reality, and even in the physical shape of that world. But where Blade Runner was a matter of memories, dream-real, parallel versions and constant redefinition of realities, here all this is exchanged for a pure “love” story. None of that Dick ambiguity, instead a plain soap operish story about how a man overcomes rejection and compromises to save his forbidden lover, a ‘replicant’ who will die soon. There is no trick in how the story unfolds, there is no surprise to amaze us, there is no origami in this one. Anyway we don’t have that grand scale eye Ridley Scott placed at the service of Phil Dick’s vision. We have a mere celebration of huge sets, strange worlds (which are not that fascinating , by the way), and Matrix based slow motion. We have few things to see here.

My opinion: 2/5

This comment on IMDb

Cockfighter (1974)

“Cockfighter” (1974)

cockfighter

IMDb

white background

I really have a sympathy for the kind of film-making this film aims at. I respect the intentions, i am always able to live in the environments films like this try to create. But when this sort of film fails, it’s never a glorious failure, nor an interesting one. The thing slides to fields of boredom and emptiness.

For what concerns direction and, to me, acting, this film fails totally. Not because it’s incompetent, simply because it’s not engaging, there is not a visual idea Hellman tries to explore. This is his only film i’ve seen so far; here he connects his narrative to the character, the actor (who apparently starred in many of his other movies). It is what certain film writers define as “character study”. Well, i think that may be done, if the character is interesting, and that depends on whether the actor is interesting as an actor and as a person. So this drastically reduces the possibilities of success in such a kind of film. I didn’t think Warren Oates was interesting enough for me to follow him willingly. This made the film as uninteresting in its content as the life of the straightforward cock trainer.

But something redeems all these flaws. the cinematography is unobtrusive and beautiful in many ways. Almendros was one of the cinematographers who could masterfully move away from protagonism and yet build a worthy mood we want to get into. Pairing with Truffaut, he gave us some exquisite moments of minimal photography, in the sense that he transcends through an apparent “naturalism”. Striking… If you watch this film you may be led to believe, like i did, that some of it was bureaucratic work Almendros had to do to narrate the boring character Hellman proposes, but other moments are shining and worth watching. Among those are the cock fights. the cock close-ups are beautiful, and the careful editing allows the fight scenes to be really tough. The inner sets, when associated to intimacy, are also cozy and mood evoking. Apart from those, you’ll want to see a certain scene: it’s by a lake, the protagonist and his lover caress each other, and talk about their life and relation. The shot starts as a close-up of their faces, over a totally white background. Than the camera slowly zooms out, reveals the environment, and that’s when we get the lake. All this is done with a subtlety which is really hard to see. This shot will be with me for a long long time.

My opinion: 3/5 watch it, for the cinematography, only.

This comment on IMDb