Archive for March, 2009

Review: Watchmen. Seen on March 6th

March 18, 2009

Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009), “visionary” (giggle) director brings the famous graphic “novel” (giggle) Watchmen to life into one messy, long, at times even slightly pretentious piece of film. I’ll admit to have been avoiding this review for the last days, but it’s probably because I feel everything that needed to be criticized about this film has already been said. Having never read the “novel” (gigglex2) I doubt I was expecting much, but at the same time the common complain (or warning) from fans of the comic book is that the film might turn out to be too “confusing” for those unfamiliar with the material. But believe me, confusion was easily one of the lesser sentiments I got from watching the film. The premise of superheroes working their way through history was interesting enough for me to keep me interested for the first act or so, and to give Snyder some credit, each character’s arc didn’t seem too cut or rushed into the film. Where some of the problems of the film lie is in the way the plot keeps evolving – each twist, or new incidence that happens throughout the film seems to be more muddled and flat out unconvincing than the one before, the action sequences lack drama or any thrill sense to them (the slow mo trick getting more tiresome by the second), thus making the final result completely unenjoyable, and when the film takes the luxury of lasting over almost here hours, you know you got yourself a problem. Most of the performances do work: Jeffrey Dean Morgan is appropriately brutal as The Comedian, Jackie Earle Haley obviously tries, and most of the time he’s the most interesting thing to watch, Carla Gugino is fun as the first Silk Spectre, and Billy Crudup is properly one note as Dr. Manhattan. On the other hand, Patrick Wilson just continues to bore, Matthew Goode seems miscast, and the girl playing Silk Spectre II, thoroughly unconvincing and completely avoiding the few opportunities to do a fun job, should be a candidate for a Razzie. So overall, an ambitious flick lacking a lot in the writing, entertaining and pacing departments, with its few shiny spots here and there.


Review: The Damed, seen on March 6th

March 15, 2009

The Damned (Luchino Visconti, 1969) –  Luchino Visconti directs this film about the downfall and decadence of an aristocratic German family (the original Italian title translates directly to “The Fall of the Gods”) during the first years of the Nazi Germany. We begin with shots of the steelwork factory that is said to be the source of their wealth and power, here and the ending shots being the only ones showing the industrialist background of the family. Most of the occurrences that happen throughout this first hour of the film are better left unsaid, the film is obviously attempting shock everywhere, and they mostly succeed, so I won’t go into much details – but what I can say is that these events show a glimpse of the nature of the main characters (Ingrid Thulin – always unbelievably scary in Bergman films, plays a character that fits her looks like a glove, the power hungry matron of the family; Dirk Bogarde – the result of Visconti casting English language actors into his films has often been boring, and this isn’t the exception; and Helmut Berger – a complete unknown for me at the time, but easily the one who steals the film. Playing one of the most disgusting corrupted characters in film history, whiny, annoying and flamboyant; he nails the evilness, yet the helplessness lying beneath this spoiled, sick young man. Not to mention he features one of the most awesome character introductions of all time – a grotesquely iconic drag performance of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), actions that in the end will mark the subsequent “fall” of these Gods and Goddesses.

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Some of the ideas Visconti is trying to pursue don’t seem to fully work:  the infamous gay orgy, while it works as an historical reference to locate the moment in time in which the characters are in (just wiki “The Night of the Long Knives”), holds very little importance to the actual arc of the story or the characters, and seems to exist barely for the purpose of shock and shock alone. Also, I think that tagline is pretentious, and never does the film remotely suggest that he was bound to become “the second most powerful man in Germany”. The ambition was there, sure, and in retrospective it COULD make sense, but I still think it gives the wrong idea. However, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I find the main idea of showing the downfall of a powerful family to be truly exciting and interesting. And Visconti’s decision of showing every single disgusting little detail about the relationships of each character, not being afraid of certain subjects, contrasting them in beautiful, rich scenarios and thus making the melodramatic situations impossible to look away for me truly shows a gutsy, polished vision that while it may be hard to swallow, it’s very easy to admire fully. So if a little too self-conscious and hard to watch at times, nevertheless an accomplished, fascinating vision of decadence thanks to a ballsy direction and to at least one of the lead performances. Rating: B+

Reviews: Synecdoche, New York; Leave Her to Heaven; Aguirre, the Wrath of God & Room at the Top, seen somewhere between March 2nd-March 5th

March 13, 2009

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kauffman, 2008) – the ambitious and fragmented new Charlie Kauffman movie was one of the last “big” films from 2008 I still hadn’t seen. Overall a rewarding, though rather tough watch, Charlie Kauffman shows the story of a stage director (Philip Seymour Hoffman, I’m not a fan, but God knows I’ve seen him do this sort of stuff better before) trying to put some sort of larger than life itself “life-replica” of his own life, aswell as others’ for decades of his life (money never seems to be an issue :S), how his attempt at portraying life as realistically as possible affects his own and his relationships with women: Catherine Kenner, being her usual wonderful self, but stuck in one note, Hope Davis, (legs!), Samantha Morton (that voice!), Emily Watson (boobs!), Michelle Williams (hair!), Dianne Wiest (I love her) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (egh) and some child actress playing his daughter. It’s not a film that’s easy to explain, and I can see how its guts and ambition might turn so many film buffs on, but cinematically, its cold philosophical approaches on certain things can turn into quite a dry experience at times, though yeah, the result at times is quite overwhelming (that ending!) and the feeling is as if you’re watching something quite deep – and it might just be. Anyway, lots of admire in this one, but it’s not an easy watch by any means. Rating: B.

Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945) – Gene Tierney (see: the most gorgeous thing to ever live) plays Ellen Berent, a woman obsessed with keeping her man (Cornel Wilde) to herself and no one else, and that will go to extremes in order to keep it that way =/. I know that sounded odd and melodramatic, but that’s basically the set up (and also some of the best adjectives there are to describe the film). It starts very interestingly, before Tierney’s last evil act the melodrama is kind of kept to a minimum, but it is in this last chunk of the film that one starts seeing all the flaws in the screenplay (not gonna go into details to avoid spoiling anything). As for the performances, it’s all Tierney’s film. Cornel Wilde is asked to do nothing with his role, and in the scene in which he confronts Tierney, his acting choices basically come off as flat and after seeing Jeanne Crain in A Letter to Three Wives before, really enjoyed her in that and being excited about her presence once I knew she was in the film, overall came off as disappointing. But again, it’s Tierney who shines here, and after this, I’ll never understand all the “pretty face with limited talent” descriptions I’ve read about her all this time. With dazzling subtle skills and utilizing her looks in the most effective ways she inhabits this horrible monster of a character, and avoids every stereotype that the screenplay sets on her way like a true pro. Another aspect worth mentioning about the film is the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography. I saw this Film on YouTube, and even by seeing it in that cut format I was more than once taken away by the beauty of some of the shots, with its beautiful use of that painfully bright red so characteristic of the first color movies and its not missing any opportunity to look sprawling despite the film being anything but. Rating: C

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972), Werner Herzog, whose films like Encounters at the End of the World, Nosferatu and Grizzly Man I’ve loved in the past, directs this film starring Klaus Kinski as Aguirre, second man in charge of an expedition that sets off from the mountains of Peru to the Amazon jungle in order to start the conquest for El Dorado. As Don Pizarro, first man under command, after much difficulty during the expedition, suggests the possibility of going back, while selecting a new group of men to continue the quest, Aguirre sets a rebellion against Pizarro in order to continue the expedition without looking back, thus putting himself into the Hall of Fame of the Biggest Douchebags in the History of Motion Picture. The whole plot (there’s lots of misery going on there and no redeeming: decapitations, starvation, cannibalism, a little incest, and so on) could turn into something grotesque and completely dreary that leads to nothing and says nothing (just like Aguirre’s little adventure itself), but thanks to Herzog and Kinski this is an intensely interesting watch: an intelligent, unique, imaginative yet quite truthful portray of obsessive ambition, thirst of power and well, the flat out delusion that comes with it all without in any way Herzog’s vision being easily affected in the least by it. Rating: B+

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Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959), despite the fact that I have never seen any of those quite popular at the time British “kitchen sink dramas”, or British New Wave, or whatever you call it (I understand that they’re probably two entirely different things. Whatever, you catch my driftJ), I’ve always been very interested into watching them and quite drawn into digging this whole movement to see what the fuss is about, especially this one (it looked like something I’d really really like), even if I’d never heard any specific praise about it. Plot’s basically Laurence Harvey, plays a socially discontent man, who in ambition to climb the ladder of society starts seducing a wealthy factory owner’s daughter (played by Heather Sears), while falling in love with a married, older, humbler French actress (Simone Signoret). The whole love triangle plays in a very misogynist way, what with all the leading character’s indifference into just choosing one of these women, except until he is basically coerced into one of them by an outside force. For this whole approach and the whole social climbing aspect (which I actually thought it was handled very nicely) the film could be very well considered to be dated, but… I like old school. The film was definitely beloved at the time, even inspiring a sequel and a short lived TV series, and at times one can definitely see why. And the plot could very easily just fall into melodramatic ground, but it doesn’t, and the scenes shared by Harvey (who I’ve finally seen in a role I think fits him like a glove, after being bored to death by him from seeing him in Darling and BUtterfield 8) and Signoret (subtle, committed and often luminous. Her “people at the top” monologue near the end is just powerful and haunting, yet subtle and quiet) are beyond romantic and simply elegantly shot. Overall, a nice little British drama I’d definitely recommend for those into them, not without its flaws, but certainly a nice way to spend two hours. Rating: B

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Reviews for The Damned and Watchmen coming up tomorrow

Review: Swing Time, seen on March 1st

March 12, 2009

Swing Time (George Stevens, 1936) – Being in the mood for something lighter (not to say better), and having never seen a Ginger Rogers / Fred Astaire dance flick, being a huge musicals fan you can say the least I expected was simply a mildly amusing feel good movie. Well, there’s way more than that. Fred Astaire plays a dancer who in the day of his wedding is tricked by his dancing partners into missing his own wedding. After disappointing the poor little bride, he agrees with his fiancé’s father to find 25000$ in order to be allowed to marry her again. In search for success, he arrives to New York penniless with his partner, Pop (Victor Moore). There he follows Ginger Roger’s character to a dancing academy and this is what really sets this wonderful story into motion.

I won’t go on any further on the story, but I can assure you every musical number is impeccably performed, choreographed, and shot (one of the final musical sequences involves Fred Astaire in a blackface on a number that could be very easily considered distasteful in retrospective, but thanks to the impeccable choreography is very easy to just forget the context and admire it for the flawless technicality of it). Somewhere between the middle of the film our characters start breaking into singing for no reason, which could be very easily considered discrepant to the path the film had been choosing til that point, but the intent is so pure and heartfelt, and the result is so beautiful, I don’t even think I mind that much. Beautiful, sparkling chemistry between the leads carry the whole film like a breath of fresh air, and the supporting performances by Victor Moore and Helen Broderick as Ginger’s co-worker/friend/roommate can very easily make you laugh in the less cheerful moments of the film. All in all, a wonderful deservedly classic musical that most certainly won’t be the last of Fred & Ginger’s films I’ll be seeing. Rating: A-

The Oscar winning song “The Way You Look Tonight”, from the film.

Review: Star 80, seen on March 1st

March 11, 2009

Star 80 (Bob Fosse, 1983) – based on the true story of tragic fated Playboy’s Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, played by Woody Allen girl (REALLY a girl, anyone who’s seen Allen’s Manhattan would agree =/) Mariel Hemingway. It follows the story of how Stratten came to meet her murderer: her husband Paul Snider, played by Julia’s big brother, Eric Roberts. Directed by Bob Fosse, the film starts by showing us the decay and the progress of Snider’s anger, as he one day meets Dorothy and starts seeing her as an opportunity for success. What Fosse achieved in the fantastics Cabaret and All That Jazz so effortlessly was that the flow of those films seemed invisible: they’re both rather lengthy, they’re both kind of raunchy, yet the energy in which he brings into his actors and into his direction make it all look so breezy. Unfortunately, this is not the case for this film. Often we see the story fractured by interviews of people who knew Dorothy or Paul (or rather, actors who play them), trying to tell us things we’re kind of already seeing in the film by these small character’s reactions. By this Fosse seems willing to capture a documentary feel into the film, but it just seems unrealistic, not to mention some of the dialogues of these faux-interviews just come out so unnatural, and the saddest of all, it breaks the rhythm of the film considerably, which like I’ve already said seems to be Fosse’s forte. Another glaring flaw in the picture seems to be some sort of unintentional sadism in the way the story’s being told: rushedly shot only 3 years after the incident, the decision of filming the tragic climax in the same department where the real Dorothy Stratten was murdered, are often very obvious aspects the film never tries to hide even though it should, and the result just seems exploitative, and for the audience, downright unpleasant.

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But if the film does excel in some departments, it’s in the acting: Mariel Hemingway rises above the script’s lazy decision of never showing why Dorothy cares so much about the schlub, and with limited subtle stares and soft voice makes us understand that perhaps despite the uneasiness Paul provokes on her, there’s an understanding and sympathetic feelings that make her try to handle the situation as long as humanly possible. On the other hand, and with an entirely different style of acting, there’s Eric Roberts, who despite the screenplay’s attempts to show the guy’s situation in a sympathetic manner, never gives in into clichés and just shows Paul Snider’s inner demons with such a pathos and in such a convincing way that he achieves a coldly truthful, honest, yet effortlessly transparent portrayal of this pathetic, sleazy man. All in all, a rushed, lazy and unpleasant project about a story that should have never been told, but that works as an acting showcase for both its stars just perfectly, they’re the reason to at least give the film a try. Rating: C

Resurrecting my m00vies, y’all

March 11, 2009

So my last attempt of carrying it out a blog failed miserably, mostly thanks to my lack of Internet connection at the time. And Blogspot got on my nerves =/.It was a stupid idea then, but now that I do have a steady Internet connection I’ve decided to carry this thing out as a film log diary, in which I will publish reviews of the films I’ll be seeing week after week day after day. Some way shorter than others, depending on how much I’ve got to say for given film(s). Get it? Good. Let’s start!

And to re-open this blog, or morelike, for no particular reason whatsoever, here’s this little gem, featuring Jimmy Dean and Paul Newman being unintentionally homoerotic! Discovered it last night (thanks to Dave, from Oscar Buzz!) and I can’t get enough of it. Enjoy!