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"Tell me again, director, what is my motivation, why I'm in love with this Colter, Sean, whatever…?, 30 September 2014

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

*** 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)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Rather dated, overrated, and not one of Buñuel's best anyway., 19 January 2013

*** 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

*** 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.

Fight Club (1999)
19 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
This clunker is so bad it made my DVD player start a protest movement. Undoubtedly the worst turkey in movie History., 15 January 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let me put it this way: If I ever had to list the 10 scariest things that could happen to me, I'd say in first place: living in a country where this turd is considered a masterpiece. Oh no wait, that would be second. First would be having to raise kids in such a place. And If you happen to live there I strongly advice you to get the heck out as fast as you can because that country is rotten to the core culturally, morally and spiritually, a zombie place. There's something profoundly wrong in the "idea" that any issue a man can have with society can be addressed by him meeting some others in his same situation and beating each other senseless. That's the dumbest idea that has ever come to any entity walking on two legs and the scariest thing is that someone had actually the resources to put this monstrosity in the form of a movie; even worse, that there may be a constituency for it out there. Fortunately, it seems that most of that crowd is concentrated in a few places which must be a relief for sensible people around the world. So just stay away from those places and everything will be fine.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this because of the violence in FC. I never judge a movie only by the amount of violence in it; I may even love it if that violence is pertinent to the plot. I loved Apocalypses Now, also The Thin Red Line, and even if I could hardly stomach Texas Chainsaw Massacre I still was able to appreciate the movie as a poignant metaphor for Vietnam; the plight of thousands of boys sent to the slaughterhouse to feed with their blood the career ambitions of some farts in Washington; all sent to be chopped to pieces so some brass could get his medal, some politician could get elected and so on. That's a strong metaphor for a film and that's why I respect TCM as a honest work of art. FC lacks any of that artistic integrity. This is just pure, crass, commercialism; barefaced manipulation of emotionally unstable teenagers, borderline psycho teenagers .But above all a gross a display of gratuitous violence; violence for the sake of it, under a thin veneer of a study on social discontent. I have never heard a more ridiculously phony speech in a movie than the one "rebel" Pitt addresses to his pathetic minions when listing the ills of society. If things are that bad, why don't they start a political party, an Occupy movement; why don't they go help the homeless, start a stage troupe featuring Bretch? But of course that would be too much, like asking cockroaches to perform The Nutcracker. Because these are the dregs of society, don't ask from them anything more sophisticated or high minded that knocking each other cold. If you are one of those who becomes fascinated by the sight of drunken bums urinating in the street or fighting with each other, this is one for you. Enjoy it.

Now, even if I'm not prone to conspiracy theories I can't fail to notice that most "protest" or "rebel" flicks coming out of Hollywood do nothing more that discredit the very causes they are supposedly advocating, starting with that dreck of the 1960s, Easy Rider, where social discontent--once again--doesn't lead to social or political participation, to the raising of mass consciousness, but to farcical hippie-communal schemes and to drug trafficking & consumption. I'm not saying that there is an ongoing corporate sponsored plot set to discredit the chances of any social or political alternative to the present established order, but it certainly looks that way. In my VFV review I noted the poor quality of the social and political debate in the Anglo Saxon world, but even in that movie, shot in the U.K., there is a hint of the right way of doing things when the total sum of individual protests turns into collective empowerment. Yet in Hollywood such kind of thing seems unattainable. There, if you have a social or political beef to take to the open the only way seemingly accessible to you is banditry, drug consumption, terrorism, even mental illness--or useless, inane bleating, like in Network, The Graduate.

I wasn't even thinking about reviewing FC, as after reading some "Hated It" I realized that everything I had to say had already been said. Anyway I'm not writing here a review but a warning for all to stay away from it. What urged me most to write it was to read some rave reviews about how it has changed lives. FC as a life changing experience! Wow, we have seen it all, really. If you think this dog has changed your life I tremble imagining what kind of life you led before and I tremble even more picturing what it may become.

This is not a review but a public service warning, I said, so I won't dignify it with technical comments. I'll just say the score is grating and Norton offers the most annoying voice-over in film history. This dog is so bad, at some point my DVD player stopped playing it, it just couldn't take it anymore; and not to be left behind the TV set unplugged itself. Talk about not taking chances! Worse that Irreversible, Possession and Bad Santa all put together. Worst flick in History.

Roma (1972)
Il Maestro's tribute to the city that made him., 9 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's hard for me to render an objective verdict on Fellini Roma because, while being a rather unbalanced film--containing some trite stuff along with cinematographic gold--it also includes three episodes that fascinate me. The first one directly involves something I love, that's the journey of the film crew along the tunnel of the subway in construction. There is something surreal about that segment, something that gives it an out-of-this-world quality, while still belonging to our day to day, trivial reality. In my I Vitelloni review I said that Fellini had the capacity of making classics out of the most ordinary situations and this scene proves it. Because there's nothing in such episode that doesn't belong to our everyday reality, yet the feeling is that of a magical journey, something out of a fable. For ex., when the engineer orders to activate the cutter, what comes next doesn't look like a simple mechanical procedure, the drilling of a rock, but as it he had awakened instead a prehistoric monster, a dragon who was sleeping in the depths of the Earth and who starts suddenly breathing, slowly raising on its hinged legs over the men, thrusting its Alien-like jaws towards them. Here's is where Fellini's cinematographic genius appears at its best, as scenes like that one we may have seen many times in the news in TV, in civil engineering films, yet here the thing becomes surreal, straddles the realm of the fantastic. And all those effects, the eerie atmosphere, have been achieved simply with camera angles, lightning, the hovering dust, and the fact that all we hear is the life-like roar of the cutter. But he goes even further, he flirts also with the esoteric: even before the crew gets into the 2000-year Roman house, we viewers see what it's inside. Amazingly enough, one of the frescoes contains the uncannily accurate portrait of one of the crew members, who starts at that very moment feeling sick. Coincidence? Point for reincarnation? Lots to ponder there.

The second episode I loved is that of the chaos in the highway, specially the night scenes. Compare the incredible vivacity of it, the joyous exuberance, the pulsating life of the city in the midst of the mass of intermingled cars, trucks; in the cacophony of innumerable horns; in all the dirty gestures, smirks, stares flying from car to car and back; in the stoic, angry, perplexed expressions in mirrors, windows, windshields--all that while the camera boom goes up and down, right and left--compare this magnificent chaos with the dead--fish opening of 8½. No way: on one hand we got a Fellini in full possession of his means, at the peak of his artistic creativity; on the other, an spiritually dead, practically sterile Fellini.

The third episode I love here is the Vatican fashion show. As I've said about Buñuel, fans of Fellini tend to sell him short when it comes to social, political or religious commentary. True, they may be thinking they are just throwing jabs but, as irrepressible artists they are, the end result has always had a much greater reach. Think of Cervantes, who all what he wanted was to ridicule the Harry Potters of his day and who ended up penning instead the greatest literary work in History. That's how I see works where Buñuel or Fellini seem just being mean to the Church, the elites: they just can't help going far beyond that, reach new levels. Being neutral in the subject I find a subversive beauty in this scene, even if taken as mockery--not to mention the fact that there's nothing that excludes that the Church actually does some kind of exhibition when studying new trappings for its members. But the beauty of that scene, at least for me, it's in that it escapes the purely derisory and becomes--once again--a surreal experience, to which contributes much the haunting Rota score. The only thing I didn't get was the arrival of the old man with glasses who brings the house down, so to speak. "Our Pope is back!". What was the meaning of that, the Second Coming, a return to happier times?.

Oh, the movie itself is a itinerary through time of the historic Rome from the 1930s to 1972, all seen through Fellini's eyes and life experience, yet you are never allowed to forget that this is a city thousands of years old. From the initial shot of a stone road sign, to a school principal talking to students about Cesar and crossing the Rubicon himself; to the movies in the matinée; to the ruins of buildings & monuments that liter the landscape, we are being constantly reminded that this isn't just a city that has lived through History but one that also contains History, one that's History itself, the cradle of our Western civilization nothing less. And this is Fellini's homage to it.

Fellini Roma has no plot to properly speak of, just vignettes through time & place; the lives of Romans under Fascism, during war—including the ways they used to have a good time: communal diners, Variety shows, movie matinées--up to present day 1972, with the problems usual to urban sprawl: pollution, subway construction, hippies and other assorted malcontents. Fellini's cinematography is there and so his weird looking people with their odd behavior. In all it makes for an entertaining film, except for the bordello scenes, which I found rather long and tedious. I give it a 7.5/10 but I'll add 0.5 just because I loved that underground scene—what can I do, it's that personal background kicking again.

The Sting (1973)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Smart and slick entertainment, but don't look for any philosophical depth here., 7 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a very well made flick; almost a perfect one, technically, but also one which merits lie exclusively in its value as an entertainment vehicle, so don't come here looking for answers to the big questions of life, for philosophical or spiritual enlightenment or for education on the Great Depression. TS unfolds in a different universe, one which has only a passing resemblance to our own. For one thing, con men here are hunks, come with perfect hair and look like they haven't gone hungry a single day in their lives. And when they groom they look better than a young Bill Clinton. Neither anybody seems to be wanting for a job or going destitute as you don't see scenes so common in movies like Grapes of Wrath, Sullivan's Travels, or even in Stooges shorts, of crowded soup kitchens, lines for the unemployed, etc. Everything and everybody looks slick, clean cut, here and you don't even see any hint of racial segregation or discrimination. Murphy's Law never seems to apply here either: everything goes well for the good guys, even the impossible--escaping hero can pry open a manhole's cover with bare hands and bad guy never bothers to check gambling den between visits, etc. Despite all that the plot is well structured, impeccable in his logic and internal consistency—as long as you don't look too closely--so you may sit and watch TS as you would do with an amusing chess or tennis match.

The plot: small time con man Hooker(Redford) unknowingly hits big time hoodlum Lonnegan (Shaw) with a $11.000 loss, along his partner Luther (R.E. Jones), who gets killed as the result. Hooker must run for his life and he comes to seek shelter with retired con man and Luther's good friend Gondorff (Newman) to whom he'll entice to get revenge on Lonnegan by hitting him with a big sting. Most of TS is dedicated to show how such sting unfolds, along with some other subplots, mainly of a corrupt cop who's after Hooker and about some professional assassin hired to kill him too. The FBI also seems implicated, as Special agent Polk (Elcar) sets his sights on Gondorff. Now, all this together put has created confusion for some, so let's go over the essentials.

The mechanics of the sting is quite simple: Gondorff's gambling parlor is fake; it only works when Lonnegan visits. When this last arrives at the restaurant, at the time agreed upon, J.J. (Walston) starts scanning the wire for horse races that have just ended, checking the odds of the winner and then he "broadcasts" the race. He must pick a winner with the lowest possible odds so the money to be paid to Lonnegan will be a minimum. When he finds the race, he gives it to Kid Twist (Gould), in the 2nd floor room, and Kid gives it to Lonnegan, who runs to make his bet. Initially they had planned to do it only once but Lonnegan still wants another try, now for $15.000. Even worse, he wants to meet Hooker's man in the wire office. In that meeting, both Hooker and Kid try to dissuade him from making still another (small) bet, but he won't budge. At his 2nd visit to the betting joint J.J. has trouble getting races with odds lower than 4-1 (at 94 min.) so Gondorff decides to keep Lonnegan from betting--he can't possibly pay him $60.000! Finally J.J. finds a winner (Wrecking Crew, 3-1) but the men block Lonnegan anyway. The tip was good though, so Lonnegan decides to go for it. This is how the scam works, but how Lonnegan sees it? He knows how the parlor works because Hooker had told him, but he sees all those "gamblers" as suckers being fleeced, so he wants to move in, take over. Hooker told him also he had sure tips because he was short-circuiting the wire results. So everything is set for the sting on Lonnegan.

That's the plot of the scam. But that's not all, even if you'll be probably too busy following the action to ask a crucial question: how do they plan to rob Lonnegan without he noticing? We get the answer later, as we see Lt. Snyder playing a crucial role, but I still have myself a question: If Gondorff didn't realize that Snyder was after Hooker until the operation was under way, how he had planned to do things before it, as he couldn't possibly have included the cop in the initial plan?. In any case the overall logical structure of the story is flawless, everything comes to fit to perfection, if you only assume that Gondorff, Hooker & ass. are so lucky that everything works out perfectly for them.

The cinematography is good, even if some sets look rather cheap to me. Camera work simple but effective. Directing tight but somewhat loose with the two leads. The acting is excellent by most, but Redford's Hooker looks ever too happy and self satisfied for a child of the Great Depression and Newman's Gondorff's too cocky and self assured, as if he had already read the whole script. That takes a lot of tension off even more with the complete lack of character development. Pacing and plot development impeccable and so the editing. And there is of course the well known ragtime piece by Joplin as score. In all, pure, 100%, entertainment. 7/10.

Laura (1944)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Face it, these people are not like the rest of us: they are not having any., 3 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let me horrify you from my first lines, so you can decide right now if you go on reading this review or you'll just pass: Laura is above all about sexual repression in the social upper crust in the 40s. Truth is, I've never seen a flick where it appears so evident that none of the main characters are doing it; or that they are doing it in a enjoyable way. Even worse, they are sublimating their libidos—that one I learned it in Secondary III, in Psychology class--falling in love, or fantasizing, about unreachable ones. If you don't believe it, just mention me a single occasion here where, as the saying goes, two sets of eyes find each other across a crowded room; when a man looks at a woman with lust in his eyes; when two hands rub each other by accident, trying to reach an astray for ex., and faces go red, hands tremble. Nope, there's absolutely no sexual tension in any scene here, no hint that any of these people have normal sexual lives. All you hear in its 87 min. is talk, talk, talk--which is the easiest way of getting rid of the excess libido. But, you'll argue, the same can be said of many flicks; like say, Guns of Navarone. That's true--but people there had good reasons as they were using their libidos to try to win a war. The difference in Laura is, all here are blatantly showcasing their needs, while at the same time trying by all means to have a substitute which would allow them the release without having to go through the experience itself. At its core, Laura is a scathing portrait of how unfulfilling the sex life of this crowd was at that epoch, despite all the ritzy appearances. Here the main focus of sublimated lust of every Joe is Laura herself, the incredibly beautiful yet sexually neutral, anodyne goddess to fantasize about but who'll turn into ashes--or stone?-as soon as you touch her.(this is not meant to be a criticism of Tierney, truly, but if she was such a hot ticket then is because her aseptic beauty fitted best the tastes and conventions of those puritanical, pre--Marilyn times in Hollywood). And of course women will fantasize about men they can't have. At the end the only real crime committed here is having them all licking their chops while not getting any. (BTW, in the original script Laura really died, which means McPherson fell in love with her portrait, following the norm).

Now, about the technical aspect, the package, the cinematography, I'm not the first one to say it: Laura is all about style, about beautiful people in beautiful clothes parading in elegant surroundings, drinking champagne and carrying on their beautiful conversations. Speaking of which, I've never seen a flick with more contrived, unnatural, lines of dialog. I was checking all along and I could barely find any case in which a character was taken off guard by someone else's remark and had to pause, think, before giving an answer. It was just like a tennis match, snappy lines coming and going, as if the characters were all reading their lines which of course reveals the artificiality of the whole thing. As for Waldo I can't believe his insulting invectives could pass for witticism at any time, context, social milieu. Are they sure they consulted the right entry in Webster's? And man, does he sound like something is wrong with him. If someone came nowadays talking like that to a hotel desk they would make him lie down, give him some air and call a doctor. Where do they talk like that, in Mensa meetings, in the Save the Platypus organization?.

And frankly I don't see this one as a noir. Rather as a flick that purposely started trying to be a noir only to lose its way going there and becoming entangled in a mess of assorted things: drama de moeurs (as the French say), faux--romance, crime thriller, social commentary. The only linking element being, as said, that the characters are not getting any. Noir characters need a least some depth, some dramatic reach, and these here are unbelievable in their shallowness and artificiality, more cardboard cuts than real people. Neither there's any atmosphere, no ambiance, no feel of impending doom. I didn't even feel for Laura when she was "arrested", as at that point I wasn't even looking at her as a real person, just as an image on a screen.

Despite it all Laura is half-heartedly recommended, if only to know what the fuss is about. As a plus you have the typical Preminger direction, with his meticulous setting & framing of scenes—with his proverbial economy of shots, as we know--with his expert use of full bodied blacks along with resplendent whites. Most of the action unfolds in interiors, giving him the chance for indulging in luxurious surroundings--gorgeous sculptures, Ming vases, invaluable paintings—to the point that Laura's apartment looks like the ballroom of the Titanic. Or that was Waldo's bathroom...In any case, don't look for emotion, for sexual tension or for depth here. There's no one single relationship having any of that; they all look contrived, specially that of the leads. Just picture it: Laura sees as proof of the cop's love the fact that he arrests her for murder, so he can show her his feelings "in an more official setting". If that doesn't turn you away, then give it a try. 6.0/10.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Norwegian Walking With Trolls that falls between too many stools, really., 1 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a movie that I find worth reviewing if only because it constitutes what I may call an interesting failure, as it provides for practical examples of things that starting filmmakers should avoid. But first the plot.

Three college students doing a film project start stalking a suspected bear poacher in the Norwegian wilderness, only to realize he's a specialist working in a secret govt. project about managing the local troll population. Because see, trolls aren't just the stuff of fairy tales here, but one more animal species, a mammal to be specific, which has to be taken care of by the Dept. of Forestry or its Norwegian equivalent. Trolls come in all sizes and models, the expert explains, as he brings the kids with him in his troll hunting expeditions, during which they have also the misfortune of losing their cameraman--a Christian. Because see, trolls can smell Christians here, which for some people proves that this is really a comedy. Who knows.

The movie is shot in a Blair--like mockumentary style and the action unfolds much like in Cloverfield. Yet, where both these flicks were very successful in making their point, TH fails simply because it ultimately neglects to pick one single element in which to excel. BP had its strenght in its novelty as a new cinematographic style and also in the suspense, in its lack of clues about the real dangers the protagonists are running into, while at the same time giving us some sordid hints, in bits, about the history of the geographic place, along tales of witchery, which all contributes to create a creepy, scary atmosphere. Cloverfield focuses instead on a present and clear danger: it's all about being terrified and trying to get away as fast as possible from what causes that terror. Both flicks neglect character development as it isn't the most important element for their creators. Instead they try to make us focus our emotions in the situation itself, to allow us experience it personally, so we wouldn't care much in the end if we liked or not these people. That's what I call doing your homework when it comes to pin down an element and use it as a foundation for the entire movie. That's also why TH fails, because if touches too many themes and genres--suspense, horror, comedy, tragedy, Nature documentary, government conspiracy thriller--without making of any of them its real focus.

As said, it starts very suspenseful, as the guy the youths are stalking acts suspiciously and look dangerous (Otto Jespersen). But once he reveals himself as the wildlife expert he is, the flick starts looking more like a National Geographic special on Norwegian trolls than a thriller. Whatever suspense had been gathering up to then dissipates, even more so when a) Hans (Jesperson) is more than willing to take them everywhere he goes and explain to them everything and b) he seems to know all about trolls. Later he'll be seen always taking things under control, even during the most dangerous situations. With that settled, most of the suspense is gone. Compounding this absence of emotional engagement, we don't care much about the kids, as they don't seem to care much anyway--after some cursory moping they forget about their dead pal and focus instead on his replacement, a Muslim (!) girl. But the thing dilutes even more with the--Oh, so useful—govt. conspiracy. See, the trolls have been killing and eating farm animals and Hans is in charge of keeping them away, hunting them, but in all must be done in secret, so the public won't know. They even goes to the extreme of bringing bears hunted in Poland, to drop them in the affected areas to put the blame on them for the lost cattle. All this plot comes out rather silly, as no reason is given why the government would want the existence of the trolls be kept secret—they would become such a big tourist attraction after all. So all what this govt. conspiracy subplot does is just to dilute even more a plot already thin--or we may say, a plot oriented in a Wildlife Management direction. Now a BBC documentary on nature, a NG special, both deal with real creatures while TH does it only with fictional animals, which makes its documentary value nil. Some say there are elements of Norwegian culture and folklore here--the sheep on the bridge, for ex.--but if we are not given the clues and told what those images really mean they do nothing for us—except for Norwegian viewers of course.

In all, this comes out as a rather amateurish flick, a product worthy for a first effort but not fit for a professional. There's no much acting to properly speak of, except for Jesperson, who makes for a cool, Indiana Jones-like warden. Also, the guy who's always on camera may be quite annoying. While there are good suspense & scare scenes--in the bridge, the cave--there's nothing unique about TH, so you'll probably forget it quite soon. That what I'm referring to when speaking of a failure: its lack of staying power. There's nothing here you haven't seen before, in Cloverfield, Clash Of Titans, etc. But the cinematography is superb anyway, even if frankly, in those fjords and mountains you only need to take a camera and bounce it around to get a visual masterpiece, wherever you point it to.

In all, watch it only if you can't get your hands on Cloverfield. 6/10.

BTW, how can the existence of entire herds of 200--feet monsters be kept secret, even in the Norwegian wilderness?

I Confess (1953)
3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A rarity, a Hitchcock with psychological depth and interesting just for that., 27 November 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm not much of a Hitchcock fan because I find his movies just too formulaic. Almost all I've seen have the same plot, where an innocent is persecuted for some crime and must spent their time running from the law while trying to find the culprit. Just too predictable, so I got to rather focus in their technical aspects: artistic virtuosity, cinematography, pacing, plot development; shot frame and composition, lightning, acting, while getting little in what is really important to me: overall substance, depth of ideas, originality, purpose; intellectual or philosophical reach or value. They are mostly for entertainment, as Hitchcock said himself, and that's not enough for me. If I review IC now is because this is the first one where I see something sorely lacking in the others: psychological depth.

IC is about a Catholic priest who receives the confession of a murderer and who becomes himself the murder suspect later, but who can't reveal to police who the culprit is, because of his vows. His plight is further complicated by the fact that the victim was blackmailing the woman with whom he had a romantic relation before his ordainment. What's different in this Hitchcock is that characters aren't just playing parts here—the murderer, the suspect, the detective--but also showing the complexity of their dilemmas, the tangled web of their conflicting emotions--Pierre Grandfort, for ex., who must live with the knowledge that his wife doesn't love him, while having to help her saving the man she loves. Or Father Logan, who may be well be facing the death penalty, with the only escape possibility being in him violating the sanctity of the Confessional. Or Ruth, who sees herself in the heartbreaking dilemma of destroying her husband's promising political career, to save Father Logan, or leaving the priest to his fate.

Now, this is not a great movie but one I found interesting for the intensity of the characters, as I said. The trademark Hitchcock camera is there, making the best of every tourist spot in Quebec City. The acting is appropriate, especially by the leads. Malden totally at home as a detective—the man was born to play the role—Hasse effective as the murderous weasel but Haas much overplaying her part--she's soo touching (considering what German women had to go through during the post-war, living in caves, clearing millions of tons of rubble with their bare hands, it's ridiculous that Otto would make such a fuss of Alma doing simple house chores.) About Baxter, I had the weird feeling her character had just been tacked there but she plays it decently anyway. About Monty, I don't know if that is intensity or simply that he can't act. In each scene I remember having seen him in others movies he looks and acts the same way, his eyes and eyebrows doing all the work--which is not strange anyway, considering he was always there doing the role of a victimized man. (Lack of acting opportunities or just a very limited dramatic range?).

But the one thing I really hated in this flick is Keller. He is a coward hypocrite, a traitor; but even worse is that he was made a German, which suggests that good old Alfie was simply getting even for the V1s that may have landed on his roof a few years earlier. Being Germans, the Kellers had no business in Quebec City of the 50s. I wasn't here at the time but I know that the Canadian govt. has historically tried to settle refugees in places where already exists an established community to provide them with the appropriate cultural and social environment. B.C. does it for Orientals; Quebec for the French and Central Canada for Eastern Europeans. So, as soon as they had landed in Canada, real life Kellers would have taken a train to Winnipeg, to Saskatoon, where they would have met their kin in local German communities. They wouldn't have spent one day in Q.C. where even today you'll find precious few people speaking anything other than French. But good old Alf had to get that one off his chest.

Now, what I find ironic about IC is that, while probably being the most interesting Hitchcock I've seen is also the one with the biggest plot holes. Just consider the big coincidence that Keller would have decided to rob Villette the same night when Villette's blackmailing affair had reached a boiling point. Also amazing that it should be Father Logan the priest to take his confession. There are also inconsistencies in his behavior. We come to know him as a rat, ready to lie, to betray, to frame with the murder the priest who helped him so much, to shoot his way out of trouble, yet he feels terrible because he has killed a man by accident; so bad, he has to tell someone, a priest. It doesn't make sense. Also that Larrue, being as acquainted at the uses of the Catholic Church as he says he is, would act in such ignorant and reckless way as to suspect Father Logan of involvement in the murder just because he was so reserved about the motive of his visit to the victim. Had he never noticed the great discretion with which priests usually treat matters concerning privacy of the faithful? Even weirder is that he would start suspecting Logan as soon as he sees him meeting a woman outside Villette's house. What that means as evidence? As the result he doesn't come out as if he was trying to solve the crime but rather as if trying to pin it on Logan. Why for ex. after hearing the girls' tale he doesn't even consider the possibility that the murderer could have been a man disguised as a priest, as it was the case?.

In all, not a great film but one of the few Hitchcocks I have watched with real interest, along with Strangers On A Train and Vertigo. 6.5/10.

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