Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Madona de Cedro (1994) (TV miniseries)

Based on the novel by Antônio Callado, first published in 1957.

Delfino, a modest sculptor living in the Brazilian historical city of Congonhas, receives the unexpected visit of Maneco, a childhood friend who has been living in Rio de Janeiro. Maneco works for an art thief and tries to coax Delfino into stealing the statue of the Virgin Mary from the local church.

The nineties were probably the prime of Brazilian TV channel Globo, whose average production is of mediocre quality, and has been decaying steadily into unwatchability since that decade. They made a few watchable miniseries, for example Agosto, and this one. It has a nice plot, and overall decent acting, the highlights of which are Paulo José as a blend of the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera, and Humberto Martins, an actor who has never, to my knowledge, drawn any critical attention in Brazil.

Rating: 56

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Foxcatcher (2014)

A weird billionaire offers sponsorship to a wrestling champion and his brother, who is also a wrestler. The offer is accepted by the former only, and he moves to the billionaire's estate. The relationship between the two becomes weirdly affectionate, but things go sour. Then the brother decides to come too.

I watched this at the end of last year, but could not bring myself to write these notes. It is an interesting movie, but abides by the current trend of lack of intelligence in certain scripting choices. Certain real-life events were omitted which would considerably clarify the movie. For example, before the fatal event near the end it is known that the real Dave Schultz was leaving Du Pont's team. This would provide a reasonable clue to the latter's feelings and thus to his gruesome act, and yet that fact was omitted in the film. Is it because the filmmaker thought insane people need no justification for their acts? If so, it's ridiculous. There is also the real-life accident which injured Du Pont in his youth, and which gets no mention in the movie. Perhaps it would bring light to some issues, but, again, omitted. Perhaps they were afraid that it would imply that every person with Du Pont's physical history would be prone to his personality and behavior. It seems nowadays everyone is afraid of being offensive, and as a result nothing but anodynous stuff gets said or done.

Rating: 60

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Boys on the Side (1995)

Three young women with very different personalities are forced by circumstances to go on a trip together. One has a serious illness, another has some problems with the law, and the third, while not plagued by anything as menacing as her companions are, has some chronic problems of the social and romantic types.

Semi-romantic, semi-melodramatic and utterly unexciting chick flick. The behavior of the characters is not always understandable and seems on occasion to be motivated more by the need to make the "story" move through its "necessary" steps than by true psychological plausibility. The writer even resorts to introducing a "psychic" character which is rather outrageously out of place. On the other hand, the dialogue at times injects intelligent social commentary to the drama.

Rating: 32

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Blue Velvet (1986)

Second viewing; first viewed on June 14, 1987.

A young man returning to his hometown during his father's illness gets entangled in a criminal case which he decides to investigate on his own, with some help from the police detective's daughter.

A much talked about movie which does not deliver as much as its reputation would make one expect.  I saw in it mostly a moderately amusing parody of adolescent films of the late fifties and early sixties. The one I can summon without much mental effort is The Blob, but I am sure there are others. It is uncertain whether a finer analysis of the film as a social critique (or as anything else, for that matter) would be a rewarding enterprise. I confess to not understanding exactly why I felt so averse to it on my first viewing. I could not find my earlier notes about it, but I remember being annoyed by what I considered to be the filmmaker's simple-mindedness. I was in error, perhaps, as now I see this simple-mindedness as rather the object of the filmmaker's critique. My present objection is to the film's inconsequentiality.

Rating: 47 (up from 30)

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Borgias (2011-2013) (TV series)

Historical drama. The show's last season was cancelled, leaving the story incomplete.

While the production values are first rate, and there is an overall good taste in the mise-en-scène, this series lacks a real punch. The most curious thing about it is that the actors who play Cesare Borgia and his henchman Micheletto physiognomically resemble respectively a wolf and a fox.

Le dos au mur (1958)

English title: Back to the Wall

A man finds out that his wife is cheating on him. He keeps this fact hidden from her, and proceeds to blackmail her under a false identity.

Ingenious thriller, with all the right plot twists and turns, and good performances from the cast.

Rating: 59

Friday, November 25, 2016

Amarelo Manga (2002)

English title: Mango Yellow

Several incidents in the lives of several lower-class people in the town of Recife. The action is mostly set at a hotel and at a bar. The central plot concerns the hotel cook's plot to win over the affections of a butcher.

This film is a notch above the utter worthlessness of Brazil's production. By interspersing its sordid fiction bits with street life scenes of Recife, it makes everything more real, more like an exposé of Brazilian misery and squalor.  One is reminded of Italian neorealism, also of Brutti sporchi e cattivi. Its focus on human perversions makes its author a kind of working-class version of Buñuel, if that is possible. But before I go overboard with praise, I must add that not all of it works equally well, and the conception far exceeds the execution in success. On a final negative note, I would refer you to one of the trademarks of Brazil: the wretched quality of its actors. And what makes it rather unbelievable is that those wretched performances get nominated for awards. It seems all the main performers in Amarelo Manga were nominated for awards. Really, it defies comprehension and imagination. Granted, some of them weren't bad, but two were very bad indeed: the ones playing the butcher and his evangelic wife. If you are into involuntary comicity, it may prove a real treat to watch them.

Rating: 40

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Downton Abbey (2010-2015)

TV dramatic series.

Second viewing of the first season (first viewed in October, 2012).
First viewing of the subsequent seasons.

The events that happen to the persons living at a large English country house at the beginning of the twentieth century. The drama alternates between the rich employers and their servants, and also show their occasional interactions.

This is likeable show, but it may prove too bland for some tastes, which, I confess, was the case with myself on and off. Although there is, in practically every episode, a fair amount of comical and dramatic material for an entertaining viewing, it becomes clear early on that there isn't much effort being made to achieve absolute psychological realism in character behavior. For example, many of them often are made to express thoughts which are not consistent with the speaker's social status and the ideology of the period, but seem rather to have the intention of expressing the author's own thoughts.

Casino Royale (1954)

TV drama.
Show: Climax!

An American secret agent is on a mission to foil a Soviet agent's attempt to revert his financial predicament through gambling.

This is utterly mediocre. I watched it in September, after having reread the book (of which this is an unfaithful adaptation). I was not even going to write about it, but, in order to be thorough, changed my mind. There is always some pleasure to be had by watching the performances -- it is practically impossible to find an English-spoken production of that period which doesn't have good performances -- but there isn't much else.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A nagy füzet (2013)

English title: The Notebook

Based on the novel Le grand cahier, by Ágota Kristóf, first published in 1986.

During World War 2, a pair of identical twins is sent to live with their rude grandmother, who was estranged from the family. The boys engage in a series of exercises intended to strengthen their character. They befriend a girl living in the vicinity of their house. They go through a series of experiences that constitute their coming-of-age in those brutal times.

I struggled with the above synopsis... Anyway, this is a stupid movie. Don't bother. The greatest douchebag in present times has written a review of the source novel; perhaps it will give you a better idea of this movie than I am able to, so read it here.

Rating: 15

A Little Chaos (2014)

17th century. King Louis XIV plans to move his residence to Versailles. He wants to build a majestic garden in his estate there. A woman applies with a project for one of the sections of the planned garden. She faces some initial resistance due to her unconventional ideas, but soon conquers everyone's support and the love of the man who is overseeing the work.

This is a fictional episode with a fictional protagonist within a real macroevent (the building of the Versailles gardens). To be honest, none of it interested me, and much of it I found quite ridiculous, not least of which the casting.

Rating: 15

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Two troubled teenagers in love escape together and are frantically searched by the community of the island they inhabit.

A congenial film, imaginative in its visual compositions and fairly intelligent in its character constructions. Anderson is a really talented filmmaker. The fact that this and his other latest output do not match his two first extraordinary films must be weighed against the difficulties of pursuing a strictly authorial line and being responsible for all the aspects of screenplay (albeit with collaborators) and direction.

Rating: 60

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The concierge of a posh hotel at a remote European location is wrongly accused of murder. He and his Middle Eastern bellboy will go through many adventures while figting to clear his name and receive a fat inheritance to which he is entitled.

Somewhat feeble as a textual object, but quite impressive as a succession of images. Anderson is a master of mise en scène and composition, but I am not sure this story and these characters are of any consequence.

Rating: 50

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

A day in the life of the head of a fictitious Hollywood studio in 1951. The male star is kidnapped by communist writers.

Amusing satire which derives mainly from two disconnected elements: the phrase "they just happen to be Jewish" (the context is provided by Joel Stein's article) and a gossip in Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars regarding a favor granted by Julius Caesar in his youth to king Nicomedes IV (read about this and other related stuff here). The former of these elements is driven to its last consequences in the form of a studio head who is a Catholic. The latter is straightforwardly transposed to the Hollywood universe.

Rating: 70

Agora (2009)

English title: Mists of Time

Fictionalized biography of Hypatia of Alexandria (b. c350-70; d. 414), a mathematician and a teacher. Conflicts among Christians, Jews and Pagans are frequent in that city and bring about -- in this fictional version -- the destruction of the famous library. Hypatia gets caught in the middle of that conflict due to her friendship with Alexandria's mayor.

Ambitious yet amorphous historical fiction. Mostly it plays very loose with historical facts, although the events which led to Hypatia's death seem to follow the consensual historiography more closely. The film lacks something essential: the establishment of a bond between the viewer and its characters. The main lesson it teaches is that multicultural societies are doomed to self-destruct. However, that gets a little submerged under a paean to the (mostly imaginary) scientific achievements of the protagonist.

Rating: 33

Suffragette (2015)

An account on the suffragette movement in England at the beginning of the 20th century. Women organized around the cause of extending voting rights to their sex. The main character is a working-class woman who joins the movement a bit reluctantly at first, and gets more deeply involved as time goes by. She faces problems at work and at home because of her involvement.

This follows the exact pattern of modern so-called politically-aware productions: didacticism, no humor and an appeal to the audience's emotion rather than reason. Perhaps one could care to read the other side of the coin as expressed in this article:

Rating: 45

Mortdecai (2015)

Based on the novel Don't Point That Thing at Me, by Kyril Bonfiglioli, first published in 1972.

An art dealer investigates the death of a restorer who was working on a Goya painting. Always accompanied by his selfless manservant, he goes through numerous adventures in several countries. At home, he is having troubles with his wife due to his recently grown mustache.

Amusing comedy which has an outdated style of humor. It's always pleasant and entertaining, which perhaps explains its having flopped at the box office.

Rating: 65

Survivre avec les loups (2007)

English title: Surviving with Wolves

Based on the faux autobiography by Misha Defonseca (b. Monique de Wael), published in 1997.

During World War 2, a Jewish girl is placed with a family living in the country and loses contact with her biological parents. She is then forced to flee her adoptive home and take refuge in the woods. From then on, she wanders from place to place, going through numerous adventures.

Ridiculous Holocaust fantasy which piles one improbable event on top of another while feeding on every cliché ever concocted on the theme and then some. You could say it's a mix of The Jungle Book and The Painted Bird. Only for very undemanding viewers.

Rating: 12

The Help (2011)

During the 1960s in a Southern American town, a woman interviews maids with the intent of collecting their stories in a book.

Very silly in the premise and in some of the events imagined; its thesis seems to be that gossip is revolutionary. Most of the actresses do a good enough work that the dullness is somewhat, say, dulled. The lead actress has a remarkable resemblance with the lead actress in The Accused.

Rating: 32

Theeb (2014)

English title: Wolf

I will copy the synopsis provided by IMDB: "In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin boy experiences a greatly hastened coming-of-age as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination."

This film has a somewhat lower than average rate of events and feels like it could be compressed to half its length. It is watchable nevertheless, and well staged and well photographed.

Rating: 43

The Hateful Eight (2015)

A stagecoach carrying a bounty hunter and his prisoner -- a woman whom he will deliver to the authorities -- picks up a few more passengers along the way and makes a stop at a commercial establishment where some other dangerous characters are staying.

Entertaining Post-Civil War Western where some ancestral conflicts which plagued or plague the United States are acted out inside a confined space.

Rating: 70

The Tudors (2007-2010) (TV series)

This series, despite its title, does not encompass all things Tudor; it is rather the story of Henry VIII and only that. The first season is exceedingly vulgar and kitschy. It tones down these characteristics a bit in later seasons, but there isn't much effort done to evade mediocrity, except on the last two episodes of Season Two, for which an excellent director was hired.

Rome (2005-2007) (TV series)

Second viewing of the first season (first viewed on October, 2006).
First viewing of the second season.

Not much to comment on here. The first season is as good as I thought. The second season is good, but not on the same level as the first one.
In the second season, the author found a way to pay tribute to his own ethnicity by including a superfluous subplot involving a conspiracy to kill Herod.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Candidate (1972)

Second viewing; first viewed between 1983 and 1986.

A liberal-minded lawyer with no political experience receives an invitation to run for the Senate as a Democrat.

I once loved this film. Not anymore. It is well-made, sure. But its premise of corruption of ideological virtue is at best simpleminded and at worst -- well, I'd rather not think about that. Anyway, they made a masterpiece of mise-en-scène based on false principles. So, what to do?

Rating: 69 (down from 76)

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Per sempre (1991)

English title: Forever

Bernice feels attracted towards her womanizing father, ever since she was a teenager. After his death, presumably during a sexual encounter, she spends time at the apartment where he met his lovers, and recollects her moments with him. During that time, she meets several of his past mistresses.

I am not sure a plot point which is at the center of this film makes sense, but revealing anything about it would perhaps be a spoiler, so I will not go into it. Eroticism is the foundation of the drama, a notion which for me is hardly compelling; everything, on the other hand, is done with good taste.

Though the action is set in Brazil, the film -- or anyway the copy which is widely distributed -- is entirely spoken in English. The copy I saw had subtitles in Portuguese, made by someone who doesn't know the difference between state and estate.

Rating: 36

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

São Paulo Sociedade Anônima (1965)

Second viewing; first viewed on April 1, 2001.

Carlos has several lovers and little money. He meets Luciana, who is a respectable girl. Carlos gets a job in an automobile factory.

Ambitious attempt at combining psychological drama with social panorama. The main character is a chronic malcontent who gets on everybody's nerves. The events are set to the backdrop of the Brazilian transition to a modern society in the late 1950s. The film is excessively discursive but a masterpiece comparatively to the average Brazilian production. It has strong characters and articulates a coherent social critique.

Rating: 68 (unchanged)

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Relatos salvajes (2014)

English title: Wild Tales

(1) The passengers on a flight find they all have something in common. (2) A waitress at a roadside restaurant recognizes one of her customers. (3) Two drivers on a deserted highway conflict with each other. (4) An implosion expert has his car towed while he is buying a cake. (5) A wealthy man tries to free his son from jail after he hits and runs on a pregnant woman. (6) During her wedding reception, a bride finds out about her husband-to-be's infidelities.

'Loss of control' is what the tagline wants us to believe this film's theme to be. Many commenters have mentioned revenge as well (or instead). I have to disagree strongly with both. I live in Brazil and this film captures a portion of my country's reality just as well as it presumably captures Argentina's. And yet, I do not picture Brazilians as particularly out-of-control individuals, or especially prone to vengeance. I suppose Argentinians wouldn't fit in those categories either. It is important to distinguish the essential theme, as opposed to contingent ones. What I see here is a society that has lost its bonding element. And when that is lost, people turn against people. Men against women. Rich against poor. State against citizen. And so on. Earlier works which dealt with related issues (and which have been mentioned in connection with this film) are Duel and Falling Down. Probably there are others.

Rating: 60

Friday, August 05, 2016

River of Death (1989)

A man guides a heterogeneous group of people with diverse interests on a search for a lost city in the Amazon jungle. An escaped Nazi doctor is said to be hiding there.

Third-rate adventure which would probably be less painful if watched with the audio switched off. It is basically a collection of very old clichés, some of which are geographically or anthropologically wrong. The cinematography is good, though.

Rating: 30