Monday, January 18, 2010

Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces)

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As usual, Pedro builds layer upon layer of introspective insight. As before we have love, image, image as love through the eyes of a filmmaker, love as obsession, obsessions of the filmmaker's eye, and that imposed on the love discovered/portrayed.

This time the layering is more elaborate than in the past. This time, the film within is deeper and more overt, literally calling up Almodovar's first successful film about tensed femininity.

The structure is delicate and watching hi weave it is a sublime experience.

You have Cruz,who lives in a film world. At night, she enters the role of Severine, where she becomes someone else, an actress drawing deep on her sexual core. (The reference to this whole part of her life is offscreen, inherited from a Bunuel film.) This ends disastrously, and she retreats to ordinary life, which is a brief launching pad of normality. This is where we start.

The trigger for folding the layers is a dying father. From thence we create a fold of Severine/Cruz/Lena as acting as a rich man's lover, followed by her becoming an actual actress, Nurse Betty-wise. Here is where she encounters the filmmakers, whose films we see.

One is the film we are watching, presumably written by the son and derived from the initial idea he pitches: moral vampires who run bloodbanks, one of whom falls in love with someone who comes in. Another is the overt film-within, clearly "Women on the Verge." But it is occluded by bad vision and needs to be properly seen. Within that is a "Breakfast at Tiffany's" internal fantasy life, with Cruz adopting the Hepburn role, folded over onto the role she plays as mistress to a rich man.

A parallel film is a documentary of the making of the above film within, watched nightly as it is being shot by the rich man who stands here for the noir audience-manipulator. The film we are watching is unrolled to us in nested flashbacks: Harry (the primary Almodovar surrogate) telling the viewer the outer story, then telling his (unbeknownst to him) son.

That outer story has the filmmaker failing: making a bad film which kills his love and takes his sight, both literally. Or is it? We find that he is perhaps not blind and that the Severine/Cruz/Lena character is likely the woman who is his protector, enabler of his art (as producer) and mother of his child (about which he is also blind).

It sounds excessively nested and complex, blending Fellini, Bunuel, Medem, Antonioni, Greenaway and others. But as is Pedro's gift, it all flows freely, the folds and nests blend under the guise of magical realism and seem natural. So this is a tedg wet dream, right? Well, no.

Pedro is going through a crisis. Well, another crisis. He can build the folds, the layers. He can elaborate, going over and over the script in the manner of Joyce making Finnegan and add yet more introspective and external vectors. He builds and builds. But he is Harry Caine, a hurricane of obsessive structure and touching of remote womanness.

And he is blind. This film has none of the cinematic beauty that makes his structures matter. It lacks the images that make life full, that make sex be part of love. He gives us a film about why he lacks this, why he is blind — including his gay distance from women.

So where "8 and a half" was this same sort of structure, but the tension in the folds produced profound, profoundly cinematic images on women, this is precisely the opposite: the images are not there. This filmmaker is not a filmmaker, but a blind screenwriter, hoping in his blindness to make a better "Women on the verge" by mining a newly found memory store.

By 'Blind Onion' from Virginia Beach

Rudo y Cursi (Rough and Vulgar)

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In 2001, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna starred in Y tu mama tambien, a film I would place in the top ten for this decade. Their dynamic on screen was palpable. The combination of a their performances as well as a gripping story from the Cuaron brothers, Carlos and Alfonso. Alfonso directed the film and went on to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, the latter being a gem. Now, Carlos has taken the reigns as director for his first feature with Rudo y Cursi.

He reuintes with his Y tu mama stars Bernal and Luna, who have had stellar careers since 2001. Here they play brothers in a small Mexican town who dream of one day leaving and making it big. Beto (Luna) wants to become the greatest goalie in the country while Tato (Bernal) wants to be a singer, but can play soccer better than he can sing. They are discovered by Batuta (Guillermo Francella) during one of their games and offers one of them the chance of a life time: to become a professional football player. The scene to decide who gets to go is one of the best in the film, so I won't ruin it.

The majority of the film centers on the two brothers trying to fulfill their dreams but struggling along the way with gambling, women, and the sport they love. What I love so much about this film are the characters of Beto and Tato. They are so developed. You can tell exactly what their life has been life without knowing too much about them. They are simple folk and talk as such, regardless of how rich or destitute they become. Cuaron makes this unbelievable story as believable as possible, throwing the characters curveballs, much as life does.

Luna and Bernal work so well together. They look nothing alike yet I believe that they are brothers here. There is a scene where Luna is very upset with his brother and venting about it to his wife, but when she chimes in and talks down about Bernal, Luna tells her not to speak about his brother like that. It's the little things that they do that give their characters depth and feeling.

Cuaron uses narration throughout the course of the film, much like he did with Alfonso in Y tu mama tambien. This narrator however has an identity (Batuta) while in the other film it is anonymous. I think I would have liked it better that way or simply done without. The anonymous narrator can bring some interesting details and histories to the story, almost like watching a documentary. This narrating is bias and doesn't get quite as personal. It could have been dealt with in a better manner.

Although Carlos has been involved with several movies, I was very impressed with his directorial debut. Some people are born screenwriters, but step behind the camera and things fall apart. Luckily for us Carlos is multi talented like his brother. There are some very nice scenes here with solid camera work. One particular shot of the two brothers sitting across from each other at a table was beautiful in my opinion.

After the film was over and the credits began to roll, I happened to notice the names under the "Produced by" title. They were Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandoro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Guillermo Del Toro. They recently made a production company called Cha Cha Cha films. These three filmmakers won world wide acclaim in 2006 when they each released brilliant pieces of cinema. Cuaron with Children of Men, Inarritu with Babel, and Del Toro with Pan's Labyrinth. A pretty impressive threesome to have on your film's credits. I was impressed.

Rudo y Cursi is a very satisfying film for those who aren't looking for a typical story. Some might get mad at the ending but that's understandable. Such is life. Not everybody can be happy. I guess that's the film's underlying message that if you accept what life has dealt you, happiness will come to you.

By 'moviemanMA' from Massachusetts

Up In the Air

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It's possible that "Up in the Air," a comedy about the soul-deadening challenges of our disconnected era, could only have been made by Jason Reitman. After all, he turned teen pregnancy into amusing family fare ("Juno") and rendered tobacco lobbyists likable ("Thank You for Smoking"). So perhaps it's no surprise that he's come out with a lovely Hollywood romance that floats buoyantly along on a sea of sadness.

George Clooney is perfectly attuned to Reitman's tack, adding just a hint of a bruise to his slickly confident executive, Ryan Bingham. Ryan's job is to relieve others of theirs, and he flies around the country firing anonymous employees so their cowardly bosses won't have to do it instead.

But his own employment is threatened when his CEO (Jason Bateman) hires young go-getter Natalie (Anna Kendrick). She suggests Ryan's job could be done via video conferencing, which would ground him for good.

For Ryan, life on the road is the ideal existence. He gets first-class treatment everywhere, and never has to deal with the inconveniences of commitment. But as he faces increasing challenges to his solitary routine, including a relationship with another high flyer (Vera Farmiga), he's forced to wonder if it's finally time to put down roots.

Though the movie is based on Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, Reitman trades Kirn's caustic madness for a wry melancholy that better suits the screen. This version also incorporates our recessionary anxieties, but offers such a smooth ride we barely notice the turbulence until we're back on the ground.

A few scenes are overly broad or abrupt, and Kendrick works a bit too hard to compose her character. But Reitman handles the majority of elements--from big themes to tiny details--with a skillful blend of empathy and wit.

As for Clooney, an unexpected vulnerability deepens his natural charisma, while Farmiga turns out to be his onscreen soulmate. They create a connection that looks familiar, but is miles away from the rom-com relationships we've been trained to accept. It feels real, and in this prefab world, that's a rare commodity indeed.

By Elizabeth Weitzman at

Read the original article here