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Águila Roja (2009)
The Batman of 1680
It's pretty difficult to describe what people do in other parts of the world when you have no idea what that part of the world is or how their people are. Lots of criticism came to this fantastic series because it was not like the American ones people are used to.
RTVE is the largest and publicly owned radio and TV conglomerate of Spain. And, for many years, the only option. The only one with money to make a series. But they never had anything close to Aguila Roja. This one goes over the top and more.
A very handsome, educated and able man is the avenger of the people in a time of extreme poverty, overwhelming power in the hands of kings and the church and little to no education. That's the setting for this "Siglo de Oro" series. Now in its 9th year, it obviously has many flaws and sometimes even goes backward. But, all in all, it's a very enjoyable thing to watch with tons of period props, dresses, historical references, love affairs and the omnipresent doom of the powers to be lingering in the air the people of Madrid had to breath. The fights are the centerpiece of almost all episodes and they're done beautifully with weapons of the age.
It will even take you through many of the torture machines of the time and their crooked uses.
Stranger Things (2016)
Throughout the years I found it difficult to get rid of so many images in my head that came directly from some of Stephen King's novels. When I sat to watch the whole eight hours of Stranger Things I was in one of those trips of my life of which I didn't want out.
This is a film, much more than a series. You could skip the intro titles and have a seamless story told with depth, comedy, heart and wit.
From what I said above, you can tell I regard Stephen King pretty high on my list of American writers. He teamed once with the other Steve to make a series that promised something new (because the book was good) and utterly failed. So, I'd rather take King's writings than adaptations. But Spielberg's films are films, not books, and lots of them are absolutely fantastic. Borrowing from two great story-tellers and making something worth has never been easy. I'd say impossible. Because I haven't found anything even close to E.T. or "The Body" (which became Stand by Me), ever.
And what makes this new Netflix venture worth a ton of gold is that it actually gets to places you and I want to go. The characters are beautifully drawn, and then layered and painted in a way they'll stick with you for a long time.
This film, even with the slight criticism of not being perfect in some regards (like some of the songs), is a masterpiece of storytelling for kids, teens and adults. It is as enjoyable as E.T. was. So much that I want to see it on the big screen. It's not a trivial series. It's as serious as it gets.
The kids in the film are memorable, really creating a brotherhood that I wanted to be a part of. All of them have their own problems, their very clearly defined personalities and roles, their charming funny sides... they're lovable and you can relate to any of them.
Winona Rider's character is full of passion and realism in this otherwise completely fictitious tale. But, wasn't that what "It" gave us? Even with the terrible ending of the book and the miniseries, who in the world wouldn't remember Bev shooting her silver bullets in the sewer against "It"? Or the conversation between Gordie and Chris under the tree when camping by the Royal River? Lines from the heart of gold of Stephen King. Action and adventure from the mind of Steven Spielberg. But this is different. Matt and Ross Duffer created something that may have all the elements of those 80's films and novels, but with freshness and depth.
You can relate to the characters because they ARE human, they are well developed, you KNOW about them. That's King's turf. And the emotions, the adventures, the way they're captured are Spielberg's signature. But, alas! here we have both worlds in one film that will be as timeless as It was or E.T. Characters like Eleven may be part of future conversations of younger generations, as are Gordie and Chris, who will never stop moving young and adult audiences even 40 years later.
The whole success of this series is that, at last, the Duffers brought to the screen something with real soul. And that's pretty uncommon nowadays.
Äkta människor (2012)
By some account here, Sweden sucks (am I awake?)
I won't say a word about this series. Watch and be amused and entertained.
There's only on thing I want to say about the other comment here. It simply makes me wonder if the Swedish writer is aware of what Sweden has produced. Maybe there's too much American influence in his views. But I simply can't let go his comment without telling him that his country has produced (along with it's many ventures with Norway) many of the best films ever. And, as of writing, Sweden outperforms mostly any country in its prowess and abilities, from Ingmar Bergman to John Ajvide Lindvqist. If this is not convincing, just watch the American remakes of original Swedish scripts and films.
The Mortician (2011)
It is not too often to witness something credible, emotional and rational at the same time in American cinema. Sadly, Hollywood has been in a steep decline since who knows when. We have to go and grab European or Asian or Mexican or South American flicks if we really want to get some "meat" for the heart.
This time, in a setting long forgotten, we're confronted with a witty story in, of all places, the still recovering New Orleans. That, all by itself is a bonus. But when you add to it the magic of a master cinematographer, a superb script and a wonderful cast... you have OffHollywood. And, let me tell you: this guys know what they're doing!
The story is bleak. The character of the Mortician (awkwardly and silently played by Method Man -if you can believe his actual name) is definitely played methodically. His role is perplexing, uncomfortable and highly distressing. But that's his job. The rest of the characters are as strange, out of the norm, as the mortician himself.
But what really got my attention and made me jump directly into writing this was the uncanny weight and darkness that are pervasive throughout the film. Everything has a smack of doom, and it certainly delivers in this department.
Not only is the story gripping and deeply moving. The acting is on par with the craftsmanship of the whole film. Cinematography, taking advantage of the RED 3D is ultra hi-def and has some unforgettably lit scenes, especially in some of the flashbacks. And if this wasn't enough, the score and the songs used throughout the film only add to underline the roller coaster of emotions we're presented with.
The turns and zips and flips of the story are an integral part of keeping you hooked without blinking. The colour timing is awesome, conveying exactly every mood scenes needed to exploit their powerful emotional content.
I'm really proud of this film being American. It departs completely from stereotypes and boring scripts. It's a slow film. A film portraying a complex drama that unfolds in many directions. Maybe they went too far in explaining why everything happened, but it doesn't feel patronising or as if it was needed for the stupid -it will work, anyway.
All in all, it's a film that should be seen to be believed. Chapeau to Method Man (again, unbelievable name!) and to all the crew that made possible this small jewel of new OffHollywood Americana,
Wow! It's just a minute ago I've turned off the TV after watching this film. I recommend you NOT to even dare to watch it. Have you ever seen Italian films? They're amongst the best films in the world. Italians are creative, sensitive, daring and they're never afraid to experiment.
Italians are intelligent and really good at design, filmmaking, beauty and history. This film is -BEWARE!!!!!!- NOT Italian. This is a piece of rubbish that is sorrowful and painful to watch. Whoever wrote the script and directed it should be put behind bars after throwing away millions upon millions just to make this. I'm ashamed that Studio Canal decided to back such a project. (If you really want to watch a bit of what Italian Masters do,go to: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0456041)
Good actors that are performing like doped mannequins (that's one of the reasons why theatre is for the skilled ones), a script that stumbles and gives up the whole story from the very beginning; unimaginable deviations of tone and pace... the list is one of the most complete I've ever witnessed in the history of filmmaking.
Maybe the only thing I'd praise is sfx and photography. Poor guy the one who did it, who will ever admire his craft if it's been put through a shredder? I'm -yes, I know- feeling dizzy and sorry for the folks who had anything to do with this "film". Poor Mattia, the kid who plays the role of Ettore... I guess this was debut and farewell.
If they were to pay me whatever they paid the actors and actresses in this film, I wouldn't show my face, and I'd rather erase all the credits just to save the souls of all the people who did a great job and, most surely, broke their backs to make this crap happening.
I guess there's nothing to say about the plot or script or any creative or artistic quality in the film. Please!!!! let Italians do what they are best at. Sorry again, I'm so upset to even think that I made it through the end. I stopped the film at least twenty times, stupidly thinking it could get better. Lost two hours of my life and 1/4 of my liver.
Die Erben (1983)
Any film that deals with the horrors of war is nasty on its very own base.But, when faced with the horrors that came from one of the most insane minds ever, things get worse. This film deals with a revival, of sorts of the Nazi ideals through a terribly mislead and dysfunctional group of very young people, drawn to the darkest pits of their reality. Political or not, this film would be branded politically incorrect in all aspects. And it is, indeed.
The worst of its drawbacks is just that its own incorrect political issues were later (and still are) a sad fuel for some youngsters who believe their Fatherland should be defended the way Hitler did, and by the same means, even if their own were to be abolished from Earth. The deep consequences of the turmoil provoked in their minds (those of the young people who join the Youth Group or Party) suddenly turns into an unstopping vortex of violence.
All moral barriers are violated here. The only driving passion is the Party. The stories told are some kind of reliving the worst of the darkest times of war from the standpoint of the Nazi Reich.
Well sorted, acted, filmed and scored, the film exudes reality. Since German is the language, the film sometimes gets too "Hitlerian". Thomas's mother being the most unnerving character (every bit of her admonitions are as Hitlerian as they can be, and well over the top). The rest are good at doing their job. It's a substantial film, but, definitely, not for the faint hearted.
You'll find moments of pure repulsion and scenes when you don't want to hear what's been said. I'm not Jewish, but it hit me as hard as if I were. The depiction of some gruesome dialogues and representations are simply disgusting.
A great film with maybe too many gratuitous sex scenes, and with an eerie powerful omen of things to be in forthcoming years.
Hoshi ni natta shônen (2005)
This IS Filmmaking at its best
Sayuri Sakamoto wrote a novel based on a story of a kid who was rejected by the world in many ways. His determination led him to more rejection that, in the end, metamorphosed into respect from the others and self assurance for him. The story soon shows unexpected turns and grabs you without mercy. Tetsu's story (our main character in the novel and the film) is sad and difficult, but his will, heart and purpose will lead him to his goals, mostly rejected by the elder.
The film takes the novel to a stunning adaptation. I can say, for sure, that this is the way a film should be done, in all respects. Humour, deep entertainment, a troubling insight of a teen's mind, a respectful view on things we usually don't or can't understand, and a beautiful way of telling it with all the technical resources we have at hand to tell a story.
The performances in this film are perfect and very complicated. Yûya Yagira (Yuyi, of Dare mo shiranai fame), again, delivers a super- powerful rendering of the troubled main character with just 15 years and carrying most of the weight of the film on his slender shoulders. The rest of the cast is superb and acting is pretty well ahead of any mainstream film.
Te complex nature of the novel called for a super-complex achievement on film. Shot both in Japan and Thailand, it takes us to breathless places, peoples and scenery. But, more complicated than all, tells the story with almost religious reverence. Shunsaku Kawake, the Director, did a job to which I take my hat off and will cherish and thank for the rest of my life.
The score by Ryûichi Sakamoto is so beautiful and in sync with the story you'll feel it should have been there from the beginning -and not even notice how powerful it is.
The amount of emotions is pretty hefty. To us, Westerners, it may seem quite subdued. Truth is, they're as raw as they come in Asian culture and I thank the producers not to let out of the film this essential treat.
Yuyi is a story apart. Watch him work his magic and you'll understand why he is one of the big guys on the Japanese scene, even when he's got just a couple of films.
The Hole (2009)
No more holes, please!
There are just two films I've endured for the sake of teaching what a film-maker should never, ever, do. I never thought I'd find the second one, but this film did the trick.
I can't relate to anything in it. I can't even think how it got funded. Just putting up the money for the cranes, lighting, lenses and paying someone to do this enormous piece of rubbish puzzles me to the limit.
We should find a way to ban bad films. You can't walk the streets without any guilt after writing, directing, producing or even (poor guys) acting in something so low, base and pointless.
Though, I must say thank you to the guys who put in their money for this production (mind you, 3D is not a reason to make this kind of crap), because they give the world a new standard on how NOT to do things. I'm sorry to sound biased, but I can't refrain. This is one of the worst films I've ever seen. Definitely much worse than 60 or 70 of the worst B -films I've seen. They didn't have the money. But, at least, they had an idea.
If you're not actually teaching at film school, do yourself a favor and don't watch this film, you'll regret it.
And they do it again!
Music. Lighting. Cinematography. Direction. Acting. Locations. Mood. Theme. Plot. Turns. Lights Out!!!!! This is a film to be regarded as one of the most thoughtful and daring when dealing with pederasty.
As always (in my subconscious film-maker), Norway is on the top list of best films. Sweden may be the second country to deal so well with such difficult subject matter (and with film-making, that's it).
Sønner is breathtaking, endearing, fearful, tearful, shocking and outstandingly well written. When I think about Scandinavian films, this one comes to my mind as many other Finnish or Swedish films from the late 2000's first decade.
The psychological drama you will witness from the very first minutes of Sønner, will leave you thinking why are there so few films in Hollywood to push the boundaries of the usual line so hard. Sønner takes the routine in Hollywood, with just a simple concoction, to a different and new level and, mind you, with just 1/100th of the budget!
I shouldn't compare these worlds, but I can't refrain. I've just witnessed one of the most gruesome mistakes (maybe I've seen another hundred of them) in "Låt den rätte komma in's" remake.
The American film industry (not the independent world) should stay away from trying to do better. They just can't.
Sønner is a beautiful and disturbing film. It simply does the job of telling a story and, in the way, it jerks our feelings, our stances on some very difficult subjects, and rips apart our hearts when the puzzle is solved.
Nils Jørgen Kaalstad is superb in his role. Mikkel Bratt Silset will make you shiver and cry. The rest of the cast is first-rate.
What Erik Richter Strand did with his script (and Thomas Torjussen's) is amazing.
Watch Sporløs, his first film... you'll get what this guy is into.
Après la guerre (1989)
One hell of a ride!
I suspect I have not even one reason to give this film a 10. It should be 11. I'd love to tell the world this film exists, even when it's been buried for this Century and part of the last one.
There are many stories based on the Big Wars. Stories that look and feel pretty lousy, weak or simply a product of a feverish and not too well informed mind. Let alone "formed". I've seen hundreds of films dealing with both Wars and, in my (not so humble) opinion, French stories are still the best.
Here, we have a simple story. A very simple plot. A very simple idea with only three actors on scene, maybe four. The rest is just the power with which each of them play their part.
The intellectual feat of trying new and unforgettable hairpins in the road may make of this film one of the most remarkable, endurable and long-lasting views on the subject. "Un amour a taire" may be the other one. There may be a heap of them, but I'm not sure if anybody out there has reached this height of beauty and power.
Americans mostly feel awkward when faced with French cinema. But this film is a must-see for Americans... and Germans, and for people who still believe in the goodness of human hearts.
It's silly to recount the story here. But, just to be just, it IS remarkable. Unflinchingly remarkable.
I will just put out a couple of hints: one of the purest smiles you've ever seen on film and, not far from the first one, a mise on scène that will get deep down your skin.
A French-German effort that should have a special place in War films history. And for that matter, in period-film-making.