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Iluminados por el fuego (2005)
Realism and heroism, without glamour
Not many war films are made about the terrors of the Falkland, or Malvinas, war. Neither are war films as poignant and thought-provoking as Blessed by Fire.
War films are so regularly hybrid with other genres, whether its romance, politics, bravery, historical drama, art, or even comedy. This can make them entertaining, such as Apocalypse Now, or silly, like Pearl Harbour. Done to make more sales, make a political statement, to boast a big budget or glamorise real warfare, it's always a gamble if the war film is worth watching.
I was pleased to have come across Blessed by Fire. I hadn't heard much about it but I was interested in watching a movie about the Falklands War. It's told from the Argentine perspective and based on the memoirs of the soldier, Esteban Leguizamón, played by Gastón Pauls. Twenty years after the war, Leguizamón is contacted to visit his old comrade Alberto Vargas (Pablo Ribba) who is in a coma after attempted suicide. Through flashbacks and newsreels, Leguizamón remembers the ill-treatment by superiors, how his friends would talk of their futures, families and livelihoods, their fear of the invading British armies, and the dank conditions they were living in. It also touches on the neglect soldiers face after the war from their government bad pensions and no career options. What it does magnificently is touch on the mental horrors of war - the anger and psychological scars that war causes and without a glamorisation in sight. Another political issue it touches on at the end is the live mines and rusting ammunition left over beautiful landscapes, and how nothing has been done to get rid of them. The political slant against Maggie Thatcher and her reasons for war are thrown in there whether it's for good measure, I'm unsure. But the result of the war has tarnished political relations between Britain and Argentina for many years, and it is a sensitive issue, particularly for Argentineans.
It was a film made on a budget, so some of the acting is slightly amateur but believable. The special affects are okay, but in moments of excitement, the lighting doesn't always make it clear what is going on. However, the sets are gloomy enough to be realistic and the photography of the Falklands is fantastic.
It's a symbol of what war is really about. Not the most exciting. But realism and heroism, without glamour. I give this film 9!
The Brothers McMullen (1995)
Beautifully made on a budget
Fifteen thousand pounds to many is a great deal of money, but in Hollywood it'd barely make a runner's salary. So really it's an unbelievable effort to produce a movie for this amount of money and win a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995, as well as recognition for Ed Burns as an all-round director/actor/producer/writer extraordinaire. The end product being The Brothers McMullen; a project made literally in his own backyard, using his own friends and associates as his crew (such as his 'then' girlfriend who is his girlfriend in the film and his friend).
The protagonist is Burns' character Barry, the middle brother, who is the wittiest, has the sharpest lines, and many would think the film is partly autobiographical because of this. Barry is a writer, jumps from woman to woman, makes wise guy remarks, and then he meets Audrey, played by Maxine Bahns, and is forced to get over his fear of commitment. How does he deal with it? Jack, the older brother, is a middle-aged teacher, who's quieter and loves his wife, but has to deal with the feelings of infidelity. How does he deal with it? Then there's Patrick, the younger religious sibling, a do-gooder who's soon to get married into a Jewish family, but he gets cold feet. Then hot feet. Then cold feet. He then gets his fiancé pregnant. Then he meets someone else. He then has to deal has to deal with the guilt. Or does he learn not to? Three very different brothers, the three Irish New Yorkers feed each other their advice and wisdom of love. It's not an original plot, but it works. Conversations flow from JFK, women, families, love, alcohol, their violent father, to family bonding, with a whole lot of swearing in between and Irish fiddle music in the background. Burns is something of a Plastic Paddy. Nevertheless, there's a lot of great word play, the plot isn't pretentious or trying to be too clever. It's heart-warming, without being soppy.
Minus points: one can appreciate Burn is an all-rounder, but he should maybe step outside his own box and become a character in the movie stop writing and starring as himself it's a bit egotistical. The acting was a bit amateur, especially Maxine Bahns though this can be forgiven for the fact they were at the time just that - amateurs. The editing was a bit disjointed in places. It doesn't flow as well as it could do. Then again, it only cost, as stated £15,000. It has to be expected.
I appreciated it a lot. A debut movie, that cost £15,000, cannot get much better. If you like Irish-American culture, take pleasure of budget movies and enjoy witty rom-coms try this.
Fausto 5.0 (2001)
A great original adaptation of the Faustian legend
I hadn't heard or seen anything about this movie before I saw it sitting on the DVD shelf of my local library, let alone have an idea what it was about. I was lured by the awards it had advertised on the cover and ambiguous statement, 'If you were to sell your soul what would you ask for?' I have no answer to the question but I'm pleased I parted with £1.50 to see this movie.
It is based on the Faustian legend that the central character's pact with the devil allows him to have energy, life and youth unless he becomes so entranced by the passing moment that he wishes that things will never change. When Faust succumbs unthinkingly into that wish, his life is forfeit to a demon. In this adaptation the central character Dr Fausto (Miguel Ángel Solá), a specialist doctor of terminal medicine, who has lost his zest for life working constantly with people on the brink of death. While attending a conference in Barcelona, he runs into the mysterious (and hilarious) Santos Vella, pronounced 'Vela', as in 'mozzarella', played by the excellent Eduard Fernández, a man who claims to have once been treated by Fausto but which Fausto has no recollection of. He follows Fausto everywhere and knows everything about him, using his wit and humour to make a bold pact with Fausto and reintroduce him to youth and fun and his daughter Marta (Irene Montalà). When Fausto abuses the pact with Vella, his life starts dismantling with horrific and explicit consequences and nightmares, such as dogs eating at his stomach, being arrested and the demon threatening to harm his medical assistant, Julia (Najwa Nimri).
The plot builds quickly and mysteriously through a blend of strange characters, such as the old woman on the train and the rail kill being hauled off the front train at the station, and psychedelic editing (which looks both original and a throw-back to cheesy 70s horror flicks). It keeps you hooked, especially the acting by Fernández, who comes across full of life and witty as the demon, towards the cold Dr Fausto, Solá. Both actors looked involved in the roles and came across frighteningly realistic as the plot evolved. The sets were also detached and chilling, which added to the suspense, such as the nightclub they go to, with the crazy naked women chained upside down and dancing to the hardcore rock music. It reminded me a little bit of the scenes in Fight Club. The sound affects when Fausto tears open the body at the lecture is sickeningly realistic and the music was jagged and sharp to add to the apprehension. There are very humorous scenes as well, such as smashing up the living room with a golf-club and the funny quips.
It was well directed by Álex Ollé, Carlos Padrisa and Isidro Ortiz. The plot flowed smoothly and the performances and the sets were flawless. However, the writer Fernando León I thought was trying his best to make the film more strange than he had to. For example, the girl Margarita who Fausto has sex with has blue arms why? And why is it called Fausto 5.0? There's no explanation to this in the story and I think there's a few red herrings to try and throw people unnecessarily off course. Then again, it could be the director achieving what he wanted; for you to keep guessing. I know I still am. The film was out to shock, which happens quite often in Spanish movies. There's often an empty feeling, a detachment between the audience and the characters, which is both interesting and keeps you thinking about the plot for days afterwards. It's a unique trend in Spanish cinema, and Fausto 5.0 is a prime example. Dreams also feature a lot in Spanish cinema. Take Abre Los Ojos for example, which was also surreal and strange and ended up being one great nightmare. Along with Abre Los Ojos, there is a hint of Requiem to a Dream and Fight Club, due to the fact the characters in the films are on the edge of life and they include horrors and sci-fi elements and are all well-made.
I give this film eight out of ten. I was hooked, it was original, brilliantly acted and excellently made. Fans of sci-fi/horror movies will love it. I'm not particularly but I really enjoyed it. If the writer had been a little less pretentious with the weirdness, it would have received an extra mark.
Le parfum d'Yvonne (1994)
Yvonne's perfume sets off a nasty stench
I have never seen such a nicely made piece of rubbish in my life. I am still working out what the film was about and what was its cause. There was none and I felt I wasted an hour and a half, as well as £1.50 hiring this from the library. Nonetheless, it was beautifully made, the camera work was nice, there were interesting statements about love and Sandra Majani has a very nice bottom.
So what does happen exactly; well, it's about a man called Victor Chmara (Hippolyte Girardot) who doesn't do much with his life apart from living off his fathers inheritance. He falls in love with the beautiful actress Yvonne (Sandra Majani) and becomes best-buddies with her mysterious old friend Dr Meinthe (Jean-Pierre Marielle). They all have a great time together and then things go wrong after a strange motor/fashion show. Victor wants to go to the USA, Yvonne doesn't, and the Doctor just continues being camp. If I tell you anymore, I end up telling you the ending, so that's enough of the synopsis.
There are ingredients in this film that I liked. The camera work was sometimes interesting and there were some nice landscape shots. The dialogue, the heart to hearts, the warble about their lives, the philosophical statements about 'never letting her (Yvonne) go' were very romantic and very poetic. The acting by Jean-Pierre Marielle as the camp doctor was also amusing. Otherwise, his character is totally wasted in the story and has a far bigger role than that is necessary.
For me, Patrice Leconte's reason for adapting Patrick Modiano's book Villa Triste to the big screen was all about Sandra Majani and seeing her nude. She was a poor actress. Her movement and the way she carried herself was half-hearted. That goes for Hippolyte Girardot as well. He plays someone a little too stiff to be in love. Either the actors are poor or the director is, because there are bad performances all around, and it's the director's job to make sure that these types of performances do not happen. Another of his problems was conveying the messages in the story. They were mixed up and statements of romance were just thrown together without thought of the plot. To me it just seemed pretentious and the director was trying to be too clever with little resources.
The story had little meaning other than not to let love go when you have it. That and to see a beautiful French lady naked, which was admittedly quite nice. The statements of love were unsubtle and the acting didn't really convey any proper emotion. Totally unconvincing and I hope Yvonne's bad smelling perfume goes away. I give this film two.
Pedro Almodóvar creates excellent films. It's a trait of his; a conveyor belt of brilliance, with awards to go with it. Whether it be Hable Con Ella, Mala Educación, Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Carne Trémula, Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios or the many more he has made, they are all uniquely written, chilling and bizarre in their own right. This makes Almodóvar stand out in Spanish cinema. Volver is no different.
'Volver' is the verb to 'return' in Spanish for those not in the know. It seems the 'return' of the magic formula of Almodóvar and the darling of Spanish cinema, Penelope Cruz, has worked yet again, but principally, the story of Volver is all about 'return'; 'returning' from the dead that is, chilling news of the past 'returning' to haunt the cultivated characters created in script.
Set in Madrid and Almodóvar's homeland La Mancha, Cruz plays the central figure of Raimunda, who is married to Paco (Antonio de la Torre), an unemployed labourer, has a teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and a hairdresser sister Sole (Lola Dueñas). After many years of the sisters thinking that their mother died in a fire, she (Irene, played by Carmen Maura) returns as a ghost before her sister Tia Paula (Chus Lampreave) dies and then stays with Sole. She brings with her the truth of what happened to their father, and many more sinister skeletons from the closet. She also comes to reconcile with were daughter Raimunda, who she has never got on with, and her neighbour in the village, Agustina (Blanca Portillo).
The photography, editing and music of the film are what you would expect from Almodóvar. He finds camera angles no other directors can find, the editing is precise, flowing and poetic, with mixes of long still shots, as well as attractive cortèges framed between the sides of a narrow street, and the hypnotic landscape shots across the Spanish plains and windmills. It is also marked as an Almodovar film with the jazz percussions in the background, but there is also a beautiful flamenco song, sung by Cruz, called Volver.
As with quite a few Almodovar films, they are centralled around strong female leads. Cruz is fantastic as the working class, straight-talking mother, who carries a chip on her shoulder and a ghastly secret from her daughter. Cruz is evolves in the role and shows her real flair for acting, which have not been present in several Hollywood movies of late. Lola Dueñas as Sole, the more shy and less robust personality than her sister, is also very convincing. I've seen her in Dias de Futbol recently and played a much more aggressive character. Her talents allow her to play a wide variety characters that I didn't know she could. Carmen Maura is excellent as ghost of Irene. I especially like the part when she is not only a ghost, but she has to pretend to be Russian. This could only happen in an Almodovar film. Another credible note for acting should go to the young actress Yohana Cobo who plays a very good moody teenager role. Her character also carries parts of her mothers robust personality and this is evident in Cobo's acting. An inspiring actress for the future.
Not any notable complaints. It finishes as most Almodovar films do; open. That's one of the many beauties of his films; it is almost as if he hires a chunk of time, he takes snips of weirdness and drama in today's society and crams it into an hour and a half of film. There is a beginning, a middle and an end, but the ending is open to your imagination, as if you don't know what to think, as though life continues as it did so before, but you've just experienced this wonderful story but life continues nonetheless. On this occasion though, I felt the film needed closure, considering it's all about death, and I didn't feel it. That's the only reason this film doesn't get a 10 star rating from me.
This is Almodovar. Brilliant script, wonderful performances, chilling humour; if you love these, you will love Almodovar. Otherwise, it's a brilliant film anyway and I recommend it to anyone.
enjoyable, if not strange
The Spanish movie industry has had more than its fair-share of films with unique, black humored story lines, with a little bit of nudity and sex for extra conditioning, and sometimes an absurd twist at the end to give a sweet aftertaste. Zapping is a prime example, and fine advertisement for Spanish films.
I didn't know what to expect when I saw the film. I was going by what I read on the back of the DVD. It wasn't hugely successful in Britain, and not many of my Spanish friends had seen it. The director/writer, Juan Manual Chumilla has done nonetheless. I couldn't help but feel he'd taken a few pointers out of Almodóvar's book, with the film's clever editing, great acting, charming dialogues, post-modern storyline and bone-dry humour, as well the dramatic background music and artistic build-up. It might also have been a trend in Spanish cinema at the time, I don't know. After all, it is nearly ten years old.
The film begins with Ana-María (Natalia Dicenta), a middle-aged woman doing her all to win back her husband Alberto (Alberto San Juan, also in Dias de Futbol - brilliant) who has moved in with the younger, sexier, student doctor Elvira, played by the delightful Paz Vega. Ana-María will do anything to lure back her husband, whether it means going on a trashy live TV show to tell the world about her situation, or using the superstitious advice of a TV fortune teller by putting onion in her eyes so she cried tears onto a picture of Alberto, which she would then burn and throw the ashes under the sofa. Elvira tries a similar trick to keep Alberto. Ana-María also lays down red-herrings to make Elvira jealous and paranoid. To make things a little more confusing, Elvira has her psychotic ex-boyfriend Ramiro (Eduard Fernández) after her, and his twin brother trying to turn himself into the police. What happens? Not telling! It's not laugh out loud humour just charming enough to bring a smile to your face. The acting was fantastic both realistic and flawless. San Juan's portrayal of Alberto's weak and gullible character is perfect. Ana María's character is also life-like, her middle-aged woman mannerisms and the intense determination in her eyes to get what she wants. Paz Vega is as sexy as always, and Eduard Fernández's performance playing Ramiro, the ex-con, and twin brother Ramón, the sensible brother, is also first-rate. What I also liked was the background music, dramatic, and often reminiscent (or possibly a parody) of a Hitchcock movie hence the 'dagger' music.
I can't think of many flaws in the film. If there is one criticism I have, and that is there far too much chit-chat and the plot moves very slowly. It takes a long time for the movie to 'get-going'. Then again, maybe too much action wouldn't have suited the film, and even killed it. The plot thickens slowly anyway, so if you're bored easily, this movie isn't for you.
There were a couple of other aspects of the film I liked, such as the trashy TV show about getting couples back together. I have great memories of catching such programmes when I was in Madrid. I also like it when Ana-María brings Mr Spock on the TV show to help lure her Trekkie fan Alberto back into her arms.
To conclude, if you like strange Spanish movies, with little twists and turns, an original plot, and great acting and editing watch this. It might bore you in places, but it's worth sticking through. I really don't know why this film was not more successful. Final say, it was enjoyable.
Before launching into whether this film is worth your time or not, I should inform you I've never seen another adaptation of Carmen, so if you're looking for a review on how it ranks amongst others, this might not be of much use to you.
The only time I've come across Carmen was on the car stereo when driving through Spain on a family holiday when I was a teenager. I didn't pay much attention to it because I didn't like opera at the time and I didn't know any better. The story has been around for 150 years or so. Do I feel I've missed out after seeing this movie? Yes, mainly due to the plot, but also because if all the actresses who played Carmen looked like Paz Vega, I would have all the adaptations happily sitting in my DVD collection.
Directed by Vicente Aranda (who also co-rewrote the story with Joaquim Jordà), the story is told through the eyes of the original author Prosper Mérimée, a French writer making his way through 19th century Spain. He comes across José (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a delinquent soldier and one of many men who fall in love with Carmen (Paz Vega), a sultry, sexy, bedazzling gypsy woman, who has the mouth of the devil, the temper of a 'toro' and who recklessly leads men to their doom. The moment she meets José, she is attracted by his stand-offish behaviour. But she hooks him, reels him in and lets him go, many-a-time. Until one day, José is wanted for murder. Carmen persuades him to join her band of gypsy smugglers. They seem to be settling, she's fallen in love with him, but she meets the charming Escamillo, the bullfighter. Can José hold his jealousy in check, or does it destroy him?
It's a beautiful,seductive story, something that resembles, almost, a Shakespearian or Ovid plot, with the portrayals of immense passion and emotion that can make or break us and transform us to do things out of character. It's poetic, fiery, and above all, slutty. I was left hanging on, I didn't know which way it was going to turn. I always hoped that José might change Carmen's dirty little ways. I won't tell you if he succeeded or not.
The above synopsis is what I took away from the film, but I was not impressed by the film itself. It was only after I watched it that I dug a little deeper into the story and I realised how much of a missed opportunity Aranda had made of retelling Mérimée's classic. It was a shallow, slutty period-drama blunder, that saw Paz Vega spend a lot of the time partially or completely naked (not that I'm complaining about this in particular!).
First of all, the acting was poor. I was not impressed by Sbaraglia as José. I'm still unsure whether he was a weak actor or José was supposed to be a weak character, I've not read the book. He's supposed to be a man who with burning desire for Carmen, but he spends much of the time looking confused, jealous and a bit dim. Paz Vega was slightly better as Carmen. I was convinced by her hardened, wicked character, although I have seen more convincing performances by her in other films, such as Zapping and Lucia y El Sexo. She seems too pretty to play a gypsy woman (not that I've come across many Andalusian gypsy women), so in a way, the role didn't really fit her. The other actors in the film weren't great either. They seemed to do everything half-heartedly. The story is passionate, emotive they looked half-arsed, as if they couldn't wait to get out the tight 19th century costumes they were wearing.
However, the costumes, I was impressed with - one of the redeeming factors of the film. I like Spanish culture, I liked the soldiers' uniforms, the top-hats and the women's Flamenco dresses. They fitted the time well. That's all I can really say about that. Sorry, back to the criticism.
The script, as stated above, was co-rewritten by Vicente Aranda and Joaquim Jordà, and done so badly, so much that it would leave Mérimée turning in his grave. It was boring. It didn't make best use of José's intense passion for Carmen (or maybe that was just the acting). There were cheesy lines piled upon one and other, Satan and devil connotations everywhere, amongst the millions of swear words. I know the Spanish are partial for the odd swear word, but the film was littered with puta, 'whore', in literally every line Maybe it was realistic in 19th century poverty-stricken Seville, but the story itself didn't need it.
The editing and camera work was dull and ordinary. There was only one bit I actually liked, and that was when the camera follows a fly close-up in mid-air, which lands on Carmen's face. That was good. But the rest? Boring.
To conclude, it is sad to see such a great story go to waste with unconvincing acting and directing. If you're a literature teacher, by all means let your class watch this adaptation to get an idea of the story. However, only the male half of the class will be paying any interest to the film, thanks to Paz Vega. Otherwise, stick to the opera version (even though I hate musicals). I give this film 4, just for the fact I love the storyline! And Paz Vega!
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Hilarious, entertaining, enjoyable, but has an obvious plot
Mix horror, romance, a big dose of dark British humour and you get a deadly concoction you get Shaun of the Dead.
Spoof movies so often fail with me, especially the Hollywood variety, such as Scary Movie, where you see the humour flying out at you from a mile away. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant about watching this movie. I only did so because my brother had it on DVD and insisted that I saw it. I also remember it being released in UK cinemas about the same time as the remake of the 70s zombie thriller, Dawn of the Dead, which I found disappointing and put me off watching zombie movies for a long time. But with Shaun of the Dead, I was pleasantly surprised.
It starts with Shaun, the protagonist, played by screen-writer/funny-man, Simon Pegg. He's twenty-nine, stuck in a dead-end job, his seventeen year old colleague makes fun of him, he has an awkward flatmate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), he hates his scrutinising step-father Philip (Bill Nighly), he has issues with his mother Barbara (Penelope Winton), his lazy best-mate Ed holds him back in life (Nick Frost), he gets dumped by his girlfriend Jenny (Kate Ashfield) and he spends all day in the Winchester Pub. Yes, Shaun is in a bit of a rut. Then one night, without ever really knowing why, Shaun's locality becomes 'neighbourhood of the living dead'. He is at first oblivious to it all, suffering from a hangover, but soon he realises that zombies are after his blood and he has to buck up his ideas quickly to survive. For once in Shaun's life, he has a plan. With Ed as his side-kick and armed with a cricket bat, a spade and a box of old records (which, by the way, make amusing ninja weapons to fend off zombies), and he goes to save his mum and Jenny in Pete's car. Where does he plan to take them to safety? That's right the Mecca of Shaun's life and the focal point of the film - the Winchester pub. On the way, Shaun picks up Philip and Jenny's house-mates David (Dylan Moran) and Dianne (Lucy Davis).
The film contains what you expect from a horror, British comedy and romance (kind of); blood, gore, action, slapstick, sarcasm, a witty script, a love interest and, sadly, an obvious plot, but I will talk more about that later.
It has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Shaun and Ed realise the first zombie they meet isn't actually a drunk girl, but a dead person who wants their blood. And when the group pretend to behave like zombies so they don't bring attention to themselves from the living dead. You will learn there is more than one use to a garden swing-ball. The end is also charming, but I don't want to speak about that.
The acting is convincing for a spoof movie. Especially the lazy, rather obnoxious, Ed, played by Nick Frost, who decides to have a friendly chat on a mobile phone with a mate while surrounded by zombies. He plays your annoying fat mate who slows your life down, but is full of clever quips every now and again. He would also go off on hilarious rants with Shaun about, well, not a fat lot. I wouldn't say there were many outstanding performances or Oscar nominations in the movie though, but the movie was not made for awards. It was made to make you laugh, which is what you will undoubtedly be doing. So therefore, the co-writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (the same team who made the comedy TV-series Spaced and the new movie the Big Fuzz) have certainly achieved their aim.
Now back to the plot. For someone who is not a big fan of spoof movies, the storyline was so obvious, I only had to glance at the title of the movie to guess what was going to happen, and without wanting to ruin the movie for you, I was right. I can't decide if it was a spoof movie of Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, but that's of little importance, the plot is too similar, for my liking anyway.
I'm not the prude sort, and I think when violence, blood and expletives are used correctly, it can make a good film. I don't think Shaun of the Dead was over-run by it, but I do think it maybe should have warranted more than a 15 certificate. I do not think the film is everybody's cup of tea. The sarcasm and the wittiness I particularly liked, and the fact it was a fun, chill-out film to watch. But British humour, especially the sarcasm, and the violence and the swearing, can be hit and miss with many people. I also think more can have been done with Bill Nighly's, Dylan Moran's and Martin Freeman's characters. They are great actors and had relatively small roles than what their reputations deserve. I think Martin Freeman only had two words to say in the whole film. Maybe the actors only wanted small roles, I don't know. But I felt they were wasted, only a little as there was much more talent in the film that made up for it.
There might be something else that you unexpectedly take away from this movie. The film may motivate you, to give you a 'kick up the posterior' and change your life. For Shaun, it took a town full of zombies to make him do this. I certainly hope it takes considerably less than that for the majority of you.
To conclude, as I said before, I'm not a fan of spoofs, due to predictable plots and story lines, but this is way above its contemporaries. It's British. It's different. And it's dead funny; so funny you'll be laughing beyond the grave.