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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
the dull bits, the oyster, 19 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This will probably be remembered as an extreme example of 'realistic' cinema (as opposed to stylized). The difference being that the former shows what "it is" and the later an abstraction of what it is. This is of course a fallacy, because cinema (and any form of storytelling) is an abstraction of reality. So there isn't for me realistic cinema, only different forms of presentation, different cinematic stances. Different abstractions. The abstraction here is to present a story to which you can or will relate (whether or not it mirrors bits of your own life) and than extend its context as much as possible, in time and context, to make you a part of the fabric, in the thing.

So they take a story and make it as relatable as possible. Simple urges , a girl finding sexuality, social and personal relations at stake, prejudice and society are the antagonists. The first chapter is a recognizable coming of age drama. The second a normal drama. All the dynamics at work, social or private, have already been explored an infinite number of times in a number of films. I think the reason why they chose to make it that simple is to make audiences smoothly get into a familiar world and let the cinematic device kick in. And that's where the writers throw their aces. Hitchcock had a famous saying about how drama is life with the dull bits cut out. Here they invert the equation. You get to see it all. The argument and the whole crying after. The sex, with preliminaries and orgasm but also changing postures, caressing, the touching, the building up, the afterwards. Every sensation, every feeling, every change of mood is exhaustively shown, sometimes painfully, with every detail. Where many writers, upon re-reading the script, would cut and think about pace, rhythm and engagement; these guys let it be, extend it, let you soak in it. The drama IS the dull bits. The usual high points of a normal drama are here the mere validation of the interstices that you usually don't see. Nothing stays off-screen, nothing is suggested, everything that Adèle lives is shown.

The only normal cinematic trick, which is remarkably well pulled, is right at the end: Adele goes and sees the exhibition of her former lover and sees the paintings of her new lover while pregnant, and with it learns that Emma was already detached while they both were together, that she was already moving away. Finding Adele's affair was for Emma not so much painful, as it was an excuse, a way out. Adele is at the end a broken soul. She never did write her own story, she only had the illusion of that. There is a self- referential hint to that: she declines writing, she admits she is unable to create story lines. She only wrote a diary, things gone by, not the fiction of her future.

This works and has a certain power. I don't live my life in films eager to get things like this, i map my dreams to other kinds of abstraction, but this sure is worth exploring. The actress is strong, and the director understands that she's all about face, or he cast someone to fit his will to shoot in close-up. The relation between the camera and Adele's face is perfect for the first chapter. The stuff Bergman/Nykvist used to do. But i expected that in such a tight construction, so anchored on the character, the visual depiction of Adele would follow her evolution as a person. I would expect a different camera stance for the grown up Adele. Different hair style and different clothing doesn't quite do it.

What also takes me completely out of the cinematic trance so competently built, is the new wave influenced crippled intellectualism to which so many directors seem to succumb... That preachy Sartre bits about how existence precedes essence. Kind of a touristic guide to the film, the text explaining the painting on an exhibition. Lame, pedantic and unworthy of the subtle construction that oversees the life of Adèle. Godard should be blamed for this.

This is the second film that i see in a week, which uses Oysters as tokens for sex. Food, film and sex can be a powerful mixture. The other film is Tampopo, which adds blood to the equation and its oyster is profoundly more erotic than any sex on this film.

publicity stunt, 13 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The concept is simple: make the film as a publicity to a man who was himself to a great extent a publicity stunt.

In order to achieve it, a number of devices are employed:

-often we get shots which we immediately or a bit later identify as pieces of publicity/newsreel footage within the film. It actually begins with a newsreel;

-the acting from Bridges is admittedly artificial, what you would expect from a salesman of some sort. He is impressive in this role, as he plays always over the thin line after which the whole thing would just become cartoonish. Jeff Bridges proved here that he can consistently work comedy without become a joke. This is his first dude.

-the whole story line is not supposed to be read as serious, not even lightly: it's ostensibly sketchy, and it includes bits like the corrupt senator comedic sequences (with the Bridges-Bridges real life wink) or the burning floor car presentation, as well as the whole circus mounted around it (another stunt). The Howard Hughes bit is the ultimate fake, the same short-cut that Welles had used, a kind of an American cinema staple for fakery.

-The phoney trial and subsequent triumph with a parade of Tucker's cars being driven and filled by everybody is the ultimate stunt. At certain moments, and this final sequence is one such, the film is choreographed as a classical musical, without the music.

The skeleton is wrapped around Coppola's usual lush and seduction through the set and the environment. With Coppola you always have at least a sense of place and mood that really makes the thing matter. Every open shot has a lot more happening than what's supposed to be the main action. This sense of liveliness is an affirmation of the power of deep shots and depth of field, not in the spatial architectural sense of Welles, but almost as if in a painting.

The Coppola/Storaro collaboration is one of the strongest in the history. Storaro manipulates color like very few have, one true painter. But this film doesn't matter, it's meaningless, bloodless and forgettable when compared to the best this couple has done. Only Bridges is worth remembering here. Unlike many, i do find valuable things in Coppola's films post-Apocalipse. But not here.

grammar exercise, 9 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

To my knowledge, these films from the English pioneers, today known as Brighton School are the best, most important of the first decade of cinema. Among them, Willamson is the best. You should check as many of his films as you can. These guys established so many grammar rules, which have since become so standard and hard-wired into our abilities to follow a story in film, that it's hard to give them the credit they deserve.

Among these films, there is this gem. So much new, exciting and important is packed into just over a minute of film.

The plot is that a man, feeling observed by a camera, doesn't like it, moves towards the camera, and swallows the camera. The end.

It would be a fairly common theme and story, in this case under the genre of what was called a "trick film". But some amazing things are tried here:

-the character acknowledges the camera, talks to it, walks towards it, thus breaking the fourth wall;

-the camera itself (and the cameraman) become characters when the main character swallows them. We are told that the first shot is actually a film within, being registered by the camera and cameraman who then star in the second shot;

-the third and last shot is, as a consequence, ambiguous in that the camera is swallowed and gone along with the filmmaker, and although we get for the third frame the same set-up as the first (i would guess it's actually the same shot split into two in the editing), the storyline makes us assume we are no longer in a film within, but comfortably again behind the fourth wall.

-the "trick" is edited, through the edition we are swept into the whole tiny multi-layered thing.

So, we have a reflexive story, made clear by purely cinematic means (framing, editing). Take it when it was made. It's indifferent whether these guys were self-aware or not of what they were doing: what they made must be seen. This and other small films are like small pieces of grammar and words, which we could and would use to build the whole visual language that we all share today.

last men still standing, 2 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film belongs to the sub-genre that Stallone has been building for himself since he stopped being recognized as a true modern action hero. I would argue that this phase started in the mid-90's, "Assassins" being a clear example of this self-reference to the action Sly getting older and replaced by someone "younger".

What these films include, and this one is no exception, are all sorts of self-reference to Stallone's character and style, usually spoken out through jokes. In this film the reflexive jokes go around two things:

-the "my way or no way" jokes, where Kwon tries to do things the new way, and the old Sly proves that his way is still the best one; in the end we get an old-fashioned one on one fight, resembling Cobra's finale;

-the technology which was not such a big part of the "old" action films, so Kwon has to explain how much you can have "inside" a cellphone, they trace Slater's character through a phone GPS, etc. This thread of jokes is the one first tried, to my memory, on the 4th Die Hard, where Willis played the same part as Sly does here.

Of all the references to Stallone's old self vs the new one, the sweetest here is the mug shot sequence, when we see his face evolving through the years and recognize all the old characters, from Rocky to Demolition Man, and to the older version of Rambo. Now that Rocky is already 40 years old, Stallone's face is beginning to have an aura of nostalgia in it. Well, if Cahiers du Cinéma made an author out of Verhoeven, they sure can make the same to Stallone some day.

I enjoy Stallone at his best, and recognize this: he built a character and a style tailored to his limitations as an actor, and suited to his qualities as a muscled action figure and a certain charisma of his persona. He inhabited this persona for as long as it was marketable, and than turned it around, and ironically started poking fun at it.He reinvented a new character, out of the suddenly empty old one.

The Expendables franchise is surely the most over the top version of this (and does it for Stallone and all the other old dudes), but this small film does it better, because it has a tight script, predictable but believable within the genre limits. And it has a director who knows something about style, is himself a sort of old- fashioned guy, and understands what breathes life into this kind of film: it's not about the fights, those are 4-5min sequences between mood/character building sequences. Cinematography helps, a lot.

Everyone here involved has done better elsewhere. But if you know where all of them came from and what they did, you will enjoy this... And we have New Orleans, that's never a bad thing.

4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
storytelling, space, language., 29 April 2016

The good news is that it is already possible to produce such a film convincingly, half way between animation and live action. Or should i say, animated live action. There are no human faces or bodies here except for Mowgli (and a couple silhouettes in one scene in the human village.

What fails here to me, is that not very much is made out of the freeing possibilities that a computer rendered jungle and animals give you, at least not in terms of camera movement.

But two amazing things were made here:

1. the old temple, occupied by King Louie is the most impressive set. The courtyard and the guts of the building are amazing as a space specifically conceived for a certain piece of story line. Check how the light penetrates the courtyard, and how its use advances the action. Bagheera and Baloo go through the dark hall, into light, and Louie stays opposite, in the shadow. Faces show in light whenever needed. Space tied to storytelling is one of the best things someone can give me in film, and this film would be worth it just for that sequence alone;

2. Almost every animal character is rendered expressively. We can now live among animals and beasts without having to go to animation;

The jungle is pretty enough, i guess, but just pretty. Mowgli's kidnapping scene by the monkeys was built in a blurry lazy fashion, and i wonder how could the same people who conceived the temple sequence allow for such a boring nothing.

I would like to see this technology and this story told by someone more meditative and who acknowledges the power of the language. Not unlike Shakespeare, Kipling's images are hampered by language. He is mostly and foremost a poet, a man of visual imagination who produces his imagination with language. As one would expect from a Disney box- office oriented production, all risks were minimized, so the characters (and how they speak) were simplified. For politic correctness sake, they also watered down the racist and colonialist views of Kipling, without subverting them deliberately, kind of leaving it ambiguously halfway. Maybe if the USA elects Trump they remake this...

They got storytelling and space in the temple sequence, but they didn't make the effort to try and tie the sense of place to the language that forms Kipling's vision. Instead they replaced language with nice sets, which are nevertheless not so sweet as to make me forget the original poetry. I guess that's a conundrum: when you are willing to take chances you usually don't have access to the kind of ambitious industrial machinery of such a company as Disney; yet when you do get behind the wheel of such a studio, the high budget means that you have to minimize risks...

About Time (2013/I)
spotless sunshine, 25 April 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is very clearly a writer's film, with strong self-reference to more than one writing issue.

The most obvious and extensively used device is the time quirk that literally creates the whole story: the main character (and all the males in his family) have the ability to go back in time, revisit scenes of their own lives, and change them. This means that every scene in the film does not have a definitive script. Everything can be changed, all the time. So the film flows as an ever provisional reality, the way a writer works on a script, or for those matters, the way any creative artist works. The girl works as a book publisher, reading books from people, commenting, choosing, changing them. That's a wink.

The other, more clever device, is the inversion of the genre rules that come with the time travel trick. The film presents itself apparently as a romantic comedy that evolves into a light drama. The drama is born from the natural course of life - people die, life goes on, kids are born… there are no tensions brought upon the relation between the romantic couple exactly to emphasize how normal life is what drives the fate of these characters. There is a moment when the possibility of adultery presents itself to the male character, but he drives it away, and this underlines again how definitive is the relationship between the couple. But he can travel in time, which means that even the facts of life are editable. So he goes back in time, and tries to change things like the poor love choices of his sister. The tension is all put on the struggle between the main character and his ever changeable fate It's an inversion of the rules, in which pawn and queen are brought to the same game level, one fighting the other. Imagine Gone in the wind if Scarlett could prevent the beginning of the war, or move away before it came to them, or something like that.

The acting is solid here, and I always love the comical timing and acting of Bill Nighy. This film won't change your life or affect it in significant ways, but some parts of it will maybe stay with you, and the honesty in the portrait of romantic couple and father/son intimacy is truly remarkable from Gleeson/McAdams and Gleeson/Nighy.

I trust Curtis, I always expect and know that he will always think about the structure of the film in terms of writing, and that means that he cares about storytelling conceived specifically for the screen, and I cherish that.

cheeks, 4 April 2016

There was a lot going on in film world at the beginning of the 60′. The french critics (re)defined how we should see films: the idea that film is unlike literature or other art forms, and has rules of its own: visual narrative. Thus when we look today at the work of people like Hitchcock or Depalma, we can look at what they are doing, in the eye, although the stories they use to hang their visual ideas are (from a literature point of view) empty.

Truffaut/Godard went further ahead and became filmmakers, playing and poking fun at American stereotypes, specially the gangster film (the hat, the smoke style basically).

At the same time something even more interesting to me was happening in Italy, where western was being reworked, with irony and love, by a few Italians, led masterfully by Leone. The dollars films killed any chance we had to ever look at a classic western without clearly understanding how crooked is the whole Ford/Wayne concept of good/evil, and how prejudiced can pop culture actually be (Spielberg made recently a Ford inspired Bridge of Spies which, after the Iraq war, is still more offensive).

The fun thing is that Leone, soaked in westerns and American pop culture (the guy grew literally in Cinecittà) got his lessons from Japan. The first dollars film is a remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo.

So this fun film closes the circle: a Japanese film which incorporates notions of American gangster films filtered through new wave french irony, and places the thing in a western context, taking the pace from Leone (and the music from Morricone), who himself went to Japan to start his adventure as a director. It really is fun just to get the references straight...

bridges, ascending structures, urges, 4 March 2016

The great things about this film make me forget the obvious concessions to box office: the uselessness of Tommy Lee's over dramatic character, or the cheesy ending.

The beauty of this is all in the multiple structures presented to us, both physically and metaphorically, and how they are layered in such a way that moving one affects all the others, like a house of cards. How they are put together is flawed, and it lacks the subtleties and hooks of any Medem script. But it's a glorious try, a world of connections of all sorts.

The first gate to this world are the Maya pyramids, so carefully photographed in the clever initial sequence in Mexico. There we are given key concepts to interpret the whole thing: The ascending dynamic of this (highly spiritual) shape, the tragedy of the father's death, which triggers the whole plot, and the moon – introduced in a clumsy way, as the cosmic witness to the tragedy and as some old folk Indian tale.

Later we fold the idea of the abstract structure that is the "key" to our girl's mind into the idea of a physical shape, that of a spiral, conceptually close to the conception of a Maya pyramid. The girl actually builds the thing, using common cards and some Tarot cards, providing us another key to another abstract structured cosmic world: metaphorical links between cards and several realities; a whole cosmology of its own.

In between you get hints at other parallel, strong structures: 1 – before becoming an autist the girl spoke three languages; 2 – trees… she climbs them, repeating the ascending movement, and she disguises herself as one… she becomes it!; 3 – the construction site and the crane, an obvious reference, as it is the fact that the mother is an engineer, a designer of structures (the 3d stuff does sound middle- aged to our BIM days…)

The spiral is replicated in a greater scale by the mother, she actually builds her own gate to her daughter (building up for the obvious climax). What you get is the beautiful idea of a physical structure as the metaphor for a spiritual link, and the act of building as a symbol of reaching for someone. This is underscored by the seemingly shared dream between our girls, which i found pretty lame. So the result is a sort of maternal built love. You have to love it!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
masks, 17 February 2016

The play is probably the first "romantic comedy"/date movie, as we understand it today, with all the necessary plot points:

-boy meets girl; -boy falls in love with girl; -girl falls in love with boy; -momentary happiness; -something bad happens, either by misunderstanding or deliberate misconduct from someone; -redemption, clarification of what went wrong, with a public manifestation of love on all parts. happy end.

This is what you find in pretty much any common date movie. But of course here we have Shakespeare, so the language is better and the narrative devices are all better pulled off, and the whole structure makes sense:

-masked parties where no one knows to whom they are speaking, where messages can, because of that, be misunderstood;

-dialogues intended to be overheard by someone who doesn't know he is being framed

-momentary breaking of happiness through deceit (John the Bastard) by showing a sex scene which is not exactly what it looks like;

-the undoing of all the mistakes comes through a "masked" wedding, again with a bride who is not who she was told to be, after the lie came out that she was actually dead.

-"…about nothing". Nothing sounded like Noting in Shakespeare's days, and "noting" meant something like gossip in modern English. the title is not exactly what it sounds…

Happiness comes to everybody when the misunderstandings are undone, the mischiefs found out, the liars punished. The story of the characters evolves parallel to the inner structures of the play. that's the beauty of it.

But this is a play, theatre, which means we, viewers, can't be deceived the way the characters are. Only cinema would give writers that chance and nowadays it is pretty standard that sometimes we see stuff that later we will find out to be wrong. What a screenwriter Shakespeare would have been…

What i love here is the energy between Branagh and Thompson, the 2 real actors in the film. I think this film is more about the celebration of their relation that it is about translating Shakespeare to cinema language. So Kenneth chose the closest Shakespeare (probably) ever got to screen-writing, and placed himself and Emma at the passionate center of this world.

Branagh directs, this passion gets also behind the camera, no one is more sweetly photographed as Thompson. And he is a marvelous theatre actor, excessive but believable, articulate but fluid, choreographed but still passionate. This film is a celebration itself, a party of sorts. I enjoy it as such.

Blood and Snow. Bear and Flesh., 30 January 2016

It's wonderful to follow the path of people who are never afraid to try, no matter how comfortable and applauded they already are in whatever they are doing.

So here we have Iñarritu who has been working on story layering from the beginning of his career, first with the wonderful Arriaga as a partner. Together they have created 3 films with some of the best writing ever in the history of cinema, layered writing, stuff that is now kicking in and becoming the standard of film (and TV!) stories; the kind of bricks we use to remember our own lives.

After their collaboration Iñarritu did Biutiful, which almost as strong in its territory as you can get, but almost intentionally stripped of any of the layers that had been so masterfully built in the trilogy. Somehow it looked as though Iñarritu (and Lubezki) was actually "just" the visual vessel to which Arriaga poured his dreams. But Birdman tells otherwise, and indeed builds a whole new version of layered stories, meta-narrative and ways to dream.

Now Iñarritu gets into Herzog's territory, using the Biutiful approach: to have the story as quiet and simple as possible, here nearly absent, and get you to enter the journey by means of visual enchantment. Something like cinematic hypnosis. You're simply enticed to follow it, move along, survive with the character, suffer with him. The trick is simple: we are always with Dicaprio, we are him, we suffer what he does, and we aim at the same things that he does. So here we get the concept of classical hero revived and recovered, supported by the , as usual, brilliant photography of Lubezki (what a master...).

This is a wonderful experience, which in my opinion balances the graphic violence as the conductor of the story as Wook Park does in his trilogy of revenge. But it falls a little short of what Herzog did in the 70', and i suppose the reasons are relatively easy to identify. Leonardo is no Klaus, not as crazy as him, and not as ready to travel to Madnessland with a one way ticket as Kinski was willing to do (and did). And the whole production is not about a bunch of guys living the madness they are trying to film. This is probably as risky a film as you can get from Hollywood, but it is still Hollywood. This is an almost extreme film about an extreme (real) story, which is unbelievable, except for the fact that it actually happened.

I'm guessing that if he keeps doing what he has done after Babel, next time Iñarritu will reward us with a multi-layered narrative complex gem like Birdman. But the time after that maybe he will loose his mind, Coppola-style, and maybe he will really go up the river where this time he only washed his feet. Maybe he will actually spill the blood over the snow, instead of just enacting it. Someday maybe he will complete an opera house in the middle of some jungle, although i don't think Iñarritu is the type of artist who needs to leave his writing table to change our lives.

Dicaprio will probably get an Oscar for this one. I think he is a clever actor who senses where talent is and goes with it, in the tradition of Brad Pitt. But i don't think this is superlative acting, merely competent moaning. He has had more demanding roles already.


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