Monday, 31 January 2011

Blue Valentine reviewed

A review

I was a bit disorientated at first with Blue Valentine, as the film follows the beginning, development and the end of a relationship between an aspiring musician, Dean, and Cindy, a free spirit of a girl who wants to study medicine. The reason for my discomfort is that the story is told in the present and in the past, being difficult at first to discern what is what. However, after a while, something clicked in my poor head and all was taken in an easy stride.

Blue Valentine is basically a modern tale of hopes raised, hopes dashed, in a milieu which could be described as being in between white and blue collar background. As in many American films, the landscape is, to some extent, a dominant force here; I am not only talking about the wide scenery out there, but also a kind of a trashy one, as the camera lingers in the decor of the love motel blue valentine suite (although is given a different name, which I just do not remember at the moment), where the couple attempts to trash their differences and salvage what remains of their marriage, a marriage where she is going somewhere in the medical world while he is stuck in a dead end decorator job, all his ambitions to develop as a singer having gone down the toilet.

Michelle Williams gives a convincingly solid performance as Cindy, whilst Ryan Gosling plays the role of Dean with panache. The cinematography moves with confidence between the wide scenic shots to the claustrophobic setting of the valentine love motel, passing through the trappings of suburban America, while the camera close ups gives Blue Valentine a sense of intimacy, vital for the development of the story. However, I think that the script was a tad loose, present and past episodes of their relationship tends to blend in an undifferentiated mashmallow. It takes a while to disentangle it.

I was pleasantly surprised by Michelle Williams artistic development. Blue Valentine is a good film which could have been much better if it had been tightened up.

Friday, 28 January 2011

My 10 Favourite Films for 2010

That time of the year again, so here is my list of my 10 favourite films for 2010. I cannot say that these are the best films of the year, not even to my own standards, as there were many which, for whatever reason, I neglected to see. Many good films were also left behind in the long list. These films were released in the UK during last year, regardless of the date of production.

The Secret in their Eyes (El Secreto de sus Ojos)
Argentina, Oscar 2010 for Best Film in a Foreign Language
I was just taken aback by this film, a thoughtful reflection on how times past interplay with our present lives. It is a extremely intelligent and marvellously crafted film under the masterful hand of veteran director Juan José Campanella (who also co-wrote the tight knit script with Eduardo Sacheri, the author of the novel – La Pregunta de sus Ojos) and the skilful cinematography of Félix Monti. Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darín were exceptional as the main characters.

Treeless Mountain
Dir. So Yong Kim South Korea 2009 89 mins
Starring Hee Yeon Kim & Song Hee Kim
Treeless Mountain is one of those films that will stay with me forever, a children world view which is enchanting and tough. If anything, this film is almost Zen in its cinematic minimalism, simplicity, in its ability to convey the gradual transformation of the "I want" girls to "I have" girls (the older one offers to buy her grandma new shoes from their piggy bank, in spite that they needed winter shoes themselves).

Winter’s Bone
Director: Debra Granik
Based on the novel Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Brezhanan, Dale Dickey
ENGLISH / USA/ 2010 / 35MM / COLOR / 1.85 / DOLBY DIG / 100 min
One of those rare American indies that manages to be both a cinematic essay in social realism and cinematic poetry, a journey not only through the backlands of Missouri, but also through the human soul. A film that is both particular to a place and a time, and universal. This is American cinema at its best. Jennifer Lawrence is exceptional as the girl. I was also relieved to see an American independent movie that is not a bad Woody Allen clone or about boring and shallow New York socialites.

I Am Love
Writer-Director: Luca Guadagnino
Producer-Star: Tilda Swinton
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Marisa Berenson, Pippo Delbono, Tilda Swinton
Italy 2009 120 mins Cert 15
Nearly two hours of pure cinematic bliss, a film that manages to be both visually voluptuous in a manner that only the Italians can do, and measured in its intelligence, a real treat to the senses and to the mind, shot with masterly camera work and with a magnificent musical score by John Adams. I came out of my viewing session with an intense desire for good food (Iam afradi that you will have to see this film to fully understand this last sentence). The portrayal of each of the characters is powerful. Watching Tilda Swinton act is a stunning experience of artistry that only a handful of actors can achieve in its range, depth and breadth.

Father of My Children
Although it is not autobiographical, it is loosely based on the experience of its director, Mia Hansen-Løve. A compassionate look at the humanity of the cinema world, as the failure of a production company leads to the suicide of its founder and owner, leaving his wife and two young girls to cope with the aftermath. Beautifully shot and acted, a relaxed but controlled script. I just loved it. Chiara Casselli, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Alice de Lencquesaing and Alice Gautier (the girls) were just a real pleasure to watch.

Another Year
The magic of Leigh’s films resides in the humanity of its details, in his compassionate yet ruthless eye, in his ability to relate with us, his audience.
Magnificently filmed by Dick Pope, with a very controlled and close camera and lighting, without any of the fancy hand held movements so many recent British movies have indulged in, the attention is always centred on the actors and the story. A lesson in film making.
This is supreme story telling, absolutely brilliant in its forensic precision!

Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans
A film maker who does not only know how to tell a story, but also who knows how to tell that story beautifully. From the first scene of Port of Call: New Orleans I knew I was viewing something special: a cinematic jewel. Probably, the only remake which was worth doing.

Director/writer: Marco Bellocchio
Cast: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michela Cescon, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio.
The secret story of Benito Mussolini’s unacknowledged and forgotten son, it actually explores the egomania of the dictator as he rises to supreme power from rather low beginnings. The boy and his mother were sacrifices offered to the altar of power. Supreme acting and film making.

Still Walking
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda Japan 2008
114 mins Cert U
Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yui Natsukawa, You
Still Walking should have had a notice at the end along these lines:
“No feelings were hurt during the making of this film”.
Feelings, more precisely, family feelings and family ties are indeed the subject of Still Walking.
The cinematography is impeccable, its tempo and rhythm reinforcing the nuances of the story telling. Still Walking is indeed a valuable contribution to that tradition in Japanese cinema of closely observed family and human relationships, beautifully shot and acted.

In Our Name
In Our Name, directed and written by Brian Welsh and produced by Michelle Eastwood, is a brilliant film which deals with the unintended consequences of politicians’ decision to wage war on Iraq. It is a clinical yet warm analysis of the breakdown of cultural and ethnic relations in what once were close knit communities as a result of those decisions, resulting on any brake applied either on racism or religious fundamentalism being taken off, with the expected consequences (MI5 warned about them before the outbreak of the war).

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti) reviewed

A review

A feast to the senses, luscious ochres, yellows and warm hues, a young woman in a wedding dress running towards a tower-house in a desolate hill in what seems to be a post-war era greeted me as I started watching Ferzan Ozpetek’s Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti), an elegant and compassionate study of the disintegration of the Cantone, a Puglian family which has built their fortune on pasta.

The story centres on the return of the younger son, Tommaso (heart throb Riccardo Scamarcio), from Rome, where he was supposed to have read Business to follow on the footsteps of his father to manage the factory. However, instead he comes back with a Literature degree and an embryonic career as a writer instead of the fully formed businessman that his father had expected. Particularly when a new partner has joined the firm. Tommaso is going to reveal to the family not only he did not read what he was supposed to, but also a secret about his sexuality: he is gay.

However, Antonio, his older brother declares his own sexuality to the family first, resulting in his exclusion from the clan, and his father having a mild heart attack, as homosexuality is a word which cannot be spoken in front of him. His world collapses, as he finds impossible to accept Antonio’s sexuality. The management of the factory is thrown onto the shoulders of a reluctant and disinterested Tommaso and Alba Brunetti, the partner’s young, aloof and glamorous daughter with an iron fist (Nicole Grimaudo conveying the little girl lurking behind the arrogant face of a spoilt kid) .

Further embarrassment and revelations spring up when Tommaso’s gay friends arrive from Rome on their way to the beach, leading to a series of situations where they have to keep straight faces all the time in front of the father, as the rest of the family has mostly grasped the reality of their sexuality.

Tommaso’s grandmother weaves in and out of the story, sometimes in flashbacks, revealing a family past which is not as stiff and straight as we have been led to believe, casting a compassionate eye on the going ons of the family.

Mauricio Calvezi’s cinematography paints this film with a very characteristic Mediterranean feel, reminiscent of the work that Sven Nyqvist did casting Ingmar Bergman’s work with a Northern ambience.

Loose Cannons moves skilfully and effortlessly from a dissection of the inner workings of an Northern industrialist family (comparisons can be drawn here with I Am Love) to the taboos and prejudices still afflicting Italian society, a feisty and compassionate comedy of errors which gives a certain glow past the easy laughs, coming from the realization that life goes on.

I left the cinema happily smiling at my fellow humans, getting a few strange looks as a result of that. Oh, cool and rainy England!

Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Cert: 15
Language: Italian (English Subtitles)
Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Alessandro Preziosi, Nicole Grimaudo, Ennio Fantastichini, Lunetta Savino, Elena Sofia Ricci, Ilaria Occhini

Monday, 24 January 2011

In Our Name reviewed

A review

In Our Name, a film released in December 2010, follows Suzy (a powerful and feisty performance by Joanne Froggatt), a young woman who is a British soldier, on her return from a tour of duty in Iraq. Past the usual flags and party on her arrival to her home, shared with Mark (a believable Mel Raido), also an army squaddy, we learn that not all is as it should be. Suzy behaviour is erratic, she is troubled by something that happened in Iraq. She becomes overprotective towards her daughter, Crass (Chloe Jayne Wilkinson’s nuanced performance for a child of that age is flawless) . We get flashbacks from Iraq, a young girl, of a similar age to Crass, was killed after a ‘heart and minds’ operation went disastrously wrong due to ignorance of the cultural and political Iraqi context.

Suzy becomes paranoid in her desire to protect her child, new locks are installed on the back gate, she flips when she see neighbouring lads attempting to nick her daughter’s bike. An argument ensues in a cab driven by an Asian Muslim after a night out not only exposes Mark’s racism, but leads to an attack onto their house. As a result of it, she moves the child’s bed to their own bedroom, much to the despair of Mark, who has not been able to had had sex with her since her return. In a typically laddish attitude, he accuses her of having an affair with a fellow soldier, Paul. Meanwhile, back at the barracks, her unit’s doctor is also concerned, but she refuses to explain what is in the back of her mind. Her own prospects of promotion are now in jeopardy. However, that does not matter to her. Crass does.

Mark faces and threatens Paul, inadvertently revealing what is really behind his mask. Suzy leads a revenge attack on the taxi driver, but Mark’s racism takes over and the Muslim driver was nearly killed. A horrified Suzy, warned by Paul, finds out what kind of man Mark is, and runs away with Cass, leading to a extremely dangerous situation.

In Our Name, directed and written by Brian Welsh and produced by Michelle Eastwood, is a brilliant film which deals with the unintended consequences of politicians’ decision to wage war on Iraq. It is a clinical yet warm analysis of the breakdown of cultural and ethnic relations in what once were close knit communities as a result of those decisions, resulting on any brake applied either on racism or religious fundamentalism being taken off, with the expected consequences (MI5 warned about them before the outbreak of the war).

The acting conveys clearly the feel of a Yorkshire military home, direction and editing being sharp, and a tight editing contributes to In Our Name to be a little gem which has been largely ignored by the public and the critics.

I have to say, it has gone directly into my 10 Favourite Films of 2010.

To see the trailer, please click here.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

SOMEWHERE reviewed

A short review

After having watched Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, I can understand why there were so much disquiet about being awarded the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film by a jury headed by Quentin Tarantino. I do not think that it is a bad film, but a prize winner is not.

I do understand, in a way, what Sofia Coppola was trying to do. I also can see the influences on the movie, particularly those of Michenangelo Antonioni’s 70s films, as it has been claimed by several commentators. However, the results on the hands of Sofia Coppola has resulted in a work which is, frankly, bland and anaemic. I nearly walked out of the cinema half way through it. The only scene which I found of having any vital force behind it was the last one, when the protagonist, actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), walks away from his black sports car in a desolate desert road after having delivered his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) to summer camp.

Stephen Dorff did the best he could with the character, while Elle Fanning was just there as his daughter Cleo. 

For trailer and more information on Somewhere please click here.

For photographs of Elle Fanning please click here.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


I woke this morning with the deep and quiet satisfaction and feeling left after having watched Colin Firth’s performance as king George VI in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, surely one of the great performances of any actor by any standard. While I am not saying that Colin Firth must win the Oscar as Best Actor, as I think it is to early to say so, surely he must be one of the serious and strong contenders for the award.

The film portrays the iron will of king George VI to prevail over his stammering to enable him to talk to the nation during the dark days of WWII with the help of an Australian consultant, Lionel Logue (splendidly played by Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter’s portrayal of the rather unconventional queen is just magnificent). George VI, the father of the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, became king after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, due to the scandal involving his liaison with Wallis Simpson, which was most inappropriate for the head of the church.

The King’s Speech is an actors’ film. To be more precise, it is an actor’s film: Colin Firth, although the support cast is also magnificent. The research and preparation that this man must have done on his character paid off handsomely in one of the most nuanced and extraordinary performances I have seen for a long time, as I was able to feel the despair, acute embarrassment and the strong desire to continue to perform duties from which there is no escape, as monarchs cannot choose their profession. Particularly in the context of the onset of WWII. Colin Firth’s portrayal of the king makes words such as “extraordinary”, “powerful”, “magnificent”, etc., feel as being totally weak and no longer having any meaning. 

This is the real stuff, this is... just acting. Period.

Tom Hooper took the right approach by his use of a close camera to the main actors most of the time, what we get here is an intimate portrayal of a man’s anger and will; we feel all the time that we are there, close to the king himself, close to his wife and the princesses in a cosy home scenario. Danny Cohen’s cinematography captures both that sense of intimacy and yet the seriousness and splendour of the situation, complemented by the sharp and intelligent editing by Tariq Anwar. David Seidler’s tight script provides the skeleton onto which it was possible to build this film.

While The King’s Speech is not about royalty, yet we get an insight of the pressures and conflicts involving those who have been raised to be our monarchs, not only the privileges they enjoy, but also the chains that restrict their choices. There is also a good insight of the outlook of the political classes at the onset of WWII, their blindness and the choices they had to take. I am sure that historians will criticize this film to no end, which is, in itself, a good consequence.

I will just say that Colin Firth’s performance will live with me for a long, long time. What else can be said about an actor at the peak of his powers?

Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spail, Anthony Andrews

To see the trailer, please click here.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes DVD review

If you think that bankers are boring and pathetic little men who make a lot of money, think again! Not so much on making a lot of money, but boring? No, no, at least not in this magnificent Argentinian film, worthy of its trophy as the Best Foreign Language Film in the Oscars 2010.

An extraordinary, intense and intelligent film that weaves the repercussions of a criminal case closed 25 years before, a murder committed in Buenos Aires in 1974; a love story punctuated by class; and the darkness of political, moral and social corruption within Argentinian society as the dirty war encroaches.

Benjamín Espósito (a deadpan and endearing performance by Ricardo Darín), a retired legal officer, decides to write a novel based on a case of a young woman, Liliana Coloto (a charming Carla Quevedo) , who was raped and murdered twenty five years before; a case which was closed for political reasons, as the convicted murderer (a sinister and understated performance by Javier Godino) became, much to the despair of the victim’s husband, a member of the notorious death squad, the Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance), allegedly under the command of the Argentinian President's, Isabel Perón, right hand man, López Rega. The Triple A influence continued after General Videla’s coup, the so-called “dirty war”, which resulted in over 30,000 disappeared people, presumably murdered. This is the context underlying The Secret in Their Eyes.

Espósito re-approaches her old boss, a graduate from Cornell Law School, Irene Menéndez-Hastings (an excellent Soledad Villamil), to talk about his novel. Irene comes from Argentina’s elite , there is a very telling scene when she corrects her superior’s pronunciation of her name when he introduces her to the office, sharply stating her social status by doing so,. During the years that they worked together, there was a latent sensual and love undercurrent defining their relationship, spoilt by social conventions and class expectations. A relationship that kept entwining them together after years of separation. A second love story is that of the banker Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), the husband of the murdered victim, for her wife, a love which sustained him for twenty five years, and which leads to a completely unexpected conclusion of the film.

In his quest for the outcome of this case, Espósito revisits and revives old acquaintances, reopening old wounds and leading to unexpected consequences that kept wrong footing me throughout the film. By doing so, he touches on issues of memory, reminiscences of times past and the power of the past to shape our present lives. As Espósito says, we only have one life, we cannot relive it and we cannot ignore or forget any of it, as it is still our lives, the only one we have. Flashbacks are seamlessly sewn into the fabric of the film.

The Secret in Their Eyes is a multilayered film capable of sustaining multiple readings. As a crime thriller, it is wonderfully entertaining; however, if you are looking for a romantic interest, it is also there. As a comment on the political, moral and social corruption of 70s Argentina, it is as sharp as any other I have seen precisely because it is not overtly political.

The Secret in Their Eyes is not really about a murder case, but rather a thoughtful reflection on how times past interplay with our present lives. It is a extremely intelligent and marvellously crafted film under the masterful hand of veteran director Juan José Campanella (who also co-wrote the tight knit script with Eduardo Sacheri, the author of the novel – La Pregunta de sus Ojos) and the skilful cinematography of Félix Monti, a serious contender to my list for the 10 Best Films for 2010. 

The DVD is an excellent transfer, with the usual set up options and interviews to the actors, director and crew.

I am not normally in the business of recommending films to my readers, as there are many subjective factors in any judgement of this kind, however, I will make an exception in thoroughly recommending The Secret in Their Eyes as I believe it is a masterful and mesmerizing work which appeals to a wide audience. 

The Secret in Their Eyes is out on DVD in the UK on 
Monday 10 January, 2011

Still and trailer © Metrodome Distribution