Archive for February, 2010

Re-Animator (1985)

“Re-Animator” (1985)

Fantasporto 2010


reflexive homage

This was the first half of a double session i watched that ended with Braindead. It was fun, very fun. The reason why we laugh at films like this is, i think, related with the fact that we understand the breaking of cinematic conventions. in other words, if i’d never seen any gore “serious” film before, this one would just sound silly. This means we have a comedy attached to a specific genre, and which plays with it. Well, we are given absolutely every element we are supposed to get from the genre: zombies, lots of blood, graphic depictions of guts, the object woman, who necessarily has to loose her clothes along the way and be the catalyst of desire of basically everybody on the film (except the inventor). We are even given those elements in the right place, and order, and with the right weight, according to what we except from the genre. But we will just laugh at it, just as the filmmakers did making it. This film doesn’t twist the genre (like the new Thirst, by Park Chan-Wook does), instead it turns it into a cartoon, and that’s also a good experience.

This re-animator has a special interest, basically and simply because it is well executed. Unlike a very vast majority of the guys who did these films, Stuart Gordon does have a cinematic eye. He cares for how every shot is constructed, and that ends up summing up to the experience. Again, in other words, the film matters as cinema, instead of just an artifact for blood gore lovers to appreciate how they modeled the intestine that gains life in the final scene. Some moments, intentionally ridiculous in their plot description, work incredibly funny because of how they were shot. The best example is a shot in which you get, on a single frame, half the naked body of the female protagonist. We see her breasts, being handled by the hands of the headless body. Standing next to the girl we see the head itself, in a platter, with gazes of pleasure! it’s incredibly visual, so much that i am laughing just remembering that frame. Other than that, the fluidity of the camera helps all the way.

So, in the end, this doesn’t have the juice of those films that play, twist, and re-deliver a genre, instead it falls on a larger group of films which are “hommages”. This is a pretty decent one, and you certainly will laugh at it.

My opinion: 4/5

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Braindead (1992)

“Braindead” (1992)


reflexive ketchup

What drives the making of b series is, prior to anything else, sheer passion. Passion in the making of it, passion in the process, of inventing simple costless ways to represent crazy ideas. I think that’s where the gore infatuation comes from, how to represent props that you obviously won’t get for real. In the beginning it might be really born from the frustration of wanting to make a movie without having the budget to pull it out. Later on, the cheap look to those movies created a fan base, and a trend. So, the same way today some guys (myself included) shoot super8 because they want the grain, the look, and the process now useless in the video age, so did (and still do!) many filmmakers seek to do b series style, because they loved the old ones, wanted passionately to do a film, and didn’t have enough money to do one.

I saw this Braindead, back to back with the brilliant Re-animator. Together, these two films, plus the festival mood in the theater where i saw them gave me one of the funniest nights in cinema ever. One where watching a film really became as much a collective thing as it is to make the movie itself. Colective laughs, not planned, spontaneous, relaxing in face of the jokes. It was all really great, memorable. So, i supposed the spirit of the makers of the films was fully transposed to the audience in that room, me included. it means both films work.

Now, it’s interesting to think about a few things: this film is a self-aware b series, meaning that who did it knew they were deliberately making a cheap looking, b themed movie. This was in 1992, so they were making it to audiences by than unaccustomed to the cheapness that was tolerable when, say, Corman, was making his films, or even more when Ed Wood was. So, from the very beginning, the filmmakers are winking to the style they emulate, they plan jokes based on the effect they know they will create on audiences. It’s in that bedrock that all the (imense) fun lies. This is not “oh we don’t have the money to do all those big effects, let’s try our best with whatever means we get”. Instead it is a “yeah, let’s make something that looks phony, fake, and ketchup, people will laugh with us”. So in a way, Braindead, Re-animator, or the Evil Dead series, do to the b-series zombie film what Leone did to the American western, or Besson did to the action films. They place them in that sweet world of irony and self-awareness. Nice. the rest, you’ll have to see, a synopsis of a film like this would sound plain ridiculous, so would the description of nearly every scene.

Still, there are two bits: one is the very first scene. What a great set they found. I’ve never been to New Zealand so i don’t know how hard it was to find it, hey maybe it’s on every touristic guide. But i really enjoyed how Peter Jackson shot that sequence, in the middle of those huge high rocks.

The faces. How he shoots the few true shots of intimacy between the main characters. It feels like he used wide angles close to the faces, anyway he achieved some great moments, of pure cinematic intimacy, and the camera hand held movements allow for it. Surprisingly good in the middle of this blood flick.

the rat monkey stop motion is great. So is the ninja priest! So were the facial acting of Timothy Balme.

what did not work was the control of the larger arc of the film. Some sequences are overly extended, and in a zombie film, to many chopped legs and arms become dull at a certain point.

My opinion: 4/5

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X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

“X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006)


zero content, worse effect

it’s a sad thing when a franchise like this scrambles the foundations of the comic mythology to the point of making it unrecognizable in its general elements. I feel comfortable writing about this because i never followed the comics, my contact with x-men always came from TV animated series, or the films.

The x-men were based on a basic metaphor of being different. because you have a different characteristic, that doesn’t mean it is bad. You have to learn who you are, and live with it. Ultimately, we’re all mutants, who just have to acknowledge who we are. Understand our “difference”, and our weaknesses, and explore them. So, the ordinary human being in the series, is the guy who normally won’t cope with the difference. They simply won’t understand it. That’s where the mutant vs human thing comes up. And of course, mutant vs mutant, because some mutants won’t understand and deal with rejection. Along the way, we’d get lots of effect, different characteristics, wings, adamantium, weather controlling powers, psychic mutants, magnetic ones, etc etc. the possibilities were endless.

But here, everything is messed up. mutants manipulate mutants, and apparently every faction is “just” covering their own ass. There is no larger aspiration, no grander intentions. We are even taken away the mentor of the “ideology of difference” early at the beginning, Xavier. It’s turned into a simple action flick, emptied in its original cosmology content, rather poor in terms of visual sequences, but still so expensive that one can not see it as the honest work of some b series lovers. So, we’re left with nothing.

My opinion: 1/5

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How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003)


fading diamonds

It probably can be very ungrateful for someone with any artistic ambition in film to make a romantic comedy that appeals to a large audience (here’s a pleonasm). That’s because this is probably the genre with more rules to be followed. The thing is fully tailored for the audiences to believe they are watching something fresh, while seeming to be new, and never seen before. As far as my personal experience in these films goes, there are 2 things that can redeem such projects: either the comedy lines and moments are exceptionally well done and catchy, or the protagonist actors/public characters are soaked on an aura of glamour and interesting personalities, like Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn throughout their careers or Roberts in Pretty Woman. There is a third option, which is to try and shake the genre, like say, the Coens did in Intolerable Cruelty, but that’s some hard stuff to do, and hardly tried.

This film doesn’t work well to me on any of the 3 options above, so it fades, and fails. This is a film where both the protagonists act their characters. Both are faking to each other, and that’s the fun. It’s actually an interesting starting point, but the actors have to play along. the thing is McConaughey is an absolute disaster in every respect. He simply can’t act, and he tries to disguise that under his over the top accent and his own sense of public personality, which is simply vacuous to me. Kate Hudson has a few poses, and knows how to smile and show her pretty face. Other than that, there’s not much more we can count on as well. We are left with a few interesting funny bits, allowed by the writing of the scenes, by the very situations characters are in.

Some bits work well enough as space fillers, but this is not worth an extra look.

My opinion: 1/5

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O Xangô de Baker Street (2001)

“O Xangô de Baker Street” (2001)


folded comedy

When you have good writing, you don’t need that much to have a good film. And this film has excellent writing. I’m talking about the dialog lines, they are perfect in how they evoke the despicable little bourgeois society of the imperial Rio de Janeiro, which actually mirrors the contemporary mentality of the Brazilian (and Portuguese!) people. Jô Soares is a good comedy writer, one who tackles grotesque society themes and contradictions, and remakes them into interesting cartoons.

He is not a true screenwriter, and his great experience (and quality) is as a television writer, which basically means he writes episodes, without a large form. But here the episodes he wrote in the novel work because he cleverly used a few story elements that binds everything together, and those elements are themselves funny in a layered way, meaning that if you know something about Holmes, Jack the Ripper, and Caipirinha, you will smile at the thing.

So absolutely everything is a joke. The “crimes” are a cartoon, the Stradivarius bit is social critic, the serial killer is funny, and Sherlock’s endless and pointless deductions are as awkward and ridiculous as the very situations he investigates. If Holmes was already in its origin a cartoon of a certain ultra logic way to see the world, than this Holmes is the cartoon of a cartoon. Watson is what is supposed to be. The Ripper connection is intelligent, and his off voice narration completes the binding of every loose comedy episode. The killer literally writes the story, this is always a reliable device.

An important note is how the filmmakers invest the film with a sense of placement. Porto, Portugal, working as Rio’s historical center in the XIXth century. There are overall clever locations, and one in particular; the bookshop, it’s a great space. It is a real bookshop, located in the center of Porto. It has a great serpent stair, which could actually have been better used, but the space is invested with a romantic eclectic feel. It has a mystery appeal to it. Actually it might have been used as a model for some Harry Potter’s sets (Rawling lived in Porto). I appreciated the choices.

My opinion: 4/5 watch this.

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U Turn (1997)

“U Turn” (1997)


Oliver at the gates of wonderland

I don’t have great consideration for Stone, and the vast majority of his films. He seems to be one of those dull guys who only talk to be heard, who only find significant that other people are around so they can agree to what he’s saying, nod affirmatively, and giving him the standing ovations his bright intellect deserves. Actually i think there is a huge number of directors (and other artists) who fall into this kind of personality category. I suppose always trying to form an opinion above the average minds makes them think they are themselves different than the ordinary masses. Well sometimes they are, and thus justify the arrogance: Wenders and Tarantino (sometimes). Others are just dumb egocentric personalities. Stone is one of them. All his political babbling are conspiracy theories he seriously portrays as unquestionable truth. Platoon was a great experience, but other than that there is not much to see.

This film, however, deserves some credit. Oh, Stone’s personality is here, and that waists the experience in a great portion. But there were interesting people working here, and risks were taken, even by Oliver. So although this is, after all, a failure, i think it is a worthy one, almost glorious, because there was ambition behind it, and true commitment to get there.

This is a Coen set up, one where the ordinary world provides us with bizarre answers to odd situations. We start, just as Penn, outside of the world. At the beginning we are literally driven to that crazy physical set, and also literally left stranded there. And apart from the story that links Penn to Lopez to Nolte, all the surrounding characters exist to guarantee us that the world is tricky, bizarre, and untrustable. This is absolutely cinematic, and it is the greatest attempt made here. The Coens are the current masters doing this, already were back than. Penn does a great job, as usual, in this case playing the ambiguity of feeling outside that crazy world and letting himself get sucked into it. Whatever works here certainly has to do with him. Jennifer Lopez can’t really act, but actually i think that played in favour of the film here, because by not controlling her acting, she didn’t allow us to see through her, and that’s a good thing given the story. She’s also, of course, a physical character, her body counts. Phoenix, Danes, Billy Bob, Voight. Each episode that involves them depends on them as actors, so this is a film about acting, even if Stone wouldn’t want that so much.

What ruins this is to see how Oliver Stone collected so many visual tricks, and uses them all indiscriminately, at every moment. All those editing tricks, of splitting what you hear from what you see, plus the film tricks that change colours sometimes. Stone thought that would be enough to grant the film the mood he wanted. Actually some of them might actually be very powerful, but they require a sensitive mind to use them, not someone who stares at a mirror while he conceives his work. Stone had a good shot, he could have made us really cross into this world, but he blew it because he wouldn’t erase himself from the film, he could allow this to be fully a collective effort.

The soundtrack is the more focused element we have here.

My opinion: 3/5

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