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El cuerpo (2012)
Spain's industry -or, to better say, some young filmmakers and studios- are producing fine thrillers lately. "The body" feels like the last installment of a trilogy of movies all produced by the studios Rodar y Rodar and all starred by Belen Rueda, the first being the awarded and applauded "The orphanage".
Anyway, "The body" is an entirely different movie with very different goals, and it is more similar to the second movie, "Julia's eyes": it's a fast-paced thriller filled with twists, red herrings and a satisfactory ending. It follows young Alex, recently widowed of his older and richer wife, Mayka, who died of a sudden heart attack. Mayka was the owner of several pharmaceutical companies and is portrayed as a woman with a strange sense of humor and a domineering personality. This part of the movie is quite well done, because we are well informed of the peculiarities of this couple, even when the movie doesn't take a lot of time for this description (it's all done in flashbacks). Anyway, the action begins when Mayka's body goes missing from the morgue it was stored at, which brings police detective Jaime Peña to the crime scene.
Shortly thereafter, we learn that Alex has an affair with young and beautiful Carla, and that they have both plotted and executed the murder of Mayka. But the questions promptly arise in the characters' and the viewers' mind: is Mayka really dead? If so, who snatched the body, and with what purpose? And if she isn't dead, what happened and where is she?
Mayka is nowhere to be seen, but, dead or alive, her presence quickly infects the place, plaguing Alex's mind and making him fearful for whatever may be happening. Jaime Peña is deeply suspicious of him from the get-go and quickly becomes a fierce adversary to Alex.
As the search for the missing body goes on, Alex and Peña struggle to find out the truth, each with his own motive. And so does the viewer. The whole story unfolds in a bleak setting -a morgue, in the middle of the night-, with some winks to the supernatural, giving the movie the looks and feel of an extended "Tales from the crypt" episode.
"The body" is a good thriller that really delivers. The script takes some liberties in order to bamboozle the viewer, but -in my opinion- such liberties are not only inevitable but also forgivable (although many will probably differ). Ultimately, "The body" achieves what it set out for: grab our interest from the start, follow the story closely, keep guessing and changing our mind as to what really happened, and provide us with an ending that, even though it is not perfect and could be regarded as far-fetched, is quite fulfilling and fitting for this story and its characters.
The acting by the main four actors is good, the strongest man being the well-respected Spanish actor Jose Coronado.
Ultra-violent action movie
'Dredd' is an adaptation of a comic, which I have never read, so I will judge (no pun intended) this as I would a stand-alone action movie.
'Dredd' is set in a not so distant, bleak future, where America has gone to wasteland and one massive city extends from Boston to Washington DC. Single blocks of apartments give shelter to thousands and thousands of families and, in the worst cases, are controlled by gangs. In this civilization, judges have become one-man armed forces that judge and execute sentences, which in practice means that they apply the law as they go.
The real action in 'Dredd' confronts judge Dredd and his new sidekick, judge candidate Anderson, and Ma-ma, the villain of the show, a drug- dealer who has taken control and, in practice, rules one megablock of apartments.
'Dredd' is, in essence, a cat-and-mouse game between Ma-ma and the two judges, whose goal is to arrest her and apply the law on her.
'Dredd' is therefore an action movie, but not any action movie. It goes one step further than most of its kind, in its treatment of violence. 'Dredd' is an ultra-violent movie with an extremely graphic treatment of violence. Thumbs gouging eyeballs, skinnings, human heads crashing against the floor, bullets parting cheeks... and all of that in slow motion. Those are some of the scenes that you're going to be prepared to watch if 'Dredd' is your movie of choice. I can hardly remember any other movie that displays human violence in such gory detail. It's almost pornographic.
'Dredd's best asset -perhaps its only real asset- is its visuals. The bleak world of the near future is very well built and, from what I've read, it has been created on a relatively low budget, but it's entirely believable.
Everything in 'Dredd' is over the top, except for the acting, where perhaps only Olivia Thirlby stands out. But, surely, good acting wasn't the aim here.
'Dredd' is entertaining, for sure. It's highly adrenalinic, although it doesn't offer anything substantially new as far as the story goes. One could say there is a moral, perhaps, but just like you could say there is a moral to every movie, if you look for it. No; the goal is entertainment. The reason 'Dredd' made me think is quite another: that action movies come packed with bigger and bigger amounts of violence, and that the violence seems to actually be the whole point. If this is the route that entertainment is taking, the dystopia that 'Dredd' proposes doesn't seem all that far-fetched.
The don't make them like "Copycat" anymore
"Copycat" is a good and meritful thriller, perhaps one of the best from the 90s, where thrillers were usually more suspenseful and rich in plot lines than packed with action scenes. (This is a compliment). In other words, they don't make them like those thrillers anymore. Therefore, I think "Copycat" deserves the attention of any old-school thriller aficionado. It is less crude than "Silence of the lambs" and, in my opinion, more intelligent, too, but it simply suffered from the fact that it came later in time.
"Copycat" is a movie about serial killers and, to a good extent for a commercial-purpose movie, it offers a great deal of information about the psychology and typical rituals of serial killers (apparently, the film-makers recruited world expert Robert K. Ressler for assessment and guidance throughout the making of the movie). There is one serial killer here, too, and one heroine, psychiatrist Helen Hudson, who is fighting incapacitating agoraphobia after being attacked and nearly killed by a psychopath who was obsessed with her. However, she can't help getting involved when young women start to get murdered. Helen will soon notice that the crime scenes are exact copies of grimly famous murders by famous serial killers from the past.
"Copycat" is not a perfect movie. It does have its weaknesses: some plot lines are clearly superfluous and don't really fit in with the main plot line; there are other scenes which seem to intend to exploit a certain humorous potential about M.J., the female police detective, but don't really fulfill their purpose; and the last third of the movie feels definitely rushed in, as if some significant scenes had been left off at the editing room. I also got the clear feeling that the starting point, the idea behind the story, was not exploited to the fullest, and that a great movie could have come from it.
But then, again, "Copycat" is also better than most others in its genre, and I would definitely put it higher than most thrillers that are made these days. Both Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter are perfect in their roles -I especially enjoyed Hunter's character, a mix of innocence and toughness-, and, even though William McNamara has more modest acting abilities overall, in this role he did a great job. Another good point about "Copycat" is that it respects the pacing and the tempos of a suspenseful movie, with building-up tension and a very good and long climax.
My score is 7 stars out of 10.
A great choice for all girls who aren't necessarily into chick flicks
Kristen Wiig is the kind of actor who doesn't let her ego get in between her and her character. Which means that, in "Bridesmaids", she is so good because she isn't afraid of laughing at herself or, to better put it, at her character, Annie Walker, a 30-something who is currently failing at the most important sides of her life and who is asked by Lillian, her lifelong best friend, to be her bridesmaid. Annie is delighted, but will soon have to face hard competition from Lillian's new friend and contender to the best friend title, classy and beautiful Helen.
The whole movie is a series of misadventures starring Annie, who manages to ruin every step of Lillian's wedding arrangements, as well as her own living arrangements and her barely extant love life. Of course, everything will end up nicely and happily for everyone involved.
Though I'm not precisely a fan of the Apatow factory's kind of gross humor style -and this is also quite present in "Bridesmaids"-, I enjoyed this movie, and I think it stands out, because it works well on many different levels. If, like me, you don't much appreciate gross, in-your-face jokes involving natural bodily functions, for example, you can still enjoy "Bridesmaids" because, for instance, it makes fun of the many clichés that Hollywood rom-coms have been pushing down our throats (and into our brains) for decades; it also makes fun of the stereotypical chick-flick heroine (Annie is cute in a girl-next-door fashion, sweet, and has her own style, but she is approachable and she is definitely quite real; she is awkward and acts silly or downright stupid sometimes, which we all do) and of the real things that real men and women do in real life. It also has good comedy dialogue and a nice message at the end -it's not a mere sequence of funny sketches. The characters are real and there is a story behind the whole thing.
Besides, the whole cast is great and you can tell everyone loved being in this movie. For me personally, it was especially delightful to see Rose Byrne in her role.
My score: 8 stars out of 10.
John Carter (2012)
Go watch this!
If you haven't yet, what are you waiting for to go watch "John Carter"? Grab your kids, grab your boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse, your parents, your friends and run to the nearest theatre where they're showing this. For you can watch "John Carter" being any age, and in any company, and have a good two-hour cinematic joyride.
It doesn't matter that it has reportedly failed at the box office (but then, failure is relative, isn't it? It all depends on how high the expectancies were raised). "John Carter" is a great movie, and I hope it will have a fruitful second life upon DVD release and in other forms. It doesn't matter that Mars doesn't hold almost any interest for human fantasy anymore as it did back in Edgar Rice Burroughs's time. It doesn't matter that the plot isn't perfect and that the movie sometimes reminds us a little too much of "Avatar", what with the interspecies romance, the seemingly hostile environment and creatures then turned into allies (or not!), the ecologic, Earth-loving message. It has lots of adventure, love, humor, and enough symbolism to get the point in just one viewing and walk out of the theatre with a smile in your face. The characters -the good guys and gals, that is- are all good-looking, well-spoken, brave, smart and funny. And the bad guys also make a good point in the story -perhaps the most intriguing, most modern message of them all. And the cast is really gold, especially the more minor characters (it has Dominic West, by God!).
In summary, please, do yourself a favor and watch "John Carter". At worst, you won't find it anything special, but I trust you won't be bored.
Day of the Dead (1985)
The perfect zombie movie
It's a scandal that such a brilliant film as "Day of the dead" has been overlooked for so long, and still pretty much continues to do so. In fact, being an avid horror movie consumer and favoring zombie movies especially, it is only now that I've been lucky enough to get a copy of this. I'm so glad about that! "Day of the dead" is, to my mind, not only the best of all Romero's zombie flicks, but also in the top three of all zombie movies ever made. It has every single asset that I consider desirable for a zombie film to be perfect: a claustrophobic environment with little realistic ways out, characters pushed to the limits, paranoia, darkness (literal darkness as well as an obscurity, a density of word, thought and mindset that clearly reflects the apocalyptic world that they now live in), powerlessness, lots of quality suspense, and gore. Many of those elements are missing in an awful lot of zombie movies.
"Day of the dead" is also ahead of its time (1985) in special and makeup effects and, beyond that, in the general pessimistic mood that is now sadly a reality. There is nothing funny, redeeming, thrilling about the new world dominated by zombies; the heroes of this show do not make a point of killing zombies as if it were some sort of hunting expedition with lots of adrenaline. They are simply the last humans standing, a group of scientists and military who happen to have survived so far (how, and why them, is never told), and trying to live another day in an underground facility (which is one of the best settings ever devised in a horror movie). Some kind of science project or experiment is also taking place, with a Dr Logan leading it (great character, that one), but this doesn't leave for much optimism. Basically, the gray, primary, claustrophobic setting, the rivalry between the military and the scientific communities, and the sickness and nightmares that ail the heroes let us know early on that we're in for a gloomy tale.
"Day of the dead" is also worth watching because it introduces elements that are completely original in the genre, and have still (to my knowledge) either not been used at all, or have been so only recently.
My score is a resounding 10/10!
The Final (2010)
Tricky little number
The story in "The final" is very simple: a bunch of high school outcasts and bullying victims plot and execute a bloody and terrible form of revenge on their bullies.
The movie is about one hour and half long, and it doesn't really abound that much into the bullying that the kids are subjected to, although it expressly makes a point of informing that it's been an ongoing thing since they were little. The main part of the movie is all about the form of revenge that they choose.
The term "torture porn" comes to mind. The movie contains several scenes not apt for the faint of stomach, although for those who have watched the "Saw" or the "Hostel" sagas, this will probably look like nothing. However, this is not violence for the sake of it -there is more to the characters and to their actions than you might think.
After the first bit of the movie, we are invited and encouraged to root for the outcasts. However, as the movie continues and they give way to their revenge, the tables turn. My personal conclusion is that there aren't really good-natured characters in the movie (with one exception). It's not a movie about good vs. bad people. Also, there are differences between the characters, both within the bullies and the outcasts, which mark them as individuals and help us to consider each one separately. Both of those are good points, in my opinion.
"The final" is a little bit weird, sometimes. It's not your usual gory movie. It has also hurt from what appears as bad edition, silly subplots or scenes, and irregular acting. It will make many people uncomfortable, for sure. However, it attempts (and I think it succeeds at it) to make a point -a warning?- about the consequences of violence (violence brings about more violence) and responsibility.
My score for this is 7/10.
Grave Encounters (2011)
What nurtures it kills it eventually
I love good haunted house films, and Grave Encounters looked like a good pick, but it ended up a big letdown as it's terribly overdone, and the excess of everything just feels like a horror comedy (a genre that I definitely do not appreciate).
It starts as a mockumentary, a style that is as overexploited as it gets, but I didn't find this annoying -even if it somehow spoils the story a little bit, it sets the gloomy and ill fate atmosphere right from the beginning. So we're introduced to Lance Preston, an ambitious TV host and director of a show called Grave Encounters, whereby he and his crew go spirit-hunting in various locations. The movie is based on the "found footage" that they recorded during their stay at an abandoned mental asylum said to be haunted.
What follows is more or less what you would expect from a premise like that, but -here's the good news- the film makers add some very nice surprises along the way, making it not quite the typical haunted house story. The first half or so of the movie is therefore quite pleasing and effective (even though I have to say I did not find the scary elements scary at all -but this didn't diminish the enjoyment). Kudos to the film makers for the choice of location and the setting, decoration, lighting and all the technical elements, as the place is really the kind of place you wouldn't want to spend one minute at, let alone a whole night, like Lance Preston and his crew.
Now, the bad news: for some reason, the makers decided that all that was not good enough, and the movie takes a different turn during the second half and very especially for the last 40 minutes or so. I found that what they decided to do with the film absolutely killed it for me as the creepiness and the enjoyable subtlety from the first part are totally gone. Now, there are probably many horror fans who will be thankful for those additions, but I personally found them a little bit silly and quite boring.
My rating for this movie is 6/10.
Apollo 18 (2011)
If only they had stayed in the capsule!
"Apollo 18" is a typical case of movie that promises more than it then delivers. I will also add that its trailer was the main reason I watched this. The trailer I watched suggested a film full of mystery and shocking revelations; instead, I got a lame, cliché-packed movie with very little to salvage.
The narration is based on an already well-known narrative technique: the old footage found through not explained means, from a source (NASA, in this case) that apparently kept it a secret or, at least, would rather not have it publicized. The footage allegedly explains the fate of the secret mission to the moon called Apollo 18, and why it was the last expedition to the moon. This is, undoubtedly, a very tempting and promising layout.
There actually isn't so much new, or interesting about the story. It is an entertaining and okay film, but nothing more than that; its suspense and not-too-horrible-horror climax come in a bit too early, and from that moment on it's all downhill. If you've seen sci-fi movies about space expeditions, then this movie will probably remind you of this and that famous film more than once.
On the other hand, I found this movie technically well-made, and it provides some beautiful and quite creepy scenes -for example, when an astronaut is exploring a lunar crater. I also enjoyed the claustrophobic feeling that it reproduced and conveyed, with two astronauts living in the crammed lunar capsule, with barely no room to sleep comfortably, deprived of even the pleasure of having something tasty to eat, and as far away as one can possibly be from their home and loved ones. That's the strongest point of the movie, in my opinion -but it isn't exploited enough.
My score is 4/10.
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
I don't usually like the kind of movie that "Under the Tuscan sun" is supposed to be -a "chick flick", romantic movie where the romance is the whole point and a happy ending for our heroine is imperative, and basically what the audience is paying the ticket for. Anyway, I just watched this, and at first I was prejudiced, but then it started to look different and I (reluctantly) started to find pleasure in watching the adventures of Frances, who, having been left by her husband and kicked out of the house that she bought, gets the chance to travel to Tuscany, falls in love with an old house in the countryside and starts to renew it. As one would expect, the story of this eventful process of renewal is also that of her own renewal as a person, pretty much including (or her main point being) finding love again.
This last part -the finding love- is the one I have most problems with. Frances will go on to live many adventures and misadventures in her new home, meeting colorful characters and, yes, keeping us guessing about her destiny.
I think the movie is ruined precisely by how much the driving force is her quest for love, almost to an obsessive point. Right, what can you expect, huh? I know... but the story being as full of opportunities and life experiences, I was expecting and wanting for it to be something else than another movie about relationships, coupling up and falling in love the way it is traditionally depicted in Hollywood movies.
The biggest asset of this film is undoubtedly its aesthetic beauty, showing us Italy and Tuscany like I had personally never seen them before in film. Diane Lane is also always a delight to watch in film, because she's such a naturally gifted actress and she has the kind of classic, delicate beauty that fits so well with the story and the tone of the movie.
However, because I was personally disappointed with the film, I rate it 5/10.
Do not, under any circumstance, waste over one hour and half of your life watching this trash -this is my advice for anyone who, like me, is being fooled by the appealing title and premise, believing he/she is about to watch something even mildly entertaining. This is not only mind-numbingly boring, it is also a major bad joke on the general public.
Being the absolute horror movie buff that I am, I was very interested in watching this movie. It was brought to our regional fantasy and horror movie festival and it was the film that appealed most to me. It seemed to be an independent, low-budget horror (a category that puts forward a high ratio of very satisfying surprises) and I was very intrigued by its plot outline: back in the 40s, all the inhabitants of the town of Friar left all their belongings behind and walked on a forest trail. They were all found dead, except for one survivor who couldn't offer a rational account of what had happened. In the present day, a group of some kind of experts decide to go on the same track, hoping to, at least, document what happened and, with some more luck, find answers to the mystery.
The first couple of minutes or so are good, with what look like photographs of the corpses and the derelict town, and the audio recording of the classified interview to the only survivor. From that moment on, what follows is an increasing amount of boring, incoherent, random, inane and -probably, yes- pretentious brain detritus that tries to pass itself off as surreal, off the beaten track, unusual, thought-provoking and probably not suited for everyone (read: the non-intellectuals). The movie is packed with completely flat characters that come and go and do the most bizarre, stupid and pointless things; stupid dialogue; and bad acting. Much worse, however, is the fact that there is no real story that I could comprehend, nor do I believe there is any meaning behind this amount of nothingness, besides the meaning that each viewer will want to attach to it. But when a symbol stands for nothing at all, it accepts any meaning at all, right? My score for this movie is 1/10.
You're in for the ride of your life...
"Frozen" is a great suspense movie that works -and does so extremely well- with very few elements: a natural environment as beautiful as hostile, three helpless characters, and time running against them. That's it. Filmmaker Adam Green somehow manages to pull this off -keep the interest and the viewer's attention almost without a break for an entire hour, that is, the whole running time except for about 25 minutes to introduce the characters and create the atmosphere for their horrific experience -which is, in my opinion, a good point, because the characters are nice people and I cared about them and their luck.
These three characters are Dan, his girlfriend Parker and his best friend Joe, all on a skiing vacation. One evening they get on a chair lift back from skiing, but it stops without notice, with them being its only occupants -hanging 50 feet above the ground in the middle of nowhere and no hopes of being found in three days.
Like I said, the suspense and the thrill work very well and go in a crescendo, especially for the first half since their situation begins. There are some truly horrifying moments, proving once again that it doesn't take a lot of blood and guts splatted all over the viewer in order to convey a real feeling of terror. This is survival horror at its finest -experiences that can happen to anyone, because they involve all real life elements.
The pace goes remarkably down toward the end, and there are a few scenes that, though not long, drag it down a little bit and don't seem to serve any real purpose, except to linger the denouement a little more.
The only real problem I have with "Frozen" is its ending, which I find objectionable not because I may think it is bad, but because the rest of the movie is so terrific, I expected something on par with that. It is, however, a very worthwhile movie and one I recommend to all fans of thrillers and horror movies full of tension.
My score: 9 over 10.
Intense, irregular, but worth a look
"Dread" is an adaptation of a story by Clive Barker, and it starts out on a very interesting premise: exploring our fears. That's Quaid's motivation for his thesis study: he decides to interview people and have them tell their most vivid memories of being afraid. Quaid has a deeper, darker motivation for this: when he was 6 years old, he saw his parents being murdered by an axe killer. In his quest he will team up with Steven, an agreeable fellow student, and with Cheryl. Each of them has a personal story of haunting fear, too. Of course, as is expected, Quaid's childhood trauma and dabbling into people's darkest fears do not mix well.
"Dread" evolves as a psychological suspense -with moments of great intensity thrown together with scenes that are included just for shock value or, what's worst, as a rushed and stereotypical means of character-building (e.g. the scenes at the pub, at Quaid's studio or with the two girls that they hook up with at the beginning, where we're supposed to learn about Quaid's personality). Despite its ups and downs, though, it is a pretty solid suspense, with sobriety of characters, a compact and believable plot that follows well, and good subplots (e.g. Abby's story, with the best performance of the movie from actress Laura Donnelly). And one good point about this movie is that it is never boring.
The last half hour is the most intense, as the accumulating events and actions come to their conclusion.
"Dread" is, in my opinion, a quite good movie in its genre. It's not ground-breaking and it may remind you of something you have watched or read before. However, it has good points, well-done scenes that will keep your attention, and it's always entertaining. Warning: don't expect anything at all like "Hellraiser".
My score: 7/10.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Paranormal Activity 3: The Very Last Resort
Paranormal Activity 3 is the second sequel to Paranormal Activity, but its story is chronologically first. It is set in 1988 and it follows the main characters of the two previous movies as it describes how the haunting all started. Precisely, it just describes events, and only at the end offers an explanation of the possible onset and causes for the events we witness in the two previous movies.
I think this is a typical case of aiming to repeat an unexpected success and trying so hard, it turns the whole thing into a pastiche. The original Paranormal Activity was a low-budget movie, and it was following a formula that hadn't been successfully used since Blair Witch Project. It also managed to give the formula a new use in applying it to a domestic environment and a new theme. Suspension of disbelief was required, but the movie was coherent within itself and it certainly delivered.
Now, this second sequel is the perfect example of the opposite: it basically repeats the same trick, but it tries really hard to be as good as, if not to surpass the original, and it is doomed to fail. In trying that hard, the movie-makers turn to ridiculous plot twists, tired scares (which are so predictable, you can almost tell exactly when and what is going to happen) and just basically the same thing we have watched twice before, but done much worse.
I would recommend this movie to fans of the Paranormal Activity franchise and to horror fans desperate for something to watch.
My score is 3/10.
A parable with just the right amount of minutes and characters
"Devil" may seem simpler, more superficial than it really is, if you pick it just by the plot summary: five complete strangers end up trapped in the same elevator in a Philadelphia skyscraper. As time passes and the rescue manoeuvres fail time after time, tension arises, especially as we learn about each of their dark secrets. But what seems an incident of bad luck takes a horrific turn as inexplicable violence breaks out and all hell breaks loose: one of the five occupants is the Devil.
The film is very austere in means, resources, and number of characters: aside from the five strangers, there is a detective with his own secrets, two security guards, and a member of the elevator maintenance team, all of whom will work together in order to rescue the five strangers. The story's main motive is to find out which one is the Devil, but if it were that simple, this movie would be one more claustrophobic thriller with more or less violence and blood, more or less action, and more or less character development.
When we learn that the script was written by M. Night Shyamalan, we will realize that there is more to this story than it may seem. In fact, this is -in my opinion- one of the finest, most elegant, most straightforward and less burdened script that he has written. It does not beat about the bush, it does not get entangled in side stories or in purely esthetic values. It does not need to. The story is so strong, and the mystery so appealing, we just keep watching.
The cast is all quite good -I found Bojana Novakovic's work especially remarkable.
What stands out most, to me, is the ending, where it all makes sense, and it made me overlook the minor plot inconsistencies. That's where the film really becomes a parable about good and evil, human nature, freedom of choice, and how a person can be saved or condemned, how fine the line between the two can be. It really made me think, and it stuck with me for a long time after the ending credits rolled.
My rating for this movie is 9/10.
The Killing (2011)
"The Killing" is an unconventional, multi-layered show that manages to pull off a suspenseful murder investigation story and a social and political commentary, without coming across as patronizing.
The motor of the story is the murder of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen. The first episode is full of dramatic power as it gives a glimpse of what the Larsens' life is like before this tragedy, and how their everyday life and its moments of simple happiness fade off as Rosie is reported as missing, first, and hopes to find her alive become more and more meager. The detective in charge is Sarah Linden, who gets a mysterious new partner named Holden. Sarah has her own personal story as well, with an impending marriage, a trip that she has to put off once and again due to the investigation, and a rebellious teenage son with whom communication isn't always great. Another side story, directly tied up with the main line, is that of counselor Darren Richmond, who's running for the city council elections and is unlucky enough to have a campaign car directly involved in the crime scene -or is it just bad luck? The murder investigation gets more and more complex with time, and the show never gives you a break as to the guessing. New suspects, elements and twists are incorporated with each episode and the plot is enriched with social drama elements such as subtle (or not so subtle) racism; drug addiction; how law and justice enforcers treat people differently according to their ethnicity, religion or social status; or the backstage of elections and how the rivalry between competing candidates gets crude beyond belief.
I went into this show looking for a good crime drama, and so far I am loving it, but I'm also getting a lot more than I was hoping for. My score is 9/10.
Balada triste de trompeta (2010)
The movie Tarantino wished he'd made
"Balada triste de trompeta" (Sad trumpet ballad, in Spanish -I have no idea why they translated it as "The last circus", as it's much poorer) is none short of a masterpiece, in my opinion. It is also a 100% Spanish film, meaning it is a tragicomedy, a totally Spanish genre and it also expands between two crucial moments of Spain's recent history, full of tragic events -the Civil War, the killings, Franco's repression and dictatorship- but also full of grotesque details, situations and characters that were real and now, in retrospect, feel utterly ridiculous, much more so than they were at the time -e.g. when the dictator went hunting, they really prepared the prey for him so that he would look as a great hunter- or are just seen as a byproduct of the times that Spain had to live. Director Alex de la Iglesia also cares to sprinkle the movie with historical events that are apparently disconnected to the main story -like the assassination of Franco's hard man and presumed heir as the new tyrant, admiral Carrero Blanco- but which I believe serve a function to the main metaphor that this movie is.
The movie starts in 1937, in the heat of the Spanish Civil War. A clown is recruited by force to fight with the Republican side, and manages to slaughter quite a lot of Franco's men. His young son, Javier, is traumatized by the whole event and later, in 1973, we meet him again as the new recruit in a circus, the Sad Clown. He can only be the sad clown because he is sad himself, and cannot make children laugh. They pair him up with the Funny Clown, a ruthless but charismatic man called Sergio, who turns out to be the partner to a beautiful trapeze artist, Natalia. Javi falls in love with Natalia and thus starts a rivalry between the two men for the love of a woman, with unforeseeable consequences.
The narration is so filled with colorful characters, crazy comedy, crazy violence mixed with comedy or with surreal elements, historical references, and an underlying sense of tragicomedy, and it is so excessive and full of surprises, one can't help but keep watching, much as it is over the top in many an occasion. You can enjoy the movie at face value and ride the wave of the story for what it is, but you can also watch this movie as a summary and insight into the recent Spanish history and how Spain seems doomed to always be split in two, similar people, brothers, always rivalling and even hating each other, seemingly beyond reconciliation, connecting episodes of sheer senselessness and absurdity with spine-chilling episodes of hate and violence, and all of it boiling down to a tragedy that you can only laugh at because it makes no sense.
I'm not surprised that Quentin Tarantino himself was so taken with this movie, and I wouldn't be surprised if an adaptation of this movie was made soon in an American context.
The Andromeda Strain (2008)
Good, imaginative and intriguing fun
Adapting literature classics can't be easy, more so when they are decades older, more so when they have been adapted for cinema before. But this "Andromeda Strain" does a good job at telling an attractive, efficient story for modern-day viewers. It isn't perfect, but it fulfills quite a lot of different needs we might have as viewers: a fast-paced story, appealing characters, a mystery, and a story that, while demanding suspension of disbelief for sure, doesn't treat the viewers as stupid.
It starts when an apparent satellite falls in the middle of a plain in Utah and two kids find it and bring it into town. Soon enough everyone has been killed. A top-notch scientist group is summoned by general Mancheck, in charge of the biohazard defense operations, and they find there are two survivors, a baby and a 60-year-old alcoholic. After exploring the now dead town, they will find out they are fighting with something completely new and threatening, which they will call "Andromeda".
I thought they did a good job at keeping the suspense and developing and ending the story in a smart and fulfilling way. It has some loose ends for sure, it gets a bit confusing or tries to comprise too much information in small bits sometimes; and it also has some subplots or secondary characters that could have easily been done without (I didn't find that the character of Jack Nash and his story as intrepid journalist added much), but all in all this is good and quality entertainment. My score is 8/10.
Excellent, full of human depth
"Marchlands" starts as a story with supernatural and mystery elements. It follows three families, each in one different decade -the 60s, the 80s and 2010- who live in the same house at different points. The drama unfolds when a little girl, Alice Bowen, is found dead in a lake, leaving distraught parents, Paul and, especially, Ruth, the mother who cannot let go of the memory of the lost child because she suspects something is left to be explained about her daughter's death. The ghost or presence of the dead little girl seemingly cannot find peace either, as she starts to inhabit the house and keep the mystery alive for all three families who live there.
The ghost or presence of the dead girl will serve as a guiding plot motif as we slowly learn more and more about the circumstances of her death. But "Marchlands" wouldn't be the excellent story that it is if it were just that. The ghost of Alice also serves as a driving element for the non-supernatural part of the drama to develop: how the Bowens cope with the loss of their child, and the several conflicts that arise between the parents as well as with the father's parents; how the 80s family, the Maynards, try to solve their own problems and their declining marriage, especially when their little daughter finds a "secret friend" in the new house whom nobody else can see; and how Shelley and Elliot, the young couple who have just moved in, find new challenges in their relationship as well as within each one.
The human drama is the richest element and the most thought-provoking, but it is, above all, so true and full of emotions and situations that anyone can probably relate to.
A special mention goes to the setting in each of three different years. You can tell that they took great care in making it look and feel as realistic and possible. The 80s setting got my attention most, as it was especially well done down to the least detail.
My score is 10/10.
Jericho Mansions (2003)
Failed indie mystery
"Jericho mansions" is a severely flawed attempt at making a different, independent movie that combined drama and mystery. It is a very weird movie where the weirdness is quite gratuitous, most of the time, and it does not come together nicely at all. The story follows an extremely absent-minded janitor at an apartment building, who is the guiding character and the protagonist; the owner of the building, and old lady who also lives there; and the lessors, who are colorful characters in their own right.
We witness the various interactions among the inhabitants, including the janitor and the landlady. Then suddenly someone is murdered and there is a twofold mystery: one involving the janitor, of whom we know very little and of whom we may wonder why he seems so troubled; and the other involving the murder.
The plot is hard to follow because of the many distractions and pointless scenes along the way. By the time the narration reaches the final revelations, I was already bored by the confusing and very, very slow-paced development and the ending wasn't worth the wait at all.
On the positive side, I will say that I think it was a legit try and not just deliberately pointless imagery all thrown in together. And I also have to say that the setting was very, very well-done and quite mesmerizing, and the Jericho Mansions apartment block had a lot of iconic potential. The color palette is very imaginative and quite gorgeous, and it is very well used.
On the whole, however, I would not recommend watching this.
Starts well, but makes a mess at the end
I think Werewolf Concerto is probably one of the worst episodes of Tales from the Crypt. It starts out really promising, with some of the most appreciated TFTC elements: a dark setting (a little hotel out on the countryside), an appealing premise with a supernatural element (a werewolf has been spotted, and the hotel manager has hired a hunter to chase him down, but said hunter's identity is withheld; we're also told that there have been two murders) and a handful of picturesque, mysterious and comical characters thrown in to play villains, victims, and to throw in red herrings. Among them, the usual very familiar actors that TFTC always features: in this case, Timothy Dalton, and also Beverly D'Angelo.
I was particularly appealed at the Agatha-Christie-like setting and the promise of hidden culprits to unmask, plus the hunt for the werewolf and the mystery hunter. But it seems that the writers didn't know exactly where they wanted to take the story, or how to make the most of the many tools they had at hand. About halfway into the episode, there's a quite out-of-place turn that the plot takes, and it all ends up in what feels like a very rushed denouement. I was quite dissatisfied at this episode, especially because so much could be done. I think TFTC works best when the storyline is more simple and straightforward, which, far from detracting from the fun and the quality, enhances it.
My vote is 2/10.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
A+ action, F- mystery
"Sherlock Holmes" is a nice entertainment movie, if the action+comedy+witty jokes sprinkled around+bits of romance mix is your choice. It is a funny little revision of the classic detective and the whole galaxy of characters around him: Watson, Lestrade, and so on. Holmes is shown here as an athletic and street-smart action hero, but also as a surprisingly erudite person who happens to have the exact piece of information, obscure as it may be, exactly when it's needed (but, on the other hand, that's what we expect from this character in a movie like this!).
The movie is best in the numerous action sequences, in those where Holmes boasts his uncanny deductive gifts and in the dialogues between Holmes and Watson, where their homoerotic chemistry shines in all its glory (another very good point about the movie). Rachel McAdams is the weakest character in the whole movie as Holmes's old flame and female counterpart, although the movie would have been better off without the romantic interest between them, for the reasons mentioned above. Also, the main characters -except for Irene Adler (McAdams)- are quite strong, and well-written.
Where the movie seriously lacks is the mystery part. I absolutely expected some of that, come on, it's Sherlock Holmes! But the suspense-mystery-guessing part is completely missing from this otherwise efficient combo. There is little for the public to guess, and the little bit that is present will only fool the viewers with sparse viewing experience in this genre. If you, like me, went to watch this hoping for some intelligent twist, and a solution that Conan Doyle himself would have envied, then you will be seriously disappointed.
My score is 5/10.
The Number 23 (2007)
23: 'A story of Obsession'
This movie got terrible, terrible reviews, at least where I live, and it all made me even more intrigued to watch it than I would be over any other thriller/mystery movie. After watching it, I am rating it 7/10, although I have to admit it is quite flawed, but in a very interesting, almost fascinating way.
Walter Sparrow is a regular family man, until his wife presents him with a mysterious novel written by one Topsy Kretts, which is entitled "The number 23: a story of obsession". Sparrow becomes effectively obsessed with the story told in it: apparently an autobiography of some mystery person who narrates his childhood, how he became a detective, and the onset and further consequences of his obsession with number 23, which he claims is "persecuting" him. Sparrow's life becomes dominated by his new obsession.
The theme about the doom brought about by number 23 is not as well done as I'd hoped for, which makes it -to me- become an uninteresting anecdote or background motive. The protagonist actually suffers from this obsession and is afraid of the number, somehow, but the movie never succeeds at making us a participant of this feeling of impending doom. (In fact, the movie is quite funny at times.) For me, this is a major flaw in the movie.
Then, it becomes something entirely different: a mysterious film, certainly, where we can follow the protagonist in his torment and his quest to get rid of it, in which he tries different possible solutions while he tries to figure out the identity of the mysterious writer. The movie can be watched as a kind of drama with supernatural or mysterious elements, and I believe that if you watch it from this perspective, you're more likely to enjoy it and find worthwhile qualities in it. Ultimately, I feel that number 23 and its mystical story are the proverbial McGuffin asking us to focus on the character of Walter Sparrow and his story, although this purpose is probably not made clear enough, and the movie seems so flawed because of that.
There are more reasons that make this movie better than average, and they are, first, Jim Carrey's good performance; second, the Lynch-esque, dream-like parts; and, finally, how pretty the film is to look at, with an awesome use of color.
Elena Anaya will break your heart
"Hierro" is definitely worth a watch. It is by no means perfect -it is slow-paced, too slow-paced at times; it has random scenes and seemingly random characters that could have been further exploited; the nightmarish, surreal atmosphere that is hinted at in the first scenes never quite comes to fruition-, but it is a captivating experience for a viewer. Ultimately, what makes this movie a little sea pearl is the depth and the realism of the emotions that it conveys, mostly thanks to a stellar and very inspired Elena Anaya, who deserves every praise as the actress that carries the weight of this drama on her shoulders, and pulls it off masterfully.
In "Hierro", Elena Anaya stars as María, a young mother to 5-year-old Diego. On a ferry journey to the small Canary island of Hierro, Diego vanishes and no trace of him can be found. The first part of the movie is probably the best -we see the young mother whose life is centered around her only son, and then we witness her despair at her loss, and her fruitless attempts at recovering some kind of normalcy. These sequences in particular, with María bordering madness, are especially well-done. One day, María gets a call from the police in Hierro, asking her to return in order to check the identity of a body that could be that of Diego's. Back in Hierro, María will continue her quest for the lost son, in the middle of a desolate -but extremely beautiful- natural setting, and colorful but hostile locals...
While the story doesn't flow as naturally as desired, I never found it hard to follow, nor boring -I was mesmerized by the powerful emotional journey of this mother and for the mysteries that she finds along her way. The ending is very fitting and well-done. The final answer to the young mother's plight and whether it can be predicted or not doesn't matter as much as how she gets there and all the difficulties that she has to surmount, which made this a perdurable story in my mind.
My rating is 8/10.
It's fun and charming with all its flaws
I have rated "Intruder" 7/10, halfway between the mark you'd give a movie that you like and is good, and one you'd give a movie that -like this one- is of very questionable technical quality or perhaps flat-out bad.
"Intruder" is a bad movie. Not terribly bad, but it has very poor acting (with the exception of Dan Hicks, perhaps, who single-handedly makes the movie worth watching even for those who don't especially like slasher flicks), a virtually non-existent plot, most of the characters are mere figurines to be disposed of...
On the other hand, though, there are some serious people behind this project -Sam & Ted Raimi, Scott Spiegel of Evil Dead 2, Lawrence Bender (who would reach a solid status as Quentin Tarantino's producer)...- and the movie is absolutely fun to watch. For example, it is set in a real grocery market, and it shows, because it displays real grocery brands and products from 1989; also, both the products and all the store facilities are used in very, let's say, creative and hilarious ways. The story goes like this: several kids go to work to this market as the night shift crew, and they are informed that it is their last work day there, as the store owners are selling it over. Parallel to this, the blonde scream queen of the show, Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox) is being stalked by an ex-boyfriend. Soon after this, someone starts to kill the crew members...
Like I said, while the plot is really thin and the relationships between the characters don't matter in the least, the movie is just a lot of fun to show, and you can tell that the film-makers had to make do with a very modest budget and what they had at hand. And they did a very fine job, producing some of the best-done kills that I have seen in 80s slasher movies. Also, you can tell that the actors were having fun doing this, and the wooden acting even adds to the charm of the film.
I think a remake, with a higher budget and perhaps a more elaborate plot, would be great, but probably not half as much fun to watch as this. Enjoy!