Archive for October, 2010

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

“Beverly Hills Cop II” (1987)

IMDb

action comedy

10 years ago i watched these films and had a different feel about them. That’s because 10 years ago the 80′ were still close enough for us to feel them with the nostalgia that we place upon it today. By now this is vintage. And from the soundtrack, to the clothes, to the visual construction of the film, this is so 80′ as, say, Top Gun. All those notions of style, now outdated, were strong here. Those silhouettes placed against orange sunsets, that was so typical. Style is one of the major notions explored here. I think it works, so much that we can still relate at a distance to it today, even if it no longer works with our contemporary ways to build style.

The other strong idea here is a mix between action and comedy which i think had never been tried before the first one of this series. But even that one was more of a comedy than an action film. This really makes the mix. And it works because we had Eddie Murphy in a peak, exploring his gimmick and exploring notions of race (“is this a black thing?”). And it works because it built a formula that was to be successfully used later (this same year we had Lethal Weapon). That’s the merit of the these beverly hills cops. All the rest is ordinary time spending devices. But this notion is enough for us to appreciate it.

My opinion: 3/5

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Made of Honor (2008)

“Made of Honor” (2008)

IMDb

undisguised

These films are all about its own formula. Date movies, or romantic comedies, however you want to call them.

I never really searched for the origin of the formula as it’s been presented to us for the last, at least, 20 years. Its roots come certainly way before that, and probably you can find elsewhere when this started. This trend i’m talking about makes things happen linearly and it goes like: boy and girl meet. they fall in love, they are happy. Something happens and they are separated and broken; some misunderstanding, some falling out. In the end they meet, after almost loosing each other forever, and reaffirm their love, almost always in a public venue (stadium, crowded street, church…). This is the basic skeleton, and from it, usually the producers try to pretend to change somethings, so they can say they are doing something new, while delivering exactly what has been done thousands of times before and which is in most cases, what most people want.

In recent years, we had a few number of films which, although obeying more or less to the formula, playing really interesting games on it (Love Actually and Across the Universe come to mind). This was great, because we started having a small platform for experimentation built around such a square genre, where audiences wouldn’t admit many surprises. So, what chocks in this film, is not that it is fully formulaic, but that it doesn’t even try to disguise it. It’s not the skeleton of date movies filled with some invented flesh; it IS the skeleton, plain simple, like if it was a kind of educational video shown in “date films school” to teach students the rudiments of the job.

There is one single deviation to the scheme, which could actually be very interesting: the boy and girl do Not fall in love until the very end. Although we know from the beginning that they are meant to be, they don’t, they live their love as a pure friendship until she finds a lover (how she meets him is so ridiculous that they don’t even show the scene). This could really be nice and sweet, but the period of time since they meet until she gets engaged is compressed to some 10 minutes of film.

They make fun of scots. Heavily. it’s usually a national sport for formerly colonies to make fun of their major colonizers. Oddly enough, although the English do get mocked by the Americans, it’s the irish, the scots and the french(!) that get the more aggressive bits of mockery. that’s strange. i suppose the English did their mind washing work well enough.

My opinion: 1/5

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Zelig (1983)

“Zelig” (1983)

IMDb

Citizen Puzzle

This is a great experience, oscillating between pure woody allen territory and serious film ideas that woody places before absolutely every one of his films, even the failed ones.

Here he places himself apparently in the middle of the narrative exploration that Welles started with Kane. But only apparently. In Kane, we had several views of the same story, in that case the story was the life of a man. Each view was from the direct perspective of a specific narrator (newsreel, ex-wife, best friend…). It broke a lot of rules and, together with Toland/Welles’ impressive visual work, it changed the course of cinema, we all know.

This Zelig also uses visual elements from apparently different sources to put up a story. It also teams up one of the best cinematographers ever, whose pairing with Allen produced a number of unsurpassed quality films (including the incredibly moving Manhattan, disparaged by Woody himself!). The story here is also the life of a man. And that life is also heavily self-biographical to its author/actor.

But something is fundamentally different. Each different medium, each different visual language is here to show us some insight on one story. Every bit completes the others, it never competes with them. So the narrative strategy is that we the narrator (one single narrator) is (apparently) collaborating with the audience to show them the story he proposed to tell. That’s why the fake documentary form fits perfectly. We are given every sort of ordinary TV documentary tricks, from testimonies of witnesses now old to bits of newsreels “from the 20′”. Visually it’s well stitched together, and i admit it was probably very hard to keep the pace of such a film, because this form is fitted for real stories, where the interest of wanting to know the thing makes you want to keep on watching. But this is well put together.

Whenever we deviate from the rules Woody established for this film, we are on his grounds of comedy. Of all the bits, the white room sessions with Mia Farrow are the funniest, also because we step out of fiction and see Woody’s personal passion in those days.

My opinion: 4/5

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Arena (2009)

“Arena” (2009)

IMDb

big form in a small package

This film is special, in Portugal, for the Portuguese. Why? simply because it won an award, at Cannes. No one knew the director, a very young one. In other words, someone outside of Portugal considered a Portuguese to have done a good work, good enough to award with a golden palm for best short film. This goes straight to the heads and genitals of the Portuguese: the guy has to be good! Oddly enough, the hype the award created was not strong enough. A year past that, no one still talks about Salaviza in Portugal. Very few have seen this film. Yet those who remember the guy’s name “know” he is really good. That’s how it works around here. That’s why interesting creative work has great trouble in moving from obscurity into any kind of public visibility: there just aren’t enough golden palms to award anything that matters slightly in Portugal.

I wouldn’t have probably heard of this short if it hadn’t been for the award. And definitely it would not have been shown in theatres before a major feature film if it wasn’t for that. That’s sad. But anyway, i wanted to see it. I didn’t want to be a member of the hype effect without knowing what i was talking about.

The film IS interesting. I really find it very very hard to make an interesting structure to a short film. I think it’s harder to build a gripping short script than a large feature film. That’s because stories are usually what gets the audiences to follow the film. And short films simply have to take a great number of shortcuts, it’s inherent to their nature. So most of them simply give up on trying to “tell a story” and become “concept” films, abstract ideas exploited through some catchy visuals. So, this film has the value of having a true narrative to it. And its strenght is in how, in the short forms, it follows its story while falling in a meditative, contemplative mood, which seemed to be a main preoccupation here. The theme is heavy and the performances are surprisingly impressive!: controlled yet intense. That was the best part.

Visually i think the film worked as a laboratory to its director/crew. among some cleverly conceived shots, i highlight one, at the top of the building, when the camera moves down and slightly sideways; we start with a frame that is mainly construction and a bit of sky (and our character in the middle) and the subtle movement of the camera gets to move into a frame which only includes the blue sky and the torso/head of our character. Very good.

My opinion: 3/5 good within the limits short films have for storytellers.

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The Expendables (2010)

“The Expendables” (2010)

IMDb

tough guys

Generally speaking, this was what was expected of it. It is a film about tough guys, properly old and old fashioned, according to today’s standards. It follows every cliché of the older films, and even the action scenes of each actor mirror what we remember seeing them do. We can even see which character was supposed to be performed by Van Damme!, based on his action sequences (the flying kick, out of the fire). We have the love-driven motivations that were quite common in every breed of the 80’s action, from Chuck Norris to Sly. But that was what everybody was expecting, right? Those who went to see this one wanted to see the fake toughness of this now old guys. It was a time travel, we were not watching the old guys, instead we were watching the memory of them, a cartoon of them. And having this kind of “old glories” casting was like seeing Batman, Spiderman and Superman in the same story.

But apart from that, there were interesting things going on here. One of them, the less remarkable, was the adaptation of old fashioned action styles (big muscles, physical poses, hard punches) to a modern eye to catch action, in which we are taken to the middle of the fight. In a way it was a kind of Statham vs Stallone thing. This was well done, i guess, but it’s quite impossible to stitch the two together. It’s like placing Chaplin on a Monthy Pyton film. But it’s interesting how Stallone, the director, is in touch with what’s being done.

Mickey Rourke is the only true actor here. Everybody does what’s expected, and risks nothing outside what everybody expects them to be. But Rourke has a true life hanging on his bones, and his bits are the best of the film, the ones where we feel we are watching a film, and not a collection of punch clips. That’s why he was here, to through acting dimension to the film. That’s also why they didn’t put his character on the fights, nor made him killed by some stupid revenge. I enjoyed that they did this.

Stallone+Willis+Arnold. It works, because it is what we know it is: the folding of the real world of the politician Schwarzenegger, who invades the space of the former actor Schwarzenegger, clicks something in the audiences that causes irresistible and stupid laughs (i laughed). The film can take, as a short isolated clip.

If this could have had Van Damme, Seagal, Snipes… and someone else i’m forgetting, it would probably have been a better cartoon, but a worse film. As it is, it’s well leveraged.

My opinion: 2/5

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