IMDB #161 Amores Perros

There are composite films like previously covered Crash and Magnolia, that weave many storylines together, and there are anthology films like Paris, Je T'aime and Coffe & Cigarettes which present separate short films, one after another.

Somewhere in between you have what I like to call "Tarantino films," which are organized into distinct chapters that may overlap significantly. Today's entry is structured in such a way.

The pertinent question, though- is it ever necessary? Let's see how we feel after Amores Perros, part one of Alejandro González Iñárritu's mission to DEPRESS THE ENTIRE WORLD.

The Key Players:

Our director, whom I'll simply refer to as AGI frow now on for accent/tilde related reasons, has since completed his "Death trilogy" with the similar in tone 21 Grams and Babel, about miserable things happening to miserable people. Word is that this year's Javier Bardem starring Biutiful will be an awards contender as well.

Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga spent three years writing Amores Perros, and went on to collaborate with AGI until a bitter falling out about writing credits drove them apart. He made his directorial debut with The Burning Plain, yet another morose composite film that was received with a shrug.

A large ensemble cast boasts on Gael García Bernal (Y tu mamá también, Blindness) as the only future luminary amoung many other recurring AGI players like Adriana Barraza.

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The Story:

The film is divided into three chapters, though the other two plotlines are briefly touched upon in each one.

1. Octavio and Susana- García Bernal plays Octavio, a man smitten with his hoodlum older brother's young wife, and takes to dogfighting to make the money to run away with her. His family dog Cofi, turns out to have a knack for it, and goes undefeated as Octavio and his friend Jorge make plenty of cash- naturally this angers a local thug whose dogs keep losing, leading to a violent confrontation that ends in a car crash. Plus Susana takes the money Octavio was keeping to run away and takes off with the asshole brother instead, after Octavio has him beaten up. Aw.

2. Daniel and Valeria- Valeria, a preeminent supermodel, is gravely injured by said car crash, which leads to tension in her budding relationship with Daniel, a magazine executive who's just left his wife to be with her. When her dog (do you sense a theme?) disappears under the floorboards of their new apartment, tension escalates between them violently the longer they can't get him out.

3. El Chivo and Maru- An ex-revolutionary turned hobo hitman has taken in an injured Cofi after witnessing the car crash, and nurses the poor dog back to health- this only to come home one day to find that the newly-minted fighting champion has killed all of the other mutts that he lovingly takes care of. This seems to cause a shift in his perception of senseless killing, and how he handles his latest job to kill a man's business partner.

The Artistry:

Wikipedia informs me that Amores Perros is sometimes referred to as the "Mexican Pulp Fiction," and structurally I can see why. There's even plenty of crime, but there's virtually no humor, and no one to root for.

García Bernal carries a little bit of magnetism in the first chapter, but it's not enough to get past the abhorrent nature of dogfighting in the first place- certainly by the time he has his brother violently beaten (instead of just sleeping with his wife and then running away with her) we don't really care that he's about to get in a terrible car accident (which is actually the first scene of the film).

I'm not sure what's added to the film by making it almost a straight chapter-by-chapter anthology but teasing us with scenes of Daniel and El Chivo during the first third. The paths of the characters do intersect, but we also see El Chivo kill a man in a restaurant very early, and then we have to wait until the final chapter to find out why. It's kind of maddening, especially during the second chapter.

"Daniel y Valeria" itself feels like the beginning of a horror movie or psychological thriller edited into a different film- the blissful new freedom of the couple (as she had been a secret mistress for quite some time) is immediately marred by the car crash, and then a creeping dread sets in the moment the little dog goes under the floor. Valeria is too suddenly introduced to care for, and the earlier glimpses of Daniel being awkward around his wife (but no scene of him leaving her?) add nothing. By the time she re-injures her leg trying to get the dog out, requiring it to be amputated, the whole plot just seems terribly mean-spirited.

The final third is the best, largely due to Emilio Echevarría's performance as El Chivo, quietly dealing with the most important, or at least cinematic life events. Cofi killing all of his dogs is the best moment wrought from the screenplay myriad crossed-paths, and the scene where he can't kill Cofi in turn is the most moving.

But his attempt to reconnect with daughter, while well-played, is just another of the film's thin parables without the time to have an impact.

Amores Perros has a lot to say, and two and a half hours to say it, but I didn't really end up with anything to speak of by the end, especially not watching it for the second time for this review. There's a big difference between illuminating class differences and simply having characters from different classes, and an even bigger one between a philosophical edge and superficial grittiness.


Let's see. Octavio's brother gets killed, but Susana can't even stomach the thought of being with him (also his friend Jorge was killed in the car crash while Octavio was banged up pretty badly). Valeria as mentioned loses her leg, her billboards taken down and her career over. El Chivo ties up his target and the target's half-brother that wanted him killed, and puts a gun on the floor between them and tells them to sort it out themselves. He takes the money, leaves it for his daughter with a tearful message on her answering machine, cuts his hair and walks off into the sunset with his new dog.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Lower. And since they're not on the countdown, I wasn't into 21 Grams or Babel very much either, though I found the former focused enough to be more meaningful.

These films that focus on misery, cutting from various tales of woe as if that illustrated some sort of connection, what are they trying to say? If the message is just "life's a bitch" (or Love, as the case may be), you can spare me the time and the ticket price.

The Legacy:

It did launch AGI as a Hollywood talent, culminating with Babel nearly stealing Best Picture from The Departed in 2004 (this was my fear, anyway). Amores Perros would lose the Oscar but win the BAFTA for Foreign Language.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Ugh. Do I have to? Here, watch an hilarious fan-made version of the trailer instead:

Leftover Thoughts:

-The title doesn't literally translate to "Love's a Bitch," nor does AGI find that to be adequate. See here for various possibilities.

-Again, did Amores Perros have something to say about police corruption, or did it merely just include one corrupt cop?

-As pointless miseryfests go, it's still way, way better than Crash

Coming Up...

160. The Graduate

159. Groundhog Day

158. The Bourne Ultimatum

IMDB #162 The Terminator

PREVIOUSLY ON THE IMDB COUNTDOWN: I had to review the sequel to Kill Bill LONG before Kill Bill itself- it was awkward.

But the countdown smiles benevolently on us today, as The Terminator is ranked lower than T2, so we can process everything in the right order. Phew.

What about T3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, you ask? Good news! We don't even have to think about them, because they're both pretty terrible!

The Key Players:

James Cameron once was a self-taught special effects supervisor from Canada. But then on one magical day in the early 80s he did ten gallons of coke and wrote 873 screenplays at once (Aliens, The Terminator, and Rambo II: First Blood wer among them), hopped on a unicorn and stormed to the top of the film industry.

Subsequently he only made films as excuses for various obsessions, like his desire to see the wreckage of the Titanic, to invent a new 3D camera (Avatar), or to see Jamie Lee Curtis partially nude (True Lies). Does he seem like an insufferable jerk every time he speaks publicly? Of course! But that's the cross he has to bear, consoling himself with his mansion of frozen orphan tears and his diet of liquified Euros died to look like food.

Beginning with The Terminator, Cameron magnanimously took several actors along for the ride with him. Lance Henriksen and Micheal Biehn would both also appear in Aliens- Biehn in The Abyss, too.

Linda Hamilton will always be known primarily for her role as Sarah Connor, though Cameron did cast her as his fourth wife in the late nineties.

Finally, I have a theory. We all know James Cameron to be a man of science- he even had a plan to fix the BP spill. I propose that nearly thirty years ago he invented a time machine. High on the thrill of discovery, he went to the future, only to discover that he'd traveled too far, and found the human race just beginning to divide in twin races of pure intellect and brute physical strength. He befriended one of the latter, a huge but affable giant, and took him back to our time. But due to the future proto-man's slightly devolved intellect, he could only get work as Hollywood movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It makes a lot of sense, I'm sure you'll agree.

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The Story:

We've all seen it, so I'll be brief- AHH-nold plays a killer robot that looks like an Austrian dude sent back in time to kill Linda Hamilton, who will one day be the mother of the resistance leader in the war with machines we all know is coming. Biehn also shows up from the future, sent by her future son to protect her. Cool?

The Artistry:

Somehow I ended up seeing The Terminator at a very young age, maybe eight or nine. My memory is hazy- was it on video? At a friends house? In any case it was the first rated R movie I'd seen, and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

So I never really gave it another watch for a long time, and can't honestly say I've watched the whole thing through until doing so for this project.

Turns out it's no so scary, but still fun. I don't need to tell you how iconic the lines and images of the franchise are- though in the first installment, only Biehn's "Come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" made it everywhere.

And Cameron is of course a master at building suspense, even working with a terribly dated score and familiar cliches like the roomate who doesn't hear impending doom because of her headphones.

Unsurprisingly the effects, while impressive in scope, are a little dated- notably the lasers in the future war bits and the Terminator's obviously fake head when he was removing his left eye.

The script is a little leaden, especially on a human level- I never really found myself invested in the inevitable romance (really? You 'loved a lifetime's worth'?). But the performances carry it as well as they can, Biehn especially. I liked his PTSD flashbacks to the future, and the way he spoke in jargon from his own time, naming the model number (101) of the Terminator as if it would mean something.

The real basis of the appeal, and the reason so much of The Terminator has become cultural shorthand (it's probably the most popular of any "robot war" speculation), is that it taps into the innate foreboding that the future seems to hold. This will get a lot more explicit in T2, but it's easy for someone born in 1984 himself to forget that The Terminator came out during the last years of the Cold War, and even mentions the rise of the machines coming in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.

In the face of the bleak stormclouds comes the idea that we can be meant for greater things, like unassuming diner waitress Sarah Connor. What were her ambitions before this all went down? Other than being stood up on a date, her personal life is hardly mentioned. But she becomes the key to the entire future out of nowhere, perhaps simply because she exists is a world of recurzive paradoxes- she's plucked from the everyday into a harrowing trial of fire until she wins the first battle against an apocalypse rapidly approaching, and it happens seemingly for no reason at all.


Speaking of causality: The Terminator franchise is nothing but chicken-egg paradoxes- John Connor send Kyle Reese back in time to become his father, so he can be born and live to send him back. What? We'll see later that the presence of the Terminator the machines send back leads to their eventual creation as well in T2.

I found myself pondering these loops as the movie went along. There were three Sarah Connors in the phone book, so the Terminator (with less information than Reese) killed the first two before he gets to our Sarah. But what if he had started from the bottom of the list? Maybe Sarah Conner becomes the Sarah Connor precisely because the other two got killed?

The other big irony is that the machines create John Connor instead of preventing his existence, because now his mother knows to prepare him to lead a war against machines in the future.

Also, I have many technical questions about time-travel itself (which the film skirts around by having Reese be a soldier unconcerned with the physics of it all). Why does Reese show up a little after the Terminator? Why can only the two of them come through (he implies no one else can come when interrogated)? Why not find some way to transport future weaponry in organic material, like the machines did? You could wrap some guns in a pig carcass or something.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Oh, I like it where it is, really. We'll see in a bit how T2 found a way to preserve the spirit while raising the stakes, gravitas, and action to higher levels.

The Legacy:

Careers launched, a franchise spawned, NFR inclusion already, and so on. And did you know "I'll be back" has its own wikipedia page?

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Literally nothing. But this unembeddable featurette includes the following pearl of wisdom:

"I think the love story is really what made it work." - Linda Hamilton

Leftover Thoughts:

-Would a polaroid photo really last 40 years in that condition?

-A quick inflation calculation informs me that this was made for the equivalent of $13 million, which makes the FX all the more impressive.

-the internet would have me believe that Cameron initially met with Scharwzenegger to discuss playing Reese, which would have been a ludicrous idea.

-One of those punks was Bill Paxton? Huh.

Coming Up...

161. Amores Perros

160. The Graduate

159. Groundhog Day

IMDB #163 Stand By Me

Today's countdown entry, 1986's Stand By Me, is yet another of the many classic 80s films that I missed while I was watching Flight Of The Navigator over and over and over.

From the pop consciousness at large I've gathered that's it's some sort of coming of age tale involving a corpse, a train, and the 50s. And presumably standing near one another, literally or figuratively. Let's see what I missed!

The Key Players:

Rob Reiner makes his second appearance on the countdown as director, working from a short story by the much-adapted Stephen King.

Our story follows a quartet of child stars, each of whom would go on to varying degrees of adult sucess: Wil Wheaton went from the most annoying character on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to one of the more beloved people on the internet, somehow. Corey Feldman was ubiqitous during the 80s and early 90s, then laid low until nostalgia kicked in. Jerry O'Connell has been in over sixty episodes apiece of three different television series- can you name the two that aren't "Sliders"? And River Phoenix was poised for not only success but respectability (My Own Private Idaho) before OD-ing in 1993.

Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland has a supporting role, while Richard Dreyfuss acts as narrator.

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The Story:

Four twelve year old best buds go on a quest to find a dead body in 1959. That's pretty much it. There's our narrator Gordie (Wheaton) who wants to be a writer and is definitely not just Stephen King when he was twelve at all, tough kid Chris (Phoenix), budding psychopath Teddy (Feldman), and butt-of-every-joke Vern (O'Connell). The former three deal with various father-issues throughout the story, while Vern is mostly just a goofball.

Racing the kids to the body is stereotypical older bully Kiefer Sutherland and his posse- everyone seems to imagine that finding the corpse of a kid who got hit by a train will bring them untold glory.

The Artistry:

I dunno. There isn't much I took away from Stand By Me- nothing about it was visually arresting, the child-acting was competent at best, and the story generally ham-fisted in a very Stepehn Kingish, telling-not-showing (with extra telling viz voiceover) kind of way.

40 years from now, will our era be signified solely by top 40 radio hits? The use of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" and The Chordettes' "Lollipop" felt kind of cliche to me, but that's probably not fair- there were fewer radio stations back then, I suppose. But the constant soundtrack selections seemed to do nothing more than yell "IT'S THE FIFTIES! 1959 IN YOUR FACE!" to me. Though the boys singing the theme to "Have Gun Will Travel" was a subtler touch, and I liked the low-key rendering of the titular Ben E. King song as a score motif.

The pie-eating contest (a story of Gordie's we see visualized) is a colorful, if disgusting, digression, but the only scene that stood out to me was the ambling campfire discussion- it seemed like things twleve-year-olds would actually say, and was funny to boot ("Wagon Train's a really cool show, but did you notice they never get anywhere? They just keep wagon training.")

And finally we come to one of my least favorite things: the Unecessary Framing Device. Let's discuss this behind the spoiler wall.


So three of the kids cry about their respective fathers (Vern remains a goofball), then they find the body (deciding wisely to make an anonymous tip instead of glory-hounding), face down the bully, and part ways back in town.

How nice. But through voice-over, Future Gordie (Dreyfus) tells us what became of Vern, Teddy, and Chris- the chief fact being that Chris overcame the odds, became a lawyer, then got stabbed trying to break up a fight at a restaurant.

Gordie has become a successful novelist, after he was lucky enough to have his first book made into a film (which was probably Carrie but with a totally different spelling).

I don't know- it feels manipulative to me. Remember this character you cared about? He died senselessly! You're all a bunch of saps! I know this is basically Stephen King's memoir (and in fact all three of the friends in the novella "The Body" die in young adulthood), but the mechanics of the revelation bug me. What do we gain by seeing Dreyfus looking somber at the beginning and end?

Other than, of course, the eye-rolling last lines of his memoir: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Maybe I'm supposed to be twelve when I see it? Lower. To be clear, that just means that I don't find it countdown-worthy, not that it's terrible. Rob Reiner was still some years away from showing us what 'terrible' means.

The Legacy:

The cloying screenplay got an Oscar nomination despite being clearly the weakest part of the film, and there's the career-launching covered above. It also led to the founding of Castle Rock Entertainment, named for the fictional Oregon setting.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

"The kind of talk that seemed important until you discover girls."

Leftover Thoughts:

-Now I can finally check this off of the "Popular Corey Feldman Movies I Never Saw For One Reason Or Another" List, along with Goonies, which I finally saw last year (meh). Next up, The Lost Boys.

-"Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman is a real guy. There's no way a cartoon can beat up a real guy."

-My favorite part about Stand By Me in general might be the Pez line as the poster tag. That's pretty great.

Coming Up...

162. The Terminator

161. Amores Perros

160. Finding Nemo

IMDB #164 The Thing

Antarctica: is it ever any fun? It seems like with a few, penguin-related exceptions, every film that visits our forgotten seventh continent only does so to discover something horrifying buried in the ice. 1982's The Thing might just be the progenitor of this trend.

The Key Players:

Thriller maestro John Carpenter makes his only countdown appearance with arugably his least successful film- The Thing would gain cult status only upon the advent of home video. Still, not even Halloween?
Star Kurt Russell is another face we'll likely never see again (not even Stargate?), since his most notable roles are in Carpenter classics like Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China.

Among a small ensemble are grizzled voice for hire Keith David (Pitch Black, Platoon, They Live)and Wilford Brimley (Cocoon, spokesperson for the ADA, and of course mentor to Stephen Colbert via regular 3AM phone calls).

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The Story:

Pretty standard- a collection of scientists (like Brimley) and badass types (like Russell's helicopter pilot and David's...badass black dude?) are stationed at a research base in Antarctica, minding their own business doing science and all, when a krazy Norwegian from nearby crashes his helicopter, blows it up, and starts shooting at a sled dog that was running from him.

He wings one of the scientists during his crazy Norwegian rampage, so the base commander is forced to shoot him. Russell and another guy go to his base, but find only more dead Norwegians, evidence that they had dug something out of the ice, and a horrible, half-human looking burnt corpse.

Naturally, they haul the corpse-thing back to the lab, where Brimley discovers it has familiar organs but is clearly not all human. They put the sled dog in with their own pack, but it quickly turns into a horrifying nightmare monster and sends out tendrils to assimilate the other dogs- Russell breaks out the flamethrower just in time.

Brimley takes some samples or what have you, and discovers that it's some sort of organizism that can consume and imitate any host, on even a cellular level- and very rapidly at that. Realizing that he can no longer trust anyone, he promptly goes nuts and destroys the helicopters and radio equipment before the rest can tie him up in a shack.

After some more chaos and untimely demises (the half-human corpse thing? Totally not dead.), a harrowed half-dozen or so remain. Suspicion falls on Russell, but he holds the rest at bay with a stick of live dynamite and a blowtorch in his hands, and devises a blood test to see who's human and who's not once and for all.

The Artistry:

Alien parasite, isolated base- I settled in for an atmospheric, Alien style horror film. And The Thing is certainly that, in part. But it's also a full-on, gross out creature feature, and it boldly announces so 25 minutes in when that stray dog suddenly isn't a dog any more.

That creation, by Stan Winston and all of the subsequent partially-human monsters created by Rob Bottin, spend the film veering wildly across the line between Evil Dead II excessive hilatiry and genuine, Cronenberg-style horror. It makes The Thing a little dicey in tone- especially because none of the cast really has the time to create a character we might care for, with perhaps a couple exceptions.

Those would be of course Keith David's reactionary badassness and Kurt Russell's gritted teeth: Russell gets the lone character beat before the chaos begins as he loses to a computer at chess.

The Thing has a fun visual look, mostly full of flares illuminating the base at night in bright colors, and the score (by Ennio Morricone!) is a neat balance of 80's synth and histronic strings.

But what I liked most was the pod-person nature of the plot- much more the focus of the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella "Who Goes There?" upon which the movie was based. That's where Russell's improvised test comes from- taking a blood sample from each man and testing it with a hot wire- comes from. Since each part of "the thing" is a separate organizism that defends itself, provoking it should get a tell-tale reaction.

In the movie, Russell figures this out when he sees my favorite of the many disgusting images- a severed head sprouting insect-like legs to crawl away.


The test reveals one man to be an impostor, who then monsters out and kills another one before they can flamethrower him. This leaves four standing, though they realize they've forgotten about poor Brimley, locked out in a shack. David stands guard as Russell and the two others go to give him the test- instead they find an empty shack, and a secret tunnel under the floor leading to what looks like and alien craft made from spare helicopter parts.

They see David leave the base, just before the power gives out- the Brimley-monster has destroyed the generator. Accepting that they're never getting out alive, all three take some dynamite to burn the whole place down and prevent the Thing from reaching civilization. This is pretty much what happens, and you'll never guess which of the three survives and makes it out before the explosion!

David returns (he thought he saw Brimley out there, and got lost, allegedly), and he and Russell share a laugh about how they can't possibly trust one another as they wait to freeze to death. The end.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Definitely a solid effort, but not something that would make my top 250. It might be the overdone FX, or the lack of any sort of arc to the story, but I can't see revisiting The Thing in the future.

The Legacy:

Coming out two weeks after E.T. and on the same day as Blade Runner, The Thing fared pretty poorly at the box office, and was an afterthought in Carpenter's otherwise winning 80s career. But it found new, cult-status life after coming out on video and DVD. It's even been made into a comic book series and a video game.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Warning: severed-head-related discretion is advised.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Favorite part: Brimley's hilariously prophetic computer, which takes one look at a cellular animation of the Thing and types out things like "PROJECTION: IF INTRUDER ORGANISM REACHES CIVILIZED AREAS... ENTIRED WORLD POPULATION INFECTED 27,000 HOURS FROM FIRST CONTACT," while Wilford sits there with his face at its Brimliest.

Coming Up...

163. Stand By Me

162. The Terminator

161. Amores Perros

IMDB #165 The Secret In Their Eyes

Talk about a familiar story: 2009's Oscars had a clear frontrunner for Best Foreign Film in The White Ribbon, and even a potential spoiler in Un Prophete- but in keeping with the wild nature of the category, the voters went with Plan C and gave it to El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret In Their Eyes) instead, the submission from Argentina.

After some initial wavering, it looks like it's made the countdown for a long stay. Let's hop to it!

The Key Players:

Director Juan José Campanella was first nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar for 2001's El Hijo de la Novia, but spent much of the last decade earning his living directing episodes of "House" and "Law & Order: SVU" before returning to make Ojos in his native Argentina.

And I have it on Wikipedian authority that leading man Ricardo Darín is one of the biggest film stars in Argentina- I've only seen him in Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), a fun con-men caper remade in the states as Criminal.

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The Story:

In 1999, a retired justice agent name Benjamín Espósito finds himself obsessed with a case from 1974 in which a 23-year-old woman was raped and killed in her home. He decides to write a novel about it, after discussing it with his former department chief, Irene Hastings, between awkward, lost-love-tension-filled pauses.

Flashback to the seventies, when Irene first came in to be his boss, and his biggest problems were ridiculously large piles of paperwork and an alcoholic partner named Pablo Sandoval. He trades barbs with rival detective Romano, and sets off on the fateful Morales case.

The widower, young Morales himself, is what makes the case so memorable to Benjamín: devastated by his young wife's death, he has several conversations with Benjamín about living an empty life.

Romano beats two lowlifes into false confessions, which an enraged Benjamín quickly exposes, causing Romano to transfer away. The detectives find a real suspect in Isidoro Gomez, a childhood acquaintance of the victim's that Benjamín noticed staring at her real creepy-like in every old photo, but can't locate him for a year: all they can find are some letters to his mother that mention random names and taking the train to the city.

Morales, dedicated to his wife's vengeance, takes to waiting in the train station after work every day, for an entire year. Then finally, Pablo discovers the names in the letters are players from the local soccer team's history- they decide to look for Gomez at upcoming matches, and find him at the fifth one.

Benjamín and Irene manage to cajole Gomez into a confession. He's sentenced to life in prison, and alls well that ends well.

Or not: just a year after that, Gomez is seen clearly unjailed on national tv- he's been released by Romano, now a member of an important government agency employing Gomez as a clandestine enforcer and hitman. What?

The Artistry:

El Secreto De Sus Ojos manages to be several different types of film at once, without getting too caught up in any of them.

A Parable Of Lost Love: Darín and Soledad Villamil, popular Argentian stars that have played romantic interests before, bring such a lived-in, subtle chemistry to both time periods that it's easy to take this angle for granted until the very end of the film. The opening, dreamlike sequence is a haunting image of Villamil running after Darín's train as they're parted, perhaps forever, but the actual scene sneaks up on you. The two leads make the romance compelling in its honest frankness, instead of overdoing it like soap stars.

A Straightforward Procedural: The murder itself ends up being more like a typical "Law & Order" plot than I expected- for some reason I expected a larger, behind-the-scenes machination to be behind it, but it never came. It's the soulful obsession of Morales, and the eventual impact of the case on each character's life that propels the film along- the Morales case is almost a feint to get us to look at the wrong hand.

A Historical Drama: As we'll see in the ending, some important political factors in Argentina's history end up playing a part in how it all adds up- another element that slowly encroaches on the plot, lost in news snippets and casual remarks.

A Rumination On Writing: Darín's struggle with the theme of his novel, and what the case means in the present day is a rare framing device that I appreciate- in a memorable element, he takes to writing snippets of phrases on paper by his nightstand, half-awake. One reads "TEMO" ('I fear'), which he thinks he wrote in a fit of paranoia , before he realizes that he meant to write "TE AMO" ('I love you') all along, spelling out the real reason that time of his life was haunting him.


Pablo is accidentally killed, mistaken for Benjamín when sleeping off a bender at his apartment. When Benjamín finds his partner's body, the only two pictures that he had of himself had been turned facedown: Pablo had intentionally confirmed the gunmen's mistake to save Benjamín's life.

Presumably the vindictive Romano is behind the killing, but since the government at the time was rampant with gestapo killings (as the Peronist right escalted its tactics against rebel leftists), he's virtually untouchable. So Benjamín flees to a remote job in the country, as Irene stays behind (her rich family makes her an unlikely target), tearfully running after his train in a goodbye.

Back in the present, Benjamín (who moved back to the city in 1985 after the Dirty War died down to find Irene married with children) visits Morales in a remote town to show him the finished novel. After a tense discussion, the widower admits that he tracked Gomez down, and shot him dead in the trunk of a car.

Benjamín leaves, but remembers Morales' singular dedication to his wife, and his conviction that life imprisonment, not the death penalty, would be the fitting punishment for Gomez. Benjamín sneaks back to discover that Morales has kept Gomez in a home-made prison cell for 24 years (hence the move to the country), feeding and clothing him, but never once speaking to him.

Aghast, Benjamín leaves, and finally goes to Irene to admit his feelings for her- though they both agree it won't be easy (since she's still married and all), they're finally ready to move on with their lives, together.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I imagine, as this gains exposure on DVD and so on, that it will go presently higher on its own, without me having to say so.

The Legacy:

One Oscar, One Goya Award (like the Oscars of Spain!) and thirteen Argintine AMPAS Awards. Otherwise, too soon to tell, go rent it or something.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Hey you know what YouTube isn't big on? Subtitles! But check out this insane shot (I assume trickery of some sort is involved) that goes all the way from a blimp's-eye-view of the futbal stadium to our heroes as they search the stands. The shot actually goes way longer as they chase their man through the stairwells.

Coming Up...

164. The Thing

163. Stand By Me

162. The Terminator

The Tourist

So I'm a little too into Oscar predicting. In the last five years, the Pittsburgh Steelers (who I root for because I grew up there), have played in and won two Super Bowls that I watched with only mild enthusiasm.

But during the Academy Awards I groan or fist-pump with every hit or missed call for some reason. So I savor any category with a sure winner.

If only there were such a thing. At the 2007 ceremony, nothing looked safer than Pan's Labyrinth in the Best Foreign Film spot- it even had five 'domestic' nominations, so to speak. It's at number 74 in the top 250, even.

But stealing its thunder (and presently number 56, incidentally) came a German thriller called The Lives Of Others, which walked off with the statue and reviews ranging from "poignant, unsettling thriller" to ""one of the greatest movies ever made!" It was a stunning, awesome debut feature from the awesomely-named Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark.

Hollywood soon came calling, and we all rubbed our hands for his next step.

On paper, The Tourist sounded like a great idea- a thriller based on a little-seen French movie where an unsuspecting average joe is chosen by a Woman of Mystery to be a patsy for her boyfriend, a fugitive millionaire thief.

After a carousel of directors and stars, The Tourist ended up with our man Von Donnersmark and a studio's dream for a leading couple: Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Surely we could end up with a tense, throwback thriller right in the same ballpark of The Lives Of Others, which mined the former Soviet Union for endless dramatic silences and tense eavesdropping sessions.

The trailer for The Tourist made it clear this wasn't the case, but it just seemed like it was in a different gear- an action-packed romp with two stars that should have breezy chemistry even on an off day.

The problem is, Von Donnersmark tried to make the latter, but only has the skill set for the former. What results is a languid, under-plotted, barely there sketch of a film that's downright boring.

What went so wrong? I'm not sure what passes for glamorous these days, but the decision to have Depp sport a haircut that resembled a dead animal on his head and Jolie to constantly wear so much dark eye makeup that she could be an anime character (she even wore it to bed!) didn't help matters.

Surely two talented, award-winning thespians could manufacture some chemistry even while appearing to be space aliens, but it's not meant to be: every conversation the leads have is hampered by constant awkward pausing, meaningless silence, and pacing straight out of some other film.

It's the same action-packed trailer/dripping-faucet film switcheroo that The American pulled in September, but instead of overwrought somberness The Tourist just has pointless boredom.

Maybe it's the language barrier, but in this film Von Donnersmark displays a Shamylanian talent for getting wooden performances out of talented actors: Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, and (briefly) Rufus Sewell all go to waste explaining the ridiculous plot to us.

Oh yeah, the plot: it's not worth getting into, really. It's contived, muddy, and culminates in the London Financial Crimes Division straight up murdering some people. There's one big reveal halfway through the film that's wholly uneccesary, and one at the very end that, even though it's wholly predictable, is still ridiculously insulting.

But the plot shouldn't matter! Duplicity had a similarly ludicrous structure, but Clive Owen and Julia Roberts relegated it to window dressing. It was fun. The Tourist is what I'll use from now on to defend Ocean's Twelve when people dismiss it as a pointless Euro-trifle: at least it was fun to watch.

Ah, well. In an interview, Von Donnersmark said: "I had just finished writing a screenplay for a dark, dramatic thriller, and when I heard about The Tourist, I thought, 'Maybe I'll do this one first.'" So perhaps his next film will be appropriately Lives Of Others-ian and we can leave all this behind.

Meanwhile, maybe whoever edited that trailer can recut The Tourist into a solid, thrilling half hour.

Leftover Thoughts:

-To be clear, I don't think FHVD should make the same film every time, I just get the impression that his skill set is still developing.

-There was some rumor that Sam Worthington and Charlize Theron were up for these parts, and in hindsight that seems like a much better fit- Worthington seems a lot more like a hapless American (Depp is always the villain himself), Theron has a better balance of vulnerability AND allure (Jolie here is all allure with a hint of lizard-eyes).

-You want to know the TWO MAJOR SPOILERS so you never have to see it? Okay: First, Jolie is a London Financial Crimes Unit agent in deep cover! But actually she's gone dark and fallen in love with her target (the rich thief) anyway, so it's really not a twist at all until she decides she's falling for Depp and wants to catch the rich thief after all. Finally, Depp turns out to have BEEN THE RICH THIEF ALL ALONG OMG! Even though he sent her a note telling her to choose a random guy and pretend it was him! And we even saw a dream sequence of Depp's where he kissed her- wouldn't he have his original face in a dream? And he acted all nebbishy and awkward while being chased by random thugs, even though he was actually the dude they thought he was! ugh. It's a good thing I had nothing invested by the end of this film.

IMDB #166 Dog Day Afternoon

Ah, Sidney Lumet: we meet again. Will we get along this time? (Network being perhaps a slight runner-up to Crash for the 'Least Favorite Of The Countdown So Far" title)

I think so, based on what I know of 1975's Dog Day Afternoon- I haven't seen the whole thing before, and even though it fits into the subgenre of Bad Things Happening To Miserable People that I usually don't enjoy, I do enjoy bank-hostage dramas.

The Key Players:

Lumet just turned 86, yet remains Oscarless. I smell a Thalberg coming on.

Al Pacino, not too long after the first two Godfathers and a winning collaboration with Lumet in Serpico, gets his name before the title and everything.

Chris Sarandon's career has included his memorable villain in The Princess Bride, the speaking voice of Jack Skellington in A Nightmare Before Christmas, and a whole lot of tv guest-work as a doctor/judge type.

Among many in support are Charles Durning (Tootsie, "Evening Shade") and John Cazale (who would appear exclusively in Best Picture nominees in a brief career, cut short by cancer in 1978).

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The Story:

Two Vietnam veterans, the loquacious Sonny Wortzik (Pacino) and the mute, intense Sal (Cazale), hold up a bank right as it closes. After a a third robber, Stevie, leaves due to nerve, they get the manager to open the vault, only to find scarcely $1,100 left after the daily pickup.

Sonny instead takes the money from the drawers (using his experience as a former teller to avoid the alarm-rigged bills and such) and the travelers checks- but his attempt to burn the check register alerts a nearby businessman to trouble- soon the police have the place surrounded.

What follows is a long standoff, in which a Detective Moretti (Durning) attempts to negotiate the hostages' release with Sonny, who's increasingly bolstered by the crowd gathering around the police barricade. A camraderie develops between Sonny and the female tellers, and we learn he was motivated by his partner Leon (Sarandon)'s need for sexual-reassignment surgery (this is in addition to Sonny's female wife and two children).

They demand transportation to the airport and a jet, amid a media frenzy- but you know how these things usually end.

The Artistry:

A September 22, 1972 ariticle in LIFE, which you can read here formed the basis for Dog Day Afternoon, and the end result seems remarkably true to life- John Wojtowicz, the real life Sonny, is even described as "a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or a Dustin Hoffman."

The movie, seeking to place itself thoroughly in early 70s Brooklyn, opens with a montage of shots of the city set to Elton John's "Amoreena." The rest of the movie has no score, and the documentary feel is only heightened by the opening moments of the heist unfolding in real time.

That tension is brilliantly brought to a head when the phone rings, and the bank manager turns to Pacino with a heart-freezing "It's for you."

The police arriving in excessively huge force is edited brilliantly thereafter by the late Dede Allen, a rush of activity before the film and the hostages settle in for an ordeal.

The undercurrent of anti-establishment sentiment in Dog Day Afternoon works well because it's precisely that- there's no speeches, no heavy-handed allegory, just some offhand and rambling remarks by Pacino about police brutality, and the famous "Attica!" chant to the crowd. That scene, and the crowd's interaction with Sonny and the police have become the most influential part of the film, but Lumet seems just as interested in the media's co-option of any developing story. The awkward, live on camera interview Sonny gives to a local tv station is kind of hilarious ("Couldn't you get a job?") until Sonny cuts it short by cursing on air.

The performances help the film get away with just skimming the thematic surface. Pacino at his wild best, Cazale with an aura of idle sadness as the heist continues, and Durning with an urgent, angry turn as the local cop trying to resolve things before the FBI takes it out of his hands.

And in a showcase for both actors, Pacino and Sarandon share a long phone call that hints at the character's long, complex history- and the long zoom in on Sarandon is flawless, as is the timing of the revelation that the FBI and Durning are listening in.


The FBI gives in and sends a limo for Sonny, Sal, and the hostages to get to Kennedy airport, where a jet is standing by. But even though he inspected it beforehand, a gun was hidden in the driver's side armrest, and the FBI agent driving shoots Sal in the head while Sonny is quietly disarmed.

The hostages flee to safety, and Sonny looks more passive than anything as the credits roll.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I liked it! You win, Lumet, and you get a 'higher' this time. May it comfort you in your waning years. Wait (checking the news)- yep, still alive.

The Legacy:

It would win an Oscar for Original Screenplay out of six total noms (including Picture, Lumet, Pacino, Sarandon, and Allen), and has a place in the NFR along with its cultural legacy in Pacino's quote.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Funny how yelling "Attica!" has become cultural shorthand for "I Am A Moron Who Saw A Movie One Time And Also Enjoys Yelling!" instead of for police brutality.

Leftover Thoughts:

-With Carol Kane as a mousy teller, this actually has two people from The Princess Bride in it.

-Shouldn't it be an adapted screenplay? Based on that article? I wonder about these things.

Coming Up...

165. The Secret In Their Eyes

164. The Thing

163. Stand By Me

IMDB #167 Ratatouille

Look, I'm as big of a Pixar fan as the next guy, but are you aware that there are 9 out of 11 Pixar releases in the top 250 right now (all of them except Cars and A Bug's Life, and rightly so), but just one single animated Disney film (The Lion King)? Whatup with that?

I know, the list skews more recent, that's part of the fun. But by and large, the classics are covered, and if the mid-20th-century hand-drawn Disney features aren't classic cinema I don't know what is. Get voting, people!

Anyway, back to the modern CGI renaissance with 2007's Ratatouille.

The Key Players:

Remeber Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles? It's him again! Composer Michael Giacchino also returns for duty. Jan Pinkava originated the concept, basic plot, and many elements of the art design before Bird was brought in to replace him.

Multiple celebrity voices abound, but our lead is that of perhaps Greatest Living Standup Comedian Patton Oswalt (R.I.P. Mitch Hedberg). How cool is that?

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The Story:

The premise is a simple one that takes longer than you'd expect to explain. There's just two things you're going to need to accept and move on:

1. Rats (or at least our furry little hero, Remy) can read and understand spoken English, though they cannot themselves speak.

2. A rat, sitting on your head (or at least that of our misfit human hero, Linguini) can control your arm movements by tugging patches of your hair.

Thus provide the mechanics for Remy, a gourment and natural chef, to team up with Linguini, a garbage boy in a gourmet kitchen- one can cook, the other can "appear human," and the rise to fame is inevitable.

Obstacles soon present themselves, however: a suspicious head chef, a feisty love interest, a toweringly intimidating food critic, and even the health inspector. Remy's family doesn't think much of his new, unratlike career, and Linguini doesn't know he's actually the son and heir of the deceased restaurant owner! Mystery, excitement!

Will Remy and Linguini be able to overcome our society's (or at least that of Paris, where this is all set) inherent prejucides against rats and misfits?

The Artistry:

Let's breeze past the obligatory remarks about how far CGI animation has come, shall we? Suffice it to say that Pixar still puts other studios to shame in this regard, and the little details like rat-hairs and water bubbles are nearly flawlessly rendered in Ratatouille.

The art design of the human characters I enjoyed more than any other CGI to date, nicely balancing the need for anatomical plausibility with expressive caricature (a line that Up would later fall just on the wrong side of- it seems like a movie about a talking box (Carl) and egg (Russell)).

The plot itself is a compelling double-underdog story, with the more complex themes of self-actualization that we're starting to take for granted with each Pixar realease. It might be a little overstuffed, at nearly two hours, but it has to make time for stories in both worlds, as well as multiple madcap action sequences.

You can tell the research and commitment to cooking that Bird and his team must've had- Ratatouille is a love letter to fine food as much as anything else. We get a lesson in the staff requirements and hierarchy of a gourmet kitchen, tips on efficiency as Collette teaches Linguini the ropes, a philosophical debate on the merits of improvisation, and most tellingly a subplot about how disdainful and crass microwavable, pre-cooked meals are.

That "foodie"-ness finds its way into another lesson, rife with Bird's seemingly trademark amiable elitism: that of Gusteau's proposition that "Anyone can cook." As the film clearly demonstrates, Linguini can't, while Remy can, and the lesson, as the critic Ego clarifies, is that a world-class chef can come from anywhere.

What does this mean? Much like The Incredibles, in the end we're taught to embrace those with special talents while admitting our own limitations. Misplaced pride (like Linguini's brief power tripping or Syndrome's fake robot attack) leads to disaster, sure, but what if you've got nothing to be proud of in the first place?

There's a joke in epsiode five of "Party Down"'s second season which I feel applies:

-"Who's Ayn Rand?"
-"She wrote about how awesome awesome people are."

Anyway, the voice cast is excellent as always, if a little more stuffed with superflous celebrities than you'd hope- Will Arnett? James Remar? Mostly they're well chosen, like Ian Holmes maniacal villain, Brad Garrett's jovial Gusteau, and especially Oswalt's expressive, energetic rat.


Linguini finds out the truth, and all goes well until Anton Ego arrives for his fateful review, just as Remy and Linguini fight about misplaced credit. When Linguini admits the bizarre truth to his staff, they leave in disgust (Collette returns after a bit), leaving no one to help Linguini prepare the meal that might save the restaurant.

Remy rides to the rescue with his entire clan of rats, lead by his apologetic father. They make, of course, ratatouille, wowing Anton Ego, who writes a stirring review even after they explain that a rat cooked it. A health inspector shuts down the restaurant, of course (there were rats in the kitchen), Linguini, Collette, and Remy start a new one with Ego as an investor.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Higher, by a rat nose. Way more fun than reading The Fountainhead, anyway.

The Legacy:

Winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and a nominee for score, screenlplay, and sound (as well as 9 Annie Awards).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

A more interesting case is this super-early teaser trailer for the film, which sets up the whole "rat in a kitchen" conflict but doesn't mention that Remy wants to be a chef (just that he's tired of eating garbage). And it seems to have an overblown, more looney-tunes like sensibility than the end result (though the knives visual made the first posters, as well).

Leftover Thoughts:

-Not sure if the shorts paired with the Pixar features count, but "Lifted" is one of the least impressive ones I've seen.

-The food critic's final review at the film's end is a nearly completely shameless pat on the head for film critics as well: " But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

-Did you know you can see the Eiffel Tower from every single window in Paris? This is a proven fact.

Coming Up...

166. Dog Day Afternoon

165. The Secret in Their Eyes

164. The Thing


In Clint Eastwood's storied career of playing no-nonsense toughguys, and directing no-nonsense, serious films, not once has he touched upon the supernatural. It's been all western gunfights and gritty crime thrillers, alternating with Very Serious Oscar Type Movies.

Which is why Hereafter, three interwoven narratives about death and the afterlife, seemed like such a promising idea. Who wouldn't want to see Eastwood's steady hand (and Peter Morgan's lauded pen) brought to the quote unquote fantasy genre? Sure, the reviews are mixed, but watch the trailer below- it certainly seems like they're swinging for the fences with the premise.

The problem is, it's really more of a sac bunt than anything. Eastwood treats the profound questions involved with his usual straightforward frankness, but Hereafter doesn't offer any answers. It doesn't even speculate about them for too long, really.

Instead, it seems to find itself profound for raising them in the first place, even though pretty much everyone alive has asked them for pretty much all of history. It's as if Eastwood and Morgan (who's mostly written historical dramas about real things and people) had actually never seen anything involving psychics who can talk to the dead, near-death experiences, or ghosts, and thought they had truly original concepts that could do all the heavy lifting for them.


Let's break it down. Matt Damon is a John Edward-type psychic who can speak to the dead, after briefly touching a bereaved loved one. Cécile de France is a French news anchor that has a near-death experience during a tsunami in Thailand and is moved to write a book about it. And Marcus is a young boy who's just lost his twin brother, Jason, and is all sad and stuff about it (amateurs Frankie and George McLaren play the twins, but we'll refer to them by character names since I don't know which plays which).

Eastwood apparently chose to cast amateur twin actors, and it pretty much shows, all the time, whenever they say anything. But Damon and de France are superb, and flourish as most good actors do under Eastwoods fast, hands-off direction. Bryce Dallas Howard shines in a supporting role despite some awful bangs as well.

And this film looks great- the opening, which follows de France through the tsunami, is breathtaking filmmaking, even if it was all CGI (no clue). Even the brief glimpses of the afterlife, which appears to be a bright white endlesses where everyone stands four feet apart in all directions for no reason, are tasteful and hazy.

It's just that Hereafter has nothing to say. The three plots converge in the end for brief moments of predictable frustration, and then the credits come up all at once. It's not really possible to get into this without spoilers, so...


Here's Hereafter in a nutshell: during the film, Damon writes two letters. The first is a letter explaining to his brother (Jay Mohr) that he won't be helping him relaunch his profitable medium business because he can't take the bad juju (dreams, making people cry, etc) associated with his ability. The second is a letter he writes to de France after he touches her hand at a book signing, and sees not a dead loved one but a brief glimpse of her near-death tsunami. It's like three pages long and causes her to meet him in a cafe at the end of the film.

Got that? Now which letter do you suppose the film helpfully has Damon read to us via voiceover? You would hope its the second one, full of information about seeing the afterlife, the connection he feels to another important character, and the relief that he's found someone he can touch without being bugged by her dead loved ones, right?

Nope. It's the brief note to his brother, which we can easily guess says "sorry, can't do this anymore," because that's what he's been saying the WHOLE FILM. It even paraphrases the film's worst line, which is about how it's not a gift, it's a CURSE, to have this ability, boo hoo, etc.

De France reads the second letter and this real emotional music plays, like there must be some really profound stuff there, but not one clue do we get on that front.

The other main plot intersection, when little Marcus runs into Damon as well and pesters him until he does a reading, is done well enough, but offers nothing unexpected. Marcus feels sad, Damon tells him his brother says to be strong, and so on. Then Damon says Jason, the dead brother, has left. Where did he go? Marcus asks. Damon doesn't know. Even after all those readings, he doesn't know.

So that's it, then. Huh.

Eastwood's dramas sometimes have a procedural, obligatory feel, but it's easy to forgive in things like Changeling and Mystic River (a literal procedural) because they build to some intense, cathartic scenes. Hereafter builds to one scene (Damon and Marcus) that's shrug-worthy and one unread letter/brief cafe meeting- there is one weird vision (Damon's... I guess?) of the two of them kissing, but then the film literally ends on them shaking hands.

It takes away nearly all of the weight any earlier events seemed to hold. I enjoyed the subplot where Damon's gift ruins a budding relationship with Bryce Dallas Howard, his partner in a cooking class, and maybe if the film had been framed as some-sort of death-tinged romantic comedy or something the ending with de France would have been satisfying ("Who can find love with all these CRAZY GHOSTS flying around!? This fall catch Matt Damon in Paranormal Connectivity!").


There's a scene halfway through Hereafter wherein Marcus runs away from his foster parents (his mom's a junkie, much time is spent on this for no reason at all) and goes to a series of crackpots and wannabes to communicate with his dead brother. Even with another subplot (via de France's book) about how legitimate afterlife research is shunned and scoffed at, the film wants to smirk and roll its eyes at these poseurs and charlatans, too.

Too bad Hereafter is right there among them, distracting us with tsunamis and subway explosions to hide the fact that it's got nothing real to offer us.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Gotta say the marketing really failed on this one. Look at that poster up there- it's all blue with the freaky scifi lines and all. And the shadowy figure in the distance- definitely thought we'd spend more than a few seconds in the afterlife. The trailer, meanwhile, puts the tsunami two thirds of the way through, making it seem like an escalation of events rather than the trigger of one of the plot threads. It seems more like "Hey some people were curious about the afterlife AND THEN EVERYTHING BLEW UP AAAAH."

-Fun to see Bobby Baccala from The Sopranos stretching his range to play an Italian chef. Jay Mohr, meanwhile, is always a slick douchebag who wants to exploit people, in everything.

-Just so we're clear, I might have enjoyed Hereafter in spite of its lack of answers if it had not answered them in a more interesting way. It's just that it seemed to be purposefully building to de France and Damon and the little kid meeting, and then backed off when they all got in the same place and had no idea what to do. Once Damon decides to go meet de France there's a scene where he asks for her in the lobby of her hotel and she isn't there. What purpose is served by him having to leave the MacGuffin note and meet her two scenes later?

-I realized I haven't seen very many but my favorite film about the afterlife is still Wristcutters: A Love Story

IMDB #168 The Wages of Fear

Today we check back in with Henri-Georges Clouzot, with 1953's The Wages Of Fear (Le Salaire de la peur).

Having no exposure, all I can tell you is that it's French, it's black and white, and his wife is probably in it again. And it'll probably be tense. Really, really tense.

The Key Players:

Clouzout we know, as well as his beautiful wife Véra (who plays a supporting role here).

But the whole film is sort of a family affair, as star Yves Montand, veteran French singer and actor, was married to Les diaboliques star Simone Signoret at the time- Charles Vanel played the inspector in that film as well, the same year he put in a supporting turn in To Catch A Thief.

Folco Lulli (The Organizer) and Peter Van Eyck (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold) round out the main cast.

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The Story:

In a South American town isolated by the desert, the local economy and law enforcement is all run by the American 'Southern Oil Company,' which is there to drill. After an oil well catches fire, the only way to extinguish the blaze is to blow it out with a whole lot of nitroglycerin. The only way to get it there is to drive a truckful of the unstable, highly sensitive explosive over rough terrain.

SOC, already adept at exploiting the locals for cheap labor, decides to hire the job out to the masses stranded in town with no way to pay the fare home, and they offer high wages for the job to attract lots of vounteers. After many trials and selection processes, they pick four men who coincidentally are our four main characters:

Mario (Montand): a French drifter, playboy, and douchebag (at least to his girlfriend, Linda (Mrs. Clouzot)).

Jo (Vanel): an aging, prideful gangster new to town that strikes up a friendship with Mario- this causes a falling out between Mario and...

Luigi (Lulli): (Mario and Luigi! I JUST REALIZED THIS!) a hard-working, penny-pinching Italian who needs to get out of his job mixing cement before inhaling the dust kills him.

Bimba (Van Eyck): an intense Dutchman that survived the Nazi regime after being forced to work in a salt mine.

Actually Jo is a last minute replacement for a man named Smerloff that doesn't show- did Jo murder him? It's left unclear. Mario and Jo set out in one truck, Luigi and Bimba in the other.

For the next hour and a half, they try and navigate cracks in the road, detonate a boulder blocking the way, a rickety bridge, and psychological breakdowns (namely Jo, whose nerve is nowhere near what it used to be) to their destination despite the possibility of exploding at any moment.

The Artistry:

Is there a stronger word for 'harrowing'? Chilling? Agonizing? Nerve-racking? The extended second half of The Wages Of Fear is all of these things.

Split the credit for the tension between the nitroglycerin itself and the steady time the film takes to buildup these characters before they set out- Luigi, a man of the people, and Jo, a wannabe bigshot, nearly brawling at the bar, the riotus townsfolk when the accident in question kills 13 local sons (but no SOC employees).

That idea of the town itself as a powder keg never really pays off, but it lays a solid thematic foundation of oppression. In fact, I admired how stark the film turned out to be- the cartoonish villainy of the SOC brass is never met with any retribution, Mario is at times a slimeball, other times a brute, and never really redeemed.

The cinematography is wonderfully claustrophobic, particularly for what's basically a road movie. The closeups in the trucks (labeled EXPLOSIVE in big letters, the oil fire framed by a doorway- even the cramped porch as the vagrants sit out the heat at the cantina. It helps that two thirds of the trucks sequences take place at night, with lights illuminating only the determined faces of our heroes.

If heroes you can call them: certainly Luigi and Bimba are easy to root for- Van Eyck is the most memorable performance of the four, slowing revealing a jovial personality under a battle-hardened exterior. He shoulders one of the most intense moments, when he slowly, carefully pours a little of the nitro into a hole carved in the boulder in order to blow it up.

One character who takes his name out of contention for the job right away makes a comparison: " I used to see men go off on this kind of jobs... and not come back. When they did, they were wrecks. Their hair had turned white and their hands were shaking like palsy!" This journey is like growing old, all at once. But in the promise of something better, we see four men choose it willfully to leave the hellish township behind, beaten down by heat and watchful tormentors in the SOC. But if life is the journey, through obstacle, tension, and especially fear, the only reward is untimely death or deliverance to hell: a flaming, chaotic oil field, greed wrought upon the landscape.


After making it successfully past the bumpy road (where they have to maintain 40 mph, Speed style to keep level over the bumps and not jostle the payload), the rickety bridge, and the boulder, Luigi and Bimba's truck explodes for no reason at all. Aw.

Jo finally snaps and flees, but Mario catches up to him and beats him into submission in an uncomfortable confrontation. They encounter a sinkhole filling with leaking oil, and Jo gets out to steer the truck through- he trips, and Mario (unwilling to stop and have the truck be stuck with no momentum to carry it out) runs over his leg. On the final trip to the oil derrick, Jo dies while reminscing about his time in Paris.

Mario is greeted as a hero by the frantic workers, but collapses in exhaustion and despair. The next day, seemingly jovial, he starts back to town in the now empty truck- we see Linda and the townsfolk jubilantly start to waltz to "The Blue Danube" on the radio as Mario, smiling, dangerously swerves the truck side to side on the road for no reason, immune to the risk.

He of course careens off a mountain road, and dies as the trucks broken warning siren wails a distorted finale tone. The end.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Wow, it was a bummer, but I'd put it up there- I certainly enjoyed it more than Les Diaboliques.

The Legacy:

It was remade twice for Americans, as Violent Road and Sorcerer (directed by our pal William Friedkin). It would win the Golden Bear in Berlin, the Palm d'Or in Cannes, and the BAFTA for Best film despite being ignored by the Academy.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Not a single damn one. But here's Yves Montand singing "Les Feuilles Mortes." Culture!

Leftover Thoughts:

-Remeber that one episode of LOST where Arzt blew up? That was hilarious, and nitroglycerin will always remind me of it now.

-Truly a multilingual film, with Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, and English all flying around in there.

Coming Up...

167. Ratatouille

166. Dog Day Afternoon

165. The Secret In Their Eyes

The Social Network

There's a moment halfway through The Social Network, wherein Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Napster co-founder and proverbial devil on the should of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), relates to the budding billoinaire the story of Roy Raymond- a man embarassed to buy lingerie for his wife in a department store, who had the idea to open a chain of lingerie specialty shops and an accompanying mail-order business called Victoria's Secret.

After five successful years, Raymond sold the business for $4 million, and ended up jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1993, while the company grew exponentially without him.

Zuckerberg, stone-faced and inscrutable as ever, wonders "Is that a parable?"

Of course it is. And The Social Network, David Fincher's even more salient take on dissaffection than the Generation X rant Fight Club, is an uber-parable for a new generation, a wired-in, fast-talking, flashing banner ad in the corner of the screen, loudly telling us that we've opened a door to a new world, we've won billions of dollars, we're hip and now, and all we have to do is ignore the phone buzzing and the knocking on the door and Click Here.


It's a study of many things at once- as much as it comments on the unique type of isolation that's bred by being connected in too many ways to too many people, it tells an age-old tale of greed and betrayal. How else could a film that almost everyone scoffed at upon its announcement ("A facebook movie? Really?") end up drawing somewhat-legitimate comparisons to Citizen Kane?

Those comparisons stem mostly from structure- a flashback laden narrative of billionaire tycoons that alienated everyone they cared about to get to where they are. But we can't all be Orson Welles- Fincher's eye is as refined as ever, and Aaron Sorkin's script runs hyper-verbose laps around Citizen Kane's episodic chapters, tied together by a dying man's last word.

Instead of a reporter pondering the MacGuffin of "Rosebud," The Social Network uses lawyers in twin depositions to relive the story of Facebook's disputed origins. As Zuckerberg faces lawsuits from former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and a trio of undergrad elites that hired him to program a Harvard-exclusive dating website, both lawyers try to get at the underpinnings of Zuckerberg's motivations.

Any such motivations are where the film departs the most drastically from the real-life evidence. In real life, there's nothing to suggest that he was motivated to get into exclusive "Final Clubs," or was jealous of Saverin for doing so. There's little to support the idea that he created precursor site (a 'Hot or Not' style site using the pictures of other undergrads) because he was just broken up with- in fact, facemash actually included both male and female photos for peer-ranking (not just female ones, as in the film).

But would a normal, even-keel Mark Zuckerberg that just happened to get into legitimate legal disputes make for an interesting anti-hero? Of course not.

If Web 2.0 has created an ovearbearing disconnect with the interpersonal relationships we're supposed to cultivate when we become adults, then why shouldn't a film about one of the key founders of this portray that founder as overcompensating for an inability to connect to anyone? For as bad as it makes him look, the Zuckerberg of the film comes off remarkably sympathetic, flailing slightly as he mourns the twin deaths of privacy and intimacy- we can all relate, not because we're all antisocial billionaires, but because we live in new spheres of connection that Zuckerberg inadvertently created.

Maybe you have to have been in college during facebook's founding to consider this film as dramatic as I do (Mark Zuckerberg is, after all, two months younger than I am). But given the 48-year-old director and 49-year-old screenwriter, I doubt it. I can't wait for the film adaptation of Sorkin's stage play "The Farnsworth Invention," as I hear it tells a similar tale of innovation followed by litigation.

Every role seems expertly cast. Eisenberg, the twitchy, somewhat abrasvie "thinking man's Michael Cera," anchors the whole thing together with a shy brilliance. Andrew Garfield provides an entry point for the audience -not only is he the most sympathetic and likeable, but at one point his character even sheepishly admits he doesn't know how to update his own facebook relationship status despite being the company's CFO- a relief of sorts for anyone who doesn't consider social networking a second language.

Justin Timberlake is perfectly suited for the role of a flashy, seductive epitome of 'cool,' which the narrow-focused Zuckerberg is obsessed with maintaining in regard to his website. Rooney Mara and Rashida Jones bookend the film well with honest reductions of Zuckerberg's character. Max Minghella and Armie Hammer (twice) liven up the lawsuit scenes, though the subtext of the Saverin suit carries more weight. Hammer especially is great, as both Winkelvoss twins- though I suspect Fincher cast him instead of real twins just because he likes doing tricks in post-production.

Of course he's as technically flawless as ever- the lighting is muted but crisp, the editing propulsive and seamless (even told in double-flashback), and the rapid-fire dialogue woven with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's wonderful score to great effect. The Nine Inch Nails frontman and producer create a rhythmic, digitally-tinged landscape that seems to make the events onscreen grow in importance.

Is it perfect? Is it the best film ever? Is it, you may ask, really the next Citizen Kane. No. Sorkin's characters sometimes sound a little too much like Sorkin characters (my favorite over-the-top line is when one of the Winklevi threatens to beat Zuckerberg up: "I'm 6'5", 220, and there's two of me!"). The film's strong adherence to real-life events leaves the ending abrupt and somewhat resolution-less, emotionally.

The larger-world effects of facebook aren't really addressed beyond making the creators very rich- this isn't too much of a drawback, but the film's brilliant trailer seemed to promise more context with that opening montage.

But even as a personal parable of the breakdown of trust, The Social Network has plenty of meaning. By all means go see it. If you like it, I bet there's some way you could recommend it to all of your friends at once.

Leftover thoughts:

-In a hat-tip to the current economic crisis, the Winklevi take their troubles to Larry Summers, once and future Treasury Secretary of these United States and then-president of Harvard. In a hilarious scene in which I expected him to say "Did I nicturate on your rug?", Summers blithely dismisses any potential value that "" might have.

-Would highly recommend splurging $5 on the score at Amazon. Minimal piano like Andrew Newman's work on Donnie Darko, at least one track that incorporates clicking keyboards a la Dario Marinelli's typewriter-laden Atonement score.

-I don't see what the real Mark Zuckerberg's problem with The Social Network might be- it somehow manages to portray his alleged betrayals of multiple parties while maintaining sympathy for him, even while Eisenberg is sort of rock-star arrogant in the deposition scenes. With all the well-publicized innacuracies out there, I don't think the general reaction is going to be "What an asshole!"

-Speaking of, I have no problem with the movie taking liberties, but I have no interest whatsoever in Ben Mezrich (who wrote the book the movie was based on) and his "I made a bunch of this up" brand of non-fiction writing. I feel like there's some sort of unspoken contract with general veracity in non-fiction, but maybe that's just me.

-I especially liked the juxtaposition of Zuckerberg's creation of facemash with the party bus of women that the Phoenix club rounds up. Just taking an analogue convention of superficiality and making digital.

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