Producing an epic-scale soap-opera-style drama that captures a country’s essence and history while making the audience care for one or two microcosmic subplots ain’t easy in 2008, almost 70 years after the film that Australia brings to mind most, Gone With the Wind (1939).
Mentioning soap as I just did is harsh enough as to make it worse by calling this melodrama, after all, I think the contents have as much sentiment as their presentation, but it is true that biting more than one can chew is not a good idea, it becomes fairly easy to choke, perhaps not as badly as to have to be taken to the hospital, but bad enough to cough a bit, not be able to finish what one was saying (if, to make matters worse, one was trying to say something at that moment) and forget what one was going to say after swallowing.
It’s a bad idea especially if making a film almost three hours long doesn’t give you enough space to say it all, which simply makes me wonder whether had director Luhrmann had even longer to tell his story would he have had enough space for the whole of it; who knows how much he sacrificed already, this is obviously a labor of love, one just can’t say enough when one’s telling the story that sums it all up, and I emphasize all.
My good old pals from college used to criticize the choice of name for this movie website, CriticSociety, which was co-founded by my cousin Morris in 2000; they stated “critic” was quite a meaningful word but adding it to “society” covered too much ground to make it just about movies. I said I disagreed but, in truth, I didn’t. Now imagine a film named after a whole country, as underestimated and, to some, irrelevant as Australia. Too much responsibility.
Anyway, one can’t but be happy that Baz Luhrmann found such funding, because for Pete’s sake this couldn’t have been cheap, having so many wild horses running around a set looks expensive enough, now reproducing a battle that very well represents the second world war is way on top of that. So many extras, costumes, sets, vistas, and explosions to blow them all up like they’re nothing… That’s money. Let’s all go see Australia if anything to pay for the thing, which at least dares to be what movies are no longer: gigantic, long, and loads of fun.
Because that’s what it manages: it entertains. I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew was the name and who starred in it, and I though, Aside from the fact that the two are Australians, what else can be so powerful as to have the film be called that? (As you see, I have a bit of a problem with the title, even now.) The story is enchanting because it mixes the varied cultures of Australia, a country constantly in the making, towards the end of the 1930s, when aborigines were still all around and whites were, as it has happened in many other places, trying to rule them and “civilize” them. I quote that word because it’s funny how a supposedly civilized man treats people savagely with the clear belief that it will help remove their savagery, but, after all, belonging to the modern civilization, I have to agree somehow that opening up some people to the scientific advances and worldwide discoveries of the civilized world is a good idea; it is the execution that’s often pitiable.
In that sense, it’s unclear where Australia stands. Trying to be politically correct, it attempts reconciliation with the “lost generations”, half-bred people who were treated in quite a discriminatory way until just a couple of decades ago, by portraying the aborigines’ beliefs and culture like something as acceptable as the western way, though in the end someone acting that way is still looked upon as a maladjusted curiosity. What the hell, going with the story’s flow, one can believe that some magic exists here and there, after all, call it what you like, but sometimes it does exist.
The romantic story that frames the whole thing is rather fairytale-y and shallow and not nurtured enough but it works: British society lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) comes to Australia to see what for heaven’s sake her husband is doing there, only to find him dead and his place at the disposal of a corrupt monopoly of meat to be sold to the war Allies. It is then her job to compete, which can only be handled thanks to a guy she met in the best tradition of adventure-comedy films, Drover (Hugh Jackman), nicknamed that for driving cattle, which becomes ridiculous when he’s addressed as Mr. Drover or Dear Drover, but hey, how interesting can his name be anyhow? This adventure, which is, by the way, the most exciting, is the first half of the movie; the other half is war, and it’s intense, powerful, a bit predictable and unfortunately anticlimactic, but still exhilarating.
Told through the eyes of Nullah (played by brilliant scene-stealer Brandon Walters), a little “creamy”, as half-breeds were insultingly referred to, the perspective is full of awe and a child’s capacity for amazement, which helps a lot. The whole production is truly awe-inspiring regardless of your age. The music spends more time creating cues for The Wizard of Oz (1939), a movie successfully if excessively referred to, than making up its own tunes, but it’s all right. Kidman and Jackman are perfect for their roles… and awesome together.
Max Brand’s novel “Destry Rides Again” is a straight western tale, I hear, about a desperado who comes back seeking vengeance after being unfairly convicted during several unpleasant years. How much of that survives in the treatment given by Felix Jackson and scripted by Gertrude Purcell and Henry Myers I don’t know, but truth is, their adaptation is one of cinema’s greatest examples of seriocomic drama, seamlessly blending light humor with dark tragedy, never diminishing the true impact of evil but rarely forgetting that the ultimate goal is entertainment and fun. Even music is put into the mix, and the fact that it works is a tribute to everyone involved in this classic film.
The story is set in the town of Bottleneck, where law is long-forgotten and dominated by the town boss, Kent, who cheats his way into fortune, properties and power, particularly in games of poker easily manipulated by his girl and the town’s main attraction, Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich), who grabs everyone’s attention whenever she’s in the room, including the audience’s.
This is Marlene’s show and one where she’s totally comfortable and uninhibited, not that she ever shied away from the spotlight. She sings such songs as “Little Joe, the Wrangler”, “You’ve Got that Look” and “See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have” (all with music by Friedrich Hollaender and lyrics by Frank Loesser) unforgettably, with such enchantment that every guy in the story is, no wonder, crazy in love with her, that being the main theme and one of the reasons why the whole thing is intriguing.
On the comedic side, after a marshal has apparently been eliminated by Kent, a new one is assigned: the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), whom they presume won’t lift a hand against trouble. On the contrary, ‘Wash’ sobers up and calls for Destry, the son of the legendary marshal for whom Wash was deputy, as his own deputy. When Thomas Jefferson “Tom” Destry arrives, played in rather bumbling yet honorable mode by James Stewart, he becomes the town joke, as he is more mild-mannered than tough and refuses to even carry a gun.
Crime and abuse is very real in Destry Rides Again however, and so is the title character’s indignation and iron will. The way he gains respect and establishes law and order in Bottleneck is admirable and pertains not to an irrelevant comedy but to the best kind of western, which this is, only presented in unconventional fashion. Since Frenchy is really the star of the show, and notice that I said Frenchy and not Marlene Dietrich, the really symbolical transformation of the town’s perception of Destry comes when even she falls for him, not quite in love but in respect and admiration, seeing in him the new ways that evidence the dirt and mud that has flooded the town since Kent (Brian Donlevy) rules it.
The light mood of the film, which is more often than not accompanied by inevitable laughs, comes from the way Destry handles himself so carelessly yet self-assuredly, surrounded by an unlikely team of enforcers that includes Wash and more hilariously Boris Aleksandrovich Stavrogin (Mischa Auer), otherwise called Callahan after his wife’s dead husband. It is he, Callahan, or should I say Boris, who suffers the greatest transformation after Frenchy. She—I won’t get into detail—has a denouement that so stung me in the heart that I wondered whether this was a comedy after all; but right after that, another scene with Stewart giving one of his speeches “speaking of” something made me laugh again. Few films pull that off. You gotta love the ones that do, and for sure, this one.
There are so many Rudos and Cursis in Mexican football (soccer) that watching this film is almost like shamelessly removing their masquerades to unveil that behind all that inelegant glamour, pretended class and recently-sprung fortune, there’s someone not only uneducated, and that not being even the worse problem, because after all no one’s to blame for his or her own lack of basic preparation, but spoilt by those who expect his best results, in an everyday struggle to keep him happy and away from other teams, giving him everything money can buy—including money—and creating a monster that even they eventually reject and accuse of being a new-rich little boy who has no clue where the ground is because he lost sight of it the moment he kicked a ball in a professional stadium.
Yet, somehow, writer Carlos Cuarón, the co-scripter of Y Tu Mamá También (2001), who debuts here as feature-length director, manages to make such characters likable by, indeed, keeping the blame away from them, showing us from their inside how they’re victims of a system that’s irreversibly contaminated and unfortunately destructive, and finally making them responsible in part for being there and doing that, but only to the extent where they could’ve kept away from trouble.
As the story begins, two brothers, Tato and Beto, are the stars in their town where the industry of bananas is the main motor and football is the only diversion. Goalkeeper Beto is nicknamed Rudo (“Tough”) because he can tackle whoever wants to score in his post. Tato is an expert at scoring. A talent agent comes to town with a spectacular girl and a shiny car and after an exciting game offers these guys the opportunity to come to the capital of the country with him to play in professional soil, but only one of them can go. A do-or-die goal will decide their fates.
That’s the movie’s main theme: chance, but only for the evident dramatic storyline, to entertain those who will only focus on the setup and the climax. Indeed, this one goal decides their initial fates and another their final destination. But to those who look closer, who dig deeper, chance has very little to do with these guy’s story. Corruption, excesses, women, game, drugs, vices in general, and the incomprehensible rush of becoming a winner and a superstar overnight are the themes that reign in quite an entertaining script that never shies away from the laughs while poignantly dismembering the guys whom we never stop liking.
Gael García Bernal as Cursi (“Corny”, a nickname he acquires later in the movie and which serves for laughs) and Diego Luna as Rudo have been more or less linked throughout their careers though they hadn’t acted together since the aforementioned Y Tu Mamá También, an unforgettable collaboration that more or less consolidated the already strong Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos’s brother. García is strong as usual, and Luna better than ever, in roles that could’ve easily gotten out of hand but were nailed by the guys, who use hilarious accents and fluid language and easily become the stars that the story wants them to be, instead of the ones we all know they are.
That they’re both in this one is a privilege and a tribute to Carlos, who was supported by his brother Alfonso, as well as by Gullermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu, for this debut that’s fortunately not only quite successful already, but truly a good film.
There are two flaws that I can’t avoid mentioning, one dramatic and the other technical. The dramatic one has to do with the narrator, the talent agent Batuta (comedian Gullermo Francella), who tries to create a parallelism between the game and life, and does so, but then in the story becomes an unlikable character, one representative of corruption in Mexican football, thus somehow contradicting his idealistic narration, making me conclude that another character should have been the one to either narrate or corrupt. The technical flaw is perhaps a symptom of filmic negligence or laziness, as we rarely see the guys playing ball. I was not hoping for scenes that should’ve been there instead of others, showing extensive games with these guys kicking or stopping goals from coming, but at least to see them play when they are playing, in the scenes that are currently there but shown only through reaction shots, with someone either celebrating a goal or a goalstop, or vice versa. I was frustrated and truly regret that presentation. Other than that and just a few repetitive scenes in the middle, I had a bombastic time with Rudo y Cursi and look forward to the future work of first-rate writer/director Carlos Cuarón.
Hell, what’s this? I had heard that Bullitt featured one of cinema’s most significant and exciting chase scenes, but I never expected that the film was worthwhile almost exclusive on account of that!
I saw it this morning and it was a fun ride indeed, but it was after all rather hollow around the edges, meaning that the chase scene was more or less all the meat in there and the rest was just buildup or aftermath. I wondered if this was just my impression because I had been so built-up myself about it, but now I come over to the Internet and I try to find a snapshot to upload as a review poster and all I can find are cars and more cars, a few of them with Steve McQueen looking out the window or on the wheel.
Furthermore, I read that the scene wasn’t even in the book the film is based on, “Mute Witness” by Robert L. Fish, or in the first draft of the script, but added later on as it was Steve McQueen’s specialty to perform much of his own stunt work, and he knew this would constitute a bang. Well, thirty years later it’s still considered one of the best chase scenes on celluloid, so he was right; I don’t see how the film would hold up without that though.
The story is not half bad but it’s treated rather thinly, and one can’t help but wonder how much potential was missed on account of McQueen’s star. He plays Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, who’s given the job of protecting a key witness who just arrived to San Francisco from Chicago. The politician in need of protecting the witness, Senator Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), gives the police little credit and never misses a chance to give Bullitt some heat. Both actors are excellent though their roles are missing much.
When it’s clear that the witness is a target, Chalmers gets busy blaming the police for every shortcoming while Bullitt obsesses about what’s really going on behind it all. Thus, McQueen plays his ultimate antihero: a rebellious officer who breaks many rules in the pursuit of righteousness.
Since there’s not much to the investigation, a couple of scenes focus on Frank Bullitt, the man, who has a girlfriend who’s not only gorgeous (played by Jacqueline Bisset) but also clearly in love with him. Since the character doesn’t say much and it’s clear only that she loves the guy a lot, I thought she would become the subject of dilemma by falling victim to the bad guys at some point. I was right, to an extent: she eventually confronts Frank about his dehumanization given the violence that he lives every day and how little it makes him smart. Since it’s not clear enough to us yet whether he has been dehumanized by his job or not, and we don’t know much about her either, it just comes off as a trivial moment. So much, that the final look McQueen gives himself in the mirror told me more than that.
He’s quite good in the role, he’s a good actor, but the character is shallow to say the least, and that’s too bad. I needed more, and I just couldn’t find it, which is also clearly the reason why the film never really became a classic, and why a Google search of it returns mostly websites of car lovers who can’t get over the chase scene.
Which is outstanding, of course. On and on through the streets of San Francisco, Bullitt chases two bad guys in his Mustang and they end up on a road outside the city where things get all the more exciting. Fantastic editing by Frank P. Keller and some impressive stunt work, and indeed, McQueen’s own driving, make up for what I must admit is one of the best of such scenes I’ve seen in a movie. Not to say it’s enough, but hey, it’s what keeps the film alive, and what ultimately made me watch it.
As one thing always takes to another, Taxi Driver (1976) drove me to re-watch Shane after so many years when I read that the famous Travis Bickle monologue, “Are you talking to me? Well, I’m the only one here” was ad-libbed by Robert De Niro inspired by a dialogue in Shane. I instantly remembered the awesome confrontation scene between Alan Ladd and Jack Palance and wondered if this was really true. Not entirely; the exchange, which is not verbatim, is between Ladd and Ben Johnson, who plays one of the henchmen of the film’s antagonist, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer). This sets off the action as Shane, Ladd’s character, doesn’t dare move a muscle in response to the heckling, though he has a violent past and outstanding abilities for both fistfighting and gunfighting.
This is the main conflict of a story that’s perfectly tied from beginning to end: Shane appears in the horizon in the first scene and disappears in the opposite direction in the final one. His visit is forever enigmatic, his past a mystery, but one thing is clear: he’s not proud of what he’s done, and at trying to escape such destiny, he unconsciously pursuits it.
Shane is just passing by the home of homesteaders Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and wife Marian (Jean Arthur), and at spotting his approach, young son Joey (Brandon De Wilde) immediately idolizes the stranger. There’s something about Shane, well-pointed out at first by Ladd’s impressive presence, that inspires trust, but Starrett soon distrusts him anyway, the victim of paranoia given recent abuses by Ryker, who wants to disown all homesteaders from the properties that he feels are his own.
Shane is on his way when he gets a taste of what Ryker is all about, and decides to become Starrett’s handyman and protector. The three members of the Starrett family welcome his help and make him an essential part of his lives; it is Joey’s point of view we mostly see, as it happened in Jack Schaefer’s novel, lovingly adapted by A.B. Guthrie Jr. and Jack Sher.
Both the Western genre and Alan Ladd’s star were more or less succumbing, losing the impact they once had, when George Stevens decided he wanted to direct and produce a film version of Shane. A war veteran, Stevens had grasped the destructive power of a bullet and wanted to portray the opposing values of good and evil of the novel by emphasizing the use of guns, from the very impact of carrying them to the lasting memory of using them. No more using guns like they’re nothing; the bullets shot by any character in Shane send the receptor to the other side of the room with devastating power, and leave an indelible mark in the mind of the shooter. Furthermore, not many bullets are shot throughout, but each has the impact of ten, and the threat, constantly latent, rarely channeled, increases tension by the minute.
The home of the Starretts is surrounded by mountains and photographed in a sumptuous way by Loyal Griggs, who spares no expenses in making every shot as beautiful as can be. The town is essentially a shop and a saloon where the Rykers always are, moodily planning how to kick the homesteaders out. They’re no senseless villains though; in a landmark scene, Rufus Ryker visits Starrett to cut a reasonable deal, and he explains why he thinks he has a right to the land much more than Starrett does. It’s so moving and understandable that we almost want Starrett to give in! This is a side-to-side beautiful story, with human splendor everywhere, bad or good, accompanied by the larger-than-life score of Victor Young.
So as to not make the opposing forces irreconcilable to the mind of the viewers, there’s a hired gunslinger that much more clearly defines which side we should be on: Jack Wilson, unforgettably played by Jack Palance whose catlike moves, skinny face, chilling smile and deliberate speech make up for one of the scariest villains ever filmed. As the perfect foe of Shane, Palance steals the show.
The other performer who scores every time is young De Wilde, who represents the good side with his naïveté and love for Shane. It is his final words that made history; who can forget his plead of “Shane! Come back!”
Taxi Driver is so stylish it became a trend-setter in more ways than one, and survives to this day as an iconoclastic piece of cinema, but truth is the reason why it claims its place in memory is its deep understanding of loneliness and anxiety that transcends from one man to a whole town, creating a metaphor of hell as a perception of New York City from the eyes of a taxi driver.
It’s most interesting nowadays after New York has suffered a considerable transformation and much of Travis Bickle’s dreams have come true: the streets are clean from the scum that infested them.
Travis is not much more or less than a taxi driver who dreams of a better town, but it becomes clearer and clearer that his afflictions that cause him to be a loner are way beyond control. Whenever he tries to connect to a human being, he blows it by displaying what to his eyes is normal and to the rest of the world is creepy. He’s just like those he hates and when he realizes it, he blows. Helplessly being in constant touch with them day after day doesn’t help. He ends up hating those who see him as scum and those he calls scum, and the irreconcilability that emerges becomes madness.
The key that makes the script work is that we like Travis and understand his point of view. When he falls in love with gorgeous Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) who works as a voluntary for the campaign of would-be President of the United States Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), he becomes the handsomest and most charming of all suitors, approaching her with admirable courage to simply and directly declare his love for her, which intrigues the high-society lady you would never expect to date a taxi driver.
Cut to: They’re drinking coffee and she’s getting more and more interested in the unlikely partner.
Cut to: he takes her to “the movies” and she’s surprised that it’s actually a dirty movie; though she protests, he insists, and next thing he knows, she dumps him.
Betsy never suspected, as no one in love does, or if they do they deny it to themselves, that the person who seems so dreamy is in fact a psychopath. Travis could have settled temporarily with Betsy, God knows he cared for her, but his sickness was, at best, dormant. It’s been years since Travis last saw his parents, we later find out, and he makes them believe that he’s working for the government in a secret mission that forbids him from revealing his whereabouts. He eventually gets to believe this to somehow be true himself, as he sets to assassinate Palantine, the very symbol of Betsy’s rejection; he sees her as “one of them” now, convinced that it was her missed choice to be otherwise.
We still care for Bickle as he spends much of his savings to buy all the guns a sleazy but professional salesman shows him. He spends hours a day practicing his aim, his cool, his carry, even his killing speeches. One enigmatic monologue has him daring himself by asking the mirror, “Are you talking to me?” As if the enemy was cowering, he provides a continuation to this question by proclaiming, “Well, I’m the only one here,” which is no more or less than a declaration of his crude reality: he’s so lonely he stinks of it.
Travis begins to lead a double life as he practices his warlord antics on the one side and drives a taxi on the other. Aside from Betsy, the other woman who recently haunted him is young prostitute Iris, who once got into his cab and desperately yelled for him to go, which couldn’t happen because her nasty pimp (Harvey Keitel) stopped him in time, throwing him a $5 and forcing her out to the tune of “Bitch, be cool.” Travis later befriends this 12 and a half years old whore (Jodie Foster) and does everything he can to convince her to finish what she started by getting in his cab to get away. “I was stoned,” she explains. It’s clear that she doesn’t want to be saved, but Travis, a defender of lost causes, whose mind is in a perpetual unreality, decides it’s his duty to drag her out of that lifestyle.
Once a defender of all that is righteous and clean, Travis succumbs into the exact opposite, and at becoming what he sees as a hero, becomes the perfect villain. This study of human indecency by writer Paul Schrader is a priceless observation of man as an unwilling wrongdoer; he is to blame as much as the society he lives in, the education he received and the way he’s seen by the rest of the world.
Accompanied by the unforgettably deep notes of Bernard Herrmann, photographed like he’s material of legend by Michael Chapman and followed closely move by move by editors Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro, Travis Bickle is a character to behold, both glorified and pitied by the outstanding performance of Robert De Niro.
The awesome final sequence, which is as dreamlike as it is nightmarish, restores Travis in the eyes of the audience, though hinting to a reverberation. Whether this scene is a point of irony or an imaginary finale of Travis, dreamed by himself during his very last minute, we’ll never know. Either way, it’s deadly haunting.
Here are the 2008 Screen Actors Guild Nominations:
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
RICHARD JENKINS - THE VISITOR
FRANK LANGELLA - FROST/NIXON
SEAN PENN - MILK
BRAD PITT - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
MICKEY ROURKE - THE WRESTLER
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANNE HATHAWAY - RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
ANGELINA JOLIE - CHANGELING
MELISSA LEO - FROZEN RIVER
MERYL STREEP - DOUBT
KATE WINSLET - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
JOSH BROLIN - MILK
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. - TROPIC THUNDER
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN - DOUBT
HEATH LEDGER - THE DARK KNIGHT
DEV PATEL - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS - DOUBT
PENÉLOPE CRUZ - VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
VIOLA DAVIS - DOUBT
TARAJI P. HENSON - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
KATE WINSLET - THE READER
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, whose punctuation-less title puzzles me, is a thoroughly delectable experience, much like the fine dinners with wine that the characters constantly have, and quite the perfect example of a good if not classic Woody Allen film: while it doesn’t cross the boundaries of typical neurosis with gorgeous background vistas it does capture a collection of intriguing personalities colliding and provoking irresistible reactions albeit not in a transcendental way. In fact, the lack of transcendence of the events portrayed is more or less the outstanding theme and the most acute observation not only of American people but of the human nature which, as it has been proved in countless occasions, rarely allows us to betray our most profound principles and beliefs regardless of our consciousness that the choices we are compelled to make won’t take us anywhere interesting.
The story is quite more complex than meets the eye, which is why most of us commentators can’t avoid pointing out its utter simplicity that in this case seems to be, ironically, excessive. It starts with the travel of two American women to Barcelona, Spain, and goes as far as a woman stuck in an unhappy marriage risking a young woman’s integrity—and life—by attempting to save her from the fate that she couldn’t escape, never realizing that it is the very pursuit of that fate which drives the other woman the same way that it drove her in her time, a mistake that she would probably make again if given the choice. Patricia Clarkson, one of the finest actresses around, plays this bit character which serves as a trigger that turns one of the protagonists, Vicky, into the most tragic of all characters here; it’s a part that pulls the rug from under our feet more than a few times, always surprisingly, but never quite noticeably, meaning that the twists and turns of her personality can only be clearly outlined after the viewing which smoothens her evolution so rhythmically that it makes Darwin’s evolutionary theory look like a series of sad, broad sketches of humanity going forward.
Never quite taking first chair, but in turn creating a contrast for deeper analysis of Vicky, there’s one of the most interesting love triangles I have seen outside of a porno movie, and the clash of two very different cultures and mentalities saving one of the wickedest couples from routine conflict that doesn’t only terrify them on account of the violence of which one of them is capable, but of the risk of being similar to the rest of the world.
Javier Bardem plays an artist who can’t see why free love is to be repudiated, shocking the Americans, while at heart he believes in true love never taking away the possibility of experimenting with it in a mixture of physical and metaphysical way to achieve the realization of romanticism without it having to be tragic, which is a theory of his ever-enigmatic ex-wife he adores but can’t deal with unless a “secret ingredient”, which they haven’t found, and whose nature they don’t know, and of which existence they doubt, but which they tirelessly if hopelessly look for, comes up. Enter Scarlett Johansson, again in the same kind of performance we have learned to expect from her, which is frankly nothing exceptional, using that very commonness to strike harder in the pivotal role that constitutes the happiness of two people regardless of her best intentions.
Since there’s no one in the world more capable of telling this story than Woody Allen, I will not get into details. Suffice it to say that Penélope Cruz, who appears late in the movie, is extraordinary, and Javier Bardem follows her closely, their inimitable talent greatly enhanced by the keen eye with which Allen sees them and the acute pen with which he differentiates them from the American characters, which more or less fall into typical Allenisms, except for Vicky who, performed by Rebecca Hall, is a breath of fresh air.
Here are the nominees for the 2008 Golden Globes Awards:
BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
c. THE READER
d. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
e. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
a. DANNY BOYLE - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
b. STEPHEN DALDRY - THE READER
c. DAVID FINCHER - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
d. RON HOWARD - FROST/NIXON
e. SAM MENDES - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a. LEONARDO DICAPRIO - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
b. FRANK LANGELLA - FROST/NIXON
c. SEAN PENN - MILK
d. BRAD PITT - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
e. MICKEY ROURKE - THE WRESTLER
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
a. ANNE HATHAWAY - RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
b. ANGELINA JOLIE - CHANGELING
c. MERYL STREEP - DOUBT
d. KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS - I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG
e. KATE WINSLET - REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
BEST MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a. BURN AFTER READING
c. IN BRUGES
d. MAMMA MIA!
e. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a. JAVIER BARDEM - VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
b. COLIN FARRELL - IN BRUGES
c. JAMES FRANCO - PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
d. BRENDAN GLEESON - IN BRUGES
e. DUSTIN HOFFMAN - LAST CHANCE HARVEY
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
a. REBECCA HALL - VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
b. SALLY HAWKINS - HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
c. FRANCES MCDORMAND - BURN AFTER READING
d. MERYL STREEP - MAMMA MIA!
e. EMMA THOMPSON - LAST CHANCE HARVEY
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
a. TOM CRUISE - TROPIC THUNDER
b. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. - TROPIC THUNDER
c. RALPH FIENNES - THE DUCHESS
d. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN - DOUBT
e. HEATH LEDGER - THE DARK KNIGHT
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
a. AMY ADAMS - DOUBT
b. PENELOPE CRUZ - VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
c. VIOLA DAVIS - DOUBT
d. MARISA TOMEI - THE WRESTLER
e. KATE WINSLET - THE READER
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
b. KUNG FU PANDA
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
a. THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (GERMANY)
(DER BADDER MEINHOF KOMPLEX)
b. EVERLASTING MOMENTS (SWEDEN/DENMARK)
(MARIA LARSSONS EVIGA ÖGONBLICK)
c. GOMORRAH (ITALY)
d. I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (FRANCE)
(IL Y A LONGTEMPS QUE JE T’AIME)
e. WALTZ WITH BASHIR (ISRAEL)
BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
a. SIMON BEAUFOY - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
b. DAVID HARE - THE READER
c. PETER MORGAN - FROST/NIXON
d. ERIC ROTH - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
e. JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY - DOUBT
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
a. ALEXANDRE DESPLAT - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
b. CLINT EASTWOOD - CHANGELING
c. JAMES NEWTON HOWARD - DEFIANCE
d. A. R. RAHMAN - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
e. HANS ZIMMER - FROST/NIXON
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
a. “DOWN TO EARTH” — WALL-E
Music by: Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman
Lyrics by: Peter Gabriel
b. “GRAN TORINO” — GRAN TORINO
Music by: Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
Lyrics by: Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
c. “I THOUGHT I LOST YOU” — BOLT
Music & Lyrics by: Miley Cyrus, Jeffrey Steele
d. “ONCE IN A LIFETIME” — CADILLAC RECORDS
Music & Lyrics by: Beyoncé Knowles, Amanda Ghost, Scott McFarnon, Ian Dench, James Dring, Jody Street
e. “THE WRESTLER” — THE WRESTLER
Music & Lyrics by: Bruce Springsteen
The nominees for the 14th annual Critics’ Choice Awards are:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Kate Beckinsale, Nothing But the Truth
Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
James Franco, Milk
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Vera Farmiga, Nothing But the Truth
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Rachel Getting Married
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk
WRITER (ORIGINAL OR ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Waltz With Bashir
YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS (UNDER 21)
Dakota Fanning, The Secret Life of Bees
David Kross, The Reader
Dev Petal, Slumdog Millionaire
Brandon Walters, Australia
The Dark Knight
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Quantum of Solace
Burn After Reading
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A Christmas Tale
I’ve Loved You So Long
Let the Right One In
Waltz With Bashir
Man on Wire
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Standard Operating Procedure
Young at Heart
Another Way to Die, Jack White and Alicia Keys/Jack White, Quantum of Solace
Down to Earth, Peter Gabriel/Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Wall-E
I Thought I Lost You, Miley Cyrus and John Travolta/Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele, Bolt
Jaiho, Sukhwinder Singh/A.R. Rahman and Gulzar, Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler, Bruce Springsteen/Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler
Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood, Changeling
Danny Elfman, Milk
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, The Dark Knight
A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
As if Larry Talbot hadn’t suffered enough already with his curse of becoming a Wolf Man during the full moon, he now has the challenge of stopping the scheme of Count Dracula to revive the Frankenstein Monster, finding as obstacle the incompetence of no less than Abbot and Costello!
That wonderful premise wouldn’t have worked had the “monsters” been in on the joke, which they aren’t: Lon Chaney Jr. is as heartbreaking as ever as the doomed moonlighter, Bela Lugosi as charming and serious as in his best movies as the Count, and Glenn Strange still one of the best of the Frankenstein Monsters (having Boris Karloff in the role would have probably been too much to ask, and quite impossible given the character’s plainness and Karloff’s stature by then).
Abbott and Costello play their usual routine, with the former bullying the latter and the latter bumbling every time with the former not realizing how dumb he is himself, as they play baggage clerks who receive two large packages allegedly containing the bodies of ancient monsters for a house of wax of sorts.
One of the bodies, Count Dracula, is quite alive if undead, and awakens the other, the Frankenstein monster, for an evil plot that involves a new brain for the monster, one that won’t allow the monster any free will, a perfectly submissive, simple brain—that of Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello).
The plot is continuously hilarious because of Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur’s communication problems, with Wilbur constantly terrified of the monsters and Chick unbelieving. It’s one routine after the other with Wilbur noticing the monsters and Chick turning to see one second too late every time. That’s on one hand; on the other, there are two women who are apparently head-over-heels for Wilbur: Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert) and Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph), one an evil scientist and the other a detective, their professions unbeknownst by the famous pair, creating riotous sequences be it on account of Chick’s jealousy or of Wilbur’s pride in his bigamous affair.
The only sequence that I find bombastic on account of the monsters’ interaction is the one at the costume party where Talbot struggles to convince the guys that one of their buddies is no less than Count Dracula. Lugosi’s mocking reaction and Chaney’s dreadful angst, in this context, make up for inevitable laughs. Also, the final joke, starring the voice of Vincent Price, is a classic.
This film has been regarded by some as one of the main reasons why the “Universal monsters” genre lost seriousness. Some even say it completely destroyed it. I would say it was a natural progress, going from gore to satire, and it couldn’t have been done more respectfully than in this treatment. Furthermore, it’s a revolutionary genre mixture that benefits from famous actors on both sides playing their roles as straight or as comically as they usually did before. Laughs never stop, stunning visual effects abound, awesome costumes and makeup help, and only some excessive slapstick mars the procedures. However, Abbott and Costello’s comedic timing is at the top of its game. No monster can stop their unique interaction.
I had seen the now-famous “Shining” trailer, a take on The Shining (1980) with a unique twist: it looks like a comedy drama. Recently I revisited that great video in YouTube and found out there are way too many “recut” trailers now… and they’re brilliant. I saw about 100 and picked the ones I liked the most to post here. Enjoy:
I had never really watched with full attention a film with a music score composed by my late grandfather, Gonzalo Curiel. Don’t know why. Perhaps since I grew up having to be proud about his music and his work I kind of rejected it, I rebelled against it, not boisterously but looking the other way. I’m an adult now and all of a sudden I love his songs and his concert music and I was dying to see a film with music by him.
The chosen one was Eugenia Grandet, based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac, about the daughter of an avaricious rich man who will do anything to save a penny, including ruining his family’s happiness.
I was flabbergasted. The score is top-notch and perfectly suited to the story, from whimsical to tragic and back, making it all the more powerful. I will go ahead and watch as many movies with his music as I can, and I will report of it here.
But not to make this read unbearable by blowing my own family’s horn, I will also tell you that this Mexican film is spectacular in every possible way. It’s one of the greatest studies of greed I have ever seen but the best part is it develops with its focus somewhere else, eventually getting to the point taking the viewer off-guard. As far as we can see, Eugenia’s father is indeed rather cheap, but in a quirky way, and his daughter Eugenia is a naïve and sentimental girl who falls in love with her cousin who drops by unknowingly bearing bad news in a closed envelope: his father has gone broke and is going to kill himself.
Eugenia’s father repudiates his nephew considering him opportunistic and neglecting him any part of his estate, sending him far and little suspecting that his daughter and he are now crazily in love. Eugenia will do anything for the love of his cousin, including giving away the golden coins that her father has given her yearly since birth. Dreadful mistake.
That the drama never goes as far as, for example, making the father a monster, speaks of the truthful treatment of an everyday tale that can be found in any household unbeknownst to neighbors and friends. Eugenia’s father is a rather pathetic character who needs care and attention but won’t let anyone near him. His love for his money is far greater than that for his family or himself, which creates a big irony since he never actually enjoys any of it. He’s by far the most interesting character of this story and his portrayal by Julio Villarreal is full of pathos and anxiety and it’s outstanding.
The romance doesn’t play as well. Ramón Gay is never quite believably in love with his cousin as she is with him, but it doesn’t matter so much because it is she we root for all along. Marga López is perfect in the role of the woman who must take matters into her own hands from very early in her life, always putting her heart first and struggling against her father by being the exact opposite no matter what it costs.
Balzac’s novel has been filmed quite a few times and though this is the only one adaptation I have seen I can’t but highly recommend it. I realize it’s probably hard to find but it’s well worth the effort. I was deeply affected by it. And what music…
Aside from the fact that the supernatural romance subject attracted me, I was still interested in the Twilight movie despite having hated the novel it was based on because I knew Bella would be played by Kristen Stewart and I had been irrevocably and illegally in love with her since her attempt to get did by the protagonist of Into the Wild (2007) inside a trailer. Here again we get to see her in the same pose, in her panties, on her bed, being ultimately rejected by a would-be lover. I hope we get to see her finally achieving third base eventually.
But it would be really bad of me to keep talking trash about the main character of a film that owes its success to teenage girls who dream of a guy like Edward Cullen, the male lead, falling in love with them for no apparent reason and despite being the coolest and most gorgeous guy in High School. The reason, we get to know, and let’s not encourage you to get into spoiler territory if you still don’t know what this is about, is that he lusts for her blood because he’s an undead. He’s not quite evil though, despite his vampire nature, so he struggles to stay away from her, but it’s impossible, and eventually they face a great peril: being in love with each other despite the fact that he wants to eat her up and not the fun way.
Stephenie Meyer’s book was pretty bad but I could see where its success lied: narrated by Bella, it delved into her psyche, making us understand how crazily in love she was with this dark knight and how she faced the weirdest situation she could ever imagine. It’s pretty fun reading her, in truth, ‘cause she’s rather quirky and her insights have a touch of black humor that I could get something from, which is lost in the movie. However, the book was so into this girl idolizing Edward that it forgot to give any attention to the eventual crisis that included some action, which is a terrible mistake that totally ruined the experience for me and which is thankfully fixed in the movie, though not that much, but at least to some extent.
The guy is played by Robert Pattinson who played Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). I thought it was an unusual choice but he does all right, too bad his character is scripted as an eternal teenager instead of a wise old man who has some fun thanks to his eternal youth, as should be. Also, both he and Bella are constantly murky and rarely have any fun, which doesn’t ring true.
As for the rest of the cast, Billy Burke is good as Bella’s father and Taylor Lautner is intriguing as Jacob. The rest are OK, except one who is so badly miscast I must mention her: Nikki Reed in the role of “the most beautiful woman in the world”, Rosalie. Reed worked with director Hardwicke as co-writer and star in the fantastic Thirteen (2003) but she’s got nothing to do in the role of Rosalie, period.
And one last thing: I would rather keep hearing almost identical but magnificent tunes film after film of the Coen brothers’ than have Carter Burwell do his worst work to date in a film like this. Not worthy of him.