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Malos hábitos (2007)
Alejandro Iñårritu seems to have a bit of influence over Mexican cinema the last few years which is a shame since he's only made one great film, Amores Perros. For every brilliant young director like Fernando Eimbcke and his masterful, Temporada de Patos, which gives us a wonderful cinematic experience, and a unique perspective of Mexico, we get a dozen directors following Iñårritu and trying to outdo his "cinema of the unpleasant". It's all here, no color, the use of cold blues and greens, ridiculous use of telephoto lenses which scream art! You know your in trouble when the over stylized cinematography has bullied the thin story out of the way. And what little story is here, focuses on the unpleasantness of the human condition, see Iñårritu's 21 Grams or Babel. Highly recommended if you're a sadist. But if you want a pleasant cinematic perspective of Mexico, rent Temporada de Patos or heck, even Zurdo.
Inside the Smiths (2007)
piece of crap
Piece of crap, really. I thought I was getting the definitive account of The Smiths, but as the film began, I began to get a bad feeling right away with the bad morph-dissolve edits in the intro. If there's any band where there's little interest in "the other two", this is it. Most Smiths fans want to see, and hear Morrissey/Marr. (Sorry Andy, and Mike) But Morrissey /Marr aren't in this film. There's no archival footage, no interviews, no concert footage. The photos they do show are the ones we've seen before, and perhaps the biggest crime of all, NO SMITHS MUSIC! Probably because the filmmakers couldn't obtain the rights, among many other things. For a die hard SMITH fan, you could probably get all the info you want on the band from YouTube. It's got all the videos, old live performances, and interviews, making this documentary pointless and a time waster.
Common Senses (2005)
Bad Audio ruins movie with potential
Unwatchable for one reason; Terrible audio. I had to turn it off midway through for this reason. When two people are in a room speaking, and you can only hear one person clearly, but not the other, that's bad. I respect the "independent spirit" and all, but when you can't buy a couple of cheap microphones at Radioshack, you're doing your craft a disservice. That's not being an independent filmmaker with a low budget, that's just being a cheap ass filmmaker. It's a shame because the camera-work was interesting and the actors look like they put up their ends of the bargain. Being able to hear a good quality film is just as important as fancy camera work.
La niña en la piedra (2006)
Excellent beginning, but perplexing ending
I'm not sure what to think of this film. The first 80 minutes or so of the film were perfect and haunting, kind of like a Mexican take on GEORGE WASHINGTON. The film shows a sleepy Mexican village that seems to be decaying and a group of boys that decide to take revenge on a popular school girl. I have to say that the film lost me with the KITTEN'S SCREAM towards the end. Those who see the film will know what I'm talking about, and I got to hear it in full blown surround sound which was not pleasant. It is here that the film takes a turn towards the dark side and it seems that the filmmaker seems to be exploring the themes of the Evil that underlies this small town, similar to what David Lynch did in Blue Velvet. However I was a bit perplexed. Is there something more going on here. The film begins with a mythic image of a father and son discovering an ancient statue of a corn God stuck in the mud and then throwing it into a deep swamp. There seems to be issues of race and class as well. The girl who is victimized is light skinned and the boy who is mistreated and taken advantage of, clearly has Indian features. I was hoping someone would be able to clarify some of the difficult questions this film raises. I also felt that the director let the sound designer get out of control. The first half of the film was perfect and naturalistic, but the sound design became more abstract and disturbing, something which I felt worked counter to the subtle work the cinematographer and the wonderful work the actors were achieving.
Humboldt Park Represents
This is a strong first feature from Marisol Torres depicting several Latino characters during a summer in Chicago's Humboldt Park. The performances are strong particularly the character of Willy as played by Ramses Jimenez. At times reminiscent of DO THE RIGHT THING, the films flaws at times lay with the director chewing off more than she can chew. Some of the characters are fascinating, such as the leech Latino Real estate agent who hustles his own people out of their neighborhoods, but one wishes that these and other characters like the pot smoking college student who falls for a thug, were more fleshed out. Being from Chicago, I thought the film was visually lacking as well. I wanted to see MORE of Humboldt Park and its awesome parks and boulevards, but the film only opens up visually during the parade sequences. Overall, a promising debut for its directors and talented actors and a TRUE CHICAGO film which understands its neighborhoods, unlike the typical Hollywood crap which uses the city for it's Sears Tower backdrop and shoots the rest in Toronto.
Lana's Rain (2002)
Great idea, terrible execution
There was an interesting idea for a film and a great film could have come out of it. It involves a young woman who has fled the violence in Bosnia with her gangster brother to find paradise in Chicago. Once here, they are both disappointed and soon the thuggish brother convinces his sister to prostitute for him to earn a living. There was potential for great tragedy here, and after I saw the film, there were news reports of such slave-prostitution rings involving Eastern European girls run by the mob, being uncovered here and and in New York, so it was a timely subject. However, the director doesn't trust that he has a great story. He resorts to typical shootouts and violence which would be more at home in an Andrew Davis Chicago action picture. Also the film is stylized to a riddiculous MTV/Miami Vice degree, and the horrible soap opera music at every minute of the running time doesn't help. The director seems torn between making a serious 70's style drama like Taxi Driver, and typical action-exploitation pictures. Few directors can pull this off successfully (Walter Hill comes to mind) There's also a romance between Lana and a Chinese American that goes nowhere and could have easily been left on the cutting room floor. It's a shame because the leads hold up their ends and are terrific, particularly the actor who played the brother. He has a bright future in acting.
A masterpiece with one of the greatest film soundtracks of all time.
It's what Speilberg's 1941 could have been. There's only one
director qualified to tackle 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE and
Kusturica is that man. Sign him up, give him 100 million dollars,
and step out of his way, he is worthy.
don't make them like this anymore
Is this film relevent to today's times? Nope. Are the plot twists and
acting realistic? Give me a break. Is this Hitchock's best film?
Probably not, I'd put Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window ahead of it.
What it is though, is a perfect example of the type of film that they
just don't make anymore. The photography is luscious and the
setting(Brazil, without the Brazalians) achieves the feeling of
dreams through the use of fake sets and rear projection and yet
it's completely hypnotic and mesmerizing. I was born in the
seventies and this is the best example of nostalgia for something I
never knew that I can think of . And then there's Grant and
Bergman, possibly the most gorgeous couple in the history of film,
could you imagine what theyre kids what have looked like?,
despite some of Grant's character's subtle misogyny, no doubt
Hitch and Hecht were responsible for that. How gorgeous is
Bergman? A shot of Bergman speaking, while a lock of hair
continues to get stuck in her mouth as she tries to speak, would
have been annoying and distracting had it been any other actress,
but with Bergman it becomes incredibly erotic and fetishistic. Man,
this film makes one wish they lived in the 40's , wore cool suits,
lived in amazing set-like apartments, smoked packs of cigarettes,
drank too much, and looked like Grant and Bergman.
The Pledge (2001)
This film is an all out masterpiece which unfortunately very few
people saw upon it's release. It's also frustrating to see the
Academy throw Academy awards to actors for work that they don't
deserve(Pacino for his Scent of a woman, Nicholson for As Good
as it gets) and not even bother to nominate them when they are
worthy. In my opinion I felt it was a given that he would win the
oscar for this film but he wasn't even nominated! Of course, the
film is dark and disturbing and is reminisent of the great films of
the 70's which might be the reason that Hollywood pussied out. The most stunning surprise is Sean Penn's directing. I've never
seen his other directed films, but I assumed that they would be
pedestrian like every other actor who has tried to direct, but no. On
first viewing, I felt that he was showing off too much with the
camera and editing, but on second viewing, after you get the
stunning ending, you realize that the earlier scenes that were
show-offy weren't, in fact, and fit in perfectly into the psyche of the
character. I can't say enough about this brilliant film, and it was
exciting to see why Jack Nicholson is considered a great actor in
the first place since he seems to phone in most of his
don't believe the hype
Don't believe the hype. This film may have been considered
awesome had it been released 15-20 years ago, but it wasn't,
and much of the film looks like by -the-numbers after having seen
the Superman films, Batman films, and other similiar fare such as
the Rocketeer. It' s one cliche after another, starting with the
terrible score by Danny Elfman which sounds like a reject from the
orginal Batman movie. Aren't there other composers besides John
Williams and Danny Elfman who can bring some originality to
superhero movies and summer blockbusters? Also, we get the
typical montages of a hero discovering his powers and nabbing
crooks in the middle of a jewel heist, yawn. The big set piece of
the film takes place in the middle of New York during a parade
which looks like a setpiece lifted from the original Batman, and the
climatic battle is also yawn inducing. How much did this movie
cost? Why are the two rivals having a climactic battle in an
abandoned warehouse!? Not everthing is bad. Tobey Mcguire
does a fine job as Peter Parker, too bad the excellent Willem
Dafoe wasn't written a more interesting part. Some of the digital
effects are cool, and it was ingenious to have the web shoot out of
Peter's wrist, but overall I expected more from Sam Raimi. I was
expecting some of the warped, cartoonish nuttiness and
excitement he bought to the Evil Dead films or Darkman, however,
he shoots this film downright conservatively. The film has a bland,
uninteresting look that every polished, by the numbers, major
Hollywood film has. Maybe they'll get it right on the second one.
Road Dogz (2002)
The list of problems I had with this film is long, and I agree with many of the comments I've read and heard about the film, that it's unoriginal and a knock-off of Boyz in the Hood, but you know what? Who cares? This film is actually pretty good and has a strong sense of humor to counterbalance it's more serious side. After a half an hour of snickering at some awkward scenes, I gradually began to get hooked, and by the time the powerful climax arrived, the director and the actors had won me over. Sure, the film isn't perfect and some scenes don't work, but rarely do Latinos get 30 million dollars to make their personal films, if given the chance to make films at all. Despite what some people have written about this film, the cinematography is excellent, and so are some of the actors like Jacob Vargas, and the guy who played Gramps is terrifying. The director did a great job with the few resources he had and his heart and passion are evident in every frame. One thing that bothers me, particularly from fellow Latinos, is that they're always ready to knock a film like this by calling it negative, or calling it "typical" or saying things like "not all latinos grew up in the hood". Fine. Make your own movie! If you don't like hood movies don't watch them, but don't knock a filmmaker for making a movie about something he cares about, just like I wouldn't knock Scorcese for making another "gangster picture", or the coen Brothers for making another "film noir" picture. Film is film, and if it's well done I'm ready to give it a shot, regardless of the subject matter.
Puerto Rican Mean Streets
I just saw this at the Chicago Latino Film festival and was blown away. The synopsis compared it to Mean Streets, a generic description that few film fail to live up to, but this one does and no doubt Scorcese himself would be proud. It's explosive, full of raw energy, great ensemble performances between boys and girls that feels more like a documentary than a film, and a love/hate relationship with the big apple who's energy drives the film and justifies the rapid editing. The film explores the relationship between two brother, one, a hardedned ex-con and ladies man, and his little brother, a sweet, innocent kid on his way to college, and one believes, towards a hopeful, succesful future. The brothers are the key to the film and both actors are brilliant, and give powerful, emotional performances without descending into obvious one-dimensionality. There is a scene on a train where the younger brother comes face to face with some thugs, every inner city dwellers nightmare, and it is one of the most suspenseful scenes I've ever seen, loaded with energy and danger. The camera work is very raw, but it is also one of the finest examples of a film being shot on D/V and transfered to film. A great debut and a must see.
¿Quién diablos es Juliette? (1997)
Wonderful, highly original
This is a wonderful, highly original documentary, or is it? I'm not sure whats real or if some parts have been staged, but they depict the lives, dreams and problems of a beautiful Mexican model who is in Cuba shooting a music video and a young local girl who is cast as her sister. The film then shifts focus on the girl and what a girl she is! She's about 13 and can be very innocent and girlish in some scenes, and intelligent beyond her years in other as she speaks her mind in the wonderful Cuban-style gift of gab. Through her eyes we see the poverty that most Cubans endure and learn of the exploitation of children by idiotic foreigners who treat Cuban vacations like a sexual free for all. The girl is one of most powerful protaganist I've seen in a film and one can only hope that she achieves her dreams like those people in films like Hoop Dreams.
What's interesting about the film is the almost surreal tone to the film, using visual gags and free association of images which I found original and funny. Also, the filmmakers made a choice which is one that very few documentary filmmakers make, and that is that they decided to tear down one of the walls, and actually participate in this girls life and try to help her. This if very different from the other films which at times feels like we're being voyeurs on other peoples misery.
La Ciénaga (2001)
talented director, miserable film
On the plus side, the director of this film appears very talented and
is able to capture the perfect essence of heat and decay that
Marquez was always writing about,(oppressive heat, decaying
homes and objects) and this film features a powerful symbol of
modern day Argentine woe; a filthy, rotting swimming pool that no
person in his right mind would enter , and once was a symbol of
upper class status. The film is full of powerful images like these
and creating a mood of despair that most people in Argentine are
no doubt feeling at the moment. However, the film is only one of three films that I've seen that
actually made me nauseous. (The other two were Polyester and
Gummo) The director seems obsessed with decaying images
and wounds. The mother cuts her bosom early on and has
horrible scars, an older son gets his nose busted in a fight, most
of the kids look in need of a serious bath and are full of scabs and
scratches, father walks around drunk and looking like he's about
to barf, animals lie dying in a swamp, and then there's of course
the pool. The director almost seems to have a fetish for rotting
images and bodily scars and wounds. It makes for a most
uncomfortable viewing experience and the director made his point
yet kept piling on the imagery. In this case, I would have liked less
of the gruesome imagery and more humanity
El exilio de Gardel: Tangos (1985)
virtually unknown masterpiece
I saw a print of this film in a Latin American class a few years ago and was blown away." Who was the director?" was my question. It combined elements of Godard, Bertulucci, and the American musical. The images are as stunning as any by Vittorio Storraro and the story is ultimately uplifting and hopeful as it details the lives of Argentine exiles trying to survive and move on with their lives while in exile in Paris. Brilliant , but virtually unavailable in the states. This film needs to be discovered by film lovers and lovers of the tango.
La ville est tranquille (2000)
French cinema on the wrong path
Sigh. Another example of why it's difficult to get excited about French cinema anymore. Ah, for the hey day of the 60's and 70's when masters like Truffaut, Godard, and Rivette were in their prime. This film is structured like the films of Altman and recent films like Magnolia and Amores Peros, where you have many characters and small vignette -like scenes. The filmmaker shows us the lives of several "poor" characters who have reached the point of despair. I use quotations because I don't really believe that the filmmakers are interested in showing us how poor people really live, but are more interested in their leftist propaganda and blaming the usual culprits; capitalism, globalism, the U.S., for the fall of French culture. It sparks an interesting dillema. The characters yearn for the days of French comradarie of old and yet France is changing with the influx of immigration. The "poor" in this film are treated like freaks that wouldn't be out of place in a Fellini or David Lynch film. SPOILERS AHEAD. What kind of film has a character who loves her daughter so much, that she prostitutes herself to earn the money to pay for her heroin habit. The daughter is a nasty little creature who sweats and cries for her fix with no human qualities whatsover. The mother is completely locked in her despair and miserable, and her husband is a racist lout who shouts and looks in need of a bath. Heaven forbid that they include a scene that shows the "poor" actually smiling or enjoying a little something of life together. But, no. That's not the point of the director. He wants you to see what a miserable lot the lower classes are and how they're on a downward spiral of despair thanks to globalism. I don't dislike bleak films. I loved Requiem for a Dream and Naked. But those films took the time to let you know the characters. In this film, it's as if the director created a High concepet social realist film, not unlike Die Hard. "How do we make the film PROVACATIVE? Let's have junkies and whores who sell their bodies to support their junkie children!" Don't even get me started on the absurd plot involving the young black ex-con and the upper class white woman which is an insult to both races. Another example of "Let's be provacative", but ending up with nothing to say about these characters or race in general. And of course, the black kid dies, because he has to. Somebody has to pay for the woes of the world. French cinema is on the wrong path, as examplified by last years equally disgusting La Humanite. At least Godard is still alive and kicking.
Ultimo tango a Parigi (1972)
Though time has blunted it's controversy, and the film is best know for its sexual excess (the butter scene) this remains a powerful viewing experience almost 30 years later. If anyone wants to know why Brando was considered one of the greatest actors, should see his performance here. It's probably the last great performance he gave. Vittorio Storraro's photography is gorgeous, playing with the cold Paris light and warm interiors that Kubrick would perfect later in Eyes Wide Shut. I've noticed that this film has been neglected by critics and pundits in the last 10 years. It remains one of the great films on the mysteries of love, how we love what we cannot understand , or have, and in a moment, it is gone,
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Spike Jonze has to be one of the most overrated film/video
directors in history. It seems everything he directs(commercials,videos) is considered "brilliant". I found his
videos for Weezer and the Beastie Boys entertaining but Orson
Welles, he is not. I remember everyone saying Being John
Malkovich was a masterpiece. I found the first 30 minutes
hilariously, but then gradually the characters grew more and more
weird and unlikable and the story just falls apart into a muddled
mess. I admire original filmmakers. Terry Gilliam and Luis
Bunuel are among my favorites. But just because it's original
doesn't mean it's good.
Beat Street (1984)
Masterpiece of 80's nostalgia
Cinematically, this film stinks. So does a lot of the acting. But I
don't care. If there is a strong representation of what the 80's were
like(For a lot of us in the innercity anyways) and what hip-hop, Zulu
nation, and break dancing were really like.Great music, great
dancing! It almost seems like a documentary of a time now past
when hip-hop was a way of life. It's also interesting to see New
York looking like ground zero from a nuclear attack. Some viewers
may be too young to remember that It was a poor, run down city
during the 70's and 80's. This is the best of all the hip-hop/break
dancing movies that came out around that period. Of course the
80's are considered a joke now with all the bad tv shows and
movies, but those of us who lived through it will always remember
it fondly for a time when music, dancing, and graffiti were fresh, yo!
Running Scared (1986)
terrible Chicago film
Sometimes there's a film so bad that you just keep watching in awe. This is one of those films. Of course I can't help that I'm biased. I'm from Chicago so I watched the scenes closely for accuracy and I don't find Billy Crystal funny at all. And I can't stand all that English style photography(Tony Scott etc) with the smoke machine working overtime and all the flourecent, soft lighting. I suppose we're supposed to believe that Billy Crystal is really from Chicago because he wears a Cubs jersey. Oh and the plot. If you really think about it, these guys should be locked up, not the bad guys, since they're more dangerous. And of course there's the cliché of the cops on the verge of retiring. But the funniest scene is the climax where the good and bad guys machine gun other to death in The Thompson Center(A state building!) Of course it's a cool building, but it's the equivalent of making a huge drug deal at the White house.
Los olvidados (1950)
one of the all time greats
I just saw this at the local art house theatre and I realized that I've never seen a decent print of this masterpiece which ranks alongside Citizen Kane and the Bicycle Thieves as the greatest film ever made. What a shame? I'm waiting for Criterion or somebody to restore it and give it the respect it so rightfully deserves.
However, watching butchered, scratched prints with a muddy soundtrack has given the film a charm and personality. It's as dirty and grungy as the story it is telling.
This film is perfect. It's the closest thing to artistic TRUTH that I've seen. And yes the characters are rotten but they break your heart. Just when you think Jaibo is one of the screens greatest villains, he tells a story about being abandened as a child, and seeing the beautiful face of a woman who looked like a saint who may or may not have been his mother. Powerful stuff. Never have I seen a more relentless and brutal film. It never shys away from the truth and try to sugar coat it. All the kids are complex. They're neither innocents or devils. The story of troubled youth and urban violence have been told countless of times, but this is the real deal and the measuring stick for all.
Ripstein a match for Marquez's genius
What is it about Marquez that his films have failed to capture the beauty, magic and wonder of his stories? It seems like the guy writes a script out of everything, even his laundry list. Of course the best thing he's ever written will probably never make it to the screen(One hundred years of Solitude). The only other film that's noteworthy was The Summer of Ms. Forbes. Until now. It was about time that a great auteur took a crack at a Marquez Story and Ripstein is the genius to do it.(Tiempo De Morir was okay, but he was 21 when he made it and not yet a great film maker. Ripstein has crafted a wonderful, moving, luscious story out of "No one writes to the Colonel", a story that I questioned could be made into an engaging film. (Here we go again, a town where nothing happens, it's always hot and time moves painfully slow) Of course it doesn't mean the film has to bore you to death, and Ripstein captures the elements mentioned above and still makes it compelling and captures the immense sadness and social injustice in the story. The music is compelling as well by the American composer Mansfield, of Heaven's Gate.
Drive by (2002)
gritty coming of age story
An impressive debut. This is a coming of age film about a young teen boy growing up in the rough streets of Chicago. His older brother is the local gang leader and drug dealer and the boy is both horrified and fascinated by the "hood " life style.
the film has it's problems. The editing and structure of the story are odd and a bit off, and the performances are a mixed bag. Felipe Camacho who plays the gang leader and Mario Acosta as the boy provide the best performances. Felipe is intense and well schooled in the school of Brando method acting, and the young Mario is the opposite:fresh faced, innocent and gentle. The rest of the performances range from decent to bad, but what do you expect from a film that cost peanuts. Yet ,with an extremely low budget(Blair witch was Titanic compared to this), director Frausto provides a film that looks like a million bucks. What's also impressive is the ambition. There are over 30 speaking parts and at times resembles Altman in the hood. The story has an almost epic sweep to it that one wishes he had the budget and opportunity to make it the 120-140 minute running time this story deserved. In the end, it's a fine film. The flaws are apparent, but so is the passion, love and brutality of life in the streets. It's also great, that it was shot in the gritty streets of Chicago, and has a midwest style all it's own. If I see another L.A. "Hey HOlmes!" film I'm going to scream. Also, Frausto is unfraid of the realities of life in the Hispanic barrio. He's unafraid to show you the truth unlike some elitist Latino circles in Los Angeles. Case in point, check out American Family on PBS. If you liked Mean Streets or Boys in the Hood, you'll enjoy this. And I look forward to the bright future of it's director, Juan J. Frausto, and some of the talented, still unkown actors.