Monday, July 30, 2012

Torremolinos 73 (2003) ****

         In this outrageously funny and sexy Spanish film by director Pablo Berger, a man and his wife receive an offer they can’t refuse.  Struggling encyclopedia salesman Alfredo Lopez (Javier Camara) and his wife Carmen (Candela Pena) are offered the opportunity to make “educational films” about Spanish sexual practices, to be sold in Scandinavian countries.  On the verge of bankruptcy, they agree, and take to it surprisingly well.  Alfredo discovers a hidden talent for filmmaking, and the formerly demur Carmen becomes quite the wanton under the gaze of the camera.  Their films are a smash, but eventually they are forced to reconcile their new profession with Carmen’s desire to have a child and Alfredo’s desire to make a legitimate film.

Despite this being a foreign film, I’m a bit surprised never to have heard of it.  It is incredibly entertaining.  The balance of humor and graphic sex is perfect, lending an innocence to this very carnal story.  With the 1970’s Franco-era setting, this black and white film is full of bleak grays, but the humor of the movie uplifts it and makes it lighthearted and fun.  Interestingly, the film is apparently loosely based on a true story.  According to writer and director Pablo Berger, the story was inspired by the life of porn/horror director Jesus Franco.   Whatever the truth behind the film, I highly recommend it for those who are into subtitles and nudity.

4 stars out of 5

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Medianeras (“Sidewalls” 2011 ) ****

In an effort to learn Spanish, I’ve been watching a lot of Spanish-language movies, and not worrying too much about the quality.  It was nice, finally, to watch one that is quite well done.  This little Argentinean, romantic comedy is philosophical, charming, and visually beautiful.
Martin (Javier Drolas), an agoraphobic website designer and Mariana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), an underemployed architect, live on the same street in Buenos Aires.  Both are depressed and lonely.  As both go through a series of futile dates, we come to see that they would be perfect for each other, but of course, the odds of the two of them meeting in such a huge city are not good.  The city has ways of putting up barriers between people, and the theme of the film is that successfully making a life in such a place requires physically and mentally breaking through those barriers.
Meanwhile, the camera lingers on the skyline and the individual buildings of Buenos Aires, gray and inhuman.  The variety of buildings is endless, and many have blank, windowless sidewalls, called medianeras.  These blank spaces are used for billboards, an ugly alternative to what could have been light-bringing windows, and many apartment- dwellers rebel by chipping through the concrete to place unauthorized windows.
Despite the urban philosophizing and beautiful cinematography, “Medianeras” does not demand to be taken too seriously.  It’s a fun, optimistic, romantic comedy which declares that, as one of the songs in the film puts it, “true love will find you in the end.”  Amen to that.

4 stars out of 5

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) ***

The thing is, I like Wes Anderson, but I’m beginning to suspect that once you’ve seen a couple of his movies, you’ve seen them all.  The goofy shtick that makes up his adult fairy tales is so distinctive and repetitive that, like AC/DC albums, his films start to run together.  I think that you could watch “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” and call yourself an expert on Wes Anderson.  Nothing I have seen by him since those films has moved his vision forward or offered anything really new.
That’s not to say that Anderson’s latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” isn’t pleasant enough.  It’s a story of young love, a commentary on being different, and a tale of how the daily grind of adult life can gradually lead to disappointment.  Hollywood newcomer Jared Gilman plays Sam, a 12-year-old “Khaki Scout” and social misfit who sneaks away from camp to meet up with Suzy (fellow newcomer Kara Hayward).  Suzy has her own problems fitting in, and the two share a tragic bond of awkwardness, made less tragic because it is shared.  The odyssey of their trek across a small, New England island draws in Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), the island’s lone policeman (Bruce Willis), and Sam’s scout troop, including his sympathetic, bumbling scoutmaster (Edward Norton).  Meanwhile, we learn that Suzy’s mom knows a little bit about forbidden love herself.  The tale is set in the 1960’s, and culminates with surrealist abandon during an historic New England hurricane.
I find myself wavering between liking “Moonrise Kingdom” and criticizing it for being the same old, Wes Anderson song-and-dance.  I think it’s fair to say the film deserves both.  On display are Anderson’s signature oddballs, with their stiff way of talking and their emotional wounds.  His recurring them is that families of all varieties are full of dysfunctional people and relationships, but they are all we’ve got.  I think he said it better in “The Royal Tenenbaums.”  Likewise his commentary about how difficult it is to grow up as a slightly odd kid is welcome, but it sparkled more in “Rushmore.”
Viewed on it’s own merits, “Moonrise Kingdom” deserves kudos for its child stars.  Gilman and Hayward adeptly lend their creepy, wounded characters the right balance of precociousness and innocence.  Their love story is sweet, and it provides a good backdrop for Suzy’s mom’s tragic love-life.  I liked the poignant juxtaposition of Suzy, who is free to pursue true, passionate love, but isn’t old enough, and her Mom, whose freedom to pursue that kind of love is shackled by the responsibilities that age brings.  I also enjoyed the sheer outdoorsiness of Sam and Suzy’s trek through nature.  For a weird kid, Sam is quite an expert on hiking, fishing, and camping.
Overall, I recommend “Moonrise Kingdom.”  It’s a fun, sweet story.  For Wes Anderson fans, this is more of what you love from him.  For those who don’t know Anderson’s work, I would strongly suggest watching “Rushmore” and the other films mentioned above.

3 stars out of 5