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Articles I've written on Foreign Film: http://www.examiner.com/foreign-film-in-los-angeles/allison-mcculloch
View my threads:
Gregory La Cava http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0478441/board/thread/175555823
Raoul Walsh http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0909825/board/thread/175984941
Fun threads (but I didn't create them:
Films you've seen 20+ films by: http://www.imdb.com/board/bd0000007/thread/174676952?p=2&d=174705548#174705548
La piel que habito (2011)
Daunting and Haunting
The most interesting thing about Almodóvar's new film is how polarizing the reviews I read on IMDb are. It's his best film. His worst film. It's horror. It's definitely not horror. The only thing most people can agree on is the fluidity of the camera-work by Jose Luis Alcaine. In one scene, Marilia (Marisa Paredes) runs through the room at a sideways angle that confirms the urgency of the scene, in addition to being innovative and beautiful.
Perhaps this is Almodóvar's most unusual film. Oddly enough, the film takes place in the not so distant future (2012) and the not so far off past (six years ago). The comparisons to Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face are not unjustified. Both girls, La piel's Vera and Eyes' Christiane, both wear strange and practically identical masks. Also, each film features a father that over obsesses about the well-being of his daughter who has been damaged.
However, never once did I feel that this was a horror film. It has tension and suspense; at times it is hard to watch because of the subject matter. I wouldn't be perplexed if someone thought this was a horror film, but I would describe it more along the lines of thriller and drama. The music set the mood, which wasn't as scary or kitschy as something you would expect from a horror film. It also did not go for cheap thrills.
Similarities to Almodóvar's other work pervade his film. Like in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Talk to Her, Broken Embraces, Bad Education, and Volver, there is rape. There are so many rape scenes and replayings of the rape of Norma in La piel, that one almost loses count. Yet it is strange how Vicente's rape of Norma (Blanca Suárez) could be interpreted. Her faulty last- minute "no" almost leaves you wondering if the audience is meant to sympathize with the rapist and if the victim should have protested sooner. All of this is very delicate subject matter that Almodóvar tears wide open.
The movie will be discussed in detail and there might be spoilers below:
Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) plays a scientist that decides to take revenge on Vicente. He abducts him and with the help of his associates (who are none the wiser), Ledgard performs a sex-change operation on Vicente, who becomes Vera.
Vera defies her captors and tries to escape at the first chance she gets. Eventually, she becomes domiciled, almost tame. Perhaps the audience might believe she has been struck with Stockholm Syndrome when she begs to share Dr. Ledgard's room with him. But perhaps this is the reverse of Stockholm Syndrome: Dr. Ledgard hated Vicente for what he did to his daughter and kept him in a locked room. Instead of Vicente now Vera, falling in love with him, the actual captor, Dr. Ledgard, seems to be the one falling for his captive.
By the end of the film, we are faced once again with sympathizing with Vicente, the rapist, the original offender. His life has been unjustifiably transformed and he is now Vera. The audience might be left feeling uncomfortable. Dr. Ledgard took irreversible measures and now Vicente must regain his life back as Vera. Can she? Will she? Vera was as emotionally strong as Norma was not. It seems as if Vera will make a new start and move on with her life, because she has the survival instinct and refuses to let this traumatic stint in her life keep her from living.
Last Chance Harvey (2008)
Last Chance Harvey: Q&A with Dustin Hoffman
I can't get over the fact that at 71 1/2 and with over 40 movies under his belt, Dustin Hoffman repeatedly gave the impression at the Q&A of someone who grappled with a struggling career. "Why don't they writes roles for people my age?" he vented. He worked for ten years as a waiter before his career took off and he said, "The feeling of being a failure never quite leaves you." I found this interesting, especially since I consider him one of the great actors of our time.
He said that he enjoyed working with Emma Thompson on Stranger Than Fiction. They had two scenes together, one of which was cut severely. It was Emma who had the connection to writer/director Joel Hopkins and he developed this script with both actors in mind.
On to the review of the film: Finally a movie that doesn't pull any punches and is honest as well as enjoyable. The setting of London is glorious and the moments of humor in this drama are well placed. Since the movie was hand-crafted for the two leads, it felt natural. Even before knowing that, I thought it wouldn't have worked half as well without these two actors (Hoffman/Thompson).
The movie is about a man who goes to London for his daughter's wedding. He hasn't been close to her for the last several years. In a moving scene with Emma Thompson, he explains how it happened so gradually that one day he just wasn't part of her life. To make matters worse, he is an embarrassment to the family and finds himself one prickly situation after another. He just can't win.
It progresses and ends with a satisfying amount of closure. With all the disappointing films today and so much advertising being spent on films without a decent script, it's a shame that this one will most likely go unnoticed by a lot of people. If you get the chance and have any interest, I highly recommend it.
In closing, Dustin talked about the directors he wanted to work with: P.T. Anderson and Scorsese. He admired Brando's working relationship with Kazan. He also liked Martin McDonagh's film In Bruges, which leads us to the actors he said he admired. He was on a roll: Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, "Seymour" Hoffman, Sean Penn, Ginger Rogers in 5th Ave Girl, Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, Eddie Murphy in Coming to America, Russell Crowe in Body of Lies, the casts of The Lives of Others, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, and both sisters in Rachel Getting Married. Whew!
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Eternal Exploration of the Meaningful Life
Rating: A, 98/100, 10/10 Charlie Kaufman explores the depression of Caden Cotard, a playwright/ hypochondriac (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It all stems from his wife (Catherine Keener), but he knows and the audience knows that she is not the cause of all his problems, although she is quite unsettling.
We are introduced to Hazel (Samantha Morton), a sweet distraction from his decaying family life. However, his sense of loyalty stands in the way of anything meaningful happening with her.
As he grows older, Caden becomes acutely aware of the things that are missing from his life. His focus is on himself, but in his myopic state he cannot identify the problem. So he comes up with the best solution he can. He'll make a play of his life. And in so doing, maybe he'll find out what went wrong. Maybe he'll find out who he is. Maybe he'll only continue to destroy his life.
Sammy, the actor who plays Caden in the play, seems to overtake Caden's life and becomes more like Caden than Caden himself could ever be. Lines of fantasy and reality blur as Sammy makes creative choices about the character of Caden that Caden disagrees with. Then, as if that weren't enough, the role mutates to the point where actress Millicent Weems (Dianne Wiest) takes over the role. She becomes Caden's doppelgänger, taking control of Caden's life, when he is unable to cope.
The film starts in October, 2005 and continues over forty years into the future. Nothing much changes in the world around the characters. The only thing that is constant is time, spinning out of control. When his grown up daughter, Olive, falsely accuses him of ruining her life, her perception totally skewed, Caden begs to be forgiven in what is a very moving scene.
Not to be overlooked is Hope Davis' psychotherapist character. She plays the straight guy, nodding, asking how Caden feels. Oh it feels bad? Good! Her collection of self-help books (all written by her) don't help Caden solve his problems. They are only false remedies that Caden tries, in effort to satisfy him in his life. Caden either projects his health problems onto her, or she has problems of her own (a grotesque blister on her toe that mirrors the boils on Caden's legs).
Emily Watson plays an actress that is portraying Hazel's character. To me, she and Samantha Morton are like the same person, the same actress. I only saw their similarities. However, apparently, Charlie Kaufman cast them because of their differences. Also, the characters are supposed to be extremely different. But at first, the overwhelming similarities are often confounding. Emily Watson takes over Hazel's character and acts in ways Hazel would never act, just as Sammy and Millicent overstepped their bounds with the Caden character.
What is moving about this movie? Certainly Caden's connection with his daughter, Olive. Certainly his affection for Hazel, the closest thing he has to a soulmate. Yet he always manages to screw things up with her, no matter what. Also, death is explored in this movie, the idea that we're all going to die one day. That everyone is the main character of their own story. That we all have choices.
Synecdoche, New York is a gross and weird movie too, different from anything that you'll see this year. That's ultimately why I love it. It attempts to show the truth through all the seemingly unimportant details, yet they are tied together in a nice bow without the movie seeming too perfect. It's offensive to many, the way life is shown, yet I laughed at the things I should have been shocked by.
After this film, it almost doesn't make any sense to see any movie by anyone except for Charlie Kaufman. No one has more sense of oneself (and everyone else) and yet no one is more lost and wandering (and boy, I thought I was bad!). Kudos to Kaufman for succeeding yet again, when he could have taken the easy way out and written something more simplistic or less gut-wrenching.
Une affaire de femmes (1988)
Marie LaTour Descends Into a Life of Evil
(The spoilers are noted each time before they are revealed.) I once watched a special on Claude Chabrol's career. It said that his constant theme is people falling into crime so slow, so gradually, they wonder how they got there. It dawned on me that this fit most of his films. However, that description fits this movie most of all.
I think this was my second Chabrol film, so I didn't know what to expect at all. I don't even think I read the back cover. Isabelle Huppert plays a woman who begins to see Nazi forces at work right before WWII.
(Spoilers: First her Jewish friend is taken away. When money runs low, she beings performing abortions and renting out her home to prostitutes so she can have luxuries for her children during WWII. She has an affair and her husband turns her in out of jealousy. From being a normal mother, suddenly she finds herself on death row for committing several abortions on prostitutes. You almost feel sorry for her, until she remains unrepentant to the end.) Such an incredible performance, even though Isabelle Huppert's character is thoroughly unlikable. It is actually a true story, based on Marie La Tour (Spoiler: the last woman to receive the death penalty in France).
Game of Four excels where other French comedies don't
I saw "Game of Four" at the COLCOA festival in Los Angeles last night. Alright, I may have been the person in the theater who laughed the most, however in most cases everyone was laughing along with me.
Despite the bad reviews, I knew François Cluzet, Mathilde Seigner, and especially Alice Taglioni could not let me down. Well, actually I was afraid that they were going to. And then when they delivered a smart, painstakingly funny movie that was better than the other supposed comedies I had seen at the festival, I had to wonder. Why is everyone trashing this film? The review on IMDb almost made me skip this film and it definitely made my friend skip it (why waste money, right???).
When model-esquire Alice Taglioni is supposed to play a dowdy housewife whose husband isn't paying attention to her anymore, it's funny, because she's actually still very beautiful. So she sticks on a pair of glasses and wears supposedly frumpy clothes (at least at first). She is still 95% more beautiful than other women, including co-star Mathilde Seigner, who is also a delight to watch.
The characters that Alice Taglioni and François Cluzet whip up are especially conniving, but in a sweet and sensitive way that make you ache for their situation. When more people see this movie, I'm sure the rating will be more like 7 point something. I, personally, however gave it a 9.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Wes Anderson Unlimited (the whole review is ridden with spoilers but I have additional warnings)
I enjoyed it. i felt 1) it didn't really have a point and 2) when it ended, it was too soon, but I gave it 7/10, then changed my mind and realized it was an 8/10. It was enjoyable. I smiled throughout the whole thing just cause it was a Wes Anderson movie.
The German ladies were good! My thoughts on Peter/ Adrian Brody's character (Minor spoilers). I have read several reviews where the guy says he "regrets" marrying his wife Alice. This is not true. He says he loves Alice and wants to be with her forever, but he just figured that their marriage would end up in divorce.
Finally, I would love to see a sequel to this film. There were several plot points that weren't wrapped up. I thought when (MAJOR SPOILERS) the 3 bros. had to take another train that they would end up on the same one as Bill Murray and maybe run into him or something.
The music was phenomenal. Don't forget to download Hotel Chevalier on iTunes or at hotelchevalier.com
Feast of Love (2007)
Feast of Love :)
The strongest characters are Morgan Freeman's and Greg Kinnear's. They each suffer and love greatly.
There's a lot of nudity in the film that i could have lived without, but Robert Benton delivers another solid film. It breaks my heart that movies like Crash get recognized while others may not do so well. Here's hoping you see this movie. Watch the trailer. Everyone I've talked to seems excited about this movie once they look into it a little bit.
By the way, I'm looking at the message board: everyone's stories are explored. There are tons of characters and of course, like I mentioned before Morgan's and Greg's characters are the strongest. And the movie focuses the most on them.
The Kingdom (2007)
"Shoot 'Em Up" Was Already Taken
Wow, someone wanted to make another Syriana, but with more stuff being blown up.
My favorite Chris Cooper movies are those where he is unrecognizable due to his character being off the wall. When I recognized him, I knew this movie was in serious trouble.
You could tell the writer was smart, but you could also tell that the audience didn't care and just wanted to see stuff blown up.
It was a little emotional. In fact a sequence in the beginning really choked me up. But refused to let the "bandaids on mouth scene" (You'll know it when you see it) get to me.
Jennifer Garner was by far the worst actor in this. Freshly off Alias, she took the first "agent" role that came her way. She teared up at every dead body she ran into, so she was practically crying throughout the whole movie.
The Feris guy was good.
I heard of an alternate ending where the whole team is detonated when Chris Cooper hugs a guy at the end. I won't reveal the ending, but pretty much everyone gets off scott free.
Jamie Foxx is good in this and "IMMEDIATELY" deserves another Oscar. What do I mean by immediately? See this movie and find out.
overall, an eh movie. like did I like it? ehhh.
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Action-packed western with some well-timed laughs
I'm not a fan of westerns and this movie had many flaws. However, the story was pretty good and it did not disappoint. Even though it was a "remake" I had never heard of the original. I have heard that there is another dimension to the remake: that it focuses on the father/son relationship a little bit more.
Russell Crowe is a mediocre to okay actor in my book, but the delivery of his lines was extraordinary and actually, funny. The whole audience was laughing because of him and it was because of his good delivery.
There were several things that didn't make sense. Several chances that the characters could have taken, but didn't.
Gretchen Mol was really good in her short but sweet role. The child actors were good.
Coming from someone who really did not like The Proposition, I was glad that this movie wasn't just for western-lovers, but could be appreciated by everyone (I'm guessing).
Not as good as I thought
I felt that this movie was too slow paced. Nothing really happened. The only good thing I can say about it is the constant fear of death and the prisoners being shot for having a pencil kept it semi-interesting.
However, I felt it drag on, maybe even more so than Mouchette. I agree that when the other prisoner was put in his cell, it kept the more going. The way he made his rope to escape was definitely fascinating.
There are so many in between parts that didn't really keep my interest. It's too bad that this is not one of the finer films from Bresson. I say better than "The Devil, Probably" but much worse than "Au Hasard Balthazar" and even "A Gentle Woman".