Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts on Gomorra (Gomorrah)

There are a number of films (The Godfather, Scarface, et al.) that seem to glamorize the criminal underworld. Gomorra is not one of those films. It is unflinchingly faithful to the sordid reality that ensnares the lives of so many people trapped in the web of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate originating in the region of Campania). The film, as noted, is based on a reality. Cinematic-wise, however, a film can deviate from reality. Realistic films still hold on to some veneer of style in order to interest us. The opposite is true for documentaries, were the cinematography tries to be as faithful to reality as possible. This film treads a fine line between the two. It's precisely this that repelled me when I was watching it. Allow me to explain why I go against most people in saying this is not a great film.

The movie focuses on five different stories, all of them tainted by the crime surrounding them. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), an accountant who distributes money to the families of imprisoned gang members, wants to escape his job and move to a safer location. Toto (Nicoló Manta), a grocery boy, wants in on the action. Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupe) is an haute couture tailor looking to make an extra buck by training Chinese garment workers how to counterfeit the real deal. Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) are two teenage wannabe gangsters that dream of the life shown in movies like The Godfather and (their favorite) Scarface. On the other side of the coin, Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) and his boss Franco (Toni Servillo) are illegally disposing of waste in unused quarries. The common denominator to all these stories is more than their involvement with the crime around them. It's that they're, all of them, victims in some way or another. Neither them nor the local ganglords we see are really enjoying the glitz and glamour crime promised. They're all victims, in one way or another, of an uncaring system.

The film is quite skillful in depicting the bleak reality of the crime-soaked lives it explores. It uses unadorned camerawork and photography, nearly documentary-level in style. Though, objectively, I can see the point to this, it just isn't my taste. Even in realistic films the world is heightened, even if it's just in the visual style of the film. You look out your window and the world doesn't look exactly like in the movies. The closest we come to that is a documentary. This film walks the line between the two approaches, but I would've much preferred it choose a side and stick with it. I realize the film's fiction is a lure to get the audience to pay attention to the reality it wants to shine a light on. In the end, though, I just feel duped. It was the ending notes that did it in for me. If the film was content with depicting reality as it is and nothing more, why would it try to push us in such a moralistic, after-school special way?

I like fantasy (think The Godfather) and history (think Excellent Cadavers) in different ways, which is not to say I prefer either one over the other. History (hopefully) offers us a way to overcome our mistakes, while fantasy offers us a welcome escape from these mistakes. I would've much rather the film choose a side in these polar opposites in the film spectrum, rather than sit in the middle. I understand the power of film as a tool to comment on the state of society, but I don't want that to be used as an excuse for a film being mediocre in other areas.

Le verdict: **

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A star in the Galaverse (a.k.a. Twitter works, people!)

Isn't she the most gorgeous candy-haired International Playgirl in the land?

Okay, let me set the scene for you. I'm in my philosophy class and it's workshop day. We basically sit and write essays for our final project (a book detailing our personal philosophy) during workshop days. I was writing and hit a block and decided to clear my head for a few minutes by checking out some of the blogs I usually read. I was checking iCiNG and decided to see what Gala (a truly outstanding person. But you know that already from checking out my Required Reading, right?) had changed on her link list, since she's posted something to that effect on her weekly Carousel. Imagine my surprise when I saw a pretty little link to Monsieur Cinema, right there in the thick of it. I proceeded to do the one thing I could manage to do in that situation and did my own version of Kathy Griffin's gay inhale. Now, this might not sound like much; but picture it happening during a quiet lull in the classroom and you have everyone turning their necks to look at me like I'm a mental patient (and me not caring one bit. Much too huge a deal to care.). Granted, I had sent Gala a link to the site when she asked her nonpareils (iCiNG codeword for Gala's undying legion of fans) for links to their sites since she was updating her link list. I, however, did not expect her to actually put me in the list, given her humongous following. I thought I would only be a blip in a flurry of tweets. Well, call it the little blip-that-could because I'm in! I think, my dear readers, this is one of those moments that tell me starting this blog was definitely a good idea. Expect a Gala homage (the woman is deserving of it, link-list-add or not) post tout de suite.

Au revoir, Monsieur Cinema.

P.S. I realize this post could be construed as more than a little self-serving, but bear with me; those are not my intentions. I merely want to share the joy I felt when I saw this with you, my dear and faithful readers. Je suis très hereux, mes petits. Très hereux, indeed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What a Glee-ful start!

This my friends, will no doubt sound like a fluff piece to you when you're done reading it. But, I swear to you, it's not! I just really, really loved it. And by "it" I mean the second episode of the marvelous Glee. The pilot showed a lot of potential, but potential doesn't always turn into greatness. Well, my dear readers, here it does, and in spades of it.

"Showmance" is the much-hyped series second episode, arriving a full 4 months after the pilot premiered in May. With something as hyped-to-the-heavens as Glee, one has reasonable fear that it'll disappoint when it actually shows up. This, of course, is a mistake. Not only did the episode deliver on the pilot's promise, it went above and beyond. The script had some brilliant, snark-tastic bits of dialogue. Of special note in this department is Jane Lynch's cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. I swear, there's not a dull moment when she's on the screen. The rest of the cast, however, is not neglected by the script, which delivers equal parts satire and heart.

Of course, one of the main features of the show is the musical numbers, and they did not disappoint. Whether rapping to Kanye West's Gold Digger (who knew Matthew Morrison could rap? Apparently, Lea Michele: "We don't call him Mattie Fresh for nothing...") or belting out to Rihanna's Take a Bow (in a scene that is further proof that Lea Michele really is as good an actress as she is a singer), the show really delivers on its musical premise.

Overall, I really liked the series and hope the rest of the public will agree with me, lest this turn into my new Pushing Daisies. And you, my readers, what did you think of Glee? Let me know in the comments.

Le verdict (so far): ****

P.S. All images in these post can be originally found in gleeimages.com's gallery.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Thoughts on Orphan

Scary movies have a love-hate relationship with me. I always see the trailers and grow interested and then fight my reticence to see them. Almost always, immediately after exiting the theater I feel regret. Regret because I know I'm gonna be skittish all night long after watching a scary movie, yet again. Orphan, however, was enough of a draw (the trailer was suitably intriguing) for me to momentarily put aside my fears. I do not regret it.

Orphan is the story of the Coleman family and their newest member, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). We learn at the very beginning of the story that Coleman mother Kate (Vera Farmiga) had a miscarriage and that prompted her to attempt adoption. She already has two other kids: a partially deaf daughter named Max (Aryana Engineer) and a spoiled-yet-ignored son named Daniel (Jimmy Bennett). Her desire to make up for the miscarriage and get another kid is just too much, so she and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) register and start looking around orphanages. They eventually find a very charming and proper girl named Esther.

As is customary in these kind of movies (the child-from-hell genre, specifically), everything seems fine at first. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Esther has a dark side to her charming persona. Not only has she lied about her past, she actively undermines Kate and manipulates the people around her. One of the more odd things surrounding Esther is her fixation with the ribbons around her neck and wrists. She never removes them and any attempt to do so results in her screaming and flailing around. All of this arouses Kate's suspicions, but her misgivings about her new child are not well received by the people around her.

Even if the heroine-who-nobody-believes is a tired element in the horror genre, here it plays seamlessly; all thanks to Esther's machinations. What isn't half as easy to swallow is Farmiga's performance. She overacts in each and every scene she's in. You would think it's a bit hard to look fake when you're screaming after your endangered children (not much to do really, just scream and run after them), but Farmiga is so ham-endowed she even botches this.

More decent (though not by a long shot) is Sarsgaard's John, who (along with Kate, come to think of it) plays the stereotypical yuppie XXI century father. The scenes where he does lash out at Kate in frustration, however, ring true. Sarsgaard manages to remain bitter and oblivious yet oddly relatable.

The film's standouts lie not, however, with the adults. Rather, it's in Engineer and Fuhrman's performance's that the film really shines. Not only does their twisted sister dynamic manage to stay interesting; they also manage very decently when on their own.

Engineer's Max is a role that (much like Jadagrace Berry's in Terminator Salvation)requires her to be very expressive with her face without going overboard. Her fear and pain also genuinely make you feel sorry for her situation.

The cause of this fear and pain, of course, is the increasingly deranged Esther, who shines in Fuhrman's hands. She is charming, as noted above. This, of course, does not stop her from also being a chilling sociopath. It's the little things really: an evil glare here and there, a sadistic smile watching a fire, a realistic Russian accent, et al. The movie uses a lot of psychological thriller conventions, so the villain role really has to stand out for us to get interested. If it weren't for Fuhrman, the film wouldn't be half as interesting (or spooky) as it is.

Like I said above, the film works entirely within the conventions of the genre. These go from the lone-standing female heroine nobody believes to the shocking reveal of the villain's nature/identity. As a friend of mine noted, the makers of this film must have worked pretty hard to avoid stepping on clichés in this department. The ShockReveal isn't as shocking as others, but I'll still give it points on originality. Some better casting decisions and a tighter script around some scenes could've really elevated this to classic, Rosemary territory.

Le verdict: **