Friday, June 12, 2009

Rudo y Cursi

Directed by: Carlos Cuaron

Written by: Carlos Cuaron

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Francella, Adriana Paz, Jessica Mas.

My rating: 9/10

The first film from the newly formed Cha Cha Cha Productions, consisting of Mexico’s finest filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Rudo y Cursi is a hugely enjoyable warm-hearted genre piece which re-teams the writer and stars of Y Tu Mama Tambien, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.

Though, admittedly, not my greatest area of interest, there is always something very engaging about the sports movie. This film is a shining example of the genre. It tells the story of two poor country brothers, Tato and Beto. Tato dreams of becoming a pop star and Beto dreams of becoming a goalie. However, when Tato gets picked up, by random happenstance, by a soccer talent scout, Beto is horrified. Tato sees it as an opportunity to become famous and therefore get a record deal. Soon afterwards, Beto is given a shot at being a pro at a different club and they both become soccer sensations. Trials and tribulations ensue and the whole film builds up towards the inevitable climactic game with everything riding on it; brother versus brother.

On some level this is an entertaining rags-to-riches story like all the other ones that have come before it. But there is a deeper level of sentiment at work here that allows the audience to engage fully with these characters and love them and hate them as necessary. The tragedy of simple men being seduced and quickly destroyed by fame is examined here, and to great effect due to the nicely rounded characters and undeniable chemistry between the two lead actors.

Writer and director Carlos Cuaron (who co-wrote Y Tu Mama Tambien) does a fantastic job here. There is not a superfluous scene in the piece and the dialogue is not only hilarious but also snappy and natural. The screenplay flows along so nicely that by the time the film ends, you wonder where the two hours went and feel sad to be leaving these characters.

A major problem with the film, particularly as a genre piece, is its lack of actual football footage. Most of the football is off-screen for some reason, perhaps the actors just aren’t very good footballers. This hampers the excitement and the build-up of the third act somewhat. It is a huge pity because with so much invested in the characters, it seems a shame to take the excitement down a peg by not showing the matches. This is however merely a tiny problem in an otherwise splendid film.

This is an impossible film to dislike. Devoid of sentimentality yet consistently heart-warming throughout, the lead and supporting characters light up the scenes throughout with subtle quirks and elegant tragedies. As dark as the story can sometimes get, it is never bleak, and always rousing. What more could one want from a summer popcorn movie?

- Charlene Lydon

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Last House on the Left (2009)

"It's the last house on the left in case you forgot."

Directed by: Dennis Iliadis

Written by: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth

Cast: Garret Dillahunt, Sara Paxton, Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn

Rating: 6/10

Naturally, when a remake is released there is a tendency to compare it to the original and point out how the new version fails in comparison. However, I have seen the original 1972 Wes Craven film which left me feeling somewhat nonplussed. A decent b-movie with a shocking rape thrown in but hardly deserving of its super cool tagline (it’s only a movie it’s only a movie it’s only a movie...). So, it was easy for me to put that film aside and watch the remake as a stand-alone rape-revenge thriller. However, as the film kept going it became clear that the grit and ugliness of Craven’s original is what gave it all its shock value. It became obvious to me that Hollywood just can’t do this kind of thing with any real punch.

The plot follows the Collinwood family, Emma, John, and their daughter Mari as they prepare to spend the summer in their secluded lake house (not a house for 6 miles so God knows where the title comes into it). Mari spends some time with her freewheeling friend Paige and they wind up smoking pot with a young stranger, Justin, in his motel room. You know the rules, never do drugs in a horror’ll pay with your life. Justin’s family come home and they happen to be fugitives so they must dispose of Justin’s new friends in case they rat them out. So, they take the girls out to the woods where they sadistically rape and torture them and leave them for dead. As awful as any rape scene is, it takes away some of the grit when it becomes clear that the actor is not allowed to show the actresses breast so he clumsily tries to keep his fingers under her bra. This is the kind of thing that shows that Hollywood ain’t cut out for real shock value. Apart from the mannered choreography, the rape scene is hideous and the young actress played it well, her innocent eyes giving the audience the empathy it needed.

So, naturally, an incoming storm stops the criminals, led by the particularly nasty Krug, from hitting the road so they stop into a nearby house for hospitality. What are the odds that this is young Mari Collinwood’s house? Well, it is. What follows is a turnaround in behaviours. When the Collinwoods figure it out it’s not long before they find themselves as sadistic and murderous as their enemies.

As a plot, this one is why we watch horror films. As Wes Craven himself says “a little bit of horror is good for the psyche”. Watching a film like this, you can’t help but meditate on the nature of human morals. Why not just tie up the perpetrators and let the police deal with them? Why not shoot them in the heart? No, these people are out for blood and they want revenge for what happened to their daughter. The gore is hit and miss, some of it is gratuitous but mostly it’s just the same old blood n’ brains.

The cast handle themselves well, even two of the dullest actors I can think of, Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn manage to pull of their characters nicely (their characters seem to be hopelessly dull people). The ever-wonderful Garret Dillahunt is wasted in his role as Krug. He’s extremely nasty but that seems to be all there is to him.

This film is an aptly-made, if a bit hollow. There is some nice tension developed throughout and although it doesn’t really shock and it has a severe lack of imagination, it does leave one thinking about the fragile nature of the human psyche.

- Charlene Lydon 9/6/09