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The Artist (2011)
Interesting, mild fun but overrated
"The Artist" unfortunately cannot be reviewed at this moment in time without being aware of the hype manufactured by the Weinstein brothers - the producers of good-but-not-great movies that muscle their way into all of the award races. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with the Weinstein movies, it falls short of expectations.
On its own, "The Artist" is a fun experiment: let's shoot a silent black and white film, using many of the mechanisms of that film era, from cinematography to screenplay. In particular it imitates that romantic films of the time, as opposed to the more influential satires and fantasy/horror films. It goes as far as incorporating a variation on "Lassie". The actors are charming and there are some interesting metaphorical shots. It is clever at times, amusing and funny at turns, cheesy at others, mildly suspenseful towards the end, but consistent in its style, and it delivers on the romance. The few moments of sound provide such a contrast to the world of silent film (are we in a self-aware movie?) that they become the most memorable and admirable parts of the film.
However, it is so light that it would make Clara Bowen's "It" seem as heavy as "Intolerance". It is intentionally clichéd, but does not do anything with its references; we are expected to accept them as if we were a 1928 audience. We must accept the on screen relationships as such, and the characters do not escape beyond the 2-dimensional. There is little advantage taken of modern technology to develop more elaborate scenes.
"The Artist" succeeds as a moderately fun recreation of 1920s and early 1930s cinema. However, the experiment perhaps would have been more interesting had the silent treatment been given to a modern story or to a deeper screenplay.
Austin Stories (1997)
There are so many stories to milk out of Austin, a collection of proud weirdos, college students, wannabe artists of every type, computer businessmen, bohemians, film buffs, and drunk football fans. This was particularly true in 1997, before many places were torn down to build more modern buildings. If you don't believe this, rent Richard Linklater's "Slacker", shot only a few years before. Unfortunately someone assembled a group of very unfunny 'comedians' who had little to do with the spirit of Austin; they were so nasty, rude, uncreative and trashy that they felt more like from Waco, Texas, or even as far way as Southeastern Pennsylvania. The show was dull and was conceived at the height of poser cynicism in the mid-to-late-90s, the same attitude that eventually backfired and led to the overly brainless assembly-line pop culture that followed in the ensuing decade (Backstreet Boys, anyone?). This tired, empty poser sarcasm made all the "Austin Stories" characters unwatchable. And where's Austin in all of this? There's only some establishing shots from around the campus of The University of Texas and quick shots of downtown, but very little otherwise suggesting that the characters are in The Live Music Capital of the World. Heck, I'm in some of those establishing shots, and I am still complaining! Twelve years have passed, so it is not like this is something that you will catch on TV. But don't go out of your way trying to rent "Austin Stories" or downloading it.
Public Enemies (2009)
Re-romanticize the de-romanticized
Michael Mann has been able to tell complicated tales in expert form before, with masterful attention to detail and performances. In "Public Enemies" he keeps the latter but fails to tell the right story, choosing to do a standard old fashioned Hollywood film (with great gunfights). The book that this was adapted from is about the FBI and how it came to be successful, despite its multiple blunders, during a time in which the United States was no better than a third world country. The tales of the villains (the public enemies of the title) at the time are told to in part de-romanticize the crime figures but also to de-romanticize (or de-Hollywood-ize) the FBI. Mann goes the opposite way. He creates not only a Hollywood-type lost soul criminal in John Dillinger, but also a ridiculously idealized Melvin Purvis, the Chicago special agent in charge. Mann wants to make him into an Elliot Ness of "The Untouchables", when per the details in Brian Burrough's book, Purvis was rarely involved in the raids, missed or blatantly ignored many leads, and screwed up many operations - particularly the raid on Little Bohemia, portrayed in the movie as extremely successful, when in fact the FBI only managed to harm innocent civilians and lost all the gang. Many ideas credited to Purvis in the film were ideas of other agents. This is not just dishonest but it takes the fun and intelligence out of the tale.
Mann is not ignorant of the details. What in turn is amazing of "Public Enemies" is the great length to recreate many scenes, which Mann and his crew deliver perfectly. Thus it is obvious that Mann chose to willfully ignore it to create his own romantic vision of Dillinger and the FBI.
Scream 3 (2000)
Inferior; feels more like a rip-off than a sequel.
"Scream 3" feels like it was done purely for the cash, with no ideas behind it. The few surviving characters are brought back, but most of the movie focuses on the Arquettes, whose characters have nothing new to cover or grow on. The new characters are all very annoying and their actors over-act at every chance (particularly Parker Posey). When one of them gets knocked off, you get a profound feeling of lack of interest. Their names are all weak homages/spoofs. Neve Campbell enters the action too late. The biggest problem, however, is the writing. The screenplay's examination of trilogies is really uninspired and underdeveloped, and its citation, reference, spoof, and homage of other horror movies is minimal, weak, and unimaginative. This is really the biggest step down, as it was the main selling point of the first two movies. The twist climax was also weak. The revelation of the killer was a random pick from the cast of characters, with no natural build-up to it.
The only worthwhile elements: 1) the new additions in cell-phone technology to further disguise the killer; 2) that scene with the flying knife, which was the only creative spoof of cinema clichés and conventions; 3) some vague homages to AIP and Roger Corman; 4) the always reliable Lance Henrikssen.
Stick to the first two movies.
Ciudad de M (2000)
Incorrect portrayal of Lima
This is a shallow movie that wants to be a realistic satire and scathing comment of Lima and Peruvian society. However it just comes across as one of the lesser soap operas produced by Luis Llosa. The dialog was written by posers. The climax and the epilogue are just plain stupid. The acting was amateur at best. The supposed depiction of poverty is one that obviously comes from upper-middle-class people, and racially it is far from realistic. The characters reminded me more of the snobs in Lima who like to pretend they are tough by dressing in $100 headbanger outfits and having fights outside a snob mall. They would have been beaten up in nanoseconds by the real street criminals. Check "Tinta Roja" or "Dias de Santiago" for a more realistic Lima.
Cilantro y perejil (1998)
Maybe fans of 'fresa' humor will enjoy this. But other than a few sarcastic bits, it is just a lame sitcom with annoying characters who go through boring situations, with a documentary-within-a-movie splitting up episodes. The documentary bits are sometimes interesting, and sometimes just as lame as everything else. This does not fall in the school of daring, cutting-edge, realistic, sarcastic Latin American cinema. Instead it falls in the same group of movies that sound like they were written by the same people who write telenovelas and latino sitcoms, thinking that they are funny, just because somebody in Televisa likes this crap and wants to keep Mexican people ignorant, so that they do not rebel against the governing status quo. Alright, this sounds far too revolutionary and almost makes the movie sound like it had anything to do with politics or social commentary. It is merely a lame sitcom, stretched out.
Not horrible, but not worth your time.