Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer 2010..
It has been a hot one, as if that needed a restatement of sorts. El Nino aside, the upward warming trends over the long term continue. We had the hottest June in recorded history and the hottest first half of 2010 ever recorded and Arctic sea ice melted at a record pace. link (that is if you are in to science and facts).
But this one is not about the planet being cooked (do we have a Plan(et) B?
With heat indexes close to a 100, the temp at 7pm yesterday was around 95 and humidity high. I managed to jog (eke?) 3 miles out of my aging body.
And I looked like shit and felt a bit like it too for a bit. But I had my hydration going well so rebounded back quick. I am aching for cold weather, always loved cold weather. With each passing day get closer to fall and football! Yay!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Wind Journeys (SpanishLos viajes del viento)
 A thank you to the eclectic Lotusreads for telling me about this movie!.
What do you think of when you think of Colombia? Drug Lords? The right wing revolutionaries? 
Set aside all those notions that one may form about a country  by the woefully inadequate stuff that we in the US often get packaged as "news".
"The Wind Journeys" by director Ciro Guerra depicts a different Colombia, one of people living in small villages and eking out a simple existence, with music forming an important part of their lives.
Yes, this is a movie about music to some extent, but it is also more than that. It is road trip, one that happens largely in silence (or as one would say nothing much happens for periods of the movie), about the young and the old, and about ones purpose in life. 
The film follows the laconic Ignacio Carrillo (Marciano Martínez), who has recently lost his wife and believes that it is due to the horned accordion he plays, which is cursed by the devil and must be returned to his master and maker Guerra. Accompanying Ignacio, and often a subject of his disdain is the teen aged Fermin (Yull Nunez) from the same village, who wants to learn from Ignacio and become a famous troubadour and accordion player like him. 
Their journey is largely in silence (the film has no background score save for the music played by performers in the movie), Ignacio on the back of a donkey and Fermin on foot from Sucre in Colombia to Caserio Taroa in the La Guajira desert on the norther tip of Colombia.
Along their journeys Ignacio and Fermin encounter a cast of sometimes strange, oddball characters including Ignacio's brother and a woman at a small festival in a town along the way, where Ignacio plays an improvised tune, a homage of sorts to what is an old flame, throwing Fermin accompanying him on the drums into a complete tizzy about what he has to play.
There is also one scene that I found particularly compelling, a duel on accordions that reminded me of the Jugalbandi from Indian classical music or even the rap duels from films like 8 Mile
There were two ways that I looked at the movie (and not because I saw it over two days in two parts), one in which despite the beautiful vistas not much seems to happen for stretches. Mind you the vistas are beautiful, with the gorgeous photography brings to life whether it is the lush green forests, grasslands, the rugged mountains, rivers,  or the bare desert or stunningly white salt flats. They are all a joy to behold, but I digress.
The second way that I looked at the movie is the way I see it now. The silence is not just between the principals in the movie, it is also for us the viewer to think about what is said and left unsaid. The fact that it is beautifully acted, makes Ignacio and Fermin all the more human and appealing in their own ways.
It is a journey about about disappointments, hopes about losing and finding and about moving on, about the passing of the torch of sorts of traditions that are unwritten, but carried down thru generations.
This is in some ways a strange movie, but one well worth your time if you have a couple of hours to spare, where the lack of action on the screen or a traditional plot progression is not essentially a bad thing, for there is after all something to be gleaned about a journey on a road to understanding.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not A Review "Broken Embraces" by Pedro Almodovar.

This past weekend I had a chance to catch Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" (Los abrazos rotos). It is certainly not his best film, but I still enjoyed it. It did not have the emotionally depth like "Volver" but it is a layered movie, with all the Almodovar flourishes that we know him now for.. the rich vibrant colors, strong, complex female characters, sex and sensuality, a plot where most of the pivotal events of the story happen in the middle, the beginning has the consequences and a resolution of sorts at the end. And of course it has Penelope Cruz. And I have seen a few Almodovar movies, so I was able to spot other regulars like Lola Duenas and Blanca Portillo.
So what is the movie about..
A man survives a brutal car crash on the island of Lanzarote. In that accident, he loses his sight, and also Lena(Penelope Cruz), the woman he loves so dearly. That man is now Harry Caine, a with which he signs his stories and scripts. But his real name is Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), and he used to be a film director. But after the accident only Harry Caine lives, in a self induced amnesia and denial of what was before.
He survives thanks to the scripts that he writes, with the help of his production manager, Judit Garcia (Blanca Portillo), and her son Diego.
Before a casual sexual encounter with a woman who helps him cross the street he finds out about someone from his past who has died, Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez).
One night Diego has an accident and as Harry takes care of him with his mother being away. Diego asks him about the past, and the story of Mateo tumbles out.
Lena who harbors aspirations to be an actress is the mistress of this Martel, a rich, powerful financier. She meets the then Mateo during a film audition and sparks fly soon after Lena is offered a role in a film to be financed by Ernesto. The suspicious Ernesto has his gay son document the making of this film and hires a lip reader to decipher what Mateo and Lena are talking about.
The story of Mateo, Lena, Judit and Ernesto Martel is told with the elements common to a film noir.. those of jealousy, obsession, power, betrayal and guilt. Like other Almodovar films, this one is layered and one can watch the emotional layers get peeled as the story unfolds.
I liked the clarity and sharpness of the images, not in the literal sense, but in the way objects in the movie stood out, whether it was the furniture, the art on the walls, the colors (red seemed to dominate) complete opposition to the muddled emotional selves of the characters.
Could not help but also notice the art on the walls of Martel's mansion, the paintings of guns including one showing a rifle lowered, leveled and raised.. phallic symbolism? Power? For as powerful as Martel was, he was utterly powerless, completely captive to Lena, willing to go to tremendous lengths to keep her.
I have to try to catch some of Almodovar's earlier movies, just to see if the male characters always paled in comparison to the females. The camera here certainly loves Cruz, and her character here compared to the mother she played in Volver, is one which is more on an edge.
While I did not think this was one of Almodovar's better movies, it certainly held my attention.
Trailer below..

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Sin Nombre... Not A review...

While I don't often put a lot of stock in top 10 lists for the year, I do use them as a sort of a guide to see what the different critics/publications/organizations think are the top movies of the year. One such movie that I saw on a few lists and had read some good things about was "Sin Nombre".
I got a chance to finally see this movie on Netflix, available via streaming online. I was amazed at the quality of the movie online, on the HDTV it streamed with out a stutter, and the picture quality was gorgeous.
We all take our names and whatever goes along with it like our identity, for granted. But what if you had to leave it all behind whether by choice or circumstances, and undertake a journey across borders not just physical but also those of the moral kind?
Sin Nombre (Without Name) is about that, a road movie with elements of a crime thriller thrown in. It is unflinching in it's depiction of the violence and the inner workings of the real life gang Mara Salvatrucha, (and those that are caught up in it willingly or otherwise). It also about the desperation that drives people from South America to come north in the search of a better life. The destitute migrants waiting for the trains up north while camped along the tracks in rail yards are depicted with a realism, that stays with the viewer. The movie is also about heartbreak and it held my attention from start to finish.
At it's heart Sin Nombre really is about two parallel stories that soon intersect. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), is a young woman from Honduras who joins her father and uncle a long journey thru Guatemala and Mexico. Their eventual destination is her father's family in New Jersey. The other story is involves Willy, aka Casper (Édgar Flores), a young gang member, who is inducting the 12 year old Smiley (Kristian Ferrer) in to the gang. But Casper is not as much in to the gang as his leader lil Mago ( a convincing Tenoch Huerta) would like. Casper is more in to Martha (Diana Garcia), with Smiley often tagging along during their liaisons. As a part of the initiation process, Smiley is beaten up and then commanded, along with Casper to shoot a captured street rival.
The victim is then chopped and fed to dogs. Martha meanwhile is not taking to kindly to being kept in the shadows by Casper regarding his activities and shows up recklessly at a gang meet, setting in motion a series of violent acts, culminating with Casper fleeing north on top of the freight train with Sayra and her family. Sayra and Casper form an unlikely team and share something of a bond. I do not dare call it anything else. Their fates are tragically sealed, linked as they are by Casper's singular act when he, lil Mago and Smiley board the freight train to rob the migrants.
I actually found the most chilling character to be not lil Mago, but Smiley. The hypnotic gang culture seduces Smiley and by the end of this movie, he is no longer a child.
The one other thing I noticed about the movie was its cinematography. The shots of the train and countryside are truly beautiful. I also loved how the movie open with Casper staring at a poster of a forest ablaze with fall colors, that and Martha who he loves the only things of beauty in his life.
I also liked how a couple of scenes showed the dichotomy of feelings towards migrants. Along the journey north there are children along the way who welcome the migrants on the train by tossing fruit at them, while further north children welcome them with rocks as the train passes thru.
It is hard to believe that "Sin Nombre" is the directorial feature debut of writer/director Cary Fukunaga, and I can see why he received the director's award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, which also recognized this movie's outstanding cinematography by Adriano Goldman.
The actors in Sin Nombre may no names to us, but they are all amazing, and a testament to the wonderful job they and Fukunaga have done.
I could be wrong, but this is a gritty movie, yet it felt pretty and that may be due to the cinematography. Don't get me wrong though, this is a movie worth seeing.
So what inspired Fukunaga to make this movie? An interview with him along with a trailer of the movie is here.
Also embedded below.