January 13, 2012

There is this book we read at bedtime, All the things I love about you, by LeUyen Pham. Francisco has added to it a few twists of his own:

For example, here the boy is running away from an explosion.

He is learning to spell, but he is stubborn. And sometimes he spells backwards. So Y-R-M-A-C A-T-O-Y-O-T spells car.

His favorite movie right now is Jumanji. During the stampede scenes, the living room gets destroyed. He is thorough.

For christmas he got the Doctor, and for his birthday, a bike. And, of course, a million other things.

All of which must be uniformly spread through the living room while elephants trumpet.


Youth without youth

September 23, 2008

Youth without youth is director Francis Ford Coppola’s most recent film (2007), the first since The Rainmaker (1997).

What a disappointment! The story is impossibly meandering and most of it ends up not going anywhere. For example, for an hour or so, we are in the middle of a Nazi conspiracy, only to have it forgotten as we move twenty or so years into the future. The way this is handled, most of what happened with the Nazis turns out to be irrelevant. The film looks beautiful, but there is no narrative to guide it. There are some rather pedestrian conventions as well, which made me wince whenever they were used.

The main character, Dominic, is a philosopher of language interested in the origin of language, in some mythical protolanguage from which all others sprang. This idea of a single universal origin for language is already bothersome, but let’s say he really only means a proto-Indoeuropean language, which still fails to be convincing anyway. Unsatisfied with his life, lonely and sad for a love lost many years ago (not that the film tries to emotionally connect the audience), he decides to kill himself.

Before going through with his plan, light strikes and he ends up in a hospital, basically reborn. It is Easter, just in case we miss the subtlety. Instead of dying, the lightning somehow induces a rejuvenation process. It also gives him superpowers.


Not only superpowers, actually. It also gives him a “double,” that we see in mirrors, and who may or may not be evil, not that it matters or we care. Nazis blah blah OSS blah. At the end, he kills the double by breaking a mirror. There is shrieking.

His double is not his first victim. Before, he kills a Nazi bad guy with his magic mental powers. Before, any hope one might have had for this film had died as well.

Oh, there are dreams throughout the film. For no good reason, dreams are shown upside down. Whenever we see an upside down sequence (much more often than one would like), we are witnessing a dream. It is a plot device. At the end of the film, there is a scene which we would have clearly identified as a dream except that it is not upside down. So we know it is not a dream but New Age mystical magic. There is a lot of silly New Age mystical magic throughout the film.

After the Nazi nonsense, the movie turns into an exploration of Indian mysticism. Dominic finds his long lost love reincarnated. The woman starts to regress, and he moves in with her, and uses her regressions to explore his protolanguage theory. Oh, but she will die if he continues, so he doesn’t. Another plot that ends up going nowhere.

Tim Roth plays Dominic. Roth is in his mid-forties. People throughout the film, even people noticeably younger, call him a young man. I don’t know, maybe they see his soul, this movie is that silly.


May 16, 2008

This was a fun movie to watch. Based on a true story, the way that Hollywood productions are based on things, but it actually stays closer to the facts than I expected. Chris Cooper plays FBI agent Robert Hanssen, perhaps the most notorious mole within the American intelligence community. Hanssen was arrested in 2001, and was convicted to life without parole for spying for the Russians for more than 20 years.

The movie tells the story of Eric O’Neill, the FBI agent who was ultimately responsible for obtaining the evidence that led to the arrest of Hanssen. It shows several of the methods that Hanssen used to pass information, the tactics that the Special Surveillance Group used while following Hanssen, Hanssen’s almost fanatic religious beliefs, and even some of his peculiar private customs.

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. On the other hand, The Good Sheppard, released at about the same time, a fictional history of the CIA that I was looking forward to and received a much larger amount of publicity,  proved a peculiar disappointment.


April 28, 2008

Peter O’Toole is old, and here he plays an old man. Seriously, that is all he does throughout the movie: Look very old. People nominated him for an Oscar based on that. Very disappointing.

At least, it is not O’Toole’s last role. The movie is well written, and all the actors are very good, which stops it from being a complete failure. The story, on the other hand, did not seem believable to me in the least, and was far from being engaging.

The painted veil

April 28, 2008

This movie is a very nice adaptation of  W. Somerset Maugham’s novel. It only ran in Pasadena at the second-run theatre; apparently it only had a limited release in the States.

I’ve seen recently a few movies or theatre plays based on Maugham’s works, and they have all been satisfying. This one is primarily a love story, which surprised me a little at first. The acting is impecable, of course. I imagine even The incredible Hulk might be near tolerable thanks to Edward Norton. The cinematography was gorgeous. The exteriors alone justify watching this film.

Seraphim falls

April 28, 2008

The best western I have seen in recent years is the extremely violent Australian movie The proposition. What made that movie interesting in my mind was the air of freshness that the new surroundings provide to the genre. Seraphim falls starts promising, and for a while I expected it was going to end up as satisfying an experience as watching The proposition was. It did not.

This movie ends in absurdity, which more and more looks like what Hollywood confuses with depth. The problem is that a metaphorical ending in a story of this sort feels like a cop out. For more than an hour and a half the movie has established the storytelling framework in which it occurs, and the end destroy this. More skillfully executed, it would have been an interesting post-modern take on the western genre. The way it is, you feel an unfulfilled promise and disappointment. It reminds me a bit of the end of 3:10 to Yuma, where suddenly the characters stop being characters and decide to serve as moralizing stand ins for… I don’t know… the scriptwriter? 

That being said, the first hour and forty minutes or so is a very good western, it is well acted and very nicely shot.

Suicide kings

April 27, 2008

The memory I had of this movie is much better than what it turned out to be. I remember I went to see this movie when it came out, and it seemed decent. I guess I was younger and foolish, because this was just ridiculous; I think it fails in that it is hard to take it seriously. But, of course, maybe it is intended to be a comedy, in which case it fails because it is not particularly funny.

Anyway, it has Christopher Walken in it, so at least it makes you smile every now and then.  

The last kiss

April 27, 2008

I do not really have much to say about this movie; I found it kind of mediocre. It presents itself as more than it ends up being, and rather than having characters that face their problems in interesting or challenging ways, it felt dissapointing, a bit cliched. It is not a bad movie, though. I suppose there are worst ways of spending two hours. 


February 8, 2007


Subtitled eine Symphonie des Grauens, `A symphony of horror’, this 1922 German film is very different visually from most other expressionist films from this period. As mentioned during my entry on The cabinet of Doctor Caligari, the imagery (usually expressed in the visual look of the sets of the movie)  plays an important role in expressionist films. It tends to consist of highly artificial sets and there is almost no use of exteriors. In contrast with these common techniques, a large portion of Nosferatu is shot outdoors, and naturalistic images play an important role in the tone and mood of the film. There are some really beautiful scenes of dusk, and a couple of scenes where we see spiders advancing on their prey, or carnivore plants; I imagine these scenes were significantly difficult to achieve with the technical restrictions of the early 1920s.

The DVD commentary contained some nice details that added to my appreciation of the film. For example, night scenes used to be shot during the day, and then the film was painted on, usually with blue tones, to simulate darkness. Again, the musical score in the DVD was recorded specifically for it, and it was very carefully done and a great addition to the overall effect of the story.

Nosferatu is based on Dracula. This is acknowledged during the opening credits, but the names of the main characters, locations, and situations are sufficiently changed so that Enrico Dieckmann and the other producers felt confident there was no need to acquire the rights to use the story. Apparently, they had tried to do so unsuccessfully, and later Stoker’s widow tried to sue the company. Unfortunately for her, Dieckmann’s company had gone bankrupt so instead of money she tried to ensure that all existing copies of the movie were destroyed. Luckily for us, her efforts proved futile.

The story stays closes to Dracula in style and plot. We have therefore an offscreen narrator telling us the events as he has finally been able to understand them, several different fonts used on screen to represent letters or books the characters read, as opposed to dialogue between them which, while present, is kept to a minimum. There are significant differences in how the story ends and on the effect of the vampire (Nosferatu, count Orlock) on the townfolks. Also, instead of London, part of the action is translated to Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

The relatively recent revival of the vampire genre probably originates with Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. Clearly inspired by Dracula, Nosferatu is also an acknowledged influence for this novel. We see for example that Barlow, King’s vampire, relocates to Jerusalem’s Lot with the help of a local businessman, Mr. Straker, corresponding to Knock, the real estate agent of the movie.

Many elements of vampire lore are incorporated into the film, some without being mentioned explicitly. Thus, a river stops Orlock from leaving his castle, and only by having other people carry him across can he journey. Also, he cannot enter a place unless their owners invite him in. There are also references to the power of vampires to transmute, and people refer to a werewolf in the area which seems to actually be Orlock himself.

Very well made and sufficiently creepy, this is a really good movie. There were a few odd details with how the story is told. For example, Bulwer, the Van Helsing character, has a very small role and his scenes, though quite beautiful and useful to set the tone of the story, seem completely unnecessary from the point of view of the actual tale. And Hutter, the Harker character, really comes out as a clueless buffoon, although his character is actually more complicated and his relationship with his wife is rather strange and indicative of serious problems and shortcomings on his part. At the end, events happen to him and very little is the result of his own actions.

Nosferatu, played by Max Schreck, is itself a very scary figure, his grotesque features becoming more exagerated as the story progresses. Now I think I should rewatch Shadow of the vampire to see how close Dafoe comes to capture Schreck’s nuances.  


February 5, 2007


This movie was horrible. Not Soul plane horrible or even My super ex-girlfriend horrible, but I had to pause for a second to come up with those two examples. Unbelievable that Salma Hayek actually appears with a straight face in a small special in the DVD explaining how Penélope Cruz and herself wanted for so long to collaborate, to make this movie together. How insulting! Avoid it like the plague.