RResende

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A Rainy Day in New York
(2019)

the movie(s), the actor, the writer
Each movie by Woody Allen (good or bad) has always some sort of layered thought about cinema and the process of writing. All of them are meta-films, in each we find tokens and signs to follow. In Annie Hall it was the idea to approach a narrative from multiple points of view, and that's why we have Alvey speaking directly to the camera, his childhood in flashbacks, tv shows (inside the movie) and even an animated sequence. In Stardust Memories we have the idea (Fellini style) of wiping out the line between the reality and fiction of the character inside the greater fiction that is the film itself. And so on... In each film we can look for and find ideas of this kind. The interesting thing about this Rainy Day... is that these issues are specially explicit. There is a narrative split between two characters, each searching for their own film:

The boy enters a genre movie (thus the literal references to films that belong to a certain collective cinematic memory). The first thing that he does when he finds himself alone is to act in a movie! The romance between his and Selena Gómez's character literally starts at a movie set (a set inside the set of the film we are watching). His character's name is Gatsby Welles - two direct references to a writer and a director. This character IS an actor even if he denies it - he builds his role as the negative of the role his mother pretends him to play. He even buys props like the cigarette holder. He is a pianist, who dreams of playing jazz.

The girl, on the other hand, searches for and writes (quite literally also) her own film, through the meetings (more or less accidental) with, no more no less, than a director, a (script) writer and an actor. She enters their stories, and becomes their center. She feeds on them and writes her own story, as she rewrites everyone else's. The joke is not on her, but on the three men with whom she crosses paths. Each one is a cliché, a stock character like those Woody so many times uses (a probably unintentional wink is that Liev Schreiber, who plays the director, already played Orson Welles in another movie).

There's a poignant scene, near the end, when the apparently frigid and superficial Mother reveals a past that completely overwhelms the idea that the had on the obscurity of his life versus the shallowness of the University where his parents have him studying. The dramatic twist is the idea that the mother has walked down the road the sun wants to trail, she has had the life that he wishes. The mother is the most powerful character. She lived what he can only act.

The end, that Chamalet and Gómez's characters admit to be taken out of a (well known) romantic movie, is so obviously artificial that we know that it can only belong to a movie, not to a real life. It closes the story of the two main characters in a dramatic way, where he will live his movie and she goes on to, presumably, write others'.

Dolor y gloria
(2019)

the next (previous) chapter
It was not planned but i watched 8 1/2 again just about a week ago. I like self-reference, i like layers, i love it when those layers mean something. Usually that meaning comes through auto-biographical self-reflexion.

Almodóvar is now entering that stage when he no longer seeks inspiration, but simply uses his life, and uses it as cinema. Memory and life as the layers for the film. I suppose you can come to this film, it being your very first Almodóvar, and take something from it. But if you know where he comes from, it all makes so much sense. I don't mean the biographical facts, those are obvious and pretty easy to read, even if you don't know anything about him. I mean the cinematic journey, of which this is yet another chapter.

So again we have the unfolding of a story, in the context of other stories. In the journey we get many sorts of self-reflective devices to pull us into the thing:

We begin without a story. The director has no desire, can't write, falls into drug abuse and replaces his lust for life and film for his lust for drugs. He cannot direct, he cannot write. The actor who was a part of an old film (and himself once burnt out by drugs) now performs a monologue anonymously and previously written by the director. That performance and inadvertently allows an old lover (about whose relation the monolog was about) to find him, and that fleeting meeting puts a final chapter to that story. The director finds the will to through drugs away, as his desire is renewed, and he has the strength to revisit his life, and write about it. We visit his past, his love for his mother, his (unexisting) relation to his father, his youth sexual desires and urges. In a somewhat mechanical but apt ending, the fourth wall is broken, and we find out that the memories we visited were literally the film the director wrote after he left drugs. I wish that after we saw the sound girl and the illusion broke, that someone would call Penélope by her name, and the director was no longer Banderas, but Almodóvar himself. But i can imagine that would be crossing some lines he wasn't ready to cross.

This film is a meaningful journey to a valuable soul. I think you should watch it.

Corrupção
(2007)

the ghost-director
Irony has often strange ways to show and give meaning even to a terrible and dishonest film like this one.

The story is that the former lover of the president of a football team (FC.Porto) becomes estranged from him and decides to write a book denouncing alleged sports corruption and gangster type behaviour from that president's administration during the years she was with him. In a country like Portugal where maybe more than half the football fans support the opponent, usually loosing football club (Benfica), this had the potential to sell (books, film tickets, whatever...). The former lover teams up with a ghost-writer who's also a sport's journalist who passionately supports Benfica. The book comes out and they decide in the meanwhile to make a movie based on it. Depending on who you ask the purposes are threefold: money and revenge for the former lover, trying to invert to stop the winning streak of FC.Porto (the writer) and money (the producer who came along).

Caught in the middle of this is Botelho, married to the ghost-writer. He is a relatively talentless director, but he usually tries to make real cinema. But the combination here was to explosive for him, he was too much outside his element. So in the end he (and his writer wife) become estranged from the producer and neglect the film. Apparently the director alleges some difference of opinion regarding soundtrack (he wanted classical and jazz, the producer wanted contemporary pop).

Anyway, what i got to watch, streamed and forgotten in youtube, is a total mess: Botelho uses the Oliveira blocking (static shots, people facing the camera while having a dialogue etc.) to tell a sleazy story and that isn't even good sleaze. The sexy scenes are not sexy enough, nor even good exploitation, the dialogue is mediocre and so on. But mostly the film is dishonest. A number of characters are bad, very bad, the others are good very good. Everybody (even Breyner) is absolutely lost in this mess. The idea print an idea in people's heads (the president is bad and corrupt that's why his team wins, all the other people are good). They even change the origin of the woman (from Brazilian to Porto accent Portuguese) to avoid the predictable prejudice the Portuguese average viewer might have towards Brazilians. And the final dishonesty is a scene when Sofia is meeting her book editor: behind her are a number of photos of famous Portuguese writers and in a certain shot you get her head in medium close up mimicking the head of Florbela Espanca, seen in the background. For a director who prides himself to adapt to the screen the biggest writers in Portugal (Pessoa, Queirós, Mendes Pinto) to establish a comparison between a writer revealing some sleaze in a book to one of our greatest woman writers must have been heart-breaking. Oh love forces you to some terrible moves sometimes. No wonder he took the music cue and left the project.

I looked for this film because now, 10 years later, we have the courts and police investigating Benfica for corruption, justice officials and police bribing and so on. I wonder what film will these people do... Funny. The irony...

Lost in La Mancha
(2002)

Windmills of reality
I came to this after watching the finally finished Gilliam's Quijote. It probably works better to watch this one, the "sketch", the "failed attempt", after you saw the finished product.

That film, the finished one, is imperfect and chaotic. And that's good. It it as a film, what it was as a work in progress. It reveals Gilliam, and has a special place in his carrer. It's the final product of an obsession, and it follows the path of its very theme.

This one is nice, because we see in it some of the anchors that were kept in the later finished film, and that would probably have worked better in the original, at least from a cinematic point of view. It is clear that Gilliam had in mind the replacement of the "book layers" of the original Quijote by the layers of films in films. In other words, he wanted a world where several layers of paralel realities would affect each other, contaminate them, blur them. This is something he has been doing all his life as a filmmaker, and as such it is apt that he adapts Quijote.

In the book, at least in my reading, Sancho is the pivot, he is the articulation of all the layers, the one that keeps all the madness tolerable, and the one who places us, the "viewers" in the narrative. So having Johnny Depp play that role would have been magnificient. We can only imagine how it would have been, watching the few conversations between Gilliam and Depp in this documentary, watching the short bits of footage that were recorded (the fish fight is amazing) and trying to imagine Depp whenever we see Driver.

I got the impression that Depp was the one who suggested what is in fact the beginning of the new film. At least the breaking of the 4th wall in the matter of "la nuit américaine". That shows he understands the layers. He is a very fine actor.

Take this little film as a piece of a grander puzzle in the mind of an interesting guy. A Quijote film will probably always be better as a sum of bits and pieces, chaos and unreachable goals... This fits. I had a little too much of burocracy (whose fault, who's gonna pay, who should have done what...) and too little of Gilliam's mind. But these documentaries almost always fall on that trap.

"The Man Who Killed Quijote" was the first film in 2018 that completes a seamingly "lost project". We'll likely get Welles' The Other Side of the Wind later this year.. Year for completions, and probably for disappointments. Welles also had an ongoing Quijote project for half his life. Ah, those windmills...

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
(2018)

the gypsy, the writer, the eye
As humans, we create stories to represent ourselves, and to grasp the world that we don't understand. Arguably everything that we call art is in the end some sort of narrative, some system created to explain aspects that we didn't understand. Those stories are abstractions, a simplification that we use to reach deeper, to make order out of the apparent chaos.

At the end of the 16th century, a growing number of european unrelated artists were working on novel revolutionary ways to represent ourselves, changing how we explain who we are and actually changing thus "who" we are. Cervantes, Shakespeare, Velázquez, and others, were giving us new modes of abstraction, new modes of (self) presentation. Mirrors.

Quixote is all about that. A story about someone who creates himself based on other stories. A character who wipes the definition of reality by merging it with his own reality, co created by him and all the other storytellers who created the stories that drove him to his paralell reality. Then, the confrontation of his invented world with the reality of the world that surrounds me - the common depiction of this is having the "real" world take Quixote as "crazy". That's an extra simplification, an extra abstraction. Irony.

Cinema could be in theory a fine medium to translate Quixote into, and that has been tried a lot of times. Now we have this Gilliam attempt, and the layers of this project, its own story, add a bit more to the excitment of Cervantes. Some information is required:

Gilliam had tried to do this project before. It failed for a number of pedestrian reasons. That failed project has a story of its own, and generated a film about its (attempted) making. Now he completes it, and the synopsis could go like this:

A filmmaker (Gilliam) is making a film, based on Quixote, after having failed to do it 16 years ago (we are one layer deep from reality). This new film is about a filmmaker (Toby) who is doing a commercial film of Quixote in Spain (film within a film, 2 layers deep). We learn that the first images we see are actually part of a film within by a breaking of the 4th wall Truffaut style. Toby had done a student version of Quixote 10 years before, and that film sort of magically pops back in his life. He watches this other Quixote versions, we get glimpses of it (another film within the film, still 2 layers deep but paralell to the other film). As Toby visits the village where he had made that student film, he finds out that film affected the reality of all the people involved in it: the actor from Quixote believes himself to BE Quixote, Toby's girl/lover had her life pretty much destroyed by having done the film, and so on. This new discovered reality, provoked by Toby's student film, invades the reality of Toby's life, and he is literally taken into the old film (he rediscovers the old actor/Quixote watching his film) and mistaken by Sancho. After this we see the unfolding of superficially Fellini inspired episodes, of reality blurred layers, plays on "what's real", and a Wellesian party on a remarkable building, near the end (more on that soon). In doing that, Gilliam uses a bunch of tricks, some well used, some not so. None of them is completely novel, i think. So we have bits of self-reference, such as when Toby literally removes english language subtitles from the screen. In one scene he claims to have written the lines that Quixote is telling him (that one is masterful as dialogue serving the concept).

The gypsy who give Toby the dvd and keeps coming up is a fundamental character. A wizard of sorts, i believe a kind of surrogate to Cervantes on screen, a master puppeteer who manipulates and drives the narrative, all the way to the end. That's a genius character.

I appreciate that Gilliam is a risk taker. This is a crazy imperfect film, which has some beautiful images. What I think Gilliam did well was to place the reluctant Sancho/Toby as a film director, and apparently the one through whose eyes we watch the story. That is self-referential in the way Cervantes conceived it, i think. So many people have misunderstood Sancho as some sort of "comic sidekick", the validation of Quixote's madness, and so on. But he is in fact the holder of the keys of paradise, the man who chooses to go mad, the character who sees both realities, and chooses to be in both almost always at the same time. He is one of the most powerful fiction characters ever, he is all of us at some moment of our lives, and he truly is the best character of Cervantes, and i believe the one where Cervantes projected his own self more clearly. In the original Gilliam project, Depp was going to play the part. Oh I wish he had... That's my personal film. Watching this new version i was simply imagining how Depp would handle the shifting between realities, between layers of fantasy. Driver is not quite up to the part. Pitty...

I also don't understand why he had to channel the representation of Spain as a "Carmenesque" world. Carmen is after all a collection of spanish (mostly andalusian) clichés filtered through the eyes of a frenchman. They became popular in Europe inthe 19th century and still represent the images that most people associate with the meaningless concept of "spain" (bullfight, hot tempered love, sun, harshness and a certain concept of tragic fate). It is sadly ironic that Gilliam, who has some nice visual intuitions, and solid storytelling complex concepts fell into this so easily avoidable trap. I suppose this won't be such a problem for someone who doesn't now Spain, or watched it only through a touristic gaze (which is shamelessly sponsored by the very spanish government in their promotion of the country).

Visually, he mixes his own well established style, the odd wide angles (often wellesian) with the by now required standard Quixote scenery... that thing about a guy in a horse and another in a mule riding the desert against sun light. But than he brings for his delirious climax his architectural eye, and that's what grabbed me more:

Our characters are taken to an obnoxious russian millionaire's palace. The event is a masquerade ball (Arkadin style), where pretending to be Quixote won't apparently seem so crazy. That palace is a remarkable building. It's a convent and church, in Portugal, built across several centuries, with many of our best architects from each time participating in it. It is a collage of styles, each one integrating in the whole while retaining its own character. He films mostly the central church, a Templary octogonal church, a mystical powerful space, dynamic in that it invites moving around it; and 2 of the four big cloisters. The whole place has always been the center of strong spiritual representations that predate Christianity in Portugal, and it still retains its power. I'm thankful that one of the great film architects that we have got to film it. This is probably the second best use of portuguese architecture in cinema, after Welles filmed his Othello's "sauna scene" in a magical light portuguese cistern in Morocco.

Anyway Gilliam opposes openness (desert, big landscapes, etc.) to the tragedy of the architectural space, where the most intense plot points happen. First the humilliation and breaking of Quixote's fantasy (check how that is ostensibly show as a film set, with visible lights, artificial props, SD indications, etc.). And than, the inevitable death of Quixote. We close our final (circular) narrative layer here: the shattered Toby, who killed Quixote, assumes his invented reality, and becomes Quixote himself, with his lover as Sancho. They ride with the former Quixote's body to bury him, and the meet the giants that Gilliam had shot for his first failed attempt. We actually see the test footage he had made. We are left there, with our Toby turned Sancho turned Quixote literally entering the film that Gilliam never made. That was masterful.

I will choose Welles and Fellini over Gilliam. This is a flawed uncontrolled film. But Gilliam is all about that: letting his intuition (mostly visual) contaminate all the rest. I respect him. Watch this, but consider all the layers. It will make it richer, i think.

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
(2017)

the last stage, according to Joseph Campbell
This is a mess, born in a messy time, i suppose.

A lot is already being written about how much failed in terms of keeping the internal coherence of the franchise, the interest in the old characters, and what is perceived as the "depth" of the story. I'd like to comment on two things:

Every Star Wars film is one of the most important films ever. It doesn't mean it's a good or a bad film. But so many people all invest time and passion into the thing, that whatever comes out is influential. The first film (ep.IV) was completed extended backwards and beyond, the universe drilled, explored, (i)matured. It has become sort of a cycle of stories that live in the collective consciousness of the society, as reflected by its pop culture. Of the 9 films so far (counting Rogue One), I personally don't think there's more than 2 that actually matter as cinema, and probably none has the ability to change how you think visually (how you dream?), but they do reflect how society sees itself, their collective urges and voids. So this disaster of a film does it: broken pieces of narrative, of broken souls looking for hope, and never being able to find it, running away from the dark side while always being caught up with. Old idols, burnt and wasted, failing to fulfil their last step in the story.

Myth and Irony. Here are some thoughts. I believe that irony destroys myth, at least the kind of marvel hero irony that has invaded films since Iron Man. That's the cheapest kind of irony, the one used in this film. Myth is a powerful depictions of abstraction, Urges and Voids represented through Story-telling. Irony is, in myth, the ultimate boon, the mirror placed in front of our eyes. Myth, as synthesized by Campbell (using a Jungian lens), formed the basis of the whole thing, at the beginning. That thing about force that surrounds us and penetrates us. The hero completing epic cycles. The franchise made the story more complex, and intersected several cycles, several circles. Yoda, Obi-wan, Anakin, Luke, Kilo, Rey... This new trilogy was to be the last stages of Luke's cycle, the returning of the hero, passing what he has learned. The previous film replaced the environment at the heart of that, because they used the guy who wrote the best Star Wars film. But here they gave writing and directing (!) to someone who has no clue. So the cycles are only superficially shown, mechanically, kind of "painting by numbers", and the irony is displaced to the dialogues, inner jokes, winks at the older films. So this is basically television with an infinite budget. Everybody knows it, i think. We know even Hamill is not so happy with what was done to Luke. We know this director only landed on the job because Kennedy fought with every other possibility. We know JJ Abrams will direct the next one, but apparently Kasdan won't write it. Who will take the boon now? Who will pass on knowledge? Who will teach new kids with the potencial to become Jedis? I really think they should burn this temple and see what grows under it. But this is Disney, so the dark side has already won.

Siamo donne
(1953)

4 Shorts, no 4th Wall
Most of these experiences of piecing together shorts by several directors under some kind of common theme are at the same time interesting and eventually frustrated. The lack of a bigger structure that oversees the partial visions of each director usually makes the thing worth only by (some of) its bits, but seldom by the whole.

This one has all those problems, yet it succeeds, i think, and is still entertaining these days.

They thought of a thin frame, involving a casting at an Italian studio, for 4 short films that will be than shown to us. We see the casting, with all the artificiality of a film studio, and we enter the film as the actresses enter the casting rooms and try to become the star they dream to be. That's pretty effective, and relaxes us into the next 4 short films.

Those are cleverly made surrounding 4 different women. Those women were real actresses, all playing fictionalized versions of themselves, and all of them capable of seducing an audience just by their public personality. Than, each short takes a different approach, depending on actress and director, and assuming and spoofing some kind of film genre. So:

-Alida Valli plays in the romantic dreamy world of her own 40's films. Her short could be a Hollywood fiction of love and frustration, directed with a heavy hand, sentimentally charged;

-Ingrid Bergman (directed by her neo-realist husband) spoofs the kind of realistic films that she and Rossellini had been making for the 10 years prior to this. The family movie look is in this case, intentional and not dependent on lack of means. It's deliberately silly and empty (that rooster thing) and it works because Bergman is able to carry it, and Roberto knew it;

-The Isa Miranda makes the trick even more explicit. In the story she is literally making a movie, which we see from behind the fourth wall, apparently some historic production, presumably fool of phony exaggerated feelings, and steps out of character and drives literally to another movie in the road, where a poor kid has an accident. She takes him to the hospital and than to his home, and she, a single woman with no children, lives the life of that family for a few hours, a different mood, a different neo-realistic film, from which she eventually leaves, to get back to her own fiction of herself. Great writing in this bit;

-Anna Magnani plays her own character, the way people in the 50's would have perceived her. A sort of screwball comedy, aptly written, genuinely funny. Visconti is clever enough to step out of the film and let Magnani be the center of it. She eventually goes to the theater where she has to perform, and her performance closes the short film and let's us in the point of ending a film which started with a casting in a stage performance, with likes, stage and public applauding, thus reminding us that all was anyway a performance.

This is interesting enough for a visit.

Blade Runner 2049
(2017)

Maybe Kafka also dreamed of electric flowers
The possibilities were great: here we have a film about memories which, like all memories, no one knows just how "real" or "constructed" they are. At the same time, the film is a sequel (more of an emotional remake in my opinion) of another film which had to do with constructed ambiguities and is by now itself a well established cinematic memory for so many serious film goers. That first film loosely adapted a story by a writer who was himself a master of ambiguous realities, that interplay, overlap, insinuate. It was fascinating just to think about that: a new film that's like a transparent sheet of paper that loosely follows the previous layers, just like the fantastic love- making between K., his virtual girlfriend, and the prostitute she hires to "make it real". That's one of the scenes i'll take with me.

I thought they had it for the first half of the film: this LA is the same of 2019, but it evolved, Wallace's headquarters follow Tyrell's. The music uses the same colours of Vangelis' pallet to create a different but somehow recognizable painting (until the end when we actually get to hear the original melody). All throughout the film there are hints at the old one: 2 pianos (one of which hides something important), graphic references, etc. Kind of a visual deja-vu, where you recognize things without necessarily knowing where from. That's ambiguous, that's fine.

But here's a challenge and a trap with working with a source material that is grounded on ambiguities: there is a very thin narrative depth of field which you must use in order to keep the ambiguities, while not alienating the viewer from the storytelling. Very little must be in focus, and the out-of-focus parts must be seductive on their own, tease you into the thing. Such a film can't be made by either a preacher (someone who wants to teach you something) nor a puzzle maker (someone who won't be satisfied until all pieces fit together). Unfortunately i think Villeneuve belongs to the second group. The man has real visual talent, but he always tries to do 2 things at the same time which are to my view contradictory. He builds images, some very strong (and with Deakins helping they really are something...) and let you be driven by them, the way Tarkovsky would (albeit much less inspired). When you are already into the thing, meditating, absorbing, he screws the mood, and tries to impose some story on you. So after he introduces you to the universe of the film, teases you, seduces you, in a couple of masterful ways, he cuts your mood and focus on the story facts, thus killing the third act. **SPOILERS** The ending of the film is the perfect example: Deckard meets his daughter and kind of redeems a life of longing and absence, Joe K. dies (?) outside and we suffer with it. Who wants to know? I dreamed my whole life in films about what was made of Deckard and Rachel. Why won't they let me do the same here? Why close everything so perfectly? Why make perfect sense, perfect puzzle? And why did they have to bring a 3D version of Rachel, and shoot her in the head 2 minutes later? We had it! The voice clips that we hear through out, the mere mention of her name, what else was needed? Why would they bring her? Just to show off their 3D rendering powers? Shameless, the anti-origami... The other lame moment is Olmo's cameo, where his origami (a horse or a sheep?) is there for the sake of itself, as a wink to the past, with not consequences to the future.

In the middle of it, they loose the chance to develop one of the most interesting characters i've seen sketched in cinema: the girl, physically and emotionally isolated from the world, whose job is to create memories. Kind of a goddess, whose masterpiece is a memory that is real... but of course who knows what memories are real and what aren't? How could they come up with such a character and not explore the possibilities? Was she deliberately creating the whole film? manipulating the whole cosmology with her gadget? And if so, why do they mess this up by having Wallace drop a hint at Deckard that he was somehow designed to fall in love with Rachel? That's just fireworks, distractions, show-off like much of what Leto does as an actor.

But this Horse is no Unicorn, Wood is not Paper. Both unicorn and paper are human constructs, dreams that derive from horses and wood. The bad, unforgivable thing about this film is not in how something doesn't make sense, but in how everything, in the end, makes perfect sense.

The title of the comment is a reference to Coleridge and his dream.

Boomerang
(1992)

supporting sexiness
This is a rather mundane attempt at a most repeated formula. It's bad, very bad, and Eddie Murphy is nowhere near to deliver all he can do in terms of comedy. All right, most date films are bad anyway.

Forget the sexism of his character which in the end we are supposed to "forgive" as opposed to the similar behavior from the female boss, whom we are supposed to look upon as demeaning and offensive. This is offensive today, i don't know how it played in 1992. I mean, Murphy's character finds out he's in love with Berry when he is in bed with his boss...

Anyway, there is one single element which, upon reviewing this one, many years later, struck me as something very nicely done, and that was the handling of the 2 sex charged supporting female characters: Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones. Both were in her younger days masters of their own quirky erotic universe, and expressed it in terms of pop culture. Here they are allowed to revive that sexiness, and in doing so they are the anchor to this project. Eartha as the "retired" leader but still the face of the company who promotes sexiness, and Grace as the actual face of that sexiness (as promoted in a clip aptly filmed by our voodoo wizard from previous adventures in film). These 2 ladies are worth it. Everything else isn't.

King Kong
(1976)

tube top
Almost everything in this film is bad in terms of conception, but not so much in terms of execution. The whole thing reads today as trash film with a higher than usual budget. Production values are great, for the time and type of film.

Not much is made with the potential of the Kong story, at least nothing that wasn't already deeply explored in the previous 1933 film, and the Peter Jackson version. This means all the self- referential bits are either lost or are clumsy handled. So the Bridges character is still a photographer, but his character is used as a know-it-all who explains everyone around him what's going on, there's no film within in the island, and the show in New York is just a mechanical device that triggers the last expected sequence. Here that sequence is played in the twin towers instead of the empire state which the character from Lange references earlier. Impossible to watch any post- or pre- 9/11 which uses the WTC as a set without correlating...

But one thing is magnificent here, and only incidentally helped by the creative/production decisions. Because this is made into an exploitation vehicle, the sexual friction (quite literally) is brought to the center of the thing. See how Jessica Lange enters the film, as a desirable sex being, stranded on a rubber boat. The ship crew, Bridges and, of course, us, the audience, lust after her. Lange channels the unaware-on purpose explicit sexuality which was Marylin Monroe's persona, and she does it so well. And that's what works in this film. Jessica Lange would do so much better later, in terms of ambition and acting. But here she is all sex, all desire, all lust, and she brings out that obvious side of the Kong story better than any of the versions or spin-offs that have already been made. That's because she teases you into the thing, seduces the audiences as she seduces Prescott, as she seduces Kong. What else is acting? Because of her such cheap trash tricks as the Kong finger unclothing her become a powerful erotic depiction, and only because of that this film may be worth seeing.

Galaxy Quest
(1999)

the show in outer space
We live now in an age of extreme irony, where the jokes in a comedy like this one have to reference other films, TV shows and so on... 1999 gave us at least 3 Hollywood films that made this sort of self- reference device that actually (in this case literally) creates the film:

Bowfinger has the most cinematic approach, because the story is about the creation of a film, and many of the jokes ARE the making of that film. It's a film as the making of another film.

Mystery Men has the best sets, and the references have to do with the performances, a sort of an anti-superhero film where each goofy super-hero tackles his own typical performance, thus creating the joke and the comment on it.

This one has actually the most clever approach in terms of writing, although it is the less successful for me in terms of comedy.

The fun is that they reference Star Trek obviously, which a staple of pop culture, so the audiences can immediately relate. And than they create a little tale of stories creating each other:

-everything is a performances, all actors play actores playing characters, and are actually pretty much all the time in character, starting from the very beginning, when they are at a fan convention, in character (the film ends the same way, thus framing the whole thing as a performance);

-actors are allowed to spoof some part of their own public persona: so Weaver spoofs Ripley, Allen spoofs Buzz Lightyear, Alan Rickman his "shakespearean actor doing Hollywood stuff" (incidentally, i think this is his first Snape...)...

-the most clever self-reference is how they handle the world of the aliens: the aliens come to earth to pick up our heroes because they caught their cheesy TV show on space and took it for real. Before they picked them up, they actually built their world and technology according to what the show on earth showed. So the reality of the aliens imitated the art of the earthlings who than go to the alien world first as actors performing a role, and eventually stop acting and become the roles they first performed. In between, a lot jokes about acting as lying are dropped, and actually the difference between the bad space guys and the good ones is that the bad guys understand the concept of lying. So in order to save the day, our heroes have to turn bad (lying...) acting into believable one. They have to "live" their roles, in other words, they have to stop lying.

This is good stuff in a popcorn package. I'm guessing that things like Deadpool indicate that we are moving on, and that we already went too far in terms of mapping our stories completely (and exclusively) to the reference of themselves. But i think the age we are (maybe) closing now started somewhere in the 90's. IMO, if you want the best of it, you have to check "Tropic Thunder" or "Saneamento Básico" if you're not afraid to leave Hollywood and/or if you want to have clever writing AND a film that matters, all in one.

Kong: Skull Island
(2017)

the river and the dinosaur
I suppose this works as entertainment and it fails utterly as something more, although if you look a bit into it, you will see how this island is full with the bones of potential creative richness.

The core concept was the overlapping of two ideas. You have Conrad's metaphor of going up the river, not directly through Conrad but with the Vietnam filter Coppola put on it (his interest was in turn triggered by an abandoned first project by Welles). And you have the obvious exotic lost paradise location full of dangerous otherworldly creatures, who exist in the cinematic world of Jurassic Park, not of the previous Kong films.

The first concept was, i think, a creative choice. The second was a producers requirement. The rest of the film, with the required references, jokes, etc. follows these two guidelines and becomes literally a battle between these two visions, a battle obviously won by the producers vision. We are left with nothing at the end. But it's still fun to try and guess where and how the studio twisted the vision of the writers - not knowing any other work of this director, i don't know on which side he was. Anyway:

-Sam Jackson plays Kurtz, but he channels his Jurassic Park mad performance;

-the boat made of scraps from the crashed planes was the prop with more potential. It's visual, it's interesting, and could work in a Herzog way. Yet it is rendered to near uselessness, because Sam Jackson wants to blow up Kong instead of going down the river (get it?)

-Marlow is merely supporting here. He has lived in the island for 28 years, but calls none of the shots (not even the mad ones). Eventually he leaves the tribe of natives, another nod to Conrad, and goes back to his former world;

-Where they screwed this up the worst, in my opinion, was in how the Hiddleston/Larson characters were handled. He is named "Conrad", but She is the photographer/reporter, the one designated writer/storyteller on screen. We even "see" many of the photos she takes, get the world through her lenses. SHE should be Conrad, not him. But again the producer's vision prevails, and they needed a "girl in distress to be saved" and in the process produce the 2 visually obvious references to the previous Kong films.

Go on, and place here the references that you can find: helicopters against an orange sky, the forced Vietnam bits, the Full Metal Jacket nods, Bowie vs Doors references, and whatever you feel like finding out and filling in. In our age of irony, filtered through nostalgia, i supposed this film will have its place, and the nodding head of Nixon may be read under recent political events in America (although it was most certainly filmed before the last American election). This viewer had fun, but in the end has left the island with nothing more than the memory of a few skulls that could have been kings.

T2 Trainspotting
(2017)

choose this one
Before I went to see this film, I made the mistake of watching the first one. It's interesting to understand how our memory paints past experiences with colors that they don't actually have. My memory told me that film was a powerful mix of style and theme, a film about drugs as if it were made under the influence of them. Well, the style is there, badly aged, but the film is raw, i suppose as raw as a drugged youngster and as raw as the film-goer that i was.

Now this second part, this is something else. So cleverly conceived, so aware of the possibilities that the use of the first film as a piece of collective memory present, that i think this may be the best sequel ever as far as the relation with the first film goes. And it all lies on the writing, and how it affects the world of the film, and our world by extension.

The visual style is much more relaxed here, more meaningful, more mature (the visual world has also changed in the last 20 years). This means we get great cinematography which helps the story-telling instead of simply replacing it. But the magic happens in the writing:

Already in the first film, there was a group of troublemakers, plus Spud. The story was centered around Renton, and Spud was the outsider, the unwilling character, who literally observed what was going one, as underlined by the pivotal scene near the end when he sees Renton run away with the money (and being rewarded for that afterwards).

Here the character of Renton is not so much the center of the narrative, in the sense that we don't follow his story, although he unleashes everything we see. We follow everyone's story instead. Ewan Mcgreggor is the perfect actor to stand in that hard spot, of co-creating what's happening without occupying an obvious central spot. But while we are led to believe from the beginning that Renton will have the central stage, it's in fact Spud who (quite literally) tells the story. Near the beginning we see how Renton saves Spud's life, enabling him to be our designated story-teller.

From than on, almost all the interaction between characters will happen through Spud. And from a point on he will actually write the story that we see, encouraged by our second surrogate on-screen, Veronika. And the last act is amazing, because Spud writes the whole story, and by doing that influences the ending of it. So his writing is at the same time story-telling and story-creation. Amazing! At last we know that everything we saw in both films is through the eyes of, and co- created by Spud.

The last, and most cinematic device is the set of the last scene. The intended brothel, which was built and supervised by... Spud. He literally creates physically the place where the story ending will unfold. That is a beautiful set, incomplete as a construction site that it is, a work in progress where the rage will explode, where the debts will be settled. The mirror-room and how it is used in the staging of the fight between Renton and Begbie is amazing in its conception and visual use. I'm recommending this film, if possible colored by the memory of the old one.

La La Land
(2016)

Marsalis, not Miles
Once in a while this happens: a film that does everything well enough to avoid major criticism. The perfect blockbuster according to the book of David O.Selznick. A few things are required:

-a pair of lovable and bankable stars (girl and boy) that have the sympathy of a majority of the film-goers, even some people who don't go so often to films but recognize them as stars. They have to be given roles that fit their mold, where they can act as lovable as everyone expect them to be;

-give the film a story-line as easy to follow as possible, a simple romance that holds all the plot points that will make it look as something big and breath-taking. Aquaitance, fall in love, crisis, redemption...

-put that story-line in the context of a bigger theme and twist it in a way that will ultimately prevent the lovers from the desired happy- end. This is melodrama, where the bigger context affects the smaller lives (war in Gone with the wind; religious prejudice and politics in Ben-Hur; the shipwreck in Titanic...). In this case we have Hollywood and a simple dynamic of love vs the pursuit of dreams;

-produce the whole thing as lush as you can and as likable as the pair of stars: colorful saturated photography, songs everyone can easily hum, dance numbers that tap into the memory of older loved musicals. Competent and safe craftsmanship.

-Sell the whole thing, invest as much or more selling the thing as in producing it.

The self-reference here is obvious and falls along two lines, both equally safe and obvious:

-the movie is set in movieland, she even serves coffee in a movie studio. it works the most ostensibly artificial film genre of them all, and in the way makes obvious and safe quotes of classical musicals (plus the Rebel even more obvious bits). Among those quotes is one where they walk through the 4th wall and we get to see the whole film crew, equipment, lights, etc.

-the jazz bits. Our boy is a conservative jazz fan, the bop guy who thinks Miles's fusion is rock or pop, or whatever. So are the people behind this film, or so they show themselves to be. This film is supposed to stand for the "new films" as old jazz stands for "new jazz": genuine and "true" by comparison.

The by now very celebrated ending, with the alternative version where the two lovers stay together is the ultimate safety device employed. They sink the ship, and kill Jack, but just think that maybe the viewers will be put away and so they relive an alternative version of the last third of the movie and film in a few minutes, crammed with music and narrative information, the script draft that was thrown in the garbage for the sake of the "tragic" element of grand love themed blockbuster.

If you want a film that is well crafted escapism while seeming more than that, this is it. This is being canonized by Hollywood, and for years to come you will hear bits of the music in academy awards ceremonies and see it in lists of best of, etc. But if you want adventure, if you want risk, than this is the total opposite. It's obscenely safe, and ultimately pointless. This is the cinematic version of Marsalis, sailing competently and expertly through the Seas that others have charted long ago, kind of a cinematic version of a tribute band. I think I'm going to hear a Miles record after writing this.

PS – this rather conservative effort is, as I write, ranked 57th on the top250 list in IMDb! At the same time Trump is sitting in the White House. Birdman is now past, its adventure over. In a few decades America (and the world by default) will observe this, and maybe process how mainstream poor/conservative storytelling habits correlates to political manipulation of the masses.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
(2009)

just claws
Writing this now, 7 years after this film was made, gives a better insight into what Marvel has been doing. They have their set of superheroes, long embedded in pop imagination, mostly through comic books and animation TV series. Now they talk about "fictional universe" which is a way to say they will explore each of those characters within their original specific family of characters, as well as mix them with other families and, as in this case, zoom in on certain individual characters.

The biggest problem is that these decisions are based on popularity, ratings, market decisions. And Hollywood is today hostage to bigger and louder, more than ever. So there is no real narrative exploration, no filling of the spaces between the main branches. They just produce action stuff which is ordinary by any standard (visual, narrative etc.). Sometimes the film will be mildly interesting because of someone interesting they employ (Downey Jr, Swinton, Branagh...) but even there we just fill that each one could be doing something more interesting (and less lucrative). Other times they use what Downey Jr taught them in how he worked the Iron Man character: irony, winks, poking fun at the character, by deliberately stepping out of it. They learned the lesson and since than pretty much every film is conceived in such a way as not to take itself very seriously. So we have Dr.Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool... this last one actually has a cameo in this Wolverine mess.

What they did here was simple take a character (with whom Jackman is strongly associated) and just give it to us in high doses, more intense, more screen-time, more... Hugh Jackman has a strong enough presence to carry the thin character alone so they did it.

Because they have not much to say, nothing inventive to fill the narrative with, they copied the framework, and the mood from the first Rambo: the retired hero, who tries to live anonymously, away from the world, someone to whom unhappiness is ever denied and who will eventually get pulled back to the action painful world he is escaping.

But this Rambo has no Vietnam, no drive, no reason to be, no real pain. Even the pain of brutally loosing a loved one is replaced by the mere rage for being betrayed. Just claws and rage. So, nothing to see here. Adamatium claws are still just claws.

Snowden
(2016)

narrative wars
Our lives are sustained by narratives, in which we believe, versions of the facts in which we trust. Most of that we acquire through upbringing, social environment, education. Where you are born (country) determines a great deal of what you are likely to believe in throughout your life.

What Snowden did was not so much shocking in terms of the revelations themselves: the idea that the American government spies on us, all over the world, no matter where. I believe every regime always uses everything in their power to monitor their faithful subjects. We are all American subjects right now in a way or another. So if, say, the Roman Empire or the Nazis had that kind of technology and ruled over a world where pretty much everybody carries a Geo-located device with camera and mic in their pocket, they certainly would have made use of that. What Snowden did is important not because of what he reveals, but because he did reveal it and proved it. He defeated an accepted and implemented narrative - that that the USA government is always "the good guy", and uses its infinite powers only for good and just causes; has a constitution which is as sacred as the Bible and which prevails above everything else, and so on. That Snowden was able to flip that story inside out with all the personal risks within is remarkable. He revealed the American superficial narrative to be mainly false, as the American government exercises all kinds of brutalities that equal and exceed those of the oppressive regimes in countries they claim to liberate.

Along comes Oliver Stone, and does his take of the known facts. We can see the self-reference at the beginning: Snowden starts as a young typical conservative, willing to "serve the country", going to war for it. This mirrors Stone, the Vietnam veteran, who willingly enlisted to "protect" whatever lies somebody was feeding America with at the time. As the story progresses, Snowden questions the ends, and the means to them. So did Stone. In the end Snowden comes out as a kind of an also typical American hero, who risks everything, his life included, to "do the right thing".

He maps the Snowden story onto the 1984 metaphor, thus the "O'Brien" character, which is obvious but adequate. Along the way he drops a few hints (intended or not) that he himself is driven by internal affairs concerns, and not so much by a general sense of justice: there is a scene in the NSA headquarters in Hawaii where Snowden shows his colleagues a world map and all the emails intercepted in every country. Apparently there was no special concern that, for example, individuals from Germany or Brazil are being illegally spied, only that Americans are… At least he aptly edits real clips of real people (Obama included) telling their own narrative, proved a lie when layered over the Snowden story we're being told.

The difference between this narrative and others that Stone has already explored (Vietnam, Nixon, JFK…) is that this one is still going on, we don't know what will be of Snowden, and what real impact his leaking will really have. I hope it will be huge, but I doubt it. We know how the American establishment reacted to them, how they, again, flipped the narrative: it's really not that huge that it was revealed that the NSA spies on individual unsuspected citizens, Americans or not: Snowden is a villain because he threatened "American security" and that's much more important than any minor constitution related incidents. Apparently this version stuck, as we are a month away of having either Clinton or Trump sitting on the receiver side of the NSA bug… So the "security threat" story is probably accepted by most Americans as true.

I think there is nothing ordinary about Snowden and what he did and because of that it struck me as a moderate insult that Stone would have him as a pretty standard American hero, the kind of stock character that has been feeding American mythology for decades and keeping the people (not only Americans) from looking under the rug, which is precisely what Snowden had us doing with his leaking. I mostly don't share many of Stone's political believes, but I've always respected his integrity, and sincere take on the important subjects he tackles. Check this film, it's honest. But base your narrative in more than one source. The breaking of the fiction, at the end, as the real Snowden speaks directly to us, is a good device to validate the narrative that we had so far been fed. Honesty.

Café Society
(2016)

Madadayo
What a career. Woody Allen has always been mainly a storyteller. A clever one. He is superficially rooted and swings around a really very reduced set of characters and environments: high class new york society, stylized gangster, movie people, film-going and so on. Those are superficial elements, ingredients with which he cooks all sorts of dishes. In this film he revisits all of those at once.

Along the otherwise standard love/adultery story, we get all sorts of obvious or subtle references to many of Woody's past films, and that's what's great about this little film:

-The movie begins in Movieland, and moves seamlessly to new york, back home, because the Allen surrogate on-screen doesn't fit in Los Angeles. But our characters belong in the world of films, and along the way we watch them watching two films that references precisely the kind of past world (as represented in films) that this film taps into. The cinematography of this film plays along, specially in its closeups of faces, with the background beautifully detached by the use of the shallow depth of field so typical of older films;

-arriving in New York, the bridge, which evokes the most iconic single image that Allen, with Gordon Willis, gave us. The references to his Manhattan are completed with the off-voice narration (with his now slower and mellower older voice) and the basic dynamics of the marriage (Carell has an affair with the woman that Eisenberg loves)

-the jazz score and bar joints: not that he doesn't use often jazz scores, but here he is returning to it ostensibly after a period of experimentation. The dark jazz places evoke Allen's own second life as a jazz clarinetist;

-the Jewish jokes;

-after a long time producing films with competent but unremarkable cinematography, Woody joins here with a true master, and this is visually his most beautiful film in a long time, and will stand together with his collaborations with Niqvist, Willis, Palma... Few people have made color tell so much as Storaro. His camera work is impeccable, and adds a 4th dimension to any scene. And those last shots of both Stewart and Eisenberg... those will stick. I'm so thankful that there are such painters still working;

-the ending is the saddest since Purple Rose of Cairo, and as unsettling as Crimes and Misdemeanors, without the inner self- reference of either, but with that perfect balance of lyricism and cynicism that his better tragicomedies have always made.

The self-reference here are all (or many) of Allen's previous films, before he went filming around the world. I didn't get all of them, and that certainly is a reason to watch it again and again. Also i don't how many (if any) of the references are intentional. But i watched this film and read it as a kind of Testament by the master to his own career, a bit like Kurosawa did on the film i quote at the title of this review. Oh i hope he will be around to give us a few more adventures, but if this was his last film, he would leave us at sweet high point.

But please, "not yet"

Ex Machina
(2014)

Rachael is a grown up now.
Sci-fi is a fertile land for narrative experimentation. Where normally a viewer tries to relate to a certain world that he reads as "real", in sci-fi driven stories, the extra-level of abstraction (it's a fiction and reads as such) makes the viewer focus on the abstractions of the narrative layers.

That is, of course, if those layers are well set up, and that demands a good writer, and a good director.

Apparently we have both in Alex Garland. I had never paid special attention to his previous work (as a writer) but i will look it up, and check again. Here he gives an interesting essay on narrative, and the relation between viewer and screen. He draws on what has been done before in sci-fi, but he throws in an interesting package.

He builds the story as a set of relations between 3 characters (plus Kyoko) who observe each other and ultimately try to control and bend the narrative. Behind the fourth wall we observe them all and everything, or so we think.

You can thus look at this one as a variation on 2001, with 3 players each trying to control and bend the course of the narrative.

Or you can look at it as a variation on Dick's electric sheep. In that case Nathan plays Tyrell, Caleb is Deckard and Ava is, of course, Rachael. Nathan is the God who ultimately looses control of his creation, Caleb tests the creation in order to find its flaws, and Ava is the creation, around whom the plot develops.

If you look at it from the 2001 point of view, you'll be, i think, disappointed. There is no Monolith at the beginning to lead you through the game, and the ending is certainly many galaxies away from the ambiguity that Kubrick left us to deal with until today.

**spoilers here**

But if you check it with the Blade Runner glasses, than things become interesting. He twists the character from Caleb, not by making him a replicant, but by revealing his character as a pawn manipulated by Nathan. He rebels against this domination, and makes a move, joining forces with the apparently underwhelmed Ava. In a somehow predictable twist she outplays him, aided by Kyoko, the other "replicant". So the plot revolves around the 2 human characters, who are the whole time both overplayed by the artificially intelligent one.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending. It's clumsy and not powerful when compared to the rest. If it had worked, this would have another effect. But i did enjoy the cinematic frame that Garland used: architecture. The house, ostensibly defined as an isolated world, technology in the middle of nature, cut out from the whole world, So we know there are no external interference in the game our characters play. The building is interesting, as it is its framing. It's not groundbreaking, nor is it deep as what you find in Welles or Kalatozov. If it were, oh this might have been something else...

Sonoya Mizuno has an incredible presence. Her face is amazing, and i wish they could have used her character as something more than a tool for Ava to use in her escape plan.

Burnt
(2015)

hell
Food and Film can be a powerful mixture. But when you have people like Ramsay involved, inevitably there is a third F word which will be more important the other 2 F words. This is what we get here: a film that panders to the lowest denominator of any cultural expression: competition in the basic sense of "finishing first", "being the best". That kind of football mentality that TV food shows have been feeding the public with for the last decade, at least.

This film came out at around the same time as another film about cooking, by Favreau. That was the complete opposite of this. That one was (at least superficially) about not caring for the critics, even running away from them. This one is abound pandering to the them, cooking (and in fact everything in life) as some sort of a run, as some sort of coming first to the end. That's the Anglo-Saxon way of doing it, which the British and the Americans (but not the Australians!) have been imposing upon us. So our broken Cook gets his second chance by convincing a critic to convince the owner of a restaurant (who incidentally is in love with the cook) to give him the kitchen. And the purpose would be to receive a third Michelin star.

Couple that with a series of relatively common prejudiced clichés: the main character is an American Chef who goes to Paris and out- Frenches the French in their own game. Like when Jamie Oliver goes to Italy to teach the Italians how to cook Italian food, or Ramsay to Thailand to validate Thai food.

After Paris he goes to London and his style is deemed old-fashioned and so his female kitchen (and sentimental) partner brings a couple of plastic bags and gadgets and suddenly he is back on top of the game. Because of course, if you get a couple of new gadgets, your cooking will be suddenly renewed.

Kar-Wai tried an association between food and memory in his "in the mood for love". Itami tried food and sensuality. Favreau tried Food and passion (fullfillement). These guys instead link food to the lowest form of competition, the one that replaces passion with the need to be recognized, the need to succeed, the one that it's all about getting there first, out-running the guy next to you. The one that makes an idiot almost jump out of a bridge because he will probably get a bad review the next day. Well, we should thank Ramsay and his other buddies for this attitude.

Owning Mahowny
(2003)

just a few more minutes, lights off
This is a pretty safe and unremarkable project in many regards. The story is appealing as a sort of funny anti-hero, a resourceful guy with an uncontrolled urge to gamble. He steals so he can feed is habit, and everybody around him has money-related interests except himself. It's made more interesting to follow because it's based on a real story, and apparently it follows it quite closely.

Technically it's as good as most of Hollywood makes, competent in every aspect except direction, which is flat and dead. No defined camera stance, merely the basic representation of what's happening.

But nothing of that matters because who the camera frames almost always is the late Seymour Hoffman. And that is more than enough. Every movement counts, every restrained facial sign shows something. He was really a method student, but i suspect he didn't have to search very deep to get to his characters. His most remarkable characters all live in their own world, tormented by uncontrolled urges, in pain by maladjustment to an unforgiving unfit world. His pain was real in every character of his, he just channeled it each time to a different character, to a different world, to a different misfit quirky corner of the world.

It's an extra pain to watch each one of his movies now, when we know we won't see anything new from him ever again, and we understand that not so much of what he showed us was acting, faking on a stage, but instead was the masking of a real pain. Or it could be the other way around. It could be that, in a tragic sense, the high standard that Hoffman proposed for his own craft drained and exhausted the real man so much that he was left in the limbo between his full creations and the emptiness of the somehow unfulfilled real life, whatever that might be.

It's not difficult to watch this film now, and map the gambling urge of Mahowny to the addictions of Hoffman in the real life, and understand that the "just a few more minutes" could in fact be the few more minutes he always requested from himself.

watch this, the film won't change you, but Philip S. Hoffman will.

Yoga Hosers
(2016)

millennial clerks
Start with a concept of a film about a shallow teen subculture. The main highlighted features of this subculture are a high dependency on the so called social networks (and consequently on interfaces such as cell phones), and pretty much a 'basic' ignorance of all things past (anything older than a couple of years), be it history, cinema or music. Basically a narcissistic self-centered and self-absorbed standard view of the millennium generation.

Wrap a film around that concept, and make it work on two distinct layers:

  • the film is written by Smith, who has a close but external view of that generation portrayed. On screen we have his surrogates, with Vanessa Paradis, Jennifer Smith and Johnny Depp. These 4 are literally the Parents of the girls (Jennifer is also the on-screen mother). The 4 provide the generational gap which (co)creates most of the jokes;


  • The girls play themselves, with an (intended) ironic twist. They play themselves laughing at themselves.


  • the whole film is conceived as a launching platform for Harley and Lily-Rose. The main setting being a Clerks-like store binds the dear themes of Smith and the new generation.


In between layers there are a number of forgettable jokes an sketches about Bratwurst Nazis with Kevin's face, Yoga teachers without self control, Canadian jokes (with the usual American disdain) and imitations of old cinema stars, unknown to the girls (the imitations are really well done). The only actor with a real sense of humor timing and expression is Depp, and the real gap for me here is not between generations, but between how well Depp comes out of this, when compared to the others. Except from what he does, pretty much everything else won't stay.

So you end up with a shallow film about a shallow theme, which was, i suppose, the intention.

Whether or not you laugh at the jokes will depend on how old are you, how much do you understand the references (as usual with Smith's geek driven films) and where you come from. I didn't get a lot from this.

Julieta
(2016)

the two lives of one woman
When a worthy artist gets to develop his work for a long time, we who follow his work are usually lucky enough to get new phases, new developments, reworks of his themes, and so on. That is the case with Almodóvar, and I don't know whether this film will be the first of a certain new phase, but it stands out in his work

What he tries here is to gather the pieces of female souls which are more often than not the building blocks of his best work, and map them into the territory of the cinematic suspense as understood by Hitchcock. It's pretty ambitious and clever when you think about it: The audiences will recognize the genre, and go with it. So he uses the channel of genre, but twists the content. It's not a whodunit but it probably worked on me as a kind of an emotional noir. So this probably is the closest Almodóvar will ever get to making a genre film. In promotional interviews he assumed is attempt at making the whole thing as restrained as possible, and as such it is interesting to see him setting himself rules and refining his intuitions with reduction instead of enhancement, as he usually does.

He proposes an emotional puzzle, the story of a broken soul, already know to the older Julieta, but not to us, and certainly not to the young Julieta. So the overlapping of the young and older Julieta becomes crucial in the understanding the narrative dimension that he proposes: 2 different actresses, and effectively two different characters, with a common set of memories, or better still: the younger exists in the memory, or as a memory, of the older. Both are obviously interconnected, and the writing device here is that the life and decisions of the young Julieta forms the basis for the emptiness of the older one. But we learn about the past mostly because the older Julieta writes about it, each half of her soul co-creating the other half. That's the device and the beauty of it. The connection point is underlined with a shot where a towel is dropped over young Julieta's face, and when it is lifted we find the suddenly aged, broken older one. That shot will be remembered, and again it has a kind of narrative economy which Hitchcock probably tried and mastered better than anyone else. That's the pivot to the whole concept.

He than fills the narrative with a by now standard emotional field of relations and connections: Julieta casually knows a man on a train, while feeling repulsion towards another one whose presence as a symbolic meaning. He enters his life, already crowded by two women: one sinister Psycho/Rebecca type of mother figure, played by Rossy de Palma, and the other one who works on the level of desire, sexual fulfillment, played by Inma Cuesta. Julieta is an intruder, who comes to replace the figure of the wife in coma. She breaks the triangle first by removing the mother figure, and unwillingly causing the tragedy by trying to remove the sexual sculptor who creates phallic shaped artworks. Her daughter (conceived on a train) links the older Julieta to her former life. Julieta becomes Almodóvar's Vertigo, his woman who lived twice. But she is Stewart and Novak in one divided character, that's the trick.

Other references to fate and destiny, like the menacing sea tempest announcing tragedy, the suicidal character on the train, or the Herrmann inspired soundtrack are only there to build the mood of this sentimental noir, built in chapters more separated and clear than anything Almodóvar has ever done. I'm guessing most of each section's inner structure was borrowed from Munro's short stories on which this is based, which i haven't read. But the working of the character's sounds Almodóvar. New (or renewed) but still him. A part from the already mentioned towel shot, the train section is the bit which worked better for me, the one where all the dynamics of the film are condensed and reduced.

La vie d'Adèle
(2013)

the dull bits, the oyster
This will probably be remembered as an extreme example of 'realistic' cinema (as opposed to stylized). The difference being that the former shows what "it is" and the later an abstraction of what it is. This is of course a fallacy, because cinema (and any form of storytelling) is an abstraction of reality. So there isn't for me realistic cinema, only different forms of presentation, different cinematic stances. Different abstractions. The abstraction here is to present a story to which you can or will relate (whether or not it mirrors bits of your own life) and than extend its context as much as possible, in time and context, to make you a part of the fabric, in the thing.

So they take a story and make you relate to it as good as possible. Simple urges , a girl finding sexuality, social and personal relations at stake, prejudice and society are the antagonists. The first chapter is a recognizable coming of age drama. The second a normal drama. All the dynamics at work, social or private, have already been explored an infinite number of times in a number of films. I think the reason why they chose to make it that simple is to make audiences smoothly get into a familiar world and let the cinematic device kick in. And that's where the writers throw their aces. Hitchcock had a famous saying about how drama is life with the dull bits cut out. Here they invert the equation. You get to see it all. The argument and the whole crying after. The sex, with preliminaries and orgasm but also changing postures, caressing, the touching, the building up, the afterwards. Every sensation, every feeling, every change of mood is exhaustively shown, sometimes painfully, with every detail. Where many writers, upon re-reading the script, would cut and think about pace, rhythm and engagement; these guys let it be, extend it, let you soak in it. The drama IS the dull bits. The usual high points of a normal drama are here the mere validation of the interstices that you usually don't see. Nothing stays off-screen, nothing is suggested, everything that Adèle lives is shown.

The only normal cinematic trick, which is remarkably well pulled off, is right at the end: Adele goes and sees the exhibition of her former lover and sees the paintings of her new lover while pregnant, and with it learns that Emma was already detached while they both were together, that she was already moving away. Finding Adele's affair was for Emma not so much painful, as it was an excuse, a way out. Adele is at the end a broken soul. She never did write her own story, she only had the illusion of that. There is a self- referential hint to that: she declines writing, she admits she is unable to create story lines. She only wrote a diary, things gone by, not the fiction of her future.

This works and has a certain power. I don't live my life in films eager to get things like this, i map my dreams to other kinds of abstraction, but this sure is worth exploring. The actress is strong, and the director understands that she's all about face, or he cast someone to fit his will to shoot in close-up. The relation between the camera and Adele's face is perfect for the first chapter. The stuff Bergman/Nykvist used to do. But i expected that in such a tight construction, so anchored on the character, the visual depiction of Adele would follow her evolution as a person. I would expect a different camera stance for the grown up Adele. Different hair style and different clothing doesn't quite do it.

What also takes me completely out of the cinematic trance so competently built, is the new wave influenced crippled intellectualism to which so many directors seem to succumb... That preachy Sartre bits about how existence precedes essence. Kind of a touristic guide to the film, the text explaining the painting on an exhibition. Lame, pedantic and unworthy of the subtle construction that oversees the life of Adèle. Godard should be blamed for this.

This is the second film that i see in a week, which uses Oysters as tokens for sex. Food, film and sex can be a powerful mixture. The other film is Tampopo, which adds blood to the equation and its oyster is profoundly more erotic than any sex on this film.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream
(1988)

publicity stunt
The concept is simple: make the film as a publicity to a man who was himself to a great extent a publicity stunt.

In order to achieve it, a number of devices are employed:

-often we get shots which we immediately or a bit later identify as pieces of publicity/newsreel footage within the film. It actually begins with a newsreel;

-the acting from Bridges is admittedly artificial, what you would expect from a salesman of some sort. He is impressive in this role, as he plays always over the thin line after which the whole thing would just become cartoonish. Jeff Bridges proved here that he can consistently work comedy without become a joke. This is his first dude.

-the whole story line is not supposed to be read as serious, not even lightly: it's ostensibly sketchy, and it includes bits like the corrupt senator comedic sequences (with the Bridges-Bridges real life wink) or the burning floor car presentation, as well as the whole circus mounted around it (another stunt). The Howard Hughes bit is the ultimate fake, the same short-cut that Welles had used, a kind of an American cinema staple for fakery.

-The phoney trial and subsequent triumph with a parade of Tucker's cars being driven and filled by everybody is the ultimate stunt. At certain moments, and this final sequence is one such, the film is choreographed as a classical musical, without the music.

The skeleton is wrapped around Coppola's usual lush and seduction through the set and the environment. With Coppola you always have at least a sense of place and mood that really makes the thing matter. Every open shot has a lot more happening than what's supposed to be the main action. This sense of liveliness is an affirmation of the power of deep shots and depth of field, not in the spatial architectural sense of Welles, but almost as if in a painting.

The Coppola/Storaro collaboration is one of the strongest in the history. Storaro manipulates color like very few have, one true painter. But this film doesn't matter, it's meaningless, bloodless and forgettable when compared to the best this couple has done. Only Bridges is worth remembering here. Unlike many, i do find valuable things in Coppola's films post-Apocalipse. But not here.

The Big Swallow
(1901)

grammar exercise
To my knowledge, these films from the English pioneers, today known as Brighton School are the best, most important of the first decade of cinema. Among them, Willamson is the best. You should check as many of his films as you can. These guys established so many grammar rules, which have since become so standard and hard-wired into our abilities to follow a story in film, that it's hard not to give them the credit they deserve.

Among these films, there is this gem. So much new, exciting and important is packed into just over a minute of film.

The plot is that a man, feeling observed by a camera, doesn't like it, moves towards the camera, and swallows the camera. The end.

It would be a fairly common theme and story, in this case under the genre of what was called a "trick film". But some amazing things are tried here:

-the character acknowledges the camera, talks to it, walks towards it, thus breaking the fourth wall;

-the camera itself (and the cameraman) become characters when the main character swallows them. We are told that the first shot is actually a film within, being registered by the camera and cameraman who then star in the second shot;

-the third and last shot is, as a consequence, ambiguous in that the camera is swallowed and gone along with the filmmaker, and although we get for the third frame the same set-up as the first (i would guess it's actually the same shot split into two in the editing), the storyline makes us assume we are no longer in a film within, but comfortably again behind the fourth wall.

-the "trick" is edited, through the edition we are swept into the whole tiny multi-layered thing.

So, we have a reflexive story, made clear by purely cinematic means (framing, editing). Take it when it was made. It's indifferent whether these guys were self-aware or not of what they were doing: what they made must be seen. This and other small films are like small pieces of grammar and words, which we could and would use to build the whole visual language that we all share today.

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