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9 reviews in total 
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
`Once Upon A Time In America' for the year 2000, 4 March 2004

When violence is a language and survival a word written in blood, when children kill and get killed by the sound of laughter, life runs faster than a chicken running away from the knife. There, in the City Of God. `Cidade De Deus' (City Of God) is the name of a multi-family social housing project constructed in the sixties, that became a huge slum quarter (`favela') in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and a center for drug traffic in Brasil. The film, by the same name, makes the raw and fascinating portrait of the transformation of the kids from the block into mega drug dealers of the seventies and early eighties. From the eyes of Buscapé (Alexandro Rodrigues), a poor, sensitive black kid growing in that universe of violence, we see the gathering of the pieces of rubble that make a great real story. Buscapé has the dream of becoming a photographer, and his lack of courage to enter in a life of crime will ultimately place him in the center of one of the biggest gang wars ever to occur in the city of Rio. In the space between the lines lies a beautiful story that is a truthful register of the growth of urban inhumanity. The city that grows and surrounds the quarter that has no light, no schools and no sanitation, forgotten by the government. It's that people with no hope or jobs that slowly penetrates into crime, from small robberies into achieving the full majority: drugs. And weapons. The film dissects the structure of violence, the traffic and the corruption from whence it feeds from. But beyond that, the story shown is much more than a superficial aesthetic display of crime. The story is transmitted in the small details, in gestures of guilt, corruption, friendship. The realism of the language and images is complete, without ideological sermons. This is `Once Upon A Time In America' for the year 2000. This is a great film.

With my very own eyes, 20 January 2003

`This grand epic – this is the first film of the modern age that dares to dream a DeMille dream… a D.W. Griffith dream… a Kurosawa dream.' Harry Knowles – Ain't It Cool News

Certain films are born from a special source, from the deepest imagination, from dreams and visions. More than stories, they are icons of life itself and the experience of what it is to be human in our world. It is King Kong standing on the top of the Empire State Building, it's Errol Flynn coming down from a tree in the Adventures of Robin Hood, it's Gary Cooper in the middle of an empty city in High Noon. We can't explain it, but we recognize it in Gene Kelly singing in the rain, in Hitchcock's birds and Splielberg's flying bycicles. And we recognize it because they're the expression of what is of more intimate in human emotion, of joy and fear, of sorrow, of redemption...

It is a dream I had, when I was young, that I would see Middle Earth with my very own eyes, someday. But for many long years, The Lord Of The Rings remained with a red stamp on the cover: `Impossible'. How could cinema breed life to the landscapes of Tolkien, larger than the horizon, or to it's talking trees, or to the largest and fearsome battles ever imagined by an author. And while we waited, hidden as the One Ring lost for centuries, the myth took shape. In the New York subway walls someone wrote `Frodo Lives'. And the dream grew in silent whispers, in the paintings of John Howe and Alan Lee, in unknown fan clubs and the dedicated imagination of millions of readers. Peter Jackson embraced this myth and attempted to translate the iconography of Middle Earth into the big screen. The final result is overwhelming, the product of impressive dedication and effort, incomprehensible to those who do not share the love for fantasy. But there it is, from the projector light, that all the beauty and grandeur of this ancient world comes to life. Here are Tolkien's themes, the corruption of absolute power, the value of friendship, the inevitability of growth, the strength of hope. Here we are, launched in the eloquence of a long journey of discovery through the deepest of ourselves, recognized in Gandalf's immortal words, that even the smallest person may change the course of the future, and have a part to play in the destiny of all.

This is the Middle Earth, a place that lives in that world of dreams created from the same fabric of The Wizard Of Oz and Peter Pan. It is the hobbit Frodo in the world of darkness facing an eye of fire, it is Gandalf surrounded in light leading an army charging thousands of Uruk-Hai. It is a landscape that breeds, timeless, that makes us dream. Because we have all been there, in our childhood, when we were afraid of the dark or believed we could fly. Cinema, the great cinema, is not the rollercoaster we embark on with a bucket of popcorn. The greatness of cinema lies in Gollum's conflict, in our ability to believe that this being massacred by the greatest of torments can still find peace, even though we know the inevitable. And how it is great, how magical, that this ingenuity remains and is alive today in the movie theater.

It is a dream I had, that I would see Middle Earth with my very own eyes, someday. Lucky for me, that in the movies, sometimes dreams come true.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sweet and acre as chocolate ice cream, 12 December 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(a late review that contains spoilers and talks about sex)

Under the surface of events that takes place in Monster's Ball lies the heart of a deep melodrama. It is a film about the transformation of two completely different persons, gathered by a common sense of loss and an urge to start over.

Harsh to his own son, subservient to his rude and prejudicious father, strict as a rock in his job as a prison guard, Hank is a man that has assumed a series of roles for himself in the course of his life. Grown in the codes of discipline and hatred, he is forced to face his growing emptiness after the tragic death of his son. Although insensitive to his own grief, Hank will find a strange and unpredictable attachment with Leticia, a black woman going through a much more painful process of mourning. Love comes as a redemption to Hank, and Leticia welcomes him in her life passionate and desperately.

After a sweetly balanced approach their attraction comes together in what is an intense scene where the limits of love and sex are undistinguishable. It's certainly surprising to see a sex scene so deeply consequent to a film like the one in Monster's Ball. Controversies (childish to say the least) on the side, what this film shows is how the union of a man and a woman can change someone, and how sex can be the trigger to a process of breaking the barriers between people. And what this film, apparently simple but complex at the same time, has of brilliant, is that it expresses love in a way that is also profoundly physical. This is not your nineteenth century romantic, idealistic and dessexualized love. It is a truthful display of the mechanics of sexuality as something bigger and pure, and in that sense, it is a contemporary portray of love that is understandable far beyond the social context where it originates from. In that sense, there is nothing of fantastic in Hank's changes of attitude towards life and others. What changes in him is the very reference of an emotional relation that he never had or knew before.

Deeply contemporary, this look at love that manifests itself as an inverted melodrama of two beings that find in one another the strength and dignity that was missing in their lives. This is a five star movie, sweet and acre as a chocolate ice cream...

Signs (2002)
I want to believe, 31 October 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Science fiction movies basically fall into two categories. The first kind is set in the future and usually develops some sort of fantastic projection of things to come, envisioning the complexities of technological and social evolution of men. Films like Blade Runner, Matrix and Minority Report belong to that category. The second kind is set in the present. It often reflects the interaction between the contemporary everyday life with extraordinary events. This category of science fiction was very popular in the fifties and some of it's emblematic examples are The War Of The Worlds, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Day The Earth Stood Still. This is an interesting category of science fiction, for it was often used as a metaphor for social and political criticism.

Some contemporary films follow this line of science fiction. Even Spielberg's ET is a portrayal of a family's inner crisis originated by the absence of the father, that is united by the will to save an external (alien) element. John Carpenter's Starman also revolves around this concept, retaining an obvious criticism to military and political arrogance in the face of transcendent events (as well as being the story of a young woman coming to terms with the tragic loss of her husband).

Signs belongs to this great tradition of humanist sci-fi classics. Once again Shyamalan creates an atmosphere by balancing just the right elements. He makes the viewer wonder, manipulating that intriguing `what if' element. In The Sixth Sense it was: `what if this boy can really see the dead'. Unbreakable had you wondering: `what if this guy really is a super hero'. And now you go again questioning: `what if aliens are really about to invade earth'. I'll get to that later...

There's something refreshing about the way Shyamalan directs and develops his characters. In a time when cinema is so polluted by a video-clip culture, where frenetic rhythm superimposes itself on everything else, it's wonderful to see a young director going back to the basics of storytelling, taking it's time for dialog and dramatic interaction. Signs is a refined piece of moviemaking exactly in the way it balances it's different components, laughter and fear walking hand in hand. Humor is, in fact, used as a form of lowering the viewers guard, expanding the vulnerability for surprise and... revelation.

(spoilers ahead) Right at the start you see the corn field, where the first of many signs Shyamalan sprinkled around this movie will appear. You see it through a window of the house, the window's glass distorting the view to tell you that things are not always what they seem. Apart from the obvious plot-line, Signs is the story of a family traumatized by the death of the mother. When the absurd threat of an alien invasion seems to be turning into a reality, the father figure, Graham Hess, is forced to surpass he's emotionless state and face he's own doubts, his fears, and most of all, what he represents to his remaining family, his children and his younger brother. The isolation of this family turns into a simbolism for the isolation of the individual in a society where even spirituality sometimes takes the form of a consuming product.

There is a cynical debate going on about the religious tone of the story. It's all very silly really (and no, I am not a religious person). No, the way I see it Shyamalan is not trying to brain-wash you. Actually, the sense of religious was even used by Einstein to express the scientific sense of greatness before the transcendency of our limited knowledge of the universe. The wonder of asking one-self `what if there is some kind of intelligent life-form out there, somewhere in the universe' IS religious. Although the film poses the clear question of faith as the belief in God, it is not expressed in an institutionalized manner at all. It doesn't matter if you're some sort of church member or not. The question is `do you believe that the course of your life is driven by some sort of greater direction (God or whatever that means to you), some inner sense that gives you hope and strength when facing the difficult moments of your life, or do you believe that all is cast by chance and that you are all alone in the world.

The way I see it, in the end, it stands for Graham Hess as it stands to us all, that faith isn't really the absence of doubt in considering that God exists, but it is a conscient attitude of will to accept the greatness of the inexplicable in one's life, for wich God is a form of expression. Watching Signs doesn't necessarily makes me a believer in God. But I do like to imagine that, in a misterious way, Hess's wife died for a reason, to give him a message that would, ultimately, save him and his family when facing the greatest challenge of their lives.

If that is a miracle, or not, is something left for you to resolve. As for me, well, I want to believe.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
In the flesh, 23 October 2002

I love movies since I was a kid. I think I even loved them more when I was a kid because it was easy for me to abstract myself from reality. Watching a movie was like being inside it, and that was extra-cool.

Of course, time goes by and you grow up, and as you change you learn to watch and value films in different ways. It's not just a roller-coaster anymore. You admire the actors, you appreciate the direction, the story, you try to look at the details, there's a lot to learn by watching a movie. But now and then, a movie comes by that makes you be a kid again. You forget all about yourself and when you realize you're shaking, you're nervous and scared about what's going to happen to this guy, like your very own life depends on it.

Dog Day Afternoon is like that.

You know what I'm talking about. Those movies that make you stop and realize that this is why cinema is a great form of art. In the times we live in it's like there's a pop-video infection out there, all movies have to be slick and fast, no time to talk no time to think, it's all action and boom, there you go again... Moviegoers are becoming addicts to this new visual style. All action movies must look like Matrix to be cool. Hell, I loved Matrix, but let's get real now okay. We even have a `matrixized' version of the three musketeers for that fashionable new look. What the hell! Let's rewind please...

I'm not going to bother you with the story. It's a bank robbery but it's so much more than that. It's the story of a desperate man trying to set things straight when all has gone wrong. It's about the media exposure, it's about politics, it's about sexuality and incomprehension. It's about a society that has no answers for you and me man, a machine in motion with no soul and no forgiveness (and what a contemporary view of the world it still is today). And if you have doubts on why Al Pacino is a fantastic actor, just look at this! I don't care who you are, this man is great and always will be!

Finally, if I were to choose my favorite directors I probably wouldn't remember Sidney Lumet at all. Still, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico stand, to me, as two monuments of that big american movie-making legacy we all grew up with. A reference and a lession that movies should, at their core, be about people and the complexities of the human spirit.

So, let's rewind...

8MM (1999)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A shadow of the great movie that it isn't., 22 October 2002

8MM is a good looking film. With a solid cast, a powerful premise, moody lighting and a feel for atmosphere, it is a slick thriller with flowing action. However, if you prefer smarts to good looks there's no way to feel but cheated. This film is but a pale version of what it could have been in the hands of a serious director willing to take some risks.

Certain kinds of material can't be taken lightly. If you're going to make a film about sexual violence you should be aiming at more than just entertainment. 8MM aims to reveal some of the darkest corners of the human mind, where sexual perversion goes hand in hand with extreme violence, murder and psychopathy. The mere conception that this snuff-world exists, an underground porno-industry with thematics like sexual assault, real acts of rape and murder caught on film, and that some people are attracted to this kind of material to satisfy their sick forms of desire, is absolutely scary. Private investigator Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) goes into the heart of this world to discover if such a film, of a girl being violently assaulted and murdered, is real or not, and who's behind it. It is one of the strongest premises to a film I've ever seen, and it could have been a real classic, comparable to `Seven' and `Silence of the Lambs'. The errand of Tom Welles reminded me of Friedkin's `Cruising', where Al Pacino plays an undercover cop in pursuit of a serial killer obsessed with gay sado-masochist practices.

8MM promised such a descent into hell. `If you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change, he changes you'. That is the key-idea of the plot. To find out the truth, the main character has to plunge deep into this world of madness, and by doing so, he'll have to risk his own sanity. Cage says that in the movie: `I want to understand!'. But it's an empty plot he's working with. Although affected, Welles never looses his balance entirely. Why is he obsessed with this murder? Why does he want revenge? If this had been a brave script, the Welles character should have become obsessed with these movies. To understand the psychopathic attraction of repulse. In fact, his very own balance with insanity should have been the reason for his need for revenge. Because maybe that perversion, although repulsive to him, is also attractive to the darkest corners of his mind. The more you see, the more you don't mind seeing. And it should be that hatred, the hatred for his own weakness, that is the weakness of the human soul, that should be the drive for his need for revenge.

Maybe a director like Fincher would be willing to explore that path. Joel Schumacher certainly isn't. The visual dress-up of this movie, with stylish looks, dark photography and strong colors, doesn't hide that fact. We never get to understand who Welles really is. His family problems are not explored, and the growing threat to his family is never entirely believable. The scene where Cage makes a phone call to the girl's mother before killing Gandolfini, to get `permission' to perpetrate revenge, is unrealistic and simply ridiculous. The final confrontation with the Machine character is the sum up of this movie's failure. In a script that doesn't develop this character the way it should, all you get is the Machine mumbling some psychological explanations with no consequence to the story. The simple fact that all this needs to be verbalized is a demonstration of what Schumacher was unable to show with his direction. And it's a real shame. A story like this had potential to explore tremendously strong solutions. I have nothing against happy endings, but what are we supposed to conclude from this?

Just look at `Seven'. You can't have a film telling you the world is a horrible place, but they live happily ever after.

The Thing (1982)
Still crazy after all these years, 21 October 2002

Imagine a monster that could absorb and replicate you entirely, not just your organic form but your mind as well. It can reproduce your behaviour so perfectly that your friends won't know the difference. Now, imagine that this particular monster has been around the universe for a time unknown. It's sole purpose is to survive, and for that it has absorbed beings from all over, hiding and attacking when threatened. Not only is it able to absorb living creatures, it is able to morph into all of them, or mix them together to become as deadly as it possibly can.

Now, remember that this monster doesn't just absorb the body, it also absorbs the mind of it's victim. By doing that, it is a growing mixture of different psychologies, with their instabilities, their fears, their hatred. So, it's not just a physical monster, but an insane one as well.

John Carpenter's The Thing is a fantastic movie, where horror and insanity walk hand in hand in a tragic descent into hell. Twenty years after it's making, it still stands out of the crowd as one of the freakiest horror movies ever made. Surprisingly, the old fashioned visual effects benefit the film, by giving it a different kind of realism that we're just not used to see anymore. Not a computer generated well trimmed look, but a crude and visceral style that really gets in your head.

Undeniably, still crazy after all these years.

379 out of 442 people found the following review useful:
Embrace the magic, 8 October 2002

It is with no surprise that Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring film has received such mixed critics. Many viewers refer to it as being childish, boring and uninteresting. Seems to me that it is bound to the same fate of Tolkien's books, destined to be a target for the same type of misunderstandings that keep attacking this literary masterpiece many decades after it's first publication.

Having read the books several years ago, I went to see this `impossible' film when it came out with many doubts on my mind. I really liked it, but left the theater with as many doubts as I had before. Was it perfect? Well, maybe not, but what an achievement. After watching it a few times on DVD, and thinking about it for some time now, I find myself loving this film more and more. Let me tell you why...

The Lord of the Rings is a fairy-tale of myth and fantasy. Peter Jackson directed a film that was considered, for a very long time, impossible to make, and not only for technical reasons. The narrative roots are incredibly long and detailed, and the storyline is deeply connected with the creation of a fantastic continent from a time unknown called `Middle Earth'. It's author, Tolkien, dedicated a considerable part of his life developing this continent's background, it's mythology and origins, it's different kinds of people, cultures and languages, and therefore it's geographic references are determinant to the unfolding of the story of the One Ring.

Peter Jackson went out to achieve the impossible and came out with a recreation of the original that is pure and true to the story in every detail. The first time the four hobbits meet a black rider on the road, for example, is absolutely faithful to the feeling of the book. The assault of the riders at Weathertop is another great example, and it captures that feeling of danger, density and atmosphere that are the main characteristics of the tale. Jackson also took some liberties with the story, and made some right choices along the way. If the so called `purists' may not approve the removal of Tom Bombadil altogether, it should be comprehensible that the travel from Hobbiton to Rivendel is a very long and detailed one and could easily make a movie on it's own. I felt more uneasy with how short the Council of Elrond was. In the book, the council is where the whole story of the rings is first explained, and many passages from the past ages of Middle Earth are unveiled. It is a fascinating moment of the story, that had to be shortened for obvious reasons. Still, after some consideration, I now agree with the options made by Peter Jackson, and think that the movie prologue narrated by Galadriel was the wisest choice. The magic is all there when Gandalf shuts his eyes the moment Frodo stands in the council and says `I will take the ring'. It is there at Moria's Gate, and at the fall of Boromir. It is a powerful film that doesn't fit the rhythm of the standard Hollywood action movie. It is a film that breeds, that takes time to unfold, it's tale branching in every direction.

I could go on and on, talking about all the different elements that bring this film close to perfection, but I'll end saying that deep down, this is not about action, beards and big monsters. The greatest thing about this film, to me, is that it brought me back to a time when I was in love with a different world where everything was possible. Reading The Lord of the Rings night after night, I came to understand what this thing of `mankind' really was all about. The corruption of absolute power, the importance and value of friendship, the inevitability of growing up, the strength of hope... That this film could capture that magic, and be a new bearer to it's message of humanism, is a statement to it's greatness. Gandalf's words, that even the smallest person may change the course of the world, and have a part to play in the destiny of all, are immortal.

In the end, this is a wonderful film, but that doesn't mean you are going to like it. I cannot tell you what it is like to see this film if you don't know or love the book. But I hope it may plant a seed on your heart to discover a great world of fantasy, beauty and humanity. I believe Tolkien would have liked that.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
No expectations., 30 August 2002

You know how long train travels feel like. Sleeping on a train, the perpetual movement, the sound of it. Then waking up early in the morning and walking down the corridors, seeing the sun rise. You'll never forget the colors of that early morning, or the metallic smell, or the face of someone you passed by, someone you've never seen before but who smiled and said hello.

So here's Jesse with a Rail-Pass traveling Europe by train for some weeks now, on his way to Vienna, his last stop before taking a plane to the States. He meets this french girl, Celine, and they start talking. The film is just so natural that everything feels reasonable and real. And it takes you on that ride so smoothly that you won't see it coming, the pain of that inevitable goodbye.

Before sunrise is the wonderful story of two characters with a bond and no expectations. Because they know right from the start that there's no possibility of a real long term relationship for them, they share things they probably wouldn't share with their friends. It is a romantic picture, but it never falls into postcard-like long shots of Vienna. Instead, it shows you Vienna like you would really experience it if you were there. And it shows you love, not as a packaged easy to consume feeling, but as something that can get inside your life and shake it from the inside out. The choices you make from there, well, they are up to you. And I still wonder what choices Jesse and Celine would have made from there...