Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The spirit of the beehive, by Víctor Erice (1973)

   In a small, isolated, village in spain, on the early forties, the life of an eight year old girl changes after seeing a Frankenstein movie on an improvised cinema room.

   The movie was directed at a time when Spain was under the dictatorship of Franco. Much was said about the politics of this movie, but it stands even disregarding the political interpretations.

   The young girls discoveries and strength are amazing. As is the final scene, when she faces the supernatural...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yi-Yi, by Edward Yang (2000)

   Life of a family is modern Taiwan.

   The father finds some old love, while his wife in in a budhist retreat. His daughter is dealing with her first romance. His son is exploring the world around him. The  group picture is build in a beautiful and patient way. Encounters and discoveries.

The Traveller, by Abbas Kiarostami (1973)

   A young boy in Iran is psyched about soccer. He reads soccer magazines, plays it with his friends. He can't focus on school, as his mind is fixated on the game next day in Tehram.

   He does anything to collect money money for the bus fare and game tickets. And stealing from his mother is the least of his crimes to collect it.

   He finally gets to reach the stadium only to find that tickets where sold out. He buys it on the black market. He finds a good seat. Finally, after all the little crimes, that will give him a hard time, when he returns, he will get to see his heroes playing the important match. Or will he?

   This was the first movie by Kiarostami, who would get to direct important movies like 'Taste of Cherry' and 'Close Up'.

Woman in the Dunes, by Hiroshi Teshigahara (1964)

   [Sounds of civilization off screen]

   A school teacher and amateur entomologist is looking for insects in the sand dunes, in Japan. Missing the last bus to return to civilization, a men finds him a place to stay for the night - The house of a young woman that lives in a pit in the sand, reacheable only through a whole. On the next day, he tries to return, only to find that he was trapped there.

  Now he is in a trap himself...

  This movie is based on a book with the same name, written by Kobo Abe. The spcreenplay was also authored by Abe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Cyclist, by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

   A man's wife in dying at the hospital. He's an illegal immigrant in Iran, and he needs to pays for his wife's hospital bills. He tries to do this by digging wells with the help of their son, but work opportunities are erratic and the wages for an illegal worker are minimal. He won't make it.

   He used to be a cyclist back in Afganistan when he was young. Through the help of an acquaintance, and financed by some of the town's crooks, he accepts a challenge. If he can ride the bike non-stop for a whole week, her hospital bills will be paid.

   There is a whole business build around his riding. Competing groups bet on the result and try sabotage. Poor people pay to see him trying. Different groups have self serving interpretations for the event.

   He feels weaker and weaker near the end of this harsh week. He needs to hold his eys open with matches. When he finally made it, he just can't stop his bike. Music gets louder, and the beautiful arabic characters roll on the screen.

   It's a beautiful movie, filmed in a really rudimentary way. A little bit too melodramatic. But a really interesting story.

La Haine, by Mathieu Kassovitz

   "A man is falling, and while he falls he says to himself: It's all good so far, it's all good so far. But the important in not the fall, it's the landing..."

   [Bob Marley sings Burnin' and Lootin' while you look at the images of police fighting with people in france]

   This is a story of a day in the life of three young man living in the suburbs of Paris. Hubert is black, from central african origin. Vinz is a jew. And Said is north african.

   Even though this is a recent movie, it's shot in black and white.

   After a violent demontration with burned cars around and a friend of them in the hospital, Vinz finds a gun. He promises to kill a cop if his friend dies.

   The friends have an eventful day in Paris. The city of lights is not shown as a glamorous place as in other movies. They are at a loss there. At some point, Said and Hubert are held by police and the cruelty and arbitrariety of the police is quite shocking.

   They eventually get to return to the suburb and there again have an encounter with police. With stronger repercussions...

   Amazing movie by a young director. It's great to see a really original french movie, not inspired by the old succesfull formulas of their cinema. The french slang is really accurate and fun if you get to understand some of it. The influence of american cinema is also very noticeable. Vinz tries to learn to act as a gangster by immitating  DeNiro's Taxi Driver character.

The Social Network, by David Fincher (2010)

   It's interesting to hear all the fuss around this movie among the tech people and among the huge number of Facebook users. Some are really fast to demonize the company's young and controversial creator.

   I loved the movie. It flows in a really fast pace and there is a lot of information to absord. But the viewer's curiosity is hold by following the creation of the business and following the hearings for the lawsuits by a former associate and by the twins that had hired Mark to build their Social Networking site and where surprised to see another site created by him offering what they claim to be the same service, stealing the idea.

  The creation of FB is shown as an act of revenge after the site creator was dumped by his girlfriend. The return to this theme at the end of the movie was lovelly and enigmatic, with Mark dully reloading a webpage with the FB invitation from his exgirlfriend, as if asking himself what to do with this? How to deal with these emotions?

   There is an interesting profile of Zuckerberg on New Yorker magazine - The Face of Facebook, by Jose Antonio Vargas. 

Fados, by Carlos Saura (2007)

   Fados is the last part of a music trilogy directed by Saura, and also including Flamencos, and Tangos. This is a collection of songs and dance performances and not a documentary.

   The author has only a short background presentation on the origins of the musical style and we move to dance performances and a selection of musicians and their interpretions.

    Interesting to see the number of brasilians singing the music that is usually associated mostly with portugal.

   It was a great choice to have Chico Buarque singing Fado Tropical. And it's a joy to see a music DVD that follows the music with nice music and dance, not imposing too much unecessary narrative. I'm looking forward to see his Flamencos and Tangos.

Fado Tropical, by Chico Buarque and Ruy Guerra

Oh, musa do meu fado
Oh, minha mãe gentil
Te deixo consternado
No primeiro abril
Mas não sê tão ingrata
Não esquece quem te amou
E em tua densa mata
Se perdeu e se encontrou
Ai, esta terra ainda vai cumprir seu ideal
Ainda vai tornar-se um imenso Portugal

Moro no Brasil, by Mika Kaurismäki (2002)

   We follow the finnish director on his discoveries of brazilian music. He visits Pernambuco, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro.

   In Pernambuco, he shows côco, maracatu, embolada. He visits small towns and goes to the public street market in Caruaru. He interview the players of pífano and the instrument makes. He interviews a young musitian that has been bringing traditional music to a younger audience, as part of the mangue beat movement.

   In Bahia, drums percussion from the slums and the amazing voice of Margareth Menezes and the trio elétrico music on the street of Salvador.

   In Rio, we visit Wilson Alfaiate and the Velha Guarda da Mangueira. The samba school and the modern touches on the samba receipe. Seu Jorge gets nice attention and we get to learn some more on Ivo Meirelles and Funk'n'lata and hear their music.

   Overall nice music for the short time and richness of the theme. But the presence of the author and his anoying english accent is fairly unecessary.



Monday, November 8, 2010

When we were kings, by Leon Gast (1996)

   The movie follows Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to the historical fight for the heavyweight championship help on October 30, 1974, in Zaire.

    The movie includes footage from the time of the fight and current interviews about the fight. Actually the movie was only put together twenty two years after the fight, due to disputes on copyrights.

    Spike Lee talks about Ali's legacy and importance, and describes him as "handsome, articulate, funny, charismatic, and kicking ass, too."

    Foreman is not as exuberant. He doesn't speak that much, even though he already holded the heavyweight title at that point.

    Many musicians, including BB King, and James Brown gave concerts in Zaire, attracting a lot of attention to this fight. Many of the interviews with Ali and entourage mention race issues.

    Financed by Zaire's infamous dictator - Mobutu. The deal for the fight was coordinated by Don King, who is presented as an astute oportunist.

    Norman Mailler, was there as a young reporter and provides his recollections and livelly descriptions.

    Amazing documentary. It deserves the prizes it received and looks as fascinating now as ever.


Solo Sunny, by Konrad Wolf

   Sunny, a young singer, is part of an itinerant group of musicians in Germany. It's hard to get a career started, from city to city and singing at restaurants and bars.

   A substitute saxophone player attracts her attention. She sleeps with him. He is a philosopher. He thinks about death. He composes a song for her. Around the same time, she is kicked out of the band. She finds him in bed with another woman. She sleeps through her attempt to kill him.

   "... Not forgetting is not letting go...", he says at some point about her. This phrase resonates at the movie's final scenes.

   In an act of despesperation, she takes too many alcohool and pills and is taken to the hospital. She returns to her old factory work. Talking to a friend from the factory, she recollects something an early singing teacher had told her:

   "You will either land on the bottom, or you'll be special."

   At this point of the story, she hesitates. She looks quite desperate. Would she make it?


   She is seen confidently walking throught the snow. She wears a fox around her neck. She enters a room where a band is rehearsing. We understand the band is looking for a new singer. She introduces herself: "I'm blunt, sleep with whoever I want, The Tornados dropped me, I'm Sunny."
   Close up to her face. She looks radiant while play her theme song. She doesn't sing. There is no more words necessary. The camera shows outside of the building and the white skyline. The movie is over.

Solo Sunny
Blue - the dawn is growing blue
a dream is coming true
when you will come away
some sweet day.

Red - the sun is rising red
and all my love you'll get
when you will come and stay

Refrain: Let me sing that song
of the golden girls
and the men so strong -
merry old song.
When ev'rybody else is gone
of the golden girl
and the men so strong -
that old song.

Green - the grass is growing green
and in my dreams I've seen
a snag nest in the height
some sweet day.
White - the sort of tears is white
and black's my lonely night
when you will go away

Refrain: Let me sing that song
of the golden girls
and the men so strong -
sad old song.
When ev'rybody else is gone
of the golden girl
and the men so strong -
that old song.

Blue and red and white and green
and ev'ry you between -
"She's Sunny" they will say

Chungking Express, by Wong Kar-Wai

   This movie follows stories of two young cops 223 and 663 getting in love, or searching for it in Hong Kong on the early nineties. The stories are connedted more by location than by theme. And I don't see much of what one stories completes the other.

   On the first story, we follow a woman organizing drug traffic and killing her ex partner. She connects with 223 while he is waiting his ex-girlfrind to contact him. He marks the time buying pineaple cans with the same expiration date.

   The second story is more interesting. A cop is attached to a flight attendant. While he waits for her returnt, he meets another young woman. She gets his apartment keys from a letter sent by the stewardess, and starts visiting his place and changing things. A number of funny scenes show his embracing of these changes. And  his discovery of her presence in his apartment. Based on some absurd misunderstanding, they're appart for an year. On this time she turned into a stewardess herself and he is now in charge of the food place where she used to work.

    I love this movie. It has a lot of what makes movies special. The visual metaphors are fresh and spontaneous, reminding the early Godard (as in Breathless). The relationship the characters have with food are really funny, and also their relation with inanimate objects.

Days of Wine and Roses, by Blake Edwards (1962)

   Jack Lemmon plays a young alcocholic that gets in love with the secretary in his new public relations job. By his influence, she also starts drinking. The movie shows the destructive impact of the addiction on their lives.

   After a number of false starts, he finally can keep sober for an year and seems to be keeping good care of their daughter. Alcoholics Anonymous provides him a good support, but she never joins the support group. They are separated for some time when she comes to visit.

   The final scene is very moving. She comes to visit. She's been sober for a couple of days. They love each other. She really can't stop drinking. She wants

   ... "things to look prettier than they are" ...

   ... "If we only had it back as it was" ...

   She leaves and he looks at her walking out of the building. The neon sign at the bar next door reflects at his window. She walks by the bar. For how long?  

   Don't miss Edwards' comments included on this DVD. He has been sober for forty years and he is very straightforward about his alcoholism. His comic touches made this bleak story more palatable, without making it didactic or trite.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Office Space, by Mike Judge

   "Yes. We are in very, very deep shit.", nowhere else this phrase has been so funny as in Office Space. It's said by Samir, a Software Engineer that after beeing laid off associates with some coworkers to steal money from the company.

   If you've worked as a programmer (or any kind of office employee!) in corporate america, many of the jokes will have some bitter sweet flavor. But the movie is hilarious and relies on a really clever script.

   This is one of these movies that people will meet to see again and again and get to know the lines by heart. And if you start hearing about Initech and TPS reports and don't know what people is talking about, 'why don't you go ahead' and netflix the movie?

Monday, November 1, 2010

The grim reaper, by Bernado Bertolucci

   The first movie directed by Bertolucci, when he was 21 years old. The screenplay was written by Bertolucci, based on a story by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

   A prostitute is found dead near a park. The movie follows the interrogation process of the people that had been around the park at the night of the assassination. The interviewees aren't motivated to tell the truth, given their own misgivings.

   The story is told in a very poetic way, and Bertolucci had already published a prized book of poems when the movie was released.

Trouble in Paradise, by Ernst Lubitsch

   It's amazing that a movie directed in Hollywood in 1932 could be so daring in the themes.

Close-up, by Abbas Kiarostami


Tyson, by James Toback

   Documentary based on interviews with Mike Tyson. The great boxer is shown more intimatelly than you would expect in a documentary about a box player. There is no easy heroics on this movie.

   Tyson is very straighforwad on his life's twists and on how he has spoiled many oportunities. It's sad to see the effect of the imprisonment at the top of his career. It's moving to see this big man losing his voice's strenght and display some candor.

   He never expected to survive until his 40s. But he did.