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Seen but don't make the cut: Inception True Grit The Fighter 127 Hours Black Swan
The Lost Language of Cranes (1991)
One of those unseen gems coming from TV
The less I say about this, the better. I will just say that it is powerful, touching and moved by two extremely powerful performances by Brian Cox and Eileen Atkins, that, had this been a feature film, probably would have easily taken the BAFTA and would have had a strong chance at the Oscars.
Don't expect safe filmmaking or themes, it's a hidden treasure. Whether you like it or not in the end, for sure it won't let you indifferent. One of my favorite TV-Movies of all time, and one that should have been released theatrically. Of noting, also, John Schlesinger making a cameo appearance (which hints how important the film themes are, so Schlesinger would get in front of the cameras for a small role, hopefully raising some extra attention to the film).
A different view on an old story.
I understand why people can be extremely frustrated by the end of "Passengers". It's actually difficult to review this movie without spoiling it... so for starters let's say that the movie intends to be several movies at once, that's what prevents it from a better rate and enjoyment... it's part romance, it's part thriller and it has a twist that launches it into a whole different direction while at the same time tying everything together nicely, explaining all the implausibilities that we have witnessed. I'm not going to go into spoilers, but let me summarize you in 2 things: the plot ain't actually cheating on you at all, point of view is the key word here. The second thing is that Rodrigo Garcia is more interested in the feelings, in the emotions than in making the movie a tongue-in-cheek thriller... this becomes more like a film that would have been made in Europe. But of course, by the end of the movie, it is difficult not to think that this is a repetition - in a different fashion - of some recent hits of fantastique. I'd recommend it, with some caution, don't have any expectations.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Just a good movie, nothing more... and nothing less!
My Big Fat Greek Wedding *** (out of five) by Joel Zwick with Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine and a good ensemble.
So, this is the cinderella story of the year, in and out of the screen... the word-of-mouth phenomenom that has stormed America and put itself as the outsider for a Best Picture nod.
I really can understand that the movie has survived the maelstrom of the summer box-office, as its appeal is almost universal... but what I really can't understand is... why 200 million?
OK... it's a just good movie, with good performances (Michael Constantine and Nia Vardalos as standouts, if there's really any in a perfect ensemble), some good laughs, but NOTHING we haven't seen before and better.
I'm Spanish, and I can assure you that changing some details, this could have been My Big Fat Spanish Wedding... or My Big Fat Arab Wedding (as I was born in a city whose half population is muslim)... or whatever...
Actually, the movie has two parts: first we get to the required cinderella story that fuels the introduction of the characters... when at the middle of the movie we get to the wedding plot itself, I was too much reminded of the excellence of The Wedding Banquet, one of Ang Lee's masterpieces and that Nia Vardalos obviously has not only seen but loved.
Vardalos has written a good screenplay with plenty of laughs here and there and a good sense of pacing and what's funny. Kudos to her, but one thing is to write a good screenplay, avoiding plagiarism and another is to avoid falling into common places (even if you disguise them with the blue and white colors of the Greek flag)... Joel Zwick directs just correctly and without a defined personality this material that in other hands - Ang Lee, Paul J. Hogan - could have result in a very good movie... but instead we have a merry hour and a half of tender - not sappy, thanks God - cultural clash and an ode to the mediterranean sense of family.
At the performances, we have the explanation of the movie's success... we haven't here the Oscar worthy showy roles that one could expect given the buzz, but the perfect definition of comedic timing in an ensemble piece. Nia Vardalos obviously gets the more screen time, as John Corbett and Michael Constantine become the two main male pressences that divide Vardalos' character development... but it wouldn't be fair to highlight them as the movie belongs to the whole cast. I foresee a well deserved Best Ensemble nomination at the Screen Actors Guild...
However, Miss Vardalos may score a double nod at the Oscars... Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. As good as she is at both categories, I think that she doesn't really deserve any of these nods... Same can also be said for Michael Constantine's performance... he's really good, but not Oscar worthy, even thought that this one is a golden chance to give him some well-deserved recognition (bearing in mind that he may never be honored with a life-time achievement Oscar).
But what I feel is the strongest point (Ensemble aside) of the movie is that beautiful and merry greek score that has been seriously overlooked by oscar-watchers. The music really gives the mood of the movie in those transitions from one sequence to another and keeps the film alive. If the year isn't much strange, this music could make company to "Signs"' at the Best Score final quintet of the year.
To summarize, a good movie whose best recognition is the huge box-office success it has scored, and that really doesn't need to go beyond that. It isn't by far, one of the year's best, but being just a good movie is enough in my opinion. Not many movies can claim to be one.
A great disappointment for comic lovers.
Lisistrata (2002) * 1/2
directed by Francesc Bellmunt with Maribel Verdú, Javier Gurruchaga, Juan Luis Galiardo, Teté Delgado, Jesús Bonilla, Aitor Mazo and Albert Trifol.
OK. Let's suppose you don't know who Ralf König is. This guy is a german gay comic author whose comics have been previously adapted to the big screen ("Maybe, maybe not", "The Killer Condom") with different result. Lisistrata is his adaptation of Aristófanes' play about a woman from Athens that begins a women strike in Athens and Spartha till war between both cities is over. You may wonder: what's the big deal with the strike? That they don't have sex with their partners, so they carry all day gigantic erections that prevent them of making war with a minimum of dignity. That is, till the gay and lesbian community of both Spartha and Athens notice that this is a golden chance. How the situation develops leads to one of the funniest comic-books ever written, a comic that spread all over Europe becoming a cult classic. It is not strange that the adaptation comes from Spain.Thinking about it twice, only spanish and italian film-makers could have done a good job. And Francesc Bellmunt was in the list of possibilities for developing a good comedy. Add to the cocktail "Y tu mamá también"'s Maribel Verdú as Lisistrata and some good spanish actors and I can't understand how this went so wrong. The problem? It's called "over the top, mediterranean style". The movie never leaves the ground and the funny stuff becomes mostly unfunny (with some exceptions: Aitor Mazo and Albert Trifol's relationship gives the best moments of the movie which have some hilarious shots and situations, but develops with a feeling of "am I supposed to laugh?" most of the time. I won't get further in a movie that doesn't need a more extensive review to disqualify it. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it. It's just simply forgettable.
Go, look for the Ralf König comic-book, read it, and only check out this movie if you're really curious about how it got translated to the big screen.
800 balas (2002)
The "Scream" of Westerns?
800 Balas (800 Bullets) **** 1/2 by Alex de la Iglesia with Sancho Gracia, Angel de Andrés López, Carmen Maura, Eusebio Poncela and Luis Castro. OK, people. Here's the "Scream" of the Western genre. Only it is not set in America, but in the fake America in Spain where masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly were shot. And it is not set in the XIXth Century but in 2.002. And everything is fake, the mirage of times already past.
Alex de la Iglesia's career is truly awesome. His first short, "Mirindas Asesinas" (*****) was hailed by many critics as the BEST spanish short film EVER. Then Pedro Almodóvar himself financed de la Iglesia's film debut, "Acción Mutante" (*** 1/2), a science-fiction terrorist comedy that open new possibilities for spanish film industry. Then he changed his producer to "Belle Epoque" producer Andrés Vicente Gómez, who financed his later films: the legendary "Day of the Beast" (*****), "Perdita Durango" (*****) - the movie that de la Iglesia choose to make instead "Alien Resurrection" - "Muertos de Risa" (**** 1/2) and "La Comunidad" (**** 1/2). A truly awesome career, in my opinion. His trademark wild and surreal humor, grotesque violence and the social subtext of almost all of his movies makes him one of the most extraordinary and unique "auteurs" worldwide.
No wonder that besides "Talk to Her", the most anticipated film in Spain of 2002 was "800 Balas". Did he - once more - deliver the goods?
Yes. A big YES.
The plot: Carlos (Luis Castro) the nasty 11 years old - more or less - son of Laura (Carmen Maura) an executive of a construction company discovers - thanks to his dead father's mother (the great Terele Pávez) that his grandfather is alive and escapes from home to find him in Almería's Hollywood. The situation when he arrives is not good. The Western Hollywood stunt attraction is all that survives from the golden past that land saw in the 60's, the land where Clint Eastwood, David Lean and George C. Scott made great movies (spaghetti westerns, Lawrence of Arabia and Patton: yes, they were shot in Spain!). A land where the last important shooting was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - and so it's kept a photograph of both Spielberg and Lucas at the entrance of the theme park.
Carlos' grandfather, Julián (Sancho Gracia) is the shadow of the man he once was. He plays his usual stunt unconvincingly along with his fellows, including Cheyenne (Angel de Andrés López) with whom he fights at the saloon entrance in a very bad western style. When Julián learns that Carlos is his grandson, guilt resurrects as he's partially to blame of his son's death when playing a stunt many years ago. But things can only get worse when Laura finally finds where is her son.
And I will stop here. I don't want to spoil the fun for you. And yes, I know that this is set for drama, not for comedy. How the situation develops is outstanding. Meet the people of the "theme park". Meet their families. Meet the muslim immigrants. Meet the whores. Meet the Guardia Civil. Meet the Police. Bring 800 bullets, and alcohol, and drugs, and The Pogues' "Fiesta". And you have another de la Iglesia's wild ride to the darkest spanish spirit.
Making sutile references to a lot of westerns and taking even a couple of shots from "Seven Samurai" - which we can admit is some kind of western - de la Iglesia's direction is bizarre, daring, grotesque, strong, and ultimately, unique. And the same can be said of the cast and their performances. Sancho Gracia and Angel de Andrés López are simply awesome in their roles. Some of you may remember Angel de Andrés López from Almodóvar's "What have I done to deserve this?" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (althought his part in this one was very small, as a cop)... but both are two of the most underrated spanish actors. In exchange, Carmen Maura is one of the most known spanish actresses - and one of the best - and it may surprise many that her part is not the starring one... The whole supporting cast is great, and even the kid, Luis Castro, who has a very funny sex initiation sequence with a whore (R rating for sure in the USA!) is really funny (when the movie starts, he is playing alone disguised as an islamic terrorist!).
Add to this Roque Baños homage to classic western music at the score, a great cinematography and art direction, stunts, and a nostalgic feeling mixed with a riot and you have one of the best spanish movies of the year, althought some - lesser - pacing problems prevent me of giving the "Masterpiece" rating.
So, an advice: go rent "Day of the Beast" and "Perdita Durango" (Dance with the Devil). If you love or simply like these movies, you'll enjoy "800 Balas"... if you hate them, go check something else.
Maybe THE horror movie of the year.
Darkness (2002) **** ½ Directed by Jaume Balagueró With Anna Paquin, Lena Olin, Iain Glen, Stephan Enquist, Fele Martínez and Fermí Reixach
You may don't know who Jaume Balagueró is. You may ignore his debut film, `The Nameless' (Los Sin Nombre) which - undeservingly - became a cult film worldwide. Well, I am one of the few film lovers who knows Balagueró work
since his breakthrough shorts `Alicia' and `Días sin Luz', two visually stunning and disturbing films that put him in the map of Spanish fantastic cinema. While `Alicia', was promising but obviously overrated, `Días sin Luz' showed that this man could do one day an horror classic. When `Los Sin Nombre', his debut film appeared, my hopes were high, and buzz was that it was great. My deception ranks between the biggest I ever had while watching a movie. `Los Sin Nombre' was complete, absolute garbage... obsessed in being the new `Se7en', the acting wasn't engaging and the stunning visuals were completely empty. Worst of it all is that I could see the great story beneath the trash that was offered to my eyes. I hated Balagueró.
But years pass and I hear news that one of my favorite actresses, Anna Paquin has signed to star in Balagueró's new movie, `Darkness'. I seriously didn't know what to think. After thinking a bit and learning about the shooting in Barcelona, my interest grew. It reached the point of really anticipating the movie when I heard that Lena Olin and Giancarlo Giannini joined the cast. The acting, this time, simply couldn't go wrong, could it? Three Academy Awards nominees (one of them, winner) couldn't be that bad. But then I remembered `Los Sin Nombre' and fear came back.
So, I went to see this movie just after watching `Austin Powers in Goldmember' dubbed to spanish in one of the WORST dubbings I've ever heard in Spain (I had previously seen the movie in English, so I can judge the movie in its own merits, ***) and I was feeling a little disturbed... was it going to be two deceptions in a row?
And the movie started... it wasn't long into the movie when Balaguero's trademark visuals appeared. I was starting thinking in `Los Sin Nombre' when suddenly the plot and the cast hooked me. I must warn that this movie's first half is SLOW. Don't expect much to happen, but what happens NEEDS to be shown, in order to fully construct the movie. Paquin and Olin gave two remarkable performances, and Iain Glen and Stephan Enquist are two pleasant surprises, and is no wonder Giannini does a great job. Fele Martinez, however, doesn't shine but does a just OK job.
You may notice that I'm avoiding the plot. Confide in me, the lesser you know about this one, the better. I'll just hint films this movie somewhat resembles: `The Others', Robert Wise's `The Haunting', `Rosemary's Baby' and `In the mouth of Madness'. Yes, mix all those movies and you'll get close to what this movie offers. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised to hear reviewers blame Balagueró of copying, but it would be unfair. `Darkness' is a movie in its own, and deserves to become a classic horror movie.
Why? Because this one is all what `Los Sin Nombre' could have been and isn't. The same subjects lie beneath its frames. The same sad feeling. But this time, a superb cast and an inspired Balagueró (even thought he occasionally inserts too much) gave me a great experience.
I won't lie to you. Some people didn't like the movie at all. Even a couple walked away from the theater saying `even it wasn't an horror movie'... well, I wonder if they actually paid attention to the anguish the finale had. But apart of this couple, the rest of the people still were in shock. There are some twists that you can predict, and Balagueró knows that, so he just offer a wide range of possibilities, including of course the real one, and lets you guess for yourself what CAN happen next, but not what is going to happen for sure. From the movie's half, things begin to show, to happen, to puzzle the characters... when a great sequence is shown (the potatoes) and you think it won't be toped, the next one tops it... and so on till the magnificent finale that is LONG, and emotionally overwhelming and left the audience exhaust. It is not only horror, it is emotions... and there's a choice that can puzzle at first, but it makes total and horrifying sense.
So, summarizing, this movie is better than `The Sixth Sense' and almost as good as `The Others'. Go see this movie when it open in your country. This SHOULD be a blockbuster. This is the horror movie of the year, or so I guess.
Jaume, if you read this, I forgive `Los Sin Nombre'... what's next?
Los sin nombre (1999)
OK. Here we are.
One of the most buzzed fantastic spanish movies of the last years... and it is a complete piece of garbage.
Bad acting, good plot but with poor screenplay, and a waste of stunning visuals that can't hide the horrible - and not horrifying - reality of this movie. This is the kind of movie that could have been GREAT, but is lost by an obsession with - empty - visuals.
Avoid it, but watch out for Jaume Balagueró's next effort: "Darkness"
Road to Perdition (2002)
So close to being a masterpiece, that it hurts.
Road to Perdition **** directed by Sam Mendes with Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Tyler Hoechlin, Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Jason Leigh Problem is... what do we say when the only flaw we can see in a movie is that the obvious willing is not art or money, but Oscar?
When a movie has flawless direction, acting, a wonderful screenplay, amazing cinematography, a delightful score, perfect art direction... when it is perfect in every single detail... but it doesn't have soul?
This is my problem with Road to Perdition. I don't see the soul beneath the skin. It's - like many other films that usually show up at Oscar night - a skilled brilliant exercise that doesn't last. A great movie, for sure, but not in the same league as this year's Minority Report, One Hour Photo, Talk to Her or even Powerpuff Girls: The Movie.
What's the difference between one and the others? Well, it's quite easy. The four others are made by people who was able to give soul to their stories. Maybe the best example is to compare the two Toms performances in Perdition and Report... Tom Hanks gives his usual I-want-my-nod tone to skillfully portrait a hit-man who happens to be a caring and loving father, and of course, despite that little fact, he's the good guy. Tom Cruise, in exchange, gives it all as the Kafkanian character trapped in his own trap... there are multiple layers in his "hero", and good Cruise show them all, making us CARE for him. There are several times in which both Cruise and Spielberg made me forget I was actually watching a movie. This is not happening in Road to Perdition. The movie uses so showy techniques, it's SO beautiful that you really can't get trapped in it. Sam Mendes should see "lesser" movies as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", "Raising Arizona", "All about my mother" or even "Battle Royale" to understand what is energy in a movie, what is SOUL.
Of course it is not that "Road to Perdition" is a bad movie. It is great. But not one to treasure. Regretfully I can see now this people scoring 10 Oscars and being lauded as one of the bests of the year... technically, it deserves it, but my guts claim for other picks.
In the acting, Paul Newman is the stand out. He's on his way for a well deserved third Oscar (the first was an HONORARY! one, and the second for "The Color of Money"), this time as supporting. A pity, because he would kill all chances to reward the subtlety of newcomer Tyler Hoechlin, in one of the best child performances of the last years (just behind Osment's A.I. and The Sixth Sense) which has gone unnoticed by critics and audiences.
Jude Law, as usual gives a mesmerizing performance and is well deserving praise. Hanks, in exchange is good but not great. Tucci and Leigh take profit of their limited screen time, and give life to two undefined characters, which is saying a lot of their talent.
Technically, the movie is perfect and in its way to sweeping the nominations at this year's Oscars. But, I can't, with the hand in my heart, praise the movie itself with the adjective "masterpiece". A pity... it was so close...
En malas compañías (2000)
Shot in my town, this extremely well shot short film is one of the most interesting ones I've seen in the last years...
The story of a gay teenager who not only lives his homosexuality as openly as he can but also uses it as a weapon. The movie is fresh, and the main performance is simply amazing.
A trivia, one of the supporting characters is played by Julio Sanjuan, better known in Spain for playing one of the most charismatic characters in box-office blockbuster "Torrente, el Brazo Tonto de la Ley" (Santiago Segura, 1998).
Casa Paco (2002)
This short defeated mine... deservingly.
Málaga Fantastic Cinema Week, 2001. Shorts competition... the first short of the evening is "Adicción", by Jesús Alonso (me) and is well received... it's well received by the audience and I, after the stress of the screening, can relax to enjoy the other competitors for the prize... When "Casa Paco" arrives, I know for sure that this one was going to win (and of course won).
Reminiscent of Mario Camus' masterful "Los Santos Inocentes", this short makes you laugh in an hilarious way at first and then shocks you with one of the most disturbing finales you could ever think of. So simple, so great.