Archive for February, 2011

The King’s Speech (2010)

“The King’s Speech” (2010)

IMDb

the voice against the wall

This is more or less what i was expecting, for good and for bad, and that’s now actually a very good complement. When i go to a movie, i always go with an open mind, expecting to be surprised.

This is a film for and about actors from root to leaves. The main plot is about an unimportant man who has to learn how to act, in order to be convincing in front of an audience, and in order to disguise his stammerer condition. The device they use to show this is a common thing in drama: the personal quest of one man to overcome his handicap is mapped onto the collective aspirations of a group, in this case a nation on the verge of a war. So, by focusing on the personal drama of a number of people; the future king, his stammering brother, his wife, the voice coach; while being given a glimpse of what’s going on in the world, the imminent conflict between uk and Germany, we are given the sensation that what will happen to the world depends on whether the king will be able to talk clearly to his people or not. It’s an usual device, normally used in epics or war films. In this case i don’t think that the “speech” is a strong enough alibi to make credible the whole story, but still i suppose it is OK as a dramatic device.

Within that drama, the main point is the relation between the voice coach and the king. So, here it is a film about a friendship, a whole different genre on its own, that we’ve seen many times before. This gets interesting here, because the actors are apt, and the script helps. Colin Firth does fine, he has become a good actor, he knows how to merge into the fabric of the film and be a part of it. But Geoffrey Rush is something to watch, no matter what he does. He is a very fine actor, and his multiple layers of acting here are really interesting to watch: he acts an incredibly good voice coach, who hides his other side of a frustrated actor, constantly being rejected in theatre castings. He is able to correct the others’ speeches, but not to deliver the lines convincingly enough. He transports his undelivered performance to the king, and projects his frustration as an actor unable to convince an audience to the success of the king as he convincingly incites his nation into resistance. Radio is the chosen medium, and it is perfect for this plot because its magic resides uniquely on the words, and how they’re delivered.

Oh and there is an element that comes from

There is one very interesting set, worth mentioning: Rush’s office. The environment is fine, the old furniture, gadgets of those days, the turntable, the mic, etc. But what is really well picked is the texture of the wall behind the patient’s couch. All those multi colored dots, placed on the background of a face fighting to overcome his difficulty. The wall has great visual power, and supports the drama well enough. I enjoyed it.

My opinion: 3/5

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The Pink Panther (1963)

“The Pink Panther” (1963)

IMDb

off the center

There are so many film personalities involved in this film that today carry a great dose of nostalgia that this film is worth watching on that account alone. That is if you can fully take that scent of other day’s class that exhales from these people. Capucine, Claudia Cardinale, even the now extinct breath to which Niven belonged. Blake Edwards, who recently passed away, and of course Peter Sellers, one of the most genuinely funny people on screen ever. Add that to the 60′, itself a channel of western contemporary nostalgia, and the panther, when it was born. It’s heavy, probably as much as watching Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in this same year’s Charade. If you inspire the scents of those days, and let yourself be taken away by how you imagine it might have been, this will shine.

The film is actually incredibly fresh as a comedy. Not because any of this is still remotely the standard for comic acting these days. It is not. The pace is slow, the thing drags compared to what makes general masses laugh these days; we know that comedy is, among all genres, the one that gets out dated quicker. This is outdated, but it works from where it stands.

But something awkward and quirky kills in great part this experience. The film is off centered today, and i suppose it became off centered as soon as it came out. That’s because this was engineered to have Niven as the star, and Cardinale as the exotic sex symbol. She even plays a queen from an exotic far away country. Capucine and Sellers were to be equivalent asteroids surrounding the main stars. But Sellers shuffles the things here, and unbalances this apparently well built universe. That’s because he is the most shiny star of this firmament. Apparently his role was to be acted by Ustinov, but Sellers ended up doing it and we all know the rest, and the much we gained with it. He is a great performer, because he somehow performs all his gimmicks without overtly appearing to be acting funny. And his timing is usually perfect.

So, the awkwardness here is that we have a brilliant performer stealing the film from the true robbers (he even goes to jail instead of them at the end). The great thing is that we had Sellers.

My opinion: 3/5

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The Hangover (2009)

“The Hangover” (2009)

IMDb

puzzle

Comedy is a hard genre. It’s really hard to find talented comedy actors that make us laugh without feeling empty in doing it. I’m not talking about the easy laugh of an arranged false situation where you just laugh at the awkwardness of the scene. True comedy is closer to true drama than to anything else. That’s what i think. But once in a while, one can find a decent comedy, that succeeds in the performances. More rare is to watch something that does something interesting on the narrative level. This is the case.

The performances are standard routine in what concerns today’s physical acting and word timing. This is the part of the thing that usually gets outdated so soon, so i suspect that in 15 years we’ll no longer laugh at the phrasing, timing, or even most of the written jokes. Zach Galifianakis is the exception. He acts really funny because he’s the only character who doesn’t act to be funny. He doesn’t force his comic act into the audiences. He stands outside the comic forces of the film, quite literally, as his character is an alien forced upon the well acquainted group. So he just stands there, and there resides the fun of his performance.

The nice thing here is done on the narrative structure of the thing. The story is about a group of guys who don’t remember what happened the night before (drugs, booze, etc.). They are given clues (the baby, the tiger, the police car) which are the links to those unremembered events. Following those leads, in a sort of a twisted detective story mechanics, they will be able to retell the events they don’t remember. So, the narrative structure is that these characters will reveal a story that has already happened, to Them! This is a fun concept, and a clever device. And it is really rare to find clever structures applied to mainstream comedy.

Well the unveiling of the missing puzzle pieces of their night is not as great as it might have been. The Mike Tyson episode is forced upon the narrative, probably there to include Tyson and sell some more tickets with his presence, but it just feels out of place, a scene from another movie.

My opinion: 3/5

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Biutiful (2010)

“Biutiful” (2010)

IMDb

Faces

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It’s always a special night when you move to watch the newest film of one of the best directors working at the moment. Not only will you see something you’d never seen by someone whose work affects your soul, but you’re also seeing something that may be the newest improvement in the still recent tradition of cinema, as an art of visual narrative. Iñarritu produces such a state in me. Some of his previous work changed me in ways i can’t understand. I’ll always want to see what he’s got for me.

Here we had an important thing going on. He departed from his long time collaborator, Arriaga. Apparently, their previous collaborations took the best out of their personal relationship. I imagine the heaviness and pain of pulling out such dense rich narratives like the trilogy that came before this film was draining and emptied their relation. Arriaga’s absence gets noticed here. We get to be less aware of the structure, we get less engaged by how the film develops. There is no apparent higher structure to frame the lives we follow. Arriaga provided the films with a noir sense of fate, where every character sat. Well, i suppose we find it here, but in a more rough, less assumed way. No one doubts that every character in this film (even the Chinese bosses) lives in a world whose rules he or she don’t understand, less even control. That’s the first interesting thing here. We have the city as the defined board where the game is played. The sense of (urban) placement tells us the game is being played, but we never get to see anyone higher than a simple pawn. I think when you take the story as it is, you can place this along with Blindness, for the pessimism, for the hopeless view on the world. The city, Barcelona, is shown with a grittiness and darkness that actually is not in its superficial face, although some scenes (like the black people running from the police with fake purses) are actually a part of its routine. But nothing of what we see here is a told at a first level of observation, so we don’t have the city of Gaudí here, we have a city of oppressed, manipulated by an unknown oppressor.

(**spoilers here**) This world is complex and deceiving. Uxbal seems to control the Chinese boss, but we know he is manipulated by his man lover, whose homosexuality is not accepted by the other’s family. Maramba drowns Uxbal’s rejections on the bed of his brother, as her madness progressively moves her away from her children. But Uxbal will be dead and knows it, plus he also knows what’s “on the other side”. He is just as drowned in his own unavoidable destiny as the Chinese workers that he thinks he helps (until he kills them!). So is Ige, who knows somehow she can’t leave Barcelona and have a future; she’s drowned in her fate, and money can’t change it. And so are Uxbal’s children, whose fate depends on the luck and will of those who in turn are responsible for their upbringing: their father will die, their mother is unreliable, and we are only hinted that Ige will become their mother figure.

But all this is only secondary, compared to the real reason why i think you should watch this film: the faces. All the darkness, all the pus that comes sickly out of the wounds of these people only really matters anything because it is mirrored in the “biutiful” faces of absolutely every character. That’s what the incredible first scene gives us: the meeting between two faces, Bardem (what an actor he finally became!) and the one we come later to find out to be his late father. Notice how the close-ups of the faces are the key to every emotional response you give to the film. Notice how it’s the broken smiles of Mateo, or Maramba’s powerless looks that make your heart break. Notice how those faces are framed by Iñarritu (and his incredible cinematographer!), always differently, according to the face of every actor. Bardem usually three quarters. But the face i’ll always remember is that of Ana. According to IMDb this was her first film, and if it is her last, i still will have reasons to remember her. I’m betting she was chosen based on her smile, that of disillusioned innocence, of broken childhood. So beautiful, so sad. So much pain, in such a chaotic noir world. This is great film writing, great film making. I’m wondering how it will fit in my dreams.

My opinion: 4/5

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The Tourist (2010)

“The Tourist” (2010)

IMDb

stars

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a good experience, a very rare thing to watch these days, and that apparently was only allowed by the accidents of the pre-production.

Angelina was in the boat all along, according to IMDb. But the male lead had various possibilities, including Sam Worthington. The fact that they were able to settle with Johnny was the happy casting lucky touch that allowed this film to work on the very shining spot where it stands right now. Superficially this is a story about twists, about double characters, about people who pretend to be something only for us to realize, over and over again, that they’re someone else. In the meanwhile, we get dazzled about the star status that both leading characters exhibit all the time. The world revolves around them, for better and worse. Here the story even helps: Angelina starts the film literally being observed from every angle, with everybody interested in knowing what she’s doing. The scene when she enters the train and literally picks the guy is built with her as the shiny center of a system. Her moves agitate her surroundings, that how she’s placed, as a star, in this story. Wanted and desired. Depp completes and contributes to her placement, and in doing so, he builds his own corner as the public personality we know he is: the incidental involuntary, yet attractive, guy. The reluctant star, constantly destroying his own image as a sex symbol, and constantly getting dragged to the center of the attentions; (major spoiler) the guy who apparently doesn’t know, or understand, anything of what’s happening to him, clumsy and trying to avoid focus, only for us to find out that he is the master manipulator behind everything that happens, who even manipulates the most shiny star of the constellation, the one who was supposed to be on top of the game.

This actor/character game requires inevitably that the actors who play it possess a star status outside the film. Depp and Jolie obviously possess it, in fact they may be the 2 biggest film stars in the somewhat classical sense, the one Grant, Peck, Hepburn, Dietrich, Garbo, used to have. That would do it. But apart from that, Johnny Depp is a true deep actor, who pulls the game of multiple simultaneous acting quite well: he plays his own public persona, playing the clumsy nitwit, who is playing the master manipulator of the game. I was expecting that his acting alone would make the film, and it did. But Jolie was a surprise, in how she pulled this as well. Now we have more than her personality, we have an actress.

This director changed my life with his first film. Here he immerses in quite a different world. The theme doesn’t matter as “lives of the others” did, but he does well, i hope he keeps doing interesting things.

This is a film rooted in film world. That’s why we’re literally taken to Venice, after starting in Paris, 2 of the most established film city sets from when American cinema relied fully on stars.

My opinion: 4/5

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Shrek Forever After (2010)

“Shrek Forever After” (2010)

IMDb

recycling

They had to take this tale a few steps back in order to make a 4th version of it. The first one sounded fresh in how it reused popular cosmologies borrowed from the sweet corner of children’s oriented stories. The second one floated over that and played an interesting game of twisted self-reference(s). That was the best. The comedy was in the out references and how the filmmakers played with them. The form itself was funny, more than the jokes or the characters.

Now this 4th version needs to make a story about how the romantic story involving the ogre and the princess has to happen again. So the story is literally reset to the very start, before Shrek knew Fiona, or the donkey, or before the cat was a recognizable character.

I admit the device works to revive the freshness of the first film, after the disaster of the third one. If you play along and want to get nostalgic about that one, made 10 years ago, you can enter the game and have a few laughs. The cleverness of the device allows you to do that. But there’s not much happening here, apart from that.

The characters are as tired by now as poor Shrek at the beginning of the film when he punches the table.

My opinion: 2/5

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