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One of the few and rare cases of a filmmaker finding footage and turning it into something not only distinguished but respectful of its origin and spirit, «16memorias» evokes sixteen periods in the life of the Posada Saldarriaga family from Medellín. Director Botero used 33 hours of images that entrepreneur Mario Posada Ochoa filmed of his family from 1945 to 1971, with a 16mm camera: the birth of every offspring, their promenades, their voyages. Through his remarkable editing skills, Botero unified all the material with the reiterated image of a child who projects fragments of celluloid. A beautiful work that eloquently demonstrates the rich capacities of cinema for capturing the pass of time and the wonder of life and to find and express art in the most unexpected forms and places.
I still don't know if Alejandro González Iñárritu's film was more interesting for the way the story was told, than for the tale itself. The connection between the three leading characters seemed to me too tricky, too artificial, in a way similar to the lack of plausibility of the third story in "Amores perros", and that may be the reason the screenwriter chose again a non-linear narration. In the end, the movie was far too long to keep my credibility in suspension, but the performances held my attention, especially the one given by Benicio del Toro who kept me from looking to my watch every 10 minutes. 7/10.
I've never had problems with the didactic aspects of Spike Lee's
storytelling. But as much as I enjoy his cinema, I can't deny most of the
times Spike is right up there screaming, denouncing or sermonizing. This
time it was surprising and welcomed to find him behind a project that
lectures on "the right thing" to do in a frame that gives space to dreams,
desires, real issues and preaching. It's interesting that here, with main
characters that are not African-American, he covers the same issues of moral
corruption, absence of ethics or human solidarity that he has treated in
other films with ethnic concerns. It's also a film about the vulnerability
of New York (especially after September 11) in spite of its "high profile"
or the pretentiousness of a few New Yorkers, haunted by the howling of
Middle East ghosts and threatened by its own violence, but captured on the
screen with affection.
I saw "3 Women" in 1977. I went back to the cinema and saw it two more times, before I wrote a review. Though I have seen it many other times since then, today I do not recall every detail. Nevertheless I remember its story dealt with three women whose solidarity allows them to survive in a world dominated by insensitive men. Two of these women move the story, the third one does not have a direct influence on the events, but she is a key figure. There is no puzzle here, no enigma to decipher. It may be based on Robert Altman's dream, it may have a dream sequence, but it is quite linear and direct, with little relation to dreams' structure (or lack of it). I say this today but after finding my review in my files, I think it's ironic and makes me laugh at myself. By 1977 I had not read Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation" yet and I was trying to decipher what the butter meant in "Last Tango in Paris". But I must admit that I find interesting some of the research I did and a few interpretations I made. I found then various leitmotivs in the movie: first, the grotesquely erotic murals painted and shot at by Willie (Janice Rule), that illustrate the oppressive situation of woman in phallocratic societies; water, which (according to French philosopher Dane Rudhyar) stands for collective consciousness and astral world, a symbol that for me tacitly connected the three women (and that has played an important role in other Altman films: "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "Streamers", "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean", "The Gingerbread Man", "Dr. T & the Women", frozen in "Quintet", and even in "HealtH", "Popeye" and "O.C. and Stiggs"); the image of twins Peggy and Polly, duplicated in Alcira and Doris, mirroring the Millie-Pinky duplicity; and the clinic, as a metaphor of social and moral decay while its members attempt at efficiency. It may sound crazy but I even made a connection between the pool of the boarding house (owned by Willie) and a woman's womb (Willie's), where the temporary symbiosis of Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) into Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) takes place. Today I consider all these more hints than cryptic data, and sometimes they are even too obvious as the line when Millie says something like "Sometimes Peggy can be Polly, and Polly can be Peggy", gun-crazy Edgar as a symbol of sexual inadequacy and male authoritarianism, and the delivery of the dead child as a metaphor of the sterility of this kind of relationship between men and women. As I remember it today, it is a sad story of female bonding as a means of survival in a consumerist society, narrated in a beautiful cinematic style, with remarkable performances by all. (Funny, although Duvall had won the Best Actress Palm d'Or in Cannes, in my review the one who impressed me the most was Rule, because she was able to transmit so much with less than a dozen of lines). By far, it's my favorite Robert Altman movie and one of his masterpieces.
"'71" contains, at least, two masterful moments under the direction of new filmmaker Yann Demange: the mise-en-scène and hand-held camera of a sequence of an extremely violent riot on a Belfast street, between British soldiers and Irish civilians, followed by the evasion of the protagonist (Jack O'Connell), a soldier who is abandoned by his platoon in the middle of the riot, while members of the young faction of the Irish Catholics chase the soldier to kill him. Brilliant. Then, there is a moment that leaves us spectators astonished, when a bomb explodes in the middle of the night, right behind the soldier, who falls on the pavement and then slowly stands up and enters the place in flames, while sound is low, as if he and we have been left partially deaf by the explosion. Equally brilliant. My only complaint against the film is that the conflicts between England and North Ireland contain so many nuances that it is sometimes difficult to follow. In the film the British soldiers are mostly working-class men who are nothing but "meat" for the posh and highly corrupt officers, the moderate Protestant Irish, the terrorist Catholic Irish, Loyalists, the antagonistic young and old IRA activists. It may be clear for the United Kingdom audience, and surely for those who are well-informed about world politics, but many of us simply cannot "read" it with clarity. Fortunately the film goes beyond these specificities: it deals with intolerance, army corruption, the distortion of libertarian ideals among the struggling people, and these topics appeal to all persons. It is a very well made motion picture that fluidly achieves moments of high tension. Highly recommended... and I must say that I am not particularly into this kind of cinema.
Just as Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini became one of my favorite film directors in my youth. While Godard was too cerebral, often sour and a bit too complicated for a Sunday afternoon, Fellini was always fun, even when he was dark or dramatic. In his own historical context, Fellini was also my favorite of all post-war directors from Italy. His colleagues were all excellent filmmakers, but in the end Antonioni was too cryptic, Visconti too melodramatic, De Sica too erratic, and films lost Rossellini when he turned his attention to the development of television language. On the other hand and unknowingly to me, Fellini's "8½" illustrated the auteur theory enunciated by André Bazin and the critics of the magazine "Cahiers du cinéma." Not because there were thematic and stylistic self-quotations in the film, or that the story of a film director in crisis is autobiographical, but because in his alter ego's search for a story, a reason, and a leading lady, Fellini introduced introspections and fantasies without restrain, creating a world of his own that could be enjoyed by the audience. The movie is filled with beautiful faces: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Edra Gale (later seen as Peter Sellers' wife in "What's New, Pussycat?"), and the Queen of Horror, Barbara Steele. Nino Rota contributed an unforgettable score, whose highlight is the wonderful theme for the final parade, "La passerella d'addio."
My mother used to take me to the cinema since I was a little kid, and one of my first memories of a film is Buñuel's "Robinson Crusoe" (1954). Maybe it started in me a liking for different cinema languages, other than the American system of audiovisual representation. A few years later, Godard shot in 1959 "À bout de soufflé", a motion picture that had a strong impact on me: I did not know what was going on, with so many new elements before my eyes, like the jump cuts during a car ride, the long sequence with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in a hotel room, or the last tracking shot when Belmondo is running for his life and Seberg acquires his gestures. Now I know that it was a groundbreaking film, that Godard was revolutionizing the art of editing, but for me it was an introduction to a Brechtian approach in narrating events. It is still one of my all-time favorite movies, and now I recognize its influences in many films of its time, like Richard Lester's films with The Beatles.
I am seldom attracted to film aspiring to Academy Awards, as the biopics of Margaret Thatcher and J. Edgar Hoover; the retro-dramas on black servants, French orphans and stars of silent films; hurt lockers or kings' speeches. I prefer smaller, simpler films as the Dardennes' "Le gamin au vélo", maybe an Iranian title or even zombie Otto's dilemmas (although Bruce LaBruce insists on being lewd when his ideas are more than substantial). Last night I saw "A Festa da Menina Morta", a film I had never heard of, that I liked a lot, and that is the first work by actor Matheus Nachtergaele, who has demonstrated his acting talent in films as "Amarelo Manga", "Arido Movie", "Cidade de Deus" and "Central do Brasil". Maybe it was his gift what helped him obtain remarkable performances from his cast, and not only from professionals as Daniel de Oliveira and Cássia Kiss, but from the natural actors he directed. A reflection on people's mysticism, racism and a material and spiritual misery that films seldom risk to show, "The Dead Girl's Feast" reveals sordid anecdotes of the relationships between the leading characters, behind the magical thoughts that inspire a town in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. The story is simple: in the home town of the Dead Girl, people are about to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of her cult, directed and conducted by "O Santo" or the Saint (Oliveira), a young, self-worshiping homosexual, with a volcanic temper, and an emotional life that includes a marital, sexual-active life with his father and vague memories of his Caucasian mother. Close to him and his alcoholic, roguish father, are the devout women that keep the cult alive, and Tadeu (Juliano Cazarré), the Dead Girl's brother, who has lost his faith and begun to question the cult and the Saint. During the night of the feast, tensions and violent emotions grow, and an unexpected visit arrives, leading the story to a denouement in which the Saint's annual message to the devotees is an echo of his personal drama. Although the violence surrounding the story can erupt in any moment, one perceives Nachtergaele's affection for the characters, their customs and the story, an affection that moves the film away from manifestations of the so-called "porno-misery" that could have been generated. Nachtergaele had full control, opting for ethnographic observation that sometimes reduce dramatic action to a minimum, with fine support from cinematographer Lula Carvalho. Highly recommended.
It is such an annoyance to watch mutilated foreign films, specially Italian productions as in this case, which was obviously a well- mounted co-production, benefiting from the participation of the Yugoslavian film industry which provided beautiful art direction and bright choreography, as well as fine performers, combined with Italian professionals: cinematographer Mario Bava (a year before making his first feature, "La maschera del demonio"), composer Roberto Nicolosi and director Riccardo Freda, all working in beautiful scenery and sets. The version I just saw is English-dubbed and 10 minutes shorter than the original (even with the restoration of some footage that had originally been censored in Spain, where my copy was issued): it is a strange mixture of average-looking sections with others that seemed to come from a blown-up VHS copy. "Agi Murad" though is an attractive wide-screen adventure film with a touch of history, in spite of being not very well acted by Steve Reeves, who this time seems a little beyond his scope for the title role in the dramatic scenes, but he compensates his shortcoming in the action scenes and has Gérard Herter to counteract as he chews the scenery playing the Russian villain, and sexy Scilla Gabel as his scheming wife, who has fallen for the "White Devil", as Murad is called. By the state the home-video business is in these days, it is a pity that we will probably never be able to watch these films in their original form.
Sometimes making a first film and delivering a moderately "decent" product, depends more on chance than on spending many years studying film-making. Under "chance" I include the raising of generous capital to contract the best possible crew (the flowing of cash has proved a key element in the career of someone like Mel Gibson...) It is a blessing to find producers who believe in you and offer their support. And if before taking the step you have shown skill in any other profession, considerable progress has been made. Such is the case of novelist Dito Montiel, who had Sting as executive producer for his first motion picture, and went to win the "best first feature" prize in the Venice film festival and was named best director at Sundance. Based on his autobiographical novel, Montiel illustrates life in the margins, roads without signs, the rejection of one's origins and its sister, geographical escape, in the 1980s, in Astoria, New York. It is a closed world, in which emigrant culture, mean politics and the economy of deprivation mingle with daily life, but they are not pointed at, they are not scraped nor blamed for the physical and spiritual misery of the leading characters. Robert Downey Jr. is Dito, the acclaimed novelist living in Los Angeles, who receives a phone call from his mother (exceptional Dianne Wiest) asking him to return to Astoria, to his sick father's side (Chazz Palminteri), whom Dito left behind 15 years ago, when violence, racism, territorial-ism and sexism in the streets and a good dose of dreams, including the proverbial rock band to took him out of poverty made him flee to California. But 15 years later Dito discovers that he took the s..t along with him and that he is covered from head to toes. Perhaps it is in us and not in the places, but in this case it is definite that Dito's mess is more in his head than in Astoria. To make it clear, Dito the filmmaker builds a parallel retrospective story, in which Shia LaBeouf plays Dito the adolescent, main character of juvenile mini-dramas that include a patriarchal figure, a streetwise girlfriend, and a gang of misfits who are still alive because there is no Vietnam or Iran, and because they are not old enough to fight somewhere in the name of "democracy". The times of both Ditos cross, create a complex fabric and make the viewing a rewarding experience, maybe with less visual orientation than in the first movie of another artist turned film director, painter Julian Schnabel, who painted New York as out of the head of plastic artist Jean Michel Basquiat. Montiel's world is more literary, but as effective as Schnabel's: the first-time filmmaker was fortunate to have the talents of cinematographer Eric Gautier and editors Jake Pushinksy and Christopher Tellefsen to help him create his cinematic world. The film has been compared to Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets", but I believe that the comparison misses the merits of Montiel's film, foremost the richness of its multiple levels, a few above and more innovative than the traditional style of Scorsese's film. Good work from the already mentioned cast, as well as from Channing Tatum (whose character is reminiscent of Robert De Niro's Johnny Boy in "Mean Streets"), Rosario Dawson and, in a brief and effective appearance, the unappreciated, very talented Eric Roberts.
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