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389 reviews in total 
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Pic-nic (2007)
Free Time, Old Age and Routine, 29 November 2014

In these days when the most popular documentaries are about dolphins, food chain, globalization and savage Capitalism, you would never think that placing a camera on a beach and watch, without adding comments, would make a good film. But it does and very well. In this intelligent work by Eloy Enciso, a Spanish film graduate from the Cuban film school created by Gabriel García Márquez, there are of course different camera set-ups, many subjects and themes, and they all add up to a unique documentary about three days on a Mediterranean beach in August, where neighbors and tourists converge. Their interactions, the events that evolve (as the sand sculptures), the sounds and faces contribute for a good reflection on free time, old age and daily routine.

La mule (2000)
The Hapless Mule, 28 November 2014

This is a little gem about prejudice. Not racial this time, but about nationalities that are not "well seen" in the First World or for that matter nowhere: this is the case of a woman from Colombia, who very happily arrives to Paris and is detained, undressed and humiliated by security guards, and her luggage rudely inspected. This is not gratuitous entertainment of fiction, as many persons know. It happened to me in one of the Paris airports, so I know, and if you are from Latin America as me and "the mule" the humiliation is double. But French filmmaker Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, who is able to describe dramatic stories as "Carlitos Medellín" (in Colombia) and "Johnny Mad Dog" (in Liberia), has a sense of humor. And one of Pedro Almodóvar's muses, Miss Rossy de Palma, wonderfully plays the Colombian woman who watches in awe, terror and sadness what is happening to her. But then… I cannot spoil the little story for you. See it.

Survival, responsibility and hope, 22 November 2014

This is an impressive film, almost a record of dead persons who most probably gave a single testimony to the world of their predicament, as they sat in front of Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's camera: they describe what it means to live in a poor section in Medellín, in a permanent state of violence that has increased in the last 50 years. Then we are informed that many of them were killed. When the film started I felt a sudden rejection when I heard the voice of a fictional kid called "Carlitos Medellín" reading a letter to the Catholic virgin Mary Help of the of Christians (María Auxiliadora in Spanish) asking for her intervention or from anybody in heaven in his community, while I watched on the screen the actions of Davidson Ospina, a kid who carries a statue of that virgin all around the neighborhood of Santo Domingo Savio. Then I realized that this was Sauvaire's strategy to unify all the testimonies that he registered. "Carlitos Medellín" is a fictional character, a symbol that gives unity to all the footage. Of course, this is almost a "talking heads" kind of business, but besides the reading of the letter, and the mothers telling the stories of their lost sons and asking the virgin for peace, Sauvaire added "Carlitos" smoking marijuana or playing football, a surprisingly mature young boy talking about survival and guns, a mother who has become a prostitute, the local morgue, a procession of Santo Doming Savio with chants and incense, a schoolgirl with no perspectives, a woman whose youth has become damaged by the signs of death, the photographs in the cemetery… I am almost sure you have not seen another documentary like this. Don't expect an explanation of what happens in Colombia. This is a film about survival, responsibility and hope. There are moments when it seems exhausting, but an understanding trio of editors (including the director) kept it at 73 minutes.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Great Work, 22 November 2014

Heartbreaking portrait of Pakistani kids in Karachi, who have run away from home, were detained by authorities or got lost, and who were rescued by a humanitarian who created a surrogate home until their cases are solved, although a few of them stay and literally grow up there. I am not being sentimental. It is just very sad watching kids cry because they do not want to go back home, or the coldness of their families when they are brought back. I do not understand why people ask for more information. What for? Are they going to create a world organization to help those kids or what? Or just to be informed and converse about it? This film is about those kids, and what is remarkable about it is that it gives them voice, it is they who talk and communicate with us. In the end what I feel is important about "These Birds Walk" is the state of the world, of which we are all responsible.

The White Devil, 10 November 2014

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, providing beautiful art direction and bright choreography, as well as fine performers, combined with Italian professionals as cinematographer Mario Bava (a year before making his first feature, "La maschera del demonio"), composer Roberto Nicolosi and director Riccardo Freda, all working against 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.

Salambò in Love, 9 November 2014

I first saw the Italian-French co-production "Salambò" in the early 1960s, distributed in Panamá by 20th Century-Fox, as a CinemaScope/Color by DeLuxe production and dubbed in English, as "The Loves of Salammbo". Since the memory of it had persisted, I was curious about it for more than 50 years, until 2014 when I could see it again: this time in its French version, which is 23 minutes longer than the American, and 15 minutes shorter than the original Italian cut. I always remembered that it was different from the regular peplums of its day, and this time I could verify that it had higher production values, that the story is more elaborate than the typical "sword and sandal" show, and above all that it is not a proper peplum, if we stick to its original definition of films that deal with Greco-Roman mythology, heroes and gods. This is a historical drama based on fact, about the mercenary rebellion against Carthage in the 3rd century B.C., when the city had not pay the promised gold to hired barbarian soldiers, after they had shed blood for five years in the name of Carthage; and it is also a fictional love story of mercenary leader Mathos (Jacques Sernas) and Carthaginian high priestess Salambò (Jeanne Valérie), daughter of general Amilcar Barca (Riccardo Garrone). There is a greedy, wicked traitor in the court of Carthage, Narr Havas (Edmund Purdom), who is lusting after Salambò, wants power and gold for himself, and to get rid of the mercenaries. Based on the respected but little known novel (or long story) "Salammbô", by French author Gustave Flaubert, written after he published "Madame Bovary", the complex tragic war story that he told was simplified, shortened, altered (for example, Narr Havas is originally a mercenary chief), and given a happy ending. Although it looks as if the producers had bigger ambition, and a few sets, scenes and location shooting aim for great spectacle, the truth is that the Italian and French capitals were not enough. There are also some flaws, as Alexander Derevitsky's persistent martial score, the 1960s style of make-up, and rushed transitions, which may be the result of trying to reduce the running time. Although Sergio Grieco was never a highly regarded director, he received good support from Enzo Alfonsi's editing, and cinematographer Piero Portalupi's dramatic lighting, camera movements and set-ups, so the vision of the film is entertaining. Two curiosity notes: the French version includes a love making scene with brief nudity that was cut in Spain, where my DVD copy was issued with the footage restored; and the part of Neshma (Salambò's maid) was apparently played by Italian actress Brunella Bovo in the Italian version (her name appears in the Italian poster) and by Indian actress Kamala Devi in the French cut. I can't remember what performance was used for the American version.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Jungle Fever, 30 October 2014

Since Tarzan went to Guatemala in 1935, Charlie Chan to Panamá in 1940 and Fox organized a "Carnival in Costa Rica" in 1947, I decided to watch Jacques Tourneur's "Appointment in Honduras", just to have a richer view of how Hollywood depicted Central America in the old days. Now they are a bit more exact, although the approach (from the "exotic value" perspective) has changed little, if we consider how Costa Rica has been a Jurassic garden for T-Rexes, Panamá a center for tailors who are UK spies, while Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are still the settings of stories of violence. But back then things were so corny (and not from the natives' side, but from Hollywood's), that one has to take most of these films with a grain of salt and laugh. Of those I think that "Charlie Chan in Panamá" is the best, due to its dark plot of treason during II World War, but this fabrication is as ugly as it is opportunistic, using recent facts as starting points without even considering all the tragedy, deaths and losses that can be originated by a political assassination or a coup d'état (with the assistance of the CIA or any other American "industry"). In days of the real overthrowing of Jacobo Arbenz, the president of Guatemala with the collaboration of highly paid American hired-assassins (1954), Glenn Ford plays Corbett, somebody quite close to those men, who instead has to supposedly help an overthrown president in Honduras, someone called Prieto, with money. To do so he has to take command of a ship, make it stop by the Honduran shore, and then cross the jungle up a river in search of Prieto to deliver the cash. You can have three guesses to determine why Corbett does all that, but in the end, when he identifies himself as a farmer, no one in the film and in the audience believes him. Before he finds Prieto, of course, Corbett has to make that dangerous jungle trip with four convicts that helped execute the operation, led by wicked Rodolfo Acosta, who took two passengers along as hostages: Ann Sheridan, who crosses the jungle in her night gown, and her rich, mean and coward husband, played by Zachary Scott. In their way they meet soldiers, crocodiles, ants, serpents, jungle cats, tropical storms, swarms, piranhas that swimmed all the way up from South America to appear in this film, an anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria to Corbett and all the clichés scriptwriter Karen DeWolf imagined or believed you would find in the Central American jungles. They never see an orchid, a high full moon, a bright butterfly or a marijuana plant that would have been so helpful to keep them relaxed. All that is left is bare tension by elementary motives, bad acting and Tourneur's boredom or indifference to the material, all in Technicolor. I don't know you, but I stick to Tarzan, Charlie Chan and the Costa Rican carnival.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Technicolor Ulmer, 30 October 2014

If for the first half of this drama, you can go through the typical Hollywood depiction of Mexico and its people (dancing flamenco and shouting "Olé"), you will enjoy this tale of greed and treason among common folks, related to one another in different ways. Never mind the mixture of Spanish elements with the Mexican: the description of Mexican culture (which is key to the story, though not essential) is not even offensive, but plainly cheap, funny and sometimes embarrassing for the cast, although Charlita seems to enjoy every minute of her part as a kind of Tongolele lost in a dusty cantina. Since the central plot is interesting enough by itself, we can overlook all the kitsch, for what is being told is universal: how human beings can become negative from one moment to the next, by ambition and lust for material possession. All the three leads are quite effective. I really had never seen Arthur Kennedy so good in a role, practically having the whole film on his shoulders; beautiful Betta St. John is a bit out of range in her dramatic scenes, but she is more convincing here than in those Tarzan movies with Gordon Scott; while Eugene Iglesias is intense enough to suggest the emergence of a lout in less than half a day. As in all of Edgar G. Ulmer's films, no matter how big or small the budget, the visuals are good. The ingredient I enjoyed the less was the proto-Morriconesque score by composer Herschel Burke Gilbert, who could have benefited by going to Plaza Garibaldi in México City and have some tequila and tacos, sing with a mariachi band, and listen to rancheras and other typical Mexican musical forms.

The City (1939/I)
The City, 23 October 2014

Before Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi", there was "The City", and before Philip Glass composed his famous chant and music for Reggio's film, Aaron Copland wrote his seminal score for this medium-length documentary, which allegedly had an influence in Hollywood scoring. Although I could not help associating both films in my mind, as I watched "The City", of course there are differences. While Reggio concentrated on making an audiovisual statement of "life out of balance" in the United States, the makers of "The City" proposed a "solution" (according to the American Institute of Planners, I believe) to life in general, and to family in specific, with commentaries that were sparse, but emphatic in their "didactic" tone. One of the main problems of this work is that there is no hint of the multiracial conformation of the United States: as it is, it should be called "The Caucasian City". On the other hand it is too simplistic in its analysis of the distortion of life, the deterioration of quality of life in the city. It seems it just "happens", with no reflection on the social and economic reasons, with no consideration of many men's greed, if they did not want to openly talk about politics, power struggle, unfair distribution of natural wealth and hoarders. It proposes a way out of unbalanced life, but it takes more than what the filmmakers say, to achieve such state of "bliss" (a little boring to my taste, I must say, but quite comfortable). As for Reggio compared to Copland, both their works had an impact, but in different stages of the evolution of modern music, and contemporary film scoring. All this said, I feel "The City" is an outstanding audiovisual work, as attractive and important as, say, any of Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda films. There is propaganda in "The City" too, but that does not make it less effective. It shows a way of thinking, at least of a fraction of the United States society, and it comes as no surprise that things have gotten worse since 1939. This does not make it less beautiful: images (specially the urban shots, the views of the shacks, the great buildings, the "symphony" of fumes) are remarkable. If it is just for that, watch "The City".

Untouched (1954)
Jungle Fever, 5 October 2014

"Sombra verde" is another little gem by underrated Mexican director Roberto Gavaldón. Shot almost entirely in open spaces, the melodrama is an adaptation of the 1949 novel of the same name by Mexican writer Ramiro Torres Septién. It tells the story of scientist Federico Garzón who is sent by a pharmaceutical company to investigate the possibility of exploiting barbasco in the jungle of Veracruz, to produce cortisone from its roots. But Federico and his guide Pedro get lost, and when the scientist is the only survivor in the middle of the jungle, he finds a remote farm by a waterfall called Paraíso (Paradise). The owner tries to kill him, but his young daughter Yáscara falls for the stranger. Gavaldón, who usually wrote the script with his collaborators, created magnificent images, as a popular fair; the sequence when vultures fly low, surrounding Federico on horse, as he carries the corpse of Pedro on another animal; or all the intensely erotic scenes involving young, beautiful and lovely Ariadne Welter as Yáscara. There was no Hays code ruling the Mexican film industry nor the Catholic fanaticism of Franco's Spain to deprive the relation of sensuality and to suggest a chaste friendship instead: it is obvious that Yáscara knows everything about mating, as it is she who asks Federico to be her man, and whenever they start romancing, there is no denial of the intense foreplay… the camera looks somewhere else with complicity. Handsome and well-built Ricardo Montalbán returned to the film industry of his home country, taking a brief and healthy rest from Esther Williams' swimming pool romantic vehicles and other silly Hollywood mishmash. Víctor Parra's solid enactment of Yáscara's father; Jorge Martínez de Hoyos' award-winning performance as Pedro, Antonio Díaz Conde's score and Alex Phillips' monochromatic cinematography, are all assets in this fine production.

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