Lita On Film

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

“Rabia” (“Rage”) (2009)

In Film Reviews on January 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Find this review on ScreenComment.com!

Director Sebastian Cordero’s third film, “Rage” (“Rabia”), follows two immigrants in a hostile, xenophobic Spain as they try to scrape together a living.  After José Maria (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), the origin of the eponymous rage, accidentally kills his boss on a construction site, he takes refuge inside the huge mansion where Rosa (Martina Garcia) works as a housekeeper.  The rest of the film follows Rosa’s travails as José Maria silently watches, starving in the shadowy attic, until they’re finally reunited.

Cordero’s film ends rather predictably (though I won’t spoil it for you), but its strength is in its period of limbo, when Rosa doesn’t know what’s happened to her boyfriend or what she’s going to do with her life.  Her feelings of uncertainty only get worse after she discovers she’s pregnant (by José Maria), and gets raped by her rich employers’ son (who, of course, is punished in due course).  Garcia’s performance is nicely understated–unaware that her paramour is watching her every move, she feels more and more isolated and alone.

The cinematography in “Rage” is one of the primary reasons that the film succeeds as a thriller, albeit a not terribly scary one.  The mansion’s interiors are often shot in very low light, which gives them an air that is both stately and slightly menacing.  Though Guillermo Del Toro produced “Rage,” (after producing another, much scarier haunted-house film called “The Orphanage” a few years ago) there is none of the usual special-effects madness here that populates his films.  Instead, “Rage” is almost serene in some places; the tension that powers its narrative exists more because of its characters’ longing for each other than because of any overt threat (except for the rapist) or impending cataclysm.

Cordero has also gone out of his way in this film to craft characters that are purposefully three-dimensional; even the rich wife who bosses Rosa around at first eventually shows a softer side, and ends up becoming the girl’s savior once she realizes she’s expecting.  Other screwed-up members of the wealthy family demonstrate that the good life often isn’t really that good, and Rosa and José Maria, with their utterly simple existence, begin to look much more like the ideal couple.

Cordero’s subtlety as both a screenwriter (“Rage” is adapted from a novel by Sergio Bizzio) and a director will certainly serve him well in his future endeavors – I just wish “Rage” had had a tiny bit more spice to it.

“Rage” opens on January 28th in NYC (at Cinema Village).

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Making The Boys (2009)

In Film Reviews on January 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm

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In his latest documentary “Making The Boys,” director Crayton Robey (“Where Ocean Meets Sky”) investigates the legacy of the iconic play “The Boys in the Band,” which became both a rallying cry and a bone of contention in the gay rights movement of the 60s and 70s, and remains so to this day.  Playwright Mart Crowley, a close friend of Natalie Wood, is the star of the film, and walks the audience through both his personal history and the contemporary events that inspired his groundbreaking work.

“Making” is extremely well organized; the film’s pacing is excellent, and its basic structure (interviews spliced together with period photos and footage) works well to give the audience the fullest possible picture of its subject.  The selection of interviewees is a treat: everyone from Edward Albee to Dan Savage gets to say their piece, and the commentary is lively.  Not everyone agrees on the exact nature of the play’s impact on the gay community; the fact that “Making” chooses to include so many differing points fo view is a testament to its desire to examine its subject thoroughly, not to merely patronize it.

Robey’s film is a study in the complicated nature of representation.  While it was initially hailed for its no-holds-barred portrayal of the “gay lifestyle” in the late 60s, “The Boys in the Band” quickly became outdated; its reputation for characterizing gay men as essentially self-hating was soon deemed damaging to the burgeoning gay rights movement.  By the time William Friedkin’s film version was released in 1970, “The Boys in the Band” had already been relegated to the pantheon of pre-Stonewall art that now appeared not just out of touch, but dangerously regressive.

Crowley reflects on all of this with introspection and wit, and others involved in the original stage production have no qualms about delving into the play’s complicated history and legacy.  Many of the original cast members had their careers nearly destroyed after playing out gay characters, and several ended up dying of AIDS in the 80s and 90s.  Forty years later, “The Boys in the Band” is now seen as the beginning of a new era in gay history, rather than as the end of an old one best forgotten.

“Making The Boys” does “The Boys in the Band” a great service, and will certainly interest a new generation of viewers in learning about the foundation that films like “Brokeback Mountain” were built on.

“Making The Boys” is scheduled to open in NYC in March, 2011.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)

In Film Reviews on January 8, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Find this review on ScreenComment.com!

Fans of the Stieg Larsson trilogy can rejoice that the second film installment has arrived from Sweden.  A new director, Daniel Alfredson, has taken over the trilogy from Neils Arden Oplev, who directed the first film, and things are still moving along at breakneck speed.  All the writers who have worked on adapting the novels for the screen have done an excellent job; the essentials of the story are all preserved, but the fat is trimmed around the edges.  It’s an object lesson in how to translate a novel into a film.

The story still centers on cyberpunk genius Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace, enigmatic and fabulous) and her friend, journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist).  After solving a 40-year-old mystery together in the first film, the pair find themselves drawn into a top secret government conspiracy when they uncover the name of a defected Russian spy.  Soon Lisbeth is being hunted by just about everyone, and Mikael is once again working overtime to try and clear her name.  Throw some new bad guys, including a blond giant who can’t feel pain, into the mix, and you’ve got a crackling little thriller.

“The Girl Who Played With Fire” does display some of the weaknesses one usually finds in the middle of a trilogy—it’s a bit confusing and doesn’t explain itself terribly well, and the ending definitely leaves you hanging.  That being said, the performances are excellent and the action moves along so quickly that you’re left gasping to keep up.  Other than a single salacious scene, not much is made of Salander’s bisexual exploits (which aren’t explored in the first film); since women seem to have to be either married (“The Kids Are Alright”) or insane (“Black Swan”) to have sex with other women in current American cinema, one wonders about how this aspect of Salander’s character will be dealt with in the upcoming American remakes.  Stay tuned.

“Fire” definitely keeps the energy of the “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy going, but I have a feeling that the final installment, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” will be the crowning achievement.  Fans of the novels won’t be disappointed with this film, and even those not familiar with the story can—with a little help, and some subtitle reading—follow along.  It’s all great fun to feel that we’re all living in Salander’s world, and this film will make you keep wanting to come back for more.

“The Girl Who Played With Fire” is currently available on DVD.

Valhalla Rising (2009)

In Film Reviews on January 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm

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What do you get when a director known for uncompromising ultra-violence decides to do a period piece—set in 1,000AD Viking country, that is?  In a word, a masterpiece.

Danish enfant terrible Nicolas Winding Refn (director of the cult hit “Pusher” series) made his latest film, “Valhalla Rising,” after an aborted attempt at making a “real” horror movie (Refn’s favorite film is the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”).  But “Valhalla” itself almost qualifies for that title; it’s blunt, violent, and almost completely without dialogue.  That being said it’s also hypnotically beautiful, and even the pretentiousness of Refn’s decision to label each section of the film (“Wrath,” “Hell,” “Sacrifice”) ends up, somehow, working in his favor.

The film follows Mads Mikkelsen, a frequent Refn collaborator, as One-Eye, a mute Viking mercenary with a badass facial scar who is being held captive by a band of nomadic warriors.  The all-male group keeps One-Eye alive in order to make money off of his superhuman strength—they pit him against rival warrior captives for money, like dogfighting, and he never loses.  One day, he decides he’s had enough and breaks free, killing almost everyone in the group except a young boy, who follows One-Eye around like an ersatz son.

The two strike out only to quickly fall in with a group of Christian crusaders bent on reaching Jerusalem.  Eventually, One-Eye is convinced to go along on the journey, but inevitably things do not go according to plan.  When the party finally reaches dry land (not Jerusalem – America) they have no idea where they are, and tensions rise.  Refn makes much of the hypocrisy of these religious men, who sit around pontificating (and murdering each other) while One-Eye figures out the more mundane stuff, like finding food.  One gets the feeling that Refn has rather strong feelings on the difference between real and artificial morality; One-Eye’s brutality is presented as crude but admirable, whereas the Brothers, bent on forcible conversion of the Pagans, are figured as monstrous in the extreme.

In the end, though, One-Eye can be interpreted as a messiah figure of sorts—a European invader sacrificing himself for the sins of all those who come after him.  The film can easily be read as a reinterpretation of classic Greek epics, or perhaps as a retelling of “Heart of Darkness,” though none of Refn’s references are direct enough to make unpacking “Valhalla” an easy task.  But it’s precisely this generous ambiguity that makes the film feel thematically (as well as literally) expansive.  You can read into it whatever you want—or nothing at all.  “Valhalla’s” meditative quality sets the film apart from any other old-school warrior flick you’ve ever seen; though it was shot primarily in Scotland, it’s as different from “Braveheart” as it’s possible to be.  And trust me, that’s a good thing.

“Valhalla Rising” is currently available on DVD.