Sunday, April 12, 2015

Incendies (2010)

I should write a decent review for "Incendies". It deserves it. Even though it's not exactly the ultimate masterpiece as some rankings say, and the pace it develops in the first half it's way too slow. However, I'm sorry but I'm definitely not in the right mood to write an entry on this. All I can say, in the spirit of the movie, is that families are complicated. That ... and Happy Holidays! :) ... for who's still in the Easter season ...

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, April 6, 2015

Burnt by the Sun (1994)

I finally watched "Burnt by the Sun" last week, considered by many the best movie of Nikita Mikhalkov. Who apparently lacking ideas, decided 20 years after shooting the original to make a sequel, trashed by critics. I don't intend watching that. But not because the original was bad...

There are movies which are telling you from start, even if not directly that the ending won't be good. And after doing that, everything tries to make the ending as hard to accept as possible. If the movie is well directed has the best chances to ruin your mood or even bring you to tears. The best example that pops in my mind is Benigni's "La Vita e Bella". Metaphorically speaking you can think on "Burnt by the Sun" as a Russian version of that (minus the Italian verve and exuberance). The movie is set in rural Russia during The Great Purge (years '36-'38) when at Stalin's orders NKVD (the father of KGB and grandfather of FSB) did a "cleaning" of the Soviet Union's political class and high army ranks. The precise context is on an officer, known as bolshevik hero of the Russian Civil war, who spends a sunny Sunday together with his wife, daughter and relatives in the summer residence. An old acquaintance of the wife's family unexpectedly pays a social visit, the reasons for that showing up more and more clearly with each passing hour...

I never had a very good opinion on the Russian cinema. And it's not changed. But I have to admit when I see an exceptionally directed piece. I don't know what's Mikhalkov doing now, and there isn't indeed any room left for a sequel on "Burnt by the Sun" (so the 2nd part = just for $). However, considering the original, I've rarely seen anything expressing so well that there's something bad going to happen, as well as a deceivingly fake optimistic feeling fed with a vain hope despite the clear outcome. This is not a movie to make your mood better, and subjectively I disliked it especially for the (typical and yet again met) slavic/balkanic fate acceptance attitude, even if at some point I almost got fooled there's something else there...

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, March 30, 2015

Belle Epoque (1992)

Since I didn't have much sleep last Friday night, I looked for a movie to get me dreaming (in the real sense). Finally I decided to alternate a bit to the usual "sleeping pill" which are old Hong-Kong movies, and I stopped on a romantic comedy (what was in my mind?..). That's how I got to "Belle Epoque". Big mistake...

I don't have much time for writing, so let's make this quick. We're talking about a Spanish movie since more than 20 years ago. The period of the action: more than 80 years ago. A young deserter from the Spanish army, traveling from town to town in the early '30s, stops one night in a quiet village, where he finds shelter in the big house of a nice old man. The old man brings the young fellow to the train station the next morning, to say "adios" and also to pick up his visiting daughters, just arrived from the capital. Four of them. Three unmarried and one widow. Guess what: the boy loses the train. What happens next ... I said I don't have time to write :)

There isn't any exact comparison that comes to my mind now that perfectly defines what I've watched in "Belle Epoque". There's something between Alexander Payne's maximum usage of the characteristics of the location setting (= the rural Spain in this case), and a latino version of Woddy Allen. In any case, this is not a movie to put you to sleep, despite the calm that it has, the comforting tone and the lighthearted view on life .. which creates an ironic contrast with the tragic period of the Spanish civil war that follows, slowly getting shape.

Rating: 3 out of 5 (because the ending disappointed me a bit... otherwise it would've been a 4)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cinderella (2015) vs. Maleficent (2014)

... or to make it quick: how "good" looses lamely against "evil" in the last two classic Perrault/Grimm adaptations. Even though the critics' result is the opposite. Not for me. Why? Well, let's see ...

I've always thought that "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" are the most boring stories in the "damsel in distress" set (at least in Snow White we have a poisonous apple and dwarfs, in Red Riding Hood a disguised wolf, and in Rapunzel we can study the hair thread toughness in domestic constructions - e.g., ladders). So, I didn't expect much neither from "Maleficent", nor from "Cinderella". The surprise came, however, from where I wasn't expecting anything at all. After all in Cinderella we still have something: the glass shoe search, but in Sleeping Beauty... : a curse, the damsel falls asleep, the prince arrives, the magic kiss, end of story. Nothing to create at least some fake suspense before the expected happy-end. Well, no .. in "Maleficent" the tale is a bit more complicated. The script takes quite a distance from the classic story. As main action thread we're following the life of the evil fairy godmother who drops the curse on the little princess, (spoiler:) and after gets to regret it, and after ... well, after it's written in the book :) (not really). Let's say just that the ending .. or better said the story climax is surprising. Probably so surprising that the critics pretty much bashed "Maleficent"... Not the same thing for "Cinderella", which seems to be relatively well received by now. Why not? We have a classic tale, told in the finest detail, with little digression. So that children will still enjoy their dreams after. No nightmare potential here.

I can't say that "Cinderella" is a bad movie. Kenneth Branagh managed to get the max out of a story by keeping it as it is: light. For bedtime. With a relaxed tone, a good casting, a decent script, cool effects, everything in its place. I would've liked more than that. I did not expect to see the unwritten side as in "Maleficent", knowing that Branagh doesn't cross much the borders of the book, but I did hope for something ... I don't know ... More evilish evil characters, more tension when looking for the girl with the right foot ... Something that I've seen around 20 years ago, when this guy was trashed by critics for what I consider still to be the best "Frankenstein" (yup, the one with DeNiro). Way too much drama, intensity and depth they said it was there. That's what's missing in "Cinderella".

The conclusion is that if you want a pure bedtime story, you're probably in the apparently larger target group of viewers for who the critics recommend "Cinderella". If you're open minded enough to accept a cinematic approach that's more complex than the literary piece (completely opposite to the usual book-to-screen simplification) then ... choose the "dark" side ;)

Rating: Maleficent - 4, Cinderella - 3

Monday, March 16, 2015

Run All Night (2015)

"Run All Night" is closing the trilogy. "Tak... oh no, sorry .. that's another trilogy .. how to call this one? .. "Liam Neeson for next Expendables!" by Jaume Collet-Serra: "Unknown", "Non-Stop" and "Run All Night". Three movies connected by: Liam Neeson as ultimate bad-ass, in a time limited context and including lots of bullets. "Unknown" was the predictable one, "Non-Stop" the "sci-fi", and "Run All Night" the cliche.

The story is ... "a classic tale": Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) runs the Irish mafia of New York since 30 years ago. Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson), an old "brother in arms" and once the main hitman, is tolerated as senior member of the organization, being busy nowadays with drowning his bloody memories in alcohol. Both Irishmen have a son. Classic bit: The boss's son does something stupid - tries to expand the clan's business by integrating heroin traffic in the activity list. Classic bit: drugs are not an honest business for a respectable mafia clan so the father doesn't agree. Classic bit: The situation gets complicated and the old alcoholic hitman must put a bullet in the little mafia prince to save his own son. Classic bit: The old boss must get revenge ... obviously this including every possible cliche: "yes, it was my son's fault; yes, we've been friends since a lifetime; yes, your son has no blame; yes, I'm not sure I want to do this ... but .. tooth for a tooth". That's the rest of the movie, a night of chasing (as the title says) where Liam Neeson, miraculously awaken from his drunk state, manages somehow to keep his son alive, even if this seems to require the eyes of an olympic champion in target shooting or the unexplainable precision superiority of a rusty two-barrel shotgun against a laser guided weapon. More details, in the movie ... :)

I remember "Unknown" as a relatively mediocre movie. "Non-Stop" was more creative although not much better. About "Run All Night" ... unfortunately I've seen too many thrillers involving mafia, bullets & revenge to be easily impressed by something. We don't have anything original here. Overall it's a "watchable" movie, but that's all. On one hand it can be much worse (as in "John Wick"). On the other hand it can be much much better. If you want something original, check out "Contraband". And if you want something "old school" = the tale told here, then go for the masterpiece: "Road to Perdition" ;)

Rating: 3 out of 5 (barely ...)