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 ...)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Relatos Salvajes (2014)

The only problem of "Relatos Salvajes" (aka "Wild Tales") is that it's not a movie. It's six of them. A collection of shorts with a shared theme: revenge. Generally expressed directly, maybe with one exception. But even there the payback urge stays close to come out loud ...

The movie starts with an intro of about 10 minutes. Which is not really the intro. Is the first story in the set (the shortest one). And at the same time can be considered a sort of promo: "buy the rest" of "switch the channel". For me was more than enough to sell what follows. I would even say I liked it most out of the six pieces. And without exaggerating, it competes to the title of "best first 10 minutes of a movie I've ever seen". I won't give any spoiler about it or on what's following. Like I said, the topic is revenge, in plenty of forms and approaches: premeditated, spontaneous, favored by context, direct, indirect, ... I think almost everything is covered. Don't expect though something as complex as "Count of Monte-Cristo". We're talking about 6 shorts. Which, given the differences probably can't please in equal measure the viewer. Probably that's the "big" minus, which is obviously complemented by the plus that you'll enjoy at least one or two of the tales.

What was catchy for me in "Relatos Salvajes" is the wittiness of the script that stays consistent throughout the six pieces. Well ... in some cases you might get what follows from half-time onwards, but the ending is usually quite extreme, and you probably won't be able to anticipate it from the start. Besides that, there's also the genre. You won't be able to say what you're watching, but it's not something bad. Is it a drama or a dark comedy? The alternation is so well integrated that's transparent. And to make it more effective, the script is supplemented consistently by the movie making side. The editing is brilliant, and the sound the same. If you plan to see this, watch closely the re-encounter scene in story no. 3 and also don't miss the "highway soundtrack". It's something like a Tarantino scene there. Or in the last story, check out the storm in the back-end seen from the roof. Maybe all these are elements that might escape the eye, but show how careful is all this put together.

As said in the beginning the only problem is that we don't have one movie here, but six. As light spoiler, I did wait up to the end to be given a connecting line between the stories. I didn't get one. Except the common theme. Which, to reference again "Monte Cristo", doesn't seem in the end to have the same appeal here as in the classic approaches. You don't really get to feel very empathic with a character. Probably because every story serves also as cold dish the negative effect of a payback attempt. Or, somehow between the lines, the movie tries to tell you that in real life revenge is not an option :) ...
Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar 2015 - ... what's left to say ...

M. Gustave: The beginning of the end of the end of the beginning has begun. A sad finale played off-key on a broken-down saloon piano in the outskirts of a forgotten ghost town. I'd rather not bear witness to such blasphemy.
Zero: Me neither.
("The Grand Budapest Hotel" - Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness)

I've decided to write an extra entry this year, just before the awards, while thinking if it's not a better idea to get to bed instead of watching live if I get any predictions right. Unfortunately I have other work to do = the decision lies in the end between keeping the TV turned on or not (what do you think we'll be the choice ?). So, I thought it might not be a bad idea to point out some sections I generally avoid (especially since I'm really thinking on not doing another round of this next February). For instance, writing. Where we have the original category: "Boyhood", "Birdman", "Foxcatcher", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", and "Nightcrawler". Here's quite hard to choose to be frank (even "Boyhood" has a decent script), but I guess the winner is the one including the quote above. If it doesn't get at least that ...

The adapted writing section is also hard to choose from. The reasons are completely opposite though = I don't know who's the less weak among the worse roundup I've seen in years: "American Sniper", "Inherent Vice", "The Imitation Game", "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash". Cliche, cryptic, classic, dry, and tiring. I'll pick the middle choice, "The Imitation Game":

Joan Clarke: Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.
("The Imitation Game" - Graham Moore)

Another section I'm writing about quite rarely is ... make-up. "Guardians of the Galaxy" unfortunately doesn't have any chance, not even here. Everybody gives "The Grand Budapest Hotel" as winner. I would point out "Foxcatcher" though, as the first movie after a series of constant failures in transforming the main character, culminating probably with "J. Edgar".

And if I talked about makeup, let's talk about costumes too. More nominations: "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "Inherent Vice", "Into the Woods", "Maleficent", "Mr. Turner", but easier to predict. I'll go along the general opinion:

If on what's above I usually avoid talking because I'm not really able to tell a lot based only on what I see in a movie, on actors I avoid writing because I'm too subjective. I wouldn't do it this year as well, but I can't help making an exception. For leading actore we have as nominees Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bradley Cooper, Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne. All the predictions indicate as winner the last one in this list for the role of Stephen Hawking, who I do not deny requiring a consistent effort. I would point out though as much more complicated to perform the transformation I've seen on Steve Carell in a total atypical role, in "Foxcatcher":

I decided to write this entry also because I thought I ended way too acid this year. However ... :) yet again ... I don't think I've ever seen a list of nominees + the most probable winners (of whom I hope that many won't coincide with my prediction) so ... f***ed up as this year. Culminating I guess with animation, where I won't even bother to enumerate the nominees, out of whom the most probable winner is a sequel (should be easy to pick it out). For me though, it's something else:

which ... is not among the nominees :) But in the end, who cares about who's there & who wins, right ? ;)