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Part one here: http://www.imdb.com/list/nItUY2-sJBc/
Overrated, of course
"Overrated" is the word that describes basically every aspect of this film.
An overrated director: Hitchcock was essentially a crowd-pleaser. He wasn't a genius, and not even a true artist. He simply possessed enough knowledge of cinematic technique and of what the public wanted, and manipulated his audiences with absurd, far-fetched thrillers. Generally (and rightfully) shunned by the elite critique of his time, he has benefited from the more postmodern perception of contemporary critics, who find the combination of meaninglessness, absurdity and precise, cold technique his works exhibit to be enthralling.
Overrated acting: James Stewart was always an incredibly fake actor. I could never "believe" his personas. And especially in his Hitchcock movies, his acting is so artificial, so forceful, his facial expressions so exaggerated. He seems more like a parody or a caricature than a real character. Kim Novak is a bit better, obviously a good-looking woman, but those fake eyebrows are nothing but a calamity. They freak me out every time I see them. I liked the smaller roles though: Barbara Bel Geddes as the motherly, pathetic "career girl" obviously and hopelessly in love with Stewart (Hitchock throws her out midway through the movie, much like Stewart's character). And Tom Hellmore as the seemingly noble patriarch, which proves to be the main villain.
Overrated plot: The story is purely Hitchockian: ridiculous, far-fetched, and (especially on close analysis) entirely absurd. Hellmore's plan to kill his wife is so ridiculously elaborate and prone to failure when all he had to do was hire a contract hit-man to do the job cleanly and simply. But no, he hunts down a woman who looks like his wife, trains her to be someone else, hunts down a detective with a "weakness", and plays the puppet master for half the scenes the movie. And so on.
Overrated score: Herrmann is atmospheric, but he dominates the action too much (or maybe it's the restoration's fault?). A score is only good when you're not immediately aware of it, when it somehow fades into the movie itself, but here the volume and texture make it rise above the movie, from the viewers' subconscious to the conscious.
The one great aspect of the movie is the visuals. It really is a beautiful movie. Both the exterior shots and many of the interior ones are as beautiful as some impressionistic paintings, with rich, thick, seductive colors, and aesthetic camera angles and movements . The only way I imagine myself enjoying this movie is ignoring the plot and characters and simply LOOKING at it.
Still I wanted (and expected) more from a movie sensesofcinema lists as no.1 of all time than pretty visuals. Taken exclusively as a thriller it's very mediocre.
La science des rêves (2006)
Stupid and vacuous
People say I use the phrase "postmodern crap" way too often, but how else could I better describe stuff like this worthless waste of money here? The movie wraps a thin, idiotic plot around bizarre, nonsensical imagery, and has the indecency of posing as an art movie.
It doesn't work as an art movie, it doesn't work as entertainment and its complete disregard for substance and meaning is nothing short of revolting. It's the kind of movie that glorifies absurdity, but doesn't even have the intelligence or common sense to explain this attitude.
The characters are insufferable as well: Gael Garcia Bernal (one of my favorite young actors) wastes his talent by playing an immature, insecure and utterly annoying young man, Charlotte Gainsbourg is the prototype of asexual, empty French woman with a postmodern attitude and confused values, and as for Bernal's coworkers, I don't even wanna start about them. I dislike contemporary Parisians anyway, these guys were worse than average.
Even visually the movie is terrible: a mix of idiotic imagery like cellophane water and real-size, living horse puppets. Don't even try looking for symbolism and meaning in all of this, everything is just a cheap show.
To add insult to injury, the film rips off The Velvet Underground's "After Hours" and has the nerve to change the lyrics. I'll deduct one point from its score based on that alone.
This is the kind of movie that is so bad, I would immediately despise anyone who says they liked it. If you're looking for art or substance, watch anything BUT this movie.
The Prestige (2006)
I'm the slave of my obsessions... and one day they'll choose to destroy me.
Like The Illusionist, The Prestige plays a trick on the viewer. You are invited to believe the movie is all about magic, but in reality it drives at something completely different.
The Prestige, beyond all the twists and turns of its intricate plot, is a movie about OBSESSION. That is the main theme and everything in the movie is subordinate to it. The bigger a character's obsession, the more of what is precious to him he will lose by the end of the film.
The Prestige is a plot-heavy movie. It doesn't really give its actors room to shine (though they all acquit themselves admirably), but this is not a problem because the narrative is just so fascinating, the events so spectacular, the twists so abrupt, it all feels like a cinematic roller-coaster.
Stylistically, the movie will feel strangely familiar to those who've seen last year's Batman Begins. It's mostly because the great majority of the key crew, as well as stars Bale and Caine, are at the origin of both movies. The cinematography is precise, elegant and somewhat "cold", but this works well, keeping the movie grounded and maintaining the focus on the plot.
The Prestige is not just a bunch of cheap tricks. Its message on the destructive nature of obsessions (kind of reminded me of "Amadeus" for that reason), coupled with a brilliant script and quality production values make it one of the best films of the year. A must see for everyone.
The Departed (2006)
No one gives it to you. You have to take it.
Scorsese is just an amazing director. After all the brilliance between the early 70s and early 90s came a period when his movies were not that well received and people said he had lost it. And then the new century brings about a new Scorsese, with 3 feature length movies, each one better than the one before, and an exceptional documentary about Bob Dylan in between. The man is just unstoppable.
Before I start talking about how good this movie is, I'll say one thing about the only gripe I have with it. It's got to do with the script. My problem is that DiCaprio and Damon's characters seem to mirror each other. It's OK in the beginning, but it goes on for so long, that it starts feeling artificial and fabricated. It's like every thing one of them does, the other does in reverse. This is the one minor issue that prevents it from being as good as Goodfellas. Goodfellas also had eccentric characters, but the plot itself seemed to flow more naturally, more believably overall.
The rest however, is all brilliance. The acting is beyond reproach (hard to pick someone in particular - they're all perfect), the story is dense, intense and captivating, the pace is unrelenting (Thelma Schoonmaker's editing makes 2h30 pass without notice), and Scorsese's direction is supremely assured.
Beyond the execution, though, the movie has plenty of other qualities pertaining to Bill Monahan's script. The characters are all great: the vengeful, ambitious DiCaprio, the sneaky, cunning, two-faced Damon (love it when he calls Costello "Dad"), the monstrous, fascinating, over-the-top Nicholson (who gets some very memorable lines of dialog), the blunt, honest, tough-talking Wahlberg (casual swearing never sounded so cool), the subtly sexy Farmiga (I want to see her more often), the ferocious, threatening Winstone, the upright, determined Sheen and the reliable Alec Baldwin, who gets way too little screen time.
The movie also employs a good deal of symbolism (the rat superimposed on the Massachusets State building in the last scene is a great touch), and enhances the atmosphere with a solid and appropriate soundtrack, featuring Scorsese regulars The Rolling Stones.
Would've been a 10 if it weren't for that problem I had with the script, but still a must-see, and one of the best movies of the year.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
It's not schizophrenia! I just hear a voice in my head
Anyone up for an inferior version of "Adaptation"? OK, here we go.
It was bound to happen really, Kaufman's weird narrative methods entering the mainstream, trying to tap a market that the man established since "Being John Malkovich". The problem with Stranger than Fiction is that with all its elegant cinematography and often funny one-liners, it didn't manage to make me care for its characters.
And substance? The whole movie is based upon an absurd premise and doesn't really connect to real human life at a reasonably profound level. An artist uses artifice to say something that cannot be put plainly, but that reverts to real life at some point. Artifice as a purpose in itself is meaningless, it's not art, it's just a jocular exercise.
I like Kaufman's, David O. Russell's, PT Anderson's work because though they use artifice, they actually SAY something, they GET AT something. This movie doesn't.
If you're in for weird humor that breaks narrative conventions, you may like it. If you want substance or meaning, look elsewhere.
Snow Cake (2006)
Makes me feel weird when I see all these comments praising the supposed "greatness" of this movie. Personally I thought it was incredibly boring. I stopped watching with about 30 minutes to go because I just couldn't keep focus. I read the (predictable) ending on Wikipedia.
The story is so thin and artificial, the characters flat, uninspiring and unlikable, the setting so lifeless and uninteresting... I wish I could say a single good thing about this movie, but it's just impossible.
Don't watch this movie. If you want something Canadian with lots of snow in it, watch "The Sweet Hereafter". It's almost a crime comparing that one with this bore-fest, but about the only thing good about this one is that it reminded me of Egoyan's movie.
Paris, je t'aime (2006)
Linda boquita que tengo yo...
Paris je t'aime is a "collective film" made up of 18 segments with no relationship whatsoever in terms of narrative, theme or cinematic style. They are directed by 18 people (more actually if you count co-directors), some of them well established (the Coen brothers, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne), others completely unknown to me. The unifying factor is that each takes place in a different district (arrondisement) of Paris.
Since there is no hands-on collaboration between these people (it's like 18 pupils given an individual homework), the result of putting them together is, quite predictably, a mess.
The only segment I really liked (perhaps it's my socialist sympathy) is the one by Walter Salles starring Catalina Sandino Moreno (always a pleasure to see her). It's emotionally involving and contains a subtle, but well articulated social message. All in the space of 5 minutes. This one is a 10.
The segments by the Coens and Alfonso Cuaron, starring Steve Buscemi and Nick Nolte respectively, also function well as comedy pieces. An unexpected horror segment by Vincenzo Natali also works, because it's atmospheric and stylish. These ones are worth an 8.
The rest ranges from 5 to 7. The ones by van Sant and Payne are particularly weak and disappointing, given the expectations. Tykwer's features some very fast editing, but is fairly weak nonetheless, and 2 of them (by Christopher Doyle and Sylvain Chomet) are pure absurdity.
I've been to Paris, didn't like it, this movie didn't change my mind. It's so cosmopolitan, it lost all traces of a "soul". It tries to tell you diversity has enriched it, I believe otherwise.
In conclusion, it has its moments and the weaker segments fortunately pass quickly (as does the movie itself), but don't expect much from it.
Half Nelson (2006)
What can one man do?
Well, one man COULD try teaching dialectics in a middle school history class, while trying to hide his cocaine-snorting habit. And that's what Ryan Gosling's character is doing in Half Nelson (I have no idea what that title is about).
My problem with Half Nelson is that it approaches its themes (social injustice, alienating effect of the typical school curriculum and teaching methods, inability of socially-aware individuals to shake the others out of their apathy) too tentatively. It's all so subtle that it makes you wonder whether the movie is actually getting at those issues or it just seems that way. Personally I would have preferred a more head-on approach.
What makes the movie worth watching, though is Ryan Gosling. The man makes one of the best roles of the year. It's the sort of turn that will bring him to the attention of every filmmaker who can afford him. Gosling's character is too mature to be a rebel, but young enough to retain the NOSTALGIA of rebellion. He still cannot accept the state of affairs in the world, but at least he finds a way (with the help of cocaine) to accept his life to a satisfying degree. His facial expressions are just fabulous. When he puts one of those deep, cocaine-induced smiles on his face, it's just pure bliss. It makes you feel like laughing and crying at the same time.
The movie is filmed with a hand-held camera, with frequent facial close-ups, that give a feeling of authenticity and presence.
Not as powerful as I would have preferred, but subtle and naturalistic. A good watch.
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
No sense being a hero if you don't look like one.
Flags of Our Fathers is a good movie, but surely not on the level of "Mystic River" or "Million Dollar Baby". I don't believe Eastwood has any fault with that, it's mostly the script that disappointed me.
The movie is basically split in 3 parts: the actual battle of Iwo Jima, the fund-raising tour by the 3 protagonists in support of the war (after they are labeled as "heroes" for appearing in a famous photo), and a part that takes place after the war, describing what happened to the 3 men.
The battle is filmed in a different color palette to emphasize the brutality of the conflict. It's full of special effects and great cinematography and it's the most visceral and spectacular of the movie.
The second part, where 3 of the survivors in the photo are brought home to raise money for the war, is where the actual "substance" of the movie is supposed to be. The government doesn't really care about them, they're just being used to make money, and threatened to be sent back if they do not comply.
In the third, strangely unaffecting segment (except perhaps the part with the Indian Ira Hayes) the effects of the war and the tour are shown on the protagonists.
So the movie is FIRSTLY a battle depiction, SECONDLY a sort of political statement, and only THIRDLY a personal drama. The 3 segments are not presented in a purely chronological order, and there's flashbacks and flash-forwards all over the place. But the fact that the movie tries 3 things at once dilutes the power of either.
Other than that, there's only good things to be said: expressive cinematography, assured direction, a dignified tone, and solid acting, especially by the unknown Adam Beach.
It's a step back from "Million Dollar Baby", but it's a solid movie, with substance and style.
Casino Royale (2006)
Vesper? I do hope you gave your parents hell for that.
Casino Royale received heaps of praise from critics, mostly deserved, although some have exaggerated its qualities.
I never really liked the James Bond series. Notwithstanding its complete lack of substance, it seemed to me those movies were only meant to make British men feel smarter and more virile than they actually are. And Casino Royale doesn't FUNDAMENTALLY change any of that attitude. At its heart, it's still a movie about the MI-6 secret agent who goes around the globe eliminating various threats to Her Majesty and the world, seducing tons of traitorous women, escaping innumerable near-death situations and looking cool, casual and utterly professional throughout.
What has changed with Casino Royale is the execution of it all. Unlike the cheesiness of former incarnations, this Bond feels SLICK. The action sequences are spectacular and fun (the one at the beginning, in Mozambique stands out), the dialog (especially between Craig and Green) is delicious (the conversation they have in a train's dining car is just priceless), the cinematography is stylish, the editing sharp and efficient.
Special praise must go to leads Daniel Craig and Eva Green. Craig has a certain grittiness that perfectly fits his macho persona, and his blue eyes vividly express intelligence and resolution. Eva Green is the ideal Bond seductress. It's not so much her beauty (though she definitely has that as well), but her class, her sensual elegance that make her words and actions believable and alluring. I remember when I saw Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" I thought it was a weak movie, but I also thought "If only they would give this girl some better roles...". They are, and she's working her way to deserved stardom.
If you passionately dislike the Bond series, this brings no profound changes, but if you don't, you'll probably agree this is one of, if not THE best of them all.