15 de abr. de 2015

Cymbeline (4/10): One of the weakest adaptations of a Shakespeare play.

“On her left breast, a mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops I' the bottom of a cowslip.”

It’s been over 14 years since Director Michael Almereyda and Ethan Hawke collaborated together in the modern day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classical play, Hamlet. The film was warmly received by critics despite not being the first time that a Shakespeare play was adapted to modern times without changing the original dialogue (Baz Luhrmann did the same with Romeo + Juliet in 1996). Once again Almereyda decides to leave the dialogue untouched and change the setting to modern times for the adaptation of Cymbeline. The King (Ed Harris) of a biker gangster group known as Britain is upset that his daughter, Imogen (Dakota Johnson) has fallen in love with his protege, Posthumous (Penn Badgley), who she secretly married. The two have sworn eternal love to each other, but the King’s second wife, the Queen (Milla Jovovich), has other plans for Imogen. She wants her to marry his son, Cloten (Anton Yeltsin) so they banish Posthumous from their group. Meanwhile the bikers have decided to stop paying tribute to the Roman Police Department and a war is about to breakout between the two groups. Posthumous has fled to his friend’s house where he ends up meeting Iachimo (Ethan Hawke) and tells him all about his lover’s chastity. Iachimo makes a bet with him claiming that he can seduce her and prove that she’s not as pure as he believes her to be. He meets Imogen and is unsuccessful in his approach, but Iachimo fools Posthumous into thinking he did sleep with his lover and that is where the plot begins to take several unexpected twists.

If the short synopsis of this film felt a bit convoluted, it’s because the film actually has a lot going on in the opening minutes where it’s trying to introduce the main characters in a very rushed way. The dialogue doesn’t help either if you’re not familiar with Shakespeare’s play because the delivery is extremely fast and new characters keep on coming from all over the place. It’s strange that I’m complaining about how fast everything comes at you, because the pacing does get quite tedious and I was thankful the film only runs a bit past the 95 minute mark. But that doesn’t mean that the adaptation isn’t a mess because it’s all over the place. One of the reasons why this adaptation didn’t work for me is that the tragicomedy plays out as pure tragedy here and the comedy element is missing from the film. There was no time to get to know any of the characters or their true intentions and it seemed the entire purpose of this film was being able to adapt the play in a modern setting without touching the dialogue. Something that Whedon accomplished much better in Much Ado About Nothing because he focused on the comedy more than on the action. It’s funny that I say this because I wasn’t even a fan of Whedon’s adaptation although I recognized its artistic value, but here there’s nothing that worked for me.

Shakespeare’s plays might be timeless, but that doesn’t mean that all of them can be adapted to film. Cymbeline seems to be one of those plays that don’t translate well to the big screen due to the convoluted plot. The performances in this film aren’t bad, and I like most of the actors here, but the problem for me was that the adaptation didn’t work at all. Not even John Leguizamo can redeem the film despite how well he’s played Shakespearean characters in the past (Romeo + Juliet). Ed Harris and Ethan Hawke are both extremely talented actors, but there was nothing they could do to engage me with the film.  I love Shakespeare’s plays and despite never having read this one, I still could see some of his trademarks in the characters and writing, but unfortunately I didn’t care for them in this adaptation.  


Last Knights (4/10): The familiar Samurai tale now told through Knights

“The code was simple: Possess an absolute devotion to one’s Master.”

Last Knights is Japanese director, Kazuaki Kiriya’s third feature film, but his first one with well known Hollywood actors. What he attempts to do here is blend the familiar story of the 47 Ronin and adapt it to the Medieval world of knights. Why would you want to trade samurai soldiers for knights? I have no idea because it actually doesn’t work. You have these men living by a code of honor similar to the samurai, but there is nothing fresh or unique about the idea because the entire story becomes completely predictable and generic. During this feudal world, Captain Raiden (Clive Owen) is completely devoted to serving the house of Bartok (Morgan Freeman), his wealthy and caring Master. Second in command is another loyal knight, Lt. Cortez (Cliff Curtis). These knights live by a strong code of honor and respect for their Master, but when Bartok is dishonored by the Emperor’s corrupt advisor, Gezza Mott (Aksel Hennie), the knights are dismantled. Will the knights be able to rise again and avenge their Master or will they fall into despair and go back to their old ways? If you’ve seen any samurai movie you probably know what to expect. 

The greatest issue I had with Last Knights is its lack of originality. We’ve seen the film played out many times before and that makes the pacing of the film feel incredibly tedious because we know what is going to happen next. Kiriya tries to take his time establishing the setting and building the characters, but since we’ve seen this world before it doesn’t do anything for the audience. Clive Owen is a fine actor, but he’s even played this role before in King Arthur, a knight who is completely devoted to the cause. Morgan Freeman is one of those actors who you could close your eyes just to hear him speak and that is basically why he’s in this, to narrate the introduction of the film and set the premise. Last Knights can easily be divided into three acts, the first being the introduction of each character and the injustice they must face, the second which takes up most part of the film centers on the build-up of each character, and the third part of the film and by far the most exciting is the climax where vengeance is coming. The problem is that neither the introduction or the character development manage to engage the audience and everything is taken way too seriously for us to be entertained by it. 

The characters are completely one dimensional. Only Clive Owen gets to play a meaty role, but everyone else is simply playing a stereotypical character in a film like this. And even watching Owen on screen you can’t help but feel the familiarity of having seen him play this role before. The villain is perhaps the best example of how stereotypical the characters in this film are. You couldn’t have Aksel Hennie play a more evil or sadistic man than he is here: he beats his wife, abuses people, accepts bribes from other noble men, and to top things off he hurts animals. He’s also a coward who surrounds himself with thousands of guards and a heavy fortified home. That is what actually makes the final climax scene quite entertaining. The action is delivered quite well and it makes up for some of the tedious pacing during the first 80 minutes of the film. Is it enough to recommend the film? Not even close.   


14 de abr. de 2015

Seventh Son (5/10): An epic fantasy adventure that wastes an all star cast

“We will meet again.”

Seventh Son is Sergey Bodrov’s (Mongol) latest fantasy epic film starring Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, and Ben Barnes. It’s a big budget adaptation of Joseph Delaney’s novel, The Spook’s Apprentice, which failed to make a splash at the box office. It is set in a Tolkien-like fantasy world where supernatural forces live among humans. There are witches, warlocks, boggarts, ghouls, and many other dark morphing creatures, and then there are spooks who protect the people by hunting down these monsters. Bodrov relies heavily on the CGI effects, but the film does look good thanks to its production design. Bridges plays the sole remaining spook, Master Gregory, who is trying to hunt down the extremely dangerous witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). Malkin plans on using her powers to reunite her followers and unleash evil across the world. After losing his latest apprentice (played by Kit Harrington), Gregory must train the young seventh son of a seventh son named Tom (Ben Barnes) who really doesn’t seem to be an interesting prospect. He only has a week to train him before reaching Malkin and preventing her from fulfilling her evil plan. Along the way, Tom falls for a young witch named Alice (Alicia Vikander) who has been spying on them. She isn’t a dark witch, but is following her mother’s orders.  Seventh Son doesn’t take itself too seriously and Bodrov jumps from one action set piece to the next without spending too much time on the characters and thus not allowing the audience to think too much about the silliness of it all.

The greatest disappointment is of course the weak screenplay that never allows us to engage with the characters despite being played by a fantastic cast. It’s inevitable not to thing about The Big Lebowski when seeing Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore working together again. Moore had a fantastic year, winning the Oscar for her lead performance in Still Alice, but here she doesn’t have anything interesting to do. She plays a typical and cliched villain. Bridges goes extremely overboard with his character, reminding us that we shouldn’t take this adventure film too seriously. It’s hard to understand his drunken mumbling which will remind us of his work in True Grit. Olivia Williams and Djimon Hounsou also have some small roles in this film, so it is a huge disappointment to see such a talented cast wasted in a big budget film like this. Barnes and Vikander are young talented actors that try to do the best with the material they are given. The Swedish actress has taken Hollywood by storm after her performance in the Danish film, A Royal Affair, and she has five films coming out this year. She’s an actress I will be keeping my eyes on. 

Seventh Son has been receiving terrible reviews, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. The plot moves along very quickly and in a very predictable manner, but it never tries to take itself too seriously and that is Seventh Son’s greatest strength. The action set pieces are fun and the film is short (under 95 minutes). Of course it isn’t a good film either, but considering it is light for the eyes it’s not a difficult film to watch. If you’re bored you might find the film entertaining and it’s a good way to kill time, but there is nothing memorable about it either. More than anything it’s a huge disappointment for wasting such a talented cast. There’s no character development, but the impressive set designs and quick pace make up for it.    


13 de abr. de 2015

Good Kill (4/10): Interesting premise that gets lost in the repetition.

“Don't ask me if this is a just war. It's just war.”

Director Andrew Niccol has proven in the past that he’s capable of directing smart and intelligent sci-fi films like Gattaca, but he can also direct duds like The Host. Good Kill is on the one hand a unique war film because it focuses on the army’s use of drones for fighting and the effects it has on the soldiers, but on the other hand it feels very repetitive and heavy handed with the message. Ethan Hawke plays Tom Egan, a former Air Force pilot who has served on six tours, but is currently fighting from inside a bunker near Las Vegas controlling the drones like if he was playing a video game. He is fighting the war in a way he isn’t accustomed to, and the effects of each long distance kill are taking a toll on him. As opposed to his tours, he can now return home each day to his beautiful wife Molly (January Jones) and two kids. But he can’t manage to separate his comfortable life at home with his service in the bunker. He’s desperate to get back on a real plane, but his superior, Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood) needs him to continue fighting the war from the control room. Tom begins to question the ethics of what he’s doing, and he’s also having trouble communicating his feeling to his wife whom he feels more and more distanced to. He feels like a coward at times and it’s a feeling that his new partner, Vera (Zoe Kravitz) seems to share with him. When the crew begin receiving direct orders from the CIA, his ethical questioning gains more weight and his life begins to unravel at home. 

The film opens with a very interesting premise and the first fifteen minutes are gripping.  Ethan Hawke delivers a solid role in this character study that shows the effect that the war is taking on him, but after a while everything begins to feel extremely repetitive and the story begins to drag while continuing to hammer the nail in the same place. He questions each order he receives, he returns home to his nagging wife, he drowns himself in alcohol, and the next day the same thing happens. The film lacks subtlety and it focuses on the effects that fighting a war from home has on some of these soldiers in a rather conventional way. Ethan Hawke gives a much more subtle and restrained performance than what we are used to seeing him in. He delivers a very solid performance and we see the stress that he’s going through simply by looking at the wrinkles in his forehead (which explains the use of extreme close ups on Hawke’s face). He makes this a much better movie than what it really is, but it wasn’t enough for me to recommend it. Niccol is basically criticizing the new video game style of war policy by portraying the ethical dilemma the soldiers go through. Good Kill lacks subtlety but we do see a side of the war we hadn’t seen before. 

The secondary cast doesn’t get much to do here since the film basically focuses on Hawke’s character. January Jones probably suffers the most due to the stereotypical character she has to play. We’ve seen this role of the nagging wife who doesn’t understand what her husband’s going through played out many times before. The melodrama at home is what ultimately hurts this film and drags it down. Zoe Kravitz and Bruce Greenwood have some interesting scenes, but the repetitive nature of the story becomes unbearable at times. Good Kill tries to say a lot, but it ultimately doesn’t say much. Many have compared it to Eastwood’s American Sniper, but other than the long distance killings there’s not any more similarities. Niccol focuses more on the ethical dilemma of this new approach to war, but he does it by beating the audience over the head with the same idea and through the use of  heavy dialogue. It’s as if he’s forcing the audience to interpret things his way. Niccol’s greatest weakness in Good Kill is his own script overloaded with stereotypical characters which wasted an interesting premise.  


12 de abr. de 2015

Lost River (5/10): Gosling's ambitious directorial debut doesn't reach the high standards he was setting for the film.

“The wolves... if they're not already at your door... they're gonna be there very efin soon.”

Lost River has the potential of becoming a cult film in a few years because it is very artistic and far from being a mainstream movie due to its lack of a cohesive narrative structure and its nightmarish atmospheric approach. Ryan Gosling, who is one of my favorite actors, is the writer and director of Lost River, and for a first feature film I must say that he aimed extremely high. He borrows heavily from directors he’s worked with in the past or that he’s admired, so you can see some heavy influences from Refn, Noe, Cronenberg, and perhaps even more from David Lynch. These aren’t directors that are easy to imitate and therefor Gosling struggles to find his own voice although the result is rather unique. Being an actor that many people like the easiest thing for Gosling would’ve been to direct a mainstream film, but I give him credit for trying to make an artistic film that will be appreciated by a select group of people. I didn’t have any funny watching Lost River, but I did find some of the nightmarish scenes quite disturbing so it isn’t one of those movies you easily forget about. I’m not a fan of surrealism so I’m not the greatest judge for a film like this, but I think that it will find its audience with fans of movies like Enter the Void, Under the Skin or any of Lynch’s films. What Rosling is trying to get at under all the heavy imagery he uses is the desolation that the American Dream has on some people when its not achieved.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in a review for a film like this is write a plot summary because it would be easy to confuse the reader and make them believe there is some sort of narrative structure to the movie when in reality it’s more about setting a dreamy atmosphere. The story takes place in a fictional town named Lost River where most of the people have abandoned the place after a nearby flood destroyed the city. It is actually filmed in an abandoned town in Detroit and Gosling experiments by having some residents interact with the actors in a couple of scenes. A young teen named Bones (Iain De Caestecker) dreams of leaving the city knowing there is no future there, but his single mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks), refuses to leave the place where she grew up in. Billy is behind on the payments of her home however, and she is forced by a banker named Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) to accept a job at this sort of dark underground freak show that he owns. Bones’ neighbor, Rat (Saoirse Ronan), who lives with her mute widowed grandmother, tells him that the flood has left a spell on the town and that is why everyone behaves so strange in this city. The streets are owned by a violent man known as Bully (Matt Smith) who Bones gets into trouble with. Meanwhile Billy is introduced to the dark underworld where she works where audiences seem to have a fascination for gore. There she meets one of the performers, Cat (Eva Mendes) who shows her how the place works. The film basically follows these characters and introduces us to the nightmarish town accompanied with a vibrant electric score and neon lights. 

The performances in Lost River are solid with Ben Mendelsohn standing out as you can tell he’s having a lot of fun with his character. The film might be all over the place at times, but the talented cast delivers. Iain de Caestecker is the lead actor and his scenes were probably my favorite when it focused on his relationship with Rat and the tension between his character and Bully. Matt Smith is also having a lot of fun with his character and despite not being as menacing a villain his wacky and violent behavior is always hard to predict. As much as I enjoyed Christina Hendricks in the female lead role, the scenes of the dark underworld took me completely out of the movie. It was a freak show that I didn’t care for very much. Reda Kateb has some interesting scenes playing the nice cab driver. There is one scene where he talks to Billy about the American dream which is sort of the underlying message of the film. Overall I felt the movie didn’t balance the two main stories very well and there were scenes that felt disconnected with the rest of the film. Lost River isn’t an easy watch but I still admire Gosling’s effort.


11 de abr. de 2015

Dial M for Murder (9/10): Hitchcock delivers a top notch mystery in his most wordy film

“I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me.”

Hitchcock loved to innovate and experiment with his films and some might argue that Dial M for Murder is his most straightforward mystery movie. But what we forget is that Hitchcock made this film in 3-D which explains why there are so many low-angle shots. Warner Bros forced him to do so, but in a way we can call this another experimentation from the Master of Suspense. It is by far his most wordy film and  just like Rope the screenplay was adapted from a play. The film takes place almost entirely in a small British apartment where Tony (Ray Milland) and Margot (Grace Kelly) live. Over a year ago Margot had an affair with an American crime author named Mark (Robert Cummings) who is now returning to England. Mark meets with Margot and that is where we are introduced to their backstory. They had had a very torrid love affair and he continued to write to her after he returned to America, but she didn’t. She explains that after Mark left, her husband had decided to quit tennis to spend more time with her and that she didn’t want to leave him anymore. What Margot doesn’t know however, is that her husband discovered her secret affair and was simply waiting for the perfect opportunity to have his revenge. Tony blackmails one of his  former schoolmates, Swann (Anthony Dawson), and convinces him to murder his wife while he goes to a guys reunion with Mark providing the perfect alibi. Tony has been planning this perfect murder for quite some time so he can inherit her money (she is the one with the wealthy family). But something unexpected happens and the film took some interesting and clever turns that had me at the edge of my seat.

I’ve mentioned before that in my opinion Hitchcock directed his best movies during the 50’s and this is yet another great example of a film that was made during the height of his career. There might not be as many innovative filming techniques here, but the heart of the film relies on its clever story full of unexpected twists. This is the very definition of a mystery film and it stands out for the story alone. If you don’t like wordy films then this isn’t one for you because it feels very theatrical considering it takes place mostly in one room and it relies heavily on explanations. It’s no secret that Hitchcock knows perfectly well how to create suspense and he manages to do so in this talkative movie relying on dialogue this time around more than on anything else. Although I do have to say that the confrontation between Kelly’s character and Dawson is incredibly tense and filmed perfectly. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie and very memorable as well. There is something about the mystery story here that feels like it was taken from an Agatha Christie novel or from Sherlock Holmes, and Hitchcock knew that he had a great story to work with and relied on the power of storytelling this time around.

Grace Kelly is perhaps one of my favorite Hitchcock leading ladies and this might be her best role. I loved Rear Window and she was wonderful in it, but James Stewart owned that film. Here Grace Kelly shines in every scene and she is wonderful in the surprise attack scene as well. Ray Milland, who was unknown to me, did a wonderful job in the lead villain role, while Robert Cummings also delivered. I expected his character to be the one to figure everything out, but Hitchcock does include some clever twists and it’s someone else who takes on the role of Sherlock Holmes, John Williams, who plays the Chief Inspector in this film. In a talky film like this, it is very important that you have convincing actors to play the roles and I felt that the cast delivered solid performances. This film may fly under the radar in Hitchcock’s astonishing filmography, but I had a really good time with the screenplay and enjoyed it more than some other beloved Hitchcock films.    


10 de abr. de 2015

Rope (8/10): More proof of Hitchcock's innovative genius.

“I've always wished for more artistic talent. Well, murder can be an art, too. The power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create.”

With the aftermaths of the effects of World War II, Patrick Hamilton’s play seemed like the perfect choice for Alfred Hitchcock’s next film. A plot which centers on two highly intellectual men that decide to commit the perfect murder. The victim being one of their classmates who they consider to be inferior to them. This concept of superiority is handled pretty heavily as there are several discussions about it through the film, and it is easy to compare it to Hitler’s ideal of the superior Nazi race. Rope isn’t subtle at all, but the film is still engaging and perfectly executed as a criticism for such a dangerous concept at the time. Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) aren’t satisfied with having murdered their friend, David. They want to celebrate their perfectly executed plan by having a dinner party with David’s father (Cedric Hardwicke), his Aunt (Constance Collier), his girlfriend, Janet (Joan Chandler), Janet’s ex, Kenneth (Douglas Dick), and their former tutor, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) as their guests. Brandon is convinced that no one will suspect that they murdered David for the sake of experimenting, and it would be great to have his body hidden there while his relatives and close friends dine next to it. Phillip on the other hand is a nervous wreck and thinks that inviting Rupert is a terrible idea and that they are going a bit too far with everything.     

Of course the first thing that comes up when talking about Rope is the way that Hitchcock decided to film it as if it were one continuos take. The film is actually shot in 10 long takes, and the audience can easily spot those moments (it isn’t subtle as in Birdman) but for a film made in 1948 it was a feat to pull off. This is by far Hitchcock’s most theatrical film and shooting the scenes as if they were taking place in real time was a way for him to approach the material in a different way. He had to build the suspense without relying on the score or parallel action scenes. Rope has a very exciting climax, but it is very predictable for audiences today. It is also a very wordy film, but Hitchcock never misses an opportunity to include his morbid sense of humor. I love James Stewart, but in this film his character has several flaws, one being the way he rationalizes murder at first during a conversation with the rest of the guests and later the character seems to take a 180 degree turn. I still have to give Hitchcock a lot of credit for trying something new with Rope and continuing to innovate in his films. 

Beside the experimental element of Rope there is a strong underlying homosexual vibe between the two murderers although it is never referenced directly by anyone. They are going to travel together to the country and they use that as an excuse to invite their friends for a farewell party. The performances are all strong in this film and it is by far the most stagey film in Hitchcock’s career. He may have just been playing with the concept, but there is no doubt that he also inspired future filmmakers to do the same. Rope is another rich legacy from Hitchcock. The performances in the film are solid and Farley Granger plays a very different character from the one he went on to play in Strangers on a Train. James Stewart was obviously the star at the moment, but he doesn’t appear until almost thirty minutes into the film. His screen presence does elevate the film once he arrives at the home. John Dall plays the main villain very well, but it was his only collaboration with Hitchcock. I’d probably rank Rope around the middle of Hitchcock’s filmography, but it sure was ahead of its time.


9 de abr. de 2015

Strangers on a Train (8/10): Could've been Hitchcock's best if the film lived up to that brilliant first half

“I have the perfect weapon right here: these two hands.”

In my opinion, Hitchcock’s Golden Age was definitely the 50’s when he released some of his most beloved classic films: Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. I’d include Psycho on that list as well which was released in 1960. But in 1951, the Master of Suspense directed a wonderful thriller which could’ve very well been considered among that group if it weren’t for some minor flaws near the end. Strangers on a Train hooks you from the very beginning as the camera follows the footsteps of two separate men getting on a train. Their feet bump into each other and the camera reveals who they are: Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Bruno instantly recognizes Guy, an up and coming tennis player who is currently dating Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), a Senator’s daughter. We hear this from Bruno’s mouth who tells Guy everything he’s read about him in the papers. Bruno introduces himself as a wealthy socialite and despite his psychotic behavior, Guy listens to him patiently while he waits for his next stop. The conversation serves as a very practical way to introduce us to the backstory of these characters. He claims to know that Guy is married to Miriam (Kasey Rogers) who has been unfaithful to him many times over the past and is waiting for a divorce settlement to be able to marry his new love. Bruno goes on saying that it would be much easier to simply murder his wife and he gives him the perfect solution: they can cross murders. Bruno wants his millionaire father out of the picture and believes Guy could do him the favor. Guy thinks Bruno is simply kidding and gets off at the next stop, but what he doesn’t know is that Bruno is serious about his offer and plans to stick with his own made up plan.  
  
Watching the film today, the plot sounds very familiar to dozens of thrillers that have been released since, but I can’t say with certainty if in 1951 this was a unique idea. The screenplay was adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel and it is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the film. What I can say is that Hitchcock handles the suspense in a very engaging way, building interesting characters and tense situations. Farley Granger and Ruth Roman play a believable and likable couple who the audience easily can identify with, but it is Robert Walker who steals the show. Walker plays his psychotic character to perfection, and during the first half of the film he is portrayed as a very clever and disturbed person that will keep you guessing as to what he might do next. His proposal during the beginning of the film is delivered in a very tempting way and he succeeded at creating an uncomfortable atmosphere on that train alongside Granger. The scene where he follows Miriam through a fair ground is also very memorable. Hitchcock set the perfect thriller during the first half of the film, but unfortunately he put too much effort in the climax making some of the suspense feel forced at times instead of letting the story unfold naturally. It is a shame that Walker passed away shortly after the film was released because it would’ve been interesting to see what he could do next working alongside Hitchcock. Bruno is one of the best psychotic characters I’ve seen on screen, but the ending did leave me unsatisfied.  

Strangers on a Train doesn’t only deliver clever thrills, but it also has several moments of dark humor as well. His daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, plays Anne’s sister and she has some of the funniest scenes of the movie. The relationship between Bruno and his mother, played by Marion Lorne, is also full of dark humor especially during the first scene in which they are shown together. That is what I enjoyed the most during the first half of the film which managed to set an interesting (although familiar by now) premise and balance the suspense with Hitchcock’s sense of humor. That dark humor disappears during the second half and everything centers exclusively on the suspense where I believe Hitchcock tried a bit too hard to force things. Even Walker’s character loses some of his psychotic charm here and the film takes a much more predictable turn. Strangers on a Train is a very entertaining movie, but that first half had so much potential that this could’ve been one of Hitchcock’s greatest films if that balance weren’t lost in the second half.      


8 de abr. de 2015

Notorious (7/10): Hitchcock's romantic spy thriller in Rio.

“You could have stopped me with one word, but no, you wouldn't. You threw me at him!”

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 classic romantic spy thriller has tried to be imitated many times by lesser films over the decades, but nearly 70 years later its style and fabulous camerawork continues to leave its mark on audiences everywhere. The master of suspense lived up to his name once again with a slightly different film focusing more on the characters than on the thrills. Set in 1946, with the Second World War recently over, Ben Hecht’s screenplay captured the spirit of the era where the fear of a nuclear war breaking out was eminent. American spies were focused on hunting down the remaining German Nazis that had spread throughout the world. The story begins in court where Alicia Guberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) father is convicted of being a German spy. Alicia has a reputation of being a heavy drinker and dating many men, and she is ashamed of her father’s activities. During one of the parties she hosts at her home she meets Devlin (Cary Grant), an American spy who falls for her beauty and charm, but isn’t willing to admit it. He convinces her to travel with him to Rio de Janeiro using her father’s connections to spy on his friends. She’s asked to approach Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), an old family friend who they suspect is also involved with other Nazis in the area. Alicia wins his affection easily, but at the same time it distances her from Devlin who she has feelings for. Once she’s in Alexander’s home she begins uncovering their secrets, but risking her life at the same time. 

Notorious relies heavily on the romantic chemistry between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, two of the most talented actors of their era. Honestly, I found the romance between the two of them was rushed, and I didn’t buy into it very easily. One has to consider the restrictions however (the Hayes Code for example which restricted kisses to less than three seconds on screen) so there wasn’t much more they could do. But that was what made the on and off kiss between the two actors all the more passionate for audiences at the time. Today, however it doesn’t have the same effect. I had a difficult time buying into the romance and that affected my enjoyment of the film during the first half. But once the plot settles in Rio de Janeiro, the film has a couple of thrilling scenes. The wine cellar scene was one of the most gripping moments of Notorious and Hitchcock masterfully combined different camera shot and edits to build the suspense accompanying it with Webb’s suspenseful score. The final ten minutes also had me at the edge of my seat so the second half of the film made up for the tedious first half. Notorious isn’t among my favorite Hitchcock films because he’s mastered the suspense in other better movies like Psycho, Vertigo, or Rear Window, while I found his work in Rebecca a more compelling character driven film. 

Notorious does bank from the strong lead performances from Grant and Bergman, who despite not being able to sell the romantic element at first, they still give engaging performances. Devlin’s stubbornness and unwillingness to share his feeling for her, and Alicia’s attitude towards his indifference becomes the soul of the film. Claude Rains plays Alexander extremely well, and he gives the strongest performance in the film. He falls in love with Alicia very quickly and that prevents him from seeing what his mother has suspected all along. The influence of Alexander’s mother over him is a trademark from Hitchcock and in this film Leopoldina Konstantin plays the mother better than most. It’s a fascinating story that slowly builds up to a memorable finale.  


7 de abr. de 2015

Virunga (8/10): Two contrasting sides of humanity's attitude towards nature

“Consider this: Only 880 Mountain Gorillas Remain in the World.”

Orlando von Einsiedel, a former professional snowboarder, began making short documentaries in 2010 skating through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He then continued working in Africa directing several shorts across the continent, and that is when a photograph of a group of rangers at Virunga National Park caught his attention. The story was far too compelling for a short, so he decided to direct his first feature documentary centering on the current situation in Congo. The Park rangers are completely committed to protecting the wild life where the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas live, but as in most of the African continent the unstable government situation has made their survival difficult. With rebel groups trying to fund their armies, the rich minerals present in the park are their means to it. But these dangerous rebel groups aren’t the only enemy that the rangers face. SOCO, a British gas company, was given permission by the Congolese government to explore the territory for oil reserves. The contradiction is that Virunga is a protected park due to the endangered species living their. Through a series of interesting investigative work, a reporter named Melanie Gouby manages to befriend SOCO employees and discovers a link between them and the rebel groups. She also exposes the corruption behind some of the officials. What results is a fascinating documentary that gets more and more exciting as the story develops. 

What Virunga does best is combine astonishing shots of the beautiful landscape of the park with the chaos that the country has been experiencing due to the rebel groups and corrupt government officials. The innocence of the baby gorillas playing with some of the rangers who are willing to sacrifice their lives for these animals is juxtaposed with the racial and distasteful comments of some of the employees trying to exploit the park. If this were a feature film, I’d say the villains were stereotypically played because their comments and actions are simply cringeworthy. But this is the real deal and it is a shame that these people think this way. Our lack of humanity is brilliantly portrayed and it easily contradicts the beauty of the park. While rebel groups create chaos and shoot innocent kids, gorilla caretakers like André Bauma are willing to risk their lives for the gorillas. In a touching scene he says “You must justify why you are on this Earth. Gorillas justify why I am here. They are my life.” This takes place as the rebel groups close in on the park spreading fear through gunshots and explosions. So we get both sides of humanity in this touching documentary and that contradiction is what makes this such an exciting and upsetting film at the same time.  

Being in the line of fire probably wasn’t easy for von Einsiedel, but his bravery pays off because he has managed to direct a fascinating documentary which received a nomination at this year’s Academy Awards. The way he allows his camera to capture the beauty of the park reminds us of what a great tourist attraction this place could be if it weren’t for the danger that lurks in the area. The reason it hasn’t become one of the world’s main attractions is because of the constant war and instability of the region, but if there could be some way of reaching peace I’m sure their could be much more wealth found in tourism than in the minerals everyone’s trying to exploit there. Virunga reminded me a lot of the universal theme found in films like Avatar dealing with corporate greed and corruption versus the beauty of nature and how our greed is destroying it. Virunga is a compelling watch and a documentary you won’t regret experiencing.