Nov 28, 2006

Movie Magic

Hello, my darlings! Have you missed me? Probably not. I'm still here in Mexico City, a good place to have excellent tacos de carnitas (photo coming soon) and to go to movies you wouldn't dream of spending eleven bucks in the States but here you pay about five bucks. So I see stuff that I otherwise wait for it to come out on Netflix. I saw The Departed at the great Palacio Chino, our very own version of Grauman's Chinese Theater. It used to be, in the old days, when movie palaces still existed, a fantastically decorated Chinese temple, but around the eighties, like every other wonderful Mexican movie palace (the Variedades, the Chapultepec, the Metropolitan and others), it went to the dogs, showing cheap soft porn films, etc. Now, since the nineties, we finally have good cineplexes in Mexico, with mostly bad Hollywood movies but clean restrooms, good sound, good seats. The new Palacio Chino is one such cineplex: utterly generic, except for the fact that they chinafied the facade with bright neon lights and, a touch I love, the names of the movies are written in sort of Chinese typeface. Cute.
That´s where I saw The Departed.
Now: Martin Scorsese and his wonderful editor Thelma Schoonmaker, certainly know how to open a film. The degree of visual energy and panache in the first twenty minutes of The Departed is absolutely glorious, beautifully thrilling. I wish I could say the same of the rest of the movie, which, while enormously entertaining, has so many twists and turns, and is so long that after a while one would like to get off the fun ride. It is extremely violent and as happens with all movies that depend on intrincate plots, at a certain point one asks very logical questions of things that are not happening but should. Such as how is it possible that the Irish mafiosi controlled by a fun, over the top Jack Nicholson haven´t figured out by now who the rat is?
The Departed is delightful because everybody in it is a pro: Nicholson goes to town hamming it up, but his relish is contagious and he is wonderful. Matt Damon is extremely fine as a cold, professional, ruthless villain. I´m glad he was cast against type. Di Caprio is quite good as his counterpart, a mole in the mafia. And the rest are adorable pros: my beloved Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and even Mark Wahlberg, trying real hard to come up with the goods and aqcuitting himself nicely. The Departed touches upon recurrent themes in Scorsese´s work: true morality, human hipocrisy, the corruption of the soul, how easy it is for evil to run rampant in this world, how very fucked up is human nature. The movie, as entertaining as it is, has substance, and is the best thing Scorsese has done in years.
The one weak link I found was the subplot with the female shrink, played, not too convincingly in my opinion, by Vera Farmiga. She falls in love with both Damon and DiCaprio and to me that´s already gilding the lily. Still, if you want to see what a master of movie making can do, run to The Departed and enjoy the mayhem.
One big nitpick: too much rock and roll music in every scene.

I also saw The Prestige, by Christopher Nolan, he of Memento and Batman Begins. I enjoyed it immensely for I was in a foul mood and in urgent need of escapism, and The Prestige delivers this with class. What is not to like about a contest of wills between two magicians played by Hugh Jackman (yum) and the always magnificent Christian Bale, (megayum to the nth degree), plus the always welcome Michael Caine, doing his benevolent shtick real well? For the males in the audience there is the scrumptious eye candy of Scarlett Johanssen, who has a face made for the camera, a decent British accent, but who, no matter how many times she appears in period pieces, always seems to me to be very much a girl of today.
The Prestige is also extremely entertaining, very smart, with the kind of cool plot twists that Nolan and his brother (who writes his screenplays) love. It is a story of obsessive rivalry between two magicians, the kind of behavior that is very typically male and that makes this one of the few period movies that males will enjoy: a Victorian ¨can you top this¨? I had a ball while I watched it, but it left me kind of cold at the end. Same reaction I had with Memento. Lots of neat tricks of the mind, very little in the way of insight. Still, Nolan is a gifted director, as good a showman as his two protagonists. The Prestige is a cool film. And it doesn't make you ask logical questions. It keeps you guessing right to the end. That´s a neat trick.

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