Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Invictus 2009

When this movie was released I missed it for some reason, I was able to catch in Mexico City two weeks ago. I have to confess my soft spot for films that tell stories about sports and competition, stories of triumph of the spirit. Plus, I have always considered Matt Damon a good actor that gets better as he gains more experience. The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

Morgan Freeman looks the part of Mandela, but the transformation into the halting-voiced leader of a nation is never quite complete. Such is the problem with much of this movie, filled with many moments that really work, struggling against heavy moments that do not. Director Clint Eastwood doesn't exactly have a light touch when it comes to portray race relations, so the Mandela portion of this film often features scenes so transparent way too nice and sweet, he may as well step on the screen and proclaim "Why can’t we all get along?" The rugby portion of the story, it is very classic narrative about an underdog team rising from the top, and the movie does a great job reverting into the typical formats of how these sports movies develop spectacle and emotion. 

The remarkable true story behind Invictus is properly told, and with a position that makes all the stakes clear. Given the fact that the basic beats of the plot are part of the historical record, most directors would have thrown in some extra elements, characters, twists or turns, to make the experience more interesting. Eastwood respects the plot and goes along with the story at his own pace, offering up both tensions among the Springboks and among Mandela's mixed-race bodyguard unit as if we couldn’t predict that everyone, black and white, will be united when the Springboks win in the end.

As for the character of Pineaar, he seems very stiff and unclear at times, we don’t get why he was truly motivated to "win the game". How did he himself really feel about apartheid? Does he believe in Mandela's crazy notion about rugby as a national unifier? It's not that Matt Damon doesn't try, but he's given so few lines of dialogue that we're never even given the chance to find out. Check it out! 

Crazy Heart 2009

Jeff Bridges has consistently demonstrated his great quality as an actor. I can think of numerous films that he has participated that his acting as well as his presence have been memorable. From Tron and Starman all the way to Tucker, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King and The Big Lebowsky to mention a few. Finally his work has been recognized by Hollywood. I don’t think that for new actors receiving an oscar means anything, just another commercial act, however for actors with the trajectory of Briges that means a lot. 

The story is not particularly new, Bad Blake is a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who's had many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many time, basically an alcoholic. Still having a great wild heart, he can’t help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean, a journalist played by Maggie Gylenhall who discovers the real man behind the musician. As he struggles down the road of redemption, Bad learns the hard way just how tough life can be on one man’s crazy heart. You can’t help liking this character and feeling sorry about his condition.

Bridges has always been interested in music, he has been in a band for a long time, in case of the music for the film, there was nothing exceptional about the songs that Presley sang, the same can be said about Bridges in this film. There's nothing exceptional in the film except for his excellent performance. Everybody, from the cast did an excellent job, but this is Bridge's film. He is in every scene and you can't take your eyes off of him. The storyline maybe old and reworked, but I did like the way the characters made choices that were unexpected. I have never been a fan of Colin Farrell but I think he does a good job and he can sing with some feeling. Robert Duvall has a small part but he always does a good job. It is a film that a definitely recommend. Good for Jeff Bridges 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Afterwards 2008

The film is directed by Gilles Bourdos, which has not directed that many films. This is the first one I have seen from him. From the get go the movie sounds promising, the cast includes actors like; John Malkovich and Romain Duris, seems like I have been watching lots of movies with him lately. I think he will break into the international scene very soon. This film is likely to be criticized for its structural fallibility and overly sentimental reflections on the nature of existence and the anxieties involved with acknowledging mortality, Afterwards is a lyrical and occasionally beautiful visual poem that essentially crumbles under the weight of its ambitions. But I have to say that the feelings of anxiety about death from the main character Nathan (Romain Duris) did affect me.

The fact that the structure is not strong produces a lack of relationship and character development between the leads, specifically between Nathan and Claire (Evangeline Lilly) his ex-wife, this keeps the film from having the emotional impact it strives for more especially in an epilogue that should have been devastating. On the upside, sincerity and a refreshingly “unhip” atmosphere make these flaws substantially more palatable and forgivable.

After dumping a mourning client’s lawsuit based on his projected income from the case, Nathan is visited by a peculiar physician named Garrett Goodrich (John Malkovich), who proceeds to lecture Nathan on human kindness and hypoglycaemia. Nathan is initially convinced that Garrett is insane but soon changes his position after the good doctor accurately predicts deaths. Malkovich in general seems to like characters who seem to be out this world’s reality; almost divine. The doctor he plays in this movie could be an angel or a devil in his voice and classic affected accent. 

Assuming his own mortality is on the line, Nathan reluctantly follows Garrett’s advice by visiting an old friend (Pascale Bussers) who is about to die and rekindling his broken relationship with his ex-wife (Evangeline Lilly), which ended following the death of their infant son. Annihilation anxiety is explored with depth, as Nathan responds with anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance with genuine fears of the unknown and a desire to thwart design.

Allegories and imagery involving swans and cactus flowers are a little trite but not entirely unwelcome given the lyrical nature of the film. They add to the overall aesthetic, which hits a high note whenever Malkovich has a glowing vision of impending death. 

This is the kind of film that is best digested with emotion and feelings rather than analysis and thought.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dans Paris 2006

This film works around the problem of depression Romain Duris my favorite French actor gives it a go in Christopher Honoré’s Dans Paris, as a wealthy, handsome but nonetheless perpetually bummed-out Paul. Paul lives in a flat with his polar opposite of a brother, chipper Jonathan played by Louis Garrel (The Dreamers, Ma Mere). The one that makes him miserable is his bitter on-and-off girlfriend Anna (Joana Preiss), she generates expectations hard to discern and harder to fulfill. Much commended in 2005’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Duris is better here: he has less to do, but does more with it. Showing inner despair, but neither mopey nor pathetic, Duris seems irrevocably distanced from the emotions he tries to project, he tries to dance with Anna but ends up simply watching her: his condition renders him as much of a spectator as we.

Duris is well and fine, but Honoré made a series of gimmicky moments, sometimes interesting, sometimes not, but always the work of someone easily bored with himself. His characters reach out to the audience in an effort to distance themselves from their own story, using narration as a kind of lifesaver from heights of emotion

Some have likned Honoré’s reflection to the early days of the French New Wave, and some references are more obvious than others: Paul and Anna casually burst into song during a conversation not usually conducive to musical numbers (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg); Jonathan reads in bed with a paramour à la Jean-Pierre Leaud in Bed and Board, and later walks by posters for American movies, These moments are sort of, “cute” which is Honoré’s problem, if he wants to emulate New Wave style: the popular conception of Truffaut may be young ruffians making funny faces and allusions to pop culture, but reduce it to that and you lose everything that makes it worthwhile. Not that I’m against references, but Honoré is far too busy showing he’s indebted to his influences to repay the debt. 

Jonathan’s segments are so breezy and Paul’s so melancholy they seem to take place in different films which, judging by Honore’s jarring variation in volume while cross-cutting between the two, is perhaps what he intends. Jonathan’s love of life consists of spontaneous, slapstick kisses, and Paul’s of a mild, fixated smile confused by happiness; it’s to Honoré’s credit that he can engage with such radically different frequencies. The best moments in his films are those when his broad, violent effects and tender ones collide: the mask of restless experimentation is briefly removed, and we witness a personality, schizophrenic though it may be. It is always interesting to watch French films that take place in cool apartment with cliché views of the Eiffel Tower.


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Baader Meinhof Complex 2008

After finding more about the story that this movie is about you almost feel that you are watching a documentary, the director and producers didn’t miss any details to bring this story into film. “ The Baader Meinhof Complex” is a tough, unnerving, forcefully unromantic fictional film about a West German terrorist group whose founders ran bloodily in the 1970s. It starts in 1967, the pivotal character is Ulrike Meinhof ( Martine Gedeck) a respected journalist who one day jumped out of a window while helping a prisoner, Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), escape. The moment she jumped, Meinhof left her world behind for a life of revolutionary idealogy and nihilistic violence. She traded her typewriter for a gun, as well as her children.

I have always been fascinated with facts and stories about all the revolts in 1968 in different parts of the world like; Paris, Budapest, Berkeley, Mexico City among others,

 “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” was adapted from Stefan Aust’s book of the same title. For the most part, relying heavily on the historical record, Mr. Eichinger lets the group do its own talking, as does the film’s director, Uli Edel, who gives it the pulse and music of a thriller. (The score echoes those of the “Bourne” movies.) This probably accounts for why some have accused the film of glamorizing terrorism, which misses the point that all terrorism is performative. What it does show, from the inside out, is how a group of people graduated from theoretical debates to guns, from hanging up a photo of Che to embracing revolutionary martyrdom.

The story by Stefan Aust book owes much of its power to its exacting detail and to his familiarity with the group, which self-importantly labeled itself the Red Army Faction. A journalist, he wrote for the leftist newspaper co-founded by Meinhof’s husband, for which she was a columnist and had extolled the “progressive” virtues of arson. Mr. Aust, who shows up at the edges of the film, played by Volker Bruch, helped rescue her children, whom she had handed off to minders while she was on the run. For the Red Army Faction the enemies included American imperialism and what it saw as an emerging West German police state: in May 1972 it bombed a police station, a newspaper and several United States Army sites.

The filmmakers lay out the historical and political context in which the faction took root; in an early scene the police beat unarmed demonstrators protesting a visit by the shah of Iran and his wife, but they don’t try to dig deeply into the heads of the group’s individual members. Instead of trying to put the faction on the couch, they suggest how the political converged with the personal against a global backdrop of social protest movements, political assassinations and increasingly repressive state reactions. They also offer plenty of proof that some in the group, particularly Baader, got off on the thrill of it all.

“You’re the ultimate bourgeois sow!” Baader once yelled at Meinhof, an insult that, to judge from her relatively passive reaction in the film, she absorbed into her being. Terror takes different forms. And Baader, who continually lashes out at the women in the group, his crazy, fearless girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, played by Johanna Wokalek, is as much his baby sitter as lover and a tyrant. Opportunism rather than ideology seemed to drive him, as the story develops he gets more obsessive and violent. In the end the Red Army Faction attracted extraordinary sympathy throughout West Germany along with true-believers who formed new generations of the group even as the founders languished in prison. The group’s members, who feared a police state and whose actions only brought the government’s fist down harder, were players in a real-life thriller that turned into a national tragedy. Theirs is a terrible, mesmerizing story of curdled idealism, one that has been told before but rarely as well. The faction is gone now (it disbanded in 1998), but its legacy still burns.

Murderous bomb attacks, the threat of terrorism and the fear of the enemy inside are rocking the very foundations of the yet fragile German democracy. The radicalized children of the Nazi generation lead by Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin are fighting a violent war against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment, many of whom have a Nazi past. Their aim is to create a more human society but by employing inhuman means they not only spread terror and bloodshed, they also lose their own humanity. The man who understands them is also their hunter: the head of the German police force Horst Herold (Bruno Gantz). And while he succeeds in his relentless pursuit of the young terrorists, he knows he's only dealing with the tip of the iceberg.

The movie is long but it is really entertaining and you are immediately captured by it.

Silent Light 2007

This is an intense film full of meaningful silences, however the intensity is sipping through the pores. This silent light flooding over the austere land and illuminating its pale and quite people from within. A fictional story in an isolated Mennonite community in northern Mexico and performed by a cast of mostly Mennonite nonprofessionals the film was written, directed and somehow willed into unlikely existence by Carlos Reygadas. These people’s stoic existence feels so contrasting with the Mexican cultural landscape, but their passions are as immense as the horizon. 

The film’s entry is magnificent it projects a kind of sublime existence, in which the seemingly unmoored camera traces a downward arc across a nearly pitch-black night sky dotted with stars. Accompanied by an unsettling chorus of animal cries and screams, the camera descends into the brightening world and then, as if parting a curtain, moves through some trees onto a stage for the ensuing human drama.

The staging has a very strange rhythm it is quite and intense, like those you can cut with a knife. The story is about Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), a farmer with seven children and a devoted wife, Esther (the Canadian writer Miriam Toews), he has fallen in love with another woman, a neighbor, Marianne (Maria Pankratz). Though tormented by the affair, Johan feels that Marianne is his truer match, the woman who will correct the mistake he made by marrying Esther, whom he also loves and from whom he has, with tragic, unintended cruelty, hidden nothing.

Things continue between Johan and Marianne, in spite of the fact she wanted to break the relationship. One day while driving on a rainy day, Esther felt sick and asked Johan to let her out of the car, she runs into the field and weeps away her sorrow and dies. Later you know she had a heart attack. Johan is inundated with grief and guilt. The resolution of the film is beautiful and undefined in a sense that you don’t really know if she revives or not.

The movie is exquisite; full of deeply moving moments as well as surreal ones, for sure Carlos Reygadas is an extraordinary filmmaker. The movie received critical acclaim in Cannes when it debuted in 2007.

There are a handful of ways to understand the meaning of “Silent Light,” it could be an allusion to love, but this is also very much a film about that ordinary light that sometimes still passes through a camera and creates something divine. 

Written (in Plautdietsch, or Mennonite Low German, with English subtitles), director of photography, Alexis Zabe; edited by Natalia López; art director, Nohemi Gonzalez; produced by Mr. Reygadas and Jaime Romandia.