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The Dark Knight (2008)
Unexpected and amazing
After Spiderman's debut super heroes' movies have reached higher and higher, leaving the childish tone for which they were known throughout the 80's/mid 90's, to become complex productions, in a path similar to that followed by the comic books from the early 80's on, giving a depth to the stories and characters until then unknown. Batman the Beginning followed this trend and was already a well balanced picture, rooted in a sense of reality that made it distinct from it's contemporaries. The Dark Knight is one step beyond.
Continuing the saga of Gotham's most known hero, The Dark Knight begins where it's predecessor had left: by now both Batman and Bruce Wayne know exactly what role they must play and the movie opens in full speed, with an intricate fast tempo, showing all the characters and building the plot from the very first frame.
In the end it's simply impressive, the sheer sense of completion the movie has - something that puts it miles away from it's predecessor - which is partly explained because of the great script (the brothers have proved to be an excellent team in past movies: Memento, The Prestige) and the methodical shooting C. Nolan uses.The way the characters move in a perfectly real emotional landscape gives them an unexpected depth, from Batman to the Two Face, or - obviously - the Joker. Heath Ledger is perfect in the role of Joker and the character becomes simply daunting, the first time ever that the joker is not a silly sociopath, but a truly dangerous man, devious in everything he does and yet brilliant in his own game: the fact that he chose Harvey Dent to go after is the best example of his meticulousness; and he wins (remember that it was his intension to swap the addresses of Harvey and Rachel).
Funny Games (2007)
Funny Games in the Theater
Funny games has been around for quite a while now - since 1997 to be exact and even though it had not reached the big audience it was quickly categorized as an underground cult movie. I had heard about it excellent reviews but did not know anything relevant about the story, apart from the comparison to A Clock Work Orange.
Funny games shows how to psychopaths jump from house to house, from family to family, to torture people with their childish and purposeless games. In this case we have the opportunity to watch the entire process as they lurk inside Ann and George's ( Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) house. The next 90 minutes or so are of pure torture, as we watch the family sinking in the games, unable to escape, sometimes looking simply paralyzed, bearing the torture crying, wishing it would all go away. But it doesn't.
The first reaction after-wards was of simple disappointment, everybody dies, and although you might be on the victim's side there's no way they could win. This is probably what makes Funny Games a highly provocative and meaningful movie: your're warned about everything thats going to happen, and the clues are obvious. Lets see: in the beginning, as the title appears, classical score changes to heavy punk, transforming the faces of the characters from a happy family to a silly family, laughing and smiling in the background; Paul (Michael Pitt) faces to the audience in a move that would seem fine in a more easy going/cool context, breaking the barrier between audience and movie asking you which side you're on, and that it doesn't really make any difference; after seeing Peter (Brady Corbet) getting shot by Naomi Watts Michael Pitt looks for the TV remote and rewinds the story - his story, after all - preventing his friend from dying; in the end, after throwing Naomi watts of board the two psychopaths have the only conversation with purpose, talking about reality and fiction, and how both concepts are relative.
It should be obvious, from the first moment, that we are being tricked. The funny games are not necessarily what happens on the screen but what happens between the audience and the movie, as the story twists and escapes from what we want, confusing the viewer by mixing heavy moments with parody, nonsense, and sadistic humor. And we, just like the characters, embark in this story, striving to believe until the very end, ignoring the warnings that flash: it's fiction, nothing else.
Epoch Movies sometimes fall into a pit, where the mechanics of moving back in time has more to do with showing characters dressed in the days of old and portraying social poses than conveying a genuine epoch feeling. This is of course arguable since the spirit of a time now dead is impossible to show; but maybe it can be emulated, suggested more than defined - and of course, the more vague it gets the more dependent it becomes of the viewer's own predisposition do see it, understand it or "connect" to it. For me "Jesse James..." works at this level portraying with accuracy something both palpable and vague that transcends the curiosities, the costumes, the surface of what we see the spirit rather than the materiality; very intimate, passionate and yet strangely detached. These were the men of the days that are gone. The awkwardness of those days bursts in the beginning, as a strange locomotive fills the the dark woods with light, and this synthesizes the overall mood for the picture: the direction, the cutting, the photography, the actors - and their meager lines -, are in a perfect unison.
I remember "The Proposition" and the parallels that can be traced between (appart from Nick Cave): both movies use a similar visual technique, with long shots of the wilderness, small lines, subtle score and loose editing. The big difference is perhaps the voice over in "Jesse James...", a narrator that works almost like an historian and brings us closer to the characters and their inner feelings.
Brad Pitt has good leading role the best in the last years looking a matured actor, and Casey Affleck has the first big opportunity to show what he's got and he delivers.
Eastern Promises (2007)
From the man of the independent circuit...
Always a name taken into account, David Cronenberg has changed the course of his cinematic career in the last couple of years. Being a synonym of independent visceral films dedicated to the symbiosis between flesh,machine and technology - for which he was know throughout the eighties and nineties - his last two movies seem to deviate slightly from this kind of thematic.
For "Eastern Promises" Cronenberg chose the world of the Russian mafia and at it's center the death of a 14 year old girl when giving birth to her child leaving behind a morbid story. This is the trigger that puts Anna (Naomy Watts) in contact with the criminal underground of London. Things seem do flow subtly, showing the ambivalent relation between Wrong&wright,good&evil, as the main characters seem capable of both, with a clear judgment make no mistake that works 100% both ways; Through Anna we see this when she realizes that the sweet old man she's asked for help can be a vicious "godfather" or when she begins to become involved with Nikolay (Viggo Mortensen)a man for all jobs.
It's the independent feeling that Cronnenberg's pictures always seem to acquire that gives a perfect psychological mood to the movie - similarly to "A Histoy of Violence"- and the choice of characters and focus on a less exploited criminal "culture" gives a distinct personality to a story that in it's essence is nothing new. Viggo stands out with a role that perfectly adjusts to his skills, not only because of the dedication but because of the courage - just think about the scene in the bathroom; not many actors would be up to it. One final observation: the final shot with Nikolay alone with his thoughts brings to memory the ending of that old Coppola's movie .
A History of Violence (2005)
From the man of the independent circuit...
Always a name taken into account, David Cronenberg has changed the course of his cinematic career in the last couple of years. Being a synonym of independent shock films dedicated to the symbiosis between flesh, machine and technology - for which he was know throughout the eighties and nineties - his last two movies seem to deviate slightly from this kind of thematic.
"An history of Violence" circles around the idea of how violence surrounds us and how it can be part of the history of an entire country. An ordinary family is chosen, in a small town with quiet lives and a tight community, where everybody knows everybody - all but the white fences are shown. Things seem to change when an unfortunate event puts Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) doing what he didn't seem do be capable of when he kills two criminals. From this point on we're confronted with the changes within this family as a whole and those in each of the characters.
The independent feeling that Cronnenberg carries with him, no matter where he goes, gives a perfect psychological mood to the picture - as with "Eastern Promises"- and the pace, always very calm,tells us that this is not a movie about action but violence. Stray by a little and it will fail. In the core of the movie is one of the things he himself pointed out, this idea that it shouldn't just show violence to the audience, it should provoke people in a way that they would have to make a choice between rejecting what they see or embracing it and desiring it. This is very pertinent since we are used to see people killing portrayed with all the lust and style.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
The woman and the queen
With a view clearly centered on the woman behind the figure of the queen, "Elizabeth" is a passionate portrait of the XVI century. The court, the costumes, the social hierarchy and procedures are thoroughly depicted showing both the richness and darkness of the time.
The queen (Cate Blanchett) is the main character, showed intimately, almost striped before our eyes. She starts as a monarch and with the pose one would expect from her. And yet soon we see that there is something more to that persona: the loneliness, the sense of duty with the lack of freedom it implies, the desire to love and simply be loved in return; to be loved by what she really his and only that.
As she lowers her defenses and allows Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), a charming pirate with news of a world she has never seen, to come close, we could almost say she was only a woman during that time; no title, no obligations, pure will to be what she feels like. However the intrigue around the crown rushes in, the plot thickens, and the woman is set aside, giving room for the queen. It is after this, when it comes to the end of the movie, that something changes. Our intimate view of her character is lost and instead there seem's to be a little twist, as the overall feeling of the movie changes to that of an epic. In the final shots there's almost a deification of her and it's hard to believe it. And most of all it's less interesting because the woman behind the "queen" is more captivating than the idea of the "queen".
Behind a name
It's surprising what a name can hide, what a word defines and what it leaves out. "Control" brings some light to late vocalist Ian Curtis, the man itself, behind Joy Division.What is often spoken is that he had a tragic death at the age of 24 with a suicide that ended a rather complicated life. Not being a true fan of J. Division and not knowing what it was about i was surprised by the young boy hiding behind that name, trying to find out his way through live the best he could. His youth mirrors every aspect of his life, from the impetuous choices he made to the early marriage and fatherhood or the passionate/silent relation with Annik. That's the center key for the whole movie, watching a young man trying to shape itself, trying to grow, coping with life, becoming aware of choices and trying, just trying, to be in control. All of this with a troubled personality. The black&white cinematography works perfectly to portray the dismayed dormitory cities in England's 1970's, pure urban voids where nothing interesting seemed to possibly grow; and surprisingly the background for cult bands of that time. It seems he never left those places.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
On a Journey Under the Skin
Certain topics in this case pedophilia are very tricky when it comes to an adaptation on screen: it's very easy to go over the top and make something purely shocking; that's probably the biggest challenge, simply trying to portray the story without annihilating the audience. There are a few good examples of this, perhaps the "safe" ones: Brockeback Mountain, Philadelphia or Crash, seem to have found a balance between the delicacy of the topics and the need to take it to the audience in an effective, powerful, way.
In Mysterious skin we're pushed deep into the lives of Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet), two young men with a common background, although they don't know it. Neil is the great character of the picture, partly because it is he that goes on the strangest and more dangerous journey, or simply because of Levitt's performance: his strangeness in every aspect of life, without ever being numb or absent; the way he wears his clothes and his body, always hitching and always agitated; simply the look on his face, smart but lost. Throughout the movie we see the endless encounters that Neil has, going deeper in each one,and continuously loosing himself. It comes to a point where death seems to be near by.
Maybe it's just a little over the top. Maybe there was no other way. I remember that - in quite a childish way - creeping back from the theater, towards ordinary life, seemed a relief: not having to deal with that weigh anymore, feeling slightly sick or oppressed by life, finally done with that journey under the skin
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
An Inconvenient Truth is like a dramatic movie where you need to have some stomach to hold throughout all the length of the picture. You can even shed a tear in the very end, out of sheer enthusiasm or because you're moved. It's at the same time devastating and heroic, despairing and encouraging; it's the equivalent to an epic where the hero dies and the movies ends.
What's the difference? The subject of the picture or a better word would be documentary - eclipses the medium used. The "we" never had such a meaning, so full, because it is for the "we",the "us" in the broadest and ultimate meaning of the word, that it is set for.
All, with no exception, breaking the barriers of religion, sex, origin, political beliefs, cultural background or age. Many of the last movies to receive world-wide acclaim - not to say the Oscar - have invariably touched one of these subjects, ranging from the holocaust, to sexual orientation, war, racism, aids, cultural or religious intolerance. And yet all of these seem to be atrocities of a few - not dismissing their significance -, a sample of man at its worse, but can't be seen as mankind acting against itself. And i find this morally disturbing. The idea of offering a poisoned gift to people that are not here yet, generations to come, is such a weight to bare.
What about the movie,the direction, the cutting, the soundtrack? Well ... does it really matter?
In the end it said to spread the word, tell the people you know to see it, so: go on and see it.
The other side of King Sebastião
In the theatrical teaser/trailer the movie was shown as the story (or part of it) of King Sebastião, a King obsessed by the memory of his predecessors and the desire of achieving the greatness they once possessed, guiding Portugal to a Portuguese empire, the Fifth Empire. However, the present kingdom is poor, the greatness of old days is gone and the wealth that Portugal once had (in the discovery days) is lost.
This is the center of the movie: a character in a difficult position, playing with different thoughts and realities, to the point of not knowing reality anymore. The concept is in itself very fascinating since this is the basis of one of the great Portuguese legends: after the decision of going to war King Sebastião is tragically killed, and although he never returns to is home country it is said that one day he will appear, in a morning, coming out of the fog, leading Portugal to glory. Now,in opposition to the lyrical tale, is the king of Manuel de Oliveira (and José Régio), lost in his own mind, a man with a weakened body and soul.
All the above is what the movie could be, not necessarily what it is. This is because when it comes to the chosen format for the movie everything gets of the track; it is in fact based in a theater piece, conceived by José Régio, and transposed to the cinema. Well, we all know that cinema and theater are similar in some ways but also very diverging and, for instance, whilst you have the direct confrontation of the actors with the audience in a theater piece, in the cinema the spectator is free from this pressure. That's why the director, the actors performance, the editing and the soundtrack are so determining; everything is combined to promote some kind of linking between the spectator and what he is seeing. When the representation methods are transposed directly from one to the other something get's lost; and of course, in such a restricted universe there's not much maneuver opportunities for the director. That's why the movie is so slow, so boring, why the dialogs are so thick, why the camera hardly moves (I counted one pan, apart from that everything happens just like in a theater) and why the actors almost look at the camera. The psychological depth of the character is swallowed by the format in which it is presented. Instead of a contemporary work we have something that could'v been done 50 years ago,like those traditional Shakespearean plays.
Well, the theater is the theater and the cinema the cinema; and the chances were few of this being a strong movie, with the brand of Manuel de Oliveira. For those that don't know, he is a well known Portuguese director, not only in his own country but also in the rest of Europe, were he has received several awards.The fact that he has a strong reputation certainly helps promoting the movie, and it was the main thing that made me see it. However, it doesn't matter from how much different angles we look at this, the same conclusion appears: it is a poor movie.
Spy Game (2001)
this is a whole different game...
There are many reasons why we like a movie or not. For me, this is the case in witch small things were enough to like it: the two main actors, the places in which the action occurs, and the fact that it has more to do with a love affair, in a tragic atmosphere than about spies. Well, of course this is about spies - two of them - and mostly about the relation between them; if they are similar enough to understand each other, they are also different enough to generate some tension in the relation.
Maybe this is more about how the characters move around each others than about action or intrigue. In fact this is so obvious that the way in which the story is told is mostly in flashback, with Muir (Robert Redford) introducing all of them and narrating part. So, the story is the story and the spy game is what Muir does within the CIA, in 24 hours or so. The distinction is important because if you think of this as a traditional spy movie (maybe like the Bourne Identity or Supremacy) it has two obvious flaws for the genre: the plot is very simple (maybe predictable) and there's no bad guy, no one to kill or to revenge; there's also almost no genuine action, and, as far as I can remember, Bishop (Brad Pitt) only fires one weapon in the whole movie. Maybe what mislead most of the people was the title of the movie, and maybe that's why most of them didn't like it. However, in my opinion, this is a very good movie, with strong leading roles and a compelling story.
No gadgets, no arms, no villains, no action...oh, no,this is a whole different game, and it's a serious and a dangerous game: the game of people and their relations.
Casablanca was a mystery to me until a few weeks ago. Somehow I never felt great interest about it, although I'd heard for a long time that it was a great movie. Now it's difficult to explain how I feel about it. I understand why it is a great movie: the actors, the background, the characters, the story
all of that. Although it was not a "love at first sight" the movie left something in me. However and I must apologize to those that are true fans of the movie when I started thinking about it I felt it was very difficult to appreciate it to the fullest, simply because of it's age. I know this has more to do with me that with the movie itself, but the format, the direction, the acting, well, the structure of the movie, is very related with it's time (obviously). This is not a critic, just something that I'd noticed for a long time and now had the opportunity to express: most of the movies below a certain date (for me maybe 1970) report to things that a younger generation has some difficulty apprehending ( it was in the mid nineties that I became more aware of the movie world), mostly because what was interesting and new 60 years ago is not necessarily so now. This feeling is more about all the other movies than about Casablanca itself. It's very natural to see it, without thinking it's an old movie; somehow it feels right. Only with Citizen Kane have I felt the same. Of course it's remarkable that so many years after it was made it still holds something special. About the rest
well, forgive the relief.