November 6, 2009
It's 6am; I'm out sick; It's a Friday, and I have so many movies to watch. Therefore, today is CRAZY DAY OF MOVIES, which I sort of hope becomes a semi-regular staple of my film review blog. Since I have a full-time job as a high school teacher, a job which requires my time and energy even outside of my 7am-3pm work schedule, unfortunately not every day can be a CRAZY DAY OF MOVIES; however, when I'm relaxed and have no pressing work to complete, why not do what I love to do more than anything else--watch and review movies? Putting aside the fact that I'm sick, today could very well be a perfect day in my universe.
On the other hand, there's an ulterior motive at play regarding November 6, 2009's CRAZY DAY OF MOVIES! November and December are seeing a great deal of 2009 films released on DVD, so much so that I'm falling behind. In order to stay on top of the many, many movies I'd like to catch before the Oscar nominations are announced early in 2010, today will be dedicated only to films released in 2009.
The water's boiling for my first of what will undoubtedly be quite a few cups of coffee, and the first DVD is already in the player. Right now officially begins a day that will rival the great single days in human history--November 6, 2009: CRAZY DAY OF MOVIES!
Let's start everything off with a little bit of prostitution- Stephen Frears' Cheri.
Cheri (2009) **
Directed by Stephen Frears
I know the comparison might strike some as odd upon first glance, but while watching Cheri try and fail to breathe life into what's meant to be a sizzling, tragic period romance, I couldn't help but think of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which is the worst film I have seen released in the last three years. Granted, Cheri is nowhere near Transformers' vile assault on the brain and the senses, but both films similarly lose their way at the conceptual stage. It's hard to fault Michael Bay and Stephen Frears on their respective films' executions. Transformers may very well be appreciated as a master study of the possibilities of computer generated effects, and Cheri will no doubt be in the running for a few Oscars including Art Direction/Set Direction and Costume Design. Sadly, both films treasure style over substance, and consequently, Cheri, which takes itself much more seriously in its attempt to be quality cinema for thinking adults, deserves to be considered a bigger failure. At least Transformers made money and connected with its intended audience of mindless action junkies.
Perhaps Cheri may have succeeded had Frears embraced it as an erotically charged fluff piece instead of letting visions of Oscar glory cloud his judgment. Though rated R, the sporadic love scenes fizzle out completely--cold showers are more enticing. Perhaps cutting the few objectionable scenes for a PG-13 rating would have sufficed, and yet, going the other way and embracing its sleaze, a la Basic Instinct, also could have allowed the viewer to connect with its romance on a more sensual level.
Michelle Pfeiffer looks great on screen, and she certainly delivers her lines with conviction; however, she lacks the natural charisma of a Sharon Stone or a Madonna which once again could have added some spark to a wet fish romance. Sure, Stone and Madonna would not have delivered their lines with as much finesse as Pfeiffer, but I argue that a movie like this one doesn't need good acting as much as it needs pizazz. There's too much in the universe of Cheri that's doomed from the start, and as such, the filmmakers ought to have surrendered its high-brow ambitions for low-brow sensationalism.
Yes, Cheri was doomed from the start once Rupert Friend was cast as the title character, the son of a famous courtesan, played by Kathy Bates, hamming it up during her limited screen time, who falls in love with another middle-aged courtesan named Lea (Pfeiffer). Friend gives as flat a performance as I can recall off the top of my head. It's almost as if casting directors simply looked at a bunch of pictures of cheekbones and chose Friend based on his ridiculously geometric face. There are times that Friend is the prettiest thing on screen, which makes me think that this love story would have been more appropriate had Lea been a man. Pfeiffer and Friend have absolutely no chemistry together, and one gets the feeling that Pfeiffer gave up trying to connect with her costar at some point during the rehearsal process once she realized that the potential for Friend to give a decent performance was utterly impossible. Friend makes no attempt whatsoever to give Cheri any depth or strength of character. We're meant to sort of hate him and root for him at the same time. Friend did not earn my affection, and he certainly didn't earn my contempt--that would require effort on his part as an actor which is nowhere to be found here.
Frears' himself narrates a handful of scenes, telling the audience what characters are thinking and feeling. As usual, this lazy narrative technique proves distracting and unnecessary. Perhaps he was trying to compensate for Friend's useless performance, but still, Frears ought to have trusted viewers to follow the story on their own. At one point, Lea has an emotional release, which is striking since she has adopted a cold, stoic exterior after decades of losing lovers and companions. Pfeiffer's performance hits its high mark during this moment; unfortunately, the moment isn't earned since the romance itself comes off completely false, and we're left to ask ourselves, "Why would she have this reaction over such a silly person whom she clearly does not truly connect with?"
I said before that Cheri may receive Art Direction/Set Direction and Costume Design Oscar nominations. I'll go a step further and predict that it might win both awards. The costumes and sets are truly gorgeous, and yet, these two elements are way too in sync. The dresses in every single scene perfectly match the color pallets of the sets in a way that proves almost comically ridiculous. I'm reminded of Destiny Child's music video for Say My Name where the singers almost appear like furniture meant to match brightly colored, moving rooms. It would have been pretty funny to see Lea leave one room and step into another where her dress would clash dramatically with its dissimilar blazing pigmentation.
Unless Frears decided to throw everything away and start again, Cheri could never have been as good as it wanted to be. It doesn't succeed on any level beyond the cosmestic one, and as such, it should have embraced the fact that it could only ever aspire to be trivial. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was crap and knew it. Cheri is completely oblivious to the fact that it is trash. If only it had been trashier!
Labels: 2009, Romance, Two Stars
Next up is Fados from Carlos Saura who directed the haunting Cria Cuervos.
Okay, Fados is nothing but a collection of music videos. I'll finish the first hour, watch another film or two, and then finish the last 40 minutes.
Nevermind. I was able to finish it.
Fados (2009) ***1/2
Directed by Carlos Saura
Saura directed a film called Cria Cuervos, which has embedded itself deep into my subconscious. More than perhaps any other film I've seen in 2009, I can't seem to shake it from my mind. The more I contemplate its sad tale of a troubled little girl coming to terms with the fact that she is willing to murder in order to cope with the troubles of life, the more my admiration grows. Saura moved me once, and before watching Fados, I was excited to see whether or not he could move me again.
Fados is the final film of a triptych of music documentaries directed by Saura. The first two are Flamenco (1995) and Tango (1998), and though I haven't seen either one in their entirety, there's a good chance that I may have caught a glimpse of a scene or two from one or both films late at night as a teenager on the local college broadcast channel in Toms River, New Jersey. I used to enjoy watching these stylized music videos showcasing genres not seen on MTV or VH1, such as opera, show tunes and ethnocentric music. Fado has flourished over the years in Portugal, and its influence can still be felt today in many variegating genres of modern Portuguese music.
Fados is really a collection of sophisticated, achingly cinematic, sensual music videos showcasing immensely talented artists bringing their fado songs to life. Saura wonderfully captures the soul of these songs with visual flourishes that perfectly enhance the serenity of allowing the music to wash over the viewer. Thankfully, I watched Fados on a day where I had little stress in my life. All too easily, my mind could have drifted in and out of 88 minutes of music, and though I'll admit that I didn't have my eyes glued to the screen every second, I did relax into Saura's rich overview of a pleasant artistic odyssey.
Beyond the music itself, Fados does not give us much background into fado history and culture, and I'll admit that I'm still not sure what exactly comprises fado. Yet, with certainty, I can applaud Saura for presenting a rich visual smorgasbord to go along with a nice little collection of songs. The Portuguese have a right to be proud of their fado.
Labels: 2009, Documentary, Musical, Three and a Half Stars
Just finished Il Divo. I'll write a full length review a little bit later today. Right now, my illness and waking up early are catching up with me a bit. Gonna take a nap and then hopefully watch another three films tonight! Coming up, after my nap, is Public Enemies.
Just finished Public Enemies. Might not have a full review of that one, but we shall see. Next up is Bronson.