Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rango (2011)

This film kind of freaked us both out. As the credits rolled V said that in truth she hated it, but hate is perhaps a more nuanced verb in her vocabulary than English-as-first-language-speakers might initially expect.

I was impressed by Rango, and I certainly enjoyed it on a number of levels, though whether I actually liked it is another matter. In some ways Gore Verbinski's foray into digital animation is a weird experiment in expectation mismanagement.

We've all heard how the genius of Disney-Pixar manifests itself in the way they fashion child-appealing, character-driven narratives which are nevertheless peppered with plenty of knowing references and gags, even underlying story subtexts to leave the parents wet-eyed in the aisles.

Well, here the polarity has been startlingly reversed. The jokes about prostate examinations are not here for mere decoration so to speak. They are part of its dark, disturbing, downright ugly existential fabric...and the kids get the kinetic stuff to keep them hooked to the end on sheer visual excitement. (Johnny Depp's performance is, as ever, note perfect for all audiences.)

I had assumed this must have been made for 3D, but in fact it looks as if Verbinski has deployed his digimation with a view to showing us just how unnecessary the extra dimension can be. There's an enormous beauty in all this ugliness, and I think this is very much part of the movie'a adult depth. This is a satire which stands some comparison with the classic westerns it is exhuming.

As a young teen I found High Plains Drifter a tad disconcerting...but a decade earlier it was Chuck Jones's bizarre psychedelic animation blend The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) which inserted itself immediately into my dreams, and nightmares. Rango has, I suspect, a similar power to mess with forming imaginations.

Grade: hmmm....B (++).

Bésame Mucho no5 - Nihongo Flamenco

Mis respetos.

Bésame Mucho no4 - Bossa Nova

Now this is more like it...

Rosa Passos doesn't look much like the girl in this video, i.e. and when she passes each one she passes goes ah. More's the pity...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bésame Mucho no3 - You're not doing it right

Back in the early 90s I used to think Thalía was cute, probably before I'd heard her sing.

I can't listen to this clip without thinking of Marilyn's "Happy Birthday Mr President". And as for the outfit, was she sending some sort of subliminal sartorial message to the producers of El Clon?

It's a wonder she still has a recording contract. Hold on, no it's not — she's married to Tommy Mottola, who traded down a bit in terms of vocal talent at least after his split from Mariah Carey.

With so many versions of this classic song out in the ether, there were bound to be a few turds, and I will surely spare you the majority of these, however Thalía's rendition with it's excruciating pauses and overworked notes has a certain negative bewitchery of distinction.

Bésame Mucho no2 - You're doing it right

This is the version through which Consuelo Velásquez's song achieved worldwide fame recorded by the Chilean bolero-singer Lucho Gatica in 1953, 22 years after it was originally composed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bésame Mucho no1 - Live in the Parque Central

This famous little ditty was composed by a 15-year-old Mexican girl in 1931 when, so she said, she herself had yet to experience the pleasure of her first kiss.

Here's it is performed very capably by Maestro Hugo Cruz, the star musician of Cuban-emigre band Orquestra Casa Blanca in Antigua's Parque Central last Monday...Santiago day. Having positioned myself at the rear on the Cathedral steps, I had to run round to the front to capture the rest of Cruz's solo with its gypsy-inflected encore.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Animal Kingdom (2010)

David Michôd's directorial debut features an interesting narrative sleight of hand...for this is a movie about a family of bank robbers, none of whom do we ever see actually attempting to rob a bank. And frankly by the end of the film, I was beginning to doubt whether any of them would be up to it. Is this significant? Well yes. Imagine a movie about a clan of shoe-shiners in which no shoes are actually shone in 113 minutes.

But the potential at least for enforced cash withdrawals means that Michôd can locate his self-consciously naturalistic family drama in the familiar moral wilderness of the criminal underworld.

There are in fact two families (or tribes) in this landscape, the Codys led by their manipulative matriarch Janine, and the Melbourne cops, seemingly driven by similarly unpredictable and violently vindictive urges. Beneath this perennial group-level conflict, the film focuses on the individual set to between newcomer Joshua "J' Cody and the unhinged alpha male Andrew "Pope" Cody, played superbly by Ben Mendelsohn. This is another one of those dramas without much of a moral centre, but David Michôd squeezes out the inherent tension in Joshua's situation to exciting effect.

Grade: B++

Ambassador Bolton

Has been a bugbear of mine since his ludicrously obstreperous appearance on David Dimbleby's presidential election night show in 2008. Clearly John Bolton feels more comfortable in the company of his own sort. And so it was that he appeared on Fox News on Friday night, and in spite of the reported arrest of a lone, blond-haired Norwegian man with apparent extremist political and religious views, the massacre was still in his opinion, unlikely to the the work of local right-wingers.

Charlie Brooker also saw this bizarre interview:

"Some remained scarily defiant in the face of the new unfolding reality. On Saturday morning I saw a Fox News anchor tell former US diplomat John Bolton that Norwegian police were saying this appeared to be an Oklahoma-style attack, then ask him how that squared with his earlier assessment that al-Qaida were involved. He was sceptical. It was still too early to leap to conclusions, he said. We should wait for all the facts before rushing to judgment. In other words: assume it's the Muslims until it starts to look like it isn't – at which point, continue to assume it's them anyway."

What this confirmed for me was the now almost absolute association in American political discourse, especially that of the right, between fact and opinion. If I believe something to be so, then it must be, and more's the point, you must also believe it to be so.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Kidnapper (2010)

There aren't many people more self-righteous than the former Colombian kidnap victim. The Queen of them all is of course Ingrid Betancourt, but not far behind in bleeting self-regard come the three Yanks who were snatched from the clutches La FARC at the same time. In comparison British TV-producer Brian Henderson and the eight tourists kidnapped in the Sierra Nevada are relatively small time, as indeed was the guerrilla organisation which took them, the ELN. And they got off lightly — just over three months in the jungle - compared to the more normal fate of local political and military captives.

I've waded through enough of this material to have garnered a sense of what most irks me about these accounts of what was clearly genuine hardship. Firstly, the former kidnapees are mostly in denial about the extent to which they were asking to be captured. Betancourt was warned not to campaign in a FARC controlled zone and the authors of Out of Captivity were ex-military civilian contractors flying interdiction missions over the guerrillas' installations, and yet repeatedly pour scorn on the FARC's tendency to regard them as enemy combatants and mercenaries. Meanwhile Henderson and the seven others the ELN picked up at La Ciudad Perdida had apparently been told the area was safe for tourists, yet we later learn somewhat indirectly that this is at best a partial truth, because one of them, the German Reini Weigel was subsequently sent the bill for her rescue by her government: relevant travel warnings were in place at the time. (The Germans do of course have the perfect word for the emotions welling up at this point in Henderson's documentary: schadenfreude.)

Secondly, their sense of their own importance is hard to square with their sense of the comparative unimportance of the conflicts that beset Colombia. Henderson's attempt to re-encounter and understand Antonio, one of his ELN guards, has a whiff of anthropological expedition about it. The committed guerrilla is exposed as a man living within a closed intellectual milieu and on at least one occasion Henderson uses the term 'the real world' to refer to the perspective of the cosmopolitan foreign outsider.

This sense that the issues that underlie the context for the kidnapping are informed by inherently myopic viewpoints and ideologies both narrow and shallow, provides an excuse for not providing any real analysis of them. And of course the kidnapped individuals are all exposed to the insurgency at grunt level, surely not the best place to comment on the wider drivers and motivations. Could one really gain an accurate understanding of Britain's strategic objectives in Afghanistan by interviewing a private on patrol in Kandahar?

So, having failed to deliver any real political interest, My Kidnapper goes on to disappoint on the level of human interest. Antonio's real identity is so camouflaged, that all Henderson gets out of what is supposed to be the emotional crux of the movie is a rather stilted and controlled apology for suffering caused.

The two Israelis who go back to the scene of the crime with Mark and Reini (but crucially are not permitted to meet up with now retired guerrilla Antonio and his partner) are superficially the least likeable of the returning victims, but there's an admirable side to their aggressive paranoia under these circumstances — and it's undoubtedly truthful, as anyone that has rubbed up against examples of the multitude of Israelis backpacking around Central America could testify to. Better their dogged hostility to their oppressors, than all that wittering about lost freedoms which often sound more like lost privileges.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

An interesting correlation?

"If we take the term ‘morally worse’ as purely descriptive, denoting people whose characters generally appear to be morally worse than average, and if we restrict our attention to those who have had some non-negligible degree of education, we find that people who have religious convictions are on the whole morally worse than people who lack them. Are the religious worse because they’re religious, or are they religious because they’re worse?

"The first direction of causation is well known, but it’s the second that is more prominent in everyday life. The religious (sociologically speaking) tend to be religious because religious belief provides them with a framework in which they can handle certain unattractive elements in themselves. In converts – those who take up religion without having been brought up in it, or without having previously taken it seriously – the correlation between religious belief and relative moral badness in the strictly descriptive sense (which is not incompatible with charm) is particularly striking."

Galen Strawson

Friday, July 08, 2011

No exceptions...

"It's impossible no exceptions for the genuine spiritual or religious impulse to achieve full expression in religions that mandate belief in a supernatural, personal God. There have been genuinely religious Abrahamists, but only because they have somehow maintained the forms of personal God religions, while in fact having abandoned any such belief.

"Some people think that men like St Paul and St Augustine are exemplary instances of what it is to possess the religious temperament. It's easy to see why they have this reputation as long as we stick to the sociological understanding of religion: both were brilliant monsters of egotism, and almost all religious belief, considered as a sociological phenomenon, is about self."

Galen Strawson, British philosopher

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Match Point (2005)

Rather like that other memorable London-based movie Closer, Woody Allen's Match Point has profound failings baked into its very fabric, and yet somehow manages to end up as a markedly satisfying experience.

As for those failings, let's start with those which have nothing to do with the location. Whilst not irritatingly 'stagey' like that of Closer, too often the dialogue here is clumsily unrealistic, with characters delivering lines too obviously scripted to convey information to the audience rather than the designated interlocutor on screen.

There's no attempt at disguise and Allen has made things harder for himself by crafting his story with such one dimensional characters out of whose mouths any sort of nuance would have seemed unrealistic in its own way. Having given this aspect of the film some consideration, I'm not so sure however that it is a failing as such. Jonathan Rys-Myers delivers and eerily empty performance as retired tennis-pro Chris Evans, inscrutable in his calculating moral detachment. If any of the other main players had been more rounded, the subtlety of this impersonation might have been drowned out. (The script does her few favours, but Johansson appears to be trying hard with Nola, especially drunk Nola.)

Anyway, the real problems here have to do with the switch from NYC to London, facilitated by a load of dosh from the BBC. Maybe there wasn't time to rethink the narrative too carefully, but the first sign of trouble shows up with Evans apparently using a knowledge of Dostoevsky and opera and presenting himself generally as "non trivial" in order to gain entry to the upper echelons of British society. Like that would work!

Back in Manhattan of course, there's a much clearer association between high society and high culture, between cosmopolitanism and support for the arts (as well as charity in general).

Only recently I was at one of London's leading arts venues with Frode. and having noted how unaffected our fellow audience-members were, he duly confided to me that the realisation had come to him rather belatedly in life that New York is a far more snobbish, class-based environment than London. This didn't come as news to me, as I recalled my father's experiences when he opened an office over there in the 80s and his future partners attempted to impress him with evenings at the sick-making University Club. And then there was my own visit to the Met last May, where the lobby's fill up with individuals one would hesitate to describe as unaffected.

Our class system is not non-existent for sure, but for outsiders it's certainly a bit of a minefield and Allen comes out of this little foray into it minus his foot. Brian Cox has been about as miscast as his namesake the TV professor of physics would have been as the country pad patrician. And the lines this bizarre family deliver are packed with jarring solecisms, bogus 'U' vocabulary and bizarre non-sequiturs; my personal favourite being "I grew up in Belgravia, so...", largely because I could say it myself, but of course wouldn't.

I suppose this may be an issue which is only going to bother us Brits. But there are subsidiary issues of verisimilitude. I mean, how likely is it that two tennis players from these islands good enough to play on the main ATP tour, would meet by chance on Old Bond Street? A location Allen reuses for yet another non-tennis related fortuitous encounter in the movie. This was surely intended to be Fifth Avenue in the original conception. I wonder whether it also had Nola penciled in as a Brit?!


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Somos Lo Que Hay (2010)

Mexico DF has become the preferred global shooting location for cruel social metaphors with no moral centre. Reassurance was hard to come by in Amores Perros and La Zona, and so it is too in this tale of a family of anthropophagites struggling to come to terms with the sudden loss of their patriarch and 'bread winner'.

The poster claims that the movie does for cannibals what Let The Right One In did for vampires, which is sadly not the case, because the Swedish movie had emotional depth. It has been well shot and the performances are generally strong (especially Paulina Gaitán from Sin Nombre), but having established that the widow and her three adolescent children have a particular penchant for munching on the soft underbelly of Mexican society, this becomes one more of the movies under-explored themes, along with 'el ritual', which although greatly advertised in the dialogue, never actually materialises and as a result one experiences the last act as a rush to completion.

Grade B(+)