Monday, November 23, 2009

The Three Amigos: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Alejandro aka “El Negro” (as his friends call him) is one of the three Mexican filmmakers spearheading Mexico’s Cinema to worldwide recognition. The other two being: Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro. Together they are a force to be reckoned with. Call it a clique if you may, but their intimate collaboration with each other’s projects as well as their continuous support for new emerging filmmakers has proven to be successful in drawing attention to a movie industry that has been on the map from time to time, though never managed to breakthrough, until now.

Alejandro started his career as a DJ for one of Mexico’s biggest radio stations and soon moved to directing commercials and short-films. His first feature length film splashed its way out of nowhere into the world in 2000 and quickly garnered great critical reviews and box-office success.

Amores Perros (2000)

A kinetic film in which three stories converge with a car accident in the streets of Mexico City. The film employs a gritty raw handheld photography that seems too commonplace nowadays, but was far from commonplace back in 2000. The naturalistic-traditional music scoring the film is carefully blended with pop music, bringing a great balance to the story and the atmosphere of the movie. One of the great moments of music in film is the brilliant choice of bringing out of semi-obscurity one of Nacha Pop’s hits “Lucha de Gigantes” scoring a passionate scene between Gael García Bernal and Vanessa Bauche intercut with a brutal beating of Gael’s character brother, Octavio (who also happens to be Vanessa’s character husband).

Powder Keg (2001)

In the heels of Amores Perros’ success, Iñárritu followed with a short film for the overly ambitious BMW film project, Powder Keg. El Negro continued experimenting with the hand-held camerawork, raw kinetic power punching photography and violence to deliver one of the best shorts in the series.

11'09''01 - September 11 (2002)

The following year he once again contributed to a collection of short films centered around 9/11. The film collection as a whole was an uneven collection and Alejandro’s work was just a step above a novelty.

21 Grams (2003)

In 2003, in his first US film he further deconstructed narrative by presenting a story out of any chronological order by pushing the audience to take a leap of faith with the characters and their tribulations. The gamble paid off, and his deconstruction of the story proved to be a successful attempt at exciting storytelling.

Babel (2006)

After producing one film per year, Babel took 3 years to produce. Iñárritu’s most ambitious project to date showed the evolution of a filmmaker by tackling something that seemed impossible. His same preoccupations and ideas (a true sign of an auteur) were painted upon the broadest scale possible, the whole wide world. A story revealing the interrelation of all human being and their actions, no matter how insignificant they might appear.

To Each His Own Cinema - Segment “Anna” (2007)

Another uneven but very well intended compilation of short films, this time celebrating Cannes 60th Anniversary. A very good short-film about the emotional power of Cinema set in a film theater.

Alejandro González Iñárritu is one great filmmaker and his films keep getting better. I can’t wait to see Biutiful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Das Leben der Anderen aka The Lives of Others (2006)

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film is sheer brilliant storytelling. Hollywood just to be the best storyteller, but it appears they have lost their touch (don’t worry, I still love Hollywood). Today, as my own little homage to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall built by the German Democratic Republic, I decided to finally check out The Lives of Others. It was on my to do list for quite some time but I just didn’t find the opportunity to see it. I should’ve listened to my friend Violeta and dropped whatever I was doing and watch it. I finally watched it, and thank God I did, since it is one of the best films in the past decade.

I love movies and yet they rarely move me. Some people watch a movie and they live the movie. I envy them so much because I’m always aware it is a movie and I can’t find myself submerging into the story as they do. In the case of The Lives of Others, I was submerged in the story from the get-go.

I knew the basic premise of the story and I also had an idea of what to expect, but the movie was so much more than that. The photography is deceptively sober. The director decided to mask the gorgeous photography in favor of not overshadowing a character-driven piece. Even though it might not be an epic story as Schindler’s List, this one is rooted in the characters and their relationships. Ulrich Mühe shines in the role of Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, a secret police agent conducting surveillance on Georg Dreyman, (Sebastian Koch, who was also good in Verhoeven’s Zwartboek aka Black Book) a playwright and his girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck).

What starts as another job for agent Wiesler slowly turns into admiration for Dreyman, and slowly Wiesler is living vicariously through Dreyman. Dreyman gives Wiesler an opportunity to live a life he never had. Through Wiesler’s journey we share into his voyeuristic mission and we learn Dreyman is a good man, who although not happy with the regime, is not conspiring against it. He probably would have not taken any action against it had it not been for Wiesler’s intervention.

A man of principles is good, but is only as good as his principles. Wiesler “lived” his principles more than anyone in the regime, but Dreyman’s life that some things don’t fit within his principles. We feel sorry for Wiesler; he just wants a connection with someone. Unable to find that connection he becomes Dreyman’s best friend even though they will never talk to each other.

The Lives of Others is one of the best films in the last decade, how can you make it better by remaking it?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

12 Notable TV Shows

As I mentioned in a previous post, short films are becoming a contender for our entertainment by strongly fighting it off against movies. TV on the other hand, has been fighting off movies since its very conception. Nevertheless, film still remains the paramount entertainment and arts vehicle, notwithstanding TV’s latest string of incredibly high quality products. Big shot film stars and film directors are no longer afraid of venturing into TV’s domain and yet TV hasn’t captured Film’s mystique. But our TV is not our regular father’s TV, or for that matter our own TV from a few years ago. TV is no longer watched the way it was originally intended, instead you can rent an entire season and watch episodes back to back during a weekend. One of TV’s strengths is that it allows exploring a “universe” in a more detailed way, as opposed to Film’s limited 2 hours. TV, in the same way as theater, allows fine-tuning a show due to the availability of immediate feedback.

The X Files (1993-2002)

The Granddaddy of them all! The X Files was a unique show while being ahead of its time. Most shows where TV, The X Files attempted to be cinematic, and it paid off. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that TV had it not been for Chris Carter’s baby (The X Files). A show that had both the single standing (TV type) episodes and the story-arc mythology (Film type) episodes. It also tried its hand at comedy, horror, mystery and thriller throughout its long successful run. The bar was set high with The X Files.

Firefly (2002)

I watched this show because I kept reading about how great it was. The Brown Coats (Firefly fans) passionately defended this show ‘till the end, and then some. When something can spur this kind of passion it makes you wonder why. When I first watched it I didn’t really understand why it was so special. It seemed like a cool show, but not the outstanding show I had read about. As time has passed, I now get it. It was a pretty smart show and a true labor of love by Joss Whedon and the rest of the crew and cast. Well-drawn characters that you relate to and care for were only part of its success. It was sadly short-lived, but if Serenity (the movie) is the last we will see of these characters, I will remember them fondly.

24 (2001-?)

A show with a gimmicky premise that I was not expecting to last. 24 greatly influenced the way we’ve come to think of our heroes, definitively imprinting Jason Bourne and James Bond redux with some raw energy. Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has carried the show, but a lot is owed to its staple aesthetic and its excellent writing and directing. Some story lines seem a tad repetitive, but it still remains as exciting as the first season.

Dexter (2006-?)

Dexter (right in Latin) is such a great show, but I still can’t imagine how someone pitched the idea for it. Luckily for us someone decided it was a good idea and decided to give it a shot. A story about a serial killer of bad (deserving?) guys, who kills following his own strict due process. This show could’ve gone so wrong in lesser hands, but the sheer brilliance of Michael C. Hall has always steered it in the right direction. One of the best TV title sequence as well.

Veronica Mars (2004-2007)

Another fan boy favorite, but with just cause. Other than the fact that Kristen Bell is gorgeous, she portrayed a pitch-perfect postmodern Humprey Bogart’s Sam Spade. A show that showed it was possible to make film noir with a teen backdrop (a precursor to the brilliant Brick by Rian Johnson). If only they hadn’t cancelled it. A great song for the title credits.

Lost (2004-?)

What can you say about Lost that hasn’t been said already? It is a great show most of the times, but we will have to wait for the resolution to see if it is as great as we think it is.

Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)

I have mentioned my love for the Gilmore Girls in the past, but as I’ve said it before, I don’t think wittier pop dialogue sparring can be done better than this; as if written by an estrogen-packed Quentin Tarantino. We even got to see one of the best Tarantino’s homage. Rory as Gogo Yubari, how cool is that? Very, I’d say.

Californication (2007-?)

Not content with having one great show, David Duchovny delved into a different kind of beast with Hank Moody’s character. Breaking his Fox Mulder typecast, Californication could be described as testosterone-packed Sex and the City, or as West Coast’s reply to NYC’s Carrie Bradshaw. Jim Morrison said it best, “the West is the best”.

True Blood (2008-?)

A show about vampires as if we needed one. But we did, and True Blood was the perfect dosage of V with bite. This is not your average 90210 Twilight fangs. One of the best title sequences ever, setting perfectly the mood for the show.

Weeds (2005-?)

If someone had a difficult time greenlighting Dexter imagine greenlighting a show about a suburban mom pushing drugs to provide for her family after her husband’s death. Could this be proof that the craziest premises “just work”? It seems like it. A show that started great but had a small drop in the quality for a few seasons. The latest season looks like it recovered some of the past glory. It is always great to see Kevin Nealon and of course Mary-Louise Parker.

Mad Men (2007-?)

A show about an ad agency in the pre-Kennedy’s assassination 60’s. I don’t really know how to describe this show without making it sound boring, but trust me, its not. Just watch the Hitchcockian title sequence.


House M.D. (2004-?)

Did we need another medical drama? Apparently we did. House brought a breath of fresh air to a tired old TV genre. Part Sherlock Holmes part grumpy old man; House is probably one of the coolest characters ever. Everyone wants to be House, or at least everyone wants to watch his show.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

6 Notable Short-Films

Short-Films are becoming increasingly important in our modern age of entertainment. The supply of entertainment widely exceeds the demand while content providers have to compete for our precious time. In this regard, short-films cater to the movie hungry audience who due to time constraints are unable to enjoy a feature length movie. In a short-film you can package everything you would normally have in a film, but in a condensed manner and sometimes even more successfully than in a film. Feature length movies usually have lots of constraints (ie. time, structure, money etc.), while short-films enjoy more freedom in most of the cases. This advantages, however, have yet to promote short-films into mainstream entertainment outlets, but it is just a matter of time.

Spider by Nash Edgerton

A very interesting film made by two Australians. Even though Australia does make some really good feature length films (ie. Chopper, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Proposition etc), I believe that their film industry should take a cue from their short-film industry. Spider tells a story efficiently and builds its characters into real, believable people. It takes just a few minutes for us to know the characters and care for them, while some movies can’t accomplish it in their 90-minute run.

I Love Sarah Jane by Spencer Susser

A horror film with a heart. This is a film you wish you could see more of, and a feature film treatment would be optimal to learn more about the characters and their world. Set in an apocalyptic world with zombies (we only see one but we assume it is zombie infested) we follow the lives of a young boy alone in a world who clings to his love for Sarah Jane.

Crossbow by David Michôd

This film is a very good example of VO narration done right. VO narration is constantly used as lazy filmmaking when the story can’t be told through actions or as an unimaginative last resort when the production can’t deliver something either because it is too expensive or too complicated. In this short-film the VO blends in perfectly with story and with the idea of the viewer sharing in the voyeuristic experience.

Down the Road by Alejandro Marquez

A short film made for the Ford Mustang campaign (I am a big Mustang enthusiast) that highlights how a good film sometimes has to tackle something bigger than the sum of its parts. In this short-film we can grasp the filmmaker’s intention of trying to encompass some grander metaphysical issue using a Ford Mustang as an excuse.

Sin Sosten by Rene Castillo

A Mexican short-film in which no word is uttered and yet we understand the dynamic workings of a crowded “cosmopolitan” neighborhood.

7:35 de la Mañana by Nacho Vigalondo

A short musical-film in black and white and it works! Musicals are usually thought to be big colorful productions and yet those preconceptions don’t apply to this short-film. A great ending as well. You can turn on the CC subtitles in English.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Boxing Helena

Three years after Pedro Almodovar’s ¡Átame! comes Jennifer Lynch’s directorial debut, Boxing Helena. A film mostly written off as the poor man’s David Lynch, I however, found it very interesting. The film shows Jennifer’s limitations as a Director, mainly due to her inexperience; nevertheless the ideas behind her story and her passion for it are palpable throughout. Boxing Helena owes a great deal to David Lynch, but it also appears to be indebted to Almodovar and Hitchcock. This is only natural, as others influence every Director. The interesting thing about Jennifer Lynch is that she filters all her influences to create her own distinctive style, even though she has a tall order to fill.

Last year I saw Jennifer’s second film, Surveillance, and I was really impressed by it. She has clearly matured as a Director, and keeping some of the dark themes she has managed to streamline her independent vision, which she hinted in her opera prima. With her second film, directed fifteen years after Boxing Helena, her directing skills seem a la par with her discourse. I don’t mean, however, that Surveillance is a perfect movie.

The symbolisms in Boxing Helena may be obvious but that doesn’t take away merit to how strong they are. The objectification of women and the pursuance of an obsession have rarely been followed to its logical conclusion in the way it is done here. Spoiler ahead. The ending does feel like Jennifer was holding back (maybe due to the theme being way ahead of its time), but it also seems to work within its “safer” solution approach (which has been labeled as a cheat). But really, where can you go from where the movie was heading? I still agree the road not taken would’ve made the best ending.

The first time I heard about this movie I was intrigued by the premise of the story, which sounded as a novelty rather than a full fletch film (but movies have been made with less!). Kudos to Jennifer for pursuing such a difficult idea and following it through.

Julian Sands role kept reminding me of Anthony Perkins in Psycho, and sadly I thought Julian Sands couldn’t keep up with that. On the other hand I was really taken by Sherilyn Fenn, whose performance was really good (and she looked beautiful), in a role that was really difficult to play, both because of the theme of the movie and the character (it even scared Kim Basinger). Nevertheless, Sherilyn’s promising career was truncated mainly due to this film.

The movie could’ve been done better, but who could’ve done this movie? I’m glad Jennifer decided to continue Directing, even if it took her 15 years. It is certainly not easy to follow in your father’s footsteps, and even less if your father is David Lynch, but I believe Jennifer Lynch is a Director in her own right.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Johnnie To’s Election

The crime genre has been explored ad nauseam, particularly within the Hong Kong movie industry (the Hong Kong industry seems to have lost its domination of Asian Cinema giving way to other industries, mainly South Korea). Western films through staple efforts by Coppola and Scorsese have also explored it: The Godfather, Goodfellas etc. Nevertheless, the Hong Kong crime genre has been influential; proof of it is Scorses’s remake The Departed, based on the highly successful Infernal Affairs. Recently however, it seemed that other than a few noteworthy films, the genre was recycling themes and ideas without having new grounds to explore. Election is proof that the genre still has life and shouldn’t be disregarded just yet.

Although I was not familiar with Johnnie To’s work (I had seen Mad Detective and wasn’t impressed) I had heard many positive reviews of his oeuvre. I was particularly excited about Vengeance, which debuted last year in Cannes, even thought it had not fared well with the critics. The idea of French crooner Johnny Hallyday, playing a chef seeking revenge over the death of his family sounded appealing to me (maybe it reminded me of Steven Segal’s Casey Ryback in Under Seige which I must admit is a guilty pleasure of mine). I also heard Quentin Tarantino championed Election but precisely because of that I decided not to delve into it, fearing it would be mostly style over substance.  Because of this, I was expecting a completely different movie, something more in the realms of a B-movie. I was so wrong. Election is a subtle study of Hong Kong’s society and culture through the eyes of a Triad Organization echoing some universal political ideas.

The story centers on the election for the leader of the Wo Sing Triad. Two candidates on the opposite end of the spectrum want to be the leader of the Wo Sing for the next two years; Lok (Simon Yam) the cool headed and Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai) the uncontrollable hot head.

On a side note and totally unrelated matter, Lok’s calm demeanor reminded me of SNL’s Obama Plays it Cool.

  width="512" height="296">

The movie does have some interesting discussions about what would be the desirable characteristics of their leader in order to continue expanding the business while at the same time remaining stable (desirable qualities as well for CEO or a President). As we can see in the movie, the Triads have been an Organization alive for hundreds of years (even longer than some political parties or even political systems) and a big reason for their success is their quasi-religious following of traditions.

On the other hand, the Police aware of their inability to fight the Triads have decided that they role should be limited to ensure the least amount of violence and bloodshed, which can only be achieved through a swift transition of power within the Wo Sing.

This sets up the scene for the struggle for power between the two “candidates”. The way they fight is somewhat reminiscent of a chess game. The action elements of the film are minimum, yet we do get to see a few minutes of action through a more “realistic” eye.

Election seems to take some of its cues from The Godfather, but using a wider canvas. Instead of focusing on the family, albeit all of the Wo Sing members are brothers, it attempts to describe not only the nucleus of society (the family) but society as a whole. That successful attempt raises the bar for future crime films, which although not a novel theme, it does approach it in a way that seems fresh.

Johnnie To proves that the Hong Kong cinema is still relevant and still has a lot to offer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sitges 2009

So I got the scoop on Sitges from my good friend Violeta. She said the festival this year was great although she missed me, and to tell you the truth I also missed going to the festival with her.

The highlights according to her were La Horde, Carriers (already released in the US), Zombieland (excellent zom-com of which you can read some of my thoughts here), Accidents Happen, and her favorite this year, Palermo Shooting.

Of those, I must admit I urged Violeta to see both La Horde, Zombieland and Park Chan Wook’s latest, Bakjwi aka Thirst (which she couldn’t see because it premiered the previous weekend). She, on the other hand, was fixed on the idea of watching Palermo Shooting, which for some reason I wasn’t feeling it, because even though I recognize some good work from Wim Wenders I also believe he is a very pretentious Director (yet not as pretentious as Peter Greenaway) and doesn’t always deliver. In any event, Palermo Shooting with its punctual metaphysical study of death was the best of the bunch according to my friend. The way she speaks of it spiked my interest and I will most likely check it out.

 La horde, which is the French foray into Zombie apocalypse, is one of the films I am most excited about. The French have shown that they know horror, and it was just a matter of time before they stepped into Zombie terrain. From what I was told it seems like sort of Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter) meets Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder) with a French flavor. Exciting right?

Carriers (Infectados), already released in the US, was also a great success. The Writers and Directors, Àlex Pastor and David Pastor, who happen to be two Spanish brothers, attended the presentation of their movie. A movie that is the materialization of their lifelong dream; is a story about survivors of pandemic contagion. The movie is rooted in well-drawn characters and a carefully imagined world that seems just around the corner, and for that is much scarier. The Pastor brothers also benefited from the financial backing of a US production company, they are certainly a promising duo.

Regarding Paranormal Activity (which I’m yet to see) was not really my friend’s cup of tea but she did recognize that it made her uncomfortable at some moments. Geena Davis was really good as usual in Accidents Happen. Van Diemen's Land, a movie centered on cannibalism was flat and gory. And ahh, as I told you before, this movie has its own on-going legend. Apparently it was too hard on a young woman who happened to pass out during one of the movie’s particularly realistic scene (which I won’t spoil!).

The festival itself had a great affluence of fans and was perfectly managed by an experienced committee and crew; after all it is the 42th edition. They also did something pretty cool, as they decided to offer zombie make-up to the fans. Imagine walking around the beach with zombies trying to eat your brains as if it was a Romero film! It is a pity I was not there to get me some of that make up! But this is what I would like as a Zombie, and you can also take a look at my friend with some Italian Zombies. Brilliant!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guillermo del Toro’s opera prima: Cronos

I have never liked the moniker “genre film”. It is inaccurate and disrespectful, however up until today I never fully understood it. I just watched with an audience Guillermo del Toro’s directorial debut, which I had only seen before with a few friends and from the comfort of my living room. I last saw the movie when the 10th anniversary DVD came out, and my memory of it differed somewhat from the actual movie. I loved the movie then and I love the movie now, but sadly I must say that not everyone liked it. Some qualified it as “interesting” which I reckon is a euphemism for “I didn’t like it”.

I was glad, however, that a lot of sequences that I remembered fondly seemed to work wonderfully with the audience. I was expecting the audience to be jaded, after all, how many Saw movies have we had? They weren’t jaded at all, and maybe I was, a bit. I don’t consider myself desensitized by the current state of violence and gore in cinema, and proof of it is that I still get shocked when I watch a movie (once in a while). It happened with Takashi Miike’s Ôdishon, Gaspar Noe’s Irréversible, Alexander Aja’s Haute Tension etc. In this regard I would say I do have a higher threshold of tolerance to violence than your regular Joe Blow.

This confirms the opposite of what is usually said: “it is impossible to shock the audience”. If it is so, then why is the audience still shocked by a 15-year-old movie? The answer to this question is in itself a testament to how great a Director Guillermo del Toro is, but it also explains why the moniker “genre film” exists. While watching the movie I was overly conscientious about what was going onscreen, since I had recommended the movie. In my mind, the movie was suitable for everyone. What can go wrong with an endearing love story about the sanctity of the bond between a granddaughter and her grandfather? A lot, staring with what was perceived as “hardcore violence”, and the fact that this was not your regular “Twilight” vampire. Could it be then that “genre films” is an adequate way of referring to films that don’t construe to the “regular” mainstream cannons (whatever that is)? I guess this is something I am going to have to live with. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t know before, but I think I refused to accept it. The only way of accepting it is to be confident that it is our little secret; there are gems to be found in “genre films”. The negative connotation of the moniker will remain however. Maybe it will change in the future, and if it does I think that it will be in great part thanks to Guillermo del Toro. He has shown the world that “genre films” have credibility. Need I mention The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth?

In other related topics, I am still amazed at Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant directorial debut. Some Directors can never fulfill the promise they show with their opera prima, but del Toro is not one of them. He is the true author par excellence. Cronos is packed with a certain old school aura. Traces of Hitchcock, a careful steering of the audience and a deep understanding of the vampire mythos are all present in Cronos. The film is truly a labor of love and del Toro is able to imprint his passion into every frame. Looking back at his first film we are able to catch glimpses of what he has become. All of del Toro’s preoccupations are palpable in this film. Yes, the film could be improved, yet I wouldn’t change it a bit. I can’t wait for the Hobbit.

Bravo Maestro!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sitges Film Festival

Sitges is a small Spanish town located 30 minutes south of Barcelona. Every year, Sitges hosts one of my favorite film festivals; a fantastic film festival that is truly fantastic. Nowadays film festivals are a booming business (even during the economic crisis), but Sitges has been around for over 40 years, and that gives the festival credibility. It is no secret that I fancy the horror/sci fi genre, but that is not the only reason why I love Sitges. It is has to do more with the audience; they (we) are real movie fans. It is true that the horror/sci fi genere does have the proclivity of attracting hardcore fans, but I’ve never seen this type of fandom anywhere else. I’ve only been to a few other festivals but if I had to pick one festival to go for the rest of my life, Sitges would be it.

The weather in Sitges is perfect for watching movies (is there bad weather for watching movies?) and the town is small with all the venues within walking distance. If you go to Sitges you go to watch movies, but if that’s not your cup of tea you can walk around the small picturesque streets. Sometimes when you can’t get the movies you want, you might need to do just that. You can also walk down to the beach, if that’s more like you.

The audience is utterly enthusiastic about every movie, even the bad ones. That doesn’t mean that the audience is dumb, it just means that they want to have fun and experience films. I remember a particular screening of Takashi Shimizu’s Ghost vs. Alien 03 (2007), which isn’t a particular good movie, and maybe not even a movie but rather a collection of straight to video shorts, yet the audience clapped and cheered after the screening. Only in Sitges; had it been Cannes everyone would’ve walked out.

Sitges also has its fair share of celebrities and as opposed to other festivals, in Sitges they are accessible to everyone. I had the opportunity of meeting Oldboy’s wunderkind director Park Chan Wook at a Q&A session in Sitges, in Cannes I had to see him from the barricades. Yes, other festivals do offer access to the filmmakers and actors, but are other festivals 42 year old?

Other than Cannes and Sundance, I’m not aware of any other festival being immortalized in film in the way Sitges was. John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns has the ill fated “Le Fin Absolue du Monde” premiere at Sitges; offering a perfect homage, a sort of love letter to the festival. Every year you hear stories of people fainting during the screening of a movie and although I have never seen it, it adds to the mystic and legend of Sitges.

I would watch 5 movies per day for three or four days, and by the end we would always wish we had more time and more movies. This year I won’t be attending, but Violeta will, and although it will be her first time alone at the festival she promised to keep me posted. Will this be another great year for Sitges? I am sure it will be. I will tell you more later. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Talking about zom-coms, Zombieland is as good as it gets. If it’s not the best zombie-comedy ever, at least it gives Shaun of the Dead a run for its money. Ever since I saw the first trailer I had high expectations for this movie and that is usually a bad thing. However in this case, there is no big disappointment; au contraire, mon amigos, Zombieland delivers in every way and for that is even sweeter.

Real Zombie connoisseurs made the movie and their love translates well to film. The characters are left to explore a big canvas, while in other zombie movies the characters are usually confined to a smaller location. This serves the story well by giving the creators greater latitude to avoid zombie clichés. This doesn’t mean the movie is free of clichés, but then again which movie isn’t?

While I usually love the scenes dealing with the zombie outbreaks, Zombieland only shows us snippets through flashbacks, but we do see some innocent victims getting ravished by hungry flesh-eating zombies. This, apart from the fact that I would’ve enjoyed seeing more zombies are the only minor issues I have against the movie.

On the other hand, it does address one of my main questions with zombie apocalypses, and for that I’m grateful. Why are there never any zombie celebrities? I won’t spoil the surprise but alas my question has been answered.

Zombieland is a universe I wish we could see more of. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, not to be mistaken with Michael Cera) has a list of rules he follows in order to stay alive, of which the movie only covers a few of them. The rest of the rules serve perfectly as excuses for sequels, not that any horror movie ever required such excuses. This movie, however, does seem like the perfect movie for a sequel, if there ever was one.

Put me down for two sequels of Zombieland!

Monday, October 5, 2009

12 Notable uses of Music in Film

My love for films and music is so infused together that it is impossible to separate them. My love for films informs my love for music and vice versa. Therefore, I decided to make a list of notable uses of music in films. In these picks, I think that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. The list is in no particular order and it doesn’t constitute the “best”, just some noteworthy examples. Buckle up. Here we go.

1. Dawn of the Dead (2004), Zack Snyder – The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash

I remember how excited I was about Dawn of the Dead. The trailer looked promising, even though at the time some believed this movie should never be made. Within the first few minutes of the movie, I knew I was in for a treat. Could it be possible to improve upon Romero’s zombie opera? It sure was, and we were witnessing proof of it. The hunting voice of Johnny Cash was ad hoc to chronicle the horror of the zombie apocalypse.

I wasn’t able to find the intro clip, but take a look at this video made with some scenes and Johnny’s tune.

2. Slumdog Millionarie (2008), Danny Boyle – Paper Planes, M.I.A.

This song, although used in the trailer for Pineapple Express (a movie that I enjoyed very much) it was with Slumdog Millionaire that it found its rightful place. The song seems a perfect fit for Jamal’s adventures. It plays during a montage of the young boys riding the train and hustling their way to survive. I loved this song so much that I kept playing it all the time and it happened to be playing in the “background” of one of my life’s defining moments.

3. Casablanca (1942), Michael Curtiz - As Time Goes By, Dooley Wilson

You can never go wrong by going old school. It is a classic and it is impossible to think of this song without immediately being transported to black & white Casablanca and WWII. It is the epitome of classic. It is also the source of one of the most famous misquotations: “Play it again, Sam”.

4. Y tu mamá también (2001), Alfoso Cuarón - Si No Te Hubieras Ido, Marco Antonio Solís

A song that within the plot seems to be picked randomly from the jukebox but fits perfectly with the story. It is a song about pain and loss and the yearning for someone. A song that seems to encapsulate the fate of the characters that becomes even more hunting since the characters are unaware of it.

5. Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), Peter Hewitt - God Gave Rock 'n' Roll to You II, KISS (Wyld Stallyns)

A great song in a very underrated movie. If there ever were a band that could change the world with its music, this song would seem part of their repertoire.

This is the music video featuring scenes from the movie.

6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Jonathan Demme - Goodbye Horses, Q. Lazzarus

Buffalo Bill dancing to this song is scary. Jonathan Demme uses this song to convey exactly what’s going on in Buffalo Bill’s head. This scene was later parodied by Kevin Smith in Clerks 2.

The clip of Buffalo Bill dancing to this song has been removed from youtube. Kevin Smith's version will have to suffice for now.

As parodied in Clerks 2.

7. My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), P.J. Hogan - Wishin' and Hopin', Ani Difranco

Ani DiFranco's rendition of a song made popular by Dusty Springfield plays over the opening credits of the film and works perfectly by setting the mood for what will come later. I have to admit I have a soft spot for romantic comedies.

8. Hable con Ella (2002), Pedro Almodovar - Cucurrucucú Paloma, Caetano Veloso

The first time I saw this movie I was utterly moved by Caetano’s rendition of this classic Mexican song. It was made famous by Lola Beltran and she owned this song, however, Caetano made it his in the movie. I still love Lola’s version, but whenever I listen to this song I’m immediately transported to Hable con Ella.

9. Almost Famous (2000), Cameron Crowe - Tiny Dancer, Elton John

This is probably one of the most obvious choices in this list, everyone seems to love Cameron Crowe’s love letter to rock n’ roll and this scene is one of the movie’s highlights. This scene and the song embody pure bitter-sweet nostalgia.

10. Frantic (1988), Roman Polanski - I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango), Grace Jones

This song is played throughout Roman Polanski’s thriller and it accompanies Harrison Ford through his frantic search for his wife. The scene at the club where he is dancing to this song seems like a nightmare in which he is clinging on to anything that might lead him to find his wife.

11. Once (2006), John Carney –  Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová

This song deservedly won the Oscar for best original song in 2008. It is difficult to pick a favorite song amongst the movie’s entire soundtrack. All of the songs make us root for the love of the Guy and the Girl. This song summarizes their love struggle.

This is just some of the movie scenes with Falling Slowly. If you haven’t seen this movie you should go see it ASAP.

12. Magnolia (1999), Paul Thomas Anderson – One, Aimee Mann

How do you introduce all of your seemingly unrelated characters in an epic drama? Easy, you call Paul Thomas Anderson. He did it in Boogie Nights and again in Magnolia. The movie was apparently inspired by Aimee’s music and the introduction (after a brilliant prologue) serves as the perfect welcoming to the lives of these characters.

I couldn’t find the actual scene, but you can see the trailer of Magnolia to the sound of One.

Adios amigos.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My answers to Professor Snape’s Film Quiz

I’ve been reading Dennis Cozzalio’s blog “Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule” and it is a great blog that you should definitively check out. He has these great movie quizzes series and I thought it would be interesting to attempt one. It is a great exercise, but it did take a while to complete. It was great fun nevertheless.

1) Second-favorite Stanley Kubrick film.
From the title of my blog you can probably deduce I have an inclination towards Dr. Strangelove. A Clockwork Orange, oddly enough, brings too much joy to me. I would then have to go with 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 2) Most significant/important/interesting trend in movies over the past decade, for good or evil. Two come to mind. The first is “torture porn” which seems to be fading away lately, but Saw VI is right around the corner. The other one is probably male nudity in mainstream films. European Directors have shown male nudity in their films for a long time, but it seems to be catching on in the US.

3) Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) or Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman)?
Bronco Billy, but I guess it has more to do with the fact that Clint Eastwood is a Dirctor as opposed to Paul Newman who was an actor who directed a few movies.

4) Best Film of 1949.
The Third Man. When I went to Vienna I had to do part of the unofficial tour. It is a classic.

5) Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) or Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore)?
Joseph Tura.

6) Has the hand-held shaky-cam directorial style become a visual cliché?
I would say it has. However, when used properly it works.

7) What was the first foreign-language film you ever saw?
I won’t count either English or Spanish. It is really difficult to remember precisely, but I’m sure it was a French production. À bout de soufflé?

8) Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) or Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre)?
Mr. Moto.

9) Favorite World War II drama (1950-1970).
The Dirty Dozen. I guess it is why I was excited about Inglourious Basterds. Maybe the fact it was Tarantino had me a little excited as well. I’ve been twice to Cannes just to catch a glimpse.

10) Favorite animal movie star.
Easy. Bruce the shark in Jaws.

 11) Who or whatever is to blame, name an irresponsible moment in cinema.
Whoever is responsible for the zombie hiatus of the 90’s. Don’t they know that is automatically improved by 5 points if you have a zombie in it?

12) Best Film of 1969.
Hands down The Wild Bunch.

13) Name the last movie you saw theatrically, and also on DVD or Blu-ray.
I fear this question because depending on the timing of it the results may not accurately reflect your film sensibilities. I can say I’m safe this time. Theatrically, I just saw Pandorum. DVD (although I’ve been gravitating away this format lately), was Primal Fear (1996). On streaming, Sex, Lies, and Videotape. I must confess that was the first time I saw SLV but I wanted to see it for the longest time.

14) Second-favorite Robert Altman film.
Gosford Park.

15) What is your favorite independent outlet for reading about movies, either online or in print? I do use the web a lot to read about movies but I don’t have a preferred source. This will change soon. I do go to all the time.

16) Who wins? Angela Mao or Meiko Kaji? (Thanks, Peter!)
Angela Mao, just because she was in Enter the Dragon.

17) Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) or Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly)?
Mona Lisa Vito was great, but I don’t think Marisa deserved her Oscar for that performance. She has subsequently proved that she is an Oscar worthy actress. Jennifer Tilly is great and I liked her very much as Olive Neal.

18) Favorite movie that features a carnival setting or sequence.
It is not my favorite and the carnival sequence is brief but it is the only one I can think of: Hatchet.

19) Best use of high-definition video on the big screen to date.
I don’t know if it is the best use, but Collateral was the first time I was convinced that high-def video worked on the big screen. I thought it didn’t work on Public Enemies.

 20) Favorite movie that is equal parts genre film and a deconstruction or consideration of that same genre. À l'intérieur.

21) Best Film of 1979.
A great year for films. It has to be between Alien and Manhattan. I will go for Woody Allen’s this time.

22) Most realistic and/or sincere depiction of small-town life in the movies.
Stand by Me.

23) Best horror movie creature (non-giant division).
The girls in the hall in The Shining.

24) Second-favorite Francis Ford Coppola film.
The Godfather: Part III. I like The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II equally.

25) Name a one-off movie that could have produced a franchise you would have wanted to see.
I honestly don’t know why The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen didn’t do better. I thought it was a good movie. The concept of a Victorian Age Justice League is brilliant. I admit that the movie doesn’t come close to the graphic novel, but that is why it could be improved with subsequent movies. There is even a story for a second movie.

26) Favorite sequence from a Brian De Palma film.
I know I should probably mention some a sequence from either Blow Out or Scarface, but I’m going to go with the introduction sequence of Femme Fatale. I don’t consider Femme Fatale to be anywhere near the best material De Palma has directed, but for me the introduction is genius. I love the music, the tension, the sexiness of Rie Rasmussen’s walk and Cannes.

27) Favorite moment in three-strip Technicolor.
Any frame sequence from the crop dusting chase in North by Northwest.

28) Favorite Alan Smithee film. (Thanks, Peter!)
My favorite Alan Smithee film is actually not by Alan Smithee but by his disciple Thomas Lee. It is Supernova (2000). It appears however; Thomas Lee didn’t have such a prolific career as Alan Smithee.

29) Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) or Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau)?
I believe in Crash Davis because I also believe in long, slow, deep, soft wet kisses that last three days.

30) Best post-Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen film.
He makes a movie every year, but truly great classics less often. In any event a good Woody Allen movie is way better than other’s great movies. I have to go with Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I think he was channeling some Almodovar in that one and not only because of Penelope. Barcelona’s song by Guilia y los Tellarini is classic Almodovar, take a look.

31) Best Film of 1999.
One of the best years in films ever. It almost makes me feel like my grandpa saying, “they don’t make movies like they used to”. Great movies are produced every year, but no one can deny 1999 was an exceptionally fructiferous year. That being said, the best film of 1999 was Fight Club. It cemented Fincher’s stand as one of the greatest Directors of all time. Before Fight Club he was already very well regarded, but after Fight Club he expanded the film limits, and he did it with a studio film. He took a book that was impossible to make into a film, at least for anyone who wasn’t Fincher.

32) Favorite movie tag line.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

33) Favorite B-movie western.
Does The Quick and the Dead count?

34) Overall, the author best served by movie adaptations of her or his work. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather although good is not nearly as good as Coppola’s The Godfather.

35) Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) or Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard)?
Susan Vance.

36) Favorite musical cameo in a non-musical movie.
The cast of Magnolia singing Aimee Mann’s Wise Up. The idea of breaking into singing in a melodrama is crazy, but PT Anderson just brought the house down with that one.

37) Bruno (the character, if you haven’t seen the movie, or the film, if you have): subversive satire or purveyor of stereotyping? Purveyor of stereotyping?

38) Five film folks, living or deceased, you would love to meet. (Thanks, Rick!)
It is impossible to narrow it down to just 5. If I had to pick 5, it would have to be Directors. Hitchcock for sure. I would also like to meet Kubrick. Spielberg, Fincher and Tarantino.