Wednesday, 5 September 2012

El Dia de la Bestia (1995)

Heavy metal and holy men doing wrongs like its going out of style. 

El Dia de la Bestia (The Day of the Beast) starts off with a priest robbing a helpless burn victim on his last breath, saying to him "I hope you rot in hell". If thats not a bizarre entrance, then I don't know what is. A film by Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia about the Catholic fight against the anti-christ, which has probably offended most individuals with an associated religious inclination; it is ironic in ways that the director's surname literally translates to "of the church".

A seriously dark comedy where a priest embarks on a mission to commit as many sins as possible in order to carry out his grand plan to fight evil. Done in a very humourous way in which taboos are broken left and right, there is some laugh out loud humour and moments where you're saying "Oh my...", I can't believe he did that. A man who has taken his holy vocation reacts in antonymic fashion as he keys cars and fantasises about ways to spread corruption in the city of Madrid.

I really don't want to give away too many spoilers for this film as it just has to be seen yourself. Its non-stop laughs all the way through. All I'm going to say is its a huge satire on many psychological horrors from a couple decades ago. Backed by a heavy metal soundtrack, this is one brash piece of cinema that will entertain those who appreciate an un-PC sense of humour.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Abre los Ojos (1997)

A surreal film that illustrates the value some people place on beauty. Told through a series of flashbacks and delusional thoughts, a man begins to lose what was once his perfect life of money and beautiful women to his own sanity. 

This is a personal favourite of mine, and one of the first Spanish-language films I saw. Very creatively put together, and I think way ahead of its time (as Vanilla Sky later used it as its premise), Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) is a diamond of a film by Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar.

The main character César (Eduardo Noriega) has everything in life- money, good looks, cars, a nice house, and women at his disposal. He falls in love with Sofía (Penelope Cruz), who his friend was trying to court at a party. He suffers a car accident that severely damages his facial appearance, and eventually his sanity. He has delusional thoughts, and does not know sometimes whether he is with Sofía or his ex-girlfriend, which leads the rest of the plot. A very dramatic, suspenseful, and thrilling storyline.

Being a 90's child, I'm a huge fan of the soundtrack. A real alternative vibe on the music sets the tempo for ominous events to come. Massive Attack and The Sneaker Pimps are a couple bands that influence the narrative of the story through backdrop beats, melodies and funky bass.

All in all, a surreal and thrilling film that keeps you guessing. And oh my lord, Penelope Cruz is looking extremely beautiful here. '97 was definitely her hey-dey. Her smile could end wars, maybe part the sea. Jesus. So check this out guys, you may find it a bit dated in some aspects, but it still holds its own, especially in this modern day of high-budget, low-quality films done solely for commercial purpose.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Chico & Rita (2010)

An animated film that follows an incredible love story between two Cubans as they endeavour the rough and smooth contours of amor across their hometown of Havana, New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas. A musically-filled story with a jazzy, funky soundtrack to keep you entertained.

I stumbled across this gem of a film in the "world cinema" section in a used DVD and game store. I was a little dubious about buying an animated love story, but I thought I'd give a shot for some research. Spanish director Fernando Trueba and Spain's infamous designer Javier Mariscal got together to produce a very special work that plays at many emotions as the story unfolds.

The story is told as elderly Chico's reminiscent thoughts of his profound love in his youth are triggered by a familiar song on the radio. He pours a glass of fine Cuban rum, and the tale begins. It is really enjoyable to see how Chico pursues his love. There are scenes of action and adventure done through very beautiful animations, as the audience has their emotions toyed with through sad scenes and redemption.

The soundtrack is awesome, with funky jazz being played throughout as Chico and Rita journey through the music business. Characters expand their flirtations by writing "Necesitaba volver y besarte" (I needed to come back and kiss you) through incognito messages on each other's mirrors in lipstick; these are soon echoed through the musical ensembles that tie the film's narrative together nicely.

Perhaps a glimpse at the Cuban sense of humour, there is a scene where Rita is waiting for Chico outside his house to come home from a drunken night. Nosy neighbouring tenants inquire what she is doing and make jokes such as "You can wait for him with me".

An emotional story about loss and love, this is a very entertaining adventure filled with action, and it was over way before I knew it. Check this one out!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

El Otro Lado De La Cama (2002)

A film about behind the back promiscuity between the partners of two friends. The first Spanish film of mine to have a linear plot, yet not totally traditional. El Otro Lado De La Cama (The Other Side of the Bed) is a comedy film directed by Spanish director Emilio Martínez Lázaro. Cast includes Ernesto Alterio, the lovely Paz Vega, Guillermo Toledo, and Natalia Verbeke.

The film has a good sense of humour throughout, with lovers finding out about their misbehaviours in the bedroom. Two good friends (Alterio and Toledo), unknowingly to each other, trade partners slyly. As accusations arrive the recurring theory for every unfaithful partner in the world is that all people are bisexual. There are hilarious undertones, with some dramatic elements in there that are soon softened by funny situations and dance routines.

The songs were an element I initially did not enjoy (probably because I'm not really a musical fan), but found myself swaying my head in the rhythm as we approached tracks such as "Salta" (Jump), "Dime Que Me Quieres" (Tell Me That You Love Me). I eventually had to rewatch the sensual intro song "Luna De Miel" (Honeymoon). An interesting fact I saw on is that Lázaro actually had the actors to sing the routines themselves rather than do voiceovers (

A funny line from this film involves one of the characters living with his girlfriend ("novia", for all you keen Spanish learners) who often brags about sleeping around on the side to his friends over beers. Eventually, he is dumped for another guy she falls in love with. He has a serious breakdown as he loses his safety net of a woman and tells her in anger to "Go find yourself a brain on sale somewhere".

Several references are made to allude that love is basically being played like a game. Pedro says to Javier during a tennis match, after suspecting his behaviour with his own partner, that "You think all the volleys are yours". Sonia (Vega) later is consoling Javier about this, and says to him "I'm sure you go after his volleys too", not realising she's actually alluding to Javier's unfaithfulness.

This is an easy to watch film, with no big plot or twists here, and its fun. Check this one out for some laughs. The cover of my DVD was a bit misleading for myself with a quote from Empire magazine saying "The most fun foreign film since Y Tu Mama Tambien"- I guess it depends on what you call fun. Its what the box says, a good time film. If you're looking for something with depth, check out Almodóvar. Otherwise, come on its Paz Vega and some catchy songs, what do you have to lose?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Hable Con Ella (2002)

On the surface this is a film about two men brought together by women in comas. Looking further, it is a film about one-sided love, obsession, and loss. Pedro Almodóvar 's film Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her) is a complex series of events covering these elements in a way that leaves the viewer bewildered with dramatic twists and climaxes. 

Following traditional Almodóvar style, the film is told through a series of flashbacks and different time intervals separated through text indicating chapters of stories. The first shot the viewer sees on screen is that of a concert dance, and it is not until a minute later that we see two of the main characters Marco (Darío Grandinetti) and Benigno (Javier Cámara) sitting next to one another. The viewer is given the impression that they are acquainted in some way as Benigno glances at Marco crying in a concerned manner.

Marco and Lydia are brought together through similar situations. Both are still getting over their old partners and struggling with holding onto feelings. Eventually their relationship takes off, but is brought to a halt as Lydia is gored by a bull and put into a coma. Marco's ex-lover and Lydia both have a phobia of snakes, of which Marco must assist them with.

While I don't necessarily agree with bullfighting, the film does quite a good job at capturing the sport, glory and pride that goes with it. The audience is given closeup shots of Lydia's bullfighting outfit, which is adorned with sparkling gold emblems and fine tassels. It looks quite tight fitting but apparently is very versatile in terms of maneuverability in the arena.

Benigno is an interesting character, whose name in Spanish means "benign", or "harmless", a trait of which he claims to possess. His adolescence consisted of looking after his mother all day, while studying make-up, hairdressing, and aesthetics, of which he practiced on her. He has little to no experience with having a relationship with a woman. However, one day while at his mother's house, he looks out the window to find the beautiful dancer, Alicia (Leonor Watling). He gives himself the opportunity to talk to her after he finds she her dropped wallet, and then sees where she lives. She mentions to him that she enjoys dance, travelling, and watching films, all of which he begins develops an obsession for prior to her entering a coma

As in Almodóvar's later work La Piel Que Habito, we are flashbacked to a party as Marco is daydreaming in the hospital lobby, where we are granted a live version of Caetano Velosa's "Cucurrucucu Paloma". The song is very fitting as it refers to a sparrow desperately singing "cucurrucucu", after being left by a lover. The bird has a loss for appetite because of its feelings and waits for the lovers' return simply by passing time singing "cucurrucucu", almost the same way a blues singer blows his sax and tries to dampen his woes about love and life through his art form. The singer's face in the film looks almost expressionless, and one can tell that he has experienced a love of which he is tired of, of which he has cried about and thought about too much.

Channelling Alicia's interest through his own, one night Benigno goes to a silent cinema and sees a film about a man who is shrinking with no cure, and leaves his love in shame. In this short film, the woman eventually goes to meet the man after he moves back in with his mother, and carries him around in her purse. The woman goes to sleep and the man, about the size of a mouse next to the woman, proceeds to attempt making love, of which he finds she enjoys in her sleep. Parallels are held between this short film, outlining Benigno's feelings of not being good enough with women and having the safety net of his mother's house. In addition, Benigno's telling of this short film story to Alicia in her comatose state gives a premonition of Benigno's sexual relations with her during her vegetative state.

The film's title is reflected in Benigno's belief that his relationship with Alicia is mutual. Throughout the duration of the film he talks to her, massages lotion onto her, and dresses her as if she is his affectionate partner. Benigno tells Marco that he should talk with Lydia in her state, implying there may be successful communication. He also claims a woman's mind is a mystery especially in such a sickness. Marco at first doubts this theory. However, progressively we see Marco talking to Alicia and looking at her exposed body, as well as admitting that he obviously likes her. Benigno says he wants to marry her, and Marco quickly comes back to his old reality about vegetative victims in comas, exclaiming that it is impossible for Alicia to have feelings for anyone in her condition.

A recurring device used to capture sadness in this film is rain. When Marco cannot spy on Alicia from his window for a week, it rained all week. Also, toward the end with Benigno is without Alicia, it is raining and he says he enjoys it.

Benigno says he does not want to live without Alicia, not being able to hold one pin of hers. He says to Marco at this point that he had read Marco's travel guides, and that he envisioned himself as a character in one of them, a Cuban girl who waited out of a window in vain with nothing every really happening. Towards the end, Marco is given Benigno's apartment, of which upon first entry we see a painting which has a striking resemblance to Alicia. This forewarns the viewer of what is to come, and we soon see an ultimate form of obsession through the form of a framed picture of Alicia in a coma on the hospital bed, with her hair done and lipstick applied.

All in all, the film has so many layers that the viewer needs to watch it several times to catch everything. It really makes Benigno seem to be a creepy character, while perceived at first innocent prior to the plot twists. The music encapsulates the somber tones of love, loss, and desperation. This is drama done Almodóvar style. Give this one a chance.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

El Orfanato (2007)

I'm a believer in the fact that there hasn't been a scary movie since The Ring. All these horror films that are decorated with blood and guts, seem to go so over the top in an attempt to impress that there are no terrifying elements in the end. Perhaps it is personal preference, but psychological thriller/horror El Orfanato (The Orphanage) directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro, has succeeded in making my heart stop for the first time in a while.

It seems to be a recurring element to have kids as main characters in scary films. Is it their messy eating habits? Lack of respect for authority? One may argue that it is their curiousity and lack of knowledge that leads them into outward thinking, making their claims of supernatural elements realistic to themselves.

The protagonist of the story is a woman named Laura (Belén Rueda) who grew up in an orphanage, who comes back years later to return the favour by re-opening it to help disabled children. This is where it turns creepy, with her son Símon (Roger Príncep) talking to imaginary friends, asking his mother odd questions about death, and claiming he will not grow old like Peter Pan. All premonitions for scary stuff to come.

Disturbing scenes include when the child comes up to his mother with a potato sack on his head snorting like a pig. If that doesn't scare you, then you're hard pressed for luck. Events unfold, and there are no extravagant special effects or over the top violence. This is what adds an element of realism to the film. One character, an old lady from the orphanage makes an unexpected visit to Laura. This character possesses glasses that magnify her unblinking, entranced stare. This brought up frightening yet nostalgic parallels of a character in an unsettling short story I read in my boyhood entitled "The Landlady" by Roald Dahl, about a woman with an unhealthy enthusiasm for taxodermy.

The little kid takes it away in this one. I'm not sure what Guillermo was telling him on set, but he was able to convey the frustration he felt as an adopted child, and succeeded in being a leading terror. Unlike most scary films, the conclusion draws on a happy note, with climactic elements presented through an artistic shot panning out on a gravestone.

I have a friend who was visiting Llanes at the time of writing this, and she mentioned that she has seen the house the film is set in and it is absolutely beautiful. In addition, film gives you a glimpse of the surrounding coastline which looks breathtaking. Regardless, I will not be playing any hide and seek games next time I'm in the neighbourhood. Reccomended to watch this one at 3am with the lights out.

Monday, 13 August 2012

La Piel Que Habito (2011)

I decided to review next one of the most impacting films of all time for me, La Piel Que Habito by internationally-renowned Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. The film, which translates to "The Skin I Live In", cannot be explained from a description on IMDB, nor can it prepare the viewer for what they are about to experience. The cast includes Antonio Banderas, the beautiful Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, and Blanca Suárez.

This is a film that I did have to watch several times, as there are parts in the film that are flashbacked in sequences not preluded by script. The film starts off leaving the viewer very confused from the beginning, with a woman, Vera Cruz, doing yoga meditation in a skintight full body suit. The soundtrack erupts in a mixture of concert piano and dramatic violin, setting the scene for a somber tone and a prelude of events to come. The main character, Robert, is a successful plastic surgeon who we are first introduced to as her drives his new BMW coupé up through a cobblestone driveway to his mansion entitled "El Cigarall" (meaning "the orchard"). 

Events are kickstarted as Vera attempts to take her life but Robert, with his expert skills, fixes the lacerations on her, while admiring her body. She is in deep fear, pain, and desperation, as is reflected on her face. Robert observes her, and says, "In any case, I didn't know your skin was so soft". Quotes such as these gives us a premonition that Robert has experienced much more in his life than the normal surgeon.

Shots of Robert creating artificial skin tissue are shown, as he uses Vera as a human guineau pig for what appears to be some sort of experiment. To suppress her feelings of anger while simulatenously stifling his motives and actions, he lends himself and Vera to the habit of smoking opium. He is very proud of his creation, as he has a large flatscreen TV in his room which monitors Vera just laying there. He believes he has created the perfect woman. Indeed Vera, or Elena Anuya, does have beautiful, sparkling eyes like brown marbles in sunlight that work to illuminate most scenes. 

Shortly into the film we are presented with bizarre imagery that is classicly Almodóvar. A man dressed in a tiger costume crosses the road and Robert's recently fired servants pass by him without even batting an eyelid. As events unravel with the tiger, the soundtrack matches perfectly, with a track that has a pitch of bass that mimics a tiger's viscious growl. 

A recurring theme throughout this film is the value placed on beauty. A scene flashes back that explains how Robert's wife was burned in an accident, and when she saw herself in the mirror, she takes her own life in front of her daughter, scarring her for life. The film flashes back to seven years earlier and the viewer begins to discover how the film is tied together.

We are taken to a scene in a beautiful Spanish villa, with a live band playing a version of Concha Buika's "El Amor de Amar". The track is very emotional yet relaxing. We are introduced to Robert's daughter, an the incredibly beautiful character of Norma played by Blanca Suáez. 

Robert decides to search for his daughter at one point to find her passed out. She awakens and is fearing for her life due to tramatic events that have preceded. She was heavily inedbriated on presciption antidepressants and sedatives which led her to go through awful events by perpretator Vincent, a boy attending at the party. 

Without giving away the film, Robert gets the ultimate revenge upon his daughter after she takes her own life. Vincent is at a point where he is begging for Robert's mercy and calls him as "Usted", a form of addressing someone in Spanish only used for respected superiors. In short, Vincent and Vera and interlinking characters.

I cannot describe this feeling, or the expression of fellow views faces as the plot was revealed. I highly recommend this film as it is very strange, yet artistically put together in trademark Almodóvar style. Banderas takes it home in this cast as a sinister character who takes upon a vengeance that makes you question who was worse: perpetrator or avenger? The imagery in the film is consistently amazing with Spanish villages, mansions, orchards, and high-tech labs. All in all, La Piel...  is unlike anything you've ever seen before- you would be loco to miss this one. 

Next Review: El Orfanato (The Orphanage) by J.A. Bayona