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The Future of the Future
5 October 2017
"Blade Runner 2049" is before anything else, an astonishing technical achievement and it should be celebrated for that alone. It is also a bold continuation to the story and the mystique of the original Blade Runner film directed by Ridley Scott in 1982. The main difference consisting in the fact that this new movie is heavier in the cyberpunk element and lighter in the classic noir component (I would argue 2049 is more of a thriller). I would assume Hamptom Fancher has read both Philip K. Dick and William Gibson in equal measure in order to find inspiration for the story, which also reminded me "Children of Men" in its humanism. In this film the line between human, replicant and A.I. is blurred to the extreme, to the point that after everything has been said and done, you might be left wondering if there had been actually any human in this movie at all. I won't say that this is the case, but it would give you an idea of how deep this movie delves into the allegorical and speculative implications of the basic concept of an artificial being who can actually be convinced that he is "real" and maybe the other way around. This is a long film, but the world building is so fascinating and realistic that you don't really mind the characters and camera lingering a little bit too much along urban landscapes and dilapidated buildings. The script has some problems in the form of excessive exposition and over explanation, but Dennis Villeneuve's direction is so assured that he manages to overcome these problems with the sheer power of his cinematographic language end emotional punch. The ending is appropriately ambiguous and bleak, and is open to discussion and interpretation. For sure a movie that needs more than one vision in order to fully appreciate every nuance and artistic stroke.
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It (I) (2017)
A love letter to the Stephen King oeuvre and an unforgettable and magical cinematic experience
7 September 2017
The hype is a killer, but this movie knocked out of the park nevertheless. People who are saying that this film is not scary have no idea what they are talking about or must be too used to the usual tropes of horror movies of late. This is one of the most unrelenting, upsetting and nastiest (in a good way) children centered movies to ever make it to the big screen. This is HARDCORE Stephen King, with a memorable villain at its center (mesmerizing Bill Skarsgard performance) and a group of kids fighting demons (supernatural and the others) and grappling to figure out the inner workings of social life, learning about solidarity, facing the ugly facts of life and even becoming murderous under certain circumstances, while adults remain scary caricatures in the best Roal Dahl tradition. In more that one way, this is the definitive thesis in fear. You meet the characters through those specific things that they dread the most, and all these fears form a rosary that starts swirling around this enigmatic figure of a deranged clown who "feasts on their flesh and feeds on their fear". Director Andres Muschietti does such a sterling work in highlighting the best of Stephen King prose here that is surely going to bring a tear to the eye of the most devote readers. He takes licenses too, and even make bold choices like the use of the 80's soundtrack which I found exhilarating at times, or the source of blissful release in moments when the dread sank too heavy upon my chest. This is a visceral experience that must be experienced on the big screen but be prepared to have your senses assaulted!. I was riveted, and only at the beginning of the 3rd act the film's momentum seemed to wane slightly, but by the time the character of Beverly wakes up the movie grabbed me again by the throat. Muschietti conjures some seriously unsettling imagery helped by a cgi has an abstract quality to it, like the over-sized Pennywise in one hell of a scene that got the whole audience gasping, or a Modigliani painting come to life; the musical score is also brilliant, as it is the sound design. I feel this movie will be a landmark, for sure is going to be embraced by a new generation and I cannot wait to see the next installment.
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Madre (II) (2016)
Beware: Asian immigrants will steal your children
10 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has a very interesting premise that promises to give a different spin to the "expectant mother psychological thriller". In this case, the mother in question is also the caretaker of her son, who suffers from one of those severe cases of autism that require extreme measures, like the use of restraints. The unpleasantness of her daily routine with the boy is taking a toll with nerves of the poor woman, and on top of that the possibly unfaithful husband is abroad almost most of the time. Things seems to get better when the protagonist hires a Filipino immigrant, Luz, a woman who claims she was able to "cure" her own son from autism. She moves in, and soon creates a bond with the child that, while improving his condition, seems to displace and alienate the real mom. The first 40 minutes or so are pretty decent, a realistic an unnerving depiction of a domestic nightmare. Acting is good as well from both actors playing mother and son. However, when the character of the Filipino nanny is introduced, in a move that seems intriguing at first while you try to figure out the new plot dynamics, the director and writer start to introduce heavy handed racial stereotypes and plot points that transform the whole enterprise in an anachronistic potboiler akin to nazi propaganda. You get basically a posh family pit against Asian immigrants who rudely speak their own language in from of them, practice strange rituals, sow discord, steal their children and, yes, kill dogs too. The clear xenophobic message is pushed even further with a shot of the national flag near the end. Unfortunately this movie proves that, as of 2017, xenophobia is already a global movement.
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A dive into the heart of darkness
20 May 2017
Let me start by saying that it is my opinion that, despite including xenomorphs, this movie belongs less to the Alien universe than "Prometheus". I guess Ridley finally indulged himself and shot his "Paradise Lost" project, he just didn't tell us. "Alien: Covenant" is a strangely distant film where there is a fundamental disconnection from the human characters and the action from let go. Whoever told you that this is an immersive experience has been lying to you. The actors seem awkward most of the time and they are allowed very few moments of sincerity by the poorly written script. Or maybe it is a calculated albeit misguided move intended to infuse a misanthropic feel to the whole enterprise. The second act, populated by ghoulish creatures that appear to have emerged from Goya and Hieronymous Bosch's paintings, includes several references to the director's masterpiece "Blade Runner", and it is there where Ridley Scott's craftsmanship really shines. The dynamics of the characters' interactions in this second act have some dream logic to them that works wonders, fueled by the pictorial and literary references. This is the heart of the movie, which blends superstition and technology in a rather puzzling way, depicting an imaginary realm where androids think and talk beautifully, but rather irrationally, and where common sense inquiries from their human counterparts are frequently scrapped for no apparent reason other than expediting a sudden demise. Like in "Prometheus", once again, several circumstances that precede the action of the film are deliberately obscured, either by omission or by way of an unreliable narrator, keeping the motivations of the main character an enigma. Then then the third act arrives and it is a convoluted mess. You are confused in the same way as when you move from one dream to the next in the course of one single night. You've been watching something close to a Ken Russell film, which turns briefly into a Michael Bay one. Daniels switches modes from teary widow to fierceless heroine, we have no idea how she comes up with her plan to fight the alien because she actually hasn't seen it yet or knows what it is capable of. The second encounter with yet another beast is another anticlimactic head scratcher, followed by the telegraphed ending, that sets up for a sequel which promises more of a hitleresque Fassbender running his human farm. This movie truly is a dive into the heart of darkness and it is unclear how the franchise will emerge (if it does) from such an experimental and likely unpopular digression into more familiar terrain.
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Life (I) (2017)
A good visual spectacle with a derivative story that it works in its own smaller terms
24 March 2017
I recently re watched this film and I must admit it holds up much better than other recent sci-fi pics like "Alien: Covenant". I cannot have enough of space movies: that is the perfect realm to have a bunch of characters faced with the unknown, to reflect on the fragility of the human condition within the grand scheme of the universe, and our limitations in understanding how we fit in it. The discovery of extraterrestrial life would be probably the most poignant ever, raising a myriad of mind boggling questions and yet movies like this insist on taking the most predictable road around it. The one that leads to just another survival endurance test with lots of cgi blood and an undistinguished monster in the middle of it all. Hollywood really has a knack for making the unknown look so familiar I have to say. However, if you can come to terms with the fact that not all movies need to have the ambition of "2001: An Space Odyssey", you might end up enjoying this flick quite a bit. The film starts by hitting some high notes courtesy of the production design and special effects departments, and with the introduction of some very interesting character bits. The story hints early at one of its possible themes, through Jake Gyllenhaal's character: the notion that maybe, to be able to function in space, one would need to be some sort of social outcast, incapable of being able to connect with people on Earth anymore. But this theme is dropped soon enough, and even as a source of suspense, it is downplayed later on in the movie to the gain of mere mayhem. "Life" should have stayed on the path of a science procedural in space, in the vein of "The Andromeda Strain", but probably the screenwriters haven't read enough grown up sci-fi literature to go that way, and it wouldn't have been a "commercial" enough of a choice to grant the big budget. From the entertainment standpoint, the film delivers a couple of good set pieces at the beginning and a surprising and thrilling first death, but then the story settles for the survival fight. I found the alien design and its behavior to be rather to be rather goofy (some of which seems to belong more to Disney's "Flubber" than to a space horror); however, its slushy nature and ability to squeeze in and out of the spaceship contributes to the suspense of many scenes. This is overall a good looking movie with a decent, admittedly tense first half, a rather muddled second act and a twist ending that is B movie gold.
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Get Out (I) (2017)
A deliciously wry slice of cinematic paranoia served with a side of cathartic humor
25 February 2017
I was totally blown away by "Get Out". This is one of the best turns by an actor behind the camera I have ever seen (Jordan Peele). Probably the timely social commentary is going to loom heavily when discussing the film; however this shouldn't conceal the fact that this is a masterclass cinematic work that has been thought out to the very last detail; it knows what it wants to say and how to say it, balancing wildly contrasting tones and defeating potential clichés with stylistic bravura. Of course everything stems from a rock solid script, where the plot points are cunningly engineered, and then fleshed out in a disciplined and take no prisoners kind of way. There is much to admire and enjoy here, including some surreal imagery that is as stunning as it is disturbing, always serving a purpose within the narrative; there are also brilliant soundtrack choices and you get subtle nods at the masters that came before (Kubrick and Wes Craven, specially). The plot involves one of those frequently visited "fish out of the water" type of settings where it's up to the director to make the most out of it. Which fortunately is the case here, since you get plenty of real character development and a tight, innuendo ridden dialogue that really gets under your skin. All this, together with the inspired camera work, contributes to the success of this tricky enterprise as a whole. Kudos to all the actors for going all the way with the provocative premise, considering that it could have totally backfired in less confident hands. Everything amounts to a deliciously wry slice of cinematic paranoia served with a side of cathartic humor that appropriately reflects the political times we are living in. And make no mistake, this is a true horror film that refuses to pull any punches; if you thought that Peele was just going for the laughs and the cheap scares you will get more than you bargained for. "Get out" will shock you silly and will make you think. Then you will want to watch it again and try to figure out how he pulled the trick.
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The Remains (I) (2016)
Give this one a chance
8 August 2016
This movie is not half as bad as the early user ratings may suggest. It is also by no means perfect, and my rating is only a way to help the flick get at least into the safety zone of 4 plus stars, because to be honest I rarely give a anything under 4 a chance. This movie is all about the location, a Victorian house that "welcomes" its new occupants, a widower and his three kids, a very dysfunctional foursome, specially the teenage and the pre-teen daughters. The acting is decent, the camera work is very proficient and there are a couple of jump scare moments that make the film qualify as horror, as maestro Mario Bava used to say. Detractors may claim that the director ripped off the Amittyville Horror and The Shining in equal parts, I would say he lovingly paid homage to those horror staples. Plot holes aside, I enjoyed this old fashioned ghost story to a considerable extent.
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Anomalisa (2015)
Existential cartoon with dazzling animation leaves a lingering feeling of deja vu
1 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I had a feeling of deja vu as I was watching Anomalisa, then I remembered seeing the almost universally reviled Neil La Bute film "Dirty Weekend", which I saw not in its entirety but enough to recognize one too many coincidences. Middle aged man on a business trip?: check; chat with an intrusive cab driver?: check; recommendation from the aforementioned cab driver of a toy store that turns out to be a sex toy store: check; interaction with a much younger female character?: check. Probably Neil La Bute thought an explicit sex scene would be too creepy given the age difference, restraint that Kaufman did not have (these are just toons, aren't they?) Well, I still feel that I need to re-watch Anomalisa, even though I think the philosophical wrap up came a little too late into the movie which is burdened by a lot of flat dialogue. I can easily see someone getting sued over copyright infringement here. Or maybe it's that we all live inside of Philip Kaufman's head and Dirty Weekend and Anomalisa are the same movie because Being John Malcovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are the only unique ones.
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I am not feeling the force here
18 December 2015
If it is true that with the prequels George Lucas raped our childhood, with The Force Awakens Disney and JJ Abrams slew it and then had sex with its corpse. It is all very competent technically, but the plot is so goofy and over the top that anybody trying to make a spoof out of it will fail miserably. Rather than bringing anything new to the table, the film is more interested in mapping a "new" canon for gender and racial diversity politics that seem totally forced not to mention unnecessary in a galaxy far far away; among its other major sins it also introduces a rotten third act reveal, a lame send-off of a beloved character and a ridiculous cliffhanger of an ending that could qualify one certain actor for the briefest Razzie award worthy performance on record.
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Europa Report (2013)
Left field space travel flick with good science for a change
27 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a phenomenal sci-fi movie with a realistic approach to what it would be like to send a manned spaceship into the outer solar system, most precisely Jupiter's moon Europa, known for having an ice crust beneath which scientists suspect exists liquid water, maybe even an ocean. Six astronauts (four men and two women) make the team of the expedition; these knowledgeable fellows unlike those from some much bigger and dumber examples of the genre of recent memory. In their mission they will encounter many dangers being radiation one of the most deadly, and they will take sometimes calculated risks, some other times crazy ones because there is no other choice. Do not get fooled by the fact that the movie chooses the found footage format to tell the story of these brave souls: this is nothing like Apollo XVIII; this is more like "2001" and "Sunshine", with an atmosphere of mounting dread and eerie cosmic landscapes reminiscent of "Alien", alternating between the claustrophobic, the agoraphobic and the awe inspiring. The narration or I should say "assemblage" of short circuit video and spacesuits' helmets feeds is tight, and the film is so well crafted technically, that you get the impression you've been watching real footage from NASA; there are also a handful of genuinely jaw dropping sequences, like the landing on the title moon (accentuated by an intense musical score), terrific weightless scenes and a terrifying "plumbing" accident towards the end of the movie. Overall, it is a great genre achievement that will leave you wishing you could get the chance to explore the arcane mysteries of space yourself, in spite of knowing so well that you might end up like the proverbial moth that is mesmerized by the light of the burning flame.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
Perlas a los cerdos
13 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Prometheus" es una cinta que parte de un concepto interesante pero que tiene una agenda tan variada que le resulta imposible satisfacer todas y cada una de ellas. Lo que es más, la coexistencia de estos temas tan diversos produce unos problemas de tono muy difíciles de soslayar. Digamos que profundas reflexiones sobre la creación y la naturaleza del alma no se llevan muy bien con monstruos que parecen salidos de "20.000 Leguas de Viaje Submarino." Si a esto agregamos una dosis de ambigüedad basada en escatimar información vital para entender algunas de las acciones emprendidas por los protagonistas, en ausencia de la cual es fácil concluir que se trata de unos actos completamente ilógicos, nos encontramos ante un seguro vehículo para la controversia, donde algunos fans completarán los elementos faltantes con teorías levantadas de los foros de discusión y de los videos virales, y otros se rendirán concluyendo que se trata de un problema falta de claridad expositiva del guión. Me inclino por lo segundo: no creo que un filme deba retro-alimentarse de la información de cualquier otro medio, ni siquiera de otros exponentes de la franquicia de "Alien." El filme en si mismo debe contener todas las pistas para entenderlo. En este aspecto "Prometheus" gana algunos puntos en su planteo inicial, a través del cual consigue apartarse lo suficiente del universo de "Alien" como para poder sostenerse en sus propios cimientos, pero pronto va perdiendo estos puntos a medida que se acumulan cabos sueltos que solo una secuela (o dos) podrían conectar. Es decir, "Prometheus" no está tan en deuda con el pasado de "Alien" como con el futuro de una nueva saga. Es un signo de los tiempos que corren, donde secuelas y reboots dominan el mercado y sus creadores crean arcos narrativos que solo se completan, con suerte, en la próxima entrega. No es que "Prometheus" no tenga sus placeres. En realidad, como entretenimiento, es un filme que tiene muy pocas fallas. Como espectador uno puede sentirse frustrado, pero nunca aburrido. Evidentemente, es un filme construido en torno a un puñado de escenas centrales muy efectivas, a excepción quizás de una que involucra a un mutante atacando a la tripulación, episodio cuya única función parece haber sido la de elevar el conteo de víctimas. El look decididamente retro de la cinta es otro de los aspectos que disfruté grandemente, un estilo no necesariamente inspirado en la iconografía del "Alien" original, sino en obras de culto como "El Planeta de los Vampiros" de Mario Bava, "El Planeta Prohibido" de Fred M. Wilcox, y por supuesto "2001: Una Odisea espacial" de Stanley Kubrick, cuya secuencia inicial cumple un papel muy similar a la de "Prometheus"; el cuarto de Weyland, asimismo, recuerda sobremanera al del astronauta envejecido en aquella cinta. Igualmente descollante me pareció el arte conceptual de los Ingenieros: su sola presencia resulta más evocadora que cualquier descripción que los guionistas pudieran haber imaginado: su aspecto nos recuerda a los arquetipos de belleza y poderío viril, usualmente asociados a la noción de un Creador, plasmados en el arte desde los tiempos más remotos, sugiriendo que quizá éstos no fueran tan sólo una sublimación de un ideal, sino el reflejo de un modelo real. Mientras veía "Prometheus," especialmente cuando algún personaje espetaba alguna linea de diálogo particularmente anodina, no podía evitar sentir que entre los miembros de la tripulación faltaba un filósofo, quizás un personaje del tipo del Doctor Spock; alguien que pudiera hacer una interpretación erudita de los acontecimientos; trazar analogías; sopesar la trascendencia de un encuentro entre creador y criatura como el planteado en el filme. Pero ninguno de los caracteres estuvo a la altura del desafío. Shaw, la protagonista, por cierto estuvo equivocada a lo largo de todo el film, y David, si bien podría ser un buen filósofo, escondió tan bien sus motivaciones que su aporte en este sentido sólo se limitó a algunos comentarios sarcásticos. Es como dicen: "Perlas a los cerdos"
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
Pearls Before Swine
13 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Prometheus" is a film born of an interesting idea but with an agenda so varied that it cannot possibly fulfill each and every one of its interests. Moreover, the coexistence of these very diverse themes results in some serious problems of tone which are very difficult to ignore. Let's just say that rather poignant musings on the creation of man and the nature of the soul do not get along very well with monsters straight out of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." And if we add an element of ambiguity that stems from sparing vital information for understanding some of the actions of the protagonists, in the absence of which it is easy to assume that these are a completely illogical acts, we have a sure shot for controversy , where some fans will complete the missing elements with theories lifted from the discussion forums and viral videos, and other will give up concluding that it's just the screenplay's expository problems. I personally favor the latter: I do not think a film should retro-feed information from any other medium, or even from other entries in the "Alien" franchise. The film itself should contain all the clues to explain itself. In this regard, "Prometheus" wins some points for its first half, during which it sets itself apart from the universe of "Alien", putting enough distance to it, so it is actually able to stand on its own foundations. Unfortunately, soon enough it starts losing these points, as it piles up the type of loose ends that only a sequel (or two) could mend. That is to say, "Prometheus" is not so much indebted to the past of "Alien" as it is to the future of a new saga. It is a sign of the times, where sequels and reboots dominate the market and its creators conceive narrative arcs that only close in a next installment (box office returns permit). Not that "Prometheus" does not have its pleasures. In fact, as entertainment, it is a film that has very few flaws. As a spectator you can feel frustrated, but never bored. Obviously, it is a film built around a handful of very effective set pieces, except perhaps one involving a mutant attacking the crew, an episode whose sole function seems to have been to raise the body-count. The decidedly retro look of the movie is another aspect that I enjoyed greatly, a style not necessarily inspired by the iconography of the original "Alien", but by cult films like Mario Bavas's "Planet of the Vampires" , Fred M. Wilcox's "Forbidden Planet", and of course Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", which opening sequence plays a similar role to that of "Prometheus"; Weyland's room also strongly reminds the aging astronaut's quarters in that film. Equally outstanding is the conceptual art for the Engineers: their silent presence is more evocative than any description the writers could have come up with: their appearance is reminiscent of the archetypes of beauty and virile power reflected in art from ancient times, usually associated with the notion of a Creator, suggesting that perhaps these were not just a sublimation of an ideal, but a reflection of a real model. As for the acting, just one word: Fassbender (he eats the movie, stealing every scene he is in). While watching "Prometheus," especially when a character was delivering a particularly bland line of dialog, I could not help feeling that the crew of the starship were in desperate need of a philosopher. Maybe a Dr. Spock type of character: someone who could make an erudite interpretation of the events; an intellect capable of drawing analogies; of weighing the significance and consequences of the encounter between Creator and creature as featured in the film. None of the characters lived up to the challenge. Shaw, the protagonist, was admittedly wrong throughout the whole film (not an example of clear mind for sure), and David, although might have been a good philosopher, hid his motivations so well that his contribution to this effect was limited to only a few sarcastic remarks. Pearls before swine, as they say...

My score: 7/10
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Not to be confused with a documentary
25 January 2012
What was the Academy thinking? Nominate this and snub The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, Living In The Material World and Project Nim?? I am not even sure this qualifies as a documentary at all. It feels as fake as your average MTV reality show. Some vignettes about the interaction of the US forces and the afghan villagers are revealing enough, but the rest is pure manipulation. There are even moments that may provoke unintended laughs; that is what generally happens when you try to get a "dramatic performance" from non actors. I believe the whole project is a very misguided attempt at portraying the harrowing effects of war in the bodies and psyche of soldiers. It would have been much better as a biopic given the director obvious penchant for giving the facts a little extra boost though cinematic techniques more commonly associated to fiction. I hope the Oscar in this category goes to Paradise Lost: Purgatory or even to Pina.
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