Archive for April, 2011

The Resident (2011)

“The Resident” (2011)

IMDb

space by the numbers

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First works are always delicate matters for the makers. Should you take high chances? or should you just try to be competent and leave higher rides for later? The beginnings of great filmmakers doesn’t give a better insight on this. Welles or Godard started of groundbreaking approaches. But the Coens or Kubrick started working with deliberately conventional narratives, learning the skills, exploring mapped territories, before breaking the rules. Starting in a relatively high budget production like this, in the middle of the Hollywood pit of money makers makes it worse for those trying to do interesting stuff. You’re left with trying to perform well the clichés of the genre you work on.

That’s where this film stands. A minor product of a large industry, featuring a well known name, a star, who produces apart from starring the film, and that certainly allowed for this to move on. The producers take no chances. None. This is filmmaking by the numbers. Step by step, from the Saul Brass inspired initial credits, into every predictable development of the plot, we know exactly where we are and where we should go, at every moment. It is moderately competent. The suspense is wooden, the acting is merely tolerable, but the arc is made as it should, making this a competent time filler.

Two concepts might have been interesting, but they blew them: one is how Christopher Lee is handled. This is a guy whom we associate to a certain role. He Is what we recall him to be. Placed as he was from the beginning of the film, one might guess the twist (him being innocent), but how that would be revealed to us should have been a high point in the film. But no, he simply Is there… until he ceases to be. Shameless, to place Lee here just to place him, just to include him.

The other thing is the lost opportunity to make architecture a part of the texture. The apartment, the place in the city Is seductive. The building isn’t specially good, but it’s guts Are made interesting by the camera. But space plays absolutely no role in the plot. And it should play… trust this: acting is important, editing is fundamental. But you can’t create effective lasting suspense without considering the physical space of the actions. It’s a matter of engaging the audience and placing them In the scene. This failed here, and the worst part is that we feel that it nearly hit the spot.

My opinion: 1/5

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Micmacs à tire-larigot (2009)

“Micmacs à tire-larigot” (2009)

IMDb

cannon ball seduction

Whatever Jeunet and his team does, i’ll want to see. The guy has a unique set of talents that few or no other filmmaker living has.

He possesses a unique imagination, which invests and builds each of the cinematic worlds he proposes. Those worlds are quirky, always bizarre, like a Victorian freak show, but where you identify with the freak. This is invested into the characters, and their actions. Here it is also applied to the physical world. The refuge of out team of odd super heroes is a set you can clearly understand Jeunet spent a lot of time on. You approach it from the exterior as a mere texture of garbage and undefined objects. Inside it’s much bigger than what it looks from the outside, and it seduces. The tricks, the retro gadgets of the inventor. All great. A great sense of space. Spatiality. People in the space. Action where you entangle the camera, the space, and the actor in the middle of them. Jeunet is great at this.

The theme doesn’t matter. It’s an ordinary story about some cartoon bad guys been taught a lesson by the pure hearted handicapped guys. There’s an implicit simple moral lesson (guns are bad, peace is great). We’ve seen it, with more or less variations, on hundreds of other films. That’s a pity. Not because now we have another film like that. I mean, this one is better than most, more cinematic, better executed, with some really great things to it. But this is Jeunet, the fact that he took vacations and gave us this, means that we lost a new grand achievement like we know he can give us. Or maybe he does the Soderbergh thing, and uses the commercial success of this one to raise money for a good one. But i think even his good films always raised enough money to justify the next one. So this film serves no purpose. It’s still great as a time filler. I wish every Sunday afternoon film was like this. But there’s nothing more to it. And it could have.

My opinion: 4/5

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Miyoko Asagaya kibun (2009)

“Miyoko Asagaya kibun” (2009)

IMDb

to live, to tell, to engage

To assume the biography of someone, as the central subject to work on, and leak it into a film has to be one of the most difficult tasks in cinema. I say this based not on any personal experience, but on the amount of projects undertaking such a goal that fail completely, some glorious, others with no grace at all. I think there are several approaches that can be made:

-you take the facts out of the biography, especially the most well known, if the life in question has any, and you stage them. This is the most lazy, and common approach. Any “life of Christ” produced for television to be exhibited in Easter time will do this;

-you make an epic out of the life. You exaggerate the facts, and dramatize them to make them “life or death” questions. Usually this is done by engaging us into a very specific world, where the portrayed life is central to the lives of everybody around him/her. This specific biography must allow it, but this is a cinematic approach, because it’s the specificities of cinema as a medium that allow this approach to work. But i don’t think it’s a necessarily interesting approach. Gandhi falls here. Ali as well. The recent “king’s speech” may also fall here, or halfway between this and the first approach;

-you take the life for what happened in it. There is a life or bits of it to be told, the subject actually lived in a certain place, for a certain time, married to a certain person, etc etc. You account for all that, and than you forget it, and make an intuitive film about what one might call essence of that personality. It is supposed to be someone who matters right? Someone who meant something, on some specific area, isn’t it? So, what Did he change? How did he move things? If you please, how did he come to those actions or things, based on how he lived and what he was? This is the most valid approach. Many of the films i see that work on this basis still fail, that’s why i think this is a very hard thing to do in film, but i treasure those failures, i applaud their makers, people with courage, valid filmmakers, all of them who attempt it. “Life and death of peter sellers” worked in this, i think because of Rush. “your name here” failed gloriously in portraying Dick’s mind. This one, i suppose it fails, at least it fails to engage me, but i can’t account for the person being portrayed because i’m not into his manga. This does grasp the soul of a man, but as a film it doesn’t work beyond the clever devices used:

His life as sexual obsessions. That obsession passionately concentrated on his girlfriend. That obsession so grand that it changes and shapes the lives of the people surrounding them: his mistress, and his friend whom he engages into sex with his girlfriend. Voyeurism, leaking into manga stories. A storyteller who forces the stories upon himself and his friends and girlfriend, more than collecting the stories from what naturally happens to him. He dangerously pulls the stories out of people. And filmmakers pulled this film out of his biography. I applaud. This film may work with others, it failed me, although there is flesh here. I’ll look more for this filmmaker.

My opinion: 2/5

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The Kinematograph (2010)

“The Kinematograph” (2010)

IMDb

Sugar with caramel topping

Is it enough to be very good technically? Is it enough that you sit through the film and understand that the people who did it are incredibly competent in every technical aspect of filmmaking, from animation technique, virtual cinematography, direction, editing, camera movement? If that is enough for you, than this film will work. The village of this short is beautifully rendered in its intended melancholy mood. The two main inner spaces are aptly contrasted: the half-obscured, filled scientist’s laboratory vs the clean pure kitchen. Each space is associated to one of the 2 characters. This is a decent competent film world created.

But i don’t like what’s inside. It’s overly sweet to diabetes point. It grasps the homage to cinema, as a world, exactly in the same fashion as Cinema Paradiso, which suffers from the same problems. These characters, these stories Are sympathetic. But this is a heavy-handed script, we are supposed to react in certain ways at exactly certain moments. It’s like beginning architecture students who while describing the building they are creating isolate every specific sensation that the users should feel when passing in those points. I appreciate my freedom to feel according to my own life, mood, experience.

My opinion: 2/5

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Exodus (2007)

“Exodus” (2007)

IMDb

children of orwell

Another Orwell inspired world. This kind of film drives me a little mad. I’m always fascinated by the pure visual possibilities of inventing a world, where you can do nearly anything. You can recreate the technology, you can invent how people dress, move, think. You can structure your own social environment. How great is that? Orwell envisioned and recreated the notion for modern audiences, but this is a long tradition that is rooted for a long time in anglo-Saxon tradition. Thomas Moore may have started it. The problem is that, in order for these worlds to function, and to make an audience, or a reader, connect to them, they have to be a very clear mirror to our own world, expressed in the simplification of its moral issues. In other words, you have to exaggerate the notions of good and evil, draw a very clear line, and place the people in the world on one side or the other. This one has a character literally crossing from one to the other.

Here the writers, aiming to reach a television audience, fished the story from the Bible. Now the Exodus is an incredibly rich book, filled with signification, but here they took the flesh and merely kept (some of) the bones. It’s a merely update of the original events. OK for the kind of marketing i suspect this film was supposed to have. But not good enough to be interesting. And it assumes as trivial a rich text, and it is also a loss for all of us whenever someone simplifies any element of transcendental qualities.

The problem is the immense of moralizing that is made here. So we have the bad “natives” oppressing the poor “immigrants”. Oh, but the immigrants are also not innocent, and even the peace prophet ends up succumbing to the violence against which he stood. This is too much for me, i suppose there is an audience that will tolerate and applause this, but i’m not the guy. The last (very) good film made that attempts the creation of a dark world, orwell based, was Children of Men. It worked for me because, among many other qualities, it cleverly placed a far more interesting existential theme at the center of the narrative, one that exceeds the mere “good-bad” thing. This one even gets one of the main actresses in that film, the one who, in Children of Men was the pregnant woman, the immigrant who suddenly was the light for all to follow, in a metaphorical very well written part. Here she performs a similar role, of the woman who bridges 2 antagonic worlds, but without any of the interest of Children of Men.

I recognize. This world is believable, the slums are very well achieved with (i think) not such large resources. There is a clever handling of sets and an illusion of space. It is not City of God nor Slumdog, but it works. The humanoid sculpture is also a good piece.

My opinion: 2/5

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