Friday, December 15, 2017

24 Horas de Sonho (1941)

A woman constantly tries to kill herself due to her alleged bad luck in life. In one of those occasions, she befriends a cab driver who thinks he will bring her good luck. She wins a radio contest and decides to live "24 dream hours" and then have another go at suicide. She checks in at a posh hotel full of rich refugees from Europe. She takes the identity of one Baroness of the High Towers. A hotel employee passing up as a millionaire tries to seduce her, and she falls in love with him. There is a jewel robber at the hotel, with whom she gets entangled. A relative of the real Baroness comes to visit her and says he will bequeath her a fortune. The radio station tries to locate her and hire her as a permanent attraction.

A sort of screwball comedy from Brazil, with touches of black humor. The style is very simple-minded, but not altogether devoid of charm. The actors are mostly good, which is something I am not used to when it comes to Brazilian films. Mostly watchable as a historical curiosity.

Rating: 33

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Patate (1964)

U.S. title: Friend of the Family

*possible mild spoilers below*

A freelance toy designer and engineer lives with his wife and unruly daughter. He has an old schoolmate whom he resents for his success, and for calling him Potato (it was not clear to me the rationale behind this nickname), and from whom he asks for a loan in order to start his toy factory. He finds out his daughter is having an affair with said schoolmate, who is married.

A mediocre farce which I watched mostly because I learned that it was a huge success when it came out. The center of the film, if there is one, may be the notion of someone whose elation at the possibility of revenge seems to overshadow his moral indignation. But the film's implication does not appear to be moralistic, but rather a relativization of the moral standards at the root of the conflict, and a denunciation of hypocrisy. It is not a badly made film, and there is enough farcical action to keep a viewer entertained, provided his expectations are low.

Rating: 38

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tap (1989)

Ex-convict and child prodigy in tap dancing tries to make an artistic comeback, but must resist the lure of his former partners in crime.

Exceptionally conventional drama which has the dubious glory of introducing the concept of taptronics -- electronically enhanced tap dancing to rock music. Anyway, the main dramatic point is insurance fraud, which I think was specifically chosen for being considered by many to be a lesser offense from a moral perspective. This is a film made by a white (Jewish?) man about blacks in situations which would be, from what I gather from news and fiction, not foreign to blacks in America. It doesn't play the race card explicitly, though -- perhaps because it was made by a white, perhaps Jewish, man. And it has an ending which is supposed to be upbeat, but leaves one wondering.

Rating: 34

Monday, July 03, 2017

La La Land (2016)

A guy and a girl leave their respective hometowns for Los Angeles, where they hope to make it as, respectively, a jazz pianist and a film actress. They meet and fall in love, and then their respective projects force them to part ways.

Mediocre post-modern musical, with a banal plot and passable songs. Its few novel ideas are mostly negative and didn't work for me; for instance, actors that can't sing are a feature instead of a bug. The initial dance sequence on the bridge, on the other hand, is interesting, at least as mise-en-scène. In a story which is partly about jazz, it is odd that not one song has the slightest jazzy trace to it. The film is imbued with the ethos of Capitalism, which is an integral part of the U.S., and, through cultural colonialism, most of the rest of the world as well. It doesn't really question this ethos: it is its ideology. And yet, it lacks the energy that could make it contagious.

Rating: 37

Friday, June 23, 2017

Les soeurs Brontë (1979)

English title: The Bronte Sisters.

Biographical drama on the lives of the titular characters -- Emily who wrote Wuthering Heights, Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre, and Anne who wrote Agnes Grey -- and their brother Branwell. Living in a small English village, they dream of literary stardom.

Quite superficial as a biography, but one must credit this partly to the length having been drastically cut. It's not only that, though. The director's sensibility is crude at times, which goes well with other kinds of movies, but not with this one. The only noteworthy performance to my taste is Greggory's Branwell, but this may have little or nothing to do with a lack of skill by the female players, but rather with their characters' rough composition. The story is in itself potentially interesting, and the film has some moments where its bleak dramaticity is well explored. Most of all it is a curious thing to see the English through a Frenchman's eye.

Rating: 50

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sai da Frente (1952)

Second viewing; first viewed on April 21, 1992.

The owner of a transport truck is hired to move some furniture to another city. During the trip a series of comic incidents occur.

Enjoyable comedy, above the average Brazilian quality level in films. Abílio Pereira de Almeida, the co-author of the script who also directs, was a successful playwright who also left his mark in movies. His comicity is informed by an array of different styles, from social criticism to slapstick, and even a little bit of surrealism. The main actor would become enormously popular in this and in later films which he would go on to write and in some cases direct. His rural persona struck a cord with mass audiences in Brazil, but here it is somewhat in disaccord with the urban setting. All the same, his performance is amusing. For some reason I did not enjoy this film on my first viewing.

Rating: 52 (up from 30)

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Hamlet (1969)

Based on the play by William Shakespeare, written between 1599 and 1602 and in turn based on a Danish legend, preserved by 13th-century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum.

The prince of Denmark suspects his uncle killed his (the prince's) father in order to snatch the throne and marry the queen.

Excellent adaptation, in everything the opposite of the also excellent one by Olivier. While Olivier's was replete with symbology and displayed a style of acting not unlike they would on a theater stage, here they opted for naturalism, both in acting and in filming, with great artistic success. Hamlet is arguably the most annoying character ever to have been conceived by a literary mind. I am sorry if this seems callous of me, but that is how I feel about him. And he is also amusing, strange as this may seem. I suspect, based on another film I saw, named Prince of Jutland, that this is entirely Shakespeare's doing, as the original character from the legend, as supposedly depicted in that movie, is the exact opposite of its Shakespearean incarnation. That original Amleth was determined and, if I correctly recall it, successful, everything that Hamlet was not.

Rating: 72

Sunday, June 04, 2017

True Romance (1993)

Second viewing; first viewed on May 14, 1995.

Guy steals from his girl's pimp, and gets into deep trouble because of it.

The ultimate loser falls in love with a whore. That's a classic situation, dating back at least to Dostoevsky. In this instance, the interesting character is rather the guy's father, who is a vehicle for some funny notions about Sicilians and their sense of racial pride. As a part-Sicilian myself, I have to put in my two cents and say that, although I cannot vouch for the impossibility of such behavior and emotions by real-life Sicilians as depicted in this movie (namely, the guy gets very pissed off about the allegation that his female ancestors mixed with Sub-Saharan Africans), I find them silly. The fact that admixture may have occurred centuries ago does not detract from the fact that present-day Sicilians and Sub-Saharan Africans are very distinct races. Anyway, this is a very nerdy movie, or actually a stage play about movies disguising as a movie.

Rating: 50 (unchanged)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Mummy (1932)

Second viewing; first viewed on October 27, 1991.

The mummy of a priest from ancient Egypt comes back to life and assumes a new identity. He becomes obsessed with a young woman whom he thinks is the reincarnation of his lover in his previous life.

I am still pondering whether the sheer absurdity of its plot is just out of stupidity or something else -- something akin to genius. I am not talking here about the film's premise, which is silly, of course, and which has had an enduring influence on popular culture. I am talking about the specific plot point that has a character find his reincarnated lover, and makes him go to the trouble of killing her so that she may be revived with an ancient spell. Really, this is too precious for words. Aside from script matters, the film as a whole is, to my judgment, exceedingly well made, and lets out no clue whatsoever as to the humorous potential of its plot in general or the point I raised in particular.

Rating: 57 (down from 70)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fogo Morto (1976)

English title: The Last Plantation.

Based on the novel by José Lins do Rego, first published in 1943.

Set at a decaying sugarcane plantation in Northeastern Brazil, the film has three main characters: a saddle-maker who lives in the plantation, the plantation owner who drives it to ruin and is obsessed with religion, and a man with political ambitions.

A flawed film, probably due to a deficient screenplay. Still, the subject matter and the characters are interesting, and some parts of it are reasonably well filmed.

Rating: 40

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Adieu au langage (2014)

English title: Goodbye to Language.

There is only a faintly discernible semblance of a plot, which involves a young woman, her husband, and a new man she takes as a lover. There is also a dog who wanders by river banks and groves. The dialogue is mostly a series of repetitive slogans and scholarly or literary quotations. Political theory and human feces are some of the subjects of discussion. Some social turmoil is vaguely suggested in some scenes. Natural landscapes are filmed with color distorting filters. A big ship is recurringly shown as it docks at a harbor. A pun with the movie's title is shown in intertitles. There is an apparent segmentation into two sections named "Nature" and "Metaphor".

There is really little that can be said about this film. It seems to be a series of rough ideas for a movie which are shown "as is" instead of being elaborated further. I suspect that this is part of a strategy intended to conceal the probable badness of a hypothetical finished movie with another kind of badness which, somehow, poses as artistic attitude.

Rating: 17

Friday, April 21, 2017

Forushande (2016)

English title: The Salesman.

A couple has to move from their apartment because the building starts to fall apart. After a suggestion by a colleague of the husband, they move to a new one. A disagreeable incident occurs in there which provokes a crisis in their marriage.

Here is a film trying to be smart and failing in almost all counts. Although by the end of it what it is trying to say becomes reasonably clear, the paths it takes to say it are often puzzling. The most puzzling point for me was the whole subplot about the stuff the previous tenant left locked in their apartment. It is given an enormous emphasis which contrasts with the little to no bearing it has on what I perceived to be the main events of the movie. Maybe there is something here which is too subtle for my coarse sensibility. Aside from that, I am afraid that the film conveys a worldview which I do not espouse, and perhaps do not even understand. I call it defeatist, for lack of a better word. I was going to say weak, but I would be wrong, because I can sympathize with weakness, but never with defeatism. Looking back, I have the impression that this criticism might apply to The Separation as well, but I suspect the narrative there was fluid enough to trick me into liking it.

Rating: 40

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Third viewing; previous viewings were on March 24, 1990 and March 6, 1991.

A worker at a small flower shop is growing a carnivore plant, and the shop's owner decides to take advantage of the exotic plant in order to attract customers.

Nice little comedy, with original ideas and a general atmosphere of irreverence. Nevertheless, I feel it doesn't quite deserve the high rating I had bestowed upon it. Its overall look and comic style is somewhat TV-like, and the humor is at times a bit facile.

Rating: 67 (down from 85)