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Favorite books (narrative): 1984, by George Orwell; A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess; At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft; Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand; Iliad and Odyssey, by Homer; Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling; Dracula, by Bram Stoker.
Favorite bands/music: The Kinks; Simon and Garfunkel; Pink Floyd; Tears for Fears; Queen, Legiao Urbana; Andre Rieu; Ennio Morricone; Mozart
Horror isn't only blood and gore and sadism and stupidity like some people(and directors like Rob Zombie) seem to think.
The Brazilian 'Der Untergang'
Just like the German 'Der Untergang' ('Downfall') chronicled the last days of Hitler's life, 'Getúlio' follows the same pattern: it chronicles the last days of Brazilian's controversial/beloved president/dictator Getúlio Vargas, from the Tonelero street attempt on the life of Carlos Lacerda (a well known opponent of Vargas), the unraveling of the case leading to those closest to Getúlio, the political and public pressure resulted from it all, and eventually to his suicide 19 days later, on August 24, 1954.
The film is very well made, beautifully shot, and above all authentic-looking. It was all shot on location, the beautiful Palácio do Catete, and with much care for the characters to look as accurate as possible. It recreates the feeling of the Brazilian 50's nicely as if following a very detailed history lesson.
As any character-focused film, 'Getúlio' depends on its lead actor: Tony Ramos, the actor chosen to portray Getúlio Vargas, is surprisingly good. He is very well-known and beloved by the Brazilian public for his roles in television series/soap operas; while a bad choice as far as looks are concerned (even after the extensive preparation, he does not look much like Vargas), he has the charisma and talent for the job. Vargas was one of the (if not THE) most liked figures of Brazilian history (the 'Father of the Poor', he was called); since the film deals with his latter life, his image already established, it was ideal for him to be played by someone the public would know and could immediately relate to (ie.: Tony Ramos). It helps that he is also a talented actor, and makes the emotional distress Vargas went through in his last days look very real.
The rest of the cast is also very good. Thiago Justino does a great job as Vargas' security chief and right-hand man, Gregório Fortunato; and the actors portraying Varga's family feel like such, with Drica Moraes in special doing a great job as Vargas' daughter. Alexandre Borges looks like Carlos Lacerda, and plays him well enough, but he couldn't achieve the power of Lacerda's speeches; not that he could be blamed for it, though.
Those who know Brazilian history will also like to see other important figures of the time being portrayed as well. Figures like Nereu Ramos, Café Filho, Tancredo Neves, and Afonso Arinos are all very well represented, though their relatively small roles in the film are almost like cameos (Arinos, in special, is briefly shown doing his amazing speech in Congress calling for Vargas' resignation). It is a minor point, but something history buffs might enjoy.
The film is well paced and developed, trying to play like a political thriller and doing the job well enough. It is very historically accurate, avoiding hinting towards the conspiracy theory involving the Tonelero street attack and instead sticking with the historical facts. Like 'Der Untergang', it focuses a lot on the subject's (here, Vargas') feelings and actions in the eminence of his downfall; it overtly humanizes, making him look like an innocent victim of circumstance and overall siding with him rather than making an impartial biopic.
So, while having a bit of bias (though then again, an unbiased biography has never been made), 'Getúlio' is nonetheless a rare good Brazilian picture and a tribute to one of Brazil's greatest historical figures. Because, love him or hate him, Vargas is a very interesting subject and important historical figure. As he himself said, in his suicide note:
"Serenely, I take my first step on the road to eternity. I leave life to enter history."
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A good film, but a terrible biopic
Simply put, a biopic about John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematical genius who went on to win a Nobel Prize after years battling his many problems, including his schizophrenia.
'A Beautiful Mind' is good, that much I'm not questioning. It is very engrossing, at times moving more like a thriller than a drama; likewise, the emotion actually feels natural and effective, without the usual sappiness of Hollywood dramas. The acting is superb: Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly shine here, and deserved the awards that year. Others who shone in a very good cast included Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer and Paul Bettany.
My complaint comes in that this is supposed to be a biography of John Nash; however, it is anything but. This is Hollywood sugar-coating at its finest: it shows Nash as a troubled individual, having to fight against his illness and overcome his own shy nature to succeed; it completes ignores his more thornier history and changes it all to make him an impossibly sympathetic person.
They flat out make things up as they go for the sake of turning this into your typical 'underdog fighting against all odds', formulaic and not unlike 'Rocky' or 'Good Will Hunting' (those other two, though, do not attempt to disguise themselves under the cover of a true story).
This is partially fault of Nash himself, who refused to let a biopic of him unless they took out all the 'shadier' aspects of his life, and partially of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who extensively makes use of emotion over actual storytelling to win over his audiences in pretty much every film he does (I know what to expect when I see his name on a film, and it is never to expect a great one).
In the end 'A Beautiful Mind' is a very good film, with a great cast, and a rare one which manages to make its emotional moments effective without melodrama or cheesiness; even the more cheesy moments, like Nash's 'Nobel Prize speech' (yet another non-truth), work better here than they usually. On the other hand, being labeled as a 'true story' or as a biopic is not only misleading, but distracting for those who know Nash's real (and far more interesting) story.
I never understood Hollywood when it comes to their sugarcoated biopics. If they are going to change and make things up so his lifestory can support the theme they want to, why still insist with the 'true story' label? Just to fool the viewers/critics?
The Other Woman (2014)
Unsurprisingly weak, but at times unbearable
Lawyer Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) ends up discovering her seemingly-perfect boyfriend is married; yet, she ends up forming a strange friendship with the wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). As they find out and end joined by yet another affair, Amber (Kate Upton), the unlikely trio plot a revenge against the cheater while also uncovering his many lies.
A very silly sitcom-styled comedy, which tried to sell itself through its stars (Diaz, Mann and Upton), but that's it. It offers nothing special, nothing that hasn't been done thousands of time again and again; even worse, it does all that badly. The movie picks up a bit towards the end, but only barely.
The characters are awful. Mann's is irritating and even obnoxious at times, and terribly inconsistent at all others, which her terrible ('quirky') delivery and overacting makes almost unbearable; meanwhile, Diaz is always overly cold and bored-looking, completely flat in her delivery. In special, their early interactions (with Diaz reciting her lines rather than acting and Mann overdoing hers) are particularly bad.
The entire first hour or so is terrible, a 1 rating, but not only thanks to them. Nothing interesting happens; whichever amusing situations Cassavetes/Stack attempted end up ridiculous by not only the fact we have seen it all done before, but also because these are situations usually geared towards teen characters. Seeing Mann and Diaz in their scene at Diaz's apartment is cringe-worthy.
On the other hand, Kate Upton is incredible to look at, which is already a great addition, and while quite amateurish she has a cuteness that make her likable; she does the ditzy blonde stereotype quite well, though from what I've seen of her she seems to be a bit like that in real life too. The movie picks up a bit after she arrives and the group band together to get back at the guy, with some of the revenge bits being quite amusing but, even then, nothing memorable.
A little corporate-scamming plot is added near the end; just a weak attempt to make the movie appear a little more 'serious' (i.e.: pretentious). Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau, who plays the cheating guy, is good, as is Don Johnson in what little screen time he has. There are a few chuckle-worthy moments, but no real 'laugh out loud' ones, to the point they end up falling back on bathroom/poop jokes to elicit a reaction.
Overall, 'The Other Woman' is just another typical chick-flick comedy, the kind you go to see already knowing it will be a silly pastime and far from memorable. But then again, this kind of film has its intended audience; I'm just not part of it.
Death on the Nile (1978)
Fun, classical Agatha Christie
Following the success of 'Murder on the Orient Express', producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin continued the series of Agatha Christie adaptations with 'Death on the Nile'. In this one, detective Hercule Poirot is present on a Nile steamer when a murder occur: as often, almost everyone has a reason to have killed the rich honeymooner, so it's up to him to discover the truth.
This is typical Agatha Christie, in every aspect. The many twists and turns, where we are never quite sure who did it; the logic-defying coincidences and overly-complicated resolution that is quite unbelievable, but in a fantastic way; an exotic setting and a nicely varied collection of characters, above all the Belgian Poirot.
The movie is very well made, in multiple aspects. The all-star cast is a match for the 'Murder on the Orient Express' one, with special mentions to Peter Ustinov (who substitutes Albert Finney nicely enough), David Niven, Bette Davis and Maggie Smith, as well as a serious George Kennedy. Being shot on location, the scenario of Egypt and specially the Nile is beautiful, and the entire film has a terrific and lively visual quality.
The film develops nicely, as expected from an Agatha Christie story. Quite a lot of humor, specially from Ustinov and Niven, which help create a light-hearted feel to the film; in some ways similar to 1972's 'Sleuth', another equally laid back mystery. The ending is also very good, though a bit far fetched (in regards to the 'how' of the murder, not the 'who').
Although I find the film itself (technical aspects, acting, directing...) virtually excellent, my only complaints are in regard to the story itself. Some logic defying plot devices Agatha Christie always use (the aforementioned coincidences, everyone having a reason to be the murderer) as well as the overly intricate, unbelievable final solution (even if a viewer could guess the murderer right, it would be impossible to guess how he did it); they are part of Christie's charm, and one of the reasons her work is so highly-regarded, but at the same time it also gets a bit on my nerves.
It kinda feels like cheating, to 'invite' the viewer to solve the mystery and then introduce variables at the very last minute that makes the challenge virtually unsolvable. It is a complaint I always had towards Christie's work, even if I do like it; it is also made fun of in an excellent detective-parody, 1976's 'Murder by Death'.
Overall, a very good and entertaining film. Visually excellent, with a great cast to go along with the clever plot. It falls short, however, when compared to the superior 'Murder on the Orient Express', specially in the tension creating and attention-grabbing aspect mysteries must have, but is still great entertainment.
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
'Jumanji' in space
'Zathura' is based on another of Chris Van Allsburg's books, from the same series as 'Jumanji'. However, this film is not meant to be connected with 1995's 'Jumanji'... despite being pretty much the same thing, only the game now has a space motif rather than a jungle one.
Maybe it's a fault of Van Allsburg's novel, or just laziness from the director/screenwriters. Nearly everything, from the sibling dynamic, a man lost in time in the game, a being within the game chasing the lost man, the whole thing being a kind of morality play... It feels just too similar for me.
Of course, there is no Robin Williams this time. It has, however, a not-yet-famous Kristen Stewart: her character has little to no importance plot-wise, and from what I get it wasn't even in the book. She is meant to be little more than a minor comic relief, and doesn't do much really.
'Zathura' has very good visuals and a fantasy-like quality that might really enchant younger children, that's sure; maybe even provide for some fun for older audiences as well. On the other hand, while the sibling relationship is done quite realistically and their fighting is consistent with children their age, watching such childish yelling and arguing gets irritating after a certain point.
Some points of the film are a bit too childish, even for a fantasy film; like the children's wishes when prompted by the game. Most of the situations seem like any other child adventure film, in a tried-and-true format that tries to invoke some charm. The actors aren't really great, mostly doing just enough for their roles to work but nothing more.
In the end, 'Zathura' is mostly a film for younger audiences. For me, it did little to nothing: not really a waste of time, but not great either. However, 'Jumanji' did leave a strong impression in my childhood and retains some nostalgia power to this day: maybe 'Zathura' can repeat that aspect with younger audiences, as well?
The Thing (2011)
A remake cleverly disguised as a prequel
What happens when you take John Carpenter's version of 'The Thing', add a female lead, reduce the gore-like quality of the special effects (while adding some CGI as well) and an ending aimed towards connecting with Carpenter's beginning?
You get 2011's 'The Thing', the remake-like prequel to an horror classic.
The producers claimed they didn't want a remake, couldn't make a remake, but a remake was what they did. The start of Carpenter's version gave a margin for a prequel, and indicated something similar to the story had happened before; so, the excuse for a prequel-disguised remake was there, truth be told.
But it is just too similar, too 'been there, done that'. The tough-looking cast of Antarctica explorers is there (but rather than led by Kurt Russell and Keith David, we have a very good Joel Edgerton stand out in a good cast). The only difference is they went the 'Alien' route and included a female lead (who is both smarter and more competent than the rest), a very good Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The effects are good, but appallingly inferior to the 1982 version. Whereas Carpenter's version was a masterful usage of make-up and practical effects, today's films have the bad tendency of relying on CGI. It feels cheated, especially since they never achieve the level of unnerving bodily horror Carpenter did, and even feel too fake at times.
Another problem is that 2011's 'The Thing' is a step down on the thriller aspect. While it flirts with the more twisty parts of the plot, it lacks the extreme level of paranoia and the thrilling atmosphere the former version created. It actually feels rushed at moments, and too action-like to make use of the more interesting moments of the story.
All in all, while it feels too similar and inferior to Carpenter's version, 2011's 'The Thing' is still entertaining enough to work. 1982's 'The Thing' is one of horror's best, and one of my favorite's as well, and even a toned down version of it is still a welcome watch.
I would give it a 6.5. Since I can't, I round it upwards for a nice 7.
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Weaker than the first two, but that's hardly a fault
'The Godfather' and its first sequel, 'The Godfather: Part II', are both hailed as two of the best films ever made (with the first sometimes considered the very best). A couple decades after them, it was given a proper ending/'epilogue' with 'The Godfather: Part III'.
While the first two dealt with the rise of Michael Corleone, this deals with his fall. Wrecked by guilt at all his wrongdoings and his strained relationship with his ex-wife and children, he attempts to repent for his sins while also taking in his illegitimate nephew as his successor within the mafia business.
As one can expect, things don't go right. A tale of betrayal, murder and power hunger unfolds.
The movie retains much of the great cast of the first two. Al Pacino is great as ever playing Michael Corleone, now in a much more emotionally pained and fragile vision than the ruthless kingpin he was in the second. Diane Keaton and Talia Shire also return well (Keaton more so, while Shire does get annoying at times), and the entire supporting cast (where Eli Wallach in special shines) is great. Andy Garcia is also good, though he doesn't shine (which is made worse by the fact Robert Duvall didn't return).
The film also retains the sophisticated atmosphere of the first two. And their excellent soundtrack, excellent directing and pacing, and dialogues.
On the other hand, it still falls short of living up to the expectations. It ends up too continuity based; it is almost impossible to understand it well without knowledge of the first two films. A good deal of what made 'The Godfather: Part II' such a masterpiece was exactly the fact it didn't rely on the first; it could stand on its own.
'The Godfather: Part III' would be a mess if you take it for itself.
Another problem was Coppola's usual nepotistic tendencies. It is common of his to cast his relatives in his films, though usually in minor roles (he did that in the first two). This time he went overboard: rather than search for a new actress once Wynona Rider withdrew, he decided to cast his own daughter for the major role of Mary Corleone (Michael's daughter). She is an amateur, no wonder her acting career didn't pick up; she is still watchable, yes, but her scenes lose so much of intensity and believability she could have single-handedly sunk a lesser film.
So, despite not being the masterpiece 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather: Part II' were, 'The Godfather: Part III' is still a terrific film. It just suffers from the absurd expectations the first two generated.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson's best so far, though that is not saying much
A kind of flashback-inside-a-flashback, where we first get an aged writer (Tom Wilkinson) recalling his younger self (Jude Law) meeting with the important Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham); then, another flashback (this one the movie) of Zero's youth working in the hotel under Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and eventually inheriting it.
This is Wes Anderson's usual farce of a 'comedy', where he tries to be amusing or quirky, with a big meaningful cast even in the smallest of roles, colorful visual and 'hip' soundtracks. As usual, this is a matter of 'style': you are either the artsy type who glorifies him as one of modern cinema's finest or, like me, sees him as a pretentious hack.
Like in all his previous films, such as 'Rushmore' and 'Moonrise Kingdom', Anderson's style annoys me. He attempts to be 'different' in a sense, trying to force a quirky feel to his movies that only ends up making his characters and plot lines feel forced and unrealistic, almost cartoonish, to the point halfway through the film they might get unbearable.
His entire 'trademarks' (character presentation, chapter separation, reaction shots) are interesting ideas, but he tries to be so fancy doing that that it becomes... Cheesy?
'The Grand Hotel Budapest' is no different. The plot develops nicely, but by the end it is so pointlessly complicated it's not even funny. Characters come and go for seconds, so much you have to wonder why cast names like Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Ed Norton or Jude Law for cameo- like minor roles. Just to add to the poster?
At least his more irritating casting choices (Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton) also get the same cameo-esque treatment (i.e..: they are almost inexistent in here).
Among the actors that get more screen time Ralph Fiennes does a very good job, though his accent distracts a bit. Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan and Willem Dafoe are also good to watch, while Adrien Brody is atrocious as usual; Tony Revolori (the young Zero) is quite inconsistent, though his scenes with Fiennes are usually good.
The scenarios are beautiful, that is undeniable. But even that is not enough to compensate for all its shortcomings. Some scenes, like the whole mountain chase, felt like a failed attempt at recreating a Looney Tunes sketch.
In other words, this is the same old Wes Anderson formula made slightly more bearable. Fans of his style will get the usual 'fun' they find in it, while anyone else should be free to avoid it. Truth be told, I only watched it because of its unusually high rating.
Bergman at his most interesting
As usual, 'Nattvardsgästerna' (aka 'Winter Light') is your typical Ingmar Bergman film. Slow, monotonous and dialogue-heavy to a fault, yet rewarding for the patient (or, better yet, the VERY patient) viewer by means of its highly intelligent, even thought-provoking discussions it creates.
I'm no fan of Bergman, that is to be said. He is a bit TOO slow and dull, to the point I usually watch his films on fast forward. And the 'reward', while good, rarely is worthy of sitting through over an hour of intense monotony.
Yet, when tackling religious themes, I find Bergman to be much more bearable. This, 'Det sjunde inseglet' (aka 'The Seventh Seal') and 'Jungfrukällan' ('The Virgin Spring') are the only ones I've seen yet that were truly remarkable. His main characters are religious, yet face belief-shattering situations that make them question; he questions religion, yet never flat-out attacks or dismisses it but leaves it in a way the viewer is to decide. Just like his own struggle with faith in real life.
In here, he does so by means of a priest (Gunnar Björnstrand) who is losing his faith. His confrontation with a depressed farmer (Max von Sydow), who tries to turn to the faith to quench his worries, as well as his romance with an atheist teacher (Ingrid Thulin) pave way for his increasing doubts. The ending dialogue with the church's sexton, in special, is brilliant and one of my favorite moments.
The acting is great all-around. Not only do they rend their speeches (both dialogue and monologues) impeccably, they all convey the seriousness and the grim mood of their characters and situations. The fact they manage to keep things slow and monotonous (i.e..: no one goes out of their way to steal the show, or overact) is proof of their success.
If one can get past the boredom of his films, Ingmar Bergman was undoubtedly a great director. But that is exactly the problem: cinema is supposed, first of all, to be a means of entertainment. How can you entertain with such a slow, monotone film?
Even if you are trying to relay a message, to generate a thought-provoking reflection, how are you supposed to reach for the casual viewer, how are you supposed to make a wider audience interested in your work? This is a problem Bergman, as well as most 'art' directors, have always ignored.
While good, and far more entertaining than Bergman's usual, 'Nattvardsgästerna' still suffers from the same faults as his entire filmography. Still, being both bearable and rewarding, this is one of his best.
The Employer (2013)
I really wanted to like this, but...
Another story about a group of strangers locked together in an enclosed space, hoping for a way out. In here, these five are job applicants; in the last step to join a powerful corporation, only one can leave the room with the job... and their life.
I really like this kind of film; it is always such a psychologically heavy concept, often accompanied by interesting twists and thought- provoking mindgames...
Unfortunately, 'The Employer' fails in that aspect.
The movie is too short and moves too fast to create the necessary tension in the room scenes, and the characters/actors are so bad they are unable to create any interest in the viewer. And it is far from just the actors' faults (though they have their share on it): the characters are horribly conceived and developed, their actions not making sense and being overly ruthless/psychopathic to the point of being unbelievable/almost cartoonish.
This makes the twists almost pointless and their impact almost nonexistent. The psychological aspect the film needed ends forgotten and ignored.
Malcolm McDowell is the only one to do a good job, and his character is quite fun to watch (though equally bad). A sharp contrast to the otherwise terribleness.
In the end, this film is far too moronic and badly made. It can't even pass as a idiotic, semi-gory thriller, as the anti-capitalistic stance the film seems to defend (considering the way they portray the big corporations) show they tried to make this have some kind of half-assed message. In other words, they actually believed this could be good.
I give it a 4 just because I love this concept, which made me try to like it, but in the end it could very well receive a lower rating. Much better choices would be 'Exam', 'La habitación de Fermat', and even the 'Cube' franchise.