Friday, June 10, 2011

Death at the Movies - Gone With the Wind

Today I'm feeling under the weather, so I decided to make a post about Death at the Movies (and not Death as a character, as in The Seventh Seal, Meet Joe Black or Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey).  I am talking about characters dying.  The compilation that will result from this little experiment is not a list of best of, or even my favorites.  It is just a list of the ones that have stuck in my memory.

Let's begin at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) in Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite movies.  I love the costumes, the photography, the story, the characters, the actors.  It also succeeds in developing the multiple characters that move in and out of the story.  This is specially true of Melanie, Ashley's wife and Scarlett's "rival".  Melanie's death precipitates Scarlett's understanding of their relationship, as well as her relationship with Ashley and Rhett Butler.  Sometimes we have the best things in front of us, but we do not realize it.

This is the most tragic part of the movie (give or take Bonnie Blue's death).  All of Scarlett's monsters have come to participate in this ball.  And she has to confront them all, including Rhett's departure.

De Havilland suffused Melanie with quiet stoicism, maturity, strength in her illness, loyalty, but not naivete.  Truly remarkable.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Insidious is....

...some good scares at the beginning of the movie that regrettably don't hold in its second part.

Where is Zelda Rubinstein when you need her?
The movie's premise is a haunting, but with the twist that it occurs not to a house but to a boy.  The first few scares are really good, but once Barbara Hershey enters the picture, it goes downhill.  It has nothing to do with Ms. Hershey, but with an evident lack of focus.  On this same note, the make-up and special effects are sub-par, causing the viewer to get out of the movie.  It tries to be a modern day Poltergeist, but that picture is leap and bounds better than Insidious.  

Four out of ten stars.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Yes, we can cancan!

This is part of the series Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience.

The first time I saw Moulin Rouge, I did not like it.  But on repeat viewings, boy was I blown away.  Give me pretty, give me excess and I am content.

My favorite shot is actually the entire movie (few movies are so compelling visually as this one).  It is so full of images, colors, beauty, costumes, with excellent visuals and amazing editing that complement the whole movie.

Due to the fact that I have to choose a shot, I think that Satine and her beauty (at the beginning with her naivete as to become an actress and later on with the knowledge of her demise) fully summarize the messages of Moulin Rouge.  Perfect complements for her character and its development throughout the movie.


Freedom, Beauty, Truth and Love... come what may.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean 4- on Familiar Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean is just mindless entertainment.  Some of the stories are rethreads of the previous movies, with similar characters. The movie could have benefited from been shorter in length and more focused in its story lines.  I would have preferred to see more of Barbossa and less of the Orlando Bloom look-alike.  That specific story arc did not function properly in the movie.

Leaving somebody in a deserted island?  Sounds familiar...

But it is welcome that less CGI was used in this movie than in the previous ones.  Moreover, some of it was filmed here in Puerto Rico (I recognized the entrance to the Caverns of the Camuy River, as well as small island in the east of Puerto Rico.  If you are ever in Puerto Rico, go to this park, it is amazing).

This is the entrance to the Caverna Clara in Camuy.

Six stars out of ten.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Nunca había visto a nadie tan feliz/I've never seen anyone so happy" - Matador and Law of Desire

This is part of the series Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience.

The title of this entry is the last line of spoken dialogue in the movie Matador, which summarizes some of its themes.  Curiously, it is almost a contrast to the ending of Law of Desire/La ley del deseo, in which that final death is not so happy.

I did not find Law of Desire/Ley del deseo as rich as Matador in its shots and images, although Law of Desire/Ley del deseo in my opinion is the better movie.  But two shots got my attention.   The first one is after the "showdown"  between Bibi Andersen (playing the mother) and Carmen Maura's character (Tina) during the play.  Tina, Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) and the girl are walking home, and they come upon some people washing the street.  Tina decides to be bathed in the water.

Maybe some gay things are waiting on the other side of this rainbow.
The water almost looks like a blue rainbow.   After the showdown with Bibi Andersen, Tina needed to cleanse herself.  But my favorite shot is one earlier in the movie, in which Pablo goes home with a male model who really wants to be an actor.  There, the model/actor asks if there is any cocaine available.  Pablo gives him some and we see the cocaine falling on the book La voz humana/Human Voice. This is the book that Pablo adapted in a play for Tina.

You can also see Juan (Pablo's lover) juxtaposed in this shot, going to Pablo's house for a last night before going away (and as it turns out, it is literally their last night together).  Tina washes herself in water while Juan is washed in drugs.

Now to Matador.

Since Matador explores some of the more extreme sexual practices, it is only natural that one of the best shots is Maria's first killing (that is shown in the movie).

The shot is after the jump.  Be advised that it contains some nudity and sexual content, and you should be over 18 years old to click away.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Thor: With lower expectations come great surprises

What, this is not Spiderman?
I went to Thor expecting a silly, mostly camp movie (and not in a good way).  But lo and behold, I was greatly surprised.  Thor is a very entertaining popcorn movie that did something unexpected: all the story is the origin story, with the villain intertwined in this story.  In this regard, it did not take the path most threaded by most superhero movies (almost half the movie is an origin story and the other half fighting the bad guy).

Further, a lot of the movie takes place in Asgard, not on Earth.  The visuals are remarkable, specially the rainbow bridge (Idris Elba as the gatekeeper was one of the best parts of the movie).  This, for me, made the difference.  The action and pace of the movies are good although not outstanding.  But you will have a "gay old time" at the movies.

For those of you of a certain age, below the intro to the old cartoon show:

Seven and a half stars out of ten.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RuPaul's Drag Race Finale: "I Cry Foul" or "Raja's Tearless Win"

As my drag crystal ball predicted, last night Raja won RuPaul's Drag Race Season 3.  Her versatility and catwalk skills dragged her to the top.

Once again, when Raja was announced as the winner, she did not shed a tear, even though she was "crying".  Girl, your motto appears to be "always the make-up first" (or as my best friend says, better dead than bloody, although in Raja's case, she might prefer the blood - has she had her period yet?).

Manila Luzon sported a look and walk very similar to the ones she had already done.

As to Alexis, poor Alexis, she dressed as a show girl for her final look (which was not very flattering).

But, in my humble opinion, Alexis aced the challenge, which was to be part of RuPaul's new music video (are we repeating challenges too early in this show?).  She was the best dancer, did the best in her solos and in the group shots.  But if she was in the final two, she would have won, because she is the best lip synch-er of this season (my favorite of the three seasons is Jujube in her Black Velvet performance).  Hence, she was conveniently eliminated, and Manila and Raja performed for the title and crown.  Also, I find it suspect that Mathu Andersen was the director of the music video (he also is an alumni from America's Next Top Model, as is Raja).

I think that Alexis' weakness was that her drag was pageant all the way.  Hence, she was in a niche, limited in her looks.  She did not realize it.  More versatility and edge would have given her the crown.

My favorite moment on this episode came from Untucked, when they were discussing the other girls. Alexis said that Carmen Carrera was resting on her beauty, and Raja and Manila clearly did not agree.  Their faces were priceless (I do agree with Alexis.  Carmen's problem is that she rests in her body and she lacks charisma, that je ne sais quoi so important for performers.)

 I am looking daggers at you, Alexis.

Leave Carmen alone!

Well, this is it, until next week's reunion episode.  

I will be bold, since my drag crystal ball is anxious: next season, a plus sized girl will win!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"The horse blew first"

This is part of the series Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience.

I must make a confession:  I have never seen a Charlie Chaplin movie before.  The Circus was my first experience, and oh, boy, how I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I have a little aversion to silent movies (although I think that Maria Falconetti gave one of the best performances ever in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, it being one of my favorite movies).  But Charlie Champlin might have cured me of said aversion.

This movie was filled with visual gags and some jokes (like the one in the title of this entry, in which they are trying to give a pill to a horse using a straw and blowing through it, but when The Tramp attempts it, the horse blows first and the pill ends in The Tramp's stomach; I laughed very hard).  But it is also infused with sadness and some violence, the dire conditions of the circus people, the dictatorship of the Ring Master, unrequited love, acceptance and, ultimately, letting go.

These themes are represented in a wide array of memorable images.

At the beginning of the movie we see Merna failing to go through the hoop.  She is but another failed act in this circus.  When her father confronts her, he uses violence (physical and psychological), depriving her of food and pushing her, making Merna to go at last through the hoop. 

The hoop has a star in its center, which ties up nicely with the final sad and sorrowful shots of the movie.

Merna has found love (and it is not The Tramp) and she, as well as the circus, move on, leaving The Tramp behind, alone in the dust.  But he finds the star at the center of the loop.  The Tramp, after picking and caressing it, continues with the travails of his life.

But my favorite shot (and sequence of the movie) is actually the mirror maze.  In it, we see reflection upon reflection of The Tramp.  Almost like a symbolism for where he is, where he wants to go, what he has to do to continue with his life, of been lost before finally finding the way.  The sequence in which he loses his hat and tries to retrieve it is particularly fascinating.  The physical comedy is at its best.  

Charlie Chaplin was truly gifted.  He directed, scripted and wrote the music for this movie.  In the version I saw, he even sings the title song.

Thoroughly entertaining.  I will definitely see more of these silent gems.
This is part of the series Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience.

To Touch the Sky/Tocar el cielo

In this movie, several stories are intertwined via familial bonds, even though the action takes place in Argentina and Spain.  The movie is somewhat muddled for it.  It involves the marriage for convenience of a Spanish woman with an Argentinian man in Argentina, because she wants to adopt a child (this story is underdeveloped).  In Spain, a father (named Pedro) has a dysfunctional relationship with his son, with his best girl friend Gloria (not a girlfriend per se), and with his mother, who lives in Argentina.   The movie begins on New Year's Eve, with everybody writing down their wishes and tying them to balloons filled with helium (hence the title of the movie).  As the movie unfolds, Gloria is diagnosed with cancer, which serves as a catalyst to the denouement of the action. 
The acting is somewhat uneven.  The character portraying Pedro is mostly over the top, and his relationship with his son and his mother (an excellent China Zorilla) is not credible.  The movie is interesting, although it takes its time to move the action forward.  Nonetheless, it is entertaining in spite of its obvious flaws.
On a side note, the IMDB's page for this movie has the wrong poster.  The poster there is for a movie called Make a Wish, which appears to be a horror movie (although disfunctional families sometimes are horrors stories). 
Seven stars out of ten. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"But what is dinner without a little music?"

This is part of the series Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience.

Beauty and the Beast is my second favorite animated movie (Sleeping Beauty being my favorite).  The first time I saw this movie I was astounded at the animation, how the camera moved, the color palette used and the music.   As to the animation, in some instances we might be focused in the foreground, but the background would held beautiful images worth contemplating.  

Nonetheless, my favorite sequence in all the movie is Be Our Guest. This sequence includes not only a catchy song with beautiful lyrics, but also the energy, warmth, and strength of eating and drinking (and serving).  It is also a joyous and long awaited hiatus in the lives of the servants, as is put into song:  

Life is so unnerving
For a servant who's not serving
He's not whole without a soul to wait upon

Ah, those good old days when we were useful...
Suddenly those good old days are gone
Ten years we've been rusting
Needing so much more than dusting
Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills!
Most days we just lay around the castle
Flabby, fat and lazy
You walked in and oops-a-daisy!

A daisy, indeed.  And what joie the vivre!

But my favorite shot is actually in the reprise of the song Belle, when Belle has said no to Gaston's marriage proposal and she goes to the woods to sing her heart out.

She is definitely not Madame Gaston.  Belle also wants much more than her provincial life can provide (even though one might say that she is privileged to live in such a beautiful and luscious place- it all depends in one's circumstances, I guess).   

This sequence reminds me so of another of my favorite movies: the beginning of The Sound of Music, when Maria is also singing in the woods (even the music, to my untrained ears, sounds similar).

Come to think of it, Beast's castle reminds me of the von Trapp house.

What a marvelous library.  I've always been the nerdy type, so I fell in love with the Beast's library.  So much knowledge and so little time to read it all.

Tale as old as time, indeed.

A very deserved Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  

Goodby, Yara Sofia, we hardly understood you

Last night was the second to last episode of RuPaul's Drag Race.  The final three were revealed:  Raja, Manila Luzon and Alexis Mateo (as foretold by my crystal drag ball).  This is Raja's to lose.

In this episode, Yara Sofia suffered a breakdown in the middle of her lip sync.  No wonder there, due to the weight of her costume.  She had to take it all off (literally).

I do agree with the judge's criticism.  The dress was too much.

Alexis Mateo, who was also in the bottom two, sported a mermaid inspired dress.  She also wanted to look like a beauty pageant participant (no surprise there either).

Raja's evening gown was stunning.  But once again, she cried without tears (remember last episode, when she was in the bottom two and RuPaul announced that Raja will stay in the competition?) .  Girl, teach me how to do that (maybe she does not want her make-up to run).

Her cocktail dress, on the other hand, was horrific.  If she only had a heart (and cry with some tears).

Finally, Manila Luzon won the main stage challenge.  She used an asian inspired gown and image for the gazillion time.

Of the final three, Raja has the most versatility.  But, in my humble opinion, when she tries to look pretty, she actually looks like a man in women's clothes.  Manila and Alexis have the same problem:  they are one look wonders.  Do not take them out of their comfort zones.  For this, I think Raja has the edge to win it all.

Next week, to lengthen this series, a recap episode!  RuPaul's Drag Race does not want to end.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

RuPaul's Drag Race final four

Yesterday the final four were revealed, when Carmen Carrera (once again) was eliminated from the show.   Although I believe that Raja is going to win (and I have said so since the very first main stage challenge), it is interesting (and somewhat helpful) to analyze the wins of each of the girls.  In the mini challenges, Manila Luzon has won 3 (Totally Leotarded,  Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Style, and RuPaul-a-Palooza).  Raja has won two (The Queen Who Mopped Christmas and RuPaul's Hair Extravaganza).  Alexis Mateo has won one (Jocks in Frocks).  Sadly, Yara Sofia has not won any.

As to the Main Stage challenges, Raja and Alexis Mateo have won three each (Raja - The Queen Who Mopped Christmas, Face, Face, Face of Cakes, and RuPaul-a-Palooza; and Alexis- Queens in Space in a tie with Shangela, Totally Leotarded, and Life, Liberty & the Pursue of Style).  Manila Luzon has won two (QNN News and Jocks in Frocks) and Yara Sofia just one (RuPaul's Hair Extravaganza).

Here are the four queens, in their first outfits in the show.

Alexis Mateo:
 Do I look like a Mexican beauty queen?

Manila Luzon:
 Asian realness

The next drag supermodel?

Caribbean Hurricane

As I see things, the next girl to be eliminated will be Yara Sofia.  The final two are either Raja and Manila or Raja and Alexis.  At least the two Puertoricans (excluding Carmen Carrera) made it to the final four.   

Source Code and The Beatles

Last Saturday I went to the movies with some friends.  As always, my best friend chose the movie, this time, "Source Code".  The premise of the movie is simple, but garbled with a lot of mumbo jumbo:  you can tap into the lingering conscience of a dead person and experience their last eight minutes on this Earth.  As expected, the military forces had developed a mechanism to use this.  In the specific case of "Source Code", it is to discover a terrorist that has planted a bomb in a train and also has a dirty bomb for Chicago.

What, are we going to die again?

One of my problems with the movie came the first time we see/live through the eight minutes (and we suffer through the eight minutes several times), because I was able to pinpoint who the terrorist was (it was pretty obvious), which spoiled the movie for me.  Moreover (and this is something I also deplore of the Harry Potter movies in their pensieve scenes), if you are tapping into somebody's conscience, are you not restricted by what that person saw or felt during those eight minutes?  Aren't we supposed to only see what that person saw?  Then, how come we followed Jake Gyllenhaal to a train station (he was following an Indian or Arabic guy), and then see the train explode in the distance when he was supposed to be inside the train?  How can they tap the lingering conscience of a dead person who was never at that station during his last eight minutes alive?  Be advised that the last scenes of the movie try to explain this (for me the explanation came too late in the movie).

These issues took me out of the movie.  Hence, I couldn't enjoy it to the fullest.  Nonetheless, the acting was very strong throughout.  I give a shout out to Vera Farmiga, who did not really have a fully developed character as written, but she made wonders with what little she had.

As a curious note, in the final credits Eleanor Rigby was credited (I think).  In her honor, the following Beatles' song from The Yellow Submarine movie (which is appropriate due to the state of Jake's character):

6.5 stars out of 10.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Peeping Norman and the Evil Eye - Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Psycho is one of my favorite movies. The wealth and depth of images, sounds, and scenes is overwhelming (with the exception of the exposition at the end in the scene with the psychiatrist). So many images to choose from. And the shower scene, one of the most famous in all of cinema, is exceptional in its lighting, music, editing, framing, directing, acting.

I find interesting that the movie begins on Friday, December 11th, two weeks before Christmas (a little bit of trivia: December 11, 1959 was a Friday). But the only Christmas decorations that I am aware of are seen when Marion is in her car getting out of Phoenix and she accidentally runs into her employer. You can see the street decorations through her windshield. 

The movie ends roughly one week later, that is, six days before Christmas (the premier was June 16, 1960 according to imdb).

This leads us to some religious iconography and symbolism in the movie (Hitchcock was raised Catholic).  One of the Christian symbols is the Eye of God or the Eye of Providence (used during the Renaissance and in the U.S. one dollar bill). It is represented as an eye inside of a triangle emanating rays of light. It is a symbol also used in the Masonic ritual. It represents the omnipresence and omniscience of God, who watches over all things. It is also associated with the Trinity (hence the triangle).

For its part, the Evil Eye is a look that is believed to cause injury or bad luck to the person at whom it is directed. It also refers to the power attributed to certain persons of inflicting injury or bad luck by such a look.

All of which brings us to the image that I chose from Psycho.

Norman, after some hesitation, puts Marion in cabin number 1. After she retires to her cabin, he peeps on her through a small hole in the wall. We only see one of Norman's eyes. It is a simple constructed image, but full of symbolism. For me, this image is a multiple representation of Norman's inner struggle. The eye (god's eye?), which actually has the form of a triangle, sees Marion preparing for her bath. It is all-seeing and all-desiring. But the rays of light are coming from Marion's room, not emanating from Norman's eye.  Further, he looks at her with desire, absorbing her light.  This image is preparing us for the shower scene and Marion's demise. Hence, his eye is really a "dark eye", or as they say, he is giving her the evil eye, wanting what he cannot have. This is almost instantly reinforced with the brilliant zoom to the water drain, Marion's eye while she is on the floor and the circular movement of the camera away from her, a cleansing of her sins if you will.

After Mother dispatches Marion, while Norman is cleaning the cabin, we see another iconography of the Christian religion, in the form of a cross. It is made by a fixture in the bathroom and the mop used to clean, almost like a cross on a tomb.

(You can also see crosses throughout the movie, for example, in the windows.)

Further, Hitchcock spends an inordinate amount of time showing Norman cleaning the room.  During this cleaning we also see Norman washing his hands from Marion's blood (reminiscent of Pontius Pilate).

I also like the subtlety with which Hitchcock lets us in the know of the double nature of Norman's psyche. For example:

You can see his reflection in the window. Also, Marion is positioned almost right under the lamp, with the light showering her.  Although when they enter the parlor, there is a bird of prey just behind Norman in attack position (not so subtle here). 

And the final image of Norman, as it dissolves into the last frames of the picture, is masterful in its intimacy and with Mother speaking directly to us and finally and truly revealing herself (without the need of the exposition by the psychiatrist).  

This is one of the great movies of all time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Battle Los Angeles

I went to the movies last week with some friends and we chose this movie. In one phrase, and as my dad says, it was very average ("bastante regular"). It reminded me somewhat of Starship Troopers, although Battle LA was not as entertaining. I have only what question: what happened with character development? Pacing? The movie was explosions all the time, with little space to breathe.

A very average 4 stars (from 10 stars).