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Criteria: below ten titles, only counting films and TV films, and with less than two known works (that's why you won't be seeing Heather O'Rourke here, just an example).
After the Fall (2014)
Unusual but has its moments
The film's poster convinces us that what we're about to see is another ordinary action film, with touches of an empathic and gripping drama destined to make us support the main character's actions. Don't be fooled by that image. "After the Fall" is a good drama with small portions of action, and the latter isn't all that compelling or exciting. Wes Bentley stars as a desperate man who takes extreme measures after losing job and being unable to take care of his family, surrounded by debts after debts. His only option: committing crimes, mugging the residents of his small town. On his trail there's a decadent detective (Jason Isaacs) who is trying to catch this new suspect who appeared in town all of sudden, but they barely knew they would cross paths early on and become buddies who are stuck in saddening times, with their personal crisis and just trying to find a way to live their lives.
More artistic than entertaining, "After the Fall" treats its themes by appropriating itself of some of Terrence Malick's techniques - though more conventional to mainstream audiences - with the use of the main character's narration remembering the lovely times he had with his family in their big house and their pool, describing the love and care he had for his wife and kids; and also appropriates of some "Breaking Bad" elements, without ever getting on the same level of greatness. Mr. Saar Klein's debut as director comes across as simple-minded, clichéd yet manageable and interesting due to the performances of Bentley and Isaacs (who steals the show, this time without playing the villain). Bentley was a decent anti-hero, you get easily involved with his obstacles, and enjoy each time he tries to help people in worst conditions than him (like the female cashier - but hey at least she has a job, awful but still), almost getting close to being a hero (helping the old man who spotted him before a robbery at a drugstore).
And if the movie loses points is because of its lack of alternatives and unusual conceptions. Why the lead character never, at no point, tries to get another job? He's stuck in that weird business, still trying to impress his former boss when he's no longer part of the company in ages. That part was really strange. And since when stealing pocket money from other people can be enough to make one rescue his taken car? He survives from stealing to stealing, and it's all very unconvincing. I won't even mention the solution given at the conclusion which the writer simply fast forward with a plausible explanation.
Here's another modern treaty about the swifty American dream; there's always crisis and always unexpected solutions but family always comes first. Even though you're about to lose them. 6/10
The Canyons (2013)
Decadence in its pure form
I know I shouldn't reference a classic movie while writing about this film but I have to because there's a certain strange connection between both, despite the different outcome each one had. The majority of viewers of "The Canyons" might never have heard of "The Misfits" (1961), that depressive tale starring Gable, Monroe, Clift and directed by John Huston, a reunion of washed up characters that never seem to do anything right in life, and behind the scenes it was another sad story as well, becoming the final films of Marilyn and Clark, and Monty's career already in ruins, didn't get better later on. Rumor has it, the movie was on TV the day he died, someone asked him if he wanted to see it, to which he replied with a 'no'. Yet that was a marvelous picture and still interesting to watch. What's Paul Schrader movie has to do with it? It's also a story about washed up people (in and off the movie) who try to do something with their lives but only manage to complicate things. Unlike "The Misfits", this excuse for a movie is simply dull, hollow and idiotic.
The same hands that wrote the great "American Psycho" and "Less than Zero" are the same that brings this movie to life. Can you believe that? Yep, Bret Easton Ellis tries to deliver a piece involving Hollywood and its nasty schemes of money, power, sex, lies, betrayal and love going out the window. In it, famous producer film Christian (porn star James Deen, trying his big break in conventional films) goes bazoork after finding out that his wife (Lindsay Lohan) is having an affair with Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), the leading man he selected to star in his new project. Conflict, or catch some might say: Christian doesn't mind sharing his lovely wife with other partners in orgies and wild parties as long as he's there as well, so it's kind of weird when he reacts in a psychotic way after discovering the affair. "I love you because I trust you" he says at the beginning, maybe it's the way around, I don't know.
That side of the story is pure garbage, and the more the film tries to bring sensuality or just throw some sex scene, the more embarrassing it gets. It looks like a lousy carbon copy of a softcore (and trust me, there's softcore flicks with better plot and sexy moments than this thing), the sex is just presented very briefly, with no deep connection with the story, and even the sequences involving nudity are tame, prudishly captured. Wheter being a weird drama or a unsexy thriller, "The Canyons" doesn't hit right at anything. There's not even a bold or original take into Hollywood way of running things, no critique, no judgment, just the exploitation of us unfortunate viewers.
I only (slightly) cared about "The Canyons" in the sequences involving Ryan, the young and struggling actor caught in the middle of a complicated situations, torn about acting in a good project - but what's it about, anyway? the movie never tells us - and staying with the love of his life, the decadent actress married with Christian, and Ryan also happens to be married. Throughout the film, he spends his time trying to find ways to be in the picture, no matter the consequences (since he's a drop dead gorgeous guy, he's frequently tempted by guys who have power in the business) he fights for that role mostly because it's the only thing for him to do.
Gathered here is the ultimate members of the decadent career group: Lohan post-rehab career, another low movie for her; the unlucky director Schrader - his latest ventures are quite troubled, specially with producers who remove the man cause he never delivers the movie they wanted (apparently, that didn't happen here but it happened with the fourth Exorcist and the recent "Dying of the Light") but at one time he was a gifted filmmaker and writer; and Ellis, whose script is just another proof that some novelists shouldn't write original film material. Coming out of the porn universe, Mr. Deen proves to be a suitable and good choice for the frightening character he plays, his alpha-male quality was powerful enough to make you believe this guy can do anything he wants and with anyone he wants. A little bit of acting classes and he might have a future in mainstream films. Also from porn, but just doing a bit uncredited part is Danny Wylde who should have a better and bigger cameo.
The only ones who escape without injuries are Nolan Funk, quite good in some moments, and one scene stealer Gus Van Sant as Christian's shrink. Just because it's a movie about decadence filled with down and out people that doesn't mean the final project should be like them. The fore-mentioned classic is a clear evidence of this. 3/10
Seventh Grade (2014)
A sublime surprise
"Seventh Grade" is one of the best and most surprising coming of age stories to be produced lately, one that looks authentic, charming and filled with qualities despite its reduced running time (with creativity the director might find ideas to turn this into a successful feature film).
This short and sweet story deals with girls transition from playing dolls to dealing with more serious matters, which includes boys. Patrice (Maxine Turenne) stills clings to childhood and her toys, it's important to her though it's also a way for her to be curious about things that occupy pre-adolescent minds. The definitive turning point comes to her when her best friend Laura (Mia Guzman) is target of a mean rumor at school, and now Patrice wants to save her friend's reputation at the same time she's trying to understand the difficult process of growing up, which includes leave some innocence behind.
I can only advise you to watch this right away, won't tell what happens but I can honestly say that the solution to the problem really blew my mind away. I didn't see that coming. And besides the fascinating story, the cast is formed by great (yet unknown) talents, actors we look forward to see more and more in the future - the leading girl was amazing. 10/10
A Queda (1978)
One of Brazilian's best film of that lost decade. Tough watch but very rewarding
Good Brazilian films of the 1970's are truly hard to find. It's such a tricky and low decade both in quality films and also in the political terms that it's really to feel nostalgic about it, even though many old folks will argue to death that at least the educational system was better then. "A Queda" ("The Fall") is a rare diamond of that decade and one I can proudly say without any doubts and exaggeration that it's one of the best films ever made in the period. A real and depressive portrait on labor's exploitation and how low any working person in this nation has to sink in order to fulfill a job and lose his/her soul (most of the time) while others already lost it somewhere and don't think of ethical terms anymore, it's all about the money.
This is a sequel to the classic "Os Fuzis" (1964) - still to be seen by me - but it doesn't ruin the view if you watch this first because the directors included some flashbacks from that movie to enhance and develop the main character's strong reactions and his sense of friendship. Our troubled hero is Mario (the great Nelson Xavier, one of the co-directors of this film), a hard working and responsible operator who watches José, his best friend and co-worker (Hugo Carvana) dies in a tragic accident after falling from a great height while working on the construction site of a subway station. The place's working conditions are the poorest ever, and the man died because he wasn't following the security procedures. Trying to hide the fact from almost everybody, the bosses decide to bribe the victim's family so they can't go the court and sue the company for their wrongdoings. That's where Mario enters to help the family and go against his superior (Lima Duarte) who also happens to be his father-in-law, to demand that the company will assist the family. And that will be Mario's downfall before society, torn between his responsibilities with the firm, his own work and his own family at the same time trying to assure that the family of his deceased friend get justice done - though not wrong but very naive about the issue, he contacts a lawyer and a reporter who'll help him in making this tragedy a case for the court and a case for the news.
Power, corruption and lies...and a majority of working people getting exploited, barely getting paid in order to secure the richness of a minority. "A Queda" has this as center of the matter and its presentation is brilliantly done, giving us time to reflect about our own experiences on the topic and making us put ourselves in Mario's shoes. Throughout the film you wonder a lot about Mario and Jose friendship (presented through brief flashbacks from "Os Fuzis"), the main reason that instigates our hero to help the people he loved and admired at the same time he's spiraling out of control while helping those folks. A summary of the previous film: they became acquainted while doing another risky job: in the Northeast of Brazil they were soldiers who were trying to stop the population from sacking a food deposit. The parallel established between both films is that a poor man's life doesn't mean much, whether you're on the side of the fence trying to do your job in the best possible way or whether you're too miserable and unfortunate with no job.
Mario's actions are highly commendable, if only we all had friends like him but we are forced to think that no one would go that far for anyone, friend or unknown. There were times when I kept wondering why he wasn't more selfish, even when things were going his way with his boss giving a new house for him and his wife (one of the most difficult scenes I've ever seen and all captured in one long take with the wife asking her father/his boss what Mario had to do in order to get the house, and the father kept dodging the question). But there's things that can't be shattered, it will remains important. "We've been through a lot together, we were... friends", he says at a breaking point.
Directors Xavier and Ruy Guerra offered a real picture, explosive with many valid points; and even with a great of artistic choices that work (the big bosses in their suits and ties are presented with faceless photo stills, drinking and partying and their voice-overs are heard, to the fact they're so on top no one sees them quite right) and others that though understandable shouldn't be included (the movie begins with poor people on a landfill, survivalism at its worst cause they only have garbage to eat but I'm not complaining about this comparison but to what comes next: a two minute sequence that takes place on a slaughterhouse and you probably know what goes there, so please do watch this movie but just fast forward this part.). The point made: it's all honest yet cheap and dirty forms of survivalism just like being a subway construction worker. Doesn't get any better in this land and in many others as well. The movie, however, is near-perfect. 9/10
Behind the scenes documentaries can be artsy as well
"Elephant" was pure art. At times groundbreaking and innovative, other times so enigmatic to the point of angering hearts and minds by the thousands but in the end Gus Van Sant managed to deliver an unforgettable piece that injected a deeper look to the clichéd high school flicks, and also made a poignant statement about violence in schools.
Interestingly enough, this behind the scenes documentary following director, cast and crew of "Elephant" destroyed the tired and boring concept of those productions to become a work of art that explores another work of art. Instead of interviews featuring Alex Frost, John Robinson and others explaining the movie and how they loved being part of the production, praising their director, this piece presents a difficult question and the actors, in the best way they can express, try to find possible answers on where does violence comes from (which is the main theme of the film) and why does it happen so often in schools. Bear in mind, the majority of the young actors featured in the film just had their film debut on the screen, so they don't have (and they don't need as well) the eloquence and the fluency of more experience thespians, yet they have more freedom and simplicity to share their views which works the same way.
And intertwined with those, we have Van Sant directing the actors, instructing the crew or receiving ideas from cinematographer Harris Savides on how to capture a certain moment of the film, and even we enter the lion's den of the movie, the editing room which was improvised on the school where the film was being shot. All of those moments don't come near the usual behind the scenes we are flooded each time we take a look at many DVD's extras out there. And there's classical music to go along with everything, like in "Elephant".
A delicate and different experience that worths a view. 10/10
The Last Days of the Big Lie (2009)
Lies for lies, and who gets the truth?
If only the person behind the movie wasn't so critical...I mean, he'd be more interesting to follow than many filmmakers out there, who provides gripping stories loaded with controversial information, and behind all that makes an extensive and careful research to prove his facts. If only...But behind this strange piece, is someone who has all the good winds on his side but decides to set sail against the current and that can only cause a shipwreck. Eric Hunt's idea is a matter for debate, and a quite valid one, had he stayed objective to one point and one point only: to debunk all the misleading and false information presented in the documentary "The Last Days" (1998). No, along the way he has to sink so low to the point of using of irony, an almost hidden racism and antisemitism during his fact check, and worst of all, the path less traveled by, he denies the Holocaust - and that alone takes away all the credit he was getting by pinpointing with precision the "lies" behind the Oscar winning documentary. In the end, we get another rant by a mad YouTubber.
Bear in mind I watched this without knowing who was behind the movie (you can imagine the shock afterwards) and without seeing the other documentary (which amazes me is the fact that, forget about the lies, but more important, the fact that "The Last Days" didn't get any award besides the Oscar, so it must have won due to sympathy to the cause because "Regret to Inform" would be considered the real favorite to win that year with his stream of other awards won). In any case, it feels like watching two movies at the same time - no, three because Hunt insists on uncovering more falsehood in another documentary, "Liberators: Fighting in Two Fronts of WWII" (1992), proved to be complete false and withdrawn from view.
Now the movie: the man has talent to show and to prove, knows how to edit and how to expose the horrid, bizarre and unsubstantial stories presented by Holocaust survivors, Black WWII veterans and others, who gave their testimonies in "The Last Days" and also at the Shoah Foundation, created by Spielberg as a Holocaust memorial filled with interviews from Jewish survivors and others who lived that period. What Hunt gets right: in showing that some of the people interviewed for the Shoah project talk about things that are hard to prove, or are sheer lies, and Hunt's examination is very strong. Survivor Irene Zisblatt's story is a clear example. The Auschwitz tattoo perfectly removed, the saved diamonds, the meeting with Mengele, it's just too much to handle. There's more, but if only the director would stick to saying "some of the interviewed are lying" and that's why that documentary is a shameful scheme instead of later on focusing on "the myths of the Holocaust" or "Blacks soldiers never got near to concentration camps to save the Jewish". Attacking Spielberg and the film he produced is one thing; but counter-proof and deny a major fact of History is another serious thing and it's just idiotic.
The ship reaches the bottom of the ocean when the director uses of Hitler's words in Mein Kampf to present the true nature of the Jewish people. That alone just sets the basic of what's the real intentions of this film's creator and it's a lot more than to trash an award winning film. Hunt knows how to put the pieces together, manages to make a balanced gathering of information that makes you think - the apparently random sequence involving the U.S. hearings on the Kuwait situation that led to the Gulf War is very interesting - but it all evaporates when his remarks gets ironic, darkly playful and when his speech is deeply analyzed.
If the idea is to make me wary of "The Last Days" then mission accomplished. There's plenty of absurd in there, and I think that the Shoah Foundation at the time should have made a better research on the people they found, some of those folks probably haven't reached any other notoriety in their lives that they had to feel a little important by saying they testified unspeakable and unconceivable horrors (lampshades made of human skin?) when in fact they did not. Besides that, "The Last Days of the Big Lie" is purely outrageous and not much of good cinema. And like the other film, it's packed with lies. 4/10
An impressive thriller
The premise of "Flugten" ("Escape") is apparently simple: a desperate man is seen running in the street, frightened by everyone he meets, as if being chased by invisible forces. They look at him, some in fact follow him for a while, and people seem curious about his strange appearance. Away from the town, now he finds himself in a small country village, a quiet place that allows this restless man to calm down for a while. Not for too long...
As said before, it looks an apparently film to follow. Everyone will think he's like a Jack the Ripper character, haunted by the possibility of getting caught by the mob or the police and also haunted by the crimes he committed. But director Jørgen Roos uses of highly effective symbolisms to compose what's on the main character's mind and sometimes those images doesn't seem to answer any of our questions; and this intriguing factor is what makes of "Flugten" an exciting and mysterious picture. A definite thriller.
Overimposed images, a fast editing style that reminds us of the many works from the Soviet cinema, the cinema of Eisenstein and Vertov, the absence of dialogs, are some of the movies great qualities. Pretty impressive for a first time director, filming it at the age of 20. Remarkable. 10/10
Le petit poucet (1909)
A little special
This is a pleasant though rushed narrative based on Charles Perrault's novel. What's presented in two and a half minutes is the story of a little kid who saves his parents and his older brothers and sisters from complete despair after their forced leave from their house due to impossibility of paying their debts.
Segundo de Chomón's experiment is a fine work considered the many restrictions back in his day, the cinematography was quite good, the story or what's left of it are interesting though lacking in better explanations (the title cards are in French with no translation and I had to force myself to understand what was said, specially the very last quote but thank you Google Translator - still don't get it why those white rocks are so special). Three great acts and there you have a movie.
Best of the show is the quality actors - too bad they're all uncredited - specially the main kid, the title character, with his impressive and strong expressions, evidenced by the scene he overhears his mother and father talking about being forced to leave their house. Priceless. 6/10
Rádio Pirata (1987)
A strange adventure but very fun to watch
Industrial espionage, pirate radio run by creative artists, massive news coverage, and some romance in between. "Radio Pirata" makes a strange mess with those elements but if you're attentive enough and knows how to enjoy a simple entertainment with the best of what Brazil had to share during the 1980's with its shock of colorful images and fun music, then you won't have any trouble in following this movie.
In it, Bravo (Jayme Periard) and Alice (Lidia Brondi) are falsely accused of murdering Carlos (Ewerton de Castro), colleague of Bravo in a powerful company that has some mysterious scheme involving a spy who's stealing information from them and selling to a rival; and after such discovery strange things start to happen. Now, Alice and her artist friends who run a pirate radio will expose the truth behind Carlos' murder and try to find clues on who's behind the tragedy and who's the person infiltrated in the company. The radio experience proves to be a successful one, and the media, represented by the reporter played by Maria Zilda Bethlem, is all desperate to get more information on this affair, later turned into Brazil's biggest corporation scandal. And while the serious things follows its normal course, Alice and Bravo spend some lovely moments together.
Enjoyable in almost all accounts, "Radio Pirata" faces a problem with its confusing character presentation, something that never rings true or with any plausibility - Bravo and Alice first meeting in amazingly awkward. Somehow from the act of the guy accidentally hitting the girl and dropping her food, and later trying to buy her some dinner, that fails cause the restaurants are all closed, so he takes her home, next thing you know they're in love with each other. One small example of how strange this are.
With humor, involving characters (Ewerton stole the show as the anxious friend who knew too much; and the troupe of artists are priceless) and a bunch of fun sequences, the movie delivers a good escapism that also allows itself to present some serious topics, though only scratching the surface but still worthy of notice. Above all, it's the charm of that fun decade that makes this a far more enjoyable entertainment than it is. 7/10
Outstanding promo. Polanski does it again
And Monsieur Polanski did it again! Two consecrated actresses star in this promo vehicle to Francesco Vezzoli's fragrance.
While in "A Therapy" Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter were enchanted by a Prada coat, in this one Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman have a fun duel against each other over the irresistible fragrance. Not sure if they play friends, sisters or lovers - unlike the other movie where there's some bit of dialog - but all I know is that the images evoke plenty of sensuality, interest and seduction, not just by the girls but also (and above all, obviously) about the product. You want to know how great this fragrance is and if possible, do exactly like the girls, fight for it. It's all about greed.
Though I'm a completely contrarian to marketing and stuff, I must give credit to everyone involved in this because it's a brilliant way to sell something. Like in "A Therapy", Roman gives us the product, the setting, involves us - as he always does with his movies - and in a way requires us to go after what he's "selling". Doesn't mean that we go but still worth the shot. That's what great direction is all about: the magic doesn't need to stop after the credits roll, there's more life to what we've just seen on the screen. There's experiences to be shared with others; or in the case of this short film, there's scents and essences to be felt. 8/10