Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Films of 2010

Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan


The Social Network. Directed by David Fincher.


Greenberg. Directed by Noah Baumbach


Black Swan. Directed by Darren Aronofsky


Biutiful. Directed by Alejandro González Iñarritu


The Secret of Their Eyes. Directed by Juan José Campanella


I am Love. Directed by Luca Gudagnino


Toy Story 3. Directed by Lee Unkrich


The King’s Speech. Directed by Tom Hooper


Never Let Me Go. Directed by Mark Romanek


Chloe. Directed by Atom Egoyan

For detailed reviews of the films check my blog.

The King's Speech

This is an impressive film, I have to say I am a sucker for this kind of period films with a great cast and elegant acting, I think the acting in this movie is simply perfection. "The King's Speech" tells the story of the man who would become King George VI, the father of the current Queen, Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George 'Bertie' VI (Colin Firth) reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded nervous stammer and considered unfit to be King, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Through a set of unexpected techniques, and as a result of an unlikely friendship, Bertie is able to find his voice and boldly lead the country into war.

The friendship that painstakingly evolves is between Prince Albert, Duke of York and Lionel Logue, a frustrated Austalian actor turned highly unorthodox speech therapist. Albert, who has a dreadful stammer, has failed all previous medical interventions and vows never to try another.

Only the ministrations of his wife, Elizabeth, (Helena Bonham Carter) bring him to Lionel, who, believing emotional intimacy is curative. Among many other good things, “The King’s Speech,” directed by Tom Hooper, who directed HBO’s “John Adams”, is a meditation on a transitional time when royalty was expected to speak to the nation and not just pose commandingly before it.

Albert, son of King George V (Michael Gambon), believed he was protected from the humiliations of public oration because his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) was in succession. But when Edward, as king, abdicates to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), Albert is reluctantly enthroned.

The film is able to balance the severity of the situation with a very honest and realistic perspective. At times they tread on some possibly dangerous ground, but because they handle the topic with such grace, what could be considered rude or offensive is actually quite interesting, important and even at times humorous.

The film concludes with the 1939 radio broadcast in which the stalwart, terrified King George VI, with Lionel alone by his side in a closed-off room, addresses Britain as it enters into war with Germany. This speech, a cliffhanger and a culmination, is what the entire movie has been incrementally leading up to.

Not only does Prince Albert have a stutter, a lisp, an accent different from Colin Firth’s, he also has to sound like the real King himself who has a very distinct voice. Not only does Firth give an incredibly compelling emotional performance, but the way he physically transforms himself is beyond impressive. this is THE BEST performance I’ve seen this year. It’s extremely complex and since his character is a stoic King he has very little room to express himself. A slight tonal shift in his voice has to speak volumes and luckily, due to his grasp of the character, it does. He should have won the Oscar last year for A Single Man, he should win it this year. 


This is the movie I was looking forward to, simply because this is the first movie of Alejandro González Iñarritu’s without Arriaga’s writing. The film is on the heavy side it depicts some brutal reality that these characters live in everyday. The topics are cancer, child abuse, drugs, exploited Chinese workers and more. However, the upside to this story is the light that comes out of the darkness, something I would say is a change of pace from Inarritu's two previous films, Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams. I would say that Gonzalez Inarritu's films belong to, maybe unbeknown to him, the great tradition of Mexican melodramas. The dramatically sad and hopeless tone reminds of classic Mexican 1940’s films from Ismael Rodríguez’s movies like the Pepe El Toro trilogy played by the famous Pedro Infante.  It is OK for Mexican cinema culture to see people suffer so much. I know moviegoers from other cultures that cannot understand this need for the dramatic tone.

“Biutiful” which is “beautiful” phonetically spelled in Spanish depicting an almost beautiful reality that the characters seemed impelled to achieve, figuratively and literally. The film is a soulful and spiritual journey centering on Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem, he already won the best actor award at Cannes, he deserves it but I am beginning to dislike his persona along with bad actress and wife Penelope Cruz, but that is beside the point, sorry. Uxbal is a contradictive and hypocritical character with similar responsibilities like so many of us. Currently, his primary responsibility is to take care of his two kids. For the most part, raising them on his own following his separation from their mess bi-polar mother, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez).

Uxbal fights for the rights of the underprivileged all while benefiting from their exploitation. You can see he's tormented, but that isn't all he has to contend with. Each new day could call for fighting for better living conditions for the Chinese immigrants being exploited as cheap labor, but at the same time accepting payment for freeing the souls of the recently deceased or paying the cops to stay off the backs of African street vendors.

He has recently discovered he has prostate cancer, which causes the fatherly instincts in him to emerge to an even greater level. After all, not only does he play father to his children he must also look out for the lives of the people he's been caring for, and making money off of, on a daily basis, which is the duality of his character.

“Biutiful” is an exploration of one man's emotional journey and for as much as death guides the majority of this story, it's the preservation and caring for the life that will remain. González Inarritu has dealt with this piece brilliantly and it was in the final 30 minutes or so that he finally started pulling us out of the deep depression the film seems to go deeper and deeper, this where this hopeless culture that I was referring to is most evident. Never before has a birthday celebration been such a welcomed on screen moment, and once the candles are lit this film goes from being a real downer to a magnificent feature, this where most critics coincide and I agree with them.

The emotional range Bardem has as an actor was tested in every scene and he absolutely never comes off as someone trying to hard. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, including Ige (Diaryatou Daft), an African woman whose husband is being deported back to Senegal leaving her and her child homeless and alone. Uxbal lets her live in his apartment for free. Daft lifts plenty of heavy weight in the film's final moments and does so with an effortless smile helping the film dig its way out of the dark and into the light. She is the ray of hope of this dark scenario.

The film will be enjoyed primarily by the art house crowds everywhere it is shown. This is a great film that confirms the great cinema that contemporary Mexican directors are capable of creating as much as the Golden Era ones did.

Never Let Me Go

I have to admit that when I saw this film at the Landmark Theater in Houston, I didn’t know much about it, I have not read the book either, but the cast was very appealing, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  "Never Let Me Go" is a passionate film about restraint. Starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, the A Team of young British actors, this is a moving and provocative film that initially unsettles, then disturbs and finally haunts.

This beautiful film is an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s highly regarded dystopian novel. Directed by Mark Romanek, this coming-of-age story involves three British friends who are raised with others of their kind in a group home that proves more Orwellian than Dickensian. In time, they timidly make their way into the world, which turns out to be crueler than most of us would, like to believe. The unkindness emerges gradually, teased out through meaningful conversations and significant scenes. The story begins in the 1990s, with the narrator, Kathy played by Carrie Mulligan, who calls herself a “carer,” reminiscing about her childhood while watching a man, Tommy (Andrew Garfield), as he’s being prepared for an operation. Along with their friend Ruth (Keyra Knightley), Tommy and Kathy grew up with hundreds of others in Hailsham, a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. There, watched over by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) and the other adults, all called guardians, the children did what children do, playing, fighting, forming friendships, while also receiving peculiar instruction about their unknown horrible future as organ donators.

You initially have only a partial view of their lives, how they came to be at Hailsham and why, you will learn with them.  The film reveals the secrets. The kids wear a bracelet is like a scanning device, the first time you see them do this, it raises a question that, like other Hailsham rituals, it remains unanswered.

The movie slows down at a point and you want to know more. Mark Romanek creates a coherent world, particularly at Hailsham, where the children’s monochromatic uniforms and their muted affect are mirrored by interiors similarly drained of interest. Despite the story’s monochromatic colors, literal and emotional, the scenes at the institution are among the strongest, partly because the mysteries are still hidden. Eventually, the story shifts from the past to the near past, when Kathy, Ruth and Tommy have left Hailsham for some more dilapidated and awful accommodations called the Cottages. Ruth and Tommy are together now, leaving Kathy to watch their affair. Unlike at Hailsham, where they never strayed outside the school’s boundaries, the three friends leave the grounds, at one point taking a trip to find someone referred to as Ruth’s “possible.”

The definition of the “possible” is more like a “receptor”. One of the pleasures of “Never Let Me Go,” comes from the deduction work the story requires, by the way that Romanek groups actors in the image. All this tells you something, as does Ruth and Tommy’s droopy, loose-limbed physicality, which has none of the normal energy of youth.

During one important moment of the film, Kathy stares out at the countryside and in a soft near monotone, voice she explains the film we’ve been watching. There is a large tree that looms over her, the soft light that spills around her. Everything is in its place, including the unnecessarily wrapped up meaning. We understand that what’s missing is the film is the spark of life, the unexpected, by its insistence on its own beauty, obscures the tragedy that the three characters, by their nature, cannot express. However, the film has great acting and for sure this is an unusual story.


Black Swan

I was really drawn to this film because of the previews and because I have been always a fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work. Natalie Portman is one of the great Amercican young actresses, the whole package. Also I had the precedent of a film like “Turning Point” a great film about the rivalry of two ballerinas played masterfully by Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, “Black Swan” is not that type of film. It is more like a surreal thriller set in the world of New York City ballet. “Black Swan” centers on a veteran ballerina who finds herself trapped in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it's unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions.

This film takes a wild and melodramatic look at the blood sport that is New York City ballet. This story of ambition starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as dueling ballerinas is not just any kind of psycho melodrama, it's high-art psycho melodrama, hysteria over sanity that it's worth telling when its characters are hallucinating and when they're not.

Natalie Portman, in this dramatic thriller, plays the role of a beautiful increasingly troubled ballerina fighting for the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Swan Lake is a ballet about the very pure and beautiful Princess Odette who is transformed into a swan by a sorcerer. Only true love can transform her back. Her dream is nearly realized, but the Prince who would have transformed her back into a human is seduced by the Black Swan. In an act of despair, the White Swan commits suicide. This role is a difficult one to play for Portman’s character, however, because the swan queen must encompass both the black and the white swan. A one-dimensional ballerina will simply not do. And unfortunately, that is exactly what Portman’s character is initially. Her form is perfect, she never makes a mistake, but in that perfection something is lost. That “something” requires a style far more effortless or “self-forgetting” as Nietzsche would put it.

Throughout the movie, she struggles with a competitor who drives her, as the movie progresses, ever so much closer to the cliff of insanity. In the final act of her performance, however she becomes the black swan on stage, made very convincing through special effects (though it is her delusion). Remember Nietzsche? In the Dionysian, man “…is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” The film thrives in a Nietzchean discourse embracing the Dionysian, that great unknown and formidable chaos lurking just beneath our various “constructions”.

The movie is phenomenal. Portman gives a stunning performance. She is such an effective screen performer because she is not showy. She was so powerful in "Closer". Here, one wonders at first why she doesn't manage to convey the sheer love of dancing that would make her character endure the physical and mental torture of such hard work.  But by the end it's clear that Portman knew exactly what she was doing, with Aronofsky's help. The movie is made that much better if one reads the first few pages of The Birth of Tragedy. This film confirms the great work of Aronofsky as a director.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Social Network

I have to say I really like this film. My particular reasons are based on the fact that I teach twenty-year old kids that are really into technology, however they are rather apathetic about life in general. So, to see a contemporary story of a young man that can have the drive to achieve basically how the world communicates it is amazing to me. I would naively want those kids to get inspired by the story and think of their own potential.

The film is part boardroom drama, part conspiracy thriller; the story is adapted from Ben Mezrich's non-fiction The Accidental Billionaires. There appears, however, to be nothing accidental about it. The film version perfectly displays Sorkin's gift for creating instantly believable sympathetic-yet-irritating characters, and the chief of these is Facebook's driving force, Mark Zuckerberg, played with exemplary intuition by Jesse Eisenberg (We have seen him in movies like “Roger Dodger”, The Squid and the Whale”, The Education of Charlie Banks, “Adventureland” among others). What a perfect casting. He is a borderline sociopath, never smiling, never raising his voice, never conceding an argument, driven to create his. Sorkin gives everyone great lines. It's pretty much a non-stop shooting of put-downs and insights.

David Fincher’s direction creates just the right intensity and claustrophobia for a story that takes place largely in a male environment at Harvard University in 2003, shown in flashback from various legal proceedings. Here, computer-science student Zuckerberg has the same sense of entitlement and self-congratulation as everyone else, but combined with social resentment about being barred from snobby fraternities and clubs. When his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) breaks up with him, the director shows how the emotionally wounded Zuckerberg embarks on a retaliatory campaign. He blogs vengefully about Erica and, in an evil-genius frenzy, creates Facemash, a spiteful and misogynistic site that invites the guys to rate campus girls against each other. It is from this beginning that the smilier, friendlier Facebook emerges. But we have been cleverly shown the site's nastier, more paranoid origins: a clue to its unspoken world of friend-number envy, cyber-stalking and anxiety about having no friends at all.

Zuckerberg gets investment from fellow geek Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield (I think this kid is a promising actor, we saw him pn “The Imaginarium of Dr, Parnasus” and one of my favorites this year, “Never Let Me Go”), of whose marginally superior social success he is jealous and whom he later betrays by cutting him out of the action in favor of web entrepreneur Sean Parker, smoothly played by Justin Timberlake, I think he is great in this film. The wealthy alpha-male twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) plan to launch their own site, called The Harvard Connection, and try to recruit Mark as their tame techie-nerd; initially dazzled by their cachet, Zuckerberg plays them along, delaying their launch while secretly getting his own up and running.

Probably conceived when Facebook was at the top of the heap, the movie now arrives in cinemas at a time when Twitter has overtaken it.

The success of The Social Network lies in capturing the fever of Facebook's startup, while subversively implying that it created money and ephemeral buzz. At the end, all is loneliness. This is an exhilaratingly hyperactive, hyperventilating portrait of an age when the web became sexier and more important than politics, art, books – everything. It is a combination of the excitement with a dark, insistent kind of pessimism. It is a great movie and Jesse Eisenberg should be nominated for an Oscar.

The Secret of Their Eyes.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos

This is a special case because the movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film, however it wasn’t released after the event. I saw the movie in Houston and a month later in Mexico City. The story is basically a thriller. The film starts in Buenos Aires in 1974, when a criminal court investigator, Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darín, we have seen him in some other great films like “The Son of the Bride” and Nine Queens”), arrives at a crime scene with a colleague, and sees the naked corpse of a beautiful young woman. She has been raped, beaten, and murdered. Not only does he relentlessly pursue the killer; he becomes close to the woman’s husband, a bank employee named Morales (Pablo Rago), who remains obsessed with his dead wife for the rest of his life.

Benjamin Espósito has a love of his own, which he’s too shy to act on. A few scenes approach the melodramatic kitsch like a telenovela. The director José Campanella will then take us into a story of great depth and intrigue.  “The Secret in Their Eyes” is a fine, complex film, whose corners and passageways will be discussed by moviegoers afterward.

The movie opens in 2000. It is twenty-five years after the murder, and the investigator, retired yet still fascinated by the case, Esposito is assembling his recollections of it. Campanella is seriously teasing us: Espósito may be dissatisfied with his writings, but what he depicts in these first-draft attempts actually happened (we see the scenes again later, in their proper place in the story). Back in 1974, Espósito chases the killer with the help of his partner, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), and their cautious superior, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a judge’s assistant educated in the United States. Espósito is an intelligent man, but he’s not a lawyer, and the difference between them in income and status stops him from openly declaring his love for her, which she keeps hinting that she wants. Instead, he worries about Sandoval, an alcoholic genius who in his drinking acts pulls together the clues that lead to the identity and the arrest of the murderer. Sandoval is a lovable mess, who, despite his gifts, can’t survive the chaos and the repression of Buenos Aires.

The murderer is a guy named Gomez (Javier Godino), and what follows his capture is altogether startling. When Benjamín Espósito, interrogates him, doesn’t get anywhere, Irene takes over. She turns the questioning into a sexual duel, taunting Gomez’s manhood, her words more wounding and more effective than a beating. Irene plays a sarcastic bitch in order to provoke Gomez’s rage, and enjoys a triumph that pushes feminism beyond a critique of men, beyond ironic mockery.

Gomez is freed by one of the judges and becomes a member for the new fascist regime. He’s a serious threat to Espósito and a provocation to Morales, the dead woman’s husband, which explaind some of the corruption that existed within the system. More than the political background, the story focuses on the main players, who are woven together in an increasingly intricate structure. The movie is a great story that combines other genres besides the thriller, like the romantic melodrama. It has something for everyone.

Toy Story 3

I saw this film the opening night in Mexico City. It was a real trouble to find a theater that will show the film in 3D and subtitled. The wait was awful lots of nasty children with their more nasty parents.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 opens in a similar fashion to the previous film, but this time Woody (Tom Hanks) is the hero of the imaginary adventure. We’re in the old west and he’s trying to save a train full of orphans that has been hijacked by the evil Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Right from the opening minutes the film will put a smile on your face and please you with surprises.

There’s a sweet montage right after that which shows Andy (owner of our little group of friends) on videotape as we remember him from the previous films, playing with and loving his favorite toys. We see him grow up a bit, and now he’s 17 years old and days away from leaving for college. We can all relate to this plot, presumably we all had childhoods and we had to leave some dear objects behind. The gang of toys hasn’t seen much play action, spending who knows how many years now closed up in an old toy chest.

Well with Andy leaving, mom wants to clean things up and Andy has to decide what to take with him, what to throw away, donate or put up in the attic for storage. Except for Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen), the toys are freaking out thinking they’re headed for the city dump. While of course they weren’t headed that way, some confusion ensues and they do indeed end up at the curb. Woody rescues them and tries to tell them it was a mistake, but they’re all convinced that Andy was trying to get rid of them.

Hiding in a box meant for toy donations to a local daycare center, they believe they’ve found a new home where there will be an endless supply of young children to play with them forever and they’ll never be outgrown. The daycare is a hellhole literally and you realize the sort of dark side of these children and their future personality projections. The toys are welcomed by the veteran toys, led by Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (he smells like strawberries!). He (Ned Beatty) welcomes them, explains what a wonderful place they’ve found and shows them where they’ll be living. Eventually they come to find that this isn’t a paradise, but a prison. Woody leaves prior to this discovery, and of course the rest of the film is dedicated to setting everyone free and getting back to Andy’s house whether he wants them or not.

The film is very entertaining with new characters, my favorite one is Ken, self-centered, no too bright and above all a secret thing for clothes. The film is full of great sequences, it was quite pleasing to realize that the sequel was so good. Toy Story 3 was laugh out loud funny, exciting, heartwarming and touching.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inception 2010

Like most people I waited for this film with great expectation. I have admired Nolan’s films long before the whole Batman deal. Like most movie fanatics I had to see the opening day, which I in fact did. Who can forget the brilliant 2000 film “Memento” with Guy Pierce and the film considered his first; “Following” is also truly amazing. This is not your typical summer movie in classic Nolan’s fashion this is something else. Christopher Nolan’s new movie is an amazing digital apparatus, a virtual reality sci-fi thriller set inside the dreaming mind, with brilliant architectural effects and a weirdly inert narrative inspired by Philip K Dick and Lewis Carroll. At some stage in the distant future, the technology of industrial espionage will allow spies to invade the dreams of CEOs and obtain commercially sensitive information. Leonardo Di Caprio is Cobb, a specialist who both carries out these hi-tech brain raids and trains executives to resist them.

The movie is basically about a Japanese mogul Saito played by Ken Watanabe offers Cobb the challenge of a lifetime: not to steal an idea, but to plant one, incept one. He needs Cobb to insinuate himself into the dreams of a dangerous young business rival: Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy) and somehow plant in him a determination to break up the family empire that is hurting Saito's profits. Cobb assembles an elite squad of brain-hackers including Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I think he is the most important indie-actor today). They plan to drug Fischer on a 10-hour plane flight and create a triple-decker dream, a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream, which will last 10 years in Fischer's dreaming mind.

Some of the coolest parts are when Cobb and Ariadne go for a stroll in the streets of Paris, which Nolan folds and tweaks and twists, with the avenues rising and falling like a pop-up book. It reminded me of architectural references like MVRDV’s 5minute city project “fold city”. Later, Arthur will fight with goons in a virtual hotel that suddenly swivels around: they plunge down a corridor that has become vertical, like a lift shaft, I couldn’t help thinking of “Blood of a Poet” by Jean Cocteau, the scenes at the non-gravity rooms after going through the mirror. The best moment comes before any of this, when, finding themselves chatting over coffee, Cobb remarks to Ariadne that the essence of a dream is that we only remember the middle, not the beginning. For example, he wonders, how did they reach this cafe? With rising panic, Ariadne realizes she has no idea, and that they are in a dream that Cobb has created. Playfully, brilliantly, Nolan has exploited the cinematic convention of the "cut".

At the end of this complicated plot, he will have arrived at a settled determination to break up his family firm. And he doesn't simply go to the deepest level first and then attain reality up through two successive waking episodes: he goes down, and down, and down. And there's another problem; Cobb is plagued with guilty visions of his late wife, Mal played by Marion Cotillard, invading this synaptic world and threatening to become more real than either Cobb's trickster dreams or his waking life. I wouldn’t go into what really happens at the end because every single person I talked to has a different point of view. I have included the link to a website that attempted to create a diagram interpreting all this.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Am Love 2010

I am finally catching up with these year’s films. I saw this film earlier this summer, I was blown away by the beauty and elegance of this movie; everything about it was stunning. It reminded me of great, Italian dramas from Antonioni. Plus Gabriele Ferzetti, remember him as the lover/architect from L’Avventura, plays the family’s patriarch. Parts of the cinematography reminded me of Bo Widerberg’s 1967 film Elvira Madigan. It is the kind of piece we haven’t seen in a long time.

The story unfolds at the polished rooms of a Milanese villa ignite with anxious activity as the wealthy industrial family, the Recchis, prepare to celebrate the birthday of their patriarch. It is an occasion designed to ensconce family traditions; the handsome grandson, Edoardo, introduces his new girlfriend; his sister presents another piece of her artwork to her grandfather; and the grandfather, knowing this is his last birthday, names the successor to his empire.

Eduardo Sr.(Gabriele Ferzetti), has decided to name a successor to the reigns of his massive industrial company, surprising everyone by splitting power between his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), and grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti), but his younger brother, Gianluca (Mattia Zaccaro), is left out of the deal entirely. Complicating matters further, Tancredi plans to sell the business, which upsets Edo Jr. who values the family tradition. At the same time Edo dreams of opening a restaurant with his friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a handsome and talented chef.

As the refined familial machinations unfold, the woman of the house, Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), glides along the tight seams of the family, exuding elegance and uncertain turbulence. A feast for the senses, Luca Guadagnino’s magnificent film possesses a vibrant and formally irreverent style that articulates its themes of passion and constraint. Swinton turns in a stunning performance as the central muse of a tale about the irresistible draw of forbidden passion and the bittersweet victory of liberation from the constrictions of wealth and power.

Writer-director Luca Guadagnino indulges the viewer with a grandiose family drama packed with rich scenery, magnificent performances and elegant camerawork, the critics that claim the film is boring, they haven’t seen the work of Antonioni.

Meanwhile, the Recchi women are struggling with matters of their own. Tancredi's daughter, Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), has a boyfriend, but upon moving to the UK for school, realizes her sexual preferences may lay elsewhere. Lastly, there's the children's mother and Tancredi's wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton), who must not only keep a watchful eye on her family's troubles but her own as well, namely her affection for Edo's friend Antonio. The only together one is Allegra Recchi, the matriarch, played by the always beautiful Marisa Berenson

At the start, the situation is fairly overwhelming. The opening scene tosses the viewer into a lavish dinner with a regal and pompous family you've never met discussing the fate of their fortune.

The director carefully explores each Recchi’s predicament, but the characters come across as separate entities rather than one family. Yes, every Recchi is living his or her own separate life--Tancredi constantly at work, Emma obsessed with canoodling with Antonio, Betta at school and Edo with his new wife--and their issues are more personal, but they're so far removed from one another they seem to belong to different movies entirely. Other than their blood, there's little connecting them all.

As the story progresses the predicaments are finally cooked and congeal, making for a tremendously compelling and satisfying third act. Shots of the Italian countryside have the power to make you feel as though you’re there while close-ups of the exquisite delicacies the Recchi’s indulge in practically melt in your mouth. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s work is flawless, giving even the smallest detail an incredible presence.

Tilda Swinton is fantastically natural and captivating as always, Parenti makes for a warm and likable Edo and Delbono a stoic Tancredi, but Rohrwacher and Maria Paiato, who plays Emma's maid and confidant, establishes the most powerful connection in a small supporting role, while she  immediately wins your heart not only for her dedication to her work, but genuine love for the family as well. Ida is only appears in small doses throughout the film, but even in the shortest instant, is able to command the screen.

This is a great film; I believe that most moviegoers lack the taste for an Italian operatic melodrama. However, for those willing to tolerate the film’s slow and deliberate buildup, the effects are profound. This is a particularly well-made film, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I saw this movie about two months ago, certainly after the big hype this film had when it first opened. I am taking the time until today to write my commentary due to other things that occupied most of my time.  The original title of the book was “Men Who Hate Women”, the book divided critics. Some saw as the story of a feminist avenger. Others criticized it, judging the whole effort "misogynist".

I didn’t read the book so I wasn’t aware of the controversy. It's all very confusing if you come to the story a bit after the event. When you begin to read about a book which is as hyped as this, you have certain preconceptions: I imagined clichés and extreme violence. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover it is neither formulaic nor disturbingly graphic. And it was indeed Larsson's take on feminism that made it stand out as an original read.

Personally, I thought the idea of gender was irrelevant. Maybe it is reinforced by the fact that the main character appears to be bisexual. We behave the way we do because of our individual personalities and personal histories. In Larsson's world, it's the psychopaths who split the world along gender lines.

The film is certainly graphic as it was required, concluding that Larsson's rape and murder fantasies are little more than sexist titillation. Reporters like Melanie Newman from the fword concludes that she has "difficulty squaring Larsson's proclaimed distress at misogyny with his explicit descriptions of sexual violence, his breast-obsessed heroine and babe-magnet hero".

However, in Joan Smith's original, positive review of the book in the Sunday Times she doesn't really argue on Larsson's feminism, noting only that as an activist: "Larsson's other great preoccupation [alongside the fascist movement] was violence against women, and the scarcely believable horrors Blomkvist unearths are as rooted in misogyny as they are in fascism."

So far, the film has been less divisive. It has been universally categorized as anti-women. I personally disagree. I see it as a great thriller that utilizes human psychosis to great an entertaining story. The violence, the rape scenes are part of the film’s impact and certainly belong to the genre. In the novel, I’ve heard, Larsson spares us many graphic descriptions, leaving a lot of the worst to our imagination. It seems, then, that the film has betrayed not only some of the book's original subtlety but also its feminism. Interesting. Go check it out or rent it. Let’s check the sequel already out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Prophet 2009

I have been waiting to see this movie for a long time; finally I got the chance to do it at the Cinemateque in Mexico City. My expectations were modest in comparison to the actual power of this film.  A great story of survival against all odds, a prison-gangster movie by French director Jacques Audiard that reminded me of amazing films like Jules Dassin’s “Rififi” and Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped”. The film is brilliant and shows absolute control and expertise from the director. The film won the Grand Prize in 2009 at The Cannes Film Festival.

Tahar Rahim plays the main character, Malik El Djebena, a young Arab guy about to start a six-year prison sentence. He is a 19-year-old criminal, and this is his first time in an adult detention. Malik is very frightened, cringing almost visibly into his clothes on walking the grim corridors of jail. Over the course of the film Malik will learn to read, to smuggle, to murder, to survive. Which is why when he pauses after unloading his guns in one of the scenes, his pale face looks as if he were emerging from a kind of womb: his metamorphosis is complete.

Malik’s education is sudden and brutal. He soon attracts the attention of César Luciani ( Niels Arestrup), an old gangster who rules over the Corsican gang that controls the prison, including some guards. To protect his own, César orders Malik to murder another prisoner, also of Arab extraction. Malik has to obey the orders period. Without friends or affiliation, Malik believes he has no choice and carries out the murder with a razor blade that he’s hidden inside his mouth and which he fumbles as the blood gushes over him, his victim. The way the murder was messily, even frantically staged and filmed, the two men fighting inside a frame that can barely contain them. There is nothing exciting about the violence, and there are no beauty shots of the pooling blood. Audiard effectively turns us into witnesses to a horribly disgusting crime. This obviously marks Malik for life and we begin to understand the mental process he is going through.

The murders are not glorified, they are “necessary agents” for survival, we know Malik has become a murderer but we pity him and can’t help ourselves liking him, without the TV glory it recalled the feeling we have for characters like Dexter. All this is conveyed discretely as Malik experiences the banalities of prison along with its shocks, surrealism and spasms of weird comedy. But Malik was not meant for us to love, and Rahim’s performance, while incredibly strong, is perhaps purposefully not flashy, as movie outlaws often are. This character is after something else, and in “A Prophet” he shows us the truth of another human being who might otherwise escape from our sight because he is too foreign, or whom we might try to pity just to feel safe. But the world we make is not necessarily safe, and neither are those we leave alone to fight for their survival.

“A Prophet” is about the education of a young man within a specific social order. Perhaps is as an allegory about France and its uneasy relations with generations of Arab immigrants and their children. As usual, there is room for diverging, even contradictory interpretations. The film avoids speeches that explain everything and instead opts for a materialist approach that attends to the realities of prison life, showing how guards and porters deliver the prisoners’ food like baguettes and how Malik helps distribute illicit drugs. Malik has visions which are partly, but apparently only partly, ­explicable as trauma. The sweat and the machismo are very familiar from the French crime genre. The passing of contraband, the defiant songs and shouts and burning garbage being flung from the high courtyard walls surely also recall memories of Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. But this movie has its own muscular originality.

Niels Arestrup was outstanding in Audiard's previous film, “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”, which is also one of my favorite films with my favorite French actor Romain Duris, also in a tense, mutually resentful relationship with a younger man but here he brings out new strains of desolation. Rahim, too, is a tremendous casting find for Audiard. The film returns us to what should be the biggest cliche: the prison film, with its cells, its shouts, its corrupt guards, the psychopathic, etc. But Audiard also revives the hidden source of our fascination with prisons. They are places of violence and fear, but also of paradoxical freedom. I highly recommend this film a must see for those who appreciate prison films.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I have to admit my enormous admiration for Atom Egoyan. I don’t exaggerate when I think that perhaps not since Alfred Hitchcock has a filmmaker married eroticism and fear with stylish virtuosity.  In "Chloe," which Egoyan directed from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson ("Secretary," "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus"), Julianne Moore plays a Toronto gynecologist named Catherine who suspects her husband, David (Liam Neeson), is having an affair. When she crosses paths with a beautiful young woman named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), Catherine immediately sees the perfect opportunity to bait a sexual trap for David. She was not aware that this plan that will have unexpected, possibly tragic and fatal results.

With its evocative modern minimalist settings, "Chloe" is a treat to look at, with Egoyan taking a fetishistic interest in every little detail, from the clothes to the minimalist glass box where Catherine and David live. It makes the film to look extremely sexy. But the filmmaker reserves his most obsessive attention for his characters, which seemed to move and talk within a dreamlike fog of deceptions and desires.

Moore once again reprises the type of role she is well known for like in "Safe," "The Hours" and "Far From Heaven," Moore here presents a flawless mask of bourgeois female suffering and repressed need. "Chloe" plays like homage to 1950s melodramatic films, recapitulating his love of superficial splendor, layered interiors and lush, theatrical music. The house presents a narrative in itself, in this case about boundaries that are chronically confused, if they exist at all.

Seyfried's character is ripeness personified, a vision of plump lips, couture plumage and an unnervingly limpid gaze. Neeson bears the stricken look of a man not quite sure if he's the agent of his own fate or the mere object of a more incomprehensible plan.

"Chloe" moves into a ridiculous third act that, by any measure, qualifies as a disaster. The plot becomes trivial and predictable. But it's proof of Egoyan's skill that the film works for as long as it does. "Chloe" is worth the time if only for Catherine's impassioned, utterly convincing speech to her husband late in the film when she confronts him in an empty cafe. The moment is riveting and authentic, and conveys a raw-boned truth about women in midlife who are continually told that 50 is the new 30, but wake up every day to a mirror that knows otherwise.

This is not Egoyan’s best by no means, but is definitely worth seeing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mala Noche 1985

“Mala Noche”, the first real film from Gus Van Sant, this is the first time I have seen the film and I was really blown away. It is such a raw personal film; it feels as if you are watching something you are not supposed to.

The story is set on the streets of Portland, Oregon and a series of dark places like cheap hotels and neighborhood bars. Made in 1985 for $25,000, this fresh, original film turns its high-contrast, black-and-white footage into a heightened form of immediacy. The plot is about sincere and noble obsession that a young romantic guy named Walt, who works in a convenient store has over a Mexican boy named Johnny who's come to Oregon illegally with his friend Pepper. He doesn't speak English and he isn't much interested in Walt, except in the teasing way of a hustler trying to work him for a meal or a couple of drinks. I understand the idea behind an obsession, however the character of Johnny is so disconnected and rather basic that I hated his role. Walt seems to invite Johnny's abuse, or at least accepts bad treatment when it's all that's offered, which is terrible.

What Walt's interested in is a little danger; he longs, it seems, for a bad night, romanticizing the possibility. And it's clear from the beginning that even though he's barely a rung up on the social ladder from these indigents, he gets a thrill from slumming and playing the benefactor.

Van Sant's next feature in 1989 was "Drugstore Cowboy", but even here you can understand his empathy for edge-living outsiders and his passionate absorption in the poetic possibilities of the situation. In certain moments “Mala Noche” has the feeling of early Godard’s films, particularly when the guys go in Walt's car for a ride in the country. And late in the film, critics have said that as Walt is searching the streets for the missing object of his desire, there's an inspired recasting of the Harry Lime entrance in "The Third Man."

The movie, which is based loosely on a novella by Portland poet Walt Curtis, is a walk on the wild side, but even at its most tragic, the vision isn't despairing, possibly because there is such a feeling of romantic elation in the images. Partly the film is reflective of Van Sant's romanticism for losers; it's fascinated by the poetic allure of trashy beautiful boys riding the rail into the promised land and ending up dead, crushed by the new urban settings.

It's Van Sant's conception of Walt, and the sense of naiveté he projects is certainly endearing, within his infatuation for this kid, he truly means well, the problem is when he looses perspective of his crush and goes into a dramatic situation. He's obsessed: yet still he's imagining situations, hyping his own emotions because that's how he feeds this romantic conception of himself. None of the boys have chosen to be around Walt; for Johnny and Pepper, it's a suffocating factor they carry. Van Sant navigates the distinctions between these two worlds with intelligence and powerful style. This film debut is completely amazing the kind of film moment that was foretelling of the great films that came out of Van Sant’s undeniable talent and vision .