Monday, January 30, 2012

The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodóvar's latest must-see is one of the best films of 2011.

The last ten years have seen Spain reaffirming itself as the most productive breeding ground for top quality cinema.

Álex de la Iglesia (La Habitacion del Niño), Guillem Morales (Los Ojos de Julia), Jaume Balagueró (REC, Fragile), Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) and Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) are only a handful of directors typifying Spain's current cinematic run of form.

And that's without counting, of course, one of country's most celebrated film-makers, Pedro Almodóvar (of Volver fame), whose latest film The Skin I Live In (original title La Piel Que Habito) is one of his most remarkable ever.

Put bluntly, Almodóvar's films are generally weird. But I mean good and watchable weird. Never pretentious or self-indulgent, let alone overly arty and elitist, which is this blog's pet hate. You can watch almost every Almodóvar film and expect the seediness and the various quirks along the way to finally make sense at some point.

By the time you've spotted the twist coming or have clocked it altogether, the story will have drawn you in so much that you'll simply want to find out how or why right until the very end.

Given how rich and carefully textured the plot is, there's not much we can reveal about The Skin I Live In. Even the slightest clue may easily turn into the most irritating of spoilers.

The film is in one go horror, psychological thriller, crime, film noir, and distorted love melodrama as well. All the while, underlying ethical questions are posed over the extent to which Frankenstein-like medicine can go.

But, while most directors would have lost the plot trying to juggle too many genres at the same time, Almodóvar pulls it off handsomely.

His rich colours and obsessive themes are not, unlike many other directors, cheap gimmicks, fillers or clever tricks. They are integral part of his narrative.

The film is also the moment when Antonio Banderas, one of Spain's most famous actors, reaffirms his acting credentials. Often slammed as wooden, here he's absolutely superb, oozing mystery and charisma and carrying the whole weight of the film from start to finish.

Watch The Skin I Live In and you'll lose yourself into its slow but intense pace and into its intriguing and relentless buildup, while the different ends of the same web gradually come together against a backdrop that is both creepy and fascinating at the same time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Rite

Add a 't' in front of the title and you get the general idea.

How many films can be made about exorcists and possessed women (and why is it always the women, by the way, have you noticed...?) swearing in several languages before people realise that it's totally useless?

How many times, before producers actually decide to pack it in and focus their attention and cash elsewhere? The troubled, sceptical priest under the guidance of an older, wiser maverick. The mandatory car accident. The chained sweaty woman telling them both to fuck off. In Latin too. The cross and the prayers, the spitting and the red eyes, the premonitions, the insects and the lot...

This one here comes about 35 years too late, as it would only matter to those few souls who never watched The Exorcist and its multiple spin offs and rip offs.

If there's one thing the makers of The Rite got almost 100% right, that was the film title. They forgot to add the letter 't' in front of "Rite". Then it would have made sense, Anthony Hopkins or not.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vanishing on 7th Street

When the apocalypse is so dull that you can't wait for it to come.

There's an unwritten rule in cinema, etched in capital letters, as old as the first reel to reel.

And it goes as follows. The fact that a director may have been behind a decent film and the fact that a story plot may also sound vaguely intriguing are no guarantee of a good film.

Brad Anderson may have been the man behind both Session 9 and The Machinist, and his latest Vanishing on 7th Street may also sound like your perfect so-called "post-apocalyptic" story. Unfortunately though, it's painfully weak as well as way too flimsy and badly acted to actually go anywhere.

For all the amount of semi-deserted, mysterious-looking and Twin Peak-esque scenes set in an old neon-lit bar, the plot is simply too feeble and anemic (yes, thanks thesaurus) to strike any chord with the viewer.

Not to mention that Hayden Christensen and the other actors are so wooden that, put next to Pinocchio, they would positively make him look like Plastic Man.

Which wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that character development is below zero.

The thrills evaporate after about fifteen minutes as you quickly realise that a single episode of the Teletubbies will carry more suspense than this pap.

What seem to be the only four survivors to a mysterious plague that snatches people away, are just sitting there, fiddling with ice cubes and fuel, and periodically wailing that they have lost their kid/mum/colleagues/ex wife.

That's all they seem to be saying. And after you've heard the same lines 7 times in a row you just start hoping for the entity to put the inept four out of their misery once and for all.

As for the apocalypse, it must be the most docile one to be ever conjured up by a cinematic mind.

The same monstrous thing that hits people in an instant in the first part of the film, is later on so slow that even a snail would crawl back to safety once they twig that they're about to be snatched.

Vanishing on 7th Street is like a fantastic initial idea that crashed into the worst of writer's blocks within ten minutes.

Which, given how crowded the post-apocalyptic genre is starting to look, makes this film even more redundant.