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Bellas de Noche (2016)
«Bellas de noche» is a documentary that becomes painful to the eye and not because it reflects how old age and the physical alterations that these showgirls inflicted upon themselves have left them as little more than human wrecks. It is painful because it shows how five women were trafficked, abused, exploited and abused by their male counterparts: Princesa Yamal, Wanda Seux, Rossy Mendoza, Olga Breeskin and Lyn May. Whether they are aware of the facts or not does not affect the equation, but in the cases of those who do know what they were subjected to, their stories reach the level of tragedy. Perhaps the less exciting cases of the film are the stories of Lyn May, a freak of few contrasts, too frivolous, banal and sadly less informed, to become attractive and even to take her seriously; and Olga Breeskin, who took the always thorny path of religion as a lifeline, while her appearance suggests other intentions. Breeskin is the only one who openly alludes to alcoholism, drug addiction and sexual promiscuity, but apparently she always counted on the favor of her admirers, who have allowed her to continue her "spiritual" preaching with her trademark violin and under 20 kilos of makeup. In contrast, Rossy Mendoza and, above all, southern Wanda Seux and Princesa Yamal are women who went through a harder road of marketing their images, in the margins of prostitution, who faced the violation of their right to a fair trial, who went to jail, suffered diseases and became impoverished, without the celebrity of the others, who feel more "revered" than used by all the men who passed through their lives and trampled them. Mendoza shows footage where she is profusely groped by male cast members, in titillating movies, too hypocritical to show what they really wanted: hard core pornography. Mendoza chose literature as a kind of "route of expiatio"n and published her memories and reflections. Then there is the Paraguayan Wanda Seux, a fascinating character who, at almost 70 years old, had a highly appreciable, well-modulated singing voice, and dedicated herself to the protection of animals. However, the one that really seems to have reached a greater fullness in her older adult life is the Argentinian Princesa Yamal, who today is at peace with her past life, her triumphs and setbacks. Director María José Cuevas has tried to exalt aspects of these five lives by talking about their "empowerment" as women. Perhaps it would be more opportune to talk about their willpower and tenacity, than to speak about facts that suggest that they "empowered" themselves of little, though valuable: their own self-esteem. However, Cuevas knew how to harmonize the five contrasting and varied biographies, in a moving, attractive and quite hard product, that remains as testimony of an era and a profession that no longer manifests itself with these ambiguous characteristics, in the limit of the permissible and the forbidden. Highly recommended. Bravo.
No Good Heroes (2016)
Fine Combination of Horror and Sci-Fi
I feel a strong attraction towards regional cinemas, and even a certain inclination when I have the opportunity to support a production. Not only because many deal with stories distant from urban dilemmas, but because their freshness is often combined with more originality than the cinema of large cities, and because they are played by performers whose faces have not been overexposed and without the customary acting techniques of the metropolitan divas. Such is the case of «No Good Heroes», a good motion picture made in St. Louis, that incorporates elements of science fiction and horror. Balancing both genres director-writer Johnny Xeno delivered an attractive product that always kept me interested. The most obvious weakness that I find in «No Good Heroes» is of dramatic order. Perhaps Xeno would have benefited from further script development, and having good advisors to help him find solutions: for example, better ways to define the personalities of the two policemen and their conflicting relationship (in two or three days), or mentioning Charlie the dog for the first time a few minutes before the animal's only appearance. Moreover, perhaps the most obvious one: what happens to the alien rugrats that appear in the last minutes? Of course, in the end, one passes the detail, for the little things are so terrifying (moreover, the whole scene is tense and intense) that one rests when the Alien Mother calls them on the carpet. On the positive side, sequence after sequence is disquieting, creepy and even gruesome in an almost surgical and surprising way that gives more room to fuss than disgust. Tim O'Leary and Chad Crenshaw bring out the best in their characters. However, the most interesting and frightening side of the story is in the hands of Nathan Varnson, Sheila Griggs and Kevin Gagnepain as a family for which the word "dysfunctional" is a compliment, as well as poor Nova Gaver, who has no idea what load she is carrying along. In the final analysis «No Good Heroes» is a film that could have been much better, but it is praiseworthy and a more valuable work than many anodyne films made in Los Angeles, with millionaire budgets compared to this modest production, which was evidently made with a lot more of affection.
A pity this is not a better movie. It is a combination of science fiction, psychological drama and thriller, that goes from one genre to another forcing the limits (and conventions) of each, and resulting in an uneasy melodrama of lost identity, schizophrenia and death. A man survives a car accident and discovers he can kill any living creature for no discernible reasons. He remembers nothing. Then a woman appears and tells him she was in the car too. She is also amnesiac. When he discovers she can stop him from killing, they try to find an answer to everything and the script takes elements from everywhere, from "Phenomenon" to "American Psycho" or "Memento". And not in a most subtle way. So be warned, the tension of the first half hour can turn into disbelief and finally indifference. Interestingly there is no blood shed.
This is a gloomy drama, in the line of the original "Blade Runner", with a mutant (or qeda, the quantum entangled divided agent of the title) that falls in love with the past of its model: the qedas are replicas of humans, with similar characteristics, that fulfill missions traveling through time. And this one in particular refuses to return to the future (or the present time of the film), hypnotized by that "before" that it discovers. "QEDA" lacks the shiny surfaces of the Ridley Scott film, in which rottenness was glamourous and death was a poet. Without the lyricism that turned Scott's opus into a classic, "QEDA" is a small, intimate science fiction film, but never worthless, that opts for a more realistic sense of hopelessness in the fantasy frame of the story. Its ability to move us and the drama forward makes the result attractive and interesting in the end.
For the Bible Tells Me So (2007)
Too Much Talking
Not bad for what is is, but it could have benefited from a little more cutting. It is not a historical account and it does not cover an extense time lapse or many territories, so editing was not subject to preserve the memory of homosexuals' struggle in the USA to defend their right to lead their life with dignity. So I feel it is 15 minutes too long of people talking to the camera. The animation was too distracting, not very attractive and I personally felt it out of place. But all in all, it is an interesting and revealing product that evidences neo-fascism next to your door.
Sobre la marxa (2013)
A Genius at Work
An inspiring work that moves and surprises, made with love, patience and full understanding of the unclassifiable sculptures of "Garrel" in his world of forests, springs and highways. Jordi Morató respectfully preserves the previously recorded footage (including funny home movies, with Garrel playing Tarzan), to paint this portrait of an exceptional man and his extraordinary production, done in a calm, quiet, solitary way.
Phantom Thread (2017)
Too much time for so little, too much beautiful and annoying music (in fact, the best scenes did not have music, like the different discussions around the dining table), a shiny surface that only reflects itself. I finished its viewing out of respect for Anderson, but I could have seen something else (and better) for 130 minutes or (preferably) less.
In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
The Power of the Young
Not a good movie. But the story of the young impressed me deeply: the young Thomas Nickerson, who survived to tell the story; and Henry Coffin, the faithful relative of Captain Pollard. Two strong characters, genuine, vulnerable, emotional. One fearful and humble; the other, an arrogant climber. The rest of the characters are stereotypes, buried under macho posing, cheap melodrama by courtesy of the female characters (how unfair, with all those weeping, boring hunks), gallons of unbearable music and tons of special effects.
Apart from Nickerson and Coffin, I have to give credit to the powerful sinking sequence of the Essex, an effective evocation of people aboard a boat being hit by a giant sea creature.
I saw «Singles» the same weekend that I had to watch «Prelude to a Kiss». After seeing Norman René's flat "comedy", the little enthusiasm I had was killed by Cameron Crowe's movie, which promised an updated portrait of the world of single persons. But this film of the 1990s was not very different from those comedies of the 1960s in which Rock Hudson wooed Doris Day, whose friend Edie Adams would end up in the arms of Tony Randall (Hudson's best friend), whose ex-wife Audrey Meadows, after dating several men, met her match in Gig Young, Randall's professional rival. And so it went. But not even the soundtrack, filled with rock numbers, could hid that it was an outdated formula. «Singles» is a series of anecdotes around five protagonists (Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Sheila Kelley, Scott Campbell, Kyra Sedgwick) with no sociological interest (was it a novelty to show that heterosexuals were as promiscuous as those with different sexual orientations?) Neither did it do anything for the anemic state of the 1990s American comedy. Dramatically, the script accumulated adversities that forced the limit of credibility: for example, in less than 15 minutes, Scott participates in an accident in which his girlfriend suffers a miscarriage, his professional project fails, his work cubicle falls apart, he separates from Sedgwick and becomes a hermit. But, of course, in the end Kyra and Campbell were reunited, Bridget and Matt reconciled, and Sheila found the "father of her children". By then, boredom presided over the projection.
Obediencia perfecta (2014)
The Satanic Rites of Padre Ángel
André Breton once said that Mexico was the most surrealist country in the world and he was right: for its landscapes, its harmony between myth, legend and reality, for its cultural animism, according to which each manifestation of nature, be it a rock or a carnation, has a soul. Those ideas came to my mind while I was watching «Perfect Obedience», Luis Urquiza Mondragón's first film that received many awards in 2014, but which has been numbed by the phariseeism that characterizes our societies... Or is it Satanism, the real one, not the rockers' or snobs' versions, but that Satanism that permeates the strata of power and its acolytes among the middle class, conformed by succubi and incubi, who have nothing to do with fantasy?
«Perfect Obedience» is a film about pedophilia among members of the Catholic Church. It is not an overtly condemnatory work, but is it neither complicit nor exalting. The movie does not gloat when it throws the first stone, but it warns the spectators, as if urging them to look at their own transgressions before becoming the most pious of all. Contradictory in intention sometimes it is, and completely in the final credits, when it warns that it is based on real facts, and then indicates that its characters do not resemble anyone, and its story is not similar to any other. However, those who look for sources know that it is based on the case of the pedophile priest Marcial Maciel, perpetrator of sexual crimes against prepubescent and pubescent boys that were concealed by ecclesiastical authorities of Mexico and the Vatican.
However, the overwhelming accumulation of information and images seems to come from a lot of similar stories. They include rape, drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual blackmail by women and endless aberrations. All this is well known by someone like Urquiza, who spent eight years in a seminary, or like all the ordinary beings that we were aware of (in addition to those who were victims of) the erotic goings-on in the Catholic school where we were educated, among priests, students and teachers.
In the first minutes, with Alejandro Giacomán's omnipresent music, I thought, "Oh, hell, another one of those melodramas buried in musical notes ad nauseam", but as the story progressed the soundtrack was distilled and, seeing the sincerity of the result, I said to myself, "Well, no... this is pure horror cinema!" So if you see it, be warned, not for the thrills of the cheap horror story (which you will not find here), but for the assaults suffered by the young seminarians, mostly off camera or on black screen. The main victims of the humiliations are Julián, whom the head of seminary, the voracious Father Ángel de la Cruz, baptizes as Sacramento Santos (poor Sebastián Aguirre, the same guy from "Güeros"!), and his friend Alberto (Alejandro de Hoyos). These two cases are the ones we know for sure, because we soon deduce that Father Ángel (Juan Manuel Bernal) has raped many infant and adolescent seminarians from the urban and rural Mexican bourgeoisie. Because, mind you, in this the film is not surrealistic at all: it sets aside the heritage of the original peoples and almost all the kids are white, blond, with transparent eyes and dull languor.
What I found most interesting is that the film (written by Urquiza and Ernesto Alcócer, whose book is the basis of the screenplay) does not scourges anybody, but coldly and calculatedly reveals to us the process of domination and control (inspired by words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola) to arrive at "perfect obedience". The film won the Ariel awards for best script, actor (Bernal) and young actor (Aguirre), the Diosa de Plata awards for best young actor (Aguirre) and supporting actor (Juan Ignacio Aranda as Father Galaviz), the Jury Prize for best first film at the Lodz film festival and the Grand Prix des Amériques and Audience awards at the Montréal film festival. Recommended.
Where Were You?
An embarassing affair, and sometimes amazingly revealing... Abner Benaim had access to a generous budget to put Chorrilleros (people from the poor neighborhood of El Chorrillo which was devastated by American troops during the 1989 USA invasion to Panamá) to reenact a few things of which the filmmaker was curious about... How to put a dead body in a bag, how the Chorrilleros laid down on the street as American soldiers were abusing them, how USA parachutists should have felt when they fell into slime believing it was sand, and so on... We also watch a rich elderly Panamanian husband and wife tell how moved they were by the face of a young baby-face G.I. and how they served him a steak, or a young fellow (looking very gay) candidly narrate in awe that he was guest in the nunciature residence where Manuel Antonio Noriega hid, while the young man was spending a few days with the nuncio... Seeing is believing. Up to this day many Panamanians think they were liberated in the name of democracy, and this documentary seems to believe it too, unless otherwise intended but not seen herein.
It seems as if the working title of this were "Where Were You When the Bombs Were Launched?"
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Gone with the Sheep
You can add all the tags you want (Tech-Noir, Cyberpunk, Dystopian, Mystery, Thriller, Romance, Psychological Drama, etcetera, etcetera) but beneath all the visual adornments, this is predominantly a prolonged melodrama. At 156 minutes, the Rutger Hauer/Daryl Hannah type of replicant is sorely missed, and it does not have the poetry, novelty or force of its predecessor. You have instead a couple of gratuitous scenes pretending to be funny (as the one featuring "Elvis Presley"), a mini-battle "a la Star Wars", and what is worse... almost all the plot is too predictable. Thirty years later androids no longer dream of electric sheep but visual effect galore and prepare for revolution (lol), to illustrate the weeping tale of a man searching for momma. Or so he thinks. Ryan Gosling (as in many films) is beaten to death, but he just goes on as impassible as replicants should be. Watch it.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
The appropriate use of music in films is one of the crucial problems of current cinema, especially in American movies. It is a formula inherited from Tiomkin, Steiner, Waxman, Korngold and Herrmann, and the filmmakers for whom they musicalized: together they packed the complete product (as in "Gone with the Wind"), without knowing when to stop the music. However, almost a century has passed, sound has made great advances and the effect of omnipresent music has become obnoxious. Was it necessary to punctuate the tragedy of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) for eight endless minutes, since the moment he goes out to the store one fatidic night, until the scene when he leaves the office of the lawyer who has read his brother's will, with cloying adagio by Albinoni or whoever composed it? For me, the music selection is the detrimental aspect of the film: it has nothing to do with the history, but with the unrestrained sentimentality of director Kenneth Lonergan. I liked the uncle-nephew interplay and all the great drama about pain and death ... The excellent performances by the whole cast are enough to transmit everything! Lee's silences and fists of anger, the panic attack of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), the dialogue of guilt and forgiveness between Lee and his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), the loneliness of Sandy's mother, Jill (Heather Burns)... The inclusion of classics is redundant and mawkish (and the "house composer", Lesley Barber, was caught up, judging from his title chorale), gaining more presence than such an adequate soundtrack as the voices of Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald or The Ink Spots. The director did not contain himself. The classics were good for "Barry Lyndon." Kubrick excelled at that. Even the hyper-contrast between "The Blue Danube" and the spacecraft in "2001, a Space Odyssey" was a brilliant move. But Mr. Lonergan is no Kubrick. With 10 or 15 minutes less, a selection of the American songbook and the classics saved for when he drives his car down the road, Kenneth Lonergan would have made a perfect film.
Final installment of a trilogy
After the expectations that Polish filmmaker Wiktor Grodecki created with his documentaries «Not Angels, But Angels» and «Body Without Soul», the melodrama «Mandragora» gave a lackluster conclusion to his trilogy about homosexual prostitution and pornography in Prague. In the story of Marek Nedela (Miroslav Caslavka), the fifteen-year-old boy who arrives in the Czech capital and psychically and physically degrades before turning 16, there are no traces of originality or anything that Grodecki did not show us before, in the two documentaries, with the added value of seeing and hearing the testimonies said by real characters.
Here he tells a story by the book, as he follows one by one the steps of Marek's degradation, since the day he arrives at the Prague station and is approached by a pimp (Pavel Skripal), who later sells him to a horny old man. It does not take long before we watch typical scenes: the transvestite cabaret, the rivalry between the little prostitutes, entanglements with the police, beatings, robberies, sessions with a pornographer... This time Grodecki (who wrote the script with the collaboration of David Svec, a teenager who plays Marek's only friend) introduced the figure of a father, Marek's working class father, but his presence provides little more than moments of crying, shouting and beatings.
The gimmicky and manipulative aesthetic strategy did not change at all by the third round. For «Mandragora», the director hired the services of German composer Wolfgang Hammerschmid who, at the helm of the Munich symphony orchestra, provided him with music from start to finish. Grodecki did not cast aside, of course, the classics or the little rock and roll numbers here and there. In a strict definition of melodrama, the music almost does not stop in this alarming drama. Like the two documentaries, it has very few moments of silence or exclusive use of the background noise. Like those other two works, "Mandragora" is not without interest, but revels in its own sexist moralism and sensationalism.
Telo bez duse (1996)
Death and the Pornographer
In «Body Without Soul», Wiktor Grodecki's second installment of his trilogy on male prostitution in the Czech Republic, the filmmaker tackled the industry of homosexual pornography in the country, and he was lucky to have the participation of Pavel Rousek, pornographer in his free time and medical examiner as his profession. Rousek is a character that alternates between the repulsive and the fascinating, but it is he who brings Grodecki out of porno-misery and his method of editing and using music.
Once again, Grodecki is talking about Death, about sex that neither procreates nor derives pleasure, but an activity done in front of a cheap camera, for little pay, with no protection and enduring physical abuse. In these times, in which life has depreciated to the point that anyone is killed for a peanut, in which people sell their bodies because they have reduced it to the category of mere shell, «Body Without Soul» is a timely product, even though 23 years have passed since its release.
Grodecki also had one more time a group of young prostitutes between 14 and 19 years old, who spoke with courage to the camera. Among them, there is a young man who, as the film progresses, reveals that he has acquired AIDS, while the others speak frankly of their lack of fear of Death. Then you have Rousek: the pornographer not only gave an interview, but also allowed himself to be filmed during the shooting of one of his movies and, even more impressive, at work in the morgue, in front of a corpse that he dismembered, while making parallels between both activities.
However, Grodecki could not lose the habit of mellowing, melodramatizing and manipulating the audience with fragments of the most tearful music ever composed by Albinoni, Mahler, Vivaldi, Allegri and Mozart. Not even the group Olympic contributed something cheerful, but the weeping ballad "Tears of Your Mother". Neither on this occasion, Grodecki tried to contextualize his documentary in time and place, on the economic, political or social situation of the Czech Republic. Where, how and why did these guys come up with the idea of practicing prostitution or appearing in gay porno? Out of the blue? Because of hunger, but why were they hungry? Simply because they are amoral, ignorant or cynical? There are no answers.
In spite of everything, there is a notable advance in «Body Without Soul» when compared to the first installment of the trilogy, «Not Angels But Angels». Despite the endless music and sound effects, both documentaries will serve as historical memory of the beautiful city of Prague, at a time when it was being eaten away by a contagious and lethal disease. Followed by «Mandragora», last part of the trilogy.
Not Angels But Angels (1994)
Angels Without Angel
Men from Germany, UK, USA, Czech Republic, politicians, doctors, businessmen, theater people, club owners, TV presenters, but no famous actor: this is how a Czech pimp defines the clientele that buys the sexual services of boys, between 14 and 19 years, in Prague, in the documentary "Not Angels But Angels". The film is from 1994 and makes an (involuntary) account of one of the regrettable consequences of "economic globalization" in the Czech Republic, a fraction of the former socialist state of Czechoslovakia.
Homosexual male prostitution is not new in any corner of the world, so the subject does not give any novelty value to this documentary that moves at a snail's pace. On the other side, it surely was original to portray the recrudescence of pedophilia, because of the socio-political and economic effects of the entrance of the former socialist bloc to "savage capitalism". However, director Wiktor Grodecki missed the opportunity and the result is an endless parade of heads talking about various topics without utterance, direction or deduction, as a flow of reflections that leads us without knowing where. The boys talk about the first time they had a client, their rates, their overt gerontophilia, approved or rejected sexual acts, AIDS, the future, their fears, their loves (several with girlfriends and one who is a father). Grodecki leaves out, for example, a profile of a typical boy's family, the opinion of social workers' opinions or the measures taken or not by the Czech state. Nothing.
Instead, the filmmaker is sensationalist to the extreme, with apocalyptic sound effects, the manipulative use of fragments of dramatic compositions by Bach, Mozart, Villa-Lobos, rock metal and Tibetan music; close-ups of supposed sweet-toothed customers of old age, a strange striptease by a beggar, shots of statues from Prague that witness the acts, and photos of homosexual pornography (pixelated by the DVD editor who, by the way, also pixelated the subtitles!)
The only merit I found in this distressing portrait of youth is the courage of the boys to tell their drama on camera (without any desire to achieve notoriety): there is everything, from the boy who grew up between New York and Prague and wants to be a gangster, to the so-called "Miss Jackson" (for Michael, but who, in reality, looked more like Diana Ross), going through young men who are obviously mistreated by the trade and a kind of "bathtub divo" who gave his interview wrapped in bubbles. First part of a trilogy, followed by «Body Without Soul», dedicated to the business of adolescent pornography in Prague.
The Terrornauts (1967)
Star Talk indeed!
"The Terrornauts" is on the edge of being an awful film, were it not for its slightly suggested comic approach. If you listen carefully to the music cue accompanying the main title sequence, it gives you a hint of what to expect. Classic composer Elisabeth Lutyens' score has airs of (sinister) children games and charades, and I am only guessing that is what the movie must have inspired her, with its cartoonish models of space ships, props which are riddles, pastel sets of a military base (with test cubicles and a control room) and the acting by vaudeville buffoons as Charles Hawtrey, Patricia Hayes and even Max Adrian as the "villain" who is against the space program led by Simon Oates. The program aims to find signs of life in outer space, following a hunch Oates has since childhood, when he had a visionary dream. Unfortunately, the script is loaded with dialogues, explanations and debates within closed sets, and little action. Even for children and adolescents "The Terrornauts" is too verbose, making its running time seem much longer than its 73 minutes.
How I Was Cured from "Homosexualism" by Momma the Witch Doctor
Sixty years after it premiered, I saw the West German film, «Different from You and Me (Article 175)». Made in 1957 by "Nazi-friendly" filmmaker Veit Harlan, it is also known as "The Third Sex", which was its original title. Despite the time elapsed, it was like travelling in a time machine and listening to stone-age notions about human sexuality. Moreover, I felt I was watching a portrait of the repressive Panamanians who had recently marched in the streets with apocalyptic hatred in their hearts to exterminate all that does not fit in their 1957 notions of sex life. I do not doubt that the origins can be found even further back in time.
By 1962 when I was about 11 years old, "The Third Sex" was still in the local cinema circuit. I never saw the movie, and I did not even try in adolescence. By then I was more curious about Isabel Sarli's mega-bosom and her adventures in waterfalls and beaches, until the British Protestant boys appeared and seduced us all, with the Beatles and Malcolm McDowell leading hordes of rebels. Nevertheless, the influence of "The Third Sex" lasted everywhere.
The film was made as an argument against the 175 article, which criminalized homosexual acts, even in the privacy and with the consent of the adults involved. However it was mainly used to alert (straight) adults of the "dangers of homosexuality and its vectors", and to give parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and teachers basic instructions on how to "cure" the children of "the plague".
The leading characters are people that "moral majorities" always seem to follow and respect. Members of the petty bourgeoisie, social "wannabes" between being or not being, between having or not having, who go to mass but curse as soon as they exit the church, etcetera... you know them well. The film tells how a "decent" family mother (with the looks of not having sex in more than a decade, judging by the boredom inspired by her banker husband) "saves" her son from the grip of "homosexualism", inducing him to have sex with the maid.
The young man seems quite normal to me, a painter in the making, willing to live "la vida loca", but naïve enough to hang around with men who are either impertinent, foolish and corny, or depraved and corrupt. The wholesome proletarian girl serving the family is the perfect potion, according to mother, a practice that is still common in many homes, behind closed doors. Momma the Witch Doctor goes to trial accused of procuring and before a sentence is pronounced, we watch her story in flashback.
Despite being a piece that did not pass the test of time, «Different from You and Me» is fascinating to see, as not to forget how cruel we humans can be. In short, if we persist on reading only bibles and (disguised) Nazi manifestos to learn about our human essence, we will continue to live on this planet of the apes.
Redemption and Guilt
Contemporary horror story harking back to the times when Moscow was ravaged by the plague and thousands of persons died. It all starts in the 18th century, when a thief who stole an envelope that he did not deliver is accused of being the cause of the disease and about to be burnt alive. Cut to the present and it is a young chauffeur's turn to deliver an envelope under similar circunstances. It is a story about messengers, appointments with death, guilt, innocence, redemption and vanity with all the usual clichés of international horror cinema, which would had benefited from some spices of Russian culture to make it different and probably more fascinating. Entertaining and more intriguing than scary, but lacking any special distinction.
Get Out (2017)
Deja-vu Science-Fiction Tale
Since the independent filmmakers of the United States presented in 1986, for the first time, their award called Independent Spirit (or, in its short version, Spirit), when Martin Scorsese was honored for «After Hours», the Spirit became the maximum reward of the "other cinema", of the cinema away from the mega-industry of Los Angeles, in a kind of Oscar of the "liberated" of the Hollywood dictatorship. From that date, the award distinguished good filmmakers ignored by the "Academy", such as Robert Altman, John Sayles and Todd Haynes, and many others who later became "officialized", such as Tarantino, Nolan and Aronofsky.
To be honest, today in 2018, there seems to be not much difference between one cinema and the other: the film that won the Spirit for Best Film of the Year is not far from the gore aesthetic present in the Oscar-winning film as the best . While «Get Out» is not as whiny as «The Shape of Water», but a more forceful and "virile" drama with some denunciation, both films are science fiction products that take the path of extreme and bloody violence to lead us to the conclusion. Both films also have in common an Afro-descendant, obese and comical character that plays a decisive role in the plot: in the amphibious fable it was Zelda as played by Octavia Spencer, and here, LilRed Howery as Rod, an airport investigator.
In the film, a white girl invites her black boyfriend to spend a weekend at her parents' house, and the poor young man falls into a terrifying intrigue, surrounded by sinister Caucasian beings and three African-Americans who look like zombies, though as charming as the "Stepford wives". Little by little the intrigue is revealed, although one suspects from the beginning who the villains are - in part, due to the stereotyped performances of some interpreters in key parts of the story.
They say that the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay usually indicates what was the true best movie of the year, according to the "Academy." This year this indirect recognition was given to the director and scriptwriter of "Get Out," Jordan Peele. The film does entertain and is effective (thanks also to a careful soundtrack and very good music by Michael Abels), but if you expect a lot from it, you may be disappointed.
------------------------------------- P.S. The garden party reminded me of a similar scene in "The Stepford Wives". Just as Katharine Ross and friend Paula Prentiss are observing the guests, so does Daniel Kaluuya. As a matter of fact, both Ross and Kaluuya play photographers. And when the Nanette Newman robot malfunctions because it drank too much wine, that is similar to Lakeith Stanfield's "epilepsy" crisis.
«Alamar» is a film about difference, cultural difference, different points of view, and different approaches to life. It is also a film about education, learning the simple principles on which humankind rests upon, learning the beauty of nature and its manifestations. Combining both concepts, «Alamar» is also a film about a different education, that necessary complement to schooling we have been deprived of, as lost as we are in modernity, urban settings and artificial life styles. Every sequence in the movie consists of lessons of life and nature a Mexican father gives to his little son, born from a romance with an Italian woman and who is about to move to Europe with his mama. Little Natan goes where his father Jorge lives in Banco Chinchorro, the second largest coral reef on planet Earth. Fishing, swimming, diving, learning about species of plants and animals, eating fresh sea food (which tastes so good and different from that flavorless frozen sea stuff we buy in supermarkets), all that is lived and learnt from his father and his surrogate grandfather. The sequence involving the African egret they call Blanquita is quite revealing of Jorge's persona: he teaches young Natan how to approach and "befriend" a wild animal. Jorge seems so in atonement with nature that animals are not afraid of him, as also seen in a deleted scene with a hermit crab. Without a plot full of gimmicks to keep our attention and just with an invitation to sit and watch, «Alamar» is a highly recommendable, moving and fascinating observational documentary.
Very Good Russian Film
By the bad comments and low scores «Attraction» has received in several web sites, it seems that anglophone audiences are having a hard time recognizing a good science-fiction action movie spoken in a language different from theirs, empathizing with characters of a different cultural background, or recognizing little details that make a difference in a tale we have seen several times before.
I cannot understand the reactions to this effective, entertaining and intelligent product of cultural consumption made in Russia. Maybe some expect that a contemporary Russian science-fiction movie should resemble «Solaris»... but that was long ago. Maybe political antagonism remains between Russians and Western audiences of the North, of which I declare myself completely ignorant, the more so because «Attraction» treats the reactions of the Americans to the presence of aliens in Moscow with respect. What is the problem I cannot tell, because in terms of direction, screenplay, production values, acting, visual effects of any other technical aspect, it is way above average.
«Attraction» resembles «The Day the Earth Stood Still», «Starman», «E.T.» and I guess that many other science-fiction movies made in the socialist bloc in the 20th century. Thankfully, the writers avoided the fusion of science fiction, horror and gore that «Alien» made official and the road to clownish jingoism taken by «Independence Day» and many movies where the phrase "Go! Go! Go!" is the main cue.
«Attraction» is pertinent in these times of warlike minds, xenophobia, greed and the importance of water resources. It tells the story of a ship from the Gemini constellation that is damaged by a meteor shower, and as it enters the Earth atmosphere, it is attacked and brought down in Moscow by Russian armed forces. Just because. I suppose that must be the protocol to deal with any ship that may appear in the skies, no matter if Chewbacca, princess Leia and Mr. Kenobi are on board. As usual, the visitors are taken for villains, until the daughter of a Moscow officer in charge of the operation, makes contact with a young alien entity, that turns out to be a near replica of a human being. Not a façade to interact with humans without scaring them, but a guy very human in look and bearing, with red blood and breathing our air, but with doses of compassion, curiosity, kindness and sense of humor that many of us humans need.
As always the alien has to deal with opposition from the army and ignorant persons, only this time the leader of the "ignorant people" (a young punk from the neighborhood where the UFO fell) is in love with the officer's daughter, who in turn falls for the gentle alien. At the same time, the masses of the neighborhood are enraged because the UFO sucks water from its surroundings and is gradually repaired with the fluid. Extreme nationalism does not take long to explode.
The writers developed all the subplots with dexterity, taking grasp of all stereotypes you usually find in action movies, comedy and science fiction. «Attraction» also follows Joseph Campbell's formula of the "hero's journey", only this time it is the young woman who makes the trip, without P.C. manias. It is a commercial product, no doubt about it, and a well-crafted work, with a sequel already in pre-production.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Let it be awarded all the prizes in the world that people want to give it, but by the moment the Amazonian entity is taken out of the Pentagon-financed experimental hall, "The Shape of Water" loses much of its magic. It becomes an unnecessary brutal and violent actioner, with a touch of Hollywood silliness for good measure, as the singing-and-dancing parody of "Cheek to Cheek" -which by the way seems a more appropriate fantasy for Giles than Elisa. Greeks were not fools when they established the rules of tragedy: they avoided the display of gruesome details on the stage, not for aesthetic reasons, but because tragedies were neither lessons on anatomy nor autopsy tutorials. Gore sells, but in my opinion, it belongs to other kind of movies, and seems out of place in a fantasy like "The Shape of Water". I am thirteen years older than Guillermo del Toro, so I immediately recognized many of his faces, from Elana Eden in «The Story of Ruth» to Carmen Miranda, to describe the world of Elisa Esposito (wonderful Sally Hawkins, who merits all awards bestowed upon her). His references are also familiar to me, especially «Creature from the Black Lagoon» and its sequel «Revenge of the Creature», which precedes all those movies in which US military men and women want to get hold of all the E.T.s, Starmen and whatever weird but wonderful cross their way. For me what really counts is the love story, spiced with Cold War antics and military bullying, but even the romance goes over the top (for examples, in the second love-making scene, or the "Cheek to Cheek" parody) and it never recovers, since we all know the ending from the start, in the main title sequence. Production design is good, Alexander Desplat's music does not add anything to his prestige, and casting is adequate. Michael Shannon shines as usual. However Octavia Spencer, doing what is expected from her, has to deal with the stereotype of the fat and funny black woman that goes all the way back to the origins of the cinema of Los Angeles; and Richard Jenkins also plays the stereotype of the funny and old homosexual man. After watching it, I gave it four stars, then the day after it lost one... I do not think it will go any lower. It does not matter that a creature from sweet water, requires salt on its bathing tub. See it.
Après la vie (2002)
The End of the Affair
Lucas Belvaux ends his trilogy with « Après la vie», with an ending that seems a happy one, but full of deep melancholy. If «Cavale» was an intense action drama and «Un couple épatant», an entertaining chain of entanglements, in this final installment he opts for realism in the style of films like «Born to Win» and «Taxi Driver». It is because this third film tells us with minutiae the relationship between the police Pascal and his wife Agnes, who is addicted to morphine. And to complicate matters, he is the one who supplies her with the drug. When the plots of the first two movies (the escape of an activist and the suspicion of adultery, respectively) cross their lives, everything becomes completely altered. The arrival of the fugitive suddenly makes Pascal aggressive and violent, because the supply of drugs stops. Pascal (Gilbert Melki, a good Belgian actor with the ideal face for a police drama) cannot control his wife Agnes (Dominique Blanc, extraordinary actress) with her dose at hand. When Agnes asks him for help, as detective to her friend Cécile (Ornella Muti), Pascal becomes confused. Cécile suspects that her husband is cheating on her, and, frustrated by his own emotional life impeded by Agnes' addiction, Pascal believes that he has fallen in love with Cécile. Other subplots are resolved and secrets revealed, as the relationship between the fugitive and a mean pusher, or the sudden confession of who was the real informer responsible for the activists going to prison. However, it is the Pascal-Agnes relationship that dominates the film: it becomes a desperate search for morphine, and absence of love in a harsh society. A great trilogy that I recommend not to miss if it comes your way.
Un couple épatant (2002)
Genre and the 180° rule
A few minutes into the movie «Un couple épatant», after you recover from the startling first impression and acknowledge a categorical change of genre in the second installment of Lucas Belvaux's trilogy, the film flows at a rapid pace, as the story advances and unravels the chain of misunderstandings that lead the titular couple to suspect each other of adultery. Belvaux goes from the violent drama of "«Cavale» to the comedy of errors with precise humor and feline grace, and those who have seen the first installment will know that there is a dramatic background, represented by the characters of that other story. However, even without knowing their personal histories in depth (the man hiding in a country house, the arrested woman, the drug addict and her policeman husband), all fit like clockwork in this story: lawyer Alain (Morel), an obsessive hypochondriac, dramatizes a minor surgery and hides it from his wife Cécile (Muti). He begins to dictate his last will to a tape recorder (a testament that is modified every time his affection for his inheritors changes, according to the plot twists) and entangles his loyal secretary Claire (Mairesse) and his medical friend (Mazzinghi) in the farce. But Cécile smells something fishy and does not sit on her hands: she hires the services of policeman Pascal (Melki). Things get more and more complicated with every gesture, word or action, which have an opposite charge to the real one, according to each spouse's perception. Belvaux's narrative skill is in top form and leaves us curious about the closing of the trilogy. After this change of register, from a stark drama to a paranoid comedy, my curiosity about the outcome was awakened.