Archive for January, 2011

In Bruges (2008)

“In Bruges” (2008)

IMDb

Bosch, midgets

*** spoilers ***

About 2 years ago, i watched and commented on a belgian film, called Moscow, Belgium (Aanrijding in Moscou). It came to me out of the blue, at a film festival, and it pleased me so much in how different it was as a film experience. Somehow, it was a film detached from conventions, relatively away from the genre rules of that type of film, at least Hollywood rules. But it had the appeal of the audiences, and had it been spoken in English or Spanish, and it certainly might have had a different impact. Unpretentiousness was how i named my comment. No i watch this film, and it produces a similar effect. And it takes place in Belgium as well. And because this one is spoken in English, and has well known faces, it falls in the sweet spot that i thought Moscow might have fit in. I wonder if Belgium, as a place, has anything to do with that.

Now this is quite a different film. It has a very tight strong writing, as controlled as the environment where the whole film takes place. It all takes place within that environment, and the first really interesting thing is how, with one (important) exception, all the important plot points that happen along the story are mapped into the places of the city that we’d been introduced early, when the hit men were simply sightseeing. The tower, the hotel, the film set. We get to the city with the characters, and we see it through their eyes. The fundamental plot point that is told to us through flashbacks is what allows for the story to derive into the other world of the noir genre where the film ends. The killing of the child is what we learn. What that fact does is to trigger all the events that make the characters meet what they are supposed to meet. So, the great thing here is how the film derives from genre to genre. From the laws of comedy (f***ing Brugges) to the point of hard men hunt. The dramatic shift is subtle and really rare to watch, and it magnifies the power of the ending.

The crucial element that allows this is, of course, the film within, the film being shot in Brugges. It intersects the narrative several times throughout the film, and we even have actors from that film (the midget) interacting with our main actors. The midget aspect is very talked about. We pass through the set, Farrell even meets the girl on it, and we are told the film has something to do with Bosch. And of course, at the end, the larger film, the one we’re watching moves literally to the set of the inner film, at the time when we no longer live in the comedy world, and the two remaining characters meet their fate in a totally different dramatic world, on the set of the inner film, taking the midget with them.

This is remarkable writing which, nevertheless, is only allowed by a solid direction which allows the actors to freely express, under a controlled environment.

My opinion: 4/5

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Angels & Demons (2009)

“Angels & Demons” (2009)

IMDb

hercule

I don’t expect much of a Ron Howard film. His films are bloodless and unappealing to me, despite the effects that are applied. His cinematic ideas are as basic and uninteresting as those annoying camera effects we have in his Dan Brown based films – cameras that move through walls as if to show us the “hidden truth” behind what’s apparent. Dull. The biggest disaster was the “daVinci Code”, because that was made when the book was incredibly consensual throughout the world, consensual even in its supposed revolutionary revelations. The film was so poor it couldn’t even serve as a proper illustration for the book like, say, the Harry Potter films do with the books.

This one was a predictable failure. If they weren’t able to break any rules of the genre with the first one that was already loved by the public before it was even shot, this wouldn’t be where they’d make it. This had to maintain the viewers that kept following Langdon even after the cinematic code disaster. So this film uses the skeleton of the first one, and places different flesh over it. Now it’s not about the grail, or the blood of Christ, instead it’s about some political plot inside the Vatican. The Code was a far more interesting story, as far as the book goes, but both stories are uncinematic to me, because they only tease when you get into the details that Brown cleverly chooses to use to build his intended narrative. What he presents are narratives, versions, stories that might be true. This is done by the association of facts, not through images. That’s suited for a book, not so much for a film.

The only significant switch here is that, more than in the Code, Langdon is more of a detective here than a researcher. In the Code, the fun was for you to understand the narrative that was being told to you, in the historical plan, by joining the puzzle pieces that were being thrown at you. Here it was about getting the “insider”, finding who was manipulating things. Underneath the historical heavy display of facts there is a simple detective story, in the Agatha Christie tradition. And underneath that tradition is a whole heritage that American noir left us to enjoy and explore. If Ron Howard and the other people involved had got this, they might have made a decent film. This way, they didn’t.

My opinion: 1/5

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L’illusionniste (2010)

“L’illusionniste” (2010)

IMDb

the trick

There are some awkward things that the market laws and peculiarities make happen once in a while. This is a film that belongs in the pocket of animation followers, not mainstream animation, in the tradition of the great studios, but animation in the more meditative tradition of the once called fine arts. Animation as a form worth by its own materialization. In other words, the drawings are worth simply for existing, we can appreciate such a film for the flavour of its own world, as much as we can appreciate a sketch of Michelangelo regardless of the whatever he is showing. The particular basic skills of each creative leader goes nearly untouched to the screen where we watch the film. That’s what makes me look for author animation once in a while: the visual worlds are visceral and direct, as if the film was being drawn at the same time you watch them.

Chomet is a filmmaker whose personal world is worth visiting. His meditative approach is fully aligned with the narratives he chooses. Here that meditation found a perfect set in the rainy hills of Edinburgh, a city i’ve never visited but which i imagine must be much rougher than this one we have on film. the narrative begins with the magician wandering through different places, different countries, until he finds the one city that suits the mood the filmmaker wants to tell.

The self-reference is clear here: Chomet is the magician. The Tati double is for the people that surround him as Chomet is to us the audiences. You think the trick is about the rabbit and the hat? No, the trick is about the tricker. You think the story is about Tati’s script? No, the story is about what Chomet does with it. The master self-reflexive stroke here is, of course, the moment when our animated magician gets in a theatre to find a projection of Tati’s Mon Oncle going on. The distance, metaphorical and visual, between animation and the live-action film we get on screen accounts for the semiotic importance of this bit. The fact that we get to see the animated and the real Tati on the same frame accounts for the will Chomet had to make us compare both.

Much has been said about this Tati connection, how it gives birth to the animated character, and how it mimics Tati in his approach. I don’t make much of it, at least not in the terms that generally people have been putting into it. Tati certainly en forms the character, and inspires the moves, but the puppeteer is Chomet, not Tati. What we see are his moves, not Tati’s. And the pace, and visual narrative, all that belongs to Chomet’s world. But we are lead into believing we will watch Tati coming our of the grave. That’s the trick, that’s the illusion.

My opinion: 4/5

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (2010)

IMDb

Rootless

One has to face it; it’s not that hard to carry a franchise like this. The books are best-sellers, and teenagers are among some of the resistant hardcore fans for whatever pop phenomena they choose to embrace. The books hit a sweet corner of contemporary souls: the lack of magic in the way they conduct their lives, driven by a vision of the world that has been excluding the power of mysticism, true mysticism, born from the most basic connections between humans and their environment, humans and themselves. The books revolve around bits of old mythologies, and deliver them with a fashionable package, filled with visual and metaphorical elements that ring a bell in our western collective consciousness. Phoenixes, wands, potions, spells…

But i only care for the series because they were made into films, these books don’t appeal to me, the films may appeal. And the main option in the building of the 8 (which after all will be 9) films that translate the books was that they would evolve like their main characters, which were at the beginning children. So we started as children’s films, evolved to adolescent “highschool” films, and know the films have been mapped onto a kind of a hybrid genre, oscillating between the detective story and the action film. This 8th installment falls on this category, as the previous one had. I guess the last one will get closer to the “return of the king”: epic and visceral.

Apart from that evolution of the films, in some of them we have cinematic concepts that get explored, with more or less success. This is where things get interesting to me. The 3rd film was the best to me: it dealt with an coupling of time and space (that the story of the book supported) and cleverly relied on one of the best explorers of space (through camera) we have today to direct it. So we have the deepest shots in the series, the best Hogwarts, the most magic environment of the series. The Half-blood prince relied on similar principles, but instead of exploring the space, the architecture was cleverly staged, it depended on point of view, framing and mise-en-scéne. It was clever and the best film of the series post- Columbus.

This gets us here, to this film, which represents a radical shift in what has been done before. Again, the story provides the clues for the visual materialization of the film: our main characters are stranded, wandering between multiple worlds, multiple realities, all of them devoid of human elements to anchor the action: snow, woods, rocks. So the rug is pulled on us, and the relatively frantic rhythm of the movie has to do with us failing to anchor our eyes on the expected sets that do Not show: we don’t get to see Hogwarts. That may have been a somewhat risky decision, but i believe that at this moment, the fans only want to see the illustration on-screen of the facts they know will happen, so these guys can almost literally do anything they want.

Again, as in the previous film, i appreciated the visual hint: linear time, but rootless sets. But the sets are just not interesting enough, and the effect fades with the multiplication of sets.

My opinion: 3/5

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