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About me

An Iranian girl from Tehran, who loves her country and her family, but also loves freedom, and because of that, I'm living in Paris, France for over twenty years now.

I miss my original home, but I also made a home here over time. Got married to a great man and have a gorgeous daughter, I have a nice job and I'm politically engaged towards left.

No sexism, no homophobia, no racism, no xenophobia, no fascism.

Down with the alt-right!


Intolerance with intolerants.

Don't be afraid to express yourself!

The pandemic is real.

Science is a fact, not an opinion.

Opinion: I like red better than blue. I like pizza better than sandwich.

Fact: The vaccine works.

Fight for what is right!

Respect and love! ♥


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Recent reviews

Less is more

Posted : 15 years, 10 months ago on 6 May 2008 05:16 (A review of Once)

Just like Before Sunrise, a new classic directed by Richard Linklater, Once is a magical film that through its narrative apparently simple, reaches a victory that escapes most films of the same genre, picturing with authenticity and feeling the precise instant in which two human beings find themselves in love for each other. The difference here is that when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were seduced by the long conversation they kept, here, is the music that puts "Guy" and "Girl" together, magnificently played by Glenm Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and the fact that we never hear their names of the two characters makes this newly discovered love even more universal, something that can be easily related by the audience.

Not exactly with his ego in the best of shapes since he was abandoned by his girlfriend, Guy divides his time between his father's small repair shop, in which he works fixing vacuum claners, and his presentations in the streets of Dublin when he sings for some extra change. That's when one of his compositions gets the attention of Girl, a simple Czech immigrant, who learned to play the piano with her father, and now lives of selling flowers and housekeeping. Music lovers, they quickly begin a strong connection between Guy's songs, who decides to make a demo CD with Girl's help.

Shot in only 17 days with a digital camera, Once has a simple photography, not too fancy, what gives a huge authenticity to the story. It also has several plans shot in the streets of the Irish capital, when the camera is placed in a distance not to catch the attention of the people passing by, who ignore the presence of the actors, the film ends up having a tone almost documental, something also brought up by its cuts, basically dry, resulting in sudden ellipsyses, yet, they are more than adequate to the language adopted by director John Carney.

The same way, though the frameworks and the camera movements aren't the most engenious, it's impossible top deny the effectiveness that serve the narrative. For example, the scene where the couple plays together for the first time in a music store: initially, the camera keep its distanceas Guy observes, fascinated, girl playing the piano. In this instant, the camera approaches the duo, also moving down together with Hansard, whon kneels by the girl, and it is right there, in this small and intimist travelling that we can notice that Guy begins to fall in love with Girl. From then on, they begin a song and shortly after all that, the picture becomes much more closed approaching each other even more (and it's simply perfect that the frsty verses that Hansard sings in this sequence are exactly: "I don't know you/but I want you all the more for that" that belongs to the music "Falling Slowly", end up becoming the symbol of that relationship, and heard again (properly) in the end of the film.

Besides, the logic that Carney places Hansard and Irglová's songs is impecable: though they appear in an organic way, being executed in front of the cameras by the two, the last seconds of each song fit as background for the action in the next sequence, as the characters are creating the soundtrack for their own lives, in a certain moment, this becomes particularly clear as we see Guy singing as he watches a video of his ex-girlfriend. There's also a touching dramatic irony in the fact that Girl lends her voice with so much sweetness to the songs that, ultimately, Guy made for his ex-girlfriend.

In her first acting job, young singer and composer Markéta Irglová gives a performance worthy of a veteran, showing with sentivity the insecurities of an immigrant that, win her early twnties has to support her mother and her daughter, the girl gradually reveals an unsuspected force that turns into the impulse that was missing for Guy to finally make come true his artistic vein. As an opposite to Guy's impulsiveness, Girl never loses her own responsabilities from sight, and it's heart breaking to see her diligently tidying up her house after a long day or even realize the way she brings Guy back to reality after being invited to go with him to London, needing for that, to make him only one question: "Can I take my mother?". the same way is revealing the way she reacts, offended, to the Guy's first tries to sleep with her. Clearly interested in him, Girl is not exactly offended with the cheap line, but with the implication that it brings: that he had underestimated her terribly.

Meanwhile, Hansard (with his worn out guitar, broken and with the strings hanging around) opens a window for Guy's romantic and kind nature, through his songs: giving himself with so much intensity to them, he seems to suffer a lot with each verse and his voice overloaded with feelings makes a perfect match to the apparent frailty and the charming sweetness of Girl's completes the harmonies of the songs. The chemestry between Hansard and Irglová is so beliaveble, making even more clear thanks to the naturality in which the couple comes up playing around the motorcycle or arguing about love frustrations. And if we consider the story between the two that begins and grows through the music is only natural that she sums up the fight she had with the father of her daughter when she reveals that he didn't apreciated her compositions.

Bringning almost 20 songs (all of them very beautiful) Once is impecable to the last second, closing its narrative in an absolutely perfect way when it focuses the eye of a dreamer, who, without taking the heavy weight of a difficult reality off his back, the film can still find room for hope or at least for a sweet and sour melancoly that comes up as the result of all the unconsumed love between the main couple.

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There are still great horror films

Posted : 15 years, 10 months ago on 22 April 2008 02:35 (A review of The Orphanage)

From the thematic point of view, it's perfectly natural that in a determined point in The Orphanage (El Orfanato), the classic Peter Pan is mentioned: since the film's own story is about kids who will never grow up, it becomes some kind of ghostly version of Peter Pan and it also fits on another genre that has films like The Innocents, The Others and The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo).

With his first work in a feature film, screenwriter Sérgio G. Sánchez, the film is about Laura (Belén Rudea), a woman of thirty something years old who decides to buy the mansion in which was the orphanage she lived in as a child. Moving there with her husband and her son, Simón (Roger Princep), she's a woman quite determined to build there a house for children with special needs, something that reflects Simón's own condition, who's adopted and carries the HIV virus. Little by little, though, the kid begins showing an strange proximity towards his "invisible friend", and when a particular freak accident takes place, Laura becomes obsessed in the hidden mysteries of the house.

In a superficial analysis, The Orphanage doesn't bring any big innovations (obviously): it's the old formula of the haunted mansion and that also has the child who's the first one to make contact with the "other world", the spirits with an apparent desire for revenge and so on. What makes this film so effective, is the emotional investiment it does on its characters, since during a big part of the film is dedicated to the psychological development of the main character, making her drama so real, palpable for the espectator, who, then, doesn't simply begin fearing for her safety but also is touched with her suffering.

And in the same way, unlike so many films of the same genre, who deal with their children as small adults (even good films like The Ring and The Sixth Sense), here Simón is an absolutely normal boy, who, in the morning he asks to his mother if "he can wake up", worries if Santa Claus exists or not and shows a touching dependece towards the cares of his mother. What makes the film even stronger, as we are now fearing even more with what might happen with the kid. Besides, the intense performance given by Belén Rudea, makes Laura a dedicated mother, but who also fails, and, because of that, tortured by remorse. It all helps to give the proper weight to the narrative.

Appearing as a promising talent in his first film, Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona joins the group already formed by Mexican Guillermo del Toro and Chilean Alejandro Amenábar in a group of latin filmmakers with a particular talent for the macabre. Showing he knows exactly what he's doing and exactly what he wants, Bayona starts The Orphanage in a more than proper idilic way, showing a sunny day in a green backyard, while a few kids play around with nothing to worry about, only the odd music playing in a very subtle way shows us that something is not quite right in that scenary. Using that, the director establishes the perfect dynamic with the audience: even in the moments that are apparently harmless, we antecipate the tension to come, and in the process of antecipating, we keep this feeling present during all through the film, in a game that crushes our nerves into tiny bits.

Though, the most admirable is the very secure way that Bayona alters suspense and shock: when in a costume party with lots of people wearing masks creates a sensation of disturbance in the audience and when another incident that happens further on schocks in the very brutal way it is suddenly shown. Once again, the director shows perfectly conscious of when he can (and must) replace the subtelty of insinuations by images much more graphic and disturbing. And more: enriched by the brilliant sound design done by Oriel Tarragó (awared with the Goya), The Orphanage terrorizes thankfully also to the creeks, whispers and other sounds that seems to evolve us and that reveal to be absolutely fundamental also in one of the most anguishing sequences: the brilliant appearence by Geraldine Chaplin (how many languages can she speak??), who takes us into a mediunic voyage through the mansion, helped by a surgically precise editing who intercalates infra-red plans, shots of the blueprints of the house and suffocating close-ups on the actors. This sequence only matches up with another one, further on the film, when the director makes many panoramics when Laura plays a game that seems to attract the attention of the ghosts in the house little by little.

The Orphanage has only one flaw, it becomes way too long on one last scene (I won't give it away) trying excessively to tie up all lose ends, it ends up diminishing the all impact that came before. Still, this is an undeniebly tragic story, impactating and dark, that takes the espactator outside the theater with an unpleasant feeling that remains intense for a long time. And believe me, this is a huge complement.

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Jumping plot holes

Posted : 15 years, 11 months ago on 11 April 2008 09:09 (A review of Jumper)

After I watched Jumper, I was surprised with how many times I've asked myself "why" and couldn't find answer for them during the 88 minutes of film. This indicates a disproportionally high number of plot holes for so little story time, something very disappointing taking into account the film had three experienced writers working on it: David S. Goyer who wrote Dark City, Jim Uhls who wrote Fight Club and Simon Kinberg who wrote Mr. & Mrs. Smith and xXx 2... well... two good writers anyway.

Based on a book by Steven Gould, the film is about David Rice (Hayden Christensen), a young man who has the amazing power to teleport to anywhere he wishes. Abandoned by his mother at the age of five and living with his father (Michael Rooker), he decides to travel around the world, using his super powers to break into banks to keep the high standards of his life. But he ends up by attracting the attention of the "Paladines", a group that has as only objective to elliminate the "Jumpers" such as David, led by the mean Roland (Samuel L. Jackson). Trying to protect the love of his childhood, Millie (Rachel Bilson), the boy meets another jumper, Griffin (Jamie Bell), who can help him defeat Roland and find out what's the real reason for his mother to leave him.

With a very interesting first act, which follows the experiences of the main character while he's discovering his newly discovered powers, Jumper shows us efficientely the several attractives of a gift like David's, who has the freedom which "normal" people can only dream of. On the other hand, the film doesn't makes the slightest effort to make him a sympathetic person. Quite the contrary actually, his selfishness is proven in a scene where he overhears on the TV something about people trapped in a flood and doesn't even consider the idea that he might help them. Not that the script needed such a dramatic plot, what could've ended being very cliché, but the film would surely benefit from some drama at all, since it has none. Instead, it simply makes the easier choise, the "lady in distress" scheme.

Meanwhile, the great Samuel L. Jackson (who, by the way, is still establishing** himself as the new Michael Caine: an enormous talent wasted for easy money, in several films that are not worthy of their presence) is Roland, a caricature who does the most evil deeds without any clear motivations, except being the bad guy, with a hair so white that makes his characterization even more absurd. And to top it all, he's also undermined by the script, that doesn't concern in establishing** the motivations of the Paladines (actually there's a silly attempt to connect them with the Catholic Church and with the Spanish Inquisition, but they fail miserabily). Why, for example, the jumpers are seen with such prejudice? How does the Paladines discover the existance of the jumpers? What's real about the statement that the jumpers become "evil" as time goes by? And evil in which sense? Yes, Roland talks about God with some frequency, but without the smallest conviction, like his "faith" was just an excuse to go on that bloody hunt for the jumpers.

At least the fact is that Jackson tries to give some energy to his character, while Hayden Christensen shows once again a huge lack of charisma well known to the Star Wars fans. His blank acting echoes in the same uninteresting performance of Rachel Bilson, who simply lets her beauty do the talking for her character. And if Diane Lane does nothing more than an appearence and a cameo by Tom Hulce as the "mentor" for David, clearly indicates that an entire subplot was abandoned. Jamie Bell, though, gives so much intensity to Griffin, that this character becomes the most interesting one of the film. It's a pitty that the "jumper" of the title is not him, since his character makes us, much more interested in knowing his past and follow his advertures than** the main character.

Giving a direction that ever matches the talent he used in Go!, The Bourne Identity or even the weak Mr. & Mrs. Smith, filmmaker Doug Liman allows the script and the art direction make the mistake of placing the bathroom of a bank by the side of a maximum security safe, not to mention the action scenes (action?) that are his specialities, minimally inventive or even exciting, something basic for the genre. But aren't only of mistakes that this film is made, the production compensates the average photography with an infinity of plans shot in magnificent locations in Egypt, England, France (yay!!) and Japan, what at least makes Jumper into some kind of brief touristic journey. Still, the lack of structure of the script makes the narrative undeniebly empty, since the action doesn't convince, the romance is silly and the characters shallow.

Still not convinced the film has even more plot holes? So why Roland doesn't kill the man who was teleported to the bank safe, since he witnessed David's powers? Then again, why does he should kill anybody else closer to the hero? And when David follows Griffin, why does he teleport to so many different places if this won't make much difference, since the other one is perfectly capable to follow him? Obvious answer: allowing the production to travel the world and put some interest in the sequence, even if it doesn't give any logic to the plot. And why the jumpers doesn't simply teleport again when they're being followed by the Paladines, since they leave behind their "machines" (which are never fully explained either) after the first jump?

Mentioning briefly some "war" between jumpers and paladines, without giving it the proper attention, the film leaves all those holes, simply to focus its narrative in an unsatisfactory way, leaving all kinds of "hooks" behind, what's a shame, because in due to excess of worries about further sequels, prequels and the tons of money they can make, the film itself ends up forgotten by the makers.

**Thanks Thilian for the "heads up" :)

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Herzog's and Treadwell's obsessions

Posted : 15 years, 11 months ago on 7 April 2008 06:45 (A review of Grizzly Man)

"Is it going to happen that one day we read a newspaper article about you being eaten by one of those bears?"

David Letterman asks the question with a sarcastic grin and the studio audience laughs, but sure enough, in 2003, his blonde-haired, unknown guest Timothy Treadwell was, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, to be torn apart and devoured by a grizzly in Alaska’s Katmai National Park.

I’s not really a mystery why the bear did it: unused to Treadwell’s presence and hungry, it was merely following the course of nature. The real question is what exactly was Treadwell doing every summer in wild bear territory, shut off from human society and constantly exposed to mortal danger. This is the question addressed by Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog’s latest probe into the dark heart and soul of man.

An amateur environmentalist and self-styled "kind warrior" in the cause of bear conservation, Treadwell chose to live his life on all kinds of edges, geographical, psychological and spiritual, making him the perfect subject for Herzog, whose many films, whether fictional or documentary, have tended to examine primordial wildernesses and extreme personalities. As Herzog’s voice-over dryly implies: "I have seen this kind of thing myself", Treadwell’s erratic behavior and irrational outbursts place him not a million miles from the director’s own most beloved actor and "best fiend", Klaus Kinski. Yet, not even Kinski, for all his bestial conduct, actually desired to become a bear, and it is Treadwell’s ambivalence towards his own humanity, coupled with his flawed need to connect with animal life, that makes him so fascinating. This is a man with far more contradictions and complexities than will ever be found in a she-bear who eats her own young.

Though Herzog has interconnected into the film, his own interviews with Treadwell’s friends, family, supporters and critics, most of the footage in the documentary has been edited from the hundred or so hours of film that Treadwell himself shot during his last five summers at Alaska. This footage of grizzlies in their native habitat is simply thrilling and communicates something of his awe for the majestic creatures that he loved so much, while the alarming proximity of camera to bear serves as a constant reminder of the huge risks he was taking.

Even more striking, however, as Herzog has so wisely recognised, are the moments when Treadwell turns his camera on himself, baring his megalomania, paranoia, vulnerability, loneliness and despair. These are the private, often embarrassing, confessions of someone painfully aware of his own all-too-human weaknesses, and trying consciously to conquer them by becoming some kind of superhero, beast, or just plain dead. It is a compelling drama, at times funny, at times shocking, but always tragic. Herzog never tries to hide Treadwell’s fate, from the beginning of the film we already know what will happen to him, but what’s worse is that Treadwell seems to expect it from the beginning too.

The predominance of his footage makes Treadwell, in effect, the film’s posthumous co-director, while Herzog is for the most part the voice-over. Still, as he has shown in the many audio commentaries for the DVD editions of his own films, Herzog is an engaging and incisive exegete with a poetic turn of phrase, and here he goes from expressing admiration for Treadwell’s talents as a filmmaker to gently teasing out the more delusional aspects of his worldview.

As a character critique it is hardly a mauling, for Herzog is too sophisticated a thinker, too respectful towards his subject, and altogether too humane to tear Treadwell apart for a second time. Rather, he presents him with palpable affection, but also a certain sternness, as though the bear expert were his own son, and he the grieving father, driven to find some sort of meaning in a death so horrific and pointless.

Rarely is a documentary so beautiful, so moving, and so vital, one of the greatest masterpieces of a filmmaker’s carrer that gathers through over 40 years a more than well-deserved place among the greatest icons of cinema.

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A different (but also great) Chaplin

Posted : 15 years, 11 months ago on 28 March 2008 06:06 (A review of A Woman of Paris)

With A Woman of Paris, Chaplin set out to prove that, after some 70 comedies, he could direct a "serious" drama, one displaying broader psychological range and moral complexity than motion pictures had so far. He scored on both counts. Part Victorian morality tale, part elegant comedy of manners, A Woman of Paris stars Chaplin's longtime leading lady, Edna Purviance, in a Henry James-like story of a penniless girl who leaves her provincial hometown and becomes the mistress of a cynical Parisian millionaire (Adolphe Menjou). When the destitute artist she left behind (Carl Miller) discovers that she has become a wealthy toy among the uptown playboy set, their doomed love triangle takes a spin around the melodrama block toward a tragic/sentimental finale.

Before A Woman of Paris, Chaplin had appeared in every scene of every comedy he wrote and directed, but here he gave himself only one quick cameo. The movie belongs to Purviance, an actress of greater timber than the comedy shorts had allowed her to reveal. And it made a star out of Menjou, who forever after was typed as a silky French sophisticate. During the silent era, acting relied heavily on histrionic gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. In A Woman of Paris Chaplin reined in the performances to deliver a more naturalistic realism than silent-screen audiences were accustomed to. Similarly, his directing developed techniques of screen storytelling and editing that emphasized elliptical suggestion and nuance over stagy obviousness. The result is a melodrama that still packs some emotional heft and, despite a plot that turns too much on coincidence, displays memorable grace and style. Although its innovations are now so commonplace as to be overfamiliar, its subtleties and ingenuity were striking in their time.

After its release, praise from critics and Chaplin's fellow filmmakers made A Woman of Paris one of the most lauded features of the silent era. The New York Times hailed Chaplin as "a bold, resourceful, imaginative, ingenious, careful, studious and daring artist.(...) the more directors who emulate Chaplin, the better will it be for the producing of motion pictures." Unfortunately, A Woman of Paris wasn't at all what the public thought a "Charlie Chaplin film" should be. Also, thanks to its then-daring suggestions of licentious decadence among its characters, several states banned the film on grounds of immorality. So this bold experiment was the young and applause-hungry director's first commercial flop. Its failure dealt Chaplin a personal blow as well as a professional setback. A Woman of Paris wasn't seen again publicly until 1976, when critic Andrew Sarris in The Village Voice ranked it #1 on his Top Ten list for the year.

A Woman of Paris is not as visually impressive as, say, F.W. Murnau's Aurora (1927). Its vintage melodrama does creak with age nowadays. But it remains a Chaplin masterwork that deserves rediscovery. It shows us a vanguard director capable of pushing forward the young medium to good ends, and who could coax from his actors performances that offered the emotional content and truth that he demanded from his own Tramp character.

After the public's dismissal of Chaplin's step onto a new path, he returned to the Tramp with The Gold Rush. There's no denying the brilliance displayed there and the other Tramp features that came after, but we can speculate about the positive turns Chaplin's career might have taken if A Woman of Paris had received public acclaim. Would he have kept on advancing his directorial skills as movies grew beyond their infancy? Of course, we'll never know.

Instead, Chaplin eventually let the medium overtake and surpass him, refusing to learn from its new directions and techniques. That calcification shows most clearly in his final films. In 1957 with A King in New York is a case in point.

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Ahmed's relentless pursuit

Posted : 15 years, 11 months ago on 26 March 2008 02:13 (A review of Where Is the Friend's Home? (1987))

Well, after many reviews posted here, I just realized I never posted any Iranian films, being so, today I'll post a review of my favorite film of my favorite Iranian director.

At one point in Amadeus, Mozart shocks Emperor Joseph II with a claim that he can sustain a simple opera scene for 20 minutes. As amazing as that is, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami outdoes Mozart more than four times over, maintaining interest in a single conceit with increasing intensity for eighty-three minutes in Where is the Friend's Home? (Khane-ye doust kodjast?). That he does so with untrained actors in an essentially barren landscape proves Kiarostami possesses amazing lyrical mastery on film.

Opening with a long close-up of a plain bluish iron door with chattering eight-year-old children behind while the credits roll, Kiarostami prepares the way for a slowly-paced visual essay on Iranian life. Children and adult worlds contrast greatly in modern day Iran, as captured by Kiarostami's camera—the teacher, parents, and extended family all hold vastly different values from the young protagonist. The rigid teacher insists on his students doing their homework in notebooks, so their progress can be properly chronicled. Mohamed Reda Nematzadeh (Ahmed Ahmed Poor) bursts into tears when the teacher rips his single page homework page to threads and threatens to expel him if he doesn't bring his notebook to class the following day. Kiarostami's simple, but effectively placed camera shots builds palpable tension within the class, especially on the face of sympathetic Ahmed (Babek Ahmed Poor).

Imagine Ahmed's consternation when he comes home and discovers that he has mistakenly brought pitiful Nematzadeh's notebook with him. He wants to return the boy's notebook to him, but two major obstacles stand in the way: His friend lives in a unknown home in a neighboring village, and his mother forbids him to leave home. She insists that he maintain the daily routine of homework and taking care of necessary family business—rocking the baby and any other necessary errand.

When she demands that he go for bread, Ahmed realizes his chance and he sets off with his friend's notebook, determined to find his house in spite of not knowing exactly where to look and despite his observing grandfather's disapproval. Thus, internal tensions arise from the simple plot as Ahmed attempts to do the "right" thing against the wishes and expectations of the important adults in his life.

As with most Iranian films (and Kiarostami in particular), aspects of family life lyrically represent deeper issues, the more obvious ones here showing the contrast between modern values of eight-year old Ahmed and the traditional adult values and expectations of his teacher, mother, and grandfather. Each expects something different: The grandfather longs for the disciplined old days when "kids were brought up right" and the teacher wants all his students to work hard and achieve academic success before working for the family. With subtle humor, Kiarostami shows the mother in continual conflict with her expectations, as she hesitates between demanding that her son both focus on his homework and take care of routine family matters.

Those ideas lie behind the beautifully composed long shots of Ahmed skillfully zigzagging his way up the desert trail and through the greens of the olive trees to carry out his mission.

Questioning villagers about his friend's residence forms a rhythmic pattern that poetically grows in intensity as the film proceeds. Selectively using Middle Eastern stringed instrumentation at certain key moments and using very few editing cuts, Kiarostami's camera remains in complete control throughout in creating a profoundly memorable portrait of rural life in modern Iran, and especially of the non-professional actors. This lends authenticity to his work, his long intimate takes require the actors to remain in character all the way.

Eventhough very little takes place, the eighty-three minutes seem to fly by in real time. Most of the journey lies within, allowing us an intimate view of the protagonist. Any audience staying with Where is the Friend's Home? to the end will feel like they know young Ahmed better than his own parents do, and they are likely to seek out more films from this most revered Iranian filmmaker.

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Returning to the female world

Posted : 15 years, 11 months ago on 16 March 2008 09:43 (A review of Volver)

After building his incredibilly successful career through productions focused basically on the feminine universe, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (one of my all-time favorites), made in his last two films stories that are centered in an more masculin look, resulting on the great Talk to Her (Hable con ella) and the exceptional Bad Education(La Mala Educación). In Volver, however, Almodóvar returns to the world of women with his so very particular talent and sensibility, and in this process, he also returns to one of his most distinguisehd trademarks, his colors, whose intensity is equally proportional to the feelings that they represent.

In a world which men are usually seen (logically) under a negative shine, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz, who should stick to Spanish cinema) is a hard-working woman, who does the impossible to take care of her family: her teenage daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo) and her useless husband who seems to see the girl with a bit more interest than usually a father sees a daughter. In the meantime, Raimunda's sister, the lonely Sole (Lola Dueñas, in another great moment of her career) survives thanks to her illegal beauty salon, in her own house, and also makes frequent visits to their hometown, to visit their mother's grave, Irene (the legend Carmen Maura), who has been dead for a few years in a fire who also took the life of Raimunda and Sole's father. When their old aunt dies though, Sole is surprised by what seems to be the visit of her mother's ghost, who moves in to her house, while still trying to solve some affairs left behind (of which is to be close once again with Raimunda, who had been away from her mother a few years before her death. All this though, might not be all that simple, since Raimunda is sufficientely worried with hiding her husband's dead body, killed by Paula, after he tried to attack the girl.

After reading the paragraph above, it's possible that some people might think that Volver is a heavy film and deeply dramatic, but that would only indicate, obviously, lack of familiarity with the universe created by Almodóvar, who is a specialist in making humor (absurdly many times) out of situations that other filmmakers would chose to use pain and suffering. ALways more interested in the relationships between his characters, the Spanish director shows almost an obsession by the strong ties of friendship (and occasional rivalries) made by women, whose proximity from one-another stablishes real sisterhoods who work as a protection (or at least a support group) against men's brutal acts. When Almodóvar shows a semi-circle formed by women dressed in black, he's at the same time exposing the curious grace of the situation and reinforcing his vision that there's something unreachable bonding those women, either the suffering, either sensibility or the common interpretation that life is constantly hard and unfair. Anothe example is when a known person asks Raimunda what is that red stain in her face, she answers almost as a reflex: "women problem". An answer that under a comic sight, hides the much more dramatic truth, that after all, it's her deceased husband's blood. Finally, it's important to notice that the director doesn't ignore also the sensual feminility of his characters, since he constantly shows them in closed shots, parts of their bodies that are constantly linked to the seductive nature of women: breasts, thighs, and so on. It's not a coincidence though, that Italian actress Anna Magnani, an undisputed symbol of the strength of women's natural beauty, appears on the TV at a certain moment of the story.

Going with remarkable security between the most different genres, Almodóvar keeps the spectator always surprised thanks to the sudden changes on the tone of the story-telling, that, ins spite of it, keeps beautifully beliaveble, proving the talent of the director and his hsbitual collaborator, the editor José Salcedo: in a particular moment, we follow the shock of a girl after killing her own father, in another, we are tense notecing that by not having a car, Raimunda and her daughter are forced to take the body clumsily to the streets and, finally, we laugh of the absurd coolness in which the main character accepts making a big meal for a group of people, while she keeps her husband's body hidden nearby.

And, of course, the mood truely nonsense of the supernatural subplot involving Irene's ghost, an apparison that surprisingly worries itself in dying her hair and acts like it was absolutely natural reappearing in her daughter's lives five years after her death, and it is even more appropriate that the character is played by the brillianf Carmen Maura, who returns to the "Almodóvar world" after almost twenty years (their last film together was in Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown in 1988). The same way, Lola Dueñas gives a huge charisma to Sole (as she does to all of her characters), what makes the public to identify themselves in her frailties and aspirations. Yohanna Cobo doesn't get intimidated by acting by the side of such experienced actresses. And if Blanca Portillo brings the necessary melancoly to the film, Penélope Cruz appears as a real force of nature (once again the comparison with Anna Magnani justifyes itself):she's not only very beautiful, but also finally gives once again an admirable performance after so many dissappointments in the American cinema, such as Bandidas, Gothika and Vanilla Sky. She was a little better in the Italian Non ti muovere, what maybe shows her insecurity when she act in English. Though bitter because of her past traumas, Raimunda is a decided woman, and don't waste much time crying over something or someone, taking always the initiative of making things right. The scene where she listens to herself singing a song, after so many years is one of the most touching, eventhough the dubbing is very obvious in the wrong choise for the singing voice, whose tone is much different of Penélope's.

Still including a very appropriate criticism to the costummary exploitation that TV shows make on personal dramas, doing to the lowest things in the battle for ratings, Volver has a script (written by Almodóvar himself) that ties very well the lose ends (even the subplots). Even that one of the final revelations isn't exactly "surprising", at least they're not presented as such, appearing then, with naturality and enough reliability.

Volver stablishes itself as a work that shows the security of a film maker even more mature and that has total control of the language that he helped develop in the last 30 years.

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Worst than 10 Draculas & 100 Werewolves

Posted : 15 years, 12 months ago on 9 March 2008 07:36 (A review of Van Helsing)

Universal Studios had never shown the proper respect for the unforgettable monsters who they helped make famous in the cinemas, to back this fact, we just have to watch the awful encounter between Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, which happened in 1948, in a long-forgotten film (thankfully). Though, even Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein could be considered a classic if compared to this terrible Van Helsing.

It's amazing though, that the initial sequence of Van Helsing is so promising: in black and white, it pays an homage to the very same films that moments later it will embarass. It brings Dr. Frankenstein yelling: "it's alive!", just like Colin Clive in the 1931 classic with Boris Karloff as the monster; the scene is agile and quite interesting, taking the spectator to believe he's actually going to watch a quality film. Unfortunetely, right after that, the film gets colored and shows us the hero (Hugh Jackman) who's in Paris, to face something that barely resambles Mr. Hyde (voiced by Robbie Coltrane); the special effects are poorely done by the way. From then on, we follow the adventures of Van Helsing, who's appointed by a secret society to destroy Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who's trying to find some way to give life to his thousands of vampire-babies, with the help of some freaky looking Oompa-Loompas. To go on with his task, the main character has the help of Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and Friar Carl (David Wenham) as the "comic relief".

Trying to get the nice mood that made The Mummy and The Return of the Mummy in relatively fun films to watch, director Stephen Sommers tries self-referential jokes and other attempts of humor that never work the way they are supposed to here. And, always that the film attempts some drama, it ends up causing laughter (like when Dracula says something like 'I'm empty and live forever!' or at the instant that Anna stops an important mission to complain: 'I've never seen the ocean. It must be beautiful.'). Furthermore, Sommers isn't even faithful to his own rules: at one certain moment, for example, a determined objective must be reached 'between the first and the last strokes of midnight', something that the plot simply forgets, since, once the first strike is heard, the last one never seems to come. Going the same way, one of the female vampires has a calm conversation at bright sunlight, though the script tells us at one point that it would be fatal to such creature. And after all that, I don't even want to begin discussing the ANNOYING relationship between Van Helsing and Anna, that follows all imaginable clichés: they fight all the time but ultimately, notice that in fact, they were "made for each other".

As if all that wasn't enough, Sommers' obssession for special effects once again compromises his efforts, since Van Helsing gives and authentic overdose of images created by a computer. I don't know if anybody else think like me, but I think it's simply impossible to cheer or even believe in a character who's magically turned into a digital doll always when action begins (the 'virtual heroes' seen here are even worst than those seen in Dare Devil or Torque. And the same goes for the sets. The sequence we see a chariot going towards the pitt (obviously done through computers) makes as much tension as seeing the Coyote falling o the cliff after once again trying to get the Road Runner. And to make things even worse, the director seems to compensate the lack of inteligence of the film through the sound volume. VERY FEW FILMS CAN BE AS NOISY AS VAN HELSING IS!

In his first main character after being great as Wolverine in X-Men and X-Men 2, Hugh Jackman is an unpleasant surprise here, since he's miles away from his charisma shown in the previous (and subsequent) X-Men films. Kate Beckinsale proves, once again, to be nothing more than a fiest for the male eyes, her accent is more than simply weird, it is bizarre (though it doesn't bother much). And if David Wenham can be the least sympathetic with his characterization of clumsy Friar Carl, the same can't be said about Kevin J. O'Connor, whose Igor isn't nearly as funny as Beni that he played in The Mummy.

But the biggest shame of the film, is in the terrible performance of Richard Roxburgh, he makes one of the worst versions of Dracula ever. Apparentely, he thought he was still on the sets of Moulin Rouge, in which he lived the cartoonish 'Duke' (very well then), the actor adopts exagerated gestures and has a ridicule diction, making his Dracula in a vampire version of Sylvester, the Cat (it's the second time I mention a Looney Tunes character here. Though I love them, I can't help thinking it's not exactly a complement for this film). Though, Roxbugh isn't alone: the three actresses who live Dracula's brides are equally irritating with their abominable gigles and their pathetic facial expressions.

Showing an amazing capability of embarrassig everyone involved in it, the film has also a regretable soundtrack by Alan Silvestri, who even gets to the point of copying the great John Williams (specially in the more 'dramatic' moments).

In spite of all I've said so far, Van Helsing managed to scare me once: when I realized that Stephen Sommers had the intention of repeating what he did in The Mummy and make a series of films starring Hugh Jackman's character. Thankfully the film sunk like a Paris Hilton film in the box-offices and this idea was quickly dropped.

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Not just one more comedy

Posted : 16 years ago on 1 March 2008 10:16 (A review of Groundhog Day)

Even the funniest movies eventually stop being funny after its watched enough times, the humor no longer surprises. A joke never has the same effect when you know the punch line in advance. But every once in a blue moon, a comedy comes along that is so thoughtful and meaningful in addition to being funny that after seeing it a dozen times and laughing less often, It's noticeable its depth and insight. No movie has such a perfectly united funny aspects with profundity as in Groundhog Day, which happens to be one of my personal favorite comedies.

Superficially, this film belongs roughly in the same genre as comedies in which a character becomes the victim of some weird supernatural fate and must adapt to the insane logic of the situation. And Bill Murray's sarcastic, bored approach is exactly the genious touch this film needed. I can't imagine any other way for this film to work as well as it did, where the world is going crazy around Phil the weatherman, Murray's hard-edged character who keeps his emotions bottled up. What makes the initial scenes in which he first discovers his fate so hilarious is the mounting panic in his demeanor even as he tries to act like everything's normal. All he can think of to say is, "I may be having a problem.", throughout the rest of the film, he'll deliver similarly muted lines to describe his situation. It's striking that a man who has all the time in the world would choose his words so carefully, but it reflects a very well-conceived screenplay.

In this comedy, the laughs are reinforced by repetition. The absurdity of Phil discovering that he's repeating the same day over and over again is funny enough, every time that the alarm clock goes off and the radio starts playing, "I Got You Babe" and Phil goes through the same motions and meets the same people and then goes out into the street to be accosted by the same annoying high school buddy "Phiiiil?", the spectator laughs again because he's reminded how funny it was the first time around. People who may not like this film (there MAY have one or two) emphasize how annoying it is that everything gets repeated. It's understandable such complaint, since jokes repeated over and over usually fail miserably. In Groundhog Day however, works uniquely well because the situation gets increasingly absurd and Phil gets equally desperate with each day that fails to pass by.

The film would have vanished quickly iof it had spent the entire time showing Phil meeting the same people and doing the same things time and again. The fact that Groundhog Day avoids this fate is one of its more striking qualities, since most high-concept comedies of this sort fall apart in the third act. Here is a rare example of one that completely follows through with its premise, leading from the initial situation logically to the ending. Only the Jeopardy scene feels like a skit that could have appeared anywhere. But this scene actually is placed wisely: it occurs when Phil is becoming increasingly bored and lethargic, and it is used to separate two hilarious scenes where he gives nutty television reports.

It is in the middle, centering on Phil's attempts to seduce Rita, when the film reveals itself to be more than just a comedy. The underlying implication of these scenes is that Phil's powers are less important than he thinks they are. He probably could have done the same things (such as his exploits with Nancy) under ordinary circumstances, without the "magic". Ultimately he realizes that his powers doesn't matter, because Rita is too smart and sees right through him. She may not understand the full "supernatural" implications of what he's doing, but she senses that he's somehow manipulating all through the situations. Phil may think he's a god, but he isn't all-powerful.

It's difficult to think of any other actor having pulled this off. Bill Murray is not the only comic actor to have proved himself capable of dramatic depth, but he's one of the few who can mix his humorous and serious side into the same character.

Though this film has a serious message, it is still essentially a comedy. But it's a comedy that uses psychological exploration of a fascinating character to make its point. Once you see through the jokes, Groundhog Day turns out to be also a very rich and deep film.

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Remember The Hollywood Studio Epics?

Posted : 16 years ago on 23 February 2008 06:34 (A review of There Will Be Blood)

A movie that hits you like a fever, There Will Be Blood is not the type of story that gets told very often. A multi-layered portrait of all that comes with a desire for power, the film will leave audiences feeling exhausted and with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film is presented in an assured and confident manner. Anderson is the most naturally gifted filmmaker of his generation, a fact that is evident here. Packed with breathtaking shots and scenes of boiling intensity, the movie makes no apologies about its tendency towards the grandeur inherent in telling an epic story that spans decades. Perhaps the first thing that will strike viewers will be the unavoidable use of images that comes naturally when setting a story in the old west. However, Anderson's work also packs enough depth and complexity to let you know that it never relies solely on this foundation. Although ripe with symbolism, There Will Be Blood does not settle solely on the pretense offered by its images. Instead it gives us complex characters that prove to be the soul of the story.

The film is anchored by the powerful presence of Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a silver miner turned oilman. Day-Lewis' performance is a thing of beauty. Equal parts larger-than-life and nuanced, his Daniel Plainview perfectly embodies the spirit of a salesman while putting across the multiple layers required for the portrayal of a man with an all-too-human desire for power. Critics of Daniel Day-Lewis performance will say that his portrayal is far too theatrical, a criticism also given to his portrayal of Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. The reality is that Day-Lewis does not carry this to everyone of his performances. However, he knows when a character is supposed to be showman. Plainview is a salesman and without his exagerated mannerisms he would be nowhere as a businessman. What is truly outstanding is that, unlike other actors, Day-Lewis is able to bring out the more human aspects of Plainview what make him a fascinating character to watch.

Joining Day-Lewis is Paul Dano as Eli Sunday. Dano balances out his character appropriately, giving Sunday the calm and silent demeanor that stands in sharp contrast to his passion for religion. While Dano does not deliver the performance of his career in this film, he does show hints of tremendous talent in his portrayal of an evangelical preacher that stands in opposition of Plainview's search for power.

Providing the score for this conflict is Johnny Greenwood's haunting score. Greenwood manages to accentuate the barren desert setting with a score that is both minimalist and entrancing. The music enhances the dark, pessimistic, and the emotional tone of the film, while never taking the attention away from the acting.

There Will Be Blood is an achievement in cinematography, acting, writing and film-making unlike anything released in a while. It is a film that puts its focus on unlikable characters and dares to take you in deeper in spite of this fact. Like Raging Bull, it is a character study of a man who you would not normally want to know and who you will be unable to forget about, after it is all said and done.

Watching There Will Be Blood is a powerful and emotionally draining experience, and after seeing all five nominated for best picture this year, this is no doubt the one I would bet, though No Country For Old Men (which also deals with greed and what it does with simple men) is magnificent as well.

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