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.