Archive for March, 2011

THE NIGHT VISITOR, Laslo Benedek (1971)

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags , , on March 30, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Usually someone recommends you an old film you’ve never heard of and doesn’t ring any bell at all. There might be many reasons for that, obviously, it’s impossible to be aware of every film as the supply of them is infinite. When you are interested in a particular genre, you always want to feed your knowledge, as you realize you only know a few percentage of it and feel kind of frustrated.

If you finally take the risk and accept the suggestion, the results can be awesome or you can end up remembering your friend’s mother, as the film was pure crap and you feel like completely having wasted your time. Chances are 50/50.

Some years ago, a close acquaintance remembered this film and recommended it enthusiastically, also commenting  Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann were the main actors. Weird, I had never heard of it, and even weirder, such established cast participating in a sort of horror-thriller movie?

I find the film title particularly appealing, The Night Visitor, if you don’t receive any sort of feedback, werewolves, creatures or even rapers can cross your mind, don’t you think? Well, if you’re looking for something similar you can forget about it.

The Night Visitor is actually a story of revenge.  

Salem (Max Von Sydow), declared mentally insane, was condemned to spend the rest of his days imprisoned at a high security asylum for criminals, accused of a brutal murder  with an axe. But he wasn’t who did it, and will figure out a plan to get revenge on his family, who betrayed him, specially his sister Ester (Liv Ullmann) and her husband Anton.

Don’t want to deal with the plot in depth to avoid any possible spoiling, but confined as he is, you can imagine he manages to escape the facilities in such a way, most likely Prison Break screenwriters took some ideas as a source of inspiration to depict one of the most popular and intense getaways we’ve witnessed on the screen lately.

Rhythm is quite reckless in the film since the very beginning, catching your attention immediately, and the way information is revealed as the plot and story are turning more intense is a good choice. You don’t know everything from the first moment, it takes you a while until you start assembling the pieces of the puzzle finding out why and what Salem’s planned.

I love the coldness of the main characters, probably the fact that actors are both Scandinavian (ok, Liv Ullmann was born in Tokyo, but her roots are Norwegian) help in their performances. Salem is perfectionist and calculating, and his sister Ester, a liar and a manipulative woman, wise enough as to pull the strings for her own benefit.

Question is, what would you do if you’re accused of something you didn’t do and are punished for the rest of your days? Will you take revenge if you had the opportunity? Suppose you got nothing to lose, as your life has been ruined for good…don’t think it’s  a matter of resentment, you’d develop stronger feelings beyond that, anger, loathing, disgust, frustration…but, up to a point to destroy your enemies by developing such a twisted and evil plan no matter the consequences?

This is a film which doesn’t show remarkable sets nor special effects, most likely low budget, focused on a consistent plot, high tension scenes,  and including one of the coolest endings I’ve ever seen.  I don’t understand why The Night Visitor has been completely ignored, I trusted the recommendation and the choice was really positive. Hope you trust me too!

BLUE VALENTINE, Derek Cianfrance (2010)

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags , , , on March 24, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Romance is definitely a subject I feel particularly sensitive to, considering my personal situation it’s not weird at all, nevermind, regarding films, I can stand drama, but don’t feel really interested in this kind of genre, no matter most movies include the loving issue at some point.

I was recommended this film few weeks ago, with no spoiling nor warning about the plot, so when I pushed Play I hadn’t the slightest clue of what I was going to face. I’m starting to enjoy watching movies in such a way, so I’m not suggested at all and don’t have any expectation created in advance.

Obviously, the title speaks for itself, yet you don’t know which angle romance issue is going to be dealt with.  

Blue Valentine takes the death of a familiar dog as the starting and exploding point. We’re talking about a young family formed by Dean (Ryan Gosling), a rockin’ guy with no ambition but to enjoy his wife and daughter working as a painter, Cindy (Michelle Williams), a gyno assistant nurse, overwhelmed and sick of her marriage, and little Frankie, a sweet kid mad in love with her dad.

In order to overcome the loss of their beloved dog, Dean insists on spending the night in one of these theme hotels as they got a voucher, so they get drunk, have some fun and forget about real life for a while, but Cindy is not up for that at all.

Tension already existing among the couple becomes evident and extreme that night, creating tough situations which bring out bitter confessions, and much reproach.  

All this declining of the relationship is parallel contrasted with memories, or let’s say, flashbacks to the beginning of their story together, highlighting even more the fall of this love story.

It’s clear to achieve a definite effect on the audience, characters are portrayed as very extreme ones, coming from broken and dysfunctional families, somehow meaning at the end of the day that story will never work. Still there are so many aspects reflected in such real way, you can feel very identified with characters, away from class or familiar roots.

…and that’s what happened to me. The fall of a relationship is always drama, when time passes by you get some perspective and when analyzing everything you arrive the conclusion things weren’t as fine as you thought.  

On the other hand is inevitable to remember good old times, and sweetest ones are just in the beginning, when everything looks fine and the other person is the most wonderful one in the world, the coolest, the righteous, the most loving…the MOST everything.

Thus, Blue Valentine is a story of both love and loss of affection, told in such a way, you really suffer, in my case for Dean, who accepts Cindy despite her faults and her past mistakes, and professes such love for her, he doesn’t aim for anything else in life. Living without her is not an option for him, so he’s constantly adapting to her mood swings, rejecting behavior and lack of sex. Or at least he tries, for he seems to have a drinking problem, probably to avoid facing their life together is a complete waste.

Rejection is an important issue in this film. I  really got shocked while I was watching it, but it wasn’t so alien to be honest. And it was painful, because while seeing it on the screen, things were coming to my mind immediately.

Changing of subject, performances are quite realistic and believable, specially Gosling is outstanding here, both in past times and in present time, and Michelle Williams  transmits such innocence and naivety in the flashbacks (something weird considering her active sex life) that the effect caused when she can’t stand her life anymore is really a blow.

Aesthetics is also remarkable in the film, blue and saturated white tones predominate, creating this atmosphere of coldness and sadness, perfect for the story. The outer space room, as the breaking point, is blue at its darkest, absolutely wonderful.

You know I’m always apologizing for not being an expert regarding filming techniques and camera work, but takes and framing, close-ups and all this stuff transmit realism to the max.  

Despite Blue Valentine is a very very sad story, it’s a great film nonetheless. I’m grateful to the person who recommended it, yet she felt bad for I was so moved she hadn’t warned me.  

Lately seems that splits are the order of the day, I find this really unfortunate, although still I don’t feel hopeless, it’s becoming a tough task to find someone to share your life for good. People get tired of each other, and companion and friendship are no longer values to give another try, and even worse in those cases when kids are involved, as in the film, bringing out situations of emotional blackmail and other crap.

Once this said, I reckon you have to be VERY in the mood to see Blue Valentine, and even you’ve been warned, depending on your personal experiences, it’ll leave you a bitter feeling afterwards, to say the least. I didn’t cry, but ended holding the blanket tight, nodding in disapproval, and thinking “shit, too many things also happened to me like this”. 

BLACK SWAN, Darren Aronofsky (2010)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , , on March 10, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Last Saturday, eventually I was able to see this film, thanks to a friend who insisted we should go together. It was a great idea, and luckily we found the typical low profile cinema not very packed, offering the film in its original language version. Thus armed with a bag of popcorn (yes, lately I’m up for that, and gotta say I love it) and a Coke, we were ready to dive into the ballet world depicted by Darren Aronofsky.

Honestly, we were both a bit scared considering all the reviews, too much praising but on the other hand some people despising the acting and comparing it to Verhoeven’s Showgirls (I must admit at some point certain scenes and situations reminded me of that film).

The starting point of this film is quite simple: in times of crisis, the established ballet company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has chosen a different version of The Swan Lake, with a new prima ballerina, substituting Beth Macintyre (Wynona Rider), as an attempt to attract more audience and get more private donation to keep the company alive.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is one of the main candidates to get the role of the Swan Queen, her execution as the White Swan is perfect, however she’s not able to get loose and be sensual when performing the Black Swan part.

Eventually she gets the role, causing envy among other colleagues. From this moment, her obsession for achieving perfection will be sickly and insane, affecting her behavior, her relationship with her super protective mother, and creating paranoia focused on the new girl in the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), who will become her private Black Swan, a living threat for everything she’s been fighting for, all her life.

No matter the original idea for the plot is simple, Aronofsky recreates his own view of the Swan Lake focusing on the emotional and psychological aspect, translating it into modern life. This is not new, some months ago I commented on M Butterfly, by David Cronenberg, it was exactly the same idea, the Canadian was reflecting his personal idea on Puccini’s opera on the screenplay.  

To be honest I find many parallelisms among Black Swan and Cronenberg, whose main trademark is playing with fiction and reality, mixing them in such a way, sometimes you cannot distinguish what is and what seems to be. Aronofsky applies this increasing the feeling of madness close to the upcoming opening of the Swan Lake. On the other hand, he also uses the taste for the disgusting, especially remarkable nails and fingers, arggggh!!

The transformation of Nina starts as soon as the vacant for the Swan Queen role is announced. All of a sudden turns unfriendly, weird and suspicious. Sweet Nina must be the star, the rest is worthless.  It’s all or nothing, and she will achieve it whatever the obstacles she has to face. As soon as she’s chosen, the struggle against the world  and moreover  herself starts, bringing out the darkest side of the young girl. Seems like evil is inside everyone, hidden and in lethargy, until something or someone awakes it, no matter your self-control or shyness.

The in crescendo rhythm of the film based on the mental derangement of the girl, is amazing. You know everything will collapse at some point and you’re just waiting to see the highest point, and the devastating fall.

As in The Wrestler, Aronofsky includes some scenes as if recorded for a documentary. He really offers a very realistic view of the inner side of the ballet world. The tough rehearsals with hundreds of repetitions, the typical dancing outfits so exclusive of the dancers, in their own fashion, the customizing of the ballet flats…

I felt quite close to all the references done to this world. A former close friend of mine, when we were teens, moved to my city to study dancing properly in a serious company, if it worked out she’s become pro, otherwise she’d give up ballet and focus on her studies.

She was under so much stress, eight hours a day rehearsing, Monday to Saturday, strict diet she was always failing to accomplish and for that reason became bulimic (yes, she was vomiting after meals all the time. Even though she never admitted it, I caught her several times) and consequently her period vanished for almost six months. She lied to everyone being the perfect girl in weekdays, and going crazy on weekends. When I saw the movie, I flipped for it reminded me my friend most time.

Question is, is it worth so much sacrifice? Does so much competition make any sense? My friend tried hard as hell, but eventually she quitted, unable to bear so much pressure, backstabbing and physical pain. I still can’t understand how she managed to last over 10 months in such condition.

Back in the path of the subject again, as usual, Aronofsky’s work with cameras is outstanding. Takes of Nina dancing surrounded by mirrors are incredible, of course there’s a trick, but in visual terms, these are to be praised. After watching several of his movies definitely I can say he’s a master in terms of effectiveness and spectacular images.

In essence, Black Swan is just the story of a girl who just wants to achieve her most desirable dream, but is unable to cope with pressure and loses her mind through the process with fatal consequences, something that can happen to any of us, but this is told in a splendid way, in an apparent atmosphere of seriousness and professionalism which at the end of the day, it’s not such. I reckon this is a film to review in a while, because the more you see it, the more details and features you miss in your first view, will bring out for the pleasure of your senses. Definitely a must see.


THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, Lisa Chodolenko (2010)

Posted in Drama, Just Fun with tags , , , , on March 2, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Sometimes I don’t think clear at all, how come, yesterday, two days after the Oscar rewards, I decided to go to the cinema to see Black Swan? Am I stupid or what? Although I arrived 10 minutes before the session started, there was such queue it was impossible for me to get the ticket on time, and I got the rule never to watch a film already started, at least at the movies. Thus, I had two options: buy a ticket for the following showing and come back home and wait for 2 hours (I gotta say, cinema is 5 minutes far from home, I’m lucky!), or watch something else. I chose  the second.
Although I want to see True Grit, and reviews are praising Jeff Bridges, an actor I adore, I wasn’t in the mood for a western. There were a couple more options, but eventually I decided to see The Kids Are All Right. I find Julianne Moore very consistent in her performances and quite personal.
Anyway, I hadn’t the slightest idea of what the plot was about, and felt a bit scared thinking my choice had been wrong.
This film follows the pattern Little Miss Sunshine opened few years ago, focusing on an unconventional family and their issues.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are two married lesbians which conceived their two kids, Joni and Laser by means of an anonymous sperm donor. Nic is a gyno specialist and Jules is the kind of hippie who starts many ideal projects but at the end of the day, they all fail.

 Joni, about to start college, is now 18, and her brother is pushing her to call the sperm bank company in order to find out who the donor is, and if possible meet him. When receiving the phone call asking if he agrees to identify himself as the donor to the kids, so they can contact him, Paul (Mark Ruffalo) immediately accepts, encouraging the meeting, with the mums unaware of such.
Paul and Joni get really on well, but Laser finds Paul quite showy and away from his likes. Paul is delighted with the kids and want to get in touch. His only commitment is his organic restaurant, he’s never been married and has no ties, and feels the need to get close to them.
Eventually the mums find out that the kids have contacted with the donor, and immediately want to set a limit  and fix everything by meeting him, thinking once everybody gets to know each other, there won’t be more contact. Instead, kids start adoring Paul and sharing time with him and Jules start working on his garden designing, excluding Nic from any plan, which will cause tension and problems, putting at risk not only her relationship with Joni and Laser, but also her marriage.

 The two lesbian mothers as the axis of the story is not casual, the director, Lisa Chodolenko,  admitted the screenplay was based or inspired in a similar situation with her partner, considering pregnancy by means of an anonymous donor. With this “advantage” or knowledge on the subject, she’s able to portrait this weird family in a realistic manner. Although I’m quite open minded and at this point such things do not surprise me, raised by average hetero parents, it’s shocking the missing father figure in this case. It’s true, roles are quite clear among the couple, it doesn’t matter both women are very masculine in their attitudes and behavior, there’s always a man, and a woman, being the masculine role strict and demanding, and the feminine sweeter and more permissive, but anyway, in my mind the alfa male role in the family is essential. And this not only happens to me, but to Joni and Laser, translated into curiosity, the need for a father brings out the sudden attachment to Paul.
What about Paul? He is the prototype of attractive middle-man, who’s succeeded in his business working really hard, but still takes life as easy as he gets, as if he was still in his 20’s-30’s, flirting with young girls, riding his motorbike…his life is irresistibly attractive to the kids, who find in him a mate, who is more in touch with their daily problems and seems to understand their needs better. The truth is that  they do not comprehend what bringing up and educating children really mean, and despise their mothers’ super protective attitude, getting more attached to super cool Paul, who not only does not judge them but also flatters them continuously, and thinks whatever they do is cool.
Paul is not a bad guy though, he assumes a nonexistent responsibility towards the kids just because at the end of the day he feels lonely and empty and wants to be part of a family. The problem is that instead of building his family entourage by himself, he chooses the fast and easiest way by trying to fit in this family with an excuse good enough to make believe everyone it could work out. All of a sudden, Paul is there, ready to support anyone in the family, causing confusion and chaos in the same, no matter he only wants the best for them.

 What would happen to you if all of a sudden a stranger knocks at your door and says something like “Hey! I’m your brother!”? how would you react? Would you try to recover lost time? Would you just forget about it? Such things need to be treated carefully, otherwise the foundations of your family might be affected, accustomed to certain life, sudden changes can bring you happiness but also destroy what you have. You got to think of the possible consequences. Had Paul ever thought what his wanking for money would mean in the future? Obviously not, and it’s nothing to blame for…it’s kind of twisted what Laser wants, nonetheless understandable considering the family he comes from.
Drama treated with a big dose of humor, The Kids Are All Right, is an easy watching film, not as stunning as Little Miss Sunshine or Happiness, but moving on the same path. You might like it.