Monday, May 28, 2007

Before Sunrise & Before Sunset

I've seen a couple of Woody Allen movies. They're really wordy, funny, clever and thought-provoking.

But with Before Sunrise/Sunset, you would have to add "enchanting" to that list of adjectives. I'm going to review both films simultaneously.

Guy and girl meets on a train across Europe. Guy is a typical dumb American who doesn't speak any foreign languages, and girl is a typical tough but sexy French with ambitions and who knows what she wants. Guy asks girl to get down in Vienna with him. She does. They don't have enough money, so the streets of Vienna become their free hotel room for the night. They talk, and talk, and talk some more, meet a palm reader, a street poet, a dancer, go to a club and watch a gig, all the while talking about everything from monkeys to feminism to sex. Morning comes, and they part ways, knowing they might never see each other again despite the chemistry they think they have. They promise they will meet again in Vienna in six months, but the girl never shows up.

Nine years later, guy publishes a book about that one night in Vienna. Girl reads it, knows he is coming to Paris for a book-signing session, meets him for the second time, and hop! All the talking starts up again. They talk in a little Parisian café, on the street, on a Seine River boat, in the car. This time, the conversations are more mature and more real, about marriage, about kids, about satisfaction, about liberating from desire, and about Nina Simone.

Sounds boring? Well, if this was what's written at the back of the DVD, I would have thrown it away faster than you could say "Fucking European love story". Luckily, they didn't write that crap. And i didn't throw the DVD away (yeah, right... like I actually would waste my hard-earned money on a DVD these days, if you know what I mean.)

Anywayyy... The essence of the movie is the conversations. Some might call them pseudo-intellectual, and I'd partially agree with that. In Sunrise, they were young people who thought they knew everything, but as they talked, they realised how little the depth of their knowledge actually was. Thus the strings of unanswered questions, the illogical reasoning etc.. And I loved them. In Sunset, they were not exactly young, they knew a lot more (after all, it had been nine years), and they had finally understood that some questions were meant to be unanswered because the answers could be really painful.. And I still loved them.

The questions may be a little blah (because not a lot of people ask these questions anymore), but they're not stupid. I enjoyed listening to their discussions, and 40 minutes into the first movie, I was lusting over Celine (Julie Delpy) because her character was just reeking of beauty and intelligence, which is a deadly combination. Sometimes when Jesse (Ethan Hawke) didn't respond to her the way I would've, I got mad and felt like shoving him away from the screen so she would talk to me instead. That, of course, never happened.

Listening to people is not one of my best qualities. I get bored so easily, especially when they start talking about the dreams they had the night before. Everybody dreams, you know? So what, your dreams are the weirdest dreams of all the dreams people ever had? Dreams are all equally weird, SO GET OVER IT MOTHERFUCKER! If everybody started telling how weird their dreams were, wouldn't that be as stupid as stupid can get? However, when Jesse and Celine talk about their dreams, I was all ears. Why? I don't know. You just have to watch the movie to really feel it. This movie takes talking and listening to a whole new level.

I don't know, it's hard to review these two cinematic gems. I don't know where the climax is in each movie, and the characters don't develop that much. It's just beautifully weird. And DON'T watch this movie with silly friends who don't listen to the dialogues and are just waiting for the sex scenes. Firstly, because they're noisy and they make it hard to listen to what's being said (and the dialogues are extremely important). Secondly, because there's no sex scenes.

I give both movies a prefect ten.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

City of God

Welcome to the City of God, where children smoke pot, bullets are the currency and the law is a joke. Hoodlums become leaders, guns are a necessity and robbery is the way of life although, apparently, the notion of life itself doesn't mean much in this city. Living here, you're as good as dead.

Paradoxically, in the City of God, evil prevails.

Narrated by Rocket, an aspiring hood whose dreams get him out of the ghetto and a job in photojournalism, the story draws the downfall of humanity through the lives of thugs and drug lords hungry for power and notoriety in this deadly favela of Rio de Janeiro. The evolution of the characters in this movie is always the same : young kids fascinated by small-time gangsters, start out as drug messengers, learn how to handle guns, and climb the ladder by committing murders, executing robberies and dealing drugs.

This movie is all about the truth. Of course, the idea of the world no longer being safe is not a novelty. Like any Hong Kong action movies, the City of God depicts a crime-infested world, a morbid culture of violence, and how poverty and corruption spawn destruction. However, the directors, Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles know how to make this movie stand out by incorporating an almost flawless visual technique and a storytelling so graphic that watching this movie is a troubling experience.

Another thing that makes it special is that it puts the viewers inside every situation. It's like we're standing in the middle, watching every gunshot, every scream and every master psychopath at work. It makes us want to run for our lives, it makes us helpless, it creates a wanting to get the hell out of there and be as far away as we could. In the end, it makes us realise that violence is pointless and that we're lucky to only have seen all that on screen.

A hemophobic since I was a kid, I took four hours to finish watching this movie as the images of blood and death are peppered in every single scene. It's a powerful drama, but I'm not going to watch it again. Not in the near future, at least.

For those of you with a strong heart and a liking for sadism, this movie is going to be one of your favourites, I swear.

Oh and one more thing, it's in Brazilian Portuguese. Unless you speak the language, you'll be doing some reading for 124 minutes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's Eating Gilbert Grape

I have to admit that Leonardo DiCaprio has never been my favourite actor, no matter how highly Scorsese spoke of him, no matter how violently his films smashed the box office records, no matter how many young girls almost died from drooling over him. He just never made me want to watch any movies he was in, aside from Titanic (it's a good storyline after all, so it wasn't because of Leo).

I've never been a fan of Johnny Depp either. To cut it short, pretty actors don't fool me. Up until last night, I believed that Depp and Leo were just innit for the big moolah, and that their looks were the only reason why Hollywood didn't slam the door in their faces.

Enters What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a movie about philadelphia i.e. brotherly love (please go learn some Greek will ya?). Well, actually, it's not really that. It's more about the life of Gilbert Grape, a young man who becomes the sole breadwinner of his family after his father's death. Wait, I'm still not entirely sure. Is it actually about the difficulties of raising a retarded brother while also caring for a morbidly obese mother who can barely move a bone?

Come to think of it, that's the beauty of the film. You can't sum everything up in one sentence, as it won't do justice to it. For a start, I'll say I really loved it.

It's set in a tiny town called Endora, practically a no man's land where people probably don't move much, but they sure are nosy. Gilbert (Depp) works at Lamson, a little grocery store (everything is a "store" in the USA) suffering from sales decline due to the opening of Food Land, a new, flashy hypermarket where everybody goes. Having to constantly supervise Arnie (Leo), his retarded brother who's soon turning 18, everything becomes complicated with the presence of a new hottie in town, Becky ((Juliette Lewis). She's a well-travelled girl, the result of having lived in a camper with his mother all her life. They settle in Endora since their big, silver camper is in need of a repair.

However, Becky is not Gilbert's only problem (if you call falling in love a problem). Gilbert - despite being a good-hearted young man who puts his family above everything else - has long started an affair with Mrs. Carver, the wife of the local insurance salesman. He knows he must stop the dangerous liaison in order to start something up with Becky. All this while, through no fault of his own, he's been abandoning his own dreams. Through Becky, he sees what he needs. Someone to talk to, someone to listen to, someone to share everything with, and someone who accepts him, his retarded brother and his whale of a mother just the way they are. Becky makes him realise he has been sloughing off his desires for years, and she is his reward.

Of course, with his responsibilities towards his own large family, it's impossible to think that he can make room for another person in his life. Plus, he has a secret affair with someone's wife which obviously doesn't make things easier.

In this movie, Depp is amazing. He knows how to make his eyes speak, loud. It's not easy playing a guy who's holding back a lot of emotions, at the point of breaking down. He doesn't have a lot of dialogues to work with, but he pulls it off with a brilliant acting.

However, Leo DiCaprio is the true star in this movie. He doesn't act like a retarded 18 year-old, he is a retarded 18 year-old in this movie. He perfectly embodies a troublesome but lovable child and he completely captures the soul of Arnie. And to think that he was only 19 when he played Arnie! Wow, as much as I hate to say it, he's put himself in my A-list (which, up until now, only has Sean Penn and Reese Witherspoon in it).

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a marvellous drama, and if you expect something sappy and overwhelmingly over-the-top, it's everything but that. Although it runs at too slow a pace, the movie will still enchant you from the beginning right to the end. Please, I beg of you, watch it.

Post-scriptum : Watching this, I'm constantly reminded of Adik, a 1990 Malay film with Mustafa Kamal as the overprotective big brother of a retarded and also troublesome Mr. Os, and Noralbaniah as the hottie. The only difference is that Noralbaniah, while also being a striking beauty, never liked Mr. Os. She ridiculed him for being retarded and she even made Mustafa Kamal choose between her and his retarded brother. Come to think of it, old Malay films actually had the substance, only that the studios were lacking in funds.