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389 reviews in total 
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Boomerang (1992)
supporting sexiness, 14 April 2017

This is a rather mundane attempt at a most repeated formula. It's bad, very bad, and Eddie Murphy is nowhere near to deliver all he can do in terms of comedy. All right, most date films are bad anyway.

Forget the sexism of his character which in the end we are supposed to "forgive" as opposed to the similar behavior from the female boss, whom we are supposed to look upon as demeaning and offensive. This is offensive today, i don't know how it played in 1992. I mean, Murphy's character finds out he's in love with Berry when he is in bed with his boss...

Anyway, there is one single element which, upon reviewing this one, many years later, struck me as something very nicely done, and that was the handling of the 2 sex charged supporting female characters: Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones. Both were in her younger days masters of their own quirky erotic universe, and expressed it in terms of pop culture. Here they are allowed to revive that sexiness, and in doing so they are the anchor to this project. Eartha as the "retired" leader but still the face of the company who promotes sexiness, and Grace as the actual face of that sexiness (as promoted in a clip aptly filmed by our voodoo wizard from previous adventures in film). These 2 ladies are worth it. Everything else isn't.

King Kong (1976)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
tube top, 27 March 2017

Almost everything in this film is bad in terms of conception, but not so much in terms of execution. The whole thing reads today as trash film with a higher than usual budget. Production values are great, for the time and type of film.

Not much is made with the potential of the Kong story, at least nothing that wasn't already deeply explored in the previous 1933 film, and the Peter Jackson version. This means all the self- referential bits are either lost or are clumsy handled. So the Bridges character is still a photographer, but his character is used as a know-it-all who explains everyone around him what's going on, there's no film within in the island, and the show in New York is just a mechanical device that triggers the last expected sequence. Here that sequence is played in the twin towers instead of the empire state which the character from Lange references earlier. Impossible to watch any post- or pre- 9/11 which uses the WTC as a set without correlating...

But one thing is magnificent here, and only incidentally helped by the creative/production decisions. Because this is made into an exploitation vehicle, the sexual friction (quite literally) is brought to the center of the thing. See how Jessica Lange enters the film, as a desirable sex being, stranded on a rubber boat. The ship crew, Bridges and, of course, us, the audience, lust after her. Lange channels the unaware-on purpose explicit sexuality which was Marylin Monroe's persona, and she does it so well. And that's what works in this film. Jessica Lange would do so much better later, in terms of ambition and acting. But here she is all sex, all desire, all lust, and she brings out that obvious side of the Kong story better than any of the versions or spin-offs that have already been made. That's because she teases you into the thing, seduces the audiences as she seduces Prescott, as she seduces Kong. What else is acting? Because of her such cheap trash tricks as the Kong finger unclothing her become a powerful erotic depiction, and only because of that this film may be worth seeing.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
the show in outer space, 24 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We live now in an age of extreme irony, where the jokes in a comedy like this one have to reference other films, TV shows and so on... 1999 gave us at least 3 Hollywood films that made this sort of self- reference device that actually (in this case literally) creates the film:

Bowfinger has the most cinematic approach, because the story is about the creation of a film, and many of the jokes ARE the making of that film. It's a film as the making of another film.

Mystery Men has the best sets, and the references have to do with the performances, a sort of an anti-superhero film where each goofy super-hero tackles his own typical performance, thus creating the joke and the comment on it.

This one has actually the most clever approach in terms of writing, although it is the less successful for me in terms of comedy.

The fun is that they reference Star Trek obviously, which a staple of pop culture, so the audiences can immediately relate. And than they create a little tale of stories creating each other:

-everything is a performances, all actors play actores playing characters, and are actually pretty much all the time in character, starting from the very beginning, when they are at a fan convention, in character (the film ends the same way, thus framing the whole thing as a performance);

-actors are allowed to spoof some part of their own public persona: so Weaver spoofs Ripley, Allen spoofs Buzz Lightyear, Alan Rickman his "shakespearean actor doing Hollywood stuff" (incidentally, i think this is his first Snape...)...

-the most clever self-reference is how they handle the world of the aliens: the aliens come to earth to pick up our heroes because they caught their cheesy TV show on space and took it for real. Before they picked them up, they actually built their world and technology according to what the show on earth showed. So the reality of the aliens imitated the art of the earthlings who than go to the alien world first as actors performing a role, and eventually stop acting and become the roles they first performed. In between, a lot jokes about acting as lying are dropped, and actually the difference between the bad space guys and the good ones is that the bad guys understand the concept of lying. So in order to save the day, our heroes have to turn bad (lying...) acting into believable one. They have to "live" their roles, in other words, they have to stop lying.

This is good stuff in a popcorn package. I'm guessing that things like Deadpool indicate that we are moving on, and that we already went too far in terms of mapping our stories completely (and exclusively) to the reference of themselves. But i think the age we are (maybe) closing now started somewhere in the 90's. IMO, if you want the best of it, you have to check "Tropic Thunder" or "Saneamento Básico" if you're not afraid to leave Hollywood and/or if you want to have clever writing AND a film that matters, all in one.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
the river and the dinosaur, 23 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I suppose this works as entertainment and it fails utterly as something more, although if you look a bit into it, you will see how this island is full with the bones of potential creative richness.

The core concept was the overlapping of two ideas. You have Conrad's metaphor of going up the river, not directly through Conrad but with the Vietnam filter Coppola put on it (his interest was in turn triggered by an abandoned first project by Welles). And you have the obvious exotic lost paradise location full of dangerous otherworldly creatures, who exist in the cinematic world of Jurassic Park, not of the previous Kong films.

The first concept was, i think, a creative choice. The second was a producers requirement. The rest of the film, with the required references, jokes, etc. follows these two guidelines and becomes literally a battle between these two visions, a battle obviously won by the producers vision. We are left with nothing at the end. But it's still fun to try and guess where and how the studio twisted the vision of the writers - not knowing any other work of this director, i don't know on which side he was. Anyway:

-Sam Jackson plays Kurtz, but he channels his Jurassic Park mad performance;

-the boat made of scraps from the crashed planes was the prop with more potential. It's visual, it's interesting, and could work in a Herzog way. Yet it is rendered to near uselessness, because Sam Jackson wants to blow up Kong instead of going down the river (get it?)

-Marlow is merely supporting here. He has lived in the island for 28 years, but calls none of the shots (not even the mad ones). Eventually he leaves the tribe of natives, another nod to Conrad, and goes back to his former world;

-Where they screwed this up the worst, in my opinion, was in how the Hiddleston/Larson characters were handled. He is named "Conrad", but She is the photographer/reporter, the one designated writer/storyteller on screen. We even "see" many of the photos she takes, get the world through her lenses. SHE should be Conrad, not him. But again the producer's vision prevails, and they needed a "girl in distress to be saved" and in the process produce the 2 visually obvious references to the previous Kong films.

Go on, and place here the references that you can find: helicopters against an orange sky, the forced Vietnam bits, the Full Metal Jacket nods, Bowie vs Doors references, and whatever you feel like finding out and filling in. In our age of irony, filtered through nostalgia, i supposed this film will have its place, and the nodding head of Nixon may be read under recent political events in America (although it was most certainly filmed before the last American election). This viewer had fun, but in the end has left the island with nothing more than the memory of a few skulls that could have been kings.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
choose this one, 2 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Before I went to see this film, I made the mistake of watching the first one. It's interesting to understand how our memory paints past experiences with colors that they don't actually have. My memory told me that film was a powerful mix of style and theme, a film about drugs as if it were made under the influence of them. Well, the style is there, badly aged, but the film is raw, i suppose as raw as a drugged youngster and as raw as the film-goer that i was.

Now this second part, this is something else. So cleverly conceived, so aware of the possibilities that the use of the first film as a piece of collective memory present, that i think this may be the best sequel ever as far as the relation with the first film goes. And it all lies on the writing, and how it affects the world of the film, and our world by extension.

The visual style is much more relaxed here, more meaningful, more mature (the visual world has also changed in the last 20 years). This means we get great cinematography which helps the story-telling instead of simply replacing it. But the magic happens in the writing:

Already in the first film, there was a group of troublemakers, plus Spud. The story was centered around Renton, and Spud was the outsider, the unwilling character, who literally observed what was going one, as underlined by the pivotal scene near the end when he sees Renton run away with the money (and being rewarded for that afterwards).

Here the character of Renton is not so much the center of the narrative, in the sense that we don't follow his story, although he unleashes everything we see. We follow everyone's story instead. Ewan Mcgreggor is the perfect actor to stand in that hard spot, of co-creating what's happening without occupying an obvious central spot. But while we are led to believe from the beginning that Renton will have the central stage, it's in fact Spud who (quite literally) tells the story. Near the beginning we see how Renton saves Spud's life, enabling him to be our designated story-teller.

From than on, almost all the interaction between characters will happen through Spud. And from a point on he will actually write the story that we see, encouraged by our second surrogate on-screen, Veronika. And the last act is amazing, because Spud writes the whole story, and by doing that influences the ending of it. So his writing is at the same time story-telling and story-creation. Amazing! At last we know that everything we saw in both films is through the eyes of, and co- created by Spud.

The last, and most cinematic device is the set of the last scene. The intended brothel, which was built and supervised by... Spud. He literally creates physically the place where the story ending will unfold. That is a beautiful set, incomplete as a construction site that it is, a work in progress where the rage will explode, where the debts will be settled. The mirror-room and how it is used in the staging of the fight between Renton and Begbie is amazing in its conception and visual use. I'm recommending this film, if possible colored by the memory of the old one.

La La Land (2016/I)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Marsalis, not Miles, 20 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Once in a while this happens: a film that does everything well enough to avoid major criticism. The perfect blockbuster according to the book of David O.Selznick. A few things are required:

-a pair of lovable and bankable stars (girl and boy) that have the sympathy of a majority of the film-goers, even some people who don't go so often to films but recognize them as stars. They have to be given roles that fit their mold, where they can act as lovable as everyone expect them to be;

-give the film a story-line as easy to follow as possible, a simple romance that holds all the plot points that will make it look as something big and breath-taking. Aquaitance, fall in love, crisis, redemption...

-put that story-line in the context of a bigger theme and twist it in a way that will ultimately prevent the lovers from the desired happy- end. This is melodrama, where the bigger context affects the smaller lives (war in Gone with the wind; religious prejudice and politics in Ben-Hur; the shipwreck in Titanic...). In this case we have Hollywood and a simple dynamic of love vs the pursuit of dreams;

-produce the whole thing as lush as you can and as likable as the pair of stars: colorful saturated photography, songs everyone can easily hum, dance numbers that tap into the memory of older loved musicals. Competent and safe craftsmanship.

-Sell the whole thing, invest as much or more selling the thing as in producing it.

The self-reference here is obvious and falls along two lines, both equally safe and obvious:

-the movie is set in movieland, she even serves coffee in a movie studio. it works the most ostensibly artificial film genre of them all, and in the way makes obvious and safe quotes of classical musicals (plus the Rebel even more obvious bits). Among those quotes is one where they walk through the 4th wall and we get to see the whole film crew, equipment, lights, etc.

-the jazz bits. Our boy is a conservative jazz fan, the bop guy who thinks Miles's fusion is rock or pop, or whatever. So are the people behind this film, or so they show themselves to be. This film is supposed to stand for the "new films" as old jazz stands for "new jazz": genuine and "true" by comparison.

The by now very celebrated ending, with the alternative version where the two lovers stay together is the ultimate safety device employed. They sink the ship, and kill Jack, but just think that maybe the viewers will be put away and so they relive an alternative version of the last third of the movie and film in a few minutes, crammed with music and narrative information, the script draft that was thrown in the garbage for the sake of the "tragic" element of grand love themed blockbuster.

If you want a film that is well crafted escapism while seeming more than that, this is it. This is being canonized by Hollywood, and for years to come you will hear bits of the music in academy awards ceremonies and see it in lists of best of, etc. But if you want adventure, if you want risk, than this is the total opposite. It's obscenely safe, and ultimately pointless. This is the cinematic version of Marsalis, sailing competently and expertly through the Seas that others have charted long ago, kind of a cinematic version of a tribute band. I think I'm going to hear a Miles record after writing this.

PS – this rather conservative effort is, as I write, ranked 57th on the top250 list in IMDb! At the same time Trump is sitting in the White House. Birdman is now past, its adventure over. In a few decades America (and the world by default) will observe this, and maybe process how mainstream poor/conservative storytelling habits correlates to political manipulation of the masses.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
just claws, 11 November 2016

Writing this now, 7 years after this film was made, gives a better insight into what Marvel has been doing. They have their set of superheroes, long embedded in pop imagination, mostly through comic books and animation TV series. Now they talk about "fictional universe" which is a way to say they will explore each of those characters within their original specific family of characters, as well as mix them with other families and, as in this case, zoom in on certain individual characters.

The biggest problem is that these decisions are based on popularity, ratings, market decisions. And Hollywood is today hostage to bigger and louder, more than ever. So there is no real narrative exploration, no filling of the spaces between the main branches. They just produce action stuff which is ordinary by any standard (visual, narrative etc.). Sometimes the film will be mildly interesting because of someone interesting they employ (Downey Jr, Swinton, Branagh...) but even there we just fill that each one could be doing something more interesting (and less lucrative). Other times they use what Downey Jr taught them in how he worked the Iron Man character: irony, winks, poking fun at the character, by deliberately stepping out of it. They learned the lesson and since than pretty much every film is conceived in such a way as not to take itself very seriously. So we have Dr.Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool... this last one actually has a cameo in this Wolverine mess.

What they did here was simple take a character (with whom Jackman is strongly associated) and just give it to us in high doses, more intense, more screen-time, more... Hugh Jackman has a strong enough presence to carry the thin character alone so they did it.

Because they have not much to say, nothing inventive to fill the narrative with, they copied the framework, and the mood from the first Rambo: the retired hero, who tries to live anonymously, away from the world, someone to whom unhappiness is ever denied and who will eventually get pulled back to the action painful world he is escaping.

But this Rambo has no Vietnam, no drive, no reason to be, no real pain. Even the pain of brutally loosing a loved one is replaced by the mere rage for being betrayed. Just claws and rage. So, nothing to see here. Adamatium claws are still just claws.

Snowden (2016)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
narrative wars, 12 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Our lives are sustained by narratives, in which we believe, versions of the facts in which we trust. Most of that we acquire through upbringing, social environment, education. Where you are born (country) determines a great deal of what you are likely to believe in throughout your life.

What Snowden did was not so much shocking in terms of the revelations themselves: the idea that the American government spies on us, all over the world, no matter where. I believe every regime always uses everything in their power to monitor their faithful subjects. We are all American subjects right now in a way or another. So if, say, the Roman Empire or the Nazis had that kind of technology and ruled over a world where pretty much everybody carries a Geo-located device with camera and mic in their pocket, they certainly would have made use of that. What Snowden did is important not because of what he reveals, but because he did reveal it and proved it. He defeated an accepted and implemented narrative - that that the USA government is always "the good guy", and uses its infinite powers only for good and just causes; has a constitution which is as sacred as the Bible and which prevails above everything else, and so on. That Snowden was able to flip that story inside out with all the personal risks within is remarkable. He revealed the American superficial narrative to be mainly false, as the American government exercises all kinds of brutalities that equal and exceed those of the oppressive regimes in countries they claim to liberate.

Along comes Oliver Stone, and does his take of the known facts. We can see the self-reference at the beginning: Snowden starts as a young typical conservative, willing to "serve the country", going to war for it. This mirrors Stone, the Vietnam veteran, who willingly enlisted to "protect" whatever lies somebody was feeding America with at the time. As the story progresses, Snowden questions the ends, and the means to them. So did Stone. In the end Snowden comes out as a kind of an also typical American hero, who risks everything, his life included, to "do the right thing".

He maps the Snowden story onto the 1984 metaphor, thus the "O'Brien" character, which is obvious but adequate. Along the way he drops a few hints (intended or not) that he himself is driven by internal affairs concerns, and not so much by a general sense of justice: there is a scene in the NSA headquarters in Hawaii where Snowden shows his colleagues a world map and all the emails intercepted in every country. Apparently there was no special concern that, for example, individuals from Germany or Brazil are being illegally spied, only that Americans are… At least he aptly edits real clips of real people (Obama included) telling their own narrative, proved a lie when layered over the Snowden story we're being told.

The difference between this narrative and others that Stone has already explored (Vietnam, Nixon, JFK…) is that this one is still going on, we don't know what will be of Snowden, and what real impact his leaking will really have. I hope it will be huge, but I doubt it. We know how the American establishment reacted to them, how they, again, flipped the narrative: it's really not that huge that it was revealed that the NSA spies on individual unsuspected citizens, Americans or not: Snowden is a villain because he threatened "American security" and that's much more important than any minor constitution related incidents. Apparently this version stuck, as we are a month away of having either Clinton or Trump sitting on the receiver side of the NSA bug… So the "security threat" story is probably accepted by most Americans as true.

I think there is nothing ordinary about Snowden and what he did and because of that it struck me as a moderate insult that Stone would have him as a pretty standard American hero, the kind of stock character that has been feeding American mythology for decades and keeping the people (not only Americans) from looking under the rug, which is precisely what Snowden had us doing with his leaking. I mostly don't share many of Stone's political believes, but I've always respected his integrity, and sincere take on the important subjects he tackles. Check this film, it's honest. But base your narrative in more than one source. The breaking of the fiction, at the end, as the real Snowden speaks directly to us, is a good device to validate the narrative that we had so far been fed. Honesty.

Madadayo, 27 September 2016

What a career. Woody Allen has always been mainly a storyteller. A clever one. He is superficially rooted and swings around a really very reduced set of characters and environments: high class new york society, stylized gangster, movie people, film-going and so on. Those are superficial elements, ingredients with which he cooks all sorts of dishes. In this film he revisits all of those at once.

Along the otherwise standard love/adultery story, we get all sorts of obvious or subtle references to many of Woody's past films, and that's what's great about this little film:

-The movie begins in Movieland, and moves seamlessly to new york, back home, because the Allen surrogate on-screen doesn't fit in Los Angeles. But our characters belong in the world of films, and along the way we watch them watching two films that references precisely the kind of past world (as represented in films) that this film taps into. The cinematography of this film plays along, specially in its closeups of faces, with the background beautifully detached by the use of the shallow depth of field so typical of older films;

-arriving in New York, the bridge, which evokes the most iconic single image that Allen, with Gordon Willis, gave us. The references to his Manhattan are completed with the off-voice narration (with his now slower and mellower older voice) and the basic dynamics of the marriage (Carell has an affair with the woman that Eisenberg loves)

-the jazz score and bar joints: not that he doesn't use often jazz scores, but here he is returning to it ostensibly after a period of experimentation. The dark jazz places evoke Allen's own second life as a jazz clarinetist;

-the Jewish jokes;

-after a long time producing films with competent but unremarkable cinematography, Woody joins here with a true master, and this is visually his most beautiful film in a long time, and will stand together with his collaborations with Niqvist, Willis, Palma... Few people have made color tell so much as Storaro. His camera work is impeccable, and adds a 4th dimension to any scene. And those last shots of both Stewart and Eisenberg... those will stick. I'm so thankful that there are such painters still working;

-the ending is the saddest since Purple Rose of Cairo, and as unsettling as Crimes and Misdemeanors, without the inner self- reference of either, but with that perfect balance of lyricism and cynicism that his better tragicomedies have always made.

The self-reference here are all (or many) of Allen's previous films, before he went filming around the world. I didn't get all of them, and that certainly is a reason to watch it again and again. Also i don't how many (if any) of the references are intentional. But i watched this film and read it as a kind of Testament by the master to his own career, a bit like Kurosawa did on the film i quote at the title of this review. Oh i hope he will be around to give us a few more adventures, but if this was his last film, he would leave us at sweet high point.

But please, "not yet"

Ex Machina (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Rachael is a grown up now., 26 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sci-fi is a fertile land for narrative experimentation. Where normally a viewer tries to relate to a certain world that he reads as "real", in sci-fi driven stories, the extra-level of abstraction (it's a fiction and reads as such) makes the viewer focus on the abstractions of the narrative layers.

That is, of course, if those layers are well set up, and that demands a good writer, and a good director.

Apparently we have both in Alex Garland. I had never paid special attention to his previous work (as a writer) but i will look it up, and check again. Here he gives an interesting essay on narrative, and the relation between viewer and screen. He draws on what has been done before in sci-fi, but he throws in an interesting package.

He builds the story as a set of relations between 3 characters (plus Kyoko) who observe each other and ultimately try to control and bend the narrative. Behind the fourth wall we observe them all and everything, or so we think.

You can thus look at this one as a variation on 2001, with 3 players each trying to control and bend the course of the narrative.

Or you can look at it as a variation on Dick's electric sheep. In that case Nathan plays Tyrell, Caleb is Deckard and Ava is, of course, Rachael. Nathan is the God who ultimately looses control of his creation, Caleb tests the creation in order to find its flaws, and Ava is the creation, around whom the plot develops.

If you look at it from the 2001 point of view, you'll be, i think, disappointed. There is no Monolith at the beginning to lead you through the game, and the ending is certainly many galaxies away from the ambiguity that Kubrick left us to deal with until today.

**spoilers here**

But if you check it with the Blade Runner glasses, than things become interesting. He twists the character from Caleb, not by making him a replicant, but by revealing his character as a pawn manipulated by Nathan. He rebels against this domination, and makes a move, joining forces with the apparently underwhelmed Ava. In a somehow predictable twist she outplays him, aided by Kyoko, the other "replicant". So the plot revolves around the 2 human characters, who are the whole time both overplayed by the artificially intelligent one.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending. It's clumsy and not powerful when compared to the rest. If it had worked, this would have another effect. But i did enjoy the cinematic frame that Garland used: architecture. The house, ostensibly defined as an isolated world, technology in the middle of nature, cut out from the whole world, So we know there are no external interference in the game our characters play. The building is interesting, as it is its framing. It's not groundbreaking, nor is it deep as what you find in Welles or Kalatozov. If it were, oh this might have been something else...

Sonoya Mizuno has an incredible presence. Her face is amazing, and i wish they could have used her character as something more than a tool for Ava to use in her escape plan.

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