Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Anita and Me (Metin Hseyin, 2002)

A lovely, lovely film. The story is set in 1972 and about the friendship of a young second-generation Indian girl (Meena) with a pretty blond English girl (Anita) in a small rural town called Tollington.

The difficulties and envies encountered by your regular immigrant adolescent are all there. But what makes this story so special is the situation of the local girl on the host side of the divide. Anita's family has fallen apart, there is not much future for her, all the social mobility denied in advance. For a diligent, smart, and hard-working immigrant family, Meena and the parents are entitled for upward mobility and they do achieve their goals. On the other hand, the poor local whites are left behind, knowing not what to do in the face of changes, and the situation is epitomized in Anita's life, who just stands there watching when the "Paki-bashing" boyfriend and his gangs kick an Indian man to death.

Well. After all this, Meena's feelings toward Anita is rather incomprehensible. Her attachment is too strong. That makes the story weak, after all. Yet there are many fine moments in the film and it's worth viewing repeatedly to learn the dialect of the mining region (I really had hard time following it).

"Stupid bloody wogs" is what a nice English lady says to Meena and her mother. I also learned that girlfriends call each other "wench."

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Milagro Beanfield War (Robert Redford, 1988)

This along with Local Hero is one of my all-time favourites. I watched it in Hawaii in 1988 and then visited New Mexico for the first time in 1989... My southwest days began.

Looking back, this is a great film, very well-conceived, well-sustained, and well-finished. I love every bit of it. And the visual is marvelous.

Ruben Blades and Christopher Walken are both still youngish. They are in their early forties. Now that I have passed their ages at this stage, I can't watch this film without a kind of nostalgia.

The impression that remains is that of the wind. It's the wind that tells the truth. See the sequence in which copies of the local newspaper, La Voz, are blown away to reach people.

The beauty of the tierra encantada is quite breath-taking.

Jumanji (Joe Johnston, 1995)

Watching this I thought the tempo was rather slow, but the children with whom I was watching this didn't mind that a bit and actually they seemed to enjoy the development.

It's a fantasy, all right, but the rules of the game are not very clear. From one segment to the other, a game needs to get a complete break. The game Jumanji doesn't have it and the "presences" from previous moves all remain somewhere. This is strange.

The old hunter near the end loses his state-of-the-art shotgun before disappearing himself. This is very weird, as the gun is from this reality and not the game's world.

Whatever. The idea is fun.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mr. Spin

Went downtown today and there was the inaugural Harbour Festival going on. Quite by chanc we passed by a street performer named Mr. Spin from Adelaide. An incredible juggler and mono-cycle rider with an excentric laughter. We enjoyed his show so much that I ended up paying him 20 dollars to support him on the road. He gave us a DVD of his performance.

You can learn more about him by visiting the site: http://www.mrspin.net/

Then we went to see the show by a Chinese acrobat troupe at Sky City. This was so appropriate to commemorate the Chinese new year's day which was today. The performances were quite good, the talk by the MC quite dull, and everything was inbued with a sort of lethargy.

My son said he saw today the difference between individualism and totalitalianism. Well, yes, both performances were good, but we will remember Mr. Spin much better than the Chinese group.

At night saw fireworks from the north shore.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Good to see you again, Ferris. After almost twenty years, I remembered a lot of its scenes. Which means I must have liked it in 1986 and I think I did. On this second viewing, however, the funniest scene is the ending school-bus sequence. The story's got a great rythm to unfold itself, but no character is really sympathetic or attractive. This is such a succesful role for Matthew Broderick that even today when I see him I call him Ferris, the older. Not bad, though.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)

This is one of my all-time favorites. I've watched it several times, but once again, it gives me an ineffable joy. How can I explain its charm? The story is very understated, no character stands out as very attractive, not much happens, the sense of humor is too subtle, but the overall effects are simply captivating. Mark Knopfler's music is perfect. When I die, it will be the tune I'd like to listen to for the last time on this earth! Scotland, ah, Scotland. It's like nowhere on the planet. A true sense of the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Housekeeping is another striking masterpiece from Bill Forsyth. But I can't find his trace in this millenium; what is he doing? Is he doing well? I hope he will come back to produce another great film in that vein.

The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

Up to a certain point I was rather uninterested, as the passion depicted seemed too far-fetched. It looked as if made upon a preconceived notion that "passion is something like this, see?" and it was not convincing. It looked more like a demographic problem; a woman versus two men. What happens next is predictable. Only things that kept my interests were the episodes with the Maori (infuriated by a play of Bluebeard) and the fabulous Anna Paquin.

But then toward the end, for the last thirty minutes or so, the film showed its true color; violent, engaging, enraging, shocking. The burial of the piano in the ocean has something truly extraordinary in it. And the ending sequence has a sense of humour that's commendable. It's not a laugh-out-loud humour, you know, but something that saves the film's otherwise gloomy possible ending.

And the land of Aotearoa is beautifully conceived. Looking back from Holy Smoke!, the woman's urination is pretty funny. Is it a bit of an obsession for Jane?

A strong, powerful work. A classic.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Holy Smoke (Jane Campion, 1999)

Many interesting details, a great sense of color, an intriguin setting, but the overall story is simply not that interesting. A couple of excentric people following their own passions that leave us indifferent. They are both curiously devoid of any interiority, which is only born by the sense of the social. Maybe it depicts well the shallowness of the people who falls for the cult of any kind. The most memorable moment is when Kate Winslet pees standing, naked, in the desert. That's also a turning point in their relationship. From one cult to the other.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005)

Today 19 January 2006 the DVD went on sale, I bought it and watched it. It's a very pleasurable film, full of Tim Burton flavor, but it doesn't match Mel Stuart's 1971 classic Willy Wonka with Gene Wilder. The surrealistic is simply replaced by kitsch, and the incredible musical scores are replaced by nice but tame new songs.

Especially dissapointing is the Oompa-Loompa. After the shocking visual presence of the 1971 version, well, nobody can win. The ending is rather preaching (this, according to my son, is not even in the original novel). The world of pure imagination is rendered into a world of morality. Jonny Depp is a sane schoolboy compared to Gene Wilder's wild, lunatic, extravagant Wonka.

I mean, this is a good film in itself. And yet, the 1971 Wonka is simply unbeatable. I'd watch the Wonka over and over again. Charlie? Well, maybe in five years.

Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002)

With Al Pacino and Robin Williams doing their all-out performances, the film can't fail to ignite. And the backdrop is Alaska's sheer beauty! Hilary Swank also is doing her job. Pacino is a veteran detective who suffers from insomnia in Alaska's white nights, named DORMER, which of course is ironical as it comes from the French word DORMEUR, "sleeper". This is s remake of a Norwegian film I am told and I would like to watch it, too, but this very high level of achievement by Nolan is probably well beyond the original.

Alaska is haunting. All I dreamt back in Alabama was going to Alaska...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Around the Bend (Jordan Roberts, 2004)

Convenience rules. When great-grandpa Henry (Michael Cane) dies in a KFC restaurant, it's only after he has written all the necessary instructions for his son and grandson to follow. He has even taken into consideration the death of his bulldog, Sky, on the following day after his master's death. Just before Henry's death his long lost son Turner (Christopher Walken) miraculously comes back. Following Henry's instructions for scattering his ashes (mixed with those of Sky) through Arizona and New Mexico, Turner and his son (abandoned as a baby and raised by the granpa) seek reconciliation. When the truth is finally revealed, Turner dies. Dogs come and go in and out of the picture. The kid also comes and goes, very conveniently. What kind of screenplay is this?

The land of enchantment, Nuevo Mexico, offers its eternal, sheer beauty. The location is around Los Lunas, my mentor Rudolfo Anaya's landscape. The music could have been better. In fact, that's already an understatement.

Christopher Walken is great, of course, but there is nothing beyond that in this film. It's hard to believe this film won the "Jury award" at 2004 Montreal World Film Festival. The film runs a little over 80 minutes. Its length or lack theoreof is surely a virtue.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Starsky and Hutch (Todd Philips, 2004)

I was not a big fan of the TV drama Starsky and Hutch, so I wouldn't have watched this if it were not for the leading team: Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Now, after watching it, I find these guys funny as ever. It was worth watching. The bad guy is Jewish and Starsky I suspect is Jewish (because of his strong attachment to his late mother). Snoop Dog is doing great, too, with that strange look. At the end the "real" Sta & Hutch appear. Nicely done.

Possum (Brad McGann, 1996)

This is Brad McGann's short film (15 minutes) about a boy and his younger sister growing up in central Otago (although not specified). The younger sister, Kid, can't speak. She only utters a series of animal sounds. She eats like an animal, behaves like a beast. Until one day she is found dead in a forest, trapped and bleeding. Stunning, powerful short. The boy wishes her back one day and keeps his window open at night. This imagination is as sinister as any, and as powerful as any. The film is permeated by the force of nature. Plants, animals, night... An unforgettable piece.

In My Father's Den (Brad McGann, 2004)

Paternity, paternity. As the title suggests this is its theme, but with a surprising reversal. It's a tragedy yet the ending is carefully arranged to give a little soothing effect. The whole picture is beautifully done. Desolate central Otago (I think the town is Roxburgh) is scaringly beautiful (a little like Arizona but much colder). This film surely tells about the kiwi spirit--excentric, gloomy, independent, filled with yearning for other places of the world, reticent, and ultimately sad.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Station Agent (Tom McCarthy, 2003)

Talk about friendship. The most incongruous threesome (a dwarf train aficionado, a talkative Cuban hotdog vendor, and a middle-aged woman painter who can't get over her son's death) turn out to be the purest of friends. Added to the threesome are a lonely black school girl and a little silly librarian. The center of gravity here is Fin, the dwarf guy, and his deserted train depot. Somewhere in New Jersy. It's surprisingly fresh and heart-warming. The ending is brilliant.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Diarios de motocicleta (Walter Salles, 2004)

Looking at Alberto's face (the real Alberto's) at the end all the emotions intertwining history and the young man's dream come to fill you to the edge of the overflowing river, and you realize how powerful a journey the past 110 minutes or so have been. Following the chronology of the carnet de voyage, the film starts rather flatly. They it begins to accumulate intensity once they cross the border into Chile. From there, it's non-stop. They have to abandon the motorcycle at a point, but who cares, the voyage continues and so does the diary. Into an uncertain future.

America, the Americas. One common destiny. And that destiny, brought about by Europe's expansionism of the past five centuries, is what we of the other parts of the world also share in common.

The film makes me want to hit the road, to the high hills of Machu Pichu. One day, yes. But before that I have to revisit all my anchoring points in the America latina I knew when I was 25... São Paulo, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Caracas. I will. I hope. So that I can continue to hope, not to despair.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Life Less Ordinary (Danny Boyle, 1997)

Immediately following Trainspotting, this is another delightful comedy by Danny Boyle. I liked it so much probably partly because I have a soft spot for both Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz (more for the latter than the former, of course). Holly Hunter in this film is an immediate continuation from Raising Arizona, it seems. And the final clay animation sequence is so cute. It's Danny's merit to have found a Scotland-like landscape in Colorado (this is my guess). It's stunningly beautiful. A filmmaker is a person who knows how to turn a landscape into a distant place. Four thumbs up, and I'm on my back!

Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998)

It's funny but I learned a lot about the politico-religious history of England from this film. How in fact sovereignty needs to be sanctioned by religious authority is a matter to be considered. What is also very intriguing is the way they switch between English and French in the 16th century. And all this put into a filmic text by an India-born director? Cinema is a strange, funny art.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Mallrats (Kevin Smith, 1995)

A terrible, terrible story of the incredibly deranged American consumerist youths, and I like it very much. It's all the more fun when you learn that the director is "Silent Bob" in the film... What kind of twisted, weird imagination he has... not unlike the woman producer/writer (what's her name) of superb Drop Dead Gorgeous. Dialogues are really enjoyable. Very shallow, but they ring true, and meticulously Americanized in every possible way. Shopping malls, the world's least desirable habitat for humanity. Yet there are a bunch of people for whom this is the most comfortable place on earth. They are brainless, pathetic, and a lot like you and me.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Cat in the Hat (Bo Welch, 2003)

Superb sets and the sense for color make this a thoroughly enjoyable silly tale. Dr. Seuss coming together with Wayne's World with Wonka-like dreamy townscape... a sheer joy at moments. When the cat smiles widely there appears Wayne... hilarious! They should have asked Garth to make a cameo appearance!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)

Bravo! The best film ever made set in high schools. Funny and full of emotions. It's quite interesting that Cousteau is already an obsession in this--as if to announce The Life Aquatic. Wes Anderson along with the Coen brothers are my kind of American filmmakers. How fortunate of us to have the likes of them as contemporaries!

City of Ghosts (Matt Dillon, 2002)

An impressive film set in Cambodia by the DIRECTOR Matt Dillon (his first), with James Caan and Gerard Depardieu, among others. The music is very nice and atmospheric. The song at the end is Joni Mitchel's Both Sides Now sung in Cambodian and it's very good. All in all, exoticism is rampant and the dark side of Cambodian history is conveniently exploited (see the episode around landmines). The father-son relationship and romances are all very shallow. The scenery is gorgeous, but you are left to wonder: what's the point? Unconscious repetition of colonialism is at times too much. Good actors, great locations, but the film doesn't quite live up to it.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hide and Seek (John Polson, 2005)

Coming from the director of that curiously absurd, colorful, and impressive Siam Sunset, this is rather a dissapointment. With De Niro and Dakota Fanning nicely doing their job, this could have been better if not for such a messy screenplay. The main plot comes through well enough. We are led to believe that the daughter suffers from dual personality. Then the moment of reversal comes and we learn, with enough shock effect, that it's the father who is dual. Both roles are played superbly; Dakota Fanning especially is stunning.

Still, the daughter's overall reaction to her father's dark side (Charlie) is not very convincing. Even less so is the episodes of the neighbors who just interferes as cheap mystification.

Regrettably, not in the same league as Night Shyamalan. I'd love to see another film more in the vein of Siam Sunset!