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A.P. Bio (2018)
Too safe, too pleasant but also tight, clean, charming and all right kinds of woke.
-Super tight show. Timing, editing, great production value, sets, clothing, bright and clean, easy to the eyes.
-Clockwork timing thanks to one of the sharpest editing I've seen on TV. Dialogue economy, constant rhythm. Astonishing work there.
-Talented cast, plenty of quick funny reactions, longer takes from the best characters, all managed to perfection.
-Premise lacking, to say the least. But originality means nothing on its own. Well executed but still trite trope.
-Zero credibility. Again, pure mindless escapism. But comfortable script, light ride, very enjoyable.
-Could use more philosophy, shockingly lacking in that aspect. A bit disapointing.
-Script shortcomings overshadowed by likable characters, talented performances and kind tone.
-Nice work, good exit from IASIP. Glenn Howerton character is a convenient follow-up to Dennis Reynolds.
-A bit of School of Rock, Northern Exposure... no surprises.
-Probably too safe, too comfortable, too pleasant but so tight, so clean, so charming it's all well worth.
-Still, it probably shouldn't go over a third season.
-I'd recommend it to fans of IASIP.
King Lear (1987)
Godard is a genius so whatever he touches, cinema-wise, is gonna have some kind of interest. But don´t let a few powerful images or ruminations take away from what this really is: a tantrum.
In 83, Laurence Olivier had played the Shakespeare´s classic with all the talent and authority from a serious contender to the title of greatest actor of all time. In 85, Akira Kurosawa had revisited the classic with his own twist and made one monument of film, a glorious achievement in cinematography. In 87, Jean-Luc Godard was hopeless to come anywhere close to the interpretative and cinematographic heights of those two. He had one thing left to do, though, and one he is the master at, just as Olivier and Kurosawa are on their own fields: breaking the rules.
He breaks the rules alright but rather than the explosive freedom of his earlier classics, King Lear feels like the ramblings of a cranky old man to whom breaking the rules has become the rule.
La escopeta nacional (1978)
A must-see for anyone in the world.
Berlanga built up a reputation for miraculously avoiding censorship in the years of Franco´s dictatorship. He was forced to disguise his satires making light hearted comedies unlikely balanced with acurate social observation. In this film he was finally free from this restrictions -after 1975- and was presented the chance and the challenge to carry out his vision. Instead of going for a radical change he simply sharpened his style with a technically neutral point of view, letting the spontaneous dialogues speak volumes for themselves. He fully developed his taste for lively scenes in long shots full of characters featuring demented shades of local customs and manners.
The point is playing with those characters´ mannerisms and making them interact in the most organic way possible, turning the camera invisible. The plot feels like a natural stream of moments in real time more than a conventional sequence of events. Berlanga´s criticism is finally limitless but comedy always comes first. The notes on religion, power or how hard it is to get anything done in that place are never sour but cheerful displays of humanism, clear of judgement.
The main character being an outsider -a catalonian businessman with modern, more european manners- should help a foreign audience to gradually push out into that odd world. I consider this film to be a must-see for any film aficionado from anywhere in the world, more so if you have any liking for italian comedies. Excellent film value, legendary actors and it´s absolutely hilarious, at least for my standards. Criminally underrated.
Down a Dark Hall (2018)
Off start but meritful in the end.
Mediocre script based on a young adult novel, not the ideal source for critical acclaim but there´s still plenty of merit in this film, when all is said and done. First 30 minutes are weird, it goes through the mandatory setting without much belief in the story´s worth or the chosen tone to tell it. But things do get better.
Rodrigo Cortés tries desperately to put some dynamism to a rather lame plot and he suceeds at times -I counted three- specially in the ending, which has an elegant, subtle power. He gets the best from AnnaSophia Robb, who really grabs her opportunity. Uma Thurman doesn´t shine particularly but she does seem like she´s having fun with her character and it´s always good to see her.
Some supporting roles fall flat, specially the french teacher whose moral conflict could have been explored further, as well as his romantic interest, but the film isn´t trying to trascend and treats the characters with some detachment, even a comical distance at times. The plot itself is full of clichés so you can´t expect too much but I still find it far more interesting than the most popular young adult franchises. I´d rather watch this than The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Twilight... you get the point.
A Dark Song (2016)
Gone Haunting (aka Good Will Haunting).
Great introduction, short, quick, straight to the point, a beautiful landscape, a house, a driven woman and a badass soundtrack, in less than two minutes I was hooked, this is my kind of thing. Invocations in films are hardly ever the main focus, here is the only one and that´s great. It makes everything easier, the script, the sense of place, the characters, it´s all simple and focused, able to play around with small details. Plus it inverts the haunted house trope, another reason for this to stand out. Characters want to haunt the crap out of that house, so there´s a great feeling of anticipation all the way, but the third act pays off, it doesn´t lose focus, it doesn´t go out of its mind, it´s just a great fim and I´ll say it once more, the soundtrack is awesome.
Ned Rifle (2014)
Great film and a must-see for Aubrey Plaza fans
I just now learned this is a follow-up to other films, I think it works perfectly fine on its own. It´s lightning fast, a pure script film. There are no transitions shots whatsoever as if the rule on the filming set was "just say your line, hit the mark and let´s move on to the next scene". It certainly cuts the BS. Every scene, every line of dialogue is there for a good reason. The film has nice rhythm and a strong sense of purpose. The humor is dry and quick, symbolism is timely. This film has many virtues, I would recommend it specially to aspiring film makers, as it does much with very little. There are some bits of bad acting, as you could expect, but somehow it isn´t an issue, the script keeps it interesting. There are eloquent speeches with big words but it´s all not that pretentious, it´s quite simple, really. Good stuff
The Invitation (2015)
I don´t mind the slow build-up, I think it´s justified, kind of like the calm before the storm. The problem is how much of it is wasted. We focus on the main character´s grief, which in the end isn´t that important, while the other characters are completely ignored. One tiny conversation with each one of them, that´s all we know. The girlfriend Kira literally disappears for an hour. It often feels like Will is all by himself in that house. Suspicion gets bigger but none of the guests seem to care about anything. There are some small comments, of course, but we have 5 or 6 characters devoid of any personality or will. I feel like some events could have been much stronger if those characters weren´t merely filling the space.
There are some fine things, though, I´d never wanted to punch John Carroll Lynch so hard in the face. The same goes for Lindsay Burdge.
Nieve negra (2017)
family drama done right
I am aware the words "family drama" are not the most appealing in the world. Let´s face it, too many times they´re just... boring. I hate to use that word to put down films but in it´s often justified. Sometimes I run across films like this one and it´s such a nice feeling.
This is a great drama. It has an awesome use of flashbacks, a satisfying sense of place and pace, the plot unfolds patiently, not dreadfully, it renews the trite characterization of Ricardo Darín and puts the beautiful presence of Laia Costa to good use. It has mystery, surprises and just the right amount of social background. It´s a great film, totally recommended.
Kill List (2011)
delaying the answers cause there aren´t any
This film is based on questions and has very little interest in answering any of them. This helps building an unnerving sense of anticipation. The tension is palpable and the ambiguity is a big part of it. The problem with this kind of films is how hard it is to tell when something is left purposely unexplained and when it´s been poorly conceptualized. In both cases the results are similar.
People say it needs reviewing (a classic excuse for a poorly written film) that you are missing the point or that violence pulls you back. Well, I think the film maker is delaying the resolution cause he knows damn well it´s disappointing. He needs shocking violence as a distraction cause the plot itself is unable to shock anyone. The clues are vain and randomly scattered, the plot is stretched with meaningless actions.
It´s a nice try at reproducing the atmosphere of some classic films but not a succesful one, at least not entirely. There are some excellent moments and I have no doubt the director is very talented but I don´t think this is a modern classic. It´s still an interesting film worth your time, for sure.
Extremely difficult to make but suceeds
This script has traps everywhere, literally at every page. The film has been accused of many things and, sure enough, it wanders awfully close to all of them, but Payne stays masterfully in control. It avoids being too full of itself, gets to each point slow but steady and it´s funny all the way.
It´s a weird film indeed. I don´t mind the political implications and see it as a fairly straightforward fairytale, a hero´s journey or a search for destiny or identity. I can understand how the "he´s a small guy but he has a big heart" pushes people away but I don´t think the story felt cheap at any point. Quite the opposite, it has all the right kinds of balance.
The Death of Stalin (2017)
One of the best comedies of all time
At its best the satire here is almost on a "dr strangelove" level. Maybe not but this was released in 2017 for god´s sake. It brings me pure happiness to watch a film this smart, funny and good in this day and age. Wonderful cast, everyone is on top of their game, just watch it already.
Should I Stay or Should I Go
Martel is a master in narrating boredom, silent craving and hot weather. Much like "La ciénaga" this film is a delight of image and sound, filled with thoughtful details that accurately transport the viewer to a state of mind. It might bear down a little too much but it might just as well make you forget were you are for two hours. In the end it´s worth the pain.
By focusing on officer Zama the more ambitious social or historical commentary is made almost on its own, leaving small excerpts here and there of a much larger and complicated colonial system. The plot is the man and his attempt on staying by leaving, or being by disappearing. Not sure but I feel Martel´s work has more to do with the senses than the mind. Once you dive in it´s definitely a pleasure.
Lady Bird (2017)
Better safe than sorry
Greta Gerwig had time to polish the script, it shows. It seems it was done by 2013, so she had time to asbsorb it as well. That´s the first noticeable thing. There isn´t a wasted moment in "Lady Bird" and the pace is relentless all the way, like a mainstream version of the first minutes of "Frances Ha". There´s confidence in the chosen scenes so it quickly goes from one thing to the next and the film feels like a "greatest hits" from a trimmed screenplay. Lady Bird gradually evolves from an odious brat in the hilarious first scene to a grown-up and we see her every step of the way.
Saoirse Ronan is perfect for the role but I think it´s Laurie Metcalf who really dignifies the whole thing and takes it to another level. The mother-daughter relationship is the main focus although it´s well balanced with other aspects like first romances, friendships and school issues. Greta Gerwig takes advantage of her wide experience and the film is focused and doesn´t feel like a debut. It´s quick, pleasant to watch and confident about the semi auto-biographical material. She takes bits of Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen (oh, the irony) and makes something else although it doesn´t really have a strong personal voice.
"Lady Bird" goes through the motions relying a bit too much on the script. It´s too frantic to let any moment breathe. It´s focused on not making any mistake and therefore feels like a safe effort without any stand-out scene. Without the mother character, it would be just another, slightly above average, feel-good comedy about a regular girl. Most of the originality comes from the uncommon setting in Sacramento. She insists on how bad she has it but still goes to college. She gets everything she sets her eyes on, so it´s a rather comfortable ride.
Entre nos (2009)
Overly sentimental, poorly written and acted, an infamous stereotype of a naive poor latina who refuses to learn two words in english and speaks spanish to all the locals, a passive accumulation of misfortunes, a constant soft guitar and piano soundtrack over mechanical and manipulative events, a sudden and detached outcome... mediocre, uninteresting, unbearably soft film-making. It lightly scratches the surface of the human drama and adds absolutely nothing to the issue, other than clichés and common places.
This is a terrible movie, so dreadful that the short running time feels like an eternity. The scarce lifting moments are painfully lame and powerless, as dreadful as everything else. Paola Mendoza´s acting is just bad and the fact she´s turning this script into a novel makes me think the worse. I´d rather watch "El Norte" over and over. This is the worst film about immigration I´ve ever seen. It might even be the only bad one since the nature of the issue is so important it usually allows movies to be relevant on all levels. "Entre Nos" is a complete failure with a shameless presumptuous title.
Funny, original and gorgeous.
Sorry, I´m going to state the obvious here. Comedies should be funny, horror movies should be scary, family movies should be a family experience. In that regard, this is a masterpiece. I watched this with my son and we both had a terrific time. Funny, original and gorgeous, the story-telling is brilliant and had him interested until the end. For a silent film to keep me, meh, but to keep a six year-old... that is some accomplishment. The mix of CGI and real life shots is a triumph and this will most probably still look amazing 20 years from now. It´s a feast to the senses.
El bar (2017)
Hilarious and terrifying in equal parts
To me this is clearly the best film out of De la Iglesia´s last streak. Again it´s pure lunacy but this time I found the mix of comedy and horror to be a complete win. "El bar" keeps a frantic rhythm right until the glorious end and manages to remain funny in the last act, which is rare. While "Las brujas de Zugarramundi" was like three movies in one, going from thriller to mystery to horror, "El bar" is all three all the time. It can also be as disgusting as hilarious, which is expected, but this time the social criticism is more subtle than it may seem at first. At least it´s not a big part of it and the ending still comes as a surprise.
The human drama is far more effective this time as well and the character´s confrontations are stronger and deeper. It holds back the pure action scenes so we get less of that "hyper-fast-digital-camera-thing" (I must look up what it is exactly but it definitely is annoying). What we get instead is a long series of nail-biting conflicts, which are far more interesting, and there is hardly a dull moment. Overall I felt De la Iglesia was more in control than ever.
It probably isn´t as good as "La comunidad" but it might be funnier. I wasn´t exactly pleased with De la Iglesia´s last films but I had a terrific time watching this. One thing to non-spanish speakers, though, it must be a nightmare to watch this with subtitles. Good luck.
La sconosciuta (2006)
Tornatore and Morricone, Masters of Disguise
Tornatore is an excellent film-maker. Inheritor of italian melodrama masters, he has the touch, a total control over his films emotional power. He makes it look simple. So yes, I was tempted to give this a higher rating. Not too much, though. The thing is, Tornatore is one of those few directors able to turn almost anything into gold. There are ridiculous flasbacks all over, conveniently remembered just when they´re needed. That doesn´t feel like a well planned script, more like details he just forgot to include. He´s so quick, so confident, though, that in a few seconds it´s over and we´re on to the next thing, which makes it easily forgivable. This happens all the time. Too many events feel like improvised writing, like the street beating half way through, what was up with that?
Mystery is achieved by not giving any information at all, misleading the audience about the main character´s intentions right until the end, where it´s all explained in a rushed way. To me that´s too little too late. For over an hour we´re left in the dark and we get to see misfortunes and flashbacks accumulate in the hope of enlightening. It´s ironic how this film has been defined as "hitchcockian" when Hitchcock based all his suspense precisely on providing information to his audience, in the right amounts in the right moments. The opposite, which is what happens in "The Unknown Woman", turn the big moments colder. This foul is masked here by the schocking character of some scenes which will get a reaction out of the audience no matter how accidental they are. On top of that, it doesn´t know if it wants to be a thriller or a drama and those genre traits get in the way of each other. Some might appreciate this as some kind of global film, but I feel it could have lost all the cheap thrills in favor of being a full house melodrama.
Ultimately, it´s a well intentioned, enjoyable mess about the courage of an immensely mistreated woman. Tornatore turns random events into film lessons but I can´t shake off the fact that this failed experiment would be an absolute disaster in less skilled hands. If you add up the genius of Morricone, who can make stones cry, this a terrible movie disguised as an auteur thriller. The core of the film is clumsy and, more important than that, it left me surprisingly cold when all was said and done.
I must recommend a kind of similar film, "Chaos" (2001) by Coline Serreau, which, in my humble opinion, is an absolute masterclass on multi-genre, socially aware thriller film-making.
Sorrentino believes in cinema
At its best, "Youth" grabs his ideal of grandiloquence with pure cinema moments. It can get gorgeously evocative, like having an old Maradona thinking about his pre-match warm-ups. "What are you thinking about?", he´s asked, and he answers "the future". As eloquent as it can be it´s also too vague and two hours can become tedious. Maybe too sentimental as well but nostalgia is the engine after all. There´s nothing wrong in missing past times. Nothing.
Oh la la french cinema
As Claude Chabrol said, "Isabelle Huppert makes her own films, the director and everybody else are just there to help". This one is perfectly suited for her restrained style. A woman´s life is changing considerably and she carries on. Simple enough but oh there´s so much more to it. This realistic story-telling makes a short scene of her tearing up in the car more effective than a full house melodrama. A serious, intelligent film with poignant reflections on maturity, idealism and more. The realism holds its logic all the way until the ending.
For someone used to french cinema it isn´t that outstanding but it´s such a serious piece of film-making it stands out among the rest. In my opinion the last section could have been trimmed and I have a couple of petty complaints but overall it´s still a compelling film. A pleasant drama that should easily satisfy anyone who knows what they´re getting into.
Immature and dull, it adds absolutely nothing to the matter.
William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert are by far the best thing on this. Every time they appear, it gets interesting, literally, including a Hurt´s monologue near the end that proves that, given material, good actors deliver. Huppert, of course, is able to make a fly´s flight interesting. They give a lesson to Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, which is kind of depressing since they´re both on the upper side of their generation. On the good hand, it´s not really their fault. The script is a disaster. The grief process is managed as if they were affected teenagers instead of young parents. At the beginning of the film I was commited but I didn´t feel anything whatsoever, except boredom. It doesn´t add absolutely anything to the matter, emotionally, psychologically or intellectually. I still don´t understand why does the teacher get so acquainted so quick with Eleanor, I guess the writer was one character short.
The same gimmick has been done over 40 years ago, at the very least, in "Divorce His - Divorce Hers", a failed TV movie that is still better than this in every aspect. Don´t get me started on the deceitfulness and hipsterism of the title. I had low expectations and I´m a big fan of everyone in the cast. This was very disappointing.
Michèle: Portrait of a seriously troubled woman
Isabelle Huppert migh have signed a pact with the devil. She´s still incredibly sexy at over 60 years old and as unique as always. "Elle" it´s all about her (duh) and no other actress could have possibly made it. A classy production with moments of great tension but I find this to be a character study more than anything else. A woman and her circumstance: her family, her work, her friends and, of course, her sexuality. It might be controversial but it´s not cheap. She´s not an ordinary woman and her father and her mother both have an important role in the film as to know why. Everything else is plausible due to her condition, from her son´s character issues to her affairs and further. Nothing is taken lightly, every situation or decision is determined by her psychology.
Now, I´ve seen how it enrages a lot of people. I guess they´re not familiar with Huppert´s work. There´s, of course, "La pianiste" but I find "Ma mère" to be worse. She´s always had a taste for moral uncertainty and she´s never been afraid of playing with its limits. Verhoeven is similar and this is a clear highlight in his appalling filmography. I wonder what would happen if "The Clockwork Orange", for instance, was made today? I´m not a fan of it but it´s widely regarded as a classic. We shouldn´t forget these are movies, not real life. Violence or pshycopathy are still a part of the human condition, however unpleasant they might be. I´m unfortunately close enough to rape reality to assert my opinion. "Elle" isn´t overly serious and never tries to be more than it is: two entertaining hours of drama.
Excessively ambitious teenager´s "moral gimnasium". Rich but questionable.
Over two hours of rights and wrongs... my personal experience is that I didn´t check my watch for about two hours and when the credits rolled I stayed put. It´s hypnotic how it sustains a relentless pace for that long. It´s many things at once: a moral dilemma, a growing process, a mother-daughter relationship... and more. Everything accumulates with a plausible chaos similar to real life nonsense. In that aspect the script seems to have been written on its own. Things happen and we react. That makes any off-putting scene easily forgivable because characters seriously come to life and reactions and interactions seem inevitable.
It focuses entirely on Lisa, a well-intentioned, educated, confused and pretentious teenager. The rest of an impressive cast only exist in relation to her and there are unexpected small parts played by big names that support this project´s epic ambitions. This is the first film I´ve seen that takes full advantage of Anna Paquin´s talent for over-acting. Her character is a turmoil of emotions and she doesn´t hold back. She´s often unfair, judgmental, self-centered and over-dramatic but those traits ring true to the character. Paquin shows her struggle to develop as a person, her will to do the right thing and be the best she can be. She makes her character believable and ultimately likable.
What I didn´t like were the dialogues, constantly using big words for the sake of it and over-explaining emotions. If Lisa was the only character to fall into that I´d be ok with it, but she´s not. That makes different characters seem deranged in the exact same way. Emily´s scenes lose a lot of credibility because of that. Then there´s the accident which inspires the whole "moral gimnasium". It isn´t intricate enough to sustain the epic conflict of interests it aims for. What we get is a whole lot of legal mumbo-jumbo. It´s unbalanced the way it insists on some points while leaving others almost untouched. Lisa´s guilt should have been explored further since she had such a big part on the accident. I´m guessing the film suffered enormously from the nightmarish editing process I only learned about later. The chaos kind of gets out of control at some point and the epic it looks for gets lost, absurd, even. I can understand how it was supposed to be an even longer film but I don´t see how including details about her abortion would have improved upon the dilemma.
Again, lots of rights and wrongs, it depends which part you choose to stay with. It´s a pitty because the ending is effective and the overall experience is rich, despite its many flaws.
Umberto D. (1952)
Masterpiece sadly destroyed by the last 20 minutes (no spoilers)
I absolutely hated "Ladri di biciclette" so I had my doubts about "Umberto D." but the improvement is noticeable immediately. The strokes of social, human commentary are much sharper, quicker, just better, and the characters far more memorable. After a couple of minutes I already knew I´d never forget the image of Maria fighting the ants, not to mention the Oscar-worthy performance of the dog. The tension slowly builds up as misfortunes keep happening to poor Umberto who´s a bit whining but full of charisma and dignity. De Sica surprisingly holds back his infamous taste for melodrama for quite a while and it all peaks in a predictable but inevitable scene lovely managed. At that point all my doubts had vanished and I was already questioning if this could be the best film ever about old age, or at least be a tie with "Make Way for Tomorrow".
But then De Sica takes over. First there´s that zoom (are you serious, Vittorio?) then it´s just... He tries so hard to make everybody cry their hearts out it just didn´t work for me. He almost succeeds with the barking dog scene, I must admit, but yeah, my admiration went down a notch. Now, it really isn´t that bad, it´s still De Sica at his best. As one critic said "it´s cerebral and emotional, bleak but warm". It´s true. The final scenes are part of film history but I wish he had kept that simple itch until the end.
El habitante incierto (2004)
A plot-hole hunter´s dream.
What a surprise. At first, I couldn´t believe the positive reviews. Terrible acting, terrible dialogues, everything seemed to be going in all the wrong directions but every few minutes something happens. A plausible decision here, a surprising turn of events there, enough to forget about the amateurish feel.
Then the film suddenly changes thanks to one of the most ingenious twists I´ve ever seen. From that point on it´s very unpredictable and very entertaining. Details about the first half of the film become relevant and by the end of the film, it´s fun to discuss what happened exactly. I´d recommend to watch it with company.
Pierrot le Fou (1965)
Godard for Dummies or: How I Learned to stop complaining and love free cinema.
First of all, this film includes the best definition of cinema I´ve ever heard: "Film is like a battleground. Love, hate, action, violence and death, in one word: emotions". Then, "Pierrot le fou" is the best realization I´ve seen of Godard´s ideas. Until now, I had enjoyed his interviews more than his films. His filmography seems to be reaching for an ideal he doesn´t quite ever fulfill. As Pierrot, sorry, Ferdinand says, "Film shouldn ´t be about the lives of people, it should be about life itself". Therefore, he tries to get rid of a traditional plot to focus only on space and movements; and emotions. Of course, that´s just too abstract and he constantly needs to come up with some kind of vague plot, even if it´s just a mere excuse. He isn´t attached to it, though, and changes it or completely forgets about it anytime he´s able to, which drives so many people mad.
The pointless plot always has to do with crime because that´s what americans do. Fellini said "I come from a country and a generation to which America and movies are almost the same thing". That is probably hard to imagine for an american but it´s true and back then it was even more true. From there comes the fascination with gangsters and outlaws present in so many french movies. It´s just an idea, like everything else in Godard´s films. That´s why there´s no need to take it too seriously and you should be ok with scenes like the one at the gas station (that is also why Godard kicks Melville´s ass any day). His films can be seen as a series of episodes rather than a whole. He goes from one thing to the next in a playful sequence of ideas. Despising structure allows him total freedom of expression. That´s a hit-or-miss risk and it obviously doesn´t work all the time but when it does it´s really special, not to mention how inspiring it can be.
"Pierrot le fou" starts a bit off and kind of lost me in the last act (with the exception of the "est-ce que vous m´aimez" monologue, which is absolute genius). I´m not a big fan of the ending either but everything in the middle might be the closest he ever got to his ideal of free cinema. It´s a masterful celebration of life, love, freedom and movies.