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felixoteiza

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Not really about a mass escape from a German POW camp but about how cool Hollywood actors of the 60s were., 21 August 2016
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't claim to have been in WWII—or maybe I was, during a past life— but this I know for sure: life in a German POW camp had nothing to do with what we see in TGE, let alone a POW camp where they had gathered Allied airmen. See, at a time when Allied warplanes were bombing German cities to dust the German populace had developed a deep hatred for all them and when they had the chance to get their hands on one of them the poor sap was lucky if all he got, before the local military came to get him, was just a good beating. In fact a number of them were lynched by irate mobs. Not to mention that many had had to bail out from their burning planes and then land on mud, water, bushes; had to spend hours, days, hiding in barns, forests, running for their lives, before being caught. And that some of their camp wardens had suffered themselves the effects of their bombing, lost homes, probably dear ones because of it and so were in no mood for youthful pranks. Not, life wasn't a picnic in those German POW camps. Not to mention that the Luftwaffe was a Nazi haven, Goering's baby. And yet what we see here is more like a group of well fed and contended, sharp and alert vacationers arriving to their resort in the heart of nature. If it wasn't for the guns you could even picture the German guards handing out leaflets with the activities of the day while Hendley looks for a comfy spot where to light up his pipe and engage in some good reading.

But things don't get any better as we trod along, as we are next subjected to a stream of usual 60s war flick clichés, not the smallest of them that of the decent, fair, even likable German military officers who "are just doing their duty", as opposed to the dastardly Gestapo and SS goons. If you have seen enough of these U.S-U.K war flicks of the 50s, 60s you got to be familiar with the obvious dichotomy. Now, while I am sure that there were many honest and fair German military fighting in that war—despite the well known complicity of the brass of the Wehrmacht with the atrocities of the Nazis—the fact that they are a staple in these war flicks is not so much due to Hollywood's regard for historical truths as due to necessities of the Cold War, which by the 60s was going full steam. As Germany had gone from enemy to NATO ally, it wasn't anymore sensible to depict their military men as murderous brutes—as it was the case during the war of course—so they got around all it just putting all their bad deeds on the shoulders of the SS and Gestapo. That is the main reason why there are always nice, good, fair Germans in these war flicks.

Now, if TGE is already looking pretty unrealistic by the moment McQueen's Hilts appears, with him it turns into a real masquerade. For one, Hilts must be the only man in History who comes out of a month in solitary confinement in a German POW camp looking far better than he did when he got in. With clean clothes—remember, he had entered all covered in mud—impeccable, well groomed, perfectly shaved. (Who washed his clothes, who cut, combed, his hair there, who gave him such clean shaves?) I'm not fan of Guns of Navarone, but compared to this one it looks like Shakespeare because, despite all its shortcomings it still has that aura of reality, is still happening in the real world, it still gives us a sense of what really Nazi occupation looked and felt like, In TGE there is instead there is no tension, no sense of vulnerability, no fear for your life from the part of the POWs. You feel like watching the youthful shenanigans of a bunch of teens in summer camp who, if caught will get just a slap in the wrist. See for ex. that after Tilts physically attacks two guards armed with automatic guns he is just let go scot free, he is not even reprimanded! After that scene you can't possible take TGE seriously. And what about guard Warner, who is smart enough to immediately discover the concealed tunnel but not enough to put the obvious two plus two together, that Hendley was the one who stole his wallet?.

But the unrealistic reaches new heights with that Fourth of July parade. The German would have never ever allowed such a thing. No military in the world would ever allow their POWs such kind of display, let alone the Germans, who knew well how dangerous the mix of beer and flag waving could be. All that is pure Hollywood mythology. And to make things even worse, we got Steve McQueen, who every time he is on the screen, no matter what he does, say, he seems to be flaunting his star ratings. Not for a moment he makes you feel you are watching a real POW there, a man that feels impotent because deprived of his freedom, totally vulnerable to the whims and moods of his captors, but instead he gives you all along the feeling that Steve McQueen is all that there is to watch there and the rest is secondary. He feels all along so sure of himself that he can even engage in a staring contest with a SS heavy, a guy who could turn him into dust with a gesture of his little finger. But of course he knows he can do that, after all he is making thousands times more dough for this flick than the other guy, and than everyone else. He is the star here and he will never let them forget it, neither you, the spectator. In all, not worth watching, except for his fans. 3/10.

Gorgo (1961)
If there is one single monster movie where you'll be rooting for the monster, this will be it., 13 August 2016
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Gorgo is the one flick I've seen in my life that impressed me so much when watching it in a theater that I couldn't wait to get home to put the whole plot down on paper. True, I was only 11 at the time but already, I think, with enough vision to realize that I had just seen a great movie. One more of those little masterpieces the U.K. was bringing out at the time as buns from a hot oven, and one more that has been widely ignored by the public for half a century, only because of the badmouthing they received when they came out.

Gorgo has been derisively referred to as an unoriginal spin off of the Japanese monster flicks of the 50s--Godzilla with fish & chips--and lost and buried in this name calling is the fact that this is a movie that can perfectly stand by itself. And while inspired on Godzilla, even trying to capitalize on it, it is quite superior to it. For starters, the acting is appropriate, which is good considering that the star here is a mountain size monster coming from the depths of the sea. Nowhere you'll see in Gorgo the overacting that had become a staple of Nipon monster flicks of the era, as if their producers would have feared that they didn't have enough FX to scare the public and they needed on top of that the actors themselves infected them with their panic. Of course the final effect of all this hamming up was the opposite, as Western audiences disregarded them as unfit for mature audiences and classified them as simple camp with cheese special effects, more fit to have fun at their expenses than to be taken seriously. Gorgo on the other hand comes out as a pretty mature movie, one that I have no qualms recommending to adults; they may not like it as I did but one sure thing is that they won't come back at my criticizing me for making them lose 76 min. of their lives watching a kiddie flick. One movie also with a far deeper and more vast philosophical meaning than all other monster flicks of the time. As the closing words put it so well, the presence of Gorgo in one of the centers of global power, tearing it apart, should serve us as a stark reminder that we men are NOT the kings of Creation.

Speaking of which, one other thing going for Gorgo is the nature and identity of what he destroys. All great disasters in History, like the Hindenburg, the Challenger, the Titanic, etc, have one thing in common which makes them so awesome and compelling: they contain an element of hubris. We feel, when watching them unfold, that there's something, a supreme force or will teaching the powerful of this Earth a stark lesson in humility. That' s why a monster destroying Tokyo will never have the same effect on us so Godzilla can't win: either we won't take the flick seriously, as most of us do, or if taken by it we'll feel sorry for the victims, because we are to much used to see the Japanese, specially the civilians, as victims more than oppressors because of all we know of their History, their natural disasters, so there is no joy in watching them suffer. On the other hand I felt myself some kind of mischievous joy watching Gorgo tearing apart The British Parliament, the Tower Bridge and other London landmarks—though he wisely stays clear out of Downing 10 and the Buckingham Palace!.

Surprisingly enough, the most important "human factor" or emotion, or feeling in the movie doesn't come from any human, but from the monster itself. Which brings us to the plot: some volcanic activity in the Earth crust offshore Ireland opens up some ways in the depths of the ocean through which a 50 feet tall monster comes out and harasses a small fishing village until he is trapped. Some shady impresario comes up then and, instead of letting the two protagonists send the beast to be studied by scientists, convince them to take it to London to make money out of it. Everything seems to be gong OK for the show business until scientists realize that this beast is just a baby, the kid of a mom monster who must be looking for him right now and that must be about 300 feet tall. There is where the fun begins.

Tightly directed, impeccably edited. Great cinematography and camera work, with abundant use of color--they really milked the scenery in that Irish fishing village. Superb use of backgrounds all along, of light and shadows, of mist, smoke, fire and every other visual element possible; this is a rare movie where I spent the time watching the background as much as I did the action in front of the camera. A pace that never lets up, not a slow moment in the entire film but that really picks up at the 50 min. mark and becomes frantic the last 20 minutes, in which so many things happen as in a 2 hrs. movie. A score and sound effects that complement the whole, down to the evocative piece of the end. So, never mind Gorgo is just a guy in a rubber suit destroying small scale sets, buildings, power towers, bridges.Just suspend your disbelief for a mere 76 min. of your life and you won't regret the experience. 8/10.

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Ego, the Super Ego and the Id battle it out under the sound of Mexican trumpets and the thunder of war., 11 August 2016
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sergio Leone's Spagethi Westerns are the main reason why I don't pay attention to movie critics. During the 1960s I used to go with my pals to see these flicks at a time when they were just coming out and having a whale of a time while the entire profession was panning them. No, the ones panning them were the critics who were forced by their bosses to review them; the rest wouldn't be caught ten blocks away from a theatre playing them. Leone's movies were condemned by these gatekeepers then, who considered them well below them, the Sharknados of the day. They changed their tune later, yeah, but not because "they saw the flicks with new eyes" but simply because they couldn't swim anymore against the flow.

At the time when Leone's Westerns "conquered America" they had already conquered the rest of the world, which allows me to clear once and for all a usual misconception on the meaning of "Spaghetti" as an ethnic slur, something not surprising considering that many in the U.S. think that everything starts at home and then spreads to the rest of the world. Fact is Leone's flicks were already the rage abroad, years before they arrived in the U.S., and the term Spaghetti Western had been around for quite some time at a world scale, referring to the use and abuse of spaghetti sauce as replacement blood, which was being needed aplenty at a time when entire Frontier towns were been wiped out of its people at the sound of exultant Mexican trumpets and well tuned whistling. That's the true meaning of the expression.

TGTBTU is widely considered as closing the Dollars trilogy after FOD & FAFDM but the fact is that this is an entirely new and different movie, as the progression from the others is lost somewhere before it. In FOD Leone revolutionized the form of the Western, that is why the content has nothing new on it, just a copy of a Japanese classic. He uses the movie to set the table, to establish the new laws that would rule in the future the Western, that was its whole purpose. I refer more extensively to those new elements in my FOD review. In the next movie, FAFDM, having established already the new parameters for form and style, Leone sets to work on the content, the drama. One even more telling difference between those two lies in the situations and motivations of the main characters. In FOD they can walk away, at least the principals: Manco--a drifter--the Rojos and the Baxters--business people who can sell out any day and leave. No one is being forced to stay, even Silvanito could choose to stay out of trouble, which is all the trademark of what I'd call "false drama". In FAFDM no one of the leads can leave, which is the telling sign of real drama, even more of tragedy—"if you can walk away, then it isn't drama, neither tragedy". In FAFDM Manco has a regular job, bounty hunter, which is after all something that ties him; Mortimer is a captive of his own desire for revenge and Indio a prisoner of his own madness. No one can just walk away, that's the main difference between both flicks and the sign of a progression.

And why GBU is so different from the other two? Leone explained it himself, when he declared that there was a bit of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in his own personality. One thing that intrigued me since the first time I saw GBU is the respect with which Angel Eyes treats Blondie, a man nevertheless who thinks nothing of murdering a kid and who has just brutally tortured Tuco. Instead, he talks with him, he bargains, he even gives him his gun and freedom back. Also, see that despite all the violence and ill will going on between the three, most of Blondie's interactions with the other two imply bargaining. At this point any psychologist worth his salt would say that the trio is acting out like the three aspects of the human psyche, with Tuco playing a perfect Id—instinctive, bent on survival—Blondie doing the Ego—the thinking, reasoning part—and AE the Super Ego. But then why is the Super Ego, AE. the one holding the wisdom the fruit of accumulated experience, such a bad apple? Why not; AE is the one that will never let Ego-Blondie forget that this is--or was in the West--a violent world and by doing so he forces him to get in touch with his survival skills—i.e. Tuco. See also that Ego Blondie is the one who prepares the final outcome, who decides who lives and who die. The one being tortured also by his basic impulses in the extreme heat of the desert (A perfect allegory. Think of sexual abstinence for a 18 year old in good health) So Blondie decides at the end the logical, natural, outcome, yes; but he doesn't kill AE because AE is bad but because he doesn't need him anymore, or so he thinks. But certainly he needs Tuco, because Id Tuco carries his survival instinct, without which he can't live so he lets him go free but not before showing him who is the boss, which is something Blondie Ego has to do.

In all, a lasting classic, maybe for ages to come. 10/10.

Masterful study of denial and self deception, along with a thorough exploration of the dregs of society. A real treat., 10 August 2016
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At its core The Shield is the tale of the trials & tribulations of the Strike Team, a special four-men squad that has been put together to fight crime, gangsterism and drug trafficking in the mean streets of LA and which ends up doing the same things they are supposedly fighting, to improve their own economic situation, as they recognize themselves, while waddling neck deep in a sea of denial and self righteousness.

As I wrote in my SOA review, it is practically impossible to judge that series without comparing it to TS; and the opposite is true. Only that in this case the comparison is not a happy one, as it clearly is in other cases like say, Cheers and Frazier, where the talent and the overall quality of the first series percolates, even enhanced, to the spin off, with good acting, hilarious plots and subplots and above all, superb writing all over. But such is not the case here. There are so many things that worked to perfection in TS and that are nowhere to be seen in SOA, that the only listing of them would take this whole review so let's just mention the most flagrant of them. The complete lack of realism in SOA, while even the smallest bit of a situation, conflict, character in TS reeks of unabashed realism, especially the last, from an always overexcited Shane to a conflicted Aceveda to bit players such as the prostitute who wouldn't bother calling the police because she had "the mouth full of dick" at the time. Or Vic Mackey dealing with the problem of having two autistic children. That is one of the things that make TS such a great series, when it comes to realism, compared to which SOA looks more like the febrile violent fantasies of an overexcited six year old or the daydreaming of a dead bored 9-to-5 office worker.(The IRA playing cynical political games with a kidnapped baby, really, Sutter?)

I can't imagine one single element on which Ryan struck a note less than perfect here, from the fictional police station—a converted church of all places! where sinners/perps must tell of their sins/crimes to a priest/cop over a background of tinted glass windows!—to the lead character. I can't remember either another series where action, drama, even tragedy, meshes, so flawlessly, even harmoniously, with unabashed humor, as in those hilarious bits usually provided by bit players, generally witnesses, as for ex. the couple who had come up to give testimony on a crime and that, as the result of their unending fighting, end up instead in the cage facing criminal charges; or when Vic connects the monitor to show a nosy reporter how they could see what's happening in the interrogation room only to see his pal Shane banging a detained prostitute! Speaking of which, as Chiklis put it so many times in the DVD interviews, Vic is a man who spends his life juggling with four balls but who has to be prepared at any moment to receive the fifth one and then send it flawlessly up with the rest. It has been said many times that what characterizes the men of the Strike Team is their great capacity for denial, but in Vic's case we may add also that he is a master of improvisation. One of the things I marveled most about watching TS, which enjoyed the most also, is how he could react in a fraction of a second to a new, unexpected bit of information, presence, development, that could have surely made his entire building collapse in a cloud of guilt and damnation, yet he is always capable of pulling off his sleeve some little masterpieces of improvisation, for example when explaining to Cpt. Rawling why he didn't inform her of the Shane/Army/Antoine situation down to waving Hi to his daughter in the midst of a beating he is giving to a baddie. And Chiklis is the perfect man and body for the part—another magic touch by Ryan—not only because his oozing energy and earnest disposition but also for his physical features. He is not tall and athletic, but short and heavyset, which emphasizes even more the burdens and tribulations he is carrying for the entire series, so he'll never give us the impression of the guy who swiftly, flawlessly, takes care of business, no matter how difficult that may be, but that of the regular guy arduously, painfully struggling with oh so many things at the same time! With someone like say, Ron Perlman in the role, all that pathos could have been lost, Perlman's character would have just stared at the problem, at the people causing it, paused for a moment and then simply muttered that he would take care of it. (BTW, to be fair, in no way I am belittling him, if there is ONE thing great about SOA, that is Ron Perlman).

TS must be the only one TV series of which I have watched the entire collection of DVD meetings and interviews. Of special interest to me were the videos of the meetings of the staff where they discuss future plots and subplots and the further development of current ones, like the story for example where one Armenian girl has her sister killed and they, the staff, try to put together the relationship she will have with Vic. For anyone like myself who has always wanted to know how all these TV plots and story lines come to life that was an invaluable piece of information. Thanks to the people who made this possible. And thanks specially to Shawn Ryan, for such great series.

All in all, a classic, to keep in you collection and take it out to watch whenever you feel the need for a guilty pleasure. 9/10.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Jackson Teller, the Wile E. Coyote of the biker world., 27 July 2016
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SOA is basically the story of a bunch of reckless goons who have no respect whatsoever for the lives of others, the guilty, the innocent, the children, even the just born. Outlaws who are willing to torture and kill their way into the world, while fooling themselves into believing they dwell in some sort of ethical haven, something they will do using and abusing a couple of catchphrases that in their case are just empty, meaningless words: family values and "the good of the club". But they are not just killers, they are also pathological liars. They will lie all their way through the series and use those lies to manipulate others into committing heinous crimes such as rape or murder. I have never seen a series where people lie so much while trying to convince themselves they are actually the good guys, which is quite a stretch considering that they would think nothing of burning alive a former, expelled, member who dares to appear with wife and kids in one of the club occasions for the heinous crime of...not having removed the club's tattoo from his back! But don't get mislead by their evil deeds, as above all these people are just idiots, starting with the lead, Jax Teller, a man who after seven seasons still doesn't get it that the way to put the club into the right track is NOT by betrayal and murder. Or any other SOA member, including prospects, who sign up for a life of danger and murder with no material benefits in exchange—they look and dress like bums, smell like bus seats and never seem to have money for luxuries, so if you are looking for lavish Casino or Scarface lifestyles go look elsewhere.

There are so many levels at which SOA fails that the really intriguing thing is how it could have gotten such high IMDb rating, The best way to check those failures could be by comparison with The Shield. For starters, TS is a perfectly tuned and balanced TV series where the drama of ordinary life, meshes effortlessly with action and humor. There is no such thing in SOA, just a random, disjoint, collage of soap opera bits, Dukes of Hazard antics and Scarface bloodbaths. And that brings the subject of realism. We feel for the TS Strike Team because they are regular guys and we know that all their troubles come from the simple fact that they want a better life for themselves and their families and they use their badges to get it, or at least try it, In SOA there is absolutely no such empathy because at every turn the club members show us what they really are, mindless, remorseless murderers as if they were just props Sutter uses for the peddling of gratuitous violence. And they are not even real people, they are more like super villains who can shot it out against an army platoon and come out of it unscathed. That is why Sutter miserably fails when trying to makes feel for Opi, Bob Elvis, Jax, Juice, for Gemma. They are not even real. When Opie is whacked the only sadness I feel was for the series itself, because by then it had become a farce. Another of Sutter's failures arises from him trying to wrap all that murder and mayhem in a thin veneer of pomp, decor and dignity. All that nonsense about the club as if it were some higher form of social organization, some esoteric cult, the patches, the formalities, cannot conceal the fact that we are dealing here with simple, hardened criminals.

Sutter fools himself here just like his characters do. But while the characters do it by trying to get respect for themselves and for their "club", he does it by asking us to take them as real and feel for them, as said. And here is where his greatest failure becomes evident, where the disjoint collage I mentioned appears. See for ex. a regular day in Jax's life: he comes home at night after having betrayed his partners in crime once more, shooting them dead, stealing their stuff, and kisses wife and baby. How tender. Later the wife runs away with the children— the "brilliant surgeon" has finally realized, after years, that a criminal biker gang is not the best place to raise kids--and he cries and we cry with him, or so Sutter expects. In the meantime, when Jax is not at home kissing family or at work, killing and backstabbing, he is on the road or on the club's roof, droning on and on about the writings of his deceased father John, a brilliant man of vision and a deep thinker, we are told, who wanted to start a hippie commune and who instead got stuck with a criminal biker gang.Understandable, no one could have seen that one coming. Oh, Jax is also something of a Wyle Coyote of the biker world. Every one of his plots and schemes backfires badly on him.

But bad as SOA is, it is still entertaining to some extent, not in an adult way, but in the way some of the far fetched stories kids tell are, with all their wild fantasies, where you keep listening and wondering what they will tell you next. With its flaws the worst thing about SOA is really Seagal whispering every single one of her lines. Man, can she be annoying. Still, SOA picks up considerably at the end and the 3 last episodes are by far the best of the entire series. The Unser Jax mortal face off and the final road chase really send it off with a bang, like the classic it should have been. Pity Sutter didn't show what he can do long before that. 5/10.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Entertaining....but tell me why should I feel for these people., 4 November 2015
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched The Godfather for the first time in the mid-70s, shortly after it came out, and I have watched it occasionally during the following years, along with its sequels, and one thing that has always intrigued is how it has failed to carry me on with it, to have me on the edge of the seat and to evoke in me that "(sigh) Oh, they are playing…So And So!" feeling when I have found it while surfing channels on TV as it has happened with many other movies, including some minor ones. I never could find why until, as in many other occasions before, I came to read the negative reviews of the film: because (American) mobsters are not interesting people. They are just violent, unsophisticated, predators. So no matter how hard Coppola and his collaborators worked during the years that took to produce the 3 films, how much talent was involved, from the director, the top actors down to the humble extra, no matter how hard they tried to give the Corleone family something of an aristocratic dignity, a sophistication, even an ethics, a basic honesty —"we are into gambling and prostitution, we wont lower ourselves to sell drugs to kids"--this is not a work of art which will last much longer in time because it stays where it was born, in the dark, tortuous, smelly, bowels of the criminal world. The three TGs are not in any way works that overflow their origins and spread to the entire world, as a true masterpiece does. All along the series the Corleones remain strangers to us, they don't belong in our world, our lives, their plight and their labors are theirs, not ours, and there is no way they will ever be. When Corleone grieves for Sonny we don't cry with him, we only say, "well, what he expected, that's the way you live and die in his social milieu". And the same with every other (violent) death in the series. (BTW, the only one that gets my sympathy is Freddo, he is the real tragic here, he didn't have a choice to be there as he was born into a world he was completely unfit to deal with, while being at the same time too weak to leave all that behind and start a new life elsewhere. The only one with whom I may relate in any fashion, a real hostage to fate.) But don't get me wrong, I still consider THE Godfather 1 and 2 cinematographic masterpieces--Godfather III is another story--but in the same way that I consider the pyramid of Keops and the Great Wall of China as masterpieces. I stand in awe in front of them but otherwise they leave me cold, I can't relate in any possible psychological, ethical, emotional way to them and here is the reason why that may be.

Let me explain IT by comparison. Don Quixote has been chosen as he greatest work in literature because it perfectly embodies the eternal struggle in the human soul between spiritual yearning and the nagging needs of the flesh, the temptations of earthy pleasures, which is true now as it was a thousand years ago and it will be as along as there as a human being alive. We all may identify with it so this is an enduring work of art, one that belongs to all of us. The same can be said of many other works of art, including Coppola's Apocalypses Now. They all touch something in us, they either remind us of our own frail human condition, our dreams, fears, pains, works or constitute simple metaphors of life itself, like Kafka's The Trial. There we can include movies like the Matrix, that explores the essence of physical reality as opposite to pure imagination, and toys with the scary idea that we may not even be capable of making the difference between both. Or Memento, which shows us in a really scary way how we are prisoners of our brain. That is what makes these two movies so interesting, we can see ourselves, our own reality, fears, anxieties, dreams, mirrored in them. That is not the case in the TGs series. At its very core TGs is not different in any way to, say, Casino--mobsters, doing bad things and getting their comeuppance--the only difference being that Coppola tried—unsuccessfully in my opinion—to envelope the bad guys here with an undeserved halo of dignity by giving the story the form of a family saga like Bertolluci did with his 1900 masterpiece.

Now, there is no arguing that the production is perfect. Technically the entire series deserve a 10/10—if there was only that to factor in. Everything from the production values, the direction, the reconstitution of an historic era at a very specific place has been done to perfection. The acting is impeccable down to the most humble extra, so the direction and the camera work. The only missing element being the lighting, which sometimes leaves us practically staring at the dark. But as said, all that is enveloping an empty shell with no transcendental meaning. If you don't agree, just do this experiment: watch the movie again and look around you the luxury in which they live, and think that nothing of this has been obtained with honest, work, but with the proceeds of gambling, prostitution and maybe drugs. Pretty hard to base a parable on the human condition on that context, you got to reckon.

In all, entertaining to watch when it is raining outside and nothing worthy on TV. Which means 7/10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"Tell me again, director, what is my motivation, why I'm in love with this Colter, Sean, whatever…?, 30 September 2014
5/10

A man (Colter Stevens) finds himself travelling in a train, without knowing how he got there, In front of him, a young woman (Christina) smiles at him and calls him Sean. After several minutes filled with trivial events, except for the wrong image in a mirror, an explosion puts en end to all that and Colter sees himself projected into a capsule where his only contact with the outside world is a TV monitor. He is thus informed that this is a military project, that what he just experienced was a virtual world created from the lingering memories of a fatal victim of such a real event, the terrorist bombing of a train, and that he must come back to that virtual world to find the location of the bomb and the bomber himself.

The first thing you can say about SC is that it is an extremely focused movie, yet one focusing on a single thing, the plot. So much so, all the rest, acting, characters, cinematography, production values, score, deserve just a cursory attention by the filmmaker. For ex. we may ask, where are the individual backgrounds of Christina, Goodwin, Rutledge, Colter? where are their personal histories, motivations, whatever brought them here? And there is where the problem lies, in that most of what should have been there shoring up the plot wasn't there and that the plot itself, the element which gets most the attention, is nonsensical. In fact the plot is so preposterous you can't just take this flick seriously once Wright has told Colter how SC works. Now, to be true, the beginning of the flick is rather interesting, even exciting, but it is when the explanations start that the whole thing unravels, to finally go out with a wimp, one that lasts some ten minutes! I tried to keep my interest up after that Rutledge lecture, with the idea that this was just a test, meant to train Colter for the real thing, but no such luck. And BTW, that Quantum Mechanics mambo jumbo has no place here, Q.M. has nothing to do with all this, I guess the mention was put there just to impress the unwashed with big words.

Now, even if the acting takes here a distant second place to plot development, I have to commend Farmiga's and Monaghan's work anyway as they had to bite a really big bullet, Farmiga by spending most of her screen time talking to the camera and Monaghan having to invent herself a motivation--"Okay, I'm in love with Sean, or Colter, or whatever, but how it happened; what are our common tastes, etc, etc?" Legitimate questions that didn't deserve an answer. As for Gyllenhall he looks adequately befuddled and bewildered all the way, even with his acting riding mostly on pure personal charisma and with Wright looking rather uncomfortable with his part, not knowing which edge give to his character (As for poor Sean, he wasn't even given the chance to plead his case).

Now, for the main reasons why the plot is illogical and got no solid, consistent bases :

1.- The virtual world built from a synaptic mapping of Sean't brain doesn't work because (apart from the fact that it should have been turned into pudding by the explosion):

even in the case that it could have been miraculously retrieved unharmed,there is no way Sean would have had in his memory any data concerning the outside world, the parking lot, the white van, simply because he wasn't there. At best all those scenes are the work of Colton's imagination.

2.—The multiple, (or parallel) universes hypothesis doesn't work either because

if multiple universes are involved, that must work for EVERYTHING, not only for one thing and not for others. We have seen it even in series like The Simpsons or Futurama. When Homer travels to the past and changes History he comes back to a world where, say, donuts rain from the sky. The same when the Futurama gang get enmeshed in the web of multiple universes. So if Colter truly got into a parallel universe, the possibilities for what he will find at his return are infinite. It's like shuffling a deck with infinite cards and drawing one at random. The govt. installation could be gone by now, replaced by, say, a pizza shop with Goodwin at the cash and Rutledge pushing tortillas into an oven—and of course they won't give a crap about Colter giving them the name of a bomber they never ever heard about anyway. The fact that Colter's body was in pieces is irrelevant as he could have come back in a different body—-didn't he take that of Sean out there? Everything is possible when you get into parallel universes, as you won't have the tight cause and effect rule tied to it as in time travel.

Oh, BTW, and how come Colter was able to see, or imagine, how both Goodwin and Rutledge looked, when he had never the chance of seeing them, as he was brought here already in his present condition?.

In all, we can forgive even the absurd, as after all this is art, fiction, the human mind going wild, but we have at least the right to demand some degree of coherence, of internal consistency. That is why Run, Lola, Run, is a far better movie. Things happen there in a similar way, as also the happy ending, after a few failures, but the director had the good sense of not explaining anything, just showing what he wanted to show us. Now, I would have forgiven and forgotten all the flaws in S.C. if they had just ended it when they should have, when Goodwin pushes the button and people in the train get frozen in time. That would have been a 7.0 to me. But no, as they had to drag the whole thing for another 10 minutes, all they got is a 5.0.

Memento (2000)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"So I'm running, why? Oh, I'm chasing this guy...(a shot rings out)...Oops, no, he's chasing me!", 22 January 2013
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a very well done--and even better edited--movie and one fairly entertaining at that. Many reviewers unfairly criticize the reverse flow as a gratuitous artsy gimmick, but that's actually a necessity. The RF puts us in the same psychological situation as Leonard, the protagonist suffering from short memory loss: we can't remember anything that happened earlier because we haven't seen it yet. On other hand we probably have already forgotten what we have already seen, the near future, as it didn't make any sense anyway because it lacked a proper context. So we are as lost and as clueless as him. The best proof of this is Natalie's beer test. We see Lenny innocently taking a sip, some guy at the bar laughing at him and Natalie saying--"so you really got a problem". It's only in the next color segment that we make sense of it. The same is true for the other, uglier Natalie's test. There's still another scene where this is proved in a more dramatic way, where he's running down a street not knowing why. He sees another guy running—OK, I'm chasing this guy--but then the man points a gun at him--Oops, he's chasing me. That was funny, if dramatic.

But despite this being a pretty entertaining thriller—one specially recommended for those who love mental puzzles--I doubt it has much long lasting power, because of the things it lacks rather than for the flaws it may have. Firstly, it lacks philosophical reach, the same depth flicks as Matrix and Dark City got aplenty. They both delve into subjects like free will, the true nature of reality, wondering aloud if such things really exist or if they are just mental constructs by us or by some superior entity. M. is at its core just another clinical report about how messed up our lives can be if we lose our memories, even a minute part of it. It shows how much we depend on it; more of an open-your-eyes-to-this-reality docudrama, so is not surprising that its greatest fans can be found in the medical profession. Also, it can't be seen as a bona fide artwork either because, while its editing is a work of genius and the cinematography and direction are quite good, there are really no unforgettable things about it. This is not 2001,The Matrix, Dark City of which many images have become imprinted in our minds--a spinning space station; millions of people in their plastic pods; the creation by a single man of an entire planet, etc. Neither this is a story of human interest like for ex. A Beautiful Mind--a fable of love, perseverance defeating mental illness; or, for those who love it, A Wonderful Life. And how could it be? This characters are the most despicable bunch to have graced film screens in decades. We don't feel for them and we may even think the world could be a better place if they are dead. The fact is, despite all the glitzy appearances there's is no reason why audiences would want to watch Memento, say, 20 years from. Mind you, French Connection, Bullit, Serpico, were huge events were they came out and who's watching them now..

But all this doesn't mean this is not a flick worth watching; quite the contrary as you'll have a lot to look for here, specially--apart from the brainy stuff--the pretty good writing, the tight directing, the superb acting by all, except by Dodd, who while in the closet looks more as if waiting for a formal introduction than suitably scared to death. Pierce look convincingly confused and messed up all along but his best work is in the innocence Lenny thinks he's radiating—"I'm the victim here"--blissfully unaware of how despicable he is. See, he thinks nothing of murdering a man with no relation to him and then topping all that by stealing his car and clothes. He slams a door in the face of an innocent stranger and all he does next is to mutter a cursory "Sorry" to the decked victim before going about his business. All that is suggesting his memories of his wife are just another illusion he has created for his own comfort. Such an angel couldn't have possibly married such a monster! Teddy mentions "who Lenny was and who he's now" but I don't think that's related with memory loss. As I said in my Dark City review, I don't think memory has any role in building up our identity; if Lenny is a monster now, he has probably always been one. In any case we are not in much better position: where he got a memory hole we got fairy tales, constructs of our imagination rather than lucid, objective, recollections of facts. About Teddy, I liked the way Pantoliano delivers his lines, modulating them as if he was doing some opera. That gives a sharp edge to his Teddy, eliminating all need for emphasizing it with action or hamming it up. Moss does a great job also. The married couple is good too, yet the fact that it may be all an illusion takes a lot, if not, of the little "human interest" the flick had up to that point.

An impeccable production from A to Z--I loved that mood creating score--yet it all comes at the end as the tale of a poor sap trying to piece his life together with pictures, notes and tattoos. But I have a beef: both stories flow in opposite ways, to meet in the middle, when a Polaroid gets colored. The way it's done is confusing, as the scene where that merging occurs should have been the last one, when Lenny arrives at the tattoo shop. So the right way to do it was to let the B&W last until that shot and then, only then, switch to color for the last few seconds. Anyway, pretty entertaining, at least until the novelty wears off, a 7.5/10 plus .5 for originality.

Viridiana (1961)
3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Rather dated, overrated, and not one of Buñuel's best anyway., 19 January 2013
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sorry Buñuel fans, I know comparisons are odious but if I had to pick the definitive Maestro between him and Fellini, I'd say Fellini without a doubt. And Viridiana gives me the best arguments. Let's face it: this is a dated movie, hardly a classic. The raw value of a classic is above all its resilience to time and V. doesn't do well through that test; even more considering that its lasting value comes from that "slap in the face to Franco" and from a rather gratuitous blasphemy scene. Also, the movie is not the fruit of an unique stroke of creative genius, but instead a work with sources of inspiration in two traditional Hispano American cultural creatures.

Most Buñuel reviewers fail to recognize where he gets his real sources and influences. For ex. they say of Phantasm that it got no structure, when the fact it has one, that of a "novela picaresca", a genre born in Spain in 1554. The protagonist of the N.P. is usually a man born in the lowest strata of society--gen. an orphan--who grew up having to endure numerous hardships under the yoke of cruel, miserable masters, including assorted clerics and blind men. Structurally a NP is a sequence of short, unrelated, stories, their only common link being the "picaro", its protagonist. About Phantasm, Buñuel himself said once that his initial idea was to use one single character as the link, so I'll rest my case there. You can do further research, but let's just say the mood of a NP is usually ugly, one of utter disenchantment, even if the picaro tries to keep a brave face when telling his story--because he's also the narrator—spicing it up with dark humor. (For ex. in Lazarillo de Tormes the essential NP, the way he got rid of his blind master--he says--was to put the man in front of a post, telling him there was an irrigation ditch in the way, so he had to jump as far as he could—-so you can see there the traditional inspiration for the ugliness and cruelty of the beggars here). The other traditional source which inspires the first part of the movie, is Hispano American melodrama, mostly Mexican and Spanish.

Contrary to North American melodrama, which focuses on intrigue, plot twists, clash of personalities, Iberoamerican melodrama is corny, sappy and it focuses mainly in getting the waterworks going. One plot line that was used and abused for decades was for ex. that of the poor woman who gives birth to and illegitimate child, who is then taken away and given in adoption to a rich family. Decades later the still poor woman goes to work as a maid in a wealthy household and guess what...You got it, the master of the house is her lost son. So when the last episode comes out, their coming together, there's no one single handkerchief to be found in the whole city.

The main character here comes right out of Hispanic melodrama; that's why I don't like it, specially when Pinal overdoes the virginal vestal. It is as if once given her marching orders she would have switched herself to make for the sappiest soap opera heroine. Come on, I've known girls like that but never one like her. In real life they usually lose that innocence as soon as they step out of the convent. Viridiana is unrealistic, a caricature; no wonder the movie seems to become real only once the beggars are left alone. It would have been better if Buñuel had thought of her as just another down to earth character, but it seems he was bent on keeping her above the crowd as some kind of a metaphor. Of a Spain torn between its traditional forces maybe--the Church and a decaying land aristocracy--but I fail to see there in what Arrabal's Jorge can be compared to Franco. Franco wasn't a urban liberal at all but an ultra conservative, uber traditionalist, dictator and war criminal. That's also why, returning to Viridiana, I prefer actresses from outside doing Hispanic heroines when it comes to melodrama. Hispanic actresses can be good at comedy, satire--as Pinal certainly is in Simon and Exterminating Angel-but when it comes to melodrama they seem genetically programmed to ham it up, to tune themselves to get the audience's waterworks going full blast, or else they may think they have failed.

So, while Fellini was instrumental in giving birth to a new film genre, Italian neo-realism and then went to create his own universe--Fellinesque we call it--where the characters born of his own fruitful imagination, memories, could evolve at ease, there's no such equivalent in Buñuel's work. Buñuel got propelled into surrealism in his association with Dali, of course, but he is more apt at showing his philosophy of life—his disenchantment with mankind and its pathetic attempts to reach the transcendental, its habit of debasing everything it touches; his own amazement at the weirdness of the situations we find ourselves many times in life--and also at bringing memories and dreams to the screen, he was more apt at that than at creating a new universe where his own characters could live and evolve--as Kafka did in literature and Fellini in movies. That's why many Fellinis are timeless, I could watch them many times over, while quite a few Buñuels are already irremediably dated, as Viridiana. I say 6.5/10, of interest mostly for film students and Buñuel fans.

Inception (2010)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Another "life-changing" flick coming out of Hollywood. Fortunately this one won't change a thing., 16 January 2013
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As if we hadn't already enough with all the "masterpieces" coming out of Hollywood and some other places--Donnie Darko, ESOTSM, Stalker, Irreversible—now we got to deal also with the even worse "life--changing" movies, like Fight Club for ex. Inception falls also in that category, even if it isn't nearly as bad as FC. Well, no other flick could be that bad. But the main problem with Inception is that it makes for an unfulfilled promise, which has angered many of its would-be fans; and they have retaliated in kind. After giving a glance at the Hate Its I can see that many reviewers give it a 1/10 just to bring down its rating to "a more realistic level". I have never seen people doing that, being more interested in bringing down an average rating rather than in showcasing their own. That means that Nolan has angered and disappointed many would-be fans.

Now, what has disappointed many is, I guess, that the premise on which the story is built is dripping with potential, yet a potential that remains practically unfulfilled. I would even call such premise the equivalent, in the world of dreams, of Fantastic Voyage, the classic of the 60s. The journey they made there into Man's physical anatomy, Inception could have made it into his innermost world, down the inner reaches of the subconscious mind, that region of the human psyche where dreams are built and from where they are projected outwards. Such a modernist epic was what Nolan had in his hands when he started his project and yet he managed to ruin it, or at least bring it down to the level of the mundane, of puerile Hollywood-style entertainment, that one made of shootings, bombings, car chases.

The plot is that simple: a trip into the mind of a man to plant an idea in it; but not even that simplicity keeps it out of trouble. Now, Nolan shouldn't go around telling people it took him ten years to come out with this plot because it doesn't reflect well on his scriptwriting abilities, specially when it would have been very easy to fix its weak points, above all the stated motive for the journey--to crown rich man Saito Energy King of the World(!). Rather than that it would have been better for Saito to come up with a more altruistic motive and then, at the end, bring some unexpected twist. Nolan should have seen The Professionals before finishing his plot. Here a team is hired by a Texas tycoon to bring his Mexican wife back after she was kidnapped by a Mexican bandit and taken to Mexico. But after the men have accomplish their task they realize they have been had; what they have done is really taken again hostage an escaped woman who had fled back to Mexico into the arms of her lover. That's a good twist. Furthermore Nolan didn't even need Saito; any government brass could have taken his role with far more authority and credibility.

But all that's relative as (Spoiler) the whole movie is a dream. It's all happening in Cobbs' head. The dead giveaway is the kids seen always at a same age, with the same clothing and in the same posture, as if they were just a video playing in Cobbs' head. Do they exist? Who knows. Does Mal exist, or existed? Who knows. And who are the people who were with him in the plane; are they real persons, shadows in his mind? Most probably the later. (BTW, Mal's suicide scene is a dream sequence, not a lucid recollection: she has opened the room's window and levitated to the other building). But if the whole flick is a dream that's an even better reason not to be sloppy in the writing because the better, more logical, the plot is, the more we see it as belonging to reality and the more shocked we'll be when the truth comes out. That is not happening here, for several reasons, of which we can list a few.

First, as said, the motive for the operation is lame. Even lamer is the "emotional climax" between both Fischers, father and son. That would have been touching if we had cared about them. Then there's the lack of interesting characters. That they are unlikable is the least of the problems, a bigger one being that they show no development at all. Page is far too young for her role and the Cobbs/Mal love story loses its punch if you don't care about them. But even worse, the flick carries no tension at all; the members of the team are risking nothing except an ugly awakening. And there are no fundamental differences between levels, no dream atmosphere either. Those levels are simple carbon copies of our physical world, only difference being that you can play tricks and Matrix-like gimmicks in them. There are many rip-offs also. Some are obvious, as those from Bond flicks of the 80s, from Matrix, Dark City and so on. I'm maybe the only one to mention it but I see also shades of Mallory--Guns Of Navarone--in those pep talks by Cobbs to the team.

But the most serious charge you can make against Inception is its that is inconsequential, it lacks originality. It doesn't bring you anything new; it's all deja vu from beginning to end. It could be good enough for a 5; just like, say, a mildly entertaining match of ping pong; but just as such match, you'll forget it sooner than you can imagine.


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