Dec 14, 2006

Awards Shmawards

You can count on the Golden Globes to get some of it right, most of it wrong. Babel having 7 nominations is just dreadful, although I'm glad for Adriana Barraza, who was quite good. I'm sick and tired of El Clinto and his boring, overrated movies (which I haven't seen, because every time I see one of his movies I need to remind myself to please kick myself in the butt if I ever think of doing it again).
And as happy as I am for Leonardo DiCaprio getting 2 noms, I think it is the utmost injustice to have forgotten Matt Damon, who was just as good, or in my view, better, as his nemesis in The Departed.
Yesterday I was flipping channels and I caught two old chestnuts with these guys. One, School Ties, is a very conventional, predictable film about antisemitism at Harvard in the fifties. It has a cast of thousands; young tender things that went to become big stars: Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donell, Brendan Fraser, Anthony Rapp and Matt Damon. Damon plays a corrupt rich brat and he's the best thing in the movie. Smug, mercurial, alive, and utterly convincing. I am officially starting the campaign to stop underrating this fine actor right now. He's particularly good when he plays assholes, because his boyish, cherubic face is a good counterpoint to his talents as a meanie. Then I caught The Basketball Diaries, an over-the-top, don't-use-heroin movie, and I was taken aback at how fierce and magnetic DiCaprio is. He is astounding. I remember him as an incredibly gifted child actor who had some excellent performances in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Marvin's Room and then was kind of uneven. He was fantastic in Titanic and Catch Me if You Can, but boring and miscast in Gangs of New York and not too convincing in The Aviator. I wish he lost weight today so he could go back to that beautiful, chiseled, high cheekboned, angelic face that was made for the movies. And I hope he wins his prizes this season, just not all of them.

Dec 13, 2006

Days of Glory/Indigenes

This is an unfortunately generic title for a great war movie. The name in French (it's a French-Algerian-Moroccan coproduction) is Indigenes, which translates as "Natives", which would have been a much more apt title. Its five main actors won the best prize for male acting at Cannes this year and with good reason. The movie is also Algeria's official entry to the Oscars, and I hope it gets nominated. It would be great if it won, too.
Indigenes deals with the Arab soldiers that fought for the French army in WWII and were treated with racism, unfairness and contempt by the French, which should not surprise anybody. This film is an excellent war movie that quietly asserts its outrage over the injustices committed to the North African soldiers which were recruited to fight in the name of Vive la France.
The movie is a conventional war film, very well done, with great dramatic moments, great suspense and tension, and well rounded wisdom in the observation of humanity. Its greatest virtue is that it wears its outrage with dignity, not bombastic selfrighteousness, which can be a common trait of outraged war movies. It reminded me of Kubrick's Paths of Glory and of a fantastic, outraged film from Sidney Lumet with Sean Connery called The Hill; both about the cruelty of war, not between enemies, but inside your own ranks. It really is one of the best war movies I've seen and instead of the yearly Clint Eastwood kissass festival, if you are going to see a war movie, this should be it.
In Indigenes, the abuses keep coming, slowly, but surely. Many details, some relatively banal, others terribly outrageous, keep piling up as these men slowly realize they are being cynically used and abused by the French military. First there are no tomatoes for the Arabs and the Africans, then there is no leave to see their families, then it's censorship of their letters (if addressed to French white women) then it's no promotions through the ranks, despite outstanding heroism and evident leadership qualities. It slowly dawns on you that they are being used, quite cunningly and ruthlessly, as bait to get at the Nazis.
The film raises some very interesting questions, extremely relevant to our day and age. It makes you quietly wonder how could the French fight against the Nazis and be so relentlessly racist themselves. Although it is mentioned once, one thinks of Vichy. And one thinks of France's own unfortunate, brutal misadventures in Algeria. The movie is an indictment, not only of human prejudice (which not only happens from the French to the Arabs, but within the Arabs themselves), but also of the poisonous nature of European colonialism.
More importantly, one thinks about the legacy of French colonialism and racism present today in the youths who set fire to their neighborhoods in France because today, as then, they are not truly allowed to participate fully in the egalité and the fraternité that the French are so proud of.
After a while, even though they stick it out because they believe they will be rewarded somehow, because their sense of honor is genuine, you just know, painfully, that the North African soldiers are not going to see squat, not even a freaking thank you. Their contribution will not only be completely ignored, but a scandalous postscript at the end of the film confirms that to this day, the French refuse to honor the memory of these soldiers.

ps: And here is a comment from a disgruntled viewer on imdb who offers another view of history. There will always be more than one side to any story:
The fact that the "goums" where "mercenaries" and inflicted atrocities on the Italian and German population is completely ignored by the film that glories the supposed "liberation". Please refer to articles on Esperia and Sofia Loren's much earlier movie entitled "La cociara" where 60,000 Italian women (and men) suffered alleged rapes and plundering from these "liberators"..the French army is not without its share of shame as a result of non-prosecution of atrocities. This film presents a totally distorted figure. To be more specific, after the battle at Monte Cassino the French general gave the Moroccan Algerian and other North African troops 50 hours of blanket freedom to do as they wished. This resulted in the remaining 7000 men (from the 12000) that went on attack raping and pillaging the small Italian towns as they passed them once the Germans retreated. They even raped the village priest, who died from those injuries a few days later. That makes it particularly disgusting to then provide the image of "liberators" when they were mercenaries. Some apparently still draw war pensions from the French government.
Moral of this story: war is inhuman and human history sucks.

Dec 12, 2006

Best and Worst of 2006

Well, it seems that it's the time of year again to do a highly unreliable and unscientific list of stuff we saw this year.
Brought to you by the Film Critics Association of Tejeringo el Chico.

Movies I loved
The Queen
United 93
Little Miss Sunshine
When the Levees Broke
Army of Shadows
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Akira Kurosawa's High and Low

Movies I liked
The Departed
Last King of Scotland
The Prestige
Jesus Camp
The Moustache
Sophie Scholl
Days of Glory - Indigenes

Way disappointing
Casino Royale
Little Children
The last Altman movie with Garrison Keillor.

Bad, pretentious movies
The Science of Sleep
Down to the Bone

Just Plain Bad
Thank You For Smoking

Movies I'm Afraid to See
Apocalypto* *This I won't see because it is from the Mel and he is not only an antisemite, but a pornographer of violence.
Pan's Labrynth
Children of Men
The Fountain
The Pursuit of Happyness

Waiting for Netflix
Marie Antoniette
Fast Food Nation
For Your Consideration
Stranger than Fiction

Great Female Movie Acting
Helen Mirren
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Carmen Maura
Chus Lampreave
Frances McDormand in Friends with Money
Meryl Streep in "Prada"

Men we love
Alan Arkin
Ryan Gosling
Christian Bale
Matt Damon playing the meanie in The Departed
Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children
Toby Jones as Truman Capote
Forest Whittaker
Bill Nighy in anything
Simon McBurney
Daniel Craig, as dry as he is as Bond, he looks way cute in a tux.
The cast of Indigenes

Dec 2, 2006

Bond has no fun

I now know why I don't go to James Bond movies. They are made exclusively for gadget freaks, five year-olds who need to see everything ever made with an engine. They make no sense and all the action makes me yawn. However, since the new Bond is Daniel Craig, me and my friend Cynthia decided to sacrifice almost three hours of our precious time to support our beloved's career move. After three hours of boredom, all I can say to Daniel is: good for you, but don't quit your day job acting in small movies where you seem to have much more fun.
Whatever money they offered him, he is certainly working hard for it. He runs, bumps into things, jumps from buildings, has fights while someone drives a tanker, and is tortured (my favorite scene, since he is buck naked).
Meanwhile he only sleeps with two women, in my opinion, none of them earthshaking beauties, and he simply does not have any time to enjoy himself. When he is asked whether he'd like his martini shaken or stirred, and he answers "do I look like I bloody care?" I want to jump his bones immediately, but this is not my idea of Bond, a man who has always been wrong about martinis (stirred, always), but who at least in previous incarnations knew how to have fun at the job.
This poor Bond has issues. We are told he has a huge ego (maybe because he is now of petite yet powerful frame), he is a joyless killing machine, he trusts no one, he has a chip on his shoulder, he can't relate. Do please come crying to mama here, I will make it better, I promise.
I like that Casino Royale is darker and less silly (not by much) than other Bond films. I like that it is supposed to be more faithful to the original Ian Fleming book. The movie is very nicely shot, very sharply edited. It has a horrid song at the cool title sequence where the James Bond theme we all know and love should be raising our adrenaline, the product placement is way out of hand, and it completely wastes Jeffrey Wright (who is so good he still registers), Judi Dench and Giancarlo Giannini, who seems to be taking a long Italian siesta throughout the proceedings.
Now, Daniel Craig looks absolutely magnificent in a tux. He looks terrific in swimming trunks and he wears beautiful suits beautifully. Cynthia complained that he has buffed up way too much and looked much better naked in The Mother, a good, dark movie you should see in order to comprehend why Cynthia and I are fans of Mr. Craig. As Bond, he drinks shitty drinks, beds soso women and the most fun he has is being tortured by Le Chiffre, played with more panache and humanity than anyone in the movie by Mads Mikkelsen, a guy from Scandinavia with a name out of a Bond movie. He is the best thing in the film. Eva Green, and here my friend Mauricio will strongly object, does nothing for me. She seems to do nothing for Bond either, because despite his protestations to the contrary, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two.
Casino Royale is about 40 minutes too long. My advice to Mr. Broccoli is: for the next installment, girls just want to see Bond have more fun.