Sunday, February 19, 2017

Araya (1959)

Documentary about a semi-desertic region in the Venezuelan coast and the community of its inhabitants. The local economy is based on salt mining and fishing.

This is a splendid documentary, aesthetically pleasing in a visual sense, informative about its subject, and with a poetic voice narration.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Postcards from the Edge (1990)

Second viewing; first viewing with original audio; previously viewed dubbed on September 4, 2000.

After having a drug overdose, actress goes into rehab. She lands a part on a cheap action movie, but the insurance company requires that she lives with someone "responsible", which, in her case, means her mother, with whom she has a conflictuous relationship.

This is a very good movie, which I apparently didn't give its fair due when I first watched it. It's mostly brilliant sequence after brilliant sequence, even though the storyline and situations per se are not strictly original. The acting is good, especially MacLaine, which does a terrific job as the slightly self-centered mother. The film conveys well a relationship which, although far from healthy, has genuine love in it. The MacLaine character suffers from the same psychological illness which was the theme of the novel Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov.

Rating: 71 (up from 67)

Thursday, February 09, 2017

In the Army Now (1994)

Two losers join the army as water purification agents, expecting an easy time and a generous monetary compensation. They are sent to Chad in the campaign against the Libyan invaders.

Poor comedy which offers little or no humorous rewards, but has reasonable production values and an overall not too unpleasant story flow. Christopher Mulrooney called it a "splendid satire of the New Army", and he possibly knew better than me.

Rating: 31

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

It is impossible to ascertain whether I have viewed this film on an earlier date. If I have, it was very long ago, in the seventies, or maybe even in the sixties.

Based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, published in 1812, and on its earlier version by Charles Perrault, published in 1697. According to Wikipedia, "This in turn was based on "Sun, Moon, and Talia" by Italian poet Giambattista Basile (published posthumously in 1634), which was in turn based on one or more folk tales. The earliest known version of the story is Perceforest, composed between 1330 and 1344 and first printed in 1528."

A resentful woman endowed with magical powers casts a deadly spell on a beautiful princess, which, after the intervention of a good fairy, will entail that the princess enters a dormant state on her sixteenth birthday, which can only be interrupted by an adequate kiss.

Graphically, this is an impressive accomplishment, superbly merging modern concepts with traditional ones. The weaker part is the script, which shows little flair for invention and has magic as an ubiquitous resource to solve all dramatic problems.

Rating: 64

Monday, January 30, 2017

Il gattopardo (1963)

Second viewing; first viewed between 1983 and 1986.

English title: The Leopard.

During the Italian unification wars in the nineteenth century, a Sicilian nobleman and his nephew devise strategies for preserving what they can of their position and way of life.

It's beautiful to look at, and at times provides a good glimpse at a small town and its little people during a period of turmoil. The character of Tancredi has little or no psychological consistency and exists chiefly to utter the famous sentence and lay out the basic thesis of the film. If you enjoy very extended sequences of balls, dinners, masses, etc., and very little in the way of plot, then this film is your very thing.

Rating: 65 (down from 66)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The World According to Garp (1982)

First decent viewing; previous viewing in 1983 was experienced without understanding much of the dialogue.

The life of Garp, an individual who was conceived with the help of an unconscious soldier, and raised by Garp's mother. He grows up to be a novelist, but is overshadowed by his mother, who is an instant success with her memoir. He marries and has children, while his mother founds a sort of refuge for abused individuals.

There is an expression in Portuguese for which I found no equivalent in English: "crônica de costumes", whose literal translation would be "customs chronicle". Maybe this film fits in that category. Some could argue against that, saying that this is a social chronicle, and no less. Well, whatever. To be extremely frank, I wondered while watching it what fun was to be found in the contemplation of these characters' lives. But, as usual, I reprimanded myself, pondering that it had an extremely well-structured and economic screenplay, that the impeccable mise-en-scène was especially visible in sequences like the one where Garp lets his manuscript's leaves get scattered about, and that the casting choices were a work of genius. The multi-incident narrative never quite conceals that the core of the film is the somewhat sad story of a fatherless man who strives to be the best father in the world.

Rating: 55

Friday, January 20, 2017

Ice Age (2002)

In the beginning of an ice age, a sloth joins a mammoth and a sabertooth tiger in the task of returning a stray infant to its father, who has left for warmer climates with his herd. The sabertooth has a hidden agenda, though.

Very poor in plot, unremarkable in graphics, and with gags which will cause a mild chuckle at best, this film's success is thus perfectly explainable.

Rating: 32

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 as Maneco.

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