13 Reviews
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Drive (I) (2011)
Drive, an operatic noir!
18 September 2011
Noir is, by definition, a tragedy. It's hard to orchestrate a tale about fate and doomed and trapped people and not give it the proper dignified operatic ending. Drive is a prime example of what filmmaking is and how to extract the full potential of the visual elements. The biggest tour de force in this cryptic piece comes, precisely, from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. The colorblind filmmaker gives Drive a very peculiar pace, one that manipulates the audience with such irony and contempt, emulating, in that sense, his overall vision of disenchantment with life's sarcasm. From the magnificently silent opening sequence the audience immediately knows that the main character is trapped, doomed in his past, his present and, inevitably (like any noir), his future. And from then on Winding Refn builds, shot after shot, the tension to uncontrollable dimensions. And when the crisp, pristine and sustained imagery and storytelling explodes, it's brutal... diabolically painful. The bright mundane becomes the surreal darkness of a filthy Los Angeles paradoxically trapped in its own wideness. There's no escape, no turning back but Refn goes even further and makes the experience more painful, more real by giving Gosling opportunities. It's definitely not by chance that the filmmaker so often framed 'EXIT' signs towards Gosling's back and far, far away from his rational thought. And a part from some more contemporary choices, Drive is shot like a classic film noir that further enhances Gosling's entrapment and all the suspenseful and gritty storytelling that follows: low angles to close ceilings, diagonal lines, triangular shapes, use of shadows, inventive camera angles, experimental shots, fluid storytelling, use of eye-line and small body movements to enhance suspense (among several other elements).

Nonetheless, what really impresses is Refn's sensibility in telling the story. Not only it is incredibly shot and skillfully put on screen by Newton Thomas Siegel (astounding cinematography), but when it comes to the bare essentials, it's impossible to conclude that the filmmaker didn't make every single possible right decision, both during shooting but also in the editing room. Those long dissolves and cross-cuttings tell more about the story that the already inexistent dialog ever would. I particularly would like to highlight a phone 'conversation' between Gosling and Carey Muligan that starts with the 'Driver' and his first few words on the left of the frame and then slowly dissolves to Mulligan on camera right attentively listening and emotionally affected while Gosling's face slowly disappears on camera left. In a very simple process, Refn puts us in touch with two people, a part from each other, people that both know their fates and there, in that moment, accept it. A particularly fantastic example of the second technic would be the final confrontation which boosts every aspect of the classic approach to storytelling in noir making it all the more effective. There are no dull or careless shots. Every piece of film fills a purpose and it's amazing to see such bravery in directing the actors by pushing them to retain their words and emotions until they reach a total state of rawness that pops from the screen as an uncomfortable glance of brilliance. In that aspect, two things can be said form Gosling's performance: 1) his eyes tell the entire story. We don't need to know his past because we can already feel it. 2) it s the characters around him that make the audience connect with his personality and therefore a change from the usual formula of having actions that make us entwined with his life.

Still regarding Refn's over-talked stylized violence I'd like to point out the intelligence in which he uses it and how poetic and operatic it becomes towards the end. Yes, it is incredibly damaging to the eyesight but also impossible to not look at. It establishes mood and intention and once it starts (quite softly) we can only expect the continuation increasing in occasions and in intensity. Nonetheless, it doesn't become a roaring rampage of mindless revenger. Refn never loses control and maintains the pace established, storytelling-wise. But the violence grows, reaches its peak and then, all of a sudden, when you'd expect a burst of blood, it carefully decreases in intensity to the point of sheer portraits of what the violence might be (i.e. final confrontation), paying, right there and then, the ultimate respect to the classic film noir (Fritz Lang comes to mind).

Drive is, in it's final instance, a strike of hope in current Hollywood: a reasonably mainstream movie that actually excels (cum laude intended) the regular standards. And in a sense of personal expectations, this may very well be a reminiscence of when Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and so many others first came to America in the late '20s, early '30s and changed the industry with their 'mad', pessimistic and ironic European vision. And most of them embraced the truest genre (or sub-genre as Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader and others put it) in the several branches of filmmaking: noir, the only genre that actually understands the human being, the human mind and the human deepest and rooted desires and motivations.

Drive feels like the start to something else, something yet undefined but something promising.

(Read Full Review: noir.html)
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Source Code (2011)
If Hitchcock directed a sci-fi...
17 April 2011
"In computer science, source code is text written in a computer programming language. Such a language is specially designed to facilitate the work of computer programmers, who specify the actions to be performed by a computer mostly by writing source code, which can then be automatically translated to binary machine code that the computer can directly read and execute." For those who don't know the meaning of Duncan Jones' title, the definition written above will help clarify some more mysterious parts of the movie, but ultimately it will prove that the filmmakers look at the human being as a creature that doesn't receive the credit it deserves. The parallel between man and machine is, yet again, established by David Bowie's son.

Source Code is the science fiction suspense thriller that Alfred Hitchcock never directed. Much more than a mere and conventional whodunit, Source Code lingers on the possibilities only reachable by the realm of the mind, which are intelligently explored with incredible tension and intrigue. For the lack of better words, I would say that this project represents the best sci-fi film since Moon, incidentally, another Duncan Jones picture, a director that is bringing the "true" science fiction back. That fact alone establishes the filmmaker as a must see director, for his fiction is intelligent, thought-provoking, unpredictable and extremely well crafted. Somehow wrongly marketed and suffering from terrible advertising, Source Code probably won't get the recognition that deserves and might be mistaken by an "early blockbuster". But it isn't. It never gets repetitive or boring; it never ceases to grab its audiences, if for no other reason, for the human aspect. It's true that the love story isn't the most genius creation but it serves a bigger and much more interesting purpose. It allows the audience to connect with its characters and, therefore, pay more attention to their outcome what inevitably leads to the curiosity in understating what "this" is all about.

The Hitchcockian elements of suspense are extremely well put, whether if they come from the script or from Duncan's talented camera work. Even the music, superbly composed by Chris Bacon resembles North by Northwest or The Man Who Knew Too Much. Furthermore, as in Moon, the filmmaker poses interesting and challenging questions, this time regarding the world of alternative reality as well as the power of the mind. One might think for a second and that's all it takes to start wondering about the littleness of the human knowledge and the infinite variations of matter that are abundant in the universe. Source Code leaves more question marks than the ones initially proposed but what needed to be clarified was given the proper screen time to eliminate any possible plot holes. Ben Ripley's script, seemingly based on Quantum Leep, doesn't over-concentrate on self-amazement for the clearly interesting premise but also takes a little bit of time to develop the characters. If on the one hand, they aren't very strong ones, the actors, namely Jake Gyllenhal, manage to give a certain strength that is wonderfully complemented by the previously mentioned camera-work. In that aspect I particularly appreciated the use of mirrors and other reflections to inflict and enhance the duality of the characters.

Source Code isn't, obviously enough, a sci-fi masterpiece but it possesses all the right elements to originate a cult following clan and the truth is that if more movies like this were made, Hollywood would certainly be a much more respected industry.
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True Grit (2010)
Hunger for a great adventure
26 December 2010
True Grit does not represent the best work done by the Coen brothers but it proves essentially two things:

1) Genre never dies, it gets reinvented. 2) The Coens are one of the few masters of versatility left.

With regards to the first point, many have tried to bring back the western (quite possibly one of the best attempts was Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma), most of them failing in their intents. The Coens decided that the genre wasn't dead and they show how it can be improved with True Grit, most likely the best contemporary western since Eastwood's Unforgiven. Its quality resides not only on the staggering performances but mostly on the richly developed and extremely witty dialogue (one of the brother's trademarks). The Coens get themselves away from their typical black humor and enter a different but also rewarding field, more concerned with the characters rather than the situations. One might say that it works perfectly even considering the slow pacing and the carefully developed plot. The second points gains strength with the success, not only of True Grit but all the others Coens projects (expect, I would say, for Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty – they seem to have not yet mastered the screwball comedy). Their filmography speaks for themselves, whether we choose a gangster movie, a film noir or a "dude" comedy. Despite including some far-fetched events that require quite a stretch in terms of imagination, True Grit's plot works, mainly because of the way all characters are introduced and exploited. There isn't a strong sense of moral but there is, however, the heart and the hunger for a great adventure. It is a rewarding piece that appeals to a large audience. The Coens managed to reduce the violence to a minimum amount and it has proved to be a smart tactic, especially when we are so close to the Academy Awards.
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The Town (2010)
Ben Affleck's directorial debut was much more than a mere and rare stroke of luck
26 December 2010
Two main conclusions can be withdrawn from the gripping, poignant and unexpected The Town: one, Ben Affleck's directorial debut was much more than a mere and rare stroke of luck. In fact, his ability to shoot Boston in a crude, humane and extremely intense way puts him on the list of the most promising directors of the decade; two, it seems that the fresh perspective provided by working behind the cameras gave him a whole new identity as an actor. Affleck's Douglas MacRay is easily one of his finest and most recommendable achievements.

Based on Chuck Hogan's "Prince of Thieves", The Town isn't a particularly inspired or groundbreaking idea. A longtime thief tries to abandon the family business as his feelings for a bank manager grow while he is being pursued by a tireless and ruthless FBI agent. If we were to judge this film by its synopsis, Michael Mann's Heat would come to mind: "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner". The problem would be easily solved and the picture wouldn't be as significant as in fact is. However, its straightforward and quite praiseworthy script allows Affleck to navigate through familiar ground and carefully coordinate the events in order to shape a convincing chain reaction about the unpredictability of human behavior. In spite of not being a complex odyssey about the people of the Charleston projects and the reasons why they chose the wrong side of the law, The Town provides a fruitful insight about the motivations of grown men deprived from their childhood. Intelligently appealing to the dramatic point of view of the characters instead of cooking a feast of blood and explosions, Affleck, Craig and Stockard's screenplay manages to keep the audiences immersed in the action. There is a quite surprising balance between the galvanizing action sequences and the emotional and heartwarming events. And none of this would be possible if it wasn't for the excellent work of the acting ensemble. It was fairly exciting to watch John "Don Draper" Hamm in an unfamiliar territory and giving a compelling and immaculate performance as well as it was satisfying to confirm Blake Lively's potential with her Marisa Tomei kind of role. Nonetheless, Jeremy Renner steals the show with his nerve-wracking, electrifying and volatile personality. After his tour de force in Katryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, the undeniably talented Renner becomes the ultimate bad guy with a bad attitude.

If it wasn't for Affleck's shameless desire to turn this film in something more 'artsy' (the slow motion and the black and white flashback are utterly unnecessary), The Town could be a truly remarkable picture. However, it still is an exhilarating 70s revival bringing to mind Friedkin's classic The French Connection. There are two or three scenes for the books, namely the car chase sequence or the Michael Mann homage close to the curtain fall. All in all The Town provides great entertainment but also the conscience that action movies can be a powerful tool for reflection. A must see.
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Black Swan (2010)
Aronofsky's Swan Song
26 December 2010
Darren Aronofsky managed to crush my skepticism. Now I see clearly. I can again believe in perfection. Black Swan is the single greatest achievement of the American industry in the past decade. He not only created a contemporary fable about the depthness inherent to the human desire for power, perfection and social acceptance, but he also painted this incredibly riveting allegory of today's rotten society. The screenplay was based on an original idea by Andrés Heinz (which he helped to write) but the story wouldn't have the same impact if Aronofsky wasn't the grandioso filmmaker he is. The visual power of this film is so strong that led me to an utter discomfort that ran for the entire duration of the movie. Aronofsky's composition is capable of expressing what words could never tell in such a clear and crisped manner. It provides a viewing that transcends the very nature of the cinematic experience. Bold words, yes, but when I look at the practical effects of this particular style, it is impossible to be indifferent to such a malicious composition. I wanted to leave the theatre. I felt suffocated, bewildered, overwhelmed by the events and the way they were shot but, at the same time, I couldn't let go of the screen. It was too enchanting, too magical to look away for just one second. Even the crudeness and the brutality of certain scenes felt beautiful and spellbinding. It's truly remarkable how Aronofsky managed to make each frame important and significant. Overall, Black Swan is just an immaculate example of what screen balance should be. And once again, Clint Mansell proved that he is in the same page as Aronofsky's creativity since his music is so astonishing that helps to enhance every and each one of the moments of this ravishing fairy tale. There's a perfect sense of timing, pace and respect. It's beautifully depressing, inevitably deep and ultimately haunting.

And then there's a little girl called Natalie Portman that once again showed the world of cinema how far she can go and how stunning are her abilities. The creation of Nina is simply amazing. Portman puts together every single little detail and makes her character grow and grow until she bursts into a mad, compelling and mind blowing tour de force. We can actually see and understand her inner and constant struggle, her passion, her desire to explode. And suddenly, she's not a little girl anymore. And suddenly, silence overwhelms you and you feel the perfection. Another pleasant surprise came from Winona Ryder's performance. There are two or three moments where she literally steals the show from Portman. Again, we can feel her agony and sorrow. It's a clear sign of sheer brilliance.

Many things are being said about Black Swan. They touch upon subjects like its influences (All About Eve, The Red Shoes or Repulsion come to mind), how over the top it is and how the melodrama blends with the latent psychological horror. However, it seems that its true core is being forgotten. This is the proof that mad visions can come to life to overwhelms us. This is the moment when Aronofsky reaches for the sky and grabs it with such intensity. This visceral and phantasmagoric experience will generate a lot of different reactions. Love it or hate it. You won't have any other choice. Aronofsky demands that. And even if you hate it, remember, you felt something. That is one of the main purposes of cinema: to arouse feelings and emotions, to be memorable. From the brilliant opening scene until the very last breath, the film has a life of its own that will shock you and disgust you. What more can a film lover ask from a movie? I can assure that no one will be indifferent to this tale as old as the duality of the human existence. And I can state without a single hint of doubt in my speech: Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky's swan song. Truly and utterly remarkable! "I was perfect…"
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127 Hours (2010)
You may be dying but the world moves on
26 December 2010
You may be dying but the world moves on. That is the naked truth about our existence and the main allegory written in the stimulating visual experience provided by Danny Boyle in his latest film. 127 Hours is a wonderful metaphor for solitude and for the importance of what life means at an individual level. It enhances the indescribable experience of having a family, friends and love, but most of all cherishes the meaning of human contact. Solitude is perceived as being bearable and a lot of times needed but seldom is viewed as being fulfilling. Only when the epiphany pops into our minds, we realize what we have been missing. It is a common and frustrating fact. Nonetheless, Danny Bolyle's achievement allows a new and fresh take on this theme. The director shows the audiences that life happens when they least expect. And truth be told, there is a bright place for those who abandon their egotistical "independence" and start sharing the events that life provides.

Telling a story about a man who is stuck in the same place for such an extensive period of time is definitely not easy. Danny Boyle described the picture as "an action movie in which the hero doesn't move" and he certainly took the challenge. With this in mind, two main conclusions can be withdrawn from Boyle's work: 1) He was able to maintain the action dynamic and the viewers engaged through a series of devices that allow them to be interested not only on the hero's present condition but also in his past and, quite possibly, his future. The mind behind Trainspotting entered the psyche of his new hero and gave it a shape and a texture that transformed the general perception. The empathy towards the character grew and from that moment on the audience grabbed the hook. He was able to dissect James Franco's character thoughts and desires in a moment of extreme physical and psychological agony.

2) It was extremely hard to be inventive in such scenario and some techniques proved to be tiresome. In certain moments during the movie, Danny Boyle seemed to be trying to hard when having a simpler approach looked like to be more successful. He stylized the action in a way that doesn't always work even considering that he established his filmmaking style from the very beginning.

With regards to the main performer, it is only fair to praise James Franco's enactment. It is a truly astonishing tour-de-force that will probably be mentioned during the Oscar nominations. He's not only charming and witty but his personality fills the screen with such a great talent. It is very gratifying to observe his evolution according to the character's state of mind.

127 Hours is a quite remarkable achievement. There's the ability to pick up a true straightforward story about survival and courage and enhance it through a sheer composition of good sense without falling on the old American cliché. This story does not try to be epic or monumental. It tries to be honest and true. And we, as viewers, don't feel cheated or slapped across the face, and that is really all we could ask for.
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Hereafter (2010)
Hereafter fails to prove a deeper point!
26 December 2010
Apart from Paul Thomas Anderson I would state that Clint Eastwood is the greatest American storyteller of today's cinema. His movies are often compelling, emotional and extremely powerful. They manage to gather these captivating attributes because Eastwood dissects people's repressed feelings. He has proved to be a great analyst of people's thoughts and their minimal, almost imperceptible, reactions to a certain and very specific environment. That makes him a master of crude humane and unbearably painful humane stories. Changeling, Mystic River or Letters from Iwo Jima are just a few examples of his ability to create both shocking and fulfilling works of art. Eastwood is more interested in stories rather than politics, demographics or box office and that might be the main reason that makes him a true icon when it comes to the seventh art.

That said it was only natural to have high expectations regarding Hereafter, especially considering the quite polemic theme that involves the narrative. This could be the perfect occasion to make a truly significant and interesting film about afterlife. Unfortunately that didn't happen. Instead we have a presumptuous, often uninteresting take on something vague, cliché and, ultimately, beat subject. Despite the startling and promising beginning (if we manage to ignore the poor computer generated imagery) the films grows towards the wrong direction pointing the audience in the more than expected direction. It rarely surprises and when it does we can hardly say that it was the best choice. Talking about something unfamiliar can be a challenge but also an open gateway to experiment and to express a very personal and subjective opinion. Peter Morgan, the screenwriter who did wonders with Frost/Nixon or The Queen, knows how to produce gripping dialogue and create emotional tension between the characters but in Hereafter he fails to prove a deeper point and that can easily be proved by his terrible, almost unthinkable, ending. It wasn't easy to cross the paths of three so distinct characters living in a permanent conflict after a determinate event. Nonetheless, the nauseating love experience could easily be forfeited if the typical Hollywood happy ending wasn't required. The truth is that we can see a fascinating line of thought during the whole movie but we can never really grab it making Clint Eastwood's direction go to waste. If on the one hand, this is not his best and most inspired work, it is also true that is he who can keep the viewer immersed in the action. The director's talent to make a story work becomes evident once again as well as his ability to direct actors. Despite brief, Bryce Dallas Howard portrait of a young, insecure and desperately anxious to find love character becomes a cinematic delight. Matt Damon, although not as efficient as in Invictus, is able to trespass his raw emotions, both physically and psychologically. It's not an explosive performance but extremely competent. His discreet and deep look make him fragile in the narrative and consequently stronger in the movie.

It is a known fact that nobody can be absolutely sure about what happens after we die (if anything) and Hereafter won't clarify you on the matter. At least, it had the intelligence not to be one of those unnecessary horror/thrillers that aspire to be manipulative and engaging (White Noise comes to mind). And that is Hereafter's main advantage and what makes him worth the price of the movie ticket. It will hardly be the powerful cinematic experience that we would expect from Clint Eastwood but, if for no other reason, tries to appeal to a collective imagination about a subject that can be right around the corner.

"It's not a gift. It's a curse"
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Rabbit Hole (2010)
The power of feeling!
26 December 2010
John Cameron Mitchell's piece is the most simple film of the year, yet one of the best. Please do not confuse simple with simplistic. It's a rather complex turmoil of emotions that come together to provide an intense account of a couple coping with their son's death. However it is done in such a clean and polished manner that one might wonder if the secret of success lies on the "simple" process of feeling the imagery and capturing the visual style. It's extremely effective and gives room to the actors do what they do best. Rabbit Hole is not about the loss, but how to cope with it and how hard and emotionally heavy it can be. Through day-to-day actions people try to forget, believing that the solution lies on the non-existence, but the truth is that facing reality is much more efficient. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart prove that point by engaging the audiences in the dimension of their loss through significant and remarkable character development. This is to say that their performances are astounding, but much more important than that they don't feel like performances: they feel real. Though it may be hard to avoid getting into the field of sentimentalism, both actors manage to escape the melodrama and focus on what is real: going to work every day, cleaning the house, going to group therapy, baking, playing squash, reading… In the process there is an intrinsic desire to confront the situation, but it's too hard. It becomes physically painful and intellectually devastating. Men and women are different to the extent of physical appearance since when it boils down to the bare essential, the human being just wants one thing: to cope with their existence. It's not about sex, procreating, loving… it's accepting that people die.

Through a rather simple and undesirable situation, John Cameron Mitchell (who also suffered a loss that would become a part of his childhood) manages to express himself visually in such a liberating way that makes the dark humor all the more interesting. It is not by chance that the viewers are forced to face nature so many times. The characters are small compared to their environment; they wonder everyday what it's like to be a part of that almost intangible world of the absence of thought, just living. In fact, nature provides the perfect antagonist to our characters. They don't blame the kid that killed their son, but the circumstances, circumstances bigger than God, than the dimension of nature and the peacefulness that surrounds it. Rabbit Hole gains strength through the little pieces, the little moments of bondage and the little moments when people actually try to understand, when they stop to feel and let go of their anger and frustration. It's not easy to write a movie like this and it certainly isn't easy to direct it or act in it. But all the pieces come together to offer an amazing film. It's incredibly rewarding to see the fight against irony and the fight against the self while the cycle is reaching its final steps. Haunting!
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RED (2010)
"Old man, my ass!"
26 December 2010
Considering the exponential growth in the number of movies based on comics to premiere in theatres worldwide in the last three years, it was just a matter of time before Warren Ellis's award winning graphic novel (about a retired hit man struggling to find the truth behind the real reasons the CIA is after him) hit the big screens. Those who are familiar with the Ellis's writing and Cully Hammer's drawings know that the content can be quite brutal so it would be perfectly normal to expect a "new" Kick-Ass. However, Paramount had other plans and decided to reduce the core violence to two or three scenes a little bit more intense but accessible to all teenagers. The outcome is, shall we say, ambiguous.

Red is one of those movies that simply cannot be taken too seriously. Trying to make him something more than just entertainment would be a huge mistake that certainly would ruin the whole cinematic experience. It can be extremely funny and thrilling but the sum of all parts doesn't add up to a great film. John and Erich Hober's script cannot dodge some common stereotypes in this kind of action/comedy flick originating some boring and insipid scenes. Over the top explosions, green screen shots and slow motion are just some examples of this tiresome new way of making movies that base important decisions on poor judgment (in a desperate attempt to captivate more spectators) instead of intelligently thought shots. Nonetheless, Red is an undeniable charming movie bringing the Coen's filmography to mind a few times, mainly through its dark humor and crazy situations. Of course it never reaches the magnificence of their movies (most of them anyway) but then again, it never really tries. Red has a strong identity and tries to maintain it during 111 minutes. And if anyone is responsible for that consistency, that person is John Malkovich who manages to steal the show in each screen appearance with is obsessive and paranoid insanely amusing character. Helen Mirren rivals Malkovich as Red's best character. It is impossible to neglect her royal pose as she his wiping bad guys from the face of the earth. Bruce Willis plays his typical The Whole Ten Yards part and can be pretty competent although it would be a pleasant surprise to see him work his character a little bit more, namely by adding some vitality to this kind of personality. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, wasn't very successful or relevant. His importance to the world of cinema demanded more than just being lost on set.

Aside from the performances, the surprising cinematography and the appropriate soundtrack, Red really isn't a relevant picture in todays' cinema. However, it can be highly entertaining. If the viewer's main purpose is to relax and laugh for two hours, then this is the movie to see.
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The most original and fresh movie of the decade!
26 December 2010
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is quite possibly the most original and fresh movie of the decade. Even considering the boldness and extent of this statement, Edgar Wright's unique take on this roller-coaster of a journey makes its' entire duration (almost two hours) an undeniable cinematic pleasure. The film's ability to play with stereotypes revolving around pop culture and use them in an unexplainable crazy way gives Scott Pilgrim an awesomeness only believable through the sheer brilliance of the viewing. It is not a perfect movie and hardly could be called a masterpiece. Nonetheless it is "A" experience… and one of the most significant for that matter. Visually electrifying, masterfully edited and pleasuring engaging, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, despite the love-hate relationship that might arouse with some spectators, is the perfect blend of music, video games and parody in a frivolous yet uncomfortably contemporary society. And that is exactly the spot where Scott Pilgrim gives the correct answer to the million dollar question. It is not afraid of using the power of the seventh art as an experiment and pointing the finger at today's youth and its lack of culture and, in a sense, self-respect for the true meaning of moral and ethical values. In other words, there is an insatiable need for living this fantasy world, almost as if this so called "mature youth" were in the constant effect of drugs. Wright's film is not afraid of exposing it as a complete and utterly alternate and futile universe with no practical benefits whatsoever.

Maybe this is just an opinion that over rationalizes the true intent of the picture (which in its core is to pay tribute to Bryan Lee O'Malley's great graphic novel and, of course, to entertain) and, in fact, it might be perceived as a wonderful guilty pleasure. However, it is impossible to neglect the impact of this kind of pop culture on a daily and frustrating basis. But even in the worst case scenario, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World tells us the ultimate love story: a guy fights an army for his loved one. And let us be frank. How can anyone dislike that? It's not the contemporary Casablanca and, smartly enough, doesn't try to be. But it is a love a story. And a darn good one. For all its entertaining originality and stimulating visuals, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World deserves to be seen and commented.
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Somewhere (2010)
Lost in Translation for Hollywood
26 December 2010
The true beauty of Somewhere lies on its stillness and the parallel that arises with the protagonist. The wonderful opening shot establishes a man without a path, a man wondering around through life looking for something. The mood and the tone are set and the audience may now prepare for a journey of self-discovery. At times it might seem that there is not much going on but the fact is that all the details, all the little pieces provide a heartbreaking portrait of an individual lost in time and space. Sofia Coppola cherishes her experiences as the daughter of a famous director that spent a lot of time on the road and uses her power of observation to offer insight regarding the growing decadence of the American dream. What is significant proves to be less important than what is momentarily pleasurable. And, of course, as a crucial part of that world there is sex, drugs and alcohol involved – it's Hollywood. But that's not the main point. What matters is the beautiful growing bondage between father and daughter, as if fate, in a cry for attention, loaded its gun with one single bullet and aimed it right at Johnny Marco's heart (Stephen Dorff). After all, in the end it's not about the words, but the looks and the little moments. In that particular aspect, the stillness implied by Coppola makes each frame heartwarming, while giving the scene the required space to breathe and evolve. It becomes fascinating to observe the young director giving so much with so little. One of the examples that epitomizes this aspect is the scene where Johnny Marco is in the pool floating around and he slowly leaves the frame. Coppola never cuts. She lets him go, what, incidentally, makes perfect sense when we think about the protagonist's state of being. As a storyteller, a director must first show and then tell. Coppola doesn't even have to tell. Her images say everything we need to know to understand what's relevant (in fact, the protagonist rarely speaks and when he does, it's for a very brief period). The rest is up to us, the audience, to enjoy the loneliness and the sadness of the duality of fame. And that ending, that perfect ending symbolizing the end of a cycle is just touching and inspiring.

What really bothers me with regards to the reception that this movie had, especially in the United States, is the criticism made to Copolla's work, describing it as indulgent and a waste of time. It seems to me that this is linked to a growing and terrible tendency in the American cinema: the so called "fast food" mentality in which people consume a product, throw it away and forget it. It looks like that a movie to be accepted it has to be either fast paced with gripping and never-before-seen action sequences or big love stories with people arguing and fighting all the time. Then comes along a film like Somewhere that lacks the external conflict, that gives room to think and all hell breaks loose: Coppola is indulgent. This obviously couldn't be more far from the truth. If anything, Coppola's Somewhere is one of the few American movies of the last couple of years that allow to create empathy with the main character (and a real one for that matter - not that superficial, futile and sentimentalist crap that we usually see in big blockbusters). Plus, Somewhere cost eight million dollars what manages to be impressive. Coppola not only made a great movie with a very tiny budget but also gave a lesson in filmmaking to a lot of the auto-proclaimed auteurs with bigger budgets.

Nonetheless, truth be told, this is one of those movies that requires a certain mood in order to fully enjoy the experience it provides. The viewer who goes to the theatre expecting wild parties (Entourage style) and hot chicks mixed up with dangerous cocktail Molotovs will be seriously disappointed. This is the Paper Moon for a new generation, the Lost in Translation for Hollywood people. Like it or not, Somewhere represents Coppola's evolution and maturity, not only as a director, but as a woman with a cynical view of the industry she works in.
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The Fighter (I) (2010)
"I'm done fighting"
26 December 2010
Right upfront it can be told that The Fighter isn't an amazing movie. It certainly won't be considered one of the best boxing movies of all time. But then again, it's not about the matches, it's not about the fans, the blood and the cheers and it certainly isn't about winning or losing. It's all about the people, their simple lives and their humility. This is an extremely heartfelt film that will gain your trust by its wonderful honesty and the desire to tell a good, straightforward story with no bullshit or self-pity. The portrayal of an Irish family living in Massachusetts is quite accurate and realistic, what dramatically helps the narrative and to strengthen our feelings towards certain characters. The writers surely found out how to manipulate the audiences, making the understanding of the constant mixed feelings quite fascinating. Now, that doesn't always work and, in a way proves to be one of the weakest spots of the picture, especially because it forces director David O. Russel to change the tone and the mood very often, what he isn't always able to achieve in a successful manner. Nonetheless, credit is due to the writers and the job they did in putting together as unconventional screenplay in which the main concern is to grab the audiences by their hearts and never let go. It still is a "Rocky-american dream-from rock bottom to utter success" kind of story but it doesn't feel like it since in the end of the day all we care about are the characters: Micky, Dickky, Charlene, Alice, O'Keith… We go along in the journey, we live Micky's dream and we feel good about it. It isn't epic and never tries to be. It is real and it feels real, very real, and in a time where Hollywood fires away fakeness and futility at an incredible pace, that's really all we can ask for. The Fighter isn't always predictable considering that it doesn't follow the usual recipe for a successful screenplay. That happens since we're dealing with life and life doesn't follow a book. It has its own rules, likes to break them and punch them as often as possible and, in the end, gives us a faint smile because it recognizes our effort. That's the main reason why The Fighter is so pleasurably different. Its reality surpasses the cinematic experience and hits you right in the gut.

And in that aspect praise is due to David O. Russell for his brave effort in sticking to a true story. He didn't romanticize it. He used a lot of hand-held, rough imagery, incorporated the video look in the fight scenes (just like in the old HBO fights), used a significant amount of close-ups and was always moving the camera. Besides the obvious dynamic given, it showed that the filmmaker understood the true core of the film. He brought us close to his characters and made us stick with them. Of course, The Fighter wouldn't be so successful if it weren't for the wonderful, gripping and powerful performances. Christian Bale was simply astonishing. After two or three underachieving interpretations he comes back stronger than ever with the portrayal of an odd man, an old timer, that loves his family and is extremely proud of his brother but is going way down in the hole. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo blink again at the members of the Academy with riveting performances. Women can have a devastating presence on screen and it turned out to be very interesting to watch them fight for reason and affection. Mark Wahlberg wasn't exceptional but was very true to his nature what made him believable, allowing the audiences to empathize with him and his character.

On a final note I would like to enhance Hoyte Van Hoytema's beautiful and simple photography that reveals a lot more than what meets the eye. The same goes to the editing and sound design departments. David O. Russell's The Fighter is a very, very interesting piece that follows life's path: drama, comedy, tragedy, romance and a strong, very strong will power. It never wears you down without giving you something in return.
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The good, the bad and the ugly of our present society!
26 December 2010
More than a movie about the most important social network in the world, David Fincher's film is a powerful, frightening and quite possibly iconic portrait of a generation, establishing Fight Club's director as a true chronicler of our time. Furthermore, The Social Network deeply analyses the core idea that made Facebook what it is today, regardless if people think about it when they use it or not. And that might be a particular interesting point of view if we consider the reasons that made Facebook triumph over some other similar formats as My Space. A rational view is required here rather than an intuitive impulse to add friends, comment on photos and chat with friends. In that sense, Aaron Sorkin does a wonderful job focusing on the human aspect of a truly humanistic story instead of treating it as a nerdy and cybernetic global phenomenon. Sorkin is able to dissect the outcome of each new action and the excitement that goes with it with pristine perfection giving the transforming the main characters into so much more than mere puppets. If to this consideration we add the fact that each relevant individual is given proper screen time, we could easily praise Sorkin's screenplay describing it as being extremely intelligent, dreadfully witty and masterfully developed. Oscar buzz? Definitely. However, the true importance of his work lies on his capability to capture the feeling of a generation which is never neglected by Fincher. He undoubtedly deserves to be a part of this wave of compliments since his ability to attain the most significant shots result into a visual and Homeric odyssey about the motivation that drive the young adults of today. And when it comes to the naked truth the Facebook exists for one reason and one reason only: for guys to have sex. The original idea of exclusivity was to attract a particular kind of a girl whereas nowadays, in spite of not being so exclusive, the social network has the exactly same purpose. The only difference is that along the way it managed to be fun and a true boost for social life. That libido is put on hold by Marc Zuckerberg with his "I don't care about anything except my genius" posture but eventually he his swept away by the "price" of becoming famous. And what a performance Jesse Eisenberg offers as the mastermind behind Facebook. His dynamic personality and, inevitably, his looks make him the ideal Zuckerberg, the guy who got bored and thrived for broader social acceptance. Not only Eisenberg conquers the audiences in the first two minutes but also sets the mood for the fast paced and sarcastic dialogue. Andrew Garfield, as his best friend and co-creator, delivers a solid interpretation of a student struggling to climb a few mountains in the social scale. On the opposite side of the fence are Josh Pence and Armie Hammer who fight for what they believe proving that even having means it isn't always easy to achieve the desired objectives. So, The Social Network represents one of the fieriest conflicts in history: the battle between classes. It represents the desire of becoming something more, belonging where you don't belong. It sounds like an old cliché and actually it is but when Hollywood is facing a serious creativity problem, Fincher's movie, although analyzing known themes, manages to excel in all basic standards of filmmaking, providing two hours of brilliant cinema. Trent Reznor's music is almost as engaging as Jeff Cronenweth's beautiful cinematography and even Justin Timberlake manages to steal a couple of scenes with his conceded, manipulating and conniving character. Nonetheless, The Social Network isn't as perfect as some critiques praise him to be. Its magnificent classicism should not hide the fact that from time to time there are some details of minor and absurd conceited sequences (namely the rowing competition in England). Despite that detour towards total magnificence The Social Network will definitely be one of 2010s best films and an important piece as a study of the good, the bad and the ugly of our present society.
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