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.