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Samantha, oups! (2004)
David Strajmayster and Guillaume Carcaud are AMAZINGLY funny as two Parisian airheads with lots of time on their hands, and as the same two when they move to the countryside to run a hotel. The characters brilliantly blunder through pratfalls, social faux pas, "unintentional" direct insults, complete blind stupidity and all manner of misunderstandings. The portrayals are genius and every sucker punch has an extra shot to keep you laughing.
The first series are very reminiscent of a satirisation of Paris Hilton's reality shows in the way the Samantha goes from job to job proving there is nothing too simple for her to misunderstand or get wrong. The shows in the country side benefit from additional actors that allow the story lines to get a bit more complex.
Favourite episodes: the early fair, picnicking in the back yard, any one where Chantal gets fed up, shooting in the woods and camping with the scouts.
Viaje a Bangkok (2008)
An extremely original idea - the story of one character narrated over the action of another character that she will cross near the end of the film's running time. Not only original but VERY well executed, this film highlights the casual manner by which westerners pervert local societies in less economically advantaged nations.
Not wanting to give away the specific subject matter in the hopes that as many people as possible will see this quality piece of work, and listen to the narrator's story.
The actual footage, scenery, shots and dialogue are all well done and well put together. Here's hoping this director goes forth successfully.
Los liantes (1981)
good for laugh
The film centers on three con artists and the jobs they orchestrate to take advantage of foreigners at a beach town. Made during the "destape" or "uncovered" era of Spanish film production, there are surprisingly few full frontal nude women. It is also surprising to see Pajares nearly nude in one scene since most of the films of this era featured nude women having sex with fully clothed men.
Not the best out of the string of movies churned out by the four man team (Pajares, Esteso and Ozores x 2) but it does has some laugh out loud moments and is a very good reflection of the attitudes of the day.
The movie starts out strong with a slew of gags and phrases that were imitated by fans all over Spain for many years. However; when the story begins to focus on fleecing a superstitious millionaire the comedy winds down, relying more heavily on wacky interpretation than comedic dialogue or situations. Well worth watching if only for the scene in the camper van - that I won't describe in detail so as not to spoil it.
Dated but still funny
Martes y Trece was Spain's first great comedy team. Many might say it was the last one as well since the only other team to come close since is Cruz y Raya. This is their first feature film, and was done when they were still three members. Later Josema and Millán would continue to improve on the quality of their comedy, getting better and better with time. This film contains a lot of gags that are dated or perhaps less politically correct than today's standard, and the pace is a bit slow for a modern audience. The plays on words that were later typical fair for Martes y Trece aren't really present here, although they do make very good use of colloquial expressions. If you are a comedy fan, if you get a kick out of movies like Deuce Bigelow or Envy then this is well worth watching.
Disappointing and propagandistic
Natalia Verbeke gives a good performance, showing a driven professional who goes after the truth despite sometimes experiencing personal fear. She has two nice showcase moments in the film where she proves she really got into her character's skin (in the cafeteria before Ariza's deposition and at the paper after a threatening call is received). Jordi Molla, on the other hand, underacts in light of the character he is playing. A military man in such a position would certainly show a great deal more arrogance and violent character, and we all know Molla is capable of showing it after his performance in BLOW. Ana Alvarez is memorable as the submissive girlfriend, but none of the rest of the cast really stand out. There isn't any real character development to make the audience sympathise with any of the main characters beyond mentions in passing that one of the journalists is divorced and the other about to get married.
The real problem with this film; however, is that the actors aren't really given much to work with. The basis of the story is explained in a manner approaching docudrama but without sufficient detail to really justify such stilted plot development. The scenes of GAL members doing horrible acts to the tune of American rock music is a teeny bit surreal as clearly it is meant to show GAL was working non-stop committing crimes of all sorts, but the movie doesn't get into the nitty gritty of what they actually did except to show one car bomb and one botched kidnapping. The musical choice makes me wonder if the person who did the soundtrack is at all aware of the music scene in Spain in the 80's and what the characters would likely have been listening to. In any case, the use of flashback at certain parts of the film is supported by the "interview" technique but doesn't add anything in the way of suspense. Rather it gives the film a sloppy and disjointed feel.
All in all, the film views like a propaganda film the likes of those shown to troops before wars to get them convinced of how they should feel without explaining too much lest they think for themselves. Frankly, the story this movie covers is a very important one in the history of a country that went from the fascist rule of a dictatorship to democracy without condemning the hierarchy of the previous government for their abuses. Clearly that caused problems in the transition to democracy and arguably those problems are still present today. There are so many historical, political and social issues involved that they cannot easily be treated in 111 minutes. However; that is no excuse for producing a film lacking in focus and development... unless the objective is solely to get the audience worked up.
Perhaps a remake will do a better job. Perhaps a subsequent treatment will be worth watching. Aside from Natalia Verbeke's 5 minutes, this one sure is not.
Squared and moving forward
A quite attractive portrait of local customs and manners that rings true. Although sure to get laughs when viewed from other cultures; the characters are developed and interpreted with affection. Several stunning images stay with the viewer after the movie is over the circle of women receiving Sole at the wake, the body in the kitchen, the cutting board but this story uses less visual and colour metaphor than recent past films and instead focuses in on the actor's renditions. We see people from a village behaving and doing as they typically do.
The script does seem to wander about pursuing things that don't necessarily tie in but all the events are included to maximise the "mannerist" picture and flesh out the characters' dysfunctions. The grandmother Carmen Maura plays isn't merely comic relief but a super realist example of how far an intrusive society can push its members into hiding as well as a symbol of the below board justice that was for so long practiced in villages outside the direct reach of authorities.
Like LA MALA EDUCACION, the script centres on a subject that would have been taboo for open discussion for Spanish society not fifteen years ago. More so if it was to take place in a small village where everyone treats other people's business as public domain. It is interesting to note that for many decades under Spanish criminal law a blood relationship (especially that of a father to a daughter) with a rape victim is considered a mitigating factor in sentencing. Thus, Raimunda's attitudes and motivations are explained perfectly when viewed in light of what she lived through. Penelope Cruz's interpretation was fantastic in my opinion, in that is showed all the locked up rage, sorrow, distance and detachment that is typical in people who have suffered such childhood experiences.
I found it extremely gratifying to see a movie treat this subject matter without falling into morbid clichés or sappy after school special type emotional dialogue. I find it especially gratifying that this film has finally given Almodovar the recognition he deserves in his home country: Goyas for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (Maura)
La baguette (2004)
amusing a bizarre social commentary
Two looser ex-cons want to get back in the game. The smarter of the two comes up with an "ingenious" idea of how to replace their lack of weapons. Although the plot developments may not come as a complete surprise, the timing and the narrator's attitude make it extremely funny. The first half seems a social commentary on the job market in urban France, but can also be interpreted in a wider sense to represent the obstacles people face when trying to integrate into their society. The rest is reminiscent of the hold up scene from RAISING ARIZONA in the sense that nothing goes as planned; however, the funniest aspects of this hold up center on the reactions of the intended victims: immigrant owners of an all night shop who do not get along. Better quality than most SNL skits and worth the while.
Amor idiota (2004)
waste of 104 minutes
Although the actors do a convincing job playing the losers that parade across the screen, the fact that these characters are impossible to identify with had me looking at my watch a mere 20 minutes into the film (and more than once after that). The plot development is disjointed and slow, the verbal diarrhoea of the main character's only friend is practically insufferable, the base quality of most of the characters actions and the cavalier way in which they are treating is annoying.
It is typical of Ventura Pons to put forth crass psychologically handicapped characters. However, this faux sociological analysis is a big step down from CARICIAS or Caresses, where the characters maltreat and despise each other for well founded reasons that play out during that film. In AMOR IDIOTA we are forced to follow the meanderings of a truly subnormal intelligence as he stalks a severely depressed and detached woman. Supposedly this is due to his own depression but the script doesn't support that. I won't give away the rest of the story just in case there are any masochists out there Is he cured through his obsession or is the woman shocked out of her own depression through his unwavering attention? Even though I watched the whole thing I wasn't made to care even for a moment about either of them.
If you can sit through all this prejudice, ignorance, betrayal, BAD dialogue, flimsy philosophy, etc the camera-work was pretty good and seems to be something inspired by the DOGMA group. The makeup also seemed to aim at showing these players in a raw and gritty light as it is the worst I've seen Cayetana Guillen Cuervo in any of her movies (while in person she is actually attractive).
I suppose if the idea is that we should be forced to see the lower strata of society so we can be grateful we are not part of it then Pons has achieved his objective. The barrage of nearly identical sex scenes was a proper waste of film (if the actors had been filmed but once in blue green clothing the background behind them could have been changed in the special effects studio for a pittance). True that I heard much of the male audience squirm in their seats during this but an objective viewing proves that was not the real aim of those scenes.
Save yourselves and watch something else.
we haven't gotten very far at all
This film portrays the abysmal differences between people with different educations and senses of morality. At the same time, it is a commentary on the hopelessness of a society where no one understands why the status quo should be tampered with. No summary could really do this film justice since the visual impressions and symbols are just as important as the express message portrayed by the events.
But here goes: A novice is forced by circumstances to leave her convent and visit her uncle, falling under the influence of her world wise cousin. She tries to maintain her ideals by doing good works but is taken advantage of and despised by the very people she means to help.
Viridiana was the first film Buñuel filmed from exile and (so the story goes) the church was in an uproar and adamant that it be censored. Perhaps this is because none of the characters seem to give a fig about the teachings of the church except for the novice. Perhaps it is because one of the messages that seems clear is that the church is ineffectual in its efforts to improve the human condition. However, the depth of the story speaks more to the social condition in general -similar in all of Europe at the time- and the church was merely a part of that.
It is possible that a superficial viewing might interpret the characters to represent specific political factions from the era when the film was made but I believe that is an error. Even Franco, if we are to believe what we are told today, didn't personally see anything wrong with the film when he saw it and his order that all copies be destroyed was given in the interest of appeasing the church. People who appreciate quality film will be grateful that at least one copy survived the mass destruction by being sent to France.
Sibirskiy tsiryulnik (1998)
In its extended version -where the characters are fully developed and the relationships between them fully explored- this movie is incredible. Not just because Oleg Menshikov is a fabulous actor and Julia Ormond does some of the best acting I've seen her do, but because the plot is interesting and well written and the filming is beautiful.
In the butchered and censored short version crucial elements of the story are missing (especially the complete dialogues between Andrei and Jane and the majority of their scene in bed) and the movie is OK but nothing special.
Why would the studio even release such a lame version? Can you imagine a two hour version of Gone with the Wind? Or a 90 minute version of Titanic?
I saw the full 4 and ½ hours extended film in a cinema and no one walked out because it was too long. I saw the short version on the Cosmo channel and I really don't understand why the producers would stab themselves in the back by releasing a watered down and lacking version presumably for audiences with short attention spans?- but I recommend avoiding the 3 hours one and holding out for the real film.