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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is going to be very hard to delineate the film Sexykiller from the
experience I had seeing it. My screening at the Toronto International
Film Festival was the first time I had ever been to a Midnight Madness
event. The atmosphere was fantastic, the theatre filled with kindred
souls, all ready to have a blast and check their brains at the door.
While we waited in line for seats, a couple people dressed in makeup as
zombies walked by, talking to themselves about where they should go,
and do the people in charge know that the zombies had arrived? Right
then we knew we were in store for a good time, they had hired "actors"
to pose with the director and lead actress on the red carpet, adding
that much more fun to the evening. Before the film started rolling,
director Miguel Martí and actress Macarena Gómez took the stage and
introduced their work. Definitely excited to see the finished product
for the first time with an audience, Martí was beyond words, as far as
his grasp of English went, reverting to Spanish with a brief
translation from Gómez. The stage was set and the fun was just
Our entrance to the film is of course inside a women's locker room. How much more clichéd can you get for a horror/slasher flick? There is gratuitous nudity, some funny quips, and did I mention gratuitous nudity? When it appears all the girls have left, in comes someone dressed up like the killer from Scream. He goes through the locker room looking for naked girls, waving his knife around until he finds Gómez's Barbara screaming and running away. It all starts here as we discover the "killer" is just a boy from the school trying to see unclothed girls and the victim Barbara is in fact the sexy killer of the title, unafraid to show her constitution for blood and carnage.
It is a hokey beginning that the audience completely ate up. I will admit that I wasn't necessarily impressed, it all seemed obvious although mildly humorous. We next arrive at the school and are introduced to Barbara's clique of friends, an interesting mix of people just finding out about the murder of their fallen classmate. It is no match for the excitement about a costume party happening that evening, though, one which sees our killer dress up in goth and carry a see-through bag, of course containing her latest victim's real decapitated head. Moving down the street she encounters a gentleman driving recklessly who proceeds to anger her, something you don't want to do. She asks if he wants to dance, as in fight, and continues to twist his arm around, break his fingers, and shoving a sharp object through his hand to hold him to the car. It is all well and good until something happens that truly grabbed my attention Barbara turns to the screen and talks directly to us, the audience, deciding where to begin her tale, the journey that led to that moment. We now are treated to flashbacks with the occasional return to her and her captive to narrate and keep us up to speed. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for fourth wall breaking, it just makes the film experience that much more visceral, involving me on a personal level. I loved it in films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and I definitely enjoyed its flair here.
At this point, one would figure that the slasher aspect will carry on until the end, deaths will pile up and laughs will be had. Instead, however, Tomás is brought into the fold, having just created a machine that will allow the user to see a deceased person's final vision, most likely his murderer. Of course things can't be that simple as we soon learn the injection used causes the rebirth of the victim into a zombie, coherent and aware of his previous life, fueling even more funny moments. The rest of the movie involves these plot threads as Barbara looks sexy and kills without remorse. It is a lot of laughs and a good time, especially with the uproarious crowd on hand trying to make the director and actress in attendance feel great, but it just isn't all that special in my book. There is a wealth of gore-fests, playing on the irony and humor of graphic death, and Sexykiller doesn't necessarily separate itself from the pack.
My favorite scene comes at another time, when Barbara and Tómas, a nice turn from César Camino, are on a date. His working with his machine in a morgue with dead bodies allows the conversation to veer to a point where she believes him to also be a killer. After seeing a dress she wanted on a woman going to the bathroom, Barbara follows her in and kills her, taking the dress and returning to her table. Tómas of course believes this to be a joke and when she says he should go for the tuxedo that just walked into the men's room, he jumps at the chance to impress her. Once he enters the bathroom, the exchange between he and the man he is "supposed to kill" is absolutely hilarious. From the line of Tómas begging for the suit because he will never get a woman as hot as Barbara again to the question of whether they are both Trekkies, I couldn't stop laughing. There are definite moments of brilliance, but I honestly can't say I truly loved a film of this kind; there are just too many inherent problems with the genre and preconceptions creating a stigma of campy schlock. Better than it should have been, however, I will recommend it for a good time late night.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Right from the opening credits, Vinyan leaves you uncomfortable and
excited for more. When the titles are completed, the screen continues
to show a close-up of bubbling/choppy water, the tint changing as time
goes, a collection of what appears to be human hair floating by. The
soundtrack swells from ambient noise, a wall of sound, to including the
screams of people drowning, suffering, and in pain. Whether you realize
that what you just watched was a representation of the carnage of the
2004 tsunami that ripped through the Pacific Ocean or not, the imagery
is sensory overload and only the start of what is in store. Watching in
a movie theatre is definitely worthwhile, to become fully encompassed
with the screen and aurally assaulted with the surround sound. More
suspense thriller than all out horror, Fabrice Du Welz's film will
leave a mark when it is all done. If you enjoy it or not, you will not
be able to shake it from your thoughts.
Vinyan begins calmly, following that phenomenal visceral setup. Janet and Paul Belhmer are attending a fundraiser to collect money for whatever new endeavor is helping third world nations. Everything seems normal between them, mingling with friends and fellow entrepreneurs, even showing a nice scene between Janet (the beautiful Emmanuelle Béart) and a child who cannot sleep, her taking him to bed. When the group collects into the living room to view a new film, shot in Burma, with protection from the Triads, the ground begins to give way. Janet is sure that a boy in the film is her son; there can be no mistake. Her husband, played by the underrated Rufus Sewell, tries to comfort her through his skepticism and beliefs that their son died in the tsunami. Unable to shake the possibility that he may have survived, only to be sold in the Asian black market, Janet persuades Paul to go with her, no matter the cost, and at least see if they can find him.
Now comes the journey through territories unsafe and unwelcome to Westerners. Their guide, Thanksin Gao (a wonderfully creepy performance by Petch Osathanugrah), can never be gauged on how trustworthy he is. Taking the Belhmer's money he agrees to lead them into Burma and all the places he has been told contain a white child. As the search goes on, though, we soon see how valuable life is when money changes hands for a child. Already bought, but not theirs, Gao and the other natives just laugh saying, "what's the difference?" Many gorgeous shots make up the bulk of the film. We experience a lantern lighting ceremony, the lit kites floating up into the sky, showering an eerie glow down upon them; a few dream sequences, throwing the audience into confusion on what is real and what is not (a moment of Sewell setting fire and another with Gao getting a chunk of his arm bitten off, both being forgotten as the trio continue on, perhaps a dream, perhaps not); and grotesque locales like that of a decrepit castle, inhabited by monkeys and children, creating an otherworldly Lord of the Flies-type feeling. It's often weird to speak of such dark and frightening shots as beautiful, but there really is no other word to describe them.
The acting is top notch and necessary to drive the story. Mostly a character piece, with close-ups and silent framing of our two leads, it is their reactions and emotions that we cling to in order to come out of the tale. Sewell becomes frustrated and angered as the search continues, his pockets empty, and they seem to be getting no closer to finding the truth about their son. If anything, the only evolution he sees is the devolution of his wife, slowly falling deeper and deeper into her own psyche as each disappointment of not finding the boy pile up higher and higher. Béart dives into this role, something you don't normally see from her as she usually plays the pretty face, not the internal longing mother she is here. Her descent to madness slowly begins to show when there becomes a distance between her and her husbandher wandering off with Gao, her lying to Paul and paying for an extension on the search, and even a sex scene that portrays how non-sexual she feels. There is one thing on her mind and that is finding her son.
I do not want to ruin what happens in the final act, which made me think of E. Elias Merhige's surreal Begotten. Lets just say that the imagery becomes more and more disturbing, the soundtrack louder and louder hearkening back to the opening, and the performances that much more devastating. The three wander into territory untapped by civilization and inhabited by children who have never been watched or taught by adults. It is a horrifying place that speaks to the characters in unique ways, possibly even answering that inherent call inside of Béart to be a mother. Her maternal instincts were ripped from her when they lost their son and she has never recovered from it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Everything that worked in the first film was thrown out for this one.
As a result, the movie is actually pretty boring. We are given a
detailed look into the frontlines as the insurgents wade through
Bolivia trying to take out the government. Battle after battle,
everything stays very much the same as they go city to city, doing
their best to find victory hidden beneath the death. A crucial piece to
the puzzle comes from Lou Diamond Phillips' small cameo as Mario Monje,
the leader of the revolutionary group who was more for political talks
and compromise rather than violence and fear. Guevara, played
brilliantly once again by Benicio Del Toro, has already started the
fight and due to his win or die mentality, will not back down. He is a
stubborn man believing unquestionably in himself, knowing that what he
is doing is the only way. Che is most definitely setup to be the hero
and martyr many feel he is throughout this film. Glorified as a leader
of men and a man of superior knowledge on mankind, Guerrilla is not
much more than a vanity piece, showing what happened to him in his
final year, never backing down and never giving up.
Again, though, is this man worthy of such praise? People around the world hail him to be a murderer and evil, but you would never think it to see Soderbergh's epic tale. The man is afflicted with constant asthma attacks having left his medication behind, stays at the front of the charge, helps those in need with his medical expertise, and leads a ragtag bunch of revolutionaries towards victory. Che is a God amongst men here, even when captured he holds such a charismatic mystique, brainwashing the guards with his celebrity to the point they want to talk to him even if they are employed to keep him captive. No one is beyond his hold, something so innocently powerful he can turn even the youngest boy into a fearless warrior, one that will follow him to his own destruction.
While it all is a straightforward war epic, fight after fight, slowly advancing and retreating depending on the outcome, we are thrust into the jungle for almost the entire film. There is no breathing room jumping back to civilization as in The Argentine, instead we stay entrenched in the battle. Because of this exotic locale, we get some stunning shots. A scene containing a group of soldiers, attempting to find their way back to Che, crossing a river is breathtaking. Due to events we see, the audience knows an ambush is likely and the suspense is high while they cross, guns over heads, music at a minimum. The overhead view is stunning and just one example of visual flair thrown in the mix. Another is with Che peering through trees at an advancing Bolivian army. Framed in blurry leaves, the army is shown with crisp silhouettes in the distance, walking through and setting up position; the composition and movement is very well done.
Along with the artistry also comes moments of contrivance. I don't know if Soderbergh didn't want too many characters running aroundthere are a lotbut one family on a farm, father, mother, and six children, come into play often. It's as though they are the only family in all of Bolivia. Che treats them well, offering extra money to buy livestock; the Bolivian army take over the land for shelter; the separated group, containing a Spanish speaking Franka Potente (how many languages does she speak?) look for advice on where to cross the river; and the Bolivians force them to give any information they can on the insurgents' whereabouts. This family is as much a crucial part to the war as Che's inclusion if the script is to be believed.
The final twenty or so minutes, dealing with Guevara captured, redeem a bit of the monotony that came before it. It is his final stand against the Bolivians, saving face and never showing fear, being the model example of a martyr, knowing his death might be just the thing to band the Bolivian people together. Del Toro knocks the part out of the park, transforming from the balding gray disguise needed to clear customs to eventually become the Che we know from the t-shirts and posters, long hair sticking out from underneath his hat. A gorgeous point of view shot at the end just adds one more instance of artistic touch, trying to make up for the more or less static camera-work shown the rest of the time.
If there was more explanation I might have become invested in the proceedings. Instead we are quite literally dropped into Bolivia and made to follow these soldiers as they do what they do, without rhyme or reason. Such a different style than The Argentine makes you feel like you could watch them separately, but with almost no character development, you'd be absolutely lost with Guerrilla coming in cold. Soderbergh definitely has created something intriguing and original, unfortunately it just doesn't quite work. Pretty to watch, but slowly paced, this installment could have been a ten minute epilogue to the first part, describing what happened to Guevara post-Cuba. Instead, we are subjected to an entire war with no purpose other than to show his capture. The war was a Vietnam scale debacle and an interesting fall of Icarus from the first's victorious fight. I just feel Soderbergh thought it was more than what it actually is. A bit bloated and unnecessary, I'd be interested to see what might happen if both films were cut together, an hour excised. Then maybe we'd have a tightly constructed full biography; otherwise, the whole experience is just too much to stay engrossed with.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It all begins rather straight-forwardly. Stein was a clown and stage
performer in Berlin, a man without politics, working with his wife and
children to bring joy to those who attended his shows. Through
flashbacks we see how his audience slowly becomes more and more Nazi,
going from one stray soldier with swastika to a barroom full of
military. He is eventually told he can no longer perform and, being
Jewish, it is only a matter of time before he and his kin are placed on
a train out of the ghetto and into a camp. Back in the present,
however, his affable nature and overabundance of intelligence show a
seemingly well-adjusted man, one the patients relate to, the doctors
rely on to bridge the gap between them and the survivors, and who has
seduced the head nurse, a woman half his age, into an affair that the
head doctor knows about and turns the other way. You see Dr. Nathan
Gross (Derek Jacobi) feels he can help Stein, knowing that there is
something buried deep down inside him, a guilt we can only assume stems
from the fact that his family is nowhere to be seen. It appears he has
survived while the rest disappeared. Only by giving him some freedom
and trust can he begin to try and help.
Stein uses his charm and charisma, that which made him such a success on the stage in Germany, to become the favorite of alllaughing with the patients, not at them; engaging in his love affair with Ayelet Zurer's Nurse Grey; partaking in his secret stash of alcohol hidden away in every vent around the building; and just making the most of his stay, as though it's all a vacation. That is until one morning when he hears a distant barking. Discovering there is a dog in the hospitalsomething he was promised from day one would never occurhe begins to seek it out. Finally stumbling across the room with the animal, he gets down on all fours and turns into a canine himself. Barking, drooling, lashing out at the staff, Stein is not as put together as we had once thought.
This all now leads to the true nature of the film. I believe it is the most original tale of WWII and the Holocaust that I have seen. While most these days focus on the camps and the battles and how much they affect those involved at the present, Adam Resurrected shows us the long-lasting ramifications being treated as an inferior, as an animal, that the experience had. The film is all about the psychological scarring the war left on these survivors, from the abuse, the torture, the separation from loved ones, and even the fact that they are alive while so many are not. One may call Adam Stein a lucky man for the series of events that transpired to him. Lucky that he was seen by a man for whom he read the mind of during one of his acts in Germany, a Commandant played by Willem Dafoe who took Stein under his wing to make him laugh and forget about the horrible things he was doing; lucky that all he had to do was pretend to be a dog, doing tricks for his master while all the other Jews worked outside biding their time until death. Only when you see the toying that went on, Stein desperately attempting to save his family, doing everything he is asked for by this man he saved from committing suicide not long ago, do you see how much easier it would have been if he had just been killed.
Goldblum's Stein is a tour de force, a performance he spent a year researching and preparing for. This broken man has all his armor stripped away by the barking of some thing hidden under a sheet in a room. It is either a dog or maybe someone like him, someone degraded so much that he has become an animal in appearance as well as in spirit. Goldblum plays the magician to perfection, his quirkiness lending itself to the clownish way he goes about his life, but portrays the tortured soul to great effect too; a man able to control his own body, making it bleed, making it get sick, destroying himself over and over again as he does his best to help those around him, not yet in a healthy enough state to help himself. Utterly believable and completely transformed in his character, Adam Stein is whom we see on screen. A Holocaust survivor only starting to overcome the pain and sorrow inflicted upon him during the war and after, a man coming to grips with the fact that his name is not Stein but the number burned into his arm.
I credit Schrader for directing a stellar film, allowing Goldblum to really perform his heart out for the duration, a time span for which he is in frame almost 100% of the time. The attention to detail is impeccable, right down to the toy train at the hospital, a locomotive that gets under Stein's skin, perhaps a little too much until we are shown the flashback to the train that transported the Jews, both exact replicas of each other, making that toy a symbol of his incarceration. Adam Resurrected is truly a story of his journey to find salvation, for himself and those around him. A great line comes from a response to one man's quest for God as follows, "God is out to lunch. He left a note; it's on your arm." Maybe God abandoned them all as he sat back and watched the atrocities occur, but these people, the doctors, patients, and Stein especially, won't give themselves that luxury. They are there for the long run, doing their best to survive and cope with the fact that they still have the gift of life, hopefully with enough time to make something of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I saw that Richard Linklater had a new film at the Toronto
International Film Festival and that it took place during Orson Welles'
run at the Mercury Theatre, I was very interested. Me and Orson Welles
is based off a novel which creates a fictional character to be our
entry point into the tumultuous world of Welles' troupe, attempting to
get a performance of Julius Caesar out the gate. Young Richard Samuels
finds and cons his way into a small part with the play, meeting the
likes of Joseph Cotton, George Coulouris, and Welles all before Citizen
Kane made them Hollywood players. Centering on a more specific period
of time, not sprawling out to multiple plot lines like Robbins' opus,
Me and Orson Welles is an authentic view of that time period, a
veritable time capsule of Welles' ego before he had the film industry
in the palm of his hand.
I've never seen High School Musical or Hairspray, but just looking at Zac Efron you can't help but think nothing good could come of his casting. In my shocking surprise, he was actually quite good, and possibly perfect in the role. The entire film hinges on his believability as a cocky yet talented high schooler that talks his way onto a high profile performance while he should be taking pop quizzes. This teen is unafraid to speak his mind and truly believes that he deserves the same respect as anyone else on the project, even if that means standing up to the giant that is Orson Welles. He is a kid, though, and he's naïveté comes out at numerous times, mostly to humorous effect. Embroiled in a five dollar bet with Cotton and Norman Lloyd about who can sleep with secretary Sonja first, when Richard's chance finally happens, his shyness and awkwardness add a nice slapstick comedic feel. Efron actually has a good handle on his facial expressions, helping both effectively add to the comedy while also to the realism of the time period we are watching, as far as acting style went back thenover the top and hammy.
This kid becomes a big part of Welles' life in the story. The master takes him under his wing to show the ropes of theatre, drama, and radio, grooming him with superfluities and compliments. What Richard doesn't yet realize is the cutthroat nature of the industry and how everyone will lie, cheat, and steal to get what he wants. The boy's relationships blossom with the actors and Sonja, allowing him to comfortably make a name for himself in Broadway with them. He just can't learn that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and give into someone who can't to appease them and further your own career. Richard is young though and he doesn't yet feel this is it for him, the end all be all. So, when some might think a brazen attitude and confidence could be a necessary trait in theatre, a man like Welles will have none of it. Why would a man like him want a mirror held up to his face? No, he is the leader and you will listen.
It is a shame that whenever someone is called upon to play Orson Welles, it always ends up being a caricature or impersonation. It is true with Angus Macfadden in Cradle Will Rock and it is true here with newcomer Christian McKay, found in a one-man show doing the part and cast as a result. McKay is everything you'd think about with the legend, from the brash authoritative moods to the welcoming smiles charismatically pulling you in to do whatever he wants. Definitely more an embodiment of Welles himself than a performance of a character, you can't really fault him for it. A man that recognizable can only be done with impression and McKay does it to perfection.
As for the rest of the cast, everyone is great. Eddie Marsan is a stalwart and nice practical foil to Welles' mercurial genius; James Tupper knocks Joseph Cotton out of the park, playing a lothario that tries his best to shield Richard and help him stay in Welles' good graces; Leo Bill is a lot of fun as the improviser/comedian Lloyd; and Claire Danes likable as the object of everyone's affection Sonja. There is also Zoe Kazan as the writer Richard meets one day at a record shop. She is the one link he has to the real world, grounding him away from the chaos and narcissism the acting lifestyle brings. A real person, with goals and aspirations, her Gretta allows for the best relationship with Efron's character. It is a side-plot that one could say needed to be beefed up, but I actually think comprised just the right amount of time. Only coming back into the story every so often, it was a necessary juxtaposition to the craziness in the theatre, showing us the real Richard and not the act he put on to be a success.
The story is slight even though there is a lot going on. I would even agree that Linklater has crafted such a tight piece it seems simpler than it is because he makes it so. Some instances are so good, the poet Sinner in the play slowly being surrounded by silhouetted actors onstage, that I can't get the image out of my head. That said I might blame the fact I love Cradle Will Rock so much that this one just doesn't quite compare. Me and Orson Welles is a great film, highly recommended, but to me nothing glaringly special. It's just one of those films that I can praise over and over again for its parts, but when I think of the whole, realize that it never fully resonated with me past being a well-made, well-acted piece of cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Star Vincent Cassel spoke about his character, the real life Jacques
Mesrine, as being "a symbol of freedom and a terrible man." Before
screening the world premiere of his new film's workprint cut, Cassel
acknowledges Mesrine's brutal nature yet can't stop from saying he
loves the role and the opportunity to sink his teeth into being a
madman gangster. Based off the criminal's own memoirs, written in jail
before his final escape, L'instinct de mort attempts to show the rise
to prominence on the streets of the former military man. Spanning from
his return home after the Algerian War for Independence to his daring
escape from a high security prison, director Jean-François Richet
brings us the evolution of a killer. Someone who is ashamed of his
father, more loyal to friends than his own wife and children, and
always looking for a high risk adventure, Mesrine lives without fear or
moral consequence, leaving a wake of destruction behind him.
What happens with this film is that it tries to be a gangster tale, showing gunfights and action, but at its core is only a bio-pic. There is so much jammed into the runtime that nothing is allowed to breath or given time to evolve. Instead a problem is presented and then solved quickly in order to go on to the next. Mental feelings change on a whim often as Mesrine will be happily at home in love with wife and kids and all of a sudden, when his job is lost, becomes abusive and screams he'd pick his friends over his family any day of the week. Important relationships are glossed over so easily that you sometimes are taken out of the proceedings wondering about things that the filmmaker doesn't deem worthy of time. Then why put it in at all? If Mesrine can drop his love for family so easily, it's not like showing it is supposed to make us feel for him. No, he is cold-blooded to the bone, there is no need to pretend he may have a heart. Also, other events aren't given any time for discovery. When arrested for the first time, all we're shown is him talking about how the job may be dangerous and next thing we know he's in jail. Perhaps we don't need anymore than this, but evenso, it just makes the film seem choppy and sloppy when it really doesn't have to be. This feeling crops up right from the get-go as the opening credits involve Mesrine and his partner, played by Ludivine Sagnier, engaged in a job. This takes place in the future and I'm sure will be elaborated on in the second movie, but why show it? Just to let us know that he gets older, basically ruining any surprise if he is found in a life or death situation. All showing that scene does for us is say he will not be dying in this film.
These scenes stick out even more because the action sequences are so great. When guns are blaring and tensions are high, Richet definitely has a knack for shooting fluidly, keeping all the action in frame and coherent. Once Mesrine is caught for a second stint in jail and put in solitude, the film really gets good. Along with his friend Jean-Paul Mercier, played by The Rocket's Roy Dupuis, he hatches a plan to break out of the inescapable cage. While the actual escape is a subdued tense affair, trying to beat the clock, it is their return to try and free the rest of the inmates that creates an invigorating set-piece, one that in most films would be the showcase "out in a blaze of glory" moment. Here, though, this is just the first chapter of an eventual two-part story, so the event is allowed to live freely as an instance, either that will be successful or fail without necessarily dire consequences.
Another success is the infusion of humor throughout. Cassel lends Mesrine a very bitingly sarcastic wit that works wonders against characters like Guido, played by Gérard Depardieu, with one-liners and provoking jabs. Even when being pummeled by guards at the prison, he never bites his tongue. Other moments include a dual bank robbery, back to back and across the street; a Bonnie and Clyde type hold-up; and a fantastic kidnapping where he tries to tell the hostage it's his own fault. Cassel's delivery is pitch-perfect and tempers his volatile outbursts nicely.
As a character, Mesrine succeeds very well, he just must partake in so much within two hours that the actual activities never get enough room to stretch their legs. The fact that a second part is still to be released scares me because if all this needed to be squeezed into the first, how compressed will the new one be? The man is an intriguing onemurderer, thief, lifelong criminaland I wish the story he encompassed here had a bit more excitement. Again, though, that's not to say L'instinct de mort is boring, it is not. The pacing is just too disjointed for an audience to invest in a story thread long enough to care before we are on to the next. This version is a workprint and maybe some more time spent could improve it, but the way it currently leads into the next installment begs the thought that it won't be changing too much at all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Telling about the years from his fateful first encounter with the
Castro brothers in Mexico to the end of the revolution, The Argentine
helps show how a young doctor became a Comandante respected and loved
by a nation that was not even his. This was a man with ideals, one who
believed in the love of humanity, justice, and truth. He was a doctor
above all else, patching up the troops and making sure the people in
every village they passed through had the care and attention they
needed. He also was not afraid to lead the charge and stand at the
frontlines without fear of death. One must live as though they have
already died, then the fear will be gone and you can do what is
necessary for the cause. It is about the group and the country, not
about his survival. In his idealized communist beliefs he was fighting
for Cuba and the only outcomes allowed were victory or his own
Soderbergh's ambitions are evident right from the start. Although it mainly concerns the years between 1955-1962, he splices in events happening later on as Che visits the UN. Shot in black and white to help juxtapose against the sumptuous colors of our main action, these future scenes comment on what is happening during the war, cutting in to enhance the tale. There is a lot of structural jumping between the years, each change titled with a date and place to orient us as the viewers. The technique lends a more modern artistic scope to what would otherwise be a linear narrative and I believe helps tell the story more coherently. He has edited the film for the most efficient portrayal of the facts, a somewhat cause and effect relationship to better let us understand the situation. And it is a beautifully shot film, lending a fly on the wall type feel as we follow the revolutionaries or watch the UN debate. It is less artifice than an account of what happened based on the memoirs of Guevara himself. All the battles and all the victories from start to finish, his own uphill advancement through the ranks, from doctor to right-hand man, instructor of new recruits to leader of an army. However, if this film is to be believed, Che never wanted the power past being able to get the job done. Once Cuba was free he wanted to bring the revolution to all of Latin America, to share his experiences and political viewpoints. An intelligent man, he is shown fighting for his beliefs, no matter the cost. Unafraid to do what was needed meant he was unafraid to kill. Does a man like that deserve to be glorified in a film like this? That is in the eye of the beholder because to some he was a hero and a patriot, but like every conflict in history, where there is a good side there is a bad. To view a battle objectively is impossible because there will always be someone to defend it and someone else to protest.
The Argentine is one that will make you think about the strength of the mind and the power of ideas. A country came together and helped back a revolt with force to take over the government. With the charismatic and understated performance from Benicio Del Toro as Che, one can't help but see why. Always with a smile and a kind word, he ruled with respect and without compromising his beliefs. The fact that he leads intellectually makes the moments of outburst that much more effective. The role should garner a lot of praise as he embodies the man completely, shedding any preconceptions of the actor himself. Demotions and promotions don't apply during his tenure in the army, he does what Castro needs him to do; he follows his leader and expects the same from those under him. He portrays this man as one to be listened to and taken seriously. Castro himself holds council and values his ideas, and one might say that if Fidel was the face of the revolt, the man pulling the strings, Che was the muscle, the force allowing it all to happen.
In the end, though, while the visuals are gorgeous and the acting superb, it is the story that leaves a little something to be desired. Structurally interesting and easier to follow than one might think due to the jumps in time, we are not shown all the details. Often times we are thrown directly into the action without knowledge of why we are there or what is happening for what reason. Events occur and we are shown flashes, learning details after the fact or never at all. An example is when Che all of a sudden needs a cast for his arm. We don't know what happened, another character actually asks him, but when the answer is about to be said, we cut to another scene. Soderbergh seems to have crafted the tale he wanted to, only allowing us to see what he deems important, while leaving all other details by the wayside. He paints Guevara in a kind light, as a warrior with a purpose, never putting himself in front of the mission or country. In that regard the film is about the Argentine, but on the whole it is really about the war itself. Why is Batista bad? Why is Castro good? None of that matters. This isn't a history lesson showing the reasoning or rationale, you can get that in a book. Instead Soderbergh is just sharing the events themselvesas they happen, not why. You can't deny the scale or ambitions on display, however, the lack of background may make it hard to decipher, or even hard to really care.
While the complete polar opposite of Brick, Johnson left the Dashiell
Hammett prose and instead decided to delve into Wes Anderson territory.
His The Brothers Bloom is a smart, witty adventure that takes some
unexpected turns on its journey, never lets a detail fall into
obscurity, and shows that if nothing else, he is a high caliber
storyteller that should be around for a long time, not rehashing the
same thing over and over again, but churning out refreshingly new and
unique yarns to entertain and enlighten.
This tale is about a duo of con menthe best in the worldwho reunite to do one last job. The younger, Bloom, has been playing the roles written by Stephen since they were children, always embodying the character so easily because it allowed him to be that which was not himself. After having fallen in love with too many marks, only to watch as they swindled and left them out to dry, Bloom is ready to quit and goes into self-imposed exile for three years until his partner finds him and rounds him up for one last big score. That score involves an eccentric shut-in, a woman who has never left her mansion and collects hobbies in order to entertain herself. A master with a deck of cards, juggler extraordinaire, harp player, and ping-pong champ, amongst other activities, there is little she does not know. This epileptic photographer is anxious to go off on an adventure and opening up to the Brothers Bloom is her perfect opportunity to do so, and their best chance at an easy million dollars.
What the men did not account for was her inexhaustible sense of enthusiasm and uncanny knack for the con game. Getting herself out of situations that the brothers can't even fathom and catching on to things so quickly, it's as though the mark becomes the professional, however, that is exactly Stephen's plan. She is a woman of intelligence, beauty, and unique without compare. Penelope is exactly the girl that Bloom has been looking for, but of course, she is discovered in one of Stephen's stories, accessible only until they must cut her loose. Yet, here comes the first "what if" of the film. What if our orchestrator has concocted this all for Bloom, a con on a grand scale in order to give him the life he always wanted? Bloom does say that Penelope feels just like one of Stephen's characters, but as he says in his defense, "the day I con you, is the day I die." We can only hope those words don't become prophetically true.
Johnson weaves an intricate shell game for his characters to roam through, crossing paths, discovering secrets, telling lies, and possibly conning each other. No one truly can tell what's real because not only are they unsure themselves, they know that every one of them has the potential to make-up an elaborate scheme to confuse and manipulate. Ruffalo is the true artist at this game, crudely drawing up a plan of attack in brainstorm bubble trees, thinly veiling his tales with inside jokes that a woman like Penelope (Weisz) is well-informed enough to see through, yet too naïve to put together. Straight from the start, a childhood narrated by Ricky Jay, these boys have gotten what they wanted and planned to perfection. Trained by the nefarious Diamond Dog, the men, (Brody portraying the other, Bloom), have eclipsed their master and took the world by storm. Along with their pyrotechnics guru Bang Bang, (Rinko Kikuchi) and a select cast of regular actors (Robbie Coltrane as the Belgian and a great string of cameos in a bar scene early on with Nora Zehetner, Noah Segan, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-him Joseph Gordon Levitt all showing some Brick love), the boys always get what they want. Ultimately attempting to create the perfect conso well planned out and airtight that it happens all by itselfthis con becomes reality and everyone gets exactly what they wanted.
The Brothers Bloom is told in a storybook fashion with bright colors and in-focus frames. Johnson jam-packs each composition with detail upon detail, never shying away from having an important plot point occur in the background, behind a conversation or action by our leads at the forefront. Most times they are jokes, lending some levity to the situation, one that becomes ever more dark as the charade goes along; unexpectedly dark, yet perfectly so. His use of humor infuses a heart into the proceedings and a true bond and relationship between Stephen and Bloom, two men that learn to hate each other at the end of a job, but always come to the others help when needed at the start. You must be diligent to the environment surrounding our actors, as it is just as much playing a role as they, helping a truly bold and intricate story be disguised as a simple one. Very slight on first appearance, it is the fact that it's so well told that makes it seem simpler than it really is. Without any bloated superfluities or weakly handled tangents, this tightly woven tapestry lives on its own at a breakneck speed, culminating with a spectacular final twist, an end that had been building up right from the start in that bourgeois playground during the boys' foster home placement. The Brothers Bloom look out for each other and never let the other down, no matter what damage it may cause to themselves. In the end, they do it all for their brother, anything they can to make the other's life a success.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the characters summed up Suspiria quite concisely at the start
of the film. She said, "It's all so absurd, so fantastic." I can't
think of a better way to begin a description. Sure the gore factor is
fake and overkill, the horrible dub job is laughable, and the story is
just a jumbled mess that gets loosely tied together by a witch subplot
with fifteen minutes left, but there is a lot to like here. The
absurdity works for it by creating a dreamlike state and journey
through an otherworldly German dance school. Its fantastical elements
lend a way to become absorbed in its lush settings, helping allow us to
forget the incoherence of it all. The cinematography is quite stunning
at times and the use of color and light just magnificent. Add in a
killer synth soudtrack from the Goblins and you have some very
unsettling stuff. Can one appreciate a film for its artistic merits
despite its crude script and performances? I say yes.
With a plot concerning an American girl coming to Germany in order to be educated at a prestigious dance academy only to find money-hungry women and grisly murders, you can expect over-the-top craziness. When the darkness between two Greek inspired monuments can cause a dog to bite a man's jugular and kill him and a girl can jump out a window to safety only to fall into a pit of barbed wire, there are no rules. Writer/director Dario Argento seems to have used his fantasy theme as an excuse to show he can creatively kill off characters without being held realistically responsible. The occult plays a huge role in the film and all the weird deaths are easily linked together as events caused by an evil force emanating from the coven of witches that occupy and run the school. Dark magic has no bounds and it will inhabit whatever necessary to inflict the desired action. Whether it the wind, a yellowed snakelike eyed creature outside a window, an otherwise benign seeing eye dog, or one's own body, anything can become a vehicle for homicide.
The end of the film really delves into the nightmare/dream state set forth from the start, making it remind me a lot of "Twin Peaks" and Lynch's Black Lodge with the Red Room. Every architectural setting utilized in the film seems to be a labyrinthine puzzle box to explore. Our lead Suzy eventually finds herself searching through the passageways and hallways in order to finally get some answers to what is happening around her. Turn the purple iris, open the door that holds the living dead, count the footsteps of the instructors to gauge where it is they are goingSuzy is strong willed and sets her mind without faltering. She will not be stopped or scared away from finding out the truth.
Played with just the right mix of naïveté and power, Jessica Harper does an admirable job holding the film up. Her Suzy is caught in the middle of a struggle against dissenters at the school. No one can just leave because once they glimpse the truth, they know too much. She is drugged nightly, manipulated into staying at the school, and constantly experiencing death and disappearance of those around her. Effective as the innocent waif, she also makes her horror movie cliché actions appear thought out and possible due to her curiosity rather than stupid and plot progressing like most horror. She opens a door because she wants to, not because that's what we expect in the canon. The rest of the acting is effective, but unfortunately the performances that stick out are because of the horrible over-dubbing. Udo Kier, Mr. Thick German Accent himself, is dubbed over with flawless speech devoid of any accent. You could tell me that it's actually him dubbing his own lines, but I will not believe it. And then there is Rudolf Schündler as his professor colleague; his words are so off track from his mouth movements that I wouldn't be surprised if he was speaking a different language in the visuals. I guess it's all part of the charm and cult quality people have come to love.
I will, however, completely praise the artistic merits on display. The set designs are sumptuous and extremely ornate. Each room is painted with a unique pattern and bright, bold colors. Whether an organic, flowery motif or geometrically sharp angles, the camera always tends to settle for at least a brief moment to show off the work. The apartment building that becomes the setting for our first murder is gaudy to perfection with its symmetrical design and colored overhead window. Even the shards of glass sticking out from a woman's body have a sense of beauty to them. But, it is the use of light that truly warrants accolades. The use of red is very prevalent, the connotation to blood an obvious connection, and the light and shadow working along with it helps set the mood with the loud, jarring soundtrack. Composition is carefully planned and through close-ups we are treated to some stunning visuals. The long depth of focus shots are my favorite, between the shot of a maid and the headmistress's nephew shrouded in bright light reflected from a knife to the view of the entranceway as we await Miss Tanner to walk through storming into the rehearsal room, nothing compares to the absolute first sequence. Commencing with Suzy in white against the crowds' sea of red, her approach to the exit is filled with the overpowering score as the camera cuts sharply to her face before the foreboding cut back to the door as its opened, letting the storm brewing outside to be shown. All the safety and security of her once simple life is about to be subjected to the tempest that will threaten to consume her.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What do you get when you cast Michael Cera as an awkward
late-teen/quasi-geek; a sassy, smart, attractive girl who is a better
catch then she thinks; a killer Indie soundtrack; and comedic side
characters that deliver the goods? Juno? Not quite. What we get is Nick
and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which debuted at the Toronto
International Film Festival. It is a real good time; maybe not as fresh
or original as one would hope, the laughs are there and the story is
enough to hold your attention. Taking place during the course of one
night in New York City, searching for an elusive band's secret gig, two
lost souls find each other and discover what love is despite the
preconceptions they had before meeting. Reminiscent to me of Adventures
in Babysittingthe journey's detours and mood, not the storySollett
enhances the based-on-a-book script with songs on "five star" rotation
from his iPod, (he told us after the screening, it's true), and some
great work with his actors to stay realistic and keep all that
awkwardness of adolescence intact as these young kids open up and find
out who they really are.
It's an interesting twist on a common premiseguy gets dumped by girl and makes a series of "break-up" mixes, leaving them at her door, complete with handmade packaging. The egotistical brat ex-girlfriend Tris is, each disc is carefully discarded only after showing how sad Nick is losing such a great girl as she. Enter fringe outcast Norah to scoop up the discs and discover how their maker has her exact taste in music and may be her soulmate, without even knowing who he is. That set-up can only lead to a chance encounter at said sadsack's next gig with his band, completed by his two gay friends on vocals and guitar. Norah sees Nick onstage, has a connection to him and eventually cons her way into using him as a fake boyfriend to prove she isn't a loser to Tris. Only she doesn't know that he is her Nickoh the battle is on as the trio discovers the relationship each has with the other and both girls embark on a journey to win the geek over. Wow, if only real life could be this good for the nerdy sadsacks only in Hollywood.
While Nick and Norah slowly open their eyes to each other and see how compatible they are and Tris journeys on her mission to grab her ex back, (no way can he go from her to Norah), we also follow Caroline's drunken stupor through the city. Known to have specific places to throw-up in, Norah enlists Nick's bandmates to help her find the lost and clueless friend while also hoping to uncover Where's Fluffy?'s concert location. Our cast of characters here meet up with some interesting creatures. Sollett spoke how he tried to get each locale to be that from the book, actual East Village/Lower East Side haunts he himself frequents. They all needed authenticity in detail and therefore needed waitresses of equal loathing and bands that would actual play there. The look and feel are definitely genuine and help give us, as an audience, the ability to believe it all despite the conveniently contrived plot progressions utilized.
The supporting characters we meet are usually a lot of fun, especially cameos from Kevin Corrigan, (he does wonders without even uttering a word), and Andy Samberg, (a riot as a homeless man Cera's Nick stumbles upon at a church around 3am). Sollett spoke of Samberg's willingness to improv and the multiple takes filmed. His favorite alternate take was hilarious and probably better than what was used, but this is a film trying to get a PG-13 rating, so all you out there will have to wait for the DVD to hopefully see a gag reel. I really hope it gets on there because I'd love to see Cera's reaction to the raunchy exchange. The larger cameos, those of friends on screen often, are very effective as well. Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron are fantastic as Cera's bandmates/best friends, trying to show him that Norah is the girl he wants, not Tris, while also just having a good time being themselves never pushing the gay comedy far enough into stereotypical drivel. Ari Graynor is wonderful as Caroline, inebriated throughout, she brings some big laughs and a few cringes, especially when playing off her wad of chewing gum, a character worthy of credit itself.
The true winner of the film, though, besides the amazing soundtrack of people you will probably start hearing about with their next albums as the mainstream moves to include them, is Norah herself, Kat Dennings. This girl is perfect for the role. She is cute in a humble, "I don't think I am" kind of way, with a biting wit and sarcastic defenses. She is the kind of girl you would fight for, but also the one that will not make it easy for you to win. Intellectual and unassuming, she shies away from her father's fameyou should figure out his job early on, but I don't want to be the one to ruin the revealand attempts to be original, much like Juno and even Jaye from TV-show "Wonderfalls". Her exchanges with Cera are always endearingly funny, if not laugh out loudlove when she drives his carand while the awkwardness gets overplayed, ruining some of the chemistry, you do want to see them get together in the end. Not because you know they probably will, but because you agree with Yoo and Gavron, she is the one for Nick and nothing should stand in the way. Oh, the power of music, Sollett has something with his idea to use breakup tapes as unknowing relationship builders. It may not be as good as those it tries to copy, but it definitely deserves a place snuggly next to them.
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