Archive for May, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean-On Stranger Tides – Rob Marshall

How can you fall asleep in the middle of the greatest adventures at sea of the hippest pirates of the decade? How is it possible to check your watch while they’re trying honestly to be funny, cool, sexy and/or fierce? How can you yawn at Penélope Cruz and talk about the junk food you’re eating while Johnny Depp is delivering a line? I cannot imagine how. I saw these happening in the theatre and I couldn’t believe my eyes but watching the viewers not the movie means that something must be wrong.

The producers of the fourth tale of the pirate saga have mastered see-through answers for all these questions few thought would emerge. On Stranger Tides is the boring pirate’s ghost of the previous parts due to some sort of laziness of those responsible with the scenario, dialogue and exploitation of pirate myths.

Finally the cast is perfect; Penélope Cruz is an extraordinary asset to the crew offering a great opportunity to heighten the overall charisma of the ambiance. Not to mention the expectations regarding the Depp-Cruz duet. She seems to be a perfect partner in comedy and chemistry for Depp and is far more entertaining than narrow acting scaled Keira Knightley. Unfortunately Cruz’s character is not negative enough nor positive enough, not funny enough nor serious enough and the interaction with Depp is disappointing. Therefore not much has improved; at least Knightley’s character had precise contour and aim.

Johnny Depp seems trapped in one of his most charismatic characters due to the fact that this time Jack Sparrow is only an overconfident sketch of THE Jack Sparrow. It seems like, for the producers, was enough only to quote the character’s aura to cash in on fans’ big expectations. There is simply not enough valuable material in the scenario to give room for the characters to truly unfold.

The dialogue is dull and often the jokes are pointless. They too are only quoting the good old times’ wit and sarcasm.
We have new sea creatures, the sirens. These are fun to watch. But, as a new element, they’re not enough to compensate all the things that only run at half-speed, vaguely recalling the humor, adventures and thrills of the previous parts.

Probably an intimation of Jack Sparrow seemed enough. Probably to only show off Penélope Cruz and to ornate with grandiloquent music predictable and poorly choreographed fights seemed enough? The musical score tries its best to boost our enthusiasm and make us feel the fun that isn’t really there.

It seems like feeding on memories does not really work, not for sequels, not for good sequels. Probably the first weeks after the première are a source of satisfaction for all those financially involved, but I am sure that On Stranger Tides it will go down in history as the dullest part of the Caribbean saga. Up until now.

The Limits of Control – Jim Jarmusch

Spoilers! Spoilers are what movie trailers and reviews avoid. Let’s stick to reviews. What do they avoid revealing? To some degree the plot and the conflict. The punch line is guarded with the reviewer’s life. This way great opportunity opens up to vainglorious critics – there is no other kind – to bring to the fore the details that, they think, common viewers do not really pay attention to or care about.

Writing about cinematography, directing, editing, soundtrack, the inaccessible philosophy beyond the story, the acting and their intertwined effects is a chance to look pretty darn smart. But readers do not want to read anything else either. This way everybody is happy; critics can launch their baroque analyses and the viewers can get some good quality teasers exercising diagonal reading.

The story, the conflict is what brings us joy and entertainment, the rest is just garnish. So, reviewers are allowed to reveal everything about the rest; shape, volume, color, style and we won’t feel like being deprived of the joy of discovering it by ourselves. We only want the story unspoiled but teasers can be served. We love teasers!

But this garnish is, actually, the main body of the movie. Here lies the author’s authenticity. The story is not important. There is no authentic story, we all know that. If there’s a story never filmed, it is already written, painted, sung, sculpted or told.
Hey! These are all haystacks! Hey!

Why do we want to keep the story as the juicy, final, surprise bite when it is the less genuine part of the artistic creation? Why do we disclose the authentic part of a movie? Is it because the common viewer is focused on the story and is not paying enough attention to style? Is this the reason of the emphasis on style? Why isn’t the viewer paying attention to form? We should look into the history of storytelling in Western civilization and probably we’ll get some answers. These answers will probably tell us that writing this way about movies has its compensation too; they’re about what most of us don’t talk after the movie. So, we can keep this method.

But I’ll make an exception with “The limits of control” and I’ll unveil the plot. The hit man,Isaach De Bankolé, gathers clues about his target from the realm of art and finally takes it out. The target is THE SYSTEM, Bill Murray. The punch line is not punchy; Jim Jarmusch abandons us after the job is done. Clean and cool. The way he tells the story, pleasing eyes and ears, makes the brain sizzle, the heart melt with joy and the stomach warm. Tuck In!

Babies – Thomas Balmès

Four newborns from four different cultures struggling to toddlerhood is a promising theme. There is a lot to digest after watching these human cubs discovering themselves and the world in Mongolia, Japan, Namibia and U.S.A.

The beginning of their lives is very much similar. Then, gradually, the environment is changing for each of them according to the culture they’re born into. Their cuteness is irresistible, their adventures are amazing and funny.

The stories start out as the stories of four individuals with randomly different characters. We find our favorite, we point out the dull and the annoying one but by the end of the documentary we are not thinking about the difference between the individuals but the difference between the worlds they belong to.

It is interesting how subjectivity and critical contemplation gradually settles in. The two things that lead our thoughts are camera angles and editing. We might think that we come to the conclusions by ourselves, but that’s not true. Besides the fact that we already have information on the theme we are under invisible guidance.

Camera angles and montage are the tools that assist the scenario in most of the cinematographic works; few are the ones who can use them to tell a story and even fewer to make a point. But this is relevant for fiction movies. What are the rules when it comes to documentary, do they suppose to be objective and can they really be?

The choices the director makes are crucial. Footage material is huge; the children, in this case, were filmed during a long period. The choices in the editing room are defining and I am sure Thomas Balmès could have cut the material with any other result that would have led me to any other conclusion.

But within the boundaries the director sets I come to the conclusion that there is paradise on earth, that children everywhere are happy at least for one year or two, that they are funny, that animals are perfect toys for infants and I think that is a conclusion I come to freely. Oh, I know it’s just illusionary freedom but I enjoyed it.

Antichrist – Lars von Trier

An accident happens during sexual intercourse between a man and a woman then medical treatment is refused by the man in treating the woman’s grief and sense of guilt. Finally, both of them go to the woods where he thinks she can overcome the trauma.

This way Lars von Trier unleashes medieval fear upon his characters and upon us. The forest is the ultimate alien space in the medieval Christian imaginary, the most feared one. Those who entered the forest or lived by the forest were feared, outcasts. Embracing nature was a first sign of being astray from Christian rules, a sign of witchcraft. Medicine itself was seen as evil, illness was believed to be sent by God as punishment. Not so long ago – some of us still believe that – mental illness was seen as demonic possession, weakness of character or lack of common sense.

Lars von Trier places his two characters in the middle of the forest and isolates them from their cerebrum. Repeated shots of her and, towards the end, his back head (cerebellum and brain stem) leads to this conclusion. The old brain, where fear, dominance, reflexes, unconsciousness lie is what drives the two characters through a horrible experience. Their journey is telling us the archetypal story about man and his first encounter with “otherness”, which is not the wild beast he has to hunt down for his own protection, nor natural disasters, these are far from being his equal enemies – these probably made him imagine the gods – but the woman. So close and yet so far he had to tame her in order not to fear her.

But these are not served the easy way. The movie’s discourse is based on medieval Christian judgments and misogyny and it is launched on at least two channels. His attitude towards her is emblematic for the treatment of women by men in history: “dominant but benevolent”. This channel is the wicked one, because it is in focus and that makes it seem rational. The other channel is the tricky one and is led by her. She is the patient, worthy of compassion up until she utters the ideas of the ancient believes on nature and woman’s nature. She becomes scary; suddenly her sexuality is demonic and irrational. The impact of a misogynistic discourse held by a woman is quite unsettling. Does she really think what she’s saying or is she provoking a reaction in the man who clings to his rationality? But is he really rational? Now she doesn’t seem a traumatized person anymore but a possessed one, don’t you think, dear Moses, Christian and Farouk? Towards the end, even if the story does not literally transcend the boundaries of medieval Christian believes, we can sense archetypes that are reasoning with all patriarchal believes.

Antichrist is what I expected a movie directed by Lars von Trier to be; an introspection in humanity. It is hard to face it, hard to stay distant from it because it works like a mirror. What does the fear of “otherness” have to do with Antichrist? Probably everything. Lars von Trier stylishly opens and closes the movie in black and white and slow motion. He even uses the same musical theme, but that is not for style but for another thing to chew on: Freedom.

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