Movie review entries

August 07, 2006

Too good to write about it.

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The Motorcycle Diaries
5 out of 5 stars

July 31, 2006

Innocent Voices

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Innocent Voices (Voces Innocentes)
5 out of 5 stars

Director: Luis Mandoki

Starring:Carlos Padilla
Leoner Varela
Jose Maria Yazpick
Ofelia Medina

Mexico, 120 mins.

Innocent Voices was Mexico’s entry into the 77th Academy Awards international films category, even though it had not been released yet. One can see why it was submitted so early. It has a very important story to tell and as a film it is sheer brilliance, doubled with poignancy and such emotion – not expected from Luis Mandoki who normally dabbles within the Hollywood sphere.

Innocent Voices (Voces Innocentes) is based on the true story of screenwriter Oscar Torres’ embattled childhood. It is the poignant tale of Chava (Carlos Padilla), an eleven–year–old boy who suddenly becomes the man of the house after his father abandons the family in the middle of a civil war. In the 1980’s, the government’s armed forces are already recruiting twelve–year–olds, rousting them out of their classes at the local middle school. The scenes are harrowing as Chava’s life is literally turned upside down, with some of his friends taken away by force before his eyes and watching his mother sew dresses well into night to try and feed her children.

If he is lucky, Chava has just one year of innocence left. One year before he, too, will be conscripted to fight the government’s battle against the peasant rebels of the FMLN. Thus, Chava’s life becomes a game of survival, not only from the bullets of the escalating war, but also from the dispiriting effects of daily violence. He hustles to find work to help his single mother pay the bills, and experiences the pangs of first love for a beautiful classmate. Chava’s tiny home village becomes both playground and battlefield. Armed with the love of his mother (Leonor Varela) and a small radio that broadcasts a forbidden anthem of love and peace, and faced with the impossible choice of joining either the army or the rebels, Chava finds the courage to keep his heart open and his spirit alive in his own race against time.

In films, child actors normally serve to arouse sympathy and add a “cutness” factor along with a rather nauseating vulnerability. Starring mostly children, one might think that Innocent Voices would mostly arouse its sympathy from giving the children a silly script to read out with huge bambi eyes. Thankfully, Hollywood is nowhere to be seen and it can be very safely said (coming from someone who hates child actors) that the children in this film give some the best performances ever to be captured on film from their age group. Carlos Padilla is stunning. He is riveting to watch, feisty, caring and thoughtful. This is his film debut and what a debut it is. All the children in the film give the most beautiful performances. Leonor Varela proves that she’s not just a pretty face and gives a very moving performance as Chava’s mother, trying desperately to keep her children alive in the midst of the turmoil. Turmoil is the right word and some scenes in the film really are quite distressing. Chava’s house frequently gets riddled with bullets whilst he and his siblings hide behind a stretched mattress against the wall. There’s nothing quite like telling the absolute truth about a situation.

Innocent Voices is a riveting tale of survival and how even war cannot diminish a child’s indomitable spirit. Fabulously shot and with subtitles for those of us incapable of understanding Spanish, it is very highly recommended.

June 17, 2006

The Science of Sleep

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The Science of Sleep
4 out of 5 stars

Director: Michael Gondry
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Alain Chabet

106 minutes.

Gael Garcia Bernal never fails to deliver. Coming to the attention of world audiences with his role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s acclaimed “Amores Perros”, Bernal went on to be nominated for Mexico’s Silver Ariel Award (Mexico’s equivalent of the Oscars). He is perhaps best known for his role in Alfonso Cuaron’s sexy road film “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, Bernal has gained the reputation of a mature actor despite his relatively young age. He is a linguist, speaking in many different tongues throughout his films but what is notable about The Science of Sleep is that it is Bernal’s first film where he is speaks mostly French throughout.

The Science of Sleep can only really be described as ‘weird’ or ‘intriguing’ but these descriptions are designed to put filmgoers off. In this case, don’t let it. The Science of Sleep is weird because it is supposed to be. It is certainly reminiscent of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet) which incidentally (or not so incidentally) was also filmed and co–produced by Gondry. The film is visually very unique, as is the content and outline, intriguing the audience, raising plenty of laughs and is also baffling at the same time. Many will walk out of the cinema and proclaim that it is so strange, barbarian and mind boggling that they didn’t enjoy it and would probably not recommend it. Gondry’s ‘weird’ element in the film though is what makes it so good. It doesn’t have to be fully understood – and this is indeed the point. It is a film about reality, perception, the world of dreams and an individual’s inability to separate his dreams from reality. The point is that our dreams are never truly understood; they are wacky, inexplicable and downright odd and it is this portrayal of dreams that makes the film so special.

Since he was a child, Stephane Miroux (Bernal) has had problems separating his dreams from reality and growing into his twenties has not changed him a bit. His dreams are beginning to take over and ordinary life begins to intrude into his dreamscape. In his mind, Stephane is an authority on The Science of Sleep and he dreams a programme called “Stephane TV” where he is the host and elements from his life become involved, as do his family and friends.

The film opens with Stephane presenting a cooking show on “Stephane TV” where he mixes together random thoughts, reminiscences of the day, memories, love, songs and images. He demonstrates how dreams are prepared. Meanwhile, the real Stephane returns home to Paris and starts a job with a calendar publicist. Stunned to discover that his work provides no scope for creativity, Stephane shows his boss his “disastrology” drawings of earthquakes and plane crashes but his creativity is unappreciated. Soon, Stephane’s dreams are littered with images of the office life he becomes to loathe.

Stephane meets his new neighbour Stephanie and her friend Zoe, who mistake him for being an injured piano mover. He takes great pains to disguise the fact that he is the landlady’s son who lives across the hall. Stephane is undeniably first attracted to Zoe but he discovers a kindred spirit in Stephanie who shares his love for handcrafting whimsical and unusual objects. Stephanie, although charmed by Stephane’s sweetness and quirkiness, becomes increasingly confused by his inability to decide what is real and what is not and she makes it very clear that they can only be friends. Later Stephane dreams that he writes a best–selling novel called “I am just your neighbour and a liar. By the way, do you have Zoe’s number?” The initial attraction Stephane had for Zoe is one the major points of the film and Stephanie feels constantly downtrodden by her more attractive and flirtatious friend, resenting Stephane for being attracted to her. However, it is Stephanie who Stephane really wants and he constantly tries to woo her with his marvellous inventions, including a primitive time machine. It does not matter how much Stephane persists, Stephanie is always put off by his inexplicable behaviour. Thus, Stephane turns his dreams to search for the answer to Stephanie’s heart.

What must be noted about this film is just how funny it is. The characters Stephane has to work with are possibly the funniest, stealing the scenes they are in and are all so awful that one can empathise with Stephane and understand why he hates his job. The clever juxtaposition of the two main characters is masterful; Stephane full of quirky, childlike fantasies versus Stephanie who is more mature in mind but not necessarily in body. She also has a very childlike quality to her but is a lot more aware of the world. For example, when Stephane shows her the glasses he has invented to show the world as 3D, she says that life is 3D already. The oblivious Stephane cannot see this.

The film oscillates between dreams and reality and the audience gets lost in “Stephane TV”. There is a point where there is complete silence in the film except a very faint voice–over that actually has the power to make the audience feel as though they are drifting off to sleep – a very clever and apt manipulation of the human senses.

The Science of Sleep is a real mixture of life, perception, animation and craftwork. The use of animation for Stephane’s dream world, although looking very handmade and childlike, looks ahead of it’s time in terms of quality. The difference and non–difference between the two worlds is very effective, but the film is not purely about dreams. The central theme is the relationship betwixt Stephane and Stephanie and the fact that Stephane is indeed a little insane, partly why Stephanie and is not attracted to Stephane (despite Gael Garcia Bernal being extremely easy on the eyes).

Gondry implies that a dream is a like a stew with lots of ingredients being mixed up together, but he also implies that dreams are a science. It is clear that he does not believe that all dreams should be mythologized and made into symbols. Everyone has his or her own associations. Memory has to be explored and dreams have to be interpreted as a science in their own right.

I highly recommend The Science of Sleep for its sheer originality, bilingualism, fantastic acting, hilarious script and the fact that is takes Film to new heights in terms of audience perception, animation and style.

April 11, 2006

No passion for this film.

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Passion of the Christ.
1 out of 5 stars

I saw this film when it came out and had decided to go and see it because I wanted to see what all the fuss was all about and also to satisfy my curiosity about the Latin and Arbic nature of it. I went with an open mind and hated the film. So why do I bring it up now? Well, it's Easter (which is associated with Christ, obviously…) and also because I walked past a Church today which advertised "Free showing of Passion of the Christ" tonight.

I would actively miss this film even though it's free. I'm actually sorry that I spent good money on seeing it in the first place. This is in no way because I don't agree with the content of the film. If it had been a good film then I would have enjoyed it no matter of the religious content. (I did enjoy the religious infused Narnia!) Fact is, it was a very mediocre and poorly made film.

Apparently in America several people died when they watched the film. They were so moved by it that they had heart attacks. What an embarassing way to die. Moved to death by a poorly scripted and self-important film.

What I particulary didn't like about the film was the naive self-importance which it strutted into the box office with. 'Look at my film' says Mel Gibson 'it's about Christ so no one can slate it or say it's bad.' The scripting was terrible and the plot line was awful. Yes, it's about Christ's life and the lead up to his death but blimey, you'd think that would make a great film. But Gibson decided to go for gore over emtional build-up. After watching the whipping, the nailing and general brutality you do get the picture that yes, things were pretty nasty. We knew that anyway. But in terms of being a film (you were making a film, weren't you, Mel?) it was unneccessary. People seemed to forget that Passion of the Christ is infact a film. It would have been compared to other films at Oscar debates etc and it could not haven stood up to them. Was simply not a good film.

What I suggest Gibson should have done to make a better film would have been to turn the film around. Instead of making the audience squirm in their seats at the sight of blood for 2 hours, he should have told the story of Christ's life. He should have depicted the life of a man, used the stories of all the good stuff Jesus did etc. Then use flash-fowards to show what is going to happen to this man and it is in these flash forwards that the violence and gore could have been used as a contrast. Would have been more effective and more hard-hitting than 2 hours of mindless desensitising gore. It was just horrific and not in an effective way.

The credit for this film needs to stop. It's not enjoyable. If you want to see a good film about Christ's life then see Jesus of Nazareth. Aviod this pretentious guff. The self-importance will make you vom.

So if you see a sign saying 'free showing of Passion of the Christ' don't get tempted by the price. You'll be ripped off.

March 30, 2006

Ready to weep with grief or joy at Hostel?

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Not rated

USA 2005, 95 mins.

Known to many as the personification of cool, style and violent art forms, Tarantino is starting to set the new trend for directors to become guest directors and guest/small part producers. After guest directing in the superb hit Sin City, it now seems instead of planning his own films, Tarantino is opting for the trendy producing and guest directing. Is the cinematic legend out of inspiration or was he purely helping out his hot buddy Robert Rodriguez on Sin City? (Who incidently has the best band ever called Chingon – put on your speakers -, but that's another highly cool story. Tracks can be heard on the Kill Bill Vol II soundtrack, which Rodriguez scored and the proceeds from the CD go to charity, so it's even better.)

However, as a lover of all things Tarantino I am slightly dubious over the comnig of Hostel which looks nothing short of horrific. True, I've only seen the trailers and read the plot outline on the net, but I believe a lot can be judged from a film trailer. Indeed, I think a film should partly be judged by it's trailer. If you're stupid enough as a director to release a trailer which does your film no justice, then it's your fault if the box office suffers.

Anyway, Hostel looks like another horricfically boring "teens go in search of a fun hedonisitc holiday and end up getting killed in many grusome ways" type of film. We've seen it all before. As such, the IMDB managed to summarise the plot in 3 lines, which I've manged to summarise into 1. I was very shocked to realise that QT actually produced the film. From the trailer it looks as though it has none of the Tarantino style or wit. It just looks…mindlessly violent. Something Tarantino is not. So in contrast to my usual excitment about a Tarantino feature about to come out, I am a little sceptical and get the feeling Tarantino's heart was not in this. In fact, if the film is how I predict, I will be highly dissapointed. It just looks like something we've seen before.

That said, there is a little excitment on the horizon. QT has 2 new films scheduled to come out this year: Grind House and Inglorious Bastards, the first of which is co-directed with buddy Rodriguez. Details aren't out yet but I'm sure these will more promising than this teen horror picture. I hate teen films…nearly always rubbish and always about the same things with some bad acting and supposedly beautiful people. Change the record!

March 12, 2006

Walk the Line

Writing about web page

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Walk the Line
5 out of 5 stars

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick.
Time: 136 mins
Twentieth Century Fox.

Described by his contempory, Bob Dylan, as someone who no one else can be, Johnny Cash is one of music's finest legends. Masterful lyrics, new chords and stage charisma are things which define Cash from other similiar musicians. So great is Cash's musical repertoire and so profound is his mark on history, that one would assume that any attempt to try and imitate him would be a disaster.

Despite past films trying to imitate legends to a horrific effect, Mangold's film skirts many of the usual dangers film producers have to dodge when making a film about a legend. Like Ray (2005), the film choses a traditional path to tread, centering on Cash's emotional twists and turns and the effect the music has on him and him on the music. Concentrating mainly on Cash's relationship with June Carter, the film establishes the enduring friendship between them and Johnny's constant hope for more.

The pair sing on tour together and it clear that they are soul mates, made for each other both on and off the stage. However, a sea of woe stands between them: June's divorce, June's new husband and Johnny's addiction to amphetamines. When June has had enough of drugs, the hardship and the social isolation, she leaves the tour – sending Johnyy into a downward spiral of depression, rage and financial problems. His first marriage to Vivian (a simple houswive with none of June's fire and energy but likeable) is in tatters, especially after it is clear that Johnny's romantic intentions lie elsewhere.

The backbone of the film and possible the most important aspect of the feature is the relationship between Cash and his father. His father held the unexpected and untimely death of Johnny's elder brother as Johnny's fault, initiating the guilt and pain Johnny feels about life and his family – something which is reflected in his music. The devil, his father scathes "took the wrong son." It is exactly this missing paternal link which Johnny finds so difficult to get over.

Perhaps the reason Walk the Line missed out at the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Phoenix) is that the screenplay already existed in the form of Cash's life and imitation is arguably easier for an actor to achieve rather than building a character up from a script. True, Heath Ledger's performance as the ranch cowboy in Brokeback Mountain was nothing short of genius (purely as a performace and also that Ledger is so typecast as being rubbish that he had to work hard to break his mould) and Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was Oscar worthy, granted. However, Joaquin Phoenix's performance cannot go without mention when discussing the greatest performances from actors 2005/2006.

Typecasted as an actor who is expressionless and perhaps a little camera shy (see The Village), Phoenix is mesmerising. There's a lot to say for an actor or actress who captivates an audience. This is exactly what Phoenix does. His imitation of Cash is incredible. His voice is deep, rustic and harsh. So great is Phoenix's depiction of Cash both on and off stage that one finds oneself believing to be watching Cash and not Phoenix. Phoenix's co-star and Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon, delievers the performance of a lifetime, stepping away from her usual roles and delieveries and stepping into unfamiliar terrority, and achieving the greatest award. Her singing is sassy, she is funny, adoring and she portrays June's unwillingness to temper her passions and see Cash's self-destruction brilliantly.

Phoenix's performance is magnificant and should not be overshadowed by any other Oscar contender. The film is honest and sound, juxtaposing the musical success and downfall of one man. One could perhaps argue that the film choses to centre more on Cash's life than his music and does imply that Cash simply fell into his musical personality, rather than offering any scope for how his music was born. As a peice of cinema the film is stunning and a joy to watch whether one is a Cash fan or not. It's just as well Bob Dylan references were kept to a low and no Dylan cameos were made as this would have completed lowered the tone.

The accomplished vocal work of Phoenix and Witherspoon does not really get enough attention in the film. Their work is masterful. Phoenix's "on-stage" performances are just sensational. The acting is spot-on on all accounts and the general production is solid. Particular gems are the concert footage and the flashback's into Cash's earlier years. This insight into one of music's greatest legends is flawless and captivating and can watched repeatedly for many years to come.

Fantastic and highly recommended.

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