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Tim Burton's Batman films were needed at the time, they did help erase
the image the 1960s series had left, but he didn't have a clue how to
handle the character. Sure, he had the right atmosphere, the right
sets, the right costumes, and above all, the right music with Danny
Elfman's Bernard Hermannen-inspired score, but Batman remained a
tortured, lonely, and uncharismatic figure. Michael Keaton was
physically miscast since he couldn't pull off the annoying arrogant
playboy type in Bruce Wayne, neither had the necessary physical
presence to handle Batman. It sure didn't help that the villains were
given more screen-time and had way more charisma. Joel Schumacer took
over the series and brought it back to the 1960s camp the Burton film
were trying to erase, and while he was more comfortable with the Batman
character than the previous director, he didn't have a clue how to
handle the atmosphere.
Well, enough with all of this, after Schumacer ruined the series completely, a re-start seemed like the smartest thing to do since none of the previous films really captured the true spirit of the character at all. And here comes Christopher Nolan, director or Memento and the Insomnia remake, to do the Batman movie fans had been waiting for a long time. Screenwriter/director David S. Goyer was in charge of the script, borrowing elements from Miller's Year One, he crafted the quintessential Batman script, avoiding all of the mistakes Sam Hamm and Akira Goldsman committed in the past.
Christian Bale takes over the role played by nearly eight actors in the past, the film opens with a runaway Bruce Wayne starting his ninja training with Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and his leader Ras Al Ghul (Ken Wantannabe) in the Hymalaias. As this happens, we flashback to twenty years ago, when eight-year old Bruce lost his parents to a thug (not the Joker like the first film) and swore his revenge against criminality. Bruce doesn't become Batman automatically, he nearly considers killing the murderer of his parents later on.
It's moments like Bruce throwing his gun at the sea that make Batman Begins different from nearly every previous big screen Batman representation. We finally have a film about Batman and not the villains. Not that there are no strong villains in this entry at all. Once Bruce's training is over (as he disagrees over Ras' brutal crime fighting tactics, enforcing the rule in the comics that he doesn't kill) he returns to Gotham City, which has been taken over by ruthless mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and his main thug Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) a criminal psychiatrist who is later revealed to be the classic villain The Scarecrow. Murphy doesn't have as much screen time as Jack Nicholson or Danny DeVito, but for once we have a Batman villain that is actually menacing, a villain that doesn't dance to Prince records and doesn't wear puffy shoes and colorful costumes. His specialty of infecting his victims with fear-inducing gas gives room for some pretty nifty hallucination sequences.
Gotham City is not the studio-bound 1940s noir look by Tim Burton, neither the psychotic neon-bathed wonderland from the Joel Schumacer entries. Instead, this is a realistic city, filled with slums (the Narrows) and to an extent inspired by Ridley Scott's futuristic rain-soaked metropolis in Blade Runner, a film Nolan showed to his crew before shooting began.
Many people have criticized the action sequences for their fast editing techniques and the fact that we never see Batman, but that was pretty much the point. Batman is supposed to be a dark figure, we are not supposed to get a good look at him during the confrontations. That is not to say the film's action sequences don't deliver. While it takes its time to build up characters and situations before the rumbling begins, the bat-mobile chase puts the loud theater speakers to the test. The final action set-piece taking place inside a speeding train is better than it sounds, we finally have a good climax in a Batman film for once rather than the Dark Knight destroying the villain's lair.
In terms of acting, few films out there have a cast this good. Christian Bale is by far the definitive live-action Batman ever shown on screen, he perfectly handles the character's split personality from the snobby playboy to the Dark Knight, even the voice changes, not to mention he looks great in the costume. Morgan Freeman and Michael Cane both play good mentors to Bruce, and even knowing Cane doesn't look like the part as much as Michael Gough, he has great chemistry with Bale and we finally see their relationship sparkle. Even actors with small parts like Rutger Hauer, who plays Bruce Wayne's main enemy at Wayne Enterprises, shine. Unfortunately, Katie Holmes is the only weak link here. Script-writer Goyer took a big liberty of creating this new character who means a lot to Bruce (she was his childhood friend) especially for the movie, and while she is more interesting than the previous romantic interests in this franchise (except for Catwoman obviously) she doesn't look very comfortable in the scenes where toughness is required. And last but not least is Gary Oldman's note-by-note perfect role as Lt. Gordon, a hard-working honest cop who, like Batman, fights against corruption. For once we get to see the Batman/Gordon relationship that was never explored in the 1989/1997 film series, maybe afraid it would turn as campy as in the 1960s TV show with the Bat-phone.
Few summer blockbusters work as much as Batman Begins. Never so much fun and energy was felt in a theater since the release of Kill Bill: Volume 1 in 2003. Chris Nolan has not only resurrected a dead franchise from oblivion, but done a film few super-heroes could have the honor of having. The summer of 2005 doesn't get any better than this.
It is not very hard to believe "Fat Girl" and "Romance X" were made by
the same director, as much as the films differ in quality. The problem
is that both films handle different subject matters. And while "Fat
Girl" was successful in what it set out to do, "Romance X" fails
miserably. This year I re-watched another chick-flick I never thought
much of, Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty", and found myself enjoying it a
great deal, so I tried to do the same with "Romance X". It didn't work
out, I now hate the film even more.
The film is described as "porn for women", and it already starts with a totally unbelievable premise: School-teacher Marie (Caroline Ducey) has a boyfriend (Sagamore Stévenin) who refuses to sleep with her for no reason whatsoever. He doesn't have any problems with getting an erection, or finding her attractive, he just doesn't want to have sex. What a believable premise! Maybe it was supposed to be unbelievable, maybe this is a deep, thoughtful, surrealistic film, but it's just not interesting. The fact that it never crosses Marie's mind that her boyfriend might be GAY doesn't help it from being existentially funny. But again, maybe it was supposed to be unintentionally funny, maybe this is a deep, thoughtful, surrealistic film, but it's just not interesting.
Marie fails to be a likable character as well, like most in the film. She is about 23, has the body of a 13-year old, the face of a 30-year old, and talks like a repressed, grumpy 75-year old. Every single line of dialogue that comes out of her mouth are mostly complaints on how miserable her sex life is, how much she hates men, and her amazing depressing theories on sex in general. It is not a very far stretch to assume it is Breillat speaking her lines, not Marie. Anyone who watches this film will get the impression that Briellat has never spoken to a human being. The most charismatic character, and actor, of the entire film is Ducey's first affair, a lonely Italian man named Paolo (Rocco Sifreddi) who seems to be the only human being in the film. The problem is that well Rocco is not an actor, he is a porn star only cast because of the size of his penis. You know you are in trouble when a "guest porn star" is the film's most interesting personality, because compared to Marie's boyfriend, he is Cary Grant. But again, maybe it was supposed to be unrealistic, maybe this is a deep, thoughtful, surrealistic film, but it's just not interesting.
While it lasts for about 90 minutes, it feels like you are watching a much longer film. There is nothing wrong with films being slow and taking their time, but this one does it for no reason at all. There is a scene where Marie is lead by a man into being tied up for a bondage experience. It last about ten minutes for the man to lead her into his room and pull the ropes around her, only for her to give up. Later in the film, she tries it again, and so we begin to roll our eyes. But again, maybe it was supposed to be slow, maybe this is a deep, thoughtful, surrealistic film, but it's just not interesting.
So you might be thinking that at least if the film is a pretentious, boring mess, well, at least it delivers as a soft-core porno, right? Wrong. This is the most misfire I've ever seen as an erotic film. Although I applaud Caroline Ducey for taking her "extentions" as an actress to the limit during the sex/nudity scenes, but they are anything but arousing. In fact, they are unbelievably boring. Only one involving Rocco Sifreddi is a bit, dare I say, far from tedious, but it would have helped if the actress at least seemed like she was enjoying it. I know this was not supposed to be a film about titties, but what else could one look for when there is nothing else? But again, maybe it was supposed to be non-erotic, maybe this is a deep, thoughtful, surrealistic film, but it's just not interesting.
"Romance X" is one or those films that think they are art-house masterpieces, that they are groundbreaking, and that in the future it will be remembered as a classic. I've seen Lifetime Original Movies that portray strong, independent women in a more successful way than in this film. Maybe this film would have been quite a statement had it been released back in the early 70s, but in 1999 it does feel a bit outdated. Surely a film with such a controversial topic as a woman committing gasp adultery would be very shocking. How couldn't it be, a woman who attends gasp nightclubs by herself. What will she do next to be outrageous, take a valium? As a side note, the nightclub sequences have to be seen to believe. The music is bad even for Euro-techno standards and it is so low you can hear people's footsteps in the dance floor. But that is only a minor flaw in such a mess of a film. While the cinematography is beautiful and the work with colors (especially red and white) is effective, it doesn't manage to make this worth 90 minutes (which feel like 4 hours) of your life. But again, maybe it was supposed to be an unintentionally funny, unrealistic, slow, and non-erotic. Maybe this is a deep, thoughtful, surrealistic film, but it's just not interesting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Catherine Breillat's "Fat Girl" is another one of those European
coming-of-age films where two friends/relatives, one more sexually
active than the other, spend a summer vacation in a beach resort. This
time, it's two sisters: Fifteen-year old Elena (Roxana Mesquida, who
appears to be younger) is the oldest and wishes to loose her virginity
with someone she loves. Her younger sister is a innocent and chunky
twelve-year old Anais (Anaïs Reboux) who would rather experience sex
with a complete stranger. Both of them get their wishes.
Most of the film takes place inside the girls' bedroom, where Elena's slightly older Italian lover Fernando (Libero de Rienzo) hops through the window occasionally at night. The fact that Anais' bed is in the same room doesn't stop them from experiencing sex in front of her, who watches them in curiosity, as well as repugnance.
Similar to the bedroom scenes in Breillat's previous film, the dreadful "Romance X", these are actually some of this film's strongest aspects. They last for quite a while, and they actually feel like one single scene. Unlike other films with strong sexual content, Breillat never switches on the "porno mode", making the scene seem like one single unbroken piece.
Briellat's films are famous for having graphic depictions of sex but "Fat Girl" uses a more subtle approach. While we do see the couple naked, the camera never lingers into the bodies, it is all filmed in one take. And not much of it is shown, Breillat leaves it to our imagination by filming Anais' reaction to it all, and only allowing us to hear the encounter. Alejandro Amenabar used a very similar trick in "Thesis", where sound would allow us to imagine the snuff film's brutal murders.
The two sisters' relationship is a far cry from what one would expect. If you are waiting for constant whining and shouting between them, you will be disappointed. While they do argue, they are for most of the time friendly with each other. Little scenes like the family's visit to a mall, or when they talk in bed together, are what make this film special. In the end, they are best friends and do love each other, despite their differences and arguments.
Many people have criticized Breillat for negative portrayal of men in her films. Lorenzo is indeed a narrow-minded opportunist who is only seeking to take Elena's virginity, but no other character in the film is very positive either except for the title character. Elena is so naïve that at times she could be the protagonist of a Lars Von Trier tragedy, and the mother (Arsinée Khanjian) doesn't really know how to handle the situation near the end. One must give actress Anais Reboux credit for making her character adorable, when many other characters could have failed to cross the "from innocent and cute to annoying" borderline.
Similar to Takashi Miike's "Audition", "Fat Girl" goes from a slow drama to very disturbing horror near the end. Many people have criticized the ending but I am one of the defenders. ***SPOILERS*** It is very hard to believe the events in the conclusion were real. Like Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver", I stand by the theory that it all takes place in poor Anais' imagination, nothing but a twisted fantasy on how it would have all come full-cycle. In less than a minute, both girls have their wishes come true. Elena gets both her and her mother killed, just like she said in a road-stop, and Anais looses her virginity to a complete stranger, somehow. I would also like to mention the window-shattering moment has to be one of the most surprising moments in cinema in the last years. It comes out of nowhere, and will make you jump more than any other cheap scare tactic used in many lame horror films these days. ***END OF SPOILERS***
One of the best, and darkest, coming-of-age films you will ever encounter, "Fat Girl" is essential viewing to anyone who likes the genre. Great acting, superb cinematography, and well-handled direction by one of France's most daring filmmakers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alexander Payne has only four films under his belt, but is already one
of the most interesting American directors working today. "Sideways" is
his latest film, which got five Academy Award nominations and won in
the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Consider that it was the
Academy's usual "consolation" award of the year, for those films that
stand no chance for the big prizes. And even knowing the "small
masterpiece" of 2004 did get a good share of nominations, not even that
justifies the Academy's horrible and unforgivable decision of omitting
Paul Giamatti as one of the nominees for Best Actor.
"Sideways" opens and closes with a knock on a door. One leads to a funny scene, while the other closes the film in a melancholic, but optimistic tone. Giamatti plays Miles, a depressed middle aged school teacher with a great palate for wine. His best friend is Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a has-been soap opera actor who is going to the altar in a week, with Miles being the man of honor. As a goodbye to being single, Miles and Jack decide to spend the week on a trip across California's wine country. What at first seems like a fun week between buddies turns out to be an important stage in the lives of Miles and Jack as they soon start reflecting about the choices they made in life.
Jack falls for Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a single mom who works in a winery tasting room, and it takes him only a few days to consider calling the wedding off. The fact that Stephanie doesn't know about the engagement doesn't seem to worry him so much. Meanwhile. Miles is getting ready to face his ex-wife, who he hasn't seen in years and apparently still loves, in Jack's wedding. That all complicates when he meets Stephanie's best friend Maya (Virginia Madsen), an oenophile working part-time as a waitress. While the film doesn't make it perfectly clear, and it doesn't need to, Miles does use his interest in wine as an excuse for being an alcoholic. When he learns Maya is taking a class on horticulture, not only is he surprised, but also realizes how he has underestimated her all this time. Madsen's monologue on how her character fell in love with winery is so perfectly delivered you can tell the exact moment Miles falls in love with her.
And while Virginia Madsen's turn as Maya really is a great achievement, deserving all the hype it gets, Paul Giamatti's performance is what really makes the film. The proof of how good the American Splendor star really is here lies on the scene where Miles faces his ex-wife. While attempting to look happy with a fake smile, you can see that deep down in his eyes he is attempting to avoid an uncontrollable desire to weep. Nearly as good is Thomas Hayden Church, who plays a teenager in the body of a forty-year old, a character so likable, yet so immature.
This is not a movie about wine, it's about four characters who happen to like wine. And while it does sound like a "road trip" buddy movie on paper, it is actually much more than that. Don't underestimate the film's comedic traits either, some scenes will bring the entire audience down to complete hysterics. Andrew Payne's best and most mature film to date, "Sideways" is, along with Lars Von Trier's "Dogville" and Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", one of the best films of 2004.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Look for no further proof of what a great actor Robert De Niro is than
in Martin Scorcese's "Taxi Driver". De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a
racist, mentally unstable, violent, lonely, and scarred Vietnam vet.
"All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers,
queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will
come and wash all this scum off the streets," he says while driving his
taxi through the dark and dangerous streets of 1970s New York City. But
the amazing feat of his performance is that behind all of the
character's hateful traits, De Niro is able to make him likable. During
the film's brutal climax, we somehow cheer for him.
Travis takes the job as a cab driver and takes all kinds of people in his backseat, from hookers to politicians to men more mentally unstable than he is. The city of New York has barely ever looked so menacing. The alleys are all crowded with punks, gang bangers, teenage prostitutes, XXX movie theaters, all of this accompanied by Bernard Herrmann's jazzy melancholic music score. You can nearly understand why Travis hates the world around him, how he isolates himself in his taxi cab, and why he will eventually take action into his own hands.
But then comes Betsy, (Cybill Sheppard) a political campaign worker who Travis falls in love at first sight one day when she enters her office in a white dress. All of the sudden, Travis starts wanting to "fit in" and attempts to get close to her by working in the campaign office and going out with her on dates. Betsy obviously doesn't love him, but does see him as an interesting character. This all shatters when Travis takes her to see a "dirty" film as it is his idea of a romantic evening (this was the post-"Deep Throat" era, when hardcore porn films got theatrical releases) and Betsy finally sees that beneath his strange charisma, Travis is a troubled man.
Feeling rejected and realizing she is just like the others, Travis goes on a moral outburst of rage. He decides to free New York from its scum by himself, with his own hands. Hee trains with firearms, works out rigorously, and isolates himself from society even more. One day, he kills a black criminal wanting to stop him from robbing a grocery store and the owner lets him go, while taking his anger into the dead body. That is Travis' first experience as a hero, but it doesn't come even close to his major mission: Rescue a 12-year old prostitute named Iris (then "newcomer" Jodie Foster) from her corrupt pimp (Harvey Keitel).
Screenwriter Paul Schrader originally wrote the pimp character as black, and then changed it not wanting the film to expose Travis' racism to a point where the audience despises him. As with most of Schader's work, "Taxi Driver" deals with a dysfunctional hero who wants to stand up against the dark forces surrounding him, but this film is the exception, where De Niro's character becomes the deranged madman he so despises.
The film could be compared to a superhero origin story, since we see the hero from the middle stage of his life as he slowly goes from a common man to someone who wants to make a difference. We never flashback to his true origin though, since we never learn what exactly happened to Travis during Vietnam. I've never seen anyone use this film to compare it with the Columbine High School shootings either, which always amazed me. The two kids who opened fire into their classmates perhaps weren't much different from Travis. They saw high school pretty much the same way Bickle saw New York, wanting to "clean" it from popular cheerleaders and jocks.
"Taxi Driver" indeed is one of the greatest American films ever made, one of the most important films of the 70s, and it deserves every bit of hype as it gets. From Schrader's script to Herrman's music, (his last work as he sadly died the night after the recording) everything works to an outstanding level. However, I usually disagree when people call this Scorcese's finest hour. Although by no means am I stating Scorcese's work was below par, this isn't exactly what one would call a "Scorcese picture". In fact, I would say Paul Schrader deserves more credit for this than Martin usually gets, especially when watching Schader's other films, like his sophomore directorial effort "Hardcore". I would personally prefer "Raging Bull", "Goodfellas", or even Scorcese's criminally underrated effort "After Hours" to this as a "Martin Scorcese film".
***spoilers*** And much has been said about the ending. . I am one of the supporters that the final moments of the film are Travis' dying thoughts. Both Schrader and Scorcese have spoken against this theory. After starting a shootout and killing the pimp and other bordello employers , Travis lies deeply wounded on a chair and the camera pans all the way outside where police cars start piling up. We then learn Travis was seen as a "hero" by the media, and how he is now a finally happy man. He picks up Betsy again, and this time she seems to be more interested on him. We are supposed to believe that not only Travis wasn't arrested, or killed by a bullet in the neck, but also that Betsy would actually want to get back with him again. I also find the shot of Betty seen by Travis' mirror a bit too "dream-like", the way it is lighted and the wind blows her hair like she is a supernatural life form of beauty and sensuality. But interpret it in your own end, it is still a great ending, and it does give the film a sense of closure, since it begins and ends with Travis driving through the dark streets of New York in his yellow taxi.
Out of the 20 official entries of the James Bond series (to date)
"Thunderball" is often mentioned as 'the underwater one' and for a very
good reason. It had big shoes to fill since the previous year's
"Goldfinger" became a box-office phenomenon across the world. Although
Thunderball was even more successful, there are debates on weather or
not it was a better film. In this fan's opinion, it was.
Picking up after the most unusual pre-titles scene featuring MI6 secret agent James Bond meeting his match with a man in drag and escaping in a jet-pack, "Thunderball" features the most generic (and parodied) Bond plot: The international terrorist organization SPECTRE, led by a mysterious unseen cat stroking leader, hijacks two nuclear bombs for a huge extortion plan. James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Nassau where Domino Derval (Claudine Auger), the sister of the pilot who appears to be responsible for the theft, resides with her wealthy and older husband Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). Bond eventually finds out Largo himself is the eye patch wearing SPECTRE #2 and he is in charge of the nuclear warheads. Will he survive Largo's squad, including lethal assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), and a tank of sharks?
"Thunderball" is directed by Terence Young picking up after Guy Hamilton from the previous film. Young, who directed the first two films of the series, is certainly one of the most important filmmakers of the Bond saga. In the hands of some hack, "Thunderball" could have easily been an overlong boring disastrous attempt, but Young fills the screen with the same thrilling charm and glamour that made the first two Bonds so unique. The most cinematic of all Fleming novels, the movie is quite faithful to its source material while adding some welcomed changes (the character of Fiona Volpe for example) an therefore making it a more entertaining movie-going experience.
The action is mostly underwater and that is what usually divides fans of the series since some find them sleep-inducing. The special effects crew was awarded with a Best Special Effects Oscar in 1966 and for a very good reason. The film's extensive use of underwater photography was quite breath-taking for it's time. And the visual effects themselves are quite impressive, especially the explosion featured in the climax which shattered many windows in Nassau. Thunderball is based mostly on thrills than stunts, which is something recent Bond films should start to concentrate on. It is all well orchestrated to one of John Berry's most memorable contributions to the Bond saga. The '007 theme' is used at its best during the action sequences, especially during the climatic fight at Largo's yacht. The theme song, sung by Tom Jones, is one of the most memorable tunes of the series, although I prefer the original unused song "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang".
Two usual standards of the series, villains and girls, are both filled quite successfully. Adolfo Celi is one of the most parodied villains (eye patch anyone?) but his portrayal of #2 is incredibly fun to watch. He is indeed a one-dimensional character, but a very memorable one. Claudine Auger is one stunning-looking woman and her acting skills are above average for the time. She is one of the most likable Bond girls around and her lack of clothing makes her quite heir apparent to Dr. No's Honey Rider in terms of sexiness. But Luciana Paluzzi steals the show with Fiona Volpe. She is the first Bond girl to stand up to the agent's charms (Pussy eventually gave up) and the psychotic look of rage in her eyes responding to Bond's macho insult is particularly memorable: 'But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue... (she steps on Bond's foot)... but not this one!' Volpe stands second only to Xenia Onatopp among the sexy girl villains.
This is the last time we see Connery at his best portraying 007 before he was eventually bored with the in later entries, particularly in "Diamonds are Forever". He indeed shows why he is considered by most fans to be the best among the Bonds. He has amazing screen presence and a suave charm of a sophisticated playboy that just makes every guy want to be him and every girl want to be with him.
One of my personal favourites and certainly on my top five, "Thunderball" is one of the most well rounded Bond adventures to date. Exotic locations, beautiful women, battle sequences, gadgets, suspense, terrific music, and a memorable villain add up to the best of the "popcorn" Bond movies. Terrific entertainment!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some people think Bernardo Bertolucci could be placed among Italy's
other great directors such as Fellini, Leone, or DeSica. But there are
still people out there who never forgave him from LITTLE BUDDHA, or
that thought LAST TANGO IN Paris was overrated soft-core porn. His
latest film, THE DREAMERS, might be misunderstood as a film about the
1968 student riots in Paris. It's not. Instead, it uses 1968 Paris as a
backdrop for the triangular relationship of a naïve American with a
pair of incestuous French twins.
Young and innocent Matthew (Michael Pitt) just arrived in Paris from San Diego in order to study the French language, but finds himself attending to the Cinematheque Francais instead. 'Only the French would build a movie theater in a palace,' he states in his narration. As he spends his vacation inside screening room with chain-smoking New Wave pioneers, the student riots start breaking out and he ends up meeting twins Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrel), who both are very similar to Matthew except that they are hmmm very French. After engaging interesting conversations that range from Nicholas Roeg to rock n' roll, they all start bounding up as friends and the twins invite him over to their apartment for dinner.
Theo and Isabelle's apartment consists of the stereotypical French family: They all smoke like chimneys and mom and dad (Anna Chancellor and Robin Renucci) are poets who love to talk about art and philosophy. When Matthew learns the parents are leaving for a month and that he can stay with the twins in the apartment for all this time, he finds himself in heaven. But things are far from heaven. He soon sees Isabelle and Theo have an unhealthy closure: They bathe together, sleep together, and masturbate in front of each other. Is there something going on or are they just too European?
At first Matthew is disgusted by their behavior, but the sexual tension between him and Isabelle (and to some extent, Theo) soon wins over. This is Bertolucci we're talking about, after all! The apartment eventually becomes one filthy, inhabitable place and the kids can barely survive. They run out of food, money, and are close enough to fall asleep in a bathtub and wake up dipped in menstrual blood. You would expect the story could take a LORD OF THE FLIES approach of turning the twins into psychopath savages, but screenwriter Gilbert Adair (who based the movie upon his novel) gives us a much more interesting story to watch.
These kids are, like many of us, movie buffs and spend their time challenging each other on identifying film references. The punishment for not knowing how the famous assassination scene in SCARFACE turns out to be sexual interplay between the characters. Is that a punishment? The discussions in the apartment cover sex, cinema, music, and politics. So you have the kids discussing who is funnier: Keaton of Chaplin? Who plays the guitar better: Hendrix or Clapton? Is the Vietnam War right? But my favorite is weather or not Maoism is the way to go. Theo describes Maoism as an epic movie with thousands of idealistic thinkers carrying their little red books and revolting. But Matthew adds that it would not be a very engaging epic since everyone carrying the little red book would speak the same dialogue, wear the same clothes, have the same characteristics. They wouldn't be characters, they would be extras. It's in moments like these where the actors really shine. Eva Green in particular is a true charming revelation and it's a shame Fernando Meirelles wasn't able to cast her in THE CONSTANT GARDENER like he wanted to.
Bertolucci isolates the characters from the events happening in the streets as much as he can, keeping the camera (for most of the time) inside the apartment. It's not enough to call the film a Dogma 95 sell-out, but it's really engaging and quite different from what you would expect from the director of THE LAST EMPEROR. The movie is called THE DREAMERS because the kids live inside their little mystical cocoon isolated from life and not doing anything about the problems they discuss. Matthew is the only one who seems to realize how immature it all is and how sick the incestuous relation between Theo and Isabelle makes him feel, unlike the usual 'Europeans are way cooler than Americans' stereotype you would expect from these cultural clash topics. Once the violent revolts start kicking in and the kids' orgy cocoon is shattered by the stone breaking the window, they eventually join the riots. But that is when Matthew finally realizes he will never convince the twins to change their nature.
The film was rated NC-17 in America by the MPAA. So it's okay to show Jesus Christ being slowly killed for two-hours, but a gasp a penis is truly outrageous! The NC-17 rating truly killed the film from getting any kind of attention it deserved since Americans still confuse it with pornographic material. We all know that rating systems across the world are different. In America, sex is seen as a more serious taboo than violence while 14 year olds can see this film in Italy and the French gave it a -12 rating. It's not only sex however, the French slasher film HAUTE TENSION was recently given the NC-17 tag also, and for violence. While I know the MPAA will never change their ways, I really think it's time they grew up and decide to create a new rating in-between R and NC-17 showing the this film is intended for adults only. Similar to what they did when RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK came out. America really needs a complete ratings make-over and the MPAA should really think of replacing their team with people who actually know right from wrong. Otherwise, brilliant films like these will keep getting overlooked in the future.
James Bond only quit the MI6 twice before DIE ANOTHER DIE. The first
time was in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, which I consider to be the
best Bond film of all time. The second time was in the underrated
LICENSE TO KILL, where Timothy Dalton showed us all Bond's darker side.
Now it happens once again in the first Bond film of the millennium. And
as a Bond fan, I had high expectations for this after putting THE WORLD
IS NOT ENOUGH an official ranking in my 'Bottom Bond' list.
The opening of DIE ANOTHER DAY might be considered one of the strongest of the entire series: James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured while working undercover in a North Korean military base and is about to be executed. But thanks to those wonderful gadgets of Q-branch, he escapes in what must be considered the coolest hover-chase ever. During the process, he ends up executing Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and is captured and tortured for about a year while Madonna's much-hated title theme plays along the opening credits.
The first act of DIE ANOTHER DAY actually had me thinking I was about to watch the best Bond adventure ever since GOLDENEYE. How wrong was I? After being rescued, Bond is accused by M (Judy Dench) of being a mole. We all know 007 loves to prove his innocence, so he escapes (in a scene so absurd only a Bond film could pull off) and goes looking for Moon's henchman Zao (Rick Yune) in Cuba. The "gringo-scope" vision of Havana where everyone laughs and dances salsa all day long is the usual exotic location that Bond films give us. In the middle of a tropical paradise he meets Jinx (Halle Berry), a mysterious American adventurer who might have a dark secret to hide. We all know from the previews that she is a CIA agent, but Bond doesn't. After finding Zao, we learn his face was deformed ever since Bond blew up a can of diamonds into his face. He looks cool like a Bond villain should be.
Warning: The second act of DIE ANOTHER DAY is where things start to go bump. Bond actually returns to the MI6 and is sent to investigate Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a multi-millionaire who might be hiding something from the British government. How original! Bond and Graves meet and immediately engage in a fencing match. You should enjoy it as much as you can because it is the last good action sequence the movie has to offer. We finally learn two things about the film: One is that Gustav Graves is not only the youngest, but also one of the worst and most forgettable Bond villain of all time. The second is that Bond jumps the shark when Q (John Cleese) presents us with this film's gadgets: One is a ring that is also a vibrator (it might come in handy in some usual Bond occasions ), the other is a car that get ready for this turns invisible. We might just call it the Batmobile.
When Bond arrives in Iceland, we drop our jaws with the amazing ice palace Pinewood constructed. It is the best villain hide-out ever since Stromsberg's "sealab" in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. Too bad there isn't enough intrigue going on: Bond keeps seducing the second bond girl Miranda Frost (Rosemund Pike) who is a less-annoying version of the previous film's Elektra King. Gustav Graves' plan is to build a (oh dear ) a satellite made out of diamonds that is also a powerful laser beam! How do the writers come up with such innovations? *cough* DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER *cough* Plot twists start twisting, punch lines keep getting worse (most of them are contributions of Jinx) and the action sequences keep getting lamer and lamer.
Who is to blame for all of this?
My pick is: Christian Wagner. Who is he? He is the editor of DIE ANOTHER DAY, who also worked on some of John Woo's American productions. In the DVD featurette, Wagner confessed he was the first American editor to work in the Bond series and that he felt he needed to bring the fast-paced style of THE MATRIX and Michael Bay to the Bond franchise. Well, thank you Mr. Wagenr for ruining one of my favorite aspects of Bond: The fact that his films didn't look like your average Hollywood blockbuster.
But there are many other people to blame for this mess. I also blame the writers for starting out the film as an entertaining spy thriller and turning it into a video-game by the second act. I blame the writers once again for caring more to homage the previous Bond films rather than making something fresh or interesting out of this series. I blame the special-effects crew for creating some of the most fake-looking CGI of all time. Just look at the plane destruction near the end. There were moments where I was expecting to hold-on to a joystick and begin playing the latest James Bond PS2 shooter. And what was that surfing sequence all about? It was truly one of the worst moments in the Bond franchise ever.
Halle Berry is indeed a pretty lady and a convincing actress, but she is cursed by the fact that all American bond girls (Tanya Roberts, Jill St. John, Denise Richards) range from mediocre to terrible. She pretends (both actress and character) that she is the female equal to Bond even knowing she keeps getting captured and yelling out punch lines so bad that they turn Bond's into pure comedy gold. Rosamund Pike ends up being the more interesting of the two, but her character is only put in the film because we always need a sexy female villain.
Music-wise, David Arnold's score is charming as he keeps walking on his quest to ever match John Berry. Madonna's main theme is a quite fun techno-beat tune, and by no means as bad as some people make it out to be. Have any of these Madonna-haters ever listened to Lulu's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN? Or Gladys Knight's LICENSE TO KILL?
DIE ANOTHER DAY is more like your usual summer-blockbuster than a Bond film. >From the CGI bullet newly inserted in the gun-barrel sequence, I knew there was something wrong. I will admit that the film isn't one bit boring, it's well photographed, fast-paced, and for a limited while entertaining. But I'd much rather watch MOONRAKER. At least that one didn't try to be good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Films like SEX AND LUCIA are the ones that when somebody asks you to
describe, you have a hard time trying not to mislead them. Imagine David
Lynch telling a story of love, lust, deception, and betrayal in a sun-bathed
slow atmosphere and not one dwarf in sight. It might fool you at first into
thinking it's just another erotic romance where characters have sex and
share their feelings for two hours, but as soon as the first plot turn grabs
you, you never let go.
Let's try to describe the plot in a somehow linear structure: We meet a restaurant waitress named Lucia (Paz Vega) who appears to have emotional problems with her depressed boyfriend Lorenzo (Tristian Ulloa). One night she leaves work to find their apartment empty and receives tragic news: He apparently committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a car. Immediately after hearing it, Lucia packs her bags and leaves to a Mediterranean isolated island where Lorenzo apparently had an early sexual experience with a nameless cook. Then we track back in time six years earlier when Lucia and Lorenzo first met. He was a famous writer whom she fell in love when reading his book and stalked him for days until finally confessing her obsession in a restaurant table. What follows are countless scenes where Lorenzo and Lucia interact through sex. We get cheap, gratuitous intercourse like never before in a major motion picture and it is treated quite normally with honest sensual bravery. Of course, you would only understand that from watching the uncut version. Lorenzo is currently writing a second follow-up novel and as his best friend Pepe (Javier Camara) advises: "Put lots of sex in it, people like that!" Now this is where I am completely lost as to how to continue to describe this plot in a linear structure. Well, Lorenzo learns he had a daughter with that cook he met in the island and she is now six years of age and named Luna. While trying to get near her, he starts having an affair with her babysitter (?) Belem (Elena Ayana). This particular sibling has an unhealthy affair with her stepfather who met her mother while working in the porn industry. Lorenzo eventually includes these characters in his novel which keeps being read aloud by Lucia.
Meanwhile back at the island in what appears to be present day (?) Lucia meets a scuba diver named Carlos (Daniel Freire, who also plays Belem's stepfather) and follows him to a nice cozy guest house owned by an excellent cook named Elena (Najwa Nimri). Want a big twist now? It turns out Elena is the lady who Lorenzo had an affair with six years ago and the mother of Luna. It appears that Elena is one highly active internet girl who comforts her loneliness by surfing in the world-wide web. In there she meets an anonymous writer who keeps writing her a story with no narrative rules (sounds familiar, doesn't it?) and that person is actually Lorenzo. Did he survive the suicide attempt? It just keeps getting weirder and more confusing to the point where you can no longer tell if what is being played on screen is reality or the work of Lorenzo's novel.
Director Jaime Medem was also the man behind LOVERS OF THE ARTIC CIRCLE, a 1998 film about an unusual couple composed of complete opposites (named Otto and Ana) so it makes partial sense that he was also behind SEX AND LUCIA. This is a film also about the faith of particular characters and how they all interact to each other by one key point: Lorenzo's writing. When walking out of the film, one is unable to tell weather or not the sun-drenched, paradisiacal island is real or some imaginary plot device where characters go to relax and wash away their sorrows and worries. Is it supposed to make sense? Is there a key as to how to unlock the film's nonsensical linear structure? Unfortunately, this film was not as analyzed and dissected as MULHOLLAND DRIVE, so we might never learn. What is left is not an erotic film., but a beautiful, warm, romantic tale set to Alberto Igleasias' remarkable music score and seen through the cinematography by Kiko de la Rica whose work with digital is truly remarkable where the sunlight-bathed island is so bright to a point where the image looks anemic. I think the regular audience might finish watching a movie like this and at least have an idea about what happened, and I guess that is already worth any explanation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fans of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento don't particularly like him
because of his stories, but because of the nightmarish surreal visual
style he puts in his films, while others only care about the gore
set-pieces. Are Argento's films really style-over-substance? Not
really. They are indeed about something. While I am no big fan of his
1982 giallo TENEBRE, I must admit the theme (an artist inspiring the
works of a madman) was a rather good move by Argento to strike back at
all those people who blame today's violence on entertainment. His 1984
shocker PHENOMENA (cut and re-titled in America as CREEPERS) usually
polarizes his fans, some considering it a poor showing of the master's
style, while others consider it a brilliant return to the supernatural
genre he handled so well in the late seventies.
After a morbid opening sequence set in the Swiss alps, we meet Jennifer Corvino (a then-unknown young actress named Jennifer Connelly) a strange girl who moves from America to a Swiss boarding school for girls after her father, a movie star, leaves to film his next hit movie. She is greeted by a cold headmistress (Daria DiLarazo) and a French chain-smoking roommate (Federica Mastroianni who happens to be Marcelo's niece) who both sum up to a bad first-night impression. During her first sleep-over, Jennifer starts to sleepwalk outside the school building and it somehow leads her to (subconsciously) witness the brutal murder of a schoolgirl.
One would assume that would end a spoiler-free summarization of the film since subconsciously witnessing a murder is already a very interesting premise for a thriller, but it gets even weirder: Jennifer also happens to have a telepathic boundary with insects (!!!) and builds up a friendship with a Scottish professor (Donald Pleasence) who is crippled and has a chimp (!!!) for a nurse. Oh, and later another plot involving a psycho mother who keeps her deformed albino child in the basement for strange reasons.
One wonders what were Franco Ferrini and Dario Argento smoking when writing this film. Not that the weird storyline is a negative aspect, on the contrary. Imagining Argento directing a surreal experience like he did with INFERNO and SUSPIRIA and following this storyline could provide us with good material. Unfortunately, it isn't so. Watching PHENOMENA is a real let-down, one could imagine just how good this movie could have been had Dario tackled it with the same energy he had back in the day.
This was Argento's first attempt at shooting a film in English and it shows. The English dialogue is horrid and the acting suffers from some really inexperienced teenage cast. Yes, while Jennifer Conneley was (and still is) very good looking and talented, her work here is incredibly flat. She fares much better than Federica Mastronianni, who proves talent doesn't run in the family. On a better note, Daria Nicolodi gives one hell of a show as the psychotic teacher, her over-the-top performance is great fun. The late great Donald Pleasence plays Donald Pleasence. Like one would expect, he is great.
This was Argento's second collaboration with cinematographer Romano Albani after INFERNO. While Albani did an excellent job mirroring the colorful structures of SUSPIRIA in the 1980 sequel, his work in PHENOMENA is average at best. There is an overly 'bright' look in the film that might have worked in TENEBRE, but it just doesn't work here. The night scenes are filled with this weird artificial light, the sets are bleak and unimaginative, and the colors are really weak and anemic. If you are expecting the LSD-induced visual compositions of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, you are in for a big disappointment. The film does looks good and atmospheric during the daylight scenes set in the Swiss alps, which are little in quantity. Those looking for those great camera movements that became trademark Argento, there is only one little awesome tracking shot involving an abandoned house leading up to a severed hand.
One would imagine a 1985 film involving insects would have terrible looking effects for today's standards, but surprisingly, it turns out to be the film's most impressive aspect. Sergio Stivaletti's work avoids the then inexistent CGI and gives us a wonderful freak show. The work with thousands and thousands of insects is plausible, one wonders how they got the little fellows to obey the strange orders. The optical effects are also impressive, one involving a swarm of flies surrounding a school had me wondering how it was made. It turn out the crew dripped coffee into a water tank and shot it against an interactive background. Creative, huh? And the mechanical gore effects are overly impressive. The same can't be said for the murders
Argento is known for having gore set-pieces in his films, but the ones in PHENOMENA lack the overall punch he usually gives. There are some effective little touches (the pool of maggots, the broken finger, the scissor through the hand) but the overall murders seem weak compared to Argento's previous film TENEBRE. The chase scenes are average at best. Take the opening murder for example, it has a great set-up (the intro is filled with suspense) but the final delivery involves a head crashing through a window (in terrible slow-motion) and somehow being decapitated. To this day I wonder how the victim lost her head since it is obvious the glass didn't cause her much damage during the crash.
The music is a mess. That's the best way to put it. There are over 36 different composers, so the results are incredibly mixed. The works of Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, and Bill Wyman are incredibly well-done and atmospheric. Wyman has the best track here with the opening theme. The same cannot be same about the countless heavy metal bands who contributed their songs to the chase scenes. The only one that you might have heard of is Iron Maiden, whose song here is 'Flash of the Blade' and it is used during some really out-of-place moments.
Watching PHENOMENA feels like being trapped in a labyrinth designed by a crazy child. It is weird and surreal, but at the same time badly tacked and disposable.
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